Thursday, July 23, 2015

Carlsbad Caverns-New Mexico's Natural Wonder by Peter Reum

The Southwestern United States is mainly known for the Indigenous people, past and present, the dearth of fresh water in rapidly growing cities, and perhaps for the large distribution of defense related organizations that are headquartered there. There are federal sites under strictly enforced entry regulations, where trespassers will be shot if discovered inside the boundaries of such reservations. The White Sands Missle Range alone is larger than several of the Eastern United States. The large number of National Parks and Monuments in New Mexico, Arizona, and West Texas are unique among the sites in the National Park System for their diversity and Pre-Columbian origin.

The drive to some of these National Parks and Monuments is long, and in some cases, far off the Interstate Highway System grid. New Mexico and Arizona are fortunate to have two natural wonders that are as spectacular as any others in the world. Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks are one-of-a-kind wonders that attract visitors from around the world. Carlsbad Caverns is situated in the Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, and is a Park that takes a special effort to get acquainted with. These mountains are the remnant of a large reef of what was once a large inland sea. This feature is most visible at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, some 70 miles south of Carlsbad Caverns.

Texas's Highest Point-El Capitan Peak Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The foothills of the Guadalupes are the home of the spectacular caverns grouped under the name Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The main cave, Carlsbad Cavern, is situated about 27 miles south wet of Carlsbad, New Mexico, a great place to use as a base for exploration of the region. The caverns include a few caves requiring Park Ranger guiding services. The main cave was once a mine for bat feces, known as an excellent base for fertilizer. The main cave may be accessed by riding an elevator some 800 feet down to the entrance to The Big Room, the largest single cave chamber in the Western Hemisphere, or by hiking to the main cave entrance, a short distance from the visitor center. In the summer Mexican Freetail Bats enter the cave at sunrise and leave at sunset, making for an experience that is spectacular, if a bit scary.

Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Cavern

Park rangers await potential cavern hikers at an amphitheater near the Natural Entrance and inform people that the 1.7 mile walk is a strenuous hike, due to the fact that the trail, not suitable for wheelchair users descends the equivalent of walking down 830 feet of stairs, the equivalent of most of the Empire State Building. Despite the warning, this overweight hiker and his family elected to do the hike. The first quarter mile of the trail is incredibly steep and reeks of bat guano. The combination of those facts probably dissuades some folks from carrying on, but not our family. We kept going, and the trail got darker, and the reward was a series of beautifully lit cave formations that are a marvelous revelation for anyone who has not spent lots of time spelunking. Here are a few to whet your  appetite....

These photos are shot by various persons who followed the main trail from the Natural Entrance. The sheer scale and variety of formations stupifies the viewer as one vista closes and another opens. The temptation is to rush through the cavern, due to the number of hikers who are in better physical condition, and who walk through at a brisk pace. For those of us who are not as fit, there are numerous benches and other places along the main trail to stop, rest, catch your breath, and enjoy the incredible formations. Another tip for those who don't regularly hike is bring water. The walk through the Main Entrance to the Big Room Junction is rigorous. You may want to start in the morning, when your legs are fresher, and your  morning meal is digested. The cavern temperature is brisk, and a light windbreaker may help.

When you finally get to the intersection of the Main Entrance trail and the Big Room Trail, there are restrooms and a lunch room to refresh yourself and use the facilities. Some folks may be tempted to ride the elevator to the Visitor Center at this point, and that may be a good choice if you are simply beyond exhaustion. For the rest of us, The Big Room awaits. The chamber known as the Big Room is so large that one is hard pressed to get a perspective on its size. Suffice to say, it is eight plus acres of cavern, and the whole trail through it is a mile long and takes an hour to traverse. As mentioned above, the Big Room is the largest known chamber in the Western Hemisphere. Here are some gain perspective, I have added a few photos with people appearing in them.

Big Room-Carlsbad Caverns National Park (previous 6 photographs)

Again, taking this relatively level walk slowly I highly recommend. The water you drink will help keep leg muscles from cramping up as badly as they might otherwise. The use of photography is governed by certain regulations which must be observed. Part of the Big Room walk is okay for wheelchair and scooter users, but consulting with a ranger is highly recommended.

