Category Archives: AM

#169 – 25 or 6 to 4

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#169 – 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago

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

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

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

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

With a horn section!

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

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

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

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

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

But then Chicago changed that.

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

It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

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

That’s what they call rock and roll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herb Alpert & TJ Brass

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

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

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

Beatles Horn Section

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

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

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

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

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

 

 

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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#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

#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

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#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul and Linda McCartney

Paul & Linda

– There’s a short section of road along the south shore of Lake Erie that I drive almost every day. It’s about seven or eight miles from where I’m currently holed-up and for some reason, more often than not, I’m reminded of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

This is a bit of a mind game for me because that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Yeah, certain places might remind me of certain songs, but this is a constant. I make a slight curve, glance up a short hill of mowed grass and regardless of whatever one of the thousands of songs on my playlist is coming through the car speakers, the title of this hit from the 1971 album Ram will flash through my brain.

I know… strange.

Smile Away 4 the camera!

In trying to put my memories together I know the album was released that May, less than a month before I graduated high school. I’ve never owned a vinyl copy, but had an 8-track that I played so often the cover photo of Paul holding the horns of a ram showed serious signs of wear and tear by the time I graduated college four years later. By that time, 8-tracks were relegated to either ancient history or collector’s items. It’s now on my digital playlist – which is a current technology that fools me into thinking I’m not that ancient – but I hadn’t heard it in awhile.

So when I woke up with the song playing through my mind on August 25 it immediately went into the subliminal category of Dream Songs. And I guess that makes it a double-whammy when it comes to mind games (and yeah, I was thinking of the John Lennon album as I wrote that) because I also know I’ll drive past that mowed hill of grass within the next day or two and whammy! Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey will be subliminally traveling with me again.

Since the song wasn’t released as a single until later that summer I can only guess it was already receiving radio airplay in advance, or I had propped my state-of-the-art portable 8-track player on the passenger seat of my mother’s car (since I didn’t have my own), using the cigarette lighter as a power source. If Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey was playing all those decades ago while – by chance – I was cruising along this piece of road, it must have made quite the mental impression.

I have no other explanation why that happens. But there is another memory…

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There was bit of a red flag feeling that went up with this song. The Beatles had been the most consistent hit-making band since I was a preteen in 1964. The Rolling Stones had been around almost as long, but were only just moving into their Golden Era off the LP Let It Bleed and released the month before Ram, Sticky Fingers. Led Zeppelin had also become a favorite, but both groups were still in the rear view mirror when it came to The Beatles.

Two thirds of writers

With three major songwriters competing for spots on their albums, you knew there wouldn’t be a dud in the bunch. John Lennon and Paul McCartney regularly supplied number one hits and George Harrison had come into his own as a writer. The winter before he seemed to pass the other two as a solo artist with the classic LP All Things Must Pass.

John had become the Working Class Hero and Paul once again demonstrated his talent with his first self-titled album and the single Maybe I’m Amazed.

And though boomers continued to hold out hope for a Fab Four reunion after Abbey Road and Let It Be, Paul’s second LP Ram (with his new writing and performing partner, wife Linda) really made it clear there was a major separation between him and his former mates as songwriters.

But we should have seen it coming…

When you listen to Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles record (Let It Be was recorded earlier and released later) it was obvious then. Harrison’s Something and Here Comes The Sun, and Lennon’s Come Together are mainstays in Beatles Best Of collections, near the top in Beatles song rankings and highlights in the decades later LOVE show in Las Vegas and the CD.

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McCartney’s main contributions to the album (other than song snippets with Lennon’s on the side two Medley) were Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Oh, Darling! Don’t get me wrong – I love both. But they’re more light-weight pop songs and when compared to the before-mentioned Lennon and Harrison classics they never seemed to rank as high on the Beatles Hit Parade.

There’s no doubt McCartney deserves every award and accolade he’s received. But when the hard rockers were taking over in the early 1970’s he seemed to be moving a few steps back into the pop category. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey has always been a favorite, but releasing it as a single during Spring 1971 didn’t help raise his cool factor.

Rock and rollers

To put it into perspective, as mentioned I was graduating high school. At our graduation parties where dancing and 3.2% beer were legal and common for 18-year olds in Ohio at that time – do you think we were rocking out to Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey or Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter and Whole Lotta Love?

No need to answer. If you’re a first generation Classic Rocker, I’ll rest my case.

Ram was a huge hit in 1971, along with just about everything involving any of the Beatles during this era. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey may have been too pop for much of the Woodstock Generation and too close on the heels of the bubble gum music fad that drove many of us away from AM radio, but McCartney was still writing great tunes and rocking out. One of them, and undoubtedly my favorite from the album, is Too Many People, which came in at #261 on this Dream Song list. It’s rare when an artist has two songs on this list – let alone two songs from the same album (other than a Greatest Hits Collection). It’s just another example of McCartney’s ability to write catchy tunes.

Oh, there’s one other lasting memory…

My dad had a favorite uncle. He was much older and lived in Michigan, but they were always close. And of course his name was Uncle Albert. The first time my dad heard this song coming from my transistor radio at our family bakery, he stopped working (for a brief moment), looked at me, smiled and said, “Uncle Albert?” Yeah, I’ll always have that memory.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Since I don’t know if the McCartney’s ever performed the song live or made an official video, here’s something I’ve found online. The song is heard over family home movies, which will give you an idea of what Paul and Linda were doing following the breakup of The Beatles and before the mega-success of their group Wings.

 

 

To purchase Ram with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (along with Too Many People and other great tracks) 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