Cycling the Bay Bridge: A Path Not Far Enough

To those of us who’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, it’s still a shock to drive across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge since its east span has been reconfigured. Starting last September, instead of driving under an upper deck for its entire length, all of a sudden you emerged into the open air halfway en route to the East Bay. Not only could you see the sky and the water on each side, but there were also pedestrians and bicyclists on the south side, a new path having been constructed for just that purpose.

The family-friendly Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path. Baby strollers and dogs are not uncommon sights either.

The family-friendly Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path. Baby strollers and dogs are not uncommon sights either.

It seemed like there was a mini-boom in bikers and walkers right after the path opened, but it seems to have cooled off a little as the novelty’s worn off a bit. I cycled the path ten days or so after it opened in September 2013, but only went back for the second time this week, helping a friend to celebrate her birthday. I didn’t have my blog the first time I rode it, but I do now, so it’s time to make it the subject of a post.

Though it’s well worth doing, know this: the path, especially the two miles or so before you reach the bridge proper, is never going to compete with riding over the Golden Gate Bridge in the glamour sweepstakes. The most convenient entry point is right across the street from the entrance to IKEA in Emeryville; on the way to the bridge ascent, you pass all manner of industrial facilities that, no matter what renovations are in store for the far-off future, seem pretty entrenched for the near future. I’m not sure who will take advantage of a pathside bench we saw in the midst of this quasi-industrial park en route, except if you really need to stop and take a breather.

Easily visible from many points on the Bay Bridge (and even on the BART ride from San Francisco to Oakland), these giraffe-like structures are actually among the more aesthetically pleasing features of the industrial area of Oakland near the approach to the bridge on the bike/pedestrian path.

Easily visible from many points on the Bay Bridge (and even on the BART ride from San Francisco to Oakland), these giraffe-like structures are actually among the more aesthetically pleasing features of the industrial area of Oakland near the approach to the bridge.

The oddest sight as you pedal by the water, however, is the yet-to-be-demolished old bridge portion on the south side of the path, standing all by its lonesome with no vehicles or human activity save construction workers. It’s a bridge to nowhere, inhabited only by birds the day we took our ride. Looking at the east “entrance,” such as it is in mid-July 2014, makes you feel like you’re in one of those post-apocalypse horror movies:

A bridge with no entrance and, on the day we saw it, no people.

A bridge with no entrance and, on the day we saw it, no people.

The biggest frustration, of course, is that you can’t ride all the way across the bridge to San Francisco (or even ride anywhere on the bridge from San Francisco). Imagine if you could only ride or walk halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, the Bay Bridge is much, much longer than the Golden Gate Bridge — about four-and-a-half miles, where the GG Bridge is a little more than one-and-a-half miles. Funding for a west span path being so costly and subject to government/public policy debates, I’ll consider it a triumph if I’m able to bike the bridge from bay-to-bay in my lifetime.

You can’t, however, even bike to Yerba Buena Island, which would give you something of a destination, and theoretically enable you to continue to San Francisco by mounting your bicycle on the front of a public bus (though those only have racks for two bikes at a time). As of this writing, the path stops just a little short of the island.

Yerba Buena Island (in the background) isn't too far from  where the bike path ends.

Yerba Buena Island (in the background) isn’t too far from where the bike path ends.

Though it seems not much more than a stone’s throw away, again funding/policy issues might be a lot more costly and complicated than you’d think. For one thing, a remaining portion of the original bridge has to be dismantled before the path can even reach the island. It was reported that the path should connect to Yerba Buena Island a couple years after the east span opened, which would have made it open for business by the end of 2015, but no definite ETA seems available at the moment.

For San Franciscans, it’s an odd experience, taking the BART train to the East Bay, riding from there to the middle of the bay, and riding back to a BART station to take a train back to San Francisco. That makes it a bit more than a casual getaway, but it’s worth doing, once or twice a year at any rate. It’s a bit of a slog to ride the windy uphill section to its current endpoint, but be consoled by the knowledge, as one rider shouted to us on our way up, that it’s all downhill once you turn around. As long as you’re going, though, try to check out other sights on the path that runs from Emeryville to Richmond, like the Berkeley Marina:

Sailors just off the Berkeley Marina.

Sailors just off the Berkeley Marina.

The Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path is generally open from around dawn to dusk, though hours change according to the season. Check the Bay Bridge Bicycle and Pedestiran Path site for specific opening/closing times, as well as general information about the path.

John Fahey Documentary Review

Just as the last couple decades have seen more music reissued than anyone expected, so have the last few years seen documentaries that no one could have predicted on cult artists of all stripes. Like John Fahey, for instance. For all the respect he’s given throughout the alternative music spectrum, he wasn’t filmed or interviewed all that much, which must make constructing a full-length feature a challenge.

The new documentary on John Fahey.

The new documentary on John Fahey.

The hour-long In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey has actually been out a year and a half, and I have to admit I missed it the first time it passed through the San Francisco Bay Area for the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival. Fortunately it screened at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater last night (July 9), and here’s guessing there aren’t many other cities that could draw 75 or so paying customers to a Fahey documentary (shown with a doc of similar length on Bill Callahan).

It speaks well of a documentary, I suppose, when it leaves you thirsting for more. While some people unfamiliar with Fahey might think an hour’s plenty of time to cover a guy who never sold many records, actually his achievements were diverse enough, and his character so quirky, that you want the music and stories to keep on flowing. That’s especially the case because the movie’s well done, interviewing several associates and critics — including Barry Hansen (aka Dr. Demento, who met Fahey when both were studying ethnomusicology at UCLA), fellow guitar virtuoso Stefan Grossman, third wife Melody, and Nancy McLean (who plays flute on his early track “The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill”) — who are interesting figures in their own right. Star power’s supplied by Fahey fan Pete Townshend, a testament to how far up the pop ladder Fahey’s impact reached on occasion.

There’s not much vintage Fahey performance footage to draw from, but a few clips from various phases of his career are quite entertaining. The excerpts from a 1969 TV show hosted by one Laura Weber showcase some spectacularly skilled pieces. I know little about Weber, but she seems rather straight-laced and out of her comfort zone with John, especially when he explains the real-life origin of the title of “The Death of the Clayton Peacock.” After Fahey goes into the actual death of the slain peacock in more detail than Weber probably wished, the host observes what a sad incident it was; Fahey then quips, with no apparent remorse, that the creature’s expiration made for a good song title.

Five Fahey performances from the 1969 program "Guitar, Guitar," hosted by Laura Weber, are on the DVD In Concert and Interviews 1969 and 1996.

Five Fahey performances from the 1969 program “Guitar, Guitar,” hosted by Laura Weber, are on the DVD “In Concert and Interviews 1969 and 1996.”

Renowned for his enigmatic, at times surreal humor (especially as manifested in his song titles), Fahey could be acerbic as well as funny. One of the lower-fi concert clips captures him likening Stefan Grossman’s playing to that of a dainty lady with long fingers — and the jibe doesn’t seem entirely complimentary. John even titled one of his tunes “The Assassination of Stephan Grossman,” managing to misspell his rival’s first name in the process; Grossman responded by naming one of his compositions “The Assassination of John Fahey.”

As feuds go it’s not exactly up there with the Hatfields and McCoys (or even the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground), and the animosity doesn’t seem to have run that deep, since they even planned a tour capitalizing on the assassinations. Unfortunately Grossman couldn’t do the tour for health reasons, and was hapless to prevent Fahey from claiming he’d actually assassinated Stefan when fans asked why the other guitarist wasn’t around.

A kinder side of Fahey is praised by Townshend, who remembers with fondness how John bothered to write him a letter (shown onscreen in the documentary) after hearing Tommy. Alas, according to the Who guitarist, it was obvious Fahey wasn’t a Who fan. I’m not so sure about that; Fahey was more open-minded to contemporary rock than some might guess, praising Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Country Joe McDonald, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper in a 1967 interview first published in Dust-to-Digital’s awesomely packaged five-CD Fahey box set Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You: The Fonotone Years [1958-1965].

This box set features the rare recordings Fahey made for the Fonotone label between the late 1950s and mid-1960s.

This box set features the rare recordings Fahey made for the Fonotone label between the late 1950s and mid-1960s.

For all his oddness, Fahey took a lot of things seriously, and they’re treated with appropriate respect by the documentary. He was one of the first white fans to delve seriously into early blues recordings, and even helped track down one of the great country bluesmen who’d fallen off the radar, Bukka White, in the 1960s. He, along with similar free spirits like dedicated collector Joe Bussard (the first figure to record and release Fahey discs, and also interviewed in the film), even went door-to-door in black Southern neighborhoods to offer money for used records. As another interviewee points out, there was a real risk of getting roughed up or worse for doing that at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, when segregation was severe and their hunger for rare records could have been misinterpreted as something far more threatening or devious.

Too, the financial and health problems Fahey weathered near the end of his life were no laughing matter. A motel room he ended up living in is remembered by a visitor as “a dump”; he wouldn’t even bother to scrape off pennies that stuck to his back when he rolled over in his bed. He retains some intelligence and humor in snippets of interviews conducted in his latter years, at one point observing how his music somehow got categorized as “gothic industrial ambience.” The way he enunciates the term projects both amusement and faint incredulity, and perhaps a whiff of disgust as well.

For all its merits, In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey could have been more comprehensive. I would have liked more on how he founded and ran the Takoma label, which issued both his own best work and notable records by other adventurous acoustic guitarists like Robbie Basho. His pioneering DIY ethic is properly lauded — if Fahey wasn’t the first musician to do things entirely himself in the name of art above all else, he was certainly one of the earliest and most influential such innovators — but it would have been good to detail some of his major-label ventures as well. Some notable associates, like ED [sic] Denson, fellow Takoma acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke, and producer/manager Denny Bruce, were not among the interviewees. [Since I first posted this, Bruce told me that the filmmakers were planning to interview him, but canceled it when they ran out of money to do more filming.]

Hopefully some gaps are filled in by the new biography Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist, which I hope to read soon. I also want to see In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey on DVD, as according to the film’s website, it “includes extra performances and interviews with Fahey, Townshend, [Chris] Funk of the Decemberists] & more.” If nothing else, I want to be able to freeze-frame those shots of the letter Fahey wrote to Pete Townshend, which zoom by too quickly to digest in the theater.

The new John Fahey biography, just issued by Chicago Review Press.

The new John Fahey biography, just issued by Chicago Review Press.

Postscript: A few weeks after I put up this post, I did see the  DVD. As is sometimes the case with extras, they’re actually not too extensive or vital.  There are just two songs performed by Fahey, though those clips are okay. The extended extract from the Pete Townshend interview holds some interest, but — not too surprisingly — Townshend often talks more about himself than Fahey, sometimes in a way that strays from the question or the documentary’s actual subject.

 

Strawberry Fields Memorial — Please Turn *On* Your Cell Phones

Like many Beatles fans — and, indeed, many visitors to New York — I’ve been to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, most recently on my trip to the city last month. Memorializing John Lennon near the building where he was shot in 1980, it’s a pretty peaceful spot, though there are usually a few musicians there busking Beatles/Lennon songs.

The Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, June 3, 2014.

The Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, June 3, 2014.

That’s in spite of the sign below:

QuietZone

“No amplified music or musical instruments; no bikes, rollerblades or skateboards; no organized, active recreation or sports,” it reads. I haven’t heard any amplified live music on my visits, but there have certainly been plenty of guitars a-strummin’, played by musicians of widely varying abilities. Perhaps in acknowledgement that you can’t keep cell phones out of anyplace these days, there’s also this sign:

Yoko

I seldom carry cell phones except when I travel. But here I was with a cell phone in my backpack, and minutes to use up before my next $20 payment. So why not dial the number to hear Yoko Ono’s commentary, even on my cheap Virgin Mobile that’s hard to hear in public places?

Ono’s nearly three-minute message is a straightforwardly factual description of the space and its purpose; the text is printed almost verbatim here. New to me is this explanation of one of “Strawberry Fields Forever”‘s key lyrics: “His aunt, who raised him, disapproved [of the young John Lennon going to Strawbrery Field], but he insisted it was, ‘nothing to get hung about.’ Hence, the song’s famous lyric.” More than 120 countries, she states near the conclusion, have endorsed Strawberry Fields as a Garden of Peace, as listed on a bronze plaque near the memorial’s black-and-white mosaic.

The Dakota, where John lived for the last few years of his life (and was shot in front of), is nearby at 72nd and Central Park West. And not exactly easy to capture without a wide-angle lens, though this is what you’ll see as you exit the park:

Dakota

I passed by Strawberry Fields on my way to the Lincoln Center, on the Upper West Side less than half an hour walk away. To my surprise, there was a visit on the ground floor of the Library for the Performing Arts commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1964. To my greater surprise, it displayed some items that were illegal to manufacture and distribute:

An early bootleg of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearances.

An early bootleg of the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan appearances, as seen in the case of an exhibit at the Lincoln Center  Library for the Performing Arts.

I never thought I’d see the days when Beatles bootlegs were exhibited in one of the world’s most prestigious venues for the arts. The disc in the case labeled “Kum Back” in the picture below,  by the way, is one of the first Beatles bootlegs, issued around late 1969/early 1970, featuring some then-unreleased outtakes from their January 1969 recording sessions (which eventually spawned the bulk of the Let It Be LP, as well as the Let It Be film).

KumBack

I’m very familiar with Kum Back. It was the second album I ever owned (at the age of eight, believe it or not). The LP in this exhibit wasn’t the actual record I had, of course. But the inner label of the one I bought back in 1970 (which I still own), complete with my handwritten name, is reproduced in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film. While you’re in the area, check out some of the other beautiful spots nearby, especially if you’re lucky enough to get the beautiful early June weather I had:

Rowboat3

On the lake in Central Park.

The Central Park reservoir.

The Central Park reservoir.

Oddities at the Baseball Hall of Fame

My friends find it hard to believe since I’ve followed the game so long, but it wasn’t until last month — at the age of 52 — that I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame. You’ve got to admit it’s in the middle of nowhere, or, at least, very hard to access by public transportation from New York City, which is usually the closest I get to Cooperstown. On my last trip to the East Coast I finally bit the bullet, rented a car for a couple days, and made the pilgrimage in early June.

I’m not so big on bats, balls, gloves, and uniforms belonging to historic feats and players, though if that’s your thing, the Hall has plenty of those. I’m more drawn to the offbeat items on display, like these:

Fernando_cover.preview

That’s a real record, which has to be heard to be believed (and can be easily heard online). Musically it’s an average mariachi-flavored tune, but the lyrics are something else, delivered by Lalo Guerrero in a strained, proudly melodramatic, operatic bellow:

He walks out to the mound, like a matador, without a suit of lights,

The crowd lets out a mighty roar, as he steps out of the night

His baseball is his weapon, deadly to his foes

His screwball is his (), this every hitter knows!

Fernando!, you’re a breath of fresh air to us all

And when you’re pitching the ball

You do it with style and grace

You’ve got us all back in the race!

(I admit my Spanish isn’t good enough to make out the description of his screwball, though I’m sure it’s highly complimentary; corrections welcome at this address.)

A silly novelty, yes, but also a testament to just how huge Valenzuela’s impact was in his 1981 rookie season. He won his first eight games (four of those wins were shutouts); the Mexican was a huge draw for the huge Southern Californian Latino community; the Dodgers won the World Series; and he even hit pretty well, for a pitcher. He had a pretty good career, but he didn’t make the Hall of Fame, unless you count this piece of vinyl.

It’s in one of the Hall’s best sections, devoted to Latino players. Here’s another part of the exhibit that caught my eye, though the reflection on the glass case makes it hard to photograph with perfect definition:

Venez

I admit I didn’t know there were baseball cards in Venezuela. Here you see 1996-97 cards, not much different in design than their US counterparts, of big league stars who were playing winter ball in the country: Bobby Abreu, Omar Vizquel, Maglio Ordonez, Andres Galarraga, and Ozzie Guillen, here identified as “Oswaldo Guillen.”

To the Hall’s credit, it has solid sections on minorities who haven’t always (or to this day) gotten a fair shake in the majors: Latinos, African-Americans (including players in the Negro Leagues), and women. Here’s something I didn’t know about a contribution to our pastime from a woman musician:

NancyFaust

So that’s how that started. The weird history of the band who made it a #1 hit in 1969, Steam, is too lengthy to recount here. But basically it was a studio-only group who thought of the tune as a throwaway B-side, only to see it become such a megasmash that another group of musicians was enlisted to tour under the Steam name. Thanks to Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust, it’s now had a far longer life than even many #1 hit singles, though I think its use as the crowd’s kiss-off to George W. Bush’s helicopter at Obama’s inauguration trumps any occasion at which it’s been sung at a sporting event.

Steam

Faust, by the way, wasn’t the only woman organist of note at the ballpark. Gladys Gooding was the organist at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and her “Follow the Dodgers” disc is also on exhibit, though most of the woman’s wing is properly devoted to their athletic feats on the field.

What about the many controversies that have threatened the game’s image and integrity since the 1800s? The Hall doesn’t entirely skirt those, though in the case of the baseball’s biggest recent scandal, it kind of mumbles. This smallish card near the entrance to a section devoted to some of the game’s most revered records (of the statistical kind, not the musical sort) might easily be missed by many visitors:

Peds

If you want to read the text without squinting, here’s what it says:

“In documenting baseball history, the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) cannot be ignored, although a complete list of players who have used banned substances throughout time may never be known. In this museum you will find artifacts, images and stories of players who have either admitted to or have been suspected of using banned substances. Even though you will not always find specific references to this issue, this museum is committed to telling the story of PEDs within the game’s historical context.”

At least there’s something, even if it’s buried as deeply as those warnings not to operate heavy machinery on the medicine your primary care physician prescribes for persistent coughs.

Ending on a more upbeat note, here’s a guitar whose design is customized to honor the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. Can’t tell you how it sounds, though, as like virtually everything else at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s under glass and out of reach:

FenwayGuitar

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: An Alternate Top Ten

Now that my two weeks of research at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives are finished (thanks to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation), it’s time to address an issue that often comes up when the Hall’s discussed. It’s not one that relates to my visit, but I sometimes get asked about it all the same, even though I don’t have a formal relationship with the Hall. Which is: why aren’t some rock artists in the Hall of Fame? Who should be in it who isn’t already?

First off, I should note that I don’t vote in the Hall of Fame elections (and haven’t been asked to). Of more importance, it’s my feeling that musical passions are subjective enough that it’s impossible to apply objective, or even somewhat objective, criteria to an award like this. If someone isn’t in the Hall of Fame whom you really like, what matters most is that they’re in your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It shouldn’t cause distress if other people haven’t voted them in yet.

Still, sometimes I’m lobbied to sign petitions for some artists to get into the Hall. I don’t remember all of them offhand, but I know Doug Sahm and Roky Erickson were two. Those are cultish artists who are frankly a longshot to get in soon or at all. But it’s not just hip underground types that are being championed — at one of my presentations, I was asked why Connie Francis wasn’t in.

I certainly wouldn’t mind if Sahm and Erickson made it (and don’t think Francis should be in there), but really, you’d have to build another wing or two to accommodate everyone in my personal Rock Hall of Fame. They’d include at least a few hundred bands and solo artists who aren’t in yet, and the Hall isn’t going to induct that many new honorees in the next few years (or, most likely, in my lifetime). That’s not even counting all the producers and vital non-musicians who rate consideration.

The Sir Douglas Quintet, led by Doug Sahm (left).

The Sir Douglas Quintet, led by Doug Sahm (left).

For what it’s worth, I do have opinions on my favorite acts who aren’t in yet. What follows is a list of the ten artists I’d most like to see in the Hall. I took into consideration their quality, longevity, and impact on the whole of rock. Let me be upfront, however: this is a very subjective list, guided by my personal tastes, not one which tries to take into account how many fans musicians have, how many records they sold, and how critics regard them. It’s what I like, not a consensus of what everyone likes. My personal Hall of Fame, even if the adjunct is only in my mind.

Rated in rough order of preference, here we go:

1. Love. One of the great folk-rock bands of the mid-1960s, Love generated one of the all- time classic rock albums with their third LP, Forever Changes. That record has performed better on critics’ all-time best-of lists that almost any other, and their first two albums, though not on the same level, had their share of good-to-greatness too.

An ad for Love's "My Little Red Book" single.

An ad for Love’s “My Little Red Book” single.

I don’t know if the Hall of Fame’s voters and nominators sit around discussing fine points of qualification, like many fans and sportswriters do for the baseball Hall of Fame. If they do, however, my guess would be the major strikes against Love are that their peak was brief — just those three albums, in 1966-67 — and their commercial success was limited, though they did have two small national hits with “My Little Red Book” and “7 and 7 Is.” I do feel — though some fans vociferously disagree with me — that Love’s quality fell off drastically after Forever Changes, and that none of their subsequent records (on which principal singer-songwriter Arthur Lee was the only remaining member from their mid-‘60s heyday) were very good or distinctive, let alone on the same plane as their mid-‘60s work.

But that mid-‘60s work was brilliant — and certainly, especially in the case of Forever Changes, influential. And not just on cult artists of subsequent decades — ask Robert Plant. Cult artists haven’t fared too well in Hall of Fame voting, but some groups with limited commercial success have gotten in, like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. If there’s room for them, there should be room for Love.

As to which members of Love should be inducted, that will be even more of an imbroglio than other disputes over inductees from bands with multiple lineups. Even in the course of their first three albums, Love had seven members. I’d go with the five guys on Forever Changes (Lee, guitarist/next-most-important songwriter Bryan MacLean, guitarist Johnny Echols, bassist Ken Forssi, and drummer Michael Stuart), perhaps adding Snoopy Pfisterer, who played drums and keyboards on their first two albums. I wouldn’t take in anyone from the post-Forever Changes lineups save Lee.

2. The Zombies. One of the great British Invasion groups, ranking near the very top of the tier once you get beyond the best half-dozen or so (the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Yardbirds, Kinks, and Animals). And besides the Beatles and maybe the Beach Boys, the most inventive melodicists of their time, especially in their use of minor keys.

One of the Zombies' numerous fine mid-'60s flop singles.

One of the Zombies’ numerous fine mid-’60s flop singles.

The Zombies have gained considerably in popularity among critics and fans in the past decade or two. It’s a little mysterious that they’ve been passed over so far, especially since lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent are keeping the flame burning with regular and pretty well-received touring. My guess is that there might still be a perception — an unfair one, but one that is held by some listeners — that their impact was limited to their three big hits: “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season.” One friend (not a voter) even insisted to me that having heard those three songs when he was growing up, he felt no need to investigate the rest of their catalog.

But the point is that the Zombies had a lot of other good songs in their catalog, even if none of their other singles made the Top Forty, and many of them bombed commercially. Not only that, those singles (and some of their LP cuts) were quite diverse. And at the end of their career, they did prove capable of making a strong album that expanded their lyrical parameters beyond melancholy romance, Odessey and Oracle.

It probably shouldn’t sway nominators and voters one way or the other, but all of the Zombies save guitarist Paul Atkinson are still alive, and would likely be very appreciative of an induction while they have their health. Unusually, there will be no controversy as to who should be inducted — during their 1964-68 lifetime, the Zombies were the quintet of Blunstone, Argent, Atkinson, bassist Chris White, and drummer Hugh Grundy, with no personnel changes.

3. Them. Like the Zombies, a band that ranks just below the top half-dozen British Invasion bands in quality and originality. Plus they had a future star in their ranks, singer Van Morrison, who also wrote their original material in the two-and-a-half years or so he was in the group.

Them's first US album had one of the great British Invasion LP covers.

Them’s first US album had one of the great British Invasion LP covers.

The problem Them faces, I would surmise, is that their peak was brief, and their commercial success even a bit less extensive than the Zombies’. It’s really the explosive 1964-66 R&B/rock recordings with Morrison that matter, though they did hang on for four more LPs in the late 1960s and early 1970s with Van-less lineups. They had just four hit singles of varying degrees, none of which made the US Top Twenty: “Here Comes the Night,” “Mystic Eyes,” “Gloria,” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.”

A couple of these were much bigger in the UK (“Baby Please Don’t Go” hitting the Top Ten and “Here Comes the Night” soaring all the way to #2), but great UK popularity hasn’t seemed to manage much to the Hall, overall a pretty US-centered institution. Though I wouldn’t buy this argument, it might also be contended that since Van Morrison’s already in the Hall, there’s no need to induct Them, which he fronted for a small if significant part of his lengthy career.

But Them’s legacy, even limited to the Morrison years, isn’t really all that slim. There are about 50 tracks, many of them superb. Their impact was greater than their chart performance, even in the US, where many musicians were fervid Them fans, from the Doors and Iggy Pop to Byrds bassist Chris Hillman. Plus they did the original version of one of the all-time, and most-covered, rock standards with “Gloria.”

Do they deserve their own, separate induction? Yes. Will it happen? Probably not, perhaps in part because, even by the volatile standards of who to induct and who not, the process of selection for Them will be a nightmare. Bassist Alan Henderson is the only guy who was in all their lineups, and even during Morrison’s time with the band, there were a dozen or so lineup changes (even the estimates of how many lineups there were varies according to the source). I’d go with Morrison, Henderson, original guitarist Billy Harrison, and Harrison’s replacement Jim Armstrong — though leaving out a drummer is problematic (I’d go with John McAuley), as is leaving out a keyboardist (I’d go with Peter Bardens, though he wasn’t in the band too long), especially as spooky organs were a big feature of Them’s distinctive sound.

4. The Pretty Things. Let’s be honest here — these guys aren’t going to get in, at least during my lifetime, unless the usual criteria for selection radically change, or the Hall radically expands in size. But they should get in. It’s almost a cliche to state this by now, but the Pretty Things were the best British band of the ‘60s not to have a hit in the US. It’s almost as much of a cliche — but true — to note that at their outset, they were very much like the Rolling Stones (and Pretties guitarist Dick Taylor had even been in the Stones in 1962), but rawer. They also evolved into an important psychedelic group, and recorded one of the first rock concept albums, S.F. Sorrow (1968), whose release predated Tommy by about six months.

A pioneering psychedelic single by the Pretty Things, even if it pictures a previous lineup than the one that recorded these tracks.

A pioneering psychedelic single by the Pretty Things, even if it pictures a previous lineup than the one that recorded these tracks.

What works against the Pretty Things? Well, though they’re way, way better known now than they were in the 1960s, they’re still not very well known in the US. Even in the UK, their commercial success wasn’t that great, and mostly experienced near the very beginning of their career, when “Honey I Need” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” were British Top Twenty hits, and their debut album did well. There are few rock bands that inspire as passionate cult devotion as the Pretty Things, and justifiably so. But the fact is, most Americans still don’t know who they are — and even many knowledgeable rock fans and critics who’d like them, given half a chance, don’t know much about them, and have heard little of their work.

Electing the Pretty Things would strike a great blow for honor based on quality, rather than the usual yardsticks of sales and fame. Deciding who to induct would be the usual challenge. Singer Phil May, who’s been on the ride almost all along, is a no-brainer, as is guitarist Dick Taylor, who was there for all their finest ‘60s work. The other guys in the quintet that made their early recordings (bassist John Stax, drummer Viv Prince, and rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton) should probably get in too. But so too should other members who figured strongly in their recordings later in the ‘60s — drummer Skip Alan, multi-instrumentalist Wally Waller, keyboardist Jon Povey, and probably even drummer Twink, who played on S.F. Sorrow. I don’t feel passionate about putting in various other guys who played on post-S.F. Sorrow albums.

5. The Moody Blues. Now here’s a band that not only stands a fair chance of getting in, but has had armies of fans knocking on the door for quite a while. It’s not a secret that the Moody Blues are among the most popular of artists not currently in the Hall. In polls asking rock listeners which acts should be inducted, the Moodies regularly score near or at the top.

The Moody  Blues' first UK album, when Denny Laine was still their lead singer.

The Moody Blues’ first UK album, when Denny Laine was still their lead singer.

So why aren’t they included? The Moody Blues did not fare especially well among critics, although the albums during their 1968-1973 commercial prime were huge sellers, and included some fair-sized hit singles. To many, they epitomized the pretentious pomp of progressive rock; to some more serious underground aficionados, they were too twee and pop to stand comparison with more experimental prog rockers. Art-rock in general hasn’t fared that great among Hall voters, perhaps in part because of its dominance by UK acts; although Genesis made it, Yes, for instance, are still waiting, in spite of their huge global popularity.

But for me, the Moody Blues have a strong case based on their 1964-1968 recordings alone. Few fans know much about their pre-Days of Future Passed recordings aside from their one mid-‘60s hit, “Go Now.” But their mid-‘60s British Invasion-era discs — featuring future Wings-man Denny Laine as lead singer, guitarist, and (with keyboardist Mike Pinder) co-songwriter — are quite strong, with a haunting R&B/pop feel quite distinct from their peers. While Days of Future Passed introduced some of the bloat and bombast they’ve been lambasted for, it was one of the first notable quasi-concept rock albums, and (when the orchestral passages took a break) had some genuinely fine, soaring rock songs. Their albums got steadily less impressive from that point onward in my view, but made their mark as some of the most popular progressive rock LPs of their day, even if they leaned toward the poppiest and most romantic side of that spectrum.

It seems like only a matter of time for the Moody Blues — but then again, people have been saying that for about twenty years. There will be no dispute that the quintet on their late 1960s/early 1970s recordings (original Moodies Mike Pinder, drummer Graeme Edge, and singer/flautist Ray Thomas, as well as guitarist-singers Justin Hayward and John Lodge) should be on the plaque. But look forward to lively arguments as to whether to include Denny Laine (whom I would say absolutely has to be part of it), though it’s likely few will care whether the bassist in their mid-‘60s lineup, Clint Warwick, will be part of the discussion.

6. Fairport Convention. There are a number of acts, I think, who would undoubtedly be in Rock Hall if it was based in London and the music’s history was approached from a British perspective. Cliff Richard, the Shadows, the Jam/Paul Weller, T. Rex/Marc Bolan, the Smiths, Kate Bush, and others all would have been in for quite some time if that were the case. That’s fodder for a different article, but Fairport Convention are another band I think would have been enshrined long ago. Their importance to the British strain of folk-rock looms larger than any other artist’s does, and some might even contend the style wouldn’t exist without them.

The US cover of Fairport Convention's second album, featuring their best lineup.

The US cover of Fairport Convention’s second album, featuring their best lineup.

But in the US, Fairport were never big sellers. Not that they were huge sellers in the UK either, but (like their early peers Pentangle, another band deserving of consideration), they always had a much bigger presence in the British scene, on the charts and otherwise. On their US tours, they were more bill-fillers or support acts than headliners. They’re another act that have a white-hot US cult following, but the great majority of US citizens still remain largely or wholly unfamiliar with them, historical importance be damned.

This is just speculation, but if Fairport ever got far in the nominating process, there might be genuine concern over the uncertainty over which members to induct. They shifted personnel so often that their style changed quite substantially as well, from the West Coast folk-rock-influenced tone of their early records to the staunch rocked-up traditional British folk approach they’d settled into by the early 1970s. That style’s much less to my taste than their earlier efforts, but they’d deserve a place in the pantheon for their four late-‘60s LPs alone.

If it was up to me (it isn’t), I’d make sure to include the quintet from their second and best album: singer Sandy Denny (who deserves strong consideration for induction as a solo artist), bassist Ashley Hutchings, drummer Martin Lamble, singer Iain Matthews, and guitarist Richard Thompson. I’d also include original woman singer Judy Dyble and the three Daves who were crucial in their shift to more traditional British folk — drummer Dave Mattacks, fiddler Dave Swarbrick, and bassist Dave Pegg. There have been a number of other musicians in this still-active band, but those are really the names that matter, even to the majority of Fairport fanatics.

7. Mary Wells. Motown stars have done pretty well in the Hall voting, so it’s another mystery to me as to why Wells hasn’t gotten in the door. She had a good number of good-to-great hits in 1960-64, including one of the label’s biggest, 1964’s chart-topping “My Guy.” At that point — which has often been forgotten — she was Motown’s biggest star. It was also at that point, unfortunately, that she left the label, never to recapture much commercial success.

An overseas release of "My Guy," with better cover art than most of Motown's LPs of the period.

An overseas release of “My Guy,” with better cover art than most of Motown’s LPs of the period.

If I can draw a loose parallel to the baseball Hall of Fame for a moment, perhaps Wells’s case has suffered because there’s a wide disparity between what some baseball experts would call her “peak value” and the rest of her career. There are numerous ballplayers who perform at a superstar level for three or four years, but whose case for Hall induction suffers by the relative ordinariness of the rest of their time in the big leagues. Wells performed at a superstar or near-superstar level — commercially and, much more importantly, artistically — for such a period of time. She made some fair records during the rest of the ‘60s for other labels, but was really just another soul singer after leaving Motown, in part because she was no longer produced by Smokey Robinson, who also wrote her best material.

Yet the best records Wells made while at Motown — and there were quite a few good ones, not just the hit singles — were really good. Her voice has been criticized by some historians as lacking when compared to dynamos like Gladys Knight, but for me, personality’s always mattered much more than conventional lungpower. And Wells had vocal personality galore, projecting shy sexiness better than almost anyone.

Mary’s prospects for Hall of Fame induction have also likely been hurt by the lowering of her profile since her death almost 25 years ago, and the absence (to my knowledge) of a strong campaign on her behalf. While her career itself was not cut short by death, we have to wonder what might have been had she stayed at Motown and continued to work with Robinson. Had that been the way things played out, there’s probably no doubt she would have been in the Hall a long time ago.

8. Link Wray. While it seems ridiculous to categorize such an innovative early rock’n’roll guitarist as a one-hit wonder, it has to be remembered that most fans have heard just one song by Link Wray: “Rumble.” As much as that classic did to pioneer the imaginative use of electronic distortion, it’s hardly all there is to his legacy. He recorded many great instrumental records in the late 1950s and early 1960s; in fact, he was quite prolific. Not all of his releases were great, of course, but he had a higher batting average than most pre-Beatles rockers, including some in the Hall of Fame.

A compilation of classic Link Wray tracks.

A compilation of classic Link Wray tracks.

And he wasn’t just all weird and wacky effects, using the guitar in many manners of thrilling ways, often with original material. Not that Duane Eddy and the Ventures don’t deserve their plaques, but I’d rank Wray way ahead of them, and he was certainly way more fearlessly experimental. The raw, often savagely wild power of those late-‘50s-to-mid-’60s records is the foundation of his case, but he also made some good vocal roots rock discs in the early 1970s, if far lower-key ones.

Wray’s influence on at least one much more famous guitarist is unquestioned, Pete Townshend testifying to it in liner notes he wrote for one of Link’s releases. He has far fewer hit records than the few other primary instrumental acts in the Hall, however, and I’d guess he has to be considered a longshot for induction anytime soon.

9. The Shangri-Las. One of the greatest girl groups, the Shangri-Las also had some huge hits, particularly “Leader of the Pack.” I’d wager their short career has worked against them in Hall voting, however. There were only three other big singles (“Remember (Walking in the Sand),” “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,” and “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”), and they were really only strongly in the public consciousness for a year and a half or so in 1964 and 1965. Like Wells, they were hurt with the loss of their support team at their label, in their case when Red Bird Records went out of business in 1966.

Although Betty Weiss was part of the original Shangri-Las, by the time of the photo on this release, they were down to the trio of her sister Mary Weiss and identical twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser.

Although Betty Weiss was part of the original Shangri-Las, by the time of the photo on this release, they were down to the trio of her sister Mary Weiss and identical twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser.

That brief recording career, however, was enough to produce more great records than many acts manage in two decades, let alone two years. And not just the hits mentioned above — “Past, Present and Future” was an amazing mid-charter, “Dressed in Black” a phenomenal B-side, and “He Cried” and “Out in the Streets” also possessed of great drama. Some of their other tracks were merely good or okay, but a Shangri-Las compilation (virtually everything they did can more or less fit on one CD) makes for much stronger listening than most single-artist girl group anthologies.

As archetypes of fetching teenage angst, the Shangri-Las could not be beat. Sadly, the Ganser twins who comprised half the group are not around now. But lead singer Mary Weiss is, and having upped her public profile drastically in recent years, one imagines she’d be very pleased to accept the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honor.

10. Scott Walker. Like the Pretty Things, don’t let this listing get your pulse racing too fast — he’s never going to get in, not unless the very nature of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame changes. There aren’t many other figures in popular music, however, who’ve made such a heavy mark with two quite different styles — one as a pop-rock balladeer (and quite a good one) as lead singer of the Walker Brothers, and the other as an increasingly serious, almost arty singer-songwriter and interpreter as a solo artist, especially in his early career. That’s not even counting his way-avant-garde excursions from the late ‘70s onward — not ones to my taste, but efforts that are wholly uncompromising, and have an avid if specialized cult of their own.

Scott Walker's best album, from 1970, entirely featured original compositions.

Scott Walker’s best album, from 1970, entirely featured original compositions.

Walker did have some US hits as part of the Walker Brothers, but he really isn’t all that familiar a figure Stateside, even though he was born and raised in the country. The Walker Brothers, though all were American (and none were brothers, or even named Walker), were much, much bigger in the UK in the mid-‘60s than the US, briefly inciting teen adulation almost on the level of Beatlemania. Scott had some British hit singles and albums in the late ’60 after leaving the Walker Brothers, but they were virtually unheard in the US. Like the Pretty Things, he’s much, much better known (speaking of his work as a solo artist) in the States now than then. But all those Mojo magazine huzzahs notwithstanding, he’s still very much a cult, if a pretty large one.

If his profile ever raised to the point where his induction was seriously considered, his style might work against his success. To some listeners, he’s far more a pop singer than a rock one, especially in his late-‘60s/early-‘70s records. To me, he’s enough of a rock singer to make such distinctions unimportant. To take the point just a little farther, if a singer like Bobby Darin’s in the Hall (he is, and made a lot of discs that were as much or more pop than rock), Scott Walker is certainly “rock” enough too.

Here’s one consolation to any rock voters or nominators feeling pangs of guilt. Though Walker’s alive and in good health, he — unlike most of the quality artists not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — almost certainly does not care whether he gets in or not, having made clear his disdain for the usual trimmings of industry success for many years now.

************************************************************************

There’s my Top Ten of sorts. Remember, again, that I’ve never been involved in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination or election process, or been approached to do so. So arguing these choices, or lobbying for others, will not have an effect on who gets selected. This is just a personal list.

There were many names who also received strong consideration, and just missed the cutoff. Sandy Denny, as mentioned in the Fairport listing, was one, as the greatest British folk-rock singer. Robert Wyatt, who’s had a lengthier career in more “underground” genres than almost anyone, was another, and someone else who likely would have been in the Hall had it been administered from a British perspective. John Mayall’s records were uneven (though often very good) and often overshadowed by his star guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, but there is hardly any other figure as influential in helping to launch significant careers, and for helping to ignite the British blues-rock explosion in general. I’d like to see Francoise Hardy in the Hall, not only for her excellence during much of her first decade as a recording artist as a singer and songwriter, but as a step toward “internationalizing” the Hall beyond performers from English-speaking countries. She’s likely the longest shot of any artist mentioned so far.

francoise-hardy-dis-lui-non-say-it-now-disques-vogue

My books, and lists on my website, give you a good idea of some of the other artists I’d like to see in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as I keep saying, there are many). Maybe I’ll go through numbers 11-20 in a subsequent post. I’ll end by just listing a few other favorite artists who seem to me to have very strong cases:

Nick Drake; Procol Harum; Jonathan Richman/The Modern Lovers; the Marvelettes; Tim Buckley; the Collins Kids; Harry Nilsson; the Beau Brummels; Bobby Fuller; Lesley Gore; Jackie DeShannon; Big Brother & the Holding Company; Pentangle; the Soft Machine; the Troggs; Judy Collins; the Move; Nico; John Cale; Doug Sahm/The Sir Douglas Quintet; the Searchers; Marianne Faithfull; Phil Ochs; Free; King Crimson; Irma Thomas; Dick Dale; the Spencer Davis Group; Arthur Alexander; Barbara Lewis; Jan & Dean; the Outsiders (the Dutch ’60s group); Dionne Warwick; Mike Bloomfield; the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; the Wailers (the reggae group); Johnny Kidd; Nina Simone; Ian & Sylvia

Blues artists (as influences on rock): Junior Wells; Otis Rush; Sonny Boy Williamson; Slim Harpo; Bukka White

Country artist (as influence on rock): The Delmore Brothers; Patsy Cline

Jazz artists (as influence on rock): Dizzy Gillespie; Lionel Hampton; Slim Gaillard; Wes Montgomery; Mose Allison

Folk artist (as influence on rock): John Fahey

Producers/Engineers/Songwriters/Managers/Label Owners/Journalists: Joe Meek; Lee Hazlewood; Giorgio Gomelsky; Shel Talmy; Paul Rothchild; Jimmy Miller; Joe Boyd; Tom Wilson; Tony Visconti; Norman Whitfield; Peter Asher; Mickie Most; Burt Bacharach & Hal David; Bob Johnston; Norman Petty; Bert Berns; Fred Foster; Norman Smith; Geoff Emerick; Chet Helms; Estelle Axton; Carol Kaye; Lillian Roxon; Graham Gouldman; Nicky Hopkins; Pete Frame; Paul Williams (the Crawdaddy founder, not the singer/songwriter); Shadow Morton

The Move's "Blackberry Way," a #1 UK single in 1969, but (like most of their releases) unknown in the US.

The Move’s “Blackberry Way,” a #1 UK single in 1969, but (like most of their releases) a flop in the US.

Greg Bollo: He Bowled ‘Em Over With His Fastball

Things might have changed now that they’re such collectibles, but when I was real young in the late 1960s, baseball cards were often considered wasteful frivolities. Maybe the stale bubblegum sticks that came with them were, but in my own case, the cards themselves were greatly undervalued aids for teaching me how to read. When I was five and six years old, the kids’ stories in textbooks weren’t really sparking my appetite for learning. No, the first things I avidly read on my own were Peanuts cartoons and — the backs of baseball cards. You’ve got to start somewhere, and while I probably would have learned to read (and write!) with the moralistic kiddie tales in first-grade lessons, nothing stokes the hunger for knowledge as much as subjects in which you’re actually interested. Peanuts, and baseball, were those things (the Beatles wouldn’t come until about two years later).

Looking back at the backs of the cards, you can tell how relentlessly optimistic the brief text was, as if every day was the first day of spring training, hope not so much springing as gushing eternal. The term “media spin” wasn’t in use then, but the concept was certainly used, and frequently, in building up every single player who’d been granted a Topps card, no matter how marginal their chances of becoming a regular. You knew someone was really marginal when Topps’ anonymous writer-cum-PR-person really didn’t know what to say in the little cartoons that accompanied the one or two sentences of text. Like this 1966 card for White Sox pitcher Greg Bollo:

BolloBack

Even back then, that struck me as a weird and kind of creepy image, like Greg Bollo had actually thrown a bowling ball at the hitter instead of a baseball, leaving the batsman with an irreparable hole in his soul. Topps’s loss for words was a pretty good indicator that Bollo might not stick at the big league level, and indeed he didn’t. Now that the Internet’s at hand more than 50 years later to fill in the gaps, though, Bollo’s story — and those of who knows how many other on-the-cusp players — turns out to be more interesting than the print that could fit onto the back of his baseball card.

After pitching very well at the single-A level in 1964, Bollo was promoted to the big club and spent the entire 1965 season with the White Sox. It might be more precise to say that he didn’t play in the minors that year, since he somehow appeared in just 15 games. With no wins, no losses, and no saves, it’s safe to assume he was mostly or wholly used in mop-up roles. Was he injured for part of the year? Was he carried on the big league roster to give him experience, but not thought of as truly ready for the big time, and thus relegated to what we would these day call “low-leverage” situations? It’s pretty rare for a pitcher to be used so seldom over the course of a full year (and downright unknown these days) at the major league level.

The front of Bollo's 1966 baseball card.

The front of Bollo’s 1966 baseball card.

Bollo spent most of 1966 back in single A, where he had a fair — not great — year for Lynchburg. You’re riding a strange yo-yo when you’re called up from single A to the bigs and sent back down to single A, a string made stranger by Bollo’s return to the White Sox in September. After a couple more no-decision relief appearances, someone took pity on the poor fellow and let him start the final game of the year on October 2, against the Yankees. He didn’t do too badly — giving up one run in four innings (though he walked three) — but that was enough to tag him with the loss, in a game the Sox lost 2-0. And as Bollo never got into another major league game, that was also enough to tag him with a permanent 0-1 lifetime record.

(As an aside, on the very last day of the season the previous year, the Yankees had dealt the only decision — a loss, again — to another hard-luck picture, Arnold Earley, who had managed to get into 56 games without a win, loss, or save before losing the final game of 1965 for the Red Sox. Read about that story here.)

Only 22 at the time, Bollo kept at it in the White Sox organization until 1970. He spent two years and part of another in triple A, but never did conquer his control problems. He wasn’t quite bowling them over with his fastball. But his brief time in the majors did generate that one indelible image, left behind in a closet or drawer by an older brother, and doing its share to cultivate literacy in a place where mainstream culture least expected it.

In contrast to Greg Bollo, the pitcher who shared his 1965 rookie card, Bob Locker, enjoyed a fairly long and successful career, appearing in 576 games (all as a reliever) and pitching for the Oakland A's in the 1972 World Series (which the A's won).

In contrast to Greg Bollo, the pitcher who shared his 1965 rookie card, Bob Locker, enjoyed a fairly long and successful career, appearing in 576 games (all as a reliever) and pitching for the Oakland A’s in the 1972 World Series (which the A’s won).

 

Folk-Rock Findings at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives

Last night I gave a presentation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives about my books on 1960s folk-rock. Most of it was centered around rare film clips, but I was also asked to talk a bit about the research I’ve done at the library over the past two weeks ((thanks to a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation). This is for the expanded ebook edition of my two-volume work on 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! (published as a print edition in 2002) and Eight Miles High (published as a print edition in 2003), which I’m combining into a single ebook, Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s.

It would take many hours and many pages to cover all of the material I’ve discovered at the library. So I used just a few images to illustrate how rare items could shed some light on folk-rock’s history, even after having written about it for 600 pages in the print editions. All of these are taken from ads that appeared between 1965 and 1967 in Cash Box, the biggest music trade magazine besides Billboard, but (unlike Billboard) very hard to find copies of these days, in public libraries or anywhere else.

Let’s start with an ad for one of the first folk-rock releases of all, by the most famous songwriter associated with the genre, Bob Dylan:

CASHBOX_Dylan001_watermarked-page-0

While Dylan had been a pretty big album-seller for a couple of years by the time this ad (and the 45 it promotes) appeared in March 1965, he had yet to issue a hit single, and in fact had barely issued anything in the seven-inch format in the US. The biggest sales of recordings of Dylan songs belonged not to the songwriter himself, but to Peter, Paul & Mary, who made the Top Ten with “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

This ad shows Columbia got heavily behind Dylan as a singles artist as soon as he made the transition from acoustic folk to rock. Whether that was because they thought rock would be more commercial or because they were getting tired of other labels reaping higher sales from Bob’s songs is impossible to say. But here the company emphatically makes the point that “no one sings Dylan like Dylan” — a phrase that would be quoted many times in subsequent years, and might make its first appearance here. Too bad the ad’s photo (from the cover of Dylan’s third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’) that was about a year out of date by the time “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was issued, both on a single and on Dylan’s fifth album, early 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home.

It wasn’t long before a Dylan song from Bringing It All Back Home got to #1 — not as performed by Dylan, but by the Byrds, who took “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the top of the charts. The Byrds were also on Columbia Records, which might have removed the sting just a little. That ignited a near-instant rush by other artists to cover Dylan songs, even as Columbia issued another Dylan cover from the Byrds’ debut album, “All I Really Want to Do,” as the follow-up to “Mr. Tambourine Man.” In fact, another Hollywood act, Cher, put out her version at the same time, outperforming the Byrds on the Billboard charts. Cash Box took the extraordinary step of combining both versions into the same chart entry, the (presumably) combined sales and airplay getting “All I Really Want to Do” to peak at #9 in the magazine’s listings on August 14, 1965.

Exercising damage control, and maybe out of desperation, the Byrds’ single was flipped and remarketed with the original B-side, Gene Clark’s composition “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” promoted as the A-side. This ad tells the story:

CASHBOX_Byrds001_watermarked-page-0

Byrds PR man Derek Taylor (most famed for his work in a similar capacity for the Beatles) tries as best he can to be pissed off with dignity in the ad’s copy, declaring: “All we really want to do is remind you that America is a spacious country and that Bobby Dylan is a large talent. There’s ample room in the vast embrace of the nation’s record-buyers and Dylan’s creativity for the Byrds, for Sonny and Cher, and a score more. Having made the point, we feel a whole lot better.” But despite the ad announcing the single’s entry into the Top Twenty on four Los Angeles charts, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” wouldn’t break out nationally. At least the incident afforded an opportunity to use a great, seldom-seen picture of the band, with leader Roger McGuinn consulting the slide rule he was reported to carry around with him, this photo supplying the proof.

Sliding farther down the Byrds and Gene Clark thread, Clark — the band’s primary songwriter on their first two albums — left the group in early 1966 to pursue a solo career. This wasn’t commercially successful, his debut solo LP, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, failing to chart at all when it appeared in early 1967. Clark has a devoted cult following, and many hardcore fans of Clark and other artists who don’t get sales on par with the passion of their admirers blame record labels for the failure of such records to reach a wide audience. Undoubtedly poor promotion is indeed often to blame in such instances, but it’s simply not true that Columbia did nothing to promote Gene’s solo career. The December 10, 1966 issue of Cash Box contained this extraordinary two-page ad for the single that previewed the record, “Echoes”:

CASHBOX_Clark001_watermarked-page-0

 

CASHBOX_Clark002_watermarked-page-0

It was rare for labels to take out a two-page ad for anything, and also rare, in 1966 at any rate, for ads to reprint lyrics of a single in full. There were a good number of ads that did so in the final years of the ‘60s, however — a change that folk-rock likely did much to foster, as it made rock lyrics (and lyrics in popular music as a whole) taken far more seriously than they had been before folk-rock’s emergence.

As an aside, there were quite a few instances when I came across prominent ads for records that had been alleged to have been poorly promoted. Take, for example, this single by Blackburn & Snow, one of the finest underrated and overlooked early San Francisco folk-rock acts:

CASHBOX_Blackburn001_watermarked-page-0

Despite an abundance of fine, and finely harmonized, original material, few tracks (and no LP) were issued by Blackburn & Snow while they were active in 1966 and 1967, though a full CD finally emerged in 1999. Only two singles came out at the time, however, and even those appeared somewhat belatedly after they began their recording career. “I think if it had been marketed well, and it had come out early enough, it would have done something,” Sherry Snow (now known as Halimah Collingwood) told me when I interviewed her for the book. “It isn’t like I didn’t try,” countered Frank Werber (most famous for managing the Kingston Trio), who recorded them for his Trident production company. “There was not a lot of interest. From anybody.”

I don’t want to pick on Halimah Collingwood by using this ad as an example — she gave me a lengthy, friendly, and candid interview. Many other artists have claimed their releases were inadequately publicized. But this full-page ad does indicate that there was some substantial promotion behind their “Stranger in a Strange Land” single, when it finally did come out, about a year the track was recorded.

And as a trivial note, who wrote “Stranger in a Strange Land”? David Crosby, who’d been a housemate of Snow’s in Venice, California, before the Byrds formed. The Byrds tried it in the studio themselves, but only got as far as cutting the song’s unissued instrumental backing track, subsequently released on the expanded Turn! Turn! Turn! CD.

Sometimes ads can tell a more serious story than the loss of record sales due to bungled promotion. Janis Ian’s “Society Child” was turned down by numerous labels owing to its controversial subject (interracial dating), and even after it was released in 1966, many radio stations were reluctant to play it. It was only after she sang it on a Leonard Bernstein-hosted CBS special on pop music in April 1967 that it was picked up by enough stations to make it a national hit. The story’s been told many times, by Ian and others.

I didn’t doubt Ian’s account, but a couple Cash Box ads supplied vivid proof. Look at this one, from October 1, 1966:

CASHBOX_Ian001_watermarked-page-0

Here the Verve/Folkways label’s praising 17 radio stations in 13 cities that had the courage to play “Society’s Child,” including, most surprisingly, three in the South (in Columbus, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; and Columbia, South Carolina), where resistance to the single (and integration in general) was heaviest.

Now look at this ad from more than seven months later, after “Society’s Child” finally started to break out nationally:

CASHBOX_Ian002_watermarked-page-0

That verifies the influence the TV special had in making the single a hit, but more intriguingly, contains this note from KRLA, one of the most powerful radio stations in Los Angeles:

“In the past, KRLA has taken pride in displaying the courage and honesty to broadcast controversial material of social and artistic significance. We are embarrassed however, by a recent timidity in not playing a remarkable record which deserves to be heard…Now, with thanks to Leonard Bernstein for leading the way…and with apologies for our ‘cop-out,’ KRLA presents 16-year-old JANIS IAN with SOCIETY’s CHILD.” — Radio Station KRLA, Los Angeles

A vivid illustration, then, of both the initial obstacles to the record’s success, and network television’s role in getting a key outlet to reconsider its stance. Then, as now, it’s rare for an institution of any sort to apologize for anything so publicly.

By the way, the reason Ian got on the TV show in the first place was because New York Times music critic Robert Shelton played “Society’s Child” for Bernstein’s producer, David Oppenheim, who in turn played it to Bernstein. Shelton’s most known for writing the first prominent, glowing review of a Dylan show (back in September 1961 for the Times), as well as generally helping Dylan’s rise as his most prominent champion in the press. Here’s another instance, however, in which he helped change pop history.

Not every ad has to make such a heavy point to be worth investigating, or tell you much about why a record did or didn’t make it. I leave you with this goofy-as-all-get-out ad for Simon & Garfunkel’s single “At the Zoo”:

CASHBOX_SandG001_watermarked-page-0

Here’s guessing Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel did not see or approve this ad before it got printed in March 1967. Maybe Art wouldn’t have minded being cast as the lion, but it’s hard to see Paul being pleased to be the panda. As the ‘60s finished, artists like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young would insist such frivolous promotion be discontinued. And they’d get their way — just one overlooked example of how folk-rock helped give musicians more control over not just their product, but also their promotion, as musicians demanded and received a voice in how they were advertised.

Thanks to the staff at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives for their help with assembling images for this post.

One or Two Things I (And You) Didn’t Know About the Yardbirds

I’m not at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives to research the Yardbirds, but they’re one of those groups that I try to gather as much material on as possible no matter what the channel. So it is that last week I stumbled across a couple of items I’d never seen before, though I’ve tried to find out as much as I can about them for 35 years or so.

For instance, the December 1969 issue of ZigZag (the first true UK underground rock paper) has an interview with singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty that’s new to me. Most of it’s about Renaissance, the group they formed shortly after the Yardbirds split in mid-1968. But here’s an interesting quote about the Yardbirds:

“Jeff Beck virtually took over. If we wanted to do something soft and peaceful, it was very difficult — he wasn’t interested at all. We managed to make “Still I’m Sad,” but I don’t think he was involved in that; I don’t think he was even there when we recorded it.”

As half of a double-A-side with "Evil Hearted You," "Still I'm Sad" was a #3 single in the UK in 1965, though it was only a B-side in the US.

As half of a double-A-side with “Evil Hearted You,” “Still I’m Sad” was a #3 single in the UK in 1965, though it was only a B-side in the US.

(A little annoyingly, the separate responses by Relf and McCarty are not identified in the article. All of them are attributed to “R.”)

I don’t doubt that Beck was less into “soft and peaceful” sounds than Relf and McCarty. Part of the reason those two guys left the Yardbirds, after all, was that they wanted to do soft folk-rockish stuff with harmonies, a la some of the Turtles’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s output (as you can hear on the few tracks they cut as a duo, under the name Together).

Nonetheless, the guitar solo on “Still I’m Sad” absolutely sounds like Beck to me. It has that great snaky, almost Asian-Middle Eastern sound typical of much of his Yardbirds work, with the swelling and ebbing sustain that was also characteristic of a lot his mid-‘60s playing. If it wasn’t Beck, who was it? Chris Dreja, then their rhythm guitarist? A top session guitarist like Big Jim Sullivan, or even a pre-Yardbirds Jimmy Page?

Maybe Beck indeed didn’t like the song, though it was a classic groundbreaking work that was one of the first rock hits (in the UK it was, at any rate) to draw upon serious non-romantic introspective lyrical themes and exotic world music elements, including Gregorian chant-like backing vocals. But I doubt he wasn’t on the session, even if he didn’t participate in the chanting (though it’s been verified colorful Yardbirds manager/co-producer Giorgio Gomelsky did).

Before leaving Jeff Beck for his successor, another thing I happened upon was an Epic Records press release for the Yardbirds from July 1965 — possibly the first one issued on their behalf in the US. “One of the atomic-like forces produced by England’s musical invasion of America, and a force destined to leave a permanent mark, is a group which calls itself the Yardbirds,” it begins, and if it was probably written in the spirit of overhype, it turned out to be absolutely correct.

Incorrect is the claim that their debut single  “I Wish You Would”/“A Certain Girl” made the Top Ten in England; actually, it didn’t make the UK charts at all. Not exactly false, but weirdly worded, is the claim that Jeff Beck “plays the lead guitar and violin as well as the electric saw. Besides his obvious physical attributes and a look of ‘innocence,’ Jeff can boast an ability to simulate wacky, offbeat sounds on the guitar.”

Epic was about to push the "Heart Full of Soul" single when it issued their 1965 Yardbirds press release, perhaps not realizing that the US picture sleeve pictured the Eric Clapton lineup, not the Jeff Beck one that played on the tracks.

Epic was about to push the “Heart Full of Soul” single when it issued their 1965 Yardbirds press release, perhaps not realizing that the US sleeve pictured the Eric Clapton lineup, not the Jeff Beck one that played on the tracks.

The other item was from the June 29, 1968 issue of Cash Box, announcing the Yardbirds were splitting. Cash Box was the second-biggest music trade magazine of the time (Billboard was the biggest), although it, unlike Billboard, is damnably hard to find in public libraries:

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja [who’d switched to bass from rhythm guitar a little after Page joined in mid-1966] will continue using the Yardbirds name, although billing will include a “featuring Jimmy Page” tag when the Yardbirds return to the States in October for a series of college concerts. Page returned to London Thursday June 13 to start auditioning for a new drummer and vocalist. He also plans to incorporate a mellotron into the new act. This will be played by the vocalist. “No one has ever toured with one before; it’s a very delicate instrument,” Page stated.

The Yardbirds never would come back to the US to tour under the billing "featuring Jimmy Page." But oddly enough, this live LP of a March 1968 concert in New York was issued with the "featuring Jimmy Page" billing in 1971. It was quickly withdrawn from the market, though it's since been frequently bootlegged.

The Yardbirds never would come back to the US to tour under the billing “featuring Jimmy Page.” But oddly enough, this live LP of a March 30, 1968 concert in New York was issued with the “featuring Jimmy Page” billing in 1971. It was quickly withdrawn from the market, though it’s since been frequently bootlegged.

It’s not so surprising the band would have been themselves as the Yardbirds “featuring Jimmy Page” had they continued (they didn’t) or returned to the US in October (they didn’t do that either, obviously). Page wasn’t all that famous when the Yardbirds broke up, as all of their big hits predated his promotion to lead guitarist in late 1966 (though he did play dual lead with Beck for a few months before that, most notably on the classic single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”). But he was the most famous of the four guys in their final lineup, with the possible exception of Relf, and already pretty well known to devoted rock fans for his guitar brilliance, if more so live than on the generally disappointing records they cut after Beck’s departure.

