Discovering things and giving them wings

Here we go again — this is “Lost Classics, Collection #23.”

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What I do in compiling these playlists is search through my voluminous music collection (vinyl and CD) of artists’ works from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and select a dozen songs I’m betting you’ve forgotten all about, or never heard before.  The idea is to ignore the same old hits that classic rock stations keep playing and dive deeper to find those jewels from the past that deserve your attention.

Some of these songs are on brilliant, classic albums.  Others are tucked away on so-so albums you never think about pulling off the shelf.  Still others are the only decent tunes on horrendous albums that probably didn’t deserve to be made in the first place.  See if you can figure out which of these 12 fit in which category…

I hope you enjoy this new batch of “diamonds in the rough.”

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“Happiness is Just ‘Round the Bend,” Brian Auger & Oblivion Express (1973)

Unknown-437Auger is a British jazz/rock keyboardist who has played as a session musician and in several configurations with jazz and rock musicians alike.  He played on The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” hit single in 1965, and in a group called The Steampacket with Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll.  He made more albums with Driscoll and the band Trinity before forming The Oblivion Express in 1970.  On that group’s fourth effort, the 1973 LP “Closer to It,” there’s a pretty solid cover version of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” but the standout tune I want to share is “Happiness is Just ‘Round the Bend,” a marvelous jazz/rock track featuring Auger on vocals and keyboards.  Auger has continued working with a broad range of artists in Europe and the U.S., playing festivals and doing live TV performances well into the 2000s.

“Forever Man,” Eric Clapton (1985)

Unknown-442By the mid-’80s, Clapton had seemingly done it all.  He played iconic guitar parts and solos with The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos, and evolved into a damn good singer and songwriter as he began a solo career in 1974.  He also had kicked heroin and alcohol addictions, and struggled through a marriage to Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s ex-wife, which influenced the songs he was writing.  He was chagrined when he turned in the tapes for his 1984 album “Behind the Sun,” and the label found it too depressing.  They insisted he record three more radio-friendly songs with a team of seasoned producers and musicians, and the result was a likable but disjointed LP that still stalled at #34 on the US album charts.  The single was one of those three, the irresistible “Forever Man,” a hard-driving tune by Texas songwriter Jerry Williams that fared modestly at #26 on the pop charts.

“Night By Night,” Steely Dan (1974)

Unknown-438To my ears, the recorded output of this “band” is one spectacular track after another, with maybe two or three duds in their whole seven-album catalog of their initial run (1972-1980).  Donald Fagen (keyboards and vocals) and Walter Becker (guitar, bass) co-wrote disarming, clever, infectious songs, and brought in hired guns like guitarist Larry Carlton, sax man Phil Woods and singer Michael McDonald to record the parts as Fagen and Becker envisioned them.  They had their share of hit singles (“Reelin’ in the Years,” “Josie,” “FM,” “Peg,” “Hey Nineteen”), but just as juicy were the deep tracks, and there were dozens:  “Doctor Wu,” “Bad Sneakers,” “The Fez,” “Your Gold Teeth,” “Glamour Profession,” “Brooklyn.”  You’ve got to check out “Night By Night,” a funky piece from their third LP, “Pretzel Logic,” with riveting horn charts and drop-dead vocals.  You simply can’t go wrong with any of Steely Dan’s albums.

“The Tourist,” Gerry Rafferty (1979)

Unknown-439I’ve been a big Rafferty fan since 1973 when, as part of Stealers Wheel, he scored with “Stuck in the Middle With You,” which went on to appear in a key scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.”  Rafferty hit his commercial peak in 1978 with the fabulous “Baker Street” and its indelible sax riff, followed by the engaging “Right Down the Line,” both from his consistently excellent “City to City” LP.  From the next album, “Night Owl,” Rafferty had some success with two singles, “Days Gone Down” (#12) and “Get It Right Next Time” (#21), but just as strong a candidate would have been “The Tourist,” also featuring Rafferty’s smooth Scottish tenor, solid melodic song structure and that soaring sax from Raphael Ravenscroft.  Rafferty’s aversion to touring and a crippling alcohol addiction affected his sales from that point forward, but you’d do well to discover the seven subsequent albums he made before his death in 2011 at age 63.

