Everyone takes something different away from the music they hear.
Sometimes an obscure lyric or chord or melody is seared into your head forever. Sometimes something everyone else digs barely registers with you.
There you have the sum of my experience with Tom Petty.
When he died earlier this month, there I was, standing off to the side again. As the parade of deeply felt and richly deserved tributes streamed past, there I was, holding up a tiny sign that read “I liked the Traveling Wilburys.”
“Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3” came out 27 years ago next week, in late October 1990. It’s one of my favorite records from a time when I wasn’t exactly sure what I liked. That was a time when many of my favorite artists had either lost their way or fallen off the map. It also came out at a time when CDs were overtaking vinyl, and I was still sorting all that out. I have the CD. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Roy Orbison — old Lefty Wilbury — was gone, so this incarnation of the Wilburys consisted of Spike, Muddy, Clayton and Boo Wilbury. You know, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan. Still a good group. I’d listen to any group with Spike and Clayton, then and now.
Muddy sang lead on two of the 10 cuts on the record. This one, with Clayton singing the bridge, has long been one of my favorites.
Upon my arrival in Madison, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1982, WORT expanded my horizons every weekday afternoon. There was something new and mind-blowing seemingly every day on the indie radio station at 89.9 FM.
Though my sweet spot was the emerging Americana music genre, I also was exposed to something harder-edged, something distant even from the trippy sounds I’d heard on free-form FM radio just a decade earlier.
The WORT DJs loved these new groups: the Replacements, Black Flag, the Meat Puppets, X, the Minutemen and then fIREHOSE, almost anything from the mighty SST and Twin Tone labels.
And, yeah, Hüsker Dü.
Writing this evening in the wake of Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart’s death, my friend Larry Grogan said:
“It’s entirely likely that if you are of a certain age or taste Hüsker Dü might have either been off your radar completely or not your cup of tea.”
I must plead guilty. I heard all those groups on WORT, but I am of a certain age. I’m just a little older than Grant Hart and just a little older than my many friends who dug Hüsker Dü and who keenly feel the loss of Hart today.
It just wasn’t my scene. But by all accounts, what a scene it was.
Again, my friend Larry:
“How exciting it was to do zines, and play in bands, and go to basement/loft shows of all kinds and discover that there was an entire underground world of people just like you that felt the same way about things, and creating/connecting in a pre-internet world where in-person and snail-mail were the order of the day. Grant Hart and Hüsker Dü were a big part of that world. … It was truly a different time, and unless you were there, you’ll never really know how amazing it all was.”
Turns out, a good half-dozen friends were part of that amazing scene. Norb’s band opened for Hüsker Dü at a venue that was more or less in my Madison neighborhood, then had a memorable encounter with Hart years later. Paul hung out with the band and also had a memorable encounter with Hart. Tom worked one of their last shows. Dave has good memories of Hart opening for Patti Smith with a most unexpected cover.
I respect their passion for Hart and for Hüsker Dü, one expressed so well by my friend Vince, another member of the Clan Grogan of New Jersey:
“No band hit me out of the gate or has stayed with me so potently as Hüsker Dü. They inspired me to play the way I do and were so beyond so many of their contemporaries. Their music is always close at hand. They were the perfect combination of smarts, emotion, hooks, and pure unadulterated fury.”
Reflect that passion. Go play some Hüsker Dü records.
Wait, I didn’t have a summer vacation. We moved our son to grad school in Ohio earlier this month. I saw a record store as we returned the U-Haul to Hamilton, Ohio, but we didn’t stop.
That said, I did manage to make a couple of record-digging excursions. We were in the Twin Cities on Fourth of July weekend, and a couple of weeks later, I made a swing through northern Illinois.
They turned out to be bittersweet trips.
My favorite record store in the Twin Cities was disappointing. Lots of records to look through, but it’s one of those places that’s increasingly mixing new vinyl with the used vinyl in the bins. Worst of all, the place smelled. Not that musty old record smell. No, it smelled of the pets that have the run of the place.
The good news is that I discovered a new favorite record store in the Twin Cities. My friend Todd, who runs one of our local indie record stores, tipped me to Mill City Sound in west suburban Hopkins. We’ve been going to the Twin Cities for almost 40 years, but had never been in this part of the area. Highly recommended, both for the record digging and for the small-town vibe of downtown Hopkins.
My $30 record-digging haul at Mill City Sound included the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (yeah, a reissue, but you don’t see it often) and Sonny Curtis’ “Beatle Hits Flamenco Guitar Style” (which I’d never seen). I was so stoked to find those among the new arrivals that I forgot to circle back to grab another one I’d seen. So we returned two days later to get “Manufacturers of Soul” by Jackie Wilson and Count Basie, which was one of the records left behind on another record-digging trip two years ago.
My favorite record store in Rockford, Illinois, also was disappointing. Lots of records to look through, but one of those places that’s diversifying into new vinyl, used equipment and comic books. Worst of all, they seem to be mailing it in on the used vinyl. Bins jammed so full you couldn’t flip through them. No room in the bins? Just throw new arrivals on top, loose. Come on. Make an effort.
The good news is that I discovered a new favorite record store in Rockford. A decade ago, Culture Shock started out as a punk shop. It’s since matured into a place billed rather accurately as “half rock ‘n roll boutique and half record store.” Recommended on both counts, even if I didn’t find anything that day.
When I go record digging, whether on the road or here at home, I don’t have a wish list. But I do keep an eye out for early Bob Seger records, even though I have most of them.
Bob Seger was playing across town while I wrote this tonight. Zero interest in going because I know he never plays any of the great stuff from before the Silver Bullet days. So here’s one from the Bob Seger record I’ve never seen. Neither has my friend Dave, from whom I’ve been buying records since the ’80s.
“Noah,” from “Noah,” the Bob Seger System, 1969. It’s out of print.
My memories of Glen Campbell, who died yesterday at 81, come almost entirely from television. I think back to the earliest ’70s, and I see our family sitting together around the TV.
There was something for everyone on “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” Comedy skits for Dad, country music for Grandma, folk and rock groups for me. That, in the fall of 1970, was our life. I pinpoint 1970 because that’s where the facts confirm the memory.
In the 1970-71 TV season, Glen Campbell’s show followed “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS on Sunday nights. That was appointment television. My grandfather died as that TV season began, so I’m certain we spent a few Sunday nights watching TV with Grandma, most likely during the holidays, when Sunday wasn’t a school night for a 13-year-old.
Here’s about 18 minutes that may give some idea of what that was like. His guests, ever so briefly, include the Smothers Brothers, John Hartford, Nancy Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, and Sonny and Cher.
However, television eventually gave way to the radio for me. Glen Campbell faded from my radio until the mid-’70s. His new songs? Too much corn.
Along the way, Glen Campbell became a train wreck. He’s almost unwatchable in a “Tonight Show” clip with Don Rickles and Dom DeLuise from September 1973. He’s jacked up on something, and even Johnny Carson acknowledges it. Then along came Tanya Tucker, and more drugs and alcohol, and Glen Campbell became tabloid fodder. Didn’t really think much about him for a long time.
Fast forward to the last decade. Fellow music bloggers have pointed the way to gems from Glen Campbell’s long career, helping me rediscover his greatness.
Then, in June 2011, came his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Our family knows all too well what that means. You lose a loved one long before they go. We bought tickets for “The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour” stop in Wausau, Wisconsin, in December 2011, but the show we’d hoped to see was postponed. He had laryngitis, it was said. We couldn’t make the rescheduled date.
Shortly thereafter, we had a second chance. The Goodbye Tour came back around, this time in Green Bay in June 2012. We passed. No regrets. We chose to remember a vibrant Glen Campbell instead of a 76-year-old man who was a year into an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
You’ve heard all the hits again this week. So please enjoy these tunes, proof again of Glen Campbell’s gift for interpreting other people’s songs.
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.
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,” 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.
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.
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. They are intended to encourage you to get out to the music stores, real or virtual, or out to support live music.
If you hold the copyright to something posted here, and you don't want it posted, please e-mail me at jeffash at new dot rr dot com and I'll remove it. Then again, who else is exposing your music to a new audience today?
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2017, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.