Monthly Archives: March 2011

Many years away

One of the fascinating things about having a high school sophomore in the house is listening to what he’s listening to.

The sophomore has discovered Queen. He’s started — as you might expect — with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the rest of “A Night at the Opera.” We heard most of that 1975 album on a trip last Saturday. By the end of the day, I’d had my legal limit of “Bohemian Rhapsody” for a while.

It got me to thinking about how we once listened to records.

In the fall of 1975, after “Bohemian Rhapsody” hit FM radio and blew us all away, I went out and bought “A Night at the Opera.” I didn’t have a lot of LPs then, so every new record was one to be played over and over. I read liner notes and lyrics as the LPs played, getting to know every groove.

So it was with “A Night at the Opera,” played night after night during my freshman year of college. It all came back in a rush when the sophomore plugged in his iPod.

There were many such records played over and over, night after night. Eventually, though, something comes along to push them aside. Then one day, they don’t get played at all. They sit in the stacks for years. So it was with “A Night at the Opera,” which I may not have played for 25 years before pulling it out again the other night.

The sophomore inspected that white record jacket with great care, then looked at the iTunes to see what I’d ripped from 36-year-old vinyl that to him is as new as if recorded yesterday. He likes the English dance hall numbers — “Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon,” “Seaside Rendezvous” and “Good Company.” I did, once.

It’s always a bit of a thrill to have the sophomore discover what I once discovered. It’s also a thrill to come along on that journey and rediscover a great song not heard in far too long.

That would be “’39,” Brian May’s tale of time travelers who believe themselves gone for a year and find themselves gone for decades, returning to find friends and family grown old and gone. I love the story. I love the harmonies. I love May’s guitars. Perhaps you will dig it, too.

“’39,” Queen, from “A Night at the Opera,” 1975.

Five years ago this week, I saw Queen with Paul Rodgers. Brian May didn’t play this one that night in Milwaukee. I didn’t miss it. I’d forgotten about it. That is, until the sophomore started playing “A Night at the Opera.”


Filed under March 2010, Sounds

You eat cannibal. We eat wildcat.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, when we went out for perch — even though corned beef and cabbage were served at the roadhouse where we go for fish — another Wisconsin delicacy was on our minds.

A friend posted this to Facebook last night:

“Time for a couple of cannibal (raw beef, seasoned) sandwiches on onion rye bread and then off to bed.”

Hmmm. Is that something you really want to eat before bed? Is that something you really want to eat? We batted that around on Facebook for a while.

The former question, I guess, is a judgment call. On the latter question, the answer is yes, at least for some of us in Wisconsin. Before we go any further, here’s an instructional video on cannibal sandwiches “Krajewski style.”

This gent used ground round to go with his raw onions, rye bread and black pepper. Our panel of experts suggests ground sirloin — or better yet, ground steak — and either way, the fresher the better. This traditionally is washed down with cold beer. What this gent is doing with vodka and Red Bull, I have no idea.

The ingredients were Part I of the debate.

Part II revolved around what you call it. The elegant name is beef tartar.

My friend, who grew up along Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin, calls it cannibal sandwich. So do most of the folks around here, in the shadow of Lambeau Field.

But I was living in central Wisconsin when I was introduced to this delicacy. There, an hour and a half to the west, we call it wildcat. All these years later, I remain a wildcat man, and not a cannibal sandwich man.

There really only is one song for this. And, no, it is not by Total Coelo.

“Meat Man,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “Southern Roots,” 1973. (The buy link is to a two-fer CD also featuring “Boogie Woogie Country Man,” a 1975 LP.)

This wild tune (which I am shocked! shocked! to learn is really is not about meat) was written by Mack Vickery, a longtime Lewis pal and collaborator. He also wrote “Rockin’ My Life Away” for Lewis.

Vickery, an Alabama native, kicked around Memphis in the late ’50s and early ’60s as a singer. He didn’t have much success at that, but he wrote a bunch of hits for country stars in the late ’60s and early ’70s.


Filed under March 2011, Sounds

Walking into history

We went to Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday to witness the scene on the Capitol Square, where more than 70,000 people — perhaps closer to 100,000 people — took part in a loud but peaceful demonstration of union solidarity.

It came in the wake of the state Republicans’ vote to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights. It capped almost a month of protests.

All along the way on Saturday, it seemed as if we were following in the footsteps of those who had gone before us.

The drive down took us within a couple of miles of the tiny rural cemetery where my great-great-grandparents are buried. William Burgraff arrived in Wisconsin from Germany in the early 1850s and went to work as a barrel maker. Without William’s journey, we don’t make ours.

So many people converged on Madison that we had to park a good distance away from the Square. We found a spot on the east side (not far from the Crystal Corner Bar, if you know Madison), and walked more than a mile downtown.

We walked on the Capital City Trail, an old rail corridor. During World War II and again in the early ’50s, my dad worked on those rails, handling freight on Chicago & North Western passenger trains. During the war, Dad lived in a rooming house (also not far from the Crystal Corner Bar) and walked to work at the depot. Without Dad’s journey, we don’t make ours.

When we reached the Square, we made our way through the sea of people, onto the Capitol grounds and up to the Capitol so my companions — two 16-year-old high school sophomores — could get a better view of the scene. From there, we walked down to Mifflin Street and waded back into the sea of people, walking in the march for one more block. Here is 30 seconds of that experience.

When we reached the corner, I looked down State Street. It seemingly was filled with people all the way down to the University of Wisconsin campus, which sits at its west end. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, antiwar protesters marched from the campus to the Capitol. Without their journey, we don’t make ours.

On a day of continuous rallies started in the morning by the farmers’ tractorcade, the crowd was getting revved up for the biggie, the 3 p.m. union rally.

But our day was almost done. Were it my trip alone, I would have spent a couple of hours soaking in the scene. Given that my companions’ interest didn’t match mine — which I get — we kept it to one trip down State Street and back up to the Capitol, and one lap of the Square.

From a day when the sights were so extraordinary, the sounds will linger. We heard this classic song, its reminder of a class war sadly still timely.

“Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Willy and the Poor Boys,” 1969.

As we walked away from the Square, we heard this song behind us. Wishful thinking, for obvious reasons.

“Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye,” Steam, from “Steam,” 1969. (The buy link is to a 2003 import CD with seven extra tracks.)

We didn’t hear this one, but for a day on which we walked into history — representing three generations of family members who have included union teachers, union social workers, union railroad workers and a union carpenter — it also seems appropriate.

Both of my grandfathers were union activists who in the 1920s pushed for a 40-hour work week instead of a 48-hour week. They wanted workers to have two days off. Without their journey, we don’t make ours.

“Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” Joe South, from “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” 1969. (The buy link is to a two-fer import CD that includes the “Introspect” LP from 1968. Also available on “Classic Masters: Joe South,” a remastered best-of CD from 2002.)

I also will long remember the sound of the tens of thousands of people at that late-afternoon rally.

We were more than a half-mile from the Square, headed back to the car.

We still could hear the roars.


Filed under March 2011, Sounds

Waiting for Miss Millie

Dennis Coffey, the great Detroit soul and funk guitarist, will be out with a new record next month. I’m looking forward to hearing it, especially after listening to “Constellations: The A To Z of Dennis Coffey.”

This mix, assembled by Detroit DJ House Shoes, is a nice overview of Coffey’s work from his Funk Brothers session work to his ’70s solo prime to today, including some tunes that have sampled his riffs. I was pleasantly surprised to find I already have most of the songs in the mix, but some may be new to you.

(Tunes from Dennis Coffey’s upcoming record are in italics)

1. “Scorpio” intro – (featuring Dennis Coffey, Jazzy Jeff, Jake One and Q-Tip)
2. LL Cool J – “Jinglin’ Baby”
3. Dennis Coffey – “Main Theme from ‘Black Belt Jones'”
4. Dennis Coffey – “7th Galaxy”
5. Dennis Coffey – “Ride Sally Ride”
6. The Temptations – “Cloud Nine”
7. Rodriguez – “Sugar Man”
8. Marvin Gaye – “I Want You”
9. Dennis Coffey – “Garden Of The Moon”
10. The Spinners – “It’s A Shame”
11. Dennis Coffey – “Never Can Say Goodbye”
12. Dennis Coffey – “Whole Lotta Love”
13. Diamond D – “No Wonduh”
14. The Isley Brothers, Dennis Coffey and Lyman Woodward – “It’s Your Thing”
15. The Floaters – “Float On”
16. The Dramatics – “In The Rain”
17. The Dramatics – “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”
18. Dennis Coffey featuring Mick Collins (Dirtbombs) and Rachel Nagy (Detroit Cobras) – “I Bet You”
19. Edwin Starr – “Easin’ In (Hell Up In Harlem)” / Digable Planets – “Nickel Bags”
20. The Temptations – “I Can’t Get Next To You”
21. The Undisputed Truth – “Smiling Faces Sometimes”
22. Dennis Coffey featuring Mayer Hawthorne – “All Your Goodies Are Gone”
23. Outro

As noted, House Shoes’ mix also includes bits of three cuts from the new record, “Dennis Coffey,” which comes out April 26 on Strut Records.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing “Miss Millie,” the cut on which Coffey is backed by Kings Go Forth, the great 10-piece soul group out of Milwaukee. Some Midwest heat, anyone?

Until then, enjoy some classic Dennis Coffey cuts not on this mix.

“Getting It On,” Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band, from “Evolution,” 1971. This funky cut led off the record everyone bought because the smash single “Scorpio” was on it.

“Taurus,” Dennis Coffey, from “Goin’ For Myself,” 1972. This was Coffey’s third single, and it did almost as well as “Scorpio.” Dig the drums and the horns.

“Theme From ‘Enter The Dragon’,” Dennis Coffey, from “Instant Coffey,” 1974. A high school friend said he played this constantly back then. It’s clear why.

All three LPs are out of print, but all three songs are available on “Absolutely The Best of Dennis Coffey,” a CD released last month.


Filed under March 2011

A Mardi Gras stew

Fat Tuesday always brings a bit of a cultural stew to our corner of Wisconsin.

Just 15 miles to the northwest, in Pulaski, the Polish country bakery was at it in the wee hours of this morning, turning out thousands of paczki. That’s a deep-fried piece of dough with a sweet filling. It’s a Fat Tuesday tradition.

Also this morning, another bakery here in town was filling orders for dozens of king cakes — an O-shaped yellow-and-purple cake with, again, a sweet filling. They’re decorated with beads and coins. If you find the small plastic baby in your piece, you buy next year’s king cake.

Tonight, the party hounds are out, wearing their beads, celebrating Mardi Gras. Some of them may feel so rough in the morning that they may briefly consider giving up alcohol for Lent.

Our Mardi Gras celebration is a bit more laid back. We just turn around and grab a Professor Longhair record off the shelf.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how I came to buy three Professor Longhair records in the early ’80s. Trust me, I was not that sophisticated when I was in my 20s. I must have read something about him. I’ve always loved piano players, ever since hearing my dad’s boogie-woogie records as a kid.

So for me, Professor Longhair always has meant Mardi Gras. Especially considering I’ve never been to New Orleans. Some day, I hope. Until then …

“Mardi Gras In New Orleans,” Professor Longhair, from “New Orleans Piano,” 1972.

This cut was recorded in New Orleans in 1949 and originally issued as Atlantic 897, with the Professor credited as Roy “Baldhead” Byrd. This LP is from Atlantic’s “Blues Originals” series issued in the early ’70s. It has tunes recorded in 1949 and 1953. (The buy link is to the 1990 CD reissue, which adds alternate takes of three songs, including this one.)

“Tipitina,” “Her Mind Is Gone,” “How Long Has That Train Been Gone,” “Boogie Woogie” and “Carnival In New Orleans,” Professor Longhair, from “The Last Mardi Gras,” 1982. It appears to be out of print.

This is Side 4 of a two-record set recorded live at the Tipitina Club in New Orleans on Feb. 3 and 4, 1978 — the Friday and Saturday nights before Mardi Gras. (It runs 21:26.)

It’s just OK, not great, but it is a small way to get a sense of what it was like to hear a New Orleans legend playing for Mardi Gras revelers. All five cuts are written by the Professor.

It really was Professor Longhair’s last Mardi Gras season. He was 59 at the time. The 1979 festival was canceled because of a police strike and the Professor died on Jan. 30, 1980, before the next one started.

Dan Phillips, the proprietor of Home of the Groove, the fine New Orleans music blog, knows more about Professor Longhair and this record than I ever will, so I’ll defer to him. Dan wrote about “The Last Mardi Gras” a year ago and back in 2007. Much of what I know about New Orleans music, I learned from Dan.


Filed under March 2011, Sounds