“Them Changes,” Buddy Miles (1970)

Unknown-444Drummer Buddy Miles was a musical legacy:  His father played upright bass for Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others, which helped give him cachet when he sought drumming gigs with R&B and soul acts like The Delfonics and Wilson Pickett.  At age 21, he moved to Chicago and teamed up with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield and singer Nick Gravenites to form the blues/rock/soul band The Electric Flag.  The next year, he contributed to sessions for Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” LP, and then joined Band of Gypsys, Jimi’s new blues rock trio.  By early 1970, Miles released his first solo album, anchored by the heavy bass line and marvelous groove of the title track, “Them Changes.”  The tune appeared on two successful live albums as well — “Band of Gypsys” (1970) and “Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live!” (1972).  Miles died in 2008 at age 60.

“Sanctify Yourself,” Simple Minds (1985)

Unknown-443Although this Glasgow, Scotland-based art rock/new wave band built a strong fan base in the UK during its initial five album run (1979-1984), they made almost no impact in the US.  When Simple Minds were asked to record a song by a German songwriting duo for use in John Hughes’ coming-of-age film “The Breakfast Club,” they balked at first, preferring to record their own songs, but eventually relented.  “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” of course, became a huge international #1 hit and the group’s signature song.  Recorded concurrently in 1985 was their seventh LP, “Once Upon a Time,” which featured producer Jimmy Iovine, who pushed singer Jim Kerr to achieve a more energetic vocal style.  It worked — the album reached #10 in the US, thanks to stellar tracks like “Alive and Kicking,” “All the Things She Said” and especially “Sanctify Yourself,” which reached #14 in 1986.  You rarely hear it anymore….until now.

“In Between the Lines,” Michael Stanley Band (1982)

Unknown-446In their native Cleveland and other Midwest pockets, The Michael Stanley Band was a wildly popular, multi-talented rock band during their 10-year run, but elsewhere, MSB were virtual unknowns, which is a crying shame.  Stanley recorded two solo acoustic albums in the early ’70s, then formed MSB and recorded an album a year for a decade, each packed with strong rock tracks like “Misery Loves Company,” “Last Night” and “In the Heartland” and the occasional ballad (“Waste a Little Time on Me,” “Why Should Love Be This Way” and “Spanish Nights”).  One of my favorite rockers in their catalog is “In Between the Lines,” the leadoff track from their “MSB” album.  Bob Pelander’s impactful piano hook, Rick Bell’s savage sax lines and Stanley’s guttural vocals pack a real wallop.

“Take It As It Comes,” The Doors (1967)

Unknown-450Still one of the most astonishing debut albums of all time, “The Doors” was almost a Doors greatest hits package, with not only the longer album version of the huge #1 hit “Light My Fire” but also “Break On Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” “20th Century Fox,” “Back Door Man,” “The Crystal Ship” and the dark opus “The End.”  Notorious vocalist Jim Morrison was singing at his best in those days, and the organ-driven sound of the band helped the group stand out from all the guitar bands so prevalent at the time.  Of the three or four deep tracks you rarely hear from this LP, “Take It As It Comes” is a keeper, with Ray Manzarek in charge on keyboards.  The band’s later work included some real gems (“Riders on the Storm,” “When the Music’s Over,” “Love Me Two Times,” “Roadhouse Blues”), but was far more erratic.  Morrison’s mysterious death in 1971 at age 27 effectively closed the door on their career, but their legendary music lives on.

“Buyin’ Time,” Stephen Stills (1976)

Unknown-451Stills’ impressive track record as a songwriter, guitarist and singer with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash created high expectations when he began his solo career.  The “Stephen Stills” album in 1970 met those expectations, but most everything that followed was highly inconsistent.  One or two enjoyable songs does not a great album make, as we learned on “Stephen Stills 2” (1971) and “Illegal Stills” (1976).  It wasn’t until 1977’s “CSN” reunion with Crosby and Nash that we were treated to five superb Stills tunes on the same LP.  But those isolated tracks on ho-hum records are well worth your time.  “Change Partners,” for instance (from “SS 2”), is one of Stills’ best tunes, and “Buyin’ Time” from “Illegal Stills” would’ve fit in nicely on the CSN album if there had been room.  It’s carried by fine Hammond organ by Stills and harmonies by Donnie Dacus and Mark Kaylan, who continued working with Stills on his next few solo projects.

“Showdown,” Electric Light Orchestra (1973)

Unknown-449When Jeff Lynne and others from the British rock band The Move went off on their own in 1971, they adopted a lofty goal:  Pick up where The Beatles left off.  Lynne said they wanted to focus on orchestral instruments to give the music a classical sound, with rock guitars used as accompaniment, hence the new group’s name:  Electric Light Orchestra.  Did it work?  An early hit from “ELO II” merged Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” with a portions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and made the Top Ten in the UK.  On the band’s next LP, “On the Third Day,” they included the catchy original “Showdown,” which featured a funkier backbeat to go with their trademark sweeping strings.  ELO went on to become one of the biggest concert draws and record sellers of the late 1970s/early 1980s, and Lynne ended up working extensively with George Harrison and, later, all three remaining Beatles on their “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” singles in 1995.

“Sub-Rosa Subway,” Klaatu (1976)

Unknown-441This obscure Canadian band consisted mainly of two multi-instrumentalists named John Woloschuk (keyboards) and Dee Long (guitars), who wrote very Beatlesque pop and progressive rock.  When they signed with Capitol in 1976, their debut album (known as “3:47 EST” in Canada) was released in the US as “Klaatu.”  The band chose to include no photos nor individual musician credits; all songs were simply listed as being written and published by “Klaatu.”  When an American journalist speculated that the LP might actually be a secretly reunited Beatles recording under a pseudonym, it led to widespread rumours.  Klaatu’s vocal style and musical creativity could definitely be considered similar to the Beatles, especially on tracks like “Sub-Rosa Subway.”  Compare this to the next track, from McCartney’s solo work from the same period.

“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)

Unknown-447After The Beatles’ breakup, McCartney couldn’t resist including at least one track per album that sounded like it would’ve fit nicely on “The White Album” or “Abbey Road.”  “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “The Back Seat of My Car,” “My Love,” “Band on the Run” — all have richly produced melodies laden with strings and backing vocals.  Also from the “Band on the Run” LP is the suite-like “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” which gallops along furiously to the album’s conclusion, when it wraps up the song cycle with a quick reprise of the title track’s chorus.  It reiterates the album’s loosely imagined theme of escape, with lyrics that capture the idea of artistic freedom through love.  I think it’s one of the best dozen songs in McCartney’s solo career.

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Here’s the Spotify playlist so you can listen to the tunes as you read about them:

 

 

 

Rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard

November 2007.  My wife Judy and daughter Emily were on a college trip visiting Nashville with a friend and her daughter to check out Belmont University.  While they were in town, they decided to buy tickets to the Christmas 4 Kids annual benefit concert that Charlie Daniels hosts every year at the fabled Ryman Auditorium.

They were told if they stopped in at a souvenir shop on Second Avenue where a Charlie Daniels Museum was set up in the back half of the retail space there, they’d probably FullSizeRenderfind the man himself, signing autographs and taking photos.

Sure enough, there he was, larger than life with his trademark ten-gallon hat.  Emily and her friend Sarah were thrilled to get their picture taken with the Nashville icon.