No mention of Carlsbad Caverns is complete without a discussion of the amazing cave known as Lechuguilla Cave. It was discovered in the 1970s by spelunkers who noticed the cave "breathing" as they walked by. Lechuguilla Cave is the seventh longest  cave in the world, and is some 1604 feet deep. The 1980s brought  detailed mapping of the cave and recognition of the unique formations of the cave led to it being set aside as an underground wilderness, not open to casual visitors. Lechuguilla Cave's dimensions make the Carlsbad Cavern a second place finisher for size and features. The total length of Lechuguilla Cave is 134.6 miles (216.6 km). Here are some photographs from Lechuguilla Cave.

Photographs from Lechuguilla Cave-Carlsbad Caverns National Park-New Mexico USA

Finally, for the intense wild people, hiking and camping is allowed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Permits are required. The best seasons are fall or spring. The numerous poisonous animals that make the back country their home are in their lairs, and one is unlikely to encounter rattlesnakes, scorpions, or other unpleasant critters. Here are a few photos of the desert in the Park...

Scenes from the Carlsbad Caverns National Park backcountry

The closest airports to Carlsbad Caverns are the Albuquerque Sunport and El Paso International Airport. As may be seen from the map below, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is quite far away from major cities.

Map of Carlsbad Caverns National Park-New Mexico USA

Location of Carlsbad Caverns National Park-New Mexico USA

Carlsbad Caverns National Parks is designated a World Heritage Site and visitation details may be found here: Carlsbad Caverns National Park Website

Don't pass up the chance to visit a true wonder of the world.....

Friday, July 17, 2015

Those Were the Summer Days and Summer Nights by Peter Reum

Those Were the Summer Days and Summer Nights by Peter Reum

In 1965, the Los Angeles music scene was evolving at a pace unprecedented in West Coast history. Thanks to the studio musicians now known as the Wrecking Crew, hit after hit from the many studios in the LA area made it the recording capitol of the world. In addition to the numerous groups from LA who recorded in there, acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more did their recording in Gold Star, RCA, Columbia, Western, and other Southern California area studios. Brian Wilson's producing was known as the pioneering prototype for a new and independent group of musicians who wrote and recorded their own music as they wanted it to sound, without record company influence or control.

USA California Girls Single Picture Sleeve

As with The Beach Boys Today!, Summer Days (and Summer Nights) has a high number of tunes that were placed on singles as either 'A' or 'B' sides. Six of the tracks from the album found a home on USA Capitol 45s in 1965 and 1966. Unlike Today! and other previous Beach Boys' albums, Summer Days had no spoken word segments on it, and even humorous tracks had meanings that remained secrets known only to Brian and a few friends and family members until very recently. The group had dismissed Murry Wilson as their manager early in the Summer Days sessions, and feeling rejected, he had taken to trying to find an act he could write for and manage that would compete with The Beach Boys style and lyrical subject matter. Hence, The Sunrays were born.

Help Me Rhonda was the lead off single from the album, and went to Number 1 on national singles charts, showcasing Alan Jardine doing his first lead vocal on a Beach Boys single. The vocal sessions for the single were painful, and many listeners have heard the session tape, a classic, yet jarring reminder of Murry's jealousy of Brian's talent and production ability. Despite the drama, the single itself is one of The Beach Boys' finest, with Kiss Me Baby from the Today! album as the flip side. Help Me Rhonda/Kiss Me Baby was released nearly three months before the Summer Days (and Summer Nights) album debut on June 28, 1965, and served as somewhat of a final highlight of Today, and early preview of Summer Days.

What on the surface appeared to be another "Sun and Fun" themed album also held a number of strong feelings for Brian about his family that he cloaked in either humor or girl/guy lyrical content so as not to have his true feelings be known to his listeners. Brian had a great deal of love for his mother and conflicted feelings for his father, who he loved but also feared. His father seemed to be someone who was very capable of fighting for Brian, Carl, and Dennis when dealing with people business wise, yet was not very capable of encouraging them together or individually with respect to their music. Further complicating the sessions was the recent dismissal, and Murry's having had an affair outside of marriage resulting in acrimonious feelings with his wife and sons.

The Iconic Summer Days and Summer Nights Album Cover

There were a few indications of Brian's contemporary production and musical style influences in 1965 on Summer Days, with Brian again nodding to the Phil Spector production style through his recording of Then I Kissed Her. His admiration of The Beatles surfaced on Girl Don't Tell Me, and Let Him Run Wild showed affection for Burt Bacharach. The Four Freshman were referenced on two Summer Days sessions recordings, And Your Dream Comes True, and the unreleased studio version of Graduation Day. Many listeners also heard a Four Seasons influence on You're So Good to Me.