No, what’s strange about this bulletin is Page’s apparent plan to hire a combination singer/mellotronist. The mellotron itself was a new and very expensive instrument in mid-1968; not many rock musicians had one or knew how to play it. I can think of very few who could have both sung and played the instrument onstage, and just carting the thing around on tour those days was difficult and rare, if it was being done at all. Graham Bond, Rod Argent of the Zombies, and Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who wasn’t one of their primary singers, but did take some lead vocals) could have done it, most likely, though none seem like a particularly good fit for the post-Yardbirds/pre-Led Zeppelin combo Page had in mind.

Can you imagine singers showing up for auditions, only to be told that they’d need to play a mellotron too? It would certainly seem to limit the pool of available choices. But this couldn’t have been an erroneous report, or a joke by Page taken seriously, as a very similar, fuller account appeared around the same time in the June 21, 1968 issue of Go magazine:

GoMag

As the article states, “Jimmy plans to add a mellotron to the instrumentation. He wants his singer to be able to play a keyboard instrument so that he will be able to handle the mellotron.” As he explains in the piece:

The whole idea is to get a new sort of collage of sound that is not the sound normally associated with a rock’n’roll group. But it will still have a beat backing…The mellotron will be there to give added interest, but the guitar will still be featured.

How would it have sounded? We don’t know, because the Yardbirds didn’t continue under that name with a revised lineup, though they briefly traded under the “New Yardbirds” name. Instead, they evolved into Led Zeppelin. Dreja dropped out, John Paul Jones stepped in, the new drummer was John Bonham, and the new singer was Robert Plant, who didn’t play the mellotron.

It’s too bad, though, that there weren’t rehearsal tapes or something like that exploring Page’s idea. It sounds kind of cool, and in keeping with the Yardbirds’ generally fearlessly experimental bent throughout their career.

Poster for a show  Led Zeppelin played under the name "The New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page," at  the University of Surrey on October 25, 1968.

Poster for a show Led Zeppelin played under the name “The New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page,” at the University of Surrey on October 25, 1968.

The Great Lost Christopher Guest-Michael McKean Tape

For the past week or so, I’ve been doing research at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives. Sometimes you run across interesting items that have nothing to do with what you’re researching. Like this 1971 memo from Warner Brothers executive Mo Ostin rejecting a tape from Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and a couple unnamed musicians:

“After a careful listen, we came away awfully impressed by the great country instrumental performances of which the band is capable. However, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that the vocal weaknesses of Guest & McKean are strong enough to stand in the way of our adding their names to an already crowded artists’ roster.”

Guest and McKean, of course, would about a dozen years later front Spinal Tap. Back in the early 1970s, McKean was part of the radio comedy group the Credibility Gap, along with another future Spinal Tapper, Harry Shearer:

Part of the Credibility Gap in the early 1970s, with Harry Shearer (left), David L. Lander (center), and Michael McKean (right)

Part of the Credibility Gap in the early 1970s, with Harry Shearer (left), David L. Lander (center), and Michael McKean (right)

Adding insult to injury, attached is a brief evaluation sheet from producer Ted Templeman. The instrumental performance is rated “great country stuff.” The vocal performance is rated “No good.” The material is rated “also no good.” The eight lines of space given for comment contain just one word: “Pass.” (Templeman’s most noted for producing early records by Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, Montrose, and Van Halen, as well as being in the late-‘60s group Harpers Bizarre.)

Funnily enough, McKean would record for Warner Brothers as part of the Credibility Gap just a few years later. Maybe the tape he made with Guest that the label rejected was a country-rock satire, and Templeman and Ostin thought it was a “real” group?

A rare 1973 Warner Brothers single by the Credibility Gap.

A rare 1973 Warner Brothers single by the Credibility Gap.

At one time, incidentally, McKean was part of a very well known “real group.” He was briefly in the Left Banke, but not during their early prime.

Also in that file were a couple great licensing rejections of UK bands from Russ Titelman, the producer most known for working with Randy Newman. Van Der Graaf Generator is dismissed as “prima donna rock.” Edgar Broughton: “varying degrees of sheer boredom.”

Van der Graaf Generator: "prima donna rock."

Van der Graaf Generator: “prima donna rock.”

Edgar Broughton Band: "vary ing degrees of sheer boredom."

Edgar Broughton Band: “vary ing degrees of sheer boredom.”

Now both of those bands had and have their champions, some of whom would get incensed by the pithy flippancy of those thumbs-downs. But I find the waste-no-words phrases refreshing in their blunt honesty, given that some other executive memos of the time parse their rejections in terms like “this is really exceptional, but not quite exceptional enough for our high standards,” “fine stuff, but we’re not the right label for it,” “excellent, but no room on our roster for this artist at this time,” etc.

The 1971 Guest-McKean tape itself, unfortunately, was not in the file. So I can’t tell you whether this unnamed Guest-McKean outfit was the lost Flying Burrito Brothers, or, perhaps better yet, the equivalent of a country-rock Spinal Tap.

An Indians Game At Progressive Field: Low-Key Baseball for Out-of-Town Fans

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a major league baseball game outside of San Francisco or Oakland. An absurdly long time, maybe, considering how much time I spend listening to games on the radio. It’s been maybe ten years since the last one I saw out of town, in Seattle. Until today, that is, when I went to Progressive Field to see the A’s beat the Indians 13-3 in downtown Cleveland.

Progressive Field, with downtown Cleveland in the background, May 18, 2014.

Progressive Field, with downtown Cleveland in the background, May 18, 2014.

When it opened twenty years ago, Progressive Field (named Jacobs Field until 2008) was one of the first wave of the new, modern downtown ballparks springing up in the wake of Baltimore’s Camden Yards. It might be a little less impressive now than it was then, now that somewhat more spectacular stadiums have opened in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and quite a few other teams have relocated to spiffy downtown spaces. It’s still a good place to see a game, though, and has its advantages even over AT&T Park in San Francisco, if maybe not always the ones that fans and owners would like.

The view as you approach the entrance to Progressive Field.

The view as you approach the entrance to Progressive Field.

One that no one would object to is the friendliness of the staff. Nothing’s free in San Francisco, so it was with some astonishment that I was handed a free program guide upon entering, the helpful fellow also giving us unhurried, precise directions to our seats. Not that AT&T’s staff aren’t friendly, but the friendliness is a lot less frenetic when there aren’t tens of thousands of fans swarming into the gates at once. Which is the advantage for a visitor like me that the average Clevelander probably wouldn’t like to see happening. One reason the pace is so relaxed is that fans aren’t turning out to Jacobs Field like they used to, let alone like they do in San Francisco, where there’s been years of consecutive sellouts. Here’s a shot of some outfield seats just minutes before game time:

Left field seats at Progressive Field aren't sold out these days, like they were in the old days.

Left field seats at Progressive Field aren’t sold out these days, like they were in the old days.

Nice to see former Indian greats honored on the billboards, anyway. In this shot, we see images of Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, and Herb Score, the pitcher who got off to a sensational start in his first couple seasons in the mid-1950s before his career was derailed when he was hit in the face by a line drive. (Score went on to broadcast Indian games on TV and radio for more than 30 years.)

It’s hard to believe now, but the Indians used to sell out games for years at a time. The stadium isn’t as novel now, and the team (despite a good year in 2013) isn’t as good, currently residing in the cellar ten games out of first. Looking on the bright side, that does mean you get a much more, dare I say, mellow experience from the stands, with plenty of room to stretch out, and fan banter so low-key that it’s easy to hold a conversation in normal voice (when they’re not blasting Queen between innings). My friend Laura was even able to yell her beer order to a vendor from almost a dozen seats over with no problem getting heard.

As it was in the sixties and sunny, it was a great mid-May Sunday to be at the ballpark. It wasn’t so great for the Indians, who fell behind pretty early and just kept losing ground. Pitching changes such as the one below were all-too-common sights, though that didn’t keep the strangely attired mascot from dancing on the dugout late in the contest:

Another pitching change as the Indians fell farther and farther behind the A's.

Another pitching change as the Indians fell farther and farther behind the A’s.

Strange peanut mascot dances on the dugout, much as Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Strange peanut mascot dances on the dugout, much as Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

We were also able to walk over the bridge to the stadium from the neighborhood where I was staying. Which was worth it for this view of downtown, dominated by Terminal Tower:

Terminal Tower (the leftmost of the two tall buildings here) dominates this view of downtown Cleveland.

Terminal Tower (the leftmost of the two tall buildings here) dominates this view of downtown Cleveland.

Author Richie Unterberger's views on vintage rock music; San Francisco Bay Area biking and hiking; socially responsible living; and baseball.