Category Archives: 1960s music

#169 – 25 or 6 to 4

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#169 – 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago

 – Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. For me that feeling goes back to the early days of Little Richard (though I was too young to actually experience it at the time) when a dirty-sounding saxophone raged over his pounding piano. And even today since a young Little Richard is never too old for the digital age of listening, the volume is worthy of being turned up whenever The Upsetters – his backing horn section – kick it in with him.

The same can be said for Bobby Keys and The Rolling Stones. Brown Sugar would not be the same song without his sax, even if Keith Richards and Mick Taylor had practiced what Keef refers to as “the ancient art of guitar weaving” for the instrumental break.

Saxophone was one of the founding instruments in rock ‘n’ roll. But as also a big fan of rhythm & blues, soul and Motown, a horn section with brass trumpets and trombones are also requirements. I have a feeling any promoter suggesting James Brown, Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye could have cut costs by leaving the horns at home would have found himself with nothing but an empty stage to promote.

But when I was finally old enough to experience what was happening in the world of pop music, it was the beginning of The British Invasion. Other than The Dave Clark Five with Denis Payton on sax, groups featured guitar players. Even when American groups counterpunched with The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful, no one was blowing into anything other than an occasional harmonica – and that includes Bob Dylan.

With a horn section!

In May 1966 The Outsiders caught my attention with Time Won’t Let Me and a great backing horn section. Then later that summer The Beatles released Revolver with the Motown influenced Got To Get You Into My Life. But it wasn’t so much that horns were changing the pop music we were listening to. It was more like pop was borrowing from the other styles to give us a lesson in what a big segment of the youngest baby boomers was missing by only listening to our local Top 40 AM radio stations.

What does that have to do with 25 or 6 to 4? I’ll tell you…

I remember a slight bit of personal confusion when Chicago hit big in 1970. Pop had morphed into rock and the main engine driver was a high-powered electric guitar. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton were making that notion very clear. Horns could be a great background enhancement, but none of our radio favored bands seemed to have these jazzy players as permanent members.

So with embarrassed hindsight, my perception of Chicago predated the lyrics Dire Straits sang a few years later in Sultans of Swing:

They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playin’ band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

But then Chicago changed that.

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Their innovative style as a band in the pop-rock world wasn’t really new. Al Kooper’s original Blood, Sweat & Tears made the scene in the late 1960’s and was the first group I took notice of that had a permanent horn section. But just like the subsequent version led by David Clayton-Thomas, they were too jazzy for my tastes.

It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

Chicago’s first LP under the name Chicago Transit Authority went unnoticed by me. But the opening riff of 25 or 6 to 4 when it was released in June 1970 definitely caught my attention. It rocked. And I don’t think I’m saying anything dedicated classic rock fans will object to, but it struck a rock chord by sounding a lot like Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin. And then the horn section came in over the grungy guitar and…

That’s what they call rock and roll.

This sound was coming in through my grungy brain on the morning of September 4th. It rocks its way into the recent memory category because I had just heard it. In fact, this song has occasionally crept into my Top 25 list of Most Played Songs that iTunes so conveniently keeps track of. And by the way, in case you can’t tell from the countdown aspect of these Classic Rocker ramblings, I enjoy that feature immensely.

I should have been more welcoming to the brassy horn sounds of Chicago. But as mentioned, The Guitar Gods had taken hold of the rock scene. I say this because at the time I was a player that could have fit into either section.

My guitar fumbling (for lack of a better term) started soon after The British Invasion – like many other baby boomers. But my skills have never been anything to write home about. I tend to blame that on never having the best guitars. I went more for “looks” (does it look cool?) rather than ease of playing. But trumpet was the opposite. I had access to two very cool horns and a practiced ability to play them.

My interest in the trumpet didn’t start when my parents “told me” that’s the instrument I’d play in the junior high and eventually high school band. It was a tradition on my dad’s side that started with his father and continued with him. And believe me, they were both good players. Especially my dad who played bugle in the U.S. Navy and made trumpet his creative outlet by performing with numerous bands around where we lived. He could play anything from jazz, big band to marching band. I have memories as a very little kid going with my mom to watch his shows. He had invested in a very good (let’s call it expensive) trumpet in the 1950’s and yeah, he looked and sounded cool.

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My grandfather was a lot older than my friends’ grandfathers. He was 46 when my dad was born. I don’t know how young he was when he started playing, but know he had purchased a silver cornet in 1905 and was a member of the town’s concert and marching band. Not only do I still have my dad’s trumpet, but also my grandpa’s silver cornet – and the 1905 proof of purchase receipt.

Yeah, you could say I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff.

Herb Alpert & TJ Brass

I alternated between the trumpet and cornet when I joined the school band, but again – I didn’t have much interest. I thought the guitar was cooler. But in April 1967 I watched a television special by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and beginning at that exact moment – by the end of the show – trumpet looked pretty cool. I’m positive that I immediately went to my room and started practicing on grandpa’s cornet. My dad – most likely shocked but overjoyed at the same time – got out his trumpet and started teaching me. Before long we were playing duets and it became a father-son bonding I’ll always have with him.

Another totally shocked victim of my new-found love for brass was our junior high band director. For close to three years I had been languishing in the lower reaches of the trumpet section, barely able to make any type of recognizable musical noise. A few weeks after the Herb Albert TV special we had tryouts for “chair placement” and I aced it.

I still remember him staring at me – smiling – and wondering out loud why this happened “to him” when I’d be moving on to the high school band and a different director in just a few months. My band friends were also flabbergasted (again – lack of a better term) when I propelled past about 30 other trumpeters from the back end of the section to third chair. I never looked – or went – back after that.

Beatles Horn Section

But would I have wanted to be in a rock band like Chicago? Honestly, not in the horn section. As Paul McCartney once pointed out, his first instrument had also been the trumpet – also a gift from his dad – but you can’t play and sing at the same time.

Since that’s what I had in mind when I auditioned for the high school musical – and aced it – my trumpet playin’ band days came to an end. When I took off for college and later New York City, a couple guitars were in the back of my station wagon and the brass horns were left behind.

But they didn’t go unused, since I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff. More than a century after my grandpa bought his cornet and half a century after my dad bought his trumpet, my son Paul was playing both in the high school band. But now that he’s a professional singer, they’re both on the shelf waiting for the next generation.

And as for Chicago, they’ve also lasted for a few generations. Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. And since there are still plenty of rock ‘n’ rollers from first generation baby boomers on down, I don’t hear that sound fading out any time soon.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

To watch the original Chicago lineup performing 25 or 6 to 4, check out this video…

 

 

To purchase Chicago’s Greatest Hits with 25 or 6 to 4 visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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Halloween Bonus Tracks: Top 3 Scariest Songs in Classic Rock

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Can’t you hear me knockin’?

– Somebody put the fear factor into what was once the classic holiday celebration line-up. Here’s how it used to go…

July 4th was an excuse to play pyromaniac and scare the heck out of our friends by making them dodge small explosives and sparklers for our enjoyment. There’s nothing like setting off a screaming missile during a crowded and fenced-in backyard barbeque for a few yucks.

Next was Labor Day when no one needed a doctor’s note to miss work. Scaring someone isn’t mandatory, but if you’ve got a few mini explosives left over from The 4th — then why not? The element of surprise is always a fun way to scare the heck out of someone.

After Labor Day it was a countdown to see how early the TV networks would start showing Christmas commercials. Usually the ads with Santa frolicking through plastic snow with shapely female elves were in regular rotation by mid-September. These ads would scare the heck out of us procrastinators, since each viewing would serve as a reminder of our bleak future as last-minute shoppers in crowded and fenced-in discount stores.

But those days have passed-away to the other side. Now the holiday celebration is all about scaring the heck out of someone and Halloween has engulfed the entire month of October. Oh the horror…

Too hot to handle!

I’ve seen front yards pimped-out with pumpkins, ghosts, skeletons and ghouls since Labor Day. The Christmas lights our dads used to hang outside while the weather was still warm enough to avoid doing a Clark Griswold on a slippery roof have been relegated to the attic for another month. The only outdoor lights I’ve seen draped over bushes and evergreens so far have been orange and black.

As usual, I blame the explosion of Halloween holiday extravaganzas on rock’n roll. After all, it’s a lot more fun dressing up as Kiss and Lady Gaga, than Santa and Mrs. Claus. But putting the Halloween scare in pop music is old school and didn’t just start when Michael Jackson moon walked with a bunch of Hollywood zombies, or Marilyn Manson watched Nazi Week on The History Channel and decided he had an act.

The influences can be traced back to 1958 when little kids in plastic masks and one size fits all costumes sweated out the image of a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. The hit song Purple People Eater from part time cowboy actor Sheb Wooley (he was on Rawhide, my little cretins) hit number one on the music charts and inspired everyone from high school cheerleaders to your weird uncle to dress up like Prince and claim to be a people eater.

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Believe me this was scarier for kids of the 1950’s than it was watching Ozzy Osbourne cheer for another one of his kids on Dancing with the Stars.

Doin’ The Mash!

Then in 1962 Bobby “Boris” Pickett channeled his inner Karloff for Monster Mash. Thanks to Halloween locking this song onto every classic rock radio’s playlist, it’s a lock to say it probably earns more royalties per year than White Christmas.

But these songs were more fun(ny) than scary. They were novelty records and didn’t invoke lasting nightmares that stay with you whether the disk is on a turntable or buried in a shallow grave with your uncle’s Prince Costume in the backyard.

There are three album tracks by classic rockers that still give me the creeps in broad daylight and make a quick look under the bed a mandatory nighttime exercise. They have nothing to do with Halloween, but combine the spirits of Steven King and George Romero into a musical feast of electric guitars and deadly vocals that can cut through the darkness of any night.

When it’s done by the right band, it’s scarier than retro-disco night at the local PTA fundraiser.

So to honor the spirit of Halloween for what its become – a needed delay until my kids hand deliver their Christmas gift lists – here are…

The Top Three Scariest Classic Rock Songs:

#3. Dead Babies – Alice Cooper

I have the entire Killer album loaded into my digital playlist except for this song. That’s how much it creeps me out – big time. In his defense, Alice said it was supposed to be a statement against child abuse, but for teenagers in 1971, the year this album was unleashed, it was a musical play on a series of sick jokes going around junior high lunchrooms:

How do you make a dead baby walk? 200 dead babies and a sack of cement.

How do you make a dead baby float? Root beer, two scoops of ice cream and a dead baby.

Since I’m no longer eating lunch from a tray in a junior high cafeteria, I’m probably going to hell just for writing that. If nothing else, it creeps me out – big time.

As Alice would say, “Welcome to my nightmare.

This song was recorded by the Alice Cooper Band and not a solo from Vincent Furnier, who somewhere between releasing this disk and Billion Dollar Babies legally changed his name to Alice Cooper. For the other guys, it was worse than a sick joke. When the band eventually broke up, the lead singer owned their name. That would be like Paul McCartney changing his name to Beatles. For some reason, The Plastic Cooper Band wouldn’t carry the same image.

And image is what the Alice Cooper band was all about. When the group toured behind this album in 1972 we witnessed a makeup smeared transvestite in torn fishnets raging, threatening, and finally slashing away at plastic baby dolls on stage. Combined into a deadly medley with the LP’s final track Killer, he’s put on trial by his robe-wearing band-aides and lead to the gallows. The death dirge accompanying this dead man walking ended with Alice swinging from a noose, and then magically reappearing for an encore in white top hat and tails to sing Under My Wheels.

And it wasn’t even Halloween. If that ain’t creepy, I don’t know what is.

I’ll tell’ya what else is creepy – the video of Dead Babies from a 1971 live performance by Alice Cooper.

 

#2. Dazed and Confused – Led Zeppelin

I already know there’s gonna be some flack over this choice, but I’m going for feeling with this one. I actually did a crowd survey… okay, as much as I could standing in line at a convenience store behind some scary looking dudes who represent the new breed of metal rockers. I previewed two of my choices and here’s how they polled:

Dead Babies… uh, don’t know it.

Dazed and Confused… Are you high? What about SabbathMarilyn? Megadeath? Metallica

And you know what? Yeah, they’re all pretty scary, but they ain’t Jimmy Page. So shut the hello up and figure out who gave those guys the incentive to bring a dose of Black Magic and Goth into the realm of rock in the first place.

Maybe this is a selfish choice because of how I got introduced to the song. This is from Led Zeppelin… well, we call it “I” now, but it was their first album and back then nobody knew if there would be a “II.” My best friend had the disk and told me it was the scariest song he’d ever heard. It was night, we’re sitting in a dark room and he put the needle down (this was vinyl, you gremlins) on this last song from side one.

We sat there in silence and listened.

I’ve been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…

Name a teenager who can’t relate to that and I’ll show you a Rhodes Scholar. And the deal is, once we figured out who these guys were, it just got scarier. The sound waves coming out of the speakers were blacker than the circles under Keith Richards‘ eyes at the crack of noon. It wasn’t the kind of rock where you jumped out of your seat and danced. Instead you sat there wondering if anyone was gonna get out of there alive.

The meaning of the song has been interpreted as either a girl stringing along a guy making him dazed and confused, or describing an acid trip that makes a guy dazed and confused. Either way it doesn’t matter. It’s the music and the emotion. Jimmy Page conjuring up Aleister Crowley by slashing a violin bow against his electric guitar is scarier than me calling the metal dudes at the convenience store punks without getting a ten minute head start.

Turn out the lights, slap on a videotape of the original Night of the Living Dead and put the needle down on Dazed and Confused. Trick or treat – punks.

For a pre-punk 1968 black & white rock’n roll video of Led Zeppelin conjuring up Dazed and Confused, check this out…

 

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#1. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

If Paint It Black was… well, black– then this one is as red as Keith Richard’s eyes at the crack of noon. The Satanic Majesties of rock had ditched the flower power facade they threw out in rainbow colors a full six months after Sgt. Pepper had already dosed everyone for a Summer of Love and traded in their flowers for a walk on the dark side.

The transition started with the 1968 video for Jumpin’ Jack Flash when the Stones wore enough rouge and eyeliner to make Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sit up straight and think about a career move. But that was only a warning for the devilish dance Mick Jagger and his clan of deviants conjured up later that year for the opening track on Beggars Banquet.

This song launched a new era of bad behavior that even Flip Wilson couldn’t excuse with, “The devil made me do it.

The Stones were already on the Children’s Services black list for sex, drugs, drug busts and more sex by giving Mars Candy Bars a bad image. But when it was hinted they were into devil worship, the earth opened up and all hell broke loose.

Parents were horrified. Kids were mesmerized. The Stones were revitalized.

Sympathy for the Devil started as an acoustic folk song with Mick playing the part of Lucifer. Then Keith, the bluesman voted most likely to make a crossroads pact with the devil, added a tribal rhythm infectious enough to cause everyone in the recording studio to howl “Woo Woo!” at the moon.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t really the moon and only a microphone hanging from a boom stand. But if you’ve seen the movie One Plus One by Jean-Luc Godard who interspersed clips of the Stones developing this song with scenes of zombied-out models searching for something – anything – to rebel against, the microphone hanging over the group of stoned Stones and friends imitating a street corner doo-wop group could be a spaced-out metaphor for the moon.

Within a year Brian Jones, the once upon a time leader of this cult of musical personalities, was found at the bottom of his swimming pool. Five months later, after performing this song at Altamont, Jagger was quoted as saying, “We’re always having something very funny happen when we start that number.” In that case it was the stabbing death of a fan that got too close to a Hell’s Angels’ bike.

In a six minute percussion groove with piercing shrieks of electric guitar, Lucifer… ah, I mean Jagger, covers enough evil history to earn a Masters in the subject. Since Ed Sullivan had him change the lyrics to Let’s Spend The Night Together only a year earlier, Sympathy For The Devil would’ve put him over the edge and left him spinning in his prime time crypt.

For a visual trip to the other side, check out this video from a 1968 David Frost Show appearance by The Rolling Stones singing Sympathy For The Devil– with Brian Jones on the piano. It’s in glorious black & white, like the glorious original Night of the Living Dead… BOO!!!

 

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rocking’!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#170 – Purple Haze

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#170 – Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Like chewing aluminum foil. I’ll let that roll around in your mind for a moment…

This might be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but Jimi Hendrix wasn’t an instant, overnight success. His earliest records released in England during 1967 were not exactly hits, even though other rock musicians were taking notice. On May 29th he opened a concert in London with the song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were in attendance and more than impressed since the LP had been released only three days earlier. That moment has been written and talked about countless times since because Hendrix is such a legend.

But at that time in 1967 he wasn’t… yet.

On June 3rd Sgt. Pepper was released in the U.S. and organizers for the Monterey Pop Festival starting two weeks later were doing their best to coax The Beatles into performing. They turned it down, but Paul McCartney suggested Jimi Hendrix. They went for it and that’s when the legend started becoming real.

At least for the people that were there.

Let me stand next to your fire!

For many younger teenagers living near the northern Ohio metropolis of Cleveland, now home to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we didn’t hear much (if anything at all) about this legendary rock ‘n’ roll event. This was before Rolling Stone Magazine started covering the hippie scene for those of us thousands of miles away and the film Monterey Pop with Jimi’s legend-making guitar burning performance didn’t even come out until December 1968. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it until it made my university’s late night film lineup during the 1970’s.

Hendrix’s album Are You Experienced with Purple Haze was released in late August 1967. And since none of the songs were played on our reliable Top 40 AM “pop” radio stations, we pretty much had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was.

But during that same Summer Of Love, riots in Detroit forced my grandmother to get the heck out of Dodge. With army snipers on the roof of her apartment building near the Detroit River, she caught a Greyhound Bus and made it to our isolated niche on the shores of Lake Erie. When the fires simmered down we drove through the battle zone, packed up her stuff and moved her into an apartment near us.

It was around this time I started hearing rumors about underground music on FM radio stations.

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Since grandmothers are usually programmed never to say “No” to their favorite grandchildren, she allowed me to commandeer her FM stereo radio. Not long before this, FM was pretty much a wasteland for teenage pop music fans by featuring talk, easy listening music, weather and news. The older generations might have tuned in, but boomers were only within hearing range when we were stuck in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room playing FM stations that numbed us to near-death with background elevator muzak.

Through grandma’s radio I listened to songs by groups that were leading us from pop to rock. This included the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the songs Purple Haze, Fire and Foxy Lady. It was called psychedelic and sounded electric, heavy, soulful and very cool.

I was hooked.

In early winter 1968 mom and dad took my sister and me to New York City to visit our Radio City Rockette cousin. Thanks to a lake effect snowstorm that shut down the Cleveland airport, we boarded a passenger train for a twelve hour ride to Grand Central Station. Somewhere near Rockefeller Center between watching shows by the high kicking Rockettes, I wandered into a record store and saw Are You Experienced.

I bought it.

After an all night train ride home spending as much time looking at the LP cover as I did looking out the window, I finally had the chance to rip off the plastic wrapping and put it on the turntable of our family stereo. This might also be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but a stereo in many boomer’s homes during the 1950’s and 60’s doubled as a piece of furniture. So I was a bit surprised when my parents allowed me to commandeer the stereo and move it into my bedroom for my own personal use. They didn’t mind rock ‘n’ roll (after all, they had taken me to see The Beatles), but this gave them a better chance to hear what was on their FM stations when I listened to Jimi’s guitar feedback behind my closed bedroom door.

But similar to discovering Jimi Hendrix at the age of fourteen, I realized my room wasn’t cool enough for this new music. Hendrix also had a look and my room had none.

Sometime that summer I found a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix with the words, “Like chewing aluminum foil.” My first impression was that it was funny. But it was also different and seemed very cool.

I bought it.

But it needed a better display than just being hung up in my room, so I also bought a blue light bulb. Don’t misunderstand. This was not a blue light that could be paired up with a lava lamp to turn any kid’s bedroom into a hippie hang out. It was exactly what I said it was – a blue light bulb. I slid open my closet door, pushed the clothes on hangers as far to the side as possible, tacked up my Jimi Hendrix poster and replaced the regular light bulb (with a pull string to turn it on) with the blue bulb.

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I had a cool room.

When my pals came over I would open the closet door, push aside the clothes, pull on the blue light bulb string, and play Are You Experienced. Oh yeah… we thought we were very cool.

Purple Haze joined this Dream Song list on September 2nd. I still own my original vinyl album, but in the years since have added it to my digital playlist. And since I had just heard it, the song joins the recent memory list.

Like chewing aluminum foil? Yeah, since we weren’t really that cool you should know what’s coming…

During this phase of our high school careers, my best pal Kevin and I were pretty much inseparable. We were about fourteen or fifteen years old and if I wasn’t at his house he was at mine. We’d ride our bikes around town looking for great adventures and throw parties so we could talk-up the cute girls in our class. On weekends we’d sleep over at one of our houses so we could stay up all night watching the dumbest movies we could find on television.

Actually, we were pretty bright kids and really didn’t get into any trouble. But then again, even smart kids can be dumber than the dumbest…

One night with my Jimi Hendrix poster displayed in it’s (not that cool) blue light, we started debating what like chewing aluminum foil really meant. Was Hendrix trying to tell us something? Was it about the music or the experience?

There was only one way to find out.

We walked into the kitchen, took out two pieces of aluminum foil, popped them into our mouths and bit down. Maybe it had to do with having one or two metal tooth fillings that were popular with muzak-listening dentists in the 1960’s, but there is only one way to describe the sensation.

OUCH!!!!!

If you’ve ever made the claim that you’ll try anything once in your life – cross this one off your list. It was like having a jolt of Jimi Hendrix electric guitar feedback screaming through every nerve ending connecting our jaws to our brains. We couldn’t spit it out fast enough while trying to muffle our cries of agony so we wouldn’t wake up my mom and dad. It was bad enough to learn how dumb we could be without letting my parents in on the realization.

Decades later I can still dredge up the pain like a bad acid flashback – even though I’ve never taken acid. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stick a live electric wire your mouth, it’s…

Like chewing aluminum foil.

To this day if Kevin and I see each other all we have to say is, “LCAF.” Believe me, the impression was lasting and we both know exactly what we’re referring to.

The legend-making part of Jimi Hendrix’s career was also a short explosion that only lasted only a few years. He died in September 1970 while I was still in high school and at a time when some rock stars were only just starting to figure out there might be a dark side to doing drugs – and teenagers learned not to chew aluminum foil.

But we didn’t stop playing his records. Like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a certain few other legends of the rock world, Hendrix still seems to be relevant. He is still referred to as one of the best – if not THE best – rock guitar player and innovator. He changed the music forever.

He also changed the way I look at aluminum foil. LCAF.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

For a live performance video of Purple Haze by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, check this out…

To purchase Are You Experienced with Purple Haze visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#171 – A Summer Song

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#171 – A Summer Song by Chad & Jeremy

 – Being a Classic Rocker is not always an exact science. Especially when the archeological dig through our minds lack video or photographic evidence from the world of pop and rock, which was once considered disposable.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m alluding to, the eras of what we consider now as pop culture during the 1950s and ’60s were thought to be nothing more than a passing fad. Many live television shows were just that – live for that moment and then gone forever. Television studios could save money by taping shows in advance of airing and then reuse that same film for the next broadcast. So a lot of what we might remember exists only in our memories.

We’re lucky when a program like The Ed Sullivan Show was a national hit, filmed for airing in all time zones and saved for later repeats. Otherwise, we might not even have these performances by Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many others from the ’50s and ’60s to watch again and again.

This is the dilemma I faced when trying to find exact information, including video and photographic evidence, of my personal television debut. And that’s frustrating because I think of it as a worthy (personal) pop culture moment since it happened in a Dick Clark Production with Chad & Jeremy.

So to begin this archaeological dig through my mind…

Chad & Jeremy were always one of my favorite British Invasion acts on the (Cuban) heels of the Beatles kicking things off in early 1964. I’ve mentioned in earlier Classic Rockers that as a preteen I didn’t have the funds to splurge on every great record that hit the charts, so after spending on the Beatles’ latest I had to be selective. One I couldn’t resist was the duo’s Yesterday’s Gone. I loved it then and still do.

Jeremy & Chad with Laura Petrie

Though the Beatles and other groups might have been more selective on what television shows they appeared on, Chad & Jeremy seemed more accessible. Along with the usual must watch television variety shows like Ed Sullivan, Hullabaloo and Shindig, they guest-starred (with speaking roles) on The Patty Duke Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

So yeah, I knew who these guys were. I didn’t confuse them with Peter and Gordon, like some of the other kids had an annoying habit of doing.

The summer of 1966 was huge for me. I turned thirteen in June – finally a teenager – the music was great and I earned enough money in my parents’ bakery to have a decent record collection. I also went to my first concert, which was The Beatles at Cleveland Stadium.

Like I said… huge.

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The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The Story Behind Their Greatest Concert

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But also being a teenager meant having more freedom than when I was just a “kid.” Now, this is where it morphs into not being an exact science, but sometime in either July or August I was allowed to spend a week living on my cousin’s boat at the popular amusement park, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio. You might know it now as America’s Roller Coast for it’s outlandish collection of HUGE roller coasters and other thrill rides, and to us in the 1960’s it had that same reputation. It was one of the coolest places on earth to a thirteen year old and I would be staying there with my fifteen year old cousin John with nothing more to do than ride rides, swim on the beach (where we learned to surf on wooden “pizza boards”) and roam around with no parental supervision.

Like I said… cool.

The place to be!

One of our favorite rides at that time was the go-cart track. This was very different than you might be picturing during an immediate archaeological dig through your mind. There were no loud gas-powered motors. The track was a large oval with raised curves and electrical strips imbedded into the track. The go-carts had connectors (brushes) underneath and were powered by electricity. When the guy running the ride switched on the power, we’d race around the track using the cart’s accelerator and (sometimes) the brake. When the power was turned off, that’s where we stopped.

It was a popular ride and always had a line of wannabe racers. Since John and I were living on the boat docked in the park’s marina, we’d run in as soon as the gates opened so we could race around at least a few times before it became too crowded. We followed our plan that morning and though we weren’t first in line, we were pretty close.

It was a nice day, sun was out and the sky was blue. The ride was right next to the beach, which I’ve always considered to be one of the nicest beaches on Lake Erie and we could watch boats and people swimming while we waited.

I mentioned the sun and blue sky because if you were going to film anything there really wouldn’t be a need for “studio lighting.” I’m not sure when I noticed there were television cameras set up alongside the track but being a typical thirteen year old I was more concerned about when we would get on the ride. I also remember we waiting a bit longer than what should have been “opening” time. But since we had a good place in line we weren’t about to leave.

Sort of like this – but not really.

Then a guy who seemed to be in charge of the ride asked, “Who wants to ride go-carts?” Before I knew it, John had grabbed my arm and raised it up in the air with his. Obviously he had been paying better attention than me. We were both selected along with about six or eight others and were let in to choose our go-carts.

We drove around for awhile, stopping when the power was shut off and then starting again. After a bit we were told this would be filmed for a television special and before it had a chance to sink in, Chad & Jeremy walked in through the exit gate and sat in two empty go-carts.

Yeah… very cool.

The kids left watching from the sides of the track looked pretty excited as we drove go-carts with Chad & Jeremy for about an hour (if I remember correctly) while the cameras filmed us. At one point we were stopped and I was next to Chad (if I remember correctly). With all my thirteen year old British Invasion inspiration and some unfounded need to sound English, I looked at him and said, “Hullo.”

Yeah… not very cool. At least he answered, “Hello.”

That was cool.

After they had enough film, we ended our marathon go-cart ride. The cameras were moved to the beach and Chad and Jeremy lip-synced a song. This is where video would help. I’ve always thought they sang A Summer Song, but my memory might have been influenced by the time of year. After some online research I learned they were heavily promoting their latest song Distant Shores at that time in 1966 so it might be that one instead.

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But going through my waking mind on September 1st was A Summer Song, which is what stirred this archeological mind dig in the first place. Being a C&J fan of course I own a copy and had just heard it, so it goes into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

After the excitement of riding go-carts for television cameras, John and I found out Dick Clark Productions was at Cedar Point filming a television special. A lot of different areas were blocked off, but we found out – and saw on television a couple months later – that Paul Revere and The Raiders performed Hungry at the Pirate Ride and The Vogues lip-synced Five O’Clock World while riding in a golf cart along the Cedar Point midway.

Again… very cool.

Dick Clark bringing the action!

I don’t remember the name of the special, but I’m sure it was connected to one of Clark’s programs either American Bandstand or Where The Action Is. It was airing during fall 1966 and we watched, knowing it would be pretty exciting to see ourselves on television. An all too brief go-cart sequence (in black and white) was shown at the very beginning of the special announcing that Chad & Jeremy were featured artists. During this opening segment I remember seeing my cousin John zip by and just as my go-cart came onto the screen…

You could see me only from the neck down.

It was my national television debut, so it was still pretty cool.

But it could have been cooler.

As I said at the beginning of this rambling adventure, a lot of video from the 1960s has been lost and apparently this is one of them. Over the years I’ve occasionally been inspired to search online for any written record, video footage or photos from this Dick Clark Special and have found almost nothing. At one point there was a glimpse of hope when I found a title and air date, but never made a note of it. In other words, this slight bit of information has been lost to memory and I wasn’t able to dig it up again for this version of The Classic Rocker.

Yesterday’s gone, but C&J still cool

About five or six years ago during one of these inspired searches, I somehow found an online contact for Chad & Jeremy. Don’t ask me how, but it might have had something to do with an upcoming appearance they were making at a Beatles fan conference. Since I have written a couple books on the Beatles and been a guest author at a few of these events, maybe that’s how this connection was made.

The contact answered my query and thought it was an interesting story. He said he would ask Chad & Jeremy if they remembered anything about this and get back with me.

Yeah… okay…

But a few days later I was surprised when I received an email from this contact. He said he’d had the chance to ask. One or both said they had a memory of driving go-carts for a television special and… Well, that’s it. They had no photos, video or anything more than I did – which is a memory that’s still pretty vivid even though it took a deep archeological dig into my mind to find it.

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Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

At least I didn’t have to dig too far to find of video of Chad & Jeremy performing Summer Song.

And to make it very cool – the duo is introduced by Dick Cark.

 

To purchase The Very Best of Chad & Jeremy with A Summer Song visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

 

#176 – I’d Do Anything

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#176 – I’d Do Anything from the Broadway musical Oliver!

February 9, 1964

– Here’s a little remembered fact about baby boomers. We weren’t all raised on rock ‘n’ roll. Many parents of young teenagers that went wild over Elvis in the 1950’s were also raising infants who would be converted into Beatlemaniacs only eight years later. This older generation, that included the “bobby-sockers” who swooned over Frank Sinatra in the 1940’s, was just as shocked over the rebelliousness of rock ‘n’ roll as many boomer parents (or grandparents) were about rap music decades later.

So a lot of them didn’t listen. And as infant boomers in the household, we didn’t hear a lot of rock ‘n’ roll until we were old enough to discover it for ourselves.

Popular music was family-friendly. Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby and other “mainstream” singers were having hits. And to make my point even clearer, Patti Page had a number one record in 1953 with How Much Is That Doggie In The Window and I’ll bet most boomers born in the 1950’s can still sing it.

But before we took over our own vinyl turntables with disks by Elvis and The Beatles (and many others), we heard our parents’ record collections. In my case it included the above-mentioned singers, jazz, big band, movie soundtracks and Broadway show tunes.

February 9, 1964 Headliners

This was also the music that was popular on television. In the 1950’s and 60’s variety shows earned high ratings for family viewing. On Sunday nights the most influential primetime host, Ed Sullivan, featured the widest variety of them all.

Most of these shows treated rock ‘n’ roll singers as little more than novelty acts for the youngsters. Though Sullivan may have used that billing to schedule everyone from Elvis to The Beatles, appearances on his show could make their careers more than just a passing fad.

If boomers wanted to see the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll, we watched The Ed Sullivan Show. And while we watched, he also made sure to present acts everyone else in the family could enjoy.

As mentioned in past Classic Rockers, I was well versed in Broadway musicals thanks to my mother – a member of the Frank Sinatra bobby-sock generation. But my first exposure to I’d Do Anything from the musical Oliver! occurred the same night Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to U.S. audiences on February 9, 1964.

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I’d Do Anything was introduced to this Dream Song list on August 17th. And as proof my digital playlist is as varied as one of Sullivan’s programs, I own a copy from the 1968 movie soundtrack and had just heard it. So place this one into the recent memory category.

So why would a Classic Rocker have this Broadway show tune mixed in with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and others that proved not to be just passing fads?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first here’s a 1964 fact about this song and a then-future teen idol.

When we watched for our favorite group on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was necessary to watch the entire program. We never had a clue exactly when they would appear. On February 9th Sullivan told us The Beatles “Would appear now and again later in the second half of our show,” which kept us tuned in for the entire hour. On a weekly basis that meant we’d also see comedians, animal acts, plate spinners, acrobats and opera singers while waiting for The Dave Clark Five or The Animals.

Davy Jones as The Artful Dodger

Between the Beatles two sets on their debut night, Sullivan introduced the Broadway cast of Oliver! to perform two songs. The first was I’d Give Anything For You featuring Davy Jones as The Artful Dodger and English singer Georgia Brown as Nancy (who sang As Long As He Needs Me).

Little did we know that two and a half years later Davy Jones would become one of The Monkees. And during an interview years after that, he talked about watching The Beatles from the side of the stage and thinking how much fun that would be as a career. Little did he know

But the real credit for this Oliver! classic making our Dream Songs list goes to my son Paul.

We learned at (his) very young age that Paul loved Broadway musicals. His first exposure came when he was about four years old and we took him to see the local high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. He sat on my lap the entire time to see over the adults seated in front of us and it was obvious to me he was mesmerized. Days later he was singing the songs – after only hearing them that one time. Musically gifted? As a proud and supportive dad I definitely say yes.

Two years later the high school staged Oliver! and the same thing happened. So before we made a long drive to Florida for a spring vacation, I bought the Broadway cast CD and we listened constantly. On the fun(ny) side (for father and son anyway) his mother almost lost her mind hearing it over and over and over as we sang along. And after each time we’d hear I’d Do Anything, he’d call out from the back seat (since he was still too small to ride in the front):

Play it again!” Being the proud and supportive dad, I always did.

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So my memory is not of Davy Jones on The Ed Sullivan Show, but instead our son Paul as a five or six year old musical prodigy serenading us on a 20+ hour drive to Florida. And adding to the memory bank about the influence this music had on him, he has gone on to graduate from a well-respected Conservatory of Music and onto a career in musical theater. This past year he made the full circle by starring in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. But since he’s in his early twenties and over six feet tall with leading man looks, it’s highly doubtful we’ll ever see him as the youngster Artful Dodger in any revival of Oliver!

The Classic Rocker with Davy Jones

And finally as a footnote for this Classic Rocker’s personal memories about waiting for The Beatles and watching Davy Jones as The Artful Dodger singing I’d Do Anything on The Ed Sullivan Show, I guess you could call this another type of circle.

The first concert we took Paul to – as an infant – was by The Monkees.

I had interviewed Davy Jones for a newspaper column I was writing at the time and being a nice guy, he invited us back stage after the show. We had time to talk and take photos, which was also a thrill for my wife Debutant Deb, who still views Davy as her teen idol from the ’60s. And yeah, we have a photo of him with infant Paul who I know will complete another circle some day soon when he makes his Broadway musical debut.

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Here’s a video of Davy Jones and the cast of Oliver! performing I’d Do Anything on The Ed Sullivan Show

 

To purchase the original Broadway cast recording of Oliver! with I’d Do Anything (sorry, but Davy Jones wasn’t part of the original cast and not on this one!) visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

 

#177 – Stop! In The Name Of Love

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#177 – Stop! In The Name Of Love by The Supremes

 – I’d say there’s about a fifty-fifty chance I heard the word “Stop!” during a concert by The Supremes. The problem was that it wasn’t followed by, “In the name of love.” More likely it was, “Where do you think you’re going?

Alright, I didn’t belong there anyway. But at the time it seemed worth the try.

I’ll get to all that in a moment, but there’s no way to stop Stop! In The Name Of Love from joining this Dream Song list. It happened on the morning of August 16th. There’s a decent selection of Supremes songs on my digital playlist, but this number one hit from 1965 isn’t one of them. That’s strange because I like the song, but just haven’t gotten around to downloading it. Guess I’ll have to take care of that soon. In the meantime, since I hadn’t heard it in awhile, we’ll add it to the subliminal category and use it to bring back a memory that would’ve been better off left in my subconscious.

In past Classic Rocker’s I’ve gone through the valuable music heritage that was coming out of Detroit on a regular basis during the 1960s. There’s no need to repeat any of that here, especially for those of you that lived through it. If you’re of a younger generation, just retrace the roots of your favorite hip-hop, soul, rap and funk artists and you’ll wind up at Motown.

Top tier Motown talent

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say The Supremes were the top tier of talent for Motown’s founder, Berry Gordy. The trio of Diane (later Diana) Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard (later Cindy Birdsong) set records for consistent chart-topping songs (twelve number one singles) and were favorites on The Ed Sullivan Show and many others that we watched on a regular basis. And it wasn’t just the baby boomer generation that was enamored by The Supremes. Gordy self-guided their career to also include high-end, big-name nightclubs to include an audience of “mature” fans and in the case of Ross, a high-profile movie career in the 1970’s.

The fact that he also fathered one of her children only adds to the legend and why he took such special interest in her career. But that has nothing to do with our Classic Rocker ramblings today. And my rambling into a Supremes performance where I actually didn’t belong also has nothing to do with Ross since she had already split the scene in 1970 for a solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell.

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The same year Ross split, my friends and I were joining. To be more specific, we into our last two years of high school and were involved. We joined various clubs and activities ranging from ski club to band to the school musicals. I was class vice president and prom chairman my junior year, and on student council as a senior. But that also has nothing to do with Classic Rocker ramblings. I don’t want it to sound like bragging and it’s only mentioned because it sets up the reason why we joined a club specifically meant for the smart kids.

It was called Quiz Bee.

Basically you had a team of students that – together – knew everything. We’d compete against other schools and whichever team answered the most questions correctly would win. There were about twelve of us in Quiz Bee, and we were divided into two teams. The really smart kids were on the A-Team. My closest friends (myself included) made up the B-Team. In other words, we weren’t really that smart. We just joined because we were just smart enough to know we could get out of school early and hang out together while traveling to compete at other schools.

But there was one really cool perk being a member of Quiz Bee. Two schools from each state in the U.S. would be invited to participate in a three-day student United Nations Assembly in Washington, DC. Ours was one of the schools from Ohio for both our junior and senior years.

Talk about a cool perk! But it’s better than that…

The idea was that each team would represent a different member country in a pretend UN session. Our school was given Norway and Malta. Our B-Team was trusted with the fate of the small island country and we prepared for this educational experience as if we were going to an island for spring break.

The Fab Shoreham

I must say this was a very good program to be involved with. We traveled to DC and stayed at the famous Shoreham Hotel, (where The Beatles stayed) and had schedules that included small group meetings, large assemblies (with schools from every state), speakers, debates and voting on (pretend) international policies. But once these were completed by early evening, we were still teenagers away from parental supervision, staying in a large hotel in a big city, and left to our own devices.

I shared a hotel room with my two best friends who had no more business being on the Quiz Bee team than I did. We were just out for a good time. And to add to the devices, our girl friends (two words, so not girlfriends) were staying only two doors down. Occupying the room in-between was our teacher chaperone, but he was old and we knew he’d be in bed by nine o’clock.

Suddenly I’m depressed by that term old. Thinking back, he was probably younger than we are now.

We were all basically good kids, but certainly not angels. We knew how to have fun as long as we didn’t get caught. My buddy Tim and I each claimed one of the two beds and told Gary he could sleep on the foldout cot. But that didn’t concern him at all. What did was the supply of booze he had packed in his suitcase for our B-Team’s wild weekend. Since we were only 17 years old he had gone to the trouble of finding “adults” (probably older kids with fake ID’s) to buy him bottles of whiskey and vodka.

We invited the girls over for a party.

That night got a little too loud with talking, laughing and the radio because we woke up our (teacher) neighbor. He banged on our hotel door and we had to keep yelling “Wait a minute” while hiding the booze and any evidence we were underage kids drinking it. As a preventative against real trouble, the girls stood in the bathtub and closed the shower curtain shut.

Of course we were all caught red-handed. The party ended with the girls being sent back to their room and a promise that all of us would be sent back to Ohio via bus the next day.

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Wisely, Tim, Gary and I woke up early that day and walked or bused our way to the Capitol Building. Either that morning or the day before, a radical group (we didn’t use the term terrorist in 1970) had set off a bomb and blown off a small chunk from the corner of the building. The area was cordoned off by police tape and there were a few guards hanging around. One of us reached over and picked up a small piece of brick. We went back to the Shoreham Hotel and gave this small souvenir from our nation’s historic Capitol as a peace offering to our teacher chaperone.

It must have worked because we continued as the Malta delegation for the rest of our planned weekend.

We attended all the meetings and only left one early on Friday to drop water balloons on our school’s A-Team from the hotel roof as they walked across the street for lunch. Otherwise we kept our fun to the evening hours. And for those two remaining nights we just made sure not to get caught.

I remember most of the other schools were just as adventurous as we were and there was never a shortage of underage kids using fake ID’s to buy booze from the liquor store about a block away. There was a lot of running around the hallways, shouting, laughing and acting like… well, teenagers on booze.

Oh yeah… I almost forgot about The Supremes.

There was a large lounge, or maybe a convention center turned into a showroom in the hotel. Coming back from one of our Saturday meetings, we saw a sign outside saying The Supremes were performing that night.

So a plan was set in motion…

Jean Terrell and Supremes on Tom Jones TV show 1970

Since we had to dress up for our pretend UN Convention, the guys had shirts, ties and jackets and the girls had dresses. We stayed in our “good clothes” instead of our “running around the halls clothes” and waited until the show had started. Then along with my two buddies and our girl friends we put on our best mature attitudes and walked around the velvet ropes and into the showroom.

The place was filled with a mature well-dressed audience that obviously didn’t need fake ID’s to enter. We probably got about halfway in and stopped because we couldn’t see any open tables or seats. The Supremes were on stage (sorry, I can’t remember the song) but that was also when we heard (fifty-fifty chance), “STOP!” I’ll go ahead and add “Where do you think you’re going?” only if you think it’ll enhance the story.

We were quickly escorted out by a few big guys in suits and left to our own devices for the rest of the night.

With no shortage of fake ID’s among high school students from all fifty states, the parties raged on in the hotel hallways for the rest of the night and into the early morning hours. As for The Supremes, our adventure became a good bragging right (“Yeah, we saw them!“).

And speaking of The Supremes and our adventures…

I remember seeing the three girls on stage wearing either white or cream-colored long gowns that sparkled under the spotlights. Mary Wilson would have been the only original member – but it still counts!

We left Sunday morning for the long bus ride back to Ohio. I remember it being a fairly quiet trip for the B-Team as we caught up on our sleep, while the well-rested A-Team probably talked about the educational benefits gained from our extracurricular activity. I also left with knowledge of how the UN works and the importance of countries working together to make the world a better place.

But the main lesson I learned was that teenagers from all fifty U.S. states are not that much different – as long as fake ID’s are involved.

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Here’s a video from 1965 of The Supremes performing Stop! In The Name Of Love

 

 

To purchase The Supremes: The Definitive Collection with Stop In The Name Of Love visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#178 – Sir Duke

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#178 – Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder

 – Motown was everywhere in the 1960’s. If your transistor radio could pick up a Top 40 station, regardless of where you were located, you heard the hits coming out of Detroit scoring big-time on the music charts. Even in the midst of The British Invasion deejays would spin new releases by The Supremes, Temptations and Four Tops as often as they did The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

My claim to being a pop music know-it-all and future Classic Rocker didn’t fully gel until Ed Sullivan introduced us to The Beatles on February 9, 1964. But the roots had already been digging in. When I was about nine or ten years old I had a friend who lived across the street. And he had something I didn’t:

A teenage brother.

Per tradition when it comes to teenagers dealing with younger siblings and their immature friends, we as little kids were not allowed to go in his room or touch any of his stuff.

And of course as little kids, that’s exactly what we would do when he wasn’t home.

The 12 year old genius

A magnet for us would be his record player and collection of 45 rpm disks, usually scattered around his bedroom floor. The ones I remember most were Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean (1961) and Fingertips Part 2 by Little Stevie Wonder, released on Motown’s Tamla label in 1963. He was billed as “The 12 Year Old Genius,” which told us he wasn’t a teenager either.

On the few occasions we were caught red-handed in his room and subject to firsthand demonstrations of Big Time Wrestling moves until we could break away and run out of the house screaming for parental intervention, I never thought of using this age gap as a self-defense weapon. Why the heck were little kids banned from this treasure trove of infectious music when the teenager himself was a fan of The 12 Year Old Genius?

I answered that for myself a few years later when as a teenager I ordered my little sister to stay out of my room and never touch my stuff. If these age gap rules weren’t followed, her punishment would be the same Big Time Wrestling moves I had learned the hard way while listening to Big Bad John and Fingertips Part 2.

And in case you’re wondering about the title, the live recording was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm vinyl. So like the classic Isley Brothers’ rocker Shout, Fingertips was edited into two sections. Part 1 was actually the A-side of the single. But thanks to Stevie’s hyper-excited close to the live performance and his “Goodbye, goodbye” ending chorus that we hoped would go on forever, deejays played the B-side and that’s the title that hit number one on the music charts.

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As time will do with all of us, we grew older over the years. But unlike with my circle of teenage friends during the mid to late 1960’s, Stevie Wonder was making hit records. He also dropped “Little” from his billing and by the end of the decade he was a mature artist blazing a trail through funk and soul music. I guess that also earned him enough rock ‘n’ roll cred that he flew directly into my realm of fandom via a rock concert. It was during my final year as a teenager when he opened for The Rolling Stones during the legendary Exile On Main Street Tour in July 1972.

This was four years before the release of his mega hit double LP Songs in the Key of Life with the song Sir Duke, but his creativity had already been taking him in that direction. His latest album prior to The Stones’ tour was Music of My Mind and his next single would be Superstition.

We’ll get more into that concert experience in a moment, but first…

Songs in the Key of Life

Sir Duke joined this Dream Song list on August 12. I’ll call it Big Band Funk since it was a tribute to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) and others mentioned by name in the song and stands as one of the many highlights from Songs in the Key of Life. But since my vinyl copy is stored in the Classic Rocker Archives and I can’t recall hearing it since my son Paul’s junior high jazz band performed the song as an instrumental during a school program, it funks its way into the subliminal category.

Of course I had been a Stevie fan since Fingertips Part 2, but once he entered the Superstitious era I appreciated his genius even more. It had become a Christmas tradition that I would be gifted with an album. It started with Beatles ’65 in 1964 and Rubber Soul the next year (which I hijacked and started playing a couple weeks before). I remember The Stones’ Let It Bleed made the list, along with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and The Concert For Bangladesh.

In 1976 it was Songs in the Key of Life. The entire collection of songs, along with Sir Duke made both LP’s mandatory listening throughout the winter.

But now let’s return to the summer of 1972…

A new era

At the time Stevie Wonder seemed to be a strange choice to open shows for The Rolling Stones. With their roots in the blues, it was never a surprise when artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters or The Ike and Tina Turner Review kicked off the concert experience. But Stevie Wonder didn’t seem that far removed from his 1960’s Motown hits and the once descriptive adjective “Little” before his name.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier Classic Rocker, my pals and I saw the Exile On Main Street Tour at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl on July 11th. It was outdoor, festival seating – meaning you arrived early to find a good seat and stake claim to it. By the time we got to the outdoor stadium we were relegated to space halfway up in the stands and about a fifty-yard rush to the left side of the stage. Fortunately it was the first concert I had ever been to that had huge screens on both sides of the stage and we had close-up views of everything happening under the spotlights.

Also from our vantage point, we had no problem seeing a lot of what was happening below us on the football field that was jammed packed with fans.

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Keep in mind this was 1972 and things were different. The concert scene had been going through some recent changes…

The screaming teens that had turned Beatles and DC5 appearances into short pop music events had matured into The Woodstock Generation. If you didn’t at least try to look like a hippie with longer hair, bellbottoms and concert t-shirt, you probably looked out of place. Most Stones fans were also old enough to purchase alcohol, (3.2% beer if you were at least 18 in Ohio) and the smell of marijuana wafting through the air was as much a part of the scene as the music.

But that didn’t mean this entire scene was all that acceptable to the older generation.

One of my most vivid memories of this concert happened during Stevie Wonder’s opening set. We had all read about the violence and mayhem that followed The Stones on this tour. There were stories of violence and injury reports at almost every stop and there was no reason why Akron would be different.

Stevie and Mick Exiled on Main Street

Sometime during Stevie’s opening set a large contingent of policemen gathered at the end of the football field facing the stage. We all noticed – and all started watching. Then forming in a long line, they pushed and shoved their way through the crowd like they were zeroing in on a certain group. Again, we were all watching – only this time everyone started booing the cops.

About midfield they stopped and – apparently – tried to drag out a few hippies. We could only speculate it was a drug bust and it took everyone’s attention away from what was happening on stage. We could see it turning into a brawl and fans near the action were throwing bottles and whatever at the cops. I distinctly remember seeing blood on the top of one officer’s bald head.

Eventually the cops retreated. And as far as I remember, there were no arrests – at least on the field during the concert. The fans cheered as the cops withdrew and all eyes and ears went back to Stevie Wonder. And they stayed that way after the sun went down, the stage lights went up and the images of Mick and Keith kicking into Brown Sugar were projected onto the large screens at both sides of the stage.

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Here’s a video of Stevie Wonder performing Sir Duke.

 

To purchase Songs in the Key of Life with Sir Duke visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

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