Tag Archives: 1997

Three under the tree, Vol. 40

So I’m out in the car, taking care of a couple of errands.

I’m listening to a Christmas CD that I picked up a couple of weeks ago. It’s from a soul/R&B act that was big in the ’70s. I like this group. But this is dreadful. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a mid- to late ’70s TV special pressed to CD.

So I eject it and flip on the radio. Our local dinosaur hard rock station immediately treats me — if that’s the correct phrase — to two live versions of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” I’m not much for holiday novelty music, and I’ve heard this before, but it’s OK.

The next cut is Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.” So much for the holiday music. But I started thinking … what if Van Halen cut a Christmas record? What would that sound like?

Maybe a little something like this:

“Do You Hear What I Hear,” Steve Stevens, from “Merry Axemas, Volume 2: More Guitars for Christmas,” 1998. On which Billy Idol’s guitarist turns in a lovely, gentle performance in the first 2:42. After that, it turns into a hard-driving bit of jazz/rock fusion. I like the first part of this instrumental just fine; the second part not so much. As always, you be the judge.

(That said, if you have the opportunity to see Stevens play, don’t miss it. He’s terrific. He’s also a fine flamenco guitarist, as he showed when Idol took a break during their show here a couple of years ago.)

Or this:

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” Tomoyasu Hotei, from “Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas,” 1997. The Japanese guitarist and composer teams up with percussionist Junji Ikehata for a spirited instrumental cover of the familiar John Lennon/Yoko Ono song.

Or this:

“Christmas Time Is Here,” Steve Vai, also from “Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas,” 1997. A laid-back instrumental much in the spirit of the original Vince Guaraldi/Lee Mendelson composition you know from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Vai was the executive producer on these all-star guitar compilations, both of which are out of print but available digitally.

Among the other guitarists on these CDs (or, to be honest, the ones I liked enough to rip): Alex Lifeson, Eric Johnson, Jeff Beck, Steve Morse and Ted Nugent. Quite a mixed bag.

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 16

Chuck Berry didn’t write “Run Rudolph Run,” though many think he did.

Rather, it was Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie. Marks, of course, is the gent who wrote the original “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1948.

Berry turned it into a hit in 1958, and the rest is Christmas history. I have nine versions of “Run Rudolph Run.” A little piano here, a few horns there, but the riff remains the same. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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“Run Rudolph Run,” Dave Edmunds, 1982, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. Released as Columbia single 38-03428.

Dave is one of our faves, as regular visitors know. This is a rather traditional rave-up, as you’d expect from DE. The link is to a CD compilation that’s gone out of print. Even so, lots of interesting acts on that CD — NRBQ, Bruce Cockburn, Fishbone and Shawn Colvin among them.

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“Run Run Rudolph,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Christmas Time Again,” 2000.

Skynyrd is another of our faves. This record, though, not so much. This is the only cut I like. There’s some nice roadhouse piano by Billy Powell, with plenty of guitars wrapped around it.

If you’re looking for a Christmas record by a Southern rock band, go with .38 Special’s “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night.” Way better.

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“Run Rudolph Run,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997.

The veteran R&B big band from New England complements some nice guitar work with a big horn chart and some rollicking piano.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 9

I get the feeling you’re getting tired of all that old stuff, that you’d like to hear some tunes you can actually go out and buy.

So we’re gonna head into the weekend with three tunes from a couple of contemporary blues outfits.

We start with Roomful of Blues, a New England-based group that I’ve enjoyed since the early ’80s. I dig a big horn sound, and they certainly deliver on that score. In 1997, they put out “Roomful of Christmas,” and I haven’t heard a better R&B/blues Christmas album since.

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“Christmas Celebration” and “White Christmas,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997.

The first cut is a swinging cover of the tune written by West Coast bluesman Lloyd Glenn. You know “White Christmas,” of course, but this is one of the best versions I’ve heard. It opens with a falsetto vocal, then swings into a sassy New Orleans groove driven by Matt McCabe’s barrelhouse piano.

Our third cut comes from Chicago, where local faves the Mighty Blue Kings put out “The Christmas Album” in 2000. It isn’t as solid as “Roomful of Christmas,” but it has its moments.

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“Christmas Time,” Mighty Blue Kings, from “The Christmas Album,” 2000.

Matt Thompson lays down a solid bass line on this tune written by another West Coast bluesman, Jimmy McCracklin. It’s complemented by some nice Hammond B3 organ from Chris Foreman and — what else? — some big horns. Scott Burns delivers a sizzling alto sax solo halfway through.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

This is how you open a show

When the who’s who of Catholics in our corner of Wisconsin gathered at the cathedral in downtown Green Bay yesterday afternoon, they got a little surprise. They found out their new bishop, David Ricken, is a different breed of cat.

As he started the sermon at his installation ceremony, Ricken thought back to the last time he moved to a new place as bishop. As he drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming, from Colorado, he wondered what the folks there listened to. He flipped the radio dial, going from Mozart to this country classic, written and recorded first by Terry Fell in 1954:

“Truck Drivin’ Man,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers’ Favorites,” 1972. Out of print, even the 1990 CD re-release.

The new bishop did a little more than reminisce. He started singing “Truck Drivin’ Man” at this most formal, traditional and reverent ceremony. It broke the place up.

He wasn’t done, though. He said his move to Green Bay reminded him of another tune.

“Drop Kick Me, Jesus,” Bobby Bare, 1976, originally released on “The Winner and Other Losers” and available on “The Essential Bobby Bare,” a 1997 CD release.

The new bishop sang that, too. It broke the place up again. Appropriate for Green Bay, ya think?

Noting that a song with the lyrics “Drop kick me, Jesus/Through the goal posts of life” carried “a certain profundity,” the new bishop went on to more spiritual matters, of course.

But you’d think those songs — in that setting — will be remembered far longer than anything he had to say after that.

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Filed under August 2008, Sounds

Let’s do the Chicken Dance!

You know da one. No? Well, let someone from Wisconsin show ya da way!

Ya hear da horns, ya hear da accordion, ya bend over, ya start flapping your arms and legs … and, yah, well, it helps to have a few beers in ya.

Here at AM, Then FM, we occasionally do our part to present (and thus preserve) small slices of our regional culture. That would explain all those Packers songs and last summer’s trip to the Pulaski Polka Days festival.

Today we honor the memory of Bob Kames. He’s the Milwaukee organist and music store owner credited with taking a 1950s Swiss song called “Dance Little Bird” or “The Bird Dance” and popularizing it (and polka-izing it) in America as “The Chicken Dance.” He passed away Wednesday. He was 82.

Growing up in central Wisconsin in the mid-’70s, you could not go to a wedding — particularly a Polish or German wedding — and not have polka music. When you had polka music, you always heard, and did, the Chicken Dance. You learn it when you are young, and you do it forever.

Here are the instructions.

Here is the music.

“The Chicken Dance,” Brave Combo, from “Group Dance Epidemic,” 1997. A must for any party.

Here’s where you can find Bob Kames’ version, on a single and on a CD. The latter comes with dance instructions!

But it’s not enough just to hear it. You must see it.

The folks at this wedding clearly have not had enough to drink yet.

Now watch Vince Neil of Motley Crue do the Chicken Dance. Classic.

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Filed under April 2008, Sounds

Tired, but still a champion

Yes, it’s true, as JB mentioned Tuesday, I have been a little busy over the last couple of days because a certain quarterback decided to retire.

Though I watched him practice a few times, watched him play hundreds of times and typed his name thousands of times, I never met Brett Favre.

But I long ago came to regard him as something special, something to be appreciated in the moment because we are not likely to see a player like that again in my lifetime.

Two songs came to mind when the news of Favre’s retirement broke.

One came from a woman who e-mailed me from the Chicago area. Almost distraught, she invoked Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”

The other — lest you think I’m too reverent — popped into my head when I heard Favre say he was worn out mentally: “I’m Tired,” by Madeline Kahn, from the film “Blazing Saddles.” That, of course, is a song about sex.

“I’m tired/Tired of playing the game/Ain’t it a crying shame/I’m so tired/God dammit I’m exhausted.”

“Tired, tired of playing the game/Ain’t it a crying shame/I’m so tired.”

Now that you have that image of Brett Favre as seductive dance hall girl seared into your head, let me offer a real tune for your consideration.

In 1997, in the wake of Green Bay’s victory in Super Bowl XXXI, Packers safety Eugene Robinson produced a rather eclectic urban/soul/R&B EP that turned Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” into “Titletown,” covered McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” and had the Packers’ Reggie White singing “Amazing Grace.”

That EP also featured a slow, smooth, soul- and R&B-tinged version of a familiar sports-rock anthem.

I got the chills when they played Queen’s “We Are The Champions” at Lambeau Field on Christmas Eve 1995, after the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to win their first division title in seemingly forever.

Great as that was, and is, I’ve come to like this version better.

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“We Are The Champions,” Darnel Alexander, David Booker and Tracy Harris, from “(Eugene Robinson Presents) Titletown,” 1997. It’s out of print.

Alexander and Booker were in 2nd Nature, an early-’90s R&B group out of Seattle, where Robinson played for a decade before coming to Green Bay. As for Harris, I don’t know anything about her.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Out of the deep freeze

If you watched Sunday night’s NFC championship game from Lambeau Field, you know it’s been cold here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It’s been below zero at night and we’ve had below-zero wind chills during the day for the better part of a week. By some standards, that’s really cold. By our standards, that’s just a little nippy. We usually have a week like this every winter.

It always reminds me of January 1972, when the temperature dropped out of sight for two weeks. We’d just moved. Welcome to central Wisconsin.

We moved a lot when I was a kid, but this was the first time we’d moved in the middle of a school year. It was our sixth home in 10 years, my sixth school in 10 years. I was 14 and in the ninth grade. I went directly from a junior high school into a high school at semester break.

Moving, for me, was never traumatic. You got used to it, and it often was a bit of an adventure. Yet I felt isolated that January, partly because for the first time we lived out beyond where the sidewalks ended and partly because of the bitterly cold weather.

The only advantage to the extreme cold was that it was clear at night, and I could listen to NBA and ABA games on powerful clear-channel AM stations at night. I’d long done that when we lived along Lake Michigan, and that familiar experience was one of the few comforts in those early days in a new place.

Getting the lay of the land also meant getting to know local radio. In a way, its personalities became my first friends in that new town. My constant companions, especially at night.

That took some getting used to. It was my first exposure to FM radio. The local station, WIFC, was Top 40 through prime time, then free form late at night. The latter occasionally was mind-blowing for someone who’d listened only to Top 40 AM radio before that.

Because I listened so intently to this new style of radio, some songs from early 1972 are seared into my head. Even now, 36 years later, I instantly associate them with that time, with the isolation I felt at that time: Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” and America’s “Horse With No Name.”

Of course, it wasn’t until early March that all four of those songs were together in the Top 40. The bitter cold had passed, but winter lingered, as did the isolation I felt.

There’s another song from that time that I once put in that group. However, I’ve since come to look more favorably upon it. Warmed up to it, you might say.

“We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” by the Addrisi Brothers, was rising in the Top 40 charts in early February 1972. At the time, understandably, I didn’t much care for a song about a lost love and loneliness. But it really is a pretty good song and it’s held up pretty well over the last 36 years.

Boston natives Don and Richard Addrisi were born into show business. Their parents had a trapeze act. They started singing as kids, traveling the country with their parents. The family settled in Los Angeles in 1956 and the boys — still in their teens — started working as a duo.

In 1959, the Addrisi Brothers had a hit with “Cherrystone.” In the ’60s, they started writing songs in addition to performing. They wrote “Never My Love,” a smash for The Association in 1967.

“We’ve Got to Get It On Again” actually was the B side to their first Columbia Records single. The label’s owner, Clive Davis, thought “I Can Count on You” was going to be the hit.

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“We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” the Addrisi Brothers, 1972. Available on “We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” a 1997 compilation CD. (This rip, complete with a skip, is off “20 Rock Super Hits,” a 1973 Columbia House compilation on vinyl.)

The rest of the story: The Addrisi Brothers continued recording, with mixed success, until elder brother Don died of pancreatic cancer in 1984 at age 45. As of the mid-’90s, Richard was still in the business, working as an agent, talent scout and composer in Los Angeles. He’s 66 now, and his MySpace page puts him in Nashville, but doesn’t say much more.

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Filed under January 2008, Sounds