Symphony for Voices in the Head

And a-one, and a-two. …

Maybe it’s time for a stroll down Musical Memory Lane.

What/who were you listening to while growing up, or at least older?

My folks were into the big bands, so we had Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and the like blaring out of the stereo whenever they were in the mood (ho ho ho).

I liked that just fine, and still do. But we all chart our own musical courses, and mine led into some very different waters.

The Beatles hit “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964, and while my sister was wowed, I snorted and thought, “These guys will never be as big as Elvis.”  This was the first installment in our “I Will Never Be Smart” series, which continues 59 years later.

I eventually got into the Fab Four, like everyone else, but early on I leaned toward the Animals, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Sir Douglas Quintet and just about any act coming out of Motown — the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

This goes to show the power of TV and AM radio in the mid-Sixties. Randolph AFB, Texas, was not exactly a multicultural paradise. To be blunt, it was light on Brits, Blacks, and surfers. But Ed Sullivan, Dick Clark, and AM radio helped us find them anyway.

If AM was the gateway drug, FM was the hard stuff. When we got transferred to Bibleburg in 1967 I discovered KKFM, and later KILO; the family console stereo had an FM receiver built in, and so did my mother’s 1962 Mercedes-Benz 220S.

So shit got loud, is what. Led Zeppelin. Black Sabbath. Iron Butterfly. Steppenwolf.

But along about the same time I was stumbling across Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone and Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Moody Blues, Cream, Traffic and Mountain. Then it was The Allman Brothers and Elton John, Leon Russell and Santana. The Stones were still hanging in there, but the Beatles were off the back.

There was a long stretch of country-hippie during my second tour in college — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Charlie Daniels Band, Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc. — which made about as much sense as soul and surf, as I was a middle-class white boy from the ’burbs.

John Prine, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt made the cut too, for obvious reasons. And the shapeshifting outfit George Carlin once called “Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Merrill, Lynch, Fenner, Pierce, Sacco & Vanzetti” was always warbling in the patchouli background wherever dope was smoked.

Tom Waits stumbled into my playlist somehow, after the Eagles covered his “Ol’ 55.” Los Lobos, too, possibly because I was running around with a crew of San Luis Valley vatos. Where Parliament-Funkadelic came from I have no idea, but suddenly they were there and they stayed and wasn’t nothin’ we could do but put a glide in our stride and a dip in our hip and head on up to the Mothership.

Rockers like ZZ Top and Bob Seger proved invaluable for road trips, which I undertook regularly, being indifferent to long-term employment.

I tiptoed into jazz via the back door — fusion combos like Crusaders and Return to Forever, and smooth-jazz dudes like Grover Washington Jr., Stanley Turrentine, and George Benson — and kept one ear tuned to classical because I had played piano and flute as a sprout.

This was a breeze, thanks to NPR. In Corvallis I could pick up three different NPR affiliates, each with its own specialty — jazz, classical, and whatever. Samey same in Bibleburg, with its excellent stations KRCC and KCME, and Denver with KUVO and KVOD.

I was late to punk, which may explain the Green Day discs in my collection. The Cars, Stray Cats, and Brian Setzer Orchestra are in there too, as are Stevie Ray Vaughan, James McMurtry, Planxty, Elvis Costello, Miles Davis, Steve Earle, The Pogues, Warren Zevon, Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Frank Zappa, Lyle Lovett, The Bueva Vista Social Club, Dire Straits, and Half Man Half Biscuit.

Good God awmighty. Each of the voices in my head likes a different kind of music! No wonder they’re arguing all the damn’ time.


34 Responses to “Symphony for Voices in the Head”

  1. Sharon Says:

    All good choices…right there with you for nearly every one of them along with some Miles Davis, Wilco, Jason Isbell, Reggae and local Austin bands in the mix. RIP David Crosby.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      So much music, so little time. Happily, variety is the spice of life.

      Once I played a Merle Haggard cassette so many times on a long road trip that my companion jerked it out of the deck and chucked it out the window. I tried to be more eclectic after that.

  2. Pat O’Brien Says:

    Wow, that’s quite a journey. In chronological order, these were too many milestones, most of them after I was drafted in 1969. Lately? Here’s our next set list.

    Set List #3
    Greenback Dollar
    Funny How Time Slips Away
    All Of Me
    Hello In There
    White Sport Coat
    Don’t Let The Old Man In
    I Remember Everything
    Kansas City
    House Of The Rising Sun
    Folsom Prison Blues
    Flowers On The Wall
    Love Me


    Sweet Misery
    You Ain’t Going Nowhere
    Country Roads
    Don’t Think Twice

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Some keepers in there, Hoss. I should’ve mentioned Willie Nelson, because he’s Willie Fuckin’ Nelson, and I even saw him perform once with his band Family at a small venue in Corvallis. I saw Andy Irvine and Paul Brady there once, too, and Utah Phillips. This is a pretty eclectic selection for a small Oregon college town.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        My latest ones to learn are Keb Mo and Bonnie Raitt songs. One Friend, Just Like That, and Medicine Man are some examples. My right hand is the problem child right now.

      • khal spencer Says:

        My best friend from high school and I once drove from Buffalo to Toronto in a raging blizzard to see The Band open and Bob Dylan the main act. We somehow managed to get their in one piece, dodging jackknifed tractor trailers. Was a fantastic concert. I think it was winter 1974.

  3. Si Little Says:

    No Flamingos, Coasters, Brook Benton, Silhouettes, Jarmels? Yeah, you are younger…

  4. khal spencer Says:

    My mom and stepdad were into classical for the most part. He was learning guitar and pretty good at it. Me? I think I listened to pretty much all of those you went through from time to time. I got tired of Zepplin and Iron Butterfly sorta stuff pretty fast as it made my ears ring.

    We had the interestingly named WPHD in Buffalo, NY in the late sixties/early seventies. It was a non-format alternative FM radio station or whatever they called it back then. That’s where I was listening to Buffy Sainte Marie, Leonard Cohen, and all the other stuff you wouldn’t hear on the AM dial. They once played the entire Jesus Christ Superstar opera in one swell foop. I was recording it on a little reel to reel off the radio.

    I went through a period of All Classical All the Time in grad school. Ran my housemates out of the house a couple times with Toccata and Fugue in Dmin, along with Beethoven’s Symphonies shaking the walls. One of my fellow honkie grad school buddies got into Run DMC and other hip-hop. I liked it too. The music coming out of our advisor’s mass spectrometry lab woulda sometimes make you think you were in the African Studies Dept.

    Been a long road.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      When I think of what I played through my parents’ stereo I wonder how I managed to avoid military school. Or an early death. The neighbors would have backed any tale Mom and Dad spun.

      “Oh, yes, a very troubled young man. I believe he was picked up by cannibals while hitchhiking. They had to have their stomachs pumped because of all the drugs he had taken.”

    • Pat O’Brien Says:

      The BBC website has a section called “Reel”. Today they featured a video on a reaction to music the French call frisson. Some call it a skin orgasm, goosebumps, or the shivers. This one does it for me.

  5. Recreation Law Says:

    Your voices don’t sing? Mine work on a five point harmony.

  6. Opus the Poet Says:

    Your list is much like mine, except you don’t have electro-swing, or trance. My music streamer service algorithm had an aneurism trying to track my preferences.

    • Phil Bekey Says:

      I spent a bit of time wandering in the Smithsonian Folkways Collection as well as other obscure bins at the local record store owned by an imaginative old man with very eclectic tastes.

  7. Mike Spak Says:

    Finally saw Asleep at the Wheel a few weeks ago. Heading to SF next week for the Flamin’ Groovies, plus the SF Symphony for some reason. Gotta catch ’em while the still live.

  8. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Aye many a road trip and long, long flights around the globe and these were some of the artists I traveled with starting with 8-tracks, cassettes, Walkman, Walkman CD, into portable digital. Roasted them I did as you will on long trips. Audience, The Band, Genesis, Petty & Heartbreakers, Procol Harum, James Gang, Leon Redbone, Spirit, Goose Creek Symphony, Boz Scaggs, King Crimson , Aretha, and way too much Pink Floyd. And I enjoy almost all the music readers have listed.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Tom Petty was good; still have “Damn the Torpedoes” on vinyl. For some reason I often bought one album by a band and then moved on; that was the case with Petty, though I listened to his later work on the radio.

      Spirit was great — “Mr. Skin,” “Nature’s Way,” “I Got a Line On You” — and a mainstay for the local cover bands in B-burg. I had a copy of “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus,” but that’s long gone.

      I loved how Jimmy Rabbitte described Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” in “The Commitments.”

      “Poxiest bleedin’ lyrics ever written!”

      “A Salty Dog” was killer too.

      • Shawn Says:

        Last summer I stumbled across an original vinyl disc of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” at my local thrift store. Woohoo !

        For my last fandango, I’m thinking about going out lassoing a train.

  9. Herb from Michigan Says:

    I remember years ago agonizing over what cassettes to choose for a Japan trip as luggage space was so tight. On my recent long flight I of course had unlimited songs to choose from via my Apple Music and phone. So in one way….if you are an audiophile, these are the Good Old Days. Add in noise canceling earbuds and you can check out and ignore the fistfights, groping, baby wailing etc. when flying.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      In my earliest days of road-tripping I used to try to stay tuned to one of the superstations, like KOMA out of Oklahoma City, that you could pick up however faintly even in the ass-end of nowhere.

      Never had an eight-track, but as soon as I got a cassette player I dragged a suitcase of cassettes along, and later, CDs.

