Friday, May 30, 2014

Country Joe and the Fish -- "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" (1967)

You know that it's a shame and a pity
You were raised up in the city
And you never 
Learned nothing 'bout country ways

I guess I never learned nothing 'bout country ways or city ways neither.  That's because I grew up in a town of about 35,000 souls that wasn't really the city or the country. 

So I never learned nothing 'bout high-rise apartment buildings or subways or streetwalkers.  And I certainly never learned nothing 'bout hunting or fishing or milking cows.

Then what exactly did I learn?  Not a whole helluva lot, boys and girls.  

So here I am -- 62 years old today and still trying to catch up for lost time.

Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock
One thing I do know is that the lead singer and co-founder of Country Joe and the Fish was "Country Joe" McDonald.  But I did not know about Barry "The Fish" Melton, the lead guitarist and co-founder of Country Joe and the Fish.

After contributing to six Country Joe and the Fish studio albums and appearing with the band at it's memorable performances at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, Melton decided to become a lawyer.  He didn't attend law school, but rather took courses from LaSalle Extension University before taking (and passing) the California bar exam in 1982.

Melton practiced law in San Francisco for about a decade, then was a public defender in two different northern California counties from 1994 until 2009.

Barry "The Fish" Melton
Today, Melton (who will turn 67 in two weeks) is in private practice in Lake County.  He specializes in criminal defense work. 

Country Joe McDonald never became a lawyer, but he was a witness in a famous trial -- the "Chicago Seven" conspiracy trial, which took place in 1969.

His testimony at that trial got off to a roaring start:

THE CLERK: You will remove your gum, sir.

THE WITNESS: What gum?

THE CLERK: That you are chewing on.

THE WITNESS: I am afraid that I don't have any gum.

THE CLERK: You may be seated, sir.

McDonald was then examined by the famous radical defense attorney, William Kunstler:

MR. KUNSTLER: Would you state your full name, please?

THE WITNESS: Country Joe.

MR. KUNSTLER: What is your occupation?

THE WITNESS: I am a minister in the New Universal Life Church. I am a rock and roll star, I am a producer of phonograph records. Father, husband, leader of a rock and roll band. Singer, composer, poet, owner of a publishing company, and a few other things.

MR. KUNSTLER: Do you currently have a rock and roll band?


MR. KUNSTLER: What is the name of that band?

THE WITNESS: Country Joe and the Fish.

Radical defense attorney William Kunstler
At this point, prosecuting attorney Schultz interrupted Kunstler:

MR. SCHULTZ: For the record may we have the witness's full name? Country Joe is really not sufficient.

THE COURT: I am assuming that his Christian name is Country. He is under oath. He was asked his name.

MR. SCHULTZ: It might be the name that he uses and not the name that was originally his.

THE COURT: Is Country your first name?


THE COURT: That is your first name or Christian name, is that right?

THE WITNESS: Some people call me Country, yes.

THE COURT: What is your real name?


THE COURT: You say some people call you that. What is your real name, sir?

THE WITNESS: I am afraid I don't understand what real means.

Judge Julius J. Hoffman
Later, Country Joe broke out into song -- much to the chagrin of the Judge Julius J. Hoffman:

THE WITNESS: At that point Abbie Hoffman wanted to know what the song was, and then I -- then I sang the song. It goes: [he sings] "And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn. The next stop is Vietnam. And it's --"

THE COURT: No, no, no, Mr. Witness. No singing.

THE WITNESS: "five, six, seven -- "

THE COURT: Mr. Marshal --
[the marshal goes over to Country Joe and puts his hand on Joe's chin to close his mouth]

THE MARSHAL: The Judge is talking.

THE COURT: No singing is permitted in the courtroom. You are here to answer questions. You may continue telling about this conversation.

(I highly recommend that you click here to read the entire transcript.  It is a hoot.)  
The song that McDonald attempted to sing that day in the courtroom was "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," an antiwar song that Mc Donald wrote in 1965 -- supposedly finishing it in less than 30 minutes. 
The song was released on the album of the same name in 1967, but it is known today because McDonald gave an impromptu solo performance of it at Woodstock in 1969. 
But I think "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" (which was released in 1967 on the Electric Music for the Mind and Body album) is the most enduring accomplishment of Country Joe and the Fish.

The lines quoted above come from the song's chorus.  That's because I couldn't decided which of the song's verses to quote.
The first verse, which includes these lines, is pretty weird:
She hides in an attic concealed on a shelf
Behind volumes of literature based on herself
And runs across the pages like some tiny elf
The next verse is pretty weird, too:
Then softly she will explain
Just exactly who was to blame
For causing me to go insane
And finally blow out my brain
The final two verses are much weirder -- to use technical musical terminology, they are "weirdissimo."

Here's the final verse in its entirety:
Now she's the one who gives us all those magical things
And reads us stories out of the I Ching
Then she passes out a whole new basket of rings
That when you put on your hand
Makes you one of the angel band
And gives you the power to be a man
But what it does for her you never quite understand
Sweet Lorraine, ah, sweet Lorraine
(Say what?)

"Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" song was released in May 1967, just as tens of thousands of hippies and other members of the counterculture descended on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco for what is now known as the "Summer of Love."
I visited Haight-Ashbury -- or "the Haight," which is what we cool kids call it -- last month while in San Francisco for my sister's wedding.

Rooky Ricardo's Records
One of the highlights of the visit was Rooky Ricardo's Records, which opened on lower Haight Street about 25 years ago.  It stocks thousands of 45s and LPs, and its owner -- Richard "Funky Dick" Vivian -- not only has an encyclopedic knowledge and soul and R&B records, but also can teach you the Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Stroll, and many other sixties dances.

More of the inventory
at Rooky Ricardo's
Click here to view a brief video about Rooky Ricardo's.
Flipping through record bins is thirsty work, but the Toronado Pub -- a scruffy dive bar that offers an incredible selection of foreign and American craft beers -- was just across the street from Rooky Ricardo's:
Toronado Pub
Here are a few of the beers that were on tap at the Toronado that day:

There are lots of little surprises in the lower Haight if you keep your eyes open,  like this beautifully painted door:

And this building mural:

This building stands just below Haight on Fillmore:

Less than a mile from the Toronado is the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, which was ground zero for the "Summer of Love."  The neighborhood is full of beautiful Victorian houses:

No visit to the Haight is complete without making the obligatory pilgrimage to the house at 710 Ashbury where the Grateful Dead lived from 1966 to 1968:

Here's "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kingston Trio -- "It Was a Very Good Year" (1961)

And now the days are short
I'm in the autumn of my years
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
Last month, I visited the Napa wine country for the first time in 30-plus years.

Two of the wineries I had last visited in 1979 -- Heitz Cellars and V. Sattui -- were still around, although they've expanded their offerings, and built new buildings, and were barely recognizable to me.

Poppies outside the Heitz Cellars tasting room
Joseph Heitz earned a master's degree in viticulture and enology (the science of growing grapes and making wine) from the University of California at Davis shortly after World War II.  He purchased a small St. Helena vineyard -- only eight acres -- in 1961.

Joe Heitz
A few years later, Joe and Alice Heitz met Tom and Martha May, who owned a young Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Oakville.  In 1966, Heitz made the first single-vineyard wine in the Napa Valley from the grapes that grew in that vineyard -- his Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is still being made today.  The 1968 Martha's Vineyard Cabernet was considered the greatest wine made in the United States up until that time.

I read about Heitz cabernets when I was in law school, and remember seeing a few individually-numbered bottles of Martha's Vineyard Cabernet in a Harvard Square liquor store.  Here's one of the 10,000-odd bottles of Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1970 vintage:

The first time I made it to San Francisco, I made it a point to visit the Heitz winery.  As I recall, the Heitz tasting room was located in a garage-like building -- perhaps it was an actual garage.  The employee who poured my samples took glasses out of garden-variety kitchen cabinets and took the white wine I tasted out of a refrigerator that looked a lot like the one in my apartment kitchen.  The Heitz tasting room was unpretentious to say the least.

The current Heitz tasting room is very nice, although relatively small and simple by current Napa Valley standards.  There was no charge for the tasting at Heitz, which included samples of the winery's 2009 cabernet (which spent three full years in oak barrels, and sold for $49 a bottle), a crisp sauvignon blanc, a well-balanced zinfandel, and a luscious port.

The Heitz tasting room is surrounded by acres of vineyards:

Here's a very artsy-fartsy photo of my glass of the '09 Heitz cabernet, with Howell Mountain in the background.

Now let's go behind the curtain for a moment.  Here's a photo of me taking the previous photo:

(Shhhh! Artist at work!)
(Wondering who took that photo?  2 or 3 lines always travels with an entourage, including some production assistants and other assorted "go-fers."  I forget the name of the PA who took this particular photo . . . they come and they go, and who can keep track?)

Next, it was time to visit the nearby V. Sattui Winery.

An Italian immigrant named Vittorio Sattui came to San Francisco from Genoa with his bride in 1882.  A few years later he began to buy grapes from Napa County and make wine from them in his North Beach winery.

Old V. Sattui truck
The winery went out of business when Prohibition became the law of the land, but Vittorio's great-grandson started a new V. Sattui winery in Napa on a shoestring in the mid-1970s.

The grandson -- Dario, by name -- was working at the winery the day I visited.  He had an uncanny resemblance to his great-grandfather.  (For a moment, I thought the 19th-century photos of Vittorio hanging on the tasting room walls were actually photos of Dario dressed up in vintage clothing.)

Dario Sattui
When I visited V. Sattui in 1979, it was a very modest operation.  As I recall, it made and sold a handful of inexpensive red wines.  What made me stop there was the on-premises cheese shop and deli.

V. Sattui's current cheese selection
I was in Napa on a beautiful fall day, and after visiting a few tasting rooms in the morning, I decided an al fresco picnic was just the ticket.  V. Sattui offered a nice selection of cheeses and some good, fresh bread and the winery's grounds sported several picnic tables overlooking its vineyards, whose leaves had turned bright yellow and red.

The one thing the Sattui winery didn't offer was half bottles of wine.  So I ordered a full bottle -- the first (and last) time I single-handedly consumed a full bottle of wine at lunch.

The V. Sattui tasting room today
As I recall, it was a spectacular experience -- some good local cheese, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread . . . and moi.

Moments after finishing my repast, I stopped at a pay phone to call Washington and check in with my office.  "I'm not coming back!" I remember shouting at my boss, who was only a couple of years older than me and wasn't averse to having a drink or two himself. "You can't make me come back!"

That afternoon, I drove on mountain roads for close to three hours before getting to my destination -- the Whale Watch Inn in Mendocino, a picturesque seaside village that was founded by New Englanders before the Civil War and which still has a New England feel.  (Mendocino stood in for a fictional Maine town in Murder, She Wrote, which was filmed there.)

I had sobered up by the time I got there, and was suffering a terrible headache as the result of all that wine and over 100 miles of driving with the afternoon sun in my eyes.

The V. Sattui Winery has had some very good years since 1979.  They sell about 60 different wines at the winery and through their mail-order clubs, and have expanded the cheese shop and deli.  The place was hopping with visitors when I visited last month.

V. Sattui today
Before we turn to our featured song, here's a photo of Lawrence Argent's 35-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture, "Bunny Foo Foo":

"Bunny Foo Foo" stands at the entrance to Hall Wines, which is just across SR 29 from V. Sattui.

"It Was a Very Good Year" was composed in 1961 by Ervin Drake.  Drake also co-wrote the very popular and oft-recorded "I Believe" ("I believe for every drop of rain that falls/A flower grows," etc.). 

The best-known recording of "It Was a Very Good Year" was Frank Sinatra's, which was released in 1965 and won a Grammy for the best male vocal performance.

But the original 1961 recording of the song was by the Kingston Trio, and it was that recording that inspired Sinatra to cover the song.

I'm really not sure what inspired the inimitable William Shatner to record the song in 1968 (along with some lines from Hamlet) and then perform it on the Mike Douglas Show:

Here's the original Kingston Trio version of "It Was a Very Good Year":

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Faron Young -- "Wine Me Up" (1969)

I'd like to thank the men that raise the grapes 
Way out in California
And I'm hopin' this will be their biggest year

Thirty-plus years ago, I had the privilege of living in San Francisco for about 18 months.

I went back to San Francisco recently to attend my sister's wedding, and spent a glorious Sunday driving from winery to winery.

The wineries were the man attraction of this trip, but the wildflowers -- like this California poppy -- were a nice bonus:

Most of the wineries I drove past in Napa and Sonoma last month didn't exist when I was last there -- which was in 1981.  

You can spend a lot of money tasting wine in Napa and Sonoma these days.  The typical winery charges $15 or $25 or more for a standard tasting, while special tastings that include food or private tours or educational classes can set you back $50 or even $100.

But there are still a few places that let you taste good wine in a beautiful setting for free.  

Did I focus my attention on those free joints?  What do you think?  (Does the Pope sh*t in the woods?)

My first stop that day was Cline Cellars, one the first wineries you come to on California State Route 121, which takes you to Sonoma.  Cline is one of the thirty-odd wineries located in the Carneros AVA -- or "American viticultural area" -- which is just south of the cities of Sonoma and Napa.

Cline offers a few whites, but most of its offerings are reds -- it is best known for zinfandels and Rhone-type wines.

Cline offers free tastings of its non-reserve wines, and charges only $5 for tastings of three reserve wines -- a bargain given the quality of what they pour.  The people who man the tasting room are cordial, the buildings and grounds are lovely, and they have one very unique attraction: the California Missions Museum.

The Cline Cellars tasting room
The California Missions Museum showcases handcrafted models of all the 21 Spanish missions that were built between San Diego and Sonoma (a distance of 650 miles) by Franciscan priests between 1769 and 1833:

Here's the model of the Santa Barbara mission:

The models were made for the 1939 World's Fair, which took place on Treasure Island, a man-made island in San Francisco Bay.  

The museum also has a life-size statute of Father Junipero Serra, who founded the first nine of the missions to be constructed:

The large and finely-detailed models were on the auction block in 1998, but the Cline family stepped up and purchased each and every one of them, then created the California Missions Museum to share them with the public.

The next stop that day was the Hess Collection, one of two dozen or so of the Napa wineries on Mount Veeder, which is north of the city of Napa and just west of SR 29, the main north-south Napa Valley highway.

When I lived in San Francisco, the Hess winery was owned by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order founded in Ireland in 1802.  Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess bought the property from the Christian Brothers in 1986.

The Hess Collection winery and museum
Like many of the wineries in the area, the Hess Collection has beautiful gardens.  Here's a lily pond that borders an outdoor courtyard:

And here's one of the water lilies from that pond:

Hess inherited his family's multifaceted business when he was a very young man.  He owns a variety of commercial and residential properties, but has focused most of his attention on making wine and collecting art.  Hess has established art museums at his wineries in Napa, Argentina, and Australia, and is planning to build a fourth museum at an Australian winery he recently acquired.

The Hess Collection tasting room
The Hess winery is a beautiful mountainside property.  The tasting room is handsome, but the main attraction at Hess is the art collection, which includes works by a number of contemporary artists.

The well-known artists represented in the Hess Collection include Francis Bacon, Morris Louis, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella.  Click here and you can take  an audio tour of the highlights of the collection.  

Frank Stella's "Sacramento
Mall Proposal #5" (1978)
Another highlight of Hess's collection are the large-scale hyperrealistic portraits by Swiss painter Franz Gertsch.  Here's one of them:

Franz Gertsch: "Johanna II" (1985/86)
Perhaps the most eye-catching work on display is "Hommage," by the Argentinian artists Leopoldo Maier:

Here's the view from one of the museum's windows:

In the next 2 or 3 lines, I'll tell you about visiting two wineries that I had last visited in 1979.

Based on the lyrics from "Wine Me Up" quoted above, I'd say Faron Young values quantity over quality when it comes to wine.  So he wouldn't have been all that interested in wine from the wineries I'm writing about -- unless someone else was buying.

"Wine Me Up" reached #2 on the Billboard "Hot Country Singles" chart in 1969.  Young had a long and productive recording career -- he had his first top ten hit in 1952 and his last one in 1974.  (All told, 37 of his records cracked the top ten.)  His biggest hit was 1961's "Hello Walls," which was written by Willie Nelson.

Nelson was a struggling songwriter when Young decided to record the song, which Nelson had sung for him when they met at Tootsie's, a legendary Nashville bar.

The last of Young's 43 LPs -- it was titled Live in Branson -- was released in 1993, when Young was 61.  Given that I turn 62 in a few days, that's not exactly encouraging.

Here's "Wine Me Up."  (Check out the hair on the second fiddle player.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: