W is for Junior Walker and the All-Stars

Among the wealth of artists that performed on the Motown labels in 1960s, I probably know about Junior Walker the least. He was born Autry DeWalt-Mixom, Jr. in Blythesville, Arkansas on 14 June 1931. He grew up in South Bend, Indiana.

He started his band, the Jumping Jacks, and his good friend, drummer Billy Nicks, had a group, the Rhythm Rockers, but the two would play on each other’s gigs. Since Nicks had a local TV show in South Bend, he asked Walker to join his band.

When Nicks got drafted, Walker convinced the group to move to Battle Creek, Michigan. After some personnel and name changes, the All Stars were signed by Harvey Fuqua to his Harvey records. “Fuqua’s labels were taken over by Motown’s Berry Gordy, and Jr. Walker & the All Stars [the usual spelling] became members of the Motown family, recording for their Soul imprint in 1964.”

The group’s first big hit was “Shotgun” in 1965, which “uses only one chord throughout the entire song — A-flat seventh. Other songs featuring this same structure (or non-structure) are Chain of Fools and Land of 1000 Dances.” The song is in the Grammy and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. The All Stars were in a particular groove. The song appeared in several movies, including Malcolm X.

I have this Motown LP box set that explains that there was a songwriter – it doesn’t identify who, but it was either Johnny Bristol, who discovered the group; Fuqua, who took Bristol’s suggestion; or a guy named Vernon Bullock. The songwriter pitched the song to Junior, but he said it wasn’t his thing.

The next year, the songwriter said he still had that song, and Walker reluctantly agreed to record “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” in 1969. “A Motown quality control meeting rejected this song for single release, but radio station DJs made the track popular, resulting in Motown releasing it as a single.”

Junior Walker died of cancer on 23 November 1995 at the age of 64 in Battle Creek.

Listen to:

Shotgun, #4 pop, #1 rhythm & blues for four weeks in 1965 here or here

(I’m A) Road Runner, #20 pop, #4 r&b in 1966 here or here

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), #18 pop, #3 r&b in 1966 here or here

What Does It Take (To Win Your Love), #4 pop, #1 r&b for two weeks in 1969 here or here

These Eyes, #16 pop, # r&b for two weeks in 1969 here or here

Urgent (Foreigner, with Jr. Walker on sax solo), #3 pop in 1981, here or here

Urgent, 1983, appears in 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan, here or here

Round 20 of ABC Wednesday.

Musicians I have seen perform live

Y’know, just a torrent of people were doing this thing on Facebook, and presumably elsewhere, where one picks out nine concerts they’ve been to, and one they have not.

And it’s made me cranky. It’s not just that it is a litmus test about “How well you know me?” It’s the premise of something going viral based on lying, I guess, that’s put me off. Or maybe I’m just a contrarian.

The pushback I’VE seen about this phenomenon has been more about that it’s braggadocio, which I understand. I’ve just been lucky, I reckon. I used to go to the certain festivals where I listened to multiple artists, so that helped, a LOT. Also, there have been some great series of FREE music in Albany over the years.

Making the list has also been a real test for me to recall how many artists I actually HAVE seen, because memory. Suddenly it’s “Oh, yeah, I saw Don McLean at the Dutchess County Fair in the 1970s!” Or “Roberta Flack was at the Palace Theatre on First Night in Albany in the 1990s!”

I never saw the Grateful Dead, but I WAS at this show:

November 6, 1975 Elting Gym, SUNY, New Paltz, NY Kingfish/Keith and Donna
Kingfish and Keith and Donna toured the East Coast in November. In the Bay Area, with Jerry Garcia a regular in nightclubs since 1970, Deadheads were very casual about the opportunity to see Grateful Dead spinoffs. In the East, however, the chance to see 4 members of The Dead (Weir, Kreutzmann, Keith and Donna) plus an ex-New Rider (Dave Torbert) in the same night was somewhat of a big deal. The Kingfish/Keith and Donna bill played medium sized theaters that neither band could have played at home.

So I’ve decided that you can try to guess which of these artists, who I have been present when they performed live at some point in my life, that I’ve seen more than once. Or not, it’s up to you. I THINK it’s five, but, you know, that memory thing again.

Joan Armatrading
Joan Baez
Bridget Ball and Chris Shaw
Marcia Ball
Tony Bennett
Blotto
David Bromberg
Jackson Browne
Dave Brubeck
Marc Cohn
Judy Collins
Chick Corea
Elvis Costello
Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Bob Dylan
Jonathan Edwards
Roberta Flack
Bela Fleck
The Four Tops
Keith and Donna Godchaux
The Go-Go’s
The Grand Slambovians
Nanci Griffith
Herbie Hancock
John Hiatt
Joe Jackson
Elton John
Billy Joel
Kingfish
Diana Krall
Alison Krauss
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Amos Lee
Sean Lennon
Lyle Lovett
Paul McCartney
Bobby McFerrin
Don McLean
Joni Mitchell
Neville Brothers
No Doubt
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Jean-Luc Ponty
Billy Preston
John Prine
The Roches
Linda Ronstadt
Santana
Boz Scaggs
Seals and Crofts
John Sebastian
Pete Seeger
Paul Simon
The Slambovian Circus of Dreams
The Specials
Bruce Springsteen
Slam Stewart
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Talking Heads
James Taylor
Koko Taylor
Livingston Taylor
The Temptations
They Might Be Giants
McCoy Tyner
Loudon Wainwright III
Lucinda Williams
Maria Zemantauski

And if you know I’ve left off someone, please let me know. It’s not just possible, it’s extremely likely.

If I HAD participated, the band I would have lied about was The Who, who were in Albany, maybe three blocks from where I was was working in 1995, but I didn’t see them.

My complaint notwithstanding, there are some clever variations on the theme, such as the “nine professions that I dated (one lie).” Or “Here are nine people who will lose their protected coverage under AHCA/Trumpcare and one who won’t. Guess which one.” Choice #10 being “Any member of the US Congress.”

V sign is for victory, peace, plus Bobby Vee

British wartime leader Winston Churchill with his famous V for victory sign. Image from the archives of Press Portrait Service, 1946 image.

Odd that the V sign can signify both war and peace. From the Wikipedia:

“The V sign is a hand gesture in which the index and middle fingers are raised and parted, while the other fingers are clenched. It has various meanings, depending on the cultural context and how it is presented.

When displayed with the palm inward towards the signer, it has long been an offensive gesture in some Commonwealth nations. In the 1940s, during the Second World War, a campaign by the Western Allies to use the sign with the back of the hand towards the signer (U+270C ✌ Victory hand in Unicode) as a “V for Victory” sign proved quite effective. During the Vietnam War, in the 1960s, the “V sign” was widely adopted by the counterculture as a symbol of peace. Shortly thereafter, it also became adopted as a gesture used in photographs, especially in Japan.

ca. 1960 — Pop singer Bobby Vee. — Image by © Michael Levin/Corbis


Bobby Vee was born Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, ND on April 30, 1943. He died October 24, 2016.

From the Wikipedia:
“Vee’s career began in the midst of tragedy. On February 3, 1959… three of the four headline acts in the lineup of the traveling Winter Dance Party— Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper — were killed in the crash of a V-tailed 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, along with the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. (Dion DiMucci… had opted not to travel on the plane.) It crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, en route to the next show on the tour itinerary, in Moorhead, Minnesota.

“Velline, then 15 years old, and a hastily assembled band of Fargo schoolboys (including his older brother Bill) calling themselves the Shadows volunteered for and were given the unenviable job of filling in for Holly and his band at the Moorhead engagement. Their performance there was a success, setting in motion a chain of events that led to Vee’s career as a popular singer.”

Take Good Care Of My Baby – #1 pop for three weeks in 1961, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King
The B-side, which got to #2 pop, was Run To Him

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, which went to #3 pop, #2 adult contemporary, and even #8 soul in 1963

Come Back When You Grow Up, #3 pop in 1967 with The Strangers

T is for The Twist

From Billboard: “On December 16, [2016] Chubby Checker releases a newly-remixed physical version of his iconic hit, ‘The Twist,’ the Billboard Hot 100’s all-time No. 1. The update had arrived for digital purchase September 16, but now fans can own a hard copy of it.”

As all American pop music junkies should know, Chubby Checker’s version of the tune is the only one to go to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in two non-consecutive years. The writing credits are somewhat in dispute, as you can read in the Wikipedia, but certainly from within the group Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, based on other tunes.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters “originally recorded a loose version of the song in a Florida studio for Vee-Jay Records in early 1958… They did not get around to recording the released version until November 11, 1958, when the Midnighters were in Cincinnati. Ballard thought ‘The Twist’ was the hit side, but King Records producer Henry Glover preferred the ballad ‘Teardrops on Your Letter’, which he’d written himself.”

After the song became popular in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the song was destined for American Bandstand, but either Ballard was unavailable for the show (Wikipedia) OR, per Songfacts, “[AB host Dick] Clark loved the song but was wary of Ballard, who was known for raunchy songs like ‘Sexy Ways’ and ‘Work With Me, Annie.”

Clark looked for his own artist to break the song. He found a young man who was a chicken plucker and great impersonator. According to the Chubby Checker official site: “Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, but grew up in South Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers.”

Clark’s wife suggested that Evans use a variation on Fats Domino: Fats=Chubby Domino=Checker. “It was his version that raced up the charts. The cover was so convincing that when Hank Ballard first heard the song on the radio he thought it was him – ‘They cloned it’ were Hank’s words. Ballard was not bitter toward Checker or Clark when his version was left behind, especially since Ballard’s record company had no faith in the song. Since he was the songwriter, Ballard earned massive royalties when Checker’s version became a huge hit.”

“This started a dance craze that got so popular because it was so easy to do. Even the severely rhythm-challenged could do The Twist… This helped bridge a generation gap since both kids and adults could do it.

“In late 1961 and early 1962, the twist craze belatedly caught on in high society. Sightings of celebrities doing the dance made the song a hit with adults… This new interest… marked a major turning point for adult acceptance of rock and roll music.”

There were lots of other twist-related songs on the charts in the early ’60s, including “Let’s Twist Again” (#8) and “Twistin’ U.S.A.” (#68), both by Checker, before the re-released “The Twist” hit #1 on January 13, 1962, and stayed there for 2 weeks. It was replaced by “Peppermint Twist – Part I” by Joey Dee and The Starliters, which held the top spot for 3 weeks. Checker re-recorded his biggest hit numerous times.

In this interview: Checker said, “Before ‘The Twist,’ you danced in rhythm with the song. With ‘The Twist,’ suddenly you’re dancing apart from the beat, and not with your girl. Now, you see a girl across the floor that you’ve never seen before, you’re nodding your head, you’re seeing her dance … By the time the song is over … whew,” Checker says, chuckling at the song’s impact on not only the development of early rock ‘n’ roll and dance, but perhaps also on relations between the sexes ever since. Check out this podcast as well.

“The song has been added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress on March 21, 2013 for long-term preservation.”

Listen to The Twist:
Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (1959)
Chubby Checker on American Bandstand (1960)
The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker (1988)
Chubby Checker (2016)

Stevie Wonder is 65

swonderPortraitSince I’ve tried to list my favorite songs by an artist on his/her 70th birthday, and Stevie Wonder’s is five years away, what to do this year?

Fortunately, I found this nifty list of songs written, co-written, by Stevie for other artists. Occasionally (Whitney, Macca, and Jermaine), Stevie also performs. These are listed, more or less up to my favorite Stevie song first recorded by another artist; Stevie did subsequently cover a couple of these. LISTEN TO ALL.

1974 Perfect Angel – Minnie Riperton (S.Wonder) Continue reading

The Lydster, Part 129: I Don’t Like Reggae

dreadlockholidayThis will surely shock some of you, but one day, I was singing a tune while sitting at the computer that just popped into my head. I couldn’t even really remember it, except for a chorus: “I don’t like reggae (oh, no), I love it (ooo yeah.)” Don’t own the recording, couldn’t even remember who performed it, and I may have misremembered the lyrics.

As it turns out, the song was called Continue reading

The Lydster, Part 128: Weird Al

weirdalThe Daughter was introduced to Weird Al Yankovic on the release of his July 2014 album, Mandatory Fun, which opened at #1 on the Billboard charts, the first comedy album since 1963 to top the charts. She went away for about a week to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in mid-August, spending time with her 13 y.o. twin cousins, and she comes home a Weird Al maven.

This is not a bad thing, mind you. I’ve been following the musician’s career for about three and a half decades, back when it was primarily him playing the accordion on songs such as My Bologna (parody of the Knack’s My Sharona) and Another One Rides the Bus (take on Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust) Continue reading

P is for People songs

peopleI had all these posts for Round 15 lined up, either odd words or 70th birthdays, except for a few. After I mucked it over a good while, I said, to no one in particular, “I’ve got nothing, people.” Then suddenly, I did. Songs starting with the word People in the title that I own.

One must start, naturally, with People by Barbra Streisand, her signature song from Funny Girl that went to #5 in 1964 on the US Billboard singles charts. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Is that true? I was rather fond of the cover version by Nat King Cole) that only went to #100 that same year.

A lot of People songs are inspirational. – People Get Ready by The Impressions), featuring Curtis Mayfield, went to #14 in 1965, but was an anthem of the civil rights movement.

People Are Strange by The Doors, #12 in 1967 Continue reading