Category Archives: Sounds

Beyond the bathroom reading

Ace Frehley played at our local Memorial Day weekend festival on Friday night. I didn’t go. Didn’t want to stand for a few hours on a staggeringly hot evening. Besides, I’ve seen him twice already. Each time I was pleasantly surprised.

When KISS played in Milwaukee in 2000, Ace was a much better guitarist than I expected. “Astonishingly good,” I told a friend.

Likewise when I saw him at another summer festival in 2012. “Ace Frehley still one of the best guitarists I’ve seen live,” I posted to Facebook back then. That also was the night when Ace urged fans not to drink and drive, then laughed and said “This next song’s about alcohol.” His encore was “Cold Gin.”

A year earlier, in 2011, Rolling Stone put out “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” a so-called “special collectors edition.” I picked it up, probably as vacation reading. It has long since made for excellent bathroom reading.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see 14 of that group of 100 great guitarists. In order of their ranking on that Rolling Stone list, they are Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Derek Trucks, Neil Young, Buddy Guy, Angus Young, Brian May, Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, Slash, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen and Lindsey Buckingham.

Of that group of 14, Chuck Berry, Angus Young, Brian May, Bonnie Raitt and — believe it or not — Lindsey Buckingham wowed me most.

There are, of course, other guitarists I’ve really enjoyed seeing. Perhaps they’re among the next 100 greatest guitarists. Or not. Here are three.

Ace Frehley is one. David Lindley, who plays a bunch of stringed instruments in his world music-tinged shows, is another. Then there’s Steve Stevens, who’s best known as Billy Idol’s guitarist. But he also plays a mean Spanish and flamenco guitar. That was something to see and hear. Who’d have thought?

However, the only Steve Stevens cut I have is his 1998 version of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” the familiar holiday song. It starts out gently and pleasantly enough, but devolves into shredding. So we’ll pass on that.

We’ll leave you with something in Stevens’ adventurous spirit. I picked up this record at the wonderful Mill City Sound in Hopkins, Minnesota, last summer. It’s a highly recommended digging spot if you’re in the Minneapolis area.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” Sonny Curtis, from “Beatle Hits Flamenco Guitar Style,” 1964.

This is the same Sonny Curtis who was in the Crickets. The same Sonny Curtis who wrote “I Fought The Law.” The same Sonny Curtis who wrote “Love Is All Around,” the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

He was 27 when this, his first LP, was released in 1964. It’s a fun listen.

 

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Filed under May 2018, Sounds

That night in Appleton

right now appleton 1

This is a photo from a tremendous set by The Right Now from their show in Appleton, Wisconsin, last month. Somehow, the old country club overlooking the Fox River was still standing after The Right Now scorched it that night.

Here’s how we got started.

The Right Now is a seven-piece pop-soul group out of Chicago. Heavy Soul Brotha Dave tipped me to them way back in 2010. Their first LP, “Carry Me Home,” had just come out.

I first saw The Right Now when they played an outdoor show on a gorgeous summer night in my hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin. Although it seems like just yesterday, it was 2012. Their second LP, “Gets Over You” had just come out.

Fast forward to February 2017. The Right Now was just out with their third LP, “Starlight.” I’d not seen them live since that summer night in Wausau five years earlier, but I’d followed their career from a distance via Facebook.

By the time their publicist contacted me, I’d already bought my vinyl copy. Mine was Order No. 6. Sure, I said, I’ll write about it. Then I didn’t. They were getting better and more influential reviews than anything they might have gotten from this lightly traveled corner of the web.

Then, last April, a death in the family. David Grinslade, the partner of lead singer Stefanie Berecz and the father of their two children, died by suicide.

The Right Now, tightly knit after almost 10 years together, halted their Midwest tour in support of “Starlight.” They took some time off.

When The Right Now returned to the summer festival circuit a few weeks later, they had a dual purpose.

One was to promote the new record, of course, one they’d self-funded, self-produced and self-released over two years. (They proudly announced in July that “Starlight” was paid for within five months of its release.)

The other was to say “It’s OK not to be OK,” advocating for suicide prevention via outreach and mental health education in the wake of David’s death. They’re doing so by raising funds for Hope For The Day, a Chicago-based non-profit organization.

Hope For The Day

Fast forward to last month’s show in Appleton. A most remarkable encore unfolded.

“Won’t you join us out in the lobby?” they asked from the stage. “We saw this beautiful grand piano out there.”

Brendan O’Connell, who plays guitar and keyboards, sat down at that grand piano. He started playing softly as a group of perhaps 50 people gathered, standing around the piano in a semicircle.

right now appleton 3

Stefanie stood to his left and started talking about David. When she said he’d died, roughly half the audience reflexively said “Awww” in sympathy. When she said he’d died by suicide, a few startled gasps punctuated a stunned silence.

Then, for the first time, they performed “Who Wrote The Book,” a new song written by Brendan, sung by Stefanie and drawn from the aftermath of David’s death.

“Stef gave me the idea for the title and, obviously, the sentiment of the song. After David died, she posted something on social media about how difficult it was to say goodbye,” Brendan told me.

It was a song so new that as Stefanie sang, she scrolled through the lyrics on a phone she’d set on the piano. Their intimate performance was breathtaking.

When they finished, Stefanie simply said “Thank you,” and the small group of listeners scattered in reverent silence. What a moment.

Now, we go forward. Looks like Appleton has embraced The Right Now, which is wonderful news for a friend of the band who lives a half-hour away.

They’ll return in June and again in August. The latter gig will be at Appleton’s Mile of Music festival. That’s a free four-day festival featuring 200 up-and-coming roots music performers and groups. They’re showcased at 70 venues over a mile-long stretch of downtown Appleton.

See you there.

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Filed under April 2018, Sounds

Getting Cozy at the club

Last month, I finished a three-year history project for which I live-tweeted, sort of, the Green Bay Packers’ back-to-back-to-back championship seasons of 1965, 1966 and 1967, day by day, exactly 50 years after it happened.

To do that, I went through the local paper on microfilm at the library. Along the way, I turned up all kinds of interesting material unrelated to my project. I started posting that stuff in a couple of Green Bay history groups on Facebook. It’s been fun, so I’m still doing it.

Which brings us to 50 years ago this weekend, the second weekend of March 1968.

Chicago sax man Cozy Eggleston and his swinging jazz combo played a four-night gig as the Club Coal Bin in downtown Green Bay had its grand opening. The club was in the basement of the Labor Temple. Its slogan, U.S.G.S.T., stood for “Us Swingers Gotta Stick Together.” The club apparently was trying to class up its act. It used to be the Coal Bin Bar, a strip joint. Six months earlier, it had featured Bobbie Page, “The Sex Bombshell” who was “known throughout Wisconsin and Iowa.”

Even though Cozy Eggleston had become the main attraction, it was unusual to see black performers at Green Bay nightclubs, even in 1968. Was he a big draw? No way of knowing, but he has an interesting story.

Cyril J. Eggleston was in his 20s when he joined the Army during World War II. He was a military policeman. He also started playing the sax. When he came home to Chicago after the war, he attended the Chicago Conservatory School of Music. After that, Cozy Eggleston gigged around Chicago, playing tenor sax with any number of jazz and R&B groups and at any number of long-gone nightclubs.

Cozy eventually formed a popular band featuring his wife Marie, whose stage name was Marie Stone. In 1949, while playing at the Manchester Grill on Chicago’s south side, she was described as a “blues singer, ace musician and the bombshell of the alto sax.” At the Club Evergreen in Chicago’s north side, they’d “leave the stand and come down to blow among the guests,” according to the Chicago Defender of Dec. 30, 1950. The photo at left is from a 1954 issue of Hue magazine, which was to sister publication Jet magazine as People magazine was to Time magazine.

On Saturday, Aug. 23, 1952, Cozy and his combo parlayed their popularity into a recording session for States Records, a Chicago label that specialized in black artists. They laid down a couple of instrumentals, “Big Heavy” and “Cozy’s Boogie.” Cozy and Marie played sax, with Jimmy Boyd on piano, Ellis Hunter on guitar, Curtis Ferguson on bass and Chuck Williams on drums.

States didn’t release the 7-inch until February 1954. When it finally came out, “Big Heavy” became the soundtrack to some of the East Coast’s biggest radio shows. It was the theme song for both George “Hound Dog” Lorenz on WKBW in Buffalo and Alan Freed on WINS in New York.

Fast forward to March 1968, when Cozy and his combo played the club in the basement of the Labor Temple in Green Bay. They were brought back two weeks later for a return engagement said to be “by popular demand.”

