Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Treniers

Those eight swinging alcoholics-- The Treniers.
Can of Treniers brand Poontang Juice, better than viagra? Superstar Jam: the Treniers with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis from the Colgate Comedy Hour (1954) More of the same, with Jerry on drums. In living color, from Dean Martin's TV show, mid-60's.
From the film Don't Knock The Rock (1956)
From Jerry Lewis MS Telethon sometime in the 80's. Still Goin' Strong.
The Treniers were regulars in various Las Vegas and Atlantic City lounges from the early fifties through the mid-nineties, I don't think I ever saw a group have as much fun on stage as they did. The Treniers were identical twins Cliff and Claude Trenier from Mobile, Alabama, sometimes joined by their brother Milt, and various nephews, kids, friends and hired musicians (including longtime members Gene Gilbeaux on piano and Don Hill on sax). When Cliff died in 1983, Claude carried on, bringing in nephew Skip Trenier as Cliff's replacement. Claude passed away in 2003, bringing an end to the act.
They recorded sides for Mercury (as the Trenier Twins), Columbia's Okeh and Epic subsidiaries (including one with Willie Mays), and RCA's Vik imprint in the fifties (best of the Okeh years are here, scroll down to the middle of the page), later they cut LP's for the tiny labels like Hermitage (After Hours With The Fabulous Treniers, recorded live at Tony's Fish Market, here's a great version of Rockin' Is Out Business from that classic album) and TT (Popcorn Man, from '72), but their bread and butter, but especially the bread part, was their live show. These clips will give you an idea of what you missed if you never caught the Treniers' act. For more on the Treniers may I refer you to: The Treniers: Their God Wore Shades from Nick Tosches' Unsung Heroes Of Rock'n'Roll (pp. 65-69), Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984 or revised edition Harmony Books, 1991 which adds chapters on Ming & Ling and Charles Brown not found in the first edition.
The modern world knows no equivalent of the Treniers, who like Louis Prima with Sam Butera & the Witnesses, were all about entertaining their audience. They didn't need a dozen tractor trailer trucks full of crap like U2 carry around (has any group ever left a heavier environmental footprint on this earth? Every time U2 play, enough power to light up sub-Saharan Africa for a week is wasted), the Treniers had something better than flashpots and gigantic video screens-- they had talent, wit, brains and a sense of humor. Rockin' was their business, and for half a century business was good.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

William S. Burroughs Junky

The Commissioner Of Sewers Lights Up. London, 1964.
Left: Second U.S. paperback edition. Right: First U.K. paperback edition.
Burroughs bubblegum card from WFMU, I wrote the other side.
Burroughs inscription on my Ace paperback.
The last time I saw William Burroughs was in November of '96, around ten months before he died. There was an opening for a show of his paintings at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas where he lived at the time. My wife and her writing partner were invited to read at one of the scheduled events, so I tagged along. The night before the event there was a dinner party in a restaurant that occupied a large Victorian house, and the guests for the Burroughs party were given a large table in its own room away from the other diners. Burroughs, Ginsberg, James Grauerholz, and others close to Bill were seated at one end of a very long table. Myself and my wife were at the other end of the table along with Richard Hell, Kathy Acker, and I can't remember who else. After cocktails were served (Burroughs was drinking vodka and Diet Coke), Bill came down to our end of the table, moving slowly, leaning heavily on a walking stick. He sat down next to me, put his hand on my thigh, just above the knee and gave it a squeeze, he asked "What do you do for exercise young man?" I felt like Doris Day when Rock Hudson would get fresh in one of those goofy 50's movies. Just thought I'd share that special moment...
It's the 50th anniversary of the American publication of Naked Lunch, and a new edition has been published, taken from a manuscript that pre-dates the U.S. Grove edition that we all grew up with. Personally, I prefer the Grove version (by comparison, I think the "original scroll" edition of Kerouac's On The Road, which keeps the charachter's real names and leaves in the sex and profanity, is a much better book than the one we all read as teens). Not the subject for today though, today's post concerns his Burroughs first novel, the classic Junky aka Junkie*.
I was digging through boxes of cassettes in the basement, looking for the lost Hasil Adkins tape which I posted back in February and I came upon a pre-recorded two cassette box of Burroughs reading from Junky. It's an abridged version, long out of print, and very hard to come by these days. It's a lot of fun to listen to. I like to play it at bedtime. I don't know why Penguin never issued it on CD, but here it is, the files are large (45 minutes +) but you can download 'em (highlight the link and hit alt/option, then move it into Itunes) and listen at at your leisure.
Since we're on the subject of William S. Burroughs' discography, Call Me Burroughs (ESP Disk, 1965) is one of my favorite albums (freeloaders can find it here). Burroughs reads selections from Naked Lunch and Nova Express. Call Me Burroughs was recorded in a basement apartment in London that Paul McCartney had outfitted with some tape recorders and which Burroughs had access to. Naked Lunch had started life as a series of "routines", little spoken word scenarios that Burroughs would entertain his pals with. To hear him read "Dr. Benway" or "Bradley The Buyer", in his dry, flat, timeless voice, is like having a private performance of Burroughs doing routines right in your own home. I prefer Burroughs recordings without music to those recorded in the 80's with producer Hal Wilner that added musical backing. I'm a big fan of Hal's (especially his Mingus tribute album), but I guess in Burroughs case I find the music a bit distracting.
Getting back to our subject, one of my favorite parts of Junky was edited out of most editions and only restored in the 90's, you can find it on pages 105-111 in the current Penguin paperback edition, it concerns the Valley around the Rio Grande River and the poor suckers who were sold real estate there, expecting to have an easy retirement by raising grapefruit. I'm too lazy to retype the six pages here, so you'll just have to find it for yourself. I'd tell you to just read it in the bookstore but most bookstores keep Burroughs behind the counter, he's the most shoplifted author (along with Bukowski) in history.
Anyway, here it is:
* The earliest editions are titled Junkie, the spelling was changed to Junky in later editions, the latter being Burroughs preferred spelling. Also the first edition was credited to William Lee (to keep Burroughs family from embarrassment and was bound together with another book
called Narcotic Agent by Maurice Helbrand.
ADDENDUM: Perusing the web I stumbled upon a very interesting piece of Burroughephila--
A must read for any Burroughs fanatic.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Magic Sam