      It was always enlightening to check out the various NPR affiliates from coast to coast too. That’s how I stumbled across “NDN Kars” by Keith Secola and “Mighty Mouse” by the Black Lodge Singers.

      I first heard the latter after a long week at Interbike. I was motoring down Nine Mile Hill into The Duck! City, listening to the “Singing Wire” program on KUNM-FM. Thought I was having an acid flashback and damn near drove right off I-40 laughing. Turns out it was a powwow song for kids.

  10. JG Says:

    Yeah – similar list plus a few more, and jeez the memories… When my cousin and I returned to the states, after an all expenses paid trip to some sh*thole country half way ’round the world, we found (in no particular order) Leonard Cohen, Leo Kottke, CCR, The Band, JJ Cale, Jackson Browne, The Seldom Scene, John Fahey, Cat Stevens, Johnny Rivers, Mississippi John Hurt… RIP David Crosby and my cousin John.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I was late to Leonard Cohen, but he’s a keeper. I think “Democracy” was the first of his I heard. Good starting point.

      Leo Kottke I saw live in Greeley … maybe double-billed with Steve Martin? I was often dazed and confused in the Seventies but I know I saw each of them at some point, whether together or separate. Steve was the one with the banjo and the arrow through his head.

      Jackson Browne and Cat Stevens I listened to a ton, and I should’ve mentioned both in my roundup. I ’bout wore out my copies of “Running On Empty” and “Tea for the Tillerman.”

      Did you know Jackson was an early member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band? True fact. And there was a Tillerman’s Teahouse on Tejon in B-burg Back in the Day®. I often popped in to write in my journal or scribble cartoons, looking all like deep an’ shit, hoping to lure some hippie chick with a flexible sense of morality into some light misbehavior.

      This actually worked once, not at the teahouse, but rather at Giuseppe’s Central, where alcohol was sold, which helped immensely.

      • JG Says:

        I did see Leo Kottke live at Shove Chapel – don’t think Martin was there – but possibly (I too was somewhat dazed & confused).

        And yes, Nitty Gritty should have been on my list.

        I don’t remember Tillerman’s Teahouse but I did spend time and money at Giuseppe’s (didn’t have your luck though).

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        If I remember correctly, a rarity, the Tillerman’s Teahouse was in the 600 block of North Tejon, across from where Panino’s is now. There was an arthouse cinema nearby, because of course there was, even in Bibleburg.

        Giuseppe’s was the shit. There was G’s East on Union at Bijou (long gone); G’s Central, on Cascade (or Sierra Madre?) south of Colorado (a little too close to the old jail for comfort, both long gone); and G’s Depot below the library. The pizza was a legendary gut-bomb and the pitchers of watery corporate lager flowed like … well, like watery corporate lager. Great places for a cheap date or getting affordably hammered.

  11. John A Levy Says:

    I remember Leo Kotke at Ebbets Field, Doors at Auditorium Arena, and Stones at Hughes Field FT. Collins, Lots of Jazz at Reno Jazz Festival, Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson. Plus Emily Lou at Ceasers Tahoe, With Buffet and
    Jefferson Starship. Plus lots of Willie Nelson i n Jackson Hole and Reno. Listen to a lot of the same stuff you did but there was some Tom T. Hall and riders of purple sage and of course poco and procol harem. Dan Fogelberg and the tim Weissberg at ramskellar in FT. Collins a 3.2 bar. Lindas Rondstadt .and Nitty Britty Dirt Band Plus the rajun cajun. Been thru most genres but hip hop and rap never seemed to get to me.

  12. Shawn Says:

    I think the point of realizing when a tune has affected you, even when you may not have listened to the performer or band, is when years later you hear the song in an ad performed by a different musician, and you have to squeeze the old memory to recall who originally did the song. “I know that song, I know it, but who did it?”.

    Here’s a song that was in a recent ad performed by another musician:

    and since we are discussing the music in us, here’s another one by a band that had it’s one hit that was later picked up in an ad:

  13. Chuck Carver Says:

    Jimmie Spheeris?

  14. Pat O’Brien Says:

    Going to see these folks perform this afternoon at the Arizona Folklore Preserve.

    • Shawn Says:

      That should be great. I like their sound. I hope though that the venue you are going to will offer better acoustics for the drummer.

  15. Randolph Says:

    A few that I listened to in the ’70s (my thirties) and still listen too. Dylan of course, Garland Jeffreys, Rick Danko, Eric Anderson, Tom Waits, John Prine, Pat Metheny. Leonard Cohen also comes to mind. Add Emmy Lou and Marianne Faithful. Kind of surprised by the lack of women artists on my list.

    Adding women I mostly listened to back in the ’70s but not so much these days – Rickie Lee Jones, Kim Carnes, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Mary McCaslin quickly come to mind. Maybe it’s time to dig out some of their ’70s albums, there is some good music there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: