News for February 2015

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith

Whistler’s brother?

Actually, no. Then who was Whistling Jack Smith, and why is his sole hit from 1967 haunting me?

I played an album of British Invasion hits released on the Parrot Record label from the late ‘60s before I went to work this morning. When this song came on, my ears quickly perked up. Although I recognized the recording, I hadn’t heard it in years and didn’t even know who it was or what it was called. Ever since then, this little ear worm has ceased to leave me alone.

The song was initially titled “Too Much Birdseed” and was written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenway. It was renamed “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” and was recorded by Whistling Jack Smith (a play on the name of 1920s singer “Whispering” Jack Smith). Cook and Greenaway went on to greater fame as the songwriters of the Hollies’ smash hit “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.”

So who exactly was Whistling Jack Smith? That’s where our story gets a little convoluted, because the artist known as Whistling Jack Smith was actually two people…or maybe even three…

The actual whistler on the record was alleged to be trumpeter John O’Neill. O’Neill was known for famously provided the whistling on Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as for singing the theme to the TV show, Wagon Train under the name Johnny O’Neill. I say allegedly because it is also believed that Noel Walker, who was a record producer for the British Deram record label, was the guy who did the actual whistling on the record. Nevertheless, no one seems to really want to cop to the deed, so let’s just move on.

So we don’t really know who did the actual whistling on the record, but we do know that the smiling guy on the cover of the sole Whistling Jack Smith album was Billy Moeller. Moeller went by the stage name of Coby Wells, and it is he who lip-synched (or whistle-synched) the song on this clip from the TV show The Beat Club. Moeller was also a roadie for British one-hit-wonders, Unit 4+2 who scored a hit on these shores with “Concrete And Clay” in 1965. His brother, Tommy was also a member of the group.

To further confuse things, the Batman of the song’s title is not the comic strip character, but rather is the term the British use for a military valet.

Upon its release, the single shot up to number 20 on the Billboard charts in America. Although four additional singles and an LP were released under the name of Whistling Jack Smith, nothing was ever heard from him again.

Edited: February 24th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Hands Off She’s Mine” by The English Beat

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Hands Off She’s Mine” by The English Beat

Records don’t get any more downright joyous, infectious and danceable than this classic ska track by The English Beat. They were not to be confused with a now-unknown American band that also went under the name” The Beat” resulting in this band renaming themselves The English Beat in America.

The Beat was a 2-Tone ska collective that consisted of Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger, Andy Cox, Saxa, David Steele and Everett Morton. They released three essential albums in the early 1980s: I Just Can’t Stop It (1980) where today’s Song of the Day was culled, Wha’ppen (1981) and Special Beat Service (1982) which have now been compiled into a terrific 5-CD box set released by Shout Factory records a few years ago.

The box includes their three studio albums, plus one disc of 12-single mixes and a disc of live recordings from the BBC. They were mostly known on these shores by a clutch of indelible club hits and MTV videos including “Mirror In the Bathroom,” “The Tears Of A Clown,” “Doors Of Your Heart,” “I Confess,” and “Save it For Later,” which was later covered by Pete Townshend. I can remember seeing them in action three nights in a row at a tiny New Jersey club called The Fountain Casino in 1980 with a then-unknown REM as an opening act each night, and can attest to how potent their mix of reggae, ska and soul was on stage.

After they split in 1982, Dave Wakeling went on to form General Public while Andy Cox and David Steele formed Fine Young Cannibals. They now continue to occasionally tour in two different versions of the band…

Edited: February 23rd, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Poem 58” by Chicago Transit Authority

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Poem 58” by Chicago Transit Authority

The fact that Chicago Transit Authority was the horn band of the late 1960s has obscured the fact that Chicago was also one hell of a great guitar band. Proof positive is this somewhat obscure track from their eponymously titled debut album from 1969.

(Play the track and continue reading.)

This song has it all! The track kicks off with a funky rhythm guitar pattern that quickly moves into an extended guitar solo courtesy of Terry Kath, one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. Heck, even Jimi Hendrix was a big fan of Kath, and his intuitive and imaginative playing is what sets this Chicago record apart from all of the rest.

Then there’s a breakdown of sorts right in the middle of the track leading into a monster riff that settles into a spooky boogie pattern that’s both sinister and funky. Then the golden toned vocals courtesy of Peter Cetera takes the song into another more conventional radio-friendly direction.

But being radio friendly wasn’t where the band was at in 1969. There was only one single released from the record while Chicago Transit Authority was the band’s current album, and that song, “Question 67 And 68” wouldn’t become a chart hit for two more years when it was released again as a single after Chicago II took off.

CTA’s debut album was a double record, unheard of at the time, especially for a debut album. Their manager and producer, James William Guercio, had just come off of working with Blood Sweat & Tears on their second album which was a smash hit, and he used his clout with Columbia Records to push the notion of a double album through.

This gave the band featuring Robert Lamm on keyboards, Terry Kath on guitar, Peter Cetera on vocals, James Pankow on trombone, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Walter Parazaider on saxophone and Danny Seraphine on drums, room to stretch their musical muscle. In fact this would be the only Chicago album where the band really did stretch out. After this album, Chicago began to shorten their tunes and play up the horns, leading them to the dominance of the singles charts they’d have for the rest of the 1970s.

CTA spawned several hit singles including “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Beginnings,” “I’m A Man” and “Question 67 And 68,” but they were all released after their second album became a hit, so while the album sold well and charted at number 17, its popularity was not driven by single releases. And anyway, it’s the album cuts that weren’t released as singles where all the action is.

For the vinyl album-centric fans out there, the third side of this record is especially tasty. “Free Form Guitar,” begins this side with seven minutes in pure improvised sonic heaven featuring Kath plugged directly into his amp without the use of any pedals. When I was younger, this particular track used to leave me cold, but now I could listen to this all day long. As the first take fury of “Free Form Guitar” comes to a close, “South Carolina Purples” kicks in with another memorable opening guitar riff before settling in for some great horn and organ jamming. The track gives a nod to the Beatles by quoting “I Am The Walrus” in the opening line. The side culminates with an Afro-Cuban cover of Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man.” The track became a moderate chart hit in 1971 when DJs found it on the B-side to the single “Question 67 And 68” and began playing it on the radio.

Politics were never far from the band’s mind, especially after the anti-war demonstrations that took place outside of the Democratic Presidential Convention in the summer of 1968 on the band’s home turf in Chicago. In an early use of sampling, the band took the demonstrator’s chant “The whole world is watching” and turned it into the track “Prologue August 29, 1968” which segues into “Someday (August 29, 1968)” where the chant reappears.

The album culminates with the nearly fifteen minutes of fury called “Liberation” which is another killer Terry Kath showpiece featuring even more free form guitar soloing.

Their debut album would be the only album where the group went by the name Chicago Transit Authority. Shortly after its release, the actual Transit Authority of Chicago threatened a law suit and the group was forced to shorten their name to Chicago. Terry Kath died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1978 while participating in a game of Russian roulette. While ultimately very successful, the band would never be the same again without him.

Edited: February 22nd, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo

This record’s got it all! An insinuating groove that doesn’t quit…otherworldly vocals that spook and caress at the same time…laid bare stripped down production, and the stellar harp playing that gave Slim Harpo his surname. There’s good reason why ‘60s British Invasion groups like The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones borrowed so heavily from him.

Today’s Song of the Day is the version of “Shake Your Hips” that The Rolling Stones carbon copied for the Exile on Main Street album. The following year, ZZ Top revisited the track to form the basis of their first break-out hit “La Grange.” Although this is not surprising since the whole nature of the blues tradition is to pass down music from one generation to the next, it does amaze how many artists borrowed from Slim Harpo.

The Slim Harpo songbook provided numerous sixties rockers with material to record including “Got Love If You Want It,” which was repurposed by The Who as “I’m The Face,” and then also covered by The Kinks on their debut album. Meanwhile, Harpo’s classic “I’m A King Bee,” was covered by the likes of Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones.

Slim Harpo was born James Moore in Lobdell Louisiana where he taught himself to play guitar and harmonica (using a neck rack) as a child. When he was in tenth grade his mother and father both died, and he left school to support his family working as a dockhand, while sitting in on local gigs under the name “Harmonica Slim.”

He was signed to the Nashville based Excello Records by Jay Miller who paired him as an accompanist to Lightnin’ Hopkins on several singles until recording and producing him on his own. A name change was required when Miller found out there was another performer known as Harmonica Slim.

Not only was Slim a great songwriter, composing classics that would be covered by a who’s who of performers, but he possessed a singing style that borrowed from urban blues and rural country and western. He possessed a plaintive ethereal voice that appealed to both pop and R&B audiences, ensuring that many of his records crossed over to both charts.

Slim’s first single release was the double-sided hit, “I’m A King Bee” backed with “Rainin’ In My Heart” on the flip. While the A-side fared well on the R&B charts, the flip crossed over into the top 40 of the Billboard pop charts in 1961.

His biggest hit came in 1966 with “Baby Scratch My Back” which climbed into the top 20 of the Billboard pop charts while topping the R&B charts. The huge success of “Baby Scratch My Back” found Harpo performing in a group with Lightnin’ Slim on the festival circuit during the late ‘60s, playing to predominantly rock audiences.

He flew to England in January of 1970 to begin his first European tour when he died suddenly of a heart attack while taking part in a pre-tour recording session.

 

Edited: February 18th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Watch What Happens” by Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Watch What Happens” by Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo

A funny thing happened when jazz vocalists like Lena Horne fell on the wrong side of the generation gap during the late 1960s. Suddenly, older classics like “Stormy Weather” and “Love Me or Leave Me” began to sound hopelessly out of date to a younger generation of listeners, who didn’t give artists like Horne the time of day, or worse, time on their turntables.

Changes would have to be made, and many of the artists began recording popular songs of the day and augmenting their once jazz or orchestral recordings with electric guitars, electric bass, organ and drums. Sinatra did it. So did Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. It was a matter of survival, and at least Lena Horne had the talent and had been around the block enough times to attempt to adapt to the times.

While many of the pop vocalists didn’t have the wherewithal to update their sound and still retain credibility, Horne was a sympathetic and adept interpreter of song and managed just fine to survive with her career intact.

By 1969, Lena Horne hadn’t released a new album for four years and was pretty much considered yesterday’s news as a recording artist. At the same time, Gabor Szabo, who is one of the few guitarists whose stands comfortably beside Jerry Garcia when it comes to guitar sound, technique and improvisatory style, left Impulse Records to form his own Skye Records label along with vibist Cal Tjader and composer/arranger Gary McFarland.

Szabo was born in Hungary and came to America to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He played guitar with the Chico Hamilton Quartet between 1961 and 1965, before recording a series of classic jazz albums for Impulse that melded his modal psychedelic guitar style with choice covers of contemporary hits. His 1966 album Sorcerer is one of the seminal jazz guitar recordings of the 1960s. Concurrent with his own recording career, Szabo also toured and played as a member of Horne’s live performance band. So it only seemed natural that Gabor and Horne would eventually record an album together.

The album they recorded was appropriately called Lena & Gabor, and it featured a who’s who of great jazz session players of the time including Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee on organ, Chuck Rainey on bass and Grady Tate on drums. Many of these artists also recorded albums for the Skye label as well.

The album’s repertoire included Horne’s first chart hit in some time with today’s Song of the Day, “Watch What Happens,” which was written by Michel Legrand. The record also featured no less than four Beatles covers including versions of “In My Life,” “The Fool on the Hill,” one of the best covers of “Something” ever, and a fairly ridiculous take on “Rocky Raccoon.” Rounding out the record were versions of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Bacharach and David’s “Message to Michael” and the Charles Aznavour classic “Yesterday When I Was Young.”

Szabo’s hypnotic and funky guitar work throughout this album is nothing short of stunning. While the Skye label only lasted two years and 21 releases, Szabo went on to write the song “Gypsy Queen” which became a hit for Santana in 1970. He continued to record records for a variety of labels until his death in 1982.

Horne never really revived her recording career with this record, but continued to be a concert draw in supper clubs and on Broadway in her 1981 revue Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music for which she won a Tony Award. She died on Mother’s Day 2010 at the age of 92.

Edited: February 16th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone

Here’s one that was released the year I was born, yet it sounds as hip and current as, well, I am. OK, it is hipper and more current than I am, but it goes to show just how timeless Nina Simone’s recordings really are.

Simone’s interpretive talents as a singer and piano player earned her the nickname, “The High Priestess of Soul,” and put her right up there with greats like Anita O’Day, Odetta, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Henske, who all possess a similar earthy style. She was a terrific songwriter, comfortable mingling soul, gospel, folk and blues into a stew that was uniquely her own, and she was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist.

It took a long time for me to crack the hard façade that Nina Simone projected, before I could really appreciate the depths of her talent. Her severe earnestness over the struggles she faced as a black woman during the infancy of the civil rights movement created a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and her music. But with maturity on my side, I’ve come to love and respect Simone’s whole approach, and the influence she’s had on everyone from Laura Nyro and John Lennon (who cited her recording of “I Put A Spell On You” as an inspiration for The Beatles “Michelle”) to Alicia Keys and Diana Krall.

Simone came to Colpix Records in 1959, after scoring a big hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” on the Bethlehem label. Her deal at Colpix gave her complete artistic control over the material she recorded which was unheard of at the time, and she released nine albums for the label, seven of which were recorded live in front of an audience. Today’s Song of the Day, the much covered “Work Song” written by Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown, Jr., is from her second record for the label, 1961’s studio effort Forbidden Fruit.

Part of the album’s excellence comes down to Simone’s sympathetic backing trio consisting of Chris White on bass, Bobby Hamilton on drums, and crucially, the great Al Schackman on guitar, whose tasty licks light up this entire recording, especially on the tunes “Just Say I Love Him” and the album’s opener “Rags And Old Iron.” But its Simone’s vocals and amazing piano accompaniments, especially on “Gin House Blues,” the swaggering “I Love To Love” and the album’s title track, “Forbidden Fruit,” that really elevate the proceedings to new heights of gospel fervor.

Later albums like Nina Simone In Concert from 1964 and the essential RCA album Nina Simone Sings The Blues from 1967, included signature songs that dealt with the civil rights issues of black women like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Backlash Blues,” “Four Women” and “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” which was later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway. She was also responsible for introducing the songs “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House of the Rising Sun,” years before The Animals recorded them.

Additionally, her recordings of “Sinnerman” and “Forbidden Fruit” were sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Timbaland, but her greatest success came surprisingly from the song “My Baby Cares For Me” which was recorded on her 1960 debut album for Colpix, but didn’t become popular until 1987 when it was used in a UK television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Edited: February 15th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane

The epiphany of an eight year old…

The backdrop of my childhood played out with images of the Viet Nam war and the unrest that culminated in the protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention coming over the television screen. While I wasn’t privy to what it all meant, I did know that the world around me was changing and that my older sister and her peers were making it happen. And I also knew that I very badly wanted to be a part of it all.

I was eight years old in 1969 visiting my grandmother’s house when up the drive came the coolest MG convertible (if memory serves me right) I’d ever seen in my life. The car stopped right in front of granny’s house and out popped my groovy long-haired cousin Paul in full-on hippie regalia. (RIP Paul) Nothing was cooler than Cousin Paul at that moment, and then I spotted the record that he had laying on the front seat of the car.

It was called Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane. I had never heard of the group, although I already knew the song “Somebody To Love” from my older sister’s records. I just never made the connection that this was the same group.

I asked Cousin Paul if I could look at the record and he gladly obliged. The image on the front cover was a bit disturbing to me. I couldn’t tell if each band member was wearing a mask, or if they just looked that way. I just knew that the image was kind of creepy. Upon flipping the jacket over, I began reading the “Paz Chin-In Huge Success” story on the back cover. It didn’t make any sense to me. Then I opened the gatefold and saw the huge peanut butter and jelly sandwich inside which made me wonder what the sandwich had to do with everything else here.

Inside was a fold-out poster with the headings “Revolt!” on the front and “Feed And Water Your Flag” on the back. I was totally confused, and although I hadn’t heard a note of the music contained within, I knew was that I wanted to own this record.

Fortunately my ninth birthday was just around the corner, and as promised I received my very own copy of Volunteers from one of our neighbors with whom we exchanged birthday gifts.

A whole new world opened up to me upon putting the needle down on the vinyl.

First there was the opening tune with some of the most harmonious singing the Airplane ever committed to vinyl. “We Can Be Together” was a sentiment I could understand and sink my teeth into, and there was just enough novelty value in the lyric “Up against the wall motherfucker” for a nine year old who’d never heard the “f” word on a record before, to make it a track worth playing over and over again.

Next up was today’s Song of the Day. At the time, I didn’t know that it was a traditional song with biblical overtones, but I sure did like it. “Good Shepherd” is Jorma Kaukonen’s masterpiece on this record with some of his sweetest guitar fills.

“The Farm” came pouring out from the speakers next featuring the tasty pedal steel playing of Jerry Garcia. I didn’t know who he was back then, but I sure did like this song. The animal noises reminded me of The Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Things turned sinister and a little disturbing with “Hey Frederick,” a centerpiece for Grace Slick’s vocal prowess. The song was long, over eight minutes. As a kid, I thought the longer the song, the more important it must be. And the imagery of the lyric “There you sit mouth wide open / Animals nipping at your sides” was enough to make me feel uneasy as the first side of the record came to a close.

Side two began with the buoyant “Turn My Life Down,” another Jorma tune featuring Marty Balin’s pure soulful voice. Then came the David Crosby/Paul Kantner masterpiece “Wooden Ships.” I already knew this song from my older sister’s copy of the Crosby, Stills & Nash album which was played around the house all the time. The Airplane version seemed so epic in comparison, especially during the fade when the band invited the listener to “Go ride the music.” I wasn’t sure at the time how to “ride the music,” but I did know that the band was taking my ears on a life-changing, mind-opening journey.

The next song was another featuring Grace Slick. Grace was the star of the band, so her songs on the record were the ones I initially gravitated to. With “Eskimo Blue Day,” she outdid herself as she wailed the lyric “doesn’t mean shit to a tree” over the course of the song, which proved more than novel to my young ears. At the time, I had no idea that she was singing about the environment.

The next two songs were the weakest (and still are) on the album. The country and western arrangement of Nicky Hopkins’ “A Song For All Seasons” never truly fit into the scheme of this record, and the organ dirge “Meadowlands” seemed to just be taking up space as I patiently waited for the album’s title track to come on.

Then came Volunteers! The song rocked hard and was poignant with its call “got to revolution.” It seemed to be the polar opposite to the album’s opener “We Can Be Together,” but later on I realized that the songs indeed harbored the same sentiment.

