Tag Archives: rock music

#168 – I Want To Take You Higher

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. I saw the movie.

Millions were there?

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

Yeah, we thought we looked cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking everyone higher!

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

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

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

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

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

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

 

To purchase The Essential Sly & The Family Stone with I Want To Take You Higher visit Amazon.com

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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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

#179 – Achy Breaky Heart

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#179 – Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus

 – Depending on which side of the fence you’re using to pick sides, this song never fails to stir up contrasting opinions. In some cases, it’s downright confusing. For example, in one poll VH-1 named it one of the 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s (coming in at number 87). However, with a different opinion, the same VH-1 pollsters ranked it at the number two position of Worst Songs of All Time.

Yeah, I’m confused too.

Achy Breaky Heart stirred up a position on this Dream Song List on August 10th. The reason for my confusion is because of how I went from one side of the fence to the other in my personal opinion. I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it in awhile, which places it in the subliminal category. But I wouldn’t mind listening to it again. Like almost all the songs on this list, it has a catchy tune that makes it hard to forget.

And I’ll have to admit it brings back some down home memories.

The extreme mullet!

When it made Billy Ray Cyrus a household name in 1992, topping music charts around the world and becoming one of the top-selling country singles of all time, Classic Rockers like myself were more inclined to cringe, rather than dust off our boots from the Urban Cowboy fad a decade earlier and kick up our heels in line dancing extravaganzas. This wasn’t John Travolta giving us Hollywood’s version of country music. This was a new trend that brought a pop feeling to the real deal that was coming out of Nashville at that time.

But it wasn’t just the music that was different. It was also the artist. The days of Rhinestone Cowboys were over and rockers were moving in. Aiming to take country to new heights of popularity were Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt and Billy Ray Cyrus.

The style was changing.

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And speaking of style, Billy Ray’s mullet made such a confusing and lasting visual impression in 1992 that ten years later comedian David Spade reprised the look for laughs with his character Joe Dirt in the movie of the same name. And believe me, it wasn’t meant to be a flattering impression.

Extreme Joe Dirt

But now that the musical changes, along with the critical and comedic opinions have been aired out, I’ll admit to my residency on both sides of the Achy Breaky fence. When the song was riding high in early 1992 it immediately became a punch line for late night television hosts and more than a few comedians. And since I was working in Hollywood scheduling stand-up comedians for live shows and television, I was laughing along with them. It seemed like the TV show Hee-Haw was being reinvented for our entertainment.

Yeah, I know. It was an opinion not everyone on the opposite side of the fence would have agreed with. And it didn’t matter whether you were boot-scootin’ in Nashville or Hollywood – you couldn’t escape hearing it.

Then in 1993 I also caught a bit of critical flack from some of my comedy cronies by jumping the fence and moving back to my hometown in Ohio. Talk about Hee-Haw being reinvented… Okay, that was meant to be a joke and nothing personal toward my current cronies. Considering my choice of career you’ll have to cut me some flack on the humor side once in awhile.

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Embarking on a second career as a writer, I scored a weekly entertainment column for a local newspaper. I pitched the editor my value as a comedy journalist covering live shows in the area. I wasn’t surprised he went for it and hired me on the spot. The surprise came when he made the deal contingent on me also writing a weekly column on country music.

Guess it was time to dust off the boots.

The down home memories started line-dancing into my life about two months later when I met my future wife Cowgirl Deb and future son Chaos Kevin. Discovering the value of combining my work requirements with a social life, I took Deb to a comedy show on our first date. By our third date I was wearing boots and line dancing to a cowboy deejay.

Both work outings received great reviews in my weekly comedy and country music columns. The social life grabbed my achy breaky heart.

The Classic Rocker & Billy Ray Cyrus

But just like I refer to myself as a Classic Rocker kind of guy, the Cowgirl tag fits the girl. She has the ability to sing along with almost every song that has a twang, while I’m still trying to figure out the lyrics Mick Jagger was singing in the ’60s and ’70s.

Though her county stylings never really rubbed off on the rest of the (future) family, Achy Breaky Heart did find its way onto (then) five-year-old Chaos Kevin’s playlist. It was one of the first songs I remember him singing and dancing (jumping) to around the living room. I guess it was his enthusiasm that rubbed off on me because after only a few listens I was singing it too.

And as for my dancing ability, jumping is a suitable description.

So with all this Achy Breaky fun going on in the household, the next step was to get married – which we did six months later. The five and a half year old Chaotic member of my new family was my best man. We laid the groundwork for our shared ability to surprise his mom when she walked down the church aisle and noticed I had mistakenly pinned my groom’s flower (officially called boutonniere) to his jacket while I sported his pint-sized version on mine.

We also had our own running commentary as she approached the alter:

  • Me: “Who’s the babe?
  • Chaos Kevin: “That’s Debbie.”
  • Me: “Oh yeah…”

Instead of continuing this Achy Breaky family affair into the years where an older Chaos Kevin discovered rap music and I learned the value of closing the door to any room where he was listening to rap music (and soon opening again to tell him he was too young to repeat those lyrics, which for some reason he understood better than I understood Mick in the ’60s and ’70s), we’ll return to my good fortune of combining work with a social life. Rather than acting as a rap music critic at home, it was a lot more fun to have reviewer seats and backstage passes for country music concerts and comedy shows.

Hannah Montana’s dad & The Classic Rocker

I’ve lost track of how many years I did double duty as a comedy and country music columnist, but I’ll say it was at least fifteen. And during that time we saw some heavy duty performers. I could name drop from a worthy list and probably will in the future, but one happened to be Billy Ray Cyrus.

Though I’m sure he toured through our area more than a few times during those years, we saw him twice. The first time I didn’t know what to expect. Achy Breaky Heart and…

Well, I honestly didn’t know anything else.

And you know what? Billy Ray and his backup band gave us a new wave of country that had a backbeat and rocked. Did I give his shows good reviews? Better than that – they were great.

And afterwards, thanks to backstage journalist passes, I was able to tell him in person.

Finally, I’ll return to the Achy Breaky family affair. As mentioned above, this song joined the list on August 10th. By coincidence that date also happens to be Chaos Kevin’s birthday. Was that a subliminal message? It depends on what side of the fence you’re on when it comes to premonitions.

Hannah Montana & dad

And to fast forward through the years, our son Dangerous Paul was added to the family mix. Of course he’s a younger generation with a younger outlook and I have no memory if he was ever into Achy Breaky Heart. In fact, I doubt he knows any of the lyrics other than the title.

But my well-earned journalistic credentials helped me become a big deal during a commercial break on The Disney Channel when he and his young friends saw my photo with Billy Ray Cyrus…

  • Dangerous Paul & friends: “That’s Hannah Montana’s dad!”
  • Me: “Yep.”

At least my time as a country music columnist earned me a limited amount of cool factor with the younger generation. Now if I could just figure out what Mick has been singing all these years I might be able to do the same with my peers in The Classic Rocker generation…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Here’s the 1993 video of Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus that started the craze.

To purchase The Definitive Collection by Billy Ray Cyrus with Achy Breaky Heart 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