Gone in threes: 2014

They say celebrities and prominent people go in threes. Well, 2014 was no different than any other year. Here’s proof.

All The President’s Men: Howard Baker (“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”), Ben Bradlee (Washington Post editor), Jeb Stuart Magruder (Nixon aide indicted and convicted in the Watergate scandal).

Arrangers: Johnny Allen (“Shaft”), Frankie Knuckles, Johnny Mann.

Badasses: Marvin Barnes (basketball), Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (boxing), Richard Kiel (Bond, James Bond).

Bass players: Jack Bruce, Ed Gagliardi (Foreigner), Lou Whitney (Morells).

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Behind the camera: Paul Mazursky (developed “The Monkees,” then some great films), Andrew V. McLaglen (five John Wayne films), Harold Ramis (“Caddyshack,” for starters).

Civil rights voices: Ruby Dee, John Doar (assistant attorney general for civil rights in the ’60s), Franklin McCain (one of the Greensboro Four).

Comedy legends: Sid Caesar, Mike Nichols, Joan Rivers.

Creative types: Harry Richard Black (Mr. Clean, Smokey the Bear), Stanley Marsh 3 (Cadillac Ranch), Bunny Yeager (pinup photographer).

Distinctive voices: Geoffrey Holder (“These are uncola nuts”), Herb Jeffries (jazz singer who became the first black singing cowboy), Larry D. Mann (Yukon Cornelius in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”).

Drummers: Scott Asheton, Idris Muhammad, Tommy Ramone.

From “The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book”: Sy Berger, Whammy Douglas, Herb Plews.

Globetrotters vs. Generals: Robert “Showboat” Hall, Charles “Tex” Harrison, Red Klotz.

Great Escapees: Richard Attenborough (“Big X”), James Garner (“The Scrounger”), Angus Lennie (“The Mole”).

Guitarists: Teenie Hodges, Dick Wagner (Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Kiss), Johnny Winter.

Hollywood icons: Lauren Bacall, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple Black.

fregosi mccool sadecki 1969

In 1969, I had their baseball cards: Jim Fregosi, Bill McCool, Ray Sadecki.

Keyboard players: Ian McLagan, Paul Revere, Joe Sample.

Milwaukee voices: Ted Moore (’60s Packers play-by-play man), Ernie von Schledorn (“Who do you know wants to buy a car?”), Carl Zimmerman (Channel 6 news anchor).

Real-life heroes: James Brady (White House press secretary who was shot and disabled, then became gun-control activist), Bill Dana (’60s test pilot and astronaut), Louis Zamperini (Olympic distance runner, then World War II prisoner-of-war).

Sax players: Mike Burney (Wizzard), Bobby Keys, Raphael Ravenscroft (“Baker Street”).

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’60s comic book heroes: Denny Miller (the first blond Tarzan), Lorenzo Semple Jr. (created TV’s “Batman”), Eli Wallach (played Mr. Freeze on “Batman”).

’60s sitcom actresses: Mary Grace Canfield (“Green Acres”), Ann B. Davis (“The Brady Bunch”), Cynthia Lynn (“Hogan’s Heroes”).

’60s sitcom sidekicks: Bob Hastings (“McHale’s Navy”), Russell Johnson (“Gilligan’s Island”), Ken Weatherwax (“The Addams Family”).

’70s sitcom stars: Dave Madden (“The Partridge Family”), Marcia Strassman (“Welcome Back Kotter”), Robin Williams (“Mork and Mindy”).

Songwriters: Bob Crewe, Gerry Goffin, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith.

Soulful voices: The Mighty Hannibal, Jimmy Ruffin, Bobby Womack.

Surf legends: Hobie Alter (surfboard maker), Ricky Grigg (big-wave surfer turned oceanographer), Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz (doctor turned surf guru).

Television voices: Richard C. Hottelet (CBS News), Don Pardo (“Jeopardy,” then “Saturday Night Live”), Pete Van Wieren (Atlanta Braves).

The doctors are in: Frank Jobe (pioneered Tommy John elbow surgery), Jack Ramsay (basketball genius), Jesse Steinfeld (surgeon general forced out by Nixon for anti-smoking views).

The record business: Don Davis, Anna Gordy Gaye, Cosimo Matassa.

They started as DJs: Geoff Edwards (“Jackpot”), Jim Lange (“The Dating Game”), Casey Kasem (“American Top 40″). Here’s a rather remarkable clip from 1967. Jim Lange hosts and Casey Kasem is one of the bachelors, along with comedian Bill Dana.

Unforgettable voices: Joe Cocker, Phil Everly, Pete Seeger.

Wisconsin’s finest: Patrick Lucey (governor), Fuzzy Thurston (’60s Packers great), Charles M. Young (Rolling Stone writer).

World War II’s last men standing: Chester Nez (last original Navajo code talker), Hiroo Onoda (Japanese intelligence officer who didn’t surrender until 1974), Theodore Van Kirk (last surviving Enola Gay crew member).

Wrestling legends: Ox Baker (also in “Escape From New York,” one of my faves), Rodger Kent (voice of All-Star Wrestling out of Minneapolis), Mae Young.

Writers: Maya Angelou, Al Feldstein (Mad magazine), Bob Thomas (AP Hollywood reporter).

Bonus round: Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Ed Nelson, who also died in 2014, were in “Airport 1975″ with two other actors already mentioned. Can you name them?

The shocker: There always is one death that takes your breath away. For us, last year, that was Jan Hooks. She was about our age. We came to know her long before the rest of America did.

In the early ’80s, we saw her on “Tush,” a late-night comedy sketch program on WTBS, the forerunner to the TBS cable network. She was tremendous on it. Few others saw that show, but when she became a star on “Saturday Night Live” in the late ’80s, it came as no surprise to us. After that, we rarely saw her on TV. Still gone too soon.

This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2014. Rather, this is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under January 2015

Snoopy and Michael, John and Yoko

After a Christmas season in which less was more, all I really need for Christmas are these three songs. They come from a more innocent time.

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.) Also available digitally.

“Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
“Ringing through the land
“Bringing peace to all the world
“And good will to man”

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!”

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

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

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released in 2010. Also available digitally.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2014, Sounds

Our Christmas Eve tradition

On this Christmas Eve, a post that has become a tradition.

On a winter day more than 40 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:

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“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985.

It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay for $10 or less. I found my copy two years ago, when my friend Jim threw open his garage door and sold some of his records.

louisarmstrongnightbeforexmas45

(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 “Little Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids,” 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 died the following July.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2014, Sounds

An impromptu Christmas

There once was a time when you’d find Christmas music posted here pretty much every day before Dec. 25. Those days are long gone.

My passion for Christmas music has waned. It seems like the soundtrack to all the insanity, all the hype of the Christmas retail machine.

Instead, I’m going zen, remaining open to random, inspired moments of Christmas music. The unexpected. The genuine. One such moment when our son and his fellow university chamber singers performed “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” a week ago. Enjoyed that.

Another such moment came the other day, via a comment left by Jeremy from Arizona on a Christmas blog post from some time ago.

“I found out about Alice McClarity’s ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ from a friend’s Christmas compilation and haven’t been able to find anything about it online. I’d love to hear some other tracks.”

There we go. Some random inspiration at Christmas.

xmasgospelodiumlp

Six years ago, we featured some cuts from “Christmas Gospelodium,” which was released on the Verve label in 1967. That Alice McClarity song was one of them. I’d found it in a thrift store in Madison, Wisconsin. Had never seen it before. Haven’t seen it since.

It’s a compilation that was co-produced, arranged and conducted by Robert Banks, a gospel singer, pianist and choral director.

Jason Stone, writing in his Get On Down With the Stepfather of Soul blog in 2008, had this to say about Banks:

Robert Banks is best known among soul fans, and Northern Soul fans particularly, for the rocking “A Mighty Good Way” on Verve. … Banks recorded an album for Verve, “The Message,” which featured Banks and other soloists doing gospel tunes with touches of soul and pop.”

That pretty much describes “Christmas Gospelodium,” too. Hear, then, five more cuts not included in our long-ago post (which has been updated with the three cuts posted back then).

“The Silent Night Sermon,” Robert Banks with the Golden Voices Ensemble.

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” Golden Voices Ensemble.

“A Blessing,” The Gospel Ambassadors.

“Glory To The New Born King,” Bill Hardy with the Golden Voices Ensemble.

“So Much To Thank Him For,” Robert Banks with the Shockley Sisters.

All from “Christmas Gospelodium,” 1967. It’s out of print.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

 

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2014, Sounds

Late to Glick’s party

Every life has odd bits of symmetry, and this is mine: Most of my best friends have been named Mike.

There has been Mike S., Mike F., Mike G., Mike M., another Mike S. — same last name as the first guy — and Mike H. (I’ve had two other best friends who also shared a last name, but neither was a Mike. I digress.)

Mike G. — Glick to almost everyone — is quite simply my oldest friend, and not because today is his birthday. Facebook has been reminding me of that all day, and even though I’m late to Glick’s party, this is one instance when a Facebook message or post just isn’t going to cut it.

We met in the winter of 1972 as managers for our high school’s track and field team, Glick a sophomore and me a freshman. We had much in common. We came from similar backgrounds, families in which money was tight. We loved sports. We loved the radio. We loved the music we heard on the radio. We loved irreverent humor. We looked at the world in much the same way. Oh, yeah, and neither of us had any game with the ladies.

Little has changed between then and now. We still love all those things. We still look at the world in much the same way. We both have families now, but our wives probably still will insist neither of us had any game.

Any friendship that lasts 42 years is full of little flashbacks. Cookie Rojas’ 1968 baseball card is one. “The Rockford Files” theme song is another.

I thought of Glick last week as I prepped for a colonoscopy (and he will laugh at that). My instructions were to suck on a sour green apple Jolly Rancher candy if I didn’t care for the taste of the stuff cleaning out my system. In my head, thanks to Glick, you say “Jolly Rancher” and I hear “Jolly Raunchy.” He called them that years ago when he stuffed his mouth full of them and washed them down with ketchup. You really had to be there.

