Two For Tuesday: Spanky and Our Gang

This Friday will mark 46 years since my father died. That summer, my mother took the three of us to California. The husband of a friend of hers was doing some postdoctoral work at Stanford, she wanted to visit her cousin in San Rafael, and we all wanted to see Disneyland. And, as I learned much later, Mom was considering a change of scenery for herself and her three sons, and was interviewing for teaching jobs. 1967 was the Summer of Love, and San Francisco was at its epicenter. The whole atmosphere made a powerful impression on me, and hearing music from that time reminds me of that summer. Today’s artists, Spanky and Our Gang, are an example.

The band started as Elaine McFarlane (nicknamed “Spanky” because of her resemblance to George “Spanky” McFarland from Hal Roach’s Our Gang comedies) on vocals along with Nigel Pickering (guitar and vocals) and Paul “Oz” Bach (bass and vocals). The band grew to six members, with Malcolm Hale (lead guitar, vocals), Lefty Baker (lead guitar and vocals) and John “The Chief” Seiter (drums,vocals) joining along the way. Their eponymous first album was released in August 1967 and included “Lazy Day,” our first selection today. They released Like To Get To Know You in April 1968; the title track is the second selection. Hale died in Chicago that October of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty heating system, and, after releasing Anything You Choose b/w Without Rhythm or Reason in January 1969, they disbanded. They reformed in 1975 to release one final album, Change.

Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing Spanky and Our Gang again, your Two For Tuesday, January 22, 2013.

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#ROW80 Round 1 2013: Straight ahead

A good week ROWwise. Let’s roll the tape:

  • Writing: As of Tuesday evening when I’m writing this, I’ve written at least a half an hour every day this round. Not that any of it is worth reading, but the thing I wanted to establish was the habit of writing every day, and so far, so good. The more I write, the more I realize what’s wrong with my writing, and I’m rectifying as I go along. I find that I don’t run out of steam as quickly as a result. It’s been my (bad) habit to start at the very beginning and try to make it through to the end from there. The result has been that it’s two pages before we even get to the story itself. So, I’ve learned to jump right into the middle of things and screw all explanations.

  • Reading: Based on someone’s recommendation (and if it was yours, thank you), I have been reading S. D. Stuart’s The Wizard of OZ: A Steampunk Adventure, and have enjoyed it, and steampunk is not one of those genres that I generally read. I have a few other steampunk adventures that so far I haven’t read, but I managed to get this one downloaded to my phone and have been reading it when I have a few extra minutes here and there. I also managed to find a collection of all of Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift stories. They were favorites of my dad and his brothers, and while they were written for sixth-grade boys growing up in the 1930’s and 1940’s and are as politically incorrect as they come, my brothers and I read them when my grandmother found a box of them (as well as Leo Edwards’ Jerry Todd, Poppy Ott, and Tuffy Bean books) in her basement when she was moving and gave them to us. And I felt a pang of nostalgia… well, you know the rest.
  • Visiting: I did my best to visit as many fellow ROWers as I could, and did all right.

In all, not a bad week. How was yours?

Two For Tuesday: Elvis Presley

I blew it! Last Tuesday was Elvis Presley’s birthday. He would have been 78 years old. He should have been last week’s featured artist. Oh well, sometimes even dear Homer sleeps…

You can’t talk about popular music without talking about Elvis Presley. He was more than a singer and movie star, he was a cultural phenomenon. As with so many Southern singers and musicians, he got his start in church; as such, he had a great love for gospel music, and had the perfect voice for it. I chose a couple of songs that will give you some idea of what I mean. The first, “Help Me,” was a song that he began singing around the time he did his famous “Aloha from Hawaii” concert in the mid-Seventies. This is from a 1974 performance and includes Portuguese subtitles. The second is “If I Can Dream,” taken from his 1968 comeback TV special. It was written by Walter Earl Brown for the special, and includes a number of direct quotes from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been assassinated in Memphis the previous April. While not a gospel song per se, Elvis sang it as one, and brought his backup singers to tears during the recording. It spent thirteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1968 and early 1969, peaking at number twelve.

A belated “happy birthday” to Elvis Presley, your Two for Tuesday, January 15, 2013.

#ROW80 Round 1 2013: First check-in

Wednesday is my regular day for an update, so even though the round has just started, here is my progress so far:

  1. Write for half an hour a day: Accomplished this all three days so far. Wrote for close to an hour today, in fact.
  2. Read for half an hour a day: Managed this yesterday only. Mary picked up Simon Winchester’s The Alice Behind Wonderland, a short book (a hundred pages) about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and just about everything else the man wrote. Evidently, Vladimir Nabokov referred to him as “Lewis Lewis Carroll Carroll,” no doubt comparing him to his Lolita‘s main character, Humbert Humbert. Unhealthy relationships with young girls aside, I’ve been a fan of Carroll since reading his A Tangled Tale during my math major days. An interesting study…
  3. Comment on two blogs a day: I’ve managed this on two days out of three so far.

The important goal here is writing every day, so I would say that I’ve found some early success. Hope everyone else is having as much success.

Two for Tuesday: The Manhattan Transfer

When I first saw and heard The Manhattan Transfer sing “Java Jive” on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the mid-Seventies, I really liked them. They were doing music that was far removed from anything I or any of my friends were listening to at the time, but I really enjoyed the vocal harmonies and the songs that they were doing. One of my friends said that he thought they were the best thing to happen to music in years, and I had to agree with him. Over the years, they’ve covered nearly every style of music and won multiple Grammy awards, and it’s a testament to their popularity that the group is still performing and recording over forty years later.

Named for John Dos Passos’ 1925 novel of the same name, The Manhattan Transfer has been around since the late 1960’s. After the first version broke up, the group reformed in 1973, with Janis Siegel, Laurel Massé and Alan Paul joining original member Tim Hauser. They developed a following after their many performances at Max’s Kansas City in New York, and were signed to a recording contract by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegün. Their eponymous first album included the gospel-flavored “Operator,” their first hit. It’s our first video here, and comes from their summer replacement series on CBS in 1975. Laurel Massé was seriously injured in a car accident in 1978, and was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne, who appears in our second video today, a cover of Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland,” originally recorded by fusion band Weather Report, with lyrics written by Jon Hendricks. The recording, on 1979’s Extensions, earned their first Grammy Award in 1980 for Best Jazz Fusion Performance, with Janis Siegel earning a second Grammy for her arrangement. Their latest project is a retrospective of their forty-plus years together, called The Vaults.

Enjoy The Manhattan Transfer, your Two for Tuesday on this January 8, 2013.