Tag Archives: 1986

Farewell to an old neighbor

While Ken was cutting my hair, they were rocking across the street.

That memory came rushing back when I read that Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, is closing.

You may know Smart Studios as the place where Nirvana recorded some of the “Nevermind” demos, where Garbage recorded its albums. Some of the others who recorded there: Smashing Pumpkins, Everclear and Son Volt. Oh, yeah, and two local legends — drummer Clyde Stubblefield and jazz musician Ben Sidran.

It was (and is) as you see it above — just an old red brick building with no sign.

When I moved to Madison in the early ’80s, I lived two blocks away from that building. Smart Studios started nearby in 1984, then moved to the old red brick building in the late ’80s.

All that time, I went to Ken’s Barber Shop across the street.

Ken’s was a two-chair shop. Ken and his wife Shirley cut hair side by side. They were in their late 30s, early 40s then, about 10 years older than me. Buzz cuts, fades, Mohawks, didn’t matter to Ken. Heads were pretty much all the same. Certainly, the money was all the same.

Ken mentioned one day that “they were bangin’ around” in the old red brick building across the street. Whether that meant the sound of construction or the sound of late-’80s indie bands, he didn’t say.

So, yeah, that was Smart Studios, cloaked in anonymity.

I never knew Butch Vig, who co-founded the place with Steve Marker. At the time, Vig was in Spooner, a band he and three pals started in 1975. Spooner’s pop/rock/roots sound was well known and much loved, especially in college towns across the Midwest.

“Burn It All Down,” Spooner, 1986, From “The Mad Scene,” a 1986 compilation of Madison bands. The liner notes say “Compilation of songs by Butch Vig, Smart Studios, Madison, WI.” This tune also was on “The Fugitive Dance,” Spooner’s last album, released in 1990. Both albums are out of print.

(Also on this comp? A virtual who’s who of Madison bands of the time: The Rousers, Actual Sighs, The White Sisters, Tony Brown Band, Swamp Thing, Paul Black and the Flip Kings, EIEIO, Phil Gnarly and the Tough Guys, The Dans, Honor Among Thieves and Ivory Library.)

The rest of the story?

In the late ’80s, Butch Vig spun off Fire Town, a group with a sound similar to that of Spooner, and it also became regionally popular. In the early ’90s, Vig started working more as a producer and less with Spooner. The group disbanded in 1993. A year later, Garbage came together at Smart Studios, with Vig as the drummer. Now he lives in Los Angeles, still producing, still occasionally working with Garbage but also composing soundtracks.

Dave Benton, who played guitar in Spooner, also ran a record store in Madison. I spent a lot of money at MadCity Music Exchange in the ’80s. Dave sold the store a couple of years ago. Now Dave sells at shows, and I’m again buying records from him.

Ken and Shirley got divorced a few years back.

Ken’s Barber Shop has been gone for several years now, too. The bar next door has taken over the space it once occupied.

Photo: From Flickr, by AccidentalOcelot.


Filed under January 2010, Sounds

Hey Rocky! … Again?

Rocky and Bullwinkle are 50 today.

Yes, it was Nov. 19, 1959, that “Rocky and His Friends” debuted on ABC. It’s one of my faves from way back.

Here are some nice birthday tributes from the newspapers in Milwaukee, Dallas and Santa Rosa, Calif., along with Creative Loafing, an indie weekly. If you somehow need a further reminder of the greatness of Moose and Sqvirrel, go watch over at Hulu.

This also gives me an opportunity to step into the WABAC machine …

… and share the story behind a tune shared here a couple of years ago.

“Hey Rocky!” is a little bit of house music that came out of Chicago in 1986. All kinds of samples from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons are laid over dance beats.

The artist, credited as Boris Badenough, is really Dean Anderson, a Chicago musician and composer (and a fellow Wisconsin native). We exchanged e-mails after he came across that post. Dean tells how “Hey Rocky!” came to be:

“The making of the record was supported (in addition to my fondness for the Moose and Squirrel) by a guy named Larry Sherman, who started Trax Records. He had a major dislike for his main competitor in Chicago, Rocky Jones, who ran arch-rival record label DJ International. Thus the ‘Hey Rocky, hey Rocky/Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.’ All good fun.

“The record actually did really well!  It started off on radio station B96 here in Chicago, and then Dr. Demento added it into rotation on his nationally syndicated show, and other stations picked it up across the country.  At the time, I got a bunch of calls to do interviews for radio stations from San Francisco to New York, and many points in between (like Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida). It was kind of wild, since I made the record as sort of a joke.

“The record label had Frankie Knuckles (big-time DJ) and Marshall Jefferson (big-time house artist at the time) do dance club remixes, and so the record then got exposure in the club scene. It was picked up by London Records in Great Britain, and enjoyed some success on British radio for a while there.  It made it to the Billboard dance charts shortly thereafter, and all told, the label moved many thousands of units.”

Ah, the power of Moose and Sqvirrel. Enjoy it again.

“Hey Rocky!” Boris Badenough (Dean Anderson), 1986, the A side of the Trax Records 12-inch single TX130. The B side is the instrumental version. It’s out of print. Anderson gets the writing credit; Frankie Knuckles gets the mixing credit.

Anderson is still in Chicago, and still at it. He runs Music + Pictures, and explains it this way: “I compose music for television and film. I am also a video editor, having edited music videos for the likes of R. Kelly, Public Enemy, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, De La Soul, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and a whole bunch of bands nobody ever heard as well.”

Nice work, sir.


Filed under November 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 12

It’s snowing outside. It started about 5 p.m. It’s going to snow for about 24 hours. When it’s done, we’ll likely have close to a foot of new snow.


When it snowed like that last December, this is what our street looked like. That, my friends, is a winter wonderland.

And that, my friends, is our theme for the next couple of days.

“Winter Wonderland” was written in 1934, with music by Felix Bernard and lyrics by Richard B. Smith. The story goes that Smith wrote the song after admiring a snow-covered park in his hometown of Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

It was first recorded that year by Richard Himber and his Hotel Carelton Orchestra. Later that year, Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra had a hit with it. It really rocked the charts in 1946, when the Andrews Sisters (backed by Lombardo), Johnny Mercer and Perry Como all had hits with it.

It has since become one of the most familiar holiday tunes, even though it’s more about winter than about Christmas.

The ’80s were a good decade for “Winter Wonderland.” Three of my favorite versions came out then.


“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. Recorded live, he forgets the lyrics, then improvises some unforgettable new lyrics. This otherwise isn’t a Christmas album, but it’s certainly worth getting for live versions of “Elvis Imitators,” “Chicken Cordon Bleus,” “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Call Me By My Name.”


“Winter Wonderland,” Eurythmics, from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1986. These days, this is the most frequently heard version of the song. And why not? Annie Lennox’s voice is terrific, as is the percussion by Dave Stewart and Richard Feldman. Drum machines, to be sure, but entirely appropriate.


“Winter Wonderland,” Alexander O’Neal, from “My Gift To You,” 1988. It’s out of print. Buy it if you ever see it. This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas records. The smooth R&B and soul singer goes with a big band arrangement on this one, recorded at the peak of his U.S. success.

It’s still gonna look like a winter wonderland around these parts on Wednesday, so stop back for more.

One more thing: I’d like to do some all-request posts, but I need your requests! We have some, but there’s room under the tree for more.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Swinging over to Ray’s Corner

We are back at Ray’s Corner, but doing it a little differently tonight.

We usually dig through tunes from my dad’s collection, but tonight’s tune — one of mine — popped up on shuffle play and struck me instantly as one he probably digs.

As our regular readers know, Ray’s Corner is the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

Tonight’s loud music comes from sax great King Curtis, blasting away on a swinging instrumental of a tune done first in 1951 by Frank Sinatra and the Harry James Orchestra.

“Castle Rock” was written by Ervin Drake, Al Sears and Jimmy Shirl. Drake’s web site insists it’s the first rock ‘n’ roll song, with its lyric “I held her tight and rocked around the clock” coming three years before “Rock Around the Clock.” (Good story if true. Most lyric transcriptions say “I held her tight and danced around the clock.”)

Ain’t no lyrics on this version, though.

“Castle Rock,” King Curtis, 1958, from “Atlantic Honkers,” a 1986 compilation that’s out of print. This two-record set also features Joe Morris, Tiny Grimes, Frank Culley, Willis Jackson, Jesse Stone and Arnett Cobb. Everyone shares an LP side except for the King, who gets one to himself.

The liner notes don’t say who’s bashing those mad drums midway through the song. We know only that the King recorded this one in New York on Dec. 3, 1958.

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Filed under September 2008, Sounds

Whole lotta familiarity

One of my regular stops is Flea Market Funk, run by DJ Prestige, one of the great crate diggers of our time. (You ought to make it one of your regular stops, if you haven’t already done so.)

DJ Pres is forever hitting The Spot, that mysterious East Coast open-air flea market, and coming up with remarkable tune after remarkable tune.

Last night, he posted a cover of “Whole Lotta Love” by Collective Consciousness Society, or C.C.S. No matter what you call them, I’d never heard of this British group.

But once I heard the cut, I said … hey, I’ve heard this before. And, no, not by Led Zeppelin, either.

I just about fell over. The arrangement on the C.C.S. cover is almost exactly the same as the one on King Curtis’ cover of “Whole Lotta Love.” What’s more, both covers were recorded in 1970. Why they sound almost alike, I don’t know and can’t say.

DJ Pres says:

“’Whole Lotta Love’ by C.C.S. is right up there with Dennis Coffey and Ike and Tina Turner’s cover versions of the mighty Zep. I think it might even be better IMHO. The flute, which many people may be annoyed by, just furthers this band legitimacy. Their interpretation, often out of time, and a bit odd and Jazzy, is definitely a hit for me.”

He has a whole bunch of detail about the studio musicians backing C.C.S., but I have none about who might be backing King Curtis. All I know is that he’s on tenor sax, recorded in New York on Dec. 14, 1970. Larry over at Funky 16 Corners also wrote about the King’s version a while back, but he didn’t know much more than I do. The comments on Larry’s post also point out the similarity between the two versions.

Grab this, then head over to FMF and grab the C.C.S. cover, then enjoy.

“Whole Lotta Love,” King Curtis, 1970, from “Atlantic Honkers,” a terrific 1986 compilation of R&B sax tunes on the Atlantic label. It’s out of print.


Filed under June 2008, Sounds

Walleye Weekend washout

This weekend was Walleye Weekend in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, about an hour south of where we live. I’d hoped to go down Saturday night to hear a most unlikely double bill of the Grass Roots followed by War.

However, that trip never materialized. My brother needed help moving, so I found myself in another part of the state for most of the day. That, and it rained for most of the day.

It’s the second time I’ve missed the Grass Roots this year. They played a gig at an auditorium in a small town about an hour away in April … on NFL draft weekend. When you work for the web site at the newspaper in Green Bay, no one asks off on NFL draft weekend.

So I can’t tell you what the Grass Roots sound like these days.

They’ve gone through lots of lineup changes since they started in San Francisco in 1965, when a bunch of studio musicians backed up P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, a couple of songwriters who came up with “Where Were You When I Needed You.” These days, the only link to the glory days is lead singer Rob Grill, who is 64 and has been with the group since 1967.

Likewise, I can’t tell you what War sounds like these days.

This group also has seen lots of lineup changes since its start in southern California in 1969. That’s when, after several years of gigging in the L.A. area, first as the Creators and then as Nightshift (backing Deacon Jones, the Los Angeles Rams football star moonlighting as a singer!), it became War, the backing band for British rocker Eric Burdon. He was gone by 1971, and the rest — the multiracial, multiethnic War’s potent mix of rock, funk, soul, jazz and Latin music — is history.

These days, War tours with only one of its original members. Keyboard player and singer Lonnie Jordan is 59 and has been with the band since before it was War. (The four other original, surviving members tour as the Lowrider Band, having lost a lawsuit to Jordan and original producer Jerry Goldstein over use of the name “War.”)

A couple of tunes I would have liked to have heard this weekend …

“Baby Hold On,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. Out of print. Also available on “The Grass Roots’ All-Time Greatest Hits,” an import CD released in 1996.

“The World Is A Ghetto,” War, 1973, from “War Greatest Hits,” 1976. Out of print. Also available on “Grooves and Messages: The Greatest Hits of War,” a 1999 CD compilation that includes eight remixed tracks on a second disc.

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Filed under June 2008, Sounds

The man behind the theme

You may not know his name, but you know his songs. Earle Hagen composed some of the most recognizable instrumentals of the 20th century.

Hagen, who was 88 when he died Monday in California, wrote the themes to these 1960s TV shows, each expressing the essence of the show and its setting in less than a minute:

“The Andy Griffith Show,” 1960-68. Everyone knows this one. Everyone loves this one. Whistle along as you head out to the country.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show,” 1961-66. The sophistication of TV’s early days. Tom over at One Poor Correspondent offers some background on the opening segments that accompanied this tune, all involving Van Dyke navigating that pesky ottoman.

“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” 1964-69. A clever riff on military marches.

“I Spy,” 1965-68. Hagen works gunfire and explosions into the middle of this classic bit of post-007 secret agent music.

“That Girl,” 1966-71. One of Hagen’s best themes, perfectly fitting a young Marlo Thomas’ wide-eyed, innocent romp around late-’60s Manhattan as the show opens.

“The Mod Squad,” 1968-73.

Andrew over at Armagideon Time had this great line about this theme last summer:

“If this tune doesn’t instill an irrational desire to chase a cheap hood down a dirty alleyway (that oddly resembles a studio backlot) full of empty cardboard boxes then there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

I learned Earle Hagen’s name long ago, seeing it almost every night in the credits. My dad loved — and still loves — TV sitcoms, and we watched all those mentioned above.

Hagen also wrote one of the classic jazz instrumentals, “Harlem Nocturne,” while playing the trombone for the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1939.

DJ Little Danny over at Office Naps wrote about this tune in his last post before heading back to school and offered a Latin version of it. (Go get it!)

Here’s the most familiar version of the moody “Harlem Nocturne,” done by the Viscounts in 1959. Don’t know where I got this from, but thanks to whoever put it out there last summer.

(For 41 other versions of “Harlem Nocturne,” check out Clinton’s post over at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog.)

I’ve touched only on the most familiar aspects of Hagen’s career. The Los Angeles Times’ terrific appreciation of Hagen’s work is a must-read.

All of the Hagen TV themes are from “Television’s Greatest Hits” and “Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume II,” which appear to be out of print on CD. Those rips are from my vinyl LPs, released in 1985 and 1986, respectively.


Filed under May 2008, Sounds