Kind of absurd, but great memories

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Hard to believe that Steve Goodman has been gone 30 years today. Leukemia.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we met at the merch table after a show in Madison, Wisconsin? When he autographed my record to Joe, and not to Jeff? I still smile at that.

No, it’s been 31 years since he opened for fellow folk singer Leo Kottke at the old Madison Civic Center, a show I remember nothing about.

Kinda wondering what people remember of Steve Goodman today.

Probably most know him for the songs he wrote about his beloved Chicago Cubs. If you’ve visited here during the Christmas season, you know his charming live version of “Winter Wonderland” is one of our seasonal faves.

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

I probably was introduced to Steve Goodman’s music in 1976 or 1977 by my friend Pat Houlihan, a folk singer from central Wisconsin who also introduced me to the music of John Prine, who was Goodman’s friend. I liked Goodman and Prine for the same reason. There’s a lot of humor in real life. They saw that, and wrote songs accordingly.

So let’s listen to some Steve Goodman. He wrote or co-wrote all but one song.

stevegoodman high and outside lp

“Men Who Love Women Who Love Men,” an irreverent but perceptive take on sexual identity.

“The One That Got Away,” a duet with Nicolette Larson on a song wistfully remembering life’s missed opportunities.

Both from “High And Outside,” Steve Goodman, 1979. His second-to-last major-label record, on Asylum. Goodman produced it, but the arrangements are almost too lush, too rich for his sometimes-thin voice.

stevegoodman artistic hair

“You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” a country music spoof co-written with John Prine, and a hit for David Allan Coe. Goodman improvised the final verse to include references to Mama, trains, trucks, prison and getting drunk, which Coe thought every great country song needs.

“City Of New Orleans,” which really launched Goodman’s career when it became a hit for Arlo Guthrie in 1972.

Both from “Artistic Hair,” Steve Goodman, 1983. A wonderful collection of live performances from over a 10-year period. I’m generally not big on live records, but this is really the only way to get the essence of Steve Goodman.

stevegoodman affordable art lp

“Souvenirs,” a duet with John Prine on the familiar song written by Prine and first heard on Prine’s second LP, “Diamonds In The Rough,” from 1972.

“Talk Backwards,” a goofy take full of double-speak.

Both from “Affordable Art,” Steve Goodman, 1984. This was the last record released before Goodman’s death. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

Thanks to Clay Eals, Goodman’s biographer, for the 30-year reminder.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under September 2014, Sounds

Could we go back to lighters?

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When I went to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Saturday night, I walked down to within about 20 feet of the stage. Close enough for a decent picture, I thought.

When she took the stage, I pulled out my phone and took a crappy picture. Then another crappy picture. I should have known better. The Paul McCartney picture I took last summer turned out somewhat decent only because I shot the giant video board and not Macca himself.

Lots of other people were taking pictures on Saturday night, as you’d expect. One guy provided a vaguely surreal experience. As I watched Joan Jett live, I also saw it on the small screen on the guy’s phone. Both were in my line of sight.

The night before, on Friday night, I was sitting in the left-field corner at Miller Park in Milwaukee, not all that far from where we sat for McCartney. My friend Doug and I got to talking about keeping a scorecard at ballgames. We used to do it all the time. We don’t do it anymore. I’ve gone to dozens of ballgames since the ’70s, but I remember few of the details. Too busy keeping score.

Which is why I deleted all but one of my Joan Jett pictures on Saturday night and put my phone away. I wanted to soak in the show and remember its essence, and to not have a crappy picture as my lingering memory.

Joan Jett sounded great, looked great, had a tight band, and looked like she was having fun, even on a cool Wisconsin night when she wore a lightweight hoodie until she warmed up with the first couple of numbers. Can’t ask for more.

Of course, one of those lingering memories will be all the phones whipped out by the faithful.

As will the lighters whipped out by a couple of old-school folks toward the end of the show. There you go. That’s more like it.

You know all of Joan Jett’s hits — and she played most of them on Saturday night — so here’s one from their most recent record, “Unvarnished,” which came out a year ago. It’s called “Soulmates To Strangers,” and was written with Laura Jane Grace. The band in the video is the one that played here.

joan jett unvarnished 240

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under September 2014, Sounds

Starring the legendary Harvey Scales!

Once upon a time, there were rock and soul and R&B revues that traveled the land, stopping at clubs, college rathskellers, frat houses, roadhouses and beer bars across the Midwest, then rocking the house. That scene, and those groups, are mostly long gone. But not quite.

A year ago, during an all-too-short couple of hours on the Fourth of July, I saw what may be one of the last of the original soul and R&B revues.

SAMSUNG

Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds played before a couple of hundred people in a beer tent at Sawdust Days in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It qualified as a revue because the Seven Sounds — actually 10 players strong with a five-piece horn section, three guitarists, a drummer and a keyboard player — played a long instrumental jam before Harvey and his backup singer ever came out.

Some of those in the tent remembered Harvey from the glory days of the club circuit. Those folks are older now, in their 60s. They’re like my friend Mike in Ohio, who recalled this when I mentioned that I was going to see Harvey.

“Wow, saw him and the Sounds there at the Five Oaks in ’67.
An amazing night.”

Harvey Scales has been around that long.

Harvey — who by most accounts turns 73 this year, or is younger by his own account — grew up in Milwaukee and emerged on the scene as Twistin’ Harvey in 1961. In short order, he teamed up with the Seven Sounds, another Milwaukee group. They released a string of soul and R&B singles on the small Cuca and Magic Touch labels during the ’60s. Though not widely known, they are highly regarded among Northern soul fans.

Harvey Scales is one of the great characters of the American soul and R&B scene. To hear him tell it, he was the first black soul singer to make the rounds of Wisconsin venues outside Milwaukee and an early member of the Esquires, whose members were classmates at North Division High School in Milwaukee. (Listen to this great interview with the late Bob Abrahamian of Chicago radio station WHPK. Scroll down to 7/27/2008.)

He’s rubbed shoulders with everyone who was anyone: Al Jarreau (another Milwaukee native), the Jackson 5 (and a young Michael Jackson, of course), Otis Redding, Chubby Checker, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, Bobby Bland, Isaac Hayes, David Porter, Booker T and the M.G.’s, the O’Jays, the Dells, the Dramatics, Tavares, Millie Jackson and Cissy Houston.

This is where Paul Mollan comes in.

Mollan is a New York writer and producer who’s working on a documentary about Harvey. It’s called “Soul Untold: The Life & Times of Harvey Scales.”

He’d hoped to raise $16,000 to stage a show in Milwaukee — “think ‘The Last Waltz,’ but for Harvey Scales,” Mollan says — for use in the film. However, the Kickstarter campaign didn’t get funded.

“The only risk involved with this film are the consequences of it not getting funded and made. If that happens we run the risk of losing the memories and stories of a music business survivor. We’ve recently lost two industry giants in Don Davis and Bobby Womack. Our challenge is to not let any more stories pass without being told.”

Mollan hopes to finish the film in 2015, then screen it at festivals.

Harvey doesn’t play a lot of gigs anymore, at least not in Wisconsin. He splits his time between California and Georgia, with only occasional homecomings. This year, Harvey has another Fourth of July gig, at Summerfest in Milwaukee.

When I saw him last Fourth of July, the first of two short but energetic sets featured a raucous 12-minute jam on “The Yolk,” a 1970 single on Chess. Always a ladies’ man, he invited some to dance with him on stage, then closed the show by surrounding himself with five “disco ladies” as he performed the No. 1 hit he wrote for Johnnie Taylor in 1976. The first time I saw Harvey, four summers ago at a small festival in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, he stepped down from the stage and closed the show with a snake dance through the audience.

One of the songs played in Oshkosh last year was the first one released by Harvey Scales with the Seven Sounds.

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“Glamour Girl,” Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, 1964, from Cuca J-1155, a 7-inch single. It’s long out of print, but is available on “Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities, Vol. 3,” a 2008 UK compilation.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under July 2014, Sounds

The show must go on … and does

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After Davy Jones’ death two years ago, I wondered how the Monkees would, or even could, go forward.

Even after Michael Nesmith came back into the picture later that year, I wondered how that would go. Davy Jones, I thought, was the man the Monkees could not lose.

My friend Derek saw the Mike Nesmith/Micky Dolenz/Peter Tork lineup in California in November 2012, in one of their first shows on that tour. I asked Derek how that was, whether he was satisfied with how they handled not having Davy. He said:

“They handled Davy’s absence in a way that was so incredibly respectful and classy. In effect he *was* there, but there certainly weren’t any creepy holograms onstage.”

Thus reassured, we were eager to see Mike, Micky and Peter a couple of weeks ago in Milwaukee. It was everything Derek said it would be. A great show with just the right nods to Davy’s memory. I won’t give it away, either.

I’d been down that road before, at another show in Milwaukee. Eight years ago, I saw Queen on its first tour without Freddie Mercury.

Paul Rodgers was the lead singer on that tour. That show was tremendous, blending Queen songs with those from Free and Bad Company, but still you wondered how they’d handle Freddie’s absence when it came time for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” That, too, was handled with class and grace, just the right way.

Queen carried on. The Monkees carried on. That’s my hope for another band, one you don’t know.

Last month, The Hot Mess, a trio from Green Bay, packed up and headed north for a gig in Menominee, Michigan. On the way, they stopped at a park to practice and to unwind. They went swimming. Something happened. Mike drowned.

Mike was one of the guitarists, a gentle kid who’d spent time in our basement with the other music kids. He’s the one on the right in this video. It was shot an hour before the accident.

Mike had just turned 20. He and Collin, the Hot Mess’ drummer/guitarist, and our son Evan were pals. (That’s Collin on the left, with fellow bandmate Mitch in the middle.)

A devastating loss. But kids are resilient, thankfully.

It’s been Collin and Mitch and a handful of guest players as they continue to make the rounds of open mic nights. They’ve played a memorial show for Mike and dedicated a picture of him at the coffeehouse where they’re regulars.

The Hot Mess, like Queen and the Monkees before them, carries on.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under June 2014, Sounds

Dad, where are your tapes?

My old stereo went off to college last weekend.

Our son moved into his new dorm at UW-Green Bay, and Evan asked for the old stereo from the basement. Old to him, at least. To me, that’s the new stereo, the one put together in the early ’90s. My original stereo dated to the mid-’70s.

So he took the receiver and the CD player and the tape deck and the speakers — “those speakers WERE Bose,” he gleefully reminded me — and, yes, the turntable. Now if he could only find his Queen records. Still looking for those.

Evan needed something else from the basement. His new car, a 1988 Toyota Tercel, has a cassette deck. So he needed to dig through the cassette boxes, too. One shoe box looked like this.

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I see these, and they immediately take me back to an odd time. As the ’80s turned to the ’90s, I’d pretty much stopped buying vinyl but hadn’t started buying CDs. But the cars we drove at that time had tape decks, so for a short time, I bought cassettes when I bought new music.

(All that Stevie Ray Vaughan and the John Mayall tape are relics from my Blues Period, a story for another time.)

I’d never bought prerecorded cassettes before that. During the ’80s, I made plenty of tapes. (I was a TDK man, as you can see.) Evan found those, too. Lots of them are in this case, which I’ve had forever. He passed on them.

cassette case 053114

Yep, I still have most of my tapes, even the mix tapes I recorded for our wedding more than 25 years ago. I thought that would be better than having a band. Wish I could have a do-over on that.

Most of what’s on this side of the case are just vinyl LPs put to tape so I could listen in the car. The mix tapes are on the other side of the box, all with allegedly clever titles like “It Shall Remain Nameless,” “Loose As A Goose” and “Take Two (And Don’t Call Me).” You get the idea.

Looking at what’s on those mix tapes can be a little scary almost 30 years on. Not sure what I was thinking when I put some of those together way back when.

The 12 cuts on one side of a tape called “No Witnesses” include songs from James Bond films, Bananarama, John Hiatt, INXS, the Monkees, the Beatles and Jay Ferguson. That’s right. “Thunder Island.”

The 12 cuts on one side of a tape called “Dreaming of Jamaica” include songs by Prince, the Temptations, the Talking Heads, Don Henley, more Bananarama, Dave Edmunds, Flash and the Pan, Kiss and Alice Cooper, and the “Ghostbusters” theme.

I’d better quit while I’m behind.

Looking over that shoe box full of prerecorded cassettes from the turn of that decade, there aren’t many that we’ve had on cassette, CD and vinyl. This is one, though the vinyl came last.

smithereens 11 lp

“Baby Be Good,” the Smithereens, from “11,” 1989. Apparently out of print, but available digitally.

I hear the Smithereens, and I’m taken right back to that time. Quite possibly my favorite band from that time.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under May 2014, Sounds

Cookie, Glick and Larry, Esq.

When we were kids, there always were a few baseball or football cards that just never turned up. Not for you, not for your friends, seemingly not for anyone where you lived.

cookie rojas 1968

So it was in the spring of 1968. No one in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, had Cookie Rojas, No. 39 from the first series of that year’s Topps baseball card set.

Fast forward to the spring of 1972. We had moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, about 150 miles to the northwest. My new best friend Glick and I bonded over many things, music and baseball cards among them.

As we talked about hard-to-get cards one day, I mentioned Cookie Rojas from 1968. Glick gave me his best you-must-be-shitting-me look. Cookie Rojas? He reached for his cards and said something like “Here, how many do you want?”

Somehow, Cookie Rojas was much more widely distributed in packs sold in Wausau than in packs sold in Sheboygan. Go figure.

Which brings us back to record digging, as usually happens here.

Last month’s vacation provided my first opportunity to go digging in the South. As you’d expect, there are lots more soul records in Mississippi and Tennessee than in Wisconsin. Not quite the same as the random Cookie Rojas distribution model, but there are similarities.

While digging through the soul records at one stop, I looked up and had my own you-must-be-shitting-me moment. There, on the wall, was a copy of this record, priced at $25 or so.

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The Esquires, from Milwaukee, on the Bunky Records label out of Milwaukee. As you’d imagine, this is one of the soul records we see in Wisconsin. They likely don’t see it as much in the South, even if it was distributed nationally by Scepter Records.

I’ve found two copies of this LP in Wisconsin, and I don’t think I paid more than $5 for them combined. Can’t imagine paying $25 for it. I mentioned that to my friend Larry, who runs the fine Funky 16 Corners and Iron Leg blogs.

“It’s the regional discount,” he sagely advised.

That said, this summer, I think I’m going to get on up …

“And Get Away,” the Esquires, from “Get On Up And Get Away,” 1967.

… seeking records (and perhaps a regional discount) not found in Wisconsin.

(“And Get Away” was the soundalike follow-up to “Get On Up,” the Esquires’ biggest hit. It also did well on the charts, peaking at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching No. 9 on the black singles chart.)

(Three years ago, Larry told me his copy of this LP “was among the many fine albums sacrificed in the vinyl-to-CD purge in the 80s.” So, after I found a second copy, I sent one to Larry in New Jersey.)

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under May 2014, Sounds

New arrivals from the South

Record Store Day pretty much came and went without me, and that’s OK.

Judging from Facebook, it looked like all of my favorite record stores had plenty of folks come through. We were headed south on vacation, but stopped briefly at Shangri-La Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

shangri la records memphis 2014

They have lots of soul records, as you’d expect, but there was none was compelling enough to haul back to Wisconsin. There was one that piqued my interest, but it looked a little rough for a $17 record. Maybe next time.

They have lots of soul records at The End of All Music in Oxford, Mississippi, too. They were still recovering from Record Store Day two days later.

end of all music oxford 2014

It was quite a thrill to come across this one, filed under “F” as I made my way through an alphabet full of soul records.

eddie floyd never found girl lp

It appeared to be Eddie Floyd’s “I’ve Never Found A Girl” from 1969 — which I would have loved to have had — but inside that jacket was another, less interesting Eddie Floyd record from the early ’70s. Dang. That happens.

Just when it seemed there again wouldn’t be any records compelling enough to take home, I realized I’d overlooked two crates of “New Arrivals.” Don’t you love record stores with fresh supplies of new arrivals? There, I saw this.

willie mitchell soul bag lp 2

I rarely see Willie Mitchell records in Wisconsin. I have only one other. In several years of record digging, I’ve developed this little rule. If you’ve never seen something in all that time, you ought to think about getting it.

So please enjoy a little something from this new arrival to Green Bay, Wisconsin, which comes via Oxford, Mississippi.

“Young People,” Willie Mitchell, from “Soul Bag,” 1969. It’s out of print. (This cut and some others from this LP are available on “Poppa Willie: The Hi Years, 1962-1974,” a double-CD import comp released in 2001.)

Written by Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, this was the only single from “Soul Bag,” It peaked at No. 120 on the U.S. charts in 1969.

“Soul Bag” is a bag full of tremendous instrumentals by the Memphis Horns and the Hi Rhythm Section, including four other Love-Jackson originals along with covers of songs by Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett and Sly and the Family Stone, and a cover of the “Hawaii Five-O” theme.

Eventually, though, Mitchell focused on producing records for the Hi label rather than recording his own. Only four more LPs followed “Soul Bag,” two each in 1970 and 1971, before Mitchell took a long break from recording.

And on the same week I visited that Oxford record store, so did Archie Turner and Howard Grimes, two members of the Hi Rhythm Section.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under April 2014, Sounds