Friday, August 30, 2019

Derek and the Dominos – "Tell the Truth" (1970)


Hear what I say, ’cause every word is true
You know I wouldn’t tell you no lies

I’ve known for a long time that Dave Mason is a pretty big deal in the world of classic rock.

But it didn’t hit me until recently that Dave Mason’s a REALLY big deal in that world.

Dave Mason in 1970
Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake.

*     *     *     *     *

Anyone who knows anything about the history of rock music knows that Dave Mason was a founding member of the sixties supergroup, Traffic.  He went on to have a successful solo career.  (Five of his solo albums went gold or platinum, and his 1977 single, “We Just Disagree,” was a big radio hit.)

But let’s see how much you really know about Dave Mason.

1.  True or false: Dave Mason was a close friend of Jimi Hendrix, and played 12-string guitar on “All Along the Watchtower” (which was Jimi’s highest-charting American single).

Dave Mason with Jimi Hendrix
2.  True or false: Dave Mason played the shehnai (an Indian reed instrument) on the Rolling Stones’ 1968 record, “Street Fighting Man.”

3.  True or false: Dave Mason and Eric Clapton toured with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and performed on their classic live album, On Tour with Eric Clapton.

4.  True or false: Dave Mason recorded an album with Mama Cass Elliott that was released in 1971.

5.  True or false: Dave Mason played guitar (along with Eric Clapton and George Harrison) on “Beware of Darkness” – the best song on Harrison’s hugely popular solo album, All Things Must Pass.  

6.  True or false: Dave Mason wrote the song “Feelin’ Alright” for Traffic, but it has been covered by (among others) Three Dog Night, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Grand Funk Railroad, Isaac Hayes, Lulu, Lou Rawls, Rare Earth, and – most famously – Joe Cocker.

7.  True or false: Dave Mason was an original member of Derek and the Dominoes.

*     *     *     *     *

Time’s up, boys and girls – put those pencils down!

Here are the correct answers:

1. True

2. True

3. True

4. True

5. True

6. True

7. True

So how did you do?

*     *     *     *     *

A few days ago, I saw the Dave Mason Band open for Hot Tuna at the Warner Theatre in downtown Washington, DC.


I had a great seat thanks to my friend Tony Patler, who has been Mason’s keyboards guy since 2009.  (Tony is an accomplished and versatile keyboard player who toured and/or recorded with Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Michael McDonald, George Michael, and many others before hooking up with Mason.)

Dave Mason and Tony Patler
I’ve seen Mason’s band perform a couple of other times, but I had forgotten what a virtuoso guitarist Mason is.  I think of him mostly as a singer and songwriter, but you’ve got to be a pretty good guitar player if guys like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and George Harrison ask you to play on their records.

The only thing about the concert that was a bit off-putting was how old my fellow audience members were.

Many of them were not only old, but badly dressed:


*     *     *     *     *

“Tell the Truth” is my favorite song from the one and only Derek and the Dominos album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.  

What you may not know is that the version of “Tell the Truth” that is included in that album isn’t the original Derek and the Dominos recording of that song.  

In June 1970, the band – which included Dave Mason – played “Tell the Truth” at its first concert, which took place in London.  A few days later, the song became the first one that Derek and Dominos ever recorded.  

The band was unhappy with that version of the song – which Phil Spector had produced – and decided to re-record “Tell the Truth” for the Layla album.  By then, Dave Mason was no longer part of Derek and the Dominoes.

The “Tell the Truth”single
But someone forgot to tell the band’s American record company, Atco Records, which released the original version as a single in the U.S. just two weeks after the new version was recorded.  (Atco quickly pulled the single.)

Click here to listen to the original Derek and the Dominos recording of “Tell the Truth,” which features Dave Mason on guitar. 

You can click below if you’d like to buy that version of the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Sweetwater – "What's Wrong" (1968)


What's wrong with our folks? . . .
What’s wrong in their head?
Won’t they just try to see it once our way instead?

If it wasn’t for bad luck, Sweetwater wouldn’t have had any luck at all.

Sweetwater was an eight-member band from Los Angeles that was supposed to be the opening act at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival, which took place 50 years ago this month.

But they got stuck in traffic, so Richie Havens opened Woodstock instead.  He ended up performing for three hours – after he played every song he knew and there was still no one available to take his place on stage, he improvised a song based on the traditional spiritual, “Motherless Child.”  

Sweetwater performing at Woodstock
Havens called the improvised number “Freedom,” and it ended up being included in the Woodstock documentary movie and on the Woodstock soundtrack album.  On the strength of his Woodstock performance, Havens had a pretty successful career – he released four albums, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and even performed at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.

Sweetwater eventually got to Max Yasgur’s farm – Woodstock’s promoters had them helicoptered in –  and they went on after Havens.  But they don’t appear in the documentary movie, and none of their songs are on the original soundtrack album.

In fact, there were no Sweetwater songs on the two-record Woodstock 2 album, and the group doesn’t appear in the almost four-hour-long director’s cut of the movie that was released in 2009.  

*     *     *     *     *

Missing out on possible stardom because of traffic was bad enough, but fate had an even crueler surprise in store for Sweetwater.

Nancy “Nansi” Nevins
A few months after Woodstock, Sweetwater’s front woman, Nancy “Nansi” Nevins, was in a serious car accident that resulted in severe injuries to her brain and vocal cords.  

The band recorded two albums without Nevins, but neither one sold well.

Nevins eventually recovered from the accident and recorded a solo album in 1975.  (Sweetwater was kaput by then.)  


She and two other original members of Sweetwater appeared at Woodstock ’94. 

Former The Mamas and the Papas member Michelle Phillips portrayed Nevins in a 1999 TV movie about Sweetwater.

*     *     *     *     *

Did you make it to Woodstock?  Neither did I.

If we had been there, we would have heard Nansi Nevins and Sweetwater play today’s featured song, which is one of the many anti-war songs that were performed there.  (That’s assuming we didn’t get hung up in traffic even longer than Sweetwater did.)


Click here to listen to “What’s Wrong,” which was released in 1968 on the group’s eponymous debut album.

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:



Friday, August 23, 2019

Keef Hartley Band – "Sinnin' for You" (1969)


Saw you on the corner with another man
A woman like you, I just can’t understand

In the last 2 or 3 lines, I introduced you to the most obscure of the 31 bands or individual musicians who performed at Woodstock 50 years ago this month – the Keef Hartley Band.

The Keef Hartley Band’s founder was English drummer Keith Hartley.  (Like Keith Richards, Hartley is known as “Keef” because some Brits pronounce “Keith” that way.

Keith (or "Keef") Hartley
Hartley got his first big break when Ringo Starr left Rory Storm and the Hurricanes to join the Beatles.  (Too bad Ringo didn’t stay where he was and give Hartley a chance to hook up with John, Paul, and George.)

He later played drums for British blues legend John Mayall before putting together the Keef Hartley Band, which released its first album – Halfbreed – just a few months before Woodstock.

Hartley sometimes dressed in a Native American outfit – complete with a full head-dress and war paint.

Here’s he is on the Halfbreed album cover:


*     *     *     *     *

Halfbreed was a big hit in the U.S., but it sold reasonably well for a debut album by an unknown band.

Most of the group’s members had never performed live in the states before following Santana at Woodstock.  It appears that their set was well received, but the band is MIA when it comes to the various versions of the Woodstock documentary that have been released over the years.

According to frontman Miller Anderson, that was because the group’s manager put the kibosh on their performance being filmed:

I remember being back stage [at Woodstock], waiting to go on, when a fella approaches me with a clipboard.  Turns out he’s with the people filming the show, and he starts asking me what numbers we’re doing, where the solos will be, etc.  

Up walks Johnny [Jones, our manager, who] asks what’s going on, then says something like, “Sorry you're not filming my boys without a written contract.” The guy says he doesn’t even know if the film will ever be made, but suggests it could turn out to be a memorable show, so getting it on film could be a wise move.  

Johnny wasn’t having any of it though, so the guy just tears up the notes he’d taken from me, and walks off.

(The opening sentence of The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford’s 1915 novel, is “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”  I think Ford would have revised that sentence if he had lived long enough to hear Miller Anderson’s Woodstock tale.)


The comprehensive 38-CD audio box set released by Rhino Records earlier this summer (see above) does include much of the band’s Woodstock performance.  That made them the very last Woodstock performers to have their music included on a Woodstock album.

*     *     *     *     *

All of the songs that the Keef Hartley Band played at Woodstock were taken from Halfbreed, which was a straight-ahead electric blues album.  

Today we’re featuring the fifth track from the album, “Sinnin’ For You.”  Click here to listen to the studio album version of that song.

“Sinnin’ for You” was part of a 17-minute, 57-second medley that band played at Woodstock.

You can click here to listen to a 30-second sample from the Woodstock performance of that medley.  But if you want to hear the whole thing, it looks like you’re going to have to click here and buy an MP3 album of the entire second day of Woodstock from Amazon for $47.49.  

If that’s a little rich for your blood, the MP3 version of the Halfbreed album is available from Amazon for $9.49 – or you can buy any of the eight individual tracks on that album for only $1.29 each:

Monday, August 19, 2019

Keef Hartley Band – "Leaving Trunk" (1969)


Woke up singing the blues three different ways
One said, “Go!”
But the other two said, “Stay!”

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock music festival.

I didn’t go to Woodstock.  I was barely 17 years old when Woodstock took place, and living in Joplin, Missouri.  I’m not sure I was even aware of Woodstock until it was over, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had – no way my parents would have let me go.

They were at Woodstock. Why weren't you?
What’s your excuse for not going to Woodstock?  

*     *     *     *     *

How many of the bands or individual musicians who performed at Woodstock can you name?  

The award-winning Woodstock documentary that was released in March 1970 was 185 minutes long, but included only 16 of the 31 performers who took the stage at the Woodstock festival.  

The three-LP soundtrack album that was issued a couple of months later also included songs by 16 different performers – but not the same 16 performers that appeared in the movie.  For some reason, Janis Joplin is in the movie but not on the soundtrack album, while the Paul Butterfield Blues Band isn’t in the movie but has a cut on the soundtrack album.

The original Woodstock soundtrack album
Here are the 15 acts whose performances were included in both the original 1970 version of the movie and the original 1970 soundtrack album:

Joan Baez
Canned Heat
Joe Cocker and the Grease Band
Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Country Joe and the Fish
Arlo Guthrie
Richie Havens
Jimi Hendrix
Jefferson Airplane
Santana
John Sebastian
Sha Na Na
Sly and the Family Stone
Ten Years After
The Who

I haven’t watched the movie or listened to the soundtrack in years, but I think I could have named all or almost all of those Woodstock performers – plus Janis Joplin and the Butterfield Blues Band.

That leaves 14 acts – some of them quite famous – who performed at Woodstock but whose performances weren’t included in the movie and/or the original soundtrack.  Until recently, I was unaware that most of them had appeared on the Woodstock stage.

*     *     *     *     *

Woodstock Two was a two-LP album released in 1971 that contained 16 additional songs that were performed at Woodstock.  Most of those tracks were by performers who were represented on the original soundtrack album, but Woodstock Two also included songs by two that weren’t: Melanie and Mountain.

(That leaves 12.)

*     *     *     *     *

A 224-minute-long “director’s cut” of the movie and a four-CD album titled Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music was released in 1994 to mark the 25th anniversary of Woodstock.  

The original Woodstock poster
The new album contained all the songs from the 1970 and 1971 Woodstock albums as well as tracks by The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Tim Hardin, whose songs had not been included on either of the first two soundtrack albums.  

(That leaves nine.)

*     *     *     *     *

In 2009, the longer “director’s cut” of the movie was re-released in high definition along with a second DVD containing performances of 18 additional songs.  Shortly after the release of that version of the documentary, Rhino Records released a six-CD album titled Woodstock 40 Years On: Back To Yasgur's Farm.  

Those 2009 releases included songs by Blood Sweat & Tears, the Grateful Dead, the Incredible String Band, Quill, Ravi Shankar, Bert Sommer, Sweetwater, and Johnny Winter, whose Woodstock performances were missing from the earlier versions of the movie and the previously released soundtrack albums.

(Which leaves only one.)

*     *     *     *     *

Earlier this month, Rhino released 1,969 copies of a 38-CD, 432-song audio box set titled Woodstock – Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive, which contains virtually every note played by the 31 performers who appeared at Woodstock – including the Keef Hartley Band, an obscure British band whose Woodstock performances were AWOL from every previous Woodstock album.  (We’re talk about why that was in the next 2 or 3 lines.)

The Keef Hartley Band
That 38-CD album – which retailed for $799.98 – quickly sold out.  But Rhino also issued a 10-CD album that includes one cut by the Keef Hartley Band.

That cut is a 17-minute, 57-second hot mess titled “Halfbreed Medley/Sinning For You/Leaving Trunk/Just To Cry/Sinning For You.”  

Halfbreed was the title of the Keef Hartley Band’s first album, and “Sinnin’ for You,” “Leaving Trunk,” and “Just to Cry” were tracks 5, 6, and 7 of that album.  Presumably the band went right from the first song into the second song, and then went right from the second song into the third song, and then finished up by circling back to the first. 

The Halfbreed album
Unfortunately, the recording of the band performing that medley at Woodstock isn’t available on Youtube.  

You can click here to listen to a 30-second sample from that performance.

But if you want to hear the whole thing, it looks like you’re going to have to click here and buy an MP3 album of the entire second day of Woodstock from Amazon for $47.49.  

You can click here to listen to the Halfbreed version of “Leaving Trunk,” which is one of the songs that the band played at Woodstock.  (The lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post are from that track.)  

Click on the link below to buy “Leaving Trunk” from Amazon:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Donovan – "Atlantis" (1969)


Way down below the ocean
Where I wanna be
She may be

After visiting Chappaquiddick Island and retracing the route taken by Ted Kennedy the night he drove off the Dike Bridge – killing Mary Jo Kopechne – I did quite a bit of reading about what happened that night.

I also watched the 2017 movie, Chappaquiddick, which purports to tell the true story of what happened that night:


Opinion about the Chappaquiddick movie is divided along political lines.  Those who believe Kennedy and his allies used their power and influence to preserve Kennedy’s political future by covering up what happened that night applauded the movie’s damning depiction of Teddy as callow, dishonest, and cowardly.  Defenders of Kennedy have criticized it as fake history.

As a work of art, Chappaquiddick is unimpressive – it suffers from a very weak script and unconvincing acting.  

And as a work of history, the movie relies too heavily on conjecture.  But it deserves credit for pointing out some key truths about what happened that night.

*     *     *     *     *

The movie puts great emphasis on the fact that Kennedy waited until the following morning to report the accident to police.  (By the time he went to the police, a fisherman and his son has discovered the submerged car and called authorities, who discovered Mary Jo Kopechne’s lifeless body.)

Kennedy said he failed to call the police immediately because he was in shock, having supposedly suffered a concussion in the accident.  


Many believe the real reason he put off calling the authorities was that he was trying to concoct a story absolving himself of blame for the accident – perhaps he thought about claiming that Kopechne or someone else had been driving the car.

But whatever the real reason for Kennedy’s delay in coming clean, did it ultimately matter?  After all, it would have taken him some time to make his way on foot from the bridge to a house with a phone.  And once he called the police, it would have taken more time for rescuers to get to the scene of the accident.  Surely Kopechne – trapped in the submerged car – would have died long before then.

