Category Archives: Sounds

The most amazing Rhythm Ace

Russell Smith, first-rate singer, first-rate songwriter, died last week. He was 70.

The Amazing Rhythm Aces got lumped in with the country crowd in the latter half of the ’70s, but their sound — shaped largely by Smith — was a savory Memphis BBQ rub spiced with country, soul, R&B, swing, blues, calypso and rock.

When you dropped one of their records onto the turntable, it was time to kick back, put your feet up and pop open a cold beverage. You couldn’t help but smile at some of their songs and nod knowingly at the rest.

I could go on, but Russell Smith’s warm, laid-back voice and charming songs say so much more. A most pleasant listen, then and now. Enjoy.

The cover of "Stacked Deck," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1975.

Let’s start with “Stacked Deck,” 1975. That was the Aces’ debut, recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis. If all you heard was “Third Rate Romance,” you had no sense of their versatility.

“Third Rate Romance.” The song that started it all. Still a damn fine song.

“The Ella B.” Swamp rock, choogling between Tony Joe White and John Fogerty.

“Who Will The Next Fool Be?” In which the Aces cover Charlie Rich.

“Emma-Jean.” Unrequited love for one of the “lovely lesbian ladies slow-dancing on the parquet floor” next door. Ah, life in the tropics.

“Why Can’t I Be Satisfied.” A bit like Fleetwood Mac at a jazz club, showcasing Barry “Byrd” Burton on guitar and some combination of James Hooker and Billy Earheart on piano and organ.

The cover of "The Amazing Rhythm Aces," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1979.

“The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979, is another of my favorites. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound with the Muscle Shoals Horns.

“Love and Happiness.” Russell Smith’s distinctive voice infuses this Al Green cover. A couple of Memphis guys.

“Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette).” This was my introduction to the Allen Toussaint song first done by Benny Spellman.

“Say You Lied.” She left. Fine harmonies and fine picking by Duncan Cameron.

The cover of "Chock Full of Country Goodness," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1994.

The Aces broke up in 1981, then got back together in 1994, releasing their own material. “Chock Full of Country Goodness” came out in 1998.

“The Rock.” He’s leaving. This one is co-written by Smith and Jim Varsos.

Technical note: I suppose the cool kids would just create a Spotify playlist, but I’m not on that, sorry.

 

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

National anthem performances, ranked

On this Independence Day, a ranking of the top national anthem performances of all time. This is a highly subjective list. Yours likely will be different. That’s what makes America great.

1. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. The national anthem as searing social commentary. A month later, he talked about it with Dick Cavett.

2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.

3. Jose Feliciano at the World Series, 1968. Controversial at the time, it paved the way for Hendrix and everyone else who dared do the anthem a different way. Feliciano’s version came “before the nation was ready for it.” NPR wrote. It “infuriated America,” Deadspin wrote. Ever since, it has “given voice to immigrant pride,” Smithsonian magazine wrote.

4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.

5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991. An epic performance at a time when America desperately wanted to wrap itself in the flag, ESPN wrote. Truth be told, this isn’t one of my favorites because it came at this time and in these circumstances, but it belongs in the top five.

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

Take me to the water

Yesterday was one of those beautiful days on which good memories wash over you.

Good memories of our Aunt Carol, whose life we celebrated. She was 89 when she died a week ago. She was the last of my six aunts.

The good memories come from times spent at family gatherings with our cousins, her four kids. Of all the cousins on Mom’s side of the family, we were closest to them. We all were roughly the same age and they lived closest to us.

Fun fact: Though I always knew Aunt Carol came from a family of skiers, it was fun to see old pictures of her at the local ski hill as part of a women’s ski team and as a ski model, both from the late ’40s or maybe the earliest ’50s.

Yesterday also was one of those gorgeous blue-sky summer days on which seemingly everyone in Wisconsin makes a beeline to the water.

Good memories of that, too, as I drove along the Wisconsin River from Stevens Point north to Wausau, my aunt’s hometown and more or less my hometown. There were tons of people at the taverns along the river, where you can park in the parking lot or at the dock. There were big floats on Lake DuBay, dozens of pontoons and smaller boats tied together for sun-splashed parties.

