Category Archives: Otis Redding

#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.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

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#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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The Story Behind Their Greatest Concert

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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