Monthly Archives: November 2007

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 39

If you are visiting only for the Christmas tunes, we invite you check out another of our regular features here at AM, Then FM.

Each Sunday, we serve up a little slice of greatness from Sleepy LaBeef.

Sleepy LaBeef, the human jukebox, is a national treasure. I don’t remember how I came to know his music roughly 20 years ago, but he instantly became one of my faves.

Born in Smackover, Arkansas, he stands a solid 6-foot-6 and belts out rockabilly, roots, R&B, blues, country and gospel tunes — almost all of them covers — in a deep, smoky baritone while raking away on his guitar. He’s 71, and still touring.

Today’s tune, “Blues Stay Away From Me,” is a slow roadhouse blues done first by the Delmore Brothers in 1949. It’s also been covered by Ace Cannon, Asleep at the Wheel, Bob Dylan, The Band, Jeff Beck, NRBQ, the Sweet Inspirations and Merle Haggard, among others.

The Delmore Brothers co-wrote it with Henry Glover and Wayne Raney, who explains how it came to be recorded in Cincinnati on May 6, 1949:

“About four o’clock one morning in Cincinnati’s Gibson Hotel, Alton and Rabon Delmore and I were getting ready for a recording session the next day. Alton knew a guitar riff he had learned from Henry Glover, a black songwriter on the King Records staff at the time. We decided to put words to it and a song was born. We recorded it the next day.”

Sleepy recorded his version during a ’70s session at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville. His baritone is in fine form, and he’s backed by some nice piano work.


“Blues Stay Away From Me,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “The Human Jukebox,” 1995.

(Source of Wayne Raney quote: This page on the Roots of Bob Dylan web site.)

And if you are visiting just for the Christmas tunes, they’ll return Monday.

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Three under the tree, Vol. 3

One of the advantages (or drawbacks) to being older than dirt is that you can be nostalgic about several decades.

And so it is tonight, as we fondly recall the early ’80s and bring you three from the early days of MTV, along with some YouTube links.

Believe it or not, there was a time when artists made Christmas videos and MTV played them at Christmas time, just as radio would play their Christmas singles at Christmas time.


“Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” a 1994 compilation with some other good tunes on it. (We’ll be hearing more from it.)

Squier was one of the biggest stars on MTV at the time, so a Christmas single seemed logical. And who could forget these lyrics: “From grownup to minor/No one could be finer” and “From rooftop to chimney/From Harlem to Bimini.” I know of no other Christmas song with “Bimini” in the lyrics.

You can watch Squier lip-sync it with the MTV VJs and crew here. It’s a guilty pleasure, perhaps even corny, but it’s a good memory from that time. How many of those VJs can you name today?


“2000 Miles,” the Pretenders, from “Learning to Crawl,” 1983.

Talk about playing a guitar like ringing a bell, quietly, gracefully. A modern Christmas classic about a loved one gone at Christmas. That it came from an album with so many other great, straight-up rock songs — this was the flip side to “Middle of the Road” — makes it all the more remarkable.

Watch a live performance of it, complete with strings, here.


“Do They Know It’s Christmas,” Barenaked Ladies, from “Barenaked for the Holidays,” 2004.

I’m not at all a fan of this Canadian band — I found this posted online sometime this summer — but I’ve come to enjoy their fairly straightforward cover of the Band Aid tune from 1984.

Bob Geldof wrote the words, Midge Ure wrote the music and everyone who was anyone on the British music scene at the time sang it. The song, which benefited hunger relief in Ethiopia, was huge — a solid No. 1 in Britain and close to it in the States. (Likewise, Barenaked Ladies’ version benefits AIDS and HIV projects in Africa.)

See what all the fuss was about here. How many of those performers you can name today?

Enjoy. More to come.

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Three under the tree, Vol. 2

You think you know about Santa? You better think again.

We’ve made a few little discoveries as we go through the Christmas tunes.

— Did you know Santa is “a fine soul brother?” Yes, “the man’s got soul, he’s got soul, he’s got soul.”

So says Brook Benton on “Soul Santa,” a single released as Cotillion 44141 in November 1971.

— Did you know Santa “ain’t like old Saint Nick,” who “don’t come but once a year.” Apparently this Santa comes a little more often. Ahem.

So says Clarence Carter on “Back Door Santa,” which was on “Soul Christmas,” an Atco release from November 1968.


Both of these fine cuts are on another “Soul Christmas,” an Atlantic and Atco Masters compilation released in 1991. This is an excellent album of vintage R&B and soul from the ’50s to the ’70s, also featuring Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, King Curtis, Solomon Burke and the Sweet Inspirations.

(The Atco release I mentioned was released on CD in 1994 or 1995 as “Original Soul Christmas.” I’ve never seen it, but it obviously exists.)

— While those revelations about Santa may come as news to you, this one may not. Santa “looked a lot like Daddy” and “Daddy looked a lot like him.” Well, he did at my house.

So say the Tractors, joined by Buck Owens as they cover his Christmas classic, “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”

Buck wrote this in the mid-’60s with Don Rich, his guitarist and collaborator until his death in a motorcycle crash in 1974. I don’t have Buck’s version, but this one is true to the original.


It’s from “Have Yourself a Tractors Christmas,” by the Tractors, a 1995 release from the country-swing band that had a brief moment in the sun at about that time in the mid-’90s.

Enjoy. More to come.

Again, if you have requests, drop me a line. I’ll see what I can do.

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Three under the tree, Vol. 1

Might as well start this at the beginning.

It was 1969, when I turned 12, that I really started listening to music. That Christmas, I got the best gift ever. A Panasonic AM-FM radio. This model.


I put it atop the filing cabinet where I kept my baseball, football and basketball cards, tuned it to 920 AM — WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee — and let the tunes roll. WOKY was one of the big Top 40 stations of the day.

When it came to this time of year in 1970, I heard a song that absolutely blew me away: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by the Jackson 5.

I had no idea there was that kind of Christmas music — pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. I’ve been hooked ever since.

So over the next month or so, I’ll be digging through my Christmas music collection and sharing some tunes here at AM, Then FM. I have a lot of Christmas music. It tends to be like the rest of the music I enjoy — a mix of rock, R&B, soul, country and even a little jazz.

Though I’ve loaded more than 300 songs into the Mac — and that is the tip of the iceberg, trust me — we’ll roll them out three at a time.

Today’s trio consists of three songs from the beginning. I dug them then, and I dig them now.


“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973.

This is a classic album, also featuring Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It is not Christmas at our house without this one.


“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. A guilty pleasure. The link is to the double CD shown.


“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. I found it on “Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon,” a 1998 compilation.

Their message rings true today.

Hope you will enjoy this series. Much more to come.

If you have requests, drop me a note. I’ll see what I can do.


Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds

Rollin’ right along

As rock standards go, one of the best is “Train Kept A Rollin’.”

The version I heard first was Aerosmith’s cover, from the “Get Your Wings” album of 1974. That I heard it first makes it the definitive version for me.

(I originally wrote that Joe Perry played guitar on that. He did not. It was Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, as Willie graciously explains in his comment below.)

Tiny Bradshaw, one of the early R&B artists who paved the way for rock, did it first — in 1951. He wrote the tune along Howard Kay and Lois Mann and/or Sydney Nathan.

Sugarloaf also covered it on its self-titled debut album in 1970. The version they used, though, was a version first done by the Yardbirds.

It’s a hybrid, part “Train Kept A Rollin'” and part “Stroll On,” the latter a tune for which Jeff Beck recycled a riff from the Yardbirds’ 1965 cover of the original. The writing credits for “The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On)” went to Beck, Jimmy Page and fellow Yardbirds Keith Relf, Chris Drega and in some cases Jim McCarty.


“The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On),” Sugarloaf, from “Sugarloaf,” 1970.

It’s one of the tunes on tonight’s side over at The Midnight Tracker.

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