My Introduction to Underground Radio: KAAY – Little Rock, Arkansas

It was fifty years ago, but seems like a blink of an eye. I was home from college for the summer, making my getaway in dad’s car after working second shift as an amateur sand-blaster at Fairbanks-Morse Corporation. Twisting the radio knob as I pulled out of the parking lot, searching for my new favorite station, I heard the unmistakable strains of Sugar Loaf’s ‘Green-Eyed Lady.’ That’s the one! I yanked out the rightmost pushbutton, then shoved it back in, engaging the preset.  KAAY, an AM station broadcasting all the way into southern Wisconsin from Little Rock, Arkansas, came in loud and clear. The program, Beaker Street hosted by Clyde Clifford, was on the air.

Beaker Street began sometime in 1967, the brainchild of disc jockey Clyde Clifford, whose real name, Dale Seidenschwarz, was kept secret per KAAY station policy. When I first discovered the station around that time, I was still in high school. After a steady diet of top forty “hits” and fast-talking DJs, I was mesmerized by the mellow voice of Clifford and the loosely structured format of acid rock, folk rock, blues, jazz, and what later came to be known as progressive rock. The show was heard six nights a week, from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Clyde Clifford at KAAY

It was on Beaker Street where I discovered artists like Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Albert King, Phil Ochs, East of Eden, Tom Rush, Grateful Dead, and Herbie Mann among many others, including Jaime Brockett singing about ‘The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic’ and Deep Water Reunion covering the Tom Paxton ballad, ‘Cindy’s Crying.’ And what a pleasure it was to hear full versions of songs by familiar artists — versions not constrained by the three- or four-minute time limit so common on commercial radio then.

Cylde Clifford at KAAY

Thanks to the Internet Archive digital library, portions of some original Beaker Street programs have been preserved. Here you can listen to the first hour of a program originally broadcast on June 26, 1970:

The playlist for that first hour was:
Sugarloaf – ‘Green Eyed Lady’ (from Sugarloaf)
Sugarloaf – ‘The Train Kept a Rollin’ (Stroll On)’ (from Sugarloaf)
Temptations – ‘Ball of Confusion’ (7″ single)
East of Eden – ‘Xhorkom/Ramadhan/In the Snow For a Blow’ (from Snafu)
Flow – ‘Arlene’ (features Don Felder on guitar; from a now rare album, Flow, on CTI)
East of Eden – ‘Gum Arabic Confucious’ (from Snafu)
Grand Funk Railroad – ‘Hooked On Love’ (from Closer To Home)
MC5 – ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ (from Kick Out the Jams)
MC5 – ‘Kick Out the Jams’ (radio version uses “brothers and sisters” in place of  the opening expletive) (from Kick Out the Jams)
Bob Dylan – ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ (from Self Portrait)
John Hartford – ‘To Say’ (from Iron Mountain Depot)
The Amboy Dukes – ‘Prodigal Man’ (from Migration)
The Corporation – ‘India’ (from a now rare album, The Corporation on Capitol)

Most albums from which the tracks were selected are 1970 releases. Clyde was always on top of the latest music, but never hesitated to juxtapose an older, more popular song with one never before heard.

Clifford left Beaker Street and KAAY in 1974. By that time, FM had taken hold, and I was now listening to “underground” radio on Radio Free Madison, WIBA-FM from Madison, Wisconsin. Still, I missed the unique Beaker Street format. So it was sweet when, in the mid-90s, I learned that Beaker Street with Clyde Clifford had returned to the airwaves.

This time, Clyde was on every Sunday night from 7 p.m. until midnight, bouncing around first on KZLR (KZ-95), later on Magic 105.1 FM (KMJX), and finally ending up on The Point, 94.1 FM where Beaker Street lasted until 2011.  During that time the show was also streamed live, from its Beaker Street web site.

Recently, again thanks to the Internet Archive, I located a number of Beaker Street playlists from the years 1996 to 2000, which were published on the program’s web site at the time. Here’s a playlist for the first two hours of the program which was broadcast and streamed on January 9, 2000:

1-9-2000 BSPL
Beaker Street playlist: January 9, 2000

I was unable to locate recorded shows from the later years of Beaker Street. Instead, I’ve tried to re-create some of those playlists on Spotify, to provide an aural sense of what music Clyde put together for his five-hour programs. By necessity, I had to either substitute one song for another from the same artist, or skip some songs entirely because, in case you didn’t know it, Spotify doesn’t have everything. In fact, the tracks from Abraxas Pool and Gypsy in the example above weren’t available on Spotify. Neither were The Corporation and Flow from the 1970 playlist.

