February was Black History Month, a time to listen to a bunch of my records by Black artists.
March was Women’s History Month, a time to listen a bunch of my records by women artists.
Since then, though, I’ve been seeing someone else.
I have a new diversion as the pandemic drags on. (Get your COVID-19 vaccine shots, please.) I’m back to baseball cards.
Earlier this month, I went to a sports card show. It was pleasant enough, but I think I’ll stick to record shows. Kids rarely go to record shows, so you don’t see dealers condescending to them as they sometimes do at sports card shows. Some record dealers can be hustlers, but not to the degree that sports card dealers can be. Sports cards have become white hot during the pandemic. Some dealers seem like sketchy investment brokers.
My original baseball card collection, gathered from 1968 to the mid-’70s, has thousands of cards in it. All those cards are considered vintage cards these days, just as most of my records are considered vintage records. Some are valuable. They’re not for sale. At least not today.
There are 28 cards in my new collection. I’m not sure there will be a lot more.
Twelve are art cards created by Andrew Woolley, the Michigan artist behind Millburg Trading Cards. It’s fun to have cards that few others have, and good to have cards that support Alzheimer’s and autism awareness.
Ten are what’s known as group cards, with two or more players and headlines that have gone from corny to vintage cool over the decades: “Buc Belters,” “Power Plus,” “Bird Belters,” “Friendly Foes,” “Bird Hill Aces.”
Four feature Dick Allen, one of the all-time baseball badasses and one of my favorite players, including his 1964 rookie card. (Dick Allen belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, by the way.)
The other two also are all-time baseball badasses, George Scott of the Brewers and Dave Parker of the Pirates. (Dave Parker’s new book, “Cobra,” written with Dave Jordan, is excellent. Parker also belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.)
Late last year, my friend Charlie over at the fine Bloggerhythms blog wrote about Dick Allen’s brief music career. He was the lead singer in Rich Allen and The Ebonistics, a Philadelphia doo-wop group. Here’s their single “Echo’s of November” on Groovey Grooves Records, a Philly label, from 1968.
What are we doing New Year’s Eve? Oh, not much. Just sticking close to home, staying socially distanced.
“When the bells all ring and the horns all blow “And the couples that we know are fondly kissing “Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?”
We’re all among this missing this year, making this classic all the more poignant as 2020 finally ends. Maybe next New Year’s Eve.
Written by Frank Loesser in 1947, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” has been described as the only notable jazz standard with a New Year’s Eve theme. This sophisticated tune tempers an unrequited love with some hope. We all could use some hope these days.
It’s great no matter who does it. Let’s go.
It’s the ’60s. You’re in a roadhouse, the one hard by the tracks. You hear this.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” King Curtis, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (Recorded on Oct. 23, 1968, at Atlantic Studios in New York. That’s Duane Allman on guitar.)
Then you head uptown to a nightclub. You hear this …
Last month, I pulled out “Dreams/Answers,” Rare Earth’s debut LP from 1968, and announced on Facebook and Twitter that it was “Now playing.”
“New to me!” Casey said from Kansas.
“Never heard it, but I love Rare Earth,” Mark said from right here in Green Bay.
“NEED!” Vincent said from Maryland.
“I have never seen this or heard it, or heard of it!” Bill said from Missouri.
When I bought “Dreams/Answers” in Madison a couple of years ago, I’d never seen it before, either. One of my record-digging rules is that if I see a record I’ve never seen before, I oughta think about getting it. Glad I did. I’ve never seen “Dreams/Answers” since.
Rare Earth in 1968 consisted of John Parrish (vocals, bass, trombone), Rod Richards (vocal, guitars), Kenny James (organ, piano), Gil Bridges (vocals, sax) and Peter Rivera (vocals, drums). Percussionist Eddie Guzman — a key element of the classic Rare Earth sound — doesn’t join until 1969, after this record.
Bridges and Rivera had been together since 1960, when they formed the Sunliners, an R&B group that played the Detroit club circuit. Parrish joined in 1962 and the others in 1966. The new name came in 1968.
“Dreams/Answers” was produced, arranged and conducted by Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, young guys who also had been working on the Detroit music scene for most of the ’60s, Theodore as a producer and arranger and Coffey as a great session guitarist. They’ve since worked together for decades, including all of Coffey’s great work as a solo artist.
“Dreams/Answers” appears to be the first LP they ever produced, though by 1968 they’d already produced a handful of singles for local labels. As the Theo-Coff Invasion, they released the soundtrackish instrumentals “Lucky Day” and “Nocturnal Flower” on the Dearborn label in 1966.
“Dreams/Answers” isn’t the powerful Rare Earth sound we all know. It wasn’t a hit, either. Those were still to come. No, this is a hodgepodge of styles — pop and prog and psychedelia and R&B and soul — from a group of young guys trying to find their groove.
This record wraps covers of the Supremes, Wilson Pickett, the Temptations and the Coasters around original songs from Theodore and Coffey, and from singer-songwriter Paul Parrish and Detroit guitarist Ron Koss, for whom their writing credits are their first. (Parrish’s 1968 pop-folk-psych LP “The Forest Of My Mind,” also was arranged by Theodore and Coffey.)
So let’s listen to it as Rare Earth intended for it to be heard.
First, though, here’s their original cover of “Get Ready,” from Side 2.
Record digging — the actual physical act of flipping through bins of records — is just one of things you can’t do during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our local record stores closed, then found ways to reinvent their business. The Exclusive Company in Green Bay, one of seven stores statewide, has turned to phone orders and curbside pickup. Rock N Roll Land, an indie, has turned to a Discogs online store, gift certificate sales and something creative and fun.
On Saturday, April 18, which would have been Record Store Day, my friend Todd from RNR Land posted this on Facebook:
“Would anyone be interested in a Record Grab Bag Special today? X amount of Records. Curbside Pickup first come first serve. $20 Cash mystery bag.”
The results were “awesome,” Todd said. Lots of people came out on one of the first really nice spring days in our corner of Wisconsin.
I missed out on that party — found out about it too late — but the results have been so awesome that Todd has continued to offer record grab bags. I stopped by last week to get a couple of them. Grabbed a couple from these crates just inside the front door.
Do I need a couple of bags of records I’d probably never otherwise buy? No. Could my friend’s store use a little help? Yep. That’s what it’s all about.
So let’s dig through the grab bags!
Bag No. 1
How I grabbed it: I saw the last record through the white plastic bag — “24 Groovy Greats.” That can’t be all bad, I figured. It’s not.
How many records in the bag: 13.
Best 3 records: Dean Hightower — “Guitar … Twangy with a Beat” (1959); Frank Sinatra and Friends — “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (1961); “24 Groovy Greats” (1965).
Oldest record: “The Vikings” soundtrack by Mario Nascimbene from 1959.
Newest record: “Plumbline” by Justo Almario from 1987.
Best-looking cover: Jack Davis drew the cover for “Wine, Women & Song” by Ben Colder from 1967. Ben Colder is actually Sheb Wooley, moonlighting.
Found first: The first record in the bag is from 1965, an Everest Records comp of instrumental folk played by Wrecking Crew session guitarists — Glen Campbell, Billy Strange and Tommy Tedesco — plus Roger McGuinn (billed as James McGuinn) and Mason Williams.
“Ramblin’ On” by Roger McGuinn, recorded as James McGuinn in 1963.
“Thirteen Dollar Stella” by Mason Williams. He later re-recorded it for “The Mason Williams Ear Show” LP in 1968 and released it as the flip side to his “Greensleeves” single in 1969.
Fun find: Dean Hightower is actually electric guitarist George Barnes, the jazz swing session legend, moonlighting in the Duane Eddy style popular in 1959. This was a one-off, not even mentioned on Barnes’ Wikipedia page. (I’ll go fix that.) Dig a couple of George Barnes originals!
“Train To Teentown”
Fun facts: One of the records has a price sticker from Plan 9 Records in Richmond or Charlottesville, Virginia. … The next record in the bag has a price sticker from Academy Records in Brooklyn. … The next record in the bag has a price sticker from Steady Sounds, a record store in Richmond, Virginia. … “24 Groovy Greats” features great singles by Little Eva, Tommy James and the Shondells, James Brown, the Dixie Cups, Ramsey Lewis, the Dave Clark Five, Wilbert Harrison, Lee Dorsey, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Barretto, Percy Sledge, Fontella Bass and more! Single edits, of course, but yeah!
Bag No. 2
How I grabbed it: Pretty much at random.
How many records in the bag: 13*.
Best records: “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper” (1968); Iron Butterfly — “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (1968); Roberta Flack — “First Take” (1969).
Oldest record: “Moondreams” by the Norman Petty Trio from 1958.
Newest record: “Body Wishes” by Rod Stewart from 1983.
Best-looking cover: Norman Rockwell painted the cover for “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.”
Covers worth noting: “Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.
“Compared To What” by Roberta Flack.
Fun facts: The Norman Petty Trio song “Moondreams,” is listed as “Moonbeams” on the jacket. It’s not the version on which Buddy Holly sings and plays guitar. All the songs on Side 1 have “moon” in the title. All the songs on Side 2 have “dream” in the title. … There were two Righteous Brothers records in this bag — “Greatest Hits” from 1967 and “Give It To The People” from 1974. … There were two two-record sets in this bag. However, one is missing a record*. We have only half of “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.” … The “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack is the other two-record set. Though “Hearts Against The Wind” is credited to J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt, it’s said to be mostly Souther and Ricky Skaggs duetting. Skaggs also plays mandolin. But, yes, Ronstadt is there, singing some of the harmonies. … The second-to-last record in the bag is a one-sided James Galway classical flute sampler/promo. On the back, it says: “Do not play this side. This is a silent groove to improve the molding of your pressing.”
[Photos courtesy of Todd Magnuson of Rock N Roll Land.]
2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.
4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.