Catch you later, Meat

“That,” my friend Meat said, “is a pretty cool mid-life crisis.”

It was his take on my story of why, as I reached my 40s, I started making up for lost time. I’d come to the realization that some of my favorite bands were not going to tour forever, and now that I could afford it from time to time, I ought to get out and see them live.

I didn’t agree that it was any kind of a mid-life crisis, but you had to smile. That was Meat, delivering a good line with a sly grin, and it made for a great story.

There always are lots of great stories anytime Meat is around. We’ll hear some tomorrow when we gather in Rockford, Illinois, to remember him. My friend Brian Leaf died Wednesday. He was 57.

Story No. 1: The Inner Sleeve has been the record store in our hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin, since we were in high school. Meat loved to tell of hanging out at the Sleeve and listening to tunes and shooting the breeze with Mike, the old hippie who’s run the place all these years. I wished I’d done so. I vowed to do a better job of being friendly with the folks who sell records. So grateful I did.

Story No. 2: Ten years ago, Meat emailed me to commiserate that he’d missed seeing rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef in Rockford. I’d seen Sleepy the night before in Green Bay. Sleepy was right in Meat’s wheelhouse. He loved Americana music. Meat also missed seeing a guy he knew that night. Meat’s friends told him “it was pretty wonderful” to see Sleepy and Rick Nielsen play a set together.

Story No. 3: Some tales of youthful misadventures date to the ’70s. I’m thinking Meat was with us the night we went tobogganing down the local ski hill. In the dark. After it closed for the night. Alcohol was involved.

Yeah, Meat and I, we go way back. We went to the same high school, then to the same college. We worked at the same two newspapers early in our careers, with my wife joining us at one. Add our hometown paper, where he met his wife Mary, and there is a rather distinct circle of friends from Wisconsin.

But that was a long time ago, and our group will be in the minority tomorrow. It’s OK. Brian belongs to Rockford, his home since 1988. He and Mary raised their kids, Roy and Sally, in Rockford and are deeply rooted there.

Rockford has many challenges, but Brian got to know the people and wrote about them with hope, style, passion and grace. He championed Rockford’s music scene. At day’s end, he savored a cold beer or a good bourbon. That, in fact, is how we spent our last time together a couple of summers ago.

Facebook was flooded with tributes from Brian’s Rockford friends in the wake of his unexpected passing. They are remarkable. He meant so much to so many people. I wonder, though. Did anyone in Rockford know we called him Meat?

Paul Thorn was one of Meat’s faves. He tipped me to this one. He liked the vibe.

Good choice, Meat. We’ll all carry a little bit of you everywhere we go.

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Filed under February 2017, Sounds

Can’t you see? No, not really

Heard today that the Marshall Tucker Band will be playing our local vintage movie palace-turned-performance venue in a few weeks.

That show, on April 2, will come almost 40 years to the day since I saw the Marshall Tucker Band.

tucker-ad

Well, sort of. The Marshall Tucker Band was on stage at the Quandt gym in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, on Friday, April 1, 1977. I was in the audience. I was 19. Many other details have been hazy ever since.

The Marshall Tucker Band was one of the biggest names in country rock, which itself was big at the time. They were at their peak, touring behind the “Carolina Dreams” LP and having just released “Heard It in a Love Song” as a single. Both the album and the single turned out to be their biggest hits.

marshall-tucker-carolina-dreams

It was a big deal that they’d play this small college town in central Wisconsin. Point was a half-hour’s drive south for us. When I say us, I can’t be more specific than that. Don’t remember who I went with.

We went to a house party before the show. I want to say it was a little house on Division Street, the main north-south drag in Point and just off campus. Someone knew some guys that lived there. Older guys, maybe seniors, maybe 23, 24, 25. Turned out to be way too much party for that 19-year-old kid.

Even so, I vividly recall sitting in the cluttered living room of that little house, really digging a Steely Dan record. It might have been “Countdown to Ecstasy.” That detail also has been lost to the haze of time. It’s proof, though, that I really must have been overserved. I never liked Steely Dan.

At some point, I was sure we needed to get over to the gym. Whoever I went with said, nah, we have plenty of time. So of course we were late.

This review of the show was from The Pointer, the student paper. It was written by a guy who became one of my college classmates later that year. Just about everything in his review is news to me, especially that it poured that night.

tucker-review

Turns out there was a mad rush to the seats. No wonder I wound up a million miles from the stage. One side of the Quandt gym has two tiers of bleachers. I found a spot along the front railing of the top tier, near an aisle. I sat and kneeled there as best I could.

There, my friends, is where the story fully fades into the haze of time.

Save for one detail. I never liked the Marshall Tucker Band, either.

Not when you could hear this fine piece of hippie country rock on the late-night free-form FM radio of the time.

