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.

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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

My lingering cluelessness

Even though there are more than 1,000 records in the crates at AM, Then FM world headquarters, evidence of my lingering cluelessness emerges from time to time. As it has with the news that Paul Revere, the leader of Paul Revere and the Raiders, has died.

Sure, I knew of Paul Revere and the Raiders when I was a kid. I knew all their hits. In the summer of 1971, when I was 14, I bought the 45 to “Indian Reservation.” But I liked the Monkees more.

Today, I have records by the Monkees, but none by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Lingering cluelessness.

So, today, my friends are schooling me when it comes to those underappreciated garage rockers from the Pacific Northwest.

— Larry dropped a solid remembrance of Paul Revere and the Raiders, including a nod to their influence on ’80s kids, over at his Iron Leg blog. It’s a must read.

— Along those lines, Norb says “Just Like Me” was one of the first songs he learned to play on bass from start to finish.

— Steve says Paul Revere and the Raiders might have been “America’s version of The Animals.” He interviewed Revere once, maybe 20 years ago, and remembers being told “Mark Lindsay’s famous ponytail was fake.” He also remembers Revere “probably would have talked all day.”

— Emery reminds me that “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” was done first by Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1966, then by the Monkees later that year.

Sigh.

— Joe dug up a review of a Paul Revere and the Raiders show in Milwaukee from late October 1966. The show — with the Robbs, Keith Allison (who later joined the Raiders), the Standells and the Gilloteens as the opening acts — drew 3,500 to the Milwaukee Auditorium.

“Generally the audience, composed mostly of teen age girls, was very well behaved but the Raiders’ Mark Lindsay’s version of ‘Kicks’ was too much and fans mobbed the stage until ushers escorted them back to their seats.

“After their last number, the Raiders ran to a waiting bus that left the building as soon as they boarded. Even with their quick exit, about a hundred screaming girls mobbed the bus before police could clear a path to W. State St.”

Here’s an interview with Bob Barry, Milwaukee’s most popular DJ, done in 1966 for a Milwaukee TV station. Don’t know whether this was done at the same time as the show.

That show, by the way, was a Dick Clark production. The Robbs, who had moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, were the house band on “Where The Action Is,” also a Dick Clark production. Robbs drummer Craig Krampf remembers the tour as “about 80 one-nighters in a row.” Here’s a look at that 1966 tour.

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

Kind of absurd, but great memories

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Hard to believe that Steve Goodman has been gone 30 years today. Leukemia.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we met at the merch table after a show in Madison, Wisconsin? When he autographed my record to Joe, and not to Jeff? I still smile at that.

No, it’s been 31 years since he opened for fellow folk singer Leo Kottke at the old Madison Civic Center, a show I remember nothing about.

Kinda wondering what people remember of Steve Goodman today.

Probably most know him for the songs he wrote about his beloved Chicago Cubs. If you’ve visited here during the Christmas season, you know his charming live version of “Winter Wonderland” is one of our seasonal faves.

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

I probably was introduced to Steve Goodman’s music in 1976 or 1977 by my friend Pat Houlihan, a folk singer from central Wisconsin who also introduced me to the music of John Prine, who was Goodman’s friend. I liked Goodman and Prine for the same reason. There’s a lot of humor in real life. They saw that, and wrote songs accordingly.

So let’s listen to some Steve Goodman. He wrote or co-wrote all but one song.

stevegoodman high and outside lp

“Men Who Love Women Who Love Men,” an irreverent but perceptive take on sexual identity.

“The One That Got Away,” a duet with Nicolette Larson on a song wistfully remembering life’s missed opportunities.

Both from “High And Outside,” Steve Goodman, 1979. His second-to-last major-label record, on Asylum. Goodman produced it, but the arrangements are almost too lush, too rich for his sometimes-thin voice.

stevegoodman artistic hair

“You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” a country music spoof co-written with John Prine, and a hit for David Allan Coe. Goodman improvised the final verse to include references to Mama, trains, trucks, prison and getting drunk, which Coe thought every great country song needs.

“City Of New Orleans,” which really launched Goodman’s career when it became a hit for Arlo Guthrie in 1972.

Both from “Artistic Hair,” Steve Goodman, 1983. A wonderful collection of live performances from over a 10-year period. I’m generally not big on live records, but this is really the only way to get the essence of Steve Goodman.

stevegoodman affordable art lp

“Souvenirs,” a duet with John Prine on the familiar song written by Prine and first heard on Prine’s second LP, “Diamonds In The Rough,” from 1972.

“Talk Backwards,” a goofy take full of double-speak.

Both from “Affordable Art,” Steve Goodman, 1984. This was the last record released before Goodman’s death. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

Thanks to Clay Eals, Goodman’s biographer, for the 30-year reminder.

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

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Filed under September 2014, Sounds