Category Archives: Sounds

Dad and the Duke

Some years ago, my dad gave me a list of three songs he wanted for his funeral.

Last week, I passed them along to my cousin’s daughter, a Methodist pastor, she prepared my dad’s graveside service, which was yesterday.

She used two of them — the traditional hymns “How Great Thou Art” and “Nearer, My God, To Thee” — in her message.

The third one was left to me. Here you go, Dad.

My dad handled freight from the railroads from when he was 16 until he was 5o. He loved trains. He also loved swing music, which explains his request for Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train.”

Now he’s riding with all those cats on that train.

The clip is from “Reveille With Beverly,” released in 1943, the year my dad graduated from high school.

Raymond E. Ash, 1925-2017

Here’s the view from his final resting place. That’s the rail yard in Wausau, Wisconsin.

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Filed under May 2017, Sounds

Celebrating some timeless joys

After a hiatus of many years, I’m collecting baseball cards again. But only a certain kind of card.

These cards. The 2017 Topps Heritage cards, which are based on the 1968 Topps card design. That year, 1968, was when an 11-year-old kid in Wisconsin really got into collecting cards for the first time.

Some of the players in the 2017 set are new to me, but there’s a wonderfully comforting feeling to being introduced to them in such a familiar way. I’m enjoying it.

It’s the same feeling I get when I play basketball, just shooting hoops by myself. Been doing that since I was about 11, too. I step onto that court and the years just seem to fall away.

Likewise record digging. There’s something wonderfully comforting about an experience that’s essentially the same today as it was in the earliest ’70s in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Flash back to 1970, and there is 13-year-old me carefully examining the 45s in the record department in the basement of Prange’s department store or in the rack near the checkout at the Evans variety store. Then I’d look through the LPs, which seemed unattainable, far beyond my allowance.

One of my earliest 45s was “American Woman” by the Guess Who on that great orange RCA label. The flip side, “No Sugar Tonight,” turned out to be the Guess Who’s next single. You know that version, but here are two less-heard covers. They come via fellow bloggers, which is another of the joys of record digging, getting tipped to things you might not otherwise hear.

“No Sugar Tonight,” the Shirelles, from “Happy and In Love,” 1971, also on RCA. Thank you to Vincent the Soul Chef for this. Once a blogger, Vincent now serves up his Fufu Stew on Mixcloud. It’s from a fine mix called “Records Are Like Chocolate … The Revenge!”

“No Sugar Tonight,” Steel Wool, from the single on White Whale Records, 1970. Steel Wool is one of the aliases used by singer and drummer Buddy Randell, who’d left the Knickerbockers that year. Thank you to Andrew, the proprietor over at Armagideon Time, for this. It’s from one of his anniversary mixes.

Postscript: My rediscovery of baseball cards brings with it one age-old problem. I’ve bought about 100 cards, yet have gotten only one Brewers player so far. Seems like it’s the hunt for Cookie Rojas all over again.

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Filed under April 2017, Sounds

Letting go

Record diggers see an LP priced at $2 or $3, and they want to know one thing.

“What kind of shape is it in?”

As I sold records near the back door of the Green Bay Record Convention last Saturday, I often had the same answer.

“Good shape. These are my records. I bought them new in the ’70s and I played them back then, but I haven’t played them for a long time.”

They’d pull the black vinyl from the white plastic sleeve with the gold trim. They’d inspect it.

“This looks pretty nice.”

I took care of my records. But the time has come — it’s past time, really — to let some of them go. As they were paraded past, I was taken back to when and where I bought them. Good memories.

Z.Z. Top’s “Fandango” and “Tejas?” Yep, bought “Fandango” new, probably summer of 1975, and “Tejas” also new, probably as 1976 turned to 1977.

Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog?” Yep, bought that new, also probably summer of 1975.

Blue Oyster Cult’s “Agents of Fortune?” Yep, bought that new in 1976.

Eagles’ “Desperado” and “On the Border?” Yep, bought those new, but probably not until I started digging the Eagles in what I think was the spring of 1976. Pretty sure alcohol and warm weather were involved.

Somewhere in that stack of records at the top, which I sold to my friend Dave K., are the first four George Thorogood LPs, which I bought new from 1978 to 1980. Thorogood was a revelation in 1978. I really dug that sound. But I long ago moved on. Into the show crates those records went.

It also was a day for letting go of some of the records I bought during the early and mid-’80s: John Hiatt, Richard Thompson, Ry Cooder, Jimmy Buffett, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Bought all of them new, too.

I once loved all that stuff, but I haven’t listened to any of it for a long time. Those records need to be enjoyed. Hope the folks who bought them will dig them.

Having let go, we move forward.

Like almost everyone else in 1976, I bought “Agents of Fortune” for “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” It’s still a good song. Here’s a cover that sort of conveys how tastes change over 40 years. How you let go of one thing and embrace another.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” The Beautiful South, from “Golddiggas, Headnodders & Pholk Songs,” 2004.

 

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Filed under March 2017, Sounds

I’m still talking ’bout Shaft

This week marks 10 years of doing business on this increasingly lightly traveled corner of the web.

If you’re looking for something from Ten Years After or anything from Neil Young’s “Decade,” well, sorry.

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It was 10 years ago Sunday that we had the first audio clip here. Appropriately enough, it was John Williams’ theme to the old “Time Tunnel” TV show. The blog post that accompanied it was little more than practice. The image that topped that post is long gone, the boy in the picture on the verge of grad school.

It was 10 years ago yesterday that we had the first real tunes here, something from what was perhaps the second or third LP I ever bought, way back in 1971.

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“Walk From Regio’s,” Isaac Hayes, from the “Shaft” soundtrack, 1971.

In 10 years of record digging since we got started here, I’ve been looking out for interesting “Shaft” covers. This is one.

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“Bumpy’s Lament,” Soul Mann and the Brothers, from “Shaft,” 1971. Soul Mann actually was Sy Mann, a New York arranger, conductor and keyboard player. Strictly a studio knockoff on the Pickwick label, which I usually avoid, but fun to have found. Just a little different sound.

As for all that record digging, some good news. We are back in business when it comes to ripping all those old records, thanks to a new turntable just installed last weekend. Here’s the first thing ripped on that new turntable. Its volume may not be perfect. Still getting used to it.

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“Finger Poppin’,” Ike and Tina Turner, from “Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show,” 1965. I’m always looking out for cool Ike and Tina records, and this certainly qualifies. It was recorded live at The Skyliner Ballroom, Fort Worth, Texas, and Lovall’s Ballroom in Dallas.

When I posted on Facebook that I’d found it at the Milwaukee record show a couple of weeks ago, my friend Larry Grogan of the mighty Funky 16 Corners blog offered this instant review: “Great album. … Great snapshots of a mid-’60s soul revue, multiple singers, cover songs.”

Which reflects perhaps the greatest joy of 10 years of doing this blog — getting to know and being part of a good group of like-minded record diggers and music buffs. I’ve met JB from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and Greg from Echoes in the Wind in real life and still hope to meet those on the coasts and elsewhere.

More to come.

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Filed under February 2017, Sounds

Catch you later, Meat

“That,” my friend Meat said, “is a pretty cool mid-life crisis.”

It was his take on my story of why, as I reached my 40s, I started making up for lost time. I’d come to the realization that some of my favorite bands were not going to tour forever, and now that I could afford it from time to time, I ought to get out and see them live.

I didn’t agree that it was any kind of a mid-life crisis, but you had to smile. That was Meat, delivering a good line with a sly grin, and it made for a great story.

There always are lots of great stories anytime Meat is around. We’ll hear some tomorrow when we gather in Rockford, Illinois, to remember him. My friend Brian Leaf died Wednesday. He was 57.

Story No. 1: The Inner Sleeve has been the record store in our hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin, since we were in high school. Meat loved to tell of hanging out at the Sleeve and listening to tunes and shooting the breeze with Mike, the old hippie who’s run the place all these years. I wished I’d done so. I vowed to do a better job of being friendly with the folks who sell records. So grateful I did.

Story No. 2: Ten years ago, Meat emailed me to commiserate that he’d missed seeing rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef in Rockford. I’d seen Sleepy the night before in Green Bay. Sleepy was right in Meat’s wheelhouse. He loved Americana music. Meat also missed seeing a guy he knew that night. Meat’s friends told him “it was pretty wonderful” to see Sleepy and Rick Nielsen play a set together.

Story No. 3: Some tales of youthful misadventures date to the ’70s. I’m thinking Meat was with us the night we went tobogganing down the local ski hill. In the dark. After it closed for the night. Alcohol was involved.

Yeah, Meat and I, we go way back. We went to the same high school, then to the same college. We worked at the same two newspapers early in our careers, with my wife joining us at one. Add our hometown paper, where he met his wife Mary, and there is a rather distinct circle of friends from Wisconsin.

But that was a long time ago, and our group will be in the minority tomorrow. It’s OK. Brian belongs to Rockford, his home since 1988. He and Mary raised their kids, Roy and Sally, in Rockford and are deeply rooted there.

Rockford has many challenges, but Brian got to know the people and wrote about them with hope, style, passion and grace. He championed Rockford’s music scene. At day’s end, he savored a cold beer or a good bourbon. That, in fact, is how we spent our last time together a couple of summers ago.

Facebook was flooded with tributes from Brian’s Rockford friends in the wake of his unexpected passing. They are remarkable. He meant so much to so many people. I wonder, though. Did anyone in Rockford know we called him Meat?

Paul Thorn was one of Meat’s faves. He tipped me to this one. He liked the vibe.

Good choice, Meat. We’ll all carry a little bit of you everywhere we go.

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Filed under February 2017, Sounds

Can’t you see? No, not really

Heard today that the Marshall Tucker Band will be playing our local vintage movie palace-turned-performance venue in a few weeks.

That show, on April 2, will come almost 40 years to the day since I saw the Marshall Tucker Band.

tucker-ad

Well, sort of. The Marshall Tucker Band was on stage at the Quandt gym in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, on Friday, April 1, 1977. I was in the audience. I was 19. Many other details have been hazy ever since.

The Marshall Tucker Band was one of the biggest names in country rock, which itself was big at the time. They were at their peak, touring behind the “Carolina Dreams” LP and having just released “Heard It in a Love Song” as a single. Both the album and the single turned out to be their biggest hits.

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It was a big deal that they’d play this small college town in central Wisconsin. Point was a half-hour’s drive south for us. When I say us, I can’t be more specific than that. Don’t remember who I went with.

We went to a house party before the show. I want to say it was a little house on Division Street, the main north-south drag in Point and just off campus. Someone knew some guys that lived there. Older guys, maybe seniors, maybe 23, 24, 25. Turned out to be way too much party for that 19-year-old kid.

Even so, I vividly recall sitting in the cluttered living room of that little house, really digging a Steely Dan record. It might have been “Countdown to Ecstasy.” That detail also has been lost to the haze of time. It’s proof, though, that I really must have been overserved. I never liked Steely Dan.

At some point, I was sure we needed to get over to the gym. Whoever I went with said, nah, we have plenty of time. So of course we were late.

This review of the show was from The Pointer, the student paper. It was written by a guy who became one of my college classmates later that year. Just about everything in his review is news to me, especially that it poured that night.

tucker-review

Turns out there was a mad rush to the seats. No wonder I wound up a million miles from the stage. One side of the Quandt gym has two tiers of bleachers. I found a spot along the front railing of the top tier, near an aisle. I sat and kneeled there as best I could.

There, my friends, is where the story fully fades into the haze of time.

Save for one detail. I never liked the Marshall Tucker Band, either.

Not when you could hear this fine piece of hippie country rock on the late-night free-form FM radio of the time.

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“Two Hangmen,” Mason Proffit, from “Wanted,” 1969.

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Filed under February 2017, Sounds

Music to resist by

Moving on after almost 38 years in the news business has at times been an interesting journey.

I’m no longer what a former colleague once called “a second-class citizen,” having to watch from the sideline instead of being part of the action. I’m no longer subject to the ethics rules of the news business, important though they are. I no longer need to preserve the illusion of being objective.

That said — and this may sound a bit odd — I’m still trying to find my voice. Still trying to find the right voice in public, the right voice on social media. Old habits die hard. I still say less than more, sitting back, sorting through it all, checking sources, knowing that the news is often fluid.

One step forward was embracing that I could — at last — make donations to candidates and certain causes. I donated to a friend who ran for the state Assembly. I had never been allowed to do that. Also, for the record: the American Civil Liberties Union, Pro Publica, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, One Wisconsin Now and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as it battled the Dakota Access Pipeline.

And now, it’s also OK for me to resist.

It’s necessary to resist when political instability and social uncertainty not seen since Watergate generates protests of a magnitude and intensity not seen since the Vietnam War. I remember 1968 and 1974. These are times like those times.

So when Bandcamp announced that it was donating its profits from Friday’s music sales to the ACLU as a way of protesting the president’s executive order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Mideast countries from entering the United States, I got in on that.

Bandcamp expected to sell more than $1 million worth of music, with its cut — roughly 12 percent, or $120,000 — going to the ACLU. My piece of that was small. But please enjoy some music to resist by. These aren’t protest songs. Just some enjoyable tunes bought with money that’s going to fight injustice.

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“Popping Popcorn,” the M-Tet, from “Finger’ Poppin’ Time,” 2015. DJ Prestige from the fine Flea Market Funk blog tipped me to the classic yet fresh instrumental soul/R&B sound of this group from the San Francisco area. My friend Larry Grogan of the mighty Funky 16 Corners blog wrote the liner notes for the M-Tet’s fine new LP, “Long Play,” which arrived here last week.

james-hunter-six-hold-on-lp

“Free Your Mind (While You Still Got Time),” the James Hunter Six, from “Hold On!” a 2016 release on Daptone Records, one of my fave labels. I saw this pleasingly rough-edged R&B/soul group from England last spring in a 200-seat venue in a small town in Wisconsin. Things got loose. Things got sweaty.

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“For You My Love,” Josephine Taylor, from “Mar-V-Lus Records: The One-Derful! Collection,” 2015. This is the second in a series of comps issued by Secret Stash Records of Minneapolis. Mar-V-Lus was the teen-oriented imprint of the black-owned and operated One-Derful! group of Chicago R&B labels. Taylor, who was from Evanston, Illinois, recorded for Mar-V-Lus in 1966 and 1967. This one is previously unreleased.

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“Smiling Faces Sometimes,” from “Masterpiece: A Whitfield-Strong Tribute,” a three-cut EP released in 2014. Jason McGuiness is the producer. This comes from Los Angeles. A random find as I scrolled through Bandcamp’s soul listings. The other cuts: “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”‘

magic-mountain-ep

“Thrown Away,” Magic Mountain, from the “Magic Mountain” EP, 2017. This bit of indie pop is from a group that’s a side project for New Jersey guitarist Jeff Nordstedt, a Facebook acquaintance. His other band, the Milwaukees, rocks harder and is one of my favorites.

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Filed under February 2017, Sounds