Song of the Week – Black Cloud, Trapeze

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Trapeze was a ‘70s British blues rock band that was led by Glenn Hughes (lead vocals, guitar), Mel Galley (guitar, primary songwriter), and Dave Holland (drums).  Aside from the success these musicians had together in Trapeze, each burnished their artistic pedigree with other prominent heavy metal bands – Hughes with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Galley with Whitesnake, and Holland with Judas Priest.

To my ear Trapeze sounds more like Free, cousin Bad Company, or maybe Humble Pie, than any of those harder rock bands that the members graduated to.  Take, for instance, today’s SotW – “Black Cloud” — from the second Trapeze album, Medusa (1970).

The song blasts off with a heavy, electric guitar riff, then transitions into the acoustic guitar driven verse.  By the time the chorus comes around the fuzz is back with a cowbell emphasizing every beat.

Hughes delivers an especially soulful performance on “Black Cloud.”  Galley delivers a funky blues rock boogie to drive it.  Drummer Holland holds it all together.  The Trapeze power trio — a very popular format in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s — proves that it could be very powerful and effective.  Though they’re no equivalent to the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream, they can run with Mountain or Grand Funk.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Tell Me All the Things You Do, Fleetwood Mac

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

I recently learned that Danny Kirwan, one time guitarist and songwriter for an early version of Fleetwood Mac, died last June.  I was very surprised that I missed the announcement of that news until now.

Fleetwood Mac has been around since 1967 but many fans are only familiar with the band as it has been constituted since Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975 and released a string of major hit singles and albums including Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk.

But the history of the band is way more complicated than that, having gone through at least 3 or 4 other major phases before the Buckingham/Nicks formation.  You can read a summary on Wikipedia, but he best way to get a comprehensive, thumbnail appreciation of the various personnel combinations of the band is through a copy of Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees.

But back to Kirwan…  He joined the band after they released their second album, as their 18 year old, third guitarist.  (Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer were the other two.)  Kirwan had built a reputation as a guitarist for his ability to play a pure vibrato.

The first single Mac released with Kirwan on it was their signature “Albatross” (UK #1).  Band leader, and guitar hero Green said of Kirwan’s contribution to the recording, “If it wasn’t for Danny, I would never had had a number one hit record.” 

By 1970, Green had left the band, so Kirwan and Spencer soldiered on.  The first release without him was the band’s fourth — Kiln House – that contains today’s SotW, ““Tell Me All the Things You Do.”

“Tell Me…”, a jaunty rocker, showcases Kirwan’s guitar playing and also features him on lead vocal.

Unfortunately, Kirwan’s later life became another sad story of a famous rock star that ended in years of destitution.  In 1993, The Independent reported that he was found sleeping on a park bench and sometimes living in St Mungo’s – a homeless shelter in West London.  He later found his was to a South London care home where he died in his sleep, aged 68, of pneumonia.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Halfwit in Me, Ryley Walker

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Ryley Walker is a Chicago based guitarist and songwriter that is known for his interest in an eclectic mix of musical styles – including folk, rock and jazz.  He developed a finger picking style of playing guitar along the lines of predecessors such as John Fahey and John Martyn.

Today’s SotW is “The Halfwit in Me” from Walker’s third LP Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.

“Halfwit…” is 6 minutes of breezy, guitar-based music that reflects all the influences referenced above.  It harkens back to some of Tim Buckley’s jazzier recordings.  But it doesn’t stay in one place for the entire 6 minutes.  It meanders into some very unexpected places.  The surprises are what infuses it with charm and prevents it from becoming a bore.

Lyrically, the song is full of clever wordplay:

Go on ahead
Build another home
For lean mean eaters
Everything but the bone
Call yourself lucky, we never use the phone

Walker was quoted in MOJO saying “Halfwit…” is “still the coolest song I’ve ever written.”  I agree.  But that doesn’t mean you should stop here.  Go ahead and stream more of his music to delve deeper into the catalog of an important new artist.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Melody, Serge Gainsbourg

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Serge Gainsbourg was a French Renaissance man.  He made his mark in music (singer, composer, pianist, guitarist) and film (screenwriter, director, actor) but he was also a writer, poet and artist.

In the music world, his most renowned work was the 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson.  In seven tracks over about 28 minutes, the album tells the story of a middle-aged man that crashes his car into a 15 year old girl, Melody Nelson, on her bicycle. The accident leads to seduction and an affair.  Eventually Melody meets her demise in a plane crash.

Today’s SotW is the album’s opener, “Melody.”

This is an astounding piece of music.  It combines a rock guitar with a funky bass and an orchestral string arrangement.  Gainsbourg’s vocal is more spoken than sung, like many of Leonard Cohen’s recordings.  The track as a whole is simply mesmerizing.

The link below to a blog post by YellowOnline provides more detail about the album and handy translations of the French lyrics into English.

YellowOnline – Histoire de Melody Nelson

Histoire de Melody Nelson has influenced many other musicians, including Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Portishead and Stereolab.  Beck found inspiration from Histoire… for his own “Paper Tiger” on his breakup album, Sea ChangeHistoire… was also cited by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys as an inspiration for their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – My Pledge of Love, The Joe Jeffrey Group

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today’s SotW is squarely in the category of “restored” songs.

I recently picked up a very large box of 45’s of rock and soul music from the ‘60s, gifted to me by my second cousin Donna.  I had as blast looking through them, organizing them, and playing a few as I went along.

I picked up a 7 incher on the Wand label called “My Pledge of Love” by The Joe Jeffrey Group.  What is this, I thought to myself.  I dropped the needle and recognized it immediately.  I have to admit, I don’t think I ever knew who the artist was, but the song I couldn’t forget!

So I did some research for you and here’s what I found:

The Joe Jeffrey (born Joseph Stafford Jr.) Group was an R&B outfit based in Cleveland, Ohio and took “My Pledge of Love” to #14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.

The song is driven by a relentless rhythm guitar and, of course, Jeffrey’s powerful vocal performance.

Partway through (at about 1:35) Jeffrey starts to riff on the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving,” a song that had hit the charts 5 years earlier, in 1964.  But making a musical reference to a Motown hit could never hurt.

Despite that reference, this song strikes me as more of a rock song than soul number.  The buying public in 1969 must have felt the same way.  “My Pledge of Love” failed place on the Billboard soul chart!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Understand Your Man, Johnny Cash

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

I’m posting today from Newburgh, New York – my hometown – which makes today’s SotW especially appropriate.

When I was a kid, growing up in Newburgh, my dad owned and operated a roller skating rink called the Avalon.  Occasionally the building would be used to promote special events like professional wrestling (I remember Bruno Sammartino, Haystacks Calhoun and Gorilla Monsoon) and concerts.

The most famous person to perform at the Avalon was Johnny Cash.  In my adult life I was able to find references to his gig there on November 13, 1964, but I’ve never been able to find any memorabilia from the event.  I’ve scoured the internet for a poster, a bill or a newspaper ad for the show and always came up empty.  But I recently found these:

It turns out Cash did two shows that night – 7:00 and 9:30. In November ’64, he would have been at the tail end of promoting his I Walk the Line album (released in May 1964) and starting to promote Bitter Tears (October 1964).

One of the songs he must have played would have been “Understand Your Man” which held the #1 spot on the Billboard Country Charts for six weeks in the spring of ‘64.

As you listen to “Understand…” you will undoubtedly hear the resemblance to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”  This should be no surprise.  Cash and Dylan were connected from the earliest days.  They both listened to and respected each other’s music.  They first met at the Gaslight in 1963 and again at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964.

Cash openly admitted morphing “Don’t’ Think Twice…” into “Understand…”  He kept most of the melody, and lyrically turned another one of Dylan’s many put down songs into a Cash styled “my way or the highway” rant.

But the story goes even further.  Dylan’s song is itself a variation of a folk song by Paul Clayton called “Who´s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I´m Gone” from 1960.  If you have any doubt about it listen to the lyrics to Clayton’s recording that contains the lines “T’ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, darlin” and “So I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road/You’re the one that made me travel on.”

And you can take that a step further – Clayton’s recording was an adaptation of a public domain folk song called “Who’s Gonna Buy You Chickens When I’m Gone,”

You can check them out on to decide for yourself if the lineage holds up.

Apparently there is a recording of a medley Cash and Dylan did of their two songs.  I have a bootleg of their session together but it doesn’t include the medley.  Darn!

“Understand Your Man” was the last song Cash ever performed in public, at the Carter Family Fold, Hiltons, VA on July 5, 2003.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Blackbird, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, The Beatles

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

As I write this I’m aware the 50 years ago today, the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios recording The Beatles, better known as the White Album.  Recording of The Beatles would eventually be completed on October 14th and it would be released on November 22, 1968, just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree for millions of adoring fans.

I love the White Album and will probably post about it again before the end of the year.  But I’ll start with today’s observation that it is the Beatles’ animals album.  Well what the hell does that mean?

There are four songs on the album that specifically mention an animal in the title:

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

Martha My Dear was written about Paul’s sheep dog, but does not explicitly mention it in the lyrics.  However, there are several other songs that do mention animals in the lyrics.  “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun…”  “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…”  And several more.  Go find them.

Today’s SotW are the three that were presented all in a row on Side 2.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Onion, Shannon and the Clams

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Shannon and the Clams is a band based out of Oakland, CA that played the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last night.  Next, they’re off to Europe.

The band is shaped around songwriters Shannon Shaw (bass/vocals) and Cody Blanchard (guitar/vocals), and supported by Nate Mahan (drums) and Will Sprott (keyboards), 

Their latest album, Onion, was released last February.  I’ve been listening to it a lot.  If you think you would enjoy a modern take on ‘60s girl group music, you need to check them out.

Onion was partially inspired by the December 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in their hometown that took the lives of 36 people.  This touched the group deeply because the Ghost Ship was a haven for local artists and musicians – and was a place that Shannon and the Clams had performed.

It was hard to decide which cut to feature as today’s SotW, but I settled on the title track.

“Onion” contains all of the elements that make me a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ music.  It’s part Del Shannon, part garage rock (fuzzed guitar), part soul, with a power pop twist.  It straddles the space between the campiness of The Cramps and the oldies covers recorded by Blondie (“Denis Denis” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too”).

The lyrics to “Onion” are simple, but interesting – dealing with the “layers” of personality of those afflicted with mental illness.

Well I’m working on it
Holy shit I avoid so many problems
Holy shit this isn’t it
No one told me I was just an onion
I’m just a kid oh so I thought
Please doc, make it stop
Let me go home
I’ll keep working on it
But I’ll be gone before I peel this old onion

But the music keeps the tragic lyrics from becoming depressing.  You may still want to dance to it.

Onion was produced by the omnipresent Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), at his Nashville headquarters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Love You, People

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

“I Love You” was a great British Invasion influenced song by the San Jose based group, People. This song gets filed in my “restored” category. I heard it on the radio recently and said to myself “Damn, I like that song and haven’t heard it for years!” So I present it to you today.

It was written by Chris White, who was the bass player for The Zombies. In fact, it was originally released by The Zombies in 1965 as the B-side to “Whenever You’re Ready.” Coincidentally, the cover version by People was also intended as the B-side to their single “Somebody Tell Me My Name.” But the DJs, audience and record buyers felt differently about it and pushed the B-side onto the charts.

“I Love You” reached #14 in the US in mid-1968. Wow, 50 years ago!

Larry Norman, often credited as a pioneer in the genre of Christian Rock, was a lead singer in People.

Hopefully you have the reaction as I when you hear this song.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Street Fighting Man, Rolling Stones; Peace Frog, The Doors; Peace Dog, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Did anyone watch the four-part series on CNN called 1968 – The Year that Changed America? It was very good and highlighted the turmoil that gripped the country the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy as well as marches against the Viet Nam War, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention and the civil rights protests by American athletes at the Summer Olympics.

And the strife wasn’t confined within the borders of the US. Events that took place in the summer of ’68 converged in rock music.

“Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones was written about Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political activist, after he marched on the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.

Keith Richards guitar part on “Street Fighting Man” was famously recorded using an acoustic guitar overloaded onto a cassette tape. No electric guitars are on the cut.

It took another 18 months for the Doors to weigh in, but they contributed “Peace Frog” from their Morrison Hotel album.

Wikipedia says the “lyrics were adapted from a couple of Morrison’s poems, one being entitled “Abortion Stories”. Guitarist Robby Krieger has told the story of writing (and then recording) the music for “Peace Frog,” and then working with Morrison to look through his notebooks of poetry until the lyrics came to the song.”

But many listeners interpreted the song as a response to the Chicago Convention protests or to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven for lewd behavior onstage. (He does refer to New Haven in the lyrics.)

I’m all in on the Chicago Convention theory because the first and last verse say:

There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles (She came)
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee (She came)
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago (She came)
Blood on the rise, it’s following me
Think about the break of day
She came and then she drove away
Sunlight in her hair

We could use more of this 50 years later, in 2018!

I don’t really know if The Cult’s “Peace Dog” has anything to do with The Doors recording but the stylistic and title similarities will forever connect these two songs in my mind. So I’ll throw that one in here too, for good measure

Enjoy… until next week.