Tuesday, October 25, 2016
In his 1971 classic "American Pie" singer-songwriter Don McLean referred to it as "the day the music died- February 3, 1959. On that date, an airplane carrying another singer-songwriter, Buddy Holly, the first Latino rock n roll star Richie Valens and the former disc jockey turned novelty singer J. P. Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper, crashed near Clear Lake Iowa, while traveling to a scheduled concert performance in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Richardson was not originally scheduled to be on the small plane, but asked one of Holly's backup musicians if he could have his seat. Waylon Jennings agreed and went on to have a long, successful career in country music after the crash that could have ended his life.
The concert went on as scheduled in Moorhead and among those filling in was a hastily named group called the Shadows with a 15-year-old singer named Robert Velline. The group's performance was successful and within a year, Velline, rechristened Bobby Vee reached the top 10 on the Billboard charts with his cover of the Clovers' hit "Devil or Angel.'
He followed that up with a song in which he sings remarkably like Buddy Holly, "Rubber Ball," written by Gene Pitney, who also had a string of hits in the '60s.
Among the early members of the Strangers was a piano player who also had a fictitious name, Elston Gunn. Gunn, whose real name was Robert Zimmerman, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this year under the professional name he has used for five decades- Bob Dylan.
Bobby Vee had his first and only number one song in 1961 at age 17 with "Take Good Care of My Baby," written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin..
Vee had a string of hits in the early '60s, including "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," "Run to Him," "Sharing You" and "Please Don't Ask About Barbara," but like many other American singers, he was knocked off the charts in 1964 by the arrival of the Beatles and the British Invasion.
Unlike most of those other singers, Vee, who eventually landed 38 songs on the Billboard charts, bounced back with two hits in 1967, "Come Back When You Grow Up," and "Beautiful People."
Vee continued performing until Alzheimer's Disease was diagnosed five years ago. He died Monday at age 73.
Some of Vee's biggest hits are featured below.
The answer to today's trivia question and I am sure you realized it from reading the post is Bobby Vee.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
During the last few years I was a classroom teacher, during the frequent writing assignments in my class, I allowed students to use their electronic devices and listen to any music they wanted. The students appreciated it and those who did not have their personal music were stuck listening to my music, the kind of music that I write about on this blog.
Not so surprisingly, a number of the students grew to enjoy the music (it's great music, after all) and each year I was surprised by some of the songs the students took to. One year, everyone loved Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, while other years found supporters of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat" Harry Nilsson's "Coconut," and the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black."
Beatles songs always went over well, as did songs by Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys, some Elvis, and anything that had been featured in a movie. That made songs like Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," Neil Diamond's "America," (it must have been featured in a recent movie because I guarantee you these kids did not see "The Jazz Singer") and anything from Harry Belafonte that was featured in Beetlejuice.
On days when we did not have longer writing assignments, the students always began the day with a writing prompt and were given eight to 10 minutes to complete it, or to work on poetry, short stories, or some other form of creative writing. During those times, they were allowed to listen to their devices and I would play four songs, and I often had theme days.
Around Halloween, it might be Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash," Gene Simmons' (not the one from Kiss) "Haunted House,' and Michael Jackson's "Thriller.
Or it might just be spotlighting one artist. I am sure none of my students ever forgot Dave Clark Five day.
One day, a couple of students who just tolerated my music since they got to listen to their own asked me why I kept on listening to songs that were in some cases more than a half century old. I told them that for most people the music you grow up listening to is the music that will remain with you the rest of your life.
"But the music is so lame," one of the students, not having been properly taught tact, told me. I asked the student what musicians she listened to and she mentioned Katy Perry and some rapper whose name slips my mind.
"In 30 years," I told her, "you will still be listening to Katy Perry and your kids will wonder why you listen to that horrible music."
The message got through. I doubt seriously the student ever cared for the songs I played as background music for her writing assignments, but she never mentioned it again.
And that leads into today's trivia question. People have a hard time adjusting when the music they have grown accustomed to listening to begins to change. I remember back in the 1970s, country star Conway Twitty sounded off the to media about his disgust about the changes that country music was going through. He was upset that people he did not consider to be country artists were nominated for country Grammy awards, particularly Olivia Newton-John and Charlie Rich.
When I read that, I wondered if there were some people who thought the same thing about Conway Twitty, who started out as a rock n roll singer with an Elvis sound and then made the jump to country.
And that is what links the four songs in the trivia question. All four feature artists who reached the pop charts, but went on to have greater success in country.
Twitty sang "It's Only Make Believe," while Rich recorded "Lonely Weekends." A talented southern group, the Uniques, featuring lead singer and later country success Joe Stampley was responsible for "Not Too Long Ago," and the Bellamy Brothers did "Let Your Love Flow."
