Thursday, October 30, 2008


Like a lot of people who grew up in the 1960's listening to rock and roll, I didn't know a thing about jazz. In fact, you could have put what I knew about jazz at that time in a thimble. Besides the rock and roll that was on the radio, I knew a little about the blues (and a few other things) thanks to my tutoring by Johnny "Guitar" Nicholas, but not much about any kind of jazz music.

By 1970, I did own the ultimate prep school jazz album, Swiss Movement by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, which wasn't a bad place to start. I have it on my iPod today and it still sounds great. As a starter jazz album, it was definitely a little easier to get into than Miles Davis or Coltrane. 

When I got to Tufts and Floyd's Hotel was up and running, there was one exception to the usual suspects on our turntable. It was The Best of Mose Allison. I'm not sure how we originally got on to this album. It probably came from the influence of frequent hotel guest, Mike Martenek, aka, The Maniac.

Floyd and I knew a funny little guy named Spike McFee who worked somewhere he could pick up albums with an employee discount. He was always willing to trade albums with the hotel staff. I can remember getting The Best of Mose Allison from him.

Mose Allison was born in Tippo, Mississippi in 1927. He played piano and trumpet as a child. After going to college at The University of Mississippi and Louisiana State and a stint in the U.S. Army, he began playing in New York City in 1956. His songs are known for their literary lyrics. He has influenced many other musicians including John Mayall, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and The Who, who recorded his song Young Man Blues. His songs have also been recorded by Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell among others.

 Mose combines fine piano playing with the witty lyrics of his original compositions. His best songs like Your Mind is On Vacation (But Your Mouth Is Working Overtime), I Love the Life I Live, Your Molecular Structure have a hipster's sensibility and outlook on the world. His piano and the backing of his trio is tasteful and the songs are witty and hip. Check out these lyrics from Your Mind Is On Vacation:

You're quoting figures, you're dropping names
You're telling stories, you're playing games
You laugh when things ain't funny
You try to sound like you don't need money
If talk was criminal, you'd lead a life of crime
Cause you're mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime

I was lucky to see Mose in Austin at the Continental Club in October of 1999. It was a great show. When I tried to chat Mose up at the bar afterwards, he was quite uninterested in this author and humble fan. Maybe it was my aftershave?

If you are not familiar with his work, be sure to pick up this CD for your playlist. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

BOOKER T. & The M.G.'s

Anyone who has been reading this blog can tell that the focus of my interest in a song is usually the lyrics. Often, the words are my way into a song more the the music. Notice the subjects of these posts: Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Warren Zevon, and Robert Earl Keen. All are songwriters who write songs with great words. Trust me, it is not the melody of Poncho and Lefty that brings the tears to my eyes.

That said, here's a departure for me: Green Onions by Booker T. & The M.G.'s. I can remember hearing this song on the radio when it was released in 1962. A lady who worked for my family in those days was really into soul music. She turned me on to some great music including this song and Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles.

For anyone who has been living under a musical rock for the last 40 years, Booker T. & The M.G.'s was the house band at Stax Records in Memphis during the 60's. The band consisted of Booker T. Jones on keyboards, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, and Steve Potts on drums. Isaac Hayes was on keyboards at times. They played on all of the best records by Stax artists like Otis Redding, Albert King, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, and Eddie Floyd. Some of the hits included Try a Little Tenderness, I've Been Loving You Too Long, Walking the Dog, Hold On (I'm Coming), Soul Man and many more.

 In 1962, Booker T., Cropper, bass player Lewie Steinberg, and drummer Al Jackson Jr were in the studio backing a Stax artist. In an free moment, they began fooling around with an organ filled blues riff. When Stax president, Jim Stewart, heard what they were playing, he hit the record button. The rest is history. The song called Green Onions was released in October of 1962 and was an immediate hit. It went to number 1 on the R&B charts and number 3 on the Pop charts. It is one of the most recognizable instrumentals of all time.

After the success of the single, the band recorded this album which was released in October of 1962. It went to 33 on the Pop charts. The album is filled with the band's soulful take on some great songs.

Booker T. & The M.G.'s has had a long and successful career. Green Onions sounds as good today as it did in 1962. If you don't own it already, add it to your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I have just come back from a wonderful week in the English countryside. When not listening to 60's compilation CDs and playing "name that tune" with my good wife and a charming Englishman named Ned, I was working through some forgotten corners of my iPod. While doing this, I reconnected with a great blues album by Albert King.

Albert King was born in Indianola, Mississippi on April 24, 1923. He sang in a gospel choir as a child and taught himself to play a homemade guitar. He played drums behind Jimmy Reed before been signed to Bobbin Records by Little Milton. His first hit was Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong, which got to number 14 on the R&B chart in 1961. After that he signed with Stax Records.

Born Under a Bad Sign was recorded in 1966 and 1967 and was released on Stax Records in 1967. Backed by the Stax house band that included Steve Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on piano, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, Al Jackson Jr on drums, Isaac Hayes on piano, and the Memphis Horns, Albert made one of the classic straight ahead blues albums of all time. Each song is a concise expression of the blues that showcases King's music and guitar technique. There is no filler or fluff on this disk.

Although B.B. King is probably the best known of the Three Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddy), Albert's guitar influenced many important players including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix and later Stevie Ray Vaughan. His technique was unusual because he was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar upside down.

The album kicks off with the blues classic and King signature tune, Born Under a Bad Sign. Listen to King's guitar and you can immediately hear his influence on Eric Clapton's playing from that period. In fact, Clapton has mentioned King as a major influence on his work with Cream. They covered the song along with many others including Paul Butterfield Band, Jack Bruce, Booker T. & the M.G.'s among others.

The next song up is Crosscut Saw, which has always been one of my favorite blues tunes. It is what what the blues is all about. Listen to King growl :

I'm a crosscut saw
Baby, drag me across your log
I'm a crosscut saw
I cut your wood so easy for you
You can't help but say Hot Dog

King gives a nice reading to the Leiber and Stoller classic Kansas City with help from the Memphis Horns. He also excels on the clever Personal Manager. In fact, there is not a bad cut on the album.

I was lucky to see Albert play in Boston in the late '80's. I was visiting Bob Cat Numero Uno who was living there at the time. We went to the show and liked it so much we went back again the next night. (Even having Ronald McD in tow couldn't spoil the experience) I will never forget the size of the man (Large!) or his work with the trademark Gibson Flying V guitar that he called Lucy. I feel fortunate to have seen this legend before he died at the age of 67 in 1992.

If you like the blues, this is a must album for your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I totally missed on this album when it was released in 1971. I'm not sure what we were listening to in those early days at Floyd's Hotel. My guess is Dylan, The Band, Traffic and The Stones and any blues albums the Maniac brought over on one of his visits. It's funny that I didn't pick up on this album, because at the time Prine was being called the "Next Bob Dylan". That should have put him on my radar.

I only recently got excited about Prine's music after I bought Fair and Square which was released in 2005. That great album made me curious about his earlier work, which led me to his debut album.

Prine was living in Chicago and was part of the folk scene there with friend Steve Goodman in the late 60's. He was discovered at that time by Kris Kristofferson (I guess he returned the call), who helped him get a recording contract. Produced by Arif Mardin, the album was recorded in Memphis with the great studio musicians at the American Recording Studio. Although it wasn't a commercial success, the album contains some amazing songs for a deput effort.

 Prine was one of the few "Next Bob Dylans" who actually lived up to the hype when it came to songwriting. It is mind bending that these songs were written by a 24 year old. What an old soul he was at the time. These songs represent 70's songwriting at it's best.

My favorite track is Angel From Montgomery. It is a beautiful song that was a hit for Bonnie Raitt off her 1974 album Streetlights and has been covered by many other artists. It begins with one of the great images in any song:

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that's grown old
If dreams were lightning thunder desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

 The album also contains Paradise, which is a touching song about the horrors of strip mining and the distruction of our land. I first heard it sung by the great Larry Redmon, who is the country poet of the Blue Grass. This is the chorus:

And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

These are only a few of the great songs on the album. If it isn't on your playlist, you need to add it today. Available from Amazon and on iTunes.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I bought this first album by Jesse Winchester when it was released in 1970. Since I was a huge fan of The Band, any album produced by Robbie Robertson easily caught my attention. Albert Grossman was managing Jesse at the time, so the album was released on the Bearsville Label. While writing this post, I have been listening to the album a lot. I had forgotten just how good  it is.

Jesse Winchester was born in Bossier City, LA, but was raised in Memphis. After graduating from Williams College in 1966, he received his draft notice and moved to Canada to escape the draft. He met Robertson and Grossman while living and playing in Montreal in 1969.

In the photo on the cover of the album, Jesse looks like the sixth member of The Band. On many of these songs, he sounds like he is just that. With both Robertson and Levon Helm contributing on the album, the backing is like a stripped down version of The Band. Some of these songs are not far removed from The Basement Tapes.

Jesse's songwriting reflects the contrast between his southern upbringing and his northern life mandated by his flight to Canada to escape the draft. His lyrics are well written and playful at times, although some of the songs like Black Dog address darker themes.

The album starts with Payday which is a joyful, bluesy romp. The playing of that "mathematical guitar genius" is immediately recognizable. Robbie also has a co-writing credit on Snow which is kicked along by crisp drumming that sounds like Levon to my ear.

Yankee Lady, one of his best songs, describes the plight of a man torn between the love of a woman and a need to travel back to his southern roots. This theme of wanderlust and escape figures prominently in many of his songs. Note the tasteful mandolin from Levon on the cut.

Jesse's inability to tour the United States until after Jimmy Carter's draft amnesty in 1977 may have affected his career. When he was able to gain more exposure by touring, the singer songwriter era of the '70's was passing. He has never gotten the recognition that his music deserves.

This has left Jesse with a loyal following and the designation as a musician's musician, because of the impressive list of artists who have covered his songs. These include Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Costello, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Garcia, and Reba McEntire.

If you don't have this album on your playlist, you should add it immediately. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon. Other recommended titles include:

  1. Gentleman of Leisure (1999)
  2. Live From at Bijou Cafe (2006)