Monday, February 22, 2021

#NewMusicMonday • February, 2021

Photo: Tom Greene from The San Diego Sportfishing

I search, review, and post new song releases or new song covers from a variety of artists. I also post new releases or covers that are several months old that my fishing line missed on the first, second or even third pass. As a boomer, I'm challenged just because I don't pay too much attention to young pop stars in the vast ocean of media. If you want to take a fun little music test, do the following.

The New and Old Game of Album Lists

New List

  1. Go to the Wikipedia website List of 2021 Albums for February. (I'll provide the link in #3)
  2. For February, there are 198 listings of album releases. I recognized 13 artists or bands total. For example I know who 'Robin Thicke' is because he had a hit once, but don't really know anything about him other than he is Alan Thicke's son.
  3. See how many artists or bands you can recognize on this list here - List of 2021 Albums for February.
Old List
  1. Go to the Wikipedia website 1971 in Music for February. (I'll provide the link in #3)
  2. For February, there are 29 listings of album releases. I recognized 26 artists or bands total
  3. See how many artists or bands you can recognize on this list here - 1971 in Music- February.
How did you do? If you like, write a comment below to share your new and old list scores.

One thing that's obvious in comparing the two lists month to month is that the new lists are always greater in number than the old lists. In searching for new releases, I get exposure to so many young singer-songwriters making great recordings whether they are studio albums, live in concert, or this year, live in the living room. If you're a rock 'n' roll or Americana fan of music, the beat goes on!

Here's a new list of young Americana artists that I had never heard of before starting my #NewMusicMonday search for February. From the six artists listed here, only one appeared in the List of 2021 Albums. So if you're into Americana music, you've also learned to fish in deeper waters.
The sheer volume of music being produced today has many more streams that lead to the sea of music. For me, it's a fun charter I take once a month to catch new songs, or board a yellow submarine to search for buried treasure as the deep dive for music from the past is still a great adventure. 
Speaking of the past, I also search, review and post old songs that have been 'newly' released.
That's my teaser for next week with none other than Mr. Neil Young.

Enjoy my friends, stay well and mask-up!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Fifty Years of Music • February, 1971

Last week, I focused on the 50th anniversary of Carole King's, phenomenal album Tapestry. This week, I finish up February, 1971 with fifty songs mainly from twelve albums. Every month, I take a musical journey in the past with my '50 Years of Music' theme and I usually discover one or more albums that I paid little attention to at the time, but now think are fantastic albums. This month I found two, Crazy Horses's self-titled album, Crazy Horse, and Donovan's children double-album, HMS Donovan
Danny Whitten, Jack Nitzsche, Billy Talbot, Ralph Mollina
Crazy Horse is best known for being Neil Young's backup band. Crazy Horse originally started in 1963 as Danny and the Memories, a doo-wop group with Danny Whitten as the lead singer. The group, with its two life-long bandmates Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums morphed into a San Francisco band called, 'The Psyrcle' and then moved down to LA as the 'The Rockets' (a folk-rock band) in 1968. In 1969, Neil Young began to rehearse with The Rockets and liked them so much he used the band in his 1969 solo album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It is during this time that Young himself renamed The Rockets, 'Crazy Horse' as they are given credit on the album cover, "Neil Young with Crazy Horse." In 1970, Young used Whitten, Talbot, and Mollina, including Jack Nitzsche (on piano), and Nils Lofgrin (guitars, vocals) on his solo smash hit, After The Goldrush. On After The Goldrush, Crazy Horse is not given a band credit, but it did lead to the band getting their own record deal and the release of the album Crazy Horse in 1971. The album would include Lofgrin and Nitzsche with both contributing songs to the album. Jack Nitzsche was also the album's Producer. 

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After The Gold Rush are two of my favorite albums of all-time. Why I wouldn't have dived into the first Crazy Horse album in 1971 is beyond me? The raw energy of Young's early solo albums has a lot to do with Crazy Horse's 'three chords and the truth' basic rock 'n' roll playing style that jumped right out at me 50 years later.

To answer my own question above, I came up with two main reasons. One, the album sold poorly; and two, I believe one reason the album sold poorly was because the album cover art sucks. Did the design and photograph literally have to be- a crazy horse?

I started thinking about it. In 1971, every rock 'n' roll fan was very much into the vinyl album art as most devoured the front, inside and back jacket art and liner notes on albums. I think the first album Crazy Horse cover art just scared most teens off, it puts out a very aggressive negative image, that says, "Don't touch this." I do remember seeing the album in a record shop album bin sometime in college and said to  myself, "WTF!"
What if they had simply gone with some cool graphic of Chief Crazy Horse right from the get go, like when they (probably Neil's people) started using the Crazy Horse logo shown here to the right. All I'm saying is Crazy Horse could have used some promotional artistic help after recording a very fine first album... presentation, presentation, presentation.

Sadly during this time, Danny Whitten had become a heroin addict and quickly descended into the hell that it brings. By early 1972, Talbot and Mollina had to fire their leader and main songwriter Whitten from Crazy Horse because he simply could not function to be an active member of the band and work on their second album.

In April of 1972, after receiving a call from Young to play rhythm guitar on the upcoming tour behind Young's Harvest album, Whitten showed up for rehearsals at Young's home outside San Francisco. While the rest of the group hammered out arrangements, Whitten lagged behind, figuring out the rhythm parts, though never in sync with the rest of the group. Young, who had more at stake after the success of After The Gold Rush and Harvest, fired him from the band on November 18, 1972. Young gave Whitten $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. Later that night Whitten died from ingesting a combination of diazepam, which he was taking for severe knee arthritis, and alcohol, which he was using to try to get over his heroin addictionWikipedia

Back in February of 1972, Neil Young had released the song, Needle and the Damage Done from the Harvest album, a heartfelt lament that was written directly about his friends Danny Whitten and also Bruce Berry, a roadie for Crazy Horse and CSN&Y. Whitten had in fact turned Berry on to heroin and he would also later die of an overdose in 1973.

The story of Crazy Horse continues in its many iterations, including Whitten's replacement on guitar in 1975 with Frank "Poncho" Sampedro who would become one of Neil Young's greatest compadres over the years working with and without Crazy Horse. Poncho retired from the band in 2014 and is a neighbor of Neil's in Hawaii. Since 2018, the current lineup of Crazy Horse has Nils Lofgrin on guitars who plays with them on their reunion gigs with Neil, and has been a regular member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band since 1984. 

Long live Crazy Horse! And, rest in peace Danny Whitten, as I can hear from your five songs on this first Crazy Horse album, you were on your way and Neil Young still misses you.

The second album that caught my attention 50 years later was Donovan's HMS Donavan. It's a double album of children's songs but I looked at it as more than just that, as it connects Donovan with his Scottish roots. I was most impressed with his guitar work as I had always just thought of him as 'a strummer over a picker.' Here you get to hear Donovan's skilled finger picking on many tunes from the album. If you think of it, Donovan is the perfect children's musician with his cosmic quality to songwriting and singing that's so completely unique and makes him a beloved person around the world.

Donovan also knew something about album art.

Enjoy my friends! Stay well and mask-up, it's beginning to get better.


Monday, February 08, 2021

Fifty Years of Music • Tapestry

Update - 2/19/21

James Taylor's Quote
from The Guardian - 'It shook me to my core': 50 years of Carole King's Tapestry - 2/12/21

"The singer-songwriter genre was named around 1970, give or take, and was said to apply to me and, among others Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Jackson Browne. Why that supposed movement didn’t begin with Bob Dylan or even Woody Guthrie or Robert Johnson beats me – maybe they were still “folk”. But, if it means anything, Carol King deserves to be thought of as its epitome. I’d been deep into her songs – Up on the Roof, Natural Woman, Crying in the Rain – for a decade before Danny Kortchmar introduced us in Los Angeles in 1970. She played piano on my Sweet Baby James album while working on the songs for her own Tapestry. Our collaboration, our extended musical conversation over the next three or four years was really something wonderful. I’ve said it before, but Carole and I found we spoke the same language. Not just that we were both musicians but as if we shared a common ear, a parallel musical/emotional path. And we brought this out in one another, I believe.

It was a big change for Carole to leave New York for LA. She left behind an established, hugely successful career as a Brill Building [era] tunesmith, with her husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin, and went west, on her own, with two young daughters. She started writing by herself, about herself – that is to say, from her own life. It came out of her so strong, so fierce and fresh. So clearly in her own voice. And yet, so immediately accessible, so familiar: you knew these songs already. I had that experience the first time I heard Carole sing You’ve Got a Friend from the stage of the Troubadour: “Oh yeah, that one.” Incredible that this song didn’t always exist. Carole’s focus was her family: [children] Louise and Sherry, and imminently, Levi and Molly. She had no time for the stuff the rest of us in Laurel Canyon were up to. She had her family and her songs. Certainly she would have her adventures, dramatic emotional switchbacks, in years to come. But in those days, she seemed to watch the dancers with a kind, wry detachment. To me, she was a port in the storm, a good and serious person with an astonishing gift, and, of course, a friend."

Breaking News - 2/10/21
Carole King Gets Rock Hall Nomination on Tapestry’s 50th Birthday

Original Blog - 2/8/21
February 9th is Carole King's 79th birthday, Happy Birthday Carole!
Released in April, 1971

Tapestry, with all of its songs written, co-written and performed by Carole King was recorded 50 years ago in January and released February 10, 1971. It was recorded at the same time James Taylor was recording his new album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue HorizonBoth Joni Mitchell and James (a couple at the time) sing/play on Tapestry as well as James loving and recording King's song from TapestryYou've Got a FriendIt became a #1 hit for Taylor from Mud Slide Slim as this cross-pollination of friendship and musicianship puts the 'singer-songwriter' as the driving force in rock 'n' roll in 1971. 
Tapestry has sold 10 million copies in the U.S. and 25 million worldwide.

It received four Grammy Awards in 1972, including Album of the Year. The lead singles from the album—"It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move"—spent five weeks at number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts. 

Tapestry, topped the U.S. album charts for 15 weeks in 1971 and remained on the charts for more than six years. [The album] held the record for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist for more than 20 years.

In 2020, Tapestry was ranked number 25 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

By the spring of 1971, everybody in America knew Carole King and her equally famous Tapestry album cover with her long flowing golden curly hair, sweater and jeans in a teenage boy's hippie dream, perched by the window sill with her gray tabby cat (Telemachus). Most of the Tapestry songs were playing all the time across the radio dial, and the album itself was selling at a blistering pace. 

Joni Mitchell's, Ladies of the Canyon (1970) may have gotten a lot of teen girls (boys too) starting to buy records by female singer-songwriters, but Tapestry kicked that up to a whole new mass market level. Women were breaking barriers across the culture, including the growing number of female solo singer-songwriters not relegated to just being a singer or singer in a band. Carole King had in fact, written or co-written many hits for women singers in the 1960's, now she was helping to launch a new day where women could start to create and control their own destiny in the very male-oriented music business. For many young aspiring women musicians in the early 70's, Joni may have planted the dream, and Carole may have planted the plan.

In the summer of 1971, I remember coming home in the car from the beach with friend Tim Patterson driving. I have the distinct memory of that day. I was in the front passenger seat, window rolled down, looking out west at the ocean heading south from Avila Beach, somewhere between Pismo Beach and Shell Beach on the U.S. 101. The sun was shining not a cloud in the sky, Carole King's, It's Too Late*, comes on the radio as Tim and I are silent, just listening to the song, absorbing the sun and central coast. There's a common association of long-term memory with time, place and song. This was obviously one of those moments for me as I can't remember more important details from 50 years ago, but that specific memory came to mind this past week thinking about Tapestry.

Steve Patterson
That memory triggered a couple more of 1971 or thereabouts, as I briefly hung out with Tim in high school as we both grew up in the same church and also just lived a couple of blocks from each other. Tim Patterson was just a year older than me, and our star center on the Santa Maria High School basketball team. In 1971, Tim a Junior was just getting taller and taller, as I'm going to guess around 6' 8'' or thereabouts at the time. Tim would go on to play four years of basketball as center at Stanford, then two years of professional basketball in Sweden, and later become a lawyer and settle around Palo Alto, California. 

By 1971, Tim's older brother, Steve Patterson was the star center at UCLA and is known as the center between Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton years. Steve as starting center at UCLA won back to back NCAA National Championships in 1970 and 1971 with legendary coach John Wooden. Steve Patterson went on to play five years in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. 

Now how this memory relates Tim, Steve and me starts somewhere in time in high school between 1971 or 1972. Tim calls me up and asks me if I want to go with him to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes (Oso Flaco) to ride the dunes in his brother's 4-wheel drive Ford Bronco. Tim picks me up and the two of us head out to the dunes listening to his brother's tapes on the ride out. We get to the dunes and the wind is blowing something fierce where we can't even see the ground with the blur of moving sand. 

Guadalupe-Nipomo (Oso Flaco) Sand Dunes
We're about 15 minutes in, going up and down the dunes when it dawns on me, man I should probably put on my seat belt. No sooner do I snap the belt, than the Bronco crashes down into a small sand ravine about 5 feet deep and wide that neither one of us saw coming. I would estimate the car was going probably about 30 miles an hour when we hit the opposite bank of the ravine head-on and an instant stop. Tim's face hits the rear view mirror just above his right eye and starts to bleed like he's been hit by a left hook from Joe Frazier.* At the same moment upon impact, I hit the front wind shield with the right side of my head. I unbuckle and stumble out of the Bronco with an instant headache. I walk around to Tim, we find a rag or t-shirt in the car and he presses that on his wound to stop the bleeding.

Long story short, a guy in a Jeep comes along and he has a winch on his front-end and pulls the Bronco out from its back-end. We get back to Tim's house and talk to his mom, the nicest lady ever. Anyway, it was either that day or next, the Patterson's discover that my head impact had actually popped out the entire front windshield from its rubber seal. Looking back, I probably had a slight concussion but nobody even thought about that back in the day. Mrs. Patterson did come up to me at church several days later to make sure I was still okay. I think she said something about me having "a hard head," which something I have heard many times since in my life, from two different wives...

This past week, I pulled out the Tapestry album from the combined vinyl record collection from my wife Mary Kit and me. We combined our collections in 2020 after being in boxes in the attic for a long time. She made me laugh when she started to initial all her albums with a black Sharpie, well for, just in case, you never know if it's going to work out... Anyway, Tapestry with the initials 'MK' on the back cover have been playing on the turntable this past week as it certainly primed the pump for this week's blog.

The playlist this week is two halves. First, are the original 12 songs from the Tapestry album. Second, is Carole, Carole and James, or other artists performing songs from Tapestry mostly in the 21st century.

Enjoy my friends, stay well and mask-up.

* It's Too Late, is one of my all-time favorite songs and is on My 100 Songs playlist.

* On March 8, 1971 Joe Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali, staggering Ali in the 11th and knocking him down in the 15th with his staggering left hook. Wikipedia

Monday, February 01, 2021

The Smothers Brothers

Growing up in the early 60's, The Ed Sullivan Show was the granddaddy variety show on television. For us kids, it started with Topo GigioSeñor Wences, and the plate spinning guy (Erich Brenn). My family tuned in most Sunday nights 8-9 pm.

 In 1964, The Beatles changed the world when they first appeared on Ed Sullivan three consecutive weeks in February, and followed with a fourth appearance in 1965. The Rolling Stones appeared on Ed Sullivan six times from 1964 until 1969. Many other bands like The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Doors, and Jefferson Airplane appeared on Ed Sullivan, although Ed was sometimes not too enthused by their appearance, loud music and would even verbally admonish their screaming fans. Ed was an old man to my generation, and although he softened his stiff appearance for Topo Gigio, he showed young America he wasn't having the same for the long hairs going forward into 1967.