*     *     *     *     *

But what if Mary Jo Kopechne didn’t drown?  

John Farrar, the captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit and the diver who recovered Kopechne's body, believed that she suffocated instead.  


At the inquest into her death, Farrar testified that Kopechne's body was pressed up in the back seat of the car in the spot where an air bubble would have formed:

It looked as if she were holding herself up to get a last breath of air.  It was a consciously assumed position . . . . She didn't drown.  She died of suffocation in her own air void.  It took her at least three or four hours to die.  I could have had her out of that car twenty-five minutes after I got the call.  But [Kennedy] didn't call.

(In a 1989 interview, Farrar said that Kopechne “lived at least two hours down there.”  That’s less than his original estimate of three to four hours, but it’s still much longer than the time it would have taken him to get her out of the car if Kennedy had reportedly the accident sooner.)

Ted Kennedy (in neck brace) and his wife Joan
leaving the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne
The local medical examiner signed a death certificate that stated the cause of death was drowning and released Kopechne's body to her family without ordering an autopsy.  She was buried in Pennsylvania a few days later.

*     *     *     *     *

Ted Kennedy’s wife Joan was pregnant and confined to bed the night her husband drove Mary Jo Kopechne off the Dike Bridge.  (Joan had suffered two previous miscarriages and was trying – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to avoid a third.)   

Joan Kennedy speaks only one line in the Chappaquiddick movie.  When Ted thanks her for agreeing to attend Mary Jo Kopechne’s funeral with him, she replies, “Go f*ck yourself, Teddy.” 

I don’t know if she really said that to her husband.   But if she did, the rat bast*rd richly deserved it. 

*     *     *     *     *

Donovan’s U.S. record company released “Atlantis” as a B-side.  After all, the song was five minutes long, and its first third features Donovan reading (not singing) a bunch of nonsense about the mythical lost continent.  


But it ended up becoming a top-ten hit.  (Go figure.) 

I’m featuring “Atlantis” today because it was used in one of the trailers for the Chappaquiddick movie.  That choice of musical accompaniment may be apt, but it’s of very questionable tastefulness.  After all, the song ends with Donovan singing “Glub glub, down down, my antediluvian baby.”

Click here to view that trailer.

Click here to listen to “Atlantis.”

And click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Poison Girls – "Underbitch" (1980)


Wonder which way up it goes?
Wonder which way water flows?
Wonder which way you must go?

In the previous 2 or 3 lines, I quoted the statement that Ted Kennedy gave to police the morning after he drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, MA, causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

In case you missed it, here it is again:

On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 PM in Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I was driving my car on [Chappaquiddick Road] on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown.  

I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dike Road, instead of bearing hard left on Chappaquiddick Road].  After proceeding for approximately one-half mile on Dike Road I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge.  The car went off the side of the bridge.  

The Dike Bridge in 1969
There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary [Jo Kopechne], a former secretary of my brother Sen. Robert Kennedy.  The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom.  I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car.  I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car.  I was unsuccessful in the attempt.  

The rebuilt Dike Bridge has guardrails
I was exhausted and in a state of shock.  I recall walking back to where my friends were eating.  There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the backseat.  I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown.  I remember walking around for a period and then going back to my hotel room.  When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.   

Kennedy’s statement is so full of sh*t that its eyes are brown.  (I know, I know – police statements don’t have eyes.  I’m exercising a little poetic license.)

*     *     *     *     *

I went to Chappaquiddick for the first time last month.  I took the ferry that connects Edgartown and Chappaquiddick, rode my bike the length of Chappaquiddick and Dike Roads, and visited the Dike Bridge – which a group of boys were using as a diving platform:



Kennedy’s explanation of how he ended up driving off that bridge is really, really hard to swallow.  It’s possible that someone with a very poor sense of direction could have gotten confused and turned east toward Dike Bridge rather than turning west toward the Chappaquiddick ferry dock.  But the road that goes to the ferry is paved while the road that goes to Dike Bridge isn’t.  