Anyhow, back to the music. Glick has always been a 45 guy. I’ve always been an LP guy. I vividly remember him tipping me to a 45 he loved in the summer of 1977, in the last few weeks that I lived in our hometown. It was “Strawberry Letter 23″ by The Brothers Johnson.

What I didn’t know then, and found out years later, was that it was a cover. I didn’t know about Shuggie Otis then, but I know about him now.

Enjoy the original, my man.

Shuggie Otis Freedom Flight LP

“Strawberry Letter 23,” Shuggie Otis, from “Freedom Flight,” 1971. It’s available on CD, packaged with “Here Comes Shuggie Otis,” his 1969 debut LP. Also available digitally.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under November 2014, Sounds

Goodbye, indeed

As mentioned the other day …

Goodbye, indeed. It probably went out in the Great Record Purge of 1989.

That year, some friends were having a big rummage sale. We sent over a bunch of stuff, including a bunch of records I’d bought in my teens and 20s that I wasn’t listening to in my early 30s. After collecting records for almost 20 years — hell, simply after growing up — your tastes change.

On record digs, I still come across some of those records. “Yeah, I used to have that one,” I think to myself. But there are few regrets. Certainly no regrets for dumping any and all Ted Nugent records. Nor for any Styx record released after 1974. Nor those Hot Tuna records. Nor those Starcastle records. Nor, really, even a Rolling Stones record considered to be one of their best.

I didn’t go to the rummage sale, but I vividly remember the lovely Janet telling me that more than one person had dug through the vinyl and said “Hey, there are some good records in here.”

Guessing, then, that Cream’s final record, “Goodbye,” from 1969, was been one of them. Told you I was prone to occasional outbreaks of cluelessness.

Glad, then, that one Jack Bruce record survived the Great Record Purge of 1989.

Apostrophe Frank Zappa

“Apostrophe,” Frank Zappa, from “Apostrophe,” 1974. Also available digitally.

For 40 years, it’s been debated what, exactly, Jack Bruce did on this fierce, fuzzed-out instrumental jam with Zappa and drummer Jim Gordon.

Did Bruce — then just six years moved on from Cream — play bass, as the liner notes and Zappa himself insisted? Or did he play cello, as Bruce tried to tell an interviewer almost 20 years later? All the evidence points to bass, and Bruce listed “Apostrophe” among his “special appearances” on his website.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under October 2014, Sounds

Life at 20

To mark its 20th anniversary, Mojo magazine is doing a series of interviews with “20 world-changing musicians looking back on their 20th year.”

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Less grandly put, it’s about what their life was like, what their influences were, when they were 20. It’s sometimes fascinating, sometimes remarkably ordinary. As I read through these pieces, I think back to my 20th year, which also was sometimes fascinating, sometimes remarkably ordinary.

Because my birthday falls on the first day of summer, my school years are neatly defined. My 20th year was my junior year of college. It was a time of great change.

A couple of weeks before I was to leave my Wisconsin hometown, Elvis died.

That was, as I wrote seven years ago, a mild, sun-splashed Tuesday afternoon in 1977, one of those August days that seems to last forever. Especially when you are 20 and trying to wring the most out of every moment left before you leave home, knowing you are leaving home for good.

Then, seven weeks into that junior year, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down.

That was 37 years ago today, Oct. 20, 1977. I’d just picked up their new record. My vinyl copy of “Street Survivors” is the original issue, with the cover showing flames surrounding the band. In the middle, Steve Gaines stands with his eyes closed, enveloped by flames.

skynyrdstreetflames

My lingering memory is of how I’d snapped up that record, and of how quickly thereafter the band was silenced.

The loss of Lynyrd Skynyrd was greater than the loss of Elvis. I’d grown up with Skynyrd on the radio and on my stereo. Elvis was old news, old music for old people. (I was 20. I’d learn.)

Thinking back to that year of being 20, sorting through the loss of Lynyrd Skynyrd signaled that maybe this is the way you grow up. You deal with real life, which delivers blows like that. You live in a tiny apartment. There’s not much money, so you scrape by. I vividly remember saving pop bottles, then cashing them in during the last week of the fall semester and getting as many groceries as possible for that $3 or $5 or $7. Whatever it was, it wasn’t much.

Some better news came along during Christmas break. As 1977 turned to 1978, the local paper hired me. That’s another way you grow up. You go to work in your chosen profession and you keep at it for 36 years.

But when you’re 20, the new kid in the newsroom, there’s things going on that you don’t know.

lynyrd skynyrd endangered species

“Things Goin’ On,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Endangered Species,” 1994. It’s their unplugged record, one I’ve enjoyed for 20 years now. It’s out of print.

This acoustic version is available only on the “Thyrty: 30th Anniversary Collection” CD, and not digitally. The original version was on Skynyrd’s 1973 debut album, “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd.”

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under October 2014, Sounds