Category Archives: Bands

#159 – Fun, Fun, Fun

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#159 – Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys

 – Though I’m tempted, we won’t go all the way back to 1964 and when we first heard this one. In fact, there’s no reason to even focus on just the 1960’s since Fun, Fun, Fun has lived on through the decades. It’s still almost impossible to visit a beachside bar, diner, ice cream stand, or fast food joint where sand could be called a condiment, without hearing this classic rocker on the sound system.

By the way, if we were returning mentally to the 1960’s I’d have to change that statement to read “jukebox.”

Fun, Fun, Fun is one of the Brian Wilson and Mike Love collaborations that defined the Southern California lifestyle many of us could only imagine while growing up in the Midwest. For the boys of summer, it was year-round sunshine, surfing, riding in convertibles, and hanging out with girls at the beach (listed not necessarily in preferred order). For me personally, it only took a few decades after The Beach Boys started sending us these messages via Top 40 AM Radio that I finally surfed into the 1990’s and was living in Los Angeles.

But it wasn’t quite the easy fun, fun, fun that they had promised.

After a cross-country drive from New York City, I crashed with a former girlfriend who after a few years of Splitsville had morphed into the close friend zone, in The Hollywood Hills for a month and began my California lifestyle. The first non-fun shock was having to buy a car and pay insurance after years of subways, taxis, buses and walking. The next step was embarking on a career move, which took a while but eventually turned out pretty good. But the move that was the biggest hassle was a physical one. When the rich girl that owned the house where I was crashing learned an extra person (me) was sharing the large basement apartment (I had my own room, just to make the arrangements perfectly clear) she decided to double the rent.

The California Sound

It’s too bad because it was cool starter space while I tried to figure out Los Angeles. And though we called it a basement, it only fit that description if you looked at it from the front of the house. From the back it was just another ground floor space with lots of full windows and a private entrance.

It also came with a bit of star power.

The renter before us had been the actor Randy Quaid who was still getting junk mail sent to him at that address. My close friend zone roommate also told me our rich landlord, who was a semi-famous model, actress (with a very famous New York sports legend father) and lived in the upstairs house, was dating one of The Eagles. I took her word for it, though I never saw him and can’t remember which one. But we also assumed she was dating the actor Andrew Stevens since we looked out our window one day and he was mowing the back lawn.

Fun, fun, fun in The Hollywood Hills.

With the threat of raised rent meaning I’d have to start paying my fair share, I felt it was a fair idea to get my own place. Through the connections of an actor pal who had also made the move from Manhattan to Hollywood, I sublet a super-fab condo in the Silver Lake neighborhood (with a mountain view looking down at Dodger Stadium) for the summer. The owner, who was also an actor no one had ever heard of, scored a gig touring the country doing regional theater and for a fair price I would take care of his place and his cat. Fair enough.

But he had one stipulation: no one else was allowed to live in the condo with me. Okay…

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I moved in on a Saturday as he was leaving for the airport. A couple hours later my best rock and roll pal from NYC (imagine Steven Tyler and you’ll be close) who was also making the move to Southern California, arrived at the same LAX Airport. I picked him up in my Mustang convertible and moved him into the condo’s off-limits spare bedroom.

Okay, not exactly fair as a renter – but a great way to kick off a Southern California summer of fun, fun, fun.

Inspiring Place

Being a Beach Boys fan, one of my first goals was to find a Foster’s Freeze. If you’re not familiar with the legend of the song, these are well-known ice cream stands (and restaurants) with locations around California. Supposedly Brian Wilson and Mike Love were hanging around the F.F. on their home turf in Hawthorne when they spotted a girl drive by in her daddy’s car and looking like she was having too much fun.

It inspired the 1964 song.

For a couple guys from NYC making this new turf their new home, I thought it would be a symbolic way for my Steven Tyler-ish pal and I to kick off the fun, fun, fun. We may not have made it all the way out to Hawthorne, but we found one not too far away in The San Fernando Valley and toasted with what we referred to as A Bucket ‘O’ Shake. In other words, the Foster’s Freeze milkshakes were SO huge that a steady diet would have us looking like Brian Wilson in the 1970’s. Not a pretty thought, so we kept ourselves on a strict limit.

And speaking of the song, Fun, Fun, Fun joined this list on September 23rd. Of course, I own a copy as any wannabe sun drenched rocker dude should, but since the beaches where I live now are closed by Labor Day, I hadn’t heard it for quite a few sunsets. It surfs its way into the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

Finding a Foster’s Freeze held promise of a Beach Boys inspired summer, but then reality set in.

Beach Boys Landmark

Since Silver Lake was nowhere near a beach and we discovered it was a long drive to the sand and surf. One of our first potential beach bum lessons learned was if you didn’t arrive before… oh, let’s say eight o’clock in the morning – regardless of the day – good luck finding any parking within an hour or two walking distance. In our seemingly endless desperate searches for an open parking space, we spent more hours cruising packed streets and full lots from Santa Monica to Redondo Beach than the amount of time the girl in the song spent behind the wheel of her daddy’s T-Bird.

More often than not we’d scrap the idea of meeting any California beach girls and hit a Foster’s Freeze where we’d make plans to find an apartment with a swimming pool and reserved parking spaces when my sublet was over.

But we were still enterprising guys from New York cruising into our first summer in Southern California. If we couldn’t get to the party, we’d bring the party to us.

When I had hit Los Angeles a few months earlier, I immediately – and I’m talking within the first week – got involved with an acting group and an improvisational comedy troupe. The benefits of both were not only as creative and performing opportunities, but also a fast track to make new friends. The acting group actually cost money to belong since we rented a weekly rehearsal space and occasionally a small Hollywood theater to showcase audition scenes for agents and casting directors. The improv troupe performed in bars and clubs on the weekends, but our “pay” usually consisted of chicken wings and beer. So neither could be considered a get rich quick showbiz deal. In fact, it turned out to be the opposite.

But the real payoff was fun (fun, fun).

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The majority of my friends have always been creative people. And who would be more creative than actors, writers, comedians and rock and rollers? Right… I can’t think of any either. So instead of stressing out about making early morning beach treks hoping for nonexistent parking opportunities and if we were lucky, enough empty space on the sand for a beach towel, we decided to throw Saturday night parties in my condo sublet and let the fun happen on its own.

At least a few of these might still be legendary for our Southern California guest list attendees. The condo would be standing room only packed, with the overflow filling our backyard patio. My Steven Tyler-ish pal (who shall remain nameless to protect any possible identity crisis) gave the rocker girls someone to drool over and there was never a shortage of alcoholic beverages that were either brewed and iced or blended and decorated with tiny paper umbrellas.

The laughs were loud and the music was louder. And the only time the parties would end was when my New York actor pal, who had turned me on to the condo in the first place and lived upstairs with his wife, would appear somewhere in the early morning hours and politely suggest it might be time to shut everything down.

Out of respect to our good pal, we would. Some partiers would hit the road while most crashed on whatever piece of furniture or empty floor space was available. The next morning would resemble an outtake from the movie Animal House, but no one was allowed to leave until the place was clean, spotless and damage free.

It’s the least I could do after promising no one else would inhabit the condo. And yeah, I know… not fair at all. But at least I got away with it.

Or thought I did…

After an amazing summer and a growing crowd of creative friends, the landlord’s regional theater tour was coming to an end and my Steven Tyler-ish pal and I had to vacate the premises. We put our Foster’s Freeze planning sessions to work and scored a large two bedroom apartment in North Hollywood with parking and a swimming pool and moved out. But before we left there was a major and thorough (at least we thought) cleaning of the condo. Everything was left looking just as it did the day we moved in.

But when you’re dealing with actors, writers, comedians and rock and rollers, there’s always the unexpected.

SomeTHING like this…

About a month after our North Hollywood relocation I received a call from the actor who had sublet me the condo. He was sitting on the couch watching television when his hand slipped between the cushions. He felt something funny, so he reached in – and pulled out a rubber human hand.

Needless to say, he freaked out – at least a little bit. But on the good side, he thought it was funny.

As mentioned, our crowd was creative. And though no one aspired to be Carrot Top, there was no shortage of gag gifts, stupid decorations and a general sense of craziness at our parties to keep everyone entertained. I don’t remember what improvised excuse I came up with for the rubber hand in the couch, but I had the feeling he knew I hadn’t been living the lifestyle of a solitary monk all alone in the condo taking care of his cat.

That was the last conversation we had.

Of course, those weren’t our last parties in Southern California as we shifted our focus into making North Hollywood more fun (fun, fun) than sitting in beachside traffic jams. And though we didn’t have the same Hawthorne experience as cousins Brian and Mike decades before, I remember hanging out at a Foster’s Freeze in the San Fernando Valley creatively coming up with a theme and guest list for our next Saturday night hit.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of The Beach Boys from 1964 performing Fun, Fun, Fun.

To purchase Sounds of Summer: Very Best of The Beach Boys with Fun, Fun, Fun visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

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#161 – Sultans of Swing

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#161 – Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits

 – For some, moving to New York City can be like relocating to Ork. Now, if you get that reference you’ll want to continue reading. If not, go for it anyway and you’ll understand…

I was looking through photos of Manhattan taken in the late 1970’s. There was the famous skyline with The Empire State Building and Twin Towers of The World Trade Center, along with the various neighborhood highlights of theaters, diners, restaurants, stores and parks. It was everything I love about New York City.

But there were also photos travel agents from that time would never choose for a tourist inspiring vacation brochure. I’m talking about abandoned buildings, crime-ridden areas, graffiti everywhere, sinister looking gangs and scenes of poverty only a short walk away from wealth and luxury. Many city blocks looked dark and ominous, while the subway looked dangerous and filthy. Streets were jammed with traffic and sidewalks were filled with people.

These shots made the city image look dark, dirty and crowded. But without benefit of any brochures that might have changed my decision, I knew New York was the only place I wanted to live. So, in May 1977 I walked off a train in Penn Station with a copy of The Village Voice apartment listings and went looking for adventure.

I found it and it lasted for more than thirteen years.

My first vivid sense memory walking along West 34th Street between Macy’s and Gimble’s and into Herald Square was the strong smell of urine. It was a little offsetting for a Midwestern-raised guy in his early twenties to see homeless camped out in the park while at the same time people were leaving the department stores with big shopping bags.

Welcome to New York.

NYC 1979

Following advice from my cousins on Long Island, I focused apartment hunting to the Eastside of Midtown. But after three days of walking and disappointment I couldn’t find anything I thought affordable, even after a solid year of working and saving after college. I was mentally giving up and resigning myself to a permanent return to Ohio when walking on East 22nd Street to the subway I passed a renovated building with an “apartments for rent” sign.

As a last-ditch attempt, I went into the rental office. After being shown a small triplex with a very small terrace and located around the corner from Gramercy Park, I asked how much and held my breath waiting for the bad news. I’ll just call it The Miracle on 22nd Street because it was within my budget.

I signed a lease and moved in.

Okay, without any previous city life experience my budget planning wasn’t exactly accurate. I would’ve been broke by the end of summer, but I hustled through a few jobs and made it work. And the payoff was worth it and almost immediate in giving me a real New York City experience. Within the year I had lived through The Summer of 1977 Blackout, The Blizzard of 1977-78 and a garbage strike.

Yeah, I became a real New Yorker real fast.

Mindy & Mork

The first few months my budget was tight. There were lots of frozen dinners and staying in watching shows like Charlie’s Angles, Happy Days and Mork & Mindy on my small black and white, pre-cable television. Why did I just mention these three shows? Well, Angels was on when the blackout shut down the entire city, I thought The Fonz was cool, and Mork will play a part in this story.

But that’s coming up later…

For me, New York has always been two very different cities. There was the daytime with people rushing around with their nine-to-five jobs, packed subways and traffic jams. Then there was the nighttime, which is what I gravitated to right away.

By the fall of 1977 I was already into my pattern of working in theaters, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. And on my off-nights I started performing in the small folk music clubs in Greenwich Village. I had a close and growing circle of friends, made decent money and by that spring had a steady girlfriend.

In other words, life was pretty exciting and I loved New York – especially at night.

These late 1970’s memories come back whenever I hear Sultans of Swing, which is my excuse for this rambling sense memory since the song was running through my mind on September 20th. I hadn’t heard it in awhile, so it moves into the subliminal category of Dream Songs. And it reminds me of this special time in my city life because it was on just about every jukebox in just about every club we hit (and we hit quite a few) during the winter of 1979.

The song also reminds me of my girlfriend at the time, who for one night got to play Mindy to Robin WilliamsMork. But first, that claim needs to be set up…

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Most of my favorite memories of New York are on the dark side, but that’s only because we inhabited the night. I’d normally leave for work in the early evening and finish in the middle of the night. Then more often than not, that’s when we’d go out and meet up with our friends. Clubs and bars were open until 4 am (and later if you knew where to go), there were plenty of 24-hour delis and diners, street lights kept everything from being too dark and ominous, and you could always find a taxi.

My girlfriend was from New York, which made her very different from the girls I’d dated in Ohio. Growing up in the Bronx, she had street smarts and also wasn’t afraid of adventures. Her goal was to be an actress, which meant she also worked in a restaurant. And by the way, that’s an inside joke meant for fellow creative artists. I’m sure you’ll get it.

We decided we could make more money working in television commercials, so during winter 1979 we took a course together in Midtown Manhattan. We learned how to read copy (words), audition, and work on camera. I actually booked a few local commercials, but nothing that earned enough to quit my night job.

Outside Grand Central Station 1979

Our weekly class was the last one on Friday afternoons, so afterward we’d kick off the nighttime in a dimly-lit bar located on a grimy-looking block under the traffic overpass on the north side of Grand Central Station. I have no memory of the name, but it had a fun vibe with locals and commuters and happy hour prices.

It also had Sultans of Swing on the jukebox.

But every night couldn’t be a hanging out night and I still had rent to pay. So, three nights a week I bartended at a place just two blocks from my apartment. One off-night, which means a Sunday in Manhattan, I was stuck behind an empty bar while my girlfriend went out for adventures with her girlfriends. Sometime around midnight she called me on the bar’s payphone, which is a term today’s youngest generation will find confusing. Not only were we still decades away from cell phones, but public telephones still had rotary dials and cost a dime to make a call.

Where are you?” I asked.

At The Improv comedy club hanging with Robin Williams,” she answered.

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Even though I was still only working on my second year as a transplanted New Yorker, I had learned you never knew who you’re going to run into. Especially at night. But I just didn’t think the star of television’s top sitcom filmed in Hollywood would be hanging around a local club on an off-night. I was still a few years away from finding out how often that actually happens.

Yeah, right,” I said before added a healthy dose of sarcasm, “now tell me a western.”

The Fonz and Mork

Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. It was a cool put-down line going around in 1979, basically meaning you’re making it up and I don’t believe you. As comedy fans we had been to The Improv on West 44th Street and I didn’t doubt she was there, but hanging with the star of Mork and Mindy? Maybe he was in NYC and had performed on stage, but the hanging out part seemed to be stretching the story a bit.

Then about half an hour later…

I was standing behind a still-empty bar on East 20th Street when the door opened and my girlfriend walked in.

Behind her was Robin Williams.

Thanks to earlier budget conscious evenings in my apartment I had seen a few episodes of Mork & Mindy. But that shouldn’t have been an excuse for acting like a… well, I guess Orkan would fit this situation. That’s probably the best term because I stood at attention and flashed Robin the Nanu-Nanu hand gesture he did on the show as the alien Mork from Ork.

Yeah, I know… But I couldn’t think of what else to do. Let’s just say I was a little surprised.

No jokes,” he said.

Okay,” I answered, relieved I didn’t have to embarrass myself anymore.

They sat down at the bar and I gave my girlfriend a beer. Robin asked for club soda.

1979

Then we hung out and had a regular conversation. We talked about the actor’s strike going on at the time, which shut down production on Mork & Mindy. Rather than hang around Hollywood, he flew to New York and was doing sets in comedy clubs. We also talked about other stuff, but that’s what I specifically remember. He was heading downtown, shared a cab with my girlfriend and came in to prove she hadn’t been writing a western.

It was all very normal for New York City nighttime, which is my way of saying the experience was far from Nanu-Nanu. We hung out for about half an hour and then he had to leave.

Since the restaurant was deserted, the three of us walked outside to Third Avenue. It was cold being winter in NYC, but also nighttime so Robin had no problem hailing a taxi. It was one of the big, yellow Checker Cabs that used to be as synonymous with the city as the Brooklyn Bridge but were phased out in the 1980’s. We said good night and he climbed into the back seat.

That was when the entertainment portion of our program started.

Robin Williams

Rear seat windows on NYC cabs only opened halfway. While the driver waited for the red light to change, Robin rolled down the window, stuck the upper half of his body outside and presented us with a LOUD Robin Williams comedy shtick (for lack of a better term). This included facial expressions, different voices and accents, wildly swinging arms and a glimpse of Mork from Ork. The light turned green and my girlfriend and I stood there laughing, not only in disbelief over what was happening but also because he was very funny, as the cab took off down Third Avenue and eventually out of our hearing range.

Even though it was a Sunday night off-night in The City, I remember my pals and some customers coming in later to hang out at the bar until last call at 4 am. And I had a pretty good story for them.

You should’a been here earlier.

And I also remember Sultans of Swing. It was 1979 and was on just about every jukebox in just about every club, including the one where I bought Robin Williams a club soda and actually saluted him with Nanu-Nanu. Yeah, I’m such a nerd… Uh, I mean Orkan.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s Dire Straits with Sultans of Swing, providing a soundtrack for 1970’s nighttime in NYC.

 

 

To purchase The Best of Dire Straits with Sultans of Swing visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

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#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

 – When this song came out in 1980 boomers were still controlling the music scene, but something strange was starting to happen. Our rebellious nature had been focused on the older generation, but now we were feeling the push of a generation coming up behind us. They were tagged as Generation X and many of us considered them too young to be of any real notice as we continued to groove through our late twenties. It was noticeable when the punks and new wave bands of the late 1970s (with members born in the boomer generation) started calling our favs like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and The Who “dinosaurs.”

I’ll go ahead and lay the blame on the newer and younger record-buying age group for pushing the latest vinyl 45 rpm singles to the top of the music charts during the late 1970s. My age demographic had been album-oriented since the late 1960s and the current singles really didn’t interest us.

If a new group didn’t have an album worth buying, we didn’t notice.

But teenagers were buying the singles, making them hits and influencing the latest styles. Since sales equals profit for record companies hoping to stay in the black (vs. going into the red and out of business) they focused on their new audience. And like boomers during our era, the latest look was influenced by new artists, which meant both the music and fashion trends were shifting away from us.

We had to adjust or join the pack of dinosaurs that risked going out of style and being labeled old.

Here’s what I mean:

In the late 1970s you could still be psyched about the latest album from your favorite band that had formed in the 1960s. Fashion-wise you could still maintain some type of cool looking like one of The Eagles from Hotel California, a disco freak from Studio 54, a punk rocker or Keith Richards. As a side note, the Keith Richards look always allowed for admittance into the other groups.

By the time we hit 1980 there was a major shift in music and fashion sense.

I was already three years into my New York City residency when I realized this new trend was taking over. Hippies were past tense, the Woodstock era no more than a memory, disco was dying, and punk was… well, for punks.

The music consisted of more electronics than guitars and the beat came from drum machines. To be fashionable and anti-prehistoric, the guys had ditched bellbottoms for skinny legs and shirts with skinny ties topped with loose jackets. Hair on girls would continue to get higher throughout the decade while the guys went shorter.

But again, the fault didn’t lie with my demographic of baby boomers. The younger crowd was coming into spending money and the music and fashion industries were catering to their newest and profitable big market.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was a protest song about this.

A hit during the summer of 1980, Billy Joel defended our taste in music while still succumbing to a fashion statement in the song’s video that wouldn’t make him seem like a dinosaur. His shorter hair and skinny tie made that perfectly clear.

The song rocked enough to make adulthood challenged boomers still feel relevant while also signaling the end of our musical dominance. The 1980s would’ve only gotten worse for us if we hadn’t been saved by the advent of Classic Rock Radio. At least our hits would still be on the airwaves while it would be decades before our fashion sense became retro.

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It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me hit this Dream Song list on September 18th. I own a copy and it’s not an unfamiliar addition to my weekly playlists. But it hadn’t been recently. For that skinniest of reason, it goes into the subliminal category.

As a musician I was still playing what I felt was rock and roll at the time, even though it was a far cry from the rock and roll I lived for as a teenager. Over the previous decade bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who and yeah… even KISS had given it more volume, power and flash.

If you wanted to be in a rock band in 1980 you had to adjust.

I strummed here a few times!

After a couple years strumming an acoustic guitar and going nowhere fast in Greenwich Village folk clubs, I bought a bass and decided it was time to turn up the volume. Along with my pals Tim on guitar and Bobby on drums we formed a hard rock, high volume trio that we called Rox. I found out years later another band had used the same name and released an album, so in the end I guess they own it. But I also maintain we were first.

It’s just that no one outside of our NYC neighborhood ever heard of us.

As a band we spent more time rehearsing and recording than we did playing live shows. I thought it was mistake then and still do. Playing live really was the only way to be seen and hopefully discovered, but the others disagreed. Their logic was to record an album worth of original songs and sell it to a record company.

Rather than debate the merits of that decision let’s just say it didn’t work out.

But thanks to a good friend who worked as a producer of radio jingles and had been a fan of my earlier music in the Village clubs, we scored quality time in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. She basically “piggybacked” us onto scheduled jingle recording sessions. If she had booked four hours for a jingle and it only took three to complete, we inherited the remaining hour. The result is that I own about three-quarters of a finished LP by Rox that no one outside the three of us and a few family and friends have ever heard. And to be honest, it’s pretty good.

Someday I should do something with it. But in the meantime…

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The few live shows we did were more concerts than club gigs. When the mood struck us, we’d rent a large loft near Gramercy Park, rely on friends to help build a stage (and I have no idea who donated the lumber for these “raves”), use a photographer friend’s lights, and borrow a sound system from another band. We’d schedule an opening act, print up flyers and end up packing the place.

These were hot, sweaty, energetic and LOUD performances. The crowd reaction was always great and called for encores until we ran out of songs. But instead of keeping the momentum going, my two band mates were content to spend weeks in rehearsal studios and hours recording our “breakout” album.

Again, it didn’t happen.

Fighting for Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was on the charts and video airwaves while all this was going on with Rox. And it reminds me of one live performance that was far from a concert since it was an audition for some type of talent show that was supposed to help us be seen by record people.

It was a Saturday morning (not the best time for rock and rollers) during the summer of 1980 when we carted our equipment via a NYC taxi to a studio in The Village. We set up in a room to play in front of a panel of about six people who would decide if we’d be part of this industry showcase.

Billy Joel’s video comes to mind because we played rock and roll but bowed to the current fashion trend. I remember wearing tight pants, white Capezio dance shoes, shirt with skinny tie and a white cloth jacket with the sleeves pushed up. I’m not sure what the other guys wore, but guessing it wasn’t too far removed from my look. The only real difference from Mr. Joel was our long hair.

The 80’s hadn’t changed us that much – at least not yet.

We were a loud and heavy band, but for some reason Tim and I had written the first – and only – slower, ballad type song we would ever do. It was called Forever and I played a very melodic bass line while Tim floated a flanged guitar effect sound over the top. Bobby kept a simple time on the drums, and I sang lead. By the end of the song it built into a heavier sound that I thought then – and still do – was very cool and more classic rock than ’80s hip.

When we finished the song, we were very pleased with how it went. However, one of the judges came over and asked if we could “turn down the volume” for our second song.

Say what?!

Turn it up to eleven!!

That definitely wasn’t what we were about as a band. We also realized, based on the judges looks (80’s hip) and attitudes (turn it down?) that this showcase wouldn’t be right for us anyway. The three of us came to a quick decision, scratched the idea of doing a more pop song we had planned and turned the volume on our amplifiers up to eleven.

We played one of the hardest rocking songs we’d ever written and recorded called Love On Wheels. I maintain we sounded like Guns ‘n’ Roses at least six years before any of us had even heard of Guns ‘n’ Roses. We also extended the ending lead guitar jam into what we called a Wall Of Sound and pretty much shook the building down to its foundation.

I remember a few of the judges walked out during our performance. I have a feeling their 80’s hipster ears were bleeding to the sound of Rox.

After finishing, we didn’t even wait for the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” decision. Laughing and giving each other high-fives, we dragged our equipment out onto the street, hailed a taxi and made it to our local neighborhood hangout for lunch and beers. A crowd of our friends turned the afternoon into a party and we never thought again about auditioning for a showcase.

We ended up doing one more huge loft gig that year before we split up – staying friends – for other career paths. In my case, my microphone and small practice amplifier were the only equipment needed to start a popular comedy club in our same neighborhood hangout that ended up taking me places and providing experiences I would’ve never dreamed of while protesting the “new sound” by being a rock ‘n’ roller in 1980.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

And speaking of protesting and defending rock ‘n’ roll in 1980, here’s Billy Joel doing just that:

 

To purchase The Essential Billy Joel with It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#164 – Soul Finger

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#164 – Soul Finger by The Bar-Kays

 – This song has me running in my mind. Notice the wording of that sentence. It’s not running through my mind, though it is at this moment. But I’m talking about running, like on a track team, which is something I haven’t done since Soul Finger was running on a regular basis on AM radio when it was released in the spring of 1967.

Thinking back to our favorite Top 40 stations in the 1960’s, instrumentals didn’t get a lot of respect from the deejays. Yeah, some were huge hits like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Hugo Montenegro released in 1968 (not the same as the 1966 Clint Eastwood movie soundtrack version) and Love Is Blue by Paul Mauriat also in 1968.

But these hits were treated differently by our on-air hosts. They were played all the way through without deejay patter over the top.

What does that mean?

Radio deejays’ personalities were almost as popular – and sometimes more – than the songs they were playing. Murray The K, Cousin Brucie and Wolfman Jack are the first names that come to mind and were nationally known. Fans would tune in to hear those voices from those guys as much as the hit songs they’d play during their shows.

It was the same in local markets where competing Top 40 AM stations featured deejays fast-talking to be the most popular and listened-to. It would definitely be obnoxious and turn off listeners if they talked (patter) over songs with lyrics and we were trying to hear the words. So they’d normally hype their personalities and talk between songs and over instrumentals.

Memphis based soul

But even while playing songs with lyrics, there were still ways for deejays to get around this. Especially when they were playing a new release billed as exclusive to their station. That would be a big promotional scoop and it was important for their listeners to know.

This is how it would work:

Supposedly, the fantastically popular deejay would be given the next BIG hit by a current BIG artist before the record was sent to rival stations. His job was to make sure we knew that, while also preventing another station from taping the song and scooping this exclusive by also playing it on air.

What do I mean by that?

Two examples come to mind. When The Byrds released Turn! Turn! Turn!, a station in my northern Ohio listening area had the exclusive. During the song’s instrumental break, the deejay would announce, “You’re listening to this exclusive on…” and mention his station.

Before The Beatles’ Nowhere Man hit the stores, the same station was granted the exclusive rights in our region. But instead of waiting for the instrumental break, this is how I remember it coming from my transistor radio:

  • Beatles (singing): He’s a real nowhere man…
  • Deejay: “The Beatles!”
  • Beatles: … sitting in his nowhere land…
  • Deejay: “Only on (mentioned the station)!”
  • Beatles: … making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Yeah, it was a bit annoying, but didn’t stop us from listening. Especially since tuning in to this station was the only way we could hear it. At the time I was a preteen with a small reel to reel tape recorder. I knew the song would be played at least once every hour, so I’d hold the tiny microphone in front of the tiny transistor radio speaker so I could have my own exclusive copy before my friends. I’d hit record when I knew the next song was about to play. If it wasn’t Nowhere Man, I’d stop the tape, rewind and wait for the next song.

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I didn’t know the definition of bootlegging, but it wouldn’t have stopped me anyway. Eventually within the hour, I scored a decent copy. After that I kept the play – rewind – play – rewind cycle going on my tape recorder until it hit the stores a week or two later and I could get my hands on a vinyl 45 rpm copy.

But that bootlegged version made a lasting impression. Every once in a while, all these decades later I’ll hear Nowhere Man and unconsciously add the deejay’s patter between the opening lyrics as if that’s how The Fabs recorded it in the first place.

And yeah, sometimes it’s a bit annoying.

The Bar-Kays released the instrumental Soul Finger in April 1967. It became a legitimate hit and not only because it’s a catchy tune, but like the exclusive Nowhere Man we probably heard it every hour. But for a different reason.

Deejays could lay down their fast-talking patter over it.

Soul Finger was a song deejays weren’t afraid to talk over. So, when they’d segue into the news and weather report every hour, which was a common break on AM radio back in the 60’s, they’d play The Bar-Kays hit. Most of the time the entire song wouldn’t be heard because there may have been less than a minute before the break, so it was used as an instrumental lead-in.

During this time, they’d fast-talk announcements about upcoming concerts, benefits, promo for stores, restaurants, car dealers – whatever. The song would fade out – wherever – and the news report would begin.

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Since we were still glued to our AM dials, multiple listens of a catchy tune is a sure way to have it burned into your mind. That’s the only explanation for Soul Finger joining this Dream Songs list on September 14th. I can’t remember the last time I heard it and since I don’t own a copy, it goes onto the subliminal memory chart.

Fortunately, there was no fast-talking deejay patter included.

Other than that annoying programming habit, Soul Finger brings back one specific memory that rewinds us back to the beginning of this Classic Rocker rambling. You remember, where I’m running in my mind…

When Soul Finger was running us into hourly AM radio news breaks during spring 1967, I was in my last year of junior high and running on the eighth grade track team. As an athlete I had two natural abilities. I could run fast and jump high, which is also how I scored a starting position on our junior high basketball team. I know for a fact that was the case since dribbling or shooting a basketball was never priority after I scored my first guitar.

Off the blocks!

There was a guy on the track team who was supposedly my friend. I don’t remember how that came about since we really had nothing in common. But that’s not important because we were just kids and by high school had moved on to different cliques.

Anyway, there must have been some type of envy (jealousy) on his part. He wanted to be an athlete while I wanted to be a rock star. But I had beat him out as a starter on the basketball team and was doing the same at track. I found out he hadn’t been too pleased about either.

We were getting ready to run against a rival school in the fifty-yard dash. This was my main event and I honestly don’t remember anyone else on our team that could beat me – especially this friend. If you know anything about sprint races, we used starting blocks, which were metal contraptions you placed on the track behind the starting line. Runners would crouch down, put their feet against the blocks and use them to push-off at the start of the race.

Maybe most of the blocks were being used in other events, but when we were getting ready for mine this friend grabbed the last contraption before I could. When I said something about this, he gave me a pretty hard look and said, “I’m faster than you,” and took a running lane with the other starting block sprinters. I had to take an outside lane and an almost standing position waiting for the starter’s gun to kick off the race.

And yeah, I kicked it during the race – meaning that friend’s butt. I don’t remember if I actually won the race against the other school, but I smoked (athlete’s term for winning) him. Afterward I just remember him storming away from me like a bad sport. He wouldn’t talk or even look at me. It’s probably best he didn’t because I might have flipped him a soul finger.

If you know what I mean.

Otis Redding & The Bar-Kays

On a very sad note, this was the only hit by the original members of The Bar-Kays.

That same spring, they were picked by the legendary Otis Redding to be his touring backup band. On December 10, 1967 following a television appearance on Upbeat and a concert in Cleveland, four of the six members lost their lives with Redding when their plane crashed into Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin.

The only survivor was trumpet player Ben Cauley. He later reformed the group with bass player James Alexander who had been on a different plane.

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Here’s a video of the original Bar-Kays performing Soul Finger.

 

 

To purchase Soul Finger (the album or single) by The Bar-Kays visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#165 – I Want You Back

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#165 – I Want You Back by The Jackson Five

 – There was a popular television show when I was a kid called, I’ve Got A Secret. The song I Want You Back by a preteen Michael Jackson and his brothers has really nothing do with that, except for bringing back how I felt – sort of – when I first heard it in 1969.

The show was hosted by popular television personality, Gary Moore – not to be confused with the guitar playing Gary Moore decades later. A supposedly unknown person would be introduced, chalk his or her name on a blackboard and sit behind a desk with the host. Moore would give a panel of four celebrities a brief hint of what secret the guest was hiding, while the viewing audience would be given the answer at the bottom of our black and white television screens.

The two guests I remember most were Brian Epstein and in a separate episode, Pete Best. Brian’s secret was that he managed The Beatles while Pete’s was being a former Beatle. Of course, to first generation Fab Four fans, there was nothing secret about either guest and we immediately knew when they walked out to sign their name on the chalk board. But it was fun watching the older generation (I also remember Groucho Marx as an occasional guesser) try to figure out who these guys were.

My secret in 1969 was that I really liked The Jackson Five. It may not seem like such a scandalous admission now, but this was around the time when another great musical divide was occurring within the generational gaps.

Anyone have a driver’s license?

As mentioned in previous Classic Rocker ramblings, my particular segment of the boomer generation was too young to experience firsthand the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s. The dangerous element was toned down into being popular music in the early 1960’s, then burst into the fab stratosphere as pop in 1964. This morphed into more rebellious pop-rock, drifted into hazy psychedelic and eventually just all-out anarchy rock toward the end of the decade. By early 1969 The Beatles had just released The White Album, The Who were promoting Tommy by trashing instruments and acting like punks before anyone ever heard of punk music, and we were just getting into Led Zeppelin.

Woodstock was only a few months away and by the fall we were listening to Abbey Road.

But there was another form of music “bubbling” beneath the surface labeled as bubble gum. My teenaged “just getting our driver’s license” crowd had zero interest in this AM radio takeover, even though we were often forced to listen since that was the only bandwidth our parents’ cars came equipped with at the time. Without doing an internet search, my recollections go to Donny Osmond and his Osmond Brothers, The Archies and… well, that’s the extent of how deep I want to go into the memory bank on this topic.

Bubble gum seemed to be music made for my little sister’s demographic and she was seven years younger than me.

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Now, there’s no way I can ignore Motown in the above listings. I suppose the Top 40 deejays tried to fit it into the pop music category, but we knew it was more than that. Hitsville in Detroit gave us more rhythm and soul than most of the light weight pop acts. Motown could sound clean and smooth, or hot and sweaty. My favorites were The Temptations with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and The Four Tops with the great Levi Stubbs. But in 1969 Stevie Wonder was still trying to distance himself from the Little adjective that had been stuck on him for his early records and label head Barry Gordy was grooming The Supremes as a lounge act and Diana Ross for solo superstardom.

Okay, now that I’ve set the stage for what a sixteen-year-old boomer was listening to and my thoughts about it all, in the winter of that year we were presented with The Jackson Five and their first hit record, I Want You Back.

Kings of soulful pop!

First thought: This is a kid singing.

Second thought: This is great!

Now, I wasn’t sure if this realization would seem cool to my fellow-teenaged friends that, along with me, were listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Who (and The Rolling Stones). But it was impossible for me not to turn up the AM radio dial or even sit still when hearing I Want You Back.

These kids just… Okay, did it rock? Was it pop? Bubble gum? It didn’t sound like the Motown of The Temps, The Tops or Little Stevie, but it couldn’t be ignored. At least by me and the millions of other fans that sent this record screaming up the record charts. Maybe it was because my little sister and her age group were finding their own musical personalities at the time and jumping on the Jackson (and Osmond) bandwagons. There was no reason why I couldn’t also make room on my playlist for this rocking’ and soulful family band.

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But like the television show, I had a secret. There was no way I could ask my friends to turn off Led Zeppelin and listen to The Jackson Five if I wanted to remain hip enough to look cool. So, without Groucho and the other panelists outing me on national television, I kept it to myself. At least for a while.

But here’s another secret…

Ed’s ready to bust a move!

The first time I saw The Jackson Five was on The Ed Sullivan Show. And one of the most memorable parts was how Michael and his brothers danced. So yeah, I wanted to dance like The Jackson Five. Too bad my feet, arms and… well, everything else could never move like that. It’s also too bad I never realized that when I was on a dance floor. More on that in a moment, but first…

I Want You Back danced its way onto this Dream Song List on September 10th. And yeah, I own a copy, it’s on my digital playlist and I had just heard it. So, this one moonwalks into the recent memory category.

I won’t pull any punches here. Myself and my buddies were far from possessing any soulful or rhythmic moves. I might have imagined myself as Michael or even Jackie (or Tito?) at our high school and later college dances, but reality has a way of exposing our secrets. For a description, if you combine The Twist with leg jerks and flaying arms as if you were being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos – it would look better than what we were doing. The effort might have been there, but the talent was missing.

I recently had a chance to reconfirm this no-so-secret admission.

A couple days ago I was just about to leave the house when I Want You Back came on. At this moment, at least for the first verse or two, time and commitments are forgotten. There’s no way to prevent a dance attack and I was doing my best twisting, jerking and flaying moves when I looked up and into a mirror directly in front of me. It was far from being Michael, Jackie or even Tito staring back at me. Of course, I didn’t stop – but from now on I’ll keep these moments between you and me.

Can you keep a secret?

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Here’s a video of The Jackson Five with a very young Michael on lead vocals performing I Want You Back.

 

 

To purchase The Ultimate Collection: Jackson 5 on Motown Records with I Want You Back visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#166 – C’mon Marianne

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#166 – C’mon Marianne by The Four Seasons

 – You don’t need to have age revealing personal memories of placing a vinyl 45 rpm on your portable Hi-Fi record player to know The Four Seasons were HUGE during the era when the times really were a’changing. Okay, that’s a round ’bout Bob Dylan-isk (I just added that ending syllable to make up that hyphenated word) way of saying they were having hits before, during and after The British Invasion. That’s was a HUGE accomplishment for a U.S. pop group, especially when success on the music charts after February 9, 1964 pretty much required an English accent and long hair.

The only other band I can think of with the same resume would be The Beach Boys. They held down the West Coast sound while The Four Seasons were… Jersey Boys.

Along with catchy tunes and harmonies, Frankie Valli was The Voice that made their sound distinctive. No one else sounded like him. Brian Wilson could hit some high falsettos singing about surfer girls and woody hot rods, which was a common West Coast term for a surfer dude’s car rather than a common term for a New Jersey guy’s… ah, never mind. But Frankie could belt the upper octaves. There was never a doubt who you were listening to when hearing a Four Seasons song.

And it’s lasted for decades.

Jersey Boys based on The Four Seasons was a hit Broadway show, movie and a favorite revue in regional theaters, Las Vegas and on cruise ships. It’s the power of their hit songs and a story that even during their chart-topping days in the 1960s was rumored to have had a little help from The Underworld.

But I won’t go there. At least not right now…

That’s for the theater and movie fans to drool over. For me it was about the music. And even as a fan of almost every song that came from an English accented, long haired band during the mid-1960’s, I would never change the AM radio dial when The Four Season’s latest release came on.

C’mon Marianne was on just about every AM station’s playlist during the summer of 1967, but those were really some fast changin’ times. Sgt. Pepper came out in early June and by mid-summer everything had changed. Well, just about everything. The Four Seasons stayed true to their sound and image and C’mon Marianne would be the last time they hit the Top Ten during this Decade of Change.

It was The Summer of Love.

Even as a junior high kid who only knew about hippies because I saw them on television, there was a feeling The Four Seasons wouldn’t be contributing to the soundtrack for my segment of the boomer generation for much longer.

Frankie and the boys still looked like they were hanging out in New Jersey while everyone else was shifting their focus to San Francisco and London. They were as far from psychedelic as Frank Sinatra Jr. and had a better chance of drawing a crowd in a Las Vegas lounge than by singing on the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I didn’t like their music.

In fact C’mon Marianne is on my digital playlist and I had just heard it the day before waking up to Frankie Valli falsetto’ing (just made that word up too) through my mind on September 8th. And if you’re keeping count, that makes it a recent memory Dream Song.

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What I am saying is these Jersey Boys stuck to who they were and what got them there. When psychedelic music reached our portable record players in album form, The Four Seasons weren’t on the vinyl playlist. The times had a’changed (sorry, I’ll stop with the Dylan-isk innuendos).

It would never prevent me from telling Frankie Valli he’s a great singer and I’m a fan. And that’s a good thing because a couple decades and a few years after C’mon Marianne I had the opportunity to do just that.

In the early 1990’s I had a very cool job in Los Angeles scheduling stand-up comedians to appear on a television show called A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. My boss was the legendary Budd Friedman, known to everyone that has anything at all to do with the industry as The Godfather of Comedy.

There’s no underworld reference in that. It’s just that he’s The Guy that started the modern comedy club concept with The Original Improvisation (shortened to The Improv) in New York, then Hollywood and eventually throughout the U.S.

Yeah, it was like The Comedy Invasion and he was Ed Sullivan, if you catch my reference.

We would pre-tape these one-hour shows (running on The Arts & Entertainment Network, hence “A&E” in the title) at The Improv comedy club in Santa Monica. They were aired weekly, which meant there were fifty-two shows a year. Since production expenses would be too over the top to deck out the club with cameras, lights, sound equipment and crew every week, we’d film two or sometimes three hour long shows in one night.

The on camera set up went this way…

Budd, wearing his trademark monocle, would open each show by greeting the live audience and home viewers. Then he would introduce a celebrity guest host who would do a short monologue and introduce the comedians. While each performed his or her seven-minute set, the guest host would sit at a table with Budd until it was time go back on stage, announce a commercial break and after, introduce the next comedian.

Repeat the process for five comedians and that was a show.

The Godfather of Comedy

Since we filmed two or three shows at once, we had to make it look like each was done on separate nights. That meant Budd had to change into different clothes for each show since he would be on stage and sitting with the guest host at a table that the cameras would focus on a number of times so television viewers could see them laughing at the comics.

Me? I didn’t have wardrobe changes in my behind-the-scenes job requirements.

Usually during one of the shows there would be an open seat at the four-person table and Budd would ask me to sit with them. That was also very cool because I knew when it would air and could tell my parents in Ohio to watch for me. Yeah, almost – but not quite – a celebrity son. Then after that particular episode was finished, I would disappear to sit at a table behind the cameras to keep up the illusion each show was filmed on a different night in front of a different audience. It would look pretty suspicious for television viewers to see This Guy (me) sitting at the featured table wearing the same exact clothes for what would seem to be two or three weeks in a row.

As mentioned, I worked with the comedians. So I never really gave much thought about the guest hosts. To be quite honest, I didn’t even know who many of them were. Most were supporting actors on sitcoms I didn’t watch, or hadn’t been on television for years and needed some screen time to let people – and casting directors – know they were still around.

The Godmother of Rockin’ Cars

But one guest host that really attracted my attention was the actress Tawny Kitaen. She played Tom Hanks‘ fiancé in the movie Bachelor Party, but was better known to my male buddies back in New York City as the “hot chick” rolling around on top of a hot car in an MTV music video for Here I Go Again by Whitesnake. It had been on heavy viewing rotation when I lived in NYC pre-Hollywood and if we were hanging out in a bar when it came on television, everything stopped. You could hear a pin drop and ever guy’s jaw hit the floor.

She was The Babe at that moment.

When it came time to film Tawny’s guest hosting episode, I was unfortunately minus a wardrobe change and relegated to a back table. But it was one of the few times I ever brought a camera to a taping and immediately after introducing myself we cheerfully (at least for me) took a photo together. When I mailed copies (pre internet) to my buddies at our local NYC hangout, I’m sure everything stopped except for their jaws hitting the floor.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Frankie Valli. That’s the next episode, but first an interesting commercial break…

I don’t know the relationship and again, I won’t go there. Not even later. But Tawny had an entourage with her and there were only four chairs at Budd’s table. So some of her gang was sitting at a table next to me. Following a commercial break Tawny announced there was a celebrity in the audience – and introduced O.J. Simpson. A spotlight and camera zoomed in on the table directly behind me where O.J. stood up and waved to the crowd.

This wasn’t too long before the infamous murder and notorious trial. So at the time it was no big deal. But thinking back on it now… Yeah, it’s kind of creepy.

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There was one other time I wished a camera had been a job requirement. It was when I arrived for a taping and learned Frankie Valli would be our guest host. Normally I would meet the guest hosts in the club’s showroom right before filming started. But this moment dictated an exception to that routine.

For the first and only time I went searching backstage to find The Voice.

Since it wasn’t a large area and a small office would be set up as a dressing room, I very quickly looked past a half-opened door and saw Frankie sitting in a chair. He was wearing makeup (remember, this was television) and a dark suit with a high white collar and tie looking like…

Well, looking like a Jersey Guy.

Now it might have just been me. In fact, I’m SURE it was ME basing my first impression on a preconceived stereotyped image.

The Godfather of Vocals

I knocked on the door and introduced myself as the talent coordinator for the show. Once he was assured I had a reason to be there we made small talk about the comedy biz before I took the opportunity to tell him I’d been a big fan for a long time and it was a thrill to meet him.

Frankie Valli could not have been a nicer guy.

That should have been the end of the story and it actually is, except for my misconstrued preconceived stereotyped image kicking in. Frankie held out his hand for me to shake and I remember noticing he wore a large ring – or maybe even two that definitely told me he wasn’t just another guy from just another neighborhood in New Jersey. With his high collared buttoned white shirt, dark tie and suit, and a hair style that was closer to Sonny Corleone’s than a hippie holdover from The Summer of Love my mind wandered to the rougher parts of New Jersey, The Underworld and…

Well, I was greeting The Voice himself.

Yeah, I might have mentally viewed it closer to The Don (as in Sonny’s dad) – which is wrong. I know that. But when it comes to Frankie Valli he deserves respect. And just to dig myself into a deeper hole with insinuations, preconceived notions, unfounded stereotyping, too many long-gone rumors and too many viewings of Jersey Boys, when he said I could enter dressing room to say hello…

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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Sorry – I searched – but couldn’t find a video of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons performing C’mon Marianne. So what I found instead was this STRANGE film of STRANGE teenagers from the 1960’s with the song used as a soundtrack. Enjoy? That’s up to you. It might find it difficult just getting through it.

 

To purchase The Very Best of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons with C’mon Marianne, 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

#168 – I Want To Take You Higher

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#168 – I Want To Take You Higher by Sly & The Family Stone

 – At the risk of sounding like I’m standing alone in the middle of a large field with no one else to support my opinion, I believe every teenage guy that played an electric guitar in 1970 learned the opening riff to this song. Okay, maybe that’s too much of a general assumption, but I’m basing it on personal experience.

I fit that demographic and pretty sure I wasn’t alone.

Sly & The Family Stone were definitely not alone in a field when they took the crowd higher with this blast of gospel rock ‘n’ roll at Woodstock in August 1969. For the 400,000 people camped out at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York – which over the decades grew to millions that claimed to be there –  the band’s performance was a festival highlight and a super charged Sunday morning wake-up call when they hit the stage at 3:30 am.

If anyone in that particular large field surrounded by people slept through it, I’ll make a general assumption they were in one of the emergency medical tents after dropping the brown acid the stage announcers warned festival-goers not to take.

How do I know this? Was I one of the thousands – later millions – who claims to have been at Woodstock?

Nope. I saw the movie.

Millions were there?

The Woodstock movie rolled through our area of northern Ohio during the summer of 1970. Most of us in my group of friends had listened to the three disc soundtrack LP, but the visuals proved to be an important part of the experience. I remember a carload of us (including my then current and future girlfriends – which is a different long story) heading to the theater decked out in our best hippie garb. In Ohio fashion sense, that just meant bellbottoms, a favorite t-shirt and probably blue-tinted round sunglasses. The girls enhanced their looks with southwestern style ponchos and yellow-tinted round sunglasses.

Yeah, we thought we looked cool.

For rockers the movie highlights included sets by The Who and Ten Years After. But the major impact for us came from Sly’s “Medley” performance of Dance To The Music, Music Lover and of course, I Want To Take You Higher. It was about 15 minutes of sheer energy and a main reason later to pick up the stereo needle on our soundtrack albums, place it back at the beginning of this song triad and listen to it again and again and again…

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It was also another reason to want to be in a band.

That was probably the biggest inspiration for my gang of friends to start planning our own outdoor music festival on the shores of Lake Erie. Now, that’s another long story that includes the transition between girlfriends at the same time, so I’ll save the results of this rock ‘n’ roll endeavor for another time. But basically it was just a group of high school friends looking for an excuse to have another party.

The preparation included forming a band that would headline this outdoor local extravaganza. Our first rehearsal was in a small room behind my parents’ garage. I had an electric guitar, but no amp. My best friend borrowed a bass guitar, but also had no amp. Our next move was to borrow an amp we could both use. We commandeered my dad’s drum set, which was vintage 1940’s big band style with a HUGE bass drum and only available because my dad had decided to focus his talent on playing the trumpet. We included another best buddy who didn’t have the talent to play anything, so we made him the singer.

And as another footnote, he really couldn’t sing. But it still gave us enough members to have a band.

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The final results didn’t improve much after this first rehearsal. We learned to play the riff from I Want To Take You Higher and… well, that was about it for that song. We’d play it, stop, look at each other, play it again, stop and repeat the process. We did the same with a couple Led Zeppelin riffs, The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then made plans for our next rehearsal.

Eventually we learned songs that were of the easier three-chord variety, like Blue Suede Shoes and Long Tall Sally, which in turn influenced the theme of our outdoor music festival. Instead of the hippie vibe of Woodstock, we renamed ours a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival” and now had a legitimate excuse not to play any song that had more than three chords.

Taking everyone higher!

But once again, I Want To Take You Higher and Sly’s performance in the Woodstock movie was the impetus to get our rock rolling. The song joined this Dream Song list on September 5th. The opening riff alone was a major jolt to my waking mind and no coffee was needed to kick start the day. But then again, I wasn’t going to skip my morning caffeine buzz just because my head was already buzzing. And since the song was currently in rotation on my digital playlist, it joins the recent memory category.

I don’t have any recent memories of Sly & The Family Stone, but they really made an impact all those decades ago. The more serious minded stoner hippie bands that stood on stage for too-long jam sessions were quite frankly mind numbingly boring for a group of 17 year old high schoolers looking for any excuse to throw a party, dance and laugh a lot. So when Sly appeared on the big screen and cut loose – it was like a rock ‘n’ roll magnet.

That’s what we were looking for – and that’s when we found it.

I Want To Take You Higher first came out in 1969 as the flip side of the band’s 45 rpm single, Stand. But I don’t remember anyone taking notice of it until Woodstock hit our local theater and the high-octane live version had us lifting up our blue and yellow round shades to get a better look.

I actually think I had the opening riff down on my electric guitar after only a few tries. It’s just too bad my borrowed amp wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear it.

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Here’s a video of Sly & The Family Stone performing a live version of I Want To Take You Higher (sometimes called Higher and Higher) from 1969. It’s not Woodstock but still brings the energy!

 

To purchase The Essential Sly & The Family Stone with I Want To Take You Higher 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