You call that old?

I’ve been reading blogs about “classic rock” by writers talking about times they’ve read about, being too young to remember some of it. Sometimes they bring back memories and sometimes introduce me to things I hadn’t known.

My earliest musical memories are my brothers’ records. Both were teens in the 1950s. The first records were 78s. Three stick in my mind, one a big band record from the 40s, and here they are.

Pre-rock n roll with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and “Opus No 1” by Cy Oliver
“Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard, who taught Paul McCartney to shout “woo” and shake his hair.
“Don’t Be Cruel”, the flip side of “Hound Dog”. Once I heard Big Mama Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog”, Elvis’s paled in comparison; partly because it left out the primary concept of the song, comparing a lover to a hound dog “snoopin’ ’round my door”, and letting him know that sex was out of the question with “I won’t feed you no more”.

The first album I recall was Duane Eddy’s “especially for you” with “His ‘twangy’ guitar and The Rebels”. We played it on my brother’s portable stereo, which looked a lot like this:

Theme from Peter Gunn, an early TV detective show

When we moved to 45s, the record pile grew quickly. We played them on my sister’s record changer, which looked a lot like this.

My first single was a cover of The Beatles’ “She Loves You”, on Hit Records, a Nashville label that did note-for-note knock-offs of current hits and charged half as much as normal 45s. My own first album was the 1964 release “In Touch With Peter and Gordon”. This was the hit single:

Like most artists of the British Invasion, they listened to the blues and tried to cover blues songs. Here is their attempt at Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”, followed by Little Walter’s original recording.

After hearing the real thing, my musical tastes changed, aided by Big Bro, host of “Two for the Blues” on “Up Against the Wall” FM radio. I had to listen to it under the covers, down low, with the lights off, as broadcasts were 10:30 PM to 3 AM and I got up at 4:30 to work starting at age 12.

The hosts of “Up Against the Wall” up against the wall of Breese Stevens Field.

As a result, the first touring acts I saw live were BB King, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.

[Breese Stevens Field is the home of the Flamingos of Forward Madison FC, whose official mascot is Lionel Bessi, a Holstein cow. The Flamingos are named after the city’s official bird, the plastic pink lawn flamingo, after a stunt in which 1008 plastic pink flamingos were placed on Bascom Hill in 1979. (See previous post re: Pail and Shovel Party and thousands of dollars in pennies.) It is also the place where I first promoted a concert and learned to do things myself instead of trusting others to keep their promises. I was urged to find an older and more experienced person to help me, as I was 16 or 17. It was his idea to save time by having each band bring part of the equipment and share it so we wouldn’t have to take so much time resetting the stage. Of course, the band he had arranged to bring some crucial stuff never showed up, so I (and another band that I had brought on-board) had to scramble to get equipment on site as the potential audience milling about outside started leaving when they heard no music. I, of course, am not bitter or anything;). This was to be a major fundraiser for Young World Development (see previous post). Fundraiser, yes. Major, no.]

Photo by Michael Kienitz

For those not familiar with Lionel Bessi’s namesake, here’s a look at his skills.

I also found video of an 8 year old Lionel already showing dribbling finesse, a powerful left foot, and the ability to be in the right place at the right time:

Maybe that lack of sleep in my formative years made me what I am today. That, coupled with being sick, means most of my exercise today is for my ears and fingers. (And too much for my eyes!) De-decorating the Christmas tree, hauling it out, cleaning up, and a couple of trips up and down the stairs was way more aerobic than it should be.

Soon I should be back on the bike and maybe writing about that again.

You say it’s your birthday

Is there any significance to sharing birthdays? Astrologers would say yes. If you share your birthday with someone you admire, you might be tempted to say yes in hopes something rubs off on you.

Today (November 29) there are a number of people who share a birthday. John Mayall, who is credited as a parent of the British Blues Revival, is 88 today. Among the guitarists who passed through his band, The Bluesbreakers, were Eric Clapton (hailed as “god” by fans in the 60s), Peter Green (who replaced Clapton and about whom B.B. King said “He was the only guitarist who made me sweat” and when someone asked what happened to Clapton, Mayall said “Don’t worry – we’ve got someone better”) and Mick Taylor (who went on to play with the Rolling Stones).

In this case, Mayall does not stand in the background and showcase one of his brilliant guitarists.

Felix Cavalieri (organ and vocals with The Young Rascals) is 79 today.

Joel Coen (of the filmmaking Coen Brothers) is 67. One shot in their first film, “Blood Simple”, convinced me that I was going to follow these guys. Adude in Austin might appreciate this one.

The only light in this scene comes from the window, and then through a series of holes shot in the wall. It was the light through those holes that won me over. Screen shot from “Blood Simple” by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Actor Don Cheadle (“Devil in a Blue Dress”, “Hotel Rwanda”, “Ocean’s 11”, “Crash”) is 57.

The theoretical conception date for these men would have been March 8 – International Women’s Day.

Is there any significance in this? I don’t know. Time to go ride my bike.

Ain’t that peculiar?

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I’ve ridden past this corner many times. Tonight I finally stopped for a picture.

I startled a pair of deer on a recent ride. Rather than run uphill away from me, they ran along the shoulder of the road for about 100 feet, then dashed across my path and headed down to the wooded creek bank. Trying to think like a deer, I imagined that they figured that if they were going to be pinned down somewhere, they wanted water and shelter. Either that or they’re just stupid, running across the highway in my path, instead of away from it.

I came around a bend quickly and encountered a pair of sandhill cranes. I braked and swerved to give them space. One paid me no mind. The other, with a few graceful wing beats, rose a few feet off the ground and soared 20 feet down the road, coming to rest in the road again. I was enthralled by how such a big bird could get airborne so quickly and gracefully, and come to rest so smoothly. Apparently it had realized I wasn’t a threat. Its partner was still strolling. Thinking anthropomorphically, I imagined the flyer was trying to be cool and pretend it hadn’t been startled. “I just decided to fly a few feet. It’s cool…”

Another red tailed hawk flew over head. I managed to keep both wheels on the road this time as I watched it soar by 15 feet off the ground. It helped that it crossed just ahead of me, rather than directly over head.

In my continuing Wednesday Night‘s Greatest Hits tour, last week I rode from Lodi to the Baraboo Bluffs, crossing on the Merrimac Ferry and climbing Devil’s Delight Road – short but steep enough to require switchbacks anyway. If any of you remember biorhythms (a popular schema in the ’70s), the theory posits that we have three rhythms that follow sine waves at different periods. If all three line up at the top of the wave, you have a great day. If they all line up at the bottom of the wave, it will be a bad day. Last Wednesday was one of those days. I had no energy. Every climb was a chore. Even going down was hard. There seemed to be headwinds in all directions. After climbing Devil’s Delight, I turned around and headed back down, short of the ridge and cutting at least ten miles off the loop I had planned. At least I got two ferry crossings in.

Luckily I saved the ride that is usually that week and did it tonight. The ride starts at Black Earth; if you see the ground being turned in the spring the reason for the name becomes obvious. The Black Earth Creek watershed contains incredibly rich, black soil – even after 150 years of farming. The route crosses the ridges multiple times, with five steep climbs. The person who wrote the cue sheet for this ride illustrated the climbs with evil grinning jack o’lantern demon faces. I felt much better tonight and the five climbs were great fun, as was the 5 miles along Blue Ridge Road, staying on the ridge until the 40 mph downhill. One of the ridges is occupied by the Camp That Must Not Be Named, where my daughter spent many summers and some winter weeks – and I was a counselor-in-training there 51 years ago. The route includes the “easy” side of Sutcliffe Road, meaning that the downhill side is the one where I have hit 50 mph on my steel bike. Tonight as I approached 50 mph I felt a little oscillation in the frame. Rather than just squeeze the top tube with my knees, I feathered the brakes. Either this bike feels less stable at that speed, or I’m just getting old.

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One couldn’t ask for a better late July day for a ride…85 degrees (30 Celsius), dew point 59 (15 degrees Celsius), winds less than 5 mph, just enough clouds to give the place atmosphere, and the smell of corn ripening in the fields.

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My post-ride beer was a timely one. I’d seen it in stores but hadn’t tried it. Since I forgot my church key tonight I needed something in cans, and voila!

While my guitar gently weeps

The song could have been written (but wasn’t) while listening to Peter Green. One more round from his guitar gently weeping. First is this BB King song, with an opening that sounds like Mose Allison could have written it – “I’ve got a mind to give up living/And go shopping instead”:

There is also a great 1968 live recording of BB himself available on YouTube; BB being the other great guitarist who knows it’s not the number of notes you play, but the soul you put into those notes. That recording also contains a great organ part and a horn funeral dirge. I’ve been listening to Peter Green all week. Slow blues may not be your cup of tea, but he and his guitar continue to weep with his own song:

It almost hurts to listen to Peter Green. He doesn’t play notes, he draws beauty and suffering from the instrument. His voice aches. But when the song is over, I feel at peace.

RIP Peter Green

The world lost one of its greatest and least-appreciated guitarists today. Peter Green (born Peter Greenbaum) has died at the age of 73.

Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966. When a producer expressed dismay that Clapton had left the band, Mayall replied, “Don’t worry. We got someone better.” Lucille Bogan’s “Sweet Black Angel”, made famous by BB King as “Sweet Little Angel”, was recorded by Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Green on guitar.

Mayall introduced some of the best British blues guitarists to the world. Green, like the others, soon left to form his own band – Fleetwood Mac, with the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (the only constants in that band’s long tenure). There he recorded his song “Black Magic Woman”. While most of the world associates this song with Santana’s cover version, here is Fleetwood Mac:

While Green was a phenomenal blues guitarist, he and Fleetwood Mac soon branched out, especially as they added additional guitarists. Here is Green’s instrumental “Albatross”:

With the album “Then Play On”, they went in another direction. Here is “Oh Well” from that album:

Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970. Within a few years they had morphed into a phenomenally successful pop band; unrecognizable to fans of the original Fleetwood Mac. Green disappeared from the public eye after an unpleasant LSD experience in Germany. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent electroconvulsive therapy. He resurfaced a few times over the years, including in the 90s with “Peter Green’s Splinter Group”.

After all those years, it was clear he still had it. He reappeared one last time with “Peter Green and Friends”. While he could no longer tolerate the ravages of touring and his voice was shot, his fingers still worked, as did their connection to his heart. Here, from 2010, is his cover of “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison song but the A.C. Williams blues song made famous by Albert King).

Peter Green 29 October 1946-25 July 2020.

This post may have nothing to do with bicycles, but it seems like everyone has the blues these days and could use a dose of the blues as treatment.