Kennedy had driven from the ferry to the cottage where the party that he and Kopechne attended took place earlier that day – a trip that was entirely on paved roads – and you would think that he would have noticed that he was on an unpaved road and realized that something was wrong.  Dike Road is a very sandy road, and there’s no way someone driving an automobile wouldn’t realize he was on an unpaved road long before getting to the Dike Bridge.

Unless that driver was drunk.  Kennedy reportedly drank some beer during a sailing race earlier that day, toasted the winner of the race by downing three rum-and-Cokes, and had still more beer with friends at his Edgartown hotel before taking the ferry to Chappaquiddick for the party – where he had two or three more rum-and-Cokes – so he very well may have been impaired.  (Kennedy’s blood alcohol level was never tested.)

It’s also possible that he was simply lying about the wrong turn being a mistake that resulting from his unfamiliarity with the route to the ferry dock.  The Massachusetts judge who conducted the inquest into Kopechne’s death found that Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry, and that his turn on to Dike Road had been intentional.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s an understatement to say that Kennedy’s behavior after the accident was suspicious.

He testified at the inquest that after trying to rescue Kopechne, he rested for 15 minutes and then walked a mile and a half or so back to the cottage where the party took place.  He and two of his friends then went back to the bridge and tried once more to rescue Kopechne.  When they were unsuccessful, they drove Kennedy to the ferry dock.


The friends urged Kennedy to report the accident to the authorities, and he assured them he would.  But when they left to drive back to the cottage, Kennedy didn’t pick up the pay phone on the ferry dock and call the police.  He instead dove into the water and swam across the 527-foot channel that separates Chappaquiddick from Edgartown.  (The public ferry had stopped operating at midnight.)  

When Kennedy reached his hotel, he changed clothes and rested on his bed.  At about 3:00 AM, he went downstairs to complain to the hotel owner that he had been awakened by a noisy party in another room.  

When his two friends came to the hotel at 8:00 AM, they learned that he had not yet reported the accident to the police.  The three men took the ferry back to Chappaquiddick, and Kennedy used the pay phone on the ferry dock to call several friends and attorneys for advice.  

That’s when the fisherman and his son saw the submerged Oldsmobile and called the authorities, who extricated Kopechne’s body from the car and then towed it out of the pond.  


When Kennedy learned that his car and Kopechne’s body had been recovered, he hung up the phone, took the ferry back to Edgartown and walked to the police station – where he made a few more calls before giving a statement to the police.

*     *     *     *     *

Kennedy certainly should have called the police as soon as possible after the accident, but it doesn’t seem that his failure to do so could have made a difference.  After all, it would have taken him some time to make his way on foot from the bridge to a house with a phone.  And once he called the police, it would have taken some time for rescuers to get to the scene of the accident.  Surely Kopechne would have long since drowned by that time – right?

Wrong.  I’ll explain why in the next 2 or 3 lines.

*     *     *     *     *

Today’s featured song was released in 1980 on Chappaquiddick Bridge – the debut album of the UK anarcho-punk band, the Poison Girls.


The driving force behind the Poison Girls was the group’s singer and guitarist, the late Vi Subversa (née Frances Sokolov), who was 45 and the mother of two teenagers when Chappaquiddick Bridge – which has been described as “a phenomenally weird and surreal piece of work” – was released.  

Click here to listen to “Underbitch.”


And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bill Anderson – "Ninety-Nine" (1959)


I had a nice little ride on a ferry boat
To the rock where the prison stands

I’ve been vacationing on Cape Cod since the seventies, but I only started taking day trips to Martha’s Vineyard – which is just a short ferry ride from the Cape Cod village of Woods Hole – a few years ago.  

The island has an extensive network of bike trails.  I make sure to ride the most scenic of those trails – the one that goes from Oak Bluffs (where most Martha’s Vineyard ferries dock) along the edge of Nantucket Sound to Edgartown – every year.

The Edgartown Harbor lighthouse
When I arrive in Edgartown, I first spend some time watching the boat traffic in Edgartown Harbor.  Then I have lunch, visit the Black Dog Kids store to buy some togs for my grandsons, and hit the island’s two breweries.

*     *     *     *     *

This year, I decided to take the shortest ferry ride in the United States and visit Chappaquiddick Island for the first time.

The two privately-owned ferries that carry cars, bikes, and people from the Martha’s Vineyard town of Edgartown to Chappaquiddick Island and back again traverse a distance of only 527 feet – one tenth of a mile less one foot.  The journey takes less than one minute to complete:


Chappaquiddick is small – it covers only about six square miles (that’s roughly 3800 acres) and has a population of fewer than 200 souls.

There’s not a lot for tourists to see or do on the island.  There is one store, a community center,  a fire station, and a snooty beach club.

The snooty young lady guarding the entrance to that snooty beach club snootily told me I couldn’t take this photo of that entrance:


And there’s the Dike Bridge across Poucha Pond – the site of perhaps the most famous one-car accident in history, which took place just over 50 years ago.

*     *     *     *     *

On July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy hosted a party at a friend’s summer cottage on Chappaquiddick Island for six women who had worked together in his brother Robert’s 1968 presidential campaign.  

The women were all single and in their twenties.  The six men who were at the party were all older, and five of them – including Kennedy, whose wife was pregnant and confined to bed at the time – were married.  (Just sayin’.)

Ted Kennedy
Kennedy decided to leave the party about 11:00 PM – supposedly to return to his hotel in Edgartown.   

One of the women at the party left with him – supposedly to return to her Edgartown hotel.  (Given that she left her purse and room key at the party, that seems doubtful.)

The next morning, a fisherman and his son saw Kennedy’s car submerged in a Chappaquiddick pond.  When the authorities arrived at the scene, they discovered the dead body of Kennedy’s passenger – Mary Jo Kopechne – trapped in it.

*     *     *     *     *

At that moment, Ted Kennedy was using a pay phone at the Chappaquiddick ferry dock to call various people for advice.  When he heard that Kopechne’s body had been recovered, he took the ferry back to Edgartown, went to the police station, and dictated this statement:

On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 PM in Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I was driving my car on [Chappaquiddick Road] on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown.  

I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dike Road, instead of bearing hard left on Chappaquiddick Road].  After proceeding for approximately one-half mile on Dike Road I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge.  The car went off the side of the bridge.  

The Dike Bridge in 1969
There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary [Jo Kopechne], a former secretary of my brother Sen. Robert Kennedy.  The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom.  I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car.  I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car.  I was unsuccessful in the attempt.  

I was exhausted and in a state of shock.  I recall walking back to where my friends were eating.  There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the backseat.  I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown.  I remember walking around for a period and then going back to my hotel room.  When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.   

On my recent trip to Chappaquiddick, I retraced the Kennedy’s route on my bicycle.  Since then, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about Chappaquiddick.  I’ll tell you what conclusions I drew about Kennedy’s story in the next 2 or 3 lines.

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The title of today’s featured song – which was a 1959 hit for country singer “Whisperin’ Bill” Anderson – refers to the 99-year prison sentence that has been handed down to the song’s protagonist.


The song doesn’t mention Alcatraz by name, but it’s clear that he’s going to serve his time on “The Rock,” the forbidding island penitentiary in San Francisco Bay.

Seven days after Mary Jo Kopechne’s death, Ted Kennedy pled guilty to one count of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in bodily injury.  He was sentenced to two months’ incarceration, which was the minimum sentence for that offense – but the sentence was suspended, and the rat bast*rd never spent a minute in jail.

Click here to listen to “Ninety-Nine.”

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon: