Tag Archives: 1979

The most amazing Rhythm Ace

Russell Smith, first-rate singer, first-rate songwriter, died last week. He was 70.

The Amazing Rhythm Aces got lumped in with the country crowd in the latter half of the ’70s, but their sound — shaped largely by Smith — was a savory Memphis BBQ rub spiced with country, soul, R&B, swing, blues, calypso and rock.

When you dropped one of their records onto the turntable, it was time to kick back, put your feet up and pop open a cold beverage. You couldn’t help but smile at some of their songs and nod knowingly at the rest.

I could go on, but Russell Smith’s warm, laid-back voice and charming songs say so much more. A most pleasant listen, then and now. Enjoy.

The cover of "Stacked Deck," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1975.

Let’s start with “Stacked Deck,” 1975. That was the Aces’ debut, recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis. If all you heard was “Third Rate Romance,” you had no sense of their versatility.

“Third Rate Romance.” The song that started it all. Still a damn fine song.

“The Ella B.” Swamp rock, choogling between Tony Joe White and John Fogerty.

“Who Will The Next Fool Be?” In which the Aces cover Charlie Rich.

“Emma-Jean.” Unrequited love for one of the “lovely lesbian ladies slow-dancing on the parquet floor” next door. Ah, life in the tropics.

“Why Can’t I Be Satisfied.” A bit like Fleetwood Mac at a jazz club, showcasing Barry “Byrd” Burton on guitar and some combination of James Hooker and Billy Earheart on piano and organ.

The cover of "The Amazing Rhythm Aces," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1979.

“The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979, is another of my favorites. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound with the Muscle Shoals Horns.

“Love and Happiness.” Russell Smith’s distinctive voice infuses this Al Green cover. A couple of Memphis guys.

“Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette).” This was my introduction to the Allen Toussaint song first done by Benny Spellman.

“Say You Lied.” She left. Fine harmonies and fine picking by Duncan Cameron.

The cover of "Chock Full of Country Goodness," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1994.

The Aces broke up in 1981, then got back together in 1994, releasing their own material. “Chock Full of Country Goodness” came out in 1998.

“The Rock.” He’s leaving. This one is co-written by Smith and Jim Varsos.

Technical note: I suppose the cool kids would just create a Spotify playlist, but I’m not on that, sorry.

 

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

Coming full circle

We had long ago committed to seeing Cher at the new basketball arena in Milwaukee. But then I saw Joe Jackson also was coming to town. Oooh, we really needed to see that one, too, even if the shows were six days apart, stretching both our concert and travel budgets.

The second show Janet and I ever saw together was Joe Jackson. We were both 22 and sooooo sophisticated then, traveling to Minneapolis to see him at the Guthrie Theater on the last Sunday night of October 1979. That ticket cost $7.50, or about $25.50 in today’s dollars.

We looked forward to our 40-year reunion with Joe Jackson at the always wonderful Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. It was everything we’d hoped for.

It took only three songs for the not-quite-sold-out crowd to get into the spirit of the evening — “Look over there! WHERE?” — the call and response in “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” That was one of the songs we heard 40 years ago.

It was a charming evening, with Joe Jackson enjoying the proceedings despite a bit of a head cold. “Time is a relentless, vicious bastard,” he said good-naturedly to all the old hipsters and cool chicks before tearing into another song.

Fun to see Graham Maby, the bass player then and now. Jackson’s drummer Doug Yowell was a revelation, pounding away like Buddy Rich. Equal parts thunderous and tremendous.

We were delighted that “Look Sharp!” his debut album from 1979, was one of five albums from which Joe Jackson is drawing songs for his Four Decades Tour. So we also got to hear “One More Time” one more time, along with “Sunday Papers” and “Got The Time.”

“Look Sharp!” is one of our favorite records. Janet and I had it in our individual collections long before we ever merged them. Our copies of “Look Sharp!” are among the early pressings — a package that consisted of two 10-inch EPs with a small “Look Sharp!” pin. Mine still has the pin. Janet’s pin is gone, and the picture of Joe Jackson on the flip side of her album has light blue crop marks from where she once used it to illustrate a newspaper review of the album.

Joe Jackson set list, Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, on May 6, 2019

“Alchemy,” “One More Time,” “Is She Really Going Out With Him” “Another World,” “Fabulously Absolute,” “Strange Land,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Real Men,” “Rain,” “Invisible Man,” “It’s Different For Girls,” “Fool,” “Sunday Papers,” “King Of The World,” “You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Til You Know What You Want),” “Ode To Joy,” “I’m The Man.” Encore numbers: “Steppin’ Out,” “Got The Time,” “Alchemy (reprise).”

As for Cher, also an evening well spent.

It started with a scorching 45-minute set by Nile Rodgers and Chic despite being squeezed onto that tiny strip of stage in front of the Cher curtain. Some of their songs: “Le Freak,” “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah),” “Good Times,” “Let’s Dance,” “We Are Family” and “Get Lucky.” You get the idea.

I’ve never been to Vegas, but I imagine Cher’s show is what a Vegas show is like. Dancers! Lights! Stage sets! A loopy, rambling but endearing monologue! Nine costumes over the course of 16 songs!

Coolest part — for me — was “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe” done on a ’60s vintage go-go club set. On the latter, Cher sang to video and audio of Sonny. I’ve seen that work for Queen and the Monkees, and it worked nicely here, too. Also got a flashback from the video boards. I glanced over to see Cher and her dancers framed just as they were on her old TV variety shows.

But I also must report that Cher does not do encores. As “Believe” winds down, she walks to each corner of the stage and waves, and then to center stage and waves. Then she walks off and the lights come up.

Cher set list, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, on May 12, 2019

“Woman’s World,” “Strong Enough,” “Gayatri Mantra,” “All Or Nothing,” “The Beat Goes On,” “I Got You Babe,” “Welcome To Burlesque,” “Waterloo,” “SOS,” “Fernando,” “After All,” “Walking In Memphis,” “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss),” “I Found Someone,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe.”

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Filed under May 2019, Sounds

Kind of absurd, but great memories

goodmanauto.jpg

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

Stevie Nicks? USC Song Girls? Yes!

Crate diggers do it all the time. Whether it’s an LP or a 45, we’re always looking for fillers. Maybe we need a better copy of a record that’s been loved to death.

Or maybe we buy a record for one cut. This is one such record.

I’ve always liked the title track to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” but never owned it until today. I’ve always dug the USC Trojan Marching Band as the backing group.

Lest my pal JB cop all my material for his radio show, I should mention that this record carried a list price of $15.98 when it was released in the fall of 1979. That’s $50 in today’s dollars. Would you pay $50 for a new double LP today?

I picked it up for $2, just so I could have a nice rip of this at long last.

“Tusk,” Fleetwood Mac, from “Tusk,” 1979.

Part of the appeal of “Tusk” is, shall we say, visual.

In that early video, there was the sight of Fleetwood Mac and that USC marching band recording it live at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Oh, yeah, and Stevie Nicks wearing a sun dress and twirling a baton.

The first video comes from the old “Solid Gold” TV show. It features clips from the “Tusk” video along with the USC marching band in the “Solid Gold” studio. Oh, yeah, and the USC Song Girls also are in the studio to dance for no apparent reason. It’s not clear what the “Solid Gold” audience made of all that.

This behind-the scenes video on the making of the song “Tusk” apparently comes from “Fleetwood Mac: Documentary and Live Concert,” a 1980 release which appears to be out of print. It includes this great exchange:

Stevie Nicks: “Who are we to deserve the USC band to play for us?”

Christine McVie, carrying a glass of wine as they walk across the field: “Stevie, don’t be so humble.”

Stevie Nicks: “Oh, no, but I mean, really, that’s a lot of people playing …”

Oh, yeah, and later, more of Stevie Nicks in that sun dress, twirling that baton.

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Filed under May 2012, Sounds

A little magic from NRBQ

NRBQ was, and is, a cult fave. I know. I went underground to see them.

The news that NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino died on Friday night reminded me of those long-ago gigs in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the mid-1980s. WORT, our local indie, free-form radio station, was playing NRBQ in advance of a show. The message, essentially, was “This stuff is OK, but you really ought to see them live.”

So I went down to Headliners, which was a music club built below street level. Situated next to the Church Key, a cramped bar in an old church, Headliners was more spacious. You probably could squeeze 1,000 people into it. NRBQ drew a nice crowd for a college town, but nothing close to capacity.

My lingering memory is not so much NRBQ’s songs, but its loose, joyous, energetic and irreverent stage presence. NRBQ played tunes from all kinds of genres. They also made the audience part of their show, happily fielding requests.

Some 20 years later, NRBQ played on a side stage at a big outdoor festival here in Green Bay. There might have been 20 people in the audience, tops, but we got the same kind of show I saw at Headliners years before. I found the following about that Green Bay show, posted last year on an NRBQ bulletin board. I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s accurate:

“It was an odd gig since no one in the audience seemed to know who NRBQ was. We talked to the guys after the 1st gig and when Terry (Adams) asked where the audience was, we told him that people seemed to be more into the Beatles cover band playing on another stage. Tommy said ‘Well, maybe we should play more Beatles songs!’ The 2nd night, sure enough, they played 3 Beatles covers … and everyone loved them.”

There aren’t a lot of NRBQ records in the racks behind me. They just don’t measure up to the live shows.

Here, though, is one track that captures a little bit of what NRBQ was like on stage. “Time for the box!” means it’s time to pick something from the Magic Box, which sits on stage and is stuffed with fans’ requests for covers.

“North To Alaska,” NRBQ, from “Kick Me Hard,” 1979. It’s out of print, but a 1989 CD release with extra tracks is available digitally. They’re accompanied by the Whole Wheat Horns — trombone player Donn Adams and sax player Keith Spring — on this cut.

This, of course, is a loosey-goosey cover of the old Johnny Horton song. One of those extra digital tracks is a loosey-goosey cover of “Spinning Wheel.”

Photo: Al Anderson, Tom Ardolino, Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato from the back cover of the “At Yankee Stadium” LP from 1978.

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Filed under January 2012, Sounds

A Christmas wish

In addition to peace on Earth, of course.

Some folks wanted to hear this.

“Christmas In The City Of The Angels,” Johnny Mathis, 1979, Columbia 7-inch 1-11158.

I came across this song about 25 years ago. It was part of a Christmas show I taped off the radio. It was released as Columbia 1-11158, with “The Very First Christmas Day” as the flip side. It’s out of print. I can’t find it available anywhere. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums since the early ’60s, this cut apparently never made it to an album.

Have a great Christmas, everyone!

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Filed under December 2011, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 12

We were talking the other night about Christmas presents for our son, who’s 15, a sophomore in high school. At issue was whether we have that one big gift, the one with the wow factor.

I was thinking back to when I was 15, what that one big gift was. It was Christmas 1972. That one big gift was this:

That is a suede leather Converse All-Star basketball shoe, gold with black trim. I, too, was a sophomore the year I got a pair. It was a big deal. I’m not sure my parents fully understood the attraction, but they popped for the $15 — almost $75 in today’s dollars — to get them. I wore them until they wore out, then kept them around for years as something close to sandals.

There are other good memories of that one big gift. The Tickle Bee game, G.I. Joe, the Packers helmet and jersey, and, of course, that Panasonic AM-FM radio.

Now we have one big gift for you. More of our favorite Christmas tunes, the ones without which it wouldn’t be Christmas.

“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 earlier this year.

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

“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.)

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. I bought this record at his show in Madison, Wisconsin, in April of that year. He signed it “Joe — Hello.”

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

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. Pat MacDonald grew up here in Green Bay and has returned. These days, he performs as pat mAcdonald — he insists on that spelling. His gig notices also say “Timbuk3 (no space!) is to be mentioned in a biographical context only.” So there!

“All I want for Christmas is world peace.”

“Merry Christmas Baby (alternate edit),” Elvis Presley, 1971, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print, and pricey if you can find it. It’s my favorite Elvis record, full of his blues tunes. That it’s on blue vinyl is just icing on the cake.

“Wake up, Putt!”

“Twelve Days of Christmas,” Bob and Doug McKenzie, from “Great White North,” 1981.

“OK, so g’day, this is the Christmas part.”

“Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong, from Ode single 66021, released December 1971. Also available on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2-CD best-of compilation released in 2002.

“We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

No great lines, just great tunes

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print with that title, but is available as “Edwin Hawkins Singers Christmas,” with essentially the same cover. This has a great solo by Tramaine Davis.

“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss. An instant party starter.

“Halleujah! It’s Christmas,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. This joyous, upbeat tune — written by guitarists Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey and lead singer Donnie Van Zant — ought to be a classic.

“Feliz Navidad,” Robert Greenidge, from “It’s Christmas, Mon!”, 1995. It’s out of print. Though Greenidge gets no cover billing on this CD, he’s playing the steel pan. He’s been with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band since 1983. Earlier this year, Greenidge and his bandmates released “A Coral Reefer Christmas” on Buffett’s Mailboat Records label. This tune is not on that record.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels,” Johnny Mathis, from Columbia 1-11158, a 7-inch single, 1979. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums, this cut never made it onto one. People ask for it every year. (This cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

Bonus gifts!

Some of our friends have sent along some tunes they thought you’d like.

“Must Have Been A Mighty Day,” Emily Hurd, from “Tins and Pins and Peppermints,” 2010. She’s a singer-songwriter from Chicago by way of Rockford, Ill., where we have a mutual friend. It’s been interesting to listen to her style evolve, moving from loose and gritty to far more poised and polished. This tune has a bit of both styles. She previewed this record for fans last year, then released it this year.

“Cashing In On Christmastime,” Charles Ramsey, 2010. He’s a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who has some other nice, non-holiday stuff on his MySpace page. This genial, laid-back cut reminds me of Bob Dylan or Tom Petty with the Traveling Wilburys.

“Christmas Medley,” the Midwesterners, 2009. A pleasant little instrumental featuring Richard Wiegel, the guitarist in this band out of Madison, Wisconsin. He was one of the guitarists in Clicker, the much-loved ’70s Wisconsin rock/pop/glam/show band we write about from time to time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010