Monday, February 20, 2012

Nite Riders

Nite Riders, only known photo, Doc Starkes top right.

 Nite Riders, doin' biz as the Nightriders and Night Riders.

The Nite Riders aka The Nightriders, the Night Riders, sometimes with Doc Starkes (aka Starks) or Melvin Smith's name out front, formed in 1954, put together by bassist James "Doc" Starkes, and was made up of seasoned R&B pros, all of whom had plenty of previous experience. Vocalist Melvin Smith had recorded for RCA with honker Clyde "Blow Top" Smith's Houserockers, and for RCA's Groove subsidiary as a solo act. Guitarist Harry Crafton has recorded many rockin' sides for Gotham and Oscar.  The rhythm section featured piano man Harry Van Walls (who can be heard on Stick McGhee's Atlantic recording of Drinkin' Wine Spo-De-O-Dee), and seasoned session man Jimmy Johnson on drums. Joe Sewell played tenor sax. In the next ten years they recorded at least 29 singles (maybe more) for small labels, they varied in quality from great to mediocre, but most are quite good.
  They were not kids, these were seasoned professional musicians, all had extensive recording experience in the R&B field and felt the oncoming onslaught of rock'n'roll. Starkes knew a tight, pro rock'n'roll band could find steady work, and maybe even a hit record. The first they found in abundance, the latter alluded them for the ten years that they existed. Formed in Philadelphia, they eventually were based in Hartford, Connecticut, with extended stays in Montreal, Quebec (where it seems Harry Van Walls settled in to form his own band) and the Jersey Shore, although they were booked almost constantly up and down the eastern seaboard. They went through the usual dozens of personal changes, Starkes and Mel Smith being the constant members. They received almost no press coverage then or now and facts are hard to come by. No one thought it important to interview Doc Starkes, or Mel Smith. Crafton and Van Walls careers were covered, the former on the liner notes to the Krazy Kat re-issue LP of his Gotham sides, the latter in the old Wine Women and Whiskey R&B zine.  What we have to tell the story are the discs they left behind.
 Their recording debut was backing up female R&B singer Fay Simmons which appeared on Grand in 1954-- Whim Wham Whop b/w Making A Fast Getaway. The same year came their first disc as the Nite Riders, perhaps their best and easily their hardest rockin' -- Women & Cadillacs b/w Say Hey (the flip being a tribute to baseball great Willie Mays), it was issued on New York's Apollo label, where the "5" Royales and Screamin' Jay Hawkins got their start.  The same year Apollo released another double sided rocker-- Rags b/w Doctor Velvet. A year later they were signed to the Phili based Teen label, and billed as Doc Starkes & his Nite Riders came Apple Cider b/w Way In The Middle Of A Dream. A somewhat toned down affair that seemed aimed at teens. Teen put forth six more singles that year without Starkes top billing-- I Know You're In There b/w Starlight and You followed by Got Me A Six Button Benny b/w Don't Hang Up The Phone, and then Waiting In The School Room b/w When A Man Cries. Their final single of '55 came out on Teen's Sound subsidiary with Starkes name again restored to top bill, a pair of Night Train style instrumentals-- The Vacation Train b/w Night Ridin', it was their best seller was leased to Capitol and sold well in the North East. Their final single for Teen/Sound was Tell The Truth b/w Never. The year of 1956 passed with no new vinyl from the Nite Riders but in '57 they appeared for one disc on MGM with Sittin' Sippin' Coffee b/w Tank Town, the a- side a sort of jiver, the flip another Night Train styled sleazy sax instro, while Swan re-issued  Teen's Apple Cider with Got Me A Six Button Benny on the flip. A fine hard rocker followed in '58 on both the Linda and Modern Sounds labels-- Love Me Like Crazy b/w Rockin' To School. Once again, it disappeared without a trace. The next three singles were on Juggay Murray's New York based Sue label (which released several excellent Ike Turner instrumentals as well as Ike & Tina's early hits): The first, and best was a frantic Bo Diddley styled rocker Pretty Plaid Skirt (and Long Black Socks) b/w I'll Never Change. The a-side might have been a hit had it been issued in Japan. It came out in the spring of 1959, followed by Lookin' For My Baby b/w St. Loo, and
a remake of Night Ridin' b/w Talk To Me Baby later the same year. They kept recording, in the early 60's just before splitting up they cut sides for Cherry and Courtesy, neither of which I've ever seen or heard.
  In this day and age of over documentation,  when every knucklehead with who needs to express their precious feelings in public can be found on Youtube and their mom's phone, it makes it even harder to grasp that their is no film footage, photos, or live recordings of a great band like the Nite Riders (or Guitar Slim, Esquerita, ad infinitum). Perhaps in some one's basement lurks such an entire box of such ephemera,  perhaps some day we'll all see it. For now, I'm just glad we have the discs.
A full discography including solo sides can be found at the great Wang Dang Dula site.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rev. Utah Smith

Rev. Utah Smith and wings...
Pre-flight warm up.

Wrecking the house in Houston.

Utah Smith brings eyesight to the blind.

          Rare 45 pressing of his first disc, originally on Regis (78 only)




 Utah Smith was born in 1906 in Cedar Grove, Louisiana,  in the countryside outside of Shreveport. He was schooled to the third grade, then took a job as a water boy in the cotton fields before graduating to picking cotton. He later worked in a chicken plant plucking and cleaning chickens, a job he was fired from.  In 1923, he took up the calling and became an evangelist in the Church of God In Christ, usually just called the Holiness or Sanctified Church. He was  married in 1929, set up a home in Shreveport, but was on the road by 1925 where he'd spend most of the next forty years.
  Smith had taken up harmonica as a teen, soon switching to a steel guitar, and finally an electric guitar. He also had noticed that he, as many were later to testify, had healing powers, and an ability to tell jokes. Early on he was billed as  "God's Funny Boy" and was heard preaching the Devil's funeral and attempting to move trees which of course didn't budge as well as "laying on the hands" healing the sick and maimed.  By 1938 he was using his electric guitar in his revival meetings,  his daughter for one claiming he was the "first black man to own one", and if he was not the first, he was certainly among them. Folks would travel for miles just to see the thing.
  On the gospel highway, Reverend or sometimes Elder Utah Smith proved to be a popular attraction and he criss crossed America for four decades, his photographs appeared in not only the major black publications but also Newsweek, the New York Times, in folk music publications and he was recorded and broadcast for the BBC in 1947 as part of a audio documentary called "The Story Of New Orleans Music".
He would make three commercial recordings, which would be issued on at least six different labels, three of which were versions of his theme song-- I Want Two Wings. First came a 78 RPM for Regis, recorded and first issued in 1944, then re-issued on Manor (1949), Arco (1950) and on 45 rpm on Kay-Ron (1958): I Want Two Wings b/w  God's Mighty Hand. The second disc came in 1947 and was self issued on his own Two Winged Temple label out of New Orleans-- (I Got) Two Wings b/w Glory To Jesus I'm Free, this is the rarest of his commercial discs, it was pressed as a 78 and later on 45.
In 1953 he cut a session for Checker in Chicago, two songs were released-- the third rendition of Two Wings and on the flip side Take A Trip, which is a re-working of the old gospel standard Gospel Ship.
All these discs feature his crude, open tuned guitar prominently, and he is backed by a small female choir on all of them. There also exists at least two other versions of Two Wings he recorded that exist on single copy acetates.
   Rev. Utah Smith ran his own Church in New Orleans, the aforementioned Two Winged Temple (the first location was torn down to build the Calliope projects, the second was on Octavia off Magazine), but was best known for holding revival meetings, many of which were covered in the pages of the Louisiana Weekly newspaper.  He was fairly famous in and around New Orleans, but traveled from coast to coast, catching the attention of composer and New York Tribune music critic Virgil Thomson while appearing in Newark, N.J. in '41.  Thomson approved of what he saw calling him "an interesting musical manifestation". Indeed. The same year he appeared at one of NYC's Museum Of Modern Art's "Coffee Concerts".  In the 1950's he toured with gospel stars like Mahalia Jackson, the Bells Of Joy and Brother Joe May, the Thunderbolt Of The Mid-West (for a time May's pianist was Esquerita, could Esquerita and Utah Smith have met?), knocked 'em dead in Atlanta, Memphis and Dallas, and generally made a big impression on everyone who saw him,  sometimes wearing gigantic white paper wings and always blasting away on a Gibson electric guitar.
  The gospel highway is rough on the body though, and Smith suffered from diabetes (he was said to eat twenty biscuits in one sitting) and glaucoma, and in 1961 he retired to the Octavia Street Temple's basement where he died on January 24, 1965, blind and no longer able to play his guitar, it was said  he'd taken to drink and fell down the stairs.        
   The life and times Of Rev. Utah Smith were fascinating, and for a more detailed look I refer you to Lynn Abbott's biography-- I Got Two Wings (Incidents and Anecdotes Of The To Winged Preacher and Electric Guitar Evangelist Elder Utah Smith) (Case Quarter, 2008) which also comes with a CD of his complete recordings. Amen.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Tuesday (again)...


From Pretty Poison (1968)


Tuesday Weld, poolside, early 60's.


I guess I'm repeating myself but that's what happens in your old age. Anyway, I've blogged about my
love for the kittenish charms of Tuesday Weld before (here) but when the Fang unearthed the above snapshot I thought I'd post it. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #67


Today's found photo from the Fang bears the date, printed on the right side of the border, of December '69, as if we couldn't have figured that out our self. Yes, this was taken at Altamont, the all time rock festival bummer and setting for still the greatest of all rock snuff flicks Gimme Shelter. Too bad it's not a picture of the Stones, but since they went on after dark they probably wouldn't have shown up on a snap shot.  Onstage is Sam Cutler trying to restore order, and the Jefferson Airplane, whose Marty Balin (far left) would soon be knocked unconscious, a few Hells Angels, and a whole bunch of folks who just wandered onstage. Whose idea was it to make the stage two inches off the ground?
Well, I was never much of a Jefferson Airplane fan but I do remember working security at one of their concerts as a teen and being quite impressed that the band and crew called Paul Kanter "Das Fuhrer", a title he happily responded to.  The best thing I ever read about Altamont was in the (now quite rare) Avon paperback original-- The Forgotten Festival- Altamont: Death Of Innocence In The Woodstock Nation, edited by Jonathan Eisen (Avon, 1970) which contains a first hand essay by one Lars Tush, aka Richard Meltzer titled "The Terror Beyond Death", from which I quote--"Some people are going to say it was just a matter of alcohol in the wrong hands. That's all well and good and true, but whose wrong hands do they mean? Can they mean the Angels? They might mean them and in so doing forget about incidents of violence that were going on all afternoon, all morning and the night before, even in spots where a Hells Angels never showed his face during the entire festival if you can call it that." He later proceeds to describe watching a bunch of college jocks pummel some poor kid into "a pile of his own blood and bones". As Keith Richards said "Altamont, it could only happen to the Stones man...."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Andy Shernoff



Andy's latest: Are You Ready To Rapture.

1974: Rare inner sleeve for the Dictators Go Girl Crazy, Andy on right.


Andy Shernoff has had a longer recording career than Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters. That in itself is not so remarkable, there are plenty of pediatric rockstars out there who have been around longer. What is remarkable is that he's still great. When was the last time Ray Davies or Pete Townshend wrote a good song? (If you ask me, and you shouldn't cuz I ain't gonna argue about it, I'd say 1970 and '67 receptively).
Andy's last great song was released a couple of weeks ago (Are You Ready To Rapture, see video above, I assume you can order the 45 rpm from his website).
 Shernoff, who's career began with might be the greatest (and definitely the funniest) ever fanzine-- Teenage Wasteland Gazette (a never published final issue of which has resided in Handsome Dick Manitoba's closet for forty something years), is best known as full time songwriter, bassist and sometimes lead singer for NYC rock'n'roll institution the Dictators, whose 1974 debut The Dictators Go Girl Crazy (Epic) remains one of the greatest and most perfect punk rock records ever released. He shepherded the Dictators through three more fine LP's-- Manifest Destiny (Asylum,1977), Blood Brothers (Asylum,1978) and D.F.F. D. (Dictators Multi-Media, 2002), and don't forget Norton Records' 2009 release Everyday's Saturday that features their original demo tape and many incredible studio outtakes including lost tunes like Fireman's Friend and Backseat Boogie (a project I think I instigated when I lent Billy Miller two CD's worth of un-issued Dictators stuff, still in the vault are tunes like Too Much Fun and Tits To You as well as a killer Interstellar Overdrive).  Andy was also the guiding light behind Dictators spin-off Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, fronted the Bel-airs and the Master Plan (with the Fleshtones' Keith Streng), co-wrote tunes with Joey Ramone (for both the Ramones and Joey's solo album), produced a bunch of bands,  and was involved in dozens of other projects that slip my mind at the moment (including a second career as a punk sommelier).
I bring this up to you because I happened to wander into my own bar (Lakeside Lounge, 162 Ave B., NYC) two Wednesdays in a row (a rare occurrence these days, I assure you) where Andy currently holds court at 7 PM with his acoustic review, and I have to say, it's the best hour of live entertainment I've seen in eons.  The set changes weekly, and Shernoff has an incredibly deep catalog of great tunes to pick from, but I think last week's show which opened with an acoustic reading of Master Race Rock and included Dictators classics' Baby Let's Twist, and Hey Boys, and a beautiful version of Joey Ramone's Don't Think About It was as perfect a set as I've ever seen.  In between tunes Shernoff talks about his life and times in rock'n'roll, some of these stories are hilarious (the first Dictators shows), some are touching (the final days of Joey Ramone), some are both (the David Roter story). With free admission and half priced drinks, you really can't possibly go wrong. Andy will also be appearing at the Norton Records 25th Anniversary shindig in November, I'm not sure which night but all four are sold out, so you're either all ready going or you ain't.
Andy Shernoff may actually outlive rock'n'roll (or did that already happen?), but he's one of the last of the breed, and there are too few left to ignore him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Son House


Son House: 1965.




Howlin'Wolf berates a drunken Son House, Newport, '66.


Son House greets his "discoverers", he hadn't known he that he was lost.


I told my old pal Pat that I'd review a book he sent me in the mail- Daniel Beaumont's Preachin' The Blues: The Life & Times Of Son House (Oxford, 2011). This was many months ago and I'm just getting around to it because to be perfectly honest I do not have much to say about Son House. Which does not mean it is not an excellent book, which it is. Although I must admit, I find the most interesting parts of the book are those that deal with Son House's relationship to his "discoverers" and the white blues audience of the 1960's that had expectations of him that he could barely fathom never mind live up to.
For those who are unfamiliar-- Eddie "Son" House Jr (born March 21, 1902, probably in Lyon, Mississippi), was a great Delta blues singer and guitarist who recorded one session for Paramount Records in 1930, and was recorded again in 1941 for the Library of Congress by traveling folklorist Alan Lomax.
He was not heard from again until 1964 when Dick Waterman (who became his manager), Nick Pearls ( a collector who would go on to found Yazoo Records) and Phil Spiro found him living in Rochester, N.Y.,  this "rediscovery" happening after they had searched the Delta looking for clues.
To backtrack, House grew up in the Delta and began his career as an entertainer preaching the gospel.
As a young man he fell under the spell of the great Charley Patton, got himself a guitar and began playing the blues. He soon struck up a partnership with Patton's sometime accompanist Willie Brown, and it was through Patton's patronage he recorded for Paramount in 1930. Paramount issued four 78 RPM records:  My Black Mama pt 1 b/w pt 2, Dry Spell Blues pt 1 b/w pt 2, Preachin' The Blues pt 1 b/w pt 2 and Clarksdale Moan b/w Mississippi County Farm Blues. The latter two discs are so rare that only one known copy of each exist (and the latter didn't surface until the 21st Century), the other two are
considered more common with four known copies of each. A single copy of a test pressing of Walking Blues was found in someones garbage in the 1980's. In forty years of collecting I've never seen a Son House 78, have you? These are the discs that House's reputation is based on, and they are among the finest examples of the type of blues played in the Mississippi Delta in the late 20's and early 30's ever recorded. That said, they are a bit hard to listen to since the copies that survived are so worn out (and Paramounts never sound that great anyway) as there is more  surface noise than  music left in the discs and to listen to them is like hearing someone playing down the block while someone else holds a pan of frying bacon next to your ear. Although in recent years the sonic quality of the tranfers has improved dramatically.  Personally I've always preferred the 1941 Library of Congress recordings because you can actually hear the music, not to mention the version of  Walking Blues cut with a rocking little string band that remains the best example of what a Saturday night frolic might have sounded like full swing.  Since House had a limited repertoire all the same tunes appear on the 41 sessions, albeit with different titles, I especially like the version of Levee Camp Blues.
House has been criticised, most notably by the late Stephen Calt in his biography of Charley Patton for playing out of tune, but I tend to agree with Jim Dickinson that tuning is a "European and decadent concept", out of tune didn't hurt Chuck Berry.
After leaving the Delta, House lived in Detroit and Rochester, worked outside of music, and eventually disappeared into the woodwork until he was found and coaxed back into playing in 1964, and here lies the meat of Beaumont's book. He digs up much new info, including a self defense killing in Long Island in the 50's, and a new source of House information in the guise of Mississippi born, Rochester blues singer Joe Beard who was close to House and who had a very different take on who House was than his new found white keepers. There's lots of interesting asides, including that House was in the audience when the Rolling Stones brought Howlin' Wolf out on an episode of the Shindig TV show in '65, and House's manager being told by fellow human archaeologist Tom Hoskins (who found Mississippi John Hurt)-"What you have on your hands is a nigger".  That House would confound all their expectations by not giving a fuck, about the blues, or his white audience, may seem natural from our vantage point, but to his keepers he remained an enigma. And that's what makes this book such a fun read.
Son House is probably best remembered for being a key musical inspiration to Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, (the latter connection even led to him being signed by Columbia). I wonder how many people who sight his name have even heard the Paramount and L.O.C. sides?  Myself, I hadn't given him a listen in years, my own tastes in such things leaning more towards Leroy Carr, Geechie Wiley & Elvie Thomas (about whom nothing is known), and Charley Patton, but digging out his discs for this posting, I must say, they sure sound good. This music is nearly a century old, so it's quite amazing not just that it survived, but that it is more popular and accessible than it ever was. And that, Pat, is the best I can do for your book review.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #66


The turban is the perfect sartorial touch for any man; Chuck Willis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sam The Sham, The Great Gaylord and many others have made this fashion statement into any art form. And it hides the doo-rag if your head is all nappy. Gals like it too.  I have no idea where or when this photo was taken, but it's nice to see there's alcohol involved, and our be-turbaned friend here seems to be patting down his diner. I for one think the turban should make a comeback. It's the perfect post 9/11 fashion statement. I can just see the headline on the New York Times Sunday Style Section-- The Turban--It's Not Just For SikH Cab Drivers Anymore!

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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