Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Crow -- "Keeps Me Runnin'" (1971)

There’s a town lyin’ just ahead
I wonder what it holds for me?
My many sins, and my colored skin
Keeps me runnin' all the time

The last 2 or 3 lines featured Crow's great 1969 hit, "Evil Woman (Don't Play Your Games With Me)" and an interview with the band's bass player and co-author of that song, Larry Wiegand.  Here's part two of that interview:

2 or 3 lines: The success of "Evil Woman" and the Crow Music album meant that Crow had a lot of opportunities to play live.  You opened shows for some Hall of Fame-caliber performers, including Blood Sweat & Tears, Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, and Three Dog Night, and played at outdoor festivals in Miami, Denver, Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities.  Of all the acts you shared the stage with back then, who impressed you the most?

Janis Joplin
Larry Wiegand:  We played with Janis Joplin in Minneapolis, Madison (Wisconsin) and Chicago and we were really impressed with her talent and power.  Out of all the acts we opened for, Janis and the Yardbirds had the greatest influence on us.  But I really believe Crow was a harder-working band than any of the bands we performed with. We used to pride ourselves on playing hard, doing our best and leaving folks happy.

2 or 3 lines: Black Sabbath included a cover of "Evil Woman" on its eponymous debut album, but for some reason, it was left off the North American edition of the LP and wasn't released in the U.S. until 2002.  Tell us about the Black Sabbath version of "Evil Woman" -- did they approach you about doing the song before they recorded it?

Larry Wiegand:  Well, they never talked to any of the band members before they recorded it, although they probably did talk to Dunwich Productions, who produced the record.  We released the song first and had the hit here in the States.  Then they re-recorded it and released it as their first single but only on the English LP. "Evil Woman" was also covered by Ike and Tina Turner on their Come Together LP in 1970, but they changed the title to "Evil Man" to make it work with a female singer.

2 or 3 lines:  The singles from your second and third albums failed to duplicate the success of "Evil Woman."  I understand that you and the other members of Crow were excited about the songs you had written for a proposed fourth album, but your record company -- Amaret -- didn't think they were commercial enough.  You became very disillusioned with Amaret after they rejected your new material, and you wanted to change label.

Larry Wiegand:  We had distribution problems with Amaret. That was a big deal at the time. The Amaret president was a problem for us in letting us go to Elektra, which wanted to sign us -- he finally agreed to let us out of our contract but only if we agreed not to use the name Crow.  We never could work it out.  And we had problems with our own personal manager also.

(Counting both singles and LPs, Crow sold over a million and a half records, but very little money got to the band's members.  Fed up with the financial and managerial mess that Crow was mired in, lead singer David Wagner left the group in late 1971.  The rest of Crow's members tried to soldier on for awhile with a new vocalist, but finally threw in the towel in the summer of 1972.  Amaret released a Best of Crow album later that year.  Crow reformed in 1988, and is still performing today.  The group was inducted into the Minnesota Rock/Country Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Iowa Rock & Roll Music Hall of Fame in 2009.)

2 or 3 lines:  Have you travelled much since getting back together, or do you stick pretty close to home?  Do you ever play with other bands from the 60s/70s era?

Larry Wiegand:  We don't do too much traveling.  We've played mostly in the midwest but also some southern states.  We've played with many acts from that era -- Edgar Winter, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Rick Derringer, Uriah Heep, Delbert McClinton . . . the list goes on and on.  We'd love to go overseas and play. We get a lot of requests to do that.

Larry Wiegand today
2 or 3 lines:  What were some of the bands over the years that you and the other guys in Crow were fans of?

Larry Wiegand:  Boy, that's a tough one.  There were so many great groups we loved -- Mitch Ryder, the Stones, Wilson Pickett, the Beatles, the Rascals, James Brown, the Yardbirds, Deep Purple, Eric Burdon, Bob Seger, Tower of Power, Poco, the Eagles.  I already mentioned the Ventures -- Nokie Edwards was a great lead guitarist.  A couple of lesser-known bands I like a lot are the Crusaders and the Dixie Dregs. There was a group from Minneapolis called Gypsy that was very good that didn't get as much attention as I thought they should have -- also a group called Dreams from New York City.

2 or 3 lines:  Do you do any covers of other groups' hit songs in your live shows in addition to Crow originals?

Larry Wiegand:  We do "We Gotta Get Out a This Place" by the Animals, "Cry To Me" by Solomon Burke, "Take It Off The Top" by the Dixie Dregs.  Also some Delbert McClinton songs. They're all great songs to play live.

2 or 3 lines:  "Evil Woman" was a favorite of mine -- it came out when I was a senior in high school, and I remember it vividly -- but I didn't really know anything about Crow's other music before contacting you to do this interview.  Do you hate being called a "one-hit wonder"?  Is it frustrating that "Evil Woman" is all that most fans know about Crow's music?

Larry Wiegand:  No, I don't hate being called a one-hit wonder.  I'm glad we had one big hit.  And I never get tired of playing "Evil Woman."  It is a little frustrating that more folks aren't aware of our other songs, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

2 or 3 lines:  What Crow songs deserved a better fate?  What do you think were the best Crow songs other than "Evil Woman"?

Larry Wiegand:  "Busy Day," "Cottage Cheese," "Something In Your Blood," "Mobile Blues."

("Busy Day" originally appeared on Crow's debut album, Crow Music.  "Cottage Cheese" -- which made it to #56 on the Billboard charts -- was on their second album, Crow by Crow.  All four songs -- along with "Evil Woman" -- are available on the Classics 1969-1972 CD that is for sale on Crow's website, www.thecrowband.com.)

2 or 3 lines:  "Cottage Cheese" has to be one of the oddest names ever for a rock 'n' roll single.  How did you come up with it?

Larry Wiegand:  We needed a song that would feature our drummer, Denny Craswell, doing a drum solo.  So my brother Dick and I came up with this riff and we all started working on it at rehearsal.  We eventually recorded it but we didn't have a name yet.  The engineer needed to label it something so Dave told him to just call it "Cottage Cheese" until we came up with something better. We never did, so that name stuck.

2 or 3 lines:  Final question.  You're a bass player, and I think bass players tend to get overlooked by a lot of casual fans -- they usually aren't as well-known as singers, guitarists, and drummers.  Who are some of your favorite electric bass players?

Motown great James Jamerson
Larry Wiegand: My all-time favorites are James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Paul Samwell-Smith, Rocco Prestia, and Paul McCartney -- they are all idols of mine.  I was influenced by all these bassists, but especially Jamerson and Paul Samwell-Smith.

(Jamerson was the bassist on most of the early Motown hits.  Click here for a Youtube video that isolates the drum track and Jamerson's bass playing on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," which gives you a taste of just how good he was.  Rainey was a great session musician who recorded with Laura Nyro, the Rascals, Al Kooper, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and many others.  Samwell-Smith was a founding member of the Yardbirds.  Prestia was the bassist for Tower of Power.)

Thanks, Larry -- I enjoyed learning more about "Evil Woman" and Crow's other music.  If I ever make it to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area again, I hope I'll have a chance to see you perform live.

Larry wrote "Keeps Me Runnin'," which is from Crow's third album, Mosaic.  It has a much rougher and less polished sound than "Evil Woman," and isn't dressed up with a fancy horn arrangement.  The instrumental break is interesting because it's so subtle -- it's very quiet compared to the rest of the track.  I don't recall hearing anything quite like it.

Here's "Keeps Me Runnin'" by Crow:

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