Joe Cocker explained … finally

•July 7, 2008 • 2 Comments

I’ve been waiting for nearly 40 years for someone to explain Joe Cocker to me.  John Belushi did a great interpretation, but what I was looking for was an actual translation. Finally, here it is:

A tip o’ the hat to Ben Witherington


Brushes with greatness

•April 30, 2008 • 3 Comments

Many years ago (maybe 1973 or 4) my good friend Royce and I were in Poplar’s Music Store in Grand Forks, ND killing time before going to a concert later that evening. Poplar’s was one of those great old music stores, like they probably don’t have anymore. They carried everything from sheet music to albums (those 12″ vinyl things, plus a few on open-reel tape) to band instruments to gold-flecked Les Paul guitars. I spent countless hours in that store during my “formative” years, drooling over the Les Paul guitars, but usually only buying an album or two. I can still recall first seeing albums there by bands like The Wailers, Seawind, and Michael Omartian. I remember buying “Who’s Next” there for $3.99 on sale. It’s weird how certain memories come back.

On this particular day, Royce and I were browsing the albums while some apparent near-idiot was trying desperately to tune a 5-string banjo. I mean, he was really trying, for like 15-20 minutes. If you know anything about banjos, you know they’re loud; you just can’t tune a banjo softly, and it’s not usually a pleasing sound. After a while, it was getting really irritating as he tuned, and tuned, and tuned. I remember saying something to Royce about how he should just give up, saying almost loud enough for the wannabe picker to hear. We were standing with our backs to him when all of a sudden he started picking like crazy, something like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

We turned around in shock, just watching his fingers flying all over that thing. Then, we saw the stitching on the back of his denim jacket: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Yes, it was John McEuen of the NGDB, also killing a bit of time before the concert. I should have asked for his autograph, but I didn’t. It was just enough to be there for this little impromptu concert.

The concert itself, of course, was great. It was, I think, in the Armory (where I also saw the Grass Roots), which meant standing only. It was okay, we would have been standing anyway. NGDB put on one of the tightest concerts I’ve seen. This was during their original “hit” lineup, after Uncle Charlie and Will the Circle Be Unbroken but before they did the cover of Battle of New Orleans (which I didn’t even know they had done, frankly). And, McEuen never took a break. After a considerable first set, the rest of the band disappeared behind the stage (apparently to smoke a few) and McEuen played on, to be joined again by the rest of the Band after 15 minutes or so. I don’t recall what ticket prices were (perhaps as much as $5!), but this was a concert well worth the price. I don’t recall any specific songs they played, but I was left with the overall impression that while the rest of the band were decent musicians, John McEuen was in a class by himself.

The NGDB went through a number of lineup changes, with McEuen leaving for a while, and then returning. They went Nashville, and I never really remained a fan… I did like the Circle albums, and of course, Uncle Charlie, which featured songs by Michael Nesmith (of the Monkees), Kenny Loggins (House at Pooh Corner) and Jerry Jeff Walker (Mr. Bojangles). While I love bluegrass and folk, I have never really been able to deal with the whole Nashville vibe. The NGDB’s strength, I think, was not so much in the band themselves (apart from McEuen), but in their choice of music. Like Three Dog Night, they were a good cover band.

Fun Facts

Not many know that John McEuen used to work in a Disneyland Magic Shop with Steve Martin, and they started playing banjo at about the same time. Martin’s manager was Jimmy McEuen, John’s brother, who also manged the NGDB. Martin has appeared at times with the NGDB, and they were the backing band The Toot Uncommons on Martin’s hit, King Tut.

On being driven crazy by a song…

•April 6, 2008 • 4 Comments

Last evening I found myself wandering around a department store, and heard a song playing that I recognized as one of those mid-60’s hits that I hadn’t heard in years. It was not the original version, however, but a fairly nice cover with a little bit of Cher-like voice synthing. I pointed it out to my son, who really didn’t care, but the great thing about having a son is that you can make him listen to your childhood memories, whether he likes them or not.

But, I didn’t know the name of the song, and didn’t know who the original artist was. All I could recall is that I thought one of the lines was “It would be so nice.” This, however, got confused in my mind with the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which I had just been listening to that afternoon (I was in a 60’s pop mood, what can I say…).

I thought the band may have been the Turtles, but more than likely was not. I searched the Turtles greatest hits, and didn’t find anything close. I Googled a few different versions of my snippet of lyrics, to no avail, either.

It was driving my crazy. I woke up this morning with the song playing in my head… I could hear the melody, the harmonies, everything but the lyrics. I could even hear the original vocalist, I just couldn’t place him.

I was still driving me crazy.

Tonite, I went grocery shopping with my wife. On the way home, I was telling her about the song, and how it was driving me nuts. The, for who knows what reason, I thought, “Perhaps it was the Lovin’ Spoonful.” Now, I was never a bit Lovin’ Spoonful fan. I did at one time own one of their albums, that I had bought for 47 cents, or something like that, but couldn’t tell you which one now.

So, when I got home, I Googled “Lovin’ Spoonful greatest hits” and sure enough, the 2nd song on their greatest hits album was “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice.”

Am I good, or what?

It was never a favorite song of mine, but now that it’s driven me crazy, I think it has become one.  The lyrics are fairly cute, and a little bizarre, in a way – kind of like something the Turtles would have done:

You didn’t have to be so nice
I would have liked you anyway
If you had just looked once or twice
And gone upon your quiet way

Today I said the time was right for me to follow you
I knew I’d find you in a day or two
And it’s true

So it doesn’t drive any of you crazy (or perhaps so it can), here it is:

Best classic rock song?

•March 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Scot McNight over at Jesus Creed, has requested that folks post YouTube links to their pick for the best vintage (pre-1975) rock song.  No matter what your taste, your favorite is probably posted there by now. If not, add it to the list.

My vote was for Stairway to Heaven which, as I commented over there, was the song that separated the Christians from the heathens due to its obviously evil lyrics (backwards, of course). Fortunately, I was raised Lutheran, so some would say that distinction was a bit blurred. However, with regard to listening to music, I tend to follow Luther’s advce to “sin boldly.”

For a bit of fun, I ran across a clip showing what Stairway to Heaven would have sounded like had it been done by the the Beatles in around 1964:

And, for those of you who never really were convinced that there weren’t hidden messages in the song, here’s a video played backwards. You decide:

You’re my pride and joy, etc.

•March 12, 2008 • 2 Comments

Elenore, gee I think you’re swell
And you really do me well
You’re my pride and joy, et cetera

These have to be some of my favorite lyrics, of course from the classic song Elenore by The Turtles, also known for Happy Together. The Turtles have to be one of the strangest pop bands of all time, never taking themselves too seriously. Formed in the late 60’s, their radio hits sounded nearly bubble-gum. They started as a folk-rock type of band, covering songs by Bob Dylan, and of all things, Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. There were signs, of course, that there was something not quite ‘normal’ with the band when “how is the weather?” was tossed in the chorus of Happy Together.

Here’s an amazingly clever video of Happy Together:

They didn’t have the steady string of hits like the Grassroots, for example, and perhaps their rather quirky side had something to do with that. Elenore was perhaps my favorite of theirs, a rather tongue in cheek look at romance:

Your looks intoxicate me
Even though your folks hate me
There’s no one like you, Elenore, really

From 1968, here’s Elenore:

Elenore was from an a 1968 album entitled The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands in which each of 12 cuts was done in the style of another contemporary band. The songs were bizarre, to say the least. Food just talked about food, and the chorus slipped in a recipe for marijuana brownies. Surfer Dan was about a surfer who “was so ripped he can’t see you go by.”

They recorded a couple of albums after that, but I don’t think they had another hit to speak of, their final album entitled Wooden Head. After that, the 2 founding members, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, also appearing and recording by themselves as The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie, nicknamed simply “Flo and Eddie,” as they didn’t have the rights to the name “The Turtles.” The later reformed as The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie, and among other things, have written music for children’s TV programs.

Here, to close this post, is a white-board presentation by none other than Flo and Eddie, explaining the business end of having a successful pop group:

In Memory: Larry Norman, 4/8/47 – 2/24/08

•February 25, 2008 • 1 Comment
Larry Norman
Larry Norman in Concert, December 15, 2006

I just heard that Larry Norman passed away yesterday morning at his home in Salem, Oregon of heart failure. He was 60 years old.

I wrote about Larry a little over a year ago, after I saw him in concert (where the photo was taken). He was very appreciative of the review, and posted a nice comment. Rather than blather any more now, I’ll just send you back to that earlier post.

Here’s a video of Larry doing one of my favorites, recorded in 2000:

Silly Love Songs

•February 14, 2008 • 1 Comment

Happy Valentines Day!