Still with us: Chuck Berry

We are not even two months into 2016, and David Bowie is gone. So are Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson. So are Maurice White, Vanity and Otis Clay, Glenn Frey, Gary Loizzo and Dan Hicks.

Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different.

The legend: Chuck Berry.

Age: 89.

Still performing? It’s been almost a year and a half since he last played at the Blueberry Hill nightclub in suburban St. Louis. “Chuck Berry does not have any upcoming events,” his Facebook page says.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Chuck Berry is not necessarily a nice man, from his troubles with the law and the tax man to his reluctance to give longtime co-writer and side man Johnnie Johnson his due.

Where I came in: I’m part of the generation introduced to Chuck Berry by the naughty novelty single “My Ding-A-Ling” in 1972. Then I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” the two-record greatest-hits compilation reissued by Chess in the wake of the success of “My Ding-A-Ling.” Long one of the greatest records in my collection.

My evening with Chuck Berry: Seven years ago, I saw Chuck Berry — then 82 — play our local casino ballroom. After that show, you wondered whether he’d played for roughly an hour, or played roughly for an hour. Which was OK. With Chuck Berry, you never can tell.

Appreciate the greatness:


“Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956. Electric Light Orchestra’s long, raucous cover of this is one of my all-time favorites.

“Too Much Monkey Business” 1956. The roots of hip hop? Dig that patter. Ahhhhhh.

“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” 1956. The flip side to “Too Much Monkey Business.” Dig that Johnnie Johnson piano.

“Johnny B. Goode,” 1958. Rock Guitar 101.

All by Chuck Berry, all from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is a 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. All of these cuts available digitally.



Filed under February 2016, Sounds

Know you ain’t going anywhere

Not sure there are any light reads about the Vietnam War.

It’s been years since I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” but I vividly remember that taking forever.

Perhaps it’s the constant reminder — then as now — that there, for the grace of the timing of my birth, go I, and how would I have handled all that. (For the record, I was too young for Vietnam. Saigon fell and the war ended seven weeks before I turned 18.)

My Christmas wish list had two books on it, one of them about Vietnam.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place book

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” examines how American soldiers — white, black, Latino, Native — deeply identified with music and used it to cope while serving in Vietnam in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Our Christmas tree is long gone from the living room, yet I’m still slogging through that book. Maybe it’s best read with all those songs playing in the background.

You also bog down when you come to a passage like this, the story of a soldier named Jeff Dahlstrom, who arrived in Vietnam in September 1970:

“Music played a major part in the sensory overload of Saigon, where Dahlstrom went frequently. … No surprise that Dahlstrom’s memories of the Saigon streets were stirred by the appropriately titled ‘Stoned in Saigon’ by a largely forgotten English group named Free.”


It’s a simple mistake by the authors, yet a jolt for those who notice it. “Stoned in Saigon” was released in 1970 by a largely forgotten English group named Fresh.

Don’t think anyone would argue that the great English blues-rock group Free is largely forgotten.

That said, Free isn’t among the many artists mentioned by Vietnam veterans and cited by authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, both of whom teach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Little was “All Right Now” about Vietnam in 1970, when that song also came out.

Still, you wonder whether American soldiers heard and identified with another Free song. Especially one that in early 1973, with the war slogging on and American support for it waning, said:

Take off your hat
Kick off your shoes,
I know you ain’t going anywhere.
Run ’round the town
Singing your blues
I know you ain’t going anywhere.


Throw down your gun
You might shoot yourself,
Or is that what you are tryin’ to do,
Put up a fight
You believe to be right
And someday the sun will shine through.


But I know what you’re wishing for
Love and a peaceful world.

free heartbreaker lp

“Wishing Well,” Free, from “Heartbreaker,” 1973. Also available digitally.


Filed under February 2016, Sounds

Gone in threes: 2015

They say celebrities and prominent people go in threes. Well, 2015 was much the same as any other year. Here’s proof.

Badasses: Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead and The Head Cat), Rowdy Roddy Piper (WWE and “They Live”), Ken “The Snake” Stabler (NFL quarterback).

Baseball greats: Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, Minnie Minoso.

Baseball voices: Darryl Hamilton (Brewers), Milo Hamilton (Astros and Cubs), Lon Simmons (Giants).

Basketball greats: Moses Malone, Harvey Pollack (NBA statistician extraordinaire), Dean Smith.

Bass players: Andy Fraser (Free), Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson’s “Thunder Thumbs”), Chris Squire (Yes).

Behind the camera: Ed Sabol (NFL Films), Tony Verna (TV director who introduced instant replay), Haskell Wexler (cinematographer).

Clint Eastwood’s co-stars: Richard Dysart (“Pale Rider”), Geoffrey Lewis (“High Plains Drifter” and six other films), Dick Van Patten (“Joe Kidd”).

Columbia Records connections: Sam Andrew (Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist), John Berg (art director designed some of those great covers and signed off on R. Crumb’s “Cheap Thrills” cover), Bob Johnston (produced Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel).

Commercial stars: Monica Lewis (jazz singer who voiced the Chiquita Banana), Windell Middlebrooks (actor who played Miller High Life delivery guy; he helped us at the Super Bowl), Darrell Winfield (Wyoming rancher who was the Marlboro Man for 20 years).

yvonne craig batgirl

Crushes: Yvonne Craig (“Batman”), Donna Douglas (“The Beverly Hillbillies”), Melody Patterson (she was just 16 when cast in “F Troop”).

CTE is killing football players: Frank Gifford (Giants) was 84. Mike Pyle (Bears) was 76. Adrian Robinson (four NFL teams in two years) was 25.

michael gross lampoon cover

Designers: Jerry Dior (Major League Baseball logo),Michael C. Gross (“National Lampoon” dog and gun cover), Betty Willis (Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign).

Drummers: John Bradbury (The Specials), Bob Burns (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Phil Taylor (Motorhead).

Fame’s dark side: Judy Carne (“Laugh-In,” but also drugs and sex, as told by Aerosmith’s Joe Perry), Kim Fowley (Runaways producer who eventually faced sex assault allegations), Amanda Peterson (“Can’t Buy Me Love,” but also drug problems).

Globetrotters: Marquis Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, the Washington Generals (disbanded after last game on Aug. 1, a 90-88 loss).

Gone country: Lynn Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Gimble.

Gonged: Milton DeLugg (bandleader), Eugene Patton (Gene Gene the Dancing Machine), Gary Owens (host).

Guitar players: Dave Ball (Procol Harum), Peggy Jones (or Lady Bo, from her work with Bo Diddley), Gary Richrath (R.E.O. Speedwagon).

Guys I admired: Ron Blomberg (Milwaukee Bucks announcer who ran their camps, which I never got to attend), Stan Erickson (ran the New Frontier Record Exchange, which I visited once), Phil Pepe (New York sportswriter wrote “Winners Never Quit,” one of my favorite books as a kid).

Having fun with Elvis: Jack Carter (comedian played himself in “Viva Las Vegas”), Joe Guercio (musical director), Dean Jones (“Jailhouse Rock” co-star).

Hollywood royalty: Christopher Lee, Maureen O’Hara, Omar Sharif.

batmobile desk2

Hot rodders: George Barris (designed the 1966 Batmobile and other kustom kars), Hot Rod Hundley (NBA player and broadcaster), John “Hot Rod” Williams (NBA player).

Inventive: Gary Dahl (Pet Rock), Don Featherstone (plastic pink flamingo), Vic Firth (drumsticks).

Irreverent: Darryl Dawkins (NBA’s “Chocolate Thunder”), Stan Freberg, Leon Varjian (legendary college prankster).

Keyboard players: Bobby Emmons (Memphis session man), Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream), Ralph Sharon (Tony Bennett).

Liberal voices: Beau Biden (Delaware), Mario Cuomo (New York), Robert Kastenmeier (Wisconsin).

Made in Wisconsin: Michael Ariens (Ariens snowblowers and lawn mowers), Bob Nueske (Nueske’s bacon and smoked meats), Karl Ratzsch Jr. (Karl Ratzsch’s German restaurant).

Marvin Gaye’s collaborators: Al Abrams (Motown Records’ first publicist), Marlene Barrow-Tate (The Andantes, then backup for Gaye and the Four Tops, the Temptations and The Supremes), Mel Farr (NFL player sang backup on “What’s Going On”).

Memorable partners: William Guest (Gladys Knight and the Pips), Cynthia Lennon (John’s ex-wife), Gail Zappa (Frank’s widow).

Mighty singers: Andrae Crouch, Ronnie Gilbert, Mighty Sam McClain.

Music royalty: B.B. King, Ben E. King, Billy Joe Royal.

New Orleans funerals: Skip Easterling (singer), Frankie Ford (singer), Paul Prudhomme (chef).

Notorious women: Madame Claude (French madam), Carol Doda (San Francisco topless dancer), Anne Nicol Gaylor (atheist).

Panelists: Jayne Meadows, (“I’ve Got A Secret”), Anne Meara (“The Match Game”), Betsy Palmer (“I’ve Got A Secret”).

Rock singers: Jack Ely (The Kingsmen), Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Stevie Wright (The Easybeats).

Sax players: Ornette Coleman, Wilton Felder (The Crusaders), Steve Mackay (The Stooges).

Songwriters: Michael Brown (“Walk Away Renee,” “Pretty Ballerina”), Wayne Carson (“The Letter,” “Soul Deep,” “Always On My Mind”), P.F. Sloan (“Eve Of Destruction,” “Secret Agent Man”).

Soul singers: Errol Brown (Hot Chocolate), Don Covay, Percy Sledge.

“Star Trek” originals: Bruce Hyde (Lt. Kevin Riley), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand).

Storytellers: Vincent Bugliosi (“Helter Skelter”), George Clayton Johnson (“The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” “Logan’s Run,” “Ocean’s Eleven”), Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter” and “What’s Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A.”).

The producers: Harve Bennett (“The Mod Squad,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Star Trek” films), Jerry Weintraub (concert tours, “Nashville,” “Diner,” “The Karate Kid”), Bud Yorkin (“All In The Family,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son”).

They wore a badge on TV: James Best (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), Martin Milner (“Adam-12”), Al Molinaro (“The Odd Couple”).

Three Dog Night: Jimmy Greenspoon (keyboards), June Fairchild (actress who named the band), Cory Wells (singer).

Trailblazers: Julian Bond (civil rights leader), Stanley Kutler (Wisconsin historian who got the Nixon tapes released), Earl Lloyd (the first black NBA player).

Trumpet players: Ben Cauley, (the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the Otis Redding plane crash in 1967), Cynthia Robinson (Sly and the Family Stone), Lew Soloff (Blood, Sweat & Tears).

TV’s cool cats: Robert Loggia (“The C.A.T.”), Patrick Macnee (“The Avengers”), Wayne Rogers (“M*A*S*H”).

Unforgettable singers: Cilla Black, Natalie Cole, Lesley Gore.

Wrestling legends: Nick BockwinkelVerne GagneDusty Rhodes.

The shocker: There always is one death that takes your breath away. This year, it was Allen Toussaint, the great New Orleans arranger, producer, pianist and singer, and one of the nicest performers I ever met. A gentle, delightful man with a sparkle in his eyes (and his tie and his shoes), Toussaint nodded hello as he walked past me and onto the stage on a cold winter night in 2008.

My friend Todd, who worked at the venue at the time and now runs Rock n’ Roll Land, one of our local indie record stores, also has a cool Allen Toussaint story:

“I got the pleasure to pick up Allen at the airport in February. He was flying from Chicago to Green Bay and the flight was on a small plane, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy.’ So I greet him and ask, ‘How was your flight?’ He says, ‘Interesting, I enjoy those little planes.’ Made small talk with him on the way over to the hotel.

“Couple days later, I go pick him up from his room to head down to the show. Again making small talk, I ask him if he did anything during the day, you know, did you go outside at all? Mind you, it’s February, temperatures below zero, and he looks at me and says, ‘Now why would I do that?’

“He was one of the nicest, coolest guys I ever met, always dressed in a suit.”

When Allen Toussaint performed here on that cold winter night, we were in the presence of greatness.


— This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2015. Rather, this is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.

— I am remiss in not crediting three prime sources for this list each year.

First, the folks at Wikipedia who compile month-by-month lists of prominent deaths. That’s where we start.

Second, our friend Gunther at Any Major Dude, who compiles lists of notable music deaths each month, along with a year-end roundup. Each of those is more thorough than this roundup. Highly recommended.

Third, the folks at Mojo magazine, whose “Real Gone” and “They Also Served” features are wonderful.


Filed under January 2016, Sounds

For sweet Meadowlark

One of the great joys of growing up in the ’70s was experiencing the last days of free-form FM radio. Even in central Wisconsin, our local top-40 station turned freaky late at night.

After 10 p.m., the WIFC jocks played anything and everything. There were deep album cuts from David Bowie and Uriah Heep followed by mind-blowing cuts from Gil Scott-Heron and the jazz sax player Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

My introduction to Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1976 was “Theme For The Eulipions,” which was the first cut from an album called “The Return of the 5,000 Lb. Man.” That noirish tune oozes cool over its 9-plus minutes.

After buying that record at Inner Sleeve Records in Wausau, Wisconsin — which was cool enough to stock it — I found a most pleasant surprise.

The album’s second cut is a rollicking cover of “Sweet Georgia Brown” done in a roadhouse style familiar to anyone who knows how the Harlem Globetrotters used the song as their theme.


“Sweet Georgia Brown,” Rahsaan Roland Kirk, from “The Return of the 5,000 Lb. Man,” 1976. It features Hank Jones on piano and Milt Hinton on bass.

This is for the wonderful Meadowlark Lemon, the Globetrotters star who died Sunday. He was 83.

We watched him countless times on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” By the time I was old enough to take myself to see the Globetrotters in their annual New Year’s Eve game in Milwaukee, Meadowlark had left the team.

Now I kinda wish I’d bought this Meadowlark Lemon funk/soul/disco record when I came across it while digging for records in my friend Jim’s back yard a few years ago. It’s from 1979.

meadowlark lemon my kids


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Filed under December 2015, Sounds

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Once again, all I really need for Christmas are these three songs.

“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.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2015, Sounds

Goosebumps for Christmas

Eight years ago, during our first Christmas season here at the blog, my friend Rob called this song “goosebump-inducing stuff.”

It still is.


Reverent yet thrilling, this version is done as a New Orleans-style dirge with some moody Hammond organ and some terrific gospel voices singing backup.

“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.

My apologies for not posting it here for the last three years.

As always, it’s for Rob.

“A Creole Christmas” also features the great Allen Toussaint, whom we lost this year. Enjoy his swinging piano take on “White Christmas,” a song you rarely hear with a big band arrangement, or any kind of an upbeat arrangement.

Man, hard to believe this record is 25 years old now.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2015, Sounds

A Christmas Eve tradition returns

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:


“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.


(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.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2015, Sounds