Tag Archives: 2009

Still looking for that old red guitar

These are not my guitars, but this is my guitar story.

One of the distinctly Wisconsin ways in which we raise money for our school’s music programs is the brat fry.

We usually camp out in front of the grocery store, fire up the grill, plug in the roasters and fill up the coolers, selling burgers and brats and pop to anyone who comes along. If we’re not working at one, we’re having lunch at one.

So it was last month at the music store run by our band director’s husband. After having downed my brat at their brat fry on that blisteringly hot day, I took momentary refuge inside the air-conditioned store, where visitors were encouraged to sign up for raffle prizes. On my way home from a record-digging trip that afternoon, I learned that I had won a nice Yamaha acoustic guitar.

Our son Evan, who has a gift for talking people into giving him guitars, figured my guitar also would be his. After all, his pal Collin loaned him the guitars you see above. (Not seen is the old amp that also came from Collin.)

Well, let’s just say my new guitar is on semi-permanent loan while I continue the search for my old guitar.

Back in the ’60s, my dad brought home an electric guitar that had been damaged in shipping. It had a big crack along the side of the body. The customer didn’t want it, and understandably so. (My dad worked for REA Express, sort of like today’s UPS. If a customer declined a shipment, he could put in a claim for it.)

My guitar was red, with a long whammy bar. Even with that big crack, we had a lot of fun with it. That must have been 1966, maybe 1967, back when some older kids who lived up the alley had a garage band.

I’ve been looking for my old guitar for some time now, wading through Google image searches. After all that research, I’m fairly certain it was a 1964 to 1966 Sears Silvertone, a model that apparently was a favorite of garage band guitarists of modest means. I’m not sure it’s the red one in the picture from the 1966 Sears catalog, but that’s as close as I’ve gotten.

We kept that guitar, crack and all, well into the early ’70s. It had to have been around the house in 1973, because I sussed out and cranked out the chords to “Smoke On The Water” like every other 16-year-old.

One day, though, it went out in the trash.

So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about my old red guitar as Evan noodles on his. Maybe someday I’ll find out exactly what kind of guitar I had.

That’s my guitar story. Here’s another.

“The Guitar,” Guy Clark, from “Somedays The Song Writes You,” 2009.

That’s a song my friend Wally might have liked. Peace, my man.


Filed under August 2012, Sounds

The missing Christmas hits

[REVISED ever so slightly on Dec. 17, 2022]

Fascinating to read in the Milwaukee paper the other day that no Christmas song has been a hit since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.

My pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also took note of that story, which prompted him to ponder the state of Christmas radio then and now.

All that said, there certainly are some Christmas songs that should have hit the charts in the last 17 years. Here are some of them.

“Who Needs Mistletoe,” Julie Roberts, from “Who Needs Mistletoe,” 2011. A country song every bit as filthy as Clarence Carter’s great “Back Door Santa.”

“Oi To The World,” Severe, from the wonderful Punk Rock Advent Calendar, 2009 (gone by 2022). Well, it’s reverent as far as UK punks go.

(Reader “bean” left a comment that The Vandals’ original from 1996 was far superior. As always, you be the judge.)

“We Three Kings,” Blondie, a 2009 holiday release. Always fun to find Debbie Harry under the tree. Always fun to hear Blondie’s classic sound.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Blistering vocals and blistering blues guitar. Move over, fellas.

“Silent Night,” the Blackhearts and special guests, from “A Blackheart Christmas,” 2008. Some sound bites from that year’s presidential race make it a bit of a time capsule. It once had a bit of a valedictory feel. Now it has the feel of opportunities lost.

“Silent Night,” Bootsy Collins, from “Christmas Is 4 Ever,” 2006. A sweet mashup of reverent narration, funk, R&B and gospel.

“Winter (Basse Dance),” Blackmore’s Night, from “Winter Carols,” 2006. If you can get past that Ritchie Blackmore no longer rocks out as he did in Deep Purple and Rainbow and not cede all the elegant guitar work to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you might dig this instrumental.

“Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming),” Melanie Thornton, from “Memories,” a 2003 import comp. This song was used in a Coca-Cola ad after the R&B singer’s death in 2001, but its back story transcends marketing.

“It’s Christmas And I Miss You,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. A gentle ballad reflecting the loneliness the season can bring. It’s co-written by guitarist Don Barnes and our friend Jim Peterik.

“Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP that 25 years later is nowhere to be found on the internet. In which the Little Drummer Boy takes a psychedelic trip.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train),” the Tractors, from “Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas,” 1995. This fine bit of country swing was a modest hit on country radio in in 1995 and again in 1998. After all, it’s just their 1994 hit “Baby Likes To Rock It” retooled with new lyrics for Christmas.

“Soul Christmas,” Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx, from “Christmas Cracker,” 1994. If there were any justice, this scorcher would have been the hit that year.


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.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

In search of Batman

Time to finish a thread started back in May, when I wrote about an unexpected encounter with Jerry Kramer, the former Packers guard whom I admire more as an author than an athlete.

As I said then, I’ve worked in the media for a long time, enjoying the occasional access that comes with it. Meeting people, famous or not, comes with the territory. It’s not that the thrill is gone, but the list of famous people I’d like to meet is pretty short.

Which brings us to Batman.

“Batman” was must-see TV in the mid-’60s. I was in grade school, and role models didn’t get much better than Batman. Back then, Batman was more like Superman — truth, justice and the American way — than the brooding Dark Knight we’ve come to know in the last 25 years.

So, all these years later, I still would like to meet Adam West.

I’d like to thank him for two things. First, for being that role model for a kid from Wisconsin. Second, for being a role model in the years since “Batman,” for showing how to handle career disappointment with grace, and how to embrace it and turn it into an asset.

I could meet Adam West this weekend. He’s appearing at the Comic Con convention in Chicago. But that wouldn’t be much fun. I’m not into autographs, nor into getting my picture taken with celebrities. Which is why West was booked for the show. I get that. It’s just not my thing, and especially not after reading this Chicago Tribune story, which makes certain aspects of those shows a little sad.

So maybe someday I’ll be waiting for a plane with Adam West — as we once did with Robert Urich. Or maybe someday I’ll ride a hotel elevator with Adam West — as we once did with Sam Kinison.

Those encounters also were completely unexpected, completely informal, as it was with Jerry Kramer this spring. That’s way better than forking over admission and queueing up for hours.

And if not Adam West, then … let’s see … Bart Starr or Ringo Starr or Paul McCartney.

“Pleased To Almost Meet You,” Colin Hay, from “American Sunshine,” 2009.

Oh, I’ve met Colin Hay. He’s as gracious and good-natured as his songs suggest.

Who’s on your list?


Filed under August 2010, Sounds

After further reviews

When I started doing this, I hoped only to share my music collection with you, to make some use of all those records I’d bought over 35 or so years, just as if we were sitting together in my rec room.

I never imagined bands and publicists would send me music, hoping I might put in a good word for them. The queries pour into my e-mail, more now than ever. Some of the sharper publicists have figured out we have an older demographic and send music accordingly.

Which brings us to three records sent all the way to our corner of Wisconsin, two of which I am long overdue in mentioning.

“Soul On Ten” by Robben Ford arrived first, at the end of last summer. I didn’t know much about Ford beyond that he was a guitarist, mostly a blues guitarist. He’s also worked in rock and jazz. He’s been at it since 1969, recording since 1972. He’s well regarded among musicians, but has never had a high profile.

“Meet the Meatbats” by Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats arrived next, early last fall. I know Smith as the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more recently the supergroup Chickenfoot, so I was curious to see what kind of a side project this would be.

“Emotion & Commotion” by Jeff Beck arrived last week. I’m most familiar with Beck from the Yardbirds in the ’60s and from the Honeydrippers in the ’80s and less familiar with his vast solo catalog.

What I realized after listening to all three was not at all what I expected.

The records from Robben Ford and Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, though quite different stylistically, are pleasant throwbacks to the free-form FM radio of the early ’70s. Ford’s extended live jams and the Meatbats’ funk-jazz fusion workouts would fit nicely in that format.

“Indianola,” Robben Ford, from “Soul On Ten,” 2009.

Though Ford covers Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Jimmy Reed on the album, which was recorded live at The Independent in San Francisco, most of it is original material like this cut.

“Pig Feet,” Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, from “Meet the Meatbats,” 2009.

The Meatbats are an instrumental quartet with Smith on drums and percussion, Jeff Kollman on guitars, Ed Roth on keyboards and Kevin Chown on bass. All their tunes are originals created in jam sessions.

Chown is from Escanaba, Michigan, just up the road from us. He arranged this tune and brought it to the group, he told Steve Seymour, who writes the fine Michigan-oriented Rock n Roll Graffiti blog.

Also worth noting; The last cut, “Into the Floyd,” which has a nice, gentle “Dark Side of the Moon” vibe.

“There’s No Other Me,” Jeff Beck with Joss Stone, from “Emotion & Commotion,” 2010.

This record has been getting mixed reviews. There’s no denying his remarkable guitar skills, but this one seems to be embraced most passionately by those who have long liked Jeff Beck. That said …

Thank goodness for Joss Stone. Her blistering vocals on two cuts — including Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” — bring some life to a meandering record that also covers Jeff Buckley, Judy Garland and Puccini and winds up sounding like a soundtrack album. Stone wrote this cut with keyboard player Jason Rebello.

When I listened to those first two records last fall, I thought they were just OK. Heard alongside the new Jeff Beck record, they are far more interesting. But as always, you be the judge.

FTC disclosure: We received free copies of each of these records from publicists for review purposes. We promised only to listen. We did not promise, nor were we asked, to play nice.

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Filed under April 2010, Sounds