Monthly Archives: April 2009

Long time, indeed

One of the reasons we started our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, was to revive some of the free-form sounds heard on FM radio in the early ’70s.

The tune we have for you tonight is one I remember from that free-form programming, which usually took place after 9 p.m., when listeners and advertisers became scarce. At midnight, at least where I lived in central Wisconsin, they played one album side in its entirety.

“Long Time Leavin’” is off Rare Earth’s classic — and hard-to-find — 1970 album, “Ecology.” It’s on Side 1, sandwiched between two much better-known songs, “Born To Wander” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”

You may not know “Long Time Leavin’” by name. But you may remember its sound from the free-form airwaves of the ’70s.

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“Long Time Leavin’,” Rare Earth, from “Ecology,” 1970. It’s out of print.

If you’re too young to remember the free-form airwaves of the ’70s, head over to The Midnight Tracker. There, you’ll find Side 1 of “Ecology,” and you’ll get some idea of how it all went together. In this case, hit single followed by free-form classic followed by hit single turned extended, freaked-out jam.

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Johnny’s Goat

So GM is dropping Pontiac. I wonder what Johnny thinks of that.

Thirty years ago, I lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at a place called Beaver Lodge. Three of us were students. Three others were out of college, but still living the life. Then there was Johnny.

Johnny spent a little time on campus, but he wasn’t a student. He was a different cat. Johnny often talked about having some money, or soon coming into some money, but his life seemed to suggest otherwise.

Johnny often looked like he’d just gotten out of bed, unshaven, his clothes rumpled and his wild, thinning hair all over the place. But that was Johnny. He wasn’t into appearances. He was pretty laid back.

Especially, thankfully, on the day we crashed the Goat.

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That’s what Johnny called his Pontiac GTO. Johnny’s Goat — I think it may have a ’69, like the one above — once had been a sweet ride.

But it wasn’t by the end of the ’70s, when Johnny was driving it to his job as a security guard. It rode too low to the ground, and it wasn’t a low rider. It needed shocks, springs and body work.

When he wasn’t working, Johnny liked to fish. He’d tie his aluminum canoe on top of the Goat and take off. A muscle car with a boat on top. That was Johnny.

One day, the Goat was blocking another car in our driveway. I asked Johnny to move it, and he just threw me the keys. I hopped into the driver’s seat of the Goat, thrilled to be behind the wheel of a cool car. The thrill faded almost immediately. The inside of the Goat looked and smelled like a landfill. That, too, was Johnny. So I moved the Goat and went back inside.

A couple of minutes later, we heard a loud, scraping noise. Then we heard the crash.

The Goat had rolled forward on our sloping driveway and smashed through the basement garage door. When Johnny’s canoe hit the house, it slid off and came to rest at a 45-degree angle, with one end against the house and the other end on the driveway, the Goat underneath it.

Johnny’s often bleary eyes grew wide. He put his hands to his head and swept them back through that wild, thinning hair. His mouth dropped open, but he didn’t say much.

“John,” I assured him, “I set the parking brake.”

“It doesn’t work,” Johnny said.

Remarkably, though, neither the Goat nor the canoe sustained much damage. The scraping we heard was the Goat dragging its rear end on the sloping pavement, slowing its trip toward the garage door.

Johnny was cool about the …

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“Wreckage,” the J. Geils Band, from “Monkey Island,” 1977.

Our landlord was not cool about the wreckage. He tore out the garage door, bricked it up and filled in the driveway. That said, it made my basement bedroom — the one in which I often listened to “Monkey Island” — that much more comfortable.

Where’s Johnny today? I have no idea. Not sure I want to know.

Johnny, after all, was a guy who liked to bring his fish back to Beaver Lodge, then throw his catch into the freezer without cleaning it or properly wrapping it. Our roommate Mikey took one look at Johnny’s fish staring at him from the freezer and threw them out.

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I need to get fired up

As noted on my Facebook page a few minutes ago, I’m taking it easy before stepping into the two-day-long hurricane that is NFL draft coverage when you live in Green Bay.

It’s a cool, dreary, rainy day, one that mirrors my intensity level.

I’m not sure the tunes I have for you today will fire you up. But I am fired up that the record they come from is much better than expected.

In 1973, Gladys Knight and the Pips were weary of being a second-tier act among Motown artists, so they moved over to Buddah Records.

Early that year, their “Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” hit the top of the charts for Motown’s Soul label. Later that year, their “Midnight Train to Georgia” hit No. 1 for Buddah.

After “Midnight Train,” their next three Buddah singles — “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,” “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” and “On and On” — made the top five. Their first three Buddah albums hit No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1973 and 1974.

Motown, never a label to miss an opportunity to cash in, saw what Gladys Knight and the Pips were doing on Buddah and cobbled together a couple of albums of mostly unreleased material. “Knight Time” came out on the Soul label in 1974 and “A Little Knight Music” in 1975.

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I found the latter among the dollar records in my friend Jim’s back yard last weekend. I grabbed it mostly for its covers. Here are two.

“Come Together” and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “A Little Knight Music,” 1975. (The album link is to a 2006 UK import CD that has both this album and “Knight Time.”)

Both of these tunes prominently feature the Pips. “Come Together” is nasty, with a sassy Miss Knight, some gritty lead and wah-wah guitars and a rat-a-tat horn chart. “Put A Little Love” sounds like a gospel meeting in Vegas, with some showy horns in an arrangement that would be at home on “The Tom Jones Show.”

Judging from the sound of those arrangements, and given that Johnny Bristol produced both tunes, I’m guessing these sessions took place in the early ’70s, maybe 1971 or 1972. Bristol also left Motown in 1973.

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Just a hunch

If you are at all a music fan, you know Merry Clayton’s story.

That’s her, singing with Mick Jagger on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” That’s her, singing backup on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” That’s her, singing backup on no less than five Joe Cocker albums. She’s one of the greatest session singers of our time.

So it didn’t take me long to snap up one of her records from the dollar bins in my friend Jim’s back yard the other day.

Merry Clayton’s solo albums aren’t often seen in our corner of Wisconsin. There aren’t all that many to snap up, either. Clayton has cut just seven albums in the last 39 years, the last being “Miracles,” a gospel album released 15 years ago on A&M Records.

All of the others have their moments. Almost four years ago, Larry over at Funky 16 Corners wrote about her cover of “Gimme Shelter,” off her 1970 debut album of the same name. Last December, Dan over at Home of the Groove wrote about Clayton’s third album, “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow,” from 1975. Both gents rave about Miss Clayton, calling her voice “powerful” and “incendiary,” and deservedly so.

The album I found — “Emotion,” released in 1980 on MCA Records — seems well regarded, too. Just by looking at the songs covered on it, I had a hunch it might be good. It is, even if it has a more laid-back vibe than those earlier releases.

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“Wasted Time” and “Sly Suite,” Merry Clayton, from “Emotion,” 1980.

The former, of course, is a cover of the tune from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” album. It gets a gospel-meets-orchestra treatment. Clayton’s voice is remarkable as usual, though a minute-long instrumental bridge that starts at 1:30 may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The latter is more of the Merry Clayton you know, doing a spirited, funked-up medley of these Sly and the Family Stone tunes: “Dance to the Music,” “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Everybody Is A Star” and “Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin).”

Also covered on this album, Clayton’s second-to-last release: “Armed And Extremely Dangerous,” an R&B hit for First Choice in 1973, and “Melodies of Love,” the piano instrumental by the Crusaders’ Joe Sample with lyrics added and renamed “When The World Turns Blue.”

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Record Store Day 2009

So, yeah, I took part in Record Store Day 2009. It was one of the last stops on a day that also involved two softball practices, lunch at a brat fry, my nephew’s hockey game and a visit to the real Ray’s Corner.

My dad was relieved to hear the details of Record Store Day. He’d heard some pounding and thought he was hearing things. Nah, it was just a local metal band thrashing away on the back stoop of The Exclusive Company, our local indie record store. Dad’s apartment is perhaps 200 yards away from the record store’s back door.

I’d just come from The Exclusive Company, where I let its delightful vibe wash over me on Record Store Day.

While the band played outside, a DJ spun records inside. The staff cooked burgers on a grill outside. A few folks went through the vinyl and CD bins inside. A couple of neighborhood kids, angling for seconds or thirds on burgers, got kicked out of the store when the staff’s patience ran out.

Also seen and heard: You know the guy who doesn’t smoke a lot of pot? You know the way he gets when he smokes a lot of pot? You know, the guy with the giddy laugh? Yeah, he was there, too, giggling loudly at just about everything his friends said.

But, no, I didn’t buy anything on Record Store Day. I went through all the vinyl — and there was plenty — but nothing blew me away. I didn’t want to buy something just for the sake of buying something, just because it was Record Store Day.

I’ll go back another day, when my pockets are deeper, because I know Tom and the folks at The Exclusive Company have vinyl from Daptone Records and Numero Group, a couple of my fave labels.

Tom has managed The Exclusive Company for as long as I can remember, and he’s a good guy. Even though I didn’t buy anything, he insisted I take along some samplers.

Here, then, a sampling of the samplers:

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“Sugarfoot,” Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears, from “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!” 2009. From the “Lost Highway and Friends” sampler for Record Store Day 2009.

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“White Dove,” Levon Helm, from “Electric Dirt,” due out June 30 on Vanguard Records. From the Caroline Distribution sampler for Record Store Day 2009.

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“Something Is Squeezing My Skull,” Morrissey, from “Years Of Refusal,” 2009. From the “Lost Highway and Friends” sampler for Record Store Day 2009.

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