Monthly Archives: October 2007

Still amazing, still aces

When you hear of the Amazing Rhythm Aces, you almost certainly think of “Third Rate Romance.” And rightly so. It’s a first-rate tune.

But if you think they’re just a country band, I am here to dispel that notion.

The Aces came out of Memphis in the early ’70s, putting together a tasty stew that mixed R&B, soul, country and even a little bluegrass. Russell Smith’s laconic vocals topped off plenty of tight, winning performances from this six-piece group.

They hit it big in 1975 with “Third Rate Romance.” You know that one.

Listen, then, to a couple of cuts from “Stacked Deck,” their debut album from that year. Both are written by Smith.

“The Ella B” is a little bit of swamp rock, a little more lighthearted than Joe South or Creedence.

With its elegant piano line, “King of the Cowboys” echoes Jackson Browne and the early Eagles.

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“The Ella B” and “King of the Cowboys,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces, from “Stacked Deck,” 1975.

The Aces’ albums, particularly those from the ’70s, have gone in and out and back into print in various formats since. The link above is to a CD that pairs “Stacked Deck” with the Aces’ second album, “Too Stuffed to Jump.” That’s a nice combination.

As for the Aces, they broke up in 1981, then reunited part-time in 1995, then full-time in 1997. They’ve since recorded and toured sporadically, re-recording some old material on a couple of albums and putting out four albums of new material.

This year, they released a new CD, “Midnight Communion.” To learn more, check out their web site or their MySpace page.

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Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 35

A little celebration is in order on this Sleepy Sunday!

Whiteray, our pal over at Echoes in the Wind, went and done got hitched to the lovely Texas Gal the other day.

This tune from Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, might be in order.

It was done first by the Eagles — no, not those Eagles — in 1954. It’s been covered by Elvis Presley, the Animals and Faith Hill.

So here you go, kids. Congratulations and best wishes for a continued wonderful life together.

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“Trying to Get to You,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Strange Things Happening,” 1994.

(Rose Marie McCoy, who wrote this tune with Charles Singleton, is a fascinating story in her own right. She started out as a singer in the black show clubs of the early ’50s — including the Flame Show Bar in Detroit and the Club Baby Grand in Harlem — then became an independent songwriter who was much in demand. She’s described as “one of the most prolific but least known songwriters of the ’50s and ’60s. McCoy’s 850 published songs have been performed by legends from Big Maybelle to Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner, from Ruth Brown to Bette Midler and Elvis Presley.” That’s how they’re billing a McCoy tribute that’ll be part of a show called “Ladies Singing the Blues on Broadway” next month in New York City. McCoy, still going at 85, will be there.)

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Elvis has parked his bike

Every community has at least one. Someone you don’t necessarily know well, but someone you see often enough in public that you become familiar with them.

Our community had Elvis.

We knew him only as Elvis, the guy who rode his bike all over town, collecting aluminum cans. We saw Elvis most often at the park, where he’d ride up the path through the woods and pull up behind the bleachers, checking the lone trash barrel next to the softball diamond.

Elvis’ bike was something to behold. It was overloaded with baskets and bags for his cans. It had Packers stickers. It had his name on it, as if anyone needed that to tell whose bike it was.

Already fiftysomething when I came to know him, Elvis was a skinny, slightly stooped guy with glasses, a scraggly beard and wild, thinning hair underneath his ever-present baseball cap. Not real social, though.

He’d determinedly dig through the barrel, looking for cans. If he wasn’t around, the softball players would just set them out for him next to the barrel, knowing Elvis would be along.

One night this summer, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Elvis at the ballpark this year. Now I know why.

Elvis died Monday. He was 68. He’d been in hospice care.

You couldn’t call Elvis a character. Nor would you want to. He seemingly had some kind of disability. What, we didn’t know. Wasn’t our business.

That was all I knew about Elvis until I read his obit on Wednesday. Now I know Elvis worked at the Park Department. He loved the outdoors. He enjoyed playing rummy. He enjoyed working with kids in sports. He liked the Packers. He liked watching football.

Elvis was just a nickname. I learned that from reading the obit, too. Elvis was born James. Apparently no one called him James, or Jim. Just Elvis. Why, I don’t know.

This also was in the obit:

“Elvis could be seen on his daily route on his bike. He will be sadly missed.”

That, I did know, and do know.

So, Elvis, these tunes are for you, to send you on your journey.

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“Follow That Dream,” Elvis Presley, from “Elvis in Hollywood,” a 1976 compilation licensed by RCA Records to Brookville Records, and sold on TV, near as I can tell. It’s out of print. The tune is from the 1962 Elvis film of the same name.

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“Glory Glory,” Pops Staples, from “Father Father,” 1994. Written by Pops, it’s a gospel tune drenched in Memphis R&B.

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“Amen,” the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, from “Marching Down Bourbon Street,” 1997.

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Just not my (trick-or-treat) bag

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Halloween is just a week away, and our 12-year-old son is revved up about it as usual. Evan has assembled a costume, has a Halloween party tonight and has made his trick-or-treating plans for next week.

Good for him. Halloween is not my thing.

We always went trick-or-treating when we were kids, but we never had the cool costumes. Our parents raised three boys on a rather modest income, so we would get a mask — usually a popular cartoon character — and that would be about it. Just the way it was.

Masks meant a choice of the lesser of two evils: Wear my glasses under the mask and have the mask not fit properly, or go without my glasses and not see anything clearly. I remember going as Superman because it was easy enough to scare up a cape, and you didn’t need a mask. (And you could take the glasses on and off as needed.)

On Halloween 1970, we were visiting my grandmother, so we had to go trick-or-treating in her town that Saturday night. Grandma lived in an old rental house in a rundown neighborhood hard by the railroad tracks in a small town in central Wisconsin. We were kids, so we never really noticed. It was just Grandma’s neighborhood.

My brothers and I — we were 13, 11 and 6 — had covered a couple of blocks when we walked up to a low-slung one-story house with a flat roof and a bunch of junk in the yard. It faced the tracks. We rang the doorbell and shouted “Trick or treat!”

After a short while, the door creaked open and a disheveled middle-aged woman peered out. Startled, it took her a couple of moments to comprehend what we were doing there. I was only 13, but somehow, I knew what was going on. She wasn’t expecting anyone.

The woman didn’t say much — maybe “Oh, my” — and then walked away from the door. Through the screen door, we saw her rummaging around a table. She came back to the door and dropped a couple of pennies into each of our bags.

The woman who wasn’t expecting anyone didn’t have anything to give anyone, either.

I suppose we kept on trick-or treating that night, but that was it for me. Done. Forever.

I’ve always wondered whether the kids in that little town just knew — or were told — not to go down to that house. We were visitors, and kids, and didn’t know any better.

Ever since, Halloween has not been my thing.

However, in the spirit of the season, I will confess …

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– I greatly prefer “The Addams Family” over “The Munsters.” Make of that what you will.

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– Horror movies? Also not my thing, though I watched enough of them late at night in the mid-’70s with a girlfriend who liked them more than she liked me. The ones I enjoyed most had Vincent Price in them. He was cool, as Andrew explains in one of his lovingly crafted Halloween countdown posts over at Armagideon Time.

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– I like “The Cask of Amontillado,” an Edgar Allan Poe story in which a man is plied with wine, then sealed behind a brick wall and left to die. I discovered it in high school, then dug the episode of “Homicide: Life on the Streets” based on that story some 20 years later.

“The Cask of Amontillado” also is one of the cuts on the only album I associate with Halloween. It is, of course, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” the first album by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s a prog rock concept album based on Poe’s stories.

In the mid-’70s, Parsons was highly regarded for his work as an engineer on albums by the Beatles, Paul McCartney, the Hollies and Pink Floyd. He then became a producer, then created “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” with Eric Woolfson, who pitched him the idea.

More than 200 musicians played on that 1976 album, which was arranged by Andrew Powell.

You know “The Raven” from that album. It wasn’t the single — that was “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” — but it became more widely played, and rightly so.

So, for your Halloween listening pleasure … two treats only. No tricks.

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“The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Alan Parsons Project, from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” 1976. (Arthur Brown does the wild vocals on the latter.)

My copy is the original vinyl. I haven’t heard the late ’80s CD version, to which Parsons added readings by Orson Welles and extra synthesizers.

One last note: In 2003, Woolfson — who admits he’s been fascinated by Poe for years — put together a sequel of sorts, calling it “Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination.” I haven’t heard it. The reviews are mixed.

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Feels like 1967 … 1979 … 1992

Sunday was one of those glorious autumn days in Wisconsin — blue skies, mild weather and lots of fall color. It was a pleasant day spent pleasantly in the past.

When I saw late Saturday night that former Packers player Max McGee had died, I knew my Sunday morning would start at work. I’m the unofficial keeper of our paper’s Packers photo archives, so I went in and uploaded a gallery of old photos of McGee to our web site.

For those of us who are Packers fans, Max McGee has been part of the family for much of our lives. Older folks remember Max as a player. His last season was 1967, when I was 10. The vast majority of us remember him as one of the radio voices for the Packers for 20 years, from 1979 to 1998. You spent part of every Sunday afternoon with Max.

That done, I headed down to Milwaukee for a record show.

Last time I went to a record show, six months ago, I found lots of swell stuff but was on a limited budget. This time, I’d set aside some extra money … and, of course, as it turned out, I didn’t find much. So it goes.

Then I headed across town to the corner of Locust and Oakland, not far from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus on the northeast side of town.

The first stop was at Atomic Records, a small indie record store with a nice, if modest, selection of new and used vinyl.

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Before I even got into the store, I went through the $1 vinyl bins on the sidewalk in front. Inside the store, I had to decide: Did I want “100 Days, 100 Nights,” the fine new album by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, on CD or vinyl? Oh, yeah. Vinyl, baby.

Then, another easy decision.

We used to think Parthenon Gyros on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, was the best place for gyros. That is, until the late ’80s, when we discovered Oakland Gyros, at the corner of Oakland and Locust.

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One piece of pita bread is not enough for all the sliced gyros meat piled on top. Either they’ve increased the portions, or my appetite is not what it used to be. I can’t recall struggling to finish a gyros sandwich as I did Sunday.

So, I got a gyros sandwich to go (Janet likes them, too) and headed home.

That trip home was one last trip back in time. Milwaukee radio station WTMJ — per its tradition on the Packers’ bye weekend — was replaying a memorable Packers game.

This one was from September 1992, with Max McGee on the color commentary. It was when Brett Favre had his first big game, stepping in for an injured Don Majkowski and rallying the Packers to a 24-23 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s started every game since.

We remember that game well. It was another glorious fall day.

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We were there.

But you don’t really care about that, do you? Didn’t think so.

The oldies that came home from Sunday’s crate-digging expedition included a couple of Tom Jones albums, each with only one or two decent cuts, and neither as good as the last two TJ albums I found. Also got one by the Dennis Coffey Band, but it’s more disco than funk and thus a little disappointing.

And this, from the $1 bins on the sidewalk outside Atomic Records.

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It’s “Two Sides to Every Woman,” the second album from Carlene Carter, long one of my favorites. This ever-so-slightly country-tinged pop-rock was recorded in New York in 1979.

John McFee of the Doobie Brothers provided much of the support on this album, playing lead guitar on every cut and the occasional pedal steel guitar. It was the same year he joined the Doobies. (Did you know Carter, McFee and Keith Knudsen co-wrote “One Step Closer” for the Doobies’ album of the same name in 1980?)

Carter wrote or co-wrote seven of the nine cuts on this album. She co-wrote one with Nick Lowe, then married him and moved to England.

This album isn’t as good as the one that followed — “Musical Shapes,” which Carter did in 1980 with Rockpile — Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams — as her backing band. Still, it has its moments, including:

“Gold-Hearted Lady” and “Two Sides to Every Woman,” Carlene Carter, from “Two Sides to Every Woman,” 1979. This album and “Musical Shapes” were released on the same CD in 2005.

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