The first side of Summer Days rocked like no Beach Boys album since the early albums, with The Girl From New York City kicking off the first side. The song has a fine Mike Love lead vocal, with Bruce doing an excellent falsetto vocal above the group. The song is written about the late Lesley Gore, and offers a hint about the rest of the album's sounds. Amusement Parks USA is an early prototype of a Heroes and Villains type of production sound, and although somewhat silly lyrically, shows powerfully Brian's growth as a producer. The song paints a picture in sound, using sound effects creatively throughout the song, which was released in Japan as a single and went to number 3 on their charts.

Then I Kissed Her was released as a single everywhere but the USA while EMI/Capitol was awaiting the much publicized Heroes and Villains single in 1967, breaking a silence of six months on radio with no new Beach Boys single.  The song is a reminder of Brian's love of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and features an exceptionally wonderful Alan Jardine lead vocal. The Beach Boys played on this version. Salt Lake City was released as a single in 1965 to promote an event sponsored  by the Salt Lake City Downtown Merchants Association. Pressed with a special yellow label and given out in a special envelope, today it is one of the most collectible Beach Boys records in the world. Only 1000 were made.  The musical context of the tune is made more memorable by use of an organ as a percussion instrument. Mike Love's lead here is very well done.

Summer Days Photo Session Outtake

Girl Don't Tell Me has a strong John Lennon influence, and again shows how Brian had listened to and assimilated many of The Beatles' chord patterns and vocal inflections. This tune shows off Carl Wilson's love for The Beatles, and he carries off the lead vocal marvelously. Carl was probably The Beach Boys' most ardent Beatle fan, and had posters of their group on his bedroom wall during the initial British Invasion. Help Me Rhonda concludes side one of Summer Days, and is easily the equal of side one of The Beach Boys Today!, with new production techniques throughout, mainly due to Brian not having to tour.

The introduction to California Girls is iconic, and has been used by the group as an opening concert trademark for years due to the immediate recognition those heavenly chords generate. The track itself has some interesting jazzy discordant moments, and may be heard as a bonus selection on the two-for cd reissue that Capitol released that included Stack O Tracks. Let Him Run Wild is a letter-in-sound from Brian to Audree, his mother, upon learning that his father had had an affair. The lyrics reflected Brian's feelings at the time, and his commitment to his mom as oldest son was that he would look after her because his father wouldn't. The song swings in a jazzlike manner, and has an emotional lead vocal from Brian that would touch a listener even if he hummed it. Despite Brian's known dislike of his own lead vocal, Dennis Wilson believed this song to be emblematic of Brian's growth in the studio as a producer.

You're So Good To Me served as the 'B' side to the USA Sloop John B single in March 1966, and the bassline's chord structure holds some  minor similarities to Salt Lake City in places. Mike's bass backing vocal on this tune is one of his finest, along with Brian's use of organ again as a rhythm instrument. The song is a regular on setlists of Brian's concerts throughout the last 15 years.
Summer Means New Love is a lovely but short instrumental that foreshadows Brian's work on Pet Sounds quite strongly. Strings add warmth to the lead guitar, which is tasteful and understated. The song is a nice tune in the genre that was probably begun by Theme From a Summer Place.

I'm Bugged At My Old Man is a Beach Boys Blues number, and while sung tongue-in-cheek, is Brian's way of telling his father that dad is out of control. There is a quality here that somewhat imparts a feeling of Brian saying "if you only knew what I am really doing...."  Brian had begun a friendship with  Lorren Daro, who was introducing him to recreational marijuana and LSD. Murry, who was somewhat inept regarding family relationships and their subtleties, probably never realized he was being mocked. And Your Dream Comes True is the perfect ending to a near perfect 1965 rock album, alluding to the idea of becoming an adult, being free, and having the chance to chase your dreams without interference from meddling elders.

Summer Days Cover Session Outtake

Like The Beach Boys Today!, and several other Brian Wilson produced albums from the Sixties, Summer Days (and Summer Nights) earned an RIAA Gold Record Award in 1965, and cemented The Beach Boys as the most consistent best selling American album group of that decade. As the second of a trio of very strong albums, omitting Beach Boys Party, the growth of the group as a musical juggernaut was very impressive.

The outtakes from the first half of 1965 are a mixed bag. EMI/Capitol have released an alternate version of Help Me Rhonda, as well as the lovely studio version of Graduation Day, along with a track with backing vocals done for Sandy/Sheri She Needs Me. A lead vocal was done by Brian in the 1976-77 period, with the vocal being somewhat raspy and out of place. The tune was recut in 1998 with new lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. That version turned up by Brian on his Imagination solo album.  Finally, an alternative version of Let Him Run Wild was also recorded, which, while quite engaging, was not as charming as the released version on Summer Days. All of these recordings are insightful for the listener, in that many of the versions are more busy and ornate than the versions on Summer Days.

Brian's internal intuition seems to have guided him throughout the time he produced The Beach Boys to keep things simple sounding, even if they are really quite involved and complex. It is those very instincts that bring new listeners into his orbit, generation by generation.

Text copyright 2015 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Finding the Light: The Beach Boys Elope to CBS by Peter Reum

Finding the Light: The Beach Boys Elope to CBS by Peter Reum

From their earliest time together, The Beach Boys' relationship with Warner/Reprise Records had had its ups and downs. Sales for 15 Big Ones had given The Beach Boys some breathing room with Reprise, especially with Brian's interest in writing songs returning to a degree, although he was averse to producing.  At that time, the group had Brother Studios as a place to experiment with sounds they heard in their heads, and Brian showed interest in working alone and cutting first versions of songs he had written during and after the first episode with Eugene Landy. Although Brian did not enjoy producing, he found the process of putting his musical ideas on tape rewarding.

The Beach Boys Love You was released in April of 1977, and it was an album that was well received amongst Rock Music critics but left  many long time Beach Boys followers flummoxed. To this day, it is the single Beach Boys album that is most debated among long time fans. The group's contract with Warner/Reprise had one album left to be submitted for release after Love You, and Warner/Reprise were thought to be contenders for a new agreement with the group after the last album on the old contract was released. Brian's songs had dominated The Beach Boys Love You, and in the interim, Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue had outsold it. The Beach Boys were approached by CBS/Caribou, with the idea of moving the entire group over to Caribou. The group was asked to play a live concert in 1977 in London after signing with CBS/Caribou, and the group did so.

The new agreement with CBS was not kept confidential, and Reprise was left with no hope of signing the group and being owed one last album.  The Beach Boys retreated to the old Parsons College, which had been renamed Maharishi International University in late 1977, hoping to get the last Reprise album done, so that work could begin on the first CBS/Caribou album, which came to be known as the L.A. Light Album. The last Reprise album, named after the college where it was recorded, was The M.I.U. Album,  and it had some first rate compositions and performances, but was not heavily promoted by Reprise because of their disappointment with the CBS/Caribou signing.

The Beach Boys decided to record part of the L.A. Light Album at Criteria Studios in Miami, amongst many others, where The Bee Gees had cut their best selling albums in the late Seventies. Brian took a shot at producing, but retreated from that responsibility, and asked Bruce Johnston to take over. The group was without many new Brian compositions at the time, and Brian's health had deteriorated after Love You was released. L.A. Light was an album with compositions by every Beach Boy, and while this was wonderful for the group as a whole, CBS/Caribou had hoped for more Brian compositions.

Here Comes the Night was released as the first single in a 7 inch format, timing in at 4'28", backed with Baby Blue. Two years earlier, Bruce Johnston had recorded a disco version of the Chantays' Pipeline, and proposed doing a Beach Boys disco single with Curt Boettcher for L.A. Light. The 12 inch single version was originally issued in an almost 11 minute length, also placed on side 2 of L.A. Light, and issued as a blue vinyl promo record for clubs and FM stations. The initial version of the single was not played as heavily as needed, and a DJ reservice was issued a month after the initial  promotional single, with both the 7 inch and 12 inch versions being shortened. The DJ reservice of the 7 inch single had a 4'28" version backed with a rather well mixed 3'18" version that could have been a hit had it been released first. The 12 inch single was shortened as well, with a 6'43" version and a 9'44" version available for play. The remixed versions were too late to save the single.

