Month: <span>November 2018</span>

We’re All Playing In The Same Band – Bert Sommer

Bert Sommer – the least well-known artist to perform at Woodstock. Bert played a 10 song set on opening day of Woodstock, including a rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”which was reported to be the only song at Woodstock to get a standing ovation (have to think about that one, everyone was already standing, it was bring your own chair). Bert’s performance has been mostly ignored in any of the documentaries, it’s claimed that his performance is still in the archives but not included in the Woodstock histories simply because he was signed to Capital Records at the time and Warner Brothers was the official  record company of the festival.

Bert’s first appearance on the national music scene was when he replaced lead singer Steve Martin in The Left Banke, the group who had already had their biggest two hits. Bert and the Michael Brown, the brains behind the group, combined to write the B side of their next single “And Suddenly”. It would later be a minor hit by The Cherry People in the summer of 1968.

Bert playing Woof in the original Broadway production of “Hair” in 1969 and 1970. He also wrote “We’re All Playing In The Same Band” based on his Woodstock experience. The song would reach #48 in September of 1970, his only charting hit. Bert’s message of we’re all in this together is just as relevant today as it was then. The 17 year old that fell in love with this song back then is still very much with me some 49 years later. Described as a gentle soul but musically brilliant, Bert passed away of a respiratory illness in 1990.

There are 3 albums of Bert’s work hanging out somewhere – I found one in it’s entirety on Youtube. There is also an excellent website dedicated to Bert: Bert Sommer

Beginnings – Chicago

There are some songs that should speak for themselves and this would be a prime example. In January of 1973 I picked Chicago’s “Beginnings” as my 3rd most favorite song of the 5 years between 1968 and 1972 and I would still rank it in my top 10 songs of the rock era. Off the original Chicago Transit Authority LP, it’s album version was a wonderful 7 minutes and 55 seconds long with a great percussion and horn center.  The 3 minute and 14 second single edit that was the second single from the album failed to chart  but it was re-released in 1971 with “Colour My World”, the single reached #7. Robert Lamm wrote the song and sings the lead on it. Terry Kath plays the distinctive  guitar on the recording.

For years I campaigned for Chicago to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two years ago that dream became a reality. The group who put a horn section in the forefront, leaders along with Blood, Sweat & Tears (the performers on one of the two songs I placed ahead of this on my list mentioned above), and Lighthouse, in the use of the horns.

One more video of a live version recorded for Soundstage in 2003

How To Tell Bad News – Anonymous

Mr. H.: Ha! Steward, how are you, old boy? How do things go on at home?

Steward: Bad enough, your honour; the magpie’s dead.

H.: Poor Mag! So he’s gone. How came he to die?

S.: Overeat himself, sir.

H.: Did he? A greedy dog; why, what did he get he liked so well?

S.: Horseflesh, sir; he died of eating horseflesh.

H.: How came he to get so much horseflesh?

S.: All your father’s horses, sir.

H.: What! Are they dead, too?

S.: Aye, sir; they died of overwork.

H.: And why were they overworked, pray?

S.: To carry water, sir.

H.: To carry water! And what were they carrying water for?

S.: Sure, sir, to put out the fire.

H.: Fire! What fire?

S.: Oh, sir, your father’s house is burned to the ground.

H.: My father’s house burned down! And how came it to set on fire?

S.: I think, sir, it must have been the torches.

H.: Torches! What torches?

S.: At your mother’s funeral.

H.: My mother dead!

S.: Ah, poor lady! She never looked up, after it.

H.: After what?

S.: The loss of your father.

H.: My father gone, too?

S.: Yes, poor gentleman! He took to his bed as soon as he heard of it.

H.: Heard of what?

S.: The bad news, sir, and please your honour.

H.: What! More miseries! More bad news!

S.: Yes sir; your bank has failed, and your credit is lost, and you are not worth a shilling in the world. I make bold, sir, to wait on you about it, for I thought you would like to hear the news.

–by Anonymous, from A Treasury of the Familiar (1942), ed. Ralph L. Woods.

Another poem from “A Treasury of The Familiar” edited by Ralph L. Woods. My mother had a copy of this book and I quite often picked it up to find Biblical passages, famous speeches (Gettysburg Address), limericks, epic poems, whimsical verse, and other literary tidbits. I have always thought that whoever wrote this must have hoped that he could have this kind of conversation with someone of the rich and famous, just to cut them down to size.


Elecktra Records decided to hold auditions for a “supergroup” in 1967. Here’s the details from the Wikipedia article on Rhinoceros:

“Paul A. Rothchild, then Elektra Records’ talent scout and house producer, and fellow producer Frazier Mohawk (formerly Barry Friedman), decided to individually sign talented young musicians and form them together into a group in this fashion. While Mohawk had been instrumental in coordinating band membership for what became Buffalo Springfield (encouraging Stills to form Buffalo Springfield following his Monkees audition), the establishment of what became Rhinoceros involved a more formal third party role.

Rothchild and Mohawk initially invited twelve musicians to audition in September 1967, at Mohawk’s house in Laurel Canyon. Included in this initial group were Doug Hastings (guitar) and Alan Gerber (keyboards and vocals). A second audition was held at a Los Angeles motel in November 1967, where approximately twenty musicians were reviewed. After this meeting, John Finley (vocals) and Danny Weis (guitar) were chosen to work with Hastings and Gerber. Finley and Hodgson were both former members of Jon and Lee & the Checkmates, a band which Rothchild had expressed an interest in signing as early as 1965 that had broken up in September 1967.

Weis had been an original member of Iron Butterfly and played on their debut album. Hastings had been a member of Seattle’s Daily Flash, and briefly served as Neil Young’s replacement in Buffalo Springfield, during one of Young’s departures from the group. Other members of the Daily Flash were invited to audition for Rhinoceros, though only Hastings was chosen.

Weis then suggested former Iron Butterfly bandmate Jerry Penrod as the bass player for Rhinoceros; his suggestion was accepted. Former Checkmate keyboard player Michael Fonfara was then invited to join the lineup. Fonfara had joined The Electric Flag in mid-November 1967, for sessions and a brief tour of the northeast U.S. and California. During mid-December, he ran into Finley and Hodgson at the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles, and was encouraged by Finley to sign on to the Rhinoceros project. Based on Finley’s recommendation, Fonfara was brought into Rhinoceros, following the completion of his obligations to the Electric Flag. John Keleihor, former drummer for The Daily Flash, contributed to some of the group’s early recordings, but departed early on. The final member chosen, in early 1968, was Billy Mundi, former drummer for the Mothers of Invention.”

Their first album was not the hoped for smash but contained some great music:

“Apricot Brandy” was the charting single from the group, it would peak at #46 and spend 10 weeks on the Hot 100. Another single from that from LP that failed to chart was “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)”, the B side, which made the chart on WPTR in Albany, New York, was “I Will Serenade You”, written by band member John Finley. Five years later Three Dog Night” would reinvent the song and reach #17 on the Hot 100

I 1969 they released the “Satin Chickens” LP and “Back Door” was the single that failed to chart. Their final album was “Better Times Are Coming”, they released two final singles, again failing to chart. Listening to their music 50 years later, it was much better than the public recognized and it’s stood the test of time. I’ll close this post with the first single off the last LP “Better Times”

For more on the continuing history of Rhinoceros, here’s the link to the band’s website: Rhinoceros: The Band

(Ghost) Riders In The Sky: A Cowboy Legend

Stan Jones, western actor and songwriter, wrote “Ghost Riders In The Sky” in 1948.  The song is based on the tune of “Johnny I Hardly Knew ya”, a traditional English melody that also begat “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”. Since then it has been performed by many of the great acts in the music world. I have over 50 versions of the song in my iTunes collection from the country greats like Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, Slim Whitman, Willie Nelson, and The Highwaymen, the great guitar players like Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins, Roy, Clark and Glen Campbell, the sublime like Burl Ives, Debby Harry, and Marty Robbins, to the ridiculous (Spike Lee, The Trashmen & Na Sha Sha).


Above is an electronic version done by Debbie Harry for the movie “Three Businessmen” I include it here because it shows the variety of styles this song has been treated to. Dick Dale, known as the father of surf music, has a version that fits the surf instrumental style proving this song has crossed over many genre lines and the licks in this can be made to fit any style. Many of the instrumentals versions have incorporated a line two from other great guitar songs. Here’s Roy Clark and Glen Campbell doing it live:


I’m not sure if it’s the story here or the great melody lines in this that endears it to me but I continue to search out old or new versions of this classic.So many great guitar versions of this – The Outlaws and The Shadows come to mind but I’ll leave you with The Ventures version:


It is said that the song has a basis in fact, here’s a link to the legend of Stampede Mesa in Texas:
<Legend of The Ghost Riders<

Give A Damn – Spanky & Our Gang

“Give a Damn” was released as a single in the summer of 1968. In spite of being banned in several states because of the profanity in its title – and in some cases due to the fact that it was a comment on racial equality that became the theme song for the New York Urban Coalition – the song became a regional hit where released and overall made #43. I still like the expression of equality it preaches, no matter what group you attribute it to.

Spanky and Our Gang would be among my favorite groups of the late 60s, Built around Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane, this group bridges the gap between The Mamas And The Papas and The Manhattan Transfer. Great harmonies, folk-rock, jazz, and not taking themselves too seriously made this group so enjoyable listen to. The death of Malcolm Hale in late 1968 was pretty much the end of their 2 year run. They lost Lefty Baker 3 years later as well. I happen to own the LP that is pictured in this video. Their biggest hits were “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, and “Like To Get To Know You”.

Spanky became the lead singer of the New Mamas & Papas in 1982

Midnight Confessions – The Grass Roots

The Grass Roots were originally a concept band that grew into a great group. Between 1967 and 1972, The Grass Roots set a record for being on the Billboard charts for 307 straight weeks. This one is their highest charting song and a classic from 1968. I was 15 when this was a hit and it’s one of those soul-searching songs that captured my fancy back then. Another of the American bands (San Francisco) that stood against the British Invasion.

In 1965 P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri went looking for a band that would fit their needs to cash in on the rock folk movement. The first song was “Where Were You When I Needed You” and the first group was hired, The Beaudins out of San Francisco, they were followed by The Robbs out of Wisconsin before the nucleus of the Grass Roots centered on The 13th Floor, a band from Los Angeles. More The Wrecking Crew than the band members themselves, the group had their first hit in “Let’s Live For Today”, After “Things I Should Have Said”, they released ‘Midnight Confessions”, a song written by Lou T. Josie for the band he managed, The Ever-Green Blues. The Grass Roots version would peak at #5 and spend 5 weeks in the Top 10 in October and November 1968. Their next three songs were covers that most people don’t realize that they weren’t original to the group including “Lovin’ Things”, a song that had been a UK hit for The Marmalade prior to the Grass Roots success with it.

I’ll close this post with the original single from The Ever-Green Blues, not a lot different except for the lack of horns.


South City Midnight Lady – The Doobie Brothers

Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers had a great many hits (13 Top 30 hits) and there are some great songs in that group but as I age (gracefully, I hope), this one has become my favorite Doobie song. An album cut from “The Captain and Me”, and the flip side of “You Belong To Me”, which only reached # 79 in July of 1983, the wistfulness of this song is wonderful. Enjoy!

Without Your Love – Roger Daltrey

Who (no pun intended) would have thought that Roger Daltrey would have been the voice to render one of the best love songs of the Rock & Roll era (IMHO). The world doesn’t quite agree with me on this one, it only reached #20 on the Billboard charts in 1980 and landed at #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart. There similarities in the melody and accompaniment to Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn”. Daltrey formed the Who and was the lead singer, one of the best stage performers of his time, yet he often took back stage to Pete Townsend as the group’s leader. Later he had a mediocre solo career, and dabbled in acting as well. Here is Roger Daltrey asking the musical question “Where would I be without your love”

I don’t remember knowing it was Roger Daltrey that sang this song when I first heard it, but I would venture to say this would be very high in the pantheon of songs in my Love Song Hall of Fame.

“You can show me the way
And give me a sunny day
What does it mean without your love?

And if I could travel far
If I could touch the stars
Where would I be without your love?

And if I ever wander away too far
You come looking for me with, open arms
I could forget my home,
Feel like a rolling stone
But who would I be without your love?

And what does it mean without your love?
Where would I be?”

My Top 111 Songs from 1968 to 1972

I have always been a list maker. From June of 1968 to the end of 1972 I made a weekly list of my current favorite songs, I started with the Top 5, moved to the Top 12 then settled in on the Top 15. Along with that there were special lists or charts, if you would. My favorite 50 Beatle songs, my favorite instrumentals and at the end of each year there was my Top 101 for that year, now to keep it to just 101 songs was simply impossible so I found a way to expand that list. Each 10th song had a double entry, i.e. 20A and 20B, I did the same with 25 and 75 plus any record I liked both the A and B side were combined as one entry. At the end of my charting in 1972, my final music list at the time was My Top 111 from 1968 to 1972 and that’s what I’d like to share in this post. Back then there was no digital format to do this, each list or chart was typed out on a typewriter. Fortunately those lists have survived all these years and are lovingly stored in a couple of binders.

As I look back over this list, there is a lot of great music that I still love today. There might be 3 songs I’d move down out of the top ten but not that far down the list, my collection of music from those 5 years has grown enormously over the years so I’d have to not just re-arrange the songs already on the list but expand it greatly as well.

I’m sure there is someone else out there who has a list like this one in their archives, and I would love to see it. Someone I worked with years ago told me I was a (hopeless) romantic, this list probably is the only proof you’d need to convict me (why does that line make me think of Paul Simon”s “Still Crazy After All These Years”).

Here, in all it’s typed-by-hand glory, is that Top 111 covering 1968 through 1972: