Sunday, June 20, 2010

Memories of Toad, Lizard King, sum-sum-summertime, Capt. Kirk, Blue Cheer & the Mighty Quinn

Started an interesting, to me, discussion the other day on Facebook when I just tossed out a favorite summer song. Wanted to see what people said in response.
I wrote the following in my status: All-time favorite summer song? How about Cream's 'Toad' played full-blast, echoing off the surrounding buildings.... Just thinking. Not sure yet....
I landed on “Toad” because of some time going through my memories lately, at least in part due to reconnecting with Capt. Kirk, Terry Kirkwood, an old college chum who served in the Navy. He was the guy Ho Chi Minh pointed out as a reason it was necessary to get all of the Americans out of the former South Vietnam. I mean, Capt. Kirk was no intergalactic warrior. He was just a pool-playing swabbie whose claim to fame was that he entertained the deck mates up and down the Delta by singing Tom T. Hall’s “It Sure Can Get Cold In Des Moines": The Iowa weather was 13 below/I had come to Des Moines for a radio show/I awoke in the evening from a traveler's sleep/With notions of something to eat/The old elevator slid down past the floors/My head and my eyes said "You should have slept more."/The man at the desk said the restaurant was closed/Outside it was 14 below….
Of course, if I am indeed telling the truth above, Capt. Kirk, a proud native of Des Moines, where he now works as something of a telephone sharecropper and reformed carnival sideshow airbrush T-shirt artist (his life’s ambition, it turns out), was singing that wintry song of his hometown because it was always hot in Vietnam.
So that’s not a summer song, of course. But my e-conversations with the Captain, who was a faithful sidekick and pal during the time Ames, Iowa was my turf -- I know, who would want Ames other than me? But I loved it there. It was where I met Groucho Marx, that Ginsberg poet guy, my Uncle Moose, and, yep, the boys from Sha-Na-Na. And the late Dennis Wilson before he was the late Dennis Wilson -- have inspired me to remember those days and nights among the tornados, cornfields and pig barns.
And that’s where this summer song conversation began. Because during that time in my life, I lived in high-rise dormitories on the campus of Iowa State University.
As on any campus, the greatest times are in the spring, when the taste of summer arrives and music pounds from every available window, floor speaker and ‘65 Falcon. After an Iowa winter (see Tom T.’s song above – I love that guy, by the way. His wife, Miss Dixie, too.), it’s great to feel anything resembling summer heat and perhaps feel some summer beat ricocheting off the high rises while throwing Frisbees over the rows of sunbathing coeds.
And those are the greatest memories I have of “Toad,” because it is Cream at its finest, particularly Ginger Baker at his best. His work opened the doors for a lot of rock drummers to go ahead and take the forefront. Good or bad, a lot of drum solos have come from that wondrous 13-minute version of “Toad” that’s found of “Wheels of Fire.” It earlier had appeared on “Fresh Cream” and was a staple in concert.
Now I’ve seen Cream. But I probably felt Cream the best on spring days in Ames, Iowa, when, without a doubt, the live version of Toad would pound from someone’s speakers and shake the air from Larch Hall to the power plant.
Perhaps it’s not my all-time favorite summer song. But I do know that every spring I do dig it out and play it. Loud. Try it sometime.
By the way, years ago, I had my vinyl version of “Wheels of Fire” stolen. If someone out there has a copy of it with my name on it, I’d welcome its return, no questions asked. Also lost “Bitches Brew” and a couple of Zappa albums.
Here are some of the responses I got to my posting about songs that bring back summer memories:
Father Laird MacGregor, Episcopal priest of the manly Pressed Rat and Warthog order: “Ridin’ in My Car” by NRBQ. But then he rethought some and came up with entire "Pet Sounds" album by the Beach Boys. “Conjures memories of one summer in particular," he writes. Perhaps it was the summer he opted to cut his long hair, shave his head, enter the priesthood and give up his favorite breakfast of licorice-flavored Schnapps and Wheaties.
The good padre, rector to the famous News Brothers band of journalists co-founded by this author, then adds “Nobody has mentioned Mungo Jerry.”
So, with that in mind, I figured I’d dredge up that old Mungo tune: In the summertime when the weather's high, /you can stretch right up and touch the sky,/when the weather's fine,/you got women, you got women on your mind./Have a drink, have a drive,/go out and see what you can find.
