Streaming ‘Round My Head

In the summer of 1978, I got my first paying DJ job, spinning tunes one night a week at the roller rink in my hometown. Although it was cool to be up there in the DJ booth with all the equipment, apart from that, the job wasn’t very glamorous. I got paid practically nothing, in cash, straight out of the till. If there were two dozen people there, it was a good night.

The owner of the place was a nice guy, and at least one week he took out a newspaper ad saying that MHS disc jockey Jim Bartlett would be spinning tunes there. He occasionally gave me advice on music, though, and it became pretty clear pretty fast that his taste was vastly different from mine. And whenever he suggested something, I’d feel conflicted. He owned the place and paid me my pittance each week, but it was my show, and I presumed that he’d hired me because I had some degree of expertise. Sometimes he’d bring in records he wanted me to play. I only remember one of them: “Witchi Tai-To” by Everything Is Everything. “This was a Number-One hit,” he insisted, even though I knew beyond doubt that it wasn’t. Conflicted or not, I played it, although I’m sure that the audience (made up mostly of pre-teen girls) didn’t care about it. And after that night in 1978, I wouldn’t hear it again for maybe 30 years.

“Witchi Tai-To” by Everything Is Everything was not a Number-One hit. It was a Top-10 hit in Columbus and just nicked the Top 10 in Detroit, and it made the Top 20 from Sarasota, Florida, to Phoenix, Arizona, to St. Thomas, Ontario, to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in the winter of 1969. It climbed to Number 61 in Cash Box and 69 in Billboard. The song was written by group member Jim Pepper, who was a jazzman by trade and a fairly avant-garde one, influenced by Ornette Coleman, among others. Pepper’s jazz associates encouraged him to explore his Native American roots in his music, and “Witchi Tai-To” is the most famous piece that resulted. It’s based on a peyote chant Pepper learned from his grandfather.

The song was quickly covered by several other acts, most famously the folk-rock duo Brewer and Shipley, who recorded a superlative  seven-minute version after they heard the original late one night on KAAY from Little Rock, Arkansas. Up here in Wisconsin, it was cut by the Ladds, a LaCrosse-area group. Their version was picked up for national release by the Bang label, but Bang apparently decided that the Ladds was too generic a name. Bang renamed the group Today’s Tomorrow, and their “Witchi Tai-To” is said to have topped the charts at WOKY in Milwaukee for a month in the spring of 1970, although I can’t find the charts themselves to back it up. Their version is also pretty faithful to the original.

It’s only been a couple of months since I wrote briefly about “Witchi Tai-To.” I’m doing it again today because I heard the song the other day, and I can’t get the damn thing out of my head. No matter who does it, “Witchi Tai-To” is alluring and seductive, the sort of thing that would enhance, or maybe even provoke, a mystical, spiritual experience.

Maybe that’s why the roller-rink guy dug it so much all those years ago: peyote.

“Witchi-Tai-To”/Brewer and Shipley (buy it here)
“Witchi Tai-To”/Today’s Tomorrow (out of print)


(My weekend post at Popdose on the 40th anniversary of the premiere of The Partridge Family is here, if you care.)

My laptop music stash is pushing 15,000 songs, which I usually listen to on shuffle, and that means that the odds of hearing any given song are relatively slim. But since I started using Media Jukebox earlier this year, I can adjust the shuffled list to group similar artists and genres or make more pleasing transitions. (Once a radio programmer, always a radio programmer.) Theoretically, therefore, some of the better stuff should be getting prioritized just a little bit. But the shuffle usually does fine on its own, coming up with an interesting selection of tunes first thing one recent morning. Here they are. Call it a Top 5 travelogue:

“Witchi Tai To”/Today’s Tomorrow. Based on a Native American peyote chant, “Witchi Tai To” became a modest hit in 1969 for Everything Is Everything, a group led by the song’s composer, Jim Pepper, and featuring future fusion hero Larry Coryell on guitar. Today’s Tomorrow was from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, although they were better known around that area as the Ladds; when their version of “Witchi Tai To” was released on the national label Bang, it was under the name Today’s Tomorrow. “Witchi Tai To” was huge in Milwaukee during the spring of 1970—one source says it topped WOKY’s chart for a month, but I can’t find charts to prove it. As one might expect a religious chant to be, there’s something hypnotic and alluring about “Witchi Tai To,” in whatever version you hear it.

(Cheeseheads amongst the readership might enjoy The Wisconsin Music Blog, a great source for Wisconsin bands, many beyond obscure. Nothing new has been posted there since July, however, so I’m a little concerned about its future.)

“Twenty Years Ago Today”/Gypsy. Continuing the Midwestern theme, this is a Minnesota group that recorded several well-regarded albums in the 70s before scoring a radio hit with “Cuz It’s You Girl” as the James Walsh Gypsy Band long about 1978. “Twenty Years Ago Today” is from the album In the Garden, released in 1971. How it missed becoming a hit single, I dunno. (Minnesotans amongst the readership tell me that this tune was actually cut in 1999 and added to a reissue of In the Garden. It’s still a good song, though.)

“The Dream Never Dies”/Cooper Brothers. Now let’s head for Canada. Richard and Brian Cooper formed their band in the early 70s but didn’t achieve success until they signed with the Capricorn label in the States. They won a slew of Canadian music awards beginning in 1978 and scored two country-flavored Hot 100 hits, including “The Dream Never Dies” in the fall of 1978. Obscure trivia connection: they were produced by Les Emmerson of the Five Man Electrical Band.

“See Forever Eyes”/Prism. From Ontario we head across Canada to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Prism was formed in 1976. They were the Canadian Styx, recording several albums of pop-rock loaded with big riffs, big synths, and punch-your-fist-in-the-air choruses, several written under the pseudonym Rodney Higgs by original member Jim Vallance, who would later write a bunch of hits with Bryan Adams. “See Forever Eyes,” which was not written by Higgs/Valance, was released as a single in 1978, but it doesn’t seem to have charted in the States. Their biggest Stateside hit was “Don’t Let Him Know” from 1982; their most fondly remembered song is probably the ridiculous and awesome “Armageddon” from 1979.

“Longshot”/Henry Paul Band. And down to the American South with Paul, who had been a member of the Outlaws until 1977. Since country rock was all the rage at our college radio station, his solo albums were a very big deal to us, particularly the 1980 album Feel the Heat. But country rock was starting to lose steam by 1980—the label often had more to do with where the records were filed in the store or the zip codes of the band members than the sound of the music itself. Regardless of what you call it, Feel the Heat isn’t very good ( destroys it here), although “Longshot” was a decent radio record.

I haven’t done this for a while, but you’ll find all five songs in the zip file below, at varying bit rates. The Prism (buy here) and Henry Paul (buy here) albums remain in print, but Today’s Tomorrow, Gypsy, and the Cooper Brothers are out of print. As is my practice when I put up a megapost like this, these tunes will be available for an extremely limited time—only until Wednesday noon—so snag ’em now.

The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ Shuffle Megapost (30.6 mb)