If you’d like to listen to Clyde Clifford’s (nearly) complete playlist from the January 9, 2000 Beaker Street, along with several playlists from his other 1996-2000 broadcasts, you must logon to Spotify.  Once there, simply enter “Beaker Street” in the Spotify search bar and scroll down to “Playlists.” Click on “See All” and you’ll see a couple dozen Beaker Street playlists by “joeybooks.”


You can listen to my radio show, Life Out of Tunes with Joey Books every Monday afternoon from 2 p.m until 4 p.m. Eastern (1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Central) on 103.3 Asheville FM, and stream it live at: Happy listening!


Dylan: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Let’s begin in reverse order with…

The ugly

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis was a cacophonous, overblown sports arena, home to Minnesota Twins baseball and Minnesota Vikings football teams.  It’s most notable architectural feature was the pneumatically suspended fabric dome, held aloft by constant air pressure pumped into the structure.  Sylvia and I attended a baseball game there once, fans of the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.  We figured it was designed to be noisy intentionally, so that visiting teams and their fans would feel intimidated by home team rowdies.  Leaving the the facility postgame, the hurricane-force air pressure was so intense it literally propelled us out the exit doors.

Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Tom Perty & the Heartbreakers scheduled four arena dates together during the summer of 1986. One of those shows was at the Metrodome.  A specially priced concert/round-trip bus ticket combo sponsored by a La Crosse, Wisconsin radio station was offered, so we signed up.  The promise of complimentary Old Style beer along the way played no significant role in that decision.

The Dead would open the show with one long set, though truncated by Dead standards. From the opening notes of a barely recognizable “Gimme Some Lovin’,” we realized  something was wrong.  The Metrodome wasn’t designed as a concert venue.  Sound waves reverberated around us. The Dead’s music was barely recognizable, guitar solos and vocals echoing aimlessly in the air, bass and drums out of sync and muddled.  This was not the Grateful Dead I’d heard twice before.

During intermission, the buzz among fellow concertgoers was palpable.  What’s going on? Why did the music sound so awful? When Dylan and Petty played their set, it was the same acoustic mess that plagued the Dead.  No one could distinguish what lyrics Dylan was singing or exactly what song the Heartbreakers were playing in that environment of nonstop reverberation. Looking back at the published concert reviews and comments from that night, virtually all were extremely critical of the acoustics for that show.  To this day, I scratch my head in disbelief at what could have been a comet ride of a concert.  Instead, it was a subsonic disappointment.

The bad

One day after Barack Obama was elected president, twenty-two years and one hundred sixty miles down the Mississippi River from the Metrodome, Bob Dylan brought his never ending tour to the La Crosse Center.  It was three days before my birthday, on November 5, 2008. Sylvia and I were anxious to hear Dylan in a venue where we’d previously heard Bruce Hornsby & the Range and Johnny Rivers.  The acoustics were tried and true. We were feeling celebratory for many reasons.


I can’t put my finger on it.  Maybe our seats, which were just to the left and behind the soundboard, were too far back.  Maybe it was the uninspired backing band, or that Dylan stood practically motionless behind a portable keyboard, singing at a volume level just below that of the band. He wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat that hid his face in a shadow, perhaps masking what could have been boredom.  Maybe it was the constant, low-level buzz of concertgoers who found it a convenient time to carry on personal conversations.  But most annoying, each song sounded the same as the previous one, displaying little or no imagination in the arrangements.  It was difficult to make out what Dylan was singing because his voice sounded garbled much of the time and few melodies were distinguishable.  Some reviewers thought it was a good show.  The opening two songs, “Wicked Messenger” and “Watching the River Flow,” were unrecognizable to me until each was nearly finished.  Nearly every song, new or old, suffered from a paint-by-number quality.  It was exhausting to listen.

The good

Ten years after La Crosse, almost to the day, Bob Dylan performed in Asheville on November 2, 2018.  Sitting in row four, we and some friends were facing Dylan’s baby grand piano with its lid up and with a perfect view of the maestro himself sitting at its keyboard.  To his left on a small table were two items he brings with him on tour.  One was an Oscar statuette, his academy award for the song “Things Have Changed,” featured in the film Wonder Boys, and the song with which he opened the show.  The other was a bust of Greek goddess Athena sporting a green laurel on its head, perhaps a reminder that Dylan is a Nobel laureate after all, and only the second person since George Bernard Shaw to have earned both and Oscar and a Nobel Prize.


Dylan’s backing band included Charlie Sexton on lead guitar and also featured Tony Garnier on bass; Donnie Herron on pedal steel, electric mandolin, and violin; and George Receli  on drums.  They were brilliant.  Song arrangements were fresh and diverse.  The setlist was a welcome mix of contemporary and classic works.  Dylan interpreted each number deftly, accompanied by engaging vocal and facial inflections.  For a couple of songs he left the piano to take center stage, displaying hints of swagger as he dipped the mic stand and struck a pose.  It was especially effective on “Love Sick.”  His arrangement of “It Ain’t Me Babe” left me speechless.  We were transfixed.

Before I knew Sylvia, I’d heard Bob Dylan for the first time on November 1, 1978 in Madison, Wisconsin. Oddly enough, forty years ago almost to the day of the Asheville show.  Thirty years prior to La Crosse.  Was it good?  Oh, yeah.  It was good.  It was the “Budokan” tour.  Dylan used essentially the same musicians who backed him on his Street-Legal album, but with additional horns and backup singers.  While some reviewers were critical of the new musical arrangements, I thought many were unique and more interesting than the originals.

As I recall, the last song for Dylan’s 1978 show was “Changing of the Guard.” His opening song forty years later was “Things Have Changed.” Indeed they have.  It was wonderful to hear Dylan in good voice, backed by a spot-on band, delivering new, inspired arrangements for his classic works, and covering his more recent songs with passion.  The 2018 Bob Dylan is how we’ll remember him, and that’s a good thing.


Readin’, writin’, reviewin’

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I’m not much of a writer anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.  Most of my time now is spent listening to music, new and old — and I use “old” in the very broadest sense, applying to recorded music from the 1920s onward — to determine what the next playlist for my radio show, Life Out of Tunes, should sound like.

Some folks experience personal catharsis from writing.  For others, like me, it becomes a task.  It’s frustrating to “think” wonderful prose and not be able to transfer it to actual words on paper or a screen.  My thoughts are fleeting.  Perhaps I should take a cue from James Joyce and simply let my stream of consciousness flow out on to the keyboard or the notebook.  That would work if I wasn’t so easily distracted by a tune playing in my head, or on the radio, or on the stereo.

Now, most of the writing I’m able to accomplish is in the form of brief reviews for new CD releases.  When I was a working library professional, I wrote more than a hundred brief (150 words or less) book reviews for Library Journal, mainly covering two subject areas.  One was humor.  The other could be described generally as the social impact of technology.  Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

Al Franken

Here’s one of my book reviews from 1999 I had framed along with a personally autographed publicity still of its author, Al Franken.  Al’s book was titled Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency.  If you’re wondering into what category his book fell, it was humor.  He was a merely a comedian at that time and didn’t run for a senate seat until ten years later.  The book’s premise about a Franken presidency was funny.  Franken’s actual political career in the Senate was serious.  I wish he were still in office now and actually considering that run for a Franken Presidency.

No, I haven’t framed any music reviews. Yet.  They’re not actually published anywhere other than in a DJ discussion group for the community radio station, Asheville FM, where I volunteer as host for Life Out of Tunes, the radio show.  Among other things, I’m a reviewer of new music.  In a year since starting there as a DJ, I’ve written and posted about thirty or so reviews.  The hundred book reviews I wrote for Library Journal spanned about twenty years, so I should be hitting my stride soon.

Beginning Saturday, October 27, 2018, Asheville FM will enter it’s week-long Fall Fund Drive.  The goal is to raise $30,000 during that time.  Even for a volunteer-driven, community radio station that broadcasts locally and streams its signal worldwide via the Internet, listener support is crucial for our ongoing operations.  Please consider giving any amount you can to support community radio.  And thanks for listening to Life Out of Tunes on Asheville FM!

~Joey Books, host of Life Out of Tunes

LOOT 1957 Orthophonic

Fifty Years Ago: Volume One

I attended my fifty-year high school class reunion recently.  Another one of those “golden anniversary” milestones intended to make you feel grateful you’re “not dead yet.”

The best part of the reunion gathering was reconnecting with classmates who also were members of a garage band I was in fifty years ago.  The band was “Volume One” and our legacy will remain largely confined to whatever each of the four remaining members recalls about the experience.  To that end, here are my recollections.

Volume One formed in May 1968, rising from the debris of two splintered garage bands, the Jaywalkers and the No Left Turns.  Classmates Dean (bass), Mike (rh gtr/kb), Joe S. (voc/tr) and I (voc) along with two other guys, Tony (ld gtr/voc) and Dick (dr/voc) picked up the pieces of our collectively shattered past, met together in my parents’ basement and launched a musical endeavor that lasted only through the summer of ’68.  But what an amazing summer it was!

