Monday, August 24, 2015

Wichita Lineman

Lately, I have been compiling a list of my 1,000 all-time favorite songs. 1968's "Wichita Lineman," is one the first ones I wrote down. I played it countless times during my 38 years on the radio. The image of the record label is forever etched in my mind.

What always got to me, aside from the lyrics, was the opening bass line and the awesome solo that comes where the third verse should be. Jimmy Webb wrote the song specifically at the request of Glen Campbell, who was in the studio searching for a song about a town, something 'geographical,' he said. Not only did Webb not think it was a hit, in his mind it wasn't even finished. In late 1967, Jimmy had written “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” for Campbell. Now Glen and his producer were calling him every couple of hours and asking if the song he had asked for was finished. Finally Webb sent the song for them to preview with the notion that if they liked it, he would finish writing it.

Little did Webb know, Campbell recorded the song as it was, filling in what might have been a third verse with a guitar solo, one considered iconic and played on a Danelectro six-string bass belonging to legendary L.A. bass player and Wrecking Crew member, Carol Kaye, who is the one who came up with the famous five-note intro at the beginning of the song.

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin' in the wire
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation
But it don't look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south
Won't ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

Jimmy Webb's inspiration for the lyric came while driving through rural southwestern Oklahoma. Heading westward on a straight road into the setting sun, Webb drove past a seemingly endless line of telephone poles, each looking exactly the same as the last. Then, in the distance, he noticed the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop a pole. He described it as "the picture of loneliness."

At "American Songwriter," Webb was quoted as saying, “What I was really trying to say was, you can see someone working in construction or working in a field, a migrant worker or a truck driver, and you may think you know what’s going on inside him, but you don’t. You can’t assume that just because someone’s in a menial job that they don’t have dreams … or extraordinary concepts going around in their head, like ‘I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time.’ You can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet. And that’s really what the song is about.”

With “Wichita Lineman," less is more. The record is just three minutes long:

First Verse.
Second verse.
No chorus.
Guitar solo.
Repeat last two lines of second verse.

Why did such an unlikely song become a standard? There are many reasons, but here’s one from American Songwriter's Allen Morrison: "The loneliness of that solitary prairie figure is not just present in the lyric, it’s built into the musical structure. Although the song is nominally in the key of F, after the tonic chord is stated in the intro it is never heard again in its pure form, with the root in the bass. The melody travels through a series of haunting changes that are considerably more sophisticated than the Top 40 radio norms of that era. The song never does get “home” again to the tonic chord - not in either verse, nor in the fade out. This gorgeous musical setting suggests subliminally what the lyric suggests poetically: the lonely journeyman, who remains suspended atop that telephone pole, against that desolate prairie landscape...yearning for home."

The song reached #3 on the U.S. pop chart and remained in the Top 100 for 15 weeks. It topped the American country music chart for two weeks and the adult contemporary chart for six weeks. It was certified gold by the RIAA in January 1969. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" ranked it at #192. British music journalist Stuart Maconie called it "the greatest pop song ever composed."

William Wilberforce

“Can you tell a plain man the road to heaven? Certainly, turn at once to the right, then go straight forward.” - William Wilberforce

Today is William Wilberforce Day.

William Wilberforce was an English politician and philanthropist who lived from 1759 to 1833. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he became the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire. In 1785, he became an Evangelical Christian, a spiritual journey that changed his life. He started to rise early to read the Bible and pray. His conversion led Wilberforce to question whether he should remain in public life, but he resolved to do so with increased diligence and conscientiousness. His desire was to promote Christianity and Christian ethics.

"It makes no sense to take the name of Christian and not cling to Christ. Jesus is not some magic charm to wear like a piece of jewelry we think will give us good luck. He is the Lord. His name is to be written on our hearts in such a powerful way that it creates within us a profound experience of His peace and a heart that is filled with His praise."

Happy William Wilberforce Day!

Ode To Billie Joe

Released on June 1, 1967, the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts club Band" spent an incredible 15 weeks at the top of the Billboard Top 200 chart. The only album good enough to end the reign was "Ode To Billie Joe," by Bobbie Gentry. This week in 1967, the single hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 where it stayed until September 16th of that year.

Billboard ranked the record as the No. 3 song for 1967 and it generated eight Grammy nominations, resulting in three wins for Gentry and one win for arranger Jimmie Haskell. The original recording, with only Gentry's guitar, had eleven verses lasting seven minutes, telling more of Billie Joe's story. Realizing the song was a better option for a single, executives cut the length by almost half and re-recorded it with a string orchestra. The shorter version left more of the story to the listener's imagination, and made the single more suitable for radio airplay.

The single was incredibly popular. So popular that soon after the song's chart success, the Tallahatchie Bridge in Choctow County, Mississippi, where Gentry was from, saw an increase in those willing to jump off of it. Since the bridge height is only 20 feet, death or injury was unlikely. To curb the trend, the Leflore County Board enacted a law fining jumpers $100.

"I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"

It’s uncanny the way the mystery of Bobbie Gentry echoes the mystery of “Ode to Billie Joe.” There are two mysteries in the song. The big one is, why did Billie Joe McAllister jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge? The other is, what did Billie Joe and the narrator throw off the bridge? But, the bigger mystery is, why did Bobbie Gentry walk away from her career? Following the success with 'Ode To Billie Joe, Gentry continued to make music and perform through the ’70s, but around 1981 she more or less disappeared from the public eye, and no one knows what she’s doing now. After a second marriage, to fellow singer/songwriter Jim Stafford, ended in 1979 after only 11 months, Gentry gradually receded from public view, retiring from performing and eventually settling in Los Angeles. It's too bad we don't have new music from her these days. That would be so great.

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day, I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay, And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat, And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet, And then she said I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge, Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sports Announcers I Grew Up With: Sid Scott

With this post, I am resuming the series, "Sports Announcers I Grew Up With."

There is a special place in my heart for the radio and TV sports announcers I grew up with. From ABC's Wide World of Sports to roller derby and wrestling, and everything in between, sports was a big part of my life growing up. At my house, we watched on TV whatever sport was 'in season,' especially on Saturday's. If there was a sports event on radio, we listened to it. I was very blessed to grow up with many now- legendary voices and characters.

Today, I want to pay tribute to Sid Scott, the legendary voice of the Clinton County, Kentucky Bulldogs.

Sid Scott (far left in the photo above) was born in 1938 in Lilydale, Tennessee. He was a star basketball and baseball player at Albany High School, which later became Clinton County High School. While in high school, Sid took a job as a disc jockey for WFLW AM in Monticello, Kentucky. He was Albany's first DJ and helped put the Albany radio station, WANY, on the air in 1958. He began doing play by play of Clinton County High School basketball games in December of 1958 and has broadcast at least one basketball game in seven straight decades since. Today, Clinton County High School's home basketball games are played on "Sid's Court."

Sid and my dad were childhood friends, so I grew up around him and worked alongside him during my days in radio. I consider him my second dad. I have traveled many miles with him as his sidekick for the game broadcasts. So many memories and experiences and lessons learned. He is a legend.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Lord Is With Me Wherever I Go

I suffered a heart attack on August 12, 2013. I was transferred from an area hospital to a well-known heart and lung facility in a distant city. Two days later, as I lay waiting for bypass surgery, I received a card from my aunt. On the card was a bible verse, Joshua 1:9, which says to be strong and courageous, not afraid or discouraged, because "the Lord is with me wherever I go." Shortly thereafter, a nurse opened the blinds to this view...

It was confirmation that, in my hour of distress, God was with me, and from that moment on I was not afraid of what I was about to face.