That took me right back to the mid-’70s, any summer from 1972 to 1977.

On summer days like this, we’d walk out the door and think “OK, where are we going to get into the water today?”

We could go to Yellow Banks, an old swimming hole on a small, lazy river. When it became a park, they gave it some gentrified name that escapes me, but everyone still called it Yellow Banks. Eventually, the powers that be conceded the point, and the park became Yellow Banks Park.

We could go to the Kennedy Park pool or the Rothschild pool. Once in a long while, we’d drive across town to Manmade, which was a small lake that was exactly as advertised.

If our friend Herb had his dad’s car and boat, we’d put in at Bluegill Bay and go water skiing on Lake Wausau. Which was fine until Herb cracked the whip and you wiped out while slaloming, losing your ski and somersaulting on top of the water and coming to rest on top of a boulder that’s just below the surface of the water.

But of all the places we could go, The Dells was the biggest adventure. We’d hop on our bikes and ride 19 miles from my friend’s house to The Dells, some of it on fairly busy back roads. Once there, you’d sit atop the rocks that formed The Dells of the Eau Claire River and watch the daredevils jump into the pool at the base of the rocks.

Here, look. The experience hasn’t changed much since the mid-’70s, although the daredevils back then were pretty much straight-up cannonballers.

Nope, I never did that. Drank a few beers on top of the rocks, but never did that.

It was ..

“Hot Fun,” Stanley Clarke, from “School Days,” 1976.

My friend Emery reminded me of this when he shared it yesterday. I’ve had that record since it came out back then.

Daredevils aside, and truth be told, the vibe of those long-ago summers seemed more like this …

“Summer,” War, from “War’s Greatest Hits,” 1976.

Fun fact: The single was released on my birthday, the day I turned 19 in June 1976.

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Filed under June 2019, Sounds

Coming full circle

We had long ago committed to seeing Cher at the new basketball arena in Milwaukee. But then I saw Joe Jackson also was coming to town. Oooh, we really needed to see that one, too, even if the shows were six days apart, stretching both our concert and travel budgets.

The second show Janet and I ever saw together was Joe Jackson. We were both 22 and sooooo sophisticated then, traveling to Minneapolis to see him at the Guthrie Theater on the last Sunday night of October 1979. That ticket cost $7.50, or about $25.50 in today’s dollars.

We looked forward to our 40-year reunion with Joe Jackson at the always wonderful Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. It was everything we’d hoped for.

It took only three songs for the not-quite-sold-out crowd to get into the spirit of the evening — “Look over there! WHERE?” — the call and response in “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” That was one of the songs we heard 40 years ago.

It was a charming evening, with Joe Jackson enjoying the proceedings despite a bit of a head cold. “Time is a relentless, vicious bastard,” he said good-naturedly to all the old hipsters and cool chicks before tearing into another song.

Fun to see Graham Maby, the bass player then and now. Jackson’s drummer Doug Yowell was a revelation, pounding away like Buddy Rich. Equal parts thunderous and tremendous.

We were delighted that “Look Sharp!” his debut album from 1979, was one of five albums from which Joe Jackson is drawing songs for his Four Decades Tour. So we also got to hear “One More Time” one more time, along with “Sunday Papers” and “Got The Time.”

“Look Sharp!” is one of our favorite records. Janet and I had it in our individual collections long before we ever merged them. Our copies of “Look Sharp!” are among the early pressings — a package that consisted of two 10-inch EPs with a small “Look Sharp!” pin. Mine still has the pin. Janet’s pin is gone, and the picture of Joe Jackson on the flip side of her album has light blue crop marks from where she once used it to illustrate a newspaper review of the album.

Joe Jackson set list, Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, on May 6, 2019

“Alchemy,” “One More Time,” “Is She Really Going Out With Him” “Another World,” “Fabulously Absolute,” “Strange Land,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Real Men,” “Rain,” “Invisible Man,” “It’s Different For Girls,” “Fool,” “Sunday Papers,” “King Of The World,” “You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Til You Know What You Want),” “Ode To Joy,” “I’m The Man.” Encore numbers: “Steppin’ Out,” “Got The Time,” “Alchemy (reprise).”