As a middle school kid, I also began to notice TV drama shows in the late sixties like Dragnet (1967-1970) with actor/writer/director Jack Webb who would often portray young long hairs as the drug-addled bad guys. So if you're a young person in 1967, TV unlike the recording industry wasn't the communication medium capturing the youth culture in the United States. That was, until a couple of clean-cut nerdy looking folk-comics got their own TV variety show to shake things up a bit.

Tom (born in 1937) and Dick (1939) Smothers grew up in Los Angeles with their single mom as their father had died a POW in Japan during World War II in 1945. Both graduated from Redondo Beach High and both attended San Jose State University in the late 1950's. In college, both started playing in a quartet as folk music was sweeping the country with groups like The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul and Mary. The brothers after working with another musician as a trio, eventually became a duo. Tommy, an accomplished acoustic guitar player, then taught Dickie how to play stand up string bass and the two started honing a comedy act based upon the siblings most common behavior together, argument. 

The two brothers were in fact polar opposites. Tom was outgoing, and always able to make people laugh that played against type as he was really an all-work no-play perfectionist. Dick was reserved, more practical and conservative, but that played against type too as he couldn't wait to get off from work and play, indulging in racing cars, flying planes, and boating. 

Despite their differences, in the course of a few short years, the team became a polished act with Tommy as the stammering goofball to Dickie's calm talking straight man. The brothers also had what most comic duo's didn't have, both were accomplished musicians as Tom drove the music on guitar meshed with Dick's wonderful tenor singing voice. The combination of singing songs usually interrupted by their sibling rivalry dialog established the duo as one of the most unique and enduring comedy acts in show business history. 

Professionally, the brothers got their first big break at The Purple Onion in San Francisco in 1959. From there they built a solid comedy act on the road and began a series of highly successful live comedy albums in the early and mid-sixties. Their clean-cut looks and act were perfect for television. After one failed sit-com in 1966, they quickly got another, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, that began in February, 1967.  

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was designed by CBS to bring in a younger audience and compete head to head with NBC's blockbuster western, Bonanza (1959-1973).  Bonanza was geared towards a 40+ aged audience with the coveted time slot of Sunday Night at 9pm. CBS had previously gone through nine different shows to complete with Bonanza, in what at CBS was known as the 'kamikaze time slot.'

Now my dad loved Bonanza, and in 1967 there was only one television in the house. I don't know how my brother, sister and I negotiated with him to switch channels to the Smothers Brothers, but Tom's overall vision of the show had something to do with it. His big idea was to create a 'hip variety show' that brought in a mixture of seasoned guests like Jack Benny and George Burns but mixed with young comics like George Carlin and bands like The Jefferson Airplane complete with their psychedelic light show. By having the mix of traditional with new, Tommy was a genius as he got my parents to laugh or tolerate the young acts and we as the younger audience grew up and still enjoyed entertainers like Jimmy Durante. Tommy's mix was wonderful, and within their first season, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was indeed competing head to head with Bonanza.

Now with success, Tom Smothers vision for a 'relevant' TV variety show that reflected the times of the 60's was actually happening as he steadily pushed the envelope with the CBS censors every week. In 2021, we take for granted that words like "breast" and "toilet" couldn't be said on TV in 1967. Comedy skits that were both funny and relevant in the culture would be constantly pared down or completely cut from the show with Tommy fighting CBS every word of the way. Songs by Pete Seeger (Waist Deep in the Big Muddy) and Harry Belafonte (Lord, Don't Stop the Carnival) were also completely cut because of their political overtones. 

Tommy's temperamental and uncompromising stand for presenting a younger person's perspective is all well documented in the book, Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour by David Bianculli. I just finished the book last week and highly recommend it if you are a fan of 1960's history.

As the book progresses, it starts with the boys being completely apolitical in the late 50's and early 60's. By the start of their famous show in 1967, Tommy may have looked 'establishment' but was well connected with folk and rock musicians. He had a knack for finding new comics and bands that would have hits after appearing on the show. Every week, Tommy was trying new things, like having a musical format in the round, in the same manner that musicians would informally get together and play for friends. 

Tom steadily introduced more topical issues in the brothers monologues and mock editorials with new talent, Pat Paulsen, who on the show had a memorable fake run for the Presidency in 1968 who proclaimed, “I will not run if nominated and, if elected, I will not serve.” Characters such as Officer Judy (Bob Einstein) and Goldie Keif (Leigh French) were my personal favorites filled with youthful inside jokes (even though I was too young to get many of them at the time). For example, ditzy hippie Goldie was originally introduced, in an ostensible studio-audience interview segment, as Goldie Keif; both "Goldie" and "Keif" were slang terms for marijuana at the time (Wikipedia). 

Tommy also nurtured talent behind the camera as well. He hired new writers such as Mason Williams, Bob Einstein, Rob Reiner, and Steve Martin, a few no names to later become big names. Mason Williams was so talented. He not only was the head writer on the show, but composed and premiered his smash #1 hit single, Classical Gas on the show in 1968.

In 1969, Tom Smothers at 32 was at the top of his creative game, but with that came his old uncompromising temper. Tom's no-bend personality became a stand-off with the CBS brass as monologues and skits became pitched battles. End the end, Tommy fought the law, and the law won. In this case the law was CBS President Bob Wood who Tommy would famously scream at over the Vietnam War in a one-to-one meeting that was arranged to smooth tensions. Wood simply ended the ongoing battles by pulling the plug on the show after the 1969 season over a script that came in several days late. 

George telling the boys, "To keep trying to say it."
The Smothers Brothers sued CBS for breach of contract for 30 million dollars and in 1973 won in court with a jury trial and settlement for only $776,300. “We were cut off at the top of our careers, and we were not compensated for it in money,” said Tom Smothers after the verdict. “We spent four years of our lives and $200,000 to prove the point, but I don't think people are going to be willing to say what they think if they know they're going to be penalized for it.” (New York Times)

As I reflect on what happened to the Smothers Brothers fifty one years ago, I have a greater appreciation of what young people lost in 1969 TV land; two talented voices directly talking and singing to our generation on network television, just trying to add some relevance and truth in a modern comedy show. Whereas the 6pm nightly news was showing live battles and soldiers dying in the Vietnam War, the nightly TV entertainment starting at 8pm in 1969 was almost entirely made up of fantasy-based shows like Bewitched and The Beverly Hillbillies.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had effectively become part of American culture from 1967-1969, hell they were just getting started. The civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, the Nixon administration, and rock 'n' roll were all just hitting stride at this crucial time in our history. The Smothers Brothers show and the timing of the counter-culture were both in sync and in prime time together. For Tom and Dick, it was their moment in time, that lightning in a bottle that is often only captured once in a career in pop culture.

The Smothers Brothers would not be there on Sunday night to provide their audience jokes, satire, laughter; not there to premier music like The Beatles, Hey Jude and Revolution videos did in 1968 on the show; and not there to maybe have parents and kids experience the current culture a little bit more together from the comfort of the couch. 

For me, there was never a replacement for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in a variety show format. For many in my generation, The Dick Cavett Show (1969-1974) picked up the 'hip' mantel at least in the late night TV format. Cavett booked many great guests and sometimes we got a counter-culture network glimmer, like when David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell joined the Jefferson Airplane on the Cavett Show the day after Woodstock, complete with Stills' muddy pants he was still wearing.

The playlist this week is a hodgepodge from the Smothers Brothers act, skits, but mostly musical guests from the Comedy Hour show in all their old TV converted to pixilated glory on YouTube. I end the playlist with several interesting and heartfelt interviews with Tom and Dick.

After the playlist, for those who want to take a deeper dive, I have the 2002 documentary, Smothered by Maureen Muldaur complete here on YouTube. Smothered covers the rise and fall of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and I highly recommend it as well. 

If you read the comments in the Smother Brothers YouTube videos you'll get the same feeling I have for Tommy and Dickie Smothers, love for them and their wonderful show in a fascinating place in time. 

Enjoy my friends, stay well and mask-up.

Smothered Documentary, 2002 (90 minutes)