Monthly Archives: March 2008

Wally and Skip have good seats

Weather permitting, my once-beloved Milwaukee Brewers will open the baseball season against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Monday afternoon.

Baseball — at least the major leagues — used to be a big deal for me. I wrote about that last year. It’s much less so these days.

I still like to play it. I’ve played slow-pitch softball for almost 30 years. But this will be the first season without The Skip, with whom I played for eight seasons. We lost him last summer.

And I still like to watch it. Our local team is the Green Bay Bullfrogs, a bunch of college kids trying to get the pros’ attention. They play in an ancient yet charming ballpark, where I spent a few nights last summer.

This summer also will be the first one without one of the men who took me — a baseball-crazy 11-year-old — to my first major-league game some 40 summers ago. We lost Uncle Wally a couple of months ago.

In the summer of 1968, Uncle Wally helped my dad arrange a trip to Milwaukee County Stadium to see the Chicago White Sox play the Minnesota Twins. We lived an hour north of Milwaukee. The trip came a couple of days after my birthday.

That summer, the folks in Milwaukee were trying to lure major-league baseball back to town. The White Sox agreed to play a few games there to help show Milwaukee would support baseball.

White Sox? Twins? Fine with me. I still have the ticket stub, the program and a bunch of vivid memories of a game that lasted five innings. The Twins won 1-0 that night, a rainy Monday night, June 24, 1968. There were no home runs, just three singles for each team.

According to the fabulous Retrosheet, the game lasted 1 hour, 38 minutes — just about right for my dad, who was not and is not a baseball fan. We were part of a crowd of 25,263.

Yet we almost certainly would not have been in that crowd were it not for Uncle Wally’s involvement. He played ball back in the day — future NFL star Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch was one of his pals at Wausau High School in the early 1940s — and he remained a big fan.

So, for Uncle Wally, and for The Skip, we start this baseball season as we started last season. With the best baseball song ever.

“Do they still play the blues in Chicago/when baseball season rolls around?”

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“The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” Steve Goodman, from “Affordable Art,” 1980.

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Extra innings: “The Ball Game,” a little bit of gospel from Sister Wynona Carr, 1952, from “Baseball Hits,” a 2001 compilation of baseball tunes on Flashback Records, the budget label of Rhino Records.

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Filed under April 2008, Sounds

Return to Ray’s Corner

If you’re a regular visitor to these parts, you know we occasionally stop by Ray’s Corner.

It’s the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

Dad and I were in the car for a couple of hours on Easter Sunday, but not just any car. The lovely Janet recently went out and bought herself a new Saturn Vue. It came with three months of XM Radio.

We tuned it to Channel 4, the ’40s channel. Dad, who at 82 is still full of surprises, starts naming every song and every artist. I mean, nailing each one within just a couple of notes or chords. Even to the point of: “Jo Stafford? That one doesn’t belong, She’s from the ’50s.”

Here’s one we heard, one that Dad got in about 7 seconds flat:

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“Drum Boogie,” by Gene Krupa, 1941, widely available, including on “The Gene Krupa Story,” a 1999 import box set. It swings, and Krupa really bashes his drum kit on it.

It’s featured in “Ball of Fire,” the great screwball comedy from that year. Barbara Stanwyck performs the song with Krupa and his band in the film, but it’s really the voice of Martha Tilton, another popular singer of the time.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Ladies and gents, Alan Wilkis

Every so often, another request drops into the e-mail: “Would you listen to our music and give us a mention on AM, Then FM?”

They come because AM, Then FM is listed with The Hype Machine, one of the big mp3 aggregators. All too often, though, the folks making the request see only that we’re a music blog and don’t see that we’re mostly about rediscovering older tunes.

In keeping with that mission — and departing from it entirely — I’d like to introduce you to someone new today.

Last week, I received an e-mail from one Alan Wilkis, who asked simply, “Can I send you my music?” He got my attention when he described his album — “Babies Dream Big” — as “a genre-hopper, but pretty heavily rooted in ’70s-’80s electronic, soft rock and soul music.”

I gave it a spin on his MySpace page. It’s good enough to share here.

Alan also was gracious enough to do an e-mail interview. Some highlights:

Alan is 26, living in a Brooklyn apartment that doubles as his recording studio. He’s a city kid, born and raised in New York.

“I grew up with a lot of Motown and Beatles in the house, and the soundtrack to the movie ‘Stand By Me’ was a family road trip staple.”

Alan started playing the guitar when he was 12.

“I remember hitting a point where I could play along to all the pop stuff I was listening to on the radio, and I asked my teacher what else was out there. He introduced me to Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, lots of classic rock guitar god stuff, and my mind was completely blown — I was humbled to say the least. It was a big lesson in: There’s a LOT COOLER music out there than what’s ‘cool’ right now.”

Alan went off to Harvard, where he played guitar in the Witness Protection Program, an eight-piece hip-hop group with live music backing.

After graduating in 2004, Alan moved back to New York, where he and WPP’s drummer, Pete Kennedy, formed A+P, a two-man rock band. (Follow the link. Check out “Rocker.”) After two years, A+P “came to an amicable end.”

Working in his home studio, Alan started coming up with a new sound.

“I revisited albums that I’d heard a million times in completely new ways — tried to absorb what I could on the studio end. Eventually, the experiments started vaguely resembling songs.”

Alan’s finished songs bring together lots of vintage or classic influences and reimagines and reapplies them. They sound familiar, but are fresh.

“(I’m) tipping my hat to all the things I have loved over the years while trying to (lovingly) turn them on their heads! Like in “Burnin,” I remember thinking what if Boston played the guitar solo in a Prince song, arena rock guitarmony with R&B synthesizers? It’s pretty hard for anyone to be original anymore … but I think there’s always room for reimagining. … The absolute core of the album is taking familiar sounds and textures and trying to present them in (hopefully) unexpected/surprising/refreshing new ways.”

Well, let’s get to it, shall we? Give it a try. Decide for yourself.

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“Astronaut (Would You Be One?)” and “It’s Been Great,” Alan Wilkis, from “Babies Dream Big,” 2008.

“Astronaut” is the one that keeps sticking in my head. Imagine a direct line from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” to Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” to this. Yet “Astronaut” is brighter, more uplifting.

“It’s Been Great” is what we’ve been waiting for Stevie Wonder to deliver.

Hard to pick just two, though. Go to Alan’s MySpace page to listen to more.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Midnight Tracker sampler, Vol. 5

I wrote a while back about needing some sunny pop goodness. When I picked the tunes for that post, I went with some more familiar ones.

Any of the tunes off “Movin’ Up,” the 1983 debut album by the Elvis Brothers, would have been worthy as well. That’s tonight’s selection over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker.

The Elvis Brothers — Rob, Graham and Brad — came out of Champaign, Ill., in 1981. They cranked out a bright, energetic, charming brand of Midwestern power pop inspired by the Beatles and early Elvis tunes.

Listen for yourself. Check out these cuts, then head over to The Midnight Tracker for the rest of Side 1.

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“It’s So Hard” and “Hidden in a Heartbeat,” the Elvis Brothers, from “Movin’ Up,” 1983. Out of print. Six of the 12 cuts on this album, including both of these, are available on “The Graham Elvis Brothers,” a 2007 release.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Soundtracks, anyone?

Today was not my day at the used record store.

I fingered a couple thousand records, looking for something interesting. I found nothing.

The closest thing to interesting was a huge soundtrack collection that had come into the store since the last time I was there.

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I saw, and thought about, the soundtrack to “Light of Day,” with Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox as sibling rockers, from 1987. I like Jett, and there’s a Dave Edmunds cut on the album, but I’ve never seen the film. Would anyone recommend this one?

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I also saw in that soundtrack collection, and thought about, this album of Disney movie covers by Louis Armstrong from 1968. But most of it wasn’t the Disney music I dig.

So I decided to save my money for our big local record show (coming up in three weeks!) and head home to a stack of albums that’s already plenty big.

In that stack is the soundtrack to “Porky’s Revenge,” the final film in that legendary trilogy. It’s chock full of great ’50s- and ’60s-sounding tunes and covers lovingly produced by Dave Edmunds.

We’ll save Dave’s stuff for another day. Until then, enjoy …

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“Sleep Walk” by Jeff Beck and “I Don’t Want to Do It” by George Harrison, both from the “Porky’s Revenge” soundtrack, 1985.

Beck covers the instrumental that was a No. 1 hit for Santo and Johnny in 1959. It also appears on “Beckology,” his 1991 box set, which is out of print.

Harrison, who at the time wasn’t recording anything, covered a Bob Dylan tune for his pal Edmunds. (That’s Jimmie Vaughan on guitar.) It was a hint of things to come. Just three years later, Harrison and Dylan teamed up in the Wilbury Brothers.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Peace, Kinch

We’ve lost another of the companions of our youth.

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The actor Ivan Dixon, who played Kincheloe on “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died. He was 76.

For my money, Sgt. Baker couldn’t carry Sgt. Kincheloe’s dog tags.

Last one leaving Stalag 13, turn out the lights, please.

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“Hogan’s Heroes March,” Bob Crane with John Banner, from “The TV Theme Song Sing-Along Album,” 1985. Out of print. Perhaps thankfully.

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It originally was on this album, “Bob Crane: His Drums and Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV.”

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But not this album, “Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of World War II,” on which Dixon performed.

Wow. I really do not want to know. If you do, go here.

Update, two days later: I don’t wish to slight Dixon’s memory by failing to mention other aspects of his distinguished career. As noted in the Los Angeles Times’ appreciation, he also was a fine dramatic actor, a highly regarded director and an advocate for African-Americans in the film industry.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Too much information

It was in my head, rattling around in there.

We’re sitting there a couple of weeks ago, watching the kids from our church’s high school youth group doing a skit based on “The Dating Game” at their ’70s-themed fund-raising dinner.

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Never mind that “The Dating Game” debuted in 1965 and — to my mind, at least — is a relic more of the ’60s than of the ’70s. (The original went off the air in July 1973.) But the kids don’t realize that, and I understand. The ’70s are to them what the ’40s were to me, when I was their age.

Yet we’re sitting there, and try as I might to keep it in check, there is one thing I … simply … cannot … resist … sharing … with the folks at our table.

“You know, there actually were different pieces of music for each part of ‘The Dating Game.'”

The lovely Janet turns to me and says, “You sound just like your dad.” (Dad is legendarily obsessive about the smallest details of railroading.) Everyone else at the table looks at me as if I have just arrived from Mars.

I didn’t go into the details … though I would have loved to had anyone asked. I suspect your eyes are glazing over, too. If you really must know, check out this portion of the Wiki entry on “The Dating Game.”

Suffice it to say there was more to “The Dating Game” than one tune.

The song that lingers in everyone’s mind is “Whipped Cream,” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. They played that when they introduced the bachelorettes. You know that one. Here’s a remixed version of it.

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“Whipped Cream,” Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with Ozomatli, “Whipped Cream and Other Delights Rewhipped,” 2006.

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And, finally, the original theme song to the show.

“The Dating Game” theme song, Chet Baker and the Mariachi Brass, 1965. From a 2003 compilation CD called “The Coolest Year in Music History: 1966,” a debatable point.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds