Category Archives: 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

Taking stock of The Corporation

50 years ago, as January turned to February in the winter of 1969, a Milwaukee band was playing at Club Sahara, a popular place on the east side of Green Bay.

Lots of Milwaukee and Chicago bands made the rounds of Midwest clubs and roadhouses back then, and Club Sahara was one of those stops.

That week, that band was The Corporation. That week was quite a week for The Corporation, a six-piece group.

50 years ago this week, in the first week of February 1969, Capitol Records released The Corporation’s self-titled first album without the benefit of a single.

As The Corporation played Green Bay, some of the band members sat down with a writer from the local paper to talk about it all.

“Originality and experimentation are the marks of the 8-month-old group’s music. A high decibel count is also one of its telling points on stage,” my friend Warren Gerds wrote in his Night Beat column, trying to explain it all to the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s mostly older readers.

“The emphasis is on sound, loud and relying on complex harmonies. The music could be called electric jazz at certain points and underground at others.”

Uh, yeah, well …

“We don’t like to define our music in any special class. We’re not strictly an underground group. We like to appeal to everybody,” drummer Nick Kondos said.

“We just want to do our own thing,” bass player Ken Berdoll said.

Gerds continued …

“The Corporation is unique. That’s probably why Capitol, a record producer and song publisher, likes it. It slams out original songs, and when it does play other groups’ hits, the songs are altered to match its involved style. Not everyone will like the music of The Corporation. Guy Lombardo lovers would cringe at its way-out approach.”

Well, this was 1969. Conventional newspapers struggled to bridge the generation gap. My friend Warren, just a couple of years out of college, was assigned that thankless task.

The second side of “The Corporation” is taken up by one song, a cover of John Coltrane’s “India.” It’s an epic bit of psych and jazz rock, a trip that goes on for 19 minutes, 27 seconds.

“It’s a very free song,” Berdoll said.

“Because of this ‘freeness,’ The Corporation reaches for the hip in most songs,” Gerds wrote.

So dig the hip.

Here’s “India” by The Corporation, from “The Corporation,” 1969.

And here’s the entire album, released 50 years ago this week.

The band members, from left on the album cover: Danny Peil (vocals), Patrick McCarthy (organ and trombone), Gerard Smith (lead guitar and vocals), Ken Berdoll (bass and vocals), Nick Kondos (drums and vocals) and his brother John Kondos (guitar, flute, harp, piano and vocals).

Some accounts incorrectly identify The Corporation as a Detroit band. That’s because Detroit producer John Rhys heard them at a Milwaukee club and pitched them to Capitol Records, who signed them. “The Corporation” was recorded at Tera Shirma Studios in Detroit.

It was a regional hit, reaching No. 3 on the charts in Milwaukee in March 1969. However, it reached only No. 197 on the Billboard Hot LPs chart. Capitol also released “I Want To Get Out Of My Grave” b/w “Highway” as a single in 1969.

After that debut album, The Corporation had a falling-out with Capitol Records, which dropped them.

In 1970, the group released two more albums — “Get On Our Swing” and “Hassels In My Mind” — and a single on Age of Aquarius, a custom label pressed by Wisconsin’s Cuca Records. Not long after that, The Corporation dissolved.

(As always, a hat tip to Gary Myers for his indispensable research books on Wisconsin bands.)

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Filed under February 2019, Sounds

I gotta get out of here

They say the wind chill could reach 40 below tomorrow. Maybe the next day, too.

It’s a flashback to 1972. We’d just moved. New house, new school, for the fifth time in nine years. Kids are resilient, but for me, that was the toughest move.

At 14, during my last year of junior high, I’d finally made it into a nice circle of friends. Not the popular kids, but a group you might call the class leaders. Got to know some girls. Got invited to a couple of parties. All innocent enough, yet trusted enough to not spill the beans when some of the basketball players drank too much at another kind of party.

Then, BOOM. I went from junior high in Sheboygan one week directly into high school near Wausau, 180 miles to the northwest, the next week. So much for freshman orientation.

Being the new kid and trying to make new friends again is hard enough. Then the temperature dropped out of sight for two weeks. Thus the flashback.

Even the radio — my constant companion — added to the isolation I felt. Part of it was navigating my way to a new home on the dial. The local FM radio station, top 40 during the day, free form at night, was quite different than AM Top 40, the only format I’d ever known.

The songs on the radio didn’t help.

Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” America’s “Horse With No Name.” The Addrisi Brothers’ “We’ve Got To Get It On Again.” Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Downers, bummers, vaguely haunting, reflecting some kind of loneliness or loss, reinforcing a sense of isolation. Exactly where my head was at. I hear those songs today, and I still keenly feel what I felt during that bitterly cold winter of 1972. They aren’t among my favorites, save for one, Nilsson’s “Without You.”

Yet winter always gives way to spring. Track and field season started. I met a guy, my fellow team manager, who has been my friend ever since. We bonded over songs on the radio and lots of other things. More friends came along. More opportunities came along.

Better songs came along, too. I got the hang of FM radio, particularly the late-night free-form portion. But there was some adjustment necessary. As in the realization and acceptance that, all right, these are the kinds of songs they play on the radio now. Like this one.

“Halo of Flies,” Alice Cooper, from “Killer,” 1971. This is one of the first records I bought that first year in that new place. My copy still has the 1972 calendar that came with it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under January 2019, Sounds

A revelation, a toast and a wish

Christmas begins like this.

An 11-year-old Michael Jackson will forever convey to me the excitement of Christmas morning. That Christmas songs could sound like this was a revelation to this 13-year-old kid in 1970.

“One more time, yeah! Santa Claus is comin’ to town. Oh, yeah!”

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, 1970, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973.

Christmas continues with a toast.

“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.

Christmas concludes with a 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 last year.

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2018, Sounds

Our Christmas Eve traditions

The first one is for our friend Rob in Pennsylvania.

Eleven years ago now, Rob declared Irma Thomas’ rendition of “O Holy Night 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.

The other, of course, is our traditional Christmas Eve post.

On a winter day more than 45 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.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2018, Sounds

A week in the life

The big news around here this week was that Paul McCartney will be playing a show at Lambeau Field on June 8. That’s a little over 2 miles from our house. Macca himself, practically in our neighborhood. But we’re not going.

We’re seeing him two nights earlier at the Kohl Center in Madison. That show was announced first, at the end of August. We were fortunate enough to get tickets. We’re good with that.

All of this got me to thinking about seeing the Beatles live. Some day, we’ll look back and say we did the best we could, given that we came along too late.

Day One: Friday, Aug. 12, 1966. I was 9 when the Beatles toured America for the last time. We lived a mere 150 miles away when that tour opened at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago that Friday. But, again, I was 9. The Beatles weren’t on my radar except as Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Day Two: Wednesday, Aug. 30, 1972. John Lennon never toured America. I was 15, soon to be a sophomore in high school, when John played his last full-length show at Madison Square Garden in New York. It’s laughable to think it might have been publicized in any way in our corner of Wisconsin. That show might as well have been on the moon.

Day Three: Saturday, Nov. 30, 1974. I was 17, a senior in high school, when George Harrison went on his only tour of America in November and December 1974. Maybe they mentioned on the radio that George and Ravi Shankar were playing two shows at Chicago Stadium. Had I known about the shows, and had I somehow scraped together the money for a ticket, I suppose I could have driven the 280 miles to Chicago that Saturday. But realistically, none of that was a possibility. We probably had a basketball game or a party, or both, that night.

Day Four: Tuesday, July 16, 2013. We saw Paul McCartney at Miller Park in Milwaukee. We had seats in left field, on the field, stage left. It’s not every day you see one of the Beatles up close. Paul did not disappoint. Tremendous, wonderful, almost surreal.

Day Five: Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. We saw Ringo Starr at the BMO Harris Pavilion at the lakefront in Milwaukee. Ringo did not disappoint. Still irreverent, still cracking wise. We heard, and sang along to, “Yellow Submarine.” Peace and love, everyone, peace and love.

Never saw the Beatles. Never saw John. Never saw George. Saw Paul and Ringo. But there’s still some unfinished business.

Day Six: June 6, 2019. We’ll be in the same room with Paul McCartney.

Day Seven: TBD. I hope to walk across the Abbey Road crossing someday.

Maybe that’ll be in 2021, when I’m sixty-four.

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Filed under December 2018, Sounds

Downstairs at Prange’s

Imagine seeing a photo of something you thought existed only in memory. As you try to process it, the whole thing takes your breath away. Then you get catch your breath and settle down to scrutinizing the tiniest details of the photo.

So it is with this photo, posted earlier this month by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center to its Facebook page. It carried this four-word caption: “Record department. H.C. Prange.”

When I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the ’60s and ’70s, everyone went down by Prange’s. It was the biggest department store in that city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan.

The record department was in the basement. You went down the main escalator and there it was, over to your right as you stepped off, a dazzling world of colorful and thrilling LPs spread out before you. 45s? Sure, but those you could get at the neighborhood dime store. Prange’s was the place where you came to ponder the mighty LP.

This photo is from 1969 or later. In the row going up diagonally from the lower left corner are the Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” the latter released as an import in 1969. I’d love to see this photo at higher resolution so I could try to ID some of the other records.

I never bought a lot of LPs at Prange’s — all I had was paper route money, and not much of it — but what I did buy were among the first albums I ever owned. I still have them all.

— I gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” LP to my friend Mike for his 13th birthday. It came out in July 1970. His birthday was in October. Truth be told, I’d wanted it for myself. Instead, I got Creedence’s “Green River,” which by then was a year old. It all worked out.

Neil Diamond’s “Tap Root Manuscript,” released in November 1970. I also was 13 and had been listening to AM Top 40 radio almost non-stop all that year.

— Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” soundtrack, released in July 1971.

Wings’ “Wild Life,” released in December 1971.

Then there’s this.

When I was 13, I was tempted by, perhaps even obsessed with, Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.” It had been released in January 1971, midway through my eighth-grade year. I liked the music. Mostly, though, I thought her pose on the cover was kind of hot — and, yes, I already had some sense of someone being a hot mess — and I really didn’t want to try to explain that to my parents.

So I never bought “Pearl” at Prange’s. Truth be told, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I finally bought “Pearl.” I’ve since bought three or four copies, always looking for a cover in a bit nicer condition than the one before.

Maybe I’ll even frame it someday. It tells quite a story about a young record digger, even if only he recognizes it.

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Filed under November 2018, Sounds