Saturday, August 29, 2009

Off Beat - Ballad of Thunder Road

Robert Mitchum a singer? Well, yeah, apparently. And not only did he sing The Ballad of Thunder Road he co-wrote the song and based the music on an old folk-dance tune his mom used to sing to him. The song was the theme to the movie Thunder Road, a 1958 film about a moonshine runner. Mitchum starred in the movie, produced the film, co-wrote the screenplay and reputedly directed much of the film. 1958 was evidently a busy year for Robert Mitchum.

A little rock and roll trivia: The movie inspired Bruce Springsteen's 1975 song Thunder Road and is referenced in 1988's Copperhead Road by Steve Earl.

Mitchum's character - Lucas Doolin - dies in the song, not to mention the movie - a familiar tune storyline of such 50s and 60s hits as Leader of the Pack, Tell Laura I Love Her and Deadman's Curve.


Let me tell the story, I can tell it all
About the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol
His daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load
When his engine roared, they called the highway Thunder Road.

Sometimes into Ashville, sometimes Memphis town
The revenoors chased him but they couldn’t run him down
Each time they thought they had him, his engine would explode
He'd go by like they were standin’ still on Thunder Road.

And there was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road
Thunder was his engine, and white lightning was his load
There was moonshine, moonshine to quench the Devil’s thirst
The law they swore they'd get him, but the Devil got him first.

On the first of April, nineteen fifty-four
A Federal man sent word he’d better make his run no more
He said two hundred agents were coverin’ the state
Whichever road he tried to take, they’d get him sure as fate.

Son, his Daddy told him, make this run your last
The tank is filled with hundred-proof, you’re all tuned up and gassed
Now, don’t take any chances, if you can’t get through
I’d rather have you back again than all that mountain dew.


Roarin’ out of Harlan, revvin’ up his mill
He shot the gap at Cumberland, and screamed by Maynordsville
With T-men on his taillights, roadblocks up ahead
The mountain boy took roads that even Angels feared to tred.

Blazing right through Knoxville, out on Kingston Pike,
Then right outside of Bearden, they made the fatal strike.
He left the road at 90; that’s all there is to say.
The devil got the moonshine and the mountain boy that day.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cry Me A River

I've always loved this guy. His growling shout and retarded-inspired air guitar mannerisms are his trade mark.

In 1969, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band embarked on an American tour. They released an album called With a Little Help From My Friends and played a little music fesitival called Woodstock. The rest, as they say, is history. Cocker's rendition of that Beatles tune is one of the highlights of not only the festival but of all live rock and roll performances.
Shortly after Woodstock, Cocker released Joe Cocker!, toured further and made many television appearances. At the end of the year, tired and burned out he refused to tour any more and dissolved the Grease Band.

But Cocker had to meet contractual obligations whether he wanted to tour or not and so he quickly assembled another group to head out on the road. The outfit was called Mad Dogs And Englishmen and was comprised of 30 musicians, led by pianist Leon Russell.
The tour, and the group, lasted about 4 or 5 months but it spawned, in my estimation, one of the all time greatest live rock albums and rock concert films Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Here's a performance of Cry Me A River...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Need Your Love So Bad

When someone says Fleetwood Mac, one's thoughts immediately go to the killer supergroup of the mid-70s with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. But Mac was a very successful blues band a decade earlier in Britain formed by guitarist Peter Green and his former John Mayall Blues Band mates drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, after whom the band was named.

Mac's self-titled first album was released 1968. They'd release 9 more albums as a blues outfit before the release of their second eponymous release in 1975 after Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood, McVie and McVie's wife Christine who had been the band's organist since 1970.

After dallying with LSD and following bouts of schizophrenia, in 1970 Peter Green left the group he had founded.

In an obviously lip-synced performance, here's Green and a very young looking Fleetwood and Mac performing a Ray Charles-inspired arrangement of Need Your Love So Bad...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Off Beat - Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! That Cigarette

Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! That Cigarette topped the charts for 6 weeks in 1947. Written by Merle Davis it was performed by western swing star Tex Williams and his band Western Caravan.

Tex was a heavy smoker, putting away 2 packs a day. Born in 1917 he died at the age of 68 in 1985 guessed it...cancer. He'd cut back to a pack a day after he learned of his disease.

The most famous version of the song was performed by Tex. Other versions include those by Sammy Davis Jr., Willie Nelson, Phil Harris, Jimmy Dean, Commander Cody and Asleep at the Wheel. Here's a latter-day live performance by Tex Williams...

Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!(That Cigarette)

Now I'm a fellow with a heart of gold
And the ways of a gentleman I've been told
Kind-of-a-guy that wouldn't even harm a flea
But if me and a certain character met
The guy that invented that cigarette
I'd murder that son-of-a gun in the first degree

It ain't cuz I don't smoke 'em myself
and i don't reckon that it'll hinder your health
I smoked 'em all my life and I ain't dead yet
But nicotine slaves are all the same
at a pettin' party or a poker game
Everything gotta stop while they have a cigarette

Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff until you smoke yourself to death.
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
That you hate to make him wait,
But you just gotta have another cigarette.

In a game of chance the other night
Old dame fortune was good and right
The kings and queens they kept on comin' around
Aw, I was hittin' em good and bettin' 'em high
But my bluff didn't work on a certain guy
He kept callin' and layin' his money down

See, he'd raise me then I'd raise him
and I'd say to him buddy ya gotta sink or swim
Finally called me but didn't raise the bet!
--Hmmph! I said Aces Full Pal -- I got you!
He said, "I'll pay up in a minute or two
But right now, i just gotta have another cigarette."

Now the other night I had a date
with the cutest little gal in any state
A high-bred, uptown, fancy little dame
She said she loved me and it seemd to me
That things were sorta like they oughtta be
So hand in hand we strolled down lovers lane

She was a long way from a chunk of ice
And our pettin' party was goin' real nice
And I got an idea I might have been there yet
So I give her a kiss and a little squeeze
Then she said, "Tex, Excuse me Please
But I just gotta have a cigarette."


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hocus Pocus

Thijs van Leer on keyboard and flute and guitarist Jan Akkerman were at the heart of 70s Dutch rock band Focus founded in 1969. Their second album Moving Waves was released in 1971 and made an international hit of the band largely on the strength of the single Hocus Pocus.

Focus would release 6 more albums in the 70s while going through a series of line-up changes. Akkerman, for example, left in 1976. Five more LPs were released between 1985 and 2006 but none ever enjoyed the success of 1971's Moving Waves. Their 1973 live album At The Rainbow does come a close second.

Here's a live performance of Hocus Pocus from 1973. It's got everything: smart guitar riffs, drum and flute solos and...yodelling! I love it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer In The City

Yesterday over on my humour blog I was telling folks about the heatwave we've been experiencing here in the Ottawa region and that we really couldn't complain as it comes on the heels of the rainiest July on record. In classic rock terms, I guess you could say that lately it's been quite the Summer In The City. How's that for a segue?

Summer In The City by the Lovin' Spoonful hit #1 forty-three years ago last week, August 13, 1966. Little known fact: the song was co-written by Mark Sebastien, brother of the Spoonful's John Sebastien. The other members of the group were bassist Steve Boone, vocalist-drummer Joe Butler and Canadian guitarist Zan Yanovsky. Yanovsky and Sebastien were immortalized in Creeque Alley by the Mama's and Papa's owing to the early 60s circles in which they travelled and the groups in which they performed in New York City:

Zally said, "Denny, you know there aren't many
Who can sing a song the way that you do; let's go south.
"Denny said, "Zally, golly, don't you think that I wish
I could play guitar like you.
"Zal, Denny, and Sebastian sat (at the Night Owl)
And after every number they'd pass the hat.

The group had it's foundations in jug band music and came together in 1965. But the Lovin' Spoonful's original line-up had a short life. Yanovsky left in 67 after a drug bust and Sebastien struck out on a solo career in 68. The hit making ceased by 1969. But in 1966 all they were thinking about was Summer In The City...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Off Beat: Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight

Released in the late 50s by skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavour (On The Bedpost Overnight) became a huge hit both at home in the UK and in the States in the early 60s. I remember hearing the song and loving it on the radio in Toronto as a little kid.
I didn't know who Lonnie Donegan was back then. I just thought the song was hilarious. But Donegan racked up 24 Top 30 hits in Britain and was the most popular British recording artist until the Beatles came along. Speaking of which, Donegan influenced many British musical acts of the 60s, including a little skiffle group called The Quarrymen - the precursor to the Beatles. Donegan died at the age of 71 in 2002, while on tour in Britain. Here's a 70s performance of Does Your Chewing Gum...

Friday, August 14, 2009

RIP Les Paul

At the age of 94, Les Paul passed away yesterday. Lester William Polfuss has often been referred to the "father of modern music". He was not only an extraordinary jazz guitarist but a pioneer in the development of the solid-body guitar, not to mention an innovator in the studio, developing such techniques as overdubbing, delays and phasing and multi-track recording.

Paul and his wife Mary Ford, toured and performed for 13 years together until 1962, earning 36 gold records and 11 #1 pop hits. They divorced in 1964, she tired of the hectic pace of touring. In 1952, Gibson began production of the Les Paul Gibson guitar. Here's a Les Paul Custom from 1980.

Guitarists who made the Les Paul their axe of choice include The Who's Pete Townsend, Steve Howe of Yes, jazz great Al Dimeola and Led Zep's Jimmy Page. Eric Clapton was responsible for the guitar's resurgence when he played one in the early sixties.

Paul and Ford were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978 and when Jeff Beck inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 he said, "I've copied more licks from Les Paul than I'd like to admit".
A fairly decent overview of Les Paul's career and a discography can be found here.

Les Paul and then wife Mary Ford demonstrate multi-track recording in this vintage version of How High The Moon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We've Got To Get Ourselves Back To The Garden

There are two significant rock milestones occuring this week. Tomorrow, August 14th is David Crosby's 68th birthday. And then August 15th is the 40th anniversary of the music festival to end all music festivals: Woodstock. How do the two connect? Woodstock was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's second-ever live performance and launched the supergroup on an extraordinary career into the 1970s and beyond.

Crosby, a former member of the Byrds, joined up with the Hollies' Graham Nash and former Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills to create some of the sweetest harmonies I have ever heard. They were joined by Stills' former Springfield cohort Neil Young on an on-and-off basis. This augmented participation actually began at Woodstock as Young sat out the group's acoustic set and refused to be filmed participating in their electric set. They've come together from time to time over the years. Their most recent outing was in 2006 as all 4 toured to support Young's Living With War CD.

Here's CSNY's performance of Blackbird at Woodstock, minus Y.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


In 1969, Canada's Guess Who issued the album Canned Wheat which was a big hit in Canada and contained the ballad These Eyes which made them the first Canadian group to hit the Top 10 in the United States.

Formed in Winnipeg in 1960 under the original moniker The Silvertones, which was later changed to Chad Allen and the Expressions, the group had it's first big hit in 1965 with Shakin All Over. To create the impression they were another British invasion group the record company credited the track as performed by Guess Who? The name stuck, Chad Allen didn't and Burton Cummings replaced him. The rest as they say is history.

From 1967 to 1968, the Guess Who had an opportunity no other Canadian group could hope to match. The CBC ran a teen music show Monday thru Friday called "Let's Go". The Guess Who appeared every Thursday from 5:30-6 p.m. Canadian youngsters were exposed every week to this fabulous group from, of all places, Winnipeg. The CBC publicity shot above shows the group prior to Chad Allen's departure. Rounding out the group are co-lead singer Burton Cummings behind the organ, Randy Bachman on guitar, bassist Jim Kale and drummer Garry Peterson.

They were a fantastic cover band but Cummings and Randy Bachman quickly became the Lennon/McCartney of Canadian rock writing and performing hit after hit. Here's a latter day performance of another Canned Wheat track - Undun - apparently Randy Bachman's favourite Guess Who song and originally released as the "B" side to Laughing.

Oh, yeah, today is bassist Jim Kale's birthday! Happy birthday, Jim.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Off Beat: Witch Doctor

In 1958, the novelty song Witch Doctor hit #1 in America. The song was written and performed by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. - better known as David Seville.

Witch Doctor was the first occasion that Seville experimented with tape speeds in the recording studio. His most successful use of varied tape speeds was with Alvin and the Chipmunks. They released Christmas Don't Be Late in 1959 and never looked back, launching a career of records, cartoons and television shows. Here's Seville on the Ed Sullivan show in the 50s "performing" Witch Doctor...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Can't Get It Out Of My Head

They may not fall precisely into the category of "classic rock" but "the English guys with the big fiddles" amassed 27 Top 40 singles in Britain and the United States during their 14 years of popularity. The Electric Light Orchestra was the brainchild of former Move member Roy Wood and his pal Jeff Lynne and when they burst upon the scene in 1970 no one had ever seen anything quite like them before - an "electric" rock and roll band with a "light orchestra".

Wood departed the band after ELO's first album, leaving musical wunderkind Lynne as the driving creative force over the remainder of the band's successful career. In later years Lynne would go on to produce other artists apart from ELO such as George Harrison as well as the Travelling Wilburys who, after two amazing albums came to an abrupt end with the death of Roy Orbison.

ELO's fourth album, Eldorado - A Symphony, really put the group on the map and the first single from the album, Can't Get It Out Of My Head, gave the group it's first top 10 hit in the States. Here's a performance from a 70s Australian TV show. Note Jeff's 70s hair...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Itchycoo Park

In August of 1967, the Brit-mod group the Small Faces released one of the most popular songs of their career. There are several stories behind the origins of Itchycoo Park, a song originally banned by the BBC because of its overt drug references. The true one seems to be that the song's title is based on the nickname of a public park known for it's scratchy nettles (Itchy Park).

The Small faces were formed in 1965 and broke up in 1969. Steve Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. The remaining members were joined by former Jeff Beck Group members Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and peformed as the Faces then Rod Stewart and the Faces until 1975. By then Stewart was enjoying phenomenal popularity as a solo artist and Wood was touring with the Rolling Stones.

Here's the original line up peforming Itchycoo Park.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Off Beat: Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow

In 1962 the novelty song Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow by the Rivingtons was a huge hit. The song capitalized on the doo-wop phenomena of the time but the lyrics, if lyrics you could call them, made absolutely no sense. The song was The Rivington's first and biggest hit. Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow was the basis for last week's off beat song Surfin' Bird. The song's been covered by several groups. Here's a performance from the Beach Boys in 1964, who having performed it in concert decided to include it on their Beach Boys Party album. The clip includes a bonus performance of Hawaii...