Those songs are featured below, as well as a couple of extras from artists who made the jump from pop to country, but who had greater success in pop- Dickey Lee and Billy Joe Royal, the eerie "Laurie" and the classic "Down in the Boondocks."
Saturday, October 01, 2016
I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where there were always books and magazines, something that helped me develop a love of reading that I have maintained to this day
On my second birthday, I received two of the best presents I have ever received- copies of The Sporting News and Baseball Digest (No, I wasn't some sort of genius; I was born on February 29, so by the time my second birthday rolled around, I was already eight years old).
I eventually had a subscription to the Sporting News, which came every Friday morning in a plain brown wrapper and I took it to school with me and read the stories about my favorite baseball players and practically memorized the statistics and box scores that were featured in each issue.
Since my dad drove a truck for Neosho Nurseries at that time, anytime he went somewhere he brought me back newspapers, so I also developed a love for those. He would bring copies of the Tulsa World, Tulsa Tribune, Daily Oklahoman, and the Kansas City Star. Since we subscribed to the Neosho Daily News, the Joplin Globe, and the weekly Newton County News, my house was always filled with newspapers. For a time, I even paid 15 cents a day to Alan Oxendine for a copy of the afternoon Joplin News-Herald.
My older sister Vicki was also a reader and I always read two of the magazines she bought on a regular basis, Song Hits and Hit Parader I enjoyed the articles about the musicians whose music I listened to every day, but even more than that, I loved the section in the back of both magazines where the lyrics to all of the popular songs were printed
I not only could sing with all of the songs and get the words right, but soon I knew who had written my favorite songs. I was amazed by how many songs were on the radio that were written by songwriting teams like Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
And there were also solo songwriters and in those days one of the biggest was John D Loudermilk Loudermilk had a mildly successful career as a singer, barely king the top 40 with a song called "Language of Love" in 1961 and hitting the top 100 with a handful of songs, but his bread and butter were the songs he wrote for others, including the destination songs mentioned in today's trivia question.
Loudermilk provided Tobacco Road the British group the Nashville Teens in 1964, Abilene to country singer George Hamilton IV in 1962 and his biggest hit, Indian Reservation, originally performed by British singer Don Fardon in 1968, but better known by the number one version by the Raiders (formerly Paul Revere and the Raiders) from 1971. (I always preferred Don Fardon's version.)
Among the other songs written by Loudermilk were Glen Campbell's I Wanna Love, Dick and DeeDee's Thou Shalt Not Steal, Johnny Tillotson's Talk Back Trembling Lips, The Casinos' Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, Sue Thompson's Norman, George Hamilton IV's A Rose and a Baby Ruth, and Stonewall Jackson's Waterloo.
Loudermilk died last week at age 82.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
The social gathering place for the people of Newtonia, Missouri, my hometown, in the 1960s was Gum Mercantile, better known simply as Carroll Gum's store. The building, which once had cars parked in front of it from early morning until about 6:30 or 7 p.m. when Carroll would close the doors, is now rundown, empty, and no one has operated a business in it for years.
But some of my best memories growing up center around Gum's store. In the back of the store, whete old wooden chairs were circled around a television, my friends and I would hang out and occasionally watch a program, though we spent more time outside. On a day in October 1968, we watched as St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers to win game one of the World Series.
After school each day, we stopped for pop, ice cream, or potato chips and to wait for the delivery of the Newton County News. As someone who has loved newspapers since I was little, I regularly spent 15 cents to buy a copy of the Joplin News-Herald from delivery boy Alan Oxendine.
In the summer months, I would sit on the outside steps at Gum's store and wait for the monthly arrival of the Bookmobile, check out my 10 books and often sit and read the first one in front of the store before I went home.
While Carroll worked in his office, his assistant for many years, Vernie Browning, took care of the store and also the post office.
I was in the store with a couple of the Letts brothers one weekday morning when two women were helping another woman catch up on what was happening on their soap operas. They went through Another World and the Guiding Light and then started in on another soap opera.
The third woman was unclear as to which soap opera the others were talking about and asked,"Which show is this?"
"Days of our Lives."
At that point, Vernie Browning, who had not been involved in the conversation, said, "Like sands through the hourglass."
He didn't have to say anything else. For some reason, I thought that was funny and still do. As it turns over Vernie's wife Bert was a devoted follower of Days of Our Lives from the first moment it aired in 1965 and it was on when Vernie went home for lunch at 12:30 each day.
Each episode of Days started with veteran actor McDonald Carey saying, "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." Even though Carey died years ago, his voice can still be heard saying those words every day.
The music that follows the words came courtesy of a couple of young songwriters named Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and they are the common thread that binds together the item in today's trivia question.
Boyce and Hart also provided the title song to the movie, The Ambushers, starring Dean Martin as secret agent Matt Helm, wrote Jay and the Americans' hit "Come a Little Bit Closer," which noted that "she belonged to that bad man Jose," and also wrote the theme song to the Monkees television show, "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees."
In fact, they were the first one to sing those lyrics, performing them in the studio, backed by studio musicians. Later, their voices were removed and replaced by the Monkees.
Boyce and Hart also had hits of their own in the late '60s, including one, "I Wonder What's She Doing Tonight," which cracked the Top 10, climbing to number eight.
For a brief time in the '70s, Boyce and Hart joined former Monkees Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz to perfrom as Davy, Mickey, Boyce and Hart.
Below are the songs mentioned above, and a couple of bonuses, Boyce and Hart's unreleased version of the Monkees theme song and their number 39 hit from 1968, Alice Long.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
The last week of classes at East Newton High School usually did not see much education taking place, at least not in the early 1970s when I was a student there.
It was senior week back in those days and unless a senior had work to complete before graduation, he or she could take the week off.
That made it particularly fun during the last week of the 1972-73 school year when I was a junior at East Newton and was mostly taking classes that were filled with seniors.
Several of the students, mostly juniors, had concocted a plan to avoid not only work, but class. We devised a series of excuses to use on the teachers, with some of us telling a teacher that another teacher wanted us to help with some project in her class and others telling that teacher they were needed in his class.
Then we all met up in the small driver's education room in the corner of the library. That was where some of our more musically inclined students had stashed their guitars planning on having a jam session every hour they could get away with it. Since it was the last week of the school year, not much was going on in the library, so no one was paying any attention and you could barely hear what was going on in the driver's ed room.
My second hour class was sociology taught by Mr. Russell Wilkie. Mr. Wilkie was a nice man, but was always deadly serious and often seemed ill at ease in front of a class. Once a year, he let his "wild side" show, doing a brief, unexpected imitation of Elvis. The time for that imitation had apssed a few weeks earlier, so Mr. Wilkie was back to being all business.
Since there were only three people left in the class that day, including me and Richard Taylor, the young man who later became the leader of our group Natural Disaster, Mr. Wilkie decided it was an excellent time to do some paperwork, make copies,and take care of grades in a front office and when Richard and I asked if we could help another teacher, he gladly gave us permission, and the other person in the room, and after 43 years I can't remember who it was, tagged along with us as we made a beeline toward the driver's ed room.
I didn't play guitar, so I listened as Richard, Bill Lemaster, Raymond Lambert, and others who did played whatever songs came to mind.
After four decades, I can't remember which songs were played that day, except for one. Richard and Raymond were singing Simon and Garfunkel's 1968 song, "The Boxer," and were doing a great job on it, when the door to the driver's ed room flew open and Mr. Wilkie entered.
The music stopped. Mr. Wilkie stood there and we were all envisioning a trip to Principal Don Johnston's office. "Boys," he said, then he paused for what seemed to be minutes, then added, "That sounded pretty good." He clapped his hand, made a dancing motion, and walked out of the room.
We spent most of that day going in and out of the driver's ed room, depending on which teachers we could fool into letting us roam the halls. Looking back, I am almost certain we didn't put anything over on any of them.
The wonderful thing about songs is that they make up the soundtrack of our lives. We always associate certain songs with certain memories. Every time I hear "The Boxer," I remember Mr. Wilkie and that driver's ed room jam session.
(Answer to today's trivia question. Each song is connected in some way to Paul Simon. Simon and Garfunkel hit the charts for the first time in 1957 as Tom and Jerry with the Everly Brothers imitation, "Hey School Girl," reaching number 49. Paul made it back to the charts in 1961, writing "Motorcycle," which barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at 99. Edie Brickell, who sings "Good Times" is Mrs. Paul Simon, while Paul is one of the classic collection of musical giants who combined to make the fundraising hit "We Are the World" in 1985.)
Saturday, September 10, 2016
For anyone who had a television or a radio in the late 1960, it was hard to overlook the Monkees.
The group was formed in a transparent attempt to copy the magic of the Beatles and their movies in a half hour television show. A Hard Day's Night and Help, even including Britsh actor Davy Jones, who had the Beatles moptop look and was the first to be signed for the program.
The names of those who auditioned unsuccessfully for the Monkees are legendary- Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Danny Hutton, later of Three Dog Night, Harry Nilsson, who famously put the lime in the coconut, and singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who wrote the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun."
When the auditioning had been completed, the Monkees consisted of two youngsters who were primarily actors- Jones and former child star Mickey Dolenz, and two with a musical background- Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith.
It didn't take long to figure out how each of the Monkees was pigenholed- Mickey was the goofy one, Peter was the stupid one, Davy was the cute one and Mike, well, Mike was the oddball of the group and often seemed to fade into the background.
He was the one in the stocking cap.
In real life, he was the most interesting of the four.
As a songwriter, in addition to the songs he wrote for the Monkees and for himself, Nesmith wrote the first hit of Linda Ronstadt's long career, "Different Drum," which she did with the Stone Poneys in 1967. He also wrote "Some of Shelly's Blues," which has been a staple of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concerts for years.
After he became the first to leave the Monkees in 1970, his group Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, released three albums that are widely considered to be pioneer entries in the country-rock field, though they were only marginally successful on the charts.
Nesmith turned his talents to making videos in the late 1970s, winning the first ever Grammy for a long form video in 1980 and helping pave the way for MTV (when it was actually playing music videos).
And now for the answer to today's trivia question.
By 1970, Nesmith had been chafing so much at the restrictions that had been placed on him as a member of the Monkees that he bought out the last three years of his contract for $450,000, which left him almost broke.
For the next decade, he struggled, but in the end, it was not his talents in music or in video that improved Nesmith's financial condition, but his inheritance. His mother had the patent on the invention that became known by the brand name of Liquid Paper, something that seems antiquated in today's computer age, but was a lifesaver for secretaries since it kept them from having to completely retype papers or make messy erasures when they made mistakes.
So what do the three songs and Liquid Paper have in common? Mike Nesmith. He wrote Different Drum, sang lead on What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round" , wrote and sang lead on "Joanne," and made millions off Liquid Paper.
Friday, September 09, 2016
One of the joys of growing up in the '60s was the music we heard on the radio and for most of us the station to listen to was WHB, 71 on your AM dial (there was little FM at that time) in Kansas City.
We grew up with Johnny Dolan (rollin' with Dolan) and Phil Jay, Rock Robbins, Gene Woody, Richard Ward Fatherly and the rest of the crew. It provided the background music for our lives during the daytime when the signal was clear and even during the nighttime hours when it faded in and out.
The station even had a local connection. Phil Jay, who last I heard is still running a disc jockey service and doing dances in the Kansas City area, began his career at KQYX 1560 in Joplin.
On Friday afternoons after school, my older sister Vicki and I listened to the 40 Star Survey each week waiting to see which song was number one.
Unlike today, where young people's listening is usually restricted to one type of music, we were exposed to everything. In 1964, for instance, I loved the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the rest of the British invasion, but I also listened to the Motown sounds of the Supremes, the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles with "Smack Dab in the Middle," Elvis and Chuck Berry were still rocking it from the '50s, and a new country supertar named Roger Miller caught everyone off guard with "Dang Me" and "Do Wacka Do."
One of the biggest hits of 1964 was the comeback hit that became the biggest hit of crooner Dean Martin's career, "Everybody Loves Somebody," and another of my favorites was the Detroit doo-wop group the Reflections with their hit, "Just Like Romeo and Juliet."
I came to appreciate all types of music and as today's radio has become more segmented, I miss what we had in the '60s.
WHB was a historic station, being the first to introduce the Top 40 format that kept so many of us listening to our radios. The play list was primarily the top 40 songs of the week, as well an oldie from time to time and introductions to new records.
As the years passed, WHB finally dropped the top 40 format as did most radio stations across the country and eventually became an all-oldies station. In the 90s, it dropped the oldies despite an outcry. The people loved WHB and loved the music, but it had been a long time since they had actually listened to it. The Arbitron ratings were miniscule.
The format changed and eventually WHB even changed its spot on the dial. Instead of 71derful WHB, it swapped places with KCMO and moved to 81 with a sports talk format.
Time moves on. But I can still hear the voices of Johnny Dolan, Phil Jay, and God help me, even Chicken Man (he's everywhere, he's everywhere) in my mind.
And there's not a trace of static.
(The answer to today's trivia question= Each of the songs had been recorded earlier by one or both of the Everly Brothers. Don and Phil released Let it Be Me in 1959 and When Will I Be Loved in 1960 while Phil performed The Air That I Breathe on a solo album in 1973. The man who wrote The Air That I Breathe and who released it first on a 1972 album was Albert Hammond, a singer-songwriter best known for his hit "It Never Rains in California." Videos for those six songs are featured below, as well as my favorite Everly Brothers song, "All I Have to Do Is Dream" from 1958 and a performance of that song by our band Natural Disaster at a benefit at South Middle School in 2008.)