Monthly Archives: August 2010

The lost summer

Twenty years ago, the life we’d built in one place was ending.

We’d decided, for many reasons, to leave Madison, Wisconsin — widely considered to be the cultural center of the universe — and move back to Green Bay. The lovely Janet had grown up in Green Bay but had been away for 15 years. I’d lived there for a couple of years out of college but had been gone for the better part of a decade.

So we put our house on the market. She stayed behind. I headed north.

I took a new job that really was my old job, the one I’d left eight years before. That was a little strange. As was sleeping on the floor of the guest room at my friends’ duplex. As was trying to find a new place, not knowing when — or whether — the house would sell. It was a blur.

And then my mom died.

It had been barely three weeks since I’d left Madison.

Mom had been in a nursing home, having reached the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Another part of our old life was gone. The handful of days that immediately followed also are a blur, save for the gorgeous summer day on which we buried Mom.

And then life went on. We found a place to live. (I’d come close to wearing out my welcome at my friends’ place.) Our house sold in 17 days. My brothers and I kept a close eye on Dad.

A few weeks later, I was at work, thinking about Dad, and about Mom. It was Aug. 27. It would have been her birthday.

And then the news came across the wire. Stevie Ray Vaughan had died.

It hit home, not so much because of who had died, but because of where and how. Vaughan died early that morning when his helicopter left Alpine Valley, a big outdoor venue southwest of Milwaukee, and crashed into a hillside. If you live in Wisconsin, you know Alpine Valley.

That, and it was a flashback to 1967, when Otis Redding died in a plane crash in Madison, in Lake Monona, not far from where we lived.

They are forever linked for me, my mom and Stevie Ray. Mom’s passing was not a surprise. Stevie Ray’s passing was startling.

“Rememberin’ Stevie,” Buddy Guy, from “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues,” 1991. (The buy link is to an expanded edition released in 2005.)

Buddy Guy had jammed with Stevie Ray Vaughan that last night at Alpine Valley, along with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray’s older brother Jimmie Vaughan. This instrumental is his tribute.

This record was released on Aug. 27, 1991, the first anniversary of Stevie Ray’s death. It again would have been my mom’s birthday.


Filed under August 2010, Sounds

‘Fierce Wisconsin nostalgia’ here!

Looks like carrying the flag for Clicker, a beloved Wisconsin rock/pop/cover/glam/show band from the early ’70s, is starting to pay off.

Our first post about Clicker, written almost three years ago, was for a long time the only thing that turned up when you googled the band.

You’ll find all of our posts about Clicker on the Wisconsin bands page above. Best of all, at the end of those posts, you’ll find dozens of comments from fans and band members alike, all sharing warm memories of Clicker’s glory days.

That, presumably, is the “fierce Wisconsin nostalgia for Clicker online” noted earlier this summer in a fine piece listing the top 25 pop albums of all time from Madison, Wisconsin.

Writing in Isthmus, a weekly alternative paper, Rich Albertoni put Clicker’s self-titled debut album at No. 15 on the list. Here’s what he said about the 1973 release:

Somewhere between 1960s pop and 1970s prog, there was Clicker. The group’s spookily melodramatic song “Castle” described a vision of “a lady in a forest of green” who “lived in a castle like I had never seen.” Led by vocalist Mark Everist, the band included Richard Wiegel, now of the Midwesterners. There’s fierce Wisconsin nostalgia for Clicker online, and with songs like “Castle,” it’s easy to see why.

Having lived in Madison for most of the ’80s, I was curious to see what made the list, and delighted to see “Clicker” at No. 15.

Clicker is popping up elsewhere online, too.

— There’s a MySpace page for Clicker. Its jukebox includes some tunes not on either of Clicker’s albums, including its beloved “Star Wars” cover. The page was put together by Shane Tracy, the son of Clicker drummer Jerry “Cubby” Tracy.

— Two former members of Clicker — guitarist Richard Wiegel and singer Mark Everist — are on Facebook and have posted old photos and posters on their pages. It’s wonderful stuff.

Richard occasionally comments on the Clicker posts here at AM, Then FM. He recently shared a note from his old bandmate Jerry Tracy, who made a solid case for putting both Clicker albums in Madison’s top 25 of all time. It’s in this post, down toward the bottom of the comments.

Time now to listen to Clicker. Here’s the tune mentioned in Isthmus.

“Castle,” Clicker, from “Clicker,” 1973. It’s out of print.

(Sorry about the album art. The album jacket is too big for my scanner. Good story about that, though. There was gallery of album covers with the Isthmus story, so I went through it, hoping to get a better image of the “Clicker” cover than what I have. Only to find my scan in the gallery! No problem, all good, happy to help.)


Filed under August 2010, Sounds

In search of Batman

Time to finish a thread started back in May, when I wrote about an unexpected encounter with Jerry Kramer, the former Packers guard whom I admire more as an author than an athlete.

As I said then, I’ve worked in the media for a long time, enjoying the occasional access that comes with it. Meeting people, famous or not, comes with the territory. It’s not that the thrill is gone, but the list of famous people I’d like to meet is pretty short.

Which brings us to Batman.

“Batman” was must-see TV in the mid-’60s. I was in grade school, and role models didn’t get much better than Batman. Back then, Batman was more like Superman — truth, justice and the American way — than the brooding Dark Knight we’ve come to know in the last 25 years.

So, all these years later, I still would like to meet Adam West.

I’d like to thank him for two things. First, for being that role model for a kid from Wisconsin. Second, for being a role model in the years since “Batman,” for showing how to handle career disappointment with grace, and how to embrace it and turn it into an asset.

I could meet Adam West this weekend. He’s appearing at the Comic Con convention in Chicago. But that wouldn’t be much fun. I’m not into autographs, nor into getting my picture taken with celebrities. Which is why West was booked for the show. I get that. It’s just not my thing, and especially not after reading this Chicago Tribune story, which makes certain aspects of those shows a little sad.

So maybe someday I’ll be waiting for a plane with Adam West — as we once did with Robert Urich. Or maybe someday I’ll ride a hotel elevator with Adam West — as we once did with Sam Kinison.

Those encounters also were completely unexpected, completely informal, as it was with Jerry Kramer this spring. That’s way better than forking over admission and queueing up for hours.

And if not Adam West, then … let’s see … Bart Starr or Ringo Starr or Paul McCartney.

“Pleased To Almost Meet You,” Colin Hay, from “American Sunshine,” 2009.

Oh, I’ve met Colin Hay. He’s as gracious and good-natured as his songs suggest.

Who’s on your list?


Filed under August 2010, Sounds

Seen any good tunes lately?

The news that Gap Band bass player Robert Wilson passed away last weekend, though sad, brought back some sweet memories.

Back in the early ’80s, we more often saw good new music on MTV before hearing it on the radio in our corner of Wisconsin — if we heard it on the radio at all. That’s how we got into the Gap Band.

In their videos, lead singer Charlie Wilson had an engaging presence, seemingly the kind of guy the fellas wanted to hang with and the ladies wanted to get with. His brothers Robert and Ronnie were his sidekicks on MTV, as they were on stage.

The music was fun. It was solid, if not entirely original. Listen to their hits, as I did again this week, and you hear a nick of P-Funk here, a nick of Orleans there. Still, listening to the Gap Band isn’t the same as seeing them, and seeing them again is what summoned those sweet memories.

“Party Train,” anyone?

I could watch that over and over. Actually, I did, back then.

The best thing I read about Robert Wilson was written by Steven Ivory for EURweb. (Go read it. You might be surprised to learn who hired these brothers from Tulsa to be his backing band.)

Ivory cites a less-often-heard Gap Band tune as proof of Robert’s considerable skills. I gave it a listen, and he’s right. On the biggest hits, particularly “Party Train” and “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” it’s not always clear where the bass ends and the synths begin.

But not on this one. Take it away, Robert …

“Shake,” the Gap Band, from “The Gap Band,” 1979. It’s out of print, but is available digitally.

As Ivory notes, “Shake” borrows from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 cover of “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

And you were wondering how the Gap Band borrowed from Orleans?

“Stay With Me,” the Gap Band, from “Gap Band IV,” 1983. From left, that’s Ronnie, Charlie and Robert Wilson.

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Filed under August 2010, Sounds

Rockin’ the park

We used to rock all summer long in the big tent outside our local casino, but they took it down a couple of years ago. Hasn’t been the same since.

We used to rock all summer long at county fairs all around our corner of Wisconsin, but all we get now is one country act after another.

These days, we rock when and where we can find it. This summer, we had to drive a little, but we found it in a couple of small-town parks.

This is one such story.

We rocked with this cat when we saw Milwaukee soul legends Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds. This is “Rockin’ Ricky” Brenneman of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where they have a nice little summer weekend festival called Metro Jam.

Ricky was our blissed-out leader that Friday night, rocking an electric blue shirt under his white suit, nicely complementing his salt-and-pepper mullet and his wild, long, gray soul patch. (The photo is from Saturday night, which I couldn’t attend. Ricky changed shirts.)

Perhaps the only cat better dressed was Harvey Scales himself, in a glittery purple shirt and white pants, then a glittery gold shirt and white pants. The star of the show is a man of the people. He hopped down off the stage for an impassioned “When A Man Loves A Woman,” then led a snake dance during a long jam toward the end of the show.

I appreciate Ricky’s passion. He jumped right into that snake dance.

We heard Scales do a bunch of covers, backed by the Seven Sounds’ guitars and horns as tight as it must have been back in the ’60s, when they were regulars in the clubs and beer bars around Wisconsin.

The set list: “Sweet Soul Music,” a most lascivious “Mustang Sally,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “Love-Itis,” “The Twist,” “Who’s Makin’ Love,” “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay,” “Get On The Good Foot,” “When A Man Loves A Woman,” “Soul Man” and, of course, “Disco Lady,” the  Scales tune that became a huge hit for Johnnie Taylor.

Scales finally played one of his own for the encore at Washington Park. A funky new dance, circa 1970. Harvey’s nearing 70, but he still can bring it, even if he can’t slide across the stage on his knees anymore.

“The Yolk,” Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, Chess 2089 7-inch, 1970. This tune and “The Funky Yolk” are on “Love-Itis: All the Rare & Unreissued 45’s from the Vaults of Magic Touch: 1967-1977,” a hard-to-find compilation CD released last year.

(True confession: I had not heard “The Yolk” before that night. I immediately went looking for it when I got home. So all credit and many thanks are due to DJ Eddy Bauer, who posted the 45 image and the tune on his blog earlier this year.)

Photo: Via Rockin’ Ricky’s Facebook page, but taken by Doug Sundin of the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter

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Filed under August 2010, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vols. 30 and 31

For a certain kid growing up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the passing of summer to fall was not marked by the leaves turning but rather the arrival of Topps football cards at the store.

That happened at about this time every year.

Yet in the summer of 1970, when baseball cards started to fade from the shelves, I decided to divert some of my rather modest spending to 45 rpm records. We bought 45s at Evans Department Store. Part of a small local chain, they carried a little bit of everything.

They kept the 45s on a tall rack up front. The rack was turned toward the cashiers so they could keep an eye on the kids and, presumably, keep the records from walking out the door.

Though I no longer have the 45s I bought that summer — or any of my 45s, for that matter — I vividly remember the first two I bought. They were, of course, all over the AM radio that summer.

“In The Summertime,” Mungo Jerry, from “Mungo Jerry,” 1970. The LP is out of print, but the tune is widely available digitally. I thnk I have it on an old radio station comp LP, but I can’t find it at the moment.

I loved this tune by Ray Dorset and his mates from England. Still do. You still can’t help smile when you hear it today. There’s not much higher praise for a pop song. I never had this LP, and my 45 is long gone, but I can tell you it was on Janus Records, which was kind of a butterscotch or light brown label.

(Speaking of identifying old 45 labels, my old junior high friend Mike prides himself on still being able to do so, even four decades later.)

“Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” Three Dog Night, from “It Ain’t Easy,” 1970. I have it on “Golden Bisquits,” the greatest-hits LP from 1971. Both are out of print, but the tune is available on either “Complete Hit Singles,” a 21-track comp from 2004, or “Millenium Collection,” a 13-track comp from 2007.

To a 13-year-old kid, this tune was a little edgy. I wondered how it would play at home if my parents heard it. But then I figured, “Ah, what the heck.” Again, my 45 is long gone, but I can tell you this was on ABC-Dunhill Records, which had a black label.

Couldn’t tell you how long it was before I learned this was a cover of a Randy Newman song. Longer than I care to admit.

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Filed under August 2008, Sounds

Nighttime in the switching yard

It has been hot and steamy in our corner of Wisconsin for much longer than usual this summer. It is, in reality, a typical Wisconsin summer. But not one we’ve had for several years.

On nights like these, muggy nights that follow muggy days that feel like you have to swim through the air, it takes me back to Grandma’s house.

Grandma and Grandpa rented an old house that backed onto the railroad tracks in their small town in south-central Wisconsin. An old wood frame house with cheap asphalt siding that mimicked bricks.

To me, it was just Grandma’s house. One of my junior high friends came along once. He took one look at the place and was mortified.

Grandma and Grandpa were poor. Grandpa was disabled, forced from work in his 50s by a heart condition and then emphysema. They lived on a pension and Social Security. They’d been poor for a long time by the time my friend saw them in the early ’70s.

When we came to visit, my brother and I would share the smallest of three small upstairs bedrooms. There was no air conditioning, only a small sliding screen wedged into the window. On sultry nights, we’d plop into the old twin beds and hope for a breeze.

What I remember most vividly about those nights, aside from the heat that enveloped you, were the sounds of the rail yard. It was out our window, across the small back yard, not even 100 yards to the east.

We’d hear the diesel locomotives rev up, reach a sustained pitch and then throttle back down and they shuffled in and out of the rail yard. Later at night, or early in the morning, we’d hear them idling.

The heat made it hard enough to sleep. The sounds of the rail yard only compounded the problem. You eventually faded, though.

Now if you came all this way and thought you were getting a Warren Zevon song, well, sorry. That tune doesn’t have the right vibe.

Rather, it’s this, which drags along like all parties are being forced to play on a hot, steamy night in a ramshackle old place hard by the tracks.

“Night Train,” Louis Prima, from “The Wildest!” 1957.

That’s Sam Butera blowing that lonely sax.

(Still hacked off about no Zevon? Come on. If I’d headlined this post “Hot August Night,” you’d have passed without reading a word.)


Filed under August 2010, Sounds