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“Two Hangmen,” Mason Proffit, from “Wanted,” 1969.

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Filed under February 2017, Sounds

Music to resist by

Moving on after almost 38 years in the news business has at times been an interesting journey.

I’m no longer what a former colleague once called “a second-class citizen,” having to watch from the sideline instead of being part of the action. I’m no longer subject to the ethics rules of the news business, important though they are. I no longer need to preserve the illusion of being objective.

That said — and this may sound a bit odd — I’m still trying to find my voice. Still trying to find the right voice in public, the right voice on social media. Old habits die hard. I still say less than more, sitting back, sorting through it all, checking sources, knowing that the news is often fluid.

One step forward was embracing that I could — at last — make donations to candidates and certain causes. I donated to a friend who ran for the state Assembly. I had never been allowed to do that. Also, for the record: the American Civil Liberties Union, Pro Publica, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, One Wisconsin Now and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as it battled the Dakota Access Pipeline.

And now, it’s also OK for me to resist.

It’s necessary to resist when political instability and social uncertainty not seen since Watergate generates protests of a magnitude and intensity not seen since the Vietnam War. I remember 1968 and 1974. These are times like those times.

So when Bandcamp announced that it was donating its profits from Friday’s music sales to the ACLU as a way of protesting the president’s executive order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Mideast countries from entering the United States, I got in on that.

Bandcamp expected to sell more than $1 million worth of music, with its cut — roughly 12 percent, or $120,000 — going to the ACLU. My piece of that was small. But please enjoy some music to resist by. These aren’t protest songs. Just some enjoyable tunes bought with money that’s going to fight injustice.

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“Popping Popcorn,” the M-Tet, from “Finger’ Poppin’ Time,” 2015. DJ Prestige from the fine Flea Market Funk blog tipped me to the classic yet fresh instrumental soul/R&B sound of this group from the San Francisco area. My friend Larry Grogan of the mighty Funky 16 Corners blog wrote the liner notes for the M-Tet’s fine new LP, “Long Play,” which arrived here last week.

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“Free Your Mind (While You Still Got Time),” the James Hunter Six, from “Hold On!” a 2016 release on Daptone Records, one of my fave labels. I saw this pleasingly rough-edged R&B/soul group from England last spring in a 200-seat venue in a small town in Wisconsin. Things got loose. Things got sweaty.

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“For You My Love,” Josephine Taylor, from “Mar-V-Lus Records: The One-Derful! Collection,” 2015. This is the second in a series of comps issued by Secret Stash Records of Minneapolis. Mar-V-Lus was the teen-oriented imprint of the black-owned and operated One-Derful! group of Chicago R&B labels. Taylor, who was from Evanston, Illinois, recorded for Mar-V-Lus in 1966 and 1967. This one is previously unreleased.

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“Smiling Faces Sometimes,” from “Masterpiece: A Whitfield-Strong Tribute,” a three-cut EP released in 2014. Jason McGuiness is the producer. This comes from Los Angeles. A random find as I scrolled through Bandcamp’s soul listings. The other cuts: “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”‘

magic-mountain-ep

“Thrown Away,” Magic Mountain, from the “Magic Mountain” EP, 2017. This bit of indie pop is from a group that’s a side project for New Jersey guitarist Jeff Nordstedt, a Facebook acquaintance. His other band, the Milwaukees, rocks harder and is one of my favorites.

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Gone in threes: 2016

Good riddance, 2016. What precipitated a seemingly relentless wave of noteworthy deaths, I suspect, came on Jan. 26. Abe Vigoda — first reported dead in 1982, again in 1987 and then countless times afterward, mostly in jest — actually died.

They go in threes. They always go in threes. Here’s more proof.

All that jazz: Gato Barbieri, Al Caiola, Alphonse Mouzon

Americana: Mose Allison, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley

Angels among us: Larry Colburn (helped stop the My Lai massacre), Ruth Gruber (accompanied 1,000 Jews to the United States during the Holocaust), Marion Pritchard (rescued Jews in the Netherlands during World War II)

Animal planet: Dan Haggerty (“The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams”), Harambe, Alan Young (“Mr. Ed”)

Authors: Michael Herr (“Dispatches”), W.P. Kinsella (“Shoeless Joe”), Harper Lee (“To Kill A Mockingbird”)

Badasses: Fred Cherry (held as a POW in North Vietnam for seven years after refusing to denounce racial discrimination in the U.S.), Bob Hoover (escaped a German POW camp by stealing a plane, then became a test pilot), William Pietsch Jr. (one of the elite Jedburgh commandos in Nazi-occupied France)

Baseball legends: Ralph Branca, Joe Garagiola, Monte Irvin

Basketball legends: Pat Summitt, Nate Thurmond, Pearl Washington

Beatlemania: Al Brodax (produced, co-wrote “Yellow Submarine” film), Sir George Martin (producer), Allan Williams (first manager)

Blues brothers and sisters: Candye Kane, Lonnie Mack, Ruby Wilson

British film royalty: Frank Finlay, Guy Hamilton (directed four James Bond films, among others), Alan Rickman

Cartoon voices: George S. Irving (Heat Mizer in “The Year Without a Santa Claus”), Marvin Kaplan (Choo-Choo on “Top Cat”), Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson)

Commercial break: Bill Backer (came up with Coke slogans and co-wrote what became “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”), Milt Moss (that memorable Alka-Seltzer ad from 1972), Richard Trentlage (wrote the Oscar Mayer wiener song)

Counted out: Bobby Chacon, Aaron Pryor, Kimbo Slice

Crazy guys: Irving Benson (Milton Berle’s heckler), Richard Libertini (General Garcia in “The In-Laws”), Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin in “The Bob Newhart Show”)

Directors: Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”), Arthur Hiller (“The In-Laws”), Garry Marshall (“The Flamingo Kid”)

DJs: Bob Coburn (“Rockline”), Herb “The Cool Gent” Kent (Chicago), Charlie Tuna (Los Angeles)

Elvis’ guys: Joe Esposito (road manager), Chips Moman (producer), Scotty Moore (guitarist)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Keith, Greg and Arnold

Food and drink: Peng Chang-kuei (created General Tso’s chicken), Jim Delligatti (created the Big Mac), Robert Leo Hulseman (developed the red Solo party cup)

Hasta la bye bye: Fidel Castro, George C. Nichopoulos (Elvis’ doctor), Phyllis Schlafly

Hollywood kids: Carrie Fisher, Ricci Martin, Frank Sinatra Jr.

Hollywood moms: Florence Henderson, Nancy Reagan, Debbie Reynolds

“Mad” men: Jack Davis, Don “Duck” Edwing, Paul Peter Porges

Memorable major leaguers: Choo Choo Coleman, Margaret Whitton (Rachel Phelps in “Major League”), Walt “No Neck” Williams

Men of conscience: Daniel Berrigan, Tom Hayden, Elie Wiesel

Movie singers: Charmian Carr (“The Sound of Music”), Madeleine LeBeau (“Casablanca”), Marni Nixon (“The Sound of Music” and much dubbing)

Muses: Greta Friedman (believed to be the girl in white being kissed in Times Square in Alfred Eisenstadt’s V-J Day photo), Marianne Ihlen (Leonard Cohen’s companion during the ’60s), Clare MacIntyre-Ross (inspired Harry Chapin’s “Taxi”)

Innovators: Denton Cooley (first artificial heart), Henry Heimlich (Heimlich maneuver), Raymond Tomlinson (email)

John Wayne’s co-stars: David Huddleston (“Rio Lobo,” “McQ”), George Kennedy (“The Sons of Katie Elder,” “Cahill, U.S. Marshal”), Hugh O’Brian (“In Harm’s Way,” “The Shootist”)

Last laughs: Bob Elliott, Garry Shandling, Gene Wilder

Legends: Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince

Mary Tyler and more: Ann Morgan Guilbert (neighbor Millie Helper on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”), John McMartin (Mary’s infatuated lawyer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), Grant Tinker (ex-husband and producer)

Oh, Canada: Gordie Howe, Gordie Tapp (“Hee Haw”), Alan Thicke

Photojournalists: Howard Bingham (Muhammad Ali’s biographer), Bill Cunningham (New York Times), Philip Townsend (Rolling Stones, Beatles)

Record guys: Phil Chess (Chess), Bob Krasnow (Elektra), Billy Miller (Norton)

Saddle up: Peter Brown (“Laredo,” “Lawman”), Robert Horton (“Wagon Train”), James Stacy (“Lancer”)

Screen Actors Guild presidents: Patty Duke, Ken Howard, William Schallert

Seers: Miss Cleo (well, not really a psychic reader, but she played one on TV), Louis Harris (pollster), Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”)

Sidekicks: Kenny Baker (R2-D2 in “Star Wars”), Mr. Fuji (pro wrestling), Noel Neill (Lois Lane in “Superman”)

Silly men: George Gaynes (“Tootsie,” “Police Academy” films), Bert Kwouk (Cato in the “Pink Panther” films), Fred Tomlinson (“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” singer who co-wrote “The Lumberjack Song” with Terry Jones and Michael Palin)

‘60s super cool: Zsa Zsa Gabor (Minerva, the last “Batman” villain), Robert Vaughn (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), Van Williams (“The Green Hornet”)

Songwriters: John D. Lowdermilk (“Indian Reservation,” “Tobacco Road”), Mack Rice (“Mustang Sally,” “Respect Yourself”), Rod Temperton (“Thriller,” “Give Me The Night”)

Soul brothers: Leon Haywood, Joe Jeffrey, Billy Paul

Soul godfathers: Otis Clay, Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy), Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

Soul sisters: Sharon Jones, Denise Matthews (Vanity), Ruby Winters

sharon-jones-tix

Space, the final frontier: Edgar Mitchell, Vera Rubin (confirmed the existence of dark matter), Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”)

Sports voices: Bud Collins, Craig Sager, Jim Simpson

Storytellers: Edward Albee, Guy Clark, Morley Safer

The gospel according to TV: Mother Angelica, William Christopher (Father Mulcahy on “M*A*S*H”), Madeleine Sherwood (Mother Placido on “The Flying Nun”)

The 12th Precinct: Ron Glass, Doris Roberts, Abe Vigoda

Unforgettable voices: Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, George Michael

We built this city: Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane), Mic Gillette (Tower of Power), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Wheeler dealers: Phil Kives (K-Tel products and records), Ozzie Silna (got 1/7th of NBA TV money every year, making hundreds of millions of dollars, for folding his ABA team), Robert Stigwood (managed Cream and the Bee Gees, produced “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” on stage and “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” on film)

Gone in Threes, the band

Singers: Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf), Gary Loizzo (The American Breed), Gayle McCormick (Smith)

Hot licks: Dan Hicks (and His Hot Licks), Henry McCullough (Wings), Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

On bass: Preston Hubbard (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Marshall Jones (Ohio Players), Lewie Steinberg (Booker T. and the M.G.’s)

On drums: Dennis Davis (David Bowie), Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople), Danny Smythe (Box Tops)

On the keys: Stanley Dural Jr. (Buckwheat Zydeco), Leon Russell, Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic)

The horn section: Harrison Calloway (Muscle Shoals Horns), Pete Fountain, Wayne Jackson (Mar-Keys, Memphis Horns)

Special mention

The shocker: There always is one death that takes your breath away. In 2016, John Glenn. Not so much because he had died — he was 95 — but because of all he accomplished. People of a certain age have no idea how big of a deal John Glenn and the astronauts once were. A man for whom the often overused phrase “American hero” is most appropriate.

The end zone: Sam Spence belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He composed much of the wonderful music made famous by NFL Films. His music plays throughout the hall in Canton, Ohio, but there’s no mention of his contribution. I met him in 2010, when he spent a week in Green Bay, working with music students and conducting a program of his compositions. Even then, he had to get NFL Films’ permission to use his music, which NFL Films owns and publishes.

Going in style: Jane Little, a bassist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, collapsed near the end of a performance in May and died shortly thereafter. She was 87 and had spent 71 years with the orchestra, playing with it since she was 16. She collapsed while playing an encore number: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Noteworthy

— This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2016. Rather, this is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.

— Each year, I use three prime sources for this list.

First, the Wikipedia contributors who compile month-by-month lists of prominent deaths. That’s where we start.

Second, our friend Gunther at Any Major Dude, who compiles lists of notable music deaths each month, along with a year-end roundup. Each of those is more thorough than this roundup. Highly recommended.

Third, the folks at Mojo magazine, whose “Real Gone” and “They Also Served” features are wonderful.

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Filed under January 2017, Sounds

Yeah, After This Year

We usually wind up Christmas with the same three songs here, but Santa Claus has already come to town and gone.

But after this year — After This Year — it’s still worth hearing the message in the other two.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released in 2010. Also available digitally.

“Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
“Ringing through the land
“Bringing peace to all the world
“And good will to man”

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.) Also available digitally.

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!”

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

As the city shuts down …

Driving home from the hospital, where my dad is spending Christmas weekend, I watched the city start to shut down for Christmas Eve.

As 5 p.m. arrived, last-minute shoppers lingered at Shopko, their cars clustered near the entrance. Last-minute diners lingered at McDonald’s, but its sign was off. Taco Bell had gone dark. The “Open” sign was still on at Subway, but it looked like they, too, were just about out the door.

So it is on Christmas Eve, the one night of the year when, well, all is calm.

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Then you hear Irma Thomas’ voice piercing the quiet in the best possible way.

Nine years ago, my friend Rob in Pennsylvania called this “goosebump-inducing stuff.”

It still is.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print and not available digitally, but Amazon will rip you a copy.

Reverent yet thrilling, this version is done as a New Orleans-style dirge with some moody Hammond organ and some terrific gospel voices singing backup.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

Once again, it’s Christmas Eve

On this Christmas Eve, a post that has become a tradition.

On a winter day more than 40 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

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“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985.

It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay for $10 or less. I found my copy three years ago, when my friend Jim threw open his garage door and sold some of his records.

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(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just “Little Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo died the following July.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds