Category Archives: December 2019

Here’s hoping Santa is cool with this

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can come clean.

Six days before Christmas, my son and I took a quick overnight trip to Minneapolis. For Evan, it was an opportunity to do some research at one of the University of Minnesota libraries.

For me, of course, it was a chance to go record digging. For the record, so to speak, I went record digging while fully mindful that it was a time to be looking for a few last things for other people, not for myself.

After dropping off Evan at the library, I made a bee line for Mill City Sound in suburban Hopkins. My friend Todd tipped me to it a couple of years ago. It’s one of the best record stores around. Highly recommended.

When I walked in, there was a guy looking at the new arrival bins. He was taking his time, which is fine, so I headed for the soul and R&B bins. Along the way, I glanced at the collectible records on the wall. Always interesting to see what they have up there.

So I dove in, flipping through the letter A soul and R&B records. Nothing for me. I took a couple of steps to my right, and started flipping through the letter B soul and R&B records. About a dozen records in, I glanced up at the wall in front of me. What I saw took my breath away.

There, among the collectible records on the wall, right smack in front of me, was the LP that has been No. 1 on my wish list for the last 10 years. I immediately took it off the wall. Never mind that it cost about four times what I’d planned to spend on records on this trip.

Behold.

“Two For The Price Of One” is a soul scorcher by Larry Williams and Johnny Watson, released on Okeh in 1967. The title cut is proof.

My friends Larry and Derek tipped me to Larry Williams and Johnny Watson on their blogs way back in 2009. The closest I’d come to finding that record was coming across a CD re-release while digging at Amoeba Records in Berkeley, California, in the summer of 2010. I’d never seen a vinyl copy in the wild.

I found no other records that day at Mill City Sound, nor at either of the other Minneapolis record stores we visited. Finding that one kinda negated the need to look for anything else.

Now, with Christmas come and gone, I can fess up.

That record has been sitting in a Mill City Sound bag for the last nine days. I didn’t say anything about it to Evan during our trip, nor to Janet when we got home, nor have I put it on the turntable. Until tonight, that is.

Santa’s listening, you know.

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The gift that keeps on keepin’ on

Christmas has come and gone for another year, but some gifts you never forget.

50 years ago, for Christmas 1969, Santa brought a radio. Yep, that Panasonic RF-930 AM-FM radio. It changed and shaped my life.

I took it upstairs to my bedroom and set it on top of my filing cabinet. I tuned in WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee, one of the great Top 40 AM stations of the era, and started digging all kinds of pop, soul, R&B and rock. I can’t think of many more exciting times to listen live to the Top 40 than 1970 and 1971.

— One night, without asking my parents’ permission, I quietly made a long-distance call to WOKY because I could win a record if I was the right caller and knew the answer to a certain question. I knew that Creedence Clearwater Revival started out as the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs. I won the record. A couple of weeks later, my record arrived. It was an obscure record sent to DJs. I had never heard of Bob Summers. Certainly not on WOKY. Yeah, just slightly disappointed. I no longer have the record I won, but I did buy another copy years later.

— WOKY ran a contest to get petitions to try to persuade the Beatles to not break up. One of my junior high classmates gathered signatures for one such petition. If memory serves, she won some kind of prize for her efforts.

— WOKY’s morning DJ, whom I could listen to only during the summer and during school vacations, was Bob Barry. It was quite a kick to hear some of his stories and meet him at a book signing last year.

My other regular stop was WTMJ, Radio 620. “Packers, Badgers, Brewers, Bucks! Hear ’em all on WTMJ, Milwaukee.” At night, when the clear channels were crystal clear, I’d surf the AM dial for distant baseball and basketball games.

Not long after Christmas 1971, we moved, and I switched over to FM — yep, it was AM, then FM.

WIFC, the Big 95 out of Wausau, Wisconsin, was a tremendous small-market station during the ’70s, Top 40 during the day and free form after 9 or 10 p.m. Those free-form hours, jam-packed with deep album cuts, introduced me to so much great rock and, yes, even some pretty cool jazz.

When I was a high school senior in 1975, I spent a cold February morning with WIFC’s morning DJ. I sat in on his show to write a feature for the school paper. Ten years ago, I reconnected with Bruce Charles and interviewed him again. That three-part story is here, here and here.

From 1970 to 1977, that radio was my constant companion while at home.

Then I got my first stereo system, and its receiver pretty much took the radio’s place. (For the record, that stereo consisted of a BIC 940 belt-drive turntable, an Akai AA-1010 receiver and Atlantis speakers.)

In the late ’70s, I took that radio with me when I went to shoot baskets. I’d set it at the base of the hoop while I played. It took a few shots from balls that came straight down off the rim. One such wayward shot bent the antenna. It eventually broke, so there’s long been just a stub of an antenna. I’ll forever associate the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP with that radio. In the summer of 1978, it sat at the base of the hoop at the park and the Stones poured out of it.

50 years on, I still have that radio, and I still listen to it.

On fine summer days, I set it out on the patio, sit in the sun and listen to the Brewers. During football season since at least the ’90s, I set it next to me in the rec room during Packers games, turn off the TV sound and tune in the Packers Radio Network.

If there’s one song that demonstrates how that radio changed my life, it’s the Jackson 5’s take on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.” It blew my 13-year-old mind when I heard it for the first time on WOKY at Christmas time in 1970. I had no idea there were pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. What a magical thing.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” the Jackson 5, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. Originally released on “Jackson 5 Christmas Album,” 1970.

Truth be told, though, I haven’t listened to music on that radio for a long time. But I still hear it.

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Filed under December 2019, Sounds

Three Christmas wishes

The first wish

Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967.

In 1965, Charles Schulz started drawing Snoopy as a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. But “it reached a point where war just didn’t seem funny,” he told biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Even so, Snoopy and the Red Baron inspired this novelty Christmas song with explosions, with gunfire and with a solid message of hope that came as the Vietnam War escalated.

The second wish

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

"Someday at Christmas" LP by Stevie Wonder, 1967.

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder, from “Someday at Christmas,” 1967.

My friend Derek reminded me of this one on Christmas Eve morning. Thanks, man. When Stevie sings of “men” throughout this one, songwriter Ron Miller clearly means everyone, of any age.

I have this cut on “A Motown Christmas” from 1973, a record we’ve had since we had only a few Christmas records. The others from way back when? “The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album” from 1968 — here’s some of that — and “A Festival Of Carols In Brass” by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble from 1967.

The third wish

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. I’d always had it on “Shaved Fish,” the 1975 compilation LP from Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, until I found the single a couple of years ago.

War is over, if you want it

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2019, Sounds

Christmas Eve with Satchmo and Irma

Please enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve post.

On a winter day almost 50 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. That LP is out of print, but the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) seems to be fairly common.

(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just “Louis Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids … from all over the world … at Christmas time,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo, who was 69 at the time, died a little over four months later, in July 1971.

And now, we’re fulfilling another Christmas wish.

Twelve years ago, when this blog was not even a year old, our new friend Rob in Pennsylvania declared Irma Thomas’ rendition of “O Holy Night” to be “goosebump-inducing stuff.” It still is, and Rob has long since become an old friend, so we cue up this one for Rob every Christmas Eve.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print. It’s also on “MOJO’s Festive Fifteen,” the fine Christmas compilation CD that came with the January 2011 issue of MOJO magazine, if you can find that.

Speaking of Christmas wishes, now that our son is in grad school in Maryland, perhaps we’ll get to meet Rob in real life someday.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2019, Sounds