Category Archives: Beatles

#160 – Those Were The Days

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#160 – Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin

 – Take an old Russian folk song, rewritten English lyrics, a talent show winner and a Beatle and you come up with a 1968 hit record. That was the formula for one of the earliest releases by Apple Records that hit number one in England. In the States it was kept from the top spot by another early Apple release, Hey Jude by the same Beatle and his three business partners.

Working off trivia memory that I must have read somewhere, Paul McCartney heard this song performed in a London club by Gene Raskin, an American folksinger. Raskin is the guy that wrote the English lyrics, which is information I can’t claim to have in my memory bank. He’s given songwriter credit on the record.

One Beatle and Mary

McCartney liked the song, but never had any intention for the Beatles to record it. Those Were The Days was so very different than anything else on the pop charts that he needed someone very different to record it. When Mary Hopkin won the televised British talent show Opportunity Knocks, he found the voice. Taking a break from recording The Beatles (The White Album) he took her into EMI Studios and produced this very different sounding song.

It was also a very different way to wake up on September 21st with Mary Hopkin’s voice singing this song in my mind. It’s not one you hear… well, at all on Classic Rock Radio. And since I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it in… well, it seems like forever, it goes in the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

But I did own a copy at one time. It’s a very catchy tune and after hearing it on Top 40 AM Radio late that summer, I bought the 45 rpm single. But it wasn’t the type of song my friends and I would play at parties because it wasn’t exactly uplifting. It wasn’t the vinyl you’d put on a turntable to get everyone up to dance.

But speaking of parties…

My best friend and I were fifteen years old and had summer jobs at my family’s bakery when this song was climbing the charts. We lived in a tourist town on the shores of Lake Erie and though we started work early in the morning, we’d usually be finished around noon. That gave us plenty of daytime to hang out at the beach or ride our bikes around town looking for adventures. And since fifteen year old guys don’t need a lot of rest, we’d stay up most of the nighttime supposedly sleeping outside in one of our backyards (both with and without a tent), which was actually an excuse to have no parental supervision. That meant we could also ride our bikes around town all night looking for more adventures.

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We were pretty much inseparable and kept ourselves – and our circle of friends – very entertained.

I’ll go ahead and say Kevin and I were ringleaders of fun because we always had ideas and something going on. One of our objectives was to have parties so we could hang out with the cool girls in our class. But we didn’t want to throw a party like everyone else. We had to make it seem like an event, which meant we would have a theme.

Our most popular was a movie premier.

If you wanted to see a movie in 1968 you either went to the local theater or watched television. There were no video rentals, we had never even heard of Beta, VHS or the very futuristic DVDs, cable, internet or streaming services. Of course that lack of technology wouldn’t stop this great theme idea. We just had to make our own to make it happen.

Something like this!

Kevin’s family had a home movie camera (we’re talking about using a reel of film) so we became producers, writers, actors and directors. Kevin and I were cast as the stars (hey, it was our movie) and if we needed villains for any scenes, we’d use his younger brother and best friend. We’d pick on them anyway, so the only difference would be filming it.

We’d create short scenes of craziness and comedy bits, separated by brief psychedelic light shows. This visual effect was accomplished by holding the camera lens directly on different colored light bulbs for a few seconds each, resulting in changing color bursts when we projected it on a screen, signaling the end of one bit and the beginning of the next.

We had no editing capabilities, so whatever we shot would be in the movie. There was also no sound with 1968 home movie cameras (at least not on the one we had), so like silent movies we had to write out any important dialogue on poster boards and hold it up in front of the lens. It’s no wonder our sight gags (silent) worked the best.

Much of this is lost to memory, but one bit is worthy of being stuck in my mind.

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The scene opened with me sitting at an empty kitchen table. I’d rub my stomach acting like I was hungry, act like I had a great idea and snap my fingers. Kevin would stop the film and I’d stay motionless as he put an empty dinner plate in front of me. He’d start the film and just like in the television show Bewitched, it looked like I had magically made the plate appear. We continued with the routine until I had silverware, a napkin, lit candles, a wine glass and then the glass filled (but not with wine). In what should have been my final finger snap conjuring up a delicious meal, an old shoe appeared on the dinner plate.

But wait – that wasn’t the end of the bit. Acting disgusted, I snapped my fingers again. Then, like magic, I disappeared and Kevin was sitting in my chair at the table with a sandwich on the plate. Acting happy, he reached for the wine class (not with real wine) and took a sip.

Laughter and applause from our audience, a psychedelic light show on the screen – and then onto the next scene.

Samantha Stevens

As the scene’s featured thespian my emotions had to run from hungry, to surprise, to almost elated and at the end, disappointment. Too bad we never came up with an awards ceremony theme to our parties because I would’ve been a shoe-in (pun intended – thank you).

The final films were about ten minutes long. But just so our invited guests (especially the cool girls) didn’t have to watch a completely silent movie, we’d also record a soundtrack playing various instruments (we had some talent) onto my reel-to-reel tape recorder. We’d do our best to sync the sound and film when we’d hit “play” on both at the same time.

Together we were also a good promotional team and built up the anticipation for these premiers that would happen at one of our houses. And since we also had a good group of friends these were successful parties. There were always enough laughs for us to show the latest film a few times, then play the latest records, dance, laugh some more and talk up the cool girls. And if our star power was bright enough (like a psychedelic light show) the evening might end with a kiss, or two… or three.

So, would I say those were the days? Yeah, they really were fun.

But even though I enjoy reminiscing as The Classic Rocker, and Mary Hopkin with Those Were The Days stirred up memories of my cinematic career as a fifteen year old child actor (where was The Disney Channel when I was looking for a job?) I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. Just like each song on this countdown serves as a reminder, I think there are plenty of adventures, laughs – and even a little magic – down the long and winding road ahead. I’m still finding ways to entertain myself. Yesterday was cool, but you never know – tomorrow might be even cooler.

I just wish there was a psychedelic light show I could use to signal my next bit. Why? Because it would look very cool projected on a screen before my entrance into the new scene.

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Here’s a video from 1968 (with production quality a lot better than mine!) of Mary Hopkin performing Those Were The Days.

 

To purchase Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records with Those Were The Days and Mary’s follow up hit Goodbye (written by Paul McCartney) 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

 

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#162 – The Mighty Hercules Theme Song

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#162 – The Mighty Hercules Theme Song by Johnny Nash

 – Surprised? Yeah, I was too. I had no idea the singer, producer and songwriter of the 1972 Reggae hit, I Can See Clearly Now, was the same voice leading us into each episode of this 1963-1966 cartoon series. It’s amazing what can be learned through a quick online search for something – really, anything – about an obscure and mostly forgotten television cartoon theme song.

Okay, maybe not completely forgotten if you’re old enough to have watched and have a talent (or curse) for remembering catchy tunes. Since I fall into both categories, Hercules was muscling its way onto this Dream Song list on the morning of September 19th. And when you think about it, that means it’s been simmering in my mind for decades.

Do I own a copy? You’re kidding – right? This one is definitely subliminal, but admittedly a fun addition.

The Mighty Hercules was one of the many cartoons rushed into production and aimed specifically for the younger segment of baby boomers. Even though a television set was becoming fairly common in homes during the 1950s, the preteens of the early 1960s were the ones that didn’t know what life was like before the small screen became a regular piece of living room furniture.

Johnny Nash

I’m sure you realize that unlike Johnny Nash, Hercules was a mythical Greek strongman who could probably take Superman the distance. If you need a reference, think Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. Based on pure speculation and memories, the cartoon Hercules was sent down from the Mount Olympus of animation to ride the then current trend for Greek Mythology adventures. As young kids we still pulled ourselves away from the television for our hometown movie theaters where I remember watching the films Jason and The Argonauts (released on my birthday in 1963) and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962) on a big screen.

On college campuses the trend was a little more risqué than heroic with toga parties. But I didn’t study that aspect of Greek Mythology until watching the frat boy documentary Animal House on another big screen over a decade later.

In our preteen version during the early 1960s, we’d run home from these movies and reenact our Hercules and Argonaut adventures. We’d crash through solid walls of cardboard boxes and sword fight using the cardboard tubes we’d slide out of the wrapping paper rolls our mothers were saving for Christmas or birthday gifts.

Think how much money they could’ve saved shopping if they had just given us the cardboard rolls and boxes as presents. Call it a Hercules Power Gift Pack and we would’ve been happy.

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Come to think of it, we might also have sung The Mighty Hercules Theme Song after a hard-fought victory and total destruction of our cardboard city walls. Maybe that’s why I remember more of the words to this song than I do the arithmetic formulas we were supposed to learn in grade school.

Truthfully, which is what I imagine they’d expect on Mount Olympus, I was never into The Mighty Hercules cartoons. At the age of ten it would only be a few months before The Beatles changing everything with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and my most entertaining piece of furniture would move from the television set to the record player. The Hercules shorts (lasting no more than five minutes each) were probably part of my early morning TV viewing during breakfast before rushing out to catch the bus for school.

And when I think about it (again) the song has stayed with me for longer than I Want To Hold Your Hand. Yeah, it’s amazing (again) and I didn’t have to do an online search to realize that.

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On another note, this cartoon along with others rushed out for boomer entertainment, were not exactly works of art. The colorfully drawn cartoons our parents watched in movie theaters when they were kids were later packaged as kid’s programming and aired on television in black and white for our generation. And as mentioned in earlier Classic Rockers, that was also how we discovered The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals (Our Gang) from decades before.

The cartoons produced in the 1930’s, 40’s and early 50’s were made to be shown in theaters with feature films. Hercules and many others from the 60’s were quickly drawn to be watched on a small screen.

Clutch Cargo

Another I distinctly remember from this era was the series Clutch Cargo. It also couldn’t be classified as artistically drawn, but it was fascinating to watch since human mouths were somehow superimposed over the characters animated faces. If you know what I’m talking about – watching these cartoon characters “talking” – I’m sure, you’ll agree. But if not don’t think I’m being weird.

You had to see it to believe it.

It would be another decade before I’d hear the name Johnny Nash and as mentioned earlier, many more before I’d discover his link with The Mighty Hercules. But during my college daze in 1972, somewhere deep in my mind, the mythological cartoon connections to Mount Olympus must have still been simmering. Otherwise I have no excuse for wearing a toga at a frat party and doing my best dance moves to I Can See Clearly Now.

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Here’s the opening theme for The Mighty Hercules sung by Johnny Nash

 

 

To purchase The Mighty Hercules on DVD 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

#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?

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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?

Have a comment?

Please use the contact form below – and keep rockin’!

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

#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

#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