Tag Archives: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Stop chasing the ghosts

Greenville show 2016

That really isn’t advice for you, though feel free to take it if so inclined.

It’s a reminder for me to do a better job of thinking through which shows to pop for, and why.

As this summer began, I had tickets for a Joan Jett/Lynyrd Skynyrd double bill at a big outdoor festival in July and a KISS show at the arena across town in August. Sounded great at first. Turned out differently.

I’d seen Joan Jett twice before. Each time, she was the headliner in a small venue. This time, she was the opening act at that outdoor festival. Different vibe. That’s her, somewhere on that tiny stage just to the left of center in the photo above. Those were my sight lines. You get the idea.

Not surprisingly, a crowd getting primed to see Skynyrd is not necessarily one that will warm to Joan Jett’s occasionally LGBTQ-friendly stylings. They roared for the first three songs and the last four songs — all the hits — then listened politely (as Wisconsin crowds are wont to do) to the 10 songs in the middle that they really didn’t know or dig.

Given that, and the realization that this Skynyrd show would not be better than two I’d already seen — Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell were still alive and performing then —  I left after Jett’s show and before Skynyrd took the stage.

A month later, when it turned out that we were leaving for a trip at 4 a.m. on the morning after the KISS show, I started rethinking that one, too.

As with Skynyrd, I came to the realization that this KISS show would not be better than the one I saw 16 years ago, when all four original members were part of the, ahem, KISS Farewell Tour.

So I sold my ticket to a friend, who gave it to another friend, which is the best part of this story. The guy who wound up with the ticket is a huge KISS fan who had never seen KISS. By all accounts, he had a great time at the show. Which is cool. Which makes me feel better about it all.

Maybe it’s just karma. After all, this vaguely lost summer followed a tremendous spring in which we saw Bruce Springsteen, the Smithereens, Martha Davis and the Motels, Pat Benatar, David Lindley, the Alan Parsons Live Project and the James Hunter Six. Save for Benatar and Lindley, we’d never seen any of them.

When I did see Lindley for that second time, he played the one song I wanted to hear. A song he didn’t play the first time we saw him.

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“Mercury Blues,” David Lindley and El Rayo-X, from “El Rayo Live,” 1983. Recorded live at Little Bavaria in Del Mar, California, on Friday, June 18, 1982.

After seeing Lindley in 2013, we eagerly got tickets to see him when he came around again last year. But we wound up moving my dad into assisted living that weekend, and we wound up eating those tickets. Perhaps getting to hear “Mercury Blues” this time was karma, too? Who knows?

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Filed under August 2016, Sounds

Life at 20

To mark its 20th anniversary, Mojo magazine is doing a series of interviews with “20 world-changing musicians looking back on their 20th year.”

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Less grandly put, it’s about what their life was like, what their influences were, when they were 20. It’s sometimes fascinating, sometimes remarkably ordinary. As I read through these pieces, I think back to my 20th year, which also was sometimes fascinating, sometimes remarkably ordinary.

Because my birthday falls on the first day of summer, my school years are neatly defined. My 20th year was my junior year of college. It was a time of great change.

A couple of weeks before I was to leave my Wisconsin hometown, Elvis died.

That was, as I wrote seven years ago, a mild, sun-splashed Tuesday afternoon in 1977, one of those August days that seems to last forever. Especially when you are 20 and trying to wring the most out of every moment left before you leave home, knowing you are leaving home for good.

Then, seven weeks into that junior year, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down.

That was 37 years ago today, Oct. 20, 1977. I’d just picked up their new record. My vinyl copy of “Street Survivors” is the original issue, with the cover showing flames surrounding the band. In the middle, Steve Gaines stands with his eyes closed, enveloped by flames.

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My lingering memory is of how I’d snapped up that record, and of how quickly thereafter the band was silenced.

The loss of Lynyrd Skynyrd was greater than the loss of Elvis. I’d grown up with Skynyrd on the radio and on my stereo. Elvis was old news, old music for old people. (I was 20. I’d learn.)