About this time, Cozy produced and released a soul-jazz LP, “Grand Slam,” on their Co-Egg label. I’ve seen it dated from 1967 to 1969. DownBeat columnist John Corbett, in his book “Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium,” calls this record “an all-out soul blue flame” and a “classic.” It features Cozy, Marie, Karl Johnson on the Hammond organ and Ken Sampson on drums. You can find most of its seven cuts on YouTube.

In 1990, Cozy produced and released “Whammin & Slammin,” on his Co-Egg label, revisiting six of the seven cuts on “Grand Slam” and adds what Discogs calls some “leftover recordings.” Chicago Tribune reviewer John Litweiler called it “straight-ahead organ-sax band entertainment” from Cozy, whom they called “one of Gene Ammons’ many musical offspring.” It features a cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” done as a fast waltz. Can’t find any of this one on YouTube, though.

Cozy Eggleston, who was 48 when he played that basement club in Green Bay in March 1968, kept playing for years. He also played the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Chicago Park District’s Summer Jazz Series. He was a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 for 67 years.

Cozy Eggleston died in Chicago in December 2012. He was 92. He left a large family that included two sons, two daughters, 10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

 

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Filed under March 2018, Sounds

Turn it up to 11

This last week of February marks 11 years since the debut of this humble blog.

As I write this, I’m listening to “Testify!” the WFMU radio show hosted by my friend Larry Grogan, whom I know well but have never met in real life. He, of course, is the proprietor of the mighty Funky 16 Corners blog and streaming radio empire.

As I look for songs to share with this post, I see all the cool covers downloaded the other day and recommended by my friend Jameson Harvey, whom I also have never met in real life. He, of course, is the proprietor of the fine Flea Market Funk blog.

As I consider the 11-year journey, a shout-out to the fellow bloggers I’ve had the pleasure to meet in real life, my friends Jim Bartlett from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, Greg Erickson from Echoes in the Wind and Joe Accardi from Life Out Of Tunes.

Thought about something from “11” by the Smithereens. Nah, everyone knows that.

Thought about something we could turn up to 11. Nah, not the weekend yet.

Thought about an 11-minute song. Don’t have one.

So let’s just enjoy Garland Jeffreys covering the Beatles.

“Help,” Garland Jeffreys, from “14 Steps To Harlem,” 2017.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under February 2018, Sounds

The Zen Christmas

This year, I wanted to experience the Christmas season on the fly, seeing what I could see and hearing what I could hear at random.

So, when I was out and about, or in the car, or at home, it was fun catching the snippets of Christmas music that came along at random in the stores and on the radio and online. That includes the WFMU “Testify!” and Funky 16 Corners Christmas shows from my friend, the mighty Larry Grogan. (Who, by the way, should unwrap a MacArthur genius grant one of these years.)

Some were new to me, some not. It was good to appreciate again the great horn charts on the Carpenters’ version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”

I wanted to try something different, to get away from the same old, same old Christmas experience from time to time. To that end, I have a lot of Christmas music in my collection, and I listened to almost none of it.

There are a few exceptions, of course. On Christmas Eve, this is one.

Reverent yet thrilling, Irma Thomas’ rendition of “O Holy Night” is done as a New Orleans-style dirge with some moody Hammond organ and some terrific gospel voices singing backup.

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Ten years ago, my friend Rob in Pennsylvania declared this to be “goosebump-inducing stuff.”

It still is.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print and not available digitally, but Amazon will rip you a copy. 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 it.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2017, Sounds

How to shop for record diggers

As the holiday season arrives, we present the following as a public service.

Your loved one is a record digger. You want to give them a good gift. I’m blessed to have a family who gets it, and is good at doing so.

If you’re Santa, here are a few guidelines. If you’re waiting to unwrap the gifts, please feel free to share with your loved ones.

Less is more, Part I. It’s better receive one nice record than an overstuffed, overpriced box set.

Less is more, Part II. It’s better to receive one nice record that gets dropped right onto the turntable than a stack of records that goes unplayed.

Talk to the folks at the record store. They might know your record digger better than you do, and they’re more than willing to help you find what you seek.

It’s OK to give a gift certificate. Let your record digger pop for obscure stuff neither you nor the record store folks would ever have considered. (Which explains how “The Hullabaloo Show” by The Hullabaloo Singers & Orchestra made it into one of my crates last month.)

It’s OK to ask for a wish list. That’s the best possible scenario for all parties. The giver is confident of giving something the recipient wants to receive.

That happened this summer. Four days before my June birthday, I went to see Garland Jeffreys. When I got home, I mentioned that he had a new record out. (Money was tight, so I didn’t stop by the merch table.) A couple of months later, out of the blue, we had to stop at the record store while running errands. Turns out a certain special order had come in.

“Waiting for the Man,” Garland Jeffreys, from “14 Steps to Harlem,” 2017. On which he covers his friend Lou Reed. He played this one for us that night.

Speaking of wish lists, here’s the one I typed into my phone while hanging out at the record store not too long ago.

— Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, “Soul of a Woman”

— Bob Seger, “I Knew You When”

— Mavis Staples, “If All I Was Was Black”

— The Isley Brothers and Santana, “Power of Peace”

— The “Soul Christmas” reissue on Stax

— My friend Norb’s book “Fear of a Norb Planet”

Ahem.

 

 

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Filed under November 2017, Sounds

Still not my (trick-or-treat) bag

At the Green Bay Record Convention on Saturday, one of the record diggers asked whether I had any spooky or eerie music. No, sorry. But I did have a suggestion. So here, adapted from a blog post written 10 years ago, is my take on Halloween and my recommendation for that gent.

Halloween is not my thing.

We always went trick-or-treating when we were kids, but we never had the cool costumes. Our parents raised three boys on a rather modest income, so we would get a mask — usually a popular cartoon character — and that would be about it. Just the way it was.

Masks meant a choice of the lesser of two evils: Wear my glasses under the mask and have the mask not fit properly, or go without my glasses and not see anything clearly. I remember going as Superman because it was easy enough to scare up a cape, and you didn’t need a mask. (And you could take the glasses on and off as needed.)

On Halloween 1970, we were visiting my grandmother, so we had to go trick-or-treating in her town that Saturday night. Grandma lived in an old rental house in a rundown neighborhood hard by the railroad tracks in a small central Wisconsin town. We were kids, so we never really noticed. It was just Grandma’s neighborhood.

My brothers and I — we were 13, 11 and 6 — had covered a couple of blocks when we walked up to a low-slung one-story house with a flat roof and a bunch of junk in the yard. It faced the tracks. We rang the doorbell and shouted “Trick or treat!”

After a short while, the door creaked open and a disheveled middle-aged woman peered out. Startled, it took her a couple of moments to comprehend what we were doing there. I was only 13, but somehow, I knew what was going on. She wasn’t expecting anyone.

The woman didn’t say much — maybe “Oh, my” — and then walked away from the door. Through the screen door, we saw her rummaging around a table. She came back to the door and dropped a couple of pennies into each of our bags.

The woman who wasn’t expecting anyone didn’t have anything to give anyone, either. I suppose we kept on trick-or treating that night, but that was it for me. Done forever.

I’ve always wondered whether the kids in that little town just knew — or were told — not to go down to that house. We were visitors, and kids, and didn’t know any better.

Ever since, Halloween has not been my thing.

However, in the spirit of the season, I will confess …

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— I greatly prefer “The Addams Family” over “The Munsters.” Make of that what you will.

— Horror movies? Also not my thing, though I watched enough of them late at night in the mid-’70s. I had a girlfriend who liked them more than she liked me. The ones I enjoyed most had Vincent Price in them. He was cool, as my friend Andrew explained long ago in one of his lovingly crafted Halloween countdown posts over at Armagideon Time.

— I like “The Cask of Amontillado,” an Edgar Allan Poe story in which a man is plied with wine, then sealed behind a brick wall and left to die. I discovered it in high school. Some 20 years later, in 1995, I also dug the “Homicide: Life on the Streets” episode partly based on that story.

“The Cask of Amontillado” also is one of the cuts on the only album I associate with Halloween. It is, of course, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” the first album by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s a prog rock concept album based on Poe’s stories.

By the mid-’70s, Parsons was highly regarded for his work as an engineer on albums by the Beatles, Paul McCartney, the Hollies and Pink Floyd. He then became a producer, then created “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” with Eric Woolfson, who pitched him the idea.

More than 200 musicians played on that 1976 album, which was arranged by Andrew Powell.

You know “The Raven” from that album. It wasn’t the single — that was “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” — but it became more widely played, and rightly so.

So, for your Halloween listening pleasure … two treats only. No tricks.

“The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Alan Parsons Project, from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” 1976.

(Arthur Brown does the wild vocals on the latter.)

My copy is the original vinyl. I haven’t heard the late ’80s CD version, to which Parsons added readings by Orson Welles and extra synthesizers.

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Filed under October 2017, Sounds