Monthly Archives: January 2009

‘Billy Powell on the piano …’

The news that another member of Lynyrd Skynyrd has died comes as a bit of a surprise, yet as no surprise.

Keyboard player Billy Powell, gone Wednesday at 56. Heart problems.

What caught me about Powell’s passing was that he was 56 — just five years older than I am. I’ve been listening to Skynyrd since high school, and it somehow seems impossible that we should be so close in age. We forget how young Skynyrd was then.

I could go on, but I won’t. Everyone knows Powell’s elegant work on “Free Bird.” There was more.

As Ronnie Van Zant says at the 2:24 mark of our first tune, “Billy Powell on the piano …”


“Honky Tonk Night Time Man,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Street Survivors,” 1977.


“Things Goin’ On,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd,” 1973.


“Whiskey Rock-A-Roller,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “One More From The Road,” 1976. Of all the original Skynyrd tunes, this is the only one co-written by Powell. It originally was the last cut on 1975’s “Nuthin’ Fancy,” but Powell’s piano was lost deep in the mix. It fares better in this live recording.

And once more, at 2:39 of this tune, “Billy Powell on the piano …”

“Call Me The Breeze,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “One More From The Road,” 1976. Please forgive the skip just before Ronnie Van Zant’s intro to Powell’s terrific solo, which lasts more than a minute and a half. It originally was the last cut on 1974’s “Second Helping,” but there’s more of Powell on the live track.

One of the great live albums, recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in July 1976.

If you’re wondering what comes next for Lynyrd Skynyrd — which has guitarist Gary Rossington as the only original member left in today’s lineup — this story from the Jacksonville Times-Union explains it.


Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Winter Dance Party

Once a year for the past decade, our town — Green Bay, Wisconsin — has stepped forward to reclaim its place in rock ‘n’ roll history. This year, that night was Friday night. The place, as always, the historic Riverside Ballroom.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Winter Dance Party. That was the early rock ‘n’ roll tour that became legend when a small plane crashed in a corn field northwest of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and their pilot, Roger Peterson.

The tour’s second-to-last stop was at the Riverside in Green Bay, on Sunday night, Feb. 1, 1959.


For the past 10 years, they’ve revived the Winter Dance Party at the Riverside. A musician named John Mueller plays Holly. A musician named Ray Anthony plays Valens. The Big Bopper is played by his son, Jay Richardson, who was born two months after his father’s death. They’re backed by a four-piece band. It’s the best tribute show I’ve seen.

The revival plays some of the other original venues, but its stars say there is no place like Green Bay.


The Riverside was sold out well in advance, with more than 1,000 people — many of them getting up there in years — packing the place.

Twice as many people were there in 1959, but back then, everyone was younger, and everyone stood. These days, not everyone can stand for a show that runs three hours plus. So they set up long banquet tables at the back of the big room. Only the young, and the young at heart, stood at the front of the stage.

There usually are special guests. This year, one was Bob Morales, the older half-brother of Ritchie Valens. Bob Morales is in his 70s, but he’s still a badass. He wore biker leathers and boots and was rocking a white Fu Manchu mustache. When he took off his black cowboy hat, he was rocking a wispy white Mohawk with a ponytail.

During the first intermission, they introduced some more special guests — 40 or so people who were at the Riverside for the original Winter Dance Party show 50 years ago.

A local gent, improbably named Jim Morrison, also was there 50 years ago. He was back at the Riverside on Friday night as one of the emcees. As he introduced the show, he mentioned “American Pie,” the 1971 song in which Don McLean recalled Feb. 3, 1959 — the day of the crash — as “the day the music died.”

“He was wrong,” Morrison said. “Three gentlemen died, but the music will never die.”

Not as long as Green Bay remembers its place in rock ‘n’ roll history.


“Come On Let’s Go,” Ritchie Valens, from “Ritchie Valens,” 1959. (Re-released on Rhino Records in 1987. This is what I have.)


“Maybe Baby,” Buddy Holly, 1958 …

“Chantilly Lace,” the Big Bopper, 1958 …

Both from the “American Graffiti” original soundtrack, 1973.

And one more …


“Maria Elena,” the Smithereens, 1990, from “Attack of the Smithereens,” 1995. It’s out of print.

This tune is the B side to the cassette single of “Blues Before and After,” released 19 years ago today, Jan. 24, 1990.

From Pat DiNizio’s liner notes: “The full band version appears on the third album ‘Smithereens Eleven,’ but this version is how I heard the song in my head originally, just acoustic guitar, accordion and vocal. Lyrically about Buddy Holly’s widow Maria Elena Diaz.”

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Back to basics

Ever have one of those days when nothing goes as you expected it would?

Today was one of those days. A lunch date canceled. Workout plans changed. Nothing major.

So rather than risk one more thing not going according to Hoyle, we’ll stick to the basics.

There is nothing more basic — as far as rock music goes — than “Louie, Louie.” West Coast R&B singer Richard Berry wrote and recorded it in 1955. The Kingsmen recorded the definitive version of it in 1963.

Tonight, we bring you three versions of “Louie, Louie,” all from an album called “The Best of Louie, Louie.”

It was released by Rhino Records in 1983 in the wake of a 63-hour “Louie, Louie” marathon on KFJC, a radio station in Los Altos Hills, California. It was the biggest in a can-you-top-this series of “Louie, Louie” shows that started as a modest two-hour program on KALX, a radio station in nearby Berkeley, California. It grew to four hours, then 24 hours, then 63 hours.

Our three versions stick to the basics. The first, by Richard Berry, is intended to re-create the laid-back doo-wop vibe of his 1955 original. The others, by the Sonics and Black Flag — garage and punk legends, respectively — are inspired by the Kingsmen but are stripped down, then distinctively ripped up.


“Louie, Louie,” Richard Berry, from “The Best of Louie, Louie,” 1983.


“Louie, Louie,” the Sonics, from “Boom,” 1966.


“Louie, Louie,” Black Flag, from “The First Four Years,” 1983.

All three versions are on the original vinyl version of “The Best of Louie, Louie,” 1983. It’s out of print. The CD version, released in 1990, doesn’t have the Black Flag cut.

Maybe we’ll bring out the novelty versions another day. Or not.

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Roto’s van

You may have heard something about it being a little nippy up here in our part of the Midwest. However, I’ll leave that to my colleagues JB and Whiteray, who blogged about it this week.

maratrophy76It also was pretty cold in our part of Wisconsin about this time in 1976.

We piled into Roto’s van and drove to a little town about 10 miles west of ours to play in a basketball tournament. Our team was a bunch of guys from the two-year University of Wisconsin campus in Wausau, our hometown. (We took the consolation title, thank you.)

Our buddy Roto — so nicknamed because his dad had the local Roto-Rooter business — was one of the craziest guys I ever met. He would do anything anytime, say anything anytime and seemingly never think or worry about the consequences. Roto and I remain friends, and after 33 years he has only slightly mellowed.

Time — and all the beer and whiskey we drank that weekend — have left it a bit of a hazy mystery, but I know Roto was there, I was there and our buddy Joe was there.  Quite possibly the late, great Wildo, too.

We had Roto’s van, which was modestly tricked out with carpeting in the style of the day. Roto’s van also had an 8-track tape player at the heart of its stereo system. I recall one — and only one — tape from that wild weekend. We played it loud, played it often and sang along to it. I suspect there was some headbanging involved. You’ll see why.


“Deuce,” “Strutter,” “Got To Choose,” “Hotter Than Hell” and “Firehouse,” KISS, from “Alive!” 1975. It’s Side 1 of the great double live album recorded mostly in Detroit but also in Wildwood, New Jersey, and Davenport, Iowa. It runs 17:59.

This is the way I ripped my old vinyl. One long take. There’s no point in listening to it any other way.

When we listened so long ago, there was a distinct clack between each of the sides. You know the clack. It may have been the 8-track player. It may have our heads hitting the side of the van as we passed out.

I can still hear Roto reminding us that he was “hhhhhott-ah than hell” during the tournament. Doubtful.

I can still hear Roto, Joe and Wildo cheering Paul Stanley during the intro to “Cold Gin” on Side 3: “All right, I got a little question for all you. I wanna know! How many people here like to take the taste of alcohol?”

At that time, we did. A hazy memory, but a good one.


Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Motown by Motown

Today is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the legendary Motown Records in Detroit.

Today we have the early Motown story, told by those who lived it.


“The Motown Story” came into the house when Janet and I merged our record collections. She bought it in the early ’80s, when the soundtrack to “The Big Chill” revived interest in classic Motown tunes.

What Janet bought so long ago is a five-LP box set that was released in 1970. It’s hanging on for dear life, having survived a memorable party in the early ’80s. The box is battered. The booklet that came with it is long gone. When I opened it last week, three of the LPs had one kind of sleeve, one had another kind of sleeve and one had no sleeve.

“The Motown Story” is essentially an audio documentary, complete with a narrator, sound bites from the performers and near-complete versions of 58 of Motown’s biggest hits from its first decade.

What makes this set so special almost 40 years on is that we get to hear Motown performers tell their stories in their own words. The cuts that follow have spoken intros or outros and, at times, end a little abruptly.

“Detroit, Michigan!
“Motor Town! Motown!
“This is the Motown sound!”

— Charlie Van Dyke, the narrator

“We, uh, really dug the type of things that reflected, uh, the society.”

— Motown Record Corp. founder Berry Gordy, 1970.

“We were just kind of a, like a small company then, you know, most of the employees were musically inclined.”

— “Money,” Barrett Strong, 1960.

“I was trying to find myself and I didn’t quite know where, where I was, or where I wanted to go, and, uh, Smokey Robinson, who is probably, uh, the greatest living poet, kind of pulled me up out of, uh, out of my depression at that time.”

— “I’ll Be Doggone,” Marvin Gaye, 1965.

“The ideas come from experience, so maybe my surrounding has a lot to do with the, the way I would write a song.”

— “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” Stevie Wonder, 1965.

“I don’t, I don’t consider myself as being a heck of a singer, man. I’m more of a stylist, if you will. … I like to live what I, what I do, and, you know, with the performances, you know, I like to live ’em.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” the Four Tops, 1966.

“‘Standing In the Shadows Of Love,’ is, uh, it’s hard for me to describe that tune. At first I couldn’t, I couldn’t get a, get a feeling for it.” (Levi Stubbs)

“‘Bernadette’ is a tune that I didn’t think I could do at all. You know, it really didn’t have a message for me until there was, there was an Italian fella came over, to teach us some Italian lyrics to this particular tune. And through his explaining, uh, you know, about what some of the various words meant, you know, and the significance of them in Italian, it gave me a better outlook on, on the thing. And, uh, through that, I was able to get a little message across.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Standing In the Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” the Four Tops, 1966 and 1967.

“That, um, that was a good beginning because I had no idea that, uh, Tammi was as good a singer, as, uh, she of course turned out to be.”

— “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967.

“This is when Holland-Dozier-Holland decided to go more mechanical and do weird sounds and things like that, and I believe it came about because of, uh, the Beatles era, which, um, everyone — writers, producers, singers — were influenced by the Beatles, quite a bit, I must say. … ‘Reflections’ is a very weird, weird song.” (Mary Wilson)

— “Reflections,” Diana Ross and the Supremes, 1967.

“The first date we sang, uh, professionally, uh, was at the Y, the YWCA, for a tea. And it, um, came off all right. And from there it seemed like things, we just got, um, um, nice breaks and so forth. And, uh, we didn’t have a name at the time. Everybody’s assignment was to go home and try to come up with a name that would kind of suit the group.” (A delightfully bubbly Gladys Knight)

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, 1967.

“A lot of people thought we were talking about getting high, which we weren’t. We were talking about just a state of being.” (Otis Williams)

— “Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1968.

“It’s so much fun working with, uhhh, the boy groups. Because, um, you kind of put them uptight and they put you uptight. In other words, it was like a challenge and everybody was trying to outdo everybody, so you came up with some great material. Especially like on ad libs and endings and stuff like that.” (Diana Ross)

— “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, 1968.

“I never thought a great deal about ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ uh, after recording it. I had, I had no idea that it was going to sell as many records as it did. In fact, I wasn’t too optimistic about it.”

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968.

“We started to recording, and I told him, I said, ‘Man, this ain’t my bag, man,’ … He said, ‘Will you just record the record, Junior?’ and I said, ‘All right, man.'” (Jr. Walker, on a persistent songwriter, likely Johnny Bristol or Harvey Fuqua)

— “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, 1969.

“I don’t know what that is on the beginning of, uh, ‘Psychedelic Shack’ because it has that funny yow sound and then it goes into the beat, you know, but, uh, I’ve learned by being in the business and being around that, that, uh, record-buying people, they like things that’s, uh, different and sounds unusual.” (Otis Williams)

— “Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations, 1970.


All from “The Motown Story,” 1970.

It’s out of print, but is available in somewhat different form as “The Motown Story, Volume 1: The 1960s.” This 2003 CD release has only 42 cuts, not 58, and doesn’t include the Berry Gordy sound bite, “I’ll Be Doggone,” “Standing In the Shadows Of Love,” “Bernadette” or “Psychedelic Shack.” It also has some cuts not on the 1970 set.


Filed under January 2009, Sounds