Originally posted September 30, 2009:
During my childhood and youth, one thing that was sure to bring a smile when I came home from a hard day at school was seeing the pressure cooker on the stove. While that might mean vegetable soup – which was a fine meal itself – more often than not the sight of the pressure cooker mean that we were having yellow pea soup for supper. (For folks like my parents and their forbears out on the farms, “supper” was the evening meal; “dinner” was what you had at noon and “lunch” was a snack at mid-afternoon.)
I loved pea soup, and in our house, it was always made with whole yellow peas, just as it had been by generations of my Swedish ancestors in Minnesota and in the Swedish province of Småland for years before that. It’s a simple dish – a large pot of yellow peas, an onion and some pork hocks – cooked for hours and then enjoyed for days, with the soup becoming thicker and thicker each day. The only other thing on our table on those evenings was saltine crackers, though I imagine my ancestors likely had brown bread of some sort.
For years after I left home, Mom and Dad made the occasional large kettle of pea soup, freezing much of it for later meals. During the time I lived away from St. Cloud, nearly every visit to Kilian Boulevard would end with Dad pulling containers of food out of the freezer for me to take home, and several of those containers would hold a good-sized serving of pea soup. I’d ration them carefully, trying to make them last until close to my next trip to St. Cloud. In their later years together, Dad did most of the cooking. He passed on six years ago, and since then, Mom’s moved into an assisted living center and doesn’t do much cooking at all. So there’s been no home-made pea soup for me or for Mom for at least six years.
On occasion, I’ve made soup with split peas, but it just wasn’t the same. I’ve intended for a while to try my hand at the real thing, so for some time, there’s been a pound of whole yellow peas in our pantry, waiting for me to get organized. I did so about ten days ago, first soaking the peas overnight and pouring off that water. Then I sliced a large onion and cut the slices into eighths. I took a pound of ham and cut it into cubes that were roughly a third of an inch square. (I prefer the flavor of pork hocks, but they’re quite fatty, so I deferred to a healthier choice.) I put the peas, the ham and the onion in a five-and-a-half quart crockpot, filled the pot with water and added two teaspoons of celery seed, and then set it to cook on “high” for about six hours.
It turned out pretty well. The Texas Gal and I had a meal from the pot, and there was still more than enough left to provide lunches for me for a few days. As good as those meals were, however, there were two things that I enjoyed above all: First, I’d forgotten how pleasing it is to walk into a kitchen filled with the aroma of cooking pea soup. And second, after years of getting my home-made pea soup from Mom, I set aside a container of soup for her and was finally able to return the favor.
And here are a few songs from one of the years when the aroma of pea soup in the kitchen would have brightened the end of a rough junior high day:
A Random Six-Pack from 1966
“Somebody To Love” by The Great! Society, recorded live in San Francisco.
“Ribbon of Darkness” by Pozo-Seco Singers from I Can Make It With You.
“Where Were You When I Needed You” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4029.
“Down In The Alley” by Elvis Presley from the soundtrack to Spinout.
“At The River’s Edge” by the New Colony Six, Centaur 1202.
“Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow?” by the Rolling Stones, London 903
“Who's Driving My Plane” by the Rolling Stones, London 903
The Great! Society was the band Grace Slick was in before she joined the Jefferson Airplane, and it was during her time with the Great! Society that she acquired (not wrote, as I originally reported) her two most famous songs, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” ("Somebody To Love" was written by Slick's brother-in-law, Darby Slick; "White Rabbit" was Grace Slick's composition.) According to the notes from the Love Is The Song We Sing collection, the Great! Society released a 45 version of “Somebody To Love” on the Northbeach label in 1966, but it got little attention. The version offered here is a live performance during the summer of 1966 at the Matrix club in San Francisco’s Marina district. After Slick moved to the Airplane and she and her two best songs became famous in 1967, Columbia Records released the Great! Society album, Only In Its Absence, and included the live performance of “Somebody To Love.”
The Pozo-Seco Singers were a trio that came out of Texas and had a couple of Top 40 hits in the mid-1960s. (“I Can Make It With You” went to No. 32 in 1966, and “Look What You’ve Done” went to No. 32 as well in 1967.) Better known, perhaps, for being a starting place for country singer and songwriter Don Williams (“I Believe In You” was a No. 1 hit on the country charts in 1980) than for anything else, the Pozo-Seco Singers – Lofton Kline and Susan Taylor being the other two members – nevertheless are worth a listen for finding a middle ground in the folk/folk-pop spectrum that was evolving in the mid-1960s. As All-Music Guide notes, the Pozo-Seco Singers were “[n]ot as hip as Ian & Sylvia or Peter, Paul & Mary,” but “not as blatantly commercial as, say, the Seekers.” That’s not a bad place to find yourself as a musical group, and I’ve often wondered why the Pozo-Seco Singers didn’t have more success as they did.
There’s nothing too mysterious about the Grass Roots: Fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972, starting with today’s choice, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which went to No. 28 during the summer of 1966. Nevertheless, the group was – and remains – kind of faceless; and the group’s history frustrates anyone trying to sort out the discography, as there were – according to AMG – “at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs” credited to the Grass Roots. AMG continues:
“The Grass Roots was originated by the writer/producer team of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri as a pseudonym under which they would release a body of Byrds/Beau Brummels-style folk-rock. Sloan and Barri were contracted songwriters for Trousdale Music, the publishing arm of Dunhill Records, which wanted to cash in on the folk-rock boom of 1965. Dunhill asked Sloan and Barri to come up with this material, and a group alias under which they would release it. The resulting Grass Roots debut song, ‘Where Were You When I Needed You,’ sung by Sloan, was sent to a Los Angeles radio station, which began playing it.” After that, Sloan and Barri went out to find a group that could be the Grass Roots and go on tour, and – with several groups playing the part of the band – the hits kept happening for about six years.”
I always kind of liked the Grass Roots’ singles, and it didn’t matter to me, really, who was in the studio on the other end. The songs were good radio pop-rock, and some days, that’s more than good enough.
I may have posted Elvis Presley’s version of “Down In The Alley” before, but it’s good enough to get an encore. The song was originally an R&B tune written by Jesse Stone and the Clovers and released in 1956, and Presley – during a time when his recordings missed the mark as frequently as they hit it – found the groove in the song. I don’t have enough Elvis information in my library to find out, but I’d sure like to know who’s backing Elvis here.
One evening in Denmark, a bunch of us were trading music trivia back and forth. A fellow known as Banger asked me to name the two hits by the New Colony Six. I’d never heard of the group, so I just shrugged my shoulders. Turns out the group was from the Chicago area – and reached the Top 40 twice: “I Will Always Think About You” went to No. 22 in the spring of 1968, and “Things I’d Like To Say” reached No. 16 in the late winter and early spring of 1969. I’m not sure how much airplay either of the two records got in the Twin Cities; when I finally heard the records years later, they weren’t at all familiar. In any case, what I’m offering today is the third recording in my collection by the New Colony Six, “At The River’s Edge,” released on Centaur before the group was signed by Mercury. I like it better than I like the other two: It’s got much more of a garage band feel to it, while the two hits – though nice – are a little too buffed and polished.
“Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?” might be the loudest record the Rolling Stones ever made. When I ripped the 45 this morning – an earlier rip I offered here was one of the first rips from vinyl I ever made and had, to my ears, some flaws – it red-lined for nearly the entire song. I backed that off a bit, but still, the single has a loud and thick sound. This was the first Rolling Stones record I ever owned, but it’s not like I was savvy enough in 1966 to go out and get it: I got the record from Leo Rau, the guy across the alley who owned a series of jukeboxes in St. Cloud. As an extra, because I don’t see it around very often, I’m offering the flip side, “Who’s Driving My Plane,” as a bonus track.