Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bob Seger, Moderately Successful Roots Rocker

Bob Seger was never a superstar of the rock and roll genre, yet he's been around since 1961. He began his career in Detroit as a member of a local band called the Decibels. Until he formed the first of his own bands in 1966, he had spent time in a couple of other local Michigan bands that nobody outside of Michigan probably ever heard of. In '66 he formed a group called Bob Seger and the Last Heard, and still couldn't find a record label willing to promote him other than on a local basis.

He has what is considered by some to have the classic raspy voice of a "roots rocker". Early influences include Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Van Morrison. He says that Van Morrison has influenced an entire clique of male vocalists who include the likes of John Fogarty and Bruce Springsteen. He may be right, however the success of that clique of rockers seemed to elude him. By 1967 he had formed another band called the Bob Seger System. They had one successful local song called "Heavy Music" which is a classic Seger tune and stayed in his live act throughout much of his career. His first nationally charted hit which peaked on the Billboard chart at number 17 was "Ramblin Gamblin Man". He didn't seem to be able to repeat the success of that song and was considered by some to be a "one hit wonder".

In 1974 he again changed his band. This change brought Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band their second break out tune, which just missed the top 40, peaking at number 43. He showed he had the potential to be something other than a one hit wonder, however, it would be two more years before he became truly popular outside of Detroit.

In 1976 he released his album "Night Moves". The title song became a number 4 hit for him and had the effect of reawakening interest in his back catalogue of music. Suddenly, Bob Seger was an "overnight success". Still, only a moderate success, not a big superstar success. Songs like "Night Moves", "Turn The Page", "Like A Rock", "Old Time Rock And Roll" "Against The Wind" and "Shakedown" all followed. When it was released in 1979, "Old Time Rock and Roll" was not a successfull hit. It took a movie, Tom Cruise and some underwear for the rest of us to catch on to what a great song it really was.

In 1995 he decided to take a sabbatical to spend more time with his wife and young children. He became a Dad late in life and decided he didn't want to miss anything. During that time he drove his auto off the Trans Canadian Highway earning himself a driving while impaired charge. He won the Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat race and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

He ended his sabbatical on September 12, 2006 by releasing his first new album in 11 years, "Face The Promise". It sold over 400,000 copies in the first 45 days. Proving that Bob Seger, the moderately successful, roots rocker with the raspy shouting voice still had it.

Bob Seger and "Wreck This Heart" from the album "Face The Promise"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sex, Alcoholism, Unwed Motherhood and a Song

In 1964 the Animals released a single that for some unknown reason fascinated me. This was the early 60's and still a time when 16 year olds knew less about life and sex than do many 12 year olds today. There was no legal abortion or effective birth control beyond condoms and abstinence. The quality of the condoms were questionable, unlike today. Unwed pregnant girls were forced into marrying the fathers of the child if the parents of the boy were willing. If that wasn't an option, sometimes girls were shoved out of the homes with little more than the clothes upon their backs and left to fend for themselves. Orphanages and homes for unwed mothers hadn't begun to close down for lack of business. Yet, here was this British group singing about SEX and houses of prostitution. Oh MY GAWD! Fascinating? You betcha!

House of the Rising Sun took The Animals to a number 1 spot on the music charts and gave them the honor of being the first British group to achieve that, after the Beatles of course. It's not that we didn't love Herman and the Hermits, or the Dave Clark 5, or any other British group we were listening to at the time, it was just that their songs were good, but not quite good enough for the number 1 spot. They weren't so blatantly

I don't ever remember anyone dancing to that tune at any of the dances I went to. The boys would cluster on one side of the floor and watch us girls teeheeing and blushing on the other side of the floor. The embarrassment probably kept us apart. I mean...really! Who would ever at that time actually dance to something like that? It might give the wrong idea. One had to guard their reputations at all cost back then. No girl wanted to be considered loose, or fast, or slutty and boys being boys would do that to you at the drop of the hat just to make themselves look important. To hear them talk, none of us were virgins.

All of us were embarrassed by that song only IF we heard it in mixed company. We would say the song was wicked and hadn't ought to be played on the radio, and secretly we all had a copy of the 45 AND knew all the words. Parents allowed the song in their homes because it told of the sorrows inherent in being loose and bore out the claims that having sex without the benefit of marriage was the road to perdition. It was a "man" thing and "girls" weren't supposed to like it. Yeah, right!

It was first recorded in 1937 by an unknown and then again in the 40's by Woody Guthrie. It is originally a folk song from the Appalachian hill region about a young prostitute who is lamenting what her life has become. It was originally titled "Rising Sun Blues". The traditional words are:

There is a house in New Orleans
they call the Rising Sun.
It's been the ruin of many a poor girl,
and me, O God, for one.

If I had listened what Mamma said,
I'd 'a' been at home today.
Being so young and foolish, poor boy,
let a rambler lead me astray.

Go tell my baby sister
never do like I have done
to shun that house in New Orleans
they call the Rising Sun.

My mother she's a tailor;
she sold those new blue jeans.
My sweetheart, he's a drunkard, Lord, Lord,
drinks down in New Orleans.

The only thing a drunkard needs
is a suitcase and a trunk.
The only time he's satisfied
is when he's on a drunk.

Fills his glasses to the brim,
passes them around
only pleasure he gets out of life
is hoboin' from town to town.

One foot is on the platform
and the other one on the train.
I'm going back to New Orleans
to wear that ball and chain.

Going back to New Orleans,
my race is almost run.
Going back to spend the rest of my days
beneath that Rising Sun.

It's believed that a song with it's origins in Appalachia would have New Orleans as a setting because New Orleans was considered the epitome of sin at the time. The words were most likely set to a melody born in Scotland, Ireland or England as most folk tunes of that area were. Eric Burdon believed the chords were similar to those found in English church music, most specifically funeral dirges.

There actually was a hotel in New Orleans that held the name The Rising Sun. Advertisements at the time do suggest that more than just a bed for the night was available. An excavation on the site of the hotel yielded something that would be unusual for a hotel if it was just a hotel. Along with some unearthed beer bottles there was evidence of heavy bottom rouge pots. The bottoms were heavy so that a swipe of the fingertips wouldn't tip the pot over or cause it to fall off the vanity. Suggestive of someone needing to refresh their makeup in a hurry? The evidence of the rouge pots by itself is interesting but when one adds it to this sentence found in the advertising it makes you wonder. The sentence is: "Gentlemen may here rely upon finding attentive Servants." Have they found the Rising Sun? Not necessarily as this is after all, a folk song. An oft recorded folk song at that.

Apparently I wasn't the only one for whom this song held a fascination. It has been recorded by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Odetta, Bob Dylan and was a one hit wonder for a group called Frijid Pink, in the 1970's. I considered posting more than one version, but since it was The Animals version that we listened to and were fascinated by, I chose to stick with the one that brung me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Music Of My Life

Beginning on July 5, 1987 "Alone" topped the charts for a period of 3 weeks. I had forgotten about that. That was a momentous month for me, it was the month in which Hubby and I got together, and the month in which a friend was murdered. Funny how life works isn't it?

I was 16 when I met Peppermint Patty. Too young to be in the bar where she worked as a bartender and part time Go-Go dancer. My girlfriend Cindy and I used to have to meet up with her Mom after we went shopping or attended USO functions and that was normally the place we were to meet her. We were there long enough to drink a Coke, and then her Mom would drop me off at home.

Patty, back then, was a lot of fun. Brassy and really beautiful, but not exactly someone I should have been impressed with. She was wild, loved to have a good time. I never knew her to intentionally hurt anyone else, just herself. She had lousy taste in men. Always seemed to chose the kind that would take what they want and dump her, or in the case of her only husband, beat her to the point where she nearly died.

That changed her in ways I never imagined she could change. Gone was the bold and beautiful brassy blonde and in her place was the tiny, fearful, mousy Patty. Drowning in drink and drugs, she surrounded herself with men from the gay community. In her desire to not be alone, she'd make bad decisions and then clutch onto anyone who would get her out of the situation she'd gotten herself into. Usually a man was involved. Most of the men who knew her understood that her mood had changed and she had become afraid of what they'd do to her. They'd let her get away with it. She'd grab onto me or Jayne and plead with us to help her, and of course we would.

I had started working 2 jobs and had to work on Sunday morning beginning at 7 so I wasn't out and about the way I might have been on the weekend of the field days. A new guy had started hanging around us, and I didn't like him so going out even for the early hours of a Saturday night didn't appeal to me that Saturday. He seemed to be trying to pick someone up all the time, and he made me uneasy so I chose to stay home. It was easier than spending my time trying to stay below his radar.

Jayne liked him, so when he asked Patty to accompany him to the field days, she helped him convince her to go. There is a part of me that fully understands that Patty would have died from an overdose, but somehow I've never been able to forgive Jayne for her part in what happened. There is still a lingering sense of guilt on my part for not having been there. She would have stayed with me and not gone because I would have shared with her my sense of unease about him. Jayne admitted in court during her testimony that she barely knew him and yet she talked Patty into leaving the safety of the bar where friends would look out for her and go with this creep. She told Patty "Roy was a good guy". Sorry Jayne, "good guys" don't beat women, nor do they burn cigarettes out on their bodies. They sure don't bite them until they bleed and leave them in isolated wooded areas to die. Alone.

What Jayne ended up doing was send Patty off with someone who had all ready murdered another woman and her 8 year old daughter. This was someone who thought nothing of killing women when they didn't give him what he wanted, and Patty wasn't the kind to give. She was too afraid of ending up dead at the hands of someone she thought loved her. She'd almost done that once.

The investigation into her death lasted all month and Hubby wound up in the middle of it. He didn't know Patty, had never hung out in the same bars, and everywhere we went together we got stopped by the police. Not having been there that night, I wasn't involved. Hubby, however, seemed to be a prime suspect. I lived half a block from the police station and every time he came to pick me up or stop for a visit, he'd be questioned. He vaguely fit the description of the murderer...well, they had the same hair color and he is a male. The interest had very little to do with that, it was because of his car. Hubby drove a two tone brown Mercury Montego which was identical to the two tone brown Ford Torino that the perpetrator drove.

They finally caught the guy which was when I found out that it was the guy who had made me so uneasy. The bite marks sealed his fate and he was convicted of not only murdering Patty, but of the murder of the nurse and her 8 year old daughter 2 years prior. His conviction was dismissed once on a technicality, but he was retried again and found guilty...again.

We have a local oldies radio station that advertises itself as the station that plays the "music of your life". For the three weeks that "Alone" by Heart was number 1 on the charts the lives of three people, who were alone, changed. This morning I am alone with some bittersweet memories. This was the weekend in 1987 that Patty died. The times are different, but the songs still the same.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Strange Death of Bobby Fuller

When someone commits suicide there are usually family members who refuse to accept that ruling. They don't want to believe that they missed something, or they feel guilt because they didn't do more for the victim. It's an extremely difficult situation for survivors to deal with. In many cases, unless there is a suicide note, it's unacceptable to them. It's extremely troubling to the family when the facts of the case simply don't add up to suicide, and yet the authorities state that's what happened, and then change the story down the road.

One of my favorite dance tunes from the middle 60's was "I Fought The Law" by Bobby Fuller. He was a fan of Buddy Holly, and at a time when the British Invasion was happening he stuck to the Buddy Holly style of rock and roll. His first top 40 hit was a song called "Let Her Dance", his second was "I Fought The Law" and there never was a third because he was found dead in the front seat of his mother's car. That's where the whole story becomes strange.

From Wikipedia:

"Just after "I Fought The Law" became a top ten hit, Bobby Fuller was found dead in his automobile, which was parked near his Los Angeles home. The police considered the death an apparent suicide/accident, however, many people believe Fuller was murdered. The investigation was botched from the start. The crime scene was not secured and no fingerprints were obtained. A witness also claimed seeing a police officer throw a can of gasoline found at the scene into the trash. Fuller was found with multiple wounds all over his body and covered in gasoline leading many to speculate that the perpetrators fled before they could set the car on fire.[5] Police later changed the cause of death to "Accidental asphyxiation" citing no evidence of foul play.[6]Despite the official cause of death stated by authorities, rumors and speculation still surround Fuller's mysterious death.[7][8] Fuller is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles."

That doesn't explain very much, does it? What I've managed to find out through other sources is this:

1. He was found dead in the front seat of his mothers locked car. The keys were missing. The car was parked in an area that his family had walked through getting to his apartment earlier that morning and it wasn't there then.

2. His body showed signs of having been beaten. There was dried blood on his chin and in his hair. His chest and abdomen were covered in bruises. He was drenched in gasoline and there was a rubber siphoning tube clenched in one hand. The autopsy report determined that he would not have died from his "wounds".

3. The gas can was removed from the back seat and thrown away in the garbage, NO fingerprints were ever taken and the car was never impounded and examined for further clues. That sort of smacks of cover-up to me. As if someone got paid not to look too closely to the evidence?

With clear evidence of a beating, with the car door being locked and no key found, the police stated at the scene that "it appeared to be a suicide". The final determination on the cause of death by the coroners office was "Accidental asphyxiation from inhaling gasoline." The more I look at the situation, the more confused I become. The final ruling wasn't that he committed suicide, the final ruling was that he died "accidentally".

Which leaves me wondering how he "accidentally' beat himself, and "accidentally" drove the car home with no keys. Then there's the "accidentally" suffocating himself in the front seat of this car with the doors locked, the windows up and no evidence of vomiting.

It's been 43 years since he died. In the days prior to his death he was somewhat depressed as he was planning on breaking up his band and going solo. There were problems with his record label, which by the way had some mob connections. Did the record label connection decide that they didn't want him breaking up a money maker to go solo? There also was a rumor that the latest gal he was dating was the girlfriend of one of the record labels thugs.

Even if the mistakes made at the scene were one of honest origins, it really does look as if his most popular song was extremely prophetic. Bobby Fuller died on July 18, 1966 and if he did fight the law, the law sure did win.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

She Dared To Be Different

Life in Port Arthur, Texas in the 50's was conservative and very racially divided. Conformity was the order of the day. Dads went to work to support their families, Moms stayed home to raise the kids, keep the house clean and cook. Few families had more than one car which Dad usually took with him when he went to work. Mom's spent Saturdays running errands, if she had a drivers license, while Dad mowed the lawn.

Children were seen and not heard entities that went to school, brought home decent grades, did their chores and were allowed out to play until dark when there wasn't any school. Playmates were all introduced to and approved by the parents. Children who dared to bring home someone "different" would be told that they weren't allowed to play with that child again. He/she's "not our kind". "Our kind" was defined by what neighborhood they lived in, who their parents were and what color their skin was. Sometimes "not our kind" was defined by weight. Being fat was almost as big a sin as being a thief.

Janis Joplin was an overweight child with acne so bad she required dermabrasion to remove the scars. She was ostracized because, in her own words "I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I didn't hate n******". She was routinely taunted and called names like "pig" "freak" and "creep". Janis was the oldest child of three, born into a family in which both parents worked outside the home. Her Mother described her as "unhappy" and "unsatisfied." A child that needed more than the "normal rapport" that her siblings required.

As an outcast, her choice of friends was somewhat limited. She befriended a group of other outcasts and through one of them was introduced to the music of Bessie Smith and Leadbelly. She joined the choir and expanded her blues listening to Odetta and Big Mama Thornton. Upon graduating from high school in 1960, she went to technical college that summer and on to the University of Texas in Austin. Still overweight, still an outcast. She didn't find any place where she fit in until she left Texas for San Francisco in 1963. Haight Ashbury where the flower children made love and the drugs were practically free.

Mostly she drank, with her beverage of choice being Southern Comfort. However, she discovered the "benefit" of speed. It caused her to lose weight. By 1965 the combination of speed, alcohol and the occasional heroin use worried her friends enough to convince her to go home to get well. They gave her a bus fare party to raise the needed money to send her home. Once there she quit drinking and drugging. She turned herself around to the point where a proper young man requested her hand in marriage. Not much is known about what happened, but shortly after her father granted his request, the man broke the engagement and Janis went back to San Francisco.

How is it possible to define someone like Janis? How do you define a legend that was larger than life itself and twice as tragic? In the 5 years between 1965 and her death in 1970 from a heroin and alcohol overdose, she became one of the most influential women of rock. She became the Grateful Dead's "Bird Song", the Mama and the Papa's "Pearl". She was "The Rose" of Bette Midler. She was Kris Kristopherson's "Epitaph (Black and Blue)". She may even have been the inspiration for this line from the song "American Pie". "I met a girl who sang the blues / And I asked her for some happy news, / But she just smiled and turned away". Don McLean has never confirmed it, but that is exactly what she did. She just smiled and turned away, leaving us with her legacy.

She broke through the boundaries of color and womens roles in our culture and she became a legend. She has a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awarded to her in 1995. She was also awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. All of these awards and tributes are how we remember her, but who was she really? I found a quote that defines her far better than I ever could. In her own words..."You can fill your life up with ideas and still go home lonely".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Champagne and Southern Rock

In 1970, an engineer from the city of Atlanta chose to build a recording studio in Doraville, a small town just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. Rodney Mills, with the encouragement of music publisher Bill Lowery, producer.songwriter manager Buddy Buie and songwriter/guitarist J.R. Cobb built one of the most preeminent studios in the Atlanta area. Dubbed Studio One, it became the popular recording home of such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe South, B.J. Thomas and Billy Joe Royal among others.

One of the reasons why many popular songs sound differently on the albums than they do when the artist played live, was because the studios used session musicians or "house bands" to add to the over all sound. Studio One acquired their house band from members of two groups. Singer Rodney Justo, keyboardist Dean Daughtry and drummer Robert Nix had played with Buddy Buie in a group called the Candymen who were a back-up group for Roy Orbison. Buie, Cobb and Daughtry had also been members of the Classic IV who were noted in the 60's for such songs as "Spooky", "Stormy" and "Traces". These men were joined by talented local session guitarist Barry Bailey and bassist Paul Goddard. As the nameless house band at Studio One, they played with some of the best that southern rock had to offer.

In 1971 Buddy Buie decided that they sounded good enough to be something besides just a house band and they decided to try to make an album on their own. Buddy wrote for and managed the group now called the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Their first album, which was produced at Studio One and released in 1972, didn't generate any hits for them, but it did create a good deal of critical interest for the quality of the songs and the musicianship. However the music biz just wasn't ready to welcome a group of talented musician since they hadn't paid their dues by spending years on the road playing at State Fairs, honky tonks and other dives. Apparently the quality of song and musicianship is enhanced by stale smoke and rancid beer according to the industry powers that be. In 1972 singer Rodney Justo called it quits and was replaced by the engineer's assistant who could play numerous instruments and had a great singing voice. His name was Rodney Hammond,

After the release of their second album they had begun to build a following as one of Atlanta's premier live shows. Their third album contained a song called "Doraville" that charted in the top 40 on the regional charts but although they'd built a good local following they still hadn't really gained any national notice. In 1976 under record company pressure to release an album with chart topping songs on it plus do it in 45 days they recorded "A Rock and Roll Alternative" in 30 days which finally brought them to national notice for the song "So Into You". Thus saving their recording contract and giving them a chance to build on an increase in popularity.

Their next album "Champagne Jam" finally gave them the critical support and popular acclaim they'd been working so hard to achieve. It was the song "Imaginary Lover" that took them into the top 10 and took their album to Platinum. Unfortunately changes in the music industry and the death of southern rock also ended their rise in popularity. They continued to perform and release albums until 1987, but none of the singles or albums ever again charted as high as did "Imaginary Lover". Never has a band worked as hard as ARS did for as little reward.