In addition to each of us working conventional summer jobs, the band rehearsed in my basement twice a week. By the end of June we’d honed a repertoire of songs in front of various siblings, friends and neighbors who would stop by to listen.  The set list took shape and included songs by Hendrix, the Animals, the Stones and Cream among others.

In July, Volume One debuted as the break band for the One Eyed Jacks from Champaign, Illinois at the E.J. Dalton Youth Center in Rockton, Illinois.  August found us in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin playing at the community center for a teen dance.  Some city officials there harped about our decibel level being too high and demanded that we “turn it down.” When I asked them them to produce a decibel meter, they threatened to unplug us.  The hiring agent intervened and argued that the kids loved us.  She handed me a check for the contracted amount and told us to continue playing.  We finished the show without incident.

Volume One played their third job at our beloved hometown Club Pop House.  It was the pinnacle of our short-lived career together as a band.  Our final gig was as a contestant in a “Battle of the Bands” at the Meadow in Janesville, Wisconsin.  We placed third, winning a twenty-five dollar gift certificate at the local music store.  I’m not sure what became of it before we finally split up for the last time, each of us going his own way.

On Monday, August 6, 2018 I’ll feature a segment of three songs from the original artists (People!, Cream and Vanilla Fudge) that my 1968 garage band, Volume One, played as part of its regular set list fifty years ago.  Tune in to Asheville FM ( Monday, August 6 at 2:00 pm EDT for “Life Out of Tunes” with Joey Books.


Volume One (1968) Clockwise from left: Tony, Mike, Joe A., Joe S., Dean, Dick



Summerfest 1971 and beyond

Summerfest is an annual music festival held in a permanent, seventy-five acre Festival Park along the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The festival runs for eleven days, on eleven stages, with performances from more than 800 acts with over a 1,000 performances.  Since the 1970s, it’s run from late June through early July.  Summerfest attracts between eight and nine hundred thousand people each year, making it “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” a title that’s been certified by Guinness World Records since 1999.

My first experience at Summerfest was in 1971. Though memories of these things sometimes fade, I located newspaper clippings published at that time to corroborate my recollection.  Among other things I recall, it was a very wet experience.

710726 MilJour Summerfest.jpg

Admission to the festival grounds was a dollar fifty at the gate or an even dollar if you bought a mail order ticket in advance. There  were no additional postage or handling charges.  Just mail a buck with a SASE.  Postage was eight cents back then.  A savings of just thirty-four cents, once you subtract the cost for two stamps, wasn’t even enough incentive for a college kid to plan ahead.  Besides, my summer job at the local cheese factory kept me in enough pocket money to enjoy an occasional concert spontaneously.

This event was on a Sunday, the final day of the festival.  Early on, it had been promoted as a “Surprise Rock Spectacular.”  The acts were revealed just two weeks before the show. They were John Sebastian, recently gone solo from the Luvin’ Spoonful; Poco, founded by some former Buffalo Springfield members; and Mountain, four loud, hard rockers led by behemoth guitar shredder, Leslie West.  A band named Tayles, from Madison, Wisconsin, and Mylon, a southern gospel-rock group were the opening acts.

Fifty thousand music fans were gathering at the Lakefront Amphitheater stage when my date and I arrived late Sunday afternoon.  It had been raining intermittently all day, leaving a sparkling sheen on every exposed surface.

Like today, Summerfest was sponsored primarily by Milwaukee’s famous breweries.  Miller High Life and Pabst Blue Ribbon are perhaps the only originals still around.  Unlike today, festival beer was served up in glass bottles.  A new minimum drinking age of eighteen had been enacted recently, so there was plenty of bottled beer consumption, resulting in plenty of empty bottles.

One newspaper account had listed John Sebastian as the concert headliner, clearly an error as we’d suspected and confirmed by handbills posted on the festival grounds.  Mountain would be the main attraction. We missed Mylon who, I learned recently, was managed by Felix Pappalardi of Mountain, the concert headliners.   We arrived instead near the end of Tayles’ set.

I’d really been looking forward to hearing Poco and hoped the concert wouldn’t be affected by the rain which had started up again.  After a lengthy delay, Poco came out on stage, tuned up a bit, and began playing.

After just two songs, Hurry Up and Hear That Music, frontman Richie Furay tersely announced that Rusty Young, their pedal steel guitarist, had been hit by a beer bottle.  To my great disappointment, Poco abruptly left the stage as loud booing and buckets of rain began to pour forth.

When the rain eventually eased up, a soggy audience cheered as John Sebastian, acoustic guitar in hand, strolled out to a microphone and announced, “I’ll play for ya. Jus’ don’t throw no bottles at me.”  He played an entire set and two encores without incident.  Memorable songs included Younger GirlDarlin’ Be Home Soon and Red-Eye Express.  Sometimes all it takes to tame an otherwise unruly concert crowd is politely asking not to be a beer-bottle target.

Finally, as rain continued to fall, Mountain took the stage.  Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi, Corky Laing, and Steve Knight simply blew us away.  If any bottles were thrown toward the stage during Mountain’s set, the high decibel sound waves might’ve stopped them in flight.  I could still hear Nantucket Sleighride, Mississippi Queen, and For Yasgur’s Farm ringing in my ears on the long drive home after the show.  It helped me forget about how wet and cold we were.

In four decades of semi-regular Summerfest attendance since then, I’ve heard such notable artists as Roy Orbison, the Moody Blues, Robin Trower, Linda Ronstadt, Kansas, Michael Franti, the Freddy Jones Band, Green Children and many others, including jazz, folk and blues musicians from all over the world.  There were rising stars and those at the end of long careers.  I saw comedian Billy Crystal perform there early in his career, and heard Linda Ronstadt announce to the Milwaukee crowd, “It’s so great to be here in Indiana!”  We were quick to correct her geography.  My wife saw comedian George Carlin arrested by Milwaukee police for performing his Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television routine.

The biggest stars continue to perform at Summerfest in what’s now a 25,000-seat amphitheater at one end of the festival grounds for which tickets are sold at much higher prices than Summerfest’s nominal gate cost.  And though it’s no longer just a buck fifty for general admission, Summerfest remains one of the best bargains for live music around, still hosting hundreds of musical acts on eleven different stages, over eleven consecutive days.

On my July 2, 2018 radio show, Life Out of Tunes on Asheville FM, I’ll be spinning songs from that first Summerfest experience and from other artists I’ve heard at the festival over the years.

Memorial Day: I ain’t marching anymore

My father and his brother both served their country in the Army during World War II.  My uncle, who was based in Australia, saw combat action in the South Pacific.  Dad was training to be a tail gunner in the Army Air Force, but missed combat as the war ended prior to his deployment.

While in college during the Vietnam war, I took part in anti-war demonstrations, marches and rallies.  I still have a letter from U.S. Representative Les Aspin in response to concerns about the war I’d written in a missive to him.  He understood and promised to work toward ending the war.  The continuing anti-war movement resonates with me today.

In 1971, over a Memorial Day weekend when I was home for the summer from college, my uncle and his family came to visit.  Being an occasional coffeehouse folksinger, trying to learn a handful of new tunes whenever the opportunity arose, I’d brought home with me some sheet music.  I’d set the pages to one song, an anti-war anthem titled I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs, on my mother’s spinet piano.  My uncle spotted it there, picked it up and stared at it.  I braced myself for the blowback.

A few long seconds passed, when to my great surprise he turned to me and said, “This is really good.  How does it go?”  I sang I few bars a cappella for him.  He picked up the tune straight away and we both continued to sing the next couple of verses together.  Dad even joined in.  Soon we were discussing the Vietnam war and concluded that future wars should be avoided at all cost.

Let’s not forget why we enjoy this long holiday weekend.  Memorial Day is observed to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.  The holiday wasn’t established for businesses to promote “mattress sale extravaganzas” or for car dealerships to offer “holiday blowouts.”  Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated sometime after the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971, the same day my dad, my uncle and I sang I Ain’t Marching Anymore together.

The message of the song is clear.  Let’s cease adding to the roll call of those who fall in battle, to be honored for a few hours one day a year.  It’s time to give peace a chance… every day.

Fundraising or Fun-raising?

Most of you know I have a weekly music show on a local community radio station in Asheville.  As a matter of fact, it goes by the same name as this blog, Life Out of Tunes.  It’s a joy for me to play music for a listening audience and it’s fun to know those listeners are not only from here in Asheville, but from anywhere in the country and perhaps the world.

Spring Fund Drive Logo by Jess Speer

In order to make that happen, many resources are needed — human, technical and financial.  The community radio station for which I volunteer, Asheville FM, is no different with regard to those needs.  That’s why twice each year we hold fund drives.  With spring now in full swing, we are celebrating the season with new ideas and new goals to make our commercial-free radio station even better and stronger than it is now!

The Asheville FM spring fund raiser begins Saturday, April 28 and runs through Friday, May 4.  Our focus this time is GROWTH.  Community radio is a powerful medium, but we need your support to continue presenting more than sixty shows spanning virtually every genre of music, as well as providing news and community interest programming.  Our goal is $23,000.  It’s ambitious, but attainable.  So please consider contributing any amount by clicking on the DONATE button next time you visit you call the station at (828) 259-3936 and pledge or donate during my show, Life Out of Tunes, on Monday, April 30 between 2:00 and 3:00 pm Eastern time, I’ll be especially grateful!)

That brings to mind some memories.  In 1982 I was associate director of the Janesville (WI) Public Library.  I also fronted a band named Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders.  We were a fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll revival band that specialized in working fund raisers for schools and other non-profit organizations.  Here we are rehearsing just before a library fundraiser.  (That’s me in the green shirt.)

Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders (1982)

Later that year I was asked to co-host local televised segments of the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon alongside Janesville school district’s PR manager and the manager of Total TV.  During the telethon I offered to shave off my mustache while on camera for a specific donation.  I don’t recall the dollar amount.  A donor called to offer the requested amount, but asked me to shave only half the mustache.  His hope, he said, was that someone else would call with the same donation amount to shave off the rest.  Someone brought me a can of shaving cream and a razor. I continued the telethon with only half-a-stache until a second caller made the rest come off.  Another caller who recognized me from a Heavy Chevy gig requested that I recite the spoken interlude of a song, Little Darlin’  by the Diamonds.  It was a song from the Heavy Chevy playlist, so I accommodated her request and she made her donation.

Telethon ad from Sept 5, 1982 Janesville Gazette

Isn’t it a shame no visual archive of that telethon show exists?   Well, perhaps not.  Unfortunately, though, there is an audio-visual archive of Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders on YouTube.  Here is:

The Ballad of Heavy Chevy

Please give generously to support community radio on Asheville FM !
Thank you !

Good Friday. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

For this solemn time, I’m resurrecting a true story of Good Friday I first recounted two years ago…

I used to be an altar boy.  The prerequisites weren’t complicated.  Attending a Catholic grade school, being male and having a pulse were the basic requirements.  Most boys who’d made their first communion were expected to become altar boys and most parents expected their boys would serve.  We were called Knights of the Altar.

Sister Mary Marcelia was adviser to the Knights of the Altar.  Under her guidance, prospective altar boys memorized Latin responses to numerous prayers comprising the Mass.  We’d stand before Sister and repeat Latin supplications from memory until they were flawless.  Woe unto any boy who didn’t learn the correct responses.  Long, solitary sessions raising random three-digit numbers to the twelfth power were typical reparations for serious Latin infractions.

My neighbor Jim was a year younger than me.  He was my partner on this Good Friday, the most solemn day on any liturgical calendar.  I was in the eighth grade and a seasoned altar boy by that time.  Together, Jim and I were to process into the church nave and proceed to a side altar.  Once there, our task was to kneel for half an hour in vigil,  relieving two of our fellow Knights who were finishing their thirty-minute shift. This ceremony had begun earlier and was repeated throughout the day.

The church and the school were adjacent, the school hallway extending through double doors into the church narthex.  On this Good Friday afternoon, Jim and I donned red cassocks and white surplices in the school library which was the furthest point from the doors leading into the narthex.  Our robes had been moved into the library from their regular closet behind the altar.  With altar boys shuffling around every half hour, it was thought the potential for noisy traffic behind the altar might distract the dozen or so faithful parishioners praying, dozing or daydreaming in the pews.

Jim and I arrived separately for our shift.  Upon robing in the library, we trotted down the long school hallway and through the double doors of the church narthex where we immediately slowed our pace, folded our hands and solemnly processed side-by-side down the center aisle.  As rehearsed previously, we approached a kneeler in front of the side altar where, in a series of well-choreographed genuflections, we relieved our two colleagues.

Our shift ended without incident.  After thirty minutes, Jim and I were relieved.  A few more genuflections and we soberly processed out of the church.  Upon exciting, we raced up the school hallway and back into the library to hang up our robes among the others on a portable chrome rack stationed there.

Our first mistake was to explore the open door at one end of the library from which we could see only darkness in the room beyond.  Naturally, we walked over and flipped on the light switch just to see what was in there.  In an instant we spotted a massive, gray desk and control panel with switches and dials.  An office chair on wheels was tucked under the desk.  Upon that desk stood a glorious public address microphone on a stand into which was set a large, black push button.

By virtue of some careless adult leaving this door ajar, Jim and I had stumbled into an inner sanctum where bus announcements, accolades, admonitions and daily prayers were broadcast daily.  Eyes wide, we approached the control panel with unbridled curiosity.  “Let’s see how it works.” I suggested.  “Okay!” Jim agreed.

We depressed the main power button, flipped a couple of numbered switches and turned up a dial.  The panel lit up and meters began to glow.  “Let’s sing something,”  I said.  I was a showman even then.  We decided on the biggest hit song of the day.  If we could get through one chorus, we’d quickly shut everything down, grab our jackets and hustle out the door.

Pressing down the microphone button, we crooned, “She loves you.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  She loves you. Yeah, yeah, yeah!  She loves you.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeaaaaah!”  Whoa!  We could hear our voices echoing over speakers in the deserted school hallway.  Releasing the button, we shouted “Let’s get outta here!”

We hadn’t yet removed our cassocks and surplices.  It was a crucial oversight.  We tore off our robes and flung them on the mobile rack, chattering madly about hearing ourselves sing over the school P.A. system.  Jim walked out, heading toward home.  I stalled a few seconds to peruse the library bookshelves for nothing in particular.  In a flash, Father Fagan burst through the door, red-faced and bellowing “Who did that?”  He stared directly into my face.

Given time to find my composure, I might have responded more contritely.  Instead, I blurted out, “He did!” pointing out the window toward the parking lot where Jim was scurrying away.  For a second, I thought Father believed I wasn’t involved.  He stomped out without another word.  I buttoned up my jacket and hurried out, following Jim’s route toward home.

On Saturday morning my mother answered the phone.  I watched as the expression on her face changed from day-before-Easter, dye-the-eggs pleasantness, into a formidable scowl.  The cat was out of the bag and Sister Marcelia was informing Mom of our indiscreet vocal performance.  You see, the school P.A. system also broadcast into the church.

I spent much of the following week mindlessly raising random three-digit numbers to the twelfth power after school, under the watchful eye of Sister Marcelia.  It provided an opportunity to reflect upon the seriousness of what I’d done… also to hum Beatles songs and consider what a great name Knights of the Altar would be for a band.

Eighth Grade



Saint Joseph’s Day, a Sicilian holiday, is March 19 and coincides this year with my Monday “Life Out of Tunes” radio show.  So I’m re-posting this article about my Grandfather Giuseppe, originally published more than two years ago.  I’ll take a few minutes on Monday’s show to feature Grandpa, his music and some Saint Joseph’s Day traditions…

Today, I received a pleasant surprise.  A year or so ago I was contacted by Professor James Leary from the University of Wisconsin.   Jim is a folklore historian who was researching material for a book about the ethnic folk music of Wisconsin.  We chatted about my Grandfather, who I wrote about here previously, and of his recording session in 1946 that was part of a federally-funded project begun in the 1930s to collect and preserve folk songs of native Americans and immigrants in their own languages.  (See my previous blog post: The Sicilian Wedding Singer.)  Our email exchanges also revealed that Jim and I had been classmates at Notre Dame.

About a month ago an envelope arrived from the office of professor Leary in which a letter was enclosed offering a discount on his newly published book and CD collection entitled Folk Songs from Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946.  The mailing targeted descendants and family members who served as “research informants” for the individuals whose voices and stories appeared in the book.

I ordered a copy without hesitation and it arrived today.  Jim included a photo and a story about my Grandfather Accardi in his book.  Not only that, an accompanying CD contains a track of Grandpa Giuseppe singing one of the Italian songs he recorded, Tic-ti, Tic-ta.  The song’s lyrics, in Italian with English translation, along with its history are described also.

What an honor it is to know that my Grandfather’s songs and the folk songs of many other immigrants and native Americans, continue to be relevant decades later in Professor Leary’s “Dust-to-Digital” research and book.  Thanks, Jim!

Dark Side of the Moon: Forty-five years on

March 4, 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s North American debut performance of their seminal work, Dark Side of the Moon.  Rather than open the tour in New York, Chicago or other large city, it premiered in a 9,000 seat venue in Madison, Wisconsin.  I lived only forty miles south and attended the concert with some friends.  It was a show I’ll never forget.

The first I heard that Pink Floyd was kicking off their 1973 North American tour in Madison, Wisconsin probably would have been on a Radio Free Madison broadcast.  Radio Free Madison was an “underground” music program on WIBA-FM that began broadcasting on Halloween night 1969 and continued into the mid-70s.  It was on for only a few hours every night and played more album-oriented “head” music than anyone else was doing at that time.  We’d been enjoying various tracks from Floyd’s Obscured By CloudsAtom Heart Mother and Meddle on Radio Free and there was buzz about their forthcoming album, the title of which was announced as  Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.

“A piece for assorted lunatics?”  I was all in and so were three friends.  The radio station was already spinning a promotional copy of the song Money.  It featured an interesting time signature, 7/4 alternating with more typical 4/4 for the solos. Apparently, the 4/4 solos were done because David Gilmour thought it would be too complicated to write them in 7/4 time. Some music critics said the single dynamic of maintaining tempo but changing from seven beats to the bar to 8 beats added to the track’s unique appeal.  It also featured some pretty good sound effects which were expected to be even better in quadraphonic (four-channel) sound, a format that Floyd had been working with for a while and was becoming popular for vinyl LPs.  I couldn’t afford a quadraphonic audio system then, but a friend eventually set up one and it was pretty impressive.

Before we got it together to buy tickets in advance, the concert was cancelled. This announcement was in the January 25, 1973 Madison Capital TimesWhat a bummer!  At least we hadn’t shelled out any money yet.  We waited patiently for more details about the album release or a rescheduled concert date.  At last it was announced that the band had cleared up its visa issues.  The concert was back on and the following ad was published in Madison newspapers.

The lunatics were psyched!  We still hadn’t bought tickets in advance, so we traveled to the Coliseum from Janesville on the evening of the show thinking we’d arrive in plenty of time to buy them at the door.  We never expected an endless line of cars waiting to enter the parking lot.  (Quick… roll the windows down and let the air clear!)  As the car inched forward with each vehicle ahead of us stopping at the gatehouse to pay for parking, it seemed like an eternity.  Eventually we paid, parked and hoofed it to the ticket window.  There were plenty available, but it required waiting in yet another line.  The concert had already begun by the time the four of us entered the dark arena.  The venue, typically used for sporting events and exhibitions, featured “festival seating,” a euphemism for finding someplace to stand on the seatless arena floor along with 9,000 others.  Alternatively, we could have chosen to sit in a seat around the perimeter, but we wanted to be in the center of that ground-shaking quadraphonic sound system.  With pink smoke and a laser light show in progress, an extended jam of Obscured By Clouds followed by When You’re In was underway.  Weaving through a mass of humanity in the dark, someone bumped my elbow and an unlit chunk of “sensory enhancement” flew from the pipe in my hand into the abyss and on to the floor, lost under a dozen shuffling feet.

According to author Glenn Povey in his book Echoes: The Complete History of Pink Floyd, the band’s equipment for that tour was hauled in two forty-foot articulated trucks, with two drivers in each.  They would meet the road crew at the venue at ten in the morning, usually after driving all night.  The road crew, who traveled with the band, would be there when the truck arrived and then would begin setting up the equipment. Upon completing the setup at around four in the afternoon, the band would show up for their usual sound check.

On stage for this 1973 North American tour were: David Gilmour (vocals, guitar, synthesizers), Nick Mason (percussion, tape effects), Roger Waters (bass guitar, vocals, synthesizers, tape effects), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals, synthesizers), Nawasa Chowder (backing vocals), Mary Ann Lindsey (backing vocals), Phyllis Lindsey (backing vocals), and Dick Parry (saxophone).

Inside the Coliseum, music and lights were at full throttle.  Following Careful With That Ax, Eugene the band took a short intermission.  They returned to the stage and the lights dimmed as the opening sound effects of Speak To Me filled the arena from a massive quad sound system.  Floyd performed Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, lasers blazing through the pink stage lights and into the upper regions of the hall.  Among the most impressive auditory effects, were the cash register and money-changing sounds that chased around the four massive speaker banks hung from the ceiling, all pointed toward the center.  The quad sound was mind-blowing as the introductory bass line segued in, followed by the other instruments and vocals.  Visually and aurally, that show was a peak experience, the intensity of which I had never witnessed before and have not witnessed since.

Eyes blurry and ears buzzing, we drifted out after the encore, One Of These Days, from Meddle.  I’ve forgotten many things, but that Dark Side of the Moon experience remains vivid in my memory, forty-five years on.

There is no dark side of the moon, really.  Matter of fact it’s all dark.

On Thursday, March 1, 2018 I’ll be sitting in as DJ Joey Books for “Professor of Prog,” JD, to host his award-winning, progressive music show, “Closer to the Edge.”  The following Thursday, March 8, when JD returns to host his program, he’ll have a special guest.  Asheville author Bill Kopp recently published his book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to the Dark Side of the Moon.  Bill will read from his book and chat with JD.  I’ll be there as well, to answer phone calls and chat.  “Closer to the Edge” is on Asheville FM from 2:00 to 5:00 pm every Thursday.  And don’t forget my weekly radio show, “Life Out of Tunes,” Mondays from 2:00 to 3:00 pm on .

Tune in and turn it up!