Thinking back to that year of being 20, sorting through the loss of Lynyrd Skynyrd signaled that maybe this is the way you grow up. You deal with real life, which delivers blows like that. You live in a tiny apartment. There’s not much money, so you scrape by. I vividly remember saving pop bottles, then cashing them in during the last week of the fall semester and getting as many groceries as possible for that $3 or $5 or $7. Whatever it was, it wasn’t much.

Some better news came along during Christmas break. As 1977 turned to 1978, the local paper hired me. That’s another way you grow up. You go to work in your chosen profession and you keep at it for 36 years.

But when you’re 20, the new kid in the newsroom, there’s things going on that you don’t know.

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“Things Goin’ On,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Endangered Species,” 1994. It’s their unplugged record, one I’ve enjoyed for 20 years now. It’s out of print.

This acoustic version is available only on the “Thyrty: 30th Anniversary Collection” CD, and not digitally. The original version was on Skynyrd’s 1973 debut album, “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd.”

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under October 2014, Sounds

Heaven knows

Rob Grill, the lead singer of the Grass Roots for more than 40 years, died quietly earlier this week in Florida. He was 67.

The Grass Roots long ago faded from prominence. Even so, they forged a nice career for themselves, playing across America before tens of thousands of people who remembered those great pop/rock songs of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I was fortunate enough to see Grill and the Grass Roots. It was two years ago, at a free show at one end of the midway at a small county fair. Grill, who battled health problems for years, moved carefully and gingerly on the small stage but was in fine voice.

More than a decade ago, I came to the realization that some of the acts I’d long enjoyed — like the Grass Roots — were not going to tour forever, and that I ought to get out and see them. My friend Meat once called it “a cool midlife crisis.”

I wouldn’t necessarily call it that, but I did make up for lost time, for shows not seen when I was much younger. La, la, la, la, la, la, live for today, you might say.

So today, yeah, it’s nice to be able to say I saw Rob Grill with the Grass Roots, and he was good.

He’s not the only one who’s gone now. I saw Brad Delp with Boston. Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Hughie Thomasson with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Warren Zevon and Steve Goodman and Jeff Healey. I even saw Mel Torme.

“Heaven Knows,” a Top 25 hit for the Grass Roots in 1969, is of course a love song. But in the light of Grill’s passing — and considering those who went before him — it also might express the love between performers and their fans.

With a song in my heart/And a chance to be yours forever
I couldn’t feel more secure/I know I couldn’t feel any better
Oh Lord, heaven knows/How much I love you and how much it shows
Oh Lord, heaven … heaven knows

“Heaven Knows,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. It’s out of print. It’s available on this 2003 import CD and digitally.

It was written by Mike “Harvey” Price and Dan Walsh, the Los Angeles songwriting team that also came up with “Temptation Eyes.”

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Filed under July 2011, Sounds

Back home for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving night, much like Christmas night, once was a time when we’d have our legal limit of the family, flee the house and hit the bars with our friends.

But it was a cruel tease, especially if you were in college. You had a long weekend, then had to head back to campus for to grind it out for roughly three weeks — including finals — before you could return home for Christmas.

You’d come home, disconnected from your hometown, out of the social loop. You’d make a few phone calls — or hope that someone would call you — to try to figure out who was around and what was going on.

This is the first such Thanksgiving weekend for my nephew Jake, who almost certainly has relied on texts and/or Facebook — who makes phone calls anymore? — to try to figure out what’s happening around his hometown.

When Jake drives back to school on Sunday, he’ll take the same road I did in November 1977, after my first Thanksgiving home from college. Our schools are about 25 miles apart.

So, Jake, wanna hear what your old unk was listening to back then?

Ah, didn’t think so. Too bad, man. Gonna cue it up anyway.

“Gettin’ Lucky,” Head East, from “Gettin’ Lucky,” 1977. The LP is out of print but available digitally.

That never happened during Thanksgiving break. Or Christmas break. Or summer break. This tune, written by guitarist Mike Somerville, rather neatly sums up that futility.

Head East was one of those Midwest rock bands we dug at the time.

“I Never Dreamed,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Street Survivors,” 1977.

This laid-back tune about a spurned lover’s remorse comes from a record that got plenty of play at our tiny off-campus apartment that fall. Dig the sweet instrumental intro and outro.

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Filed under November 2010, Sounds

That new adventure

You may know Ernie Harwell. He was the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers for almost 40 years, retiring in 2002. Ernie is 91.

Ernie is dying. He learned this summer that he has cancer of the bile duct.

Ernie is so beloved in Detroit that he had to use his newspaper column to thank everyone who reached out to him after learning of his diagnosis. He’d received 10,000 cards and letters.

On Christmas Day, on the front page of the Detroit Free Press, Ernie wrote:

“This year, I’m not sending [Christmas] cards. Last July, doctors gave me only six months (more or less) to live. That was five months ago. I am still hanging around. But, while getting ready for my new adventure, I’m not dying to send out cards.”

Beautiful.

It wasn’t the first time Ernie had put it that way. When he announced his diagnosis in September, he said:

“Whatever’s in store, I’m ready for a new adventure.”

Beautiful.

For those of us of a certain age, some sports broadcasters — particularly baseball announcers — are part of the family. We’ve spent that much time together.

I’ve been listening to Bob Uecker call the Milwaukee Brewers since I was 13. Bob is still calling the Brewers. He’ll be 75 next month. Nothing lasts forever, so last summer, I listened to more Brewers baseball on the radio than I had in some time, if only to savor Bob’s home-run calls.

When Bob started calling the Brewers in 1971, he worked with another guy who was part of the family. We lost that guy this year.

The smooth Merle Harmon is on his new adventure. So are these folks:

Patrick McGoohan, 80, Jan. 13. I was 11 when they aired “The Prisoner” in the U.S. in 1968. I had no idea what was going on. I still may not.

Ricardo Montalban, 88, Jan. 14. The best “Star Trek” villain ever. That bug-in-the-ear thing still creeps me out.

Billy Powell, 59, Jan. 28. Without the piano player, I think Lynyrd Skynyrd is really gone now.

Martin Lange, 82, Feb. 17. One day in 1958, he took the boss’ idea and ran with it. In just a half-hour, he threw together a couple of 3½-inch radio speakers, some cardboard backing and an old headband and created the prototype for the first Koss Stereophone. I’ve used Koss headphones from Milwaukee forever. I recently wrecked the cord on my old pair, and I found a new, improved pair under the tree on Christmas Day.

Eddie Bo, 79, March 18. A giant in New Orleans R&B. I learned everything I know about Eddie Bo from the music blogs. Thanks, Dan. Thanks, Larry.

Irving R. Levine, 86, March 27. The NBC economics reporter who wore a bow tie. Nice.

Merle Harmon, 82, April 15. Merle read my name on the air during a Brewers broadcast one summer night. I think it was 1974. I’d sent him a fan letter and had forgotten about it until he finally got around to reading it. I was listening on the front porch at my grandparents’ house. A big thrill, even for a high school kid.

Dom DeLuise, 75, May 4. Pals with Dean Martin, then Burt Reynolds. That guy must have had a lot of fun. Great cameo in “Blazing Saddles,” one of my favorite movies.

The Rev. Robert Cornell, 89, May 10. Priest, politician, professor … and rock promoter in our corner of Wisconsin.

Wayman Tisdale, 44, May 15. Good basketball player, good jazz musician. Gone too soon. A tough year for old-school NBA guys. Johnny “Red” Kerr, Norm Van Lier, Chuck Daly and Randy Smith also started new adventures.

Sam Butera, 81, June 3. Can I get some Witnesses? He was the wild sax player behind Louis Prima.

Ed McMahon, 86, June 23 … Farrah Fawcett, 62, June 25 … Michael Jackson, 50, June 25. Man, that was some week. Ed McMahon was another member of the family. Some fathers and sons play catch. My dad and I watched Johnny and Ed. … Do you remember where you were when you heard the news on June 25? … When you remember Michael Jackson, remember the Nicholas Brothers, too.

Walter Cronkite, 92, July 17. To a kid who was 7 when he decided he wanted to go into journalism, it was like going to reporting class every night at 5:30 p.m.

John Hughes, 59, Aug. 6. There are several guilty pleasures among his ’80s films.

Dominick Dunne, 83, Aug. 26. What a second act. Having crashed and burned after one career as a TV and film producer, he became a great crime reporter.

Patrick Swayze, 57, Sept. 14. If only as Bodhi in “Point Break.”

Henry Gibson, 73, Sept. 14. You really had to be there for “Laugh-In.” I wish I would have bought his comic poetry LP — “The Grass Menagerie” — when I came across it while crate digging last year.

Mary Travers, 72, Sept. 16. My dad had a Peter, Paul and Mary record. We listened to it endlessly as kids. Of course, it was the one with “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Marvin Fishman, 84, Oct. 9, and Wesley Pavalon, 76, Dec. 12. They founded the Milwaukee Bucks in 1968 and presided over their great teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Al Martino, 82, Oct. 13. You know him from “The Godfather.” We know him a little differently over at Ray’s Corner.

Vic Mizzy, 93, Oct. 17. If only for the theme from “The Addams Family.”

Michelle Triola Marvin, 76, Oct. 30. I hear this, and I think immediately of Roger Ebert’s great story about a memorable 1970 interview with Lee Marvin. Not mentioned in that Esquire piece, but told later by Ebert: Lee’s dog walks into the room with a pair of panties in its mouth. Michelle says they’re not hers. “Bad dog!” Lee says.

Carl Ballantine, 92, Nov. 3. He was part of the crew on “McHale’s Navy.” His daughter — who was named for a horse tracktells a great story about his last day. “I gotta get out of here,” he said.

Ken Ober, 52, Nov. 15. Much like those old MTV Christmas videos posted here earlier this month, “Remote Control” seems quaint and innocent now.

Brittany Murphy, 32, Dec. 20. She really could sing, too.

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

‘Billy Powell on the piano …’

The news that another member of Lynyrd Skynyrd has died comes as a bit of a surprise, yet as no surprise.

Keyboard player Billy Powell, gone Wednesday at 56. Heart problems.

What caught me about Powell’s passing was that he was 56 — just five years older than I am. I’ve been listening to Skynyrd since high school, and it somehow seems impossible that we should be so close in age. We forget how young Skynyrd was then.

I could go on, but I won’t. Everyone knows Powell’s elegant work on “Free Bird.” There was more.

As Ronnie Van Zant says at the 2:24 mark of our first tune, “Billy Powell on the piano …”

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“Honky Tonk Night Time Man,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Street Survivors,” 1977.

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“Things Goin’ On,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd,” 1973.

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“Whiskey Rock-A-Roller,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “One More From The Road,” 1976. Of all the original Skynyrd tunes, this is the only one co-written by Powell. It originally was the last cut on 1975’s “Nuthin’ Fancy,” but Powell’s piano was lost deep in the mix. It fares better in this live recording.

And once more, at 2:39 of this tune, “Billy Powell on the piano …”

“Call Me The Breeze,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, from “One More From The Road,” 1976. Please forgive the skip just before Ronnie Van Zant’s intro to Powell’s terrific solo, which lasts more than a minute and a half. It originally was the last cut on 1974’s “Second Helping,” but there’s more of Powell on the live track.

One of the great live albums, recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in July 1976.

If you’re wondering what comes next for Lynyrd Skynyrd — which has guitarist Gary Rossington as the only original member left in today’s lineup — this story from the Jacksonville Times-Union explains it.

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Filed under January 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