Monthly Archives: January 2008

A teenager has moved in

I’d hoped to have a guest post for you tonight, but the writer declined.

“Dad, my kind of music isn’t for old guys,” Evan said.

Consider yourself dissed. By a 13-year-old.


Our son, Evan, turned 13 today. Our last stop this evening was at Grandpa’s apartment (Ray’s Corner for you regular readers).

There, Evan started rifling through Grandpa’s CDs. First we listened to “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin. Then we listened to “Who’s On First?” by Abbott and Costello. Then we had to bring both home so he could put them on his iPod.

The latter cut, a classic bit of comedy that dates to the 1930s, was on a compilation CD of baseball songs. Evan was reading the booklet and checking some of the other compilations put out on Flashback Records, which is Rhino Records’ budget label.

One of the CDs mentioned had excerpts from the National Lampoon Radio Hour. Evan asked what the National Lampoon was, and the best answer I could come up with was “like The Onion.”

“You have records by them at home, right? I’m gonna have to look at those.”

So when we got home, Evan walked into the office and started rifling through vinyl that’s 10 to 20 years older than he is. He pulled out six albums for closer inspection:

National Lampoon’s “Lemmings,” Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a compilation album of James Bond themes, two compilation albums of TV themes and “The Packers’ Glory Years,” a compilation of old radio broadcasts. He didn’t play them — it was bedtime — but he found them pretty good reading.

Evan first loved the Ramones, then moved on to Green Day and has since moved on to any number of bands that are middle school faves — among them Relient K, My Chemical Romance and the All-American Rejects.

Yet one of his favorite CDs was and is a Cartoon Network-branded compilation of cartoon theme songs. We got it from the library so often we finally just loaded it into the iTunes.

So to celebrate Evan’s birthday (and to fulfill a request) …


“The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest,” 1996 theme, from “Cartoon Network Cartoon Medley,” a 1999 compilation that’s out of print.


Filed under January 2008, Sounds

They go in threes

That’s what we’ve long said in the newspaper business. Celebrities and prominent people die in threes.

I vividly recall the summer of 1997. Brian Keith, the actor who played Uncle Bill on the late-’60s sitcom “Family Affair” had just died. A week later, the actor Robert Mitchum died.

The day Mitchum died, I spoke up during one of our news meetings and said to watch out for the third one. Someone asked what I meant. “They go in threes,” I said. “Celebrities die in threes.”

The next day, the actor James Stewart died. I’ll never forget the look on one of my co-workers’ faces when he heard the news. His eyes popped open. His jaw dropped. Not that it was Stewart. Just that there had been a third.

And so we come to three recent obituaries of note.

The first was Elvis.


He was the guy who rode an old bike and collected cans in our community. I wrote about our Elvis after he died last fall.

Now, the rest of the story. The folks in our community want to put up some kind of memorial to Elvis in one of the parks he so often was seen in. There’s even a Facebook page in his memory. It has more than 1,200 members, more than 100 posts on the wall.

What I did not know was that Elvis had some kind of brain injury when he was young, and it kept him from learning how to read. Or that he’d been married and had a son and a daughter. Or that he was much more social than I’d thought.

The second was Suzanne Pleshette.


I remember having an absurd conversation with one of my high school classmates back in the mid-’70s. We were rating the relative hotness of a variety of women on TV. Hey, what can I say? We were 16 or 17. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re 16 or 17. This was so long ago that it was before Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers.

Anyhow, my classmate insisted that Joan Van Ark was the hottest. A bright, attractive young actress at the time, certainly.

But, no, my friend, not even close to Suzanne Pleshette. I’ve always had a thing for her. There aren’t many DVD sets I’d consider getting, but I could watch “The Bob Newhart Show” for days on end. She was that good, that bright, that spicy, that sexy. Of course, now we know cigarettes forged that sultry voice — she died of lung cancer, just 70 — but, oh, that voice.

Time’s Richard Corliss put forth the interesting notion that Pleshette “was a perfect fit for the movies’ golden age” but “unfortunately for her, Hollywood had stopped making the kinds of films that would have made (her) a star two decades before she got there.”

Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel wrote that in real life, “Suzanne Pleshette was a lot saltier than Emily Hartley. She’d be the person you’d want to sit next to a party because you were sure to hear some choice comments, delivered with sass.”

The third was Howard Washington.

You probably haven’t heard of him. I hadn’t, until I read a delightful appreciation of his life in the Los Angeles Times.


Imagine you are one of Warner Bros. Records’ top stars. You pull up at its headquarters in Burbank, California, but the tiny parking lot is full. The security guard overseeing the lot lowers the boom on you. Howard Washington tells you in an unforgettably big voice to go park on the street. Yes, you, Madonna. Yes, you, Prince.

Washington was 20 when he started at the Warner Bros. movie studio in 1929, running a shoeshine and a car wash. Though he did other things — served in the Navy during World War II and sold real estate in the ’50s and ’60s — he became synonymous with Warner Bros. He even had bit parts in a couple of movies.

From his post at the record company parking lot, Washington became so beloved that David Lee Roth was the emcee at his 80th birthday bash in 1989. They gave him a platinum record called “Howard Washington on the Lot.” Its songs included “You Can’t Park Here,” “Park on the Street,” “The Lot Is Full,” “They Didn’t Tell Me You Were Coming” and “I Don’t Care Who You Are.”

Sounds like he was one cool cat.

So, for Howard Washington, here’s a tune by a group that was on a Warner Bros. label when he was riding herd on rock stars in the parking lot. It seems to fit with his outlook on life — Washington married and was divorced five times. Then, when he was 74, he met Eunice Glover. They were still together when he died 24 years later, earlier this month, at 98.


“If You Wanna Be Happy,” Kid Creole and the Coconuts, from “Doppelganger,” 1983. It’s a cover of Jimmy Soul’s R&B hit from 1963, which was based on an old calypso tune, “Ugly Woman.”


Filed under January 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 48

Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, is back out on the road.

Come Thursday and Saturday night, he’ll be playing one of America’s classic venues — the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa — at an event that’s part ’50s music revival and part Buddy Holly tribute.


The Surf was the last place Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played, on Feb. 2, 1959, the night before the plane crash that took their lives.

I’m delighted to say the Surf is alive and well, still hosting shows.

As is the Riverside Ballroom right here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


The Riverside was the second-to-last place Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper played on that Winter Dance Party tour, on Feb. 1, 1959. A similar tribute event was held there on Friday night.

Sleepy didn’t play here on Friday night, but Tommy Allsup did. He was one of Holly’s new backing guitarists at those gigs in early February 1959. So was a guy named Waylon Jennings.

Allsup was bumped from the plane when he lost a coin flip with Valens. Jennings was bumped from the plane by the Big Bopper, who wanted to fly because he was getting over an illness.

However, a young Sleepy did play shows with Holly back in the late ’50s. Here’s what he had to say about it in a 1996 interview with David Walsh:

“Well, in the ’50s I was fortunate enough to be on many of the shows. There were several of us starting out of Houston. There was George Jones, Tommy Sands, Sonny Burns; Roy Orbison was on a lot of those old shows.

“We would go in and open the show, for Elvis. We’d just kill an hour, of course we had fun doing it. We’d get to do maybe three or four songs each. And then, the main attraction, Elvis, would come on. But I had the opportunity to play with all sorts of people when the music began to get hot back then. I worked shows with Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry.”

Both Sleepy and Buddy Holly covered today’s tune, which was written by Slim Harpo. It was the first cut on “The Buddy Holly Story,” a compilation album quickly released by Coral Records in March 1959 in the wake of Holly’s death.


“Raining In My Heart,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “The Human Jukebox,” a 1995 compilation. This was recorded at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville, probably during the 1970s.

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Filed under January 2008, Sounds

Tonight on The Midnight Tracker

We’re back with another obscure side from the mid-1970s.

Head over to our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for some more free-form goodness.


It’s Side 1 from “Sequencer,” the 1976 album by electronic music pioneer Larry Fast, who recorded as Synergy. It’s from the days of analog.

Sneak preview: “Classical Gas,” Synergy, from “Sequencer,” 1976.

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Filed under January 2008

Out of the deep freeze

If you watched Sunday night’s NFC championship game from Lambeau Field, you know it’s been cold here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It’s been below zero at night and we’ve had below-zero wind chills during the day for the better part of a week. By some standards, that’s really cold. By our standards, that’s just a little nippy. We usually have a week like this every winter.

It always reminds me of January 1972, when the temperature dropped out of sight for two weeks. We’d just moved. Welcome to central Wisconsin.

We moved a lot when I was a kid, but this was the first time we’d moved in the middle of a school year. It was our sixth home in 10 years, my sixth school in 10 years. I was 14 and in the ninth grade. I went directly from a junior high school into a high school at semester break.

Moving, for me, was never traumatic. You got used to it, and it often was a bit of an adventure. Yet I felt isolated that January, partly because for the first time we lived out beyond where the sidewalks ended and partly because of the bitterly cold weather.

The only advantage to the extreme cold was that it was clear at night, and I could listen to NBA and ABA games on powerful clear-channel AM stations at night. I’d long done that when we lived along Lake Michigan, and that familiar experience was one of the few comforts in those early days in a new place.

Getting the lay of the land also meant getting to know local radio. In a way, its personalities became my first friends in that new town. My constant companions, especially at night.

That took some getting used to. It was my first exposure to FM radio. The local station, WIFC, was Top 40 through prime time, then free form late at night. The latter occasionally was mind-blowing for someone who’d listened only to Top 40 AM radio before that.

Because I listened so intently to this new style of radio, some songs from early 1972 are seared into my head. Even now, 36 years later, I instantly associate them with that time, with the isolation I felt at that time: Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” and America’s “Horse With No Name.”

Of course, it wasn’t until early March that all four of those songs were together in the Top 40. The bitter cold had passed, but winter lingered, as did the isolation I felt.

There’s another song from that time that I once put in that group. However, I’ve since come to look more favorably upon it. Warmed up to it, you might say.

“We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” by the Addrisi Brothers, was rising in the Top 40 charts in early February 1972. At the time, understandably, I didn’t much care for a song about a lost love and loneliness. But it really is a pretty good song and it’s held up pretty well over the last 36 years.

Boston natives Don and Richard Addrisi were born into show business. Their parents had a trapeze act. They started singing as kids, traveling the country with their parents. The family settled in Los Angeles in 1956 and the boys — still in their teens — started working as a duo.

In 1959, the Addrisi Brothers had a hit with “Cherrystone.” In the ’60s, they started writing songs in addition to performing. They wrote “Never My Love,” a smash for The Association in 1967.

“We’ve Got to Get It On Again” actually was the B side to their first Columbia Records single. The label’s owner, Clive Davis, thought “I Can Count on You” was going to be the hit.


“We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” the Addrisi Brothers, 1972. Available on “We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” a 1997 compilation CD. (This rip, complete with a skip, is off “20 Rock Super Hits,” a 1973 Columbia House compilation on vinyl.)

The rest of the story: The Addrisi Brothers continued recording, with mixed success, until elder brother Don died of pancreatic cancer in 1984 at age 45. As of the mid-’90s, Richard was still in the business, working as an agent, talent scout and composer in Los Angeles. He’s 66 now, and his MySpace page puts him in Nashville, but doesn’t say much more.


Filed under January 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 47

We gave you a little taste of Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, covering Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “This Train” a couple of weeks ago. That was pretty well received, so here’s some more.

Gospel met boogie woogie when Tharpe recorded today’s tune in 1944. It was such a hit that it became the first gospel song to break the Top 10 on Billboard’s race records chart.

(Race records, sold mostly to blacks from the ’20s to the ’40s, eventually came to be known as R&B records. Nor, apparently, was “race records” a slur. The black press of the time proudly referred to African Americans as “the Race.”)

Today’s tune was known as “Strange Things Happening Every Day” when Tharpe laid it down.

By the time Sleepy got around to covering it 50 years later, it was known simply as “Strange Things Happening.” It was such a good cut, with Dave Keyes on piano and Scott Billington on harmonica, that it became the title track to Sleepy’s 1994 album on Rounder Records.


“Strange Things Happening,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Strange Things Happening,” 1994.

Plus a little bonus: Early last year, Oliver Wang wrote about Sister Rosetta Tharpe over at Soul Sides and shared the following tune, which again demonstrates how gospel meets swing.


“Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe, from “The Original Soul Sister,” a 2002 import compilation.

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Filed under January 2008, Sounds

The Midnight Tracker: It’s back

That extra album we picked up last week at the used record store is tonight’s feature over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker.


Head over there for Side 1 of “Disco Boogie, Vol. 2,” a 1978 compilation on Salsoul Records.

Not as bad as you think. Really.

Sneak preview: “Where Will It End,” Love Committee, from “Disco Boogie, Vol. 2,” 1978. It’s out of print. This cut is more Philly soul than disco.

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Filed under January 2008