Monthly Archives: September 2007

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 31

Sometimes you just need to slow it down on Sunday.

Today’s tune from Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, will do the trick.

It’s a slow blues tune written and originally done by Big Jay McNeely, the wildest of the honking sax players of the ’50s. When McNeely recorded this tune in 1959, the vocals were done by Little Sonny Warner. It was the biggest hit for both men.

Sleepy recorded this at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville, but I don’t know the date. Judging from the sound, I’m guessing the late ’70s. There’s no sax on his version, but there is some pretty good guitar and piano work.

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“There Is Something On Your Mind,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “The Human Jukebox,” 1995.

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As Ernie would say, let’s play two

Somewhere, The Skip is happy.

His beloved Chicago Cubs have backed into won the National League Central title.

We have watched the Cubs and our once-beloved Milwaukee Brewers stagger down the stretch, neither seemingly capable of clinching in a timely manner. However, the Cubs took care of business on Friday night, while the probably-a-year-too-young Brewers — as usual — did not.

Might as well cheer for the Cubs now. They have the best music anyway.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune had a terrific blog post earlier this week on how folk singer Steve Goodman’s “Go Cubs Go,” written in 1984, has been revived this year. Read it here.

I prefer Goodman’s “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” written in 1980, but the Cubs clearly are not “the doormat of the National League” this year.

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So, as you burn a mix for your Cubs-watching parties, let’s play two:

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“Go Cubs Go,” Steve Goodman, from “No Big Surprise: Anthology,” 1994.

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Slide,” Chicago Cubs Clark Street Band, 1969. It’s the first of 17 great cuts on Larry Grogan’s recent “Soul Organs, Vol. 1″ mix over at Funky 16 Corners. Check ‘em all out.

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Here’s how Larry describes this cut:

“This instro originally appeared as the flip side to a recording of the 1969 Chicago Cubs singing a reworked version of Little Willie John’s ‘Fever’ (I shit you not), called ‘Pennant Fever.'”

Larry has more to say about the origins of “Slide” on this earlier post at Funky 16 Corners. He suspects it originated in Philadelphia, not Chicago.

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Homecoming weekend

The toilet paper is in the trees in the neighborhood this week, and that means only one thing: It’s homecoming week at Green Bay East High School.

Sure enough, the Red Devils went out on Friday night and smoked their crosstown rivals, the Green Bay West Wildcats, 42-7. It was the 102nd time those teams have played. A little history there, eh?

Tonight, I’ll be having a little homecoming, too. I’ll be heading over to the outskirts of Wausau, Wisconsin, as my high school class celebrates everyone’s 50th birthday. Call it a 32-year reunion if you want, but it’s an excellent idea any way you cut it.

If we get around to talking about the bands we remember from our high school days, these names may come up. Unless you were of a certain age in the mid-’70s and lived in Wisconsin, you probably haven’t heard of them.

One was Dr. Bop and the Headliners, a ’50s revival show band out of Madison, Wisconsin. (If you remember them, check out this story and this story about them. They ran in a Madison newspaper in 2005 after the death of Mike Riegel, who was Dr. Bop. There’s even a three-part slide show — old posters, publicity stills and photos set to music — on YouTube. Here, here and here. It’s a wistful tribute to Riegel.)

Another was Circus, a blues-rock band out of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Still another was Clicker, an eclectic rock band also out of Madison.

They were apples and oranges, really. Dr. Bop and the Headliners wore suits. Circus and Clicker were rockers, locked in a battle for regional airplay. For some absurd reason, it seemed important at the time that you pick one over the other: Circus or Clicker.

When Clicker recorded its self-titled album in 1973, it was a five-piece band — bassist Steve Tracy, drummer Jerry Tracy, guitarists Bob Schmidtke and Dick Wiegel and singer Mark Everist. They wrote all eight tunes, recorded them at American Music in tiny Sauk City, Wisconsin, and released “Clicker” on Hemisphere Records out of Madison.

The album was an interesting mix of tunes and influences — a little ’60s rock, a little ’70s folk, a little prog, a little classical — with three instrumentals. The last cut, “Du Monde’s Back Room,” was a live studio jam that ran almost 16 minutes.

Though Clicker played a lot of gigs, they didn’t get much airplay.

That changed two years later. Clicker was back with a new three-man lineup — the Tracys and new guitarist “Memphis” Johnny Briggs — a new sound and a new album. The richer, horn-backed arrangements on “Har De Har Har” replaced the guitar-driven tunes of the first album. Some of the orchestration was arranged and conducted by David (Lewis) Crosby, who at the time led the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

It worked. Clicker started getting airplay on a single, “Tennessee Tailspin.”

Of all the guys who played in Clicker, only Wiegel — now Richard Wiegel — turns up in any web searches. He’s a veteran of the Madison music scene, now leading a band called The Midwesterners. It has released three albums. He also has released a solo acoustic blues CD.

Asked about Clicker earlier this year, Wiegel said the original band unraveled.

I remember seeing the three-piece Clicker at a gig in Wausau in what I think was the fall of 1975. It wasn’t long thereafter that you didn’t hear anything more about or from them. Perhaps they unraveled again.

There’s almost nothing about Clicker on the web. Their albums, long out of print, are rare. They go for about $100 each on eBay and from online record sellers.

Until last night, I probably hadn’t listened to my Clicker albums in their entirety in 30 years. I still can’t tell you who they sound like. You be the judge, then let me know whether you’d like to hear more Clicker.

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“Tennessee Tailspin” and “You Gotta Quit,” Clicker, from “Har De Har Har,” 1975. It’s out of print.

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Just monkeying around

In 1967, the music my dad liked and the music my brother and I liked came together at the same place. Which is a little remarkable, considering Dad was 42, I was 10 and my brother John was 8.

That fall, Disney released “The Jungle Book” as an animated feature. My brother and I liked the cartoon, but we liked the music more. Because the film prominently featured veteran swingers and hipsters Louis Prima and Phil Harris, a couple of Dad’s favorites, he liked it, too.

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Prima voices King Louie, an orangutan. Harris voices Baloo, a bear. The rest of the voice cast is terrific as well, with veteran movie bad guy George Sanders as Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger (the bad guy); Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera, a friendly panther; and Sterling Holloway as Kaa, a python.

A couple of years ago, I started looking for “The Jungle Book” soundtrack. I wanted another copy of “I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song),” which my brother and I had on a 45. We sang it over and over when we were kids: “Oh, ooh bee doo/I wanna be like you/I wanna walk like you/Talk like you, too …”

The search took longer than I thought it would. Then, earlier this year, it all started to fall into place. Now I find myself with two versions by Prima and Harris, another by Prima and a cover. I’m not sure either of the Prima/Harris versions are what we had on our 45, but they’re close enough.

Another of the versions is done by Prima, his wife, Gia Maione, and their swinging Vegas backing band — Sam Butera and the Witnesses.

Los Lobos does the cover, from “Stay Awake,” producer Hal Willner’s 1988 tribute album of classic Disney songs. It’s one of the most straightforward cuts on what gets to be a pretty far-out album. (Among the other “Stay Awake” performers: Tom Waits, David Johansen as Buster Poindexter, NRBQ, Betty Carter, the Replacements, Sinead O’Connor, Sun Ra, Harry Nilsson, James Taylor and Ringo Starr.)

So here it is, the music and lyrics by longtime Disney composers Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

Dig the scat singing by Prima and Harris at about the 3-minute mark of the first two cuts. Just before the big finish on both cuts, Harris gives the order: “Home, daddy!” Dig also Harris’ jive talk on the second cut: “I’m gone, man, solid gone!”

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“I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song),” Louis Prima and Phil Harris, from “The Jungle Book” soundtrack, 1967, issued on CD, 1990. (However, the link is to a 2001 CD release.)

“I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song),” Louis Prima and Phil Harris, from “The Jungle Book” soundtrack, 1967, with dialogue featuring some of the other voice actors from the film. I don’t recall where I found this version, nor do I know its source.

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“I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song),” Louis Prima, Gia Maione and Sam Butera and the Witnesses, from “The New Sounds of the Louis Prima Show,” 1969. Dig the Hammond organ on this one. (The album is out of print, but it’s available as a download at Amazon and eMusic.)

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“I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song),” Los Lobos, from “Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films,” 1988. (Also found on Los Lobos’ “Just Another Band From East L.A.: A Collection,” 1993.) This swings, thanks to Steve Berlin’s baritone sax, David Hidalgo’s acoustic guitar and Alex Acuna’s percussion. (This is the CD rip; there’s a little skip on my 19-year-old vinyl.)

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Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 30

My friend Mike plays in the New Pioneers, a bluegrass band that has a regular gig at Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and I made the trip down to see them on Thursday night.

For the last 22 years, Cafe Carpe has hosted singer-songwriters and small groups in a tiny performance space sandwiched between the front bar and the back porch, which overlooks the Rock River. Steve Forbert played there on Tuesday night.

Another of the performers to have graced Cafe Carpe’s tiny stage is Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure.

As I sat there, watching Mike’s band — and no disrespect meant toward them — I found myself wishing I’d seen Sleepy in this room. The folks who run Cafe Carpe say there’s room for 60, maybe 70 people. OK, if you insist.

The wildest of the four Sleepy shows I’ve seen was at another jam-packed little place, the Bayside Tavern in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.

Sleepy and drummer Jerry Cavanagh and their bass player set up in the corner, just to your right when you came in the front door. A party-hearty crowd stood maybe 10 feet away from Sleepy as he played a couple of typically energetic sets. An intimate setting, indeed.

I stood next to the door, my arm resting on a window ledge. From that vantage point, I watched Sleepy head out the door between sets, walk across the two-lane street, open up the back of the band’s van, pour himself a cup of coffee and catch a little fresh air.

I have to imagine Sleepy’s show at Cafe Carpe was something like that.

Today, Sleepy covers Roger Miller, who also wrote this tune.

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“Playboy,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Strange Things Happening,” 1994.

(Credits: Cafe Carpe photo by Arthur E. Welch III)

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We’re back at Ray’s Corner

It’s been a while since we took a spin through my dad’s record collection, which today got a little smaller.

After I went through Dad’s vinyl last month, picking out some goodies, he offered to donate the leftovers to the senior citizen center my brother supervises. So Jim drove over today and took all the rest of Dad’s albums.

For lack of a better word, Dad’s collection seems to poop out about the mid-’60s. I’m guessing that’s when money became tight, what with three boys to raise on a rather modest income. Either that, or his record money went into the camper he built with my uncle.

But in 1965, when he was 40, Dad picked up a couple of albums that became my favorites.

One was “Going Places” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. That has a couple of goodies — particularly “Spanish Flea,” the tune used on “The Dating Game.”

On the other, the Baja Marimba Band delivered a bunch of sweet, swinging instrumentals on “The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again.”

You know Herb Alpert, but you may not know Julius Wechter, who led the Baja Marimba Band. I can’t tell his story any better than the following, found on the Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band page at A&M Corner, a fan’s guide to vintage recordings on the A&M label.

Back in 1962, Herb Alpert contacted Julius Wechter to play on his first Tijuana Brass recording, “The Lonely Bull.” Julius hardly knew Herb at the time, and was paid $15 for his session. Shortly thereafter, this chance meeting turned into a successful recording career. Hot on the success of the first Tijuana Brass albums, Julius Wechter was offered the chance to record his own music on the newly-formed A&M Records. His creation was the Baja Marimba Band, which went on to record 11 original albums for A&M Records throughout the 1960s and tour America with Herb and his Tijuana Brass organization. While the first Baja albums were rooted heavily in Mexican soundscapes (even more so than Tijuana Brass recordings), the music evolved into jazz, MOR, samba, Dixieland and even novelty settings. Above all, Wechter’s virtuoso marimba and vibraphone playing would be the highlight of each song he would record.

Wechter, who died in 1999, was a well-regarded session player on the West Coast before he hooked up with Alpert. Even while he led the Baja Marimba Band, Wechter played on and wrote for Alpert’s records and on other A&M records.

The perception lingers that the Baja Marimba Band was the B team to the Tijuana Brass’ A team. Well, only if you go by the number of hit records. Listen, though, and you hear some similarly gifted musicians and some inspired music.

“Rides Again” was the Baja Marimba Band’s second album, and it indeed had a strong Mexican flavor wrapped into its California cool. It’s fresh, not cliched. Wechter did the arrangements with Alpert, wrote five of the 12 cuts on the album and fronted a group of studio musicians. (The Baja Marimba Band didn’t have a regular group of members until the fourth album.)

Mixed in with Wechter’s originals are some interesting covers, including “Walk On By,” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and “More,” by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero from the soundtrack to “Mondo Cane.” My all-time favorite, at least as a kid, was their cover of “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” from the old cartoon.

Simply put, I played the living shit out of this album when I was a kid. You’ll be able to tell when you hear the rips. Pops, scratches, even the occasional skip. But until I find a new copy or have more time to run it through the audio software, it’ll have to do.

So, from Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, enjoy. Both of these cuts were written by Julius Wechter.

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“Guacamole” and “Majorca,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print.

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Why, son, those are pipes

We made a little side trip during our visit to Duluth, Minnesota, over the weekend. Within walking distance of our hotel was a record store I’d seen on our previous trips to Duluth but never visited.

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I learned that The Electric Fetus has been around since 1968. Its name, edgy then, remains vaguely so today.

It was a delight to stroll through the store, even though I wasn’t really looking for anything. It’s a throwback to a more mellow, more hazy time. You know what I mean.

The Electric Fetus bills itself as “your everyday, mainstream, revolutionary, alternative, radical store.” It carries “a wide selection of music, clothing, candles, incense and decor,” according to the paper in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where they have another store. (The main store is in Minneapolis.)

Ah, yes, a wide selection indeed. Evan was along, and was fascinated by the variety of shapes and colors of a few items behind the glass of a tall cabinet.

I explained that they were pipes, that you could smoke anything in them, but that they most often are used to smoke marijuana. Evan was a little puzzled about how they could sell the pipes (and hookahs and bongs) if they were used to smoke pot. I explained that the pipes are legal, but the stuff that goes in them is not.

At 12, Evan rarely has much patience when I’m digging through CDs and vinyl. On this day, though, there were enough things to keep him interested, from the pipes to the subversive greeting cards to the novelty items. He even went along to explore the used vinyl in the basement.

We didn’t have time to linger over the vinyl bins, and I didn’t find anything I absolutely had to have in the short time I went digging. I think I’ll set aside some more time for digging next time I’m in Duluth.

Our short trip to The Electric Fetus was a little like a trip back to 1968, the year it opened. Let’s continue that trip with a couple of admittedly familiar tunes with that same hazy vibe.

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“Dear Mr. Fantasy,” Traffic, from “Mr. Fantasy,” 1968. (Also available on “Feelin’ Alright: The Definitive Collection,” issued in 2000.)

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“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Iron Butterfly, from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” 1968. This is the epic 17-minute version.

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