Song of the Week – She’s Looking Good, Don Bryant

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

In the late ‘60s heyday of Southern soul, there was a recording artist out of Memphis named Don Bryant.  In 1969 he released an album on Willie Mitchell’s Hi label (later the home of ‘70s soul great Al Green) called Precious Soul.

The album didn’t make much noise, even though Bryant was a very good singer.  Perhaps the reason was for lack of originals – the album contained 12 cover versions of songs written by the likes of Isaac Hayes, James Brown, David Porter, Eddie and Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Chris Kenner.

Bryant’s vocals are in the soul shouter style of Wilson Pickett.  That leads me to choose “She’s Looking Good”, a cover that reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 for Pickett, as today’s SotW.

About a year after the release of Precious Soul, Ann Peebles arrived at Hi and captivated the attention of Mitchell.  Bryant’s reaction was to concentrate on songwriting rather than performance.  Along with Peebles (and DJ Bernard Miller), he co-wrote her classic hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”  (That song was ranked at #197 in the recently published list of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.)  Soon after, Bryant and Peebles married.  They are still together after almost 50 years, though Peebles suffered a stroke in 2012 that caused her to give up performing.

In 2017, after 48 years, Bryant was given another shot at performing.  He recorded and released Don’t Give Up on Love for the Eat Possum label.  His next album, You Make Me Feel (2020), earned the 79-year-old Bryant his first Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.

Some things just get better with age!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – At First She Starts, Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

The Watersons was a famous English folk group that originally consisted of siblings Norma, Mike, and Elaine (known as Lal) along with their cousin John Harrison.  Their mid-60s albums received significant critical acclaim.  Their recordings were in the same general genre as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.

This music isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always enjoyed the simplicity of folk songs that tell interesting stories that survive because they are handed down from generation to generation.

In 1996, Lal collaborated with her son, Oliver Knight, to record and release the album Once in a Blue Moon.  Its songs, written by Lal, receive guitar accompaniment from Knight that is a perfect complement to each one’s mood.

My choice for the SotW is the lead track, “At First She Starts.”

In addition to Knight, Charles O’Connor provides fiddle accompaniment.  I interpret the lyrics to be about stage fright, or a singer’s struggle to interpret a song, but I could be wrong.

First she starts and then she’s startled.
I see that light in her eyes
Didn’t you realise you were a bird,
At dawn when you woke with air in your throat.

So far doe-ray-me
Sing to me loudly,
Serenade me,
Mess with the melody.
Light and shade
All my eyes can see.

Oh but you are the phrase at the end of the bar,
a long and high refrain.
Hanging around for the choir to strike sound,
So’s you can holler your joy and your pain.

In a recent Last Night a Record Changed My Life column in MOJO, Cathal Coughlan of the Irish band Microdisney was quoted saying that Once in a Blue Moon reminds him “… how the finest work can exist independent of ornamentation and commercial fanfare.”  That is so true!

Waterson died in 1998 of cancer at age 55, just a couple of years after the release of Once in a Blue Moon.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Aqualung, Jethro Tull

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

A while ago I read a very interesting article titled “My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since.”

My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since

You can follow the link above and read the full story but I’ll provide a thumbnail summary here.

It turns out Burton Silverman had a long and successful career as a well-respected realist artist.  But all that takes a back seat to what he is most famous for – painting the cover to Aqualung.

To add insult to injury, Silverman was paid a flat fee of $1,500 for the three paintings that made up the front and back covers and the gatefold of the album.  (The artwork was also in the background of the lyric sheet insert.)

Silverman’s paintings were inspired by the lyrics to the title cut, “Aqualung.”

Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent
Snot’s running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes

Silverman “decided to place the figurant of Aqualung in a lonely, dank doorway, gripping his shabby coat for warmth and menacingly warding off all comers like a cornered animal.”

The artwork adds a visual dimension to the song and album that enhances how the music is perceived and can’t be separated from the enduring popularity of the record.

From here the story strays into the details of legal considerations due to Silverman’s resentment that he was paid so little for the artwork he created that is now plastered on all sorts of merchandise, earning money for lots of people, but not him!

I was a big fan of Aqualung when it came out 50 years ago.  I first heard it when my brother brought it back from college in May 1971.  I confiscated his copy, never to be returned.  As I think about it, that’s almost a metaphor for the Silverman story.

Enjoy… until next week.

Commander George Frayne Died.

The first rock band I saw play live not in a shopping center parking lot was the Allman Brothers Band, opening up for Mountain. But the first band I went to see many times in many cities all over the country was Commander Cody and HIs Lost Planet Airmen.

I listened to a lot of music in high school (doesn’t everyone?), and I loved the Beatles and Stones and Who. I really got into those excellent Jethro Tull records, though mostly Benefit, Yes, New York Dolls, and that first Jefferson Starship album (I mean Have You Seen the Stars Tonight), but whatever, the point is the records I listened to more than the golden age of the Stones and the dawning of J. Geils (big faves too) were those of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (who I saw open for Jefferson Starship at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium back in ’75).

What I liked about Commander Cody’s band was the way they fit together. Eight players, many instruments, many vocalists. A great guitarist, a rowdy leader, Billy C. Farlow, and most importantly, great songs.

Many of them were covers, most of them kind of obscure, but not always. But the band treated the covers with surprisingly sophisticated respect. Which meant not trying to copy the original, but also not trying to undercut the original with a smirk. List to My Window Faces the South for a bit of pone that is sonically delightful, respectful to the musical setting and yet still keeps it out of the museum. Maybe thank Virginia Creeper, the pedal steel player for that, but I think it’s bigger than that.

Originals like Lost in the Ozone and Seeds and Stems Again Blues (this version with Nicolette Larson on vocals) speak for themselves. They sounded classic the minute they were pressed into vinyl. Which is why they covered Willin’ a few years later, a song of similar majesty but not theirs.

Commander Cody was the center of all this. He got the crew together and with his boisterous pounding piano and over the top vocals on some great novelty sides created hits for a band much more into outre precincts like rockabilly and truck driver songs. Reading his obits reminded me today about how important a force can be. George Frayne was the force that made this band tick, even if it is the collaborative results that are why you should listen to them even today.

Song of the Week – Castles Made of Sand, Jimi Hendrix

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Jimi Hendrix is well known as the GOAT of rock guitarists.  And I don’t disagree with that.  But I will argue that he was much more.  He was a total artist that had insights and sensitivities that he expressed through his lyrics.

One of the best examples is “Castles Made of Sand” from Axis: Bold as Love (1967).

(Sorry, no full Hendrix version on YouTube!)

“Castles…” is one of Hendrix’s most biographical compositions.  Verse 1 describes the turmoil that led to his mother’s and father’s divorce.

Down the street you can hear her scream you’re a disgrace
As she slams the door in his drunken face
And now he stands outside
And all the neighbors start to gossip and drool
He cries oh, girl you must be mad,
What happened to the sweet love you and me had?
Against the door he leans and starts a scene,
And his tears fall and burn the garden green

Verse 2 is about his brother Leon, who was often in and out of foster care and separated from Jimi.  The “little Indian” reference comes from his maternal grandmother who was half Cherokee, making Jimi and his siblings part Native American.

A little Indian brave who before he was ten,
Played war games in the woods with his Indian friends
And he built up a dream that when he grew up
He would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief
Many moons passed and more the dream grew strong until
Tomorrow he would sing his first war song and fight his first battle

But something went wrong, surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night

The familial distress of the first two verses is redeemed in the final verse where a suicidal girl in a wheelchair sees a “golden winged ship” and is inspired to have a change of heart and not go through with it.

There was a young girl, who’s heart was a frown
Cause she was crippled for life,
And she couldn’t speak a sound
And she wished and prayed she could stop living,
So she decided to die
She drew her wheelchair to the edge of the shore
And to her legs she smiled you won’t hurt me no more
But then a sight she’d never seen made her jump and say
Look a golden winged ship is passing my way

And it really didn’t have to stop, it just kept on going…

And so castles made of sand slip into the sea, eventually

The imagery of sandcastles slipping into the sea is an apropos metaphor for the fragility and impermanence of the relationships in Hendrix’s youth.

The music by Hendrix and his band – bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell – perfectly support the sentiments expressed in the lyrics.

So was Hendrix more than just a great guitarist?  I vote yes!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Fadeaway, BoDeans

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

BoDeans formed in 1980 when high school friends Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas decided to get serious about their music and write songs together.  They were initially called Da BoDeans.

By 1985 they had a recording contract and were in the studio recording their debut album with star producer T-Bone Burnett.  Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (1986) took its name for the lyrics to The Rolling Stones “Shattered” and contained the FM radio hit “Fadeaway.”

BoDeans roots-rock sound on this album is simple and slight, but very catchy.  The guitar interplay and vocal harmony overcome the thin, repetitive lyrics to make the song a very enjoyable listen.

Unfortunately, around 2010 things went bad between Neumann and Llanas, with some very ugly allegations of misconduct.  Llanas quit the band and Neumann has continued the band without him.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Let’s Roll, Neil Young; I Can’t See New York, Tori Amos; My City of Ruins, Bruce Springsteen

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Today we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrible terror attack on the United States.  In reaction, many music artists wrote songs about the horrible 9/11 events.

In November 2001, Neil young released “Let’s Roll”, a phrase that was attributed to Todd Beamer, one of the heroes on Flight 93 that crashed in PA.  Todd was heard on a phone uttering the words as he and other passengers took action to take control of the flight to prevent the hijackers from using the plane to crash into its target.

This wasn’t the first time Young quickly released a record in response to a news event.  In 1970, Young wrote “Ohio” after the May 4 shooting of students at Kent State University.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded the song and released it in June 1970.

Tori Amos gave us the haunting “I Can’t See New York.”

Thirteen thousand and holding
In the purring
Of her engines

But I can’t see new York
As I’m, circling down
Through white cloud
Falling out
And I know
His lips are warm
But I can’t seem
To find my way out
My way out I can’t see
Of this hunting ground

Bruce Springsteen devoted an entire album – The Rising (2002) – to songs that addressed the aftermath of events of 9/11 from various perspectives.  This was an ambitious project that only someone with Springsteen’s perception could handle so deftly.  “My City of Ruins” is a hymn in the mold of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

There’s a blood red circle on the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door’s thrown open, I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone
My city of ruins

Now the sweet bells of mercy drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows, the empty streets
While my brother’s down on his knees
My city of ruins

Now there’s tears on the pillow, darling, where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss my soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again
My city’s in ruins

The song’s sadness of the verses change to healing in the final section:

Now with these hands, with these hands
With these hands, with these hands
I pray, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the faith, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for your love, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for your love, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the faith, Lord (with these hands), alright (with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands), come on (with these hands), come on
Come on rise up, come on rise up
Come on rise up, come on rise up

May all we Americans heal together as we mourn on this solemn day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Songs for Sweet Connie Hamzy

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Two weeks ago, Connie Hamzy died.  She was 66.  What band was she in?  Well, she wasn’t in any band – she was a real life “Penny Lane”; a Groupie based in Little Rock, AR, and the “sweet, sweet Connie” made (almost) famous by Grand Funk.

Out on the road for forty days
Last night in Little Rock put me in a haze
Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act
She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact

She also earned a mention in a less well known song about life on the road – “Pleasin’ For Reason” — by The Guess Who.

Order some cash, we’ve got another tour to make
Workin’ so hard, just to pass the time away
Connie my love, our movie was great and so was the taste
It was pleasin’ for reason

And she scored a trifecta, getting name-checked in yet another song, by Cheap Trick!

I had a vision
That was bigger than life
Oh Connie likes nighttime, every night
Connie likes candy, every bite
All day sucker, Connie might
Swallow that thing ’cause she does it right

The enterprising Connie was so determined to become a famous Groupie that she made round, pink stickers that she gave to the bands and roadies.  They read “Call Connie in Little Rock” and included her phone number.  I searched the internet for a picture of one but couldn’t find it.

Connie’s connections to members of The Allman Brothers, The Who, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, Rush, Eagles, KISS, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Fleetwood Mac make her one of the most famous Groupies of all time.

Connie was unapologetic about her lifestyle.  And I’m not here to judge.  But I read comments from many of the people that knew her, published in The Lefsetz Letter, and they were all respectful and mentioned how sweet she was and how well she treated the bands.

She wrote a memoir titled Rock Groupie: Intimate Adventures of ‘Sweet Connie’ that was published in 1995.  She also spent a considerable number of years in a very different occupation… as a substitute teacher in Little Rock!

Enjoy… until next week.