Kinda makes you wonder why Mungo Jerry isn’t hailed as a great band in the vein of The Beatles or at least be mentioned in the same line as Canned Heat.
Jim East, an old journalism pal opts for Eddie Cochran’s version of "Summertime Blues.” I personally would go with The Who version from “Live at Leeds.” But Jim’s a stubborn traditionalist in the most sincere way, though perhaps not a Republican. Speaking of that tune, who remembers the version by Blue Cheer? Yep. I see you nodding out there.
Darryl Illmo Prince writes in that he likes an old-reliable that will have you dancing: “Gotta Go With Van The Man … ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’”
Drew White, Blue Oyster Cult’s meatiest fan, weighed in with " ’Gimme Some Lovin' by the Spencer Davis Group. In the car, windows rolled down and the volume turned up to 11. It sounded even better in the old days of AM radio coming out of a single speaker grill on a metal dashboard!” Drew still has that old sound system. It’s on concrete blocks in his front yard. Next to the fridge. Nah, not true. But nice image.
Ray “Da Plane, Boss” Duckworth chose Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” Must have come from a time before Ray only listened to Jimmy Dickens while sipping coffee and watching for airplanes from his patio.
Bush Bernard seems to be speaking from his musical heritage in the bogs of Louisiana when he says “"Play that Funky Music, White Boy."
Renee Elder says “For me, personally, it's got to be ‘Rikki Don't Lose that Number’ by Steely Dan.” Now I’m not a Dan man, but that’s a pretty nifty little pop tune, although it’s not in my collection for some reason. I’ll not lose sleep over it, though.
Chuck Emery, formerly the honcho of failed Catfish Bay Records, a fine musician and former Chukker’s record store owner on Franklin Street before Clarksville got blown away by the tornado says “Toad or NSU or I Feel Free...or maybe a medley!”
Janice Kay Brewster Staggs says “Love Cream, but think I'd pick a Led Zep song.”
For David Sims it’s "’Blue Sky’ by the Allman Brothers. Greatest kick-back song ever.”
My cousin Michelle Robertson weighs in with another of my own favorites by my old pal John Sebastian: “Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck.....”
Kathleen Carlson, who obviously wants to take off all her clothes (it’s part of the lyric of this ridiculous and I can’t believe she’s serious choice): "It's getting hot in here” by Nelly. Nelly or Skanky or one of those pop/hop guys were preferred by executives at the morning newspaper to Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson back when I was there. Caused me problems when I was in charge of entertainment coverage, as I really didn’t cooperate. “You can’t be a maverick and not think like me and be a success here,” or something like that I was told. Yet, I found personal success came by playing Cash and Kristofferson stories above Skanky and Nelly or whoever. Oh yeah, Shaggy was the other one. I thought this was Music City? Oh well, thanks for bringing this up, Kathy. Are you OK? Is it getting hot in there?
Rob Simbeck has a couple of haunting melodies on his mind this summer when he submits "Tie: ‘Spooky’ and ‘Time of the Season.’"
And then there’s Reinaldo Garcia, who not only picks the song, he picks the summer and the city: “L.A., 1967, Light My Fire (long version.)”
You know that I would be a liar if I didn’t say I loved that song. Heck, I bought all the vinyl put out by Jim and the boys. I even like The Doors’ “Soft Parade” album, which is the one most don’t like. Course I’m no Lizard King.
In wrapping up this little experiment, I think any song that makes you smile and think of great summers past is a good song.
Actually “Toad” isn’t my favorite summer song. That would really be “A Day in the Life” from that 1967 summer album about that little vaudeville band that was formed in Paul McCartney’s head.
No, it would be “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” because it dominated the AM dial during the one year when I was cleaning out stalls and trimming weeds at a day camp in Chicago.
Or maybe it would be Rick Nelson’s version of “Summertime and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high” from my true youth.
Nah, I’ll stick with “Toad.” At least as this first day of summer descends on us tomorrow morning.
Later in the day, I may opt for a visit by the Mighty Quinn.
Course I do like that slamming coffin lid at the end of "A Day in the Life."

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