Saigon has fallen!

It was April 29, 1975. Bonnie Raitt was playing the Capitol Theatre. Between songs, someone came out on stage and whispered in her ear. She nodded and went on to play the song she was going to play anyway. After that song she announced to the crowd, “Saigon has fallen!” A cheer erupted and the concert kicked into another gear.

We all saw this image of people scrambling to board helicopters to escape Saigon.

The concert crowd spilled onto the street at the end for an impromptu party, which moved to a nearby street to go long into the night.

I’ve just read Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”, the chronicle of a 1980s childhood spent trying to be a “Real American”. She ate the foods and adopted the fads that I had spent my youth rejecting. She embraced the myths that unfolded before her. It is only the privilege of belonging that affords us the luxury of rejection. What does it mean to “be an American”?

To those of us who had opposed that war, the fall of Saigon meant the hope that the Vietnamese could find a new life out from under the thumb of the US, and France before us. To some who had fought in that war, the aftermath was a time to help the country rebuild after a generation of occupation. To those like Ms Nguyen, it was a bewildering time, a childhood escape (with her father but not her mother) and an embrace of middle class US life in a town that was not ready to accept her.

But that night, it was first and foremost a celebration of spring. It was the cultural event of the season, an annual rite that we weren’t always aware of until looking back.

45 years after she first recorded this, she’s still got it.

Bonnie Raitt was schooled in the blues, playing with Muddy Waters (with whom I saw her in 1978), Junior Wells, Fred McDowell, and John Lee Hooker. She recorded the work of Sippie Wallace and appeared in concert with her. When commercial success eluded her, she also played with the likes of James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Delbert McClinton, and anyone else you might care to name. Her duets with John Prine on “Angel from Montgomery” are the stuff of legend.

She became an overnight success nearly 20 years in, with a single on the charts in John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”, a Grammy for a duet with John Lee Hooker (“I’m in the Mood”) and three other Grammys for that album and her title song “Nick of Time”. 2022 brought a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.

She’s not done yet, having just completed a sold out tour of the northeast (with NRBQ), with a run through the south in May and continuing east in June (with Lucinda Williams), followed by the rest of the country with Mavis Staples.

And now for something completely different

Blue-eyed Soul

My friend Angie in Ireland (corrected from original) is a fan/student/blogger of classic rock. I’m just an old guy who was around then. If I could, I’d just send her my ideas and get her to research/write them; but I’m home from work early on a rainy day and this came to me on the ride home.

Homage/cultural appropriation/minstrelsy is a topic/continuum I won’t tackle here. Angie touched on it while writing about Led Zeppelin and others, Craig Werner delves into it in A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America. The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project published Wesley Morris’ essay on the topic. The Berklee School of Music offers a course on the topic. Some artists (e.g. The Beatles) openly acknowledged their sources and inspirations, others (e.g. Led Zeppelin) did not. Willie Dixon is credited with writing hundreds of songs, including some that Led Zeppelin stole. Dixon himself has been accused of putting his name on the songs of others. Picasso is credited with saying “good artists copy; great artists steal.”

Sometimes a great song (Willie Mae Thornton’s “Hound Dog”) gets turned into a novelty (Elvis Presley’s version) – though both versions were written by the white writers Leiber & Stoller, who weren’t afraid of a novelty tune. (They wrote “Poison Ivy”, “Yakety Yak”, “Love Potion #9”, and “Charlie Brown”. “Poison Ivy” isn’t so much a novelty tune as a warning about what might befall you if you”feed” that hound dog snooping around your door. )

Actual soul music would take a book, not a blog post. David Bowie referred to his music as “plastic soul”, but that didn’t stop him from making money from it. As for me, I just want a reason to listen to some old music on a rainy day.

Originally a BeeGees song; can’t get much whiter than that.
Steve Winwood when he was still “Stevie” as a teenager
While The Grateful Dead always mixed originals and covers, The Jerry Garcia Band gave Jerry an outlet for more covers, and he tended toward soul/R&B, having other bands to indulge other aspects of his roots and influences.
She wrote the song for Aretha and later sang it herself. A lot of R&B was written by white writers for black artists (e.g. Goffin & King, Leiber & Stoller, Mann & Weill), which makes the whole issue a bit more complex than just the simple notion of white singers stealing from black artists. Note that the teams that were mixed gender list the man first.
A cover of The Supremes hit
Delaney and Bonnie were better known for their “Friends”. They had quite a group of friends. You can find them playing with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane Allman, and many others. Check out Bonnie Bramlett and Tracy Nelson duets some time.
with the famously mis-heard lyric “You and me endlessly groovin'”, heard as “You and me and Leslie…” by folks who thought it was about a threesome. This video lacks their early gimmick of costumes from the Little Rascals TV show. (Now that could be another post, Angie – costumed bands, like Paul Revere and the Raiders.)
Tracy Nelson vocal, Michael Bloomfield guitar, song by Memphis Slim. (I can’t find an online version of her singing “Time is on my side”, which is what I wanted to post. I have it on cassette, which is hard to upload.)
featuring Dave Mason, the “other” singer in Traffic
1945 tune by Buddy Johnson
Like Traffic, more than one of them could sing lead.
From Charles Brown’s “I Want to Go Home”, to Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me”, to Van the Man, still going strong on this recording 53 years after his first charted single.
Where Blue-eyed Soul started for a lot of us. Two great voices and The Wall of Sound.

I’m a bike rider, not a music writer. This is not meant to be definitive, but it got me through a rainy afternoon.

The tyranny of numbers

My first Wednesday Night Bike Ride of the season is over. I can’t tell you how fast I rode, or how many watts I produced, or my maximum heart rate, or anything else you datameisters like to measure.

I can tell you I had fun, but I can’t quantify that. I can tell you that my heart and respiratory rates remained non-zero. I can tell you I rode enough miles to get back to where I started, and fast enough not to fall over. I can tell you that the winter wheat is bright green and makes a nice contrast with the pale spring greens of the tree blossoms. I guess that’s bad news to those who are allergic to tree pollens, but I’m not. It felt good to get out of town and on the road again.