The news that another member of Lynyrd Skynyrd has died comes as a bit of a surprise, yet as no surprise.
Keyboard player Billy Powell, gone Wednesday at 56. Heart problems.
What caught me about Powell’s passing was that he was 56 — just five years older than I am. I’ve been listening to Skynyrd since high school, and it somehow seems impossible that we should be so close in age. We forget how young Skynyrd was then.
I could go on, but I won’t. Everyone knows Powell’s elegant work on “Free Bird.” There was more.
As Ronnie Van Zant says at the 2:24 mark of our first tune, “Billy Powell on the piano …”
“Whiskey Rock-A-Roller,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “One More From The Road,” 1976. Of all the original Skynyrd tunes, this is the only one co-written by Powell. It originally was the last cut on 1975′s “Nuthin’ Fancy,” but Powell’s piano was lost deep in the mix. It fares better in this live recording.
And once more, at 2:39 of this tune, “Billy Powell on the piano …”
“Call Me The Breeze,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “One More From The Road,” 1976. Please forgive the skip just before Ronnie Van Zant’s intro to Powell’s terrific solo, which lasts more than a minute and a half. It originally was the last cut on 1974′s “Second Helping,” but there’s more of Powell on the live track.
One of the great live albums, recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in July 1976.
Once a year for the past decade, our town — Green Bay, Wisconsin — has stepped forward to reclaim its place in rock ‘n’ roll history. This year, that night was Friday night. The place, as always, the historic Riverside Ballroom.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Winter Dance Party. That was the early rock ‘n’ roll tour that became legend when a small plane crashed in a corn field northwest of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and their pilot, Roger Peterson.
The tour’s second-to-last stop was at the Riverside in Green Bay, on Sunday night, Feb. 1, 1959. (See these great photos from that night.)
The Riverside was sold out well in advance, with more than 1,000 people — many of them getting up there in years — packing the place.
Twice as many people were there in 1959, but back then, everyone was younger, and everyone stood. These days, not everyone can stand for a show that runs three hours plus. So they set up long banquet tables at the back of the big room. Only the young, and the young at heart, stood at the front of the stage.
There usually are special guests. This year, one was Bob Morales, the older half-brother of Ritchie Valens. Bob Morales is in his 70s, but he’s still a badass. He wore biker leathers and boots and was rocking a white Fu Manchu mustache. When he took off his black cowboy hat, he was rocking a wispy white Mohawk with a ponytail.
During the first intermission, they introduced some more special guests — 40 or so people who were at the Riverside for the original Winter Dance Party show 50 years ago.
A local gent, improbably named Jim Morrison, also was there 50 years ago. He was back at the Riverside on Friday night as one of the emcees. As he introduced the show, he mentioned “American Pie,” the 1971 song in which Don McLean recalled Feb. 3, 1959 — the day of the crash — as “the day the music died.”
“He was wrong,” Morrison said. “Three gentlemen died, but the music will never die.”
Not as long as Green Bay remembers its place in rock ‘n’ roll history.
“Come On Let’s Go,” Ritchie Valens, from “Ritchie Valens,” 1959. (Re-released on Rhino Records in 1987. This is what I have.)
This tune is the B side to the cassette single of “Blues Before and After,” released 19 years ago today, Jan. 24, 1990.
From Pat DiNizio’s liner notes: “The full band version appears on the third album ‘Smithereens Eleven,’ but this version is how I heard the song in my head originally, just acoustic guitar, accordion and vocal. Lyrically about Buddy Holly’s widow Maria Elena Diaz.”
Ever have one of those days when nothing goes as you expected it would?
Today was one of those days. A lunch date canceled. Workout plans changed. Nothing major.
So rather than risk one more thing not going according to Hoyle, we’ll stick to the basics.
There is nothing more basic — as far as rock music goes — than “Louie, Louie.” West Coast R&B singer Richard Berry wrote and recorded it in 1955. The Kingsmen recorded the definitive version of it in 1963.
Tonight, we bring you three versions of “Louie, Louie,” all from an album called “The Best of Louie, Louie.”
It was released by Rhino Records in 1983 in the wake of a 63-hour “Louie, Louie” marathon on KFJC, a radio station in Los Altos Hills, California. It was the biggest in a can-you-top-this series of “Louie, Louie” shows that started as a modest two-hour program on KALX, a radio station in nearby Berkeley, California. It grew to four hours, then 24 hours, then 63 hours.
Our three versions stick to the basics. The first, by Richard Berry, is intended to re-create the laid-back doo-wop vibe of his 1955 original. The others, by the Sonics and Black Flag — garage and punk legends, respectively — are inspired by the Kingsmen but are stripped down, then distinctively ripped up.
You may have heard something about it being a little nippy up here in our part of the Midwest. However, I’ll leave that to my colleagues JB and Whiteray, who blogged about it this week.
It also was pretty cold in our part of Wisconsin about this time in 1976.
We piled into Roto’s van and drove to a little town about 10 miles west of ours to play in a basketball tournament. Our team was a bunch of guys from the two-year University of Wisconsin campus in Wausau, our hometown. (We took the consolation title, thank you.)
Our buddy Roto — so nicknamed because his dad had the local Roto-Rooter business — was one of the craziest guys I ever met. He would do anything anytime, say anything anytime and seemingly never think or worry about the consequences. Roto and I remain friends, and after 33 years he has only slightly mellowed.
Time — and all the beer and whiskey we drank that weekend — have left it a bit of a hazy mystery, but I know Roto was there, I was there and our buddy Joe was there. Quite possibly the late, great Wildo, too.
We had Roto’s van, which was modestly tricked out with carpeting in the style of the day. Roto’s van also had an 8-track tape player at the heart of its stereo system. I recall one — and only one — tape from that wild weekend. We played it loud, played it often and sang along to it. I suspect there was some headbanging involved. You’ll see why.
“Deuce,” “Strutter,” “Got To Choose,” “Hotter Than Hell” and “Firehouse,” KISS, from “Alive!” 1975. It’s Side 1 of the great double live album recorded mostly in Detroit but also in Wildwood, New Jersey, and Davenport, Iowa. It runs 17:59.
This is the way I ripped my old vinyl. One long take. There’s no point in listening to it any other way.
When we listened so long ago, there was a distinct clack between each of the sides. You know the clack. It may have been the 8-track player. It may have our heads hitting the side of the van as we passed out.
I can still hear Roto reminding us that he was “hhhhhott-ah than hell” during the tournament. Doubtful.
I can still hear Roto, Joe and Wildo cheering Paul Stanley during the intro to “Cold Gin” on Side 3: “All right, I got a little question for all you. I wanna know! How many people here like to take the taste of alcohol?”
At that time, we did. A hazy memory, but a good one.
Always delighted to hear from you. Your guide can be reached at jeffash at new dot rr dot com
About the music
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. They are intended to encourage you to get out to the music stores, real or virtual, or out to support live music.
If you hold the copyright to something posted here, and you don't want it posted, please e-mail me at jeffash at new dot rr dot com and I'll remove it. Then again, who else is exposing your music to a new audience today?
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2014, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.