Monthly Archives: September 2008

One good turn deserves another

It is getting to the end of the month, and I find myself asking the same question I asked last month: What album side am I going to post over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker?

And then today, our friend DJ Prestige over at Flea Market Funk serves up a vintage Tom Jones tune that rocks.

Hmmm. Tom Jones. Not a bad idea at all. I already have a Tom Jones side digimatized, as our friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners says.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we would … like to lighten things up a little bit for you … if possible .. and do a … a rhythm-and-blues number that goes … like this.”

Lighten things up a little bit? Hell, Tom blows ‘em out of their seats with an incendiary cover of …

“Soul Man,” Tom Jones, from “Tom Jones Live at Caesars Palace Las Vegas,” 1971.

That’s Bobby Shew on the sizzling trumpet leads, Jim Sullivan on the chugging guitar leads and the Blossoms on the backing vocals.

If you dig it, head over to The Midnight Tracker for the rest of Side 1.

Speaking of soul and Tom Jones, he has a new record coming out — his first in the U.S. in 15 years. “24 Hours” is due out on Nov. 25 on S-Curve Records. It is reported to be full of retro soul.

“The fire is still in me,” he says. We’ve seen him live. We believe it.

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Tales from Beaver Lodge

They tore it down and put up a parking lot, but Beaver Lodge was anything but a paradise.

It was a three-bedroom cement-block house dropped into a gritty, seen-better-days business district. It sat just a block off Highway 53 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A seedy motel was next door. A liquor store was behind the house, as was an electrician’s scrap yard. The TV station was a block north, its 1,000-foot tower at the end of our street.

Thirty years ago, I lived at Beaver Lodge. On Saturday, we were at a gathering just a couple of blocks away. And though it was there when we drove past a couple of years ago, Beaver Lodge is gone now. Torn down. Paved over. It brought back a rush of memories.

I was 21, a senior in college, when I lived at Beaver Lodge from the summer of 1978 to the spring of 1979. I was moving beyond my hometown friends for the first time, working more than attending classes, not dating anyone, not sure what my future held.

That year in Beaver Lodge, I must have had a dozen housemates. Mikey, Bobby, Norm, John, Mark, Johnny and the other Jeff were the core group, roughly half students and half older guys out of college (but still living the life). Any number of lovely young women were occasional overnight visitors and/or housemates.

Beaver Lodge didn’t have a lot of rules, but you did have to be cool. Especially when one of those lovely young women would walk out wearing little more than a T-shirt and underwear. None of this: “And you are?” Rather: “How you doing? Want some breakfast?”

It often was a wild ride at Beaver Lodge, but we never got to needing …

“Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Warren Zevon, from “Excitable Boy,” 1978. We all were younger in 1978.

(Hard to believe Zevon has been gone five years now, too.)

Oh, yes, quite a rush of memories. I think we’ll be returning for more Tales from Beaver Lodge.

By the way, Beaver Lodge was on Harlem Street. I kid you not.

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Nothing to worry about

One of the highlights of last weekend’s trip to Duluth, Minnesota, was stopping in at Electric Fetus, an remarkably old-school record store.

Last year, our then-12-year-old son explored a display case full of bongs and pipes. This year, he explored the case again, curious about rolling papers. This year, he also tried on some natty hats. Yes, Evan is growing up, no longer the little boy you see above.

Two Jerry Reed albums were among my haul from the used vinyl downstairs. I was greatly relieved to read the back cover on one, 1971′s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.”

Nashville songwriter Bob Tubert’s liner notes, entitled “My Friend Jerry Reed the Worried Guitarist,” confirmed my backstage experience with Reed at a show in 1979.

Then only 21 and still a fairly green reporter, I wrote that I’d found Reed intensely focused as he prepared for his show, anything but relaxed. When you’ve been writing for as long as I have, you dread digging out 30-year-old stories. Did I get it right, I wonder?

Tubert wrote:

“Jerry Reed worries a great deal. …

“He worries about whether his friends are getting along. He worries whether he has remembered to thank everyone who ever helped him. He worries whether he is doing all he can to help others. He worries about Prissy and the kids. He worries about his producer, Chet Atkins. He worries about ‘The Glen Campbell Show’ and whether or not he is living up to the faith put in him when they made him a regular on that network show, and he worries about his fans and whether he is doing what they expect of him.

“He has always worried, this Georgia boy the whole world now claims as its native son, but in his worrying he has relieved the worries of a great many people. … The only thing that worries his friends is how come it took the rest of the world so long to find out.”

Intense, focused … and, yeah, worried. Good thing, too. It brought us these tunes, both from albums found downstairs at Electric Fetus.

“Ko-Ko Joe,” Jerry Reed, from “The Best of Jerry Reed,” 1971. More country-funk guitar from the 1971 album of the same name. Both are out of print, but this cut is available on “The Essential Jerry Reed,” a 1995 CD compilation.

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” Jerry Reed, from “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” 1971. Also out of print, but this cut is available on “Guitar Man,” a 1997 import CD compilation.

Mel Tillis wrote it. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition had a hit with it. Lots of people have covered it.

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Sorting out the present

When you’re 13, you’re still trying to figure out what to make of the world around you.

Though I didn’t know his name at the time, songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield tremendously influenced the way I saw the world, the way I thought about the world. That’s what I came to realize in the wake of Whitfield’s passing earlier this week.

It is June 1970. I see the Vietnam War on TV every night at 5:30 p.m. It is not a popular war, even in our house. Dad is 45. He was in the Army, then spent a decade in the Wisconsin National Guard, and even he isn’t buying the war. He’s not outspoken about it, but you just know.

Is that what I’m supposed to think about it? One of my cousins is over in Vietnam. Another is in the Air Force, but stateside. Dad was in the service. So were my uncles. Should that be my path?

That summer, the DJs on WOKY, the big AM Top 40 station out of Milwaukee, are becoming my constant companions. One day, one of them lays down a track that rips through my consciousness:

“War! Hoo! Yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

Edwin Starr forever changes the way I think about the world. So do the Temptations, who are out with “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” still lingering in the charts that June. God, I wonder, what should I think about everything referenced in that song?

When you’re 13, the music talks to you in ways it does not when you’re older, especially when it’s the first music you’re really listening to day after day, hour after hour.

Later that summer, I hear Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and Rare Earth’s cover of “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” It helps with the disappointment of unrequited crushes.

I’m not done learning from Norman Whitfield, either. The next summer, I get a feel for the dark side of friendship with “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” the Tempts tune covered by the Undisputed Truth.

It all started here, though. Enjoy the version less heard.

“War,” the Temptations, from “Psychedelic Shack,” 1970. (The album link is to an import CD with this album and “All Directions” from 1972.)

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Thanks, Pink!

Last Saturday, we made our way up to Duluth, Minnesota, where I skated in the NorthShore Inline Marathon for the 11th time.

I’ve skated on sunny mornings, on chilly mornings, on rainy mornings and on windy mornings. But until Saturday, never on a foggy morning.

At roughly 14 miles into the race from Two Harbors to Duluth, the fog rolled in off Lake Superior, accompanied by a light mist. The fog got thicker as we neared the city, with visibility perhaps a quarter-mile.

The mist covered my glasses, occasionally obscuring my view of the road ahead. We watch the road closely. We don’t want to get caught in cracks in the pavement, or by tar snakes — the soft tar they use to patch those cracks — nor do we wish to skate over anything in the road.

So I just followed Pink’s line. She skated just ahead of me for most of the first 23 miles. The pink top she wore was hard to miss.

Then I caught up with Illinois. She’d traveled to Duluth by herself and was skating the marathon for the first time. Illinois wore a black T-shirt that also was hard to miss, and I followed her line the rest of the way.

Despite the fog and the mist, it turned out to be a pretty fast day for everyone in the field, even me.

So thank you, ladies. Here’s a song for you.

“I’m comin’ up (to Duluth) so you better get this party started … I can go for (26.2) miles if you know what I mean … Don’t bring me down (because skaters don’t like to wipe out).”

“Don’t Start Me Down,” Booty Von Dralle, 2005. It’s a classic mashup of Pink — who else? — and Electric Light Orchestra.

About the photo: The marathon ended as it started, under overcast skies. By early afternoon, it was pouring. Shortly before sunset, though, we were rewarded with this rainbow over Lake Superior.

Is there pink in a rainbow?

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