Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Queen of Soul dead at 76- Some thoughts and my most embarrassing Aretha Franklin moment

Aretha Franklin died today, silencing one of the most powerful voices of the past half-century, but thankfully, her voice will live on through her recordings, including those on the accompanying videos.

I recall one afternoon while I was working at the Carthage Press and was returning from making rounds in Jasper. As I drove though Kendricktown, the radio station I was listening to began playing Aretha Franklin's "A Natural Woman," and as I drove into Carthage with the windows rolled down, I pulled up to the stoplight at Central singing at the top of the lungs, "You make me feel like a natural woman."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another car had pulled up beside me and I wonder to this day what the woman, whose window was also down, thought of the lunatic beside her who was singing about feeling like a natural woman.

I sheepishly turned my head, aiming my focus directly in front of me. It seemed like it took forever for that light to turn green.

I was first exposed to Aretha Franklin's music in the late '60s when my cousin, Tony Testerman enlisted in the U. S. Army and gave my older sister Vicki and me his extensive album collection. He had a wide range of musical interests, so by listening to those albums, which I played over and over through the next few months (and still have in my collection), I was able to listen to many songs I had never heard before from the '50s and '60s, as well ax complete albums of everybody from DIana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Elvis Presley and Tom Jones.

That collection also included two Aretha Franklin albums and how could anyone not get into songs like "Respect" and "Chain of Fools?"


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Remembering a Fats Domino song

One of my favorite stories about early rock-n-roll concerns how Ricky Nelson became a rock star.

Reportedly, the teenager, who was already a star thanks to his family's long-running television series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, was on a date and was sitting in the car with his girlfriend listening to rock music.

As an Elvis song was playing, the girl started talking about how good looking Elvis was and how well he could sing. Put on the defensive, Nelson said that he was a rock singer, too, and that he was going to be making a record.

He wasn't, but it distracted the girl, who stopped talking about Elvis. It also put Ricky Nelson on the spot. Now he had to come through with a record. It was not that big of a problem because his father, Ozzie Nelson, had been a bandleader in the '30s and '40s.

The song the Nelsons chose to record was one that had been a bit hit for Fats Domino, reaching number two on the Billboard charts, "I'm Walkin." Ricky Nelson, it turned out, had a good singing voice and a knack for performing rockabilly music. "I'm Walkin' was a top 10 single and over the next eight years, Nelson was a fixture on the charts, reaching number one twice with "Poor Little Fool" and "Travelin' Man", plus songs that have survived the test of time and shown that Nelson was more than just an overindulged teen star, but was, in fact, a much underappreciated musician- including the classic "Hello Mary Lou" and his 1970s comeback song "Garden Party," which is recognized and one of the first songs in the singer-songwriter movement.

Nelson eventually left acting altogether and devoted his life to music, touring for years, including a stop at Missouri Southern State College back in the '80s. He died in an airplane crash in 1986.

I started thinking about that song that Ricky Nelson used to launch his musical career, "I'm Walkin', when I heard about the death of New Orleans musical legend Fats Domino earlier this week at age 89.

Compared to Domino, both Elvis and Ricky Nelson were latecomers to rock n roll. Some historians consider Domino's song "The Fat Man" to be the first rock n roll song and it was released in 1950, six years before Elvis hit it big with "Heartbreak Hotel."

Domino cracked the Billboard charts more often than any performer except Elvis during the 1950s and 1960s (pre-British invasion). He never reached number one, though his songs made the Billboard Hot 100 10 times, including his biggest hit, "Blueberry Hill," which reached number two in 1956. "I'm Walkin," hit number four the following year.

(On a personal note, my old band Natural Disaster performed "I'm Walkin" on a regular basis, choosing it as the song we did at our only local morning television appearance in 2007 on KSN's Hometown Today with Toni Valliere.)

Below are videos of the Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson and Natural Disaster versions of the song, plus a couple of other Fats Domino classics.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Remembering Glen Campbell

Sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, my East Newton High School Class of 1974 classmate Jim Ross, who was living in Iowa at the time, sent me a letter that consisted of only one sentence.

"Did Glen Campbell ever sing with the Beach Boys?"

I sent him an envelope containing a one-word answer- "Yes."

Glen Campbell, who died recently after battling Alzheimer's, became a Beach Boy for a short time when Brian Wilson, who was already beginning to suffer from the mental problems that have plagued him his entire adult life, stopped touring and stayed home to write songs.

Campbell took Wilson's place touring and sang the high notes that were normally sung by Wilson.

Campbell got his start as a session musician with the famed Wrecking Crew that backed up artists ranging from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra and Rick Nelson to the Monkees to Merle Haggard, including performances on the songs that are featured in the videos accompanying this post.

Campbell became a national sensation in the late '60s with his songs Gentle on My Mind, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Galveston, and Wichita Lineman.

He became a television star with a summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers followed by his music-filled Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which lasted for three seasons.

The best part of that show was the instrumental sessions with Campbell, Jerry Reed, and banjo player Larry McNeely, as each of them tried to top the other.

At the same time as Campbell was succeeding in music and television, he also landed a key supporting role in the western movie True Grit, which starred John Wayne in an Oscar-winning performance. Campbell's performance, to be kind, was not Oscar-worthy. Actually, it was terrible.

His guitar-playing companion on the Goodtime Hour, Reed, had a much better movie career, starring in all of the Smokey and the Bandit movies and even acting alongside Robin Williams in a movie and holding his own.

A few years after the Goodtime Hour aired for the last time, Campbell had another string of hit songs, including two songs that reached the number one on the Billboard pop charts, Rhinestone Cowboy and Southern Nights.

And now a few songs that Campbell did session work on and a lesser-known hit of his own

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Songs that make you turn up the volume and the woman who saved Stevie Wonder's career

There are certain songs that make you automatically turn up the volume the minute you hear the first notes.

For me, one of those songs is a Motown hit from 1965, the Isley Brothers' "This Ole Heart of Mine." The woman who wrote the song, Sylvia Moy, died this week at age 78, made substantial contributions to the history of popular music.

Not only was she the first woman writer to hit it big with Motown, but she was responsible for saving the career of a performer who might have been just a footnote in soul music history had it not been for her.

In 1963, a pre-teen sensation named Little Stevie Wonder had a major hit with a semi-novelty song called "Fingertips," but four years later, his voice was changing and Motown owner Berry Gordy, Jr. was considering dropping him from the label.

Sylvia Moy asked Gordy to give Stevie Wonder another chance with a song she had written and "Uptight, Everything's All Right," became a top 10 hit, followed by another one written by Moy, "My Cherie Amour."

Among the other songs she contributed to Motown was "It Takes Two," a top 10 duet to Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston.


One of the most memorable movie lines from the 1990s, "Show me the money," came from Best Supporting Actor winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., from the movie Jerry Maguire.

Twenty-four years before Cuba Gooding, Jr., delivered that line, his father, Cuba Gooding, Jr., was already bringing in the money as the lead singer of the soul group, the Main Ingredient, whose biggest song was "Everybody Plays the Fool."

Cuba Gooding, Sr., died April 20, one week shy of his 73rd birthday.

Back to the original topic. In addition to "My Cherie Amour" and "Everybody Plays the Fool,"  U an including videos from three songs that automatically find me turning up the volume whenever I hear them playing- the aforementioned "This Ole Heart of Mine," Elvis Presley's 1972 hit "Burning Love," and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels' 1965 classic, "Devil With the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly."

What songs make you turn up the radio? Please feel free to comment.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rock legend Chuck Berry dead at 90

One of the most memorable occasions of my younger years came when my cousin Tony Testerman enlisted in the United States Army and gave his record collection to my sister Vicki and me.

The large stack of vinyl albums included numerous collections of '50s and early '60s hits, many of which I was hearing for the first time.

The prize of that collection, without a doubt, was a double album, "The Golden Hits of Chuck Berry."

All I knew of Chuck Berry were his 1964 hits, "You Never Can Tell," "No Particular Place to Go," and "Nadine." I also knew that the WHB disk jockeys always referred to him as legendary, so I knew he must have done something really big in the past.

I had no idea until I started listening to that double album just how good he was. Until then, I only knew of the Beatles versions of "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Rock and Roll Music," Johnny Rivers versions of "Memphis" (which I still prefer),  and "Maybellene," and I had no idea that the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA" and "Fun, Fun, Fun," owed so much to Chuck Berry's earlier works.

I grew to appreciate such songs as "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," though I had no idea at that time of the song's racial connotations, "Johnny B. Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "School Days."

As the years went by and I read more about the pioneers of rock and roll, I discovered that Berry, who was rightly praised for his well-crafted tale of teenage life, was already nearly 30 when he first started having hits in 1955 and that he was one of the first of the black artists to break into the Billboard Top 10.

Ironically, through his string of hits in the '50s and '60s, Berry never had a number one record, though he did reach number two with "Sweet Little Sixteen."

His only number one hit came in 1972, with one of his worst songs, a dirty nursery rhyme called "My Ding-A-Ling." In another bit of irony, "My Ding-A-Ling" kept another '50s legend, Elvis Presley, from recording what should have been his final number one song, "Burning Love." Elvis' best song from his later years stalled at number two behind the Berry ditty.

Though "My Ding-A-Ling" was Berry's last run at the Billboard charts, his songs, rightly regarded as classics, continue to be staples of concerts of rock and country performers. Cover bands have never stopped playing Chuck Berry songs.

The band I was with, Natural Disaster, often opened our performances with "Memphis" and for a time closed them with "No Particular Place to Go."

Berry continued performing right up to age 90, still commanding the stage with his signature guitar riffs and his much-imitated, but never equaled duck walk.

Berry died today at age 90.

Below, you can find just a few of Berry's rock classics:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The day the music died

(Today's trivia question- What singer has a connection to the following musicians- Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Gene Pitney, Carole King, and Bob Dylan?)

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

People always think their type of music is the best (but mine really is)

(Today's Jukebox Oldies trivia question- What do these four songs have in common? "It's Only Make Believe," from 1958,  "Lonely Weekends," from 1960, Not Too Long Ago," from 1965, and "Let Your Love Flow," from 1976?)

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."