Monthly Archives: June 2010

That ’70s song, Vol. 24

As summer arrived in June 1970, the Beatles were leaving.

At this time 40 years ago, “The Long and Winding Road,” the last in an eight-year-long string of singles, was near the top of the charts in America. The Beatles were unraveling. It had been almost a year since John, Paul, George and Ringo had worked together in the studio.

It was the end of one era and the beginning of another.

As summer arrived in June 1970, school was out. There were, simply, more hours in the day (and night) to take in the Top 40 tunes pouring out of the Mighty 92, WOKY in Milwaukee. It was my first summer with the radio as my constant companion.

Songs linger in memory for all kinds of reasons.

Few songs fire up the imagination quite like “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image. What does that mystery ship look like? Where are those 73 men sailing? If I can get to San Francisco, can I ride along? What’s in that world others might have missed? And, hey, is this a hippie anthem?

One of my favorites then and now.

“Ride Captain Ride,” Blues Image, from “Open,” 1970. This is the slightly longer album cut, with a guitar solo at the end.


This smash single was the only single for Blues Image, a five-piece group that started in Tampa, Florida, in 1966. They became a big draw in Miami by 1968 and wound up in Los Angeles a year later. Atco Records signed them, and they put out a self-titled debut album in 1969 and “Open” in 1970.

“Ride Captain Ride” was written by guitarist Mike Pinera and keyboard man Skip Conte. That’s Pinera soloing at the end of the song.

Kent Henry did the other guitar solos and fills, but went uncredited on the album. He had stepped in to help finish the album after Pinera left to join Iron Butterfly.

Blues Image released a third album, “Red, White and Blues Image,” then broke up in 1971. Henry went on to play with Steppenwolf. Conte went on to play with Three Dog Night. Joe Lala, the percussionist, went on to play with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Pinera also played with Alice Cooper in the early ’80s.

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Blues from across the border

When the lovely Janet and I combined our record collections all those years ago, we had a small number of doubles. This was one.

There was not a band with more buzz — and you probably can define “buzz” more than one way in their case — than the Blues Brothers in 1978. Their “Saturday Night Live” appearances were must-see TV during Saturday night house parties.

Then they came out with a record, just in time for Christmas 1978. We heard it at countless house parties that winter, our senior year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

That record summons the vivid memory of a party at a small house on First Avenue, a house facing the Chippewa River, a house across from Owen Park. I can’t remember whose house it was, but I remember the Blues Brothers’ record from that party.

As the record begins, Dan Aykroyd — as Elwood Blues, of course — delivers a 30-second rap that carried plenty of truth in 1978.


In “the late 1970s going on 1985,” there was indeed was plenty of “pre-programmed electronic disco.” We never really did get much of a chance “to hear master bluesmen practicing their craft.”

But time proved Aykroyd wrong about one thing. By 2006, the blues existed well beyond “the classical records department of your local public library.” For that, thank the Blues Brothers.

Though not all “master bluesmen,” the act’s enduring legacy is having introduced classic American R&B and blues tunes to a huge mainstream audience that otherwise may never have heard them, at a time when the blues may have needed a little help from its friends.

“Briefcase Full of Blues” hasn’t been off the shelf in a long time, and I was a little surprised at what I found when I looked at it closely.

Among all those covers are two songs done first by the Downchild Blues Band on its “Straight Up” album from 1973. They were written by Donnie Walsh, who still fronts the group now known simply as Downchild. It’s from Canada. So is Aykroyd. That explains it.

“(I Got Everything I Need) Almost” and “Shot Gun Blues,” the Blues Brothers, from “Briefcase Full of Blues,” 1978. It was recorded live at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.



John Belushi, as Jake Blues, does a good job on the vocals on both cuts. Paul Shaffer slides in between the powerful horns and pounds the keyboards on the former. Matt “Guitar” Murphy delivers the scorching guitar on the latter.

One more thing: “The Blues Brothers” movie premiered 30 years ago this week.

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That ’70s song, Vol. 23

As junior high school let out in June 1970, I had a sore throat.

It hadn’t come from singing along to some of the tunes in the Top 40.

Sitting at No. 1 that week at WLS, the Big 89 in Chicago, was “Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare. (Which does, admittedly, have a cool keyboard bit halfway through.)

Also getting heavy airplay that week (for no apparent reason): “Gimme Dat Ding” by the Pipkins, “Which Way You Going, Billy” by the Poppy Family and “Hey Mr. Sun” by Bobby Sherman.

No, my enduring memory of that week is getting my tonsils out when all my friends were getting their summer on.

The only cool part about it was that my aunt was the director of nursing at the hospital, so she made sure I got whatever passed for VIP treatment for kids. Even so, it was 1970, and I don’t think I was allowed to have a radio at my bedside.

What I vividly remember is that my parents bought me a couple of packs of baseball cards — which they never did. I always had to buy my own with paper route money.

So it was me and Maury Wills, having quiet time at the hospital. Why I remember this card out of all the others, I can’t say. Seeing that it was June, and this is card No. 595, it might have been that — hey, Series 6 is finally out!

That also was the week that “Vehicle” by the Ides of March finally faded from earshot after three months in the charts. Given my situation, I didn’t hear “Vehicle” on its way out that week.

Nor did I hear, until Emmett posted it over at Art Decade three years ago, Shirley Bassey’s cover of “Vehicle.” The fine Welsh singer recorded this in early 1971 but it wasn’t released until 1994. Enjoy.

“Vehicle,” Shirley Bassey, from “Something Else.” It’s one of two bonus tracks on a 1999 CD re-release of the original LP from 1971. It’s out of print but is available digitally.


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That ’70s song, Vol. 22

When Rare Earth’s “Get Ready” cracked the Top 10 in the first week of June 1970, it was the first time I’d heard the band.

(It also was the first time I’d heard the song. I had no idea it was a cover of a Smokey Robinson tune done first by the Temptations in 1966.)

But it wasn’t the first time anyone in Detroit had heard the band. It had been gigging around town since 1961, known first as the Sunliners, then as Rare Earth after signing with Motown Records in 1968.

One of the first songs they played as Rare Earth was “Get Ready,” doing so at gigs for a couple of years before recording it in 1969. It started out as a traditional cover, then evolved into a solo-packed, show-closing jam that ran 21 minutes. That — and not the traditional 3-minute cover — is what Rare Earth wanted to put to vinyl. They did just that. “Get Ready” is Side 2 of the 1969 album of the same name.

Motown sought to have the best of both worlds. It cut “Get Ready” back down to a radio-friendly 2:48 and released it in February 1970. “Get Ready” broke first on black radio stations in Washington, D.C., then made its way across America and into the mainstream. It was a smash, reaching No. 4 on the charts and far outperforming the Tempts’ version, which made it only into the Top 30.

So, having said all that … did they play “Rare Earth In Concert” at some of the parties you went to during the ’70s? That’s why I bought it long ago. I’d heard it so often. I bought it especially for the 14-minute version of “(I Know) I’m Losing You” and for …

“Get Ready,” Rare Earth, from “Rare Earth In Concert,” 1971. It’s out of print.


This is the way Rare Earth wanted it heard, at 23 minutes plus.  (It’s been a while since I opened the top of that backpack, but my old vinyl still sounds pretty good.)

(There are some doubts about whether this actually was recorded live — some think the crowd noise was dubbed in — but it’s good enough for me. Hey, even Kiss’ “Alive!” wasn’t completely live.)

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For those about to rock …

This text turned up on our son’s Facebook page last Saturday night:

“in the front row at the survivor concert with ben and troy!”

Evan rocked his first festival last weekend.

Evan is 15. He rode his bike down to the Memorial Day weekend festival to hang with whoever was going to show. Somehow, he made $15 last on a hot, sunny day when he went coast to coast, arriving shortly after the park opened and leaving when it closed at 11 p.m.

There’s music all day long at the festival, along with food tents, a midway, and of course, hanging out. That — and a fair number of girls — was plenty to keep three high school freshmen boys occupied.

Apparently, the fellas worked their way through the crowd and parked themselves in the front row for the last two bands of the night. Pretty exciting, but just the beginning.

They were showered with guitar picks. That was cool. They were surrounded by “crazy old people,” including one guy who stuck an extra beer or two in the pockets of his shorts. That was not quite as cool.

The fellas rocked it through a set by Johnny Wad, a popular cover band in our corner of Wisconsin. That was followed, of course, by the headline act — Survivor, albeit a Survivor fronted neither by Jim Peterik nor Jimi Jameson.

So, Evan was asked, how were the bands?

“Johnny Wad was way better.
At least we knew some of the songs they were playing.”

Ouch. No respect for Survivor, even if Evan knows “Eye of the Tiger.”

That said, “Eye of the Tiger” came out 13 years before Evan was born.

Johnny Wad has more than 80 songs on its cover list. Here’s one.

“Down Under,” Colin Hay, from “Man @ Work,” 2003. It’s a laid-back acoustic cover of the Men at Work smash that also came out 13 years before Evan was born.


That said, this has long been one of Evan’s favorite records. Chock full of Men at Work covers and wonderful originals, it’s one of mine, too.

Evan is going to another festival later this summer.

The story of that adventure to come.

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