As for Cher, also an evening well spent.

It started with a scorching 45-minute set by Nile Rodgers and Chic despite being squeezed onto that tiny strip of stage in front of the Cher curtain. Some of their songs: “Le Freak,” “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah),” “Good Times,” “Let’s Dance,” “We Are Family” and “Get Lucky.” You get the idea.

I’ve never been to Vegas, but I imagine Cher’s show is what a Vegas show is like. Dancers! Lights! Stage sets! A loopy, rambling but endearing monologue! Nine costumes over the course of 16 songs!

Coolest part — for me — was “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe” done on a ’60s vintage go-go club set. On the latter, Cher sang to video and audio of Sonny. I’ve seen that work for Queen and the Monkees, and it worked nicely here, too. Also got a flashback from the video boards. I glanced over to see Cher and her dancers framed just as they were on her old TV variety shows.

But I also must report that Cher does not do encores. As “Believe” winds down, she walks to each corner of the stage and waves, and then to center stage and waves. Then she walks off and the lights come up.

Cher set list, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, on May 12, 2019

“Woman’s World,” “Strong Enough,” “Gayatri Mantra,” “All Or Nothing,” “The Beat Goes On,” “I Got You Babe,” “Welcome To Burlesque,” “Waterloo,” “SOS,” “Fernando,” “After All,” “Walking In Memphis,” “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss),” “I Found Someone,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe.”

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Filed under May 2019, Sounds

Farewell to the Arena

Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena in Green Bay, WIsconsin

If you go to Wikipedia and search for the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena in Green Bay, Wisconsin, this is the picture you’ll see. It’s from a dozen years ago, 2007, but that doesn’t matter. What you see now is what you saw then and pretty much what you’ve seen since forever.

Soon, though, they’ll be tearing down the Arena.

Earlier this month, they had the last concert — Bret Michaels, Lita Ford and Warrant, a show that was peak Green Bay. Today, they had the farewell ceremony, with speechifying from officials. But you could take home a set of four wooden seats for $50, so a bunch of regular folks turned out.

I saw two concerts at the Arena.

On Saturday, June 16, 1979, the young lady I’d been seeing for three months wanted to go to a show in her hometown. So we saw Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters opening.

It was one of the last dates on Clapton’s American tour in support of the “Backless” LP. Sadly, I remember almost nothing about this show, least of all anything Clapton may or may not have played. Others who claim to have been there say Clapton was pretty fried. Sorry, can’t confirm or refute that. My lingering memory of the show is of someone sitting up above us, throwing firecrackers down below.

I was 21, and this was only the sixth concert I’d ever seen.

(The lovely Janet and I are still together almost 40 years later. Important to note because of what follows.)

Ticket for Def Leppard show at the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1992.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1992, I accompanied another young lady who wanted to see a show at the Arena. So we saw Def Leppard.

The second young lady was a co-worker who was going through a separation or a divorce. She wanted to go, but not by herself. I was going, but I’d planned to go by myself. (Janet had no interest in seeing Def Leppard.) Understandably, there were certain rules for this outing. Everything had to be quite proper. It was.

We saw a tremendous show, a great rock band at the peak of its video-driven popularity. It came roughly halfway through their Adrenalize “Seven-Day Weekend” world tour, on which Def Leppard played 244 shows over 18 months. Ticket demand was so great that they added a second show in Green Bay, the show we saw. That almost never happens in Green Bay.

I remember a lot more about this show. So much energy. Def Leppard played the show in the round, a setup rarely seen in the Arena. Still not quite sure how the band got on stage without being noticed, but the stage was built up above the Arena floor. Whatever. Everything they played was great.

The Arena opened on Veterans Day 1958. Seating capacity has always been about 5,200. Elvis Presley played the Arena 42 years ago last night, on April 28, 1977. He performed 23 songs in a show that lasted 1 hour, 10 minutes.

There were hundreds of memorable shows at the Arena over almost 61 years. I’ve lived in Green Bay for roughly half that time, and I have no explanation for why I saw only two shows. For the record, here are some of the others …

Poster for Make the Scene for '67, a rock concert at the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena on Aug. 29-31, 1967Bryan Adams, America, April Wine, the Association, the Beach Boys, the Beau Brummels, Pat Benatar, Chuck Berry, Len Berry, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Bodeans, Brownsville Station, Canned Heat, Freddy Cannon, the Carpenters, Johnny Cash, the Changing Times, Harry Chapin, Cheap Trick, Chicago, Cinderella, Alice Cooper, the Cryan’ Shames, the Cyrkle, Damn Yankees, the Charlie Daniels Band, John Denver, Ronnie James Dio, the Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Emerson Lake and Palmer, the Enemies, Faster Pussycat, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, the Front Line, Foghat, Foreigner, Rory Gallagher, Golden Earring, Bobby Goldsboro, Goo Goo Dolls, Great White, the Guess Who, MC Hammer, Head East, Heart, Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies, Hollywood Undead, John Lee Hooker, Danny Hutton, Bryan Hyland, the James Gang (with Tommy Bolin), Jefferson Starship, Waylon Jennings and the Waylors, Jethro Tull, Tom Jones, Judas Priest, Kansas, KISS, Korn, Leo Kottke, Lake, the Left Banke, the Lettermen, Huey Lewis and the News, Loggins and Messina, Loverboy, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Manassas, the McCoys, Megadeth, John Mellencamp, Metallica, the Monkees, Melba Montgomery, Montrose, Motley Crue, Nazareth, Nelson, New Colony Six, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Pantera, Papa Roach, Paris, Poison, Powerman 5000, Queensryche, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Renaissance, REO Speedwagon, the Robbs, Linda Ronstadt, David Lee Roth, Rush, Santana, Scorpions, Sha Na Na, Skid Row, Slade, Slaughter, Sonny and Cher, Soundgarden, Rick Springfield, Billy Squier, Starcastle, Stephen Stills, Steppenwolf, Styx, Supertramp, the Sweet, Tesla, This Moment, Richard and Linda Thompson, George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers, Three Dog Night, Triumph, Trooper, Robin Trower, the Turtles, UFO, Uriah Heep, Van Halen, White Lion, Wishbone Ash, Jesse Colin Young, Frank Zappa and ZZ Top.

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Filed under April 2019, Sounds

Scenes from the record convention

On the first gloriously sunny 50-degree day of spring in our corner of Wisconsin, a bunch of us stayed inside and went record digging.

More than 300 people turned out for the spring Green Bay Record Convention. I helped set up, then helped my friends run their table. Some of the things seen, heard and thought during all the digging …

— Anyone who tells you men aren’t high maintenance hasn’t met a couple of our record dealers.

One of them had a small bank of recessed spotlights over his crates. It hadn’t been turned on. “I can’t sell records in the dark!” this gent whined. Never mind that all the other lights in the room were on, including the white party bulbs strung from one side of the room to the other. Never mind also that no one else complained about the lighting.

Another one wanted a deal on a $25 record. He asked me whether we would go $20. Said it wasn’t my call and pointed him to my friends. He walked over to them. They were maybe 10 feet away. So of course the first thing out of his mouth is would they go $18. Oh, come on, sir.

— This was easily the strangest record we sold: “Factual Eyewitness Testimony of UFO Encounters.” The gent who bought it had no problem with it being $25.

— This was easily the second strangest record we sold. The guy who bought it — another of my friends — conceded that he may have been buying it for the cover alone.

— My friend Dave and I go back to the ’80s, when he ran a record store near the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, and I bought records from him. Fast forward to recent years. Dave no longer has the store but sells records at shows and online. I still am buying records from Dave. Today, while digging through his crates, I held up a copy of “Shake and Push,” a 1982 record by the Morells, a roots-rock group from Missouri.

“I bought this from you at the store on Regent Street back in the ’80s,” I said.

