… and the band played on (Remembering one of the greatest psychedelic-soul songs of all time)

As I post this on the third of September, I realize how much I miss hearing the ads and trailers for the latest Spike Lee Joint (BlacKkKlansman) because they featured one of my all-time favorite psychedelic-soul songs — from the summer of 1970, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” with The Temptations.

I say “with The Temptations” because much of the glorious goodness in this pulsating, four-minutes-and-four-seconds masterpiece comes from the instrumentation provided by The Funk Brothers, the house band for Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio.

These musicians were always top-notch, and this recording is no exception. It featured Bob Babbitt’s memorably mesmerizing bassline, Pistol Allen’s drums, Jack Ashford’s percussion, Earl Van Dyke on clavinet, and Johnny Griffith on organ. Guitarist Dennis Coffey says he used an Echoplex and Vox Tone Bender on “Ball of Confusion” to get the unique sounds that enhance the track’s tension and delirium. [Note: Check out Motown’s 2003 Temptation’s release “Psychedelic Soul” for extended versions of their songs with the band’s outstanding musicianship.]

Speaking of tension, The Temptations vocals are a tense reminder of the divisions facing America in its new decade. And the lyrical litany of problems are punctuated with Melvin Franklin’s bass vocal “… and the band played on.” I consider this to be the classic era for The Temptations: Franklin with Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, and Paul Williams.

I bought the 45 rpm record (kids, go ask a grownup if you need a translation) as soon as it came out at a Hesteds in Omaha, Nebr., while shopping with my grandma (she always let me buy a 45 — they cost 39-cents at the time). In retrospect, I probably made my grandparents worry as I played the song over and over on their “hi-fi.”

“Ball of Confusion” was released on the Gordy label in May of 1970 and reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The song hit #2 on the U.S. R&B charts, and went to #7 as a single in the U.K.

The song seems as relevant today as it did 48 years ago. “The Sound of Young America” is still alive!

Barry Gordy always worried about damaging the wider audience, the crossover appeal, for The Temptations. The band was a commercial success with their love songs and relationship ballads. Gordy had refused to allow The Temptations to release their version of “War” as a single, and insisted that the single be recorded by Edwin Starr.

I think Gordy purposefully chose the B-side (“It’s Summer”) to temper and counterbalance the single’s vibe. “It’s Summer” is a ballad about the onset of summer and all of its joys. The song, which originally appeared on Psychedelic Shack (kicking off Side 2), features Melvin Franklin’s spoken prose.

BTW: I finally saw BlacKkKlansman. We are fortunate to have a filmmaker like Spike Lee. BlacKkKlansman is smart in its dialogue, intensely visual, and so very compelling.

Again: “The Sound of Young America” is still alive!

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Bubble Puppy fills the airwaves with hot smoke and sassafras

On April 12, 1969, “Hot Smoke & Sassafras” by Bubble Puppy peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, after spending nine weeks on the singles chart.

Bubble Puppy is often categorized as a one-hit wonder, but this little ol’ band from Texas should’ve been much bigger in the pop consciousness of music history. Their psychedelic sonics, twin-lead-guitar arrangements, and vocal harmonies are still pleasing to my ears.

Lore has it the name Bubble Puppy came from the children’s game referenced in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (centrifugal bumble-puppy).

In 1964, Rod Prince had been playing rhythm guitar for a garage rock band called The Bad Seeds in Corpus Christie. After the band broke up, Prince attempted to form other groups, but nothing clicked. He got a call from Roy Cox, who had played keyboards occasionally with The Bad Seeds. Cox suggested Prince come to San Antonio and make music. Nothing specific, just the like-minded desire to form a great rock band.

When Prince arrived, he was introduced to a drummer from Austin named Clayton Pulley. Pulley introduced Cox and Prince to his friend Todd Potter, who played saxophone and guitar.

On the Bubble Puppy website, Prince says he and Potter “sat down together for a pick — Bingo! We meshed instantly — one more magical player!”