At the Ryman that evening, the ladies enjoyed performances by several country artists (including an up-and-coming gal named Taylor Swift) before Daniels and his band took the stage.  Two songs into their set, country star Martina McBride interrupted the proceedings to offer Daniels a Christmas present of his own.  “Thank you, Charlie,” she read from a letter, “for all you’ve done to make Christmas wishes come true for thousands of children through the years.  Now it’s time to make a wish come true for you.  You are officially invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry!”

Daniels was visibly stunned.  It took him several minutes to compose himself and offer his heartfelt gratitude for the honor he had dreamed about since he was a boy.  The girls witnessed a very special moment in the life of a very talented man who came from simple beginnings to become a major presence in country, bluegrass, Southern rock and blues music.

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Now Charlie Daniels, at age 83, has died, a victim of a hemorrhagic stroke July 6th.

“My heart is crushed today,” said country star Travis Tritt.  “Charlie was the guy who took me under his wing and encouraged me when I was first getting started.  He was always there for me when I needed him.  I have so many great memories of touring, performing, Unknown-436writing and recording with Charlie, but my favorite memories are of simply talking with the man when it was just the two of us alone.  Farewell, dear friend, until we meet again.”

Daniels has been universally admired for his superb abilities on the fiddle, guitar, banjo and mandolin, and as a vocalist and songwriter.  He was also revered by many for his kindness and generosity.  “He was one of the nicest, kindest people I have ever met,” said Jason Aldean.  “Thanks for the musical legacy you left for all of us.”

Singer/fiddler Natalie Stovall added, “Charlie Daniels was the epitome of a Southern gentleman.  He was kind, welcoming and so sweet.  Playing ‘Devil’ with him will forever be a highlight of my life.  No doubt The Devil is pissed as hell with how loud the angels are rejoicing in Heaven today.”

Unknown-433The “Devil” she’s referring to is, of course, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Daniels’ signature song and by far his biggest commercial peak, reaching #3 on the pop charts and #1 on the country chart in the summer of Unknown-4341979.  It’s essentially a spirited bluegrass workout, telling the story of a competition between Satan and local boy Johnny as to who was the better fiddler.  It was featured in the popular film “Urban Cowboy,” won the Country Music Awards’ Single of the Year, and earned the band a Grammy.  The album it came from, “Million Mile Reflections,” reached #5 on the pop chart and #1 on the country chart, and reached triple-platinum sales figures.

Born in North Carolina in 1936, Daniels grew up listening to Pentecostal gospel in church, bluegrass bands at local events, and R&B and country on Nashville 50,000-watt AM stations, including the Grand Ole Opry radio program.  At age 28, he had his first taste of success when he co-wrote “It Hurts Me,” a song Elvis Presley recorded.  Once he moved to Nashville in 1967, he worked as a session musician, often for his producer friend Bob Johnston, most notably playing guitar and electric bass on Bob Dylan’s images-226“Nashville Skyline,” “Self Portrait” and “New Morning” LPs.

Daniels fattened his resumé by adding guitar and bass on Leonard Cohen’s “Songs From a Room” and “Songs of Love and Hate,” and also contributed to Ringo Starr’s country LP, “Beaucoup of Blues.”  Tammy Wynette and Barbara Mandrell recorded a few of his songs, and he even produced a few albums for artists like The Youngbloods.

His first couple of solo albums barely made the charts, but his third included the whimsical country story-song “Uneasy Rider,” the humorous tale of a traveling hippie who talked his way out of a fight in a redneck bar, which became a surprise Top Ten pop hit in 1973.

Unknown-435The 1974 album “Fire on the Mountain” was the first to be credited to The Charlie Daniels Band, which included Taz DiGregorio on keyboards, Tom Crain on guitars, Fred Edwards and Don Murray on drums and Charlie Hayward on bass.  CDB, as their fans called them, toured relentlessly and began hosting and headlining the annual Volunteer Jam in Nashville that year, a tradition that ran for 20 years and featured big names like The Allman Brothers Band, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, James Brown, Emmylou Harris, Ted Nugent, Chris Stapleton and Billy Joel.

Albums like “Nightrider” (1975) and “Saddle Tramp” (1976) offered a healthy cross-section of Southern rock (“Birmingham Blues”), country rock (“The South’s Gonna Do It Again”), bluegrass (“Orange Blossom Special”), blues (“It’s My Life”), acoustic country (“Everything is Kinda Alright”) and even 10-minute mostly instrumental workouts images-225(“Saddle Tramp”) that were huge in concert.

They maintained a steady core audience throughout the ’80s, appearing on “Saturday Night Live” in 1982 and having a Top Ten country hit, “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” in 1986.   By the late 1990s, Daniels and his longtime manager David Corlew founded Blue Hat Records and released a diverse slew of albums, including his first all-bluegrass album, several Christmas collections, and “Deuces,” an LP of collaborations with the likes of Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and Brenda Lee.

Daniels had shown a slightly-left-of-center political leaning during the ’70s when he advocated for legalizing marijuana and appeared at fundraisers for Democrat Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign.  As the 1980s rolled in, Daniels’ first attempts at political lyrics in two mainstream hits showed him drifting toward the conservative side of the spectrum.  “In America” (#11) focused on the heartland’s patriotic response to the Iranian hqdefault-22hostage crisis, and “Still in Saigon” (#22) commiserated with veterans who returned from Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.

In the new millennium, Daniels chose to take on an increasingly outspoken role in the issues of the day.  After the 9/11 attacks, he issued a single, “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag,” and when peace activists protested the impending war in Iraq, he wrote “an open letter to the Hollywood bunch,” calling them “pampered, overpaid, unrealistic children.”  He also issued anti-abortion arguments, defended the Second Amendment, and later castigated Barack Obama’s policies.  He seemed to relish in stirring the pot, and since most of his conservative Southern fan base concurred with his views, he didn’t see any downside.

His health began failing around 2010.  He had prostate cancer surgery, suffered a mild stroke and had a pacemaker installed, and yet he continued performing and maintaining involvement in his charity events and philanthropic activities up until the end.  His final album was 2018’s “Beau Weevils:  Songs in the Key of E,” and he toured with Travis Tritt and the Cadillac Three late last year.

I was a modest fan of country rock during its mid ’70s heyday, and liked CDB’s music images-224fine, although I didn’t buy much of it.  I saw them in concert once, in the summer of 1982, when I was reviewing concerts for a Cleveland newspaper.  Here’s what I had to say at that time:  “CDB is a very tight band, and they clearly enjoy what they’re doing.  They offered two dozen songs that mixed the newer hits with a liberal dose of tunes from their earlier albums to keep new fans on their toes and older fans happy.  Without a doubt, it was Daniels, a mountain of a man with a gentle twang in his fine singing voice, who dominated the proceedings.  He played his trusty fiddle on only four songs, not quite enough to suit me, but his guitar and the piano, lead guitar and pedal steel of his colleagues more than compensated.”

My friend Mark, who was with me at that concert in ’82, reminisced about the time he saw the band in college.  “It was at the little old fieldhouse at Bethany College.  We sat on images-219the floor right in front of the stage, with our cowboy hats and bottles of Rebel Yell, and we held up signs requesting ‘MORE FIDDLE!’  The band liked the signs enough that they invited us back stage to party afterwards.  What a memorable time hanging out with them.  They were all really great, fun guys, and such terrific musicians!”

Clearly, Charlie Daniels left quite a legacy as a musician, entertainer, storyteller, philanthropist, opinion sharer and friend.  As he often said, “God gave me a gift to play music for a living, and I feel it’s my responsibility to give something back.”  You’ve surely done that, good sir, many times over.  Rest in peace.

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In appreciation of his music, here’s a Spotify playlist of The Charlie Daniels Band’s better known songs along with a few that may be new to you.