If you could have dinner…(redux)

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would that be? What if you could get a small group around a table?

While cleaning our adopted highway, I thought of two such groups. The first has already been published here . I realized that all of the participants were dead men.

Sugar maples – sap for syrup in the spring, gorgeous color in the fall…

For my second, I thought about women in music. The Women’s Music movement of the 1970s changed how we saw women in music. Women like Carole King helped to make that movement possible.

Carole King (1942-) King got her start as a songwriter in the famous Brill Building in New York. Among other writers there were Leiber and Stoller (about whom I have written before), Burt Bacharach and Hal David (multiple hits for Dionne Warwick, movie themes for “What’s New, Pussycat”, “Alfie”, and “Casino Royale”), Doc Pomus, Jerry Ragavoy, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil…). She wrote “Up on the Roof” for The Drifters, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for The Monkees, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin, among many others. In 1971 she released the seminal album “Tapestry” which spawned numerous hit singles for herself and others, spent 15 weeks at #1, and earned 4 Grammys. The Singer/Songwriter movement of the 70s (James Taylor, Jackson Browne, etc) owes much to Carole King. In 1994 she appeared on Broadway. She appeared as a guest on The Gilmore Girls and is mom to singer/songwriter Louise Goffin.

There isn’t a weak song on “Tapestry”, and what happens when the songwriter sits down at the piano and plays her own work after others have interpreted it just sounds special.

June Millington (1948-). Millington was lead guitarist in the band Fanny. Treated as a novelty act by the industry, Fanny was an all-woman band, active from 1970-74. They weren’t a novelty – they could play! In 1970 they opened for The Kinks and Procol Harum in LA. They were apparently more appreciated in the UK than the US. In a Rolling Stone interview, David Bowie said of the band, “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.” In 2021, the film “Fanny: The Right to Rock” opened in limited release. June and her sister Jean began playing in rock bands in 1965. Millington was one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Music movement of the 1970s and contributes lead guitar work to many albums of the era.

This session, recorded warts and all, features Fanny on Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”. The song starts at about 1:45.

Since that video can’t be embedded, here they are covering “Badge” by Cream.

If you still doubt that women can play rock and roll, here’s one more.

Cris Williamson (1947-) The Women’s Music Movement encompassed many styles. Some artists appealed to a small niche audience, others had more mainstream success. Cris Williamson came out of Deadwood, SD, recording her first album at age 16 and becoming a local sensation in Wyoming after moving there. In 1973 she was instrumental in the founding of Olivia Records and her 1975 recording “The Changer and the Changed” became Olivia’s top seller and was the first album to be produced entirely by women. Her most recent album “Motherland” was released in 2017.

From the same album, but with a different sound featuring banjo:

Diedre Buckley – For the local angle, we look to Diedre Buckley. Buckley is a classical and jazz violist with an MM from The San Francisco Conservatory and a DMA from The University of Wisconsin. She is in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and the Madison Opera Company. She has played at the National Women’s Music Festival and worked with various jazz ensembles. She has performed jazz with Hanah Jon Taylor and Jane Reynolds and maintains an active teaching schedule. Buckley has performed for Steven Spielberg, George Harrison, and Studs Terkel. Her doctoral dissertation was on jazz singer Betty Carter.

Diedre Buckley image from Madison.com

Here is Diedre playing Arnold Rosner’s String Quartet No 5 in D minor, Op 66, with the Ad Hoc String Quartet (Mark Ottesen is a guest on a duet with Diedre on this album. She is the violist here):

For a change of pace, here is Douglas Hill’s “Blues in E” with clarinet, viola, bassoon, piano, and bass.

So why this particular group of women? You’ve heard their music. The connections are probably less obvious than the previous dinner party post. I want to hear Carole King talk about writing music at a time when the industry was dominated by men (as though that weren’t the case now 😉 and how she made the transition from writing for others to performing her own work. I want to hear June Millington talk about being a woman in rock and roll and the transition to the women’s music movement; about the barriers and the sense of fulfillment in each; and about how music influenced her adjustment to life in the US, arriving here at the age of 13 – not the greatest time to come to a new country and try to find your place. I wonder how Cris Williamson found a primarily urban movement when she went from an upbringing in South Dakota and Wyoming to Washington, DC (where Olivia Records was founded); and I wonder how it felt to be part of what was a profound movement and then to settle in for the rest of life after that wave crested. I want to ask Diedre about crossing the lines between classical music and jazz – one highly structured and one improvisational; and about making a living as a musician outside of the major cities for music. As well, Diedre crosses the line between performance by, with, and for women, and with mixed ensembles and mixed audiences. In a sense, we have come full circle. The women’s music movement and 1970s feminism created space for women in the mainstream.

Mostly I want to hear the cross-pollination. Here are four women, whose paths may have crossed and are clearly not parallel. Each was, in her own way, a pioneer; and each built on the work of the women before her, though all are more or less contemporaries. The Women’s Music Movement changed the way women thought about themselves in the music world. It showed that an industry could be developed by and for women. In the 1970s, the idea that women could produce an album without the involvement of men was revolutionary. The children’s book “Firegirl” (Gibson Rich, Feminist Press, 1972) talked about a young girl and her dream to grow up to be a firefighter. She was widely ridiculed because that was “men’s work”. It was the women’s movement of the 1970s that changed that. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (which had a 40 year run) was a women-only festival; planned, produced, performed, and attended only by women. I attended women’s music concerts in the 70s both in the audience and (for concerts that were held as women-only spaces) as part of the Men’s Childcare Collective, providing on-site childcare for the children of women in the audience. Clearly on the fringe, I want to hear what it was like in the middle.

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.