July 1 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Max-imum Kim?

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Today, appropriately for Canada Day, we have Deke , at the western end of the Great Lakes, from Thunder Bay Rocks. Deke covers the last forty years or so of hard rock at his site and is something of a historian for his city’s great music heritage. He talks about a fellow Canadian today:

Thanks to Dave for letting me hop on this week for Top Debuts. My pick is Kim Mitchell with his debut solo EP. Mitchell already built himself up a career fronting Max Webster but by the time the early 80’s rolled around Kim called it a day with M.W and went solo…

Are you going to find a better five song studio solo E.P than Kim Mitchell’s 1982 self-titled release?

Maybe but probably not. For myself, I missed the boat at the time on Kim’s time fronting his former band Max Webster at the tail end of the ’70s.

It was a Canadian magazine, Music Express, that put out the word that here was Kim. Now solo and trying to make a go of it with his name on the marquee.  I bought this way back in ’82 on cassette tape and lo and behold saw it sitting in the used bins on vinyl a few weeks back. A no brainer, pay in cash and dash out the door!

Kim goes balls out in power trio mode with Paul DeLong on drums and Robert Sinclair Wilson on bass. Kim has always played some killer guitar on all his albums, but this EP has Kim going to a whole other level on the fretboard.

Kids In Action” sets the table as Mitchell gets right down to business and with Jack Richardson dialing in the sounds with Kim these songs sound live with few overdubs in the studio. Put it this way: all these cats can play and of course along for the ride is Pye Dubois who handled all the lyrics (as he largely had done in Max Webster) while Kim took care of the music. “Miss Demeanor” helped him stay on the charts a bit longer with it.

Kim has that cool summer breezy cool guy vocal vibe which comes across in a huge way on these songs. Five songs, no ballads just Kim lifting off on what would become a pretty good career in Canada.

If you’re a guitarist check out this EP for a crash course on exceptional soloing as you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been slowly collecting Kim’s output on vinyl in the ’80s as I come across it.  Now with the inclusion of this EP on vinyl along with Akimbo Alogo(1984), Shakin Like A Human Being(1986) and Rocklandwonderland(1989) my KM collection is coming along nicely!

Rah Rah Ole!

 

July 1 – Pablo Cruise-d Towards Top 10

Did they sell this one at marinas? If there wasn’t already a term for it, someone would have had to come up with the phrase “Yacht Rock” for the song, and group, that hit the top 40 this day in 1978 “Love Will Find A Way” by Pablo Cruise. I mean, they even incorporated a palm tree into the band logo and for the album cover, used an ocean sunset image! The single would go on to be one of the San Francisco band’s two big hits and one of the defining moments of that specific, usually California-based easy listening sound of the decade.

Pablo Cruise had started in the Bay Area in ’73, as a quartet. Guitarist and lead singer David Jenkins and keyboardist Cory Lerrios still run the group, almost five decades later though drummer Steve Price and bassist Bruce Day have moved along, as have Mike and Steve Porcaro of Toto who appeared on the record, but weren’t full members. Neither was there a “Pablo Cruise,” the band name was just something they came up with. They say “Pablo represents an honest, down-to-earth individual, and the ‘Cruise’ his fun-loving and easy attitude towards life.”

The song was written by Jenkins and Lerrios and certainly captured the zeitgest of the era. It was the lead single off their fourth album, Worlds Away, which ended up being their only top 10 album and one of two of theirs to hit platinum status. As allmusic would put it, the album with its “jazz-influenced pop sounds” “groove like Player in a Hawaiian shirt with a deep, dark tan.” “Love Will Find A Way” rose to #6 (tied for their career best with “Whatcha Gonna Do?”) , #5 in Canada and #8 in Australia, making it their biggest international hit.

Although it’s been awhile since they had a hit record, Pablo is still cruising, a popular act on oldies and Yacht Rock tours with the likes of Ambrosia and Christopher Cross.

June 30 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Could This Titanic Stay Afloat?

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Today, we have Colin from Once Upon A Time In the 70s. Colin is proudly Scottish and writes about the music and other aspects of growing up in the UK during the 1970s, and he talks about a band that might be new to many of us over here on this side of the Atlantic:

I’ll happily confess to being a bit of a grumpy old cynic. Not just when it comes to music, but to Life in general. Hey! I’m from the West of Scotland, that’s just how we’re built round these parts.

It means though, that as I grow older, very little actually surprises me now. If not exactly ‘wise’ I am at least an old man. I’ve seen it all. I’ve heard it all before. Give or take.

So my nomination for a song (and it is just a song – well, two if you count the B-side) comes from my youth.

I would have just turned thirteen when this song was released in the UK. My parents weren’t into the Beatles or Rolling Stones or anything like that – they listened to the soundtracks of ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘South Pacific, or the military marching band sounds of The Royal Marines. I suppose it could be argued then that any ‘modern’ music came ‘out of the blue,’ to me.

At that age, I was becoming musically aware, though deprived the sounds of psychedelia and emerging heavy rock, my taste was, let’s say, a little on the innocent side. If I tell you the first three singles I bought were:

  1. The Sweet: ‘Coco.’ (June 1971)

  2. The New Seekers: ‘Never Ending Song of Love.’ (July 1971)

  3. Ken Dodd: ‘When Love Comes Around Again.’ (July 1971)

then perhaps you’ll understand how this particular track hit me like a bolt from the blue.

The fourth single I bought was ‘Sultana’ by Titanic.

Titanic were formed in 1969, and as I recall were billed as being from Norway. In fact, vocalist and main lyricist, Roy Robinson was from England. Not that there was much in the way of lyrics on this particular track.

They presented themselves, it appeared, as very ramshackle and espoused a laid back, hippie attitude. And I loved it! This was a bit of a musical awakening for a fresh, new teenager. Here was an exotic sounding ‘foreign’ band, who didn’t conform to that clean-cut, wholesome image of the bands I was more familiar with. In fact, they looked downright skanky!

I was mesmerized by the tribal and rhythmic percussion. And that organ! It was all new to me back then, but I’d soon be searching out more music along these lines. Atomic Rooster would later become a firm favourite.

My copy of ‘Sultana’ shows it released as the ‘B-side’ to Sing Fool Sing’ on the flip, though I think from reading other articles and books, the two tracks were effectively ‘Double A.’

National radio chose ‘Sultana’ as being more favourable for daytime airplay, and it resultantly spent twelve weeks in UK charts, peaking at #5 on 24th October 1971.

There was nothing around as far I could hear, that was anything like this. It still passes the ‘originality’ test to this day. It was Titanic’s debut 7” release in UK, though curiously, both tracks were lifted from their second album ‘Sea Wolf,’ while the follow-up, ‘Santa Fé’ came from their eponymous debut LP of 1970.

Sadly, Titanicoh crap, I’m just gonna say it – sank without much trace after this early highlight in their career. In addition to those mentioned above, the band released a further four albums in the ‘70s and one in 1993 during a short-lived reunion.

These LPs don’t attract much attention by way of the second-hand market. They are not particularly sought after, which is great, because they are available to buy at vary reasonable rates. Personally, I love them – good, solid, early heavy rock with strong vocals, powerful drumming and of course that distinctive organ.

Several singles were lifted from those albums, none of which made any real impact either. So yes, Titanic were your archetypal ‘one hit wonders.’

The next 7” I bought as a thirteen year old was, ‘Tokoloshe Man’ by John Kongos, followed by releases from Slade / Alice Cooper / Free. My life-long journey into the love of Rock music had begun.

So yes, like the ocean liner Titanic had only one hit. But boy! What an impact!

________________

 

June 30 – Dishwalla Had Us Watching The Roads

If you’re going to end up being a One Hit Wonder, it’s always good if that one hit is really a hit. Such is the case for Dishwalla, whose one big hit hit the top of Billboard‘s Alternative Rock chart on this day in 1996. “Counting Blue Cars” would end up being one of the decade’s most popular modern rock songs … and garner a death threat or two for the band’s singer!

Dishwalla are a southern California band started in the early-’90s, by singer/keyboardist J.R. Richard and guitarist Rodney Cravens, who is the only constant member of the band to this day. Their first hint of success came in ’94, with them contributing a song – “It’s Going To Take Some Time” – to a Carpenters tribute album. It also found its way onto their debut album for A&M Records, Pet Your Friends, a record memorable for its cover as well as content. They used a 1948 Life magazine photo of a teen girl running with her pet deer.

The second single, “Haze” drew almost no attention anywhere, and A&M had probably all but forgotten about them with the album gathering dust nearly a year after its release. Then came the blue cars.

The third single was one of the most instantly-catchy, crunchy post-grunge singles of the decade and dealt with the singer talking to a small child who refers to God as a “her.” As allmusic put it, it was one of the band’s “well-crafted songs with rich guitar textures.”

Richard says the song came around after he had a similar talk to an unnamed small kid. “From that younger perspective, I think we take things in a much more honest way because we’re not being biased by how we’re supposed to think. God,” he adds, “being an omnipotent being could be a male or female.”

Seemingly innocent enough, but enough to rile up a number of Evangelicals who thought it rather blasphemous to suggest God could be a “her.” “It did end up being one of those songs that really affected people, both positively and negatively,” the writer says. “I never thought I’d ever have a song I’d get death threats for writing!”

A&M weren’t overly pleased with it too initially, but for a different reason. They hated the title, since they assumed people wouldn’t know what “Counting Blue Cars” was an would skip over the album. They needn’t have worried. Pet Your Friends went gold domestically. And while “Counting Blue Cars” peaked at #15 on the overall singles chart, it had staying power! It spend 48 weeks on the chart, was picked by Billboard as the Mainstream Rock song of the year for ’96 and was named the Most Played Song on Radio by ASCAP two years running, in ’96 and ’97.

Amazingly, Dishwalla have kept going to this day, and have put out four more albums with almost no hint of any follow-up success.

June 29 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : No Rats In This Boomtown

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Today, we have Max from Power Pop Blog, who looks back to an under-rated ’80s act. He covers an array of music, movies and more daily at Power Pop Blog, we highly recommend having a look. He writes:

Out of the Blue… What are some great debuts that probably took you by surprise?

I thought about the question that Dave proposed. There were some great debuts that I loved in my lifetime. I wanted to take a debut album out of the ’80s… that decade has always been a bit dodgy for me. I thought about The Georgia Satellites or The Black Crowes but I wanted something that wasn’t automatic for me…that really caught my attention and sounded a little different from the usual things I liked. 

I came up with David and David. Their album was called Boomtown. I’ve always thought of this album as a lost classic of the 1980s. I bought the cassette the minute I heard “Swallowed By The Cracks”. I had heard and liked the “Welcome to the Boomtown” single a little earlier. This album has an eighties sound which I usually don’t like but the synth here creates an atmosphere not a dominate force and it fits. These are some really good songs that the slick production doesn’t bring down. 

The two Davids were David Baerwald and David Ricketts. They were a good team that would prove successful outside of this album. Both of them helped write Sheryl Crow’s debut album (Tuesday Night Music Club)…Baerwalk ended up co-writing seven songs and Ricketts co-wrote four.  David and David broke up after their only studio album which really disappointed me because I was really looking forward to their follow-up. Many years later…in 2016 it was reported that they were working on their second album but that seem to stall.

The reason I liked the album was their storytelling songwriting and Bearwald’s voice. It wasn’t the usual monotone singing voice that was popular in the ’80s. Bearwald doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world… but it has so much character that he is inside the people he is singing about. 

The album was not a collection of pick-me-up songs. The songs reflect a grim reality of a cast of characters struggling to get by in mid-1980s America. The characters in Boomtown clearly aren’t in places where they thought they’d be. I was just 19 in 1986 and I was afraid I would be able to relate to these characters in a few short years to come. I worked with these people every day while taking a year off after high school graduation…waiting to go into college. 

The album dwells on dreams and broken promises. Don’t think this album is in any way a downer to listen to though. These are the stories of real life and real people. You can feel the Springsteen vibe with all of the self-contained story songs but without sounding like Springsteen. 

Let’s look at the first single from the album…”Welcome To The Boomtown”. It starts off with a killer line: Ms. Cristina drives a nine four four and goes on with a tale of decadence. That first line caught me and never let me go. You have the popular guy everyone knew in school…in this case, Kevin: Handsome Kevin got a little off track, Took a year off of college, And he never went back, Now he smokes too much, He’s got a permanent hack
Deals dope out of Denny’s, Keeps a table in the back.

“Deals dope out of Denny’s”… is pure Americana in a warped way…but Americana all the same. I knew a Kevin or two that fit this description. The song peaked at #37 in the Billboard 100 in 1986.

Now for my favorite song on the album and the one that hit home more than any other. The song “Swallowed By The Cracks” had me thinking…this could easily happen to me and my friends…and some of it did. It carries the theme that things don’t always turn out as you thought they would. I was an old soul at 19…I really thought I was old so these songs not only seemed possible…it seemed probable. 

You get a little optimism going and then it falls back to the reality of what really happens.

Maybe it ain’t over I can see it’s up to me
You only out when you stay out you stay out when you don’t
Believe we could drive around in circles getting nowhere
All night long getting drunk with strangers telling lies
And singing along with the jukebox baby

Now for the last single, that was released…”Ain’t So Easy”

The album was successful. It peaked at #39 on the Billboard Album Charts, #39 in Canada, and  #33 in New Zealand from 1986-87. It wasn’t just a 3 single album…there is not a track that I don’t like. They cover a lot of ground with the reggae inflections of “Being Alone Together”, funky grooves ofSwimming In The Ocean”, and even a slightly country twang to the closer “Heroes.”

An album that deserved to do better and still stands up today in our times. 

 

June 29 – When The Who Made A Royal Noise

One of the biggest concerts of the decade took place this day in 1996. Queen wasn’t there but it was still a “royally” good time for the 100 000 or more people that went to Hyde Park in London for the Prince’s Trust Concert. Although they were the middle of the schedule, most seemed to feel that The Who, playing the entirety of Quadrophenia stole the show.

The Prince’s Trust is a British charity begun by, appropriately enough, Prince Charles back in 1976. It aims to help out young people (under 30) who are struggling, either with school or employment, largely by providing tutoring and training. It has helped out over 800 000 people through the years and raised funds in a variety of ways, not the least of which being frequent big name concerts. The first was held in an arena in Birmingham in 1982. Charles no doubt had a little help from his Lady Di – a confirmed rock fan- to bring in Status Quo, Kate Bush, Phil Collins and others for that.

The ’96 gig was the first to be held in spacious Hyde Park and had on the bill Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and The Who among others. Morissette kicked it off with a six-song set of her hits, beginning with “Ironic”. One reviewer remembers her dancing so much that her sunglasses flew off her head into the crowd, giving one lucky concert-goer an unexpected souvenir! Unnoticed then, but of significance now, she was backed with a band that included the late Taylor Hawkins, who’d soon leave for the Foo Fighters. Clapton was on late, playing a 14-song, largely “unplugged” set beginning with “Layla” and including some of his hits such as Cream’s “White Room” and “Wonderful Tonight” as well as a few old covers, like Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

In between, The Who (introduced on stage by Jools Holland) ran through their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia – considered by many their high-water mark- for the first time in over a decade to the delight of the large crowd. They were joined by a number of guests during the performance, including Gary Glitter and David Gilmour, who played guitar on two numbers.

Prince’s Trust still holds concerts some years although there doesn’t appear to be one slated for this year; they seemed to run a Red Carpet fashion show (albeit one hosted by Lionel Richie) this year instead. The 1996 one was quickly released on home video although it seems only the Who’s performance is featured.

June 28 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Gretchen Sounded Fetchin’

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Kicking it off this time, we have Keith from Nostalgic Italian. A former radio DJ, he has a lot of interesting stories to share and thoughts on music and much more. He goes a little bit country for today’s topic:

Welcome to another edition of Turntable Talk, hosted by Dave at A Sound Day. He has really been coming up with some neat topics for this series. This time around, he is calling it “Out of the Blue.” Dave described it this way: “Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise.  Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found , but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue. So tell us about  a record like that, and if you want, if your interest in the artist was kept alive or if they were a one-off flash in the pan.

I didn’t have to go any further in his email to know exactly what I’d be writing about. I remember this song like it was yesterday. It was 2004 and I was working at 94.5 The Moose in Saginaw.moose

 

As the station’s music director, I received new music daily. Every single song was trying to get a spot on the station’s play list. Each week I would listen to the new songs and then meet with my program director to discuss what song or songs we might consider adding. Often times, it was a difficult decision. Other times, you just went with the new song from a country superstar.

Every year in January or February the Country Radio Seminar would happen in Nashville. Radio people from all across the country would get together to hear new music, network, and attend panels about various radio and records stuff.

I remember going to one of the evening events hosted by one of the record labels that year. I recall them playing some of their new songs from new artists. The one song that had everyone talking that year was “Redneck Woman”. I can still remember the first time I heard it. I was blown away. It was like NOTHING that was on the radio at that time.

The song was by a new artist named Gretchen Wilson. She was a 30 year old single mother who was working as a bartender to earn a living while she sang and wrote songs. She was rough around the edges and didn’t necessarily have the “looks” of a female country singer. That, of course, didn’t matter because the listener was hooked as soon as she started belting out the lyrics.

The song was the lead single from Gretchen’s album Here for the Party. She had written the song with John Rich, who used to be in the group Lonestar and went on to success with Big & Rich. The Album Here for the Party earned her several Grammy-Award nominations, including for Best New Artist, Best Country Album, as well as “Redneck Woman” for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She took home the award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

I remember coming back from the Country Radio Seminar that year anxiously awaiting the single to hit my desk. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be the hit of the summer and would be a number one record!

It was a fun, fresh song that was constantly being requested by listeners. It spent five weeks at the top of the Hot Country Singles chart. That in itself was a huge accomplishment, but it also became the first number-one hit on that chart for a female solo act since Martina McBride’s “Blessed” two years earlier.

Thanks to the success of “Redneck Woman”, the album shot to platinum certification (for sales of a million copies) within just over a month after its May 11, 2004 release. By November 4 of that year, sales amounted to three million. And by late 2006, total sales had climbed to five million.

She continued to collaborate with John Rich and the toured together. I was lucky enough to have the chance to see her perform and her energy on stage was powerful. The audience was just as pumped as she was! They screamed with joy and sang along at the top of their lungs when she performed “Redneck Woman”!

I don’t believe she was a “flash in the pan,” because she certainly had other hit songs. At the same time, you don’t hear much from her today on the radio. One song which I felt should have got more attention was her simple ballad “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today.” Her vocal is the exact opposite of Redneck Woman and I think it is just an amazing song.

I’ve been away from country radio for some time now, and I know that most of what plays on the format today is what they call “bro country” or “country rap.” I don’t really feel the connection to the artists today like I did back then. It was a very different format at the time, and “Redneck Woman” was a country song that was loved by listeners of all formats.

The song was one that has forever stuck with me. I remember hearing it the first time. I remember playing it the first time. I remember seeing her play it live for the first time. So when someone asks me if I like the song, I respond with a big “Hell, yeah!”

Redneck Woman – Lyrics

Well, I ain’t never been the Barbie doll type
No, I can’t swig that sweet Champagne, I’d rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky tonk or on a four-wheel drive tailgate

I’ve got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait
Some people look down on me, but I don’t give a rip
I’ll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip

‘Cause I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey ya’ll” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So here’s to all my sisters
Out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)

Victoria’s Secret, well their stuff’s real nice
Oh, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price
And still look sexy
Just as sexy as those models on TV

No, I don’t need no designer tag
To make my man want me
You might think I’m trashy, a little too hardcore
But in my neck of the woods I’m just the girl next door

I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey y’all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here’s to all my sisters
Out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)

I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
And I say, “hey y’all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every ol’ Bocephus song
So here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me (Hell yeah)

Hell yeah (Hell yeah)
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)
I said hell yeah

June 28 – The Low & Loving Booming Bass Baritone Of Barry

If chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound like” this, according to the BBC. The voice that launched a thousand babies, Barry White, put out his biggest single, “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe” this day in 1974.

It was the title track from his third album, which came along a few weeks later. The distinctively bass-voiced R&B singer was by then 29 and quite a veteran of the music world…albeit fairly new as a solo singer. He grew up largely in L.A., listening to a lot of classical music his mom favored. In the ’60s, he’d put out a few unsuccessful singles but also worked as an A&R man for a small label, produced several records and even wrote music for the kids show The Banana Splits! Around 1970 he joined Love Unlimited, a soul girls’ group, as a producer and writer, writing their 1972 hit “Walkin’ in the Rain” and the 1973 #1 instrumental “Love’s Theme.” In time, 20th Century Fox gave him a solo recording contract (though a huge player in movies, Fox never made a major impression in music…but they gave it a shot). His first two albums both went to #1 on R&B charts and got him noticed at least on hit radio with the single “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More” This song though put him front and center among the biggest acts going in ’74.

Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe” was his only #1 hit single, and hit a career-best #5 in Canada. Coupled with the follow-up, “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything,”, it also pushed the album to the top of American charts.

White would go on to have six #1 albums on the R&B charts in the ’70s, but his disco-soul sound fell out of favor in the ’80s. This song lives on in various movies and TV shows though, including The Simpsons. They used it in their “Whacking Day” show in which Lisa recruits Barry and his low voice to sing for snakes; he was a fan of the show and even wrote an original song for that episode.

White passed away in 2003, suffering from various smoking and diabetes related problems.

June 27 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Southern Avenue Return Us To Stax

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Kicking it off this time, we have Christian from Christian’s Music Musings. Raised in Europe and now residing in New Jersey, Christian brings a worldview to music and keeps upto date on new releases of note at his site. He tells us of Southern Avenue-

Out of the Blue

It’s a pleasure to be back contributing to “Turntable Talk” to share my thoughts on another interesting topic. Thanks, Dave, for continuing your engaging series!

While I can think of many great debuts like Dire Straits’ and Counting Crows’ eponymous starts from 1978 and 1993, respectively, or Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine (1983), I decided to pick something else. Per your guidance, I also didn’t consider any gems that appeared before my active music listening time, such as The Beatles Please Please Me (1963), The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut (1964), The Who’s My Generation (1965), Cream’s Fresh Cream (1966) or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I (1969), to name a few.

Even though you’d perhaps think the above parameters made picking an album more tricky, it literally took me less than 5 second to make my decision. You won’t find it on Rolling Stone’s 2013 list of 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time either. Enough with the teasing. My pick is the self-tiled first album by Southern Avenue, one of my favorite contemporary bands.

I first came across this group from Memphis, Tenn. in July 2017 when fellow blogger Jim, aka Music Enthusiast, included Don’t Give Up, a track off their first album in a post that highlighted various blues tunes. Since I generally love blues music, this got my attention right away.

Before getting to the album, let me give a bit of background on Southern Avenue. While I’m sure that over the past seven years this near-constantly touring group has gained many other fans, and despite some chart success and industry recognition, it’s still safe to say there’re not a household name.

Southern Avenue blend Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. They were formed in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards and bassist Evan Sarver complete the band’s current lineup.

Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they have noted they don’t want to be seen as a Stax revival act. That said, their eponymous debut album, released in February 2017, appeared on the storied soul label. In fact, Southern Avenue became first Memphis band signed to Stax in over 40 years!

I’d say it’s time for some music! Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, which is the album’s opener. This soulful tune, which has a cool gospel vibe, still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson may be a relatively tiny lady, physically speaking, but she’s a giant when it comes to singing. I also love when she harmonizes with her sister Tikyra Jackson, who as previously noted is the band’s drummer. I should also mention the song was written by guitarist Ori Naftaly.

Let’s pick up the speed with a great soul tune titled Slipped, Tripped and Feel in Love – love the horns in this one! The song was penned by George Jackson, an American blues, R&B, rock and blues songwriter and singer. He’s probably best known for co-writing Bob Seger tune “Old Time Rock and Roll”.

Next up is 80 Miles From Memphis. Penned by Naftali, the up-tempo blues rocker remains one of my favorite Southern Avenue tunes. I just wished they’d keep it in their set these days! Naftali nicely demonstrates his blues chops here. This song just puts me in good mood!

Let’s do one more: No Time to Lose, another original. This tune was co-written by Naftali and Tierinii Jackson. Check out the great guitar riff. I also dig Powell’s keyboard work. And there’s more of that great horn action.

While perhaps not surprisingly Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut missed the U.S. mainstream charts, it entered Billboard’s Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 in February 2017. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart.

Since their eponymous debut, Southern Avenue have released two additional great albums, Keep On (May 2019) and Be the Love You Want (August 2021), which I reviewed here and here. While this band may not be widely known, they’ve also earned some well-deserved industry recognition, including a 2018 Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” and a Grammy Award nomination for Keep On in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. To learn more about the group and their ongoing tour, you can check out their website.

Southern Avenue are a compelling live act. Since August 2018, I’ve seen them three times. In case you’re curious, here’s my review from a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. I attended in July 2019. I surely have every intention to catch them again. I’ll leave you with a live rendition of Don’t Give Up, which I captured during the aforementioned show. Typically, it’s the final song of their set.

June 27 – All Aboard For The Transcontinental Party

If you can’t go to the festival, the festival will come to you.” Or so was the ambitious idea in 1970, when the Festival Express began a-rollin’. It wasn’t exactly the “Marrakhesh Express”, but it was according to Janis Joplin “the best party I’ve ever been to.” And it rolled into its first city, Toronto, 52 years ago today.

