Monthly Archives: February 2016

Doin’ fine on Cloud Nine

We interrupt our appreciation of music legends still with us for an appreciation of something else still with us.

AM, Then FM is quietly celebrating its ninth anniversary in the blogosphere.

It arrived on the scene during the last week of February 2007.

It gradually gained a modest group of regular visitors, thanks to gracious and kind support from fellow bloggers who remain friends to this day. Back then, there were many blogs, many readers. Times change.

When AM, Then FM debuted …

— Our son had just turned 12 and was in sixth grade. He’s now 21, a college junior, performing in still another play this week and heading to New York on a spring break theatre tour in a couple of weeks.

— I’d just marked 29 years in the news business. I’m no longer in the news business.

Yep, times change.

But I’ll continue to buy records and talk about them here as if we were in the same room, listening to them and sharing our takes on them.

Your continued loitering is much appreciated. We’ll keep on keepin’ on.

I wanna say I love the life I live.
And I’m gonna live the life I love.
Up here on Cloud 9.

motownstory5lpset2

“Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1969, from “The Motown Story” box set, 1970. It’s out of print. This cut features a minute-long intro with Otis Edwards discussing how they came to record the song during the fall of 1968. He insists it’s about the state of black life at the time, and not about drugs, as widely believed at the time.

Also featuring Dennis Coffey on lead guitar and Mongo Santamaria on conga drums. Santamaria covered it later that year on his “Stone Soul” LP.

gladys knight pips nitty gritty lp

“Cloud Nine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. A cool cover on which the Pips get gritty, too.

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Still with us: Little Richard

Our premise, revisited: We are not even two months into 2016, and David Bowie is gone. So are Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson. So are Maurice White, Vanity and Otis Clay, as are Glenn Frey, Gary Loizzo and Dan Hicks.

Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different. We started with the eldest, Chuck Berry. We continue with …

The legend: Little Richard.

Age: 83.

Still performing? Apparently not. My friend Jeff Giles reported in September 2013 that Little Richard had retired. He now lives in Nashville but doesn’t get out much, according to “Prayers For Richard,” a fine piece by David Ramsey in December’s Oxford American.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: All those folks who got down on Richard Penniman over his style, his sexuality, his sensuality and/or his spirituality. Basically everything that made him great.

Where I came in: Hm. Not really sure. Seems like I’ve known about Little Richard since forever, but I never bought one of his records until I picked up a Specialty Records greatest-hits compilation sometime in the ’80s. It might have been after his career was revived after his memorable film appearance in “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” in 1986. It’s still the only Little Richard record I own.

Don’t take my word for it: As a suburban London kid in the ’50s, David Bowie sent away for two pictures of Little Richard. He eventually received one, “dog-eared and torn and, adding insult to injury, sized at 6-by-8 instead of the expected whopper.” Years later, that old picture of Little Richard sat on Bowie’s piano “in the original Woolworths frame I bought for it over 4o years ago, a small piece of yellowed Sellotape holding its ripped edges together.”

My evening with Little Richard: I’ve had two, actually, and was thrilled to have them both. He twice played our local casino. The first time was at least a decade ago. I got one of the little prayer books his people handed out after that show, but I’m not sure I still have it. The second and last time was in May 2007. What I wrote then:

I’ve seen and heard so much music over the years, yet I can honestly say it’s exciting to see Little Richard, and to see him for a second time.

The man is 74, yet still pounding the piano, belting out rock ‘n’ roll and the blues and doing a little preaching. He was in fine form, feisty as always and in fine voice. He’s backed by a scorching 10-piece show band — three saxes, trumpet, two guitars, bass, two drummers and a second keyboard player.

Little Richard was looking pretty, even if a bout with sciatica forced him to walk onto the stage on crutches. He wore a lemon-colored suit, its jacket covered with rhinestones, and a lime-colored shirt.

Perhaps my favorite moment: His cover of the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It).” No, no, no, it was the giddy, thrilled reaction of a Japanese woman, one of several attractive ladies invited up on stage to dance, as she scooted off stage after shaking Little Richard’s hand.

To be honest, words fail to convey the essence of Little Richard’s greatness.

So, we’ll heed Little Richard and do as he says … shut up!

Appreciate the greatness:

littlerichard17grooviestlp

“Tutti Frutti,” 1955. A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom, indeed!

“Lucille,” 1957. My mom was Lucille. This song was not about my mom.