Baby Blue was a Dennis Wilson masterpiece that was probably the album's strongest track, with a mournful dirge-like Wagnerian feel that was crystal clear in its meaning. The track was accompanied by a Dennis Wilson lead vocal that dripped with wistfulness. The tasteful Beach Boys backing vocals amplified the song's yearning tone, a story in sound of a relationship loved and lost.

The L.A. Light Album began with a song that Brian and Carl composed in 1974 while the group recorded at Caribou Studios in Nederland, Colorado, Good Timin', backed with Love Surrounds Me as the 'B' side.  Good Timin' was one place where Brian appears on L.A. Light, having cut the track for the song in December 1974 at Colorado's Caribou Studio. The rhythmic keyboard in the background is Brian; although he is also audible in the background vocals with a close listen.  The Surfer Girl introduction is quoted in Good Timin's introduction and on the song's bridge, making the song unmistakeably a Beach Boys tune. Love Surrounds Me is another Dennis Wilson song that shines on L.A. Light.  The track is perhaps a meditation on his relationship with Christine McVie, whose background vocals may be heard on the song's tag, beginning at 2:42 into the song.

In the United Kingdom, a second single was released which became a radio hit, reaching number 6 in the UK singles charts, Lady Lynda b/w Full Sail. Lady Lynda was based on Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire, and featured a contemporary sounding Beach Boys track, with a fine lead vocal from the tune's co-writer, Alan Jardine. The track had a solid midtempo rock beat with a wall of patented Beach Boys' backing vocals behind it. The tag, an almost acapella segment, was a perfect ending to a great 'A' side. The flip side, Full Sail, was a Carl Wilson composition, with lyrics by Geoffrey Cushing Murray, who also did lyrics for Love Surrounds Me and Goin' South. The song seems to signify the end of a phase of Carl's life and his movement toward a new beginning.

 Perhaps hoping to replicate the Lady Lynda/Full Sail single's success in the UK, CBS/Caribou issued the single as a third US single in the late Summer, but it never charted.

Building on the success of Lady Lynda/Full Sail, the UK CBS/Caribou division issued their third single as Sumahama, a Mike Love composition, backed with Angel Come Home. The single, riding the radio success of the Lady Lynda single, was a modest hit in the UK, topping out at number 37, barely breaking the top 40.

Sumahama was also a hit in Japan, and was a nice touch for the Beach Boys fans in Japan, amongst the most loyal in the world.  The Japanese lyrics in Sumahama were warmly received.  Angel Come Home was the second Dennis Wilson composition in the UK to be a 'B' side off of L.A. Light. The song's lyrics again touched upon loneliness and the desolation it brings.  The song's lyrics seem to communicate a lonely Dennis wrestling with the reality of being left and not wanting to face that truth.

The L.A. Light Album was a disappointment for both The Beach Boys and CBS/Caribou sales wise in the United States. It peaked at number 100 on the Billboard Album Chart. In the UK, it reached number 32, a more respectful showing. The UK CBS/Caribou division issued a fourth single, Good Timin' b/w Goin' South in November of 1979. Goin' South, sung by Carl, seemed to reflect a painful experience that he had recently gone through, and showed him contemplating the old geographical relocation approach to removing whatever was so painful to think about.

L.A. Light's only track that didn't appear on a single somewhere was the remade Shortnin' Bread, a tune originally slated for the unreleased Adult Child album. Brian's piano here is awesome, as is Dennis's foghorn bass vocal.  Made famous by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), the tune by the late Seventies had taken on a bit of a reputation as a song reflecting times when African-Americans were seen as little more than secondhand citizens in the American South. Brian's arrangement has turned up in several later tunes, and a scalawag on youtube has created the "Shortnin' Bread Suite" piecing together several Brian tunes that have the familiar riff heard on L.A. Light. That "Suite" runs almost 10 minutes long.

For The Beach Boys, the album's US sales numbers were a big disappointment. For CBS/Caribou, the album was also a disappointment. The Beach Boys had created an album that was fairly listenable, but needed a few more Brian Wilson type of tunes that would have fit well on L.A. Light's second side with a shorter version of Here Comes the Night.  The album's strong points were  as great as any Beach Boys music since Endless Summer, but the group was still dealing with the iconic Sixties hits which people purchased on various Capitol reissues which never seemed to stop. As a debut album in a new and lucrative contract, the album fell short of the type of quality the first Reprise contract album, Sunflower, had easily demonstrated. 

Text copyright 2015 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved