Tag Archives: 1998

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

Red, white and blue revisited

As we did last year, we’re dishing up some music for your Fourth of July party.

We have some red, some white, some blue, the makings for a fine gathering. However, you still won’t find any Greenwood, if you know what I mean.


You’ll need a little something to eat and a little something to wash it down.

“Red Beans,” Marcia Ball, from “Blue House,” 1994.

“Red Red Wine,” Neil Diamond, 1967, from “Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits,” 1968. That’s long out of print, but the song is on “Neil Diamond: The Bang Years, 1966-1968,” released earlier this year.


Then you’ll need to chill.

“Ice Cream Man” and “Back Porch Therapy,” Tony Joe White, from “The Heroines,” 2004. It’s out of print but is available digitally.


Before enjoying a nightcap or two.

“Martini 5-0,” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Sway,” 1998. It’s out of print and apparently not available digitally.

“A Shot of Rhythm and Blues,” Dave Edmunds, from “Subtle As A Flying Mallet,” 1975. Also out of print and not available digitally.

Speaking of shots …

As you the blow the fireworks, be sure to …

“Pop That Thang,” the Isley Brothers, from “Brother, Brother, Brother,” 1972.

And as you reflect on it all …

“People Got To Be Free,” Dionne Warwick, from “Soulful,” 1969. Available on “Soulful Plus,” a 2004 limited-edition release from Rhino Handmade, and digitally.

Yes, people still got to be free, even today.


Filed under July 2011, Sounds

A magnificent seven

In case you were wondering, the music usually presented here has been pre-empted by the Super Bowl. We come to you from Green Bay, Wisconsin, where your correspondent has been a bit busy lately.

This has been a special season in Green Bay, and only partly because of the Green Bay Packers’ run to Super Bowl XLV.

In November, legendary NFL Films composer Sam Spence visited Green Bay for a week, working with music students and conducting a program of his music.

I met Spence — who’s a charming guy — at a reception during that week and again after his Friday night performance. I asked him that dreadful question: “How did it feel?” Spence smiled like a little kid and said “Oh, that was great!”

Spence, much like the Packers and Lambeau Field, is a national treasure.

But did you know that orchestras can’t buy the scores of his NFL Films music? NFL Films owns and publishes the music. When Spence makes an appearance — and he doesn’t make many — he brings them along with NFL Films’ blessings.

So why not bring some Sam Spence to your Super Bowl party?

“Lombardi” (narrated by John Facenda)

“Classic Battle”

“The Final Quest”

“The Equalizer”


“Salute To Courage”

“The Championship Chase”

All composed by Sam Spence, from “The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films,” 1998. There aren’t any session notes for these compositions, but most likely date to the late ’60s or early ’70s.

Play some Sam Spence before the game and you will be stoked for action.

Be sure to get your pregame marching orders from Bart Starr, too.

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Filed under February 2011, Sounds

Distant replays

While Commander Cody was pounding away on the electric piano in the banquet hall the other night, Jerry Kramer sat at a table at the other end of the hall, quietly going about his work.

Some of you know exactly who that is. For the rest of you, Jerry Kramer was the right guard on the Green Bay Packers’ championship teams of the 1960s. He also is the co-author of “Instant Replay,” one of the first tell-it-like-it-is sports books of the time.

I got my copy of “Instant Replay” in 1968 or 1969. It was hugely influential for a kid who loved the Packers and wanted to write. Years later, I enjoyed “Distant Replay,” the where-are-they-now follow-up also written by Kramer and the late Dick Schaap.

So, yeah, Jerry Kramer was sitting over there, taking care of business, signing Packers memorabilia to be sold. Sitting there in Green Bay, a long block from Lambeau Field, yet all but unnoticed by the 200 or so people there to see Commander Cody.

When the show was over, Kramer was still there, wrapping up the night’s work. He was with a couple of other guys, perhaps his partners in this bit of memorabilia business. A couple of people walked over to say hello. I’d never met Jerry Kramer, so I did, too.

We shook hands. I thanked him for writing his books. “Instant Replay” was a big deal when it came out, and he told me about the culture shock of being an NFL player running with the literary giants of the late ’60s. I assured him that he mattered more — at least to a kid from Sheboygan, Wisconsin — than Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer.

That was it. That was plenty. That it was completely unexpected, completely informal, made it that much better.

I’ve been thinking about famous people, and how we relate to them, since a friend posted a remarkable set of photos on his Facebook page. My friend has had a long career with the FM rock station in our hometown. There he is with Richie Sambora, Rick Allen, Donnie Van Zant, Rick Nielsen, Sarah McLachlan, Kevin Cronin, the Thompson Twins … you get the idea.

Both of us have long been in the media, enjoying the occasional access that comes with it. Meeting people, famous or not, is what we do.

I won’t say the thrill is gone, but the list of famous people I’d like to meet — is that a bucket list? — is pretty short. That’s for next time.

Until then, enjoy a chance meeting with …

“The Lineman,” Sam Spence, from “The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films,” 1998. Don’t know when this was recorded, but from the sound of it, I’d say late ’60s.

Listen to the horns. They foreshadow someone on my short list.


Filed under May 2010, Sounds

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