“Good Golly Miss Molly,” 1958. No less than the great Tom Jones calls this his favorite Saturday night record. “It’s tremendous,” he tells Mojo magazine in the March issue. “I thought he was a girl at first, covering Billy Haley and the Comets, but he did it first. The lyrics were more risque!” Sir Tom and Little Richard duetted on this one on his variety show in November 1969.

All by Little Richard, all from “Little Richard’s Grooviest 17 Original Hits,” 1968. My only Little Richard record. It’s out of print, but all these tunes are available digitally.

littlerichardshag2cd.jpg

“Bama Lama Bama Loo,” Little Richard, 1964, from “Shag On Down By The Union Hall,” a 1996 compilation of his classic Specialty Records sessions from the ’50s and ’60s.

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Still with us: Chuck Berry

We are not even two months into 2016, and David Bowie is gone. So are Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson. So are Maurice White, Vanity and Otis Clay, Glenn Frey, Gary Loizzo and Dan Hicks.

Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different.

The legend: Chuck Berry.

Age: 89.

Still performing? It’s been almost a year and a half since he last played at the Blueberry Hill nightclub in suburban St. Louis. “Chuck Berry does not have any upcoming events,” his Facebook page says.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Chuck Berry is not necessarily a nice man, from his troubles with the law and the tax man to his reluctance to give longtime co-writer and side man Johnnie Johnson his due.

Where I came in: I’m part of the generation introduced to Chuck Berry by the naughty novelty single “My Ding-A-Ling” in 1972. Then I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” the two-record greatest-hits compilation reissued by Chess in the wake of the success of “My Ding-A-Ling.” Long one of the greatest records in my collection.

My evening with Chuck Berry: Seven years ago, I saw Chuck Berry — then 82 — play our local casino ballroom. After that show, you wondered whether he’d played for roughly an hour, or played roughly for an hour. Which was OK. With Chuck Berry, you never can tell.

Appreciate the greatness:

chuckberrygoldendecadelp

“Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956. Electric Light Orchestra’s long, raucous cover of this is one of my all-time favorites.

“Too Much Monkey Business” 1956. The roots of hip hop? Dig that patter. Ahhhhhh.

“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” 1956. The flip side to “Too Much Monkey Business.” Dig that Johnnie Johnson piano.

“Johnny B. Goode,” 1958. Rock Guitar 101.

All by Chuck Berry, all from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is a 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. All of these cuts available digitally.

 

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Know you ain’t going anywhere

Not sure there are any light reads about the Vietnam War.

It’s been years since I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” but I vividly remember that taking forever.

Perhaps it’s the constant reminder — then as now — that there, for the grace of the timing of my birth, go I, and how would I have handled all that. (For the record, I was too young for Vietnam. Saigon fell and the war ended seven weeks before I turned 18.)

My Christmas wish list had two books on it, one of them about Vietnam.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place book

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” examines how American soldiers — white, black, Latino, Native — deeply identified with music and used it to cope while serving in Vietnam in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Our Christmas tree is long gone from the living room, yet I’m still slogging through that book. Maybe it’s best read with all those songs playing in the background.

You also bog down when you come to a passage like this, the story of a soldier named Jeff Dahlstrom, who arrived in Vietnam in September 1970:

“Music played a major part in the sensory overload of Saigon, where Dahlstrom went frequently. … No surprise that Dahlstrom’s memories of the Saigon streets were stirred by the appropriately titled ‘Stoned in Saigon’ by a largely forgotten English group named Free.”

Huh?

It’s a simple mistake by the authors, yet a jolt for those who notice it. “Stoned in Saigon” was released in 1970 by a largely forgotten English group named Fresh.

Don’t think anyone would argue that the great English blues-rock group Free is largely forgotten.

That said, Free isn’t among the many artists mentioned by Vietnam veterans and cited by authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, both of whom teach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Little was “All Right Now” about Vietnam in 1970, when that song also came out.

Still, you wonder whether American soldiers heard and identified with another Free song. Especially one that in early 1973, with the war slogging on and American support for it waning, said:

Take off your hat
Kick off your shoes,
I know you ain’t going anywhere.
Run ’round the town
Singing your blues
I know you ain’t going anywhere.

and

Throw down your gun
You might shoot yourself,
Or is that what you are tryin’ to do,
Put up a fight
You believe to be right
And someday the sun will shine through.

and

But I know what you’re wishing for
Love and a peaceful world.

free heartbreaker lp

“Wishing Well,” Free, from “Heartbreaker,” 1973. Also available digitally.

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