The dual-lead guitar was a standard configuration for Texas Western Swing bands. It can also be heard in The Yardbirds’ music, and would become one of the signature sounds for The Allman Brothers Band (although Duane Allman said he got the dual-lead idea from Curtis Mayfield). Bubble Puppy had the sound from the start.

Bubble Puppy’s big break came when they opened for The Who. It led to a recording contract with International Artists (IA), a label owned by Kenny Rogers’ brother Leland. IA was home for another Texas psychedelia band — the equally underrated The 13th Floor Elevators. Shortly after signing, Pulley would leave Bubble Puppy and be replaced by drummer David “Fuzzy” Fore (who saw the group perform at The Who concert).

According to the band, the title for “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” came from an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” when Granny yelled at Jethro, “Hot smokin’ sassafras!” They had been working on a music track that day, but had no lyrics. Hearing Granny’s exclamation inspired the song’s completion. Granny Clampett as muse? (The 60s were a wild time.)

“Hot Smoke and Sassafras” was released in late 1968, and arrived on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in mid-February of 1969. The song became an international hit. Peter Asher expressed an interest in Bubble Puppy, but the band could not get out of its agreement with IA, nor could they convince the label to lease their song to Apple Records.


IA was limited in what it could do for Bubble Puppy, and the band dissolved in 1970. They tried performing under a different name in Los Angeles as a way to get around their contract, but could not find success. In 1973, Prince and Cox teamed up with Steppenwolf’s Goldy McJohn and Jerry Edmonton to form the short-lived band called Manbeast.

Reunion shows with the original members in 1987 and 2011 (at the Austin Music Awards) received stellar reviews. Although Roy Cox died on April 2, 2013, Bubble Puppy is still performing.

I caught the band’s set at the 2018 SXSW festival, and they still rock with psychedelic goodness:

BTW: My local AM Top 40 station (The Mighty 12-90, K-O-I-L) played the song frequently, and it peaked at #6 on KOIL.

By April 8, 1969, Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke & Sassafras” peaks at #6 on “The Mighty 12-90 K-O-I-L.”

In the mist of sassafras
Many things will come to pass
And the smoke shall rise again
To the place above where it began

Time will bring the fire and flame
As surely as it brought the rain
But in the gardens of the moon
Time is held within the silver spoon

If you’re happy where you are
Then you need not look too far
If you’ve found your place at last
Then you need not use the looking glass

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Guess who my first rock concert was

April 9, 1970, was my first rock concert: The Guess Who at Omaha’s Music Hall, an intimate venue with black walls, a black stage and about 2,400 burgandy-colored cushioned seats on the floor and balcony. I would eventually see more shows at the Music Hall — often newcomer artists who our local university or promoters took the chance to book (e.g., Bruce Springsteen or Rancid).

A photo of the Canadian rock group The Guess Who

The Guess Who – (left to right) Garry Peterson, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, and Jim Kale

In 1970, I was drawing a comic strip for the Teen Scene section of the Omaha Sun newspaper, the weekly newspaper owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. I wasn’t technically a teen yet (I was still attending a grade 1-8 elementary school at the time), but my drawings and goofy sense of humor, influenced by Mad magazine and Warner Bros. animation, got me the gig. Once a week I hung out with students from all the different, cool high schools around town as they talked about music, fashion, movies, and what was “in” and “out.”

After four months of drawing my cartoons, the Teen Scene’s editor (Pete), who also reviewed movies and concerts, asked me if I’d like two comp tickets to see The Guess Who’s early show. The band was performing two shows, and Pete was attending the later one. I quickly said yes because I was familiar with the group’s past hits (“Laughing” and “Undun”) and I had bought the 45 rpm single of “No Time” when it came out in November.

I came home with the tickets and was pleasantly stunned that my parents would allow me to attend. My dad even said he would drive me and my friend Paul to the venue and pick us up after the show. (As I type, I wonder what my dad thought of the crowd milling about the Music Hall.)

We had great seats, three rows from Randy Bachman’s side of the stage. The band played several songs off their latest album American Woman, which was released in February. I loved hearing the longer version of the title track with its acoustic opening and Burton Cummings’ crooning (my local Top 40 station only played the single edit), as well as the album version of “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” I remember Bachman switching guitars frequently during songs (which I thought was so cool). Bachman and Cummings both rocked out on guitars during the encore “No Time.” And, during “The Key,” Garry Peterson introduced me to the obligatory rock show drum solo — I was enthralled.

I thought the band’s set and performance were fantastic, but the reviewer for Omaha’s daily newspaper did not.

Looking back at his review, it’s seems quasi-Almost Famous — a thought piece about a band trying to find itself. He thought Bachman’s guitar work was “rather ordinary,” but I relished his solos and sound. Sadly, Bachman would leave The Guess Who by the end of May.

The concert set me onto a path of loving live music and trying to attend shows whenever I could afford them (and could get the night off from work).

American Woman ad-March 14-1970

An ad for The Guess Who and the single “American Woman” from the March 14, 1970, edition of Billboard magazine.


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… on a cloudy day (The Temptations top the singles charts)

On March 6, 1965, “My Girl” became the Temptations’ first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first of four chart-topping singles for the Motown supergroup.

I have written about the Temptations before. Their songs transcended pop music.

“My Girl” was a ballad written and produced by William “Smokey” Robinson and Ronald “Ronnie” White of the Miracles. Robinson had written the hit “My Guy” for Mary Wells one year earlier.

The inspiration behind Robinson’s lyrics came from his wife, and Miracles member, Claudette. The beauty in the song’s words, like so many of Robinson’s compositions, is why Bob Dylan called him “America’s greatest living poet.”

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May

You can hear the music as you read those words. The bassline of James Jamerson. The ascending guitar played by Robert White. Once again, instrumentation from The Funk Brothers, Motown’s in-house band of (numerous) session musicians, added to the soundtrack of the ’60s and made “My Girl” one of Motown’s most familiar melodies.

The lore behind the song is that the Miracles and the Temptations were performing together at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and, after the show, the Temptations heard the rhythm track for “My Girl” and begged Robinson to let them record the song as their own.

A different version of the story claims that Robinson had to persuade the Temptations to record his song. While watching the Temptations perform, Robinson was so impressed with the group’s newest member, David Ruffin, he wanted Ruffin to sing lead on a new song he’d written (Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams had been sharing the group’s lead-vocal duties). After persuading the group, Robinson headed back to Detroit with the quintet to produce the recording session.

Another version has Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, instructing Robinson and White to write and produce hits for the Temptations – with “My Girl” becoming the most successful song from their collaboration.

Regardless of how the recording came together, “My Girl” debuted at #76 on the singles chart on January 16 and, seven weeks later, was sitting at #1. But its reign would be fleeting. The song dropped to #2 the following week (bumped by the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week”).

Here’s a performance of “My Girl” from Shindig!, a mid-60s music program on the ABC television network: https://youtu.be/GpV33-wpREU

March 6, 1965, top hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

March 6, 1965, top hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

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“Revved up like a deuce” causes stir with American radio audiences in 1977

On February 19, 1977, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for singles. The song “Blinded by the Light” had been at #3 the previous week, but after 14 weeks on the charts, it made the leap to knock Mary MacGregor’s “Torn Between Two Lovers” from the top position. The song would reign at #1 for one week — only to be knocked back to #3 by Eagles’ “New Kid in Town.”

“Blinded by the Light” is a song Bruce Springsteen wrote for his 1973 album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.. Springsteen wrote it, and the song “Spirit in the Night,” after Clive Davis, the president for Columbia Records, mentioned he wanted a single for the album. Columbia released Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” as a single, but it didn’t chart.

The British rock band Manfred Mann’s Earth Band recorded “Blinded by the Light” for its The Roaring Silence album. The band chose the song because it had had chart success in 1975 with their version of Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night.” For their cover version of “Blinded by the Light,” Manfred Mann’s Earth Band added synthesizers and organ to give the song a prog-rock, pop feel.

The lyrics to the song were also changed. Springsteen’s original line “cut loose like a deuce” became “revved up like a deuce.” But American radio audiences misheard the new lyric. Revved up sounded like wrapped up, and a lisp caused deuce to sound like douche. The new version caused a sensation among radio listeners and, decades later during a VH-1 Storytellers program, even Springsteen would laugh that Manfred Mann’s decision to rewrite the song as a feminine hygiene product made it all the more popular — and gave Springsteen his first #1 single as a songwriter.

The album version of “Blinded by the Light” is more than seven minutes long, and the radio edit for the single chopped it down to 3:48. Here’s the album version of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover of “Blinded by the Light.”

https://youtu.be/xJh47LybCkU: “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band would release another cover from Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. as single. “For You,” from the album Chance was released as a single in 1981.

Feb. 19, 1977 -- the top 18 from the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

Feb. 19, 1977 — the top 18 from the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

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KVNO-FM’s The Last Radio Show: My First Two Feature Albums

I came across an envelope with notes and materials from my days as a disc jockey on The Last Radio Show, the late night, student-programmed radio show that closed the broadcast day for classical music station KVNO, 90.7 FM, in Omaha, Nebraska.

The station was licensed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and employed numerous students. But Monday through Saturday, from 10:10pm to 2am, the station relinquished its format to six mass communication majors, who were allowed to play free-form, unfettered, album-oriented music. In January 1977, I was given the Friday night shift. It was mine to program for the next 52 weeks, unless I really did something wrong.

Every night on The Last Radio Show (LRS), a new release was showcased as the evening’s Feature Album. The idea was to play at least one track from the featured album every hour during your four-hour shift. Typically the program director (an appointment bestowed by the faculty/management upon one of the LRS jocks) would assign an album he thought you might know something about. Sometimes the new release was simply foisted on you – and in 1977’s pre-Google world, it made researching unknown bands difficult.

My first feature album was Bill Quateman’s Night After Night. Quateman was a Chicago singer-songwriter who has been successful over the years, and should’ve generated more fame for his music. Night After Night was Quateman’s first release on the RCA Victor label. Oddly enough, I had heard much of this album at a 1975 Styx concert in Lincoln, Nebr., when Quateman opened for his hometown contemporaries (who were about to hit it big). In ’75, Quateman was coming off his 1972 release for Columbia Records and he was looking for a new record deal – a deal that wouldn’t materialize for another two years.

When I saw Quateman open for Styx, he referred to his band as The Tuxedos. It featured Caleb Quaye on guitar, Tom Radtke on drums and Rollo Radford on bass. Months after that show, Quaye would leave to join The Elton John Band. Quaye performs on Night After Night, but he was gone from the scene by 1977.

I picked two songs from Night After Night that I had heard in concert (the title track being one, Carolina was the other) and two other tracks. Quateman is my kind of musician. He dabbles in all genres of music and sound. Some have compared him to Eric Carmen or Harry Nilsson or early Elton John — for his piano playing and crooning. But the man could rock and drift into funky, jazz grooves, too. Night After Night would peak at #129 on the album charts in the U.S.

On February 4, my feature album was Makings of a Dream from the California funk band called Crackin’ — which our program director misspelled in his report to the record labels (see page 3 from the report below — Warner Bros. Records had to be unimpressed by this).

Crackin’ was fronted by a former Omaha musician named Lester Abrams. Abrams is probably best known for winning Grammy Awards for his work on The Doobie Brothers’ Minute by Minute album. Abrams arranged “What a Fool Believes” and co-wrote “Open Your Eyes” and the LP’s title track.

In Crackin’, Abrams sang and played keyboards. Other members of the band included Rick Chudacoff on bass, Leslie Smith on vocals, and Arno Lucas on vocals and percussion. Chudacoff has gone on to a career producing music for big name artists from various music genres. He’s been called a “noted Nashville hitmaker.”

Makings of a Dream was the second Crackin’ album. I had purchased, and still own, the band’s 1975 self-titled release on the Polydor label. “Take Me to the Bridge,” with its refrains of the album’s title, is still a great track. The entire album contains smart, funky sounds, but listeners could’ve easily assumed they were listening to The Average White Band or Earth, Wind & Fire.

Attached are pages 2 and 3 from The Last Radio Show’s report to the record labels. It shows the remaining Top 25 albums played between January 24 and February 5 (the first 14 can be seen in the attachment from my last post). The pages also list the tracks from the feature albums my classmates chose to play on their night of free-form radio — David Bowie, Milton Nascimento, The Average White Band, Chick Corea, Leon Redbone …

1977 was an amazing year for music.

The Last Radio Show - KVNO Omaha - Jan 24 - Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 2

The Last Radio Show – KVNO Omaha – Jan 24 – Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 2

The Last Radio Show - KVNO Omaha - Jan 24 - Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 3

The Last Radio Show – KVNO Omaha – Jan 24 – Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 3

Crackin' ad from 1977 Billboard magazine

“The San Francisco band with the novel feature of three lead singers and a grand total of seven steaming instrumentalists.” – from Feb. 22 ad in Billboard

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KVNO-FM’s The Last Radio Show: free-form radio out of Omaha in the 1970s

On January 28, 1977, I began my radio broadcasting career.

It was a Friday night air shift for the classical music station KVNO, licensed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and found at 90.7 on the FM dial. The station’s board shifts were mostly run by students and, in compliance with rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I took the test to acquire my Third Class Radiotelephone Operator permit (“third phone” in radio vernacular) which allowed me to check meters and operate the station by myself.

I had worked on the campus Top 40 radio station — a hardwired, closed-circuit feed to multiple locations in the student center — but had never been responsible for the untethered, wireless communication of a broadcast transmission signal.

Half of my responsibility was engineering (signing onto the FCC operating log and keeping hourly records of RF power, various dials with amps and kilovolts and megahertz measurements, plate voltage readings and a few other details that escape me for now), and the other half was running programs via the board, using two turntables, three cart machines, three reel-to-reel decks and a live feed from the Mutual Broadcast Network.

From 8pm to 10pm, I played classical music from vinyl and rolled the companion pre-recorded announcements about each composition, complete with perfectly-timed legal IDs, from reel-to-reel. At 10pm, I uttered my first words across the ether, “From the campus of UNO, this is KVNO, Omaha, 90.7 FM,” and switched to the Mutual Broadcasting Network’s newscast. After that, at 10:10, I was given complete freedom to jar the airwaves for the next four hours.

From 10:10pm to 2am, Monday through Saturday, KVNO allowed six students to program a night of alternative, free-form, album-oriented music on a program called The Last Radio Show.

The DJ’s for The Last Radio Show were an eclectic group of mass communication majors at UNO. When I joined in January of 1977, the others were wrapping up their year-long stint with the show. We had two DJ’s whose tastes leaned toward country rock, one who loved fusion jazz, one who loved bluesy rock and tracks that ran longer than 15 minutes, and another who played an assortment of music, from folk rock to progressive rock. I was part of the next wave of underclassmen to take the reins, and my tastes included a variety of styles, artists and sounds.

The Last Radio Show opened with a faux-1920s ballroom radio announcer welcoming listeners to the evening’s broadcast from “high atop the Storz Mansion” while “Bie Mir Bistu Shein” played underneath. As the 25-second open faded out, The Last Radio Show disc jockeys would let loose with music unlike anything heard earlier on KVNO.

The first song I spun on January 28 was a request from a listener. During Mutual’s newscast, the request line lit up and I was eager to talk to a caller. He was a dishwasher, who worked at the Mt. Fuji Inn restaurant, and he asked to hear the Allman Brothers “Whipping Post.” I think I had something from David Bowie’s Low album planned, or maybe a Todd Rundgren track cued up, but “Whipping Post” felt perfect for a Friday night of musical freedom.

On this night in 1977, the radio bug bit me. It would add to my passion for music, and the medium, for years to come.

Attached is page one of the three-page report sent to record labels. It gives you an idea where free-form radio was in Omaha during early 1977. Pages two and three of the report can be found here.

The Last Radio Show - KVNO Omaha - Jan 24 - Feb 5 1977 playlist

The Last Radio Show – KVNO Omaha – Jan 24 – Feb 5 1977 playlist

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