It was the tail-end of the era of the Great Outdoor Rock Festival. The previous three years had seen Monterrey Pop, the Isle of Wight Festival, and most famously Woodstock among other events. But the travesty of the poorly-planned Altamont near the end of 1969 had all but put an end to the concept.

But in Canada, a group of ambitious planners led by Toronto jewelery store owner Ken Walker, with financial backing from the likes of Eatons, Industrial Trade Shows Canada and Maclean-Hunter Publishing had the idea of a traveling music festival… a sort of musical circus train. So they rented out a CN passenger train (with five sleeper cars, a diner, two lounge cars, plus ones for staff and baggage) and brought in some of the big live music attractions of the era to take part. Walker had some experience in dealings like that, having been the one who arranged to bring John Lennon and Yoko Ono in to play the first Plastic Ono Band show in Toronto the year before.

So the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Buddy Guy and a few others boarded the train in Montreal late in June. That was supposed to be the first show in the tour, but Walker outsmarted himself a little. He had it booked for June 24, which is a provincial holiday there. Montreal’s mayor, already reluctant to allow such a concert refused for that date, fearing there’d be too many celebrations and parades and police would be spread too thin to properly patrol the venue.

So the train rolled down the line to Toronto, where concerts were scheduled for two days. Traffic joined the entourage there, but apparently didn’t hop on board after the shows were done. The concerts were slated for the CNE Stadium on the city’s lakeshore, and tickets were selling well at $10 for a single day or $16 for the whole event; an equivalent to about $80 and $125 today. Not bad when judged by current prices, but many found that excessive. A group of anti-Vietnam protestors in particular started to protest and force their way in, but the calm (!) head of Jerry Garcia of the Dead prevailed. He offered to play a free concert outside the park on a truck back; they did that, both before and after the regular concert with about 6000 enjoying that til 4AM. Inside, 37 000 enjoyed what was said to be arguably Joplin’s greatest live show ever. It was the best stop on the trip, marketing wise at least.

They boarded the train again and headed west in what, not surprisingly has been referred to as “non-stop jam session and party.” Remarkably, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead said “most of us had done LSD (but) this was our first introduction to alcohol, and it worked just fine!”. Legend has it Jerry Garcia got to play “Casey Jones” for real, getting taken to the engine to run the train for a bit while totally high. So wild was the train that they had to make an impromptu stop along the way to buy out much of a local liquor store to refurbish their supplies.

A show in Winnipeg July 1 (Canada Day) went well but drew only about 4600 people, so it was off again, with Vancouver, on the Pacific shores slated to finish it up. However, that city refused permits, so they made last minute arrangements to play two shows in Calgary on July4 and 5. They booked McMahon Stadium at the local university and played away for about 20 000 fans. Unlike Vancouver, Calgary was happy to get the event. Or at least its mayor, Rod Sykes was. He ignored warnings from his city’s Medical Officer who complained “these music love-in festivals are generally only attended by hippies and oddballs of society and create nothing but serious problems.” Sykes countered “in no way does this administration support the expression of negative, destructive, contemptuous or antagonistic attitudes towards any group of people” and warned police to behave accordingly. Sykes seemed to be a music fan himself, and perhaps more importantly, wanted to put Calgary on the map as something other than a “backwater cow town” which had rather been its reputation until then. Did that make him a favorite of the promoters? Well, not exactly. Sykes also suggested to Walker that it would be great if the shows were free; Walker responded by punching. In the haze of the event and years passed, depending on who is asked, he either hit Sykes square in the face, or Sykes ducked and Walker broke his hand on a garbage can! To which the Medical Officer probably responded “told you so!”

When all was said and done, the event lost money for the promoters, but left a lot of good memories with the Canadian fans, and with the musicians. Robert Hunter wrote “Might As Well” aboard the train, which was later recorded by Jerry Garcia. The Dead’s Mickey Hart put it thusly: “Woodstock was a treat for the audience, the train was a treat for us.”

Many of the shows, and time on the train as well, were filmed but much of the footage was lost for years. In time though, a 2003 documentary of it was made and Janis Joplin’s Toronto performance was released as a CD added to the re-release of Pearl. Sadly she died only a few months later. Also sad, the idea of a moving train festival seemed to go to the grave around the same time, although some might suggest the idea helped create the likes of Lollapallooza years later.