Category Archives: Singers

#155 – On The Road Again

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#155 – On The Road Again by Willie Nelson

– My wife Cowgirl Debbie and I are sitting next to each other at a table on Willie Nelson’s tour bus. Yeah, that’s pretty cool in itself. But to make the scene even cooler, sitting across from us is Willie Nelson himself. I’m kind’a fumbling around for something to say that will keep him interested in our conversation. I hit on something, his face lights up and Cowgirl Debbie says…

Okay, now that I might have you somewhat interested, we’ll go back a couple decades before continuing with this scene.

In the late 1970’s I had a pretty cool apartment in New York City. I’ve talked about it before in these Classic Rocker ramblings, but to be brief it was in the Gramercy Park neighborhood, had three levels and a small terrace. For NYC it was living in style. However, since I was still basically a just-graduated college student trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up, most of my funds went into paying rent.

The furnishings consisted of whatever my parents didn’t want anymore and how much of it I could stuff into a station wagon for my move from Ohio.

My first big splurge of spending money for pure enjoyment was a subscription for Manhattan Cable Television. It’s now sort of a laughable starving artist memory since the only television I had was another parental castoff small enough to be balanced on my stomach while lying in bed. It also scores high on the memorabilia meter since it can be described by another castoff term – black and white.

As Ralph Kramden often said in a black and white sitcom classic called The Honeymooners: I was living in the lap of luxury. And as another piece of memorabilia for dedicated NYC television viewing veterans from the era, that show was aired every weeknight at 11 pm on Channel 11.

I know, because I watched.

HBO’s Finest!

With my cable television subscription, which included an extra length of cable in case I wanted to put the television on a table next to the bed instead of on my stomach, came a relatively new network called Home Box Office (HBO). This was revolutionary since movies and special features (comedy and music concerts come to mind) were broadcast without any commercials.

Hey, if they could land a man on the moon only a decade earlier, why stop there? Commercial free paid television was the next logical step.

After a few years of progressively improving personal finances I eventually had a color television in the living room with added cable networks like MTV, ESPN and Cinemax. But HBO was still the go-to for watching movies if you didn’t feel like heading out to a theater and paying an exorbitant seven dollar ticket price for a first-run feature.

But HBO didn’t seem to have an exorbitant amount of feature films at that time. In other words, they seemed to air the same movies over and over and over

But that was okay if the movie was really good or – even better – if it was really bad. The frequently run HBO classics that immediately come to mind during the early 1980’s fitting both requirements were Can’t Stop The Music with The Village People (and Bruce Jenner!), Thank God It’s Friday with Donna Summer and Honeysuckle Rose starring Willie Nelson.

Yeah, there were others. But this trio of music flicks were aired so often during my insomniac late nights they’ve been burned into my lasting memory.

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Speaking of memory, On The Road Again joined the subliminal category of this Dream Song list on October 21st. There’s no other explanation for its inclusion other than my burned-in memory since I don’t own a copy and probably haven’t heard it since we saw Willie Nelson in person the evening we sat with him on his tour bus.

To connect all the dots between the movie memories and our in person Willie Nelson experience…

Real life Honeysuckle Rose

On The Road Again was the Academy Award nominated theme song written by Nelson for his 1980 movie Honeysuckle Rose that seemed to be on HBO over and over and over… And of course, the title of the movie was also the name of his tour bus both in the movie and real life.

Got that? Okay, then one final classic movie note…

Not only was Willie Nelson the romantic lead in this “on the road” country-music-flavored film, but his co-star was one of my favorite American actors, Slim Pickens. Yeah, I know, a quirky choice on my part. But he made my personal all-star list with roles in the films Dr. Strangelove (riding on an atomic bomb into glory), Blazing Saddles and 1941. After playing these burnt-into-my-mind roles, I found it a bit unreal to watch ol’ Slim as a guitar player in Willie’s band, which is probably another reason I found it impossible to switch on a different cable channel whenever the film came on HBO during another late night round of sleepless viewing.

Two decades later, in 2002 to be exact, I wasn’t quite grown up yet (I’m still working on that) but was doing something I could’ve never dreamed or predicted when I made the long ago decision to splurge on Manhattan Cable Television. I was writing a weekly country music column for a newspaper in northern Ohio. Again, I’ve mentioned this in past Classic Rockers and how it gave me a fresh outlook on music I hadn’t paid much attention to previously.

Press Pass

It also brought me face to face with the country legend and star of Honeysuckle Rose on his tour bus. And though I’m not sure his 2002 updated traveling home shared the same name, I’ll go ahead and say it did just to keep you somewhat interested.

With two review tickets for Nelson’s July 22nd concert in Cleveland and a confirmed post-show interview, Cowgirl Debbie and I were psyched for a somewhat interesting evening. Debbie’s reason was based on her being a big country music fan (hence the name) and me because…

Well, come-on. I’m sure you’d also think it’s pretty cool to meet Willie Nelson.

Willie and his band played all his classic hits, but I somehow felt disappointed Slim Pickens wasn’t standing next to him playing guitar. On a sad note, Slim passed away almost two decades before in 1983. On a techno-psychological note, that shows the lasting power of cable television on the human brain.

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After Willie walked off stage following an encore or two, we flashed our media passes at a security guard and were escorted behind the outdoor venue to a closed off parking area and a large bus. Another guard stood outside protecting the open door.

After checking our passes, he told us to go inside and have a seat.

Willie’s living room

The front section of the bus was a living room that included a table with booth seating big enough for four people to have dinner or a card game. Then there was a closed door dividing what I assumed were private sleeping quarters in the back. The decor (if I remember correctly) included wood paneling and dark red curtains over the bus windows.

After just a few minutes the closed door opened. Willie Nelson walked in, said hello and sat at the table with us.

Doing my best Ralph Kramden impression from The Honeymooners, I probably started my newspaper interview with, “Homina, homina, homina…” BTW – veteran Honeymooners fans will know exactly what I’m referring to.

But as I should have expected, Willie Nelson was very cool. Soon we were talking about the concert, his tour, music and… well, it could have been somewhat more exciting than that. It was obvious to both of us I was asking – and he was answering – questions he’d heard countless times before.

So I went with something else:

What would you have done if music didn’t work out?

Willie looked at me, smiled and said, I’d like to be a professional golfer.”

Willie Nelson & The Classic Rocker

That takes us back to the beginning of this epic rambling story. Cowgirl Debbie, who had been uncharacteristically quiet (trust me on that) up to this point, saw his face light up and said…

On what? The Senior Circuit?

Okay, obviously Willie didn’t look like a teenager – even back in the days of filming Honeysuckle Rose. But Cowgirl Debbie’s remark was like a sucker punch to his funny bone. Willie started laughing and might have pretended to be offended by her age-related joke. But it didn’t matter since the timing, delivery and his reaction had all three of us cracking up.

After that ice-breaker the rest of the interview goes down in my memory as fun time. Willie was a genuine nice guy with a great sense of humor. And I’m sure if we had asked, he would’ve let us ride on Honeysuckle Rose with him to the next tour stop.

Okay, probably not. But the idea of us on the road (again?) with Willie Nelson might have kept you somewhat interested enough to read this far.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a 1983 video of Willie Nelson performing On The Road Again.

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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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#158 – Stay With Me

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#158 – Stay With Me by Faces

Faces

– Summer heat and a packed stadium of wannabe boomer hippies morphing into mod rockers. Okay, maybe you won’t think it was as game-changing as I’m making it out to be, but let’s put it this way:

You had to be there.

Since The Classic Rocker is all (well, mostly) about memories this song brings back more than a few – including the scene mentioned above. Rod “The Mod” Stewart, future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, future Stones keyboard sideman Ian McLagan, future Keith Moon replacement in The Who, Kenney Jones, and original Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane were throwing a booze-fueled rock and roll party on stage and everyone was invited.

And it was a needed party. At least that’s how I remember it.

This was happening in July 1972 following my first year in college and the country was going through a very heavy scene. We were hearing a lot of message songs on FM and campus radio not only about protesting the Vietnam War, but also serious odes to peace and love and coming together as a community. These were important topics for our generation and had been growing stronger since the late 1960’s.

In the Navy!

It especially hit home when my age of U.S. males became eligible for the military draft. With the end of student deferments and low draft lottery numbers (mine was #52 which was way too low for comfort), some of my college friends had no choice about their futures. You either went in or went on the run.

It was pretty serious stuff.

We still had rockers like The Who and Led Zeppelin blasted out future classics with attitude, but a lot of music was meant to be listened to. Acoustic guitar playing troubadours with flannel shirts and denim bellbottoms dragging on the floor were a popular sound and style. But as teenagers in the early 1970s some of us could only sit cross-legged around a stereo digging the heavy vibe for so long until feeling the need to cut loose.

The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar had kicked off the summer of 1971 and offered us an alternate vibe. The message was sex and being wild – and if that’s not rock and roll someone needs to come up with a better definition. It had crunchy electric guitars, a heavy beat, a screaming saxophone from Bobby Keys and major attitude. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren’t going to waste their time or ours by standing around with acoustic guitars looking introspective and thoughtful.

As soon as the stereo needle hit the vinyl we were in a better place.

Faces also sang about rock’s main topics, backed by electric guitars, keyboards and a drum beat that made sitting cross-legged on the floor virtually impossible. And it was a heck of a lot of fun.

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Legendary as the ultimate ode to backstage groupies, Stay With Me by Faces – as opposed to “The” Faces, which would be like saying “The” Led Zeppelin – was a definite party-starter. The song closed the first side of their late 1971 album A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse and opened my eyes on September 26th as a recent memory. It’s one of my all-time favorite rock songs (along with Brown Sugar) and rarely off my digital playlists for any great length of time. In other words, I had just heard it.

So, what did I mean earlier about morphing from wannabe hippies to mod rockers? It all started on July 3, 1972…

As a nineteen year old U.S. male home from college with the second year riding on the results of an upcoming U.S. military draft physical, I was doing my best to emulate the Woodstock culture of the boomers a few years earlier. The style included hair to my shoulders, a faded t-shirt and faded denim bellbottoms long and wide enough to drag on the floor. My three best pals were also clones of the look as we took off in a beater car for a major rock concert experience at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl featuring Cactus, Badfinger and the main attraction, Faces.

When we arrived, the stadium was already packed with like-minded hippie wannabes. But for some reason we felt brave enough (stupid enough?) to wade our way through the crowd sitting cross-legged close to the stage. When we reached a space that gave us a great view, we sat. Seriously – we just sat down, practically on top of the fans who were already there. I remember some teenage girls and guys giving us the evil eye and saying something about our arrogance (stupidity?) but it worked out. We were basically good guys and actually funny enough to resemble a hippie comedy team.

It didn’t take very long before we were making friends and they let us settle in for the show.

Come to think of it, we probably made these fast friends because one of my pals had hid a bottle under his shirt and was free in passing it around. Combined with the 3.2 percent beer we were allowed to buy from venders at the legal age of eighteen, everyone seemed pretty friendly and the atmosphere could be described as party central.

Badfinger

Except for being a hot, humid day in July with more dirt and dust than grass covering the stadium’s pre-Astroturf college football field, I don’t have any highlights of the opening acts to share. I don’t remember any of us being into Cactus. They might have been part of the country-rock scene out of California, which we weren’t into at the time. I was psyched about seeing Badfinger since they were a Beatles-related Apple band, but they were a bit of a disappointment. I have a memory of one or two of them sitting on stools while playing the hits we wanted to hear. Not exactly the rock and roll energy we expected.

Faces fronted by Rod Stewart were the complete opposite.

They rock and rolled, pranced and posed and made no secret they had a party central happening on stage. We were close enough to see bottles of booze on the amplifiers and they took healthy swigs before, during and after songs. I’m not sure if Stay With Me was the closing number, but I like to think it was. As a dedicated soccer fan, Rod kicked soccer balls into the crowd and at one point either he – or it might have been Ron Wood – landed on his butt after an especially energetic and booze-fueled kick.

We roared our approval.

But what did I mean about a change from wannabe hippies into mod rockers?

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Faces were far from being flannel shirt and denim rockers. They were decked out in brightly colored slim-fitting, wide lapel jackets, flashy shirts, bellbottoms and high-heeled shoes. There’s no way these guys would’ve felt comfortable walking through the mud at Woodstock or showing up for a military draft physical.

They were traveling in style. Which is something I started to do within a few weeks of the concert.

My goal was to fashion myself like Rod and the band with what I can only call a “rock and roll jacket.” It had to be slim fitting with wide lapels, which turned out not to be as easy to find in northern Ohio as it must have been in London.

Not as cool as this!!

After hours of driving with my concert-going buddy Gary to every clothes store we could find near and far from Cleveland, we finally wound up back in Akron at a then-known but now-gone 1970’s fashion trendsetter clothes store called Chess King (as opposed to “The” Chess King). A mod-rocker sales dude pulled out a jacket in my (tight) size and I reached for my wallet.

And even though muddy brown sugar would never be called a flashy color by Faces or London fashionistas, I proudly wore it to add mod to my rocker status.

To end this Classic Rocker rambling in a way I feel is even more dramatic than landing on my butt after an energetic and booze-filled soccer ball kick into a standing room only stadium crowd of boomer, mod-rockers, the military draft fizzled out only months before my lottery number was scheduled to be inducted. That meant the rock and roll jacket would be my main uniform during a second year of college.

That also signaled another needed party – and I’m sure I wore my jacket. And even though it didn’t inspire the Rod Stewart solo-hit, in my teenaged mind I probably thought it: You wear it well.

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Here’s a live video of Faces performing Stay With Me looking like 1972 rock and rollers!

 

 

To purchase A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse 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

#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.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

 

#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.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

#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.

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