After the thunder, after the lightning

Posted May 31, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: May 2013

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As she moved past “Thunder and Lightning,” the hit single everyone remembers, Chi Coltrane in 1973 gathered an all-star group of session players as she recorded “Let It Ride,” her second LP for Columbia.

Merry Clayton and Clydie King were among the backing singers, Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner among the drummers, Klaus Voorman and Emory Gordy among the bass players, and Lee Ritenour and Larry Byrom, who’d just left Steppenwolf, among the guitarists. The horn section consisted of Jim Horn, Jim Price and Bobby Keys. It didn’t get much better than that.

All that talent, led by Coltrane singing and playing the piano with a rare combination of elegance and thunderous force. She wrote all but one of the 10 songs, arranged all 10 and produced the record. A remarkable accomplishment for someone just 24 at the time.


“Who Ever Told You,” “Myself To You,” “It’s Not Easy,” “Feather My Bed” and “Forget Love,” Chi Coltrane, from “Let It Ride,” 1973. This is Side 2. It runs 16:58. The LP is out of print, though some of the songs are available from Coltrane’s website, either digitally or on CD.

This side shows Coltrane’s considerable range. “Who Ever Told You” and “It’s Not Easy” are gospel-flavored rave-ups. “Feather My Bed” is a little bit of roadhouse swing. “Myself To You” and “Forget Love” are love songs, the former fairly standard pop and the latter chock full of high drama, almost a classical piece.

“Let It Ride” was recorded in part at Mama Jo’s Recording Studio (now revived as Dave’s Room) in North Hollywood, California. Coltrane, who was born in Wisconsin and learned her craft in the clubs of Chicago, settled not far away. The year after this LP came out, she bought a home in the Hollywood Hills. Over the last 40 years, her neighbors in Bronson Canyon have included Chuck Berry, Robert Redford, Chick Corea and Madonna. The guy who used to live next door? That was Axl Rose.

You rarely see Chi Coltrane records while digging.

The deeply spiritual Coltrane wasn’t into promoting herself or her records. After “Let It Ride,” she recorded sporadically and is said to have struggled financially after being mismanaged. In 1977, she moved to Europe, where she found a more passionate following and released several records. Her last LP of new material was “The Message” in 1986. She returned to Los Angeles in 1993, where she is said to have built a recording studio and done social work.

Coltrane, now 64, resumed performing four years ago, mostly in Europe, where she remains popular. Her most recent release is a live recording of her 2009 comeback concert in Vienna, where she’s said to have played before a crowd of 100,000 people.

Her first song that night is the first song emerging through the sweet blue haze of time on The Midnight Tracker tonight.


When giants roamed Milwaukee

Posted April 30, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: April 2013

Tags: ,

The last night of April 1971 was a thrilling one for a certain 13-year-old who lived an hour north of Milwaukee.

That Friday night, my beloved Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Baltimore Bullets 118-106 to win the NBA championship. One of the Bucks’ stars was center Lew Alcindor, who had just turned 24.

The next day, Alcindor announced that he would thereafter be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Today, my friend Kurt — also a big fan of those Bucks — tipped me to a wonderful essay written by Kareem, now 66. Posted by Esquire, “20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I was 30” is well worth your time.

No. 1 on Kareem’s list: “Be more outgoing.”

“My shyness and introversion from those days
still haunt me. … When I was off the court,
I felt uncomfortable with attention. I rarely partied
or attended celebrity bashes.”

So I wonder. Did Kareem, now writing for Esquire, ever cross paths with the Esquires during his six years in Milwaukee? Kareem was, and is, a jazz buff. But did he ever hear, and appreciate, one of the city’s top soul and R&B groups?

The Esquires, a vocal group many compare to — and mistake for — Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, had a smash single with “Get On Up” in 1967. Lew Alcindor didn’t arrive in town until two years later, when the Esquires were making their last serious run at the R&B charts with the singles “I Don’t Know” in 1969 and “Girls In The City” in 1970.

So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, materializing from the sweet blue haze of time (and smoke from the corridors of the Milwaukee Arena), is a sweet side from one of Milwaukee’s finest groups.


“And Get Away,” “Listen To Me,” “How Was I To Know,” “Groovin’,” “Everybody’s Laughing” and “How Could It Be,” the Esquires, from “Get On Up And Get Away,” 1967. This is Side 1. It runs 14:49. This was the Esquires’ only LP. It’s available on a 1995 CD titled “Get On Up” and digitally.

This side leads off with the follow-up single to “Get On Up.” They were released in July and September 1967, both reaching the Top 10 on the R&B charts. The second cut, “Listen To Me,” was the B side to “Get On Up.” The fifth cut, “Everybody’s Laughing,” was the B side to “And Get Away.” “Groovin'” is a cover of the Young Rascals tune. Everything else on this side was written or co-written by lead singer Gilbert Moorer.

Tonight, we’re heeding the advice at No. 13 on Kareem’s list. “Do one thing every day that helps someone else.”

“This is about helping one individual you know
by name. Maybe it means calling your parents,
helping a buddy move, or lending a favorite jazz album
to Chocolate Fingers McGee.”

Consider this the digital version of the latter.

Still sounds like the first time

Posted March 31, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: March 2013

Tags: ,

The other night, I played an LP I’ve had since 1977. Save for a little noise on the lead-in groove, the sound remains almost pristine. It’s “Foreigner,” that group’s debut record from that year.

Yeah, maybe Foreigner became mainstream arena rockers, but that record sounded great when it hit Top 40 radio otherwise full of mush in early 1977. It sounded solid and muscular because it crashed a chart populated at the top by Hall and Oates, 10cc, Abba, Barbra Streisand, David Soul, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Glen Campbell and Kansas.

That great sound was the result of an inspired teaming: Two veteran Brits — guitarist Mick Jones (who’d played with Spooky Tooth and the Leslie West Band and had backed Peter Frampton and George Harrison) and the versatile Ian McDonald (who’d been in the first incarnation of King Crimson in the late ’60s) — with New York singer Lou Gramm.

Boston seemingly had kicked open the door a year earlier, and Foreigner followed it through. In fact, Foreigner’s debut record arrived just as the enduring power — or at least the radio presence — of Boston’s debut record had peaked and was starting to fade.

Mark E., a friend of the blog who has long worked in radio, raves about “Foreigner.”

“Not only did the hits from the album sound great, so did album cuts like ‘I Need You,’ ‘At War With The World’ and ‘The Damage is Done.’

So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, materializing through the sweet blue haze of time, is a side with a couple of those cuts.


“Long, Long Way From Home,” Woman Oh Woman,” “At War With the World,” “Fool For You Anyway” and “I Need You,” Foreigner, from “Foreigner,” 1977. This is Side 2. It runs 20:04. It’s also available digitally.

What followed from Foreigner, though popular, never seemed as fresh as that first record. This is the only Foreigner record I’ve kept.

One side, one song

Posted March 12, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: March 2013

Tags: ,

There are few things more quintessentially ’70s than an album side with one song on it.

One band that leaps to mind for doing so is Rare Earth. They did it three times in five years. “Get Ready” was that song twice, on the 1969 LP of the same name and on “Rare Earth In Concert,” the 1971 live LP. Both times, it was Side 2.

Tonight on The Midnight Tracker, we have the third one.

Almost 40 years ago, in April 1973, Rare Earth released “Ma.”

Critics and fans loved the record because Motown legend Norman Whitfield’s influence was all over it. He produced it and wrote or co-wrote with Barrett Strong all five of its cuts.

Yet Rare Earth lead singer and drummer Peter Rivera doesn’t share that enthusiasm. He saw Whitfield’s involvement as the beginning of the end for the band. In a fine interview with music writer Ray Shasho last fall, Rivera explained why:

“When (the) ‘Willie Remembers’ (LP) came out (in 1972), it didn’t get any promotion at all, and that’s when they said the only way to save a dying ship was to bring Norman Whitfield in.

“Motown thought the only redemption to our career was Norman Whitfield because he had, ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,’ ‘Ball Of Confusion,’ ‘Just My Imagination’ and he was Norman Whitfield of Motown. Norman was a great guy, a great producer, and rest his soul, but the political side of it back then was … they just didn’t trust anybody except in their own stable of people. So Norman came in and we did the ‘Ma’ album. I always called it the Norman Whitfield album played by Rare Earth. And you didn’t get the essence of Rare Earth. As a result, ‘Ma’ got just a little bit of attention but nothing serious, and we didn’t have the hits, so things just started getting worse. So after ‘Ma’ came out that was pretty much it. man.”

Later in the interview, Rivera added this:

“I think where Motown made a mistake, was when they panicked and they brought in Norman Whitfield, and once you’re not selling records with the company, it’s like nobody wants you anymore. And then we were having internal problems with jealousy and there were drugs involved and stuff like that, and everybody was acting crazy and it just kind of went away.”

“Ma” produced three singles — the title track, “Hum Along And Dance” and “Big John Is My Name,” but none broke the Top 100.

“Ma” the album-side-length title track features Rivera’s tremendous vocals and the muscular jamming we long ago came to expect from Rare Earth. But as always, you be the judge.


“Ma,” Rare Earth, from “Ma,” 1973. This is Side 1. It runs 16:42. The CD is still in print, but this cut isn’t available digitally.

Peter Rivera is billed on the LP under his real name, Peter Hoorelbeke.

Listen up, Buster, and listen up good

Posted February 1, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: February 2013

Tags: ,

Sorry to miss the usual end-of-the-month target for a fresh post, but yesterday was our son’s 18th birthday. Pretty big day.

When I turned 18 in the summer of 1975, that was the drinking age in Wisconsin. That I could go out to an old tavern and be introduced to John Prine’s music by a friendly, long-haired folk singer on a tiny stage, well, that’s just one of my great memories.

The drinking age is 21 now, but I’m sure Evan will have plenty of coffeehouse and rathskeller and student lounge performances to explore when he goes off to college in the fall. Maybe he, too, will learn of the wonderful Chicago folk singer John Prine in that manner. In fact, the only time I saw John Prine was on the UW-Green Bay campus, where Evan will be going.

This was the record I bought into when I started learning about John Prine. It’s been one of my favorites all these years.


I dug it out a couple of weeks ago when Pauline Phillips, the woman who wrote the “Dear Abby” column, passed away.

Prine wrote a typically irreverent, light-hearted song about Dear Abby in the early ’70s. It’s one of the songs on one of my favorite album sides, the one shared here tonight on The Midnight Tracker.

“Sweet Revenge,” “Please Don’t Bury Me,” “Christmas In Prison,” “Dear Abby,” “Blue Umbrella” and “Often Is A Word I Seldom Use,” John Prine, from “Sweet Revenge,” 1973. This is Side 1. It runs 19:17. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

A guy could learn a lot from John Prine, especially a college guy.

“Dear Abby, Dear Abby/Well I never thought/
That me and my girlfriend/Would ever get caught”

Yeah, let’s hope we don’t hear that anytime soon.

People deeply love Purple

Posted December 31, 2012 by Jeff Ash
Categories: December 2012

Tags: ,

When I wrote last month at AM, Then FM, about Deep Purple’s “Burn,” a record I used to have and would like to have again, my friend Kurt said:

“I loved Deep Purple in HS and thus far have not parted with my DP vinyl, including ‘Burn.’ It’s part of my DNA, I think.”

Then, last week, I mentioned on Facebook that I was ripping a Deep Purple record. I didn’t mention which one. Even so, that unleashed a flood of fond memories from other friends, most of whom grew up in the ’70s as I did.

“Burn? Stormbringer? Come Taste the Band? one asked.


“Machine Head?” another asked.


“I know every word on ‘Machine Head.’ Proud of it, too!” my friend eagerly confessed. Now there is a rock chick for you. We went to high school together.

“Made in Japan?” another asked.


The one I ripped is the one with “Woman From Tokyo” on it.


I’ve had Deep Purple’s “Who Do We Think We Are” for almost 40 years. I hadn’t listened to it for a long time, but I still knew almost every line. In the early ’70s, I didn’t have a lot of records, so I played it a lot. It’s part of my DNA, too.

“Woman From Tokyo” (spelled “Woman From Tokayo” on the album jacket) was the single and probably is the only cut anyone remembers off this record. So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, that side of that record emerges from the sweet blue haze of time.

“Woman From Tokyo,” “Mary Long,” Super Trooper” and “Smooth Dancer,” Deep Purple, from “Who Do We Think We Are,” 1973. This is Side 1. It runs 17:01. (The buy link is to a remastered 2002 CD release with extra tracks. It also is available digitally.)

Turns out this record remembered so vividly was something of an afterthought. In the latter part of 1972, a worn-out Deep Purple was hurled into studios in Rome and Frankfurt after a year and a half of touring. They slammed out this LP, which has only seven cuts. It was released in January 1973, during my sophomore year in high school.

This is the first Deep Purple lineup I knew — Jon Lord on keyboards, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums — so to me, it’s the classic lineup. They’re all great, even if this record apparently wasn’t.

Gillan, who was unhappy with the band’s direction at the time, recorded most of his vocals after the others had done the backing tracks. He quit Deep Purple for a decade after this record came out.

Once again, late to the party

Posted November 30, 2012 by Jeff Ash
Categories: November 2012

Tags: ,

It’s easy to get fried at this time of year, as the holidays roar forward, and then past, like a train. So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, we’re going to chill with a sublimely sweet side of ’60s soul music.

My introduction to Eddie Floyd came late. Seven years ago, Mojo magazine included a compilation of Southern soul music with its May issue. On that CD was a song called “I’ll Take Her.” Its premise, simply put in its lyrics: If you don’t want her, I’ll take her. That upbeat tune, with Floyd’s smooth voice lifted by some sweet horns and backup singers as it chugged along, hooked me.

So I’m making up for lost time. A couple of years ago, I somehow found Floyd’s debut LP, “Knock On Wood.” For whatever reason, you rarely see Eddie Floyd records in our corner of Wisconsin. Maybe, understandably, no one wants to part with them.

Listen to this, and you’ll know why.


“Knock On Wood,” “Something You Got,” “But It’s Alright,” “I Stand Accused,” “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” and “I Don’t Want To Cry,” Eddie Floyd, from “Knock On Wood,” 1967. This is Side 1. It runs 17:32. The LP out of print but is available digitally.

Back in 1979, when Amii Stewart did “Knock On Wood,” I had no idea it was a cover of Floyd’s 1966 single, a smash he co-wrote with the great Memphis guitarist Steve Cropper, but a song originally intended for Otis Redding. Told you I was late to the party.

This side of the LP is all covers, aside from the title track. “Something You Got” came from New Orleans, done first by Chris Kenner with help from Allen Toussaint in 1961. “But It’s Alright” was a hit for J.J. Jackson in 1966. Jerry Butler co-wrote “I Stand Accused” with his brother Billy and released it as a single in 1964. The fifth cut, “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody,” was a hit for James Ray in 1962, but I came to know it via the Amazing Rhythm Aces, who covered it on their self-titled 1979 LP, which is one of my favorites. “I Don’t Want To Cry” is Chuck Jackson’s first hit from 1961.

This LP, recorded in the latter part of 1966, is Floyd backed by Booker T. and the M.G.’s. Not bad for your first solo record. At the time, Floyd was working mostly as a songwriter at Stax Records in Memphis, often for his old friend Wilson Pickett. Floyd and Pickett had sung together with the Falcons, a Detroit group, in the early ’60s. Floyd founded the group in 1955. It disbanded when Pickett went solo in 1963, and Floyd turned to songwriting. He joined Stax in 1965.

After “Knock On Wood,” all that changed.

It’s hard to tell how much Eddie Floyd, now 75, still performs, if at all. Summer before last, he mentored young people at the Stax Music Academy in Memphis. Interviews with Floyd suggest a gentleman as sweet as his music.