Cry Cry Cry: ’96 Tears’

[originally appeared in Shindig! issue #127]

Saginaw, Michigan, is an industrial city about two hours northwest of Detroit. In the mid-20th century, migrant Mexican-American farm labourers in the region, seeking greater economic security and stability, settled in Saginaw to work at its auto manufacturing plants. Mexican-American kids in Saginaw in the late 1950s and early 1960s grew up with the Mexican music that their parents loved and performed – mostly the Tejano style, with its rollicking accordion and guitars – but they also listened to Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and other pioneering American rock and rollers. Those diverse influences fueled ? and the Mysterians’ ‘96 Tears’ – which, since its 1966 release, has gone on to be recorded by more than 50 other artists, and has become a modern-day classic.

Speaking from his home in Saginaw, Mysterians guitarist Bobby Balderrama tells Shindig! that the group  – which took its name from a Japanese sci-fi movie they saw on TV –  started as an instrumental combo, “playing the Ventures, Duane Eddy, all the guitar stuff.” He and fellow guitarist Larry Borjes, along with drummer Robert Martinez, honed their craft in his parents’ garage. “It was a two-car garage, so my dad parked the car on one side, and we practiced on the other side. We had our equipment set up there all the time.” However, when they played gigs, Continue reading

“Her Country”: An Interview with Author Marissa Moss

Women have always been an integral part of country music, starting with pioneers such as the Carter Family and Patsy Montana. Yet country music has also marginalized women musicians – even more so in the last decade. In 2015, a country radio consultant publicly stated that songs by women were “not the lettuce in our salad…[they are] the tomatoes“.  In 2019, women artists represented only 10 percent of the music played on US country radio stations that year.

Music journalist Marissa Moss,  who’s based in Nashville, saw women in country music making great music at the same time that the industry was focusing on “bro country“, and saw women trying to be successful their own way in an industry that wanted them to conform to very narrow stereotypes. Her new book Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be tells the stories of three female country musicians – Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton, and Kasey Musgraves. Through unpacking their experiences, it touches on racism, sexism, corporatization, politics, and oppression, and how all of those shape  performers’ careers and the music we listen to. The book is ultimately hopeful, but it also pulls no punches in describing how badly the country music industry can treat women.

I found Her Country to be an extremely thought-provoking and rewarding read, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Marissa about it.

Fiona McQuarrie (FM): What motivated you to write the book?

Marissa Moss (MM): I had been covering this beat in Nashville, at the time I started writing the book, for about eight years, and it just felt Continue reading

Reachin’ To Be Free: The Supremes and The Temptations’ ‘A Place in the Sun’

[This article has been updated and expanded in the book Song Book;  it originally appeared in Shindig! issue 75]

1968 was a time of upheaval and change at Motown Records. The company had moved its Detroit headquarters into a soulless commercial building, and founder and president Berry Gordy was spending much of his time in Los Angeles. Gordy was also being criticized for his relative silence on racial inequality – which was not an abstract issue for the company; among other things, many Motown artists were regularly subjected to racist threats or attacks while on tour. Other Motown acts were expressing frustration at the company’s focus on entertainment rather than on social commentary.

But amongst that uncertainty came ‘A Place in the Sun’, a song that spoke profoundly both of struggle and of hope for a better world. Although it was first recorded in ’66, more than a dozen artists –including, jointly, The Supremes and The Temptations – covered it in ’68, which indicates its relevance to those troubled times.

Ron Miller and Bryan Wells, the song’s co-authors, both came to Motown through quirks of serendipity. Miller, delivering pizzas to pay the bills, happened to bring Continue reading

Where is the Harmony?: Nick Lowe’s ‘What’s So Funny (’bout Peace, Love and Understanding)’

(originally appeared in Shindig! issue 69)

The world currently seems to be descending into an abyss of alternative facts, ruled over by a terrifyingly ignorant spray-tanned buffoon with access to nuclear weapons. In that context, Nick Lowe’s song ‘(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ might be even more powerful as an expression of hope than when Lowe wrote it in the early ‘70s.

But given the abject misery and desperation of the past few decades, maybe there’s never been a time when ‘Peace, Love and Understanding’ was irrelevant. That’s tremendously depressing to acknowledge, but it also helps to explain the song’s enduring popularity. Pete Curry of Los Straitjackets, who cover the song on their new album What’s So Funny About Los Straitjackets, describes ‘Peace, Love and Understanding’ as having “a great sentiment. Even the most cynical person gets it.”

Lowe has described ‘Peace, Love and Understanding’ as Continue reading

Heartaches and Raindrops: Margo Guryan’s “Think of Rain”

[This article has been updated and expanded in the book Song Book; it originally appeared in Shindig! issue #64]

‘Think of Rain’ by Margo Guryan is one of those songs that, upon hearing it, you think “Why on earth wasn’t this a massive hit?” It’s charming, it’s catchy, it’s exquisitely produced and arranged, and Guryan’s dreamy vocals perfectly match its mood of whimsical romance. But even though it was covered several times in the mid-‘60s, ‘Think of Rain’ remained largely overlooked for many years.  Thankfully, subsequent re-releases of Guryan’s work have resulted in this sunshine-pop gem getting the appreciation it deserves. Continue reading