Monthly Archives: July 2007

The travelers are home

It’s been pretty quiet around here, with few posts, because we’ve been away on vacation.

Our 12-year-old arrived home early Tuesday morning from a two-week guided tour of Hawaii. He gamely made it to 8:30 p.m. before he faded and collapsed into bed.

While Evan was spending his second week in Hawaii, Mom and Dad spent a long weekend in New York City. It was my first trip there, but Janet has been there before. A New York post is forthcoming, but not today.

I was away from the Web for almost five days, so I’m still getting caught up on my reading.

– In the wake of my recent post about whether it has become politically incorrect to enjoy the music of Ike and Tina Turner came the story out of St. Louis about how the mayor turned down a request to proclaim an “Ike Turner Day” on Labor Day weekend.

Roy Kasten, over at Living In Stereo, has weighed in with a far more eloquent, far more informed essay on Ike Turner than I turned out. He also shares a piece he wrote for the Riverfront Times weekly and offers a handful of samples of Ike Turner’s music.

– Speaking of reading material, head over to Jefitoblog, where I again have the honor of being a guest contributor. This time, it’s an essay in an occasional series entitled “Safe for Crackers.” Jefito describes it this way:

To celebrate suburban rap’s 21st birthday, a number of bloggers, writers and friends will be sharing their memories of this era, and talking about the songs that acted as their gateway to rap — the music that, in Jason (Hare)’s words, made it “safe for crackers.”

I’m not likely to write often about that, but I have enjoyed some tunes from that genre over the last 25 years. So head over there if you’re curious to see what someone older than dirt has to say about rap.

So let’s get ready for that New York post with a bit of a New York groove.

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“Gotham City,” Nelson Riddle, from “Batman: Exclusive Original Television Soundtrack Album,” 1966. The fine folks at Check The Cool Wax posted the entire album earlier this year.

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Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 22

You really want to know, don’t you?

Last week, you got a little taste of Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, covering Tony Joe White. Now you’re wondering whether he’s covered “Poke Salad Annie,” the 1969 single everyone knows.

Imagine, if you will, “Poke Salad Annie” sung in just a tad lower register than the original.

Now give it a listen. Enjoy.

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“Poke Salad Annie,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Tomorrow Never Comes,” 2000.

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Now that was more like it

We had a rare treat in the lounge at our local casino on Sunday night.

Marcia Ball, the long, tall R&B/blues/swing pianist from Louisiana by way of Austin, Texas, was rocking the house with a tight four-piece backing band. She’s long been one of our favorites.

The first time we saw Marcia Ball, it was three or four years ago, at a small-town auditorium. She was terrific that night, too, but the crowd was way too reserved and polite. We left feeling she’s best seen in a more raucous venue.

Last night confirmed it. A tiny stage, a big crowd packed into a small space, lots of noise and lots of drinks going down. Without question, a better venue for her mix of R&B and blues.

Last night, all the seats were filled by the time I got there, but I got to stand in my favorite place, facing center stage. It was fun to watch her hands on the keyboards, but I couldn’t see over the bar well enough to watch her cross leg swinging and keeping time as she played. No complaints, though, especially considering the lounge shows are free.

Marcia Ball has 10 albums out, all but one on the Rounder and Alligator labels. Although her studio albums are fine, she’s best seen and heard live.

Here’s a little sample of each way, a couple of originals. Enjoy.

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“Louella,” Marcia Ball, from “Presumed Innocent,” 2001.

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“Big Shot,” Marcia Ball, from “Live! Down the Road,” 2005.

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In heaven, there is no beer

In Pulaski, Wisconsin, there is plenty of beer, especially during Pulaski Polka Days.

If you grew up in central Wisconsin in the ’70s, as I did, polka was just another style of music in the background.

Especially when you went to someone’s wedding at one of the classic, vintage dance halls in the Wausau area — the Colonial Ballroom, the Rothschild Pavilion or the Rib River Ballroom. (They’re all still there, too.)

None of us bought polka albums or became polka fans, but we had to learn how to dance the polka if we stood any chance with the ladies. Needless to say, there often was beer involved.

As there was Saturday night in Pulaski. It was as if 30 years had not passed. The charming young ladies were good to go on the wooden dance floors in both polka tents. However, the buff young gents were not quite so sure about it all. Quaff enough beer, though, and dancing commences.

Polka has long been big in Wisconsin, thanks to all its German and Polish families. I’m three-quarters German, but my grandparents always seemed more intent on being American than ethnic. But for others, especially in Polish families, ethnicity is a point of pride, even today. To borrow a phrase, the force is stronger in some than others.

At the west end of Pulaski’s downtown, Zielinski’s Ballroom — another classic, vintage dance hall with an arched wooden roof — hosted bands playing the slower German and Bohemian polkas and waltzes. The oompah music, as my dad would say. This party is pretty mellow.

At the east end of the downtown, the Polka Days grounds host bands playing the more upbeat Polish polkas. This party rocks.

The New Generation was the first group I saw, and the group I enjoyed most. These young guys are doing it right. They’re taking classic Polish polkas and updating the sound, adding covers and originals.

The first song I caught was their old-time polka medley, which pretty much covered every polka song I know. It must have gone on for 10 or 15 minutes, with these twentysomething performers putting on quite a show. They also covered “Never Ending Song of Love” (yep, the one by Delaney and Bonnie and Friends) and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” polka style.

Crowded around the small stage was a group of charming young ladies that was pretty easy on the eyes. (And a spirited sixtysomething woman wearing a raspberry-colored halter top and pants, white Keds and an orange lei.) Hanging out on the edge of the crowd were the buff young gents, occasionally swooping in to ask the ladies for a dance.

Polka dancing is always energetic but not always smooth. Sometimes, it looks a little like bumper cars. I’ll give it a go, but as my wife and good friends will attest, it usually isn’t pretty.

Drink enough beer, and it really doesn’t matter.

It didn’t matter to Eric Niziolek, who’s 25. He and his buddies drove an hour from the Wausau area to get to Polka Days. They’ve been coming since they were old enough to drink. Eric was interviewed by the paper and listed these reasons for coming to Polka Days:

“Good music, good people, girls and beer.”

Eric didn’t say whether that was the order of importance. I suspect not.

I confess I didn’t buy one of The New Generation’s CDs, so I can’t offer you one of their tunes. I also confess I have no Polish polka music.

So this classic will have to do: “In Heaven There is No Beer.”

First, watch the Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band performing it at a pep rally at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

They’re familiar with this tune in San Antonio, thanks to Tex-Mex accordion legend Flaco Jimenez. Enjoy his version.

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Flaco Jimenez, “En El Cielo No Hay Cerveza (In Heaven There Is No Beer),” from “Brewed in Texas, Vol. 2,” a collection of — what else? — drinking songs from Compadre Records, 2005.

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Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 21

Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, covers lots of songs. You know that. And you know it’s only natural that some covers are better than others.

Especially when Sleepy covers Tony Joe White. Especially considering both of their voices check in somewhere around low baritone on the register.

Today’s cut originally appeared on “Black and White,” which was White’s first album on Monument Records in 1969. It charted as a single, but was overshadowed by another single off the album. Oh, yeah, you know the one: “Poke Salad Annie.”

Enjoy today’s tale from the swamp.

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“Roosevelt and Ira Lee (Night of the Mossacin),” Sleepy LaBeef, from “I’ll Never Lay My Guitar Down,” 1996.

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Filed under July 2007, Sounds