“Yeah,” Dave said, “I used to get those directly from the band.”

Dave isn’t high-maintenance. He’s one of our respected elders, a longtime musician in addition to being a veteran record seller. When Dave talks, I listen.

Dave and another guy were digging through my friends’ crates while I was running the table. One of them mentioned Bob Seger’s great but hard-to-find “Back In ’72” LP, which I have. That got Dave to thinking out loud that maybe he ought to get a copy of “Heavy Music,” the compilation of early Bob Seger and the Last Heard singles released last year. Dave thought it might be a limited edition and seemed to doubt there would be a second pressing.

When the record show was over, I went across town and bought it. When Dave talks, I listen.

— Finally, one last thought: Does anyone buy Linda Ronstadt records anymore? Didn’t see anyone who bought one today. Haven’t seen anyone buy one in a long, long time.

Had someone been seeking the Linda Ronstadt record with that song on it, it would be this one from 1970, which I believe I saw in someone’s crates today.

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Filed under March 2019, Sounds

Over 12 years, a musical education

When this blog debuted 12 years ago this week, I knew plenty about Peter Tork and I knew nothing about Harvey Scales.

Fellow music bloggers hepped me to Harvey Scales, who was an underappreciated Wisconsin treasure. He’s well known to soul enthusiasts and to those who saw him 50 years ago on a Midwest circuit of clubs, college rathskellers, frat houses, roadhouses and beer bars. He died on Feb. 11. He was 77, maybe 78. When I posted word of his death in a couple of local history Facebook groups, the memories poured in from that long-gone scene:

“I remember being at the teen beer bar, Jack’s Point Bar on the Beach Road, Twistin’ Harvey singing and standing on the tabletops while twistin’ a white towel over his head. He was very good and got the place rockin’!” … “Threw me his sweaty shirt!” … “Twistin’ Harv was legendary and always drew a big crowd. They were so much fun!” … “First good R&B band I had ever heard. They really opened my eyes to a complete different style of music.” … “Twistin’ Harvey and the Seven Sounds blew my mind in the late ’60’s at some outdoor event in Appleton.”

I’m too young to have seen Harvey Scales in his prime, but I was fortunate to see latter-day versions of Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds at a small outdoor show in 2010 and then in a steamy tent on the Fourth of July in 2013. Kinda felt like I was seeing one of the last of the soul and R&B revues.

Peter Tork’s passing on Feb. 21 was not unexpected. He also was 77. When Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz announced the most recent Monkees tour, I immediately got the sense that Tork sat it out because he didn’t feel up to touring. Whether that’s so, only those closest to him know.

“I have in general made no secret of the fact that all these recent years of Monkees-related projects, as fun as they’ve been, have taken up a lot of my time and energy,” Tork said a year ago, preferring to work on a blues record instead. “So, I’m shifting gears for now, but I wish the boys well.”

I’ve loved the Monkees since I was a kid in the ’60s. Truth be told, I don’t write about them enough. Wish I still had my Monkees cards and my Monkeemobile model. I still vividly remember the day my Monkeemobile’s roof got smooshed beyond repair. However, we still have all the records.

We were fortunate to see the Monkees in three different settings, in three wonderful shows. We started with Davy Jones solo in 2010, then the Davy-Micky-Peter lineup in 2011, then the Mike-Micky-Peter lineup in 2014. That’s Peter playing the red guitar at right in the latter show. Each time we saw Peter, he was the coolest, most relaxed guy on the stage.

When this blog debuted 12 years ago this week, I knew nothing about Mongo Santamaria, either.

It wasn’t all that long ago that my friend Larry Grogan — the proprietor of the mighty Funky 16 Corners blog and the host of WFMU’s “Testify!” — hepped me to him, too. Still exploring, still learning.

The record you see below is one recently found while digging and recently ripped on the turntable that sits just to my right in AM, Then FM world headquarters.

“I Thank You,” Mongo Santamaria, from “All Strung Out,” 1970.

Thanks for reading all these years, everyone, and thanks for hepping me to cool music like this. More to come!

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Filed under February 2019, Sounds