Film-and/or TV appearances

Midnight Special

Diligently transcribed by Van-L member Jill Mallow
From the book The Midnight Special, 1972-1981
Late Night's Original Rock & Roll Show

by B.R. Hunter,

Episode 214, aired April 22, 1977
Host: George Benson
Featuring: Van Morrison, Etta James, Dr. John, Carlos Santana, Tom Scott

This show epitomized everything that was great about The Midnight Special : spontaneity, virtuosity, soul, and an unpretentious love for great music. It was also a milestone for the program because it was the first showing by two legends : Van Morrison and Etta James. The show also boasted one of the finest aggregations of talent the program had ever seen. But the story goes that Morrison's appearance on the show was either thanks to -- or in spite of -- a little help from the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir.

It was a tribute to The Midnight Special's good reputation to have Van Morrison on the show, and before an expectant audience, host George Benson announced, "Over the 20-year history of rock music, only a small group of writer/performers have left a permanent stamp on the contemporary scene. Now as the history of rock is being written by various experts, my next guest is being universally recognized as one of those personalities. Please welcome, making a very rare television appearance, Van Morrison."

Morrison performed three tunes from his 1977 LP A Period of Transition. Co-produced by Dr. John, the album was Morrison's first release in three years, and was celebrated as a comeback for the heralded songwriter. Everyone in attendance was glad he returned to the public eye.

Benson would introduce R&B pioneer Etta James with even more deference, calling her "a legendary performer and a strong influence on us all." James would perform the explosive, organ and electric guitar-spiked "Tell Mama", then sang a duet with Dr. John on a song of reconciliation called "I'd Rather Go Blind". Other highlights included two Benson/Santana duets on the Benson instrumentals "Breezin' " and "Valdez in the Country." Santana was not wholly familiar with the songs, but his technical acuity, combined with Benson's "trial-by-fire" tutelage on the tunes' complex themes, would help the pair get through with a near-seamless precision.

The whole ensemble would get together for versions of Morrison's classic "Moondance" and Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me." On the former song Santana would take a blazing solo, then turn the spotlight to Benson, who would scat-sing the notes he was playing. The next solo was taken by Dr. John, who would yield to saxophone phenom Tom Scott, who blew a blazing, upper-register solo before giving way to James, who took the song to the next level with her entrancing scat singing.

George Benson: "Everything Must Change", "Gonna Love You More"
Van Morrison: "Joyous Sound", "Heavy Connection", "Cold Wind in August"
Carlos Santana/George Benson: "Breezin' ", "Valdez in the Country"
Etta James/Dr. John: "I'd Rather Be Blind"
(Everyone): "Moondance", "Bring It On Home to Me"

Sidebar to the above article on Episode 214:
by Rocco Urbisci, co-producer

"We thought we had a chance to get the Grateful Dead and Van Morrison on the show, so Stan (Harris) and I flew to Mill Valley to meet with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. I wasn't convinced the Dead were gonna do The Midnight Special, but hey, I was gonna go to Mill Valley and meet Jerry and Bob and then Van Morrison. We took the 'copter over and a car picked us up and took us to Garcia's house. So here I am sitting with Jerry and Bob, and doing my best pitch about getting them on the show. Bob and Jerry showed us a ton of concert footage that they had filmed of themselves. We explained that Sugarman and the network wouldn't accept concert footage and wanted them to do the show live.

"Finally Jerry says 'Television? Let me explain something to you. The reason we're the Grateful Dead and we have longevity is because we don't do TV and people come and see us in concert. But you're a cool kid and I like this guy, so why don't we smoke a doob.'

"So they bring out a doob, and I take a hit, and I pass it to Stan. It's the kind of dope that makes you laugh. Also, your hearing diminishes when you get high, so Stan goes deaf. (Harris had a well documented and often-joked about hearing problem since he was in his early twenties). So I say 'Thank you very much, we have to go meet with Van Morrison now.'

"The deal was that the Grateful Dead driver would take us down to Morrison's house. And by the way, the Grateful Dead driver had serious dreads and was in some kind of 1951 Buick with hot pink dice hanging from the mirror. We get to Morrison's house and it was like a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of house. We walk in and it has no furniture in it. Zero furniture, except for two chairs, and at the end of the wall is an old 1950's swing which really creaks. Stan and I are sitting there laughing -- and if you ask me what about, I don't remember. Finally a girl comes in and says, 'Mr. Morrison will meet with you.' So in comes the first guy, wearing Farmer Johns, beard down to here, looking like a bad Woodstock character. Three or four more guys come in, and finally in comes this red-headed guy on crutches. Stan and I laugh, and then suddenly realize, this is Van Morrison.

"You guys want to come over here?" he said.

"Now I'm going to tell you the exact conversation, :

'Hi Van, my name is Rocco Urbisci, I'm with The Midnight Special and we're really glad you're going to be on the show.'

Then Stan said, 'We're with The Midnight Special.

"So I can feel my eyes are welling up red, and I suddenly realize that Stan is now stone deaf.

"Then Van said, 'How many songs do you want me to do on the show?'

"I said, 'We'd like you to do about four.'

"Then Stan said, 'We'd like you to do about four songs.'

"Then Van turned to Stan and said, 'I suppose you would like one of my songs to be Moondance?'

"To which Stan replied, 'I would really love it if one of those songs was Moondance.'

"Finally, I said, 'We've gotta stop. I'm f**ked up, he's f**ked up,' and I explained about what happened back at the Dead camp with Jerry and Bob.

"Van laughed and said 'I'll tell you what, when you get un-f**ked up and you get back to LA, give me a call.'

"Then Van turned to Stan and said 'I hope you're not the audio man.'

And Stan turned to me and said 'What did he say?' "

Episode 222, aired April 22, 1977
Host: Neil Sedaka

Song/Guest list:
Neil Sedaka, "Amarillo", "Laughter in the Rain", "A Song", "Bad Blood", "One Night Stand"
Fleetwood Mac, "You Make Lovin' Fun"
Kenny Rogers, "Lucille", "Daytime Friends"
George Benson/Van Morrison "Misty"
Renaissance, "Carpet of the Sun", "Midas Man"
Salute to Van Morrison
Small Wonder, "Be Part of Me", "Run Run Around"
Carole Bayer Sager, "Sweet Alibis"

Part of the unofficial website