Monthly Archives: April 2007

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 9

Yesterday was like Christmas for Packers fans, given the first day of the NFL draft.

Today is like Christmas for my dad. This is the weekend for the annual Titletown Train Show. He’s an old railroad man and still passionate about it all. At 81, he’s good from the knees up, not so good from the knees down, so we take our time to look at the books, DVDs, videos and old photos. Sort of like crate digging.

Sleepy LaBeef, American treasure, knows a few train songs. This is one.

“Night Train to Memphis” was written by legendary country producer Owen Bradley, along with Marvin Hughes and Beasley Smith. It was a hit for Roy Acuff in 1942, and he starred in the Republic Pictures musical of the same name in 1946. It’s also been covered by Bobby Hebb, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dolly Parton.

Sleepy recorded this version at Blue Jay Studio in Carlisle, Massachusetts, in January 1996. The solos are by Duke Levine on guitar and Lisa Pankratz on drums.

So hop on board.

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“Night Train to Memphis,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Rockabilly Blues,” 2001.

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Green Bay is on the clock

Today has the feel of Christmas here in the shadow of Lambeau Field.

The Green Bay Packers, along with the other 31 teams in the NFL, get to unwrap their presents in the NFL draft.

My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to spend five hours watching the first round of the draft and posting to our newspaper’s Packers news site (and to handhelds) every time a team makes a pick.

No better way to prepare for that than to enjoy the music of Sam Spence.

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If the name isn’t familiar, the music is. You’ve heard his compositions countless times on the classic NFL Films presentations of the ’60s and the ’70s. They’re terrific.

Some years ago, I came across a CD of NFL Films music by Spence and a couple of other more contemporary composers. It’s terrific, taking you back to those great NFL Films.

So let’s hope someone picks a ramblin’ man from Grambling.

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“Ramblin’ Man From Grambling,” composed by Sam Spence, from “The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films,” 1998.

Though this CD is plenty for me, there’s also a boxed set of NFL Films music. “Autumn Thunder” is available with 10 CDs or five vinyl albums.

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Nights on Hudson Street

Today, we celebrate Janet’s birthday. We’ve been together for 28 years, married for almost 20 years.

We met when we were seniors at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, both journalism majors.

We had known each other for some time, then got together on March 9, 1979, a Friday night. Over the next two months, I spent plenty of time at the house Janet shared with some other women. Just, ahem, resting.

There were a few albums we played over and over. These tunes take us right back to that couch in the living room of the house on Hudson Street in Eau Claire.

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“Passion Is No Ordinary Word,” Graham Parker and the Rumour, from “Squeezing Out Sparks,” 1979.

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“Affirmation,” by George Benson, from “Breezin’,” 1976.

Both albums came from Janet’s collection, which long ago became part of our collection.

Yes, we have some doubles. “Squeezing Out Sparks” is one.

Oh, and that kid holding the camera? He belongs to us, too. That’s Evan.

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My oldies station does not want me

Well, maybe it would like me to listen. But it clearly does not want my opinion about the music it plays.

The other night, I received a call from a woman with a honeyed Southern accent, asking whether I’d be willing to attend a local gathering to help rate music. Sure, I said.

Then she asked what radio station I most often listened to. I told her WAPL, our local rock dinosaur in this corner of Wisconsin (and whose playlist certainly can be described as “oldies”).

Then she asked whether I listened to an oldies station. Sure, from time to time, I said. She asked me which one. I drew a blank.

Oh, OK. Never mind. Thanks, but no thanks. Uninvited.

Shunned by what I am guessing is WOGB. It’s owned by Cumulus Media, based in Atlanta. That would explain the honeyed Southern accent.

I ran this past a friend who knows a lot more about radio than I do. He assured me it’s standard procedure. He also can explain it much better than I can:

“My guess is that for some reason they want to exclude people who cross over between ‘APL and whatever the oldies station is up there, although for what reason I don’t know. … These focus groups generally rely heavily on the station’s core listeners, because they’re the people most likely to have opinions about the station; the vast majority of people like their favorite stations but don’t obsess about it.”

OK, I’ll buy that. After all, I might have suggested they play oldies like …

One from 1969: “Kick Out The Jams,” by the MC5. You really ought to.

Or one from 1971: “We Got To Have Peace,” by Curtis Mayfield. Yes, we do.

Or one from 1974: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil Scott-Heron. Hey, I heard it on FM radio in Wausau, Wisconsin, when it came out in 1974, so why not now?

Or one from 1975: “Fight The Power (Part I),” by the Isley Brothers.

Nah, they’ll never play any of that. Talk about your bullshit going down.

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Reunited with old friends, Part II

Of the six tunes posted last week from the late summer of 1969, this one has been downloaded most often: “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home?” by Joe South.

Good for you.

I always liked it, and I had it on a long-lost 45, but I didn’t have a digital copy until last year. Joe South and I were reunited by a long-lost friend who remembered I liked it — back in junior high school in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Mike and I were pals in the late ’60s and early ’70s, in third grade, then again beginning in seventh grade. We were passionate about comics, music and pop culture. Midway through ninth grade, I moved away. We briefly kept touch, but life went on.

Then, after 34 years out of touch, Mike and I were reunited, first via e-mail, then in person. After all that time, we remain passionate about most of the same things, and we have a similar world view. We live about three hours apart, and we get together a couple of times a year.

When we got together for lunch, I brought along a CD of songs that reflected 34 years of music I have enjoyed. Not really a soundtrack of my life. More like a road map of all the genres I like.

My journey through music is almost solely as a fan. Mike’s is more varied. He’s had gigs as a music teacher, a Nashville session musician, a radio host and — these days — a bluegrass musician. (He’s in The New Pioneers, who play the second Thursday of every month at Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.) His wife, Lori, is a singer. They have a home studio.

One day, Mike sent a CD of things he liked. One of the tunes was “Rings,” by Cymarron. He’d been looking for it, and I helped him dig it up. Another was the Joe South tune.

Here are a couple of other tunes from Mike’s CD, with his comments:

“Golden Ribbons,” Loggins & Messina, from “Loggins & Messina,” 1972.

“We had a juke box in the cafeteria at South High. People played it during study hall and someone kept playing this — the B side of “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” which I can’t stand. But this is a great song, in my opinion. Well-written, wonderfully performed, and I think it still holds up, seeing it was done in ’73 or ’74. This is among my all-time favorite tunes … with a heavy message to boot.”

“Everyone’s Agreed,” Stealers Wheel, from “Ferguslie Park,” 1973.

“Just an oldie but a goodie. Like ‘Rings,’ it’s one that I hadn’t heard in years and found on the Internet. I’ve downloaded other old favorites that made me wonder what I was thinking, but this one held up (again, in my opinion).”

Mike called that CD “Stuff for Jeff.” And now it is stuff for you. Enjoy.

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Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 8

Better get this posted before Sunday becomes Monday.

So it goes when you have an 83-degree day in Wisconsin in April. Too warm, too soon. Not used to it, especially when you are playing lacrosse, as our son was, or when you are trying to run, as I was.

Pretty easy choice for a song from Sleepy LaBeef, American treasure, on a day like this.

“Red Hot” was written and done first by Billy “The Kid” Emerson in 1955. Among those to have covered it: Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, Robert Gordon and Rick Derringer.

Sleepy’s version comes from the same recording session as last week’s selection — July 3, 1979, at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville. That’s John Probst pounding away on the piano.

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“Red Hot,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “A Rockin’ Decade,” 1997.

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Cruisin’ the circuit

The name of this blog — AM, Then FM — reflects how I came to know much of the music I’ve enjoyed all these years. So, yes, I am older than dirt, old enough to have started listening to Top 40 radio on AM stations.

So let us step into the Wayback Machine …

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… and I find myself at 12, a boy about Sherman’s age, scrunched into the back seat of a car with my 10-year-old brother. We are out with two older cousins — girls — cruising the circuit in Janesville, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1969. The windows are down and WLS radio out of Chicago is blasting from the speakers.

My brother and I spent a week with our aunt and uncle in Janesville every summer in the late ’60s. We loved going. Always some kind of adventure, at least to a 12-year-old. Uncle Jerry and Aunt Nona had color TV and watched things we never watched at home. “The Fugitive,” for one. Uncle Jerry took us bowfishing — shooting carp with bow and arrow in the sloughs of the Rock River. We always found baseball cards curiously not distributed back home in Sheboygan. My brother ratted me out one summer when I wore the same socks all week in Janesville. I broke his collar bone playing football on Nona and Jerry’s lawn one summer.

All that, and Deb and Pete (what we have always called my cousin Maureen) took us cruising. Why they agreed to take a couple of kids cruising is beyond me, but it is one of my great childhood memories.

A brief history of the circuit in downtown Janesville: On July 16, 1956, the city made several two-way streets — most notably the long southwest-to-northeast drags of Milwaukee and Court streets across the Rock River — one-way to cut down on traffic congestion. It was the beginning of cruising on the circuit.

It’s become so much of a tradition that the local historical society had an exhibit on it back in 2oo3.

One other thing you need to know about Janesville: It’s long had a GM plant, thus a strong car culture.

So we cruised the circuit in that summer of 1969. Two girls, two kids. If memory serves, we did so in a Mercury Cougar.

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That summer of 1969 was the first time I really started digging what was on the radio. The song I most vividly recall — “In The Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans. Hey, I was 12, on the verge of 7th grade. As our son will be this summer.

Listed below are just some of the songs on the WLS Hit Parade for the week of Aug. 25, 1969. I don’t recall whether that was the week we spent in Janesville that year, but all the right songs are in the Top 40:

  • 1. “Honky Tonk Women,” the Rolling Stones
  • 5. “Green River,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • 7. “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash
  • 8. “Sugar Sugar,” the Archies
  • 10. “Birthday,” Underground Sunshine
  • 12. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” Jackie DeShannon
  • 13. “Get Together,” the Youngbloods
  • 15. “Poke Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White
  • 16. “I’d Wait A Million Years,” the Grass Roots
  • 19. “Sweet Caroline,” Neil Diamond
  • 21. “Laughing,” the Guess Who
  • 24. “Give Peace A Chance,” Plastic Ono Band
  • 26. “In The Year 2525,” Zager and Evans
  • 33. “I Can’t Get Next To You,” the Temptations
  • 38. “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” Tommy James and the Shondells
  • 39. “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” Joe South

Imagine that. Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White and Joe South all in the same Top 40 in the same week.

So was Tom Jones, but that’s another story, for another time.

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