Woodstock had happened by the time I got my copy of the album. It was an event I was keenly aware of even though my older sister (and by default) I wasn’t allowed to attend. I can remember watching footage of the festival on the news as it happened, as I sat pining to be there. The following year the movie and soundtrack album came out. It was where I finally got to see what the Airplane was like in concert, not to mention experiencing Santana, Joe Cocker, The Who and Jimi Hendrix in all their glory for the very first time.

Volunteers found the group at a commercial and cultural high point. The interplay between Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin’s vocals, coupled with Jorma Kaukonen’s acidic guitar playing and singing, Jack Casady’s bass and Spencer Dyrden’s drums made it the band’s most potent lineup. Add to that, the star power of a guest list that included Jerry Garcia, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Nicky Hopkins and Ace Of Cups, and you had a group at the peak performance.

All in all, Volunteers proved to be the last great Jefferson Airplane album. It was also the last album the group made before Marty Balin and Spencer Dryden left the fold.

Edited: February 10th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Soul Drummers” by Ray Barretto

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Soul Drummers” by Ray Barretto

Like Tito Puente before him, Ray Barretto is one of the all-time greatest “Soul Drummers” of them all. He gave us the “El Watusi” in 1961, “Senor 007″ in 1969 and this gem in 1967. The music emanated from el barrio, the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem in New York City, via the then-fledgling Latin record labels like Tico and Fania. Like Rap music in the early 1980s, this music sprang up from the streets and changed the world forever.

Ray Barretto was born in New York City and cut his teeth playing conga with Charlie Parker, José Curbelo and Tito Puente. He replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente’s band in 1957 and stayed on for four years before working with Herbie Mann. In the early 1960s, he was also a member of the house band for the Prestige, Riverside and Blue Note record labels.

In 1961, Barretto released his breakthrough single “El Watusi,” which captured the sounds of the New York City streets and transported the Latin sound out of the barrio and into the public consciousness. “The Watusi” kicked off a national dance craze and was just one of a handful of recordings by the likes of Willie Colón, Joe Cuba (“Bang! Bang!”) and Mongo Santamaria (“Watermelon Man”) that resulted in introducing a new popular crossover genre in Latin dance music known as Boogaloo.

In the wake of “El Watusi’s” success, Barretto struggled to chart with a follow-up hit. However, he did become an in-demand session player and worked on Jazz albums by Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Lou Donaldson, Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader and Weather Report. He also sessioned on rock albums by The Rolling Stones (congas on “Sympathy For The Devil”), Average White Band (Cut The Cake album), Bette Midler (her debut album) and The Bee Gees (Main Course album).

Barretto finally gained his commercial footing after signing with Fania Records in 1967 and releasing the album Acid where today’s Song Of The Day originally appeared. The album combined the sounds of Latin, funk and soul music and included the influential tracks “A Deeper Shade Of Soul,” “Teacher Of Love” and “El Nuevo Barretto.” During his seven year stint with Fania, Barretto released nine successful albums, became the director of The Fania All Stars, and established himself as one of the leading players in Salsa music.

Barretto continued to release popular albums throughout the 1980s including the Grammy winning album Ritmo En El Corazón he recorded with Celia Cruz.

On January 13, 2006, he was awarded the Jazz Masters Award by the National Endowment for the Arts which was a distinction for lifetime achievement. He suffered a heart attack two days later and underwent several heart surgeries before succumbing to his illness on February 17, 2006.

After years of dormancy and total disregard, the Fania label recently reactivated with a comprehensive reissue program through Universal Music in 2007, resulting in the essential 2-CD compilation Ray Barretto Que Viva La Musica (Ray Barretto: A Man And His Music).

Edited: February 9th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” by Cher

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” by Cher

When one thinks of great interpreters of Bob Dylan, the name Cher doesn’t automatically come to mind. But she was, in fact, a huge champion of Dylan’s songs, and his songs fit her voice like a glove. Over the years, Cher covered such Dylan copyrights as “All I Really Want To Do” (a #15 hit),“Lay Lady Lay” (titled “Lay Baby Lay” on her version), “I Threw It All Away,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Masters Of War,” “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.”

Cher cut her version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” when it was a new song from Dylan’s just-released “Nashville Skyline.” Her version was released on the 1969 album “3614 Jackson Highway,” titled for the address of Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama where it was recorded.

The idea of bringing Cher to Muscle Shoals to work with Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin (who had also produced Dusty Springfield’s killer Dusty in Memphis album) was a brilliant one, and the results produced a terrific album that was not particularly well received when released and, unfortunately, didn’t sell well either. Although Wexler does get a production credit on the record, he was not present for the recording of Cher’s vocals because he came down with pneumonia during the sessions. He did, however, choose all of the songs for Cher to record.

One of the reasons the album might not have sold so well was that back in 1969 the address and the studio were a completely unknown entity. In fact, Cher’s album was the first record cut there. The studio was formed in 1969 by musicians Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass) who had left the legendary FAME Studios, founded by Arthur Alexander, to launch Muscle Shoals.

Cher remains one of our greatest interpreters of song, especially in the 1960s, and for this album she adeptly covered Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” Dr. John’s “I Walk On Gilded Splinters,” Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s “Cry Like A Baby” (a hit for The Box Tops), Chips Moman and Dan Penn’s (by way of Aretha Franklin) “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and three of the above named Dylan songs, including today’s Song of the Day.

The musicians on the sessions were Eddie Hinton on lead guitar, Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar, Barry Beckett on keyboards, Dave Hood on bass and Roger Hawkins on drums. The record was re-released by Rhino Handmade in 2001 and augmented with another 12 songs Cher cut for the Atco label that went unreleased.

Edited: February 8th, 2015

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Thelma” by Paul Simon

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Thelma” by Paul Simon

It boggles the mind how a song this good could have been left in the can, but that was indeed the fate of the Paul Simon outtake “Thelma,” which was originally intended for his 1990 album The Rhythm Of The Saints. (The song would surface three years later on the Paul Simon 1964 – 1993 box set.)

By 1988, Simon had to begin thinking about the near impossible task of creating a follow up record to his 1986 Grammy-winning smash hit album Graceland. But how do you follow up a record as dominant and successful as that? For Simon, it meant fashioning a record along the same culturally exploratory lines as Graceland, but changing the locale from South Africa to Brazil, and melding the music from both locales together.

The resultant Rhythm collection was a far more adventurous record than its predecessor featuring groove oriented songs like “The Obvious Child,” “Can’t Run But,” “Proof” and today’s Song Of The Day, that were all built from the percussion on up. The album is also more subtle and intricate than Graceland with a set of nuanced experimental songs like “Further To Fly,” “Cool Cool River,” “Spirit Voices” and “She Moves On” that insinuate themselves with the listener upon repeated listening.

Like it’s predecessor, Rhythm featured an all-star international collective of musicians including the likes of Clifton Chenier, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Milton Nascimento, Adrian Belew, J.J. Cale, Hugh Masakela, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Greg Phillinganes, Steve Gadd, Naná Vasconcelos and many others, working together to create a patchwork quilt of exotic sound to house Simon’s sharp, impressionistic lyrics.

Rhythm was also the first album that Simon collaborated with Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, whom he still works with today. Most of the record was recorded in Rio de Janeiro and then brought back to New York’s Hit Factory for final touch ups. Together, Simon and Nguini fashioned finished songs out of the bare rhythm recordings captured in Rio for Simon to put his lyrics on.

Simon toured extensively after the release of the album, culminating in a free concert in New York City’s Central Park in front of 750,000 attendees. (I was there!) While it is inevitable that Rhythm will always exist in the shadow of Graceland, the album’s failing is that it sounds at times more like a genre exercise than an actual Paul Simon album. That said, the album did peak the #4 position on the album charts and sold several million copies.

Edited: February 5th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “All My Sorrows” by The Kingston Trio

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Before The Beatles…there was The Kingston Trio! The Trio of Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane were the most recognized act of the initial folk boom of the late 1950s causing a sensation throughout college campuses. Their brand of exuberantly sung folk songs mingled with a healthy dose of good natured “aw-shucks” humor offered pure entertainment and insured them a place on the charts and on concert stages. Their hits included “Tom Dooley,” “The M.T.A.,” “The Tijuana Jail,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” ”A Worried Man,” plus many others.

I was introduced to the music of The Kingston Trio by my parents, with the group’s Greatest Hits album which was a staple of their record collection. They were also fans of The Brother’s Four and had a Columbia album called All Star Hootenanny that gave me my first taste at a very young age of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Clancy Brothers and Johnny Cash all in one place.

I’ve also had the honor and pleasure of compiling several Kingston Trio collections during my music career while working for Time Life Music and Reader’s Digest Music back in the 1990s. For Reader’s Digest, I compiled a 60-track, 3 CD set called The Kingston Trio: Their Greatest Hits & Finest Performances. At the time of its release, it was the most comprehensive Kingston Trio collection available on the market. It was also one of Reader’s Digest’s most popular single artist collections and was kept in print for many years. At Time Life, I compiled a 30-track, 2 CD collection of their greatest hits for a TV-sold package called The Very Best Of The Kingston Trio, and also created a second 30-track collection of deeper cuts for an upsell called Trio Treasures & Folk Favorites.

I also spent some time consulting for a great Chicago folk record label called Folk Era which is run by Allan Shaw, who is one of the world’s great authorities on The Kingston Trio and the music of the Folk Era. The label is also the home of the Rediscover Music Catalog which includes a well thought out selection of folk music you won’t find elsewhere. During my time working with Folk Era, I was introduced to original Trio member Bob Shane and John Stewart, who replaced Dave Guard in the trio in 1961 and remained a member through 1967. John Stewart was also best remembered for writing The Monkees’ hit “Daydream Believer” and his own classic 1971 album California Bloodlines.

Today’s Song Of the Day was originally from the group’s 1959 fourth album At Large. The group was at the absolute height of their popularity in 1959 placing four consecutive albums into the top ten of the Billboard album charts throughout the year.

“All My Sorrows” was also released as the B-side to the “M.T.A.” single. The songs is also known under the title “All My Trials” and is widely considered a lullaby because of its opening line “Hush little baby don’t you cry.” The song was actually a protest song of both hope and resignation for a time when “All my trials, soon be over.”

The song has been covered by numerous artists including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Gibson, Dave Van Ronk, Harry Belafonte and Peter Paul & Mary. Over the years, it has also become closely associated with Lindsey Buckingham who recorded it for his album From The Cradle. Before performing the song in concert, Buckingham regularly pays homage to the influence The Kingston Trio has had on his own career.

The At Large album was the first Trio studio album that the group really began to gel instrumentally with each other. The inclusion of David “Buck” Wheat on double bass and occasional guitar filled out their sound. Wheat also assisted with arrangements and remained part of the outfit through the end of 1961. The album won a 1960 Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording and it was also nominated in the “Best Vocal Group or Chorus” category. It was certified Gold for sales of 1,000,000 units in 1961.

Several other Kingston Classics also came from the At Large album including their #15 hit “M.T.A.,” which is one of their most beloved recordings and “Remember The Alamo,” which was considered and rejected for use in the John Wayne film, The Alamo. The Trio’s recording of “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” was originally made popular by Harry Belafonte a few years before The Trio took it on and became a concert staple and another of the group’s most requested songs. The #12 single, “Tijuana Jail” b/w “Oh Cindy,” was also recorded during the sessions for the album, but ultimately left off.

Although touring members of The Trio still exist, the last version with original member Bob Shane stopped touring in 2004.

Edited: February 2nd, 2015