Magic Sam with conk
All time classic rocker.
Another good 'un.
Magic Sam plays on this one by Shakey Jake, early re-issue of Artistic 45.
Magic Sam at home, 2009.
Magic Sam (Samuel Gene Maghett) was born on Feb. 14, 1937 in Grenada, Mississippi and moved to Chicago with his family at the age of fourteen. He learned to play guitar mostly from listening to records, sang in a gospel group, later did a stint playing behind Homesick James. Soon was making a name for himself playing clubs on Chicago's West Side, he would be identified with the West Side for the entirety of his short career.
In the mid-fifties Sam came to the attention of Willie Dixon who brought him to Chess Records who passed on the youngster. Dixon, then working as a producer and arranger at Chess was also eager to record Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, and when Chess and their main rival Vee Jay passed on all three singers, Dixon approached record store owner Eli Toscano about starting a label. In 1956 Cobra Records was born, and Dixon spent the next two years there, mostly cutting sides with the three aforementioned acts. Cobra, like Sam would come to be identified with what became known to blues fans as the West Side Sound. Cobra achieved it's earliest success with Otis Rush's I Can't Quit You Baby which was a minor R&B hit in '56.
Magic Sam cut his first session for Cobra in June of '57 . From that session came his first two singles All Your Love b/w Love Me With A Feeling and Everything Gonna Be Alright b/w Look Watcha Done, along with the tremolo laden instrumental Magic Rocker that would not be issued until the 1970's. He was off to a good start. Although he would never have a chart record, All Your Love did well around Chicago, and he was building a solid following in the clubs. A second session for Cobra in 1958 produced two more singles-- All Night Long b/w All My Whole Life and Easy Baby b/w 21 Days In Jail, his best outing yet.
21 Days In Jail, a wild rocker is probably his best known number these days. A third session, also in '58, found Magic Sam backing up Shakey Jake (James Harris) on the single Roll Your Money Maker b/w Call Me (If You Need Me). It was issued on Cobra's Artistic subsidiary, and re-issued soon after on Vivid. Unfortunately, Cobra Records didn't last long, and by 1959 it was dead in the water, finally closing its doors in 1960. While Buddy Guy and Otis Rush were both picked up by Chess, Sam ended up cutting a few sides for the tiny Chief label in 1960. The Chief sides are a mixed bag, the best of which being Every Night About This Time and Blue Light Boogie.
Sam was soon drafted by the U.S. Army, a life he was not cut out for, not at all. After a few months he deserted, he was eventually arrested and thrown in the brig then given a dishonorable discharge. 21 Days In Jail had become a reality.
Discharged from the Army and back in Chicago, in the early sixties he seemed to be treading water, he cut a 45 for Scout, and recorded behind Eddie Shaw and Shakey Jake.
It was not until 1967 that Magic Sam got a break. He was signed by Bob Koester's Delmark Records, and cut his first LP-- West Side Soul, the record that introduced Sam to the growing legion of white blues fans. One need only look at the cover with its goofy psychedelic graphics to understand who Delmark was marketing to. A smart move, since Delmark had little money to work with and was supported by the Jazz Mart record store. West Side Soul is truly a classic, a perfect album from the opening That's All I Need, some of its highlights include a rampaging version of Little Junior Parker's Feelin' Good and the thundering instsrumental Lookin' Good. I think you can find the whole thing here. Sam's guitar playing, always brilliant, had gotten even better in the ensuing years since his Cobra debut. As Willie Dixon pointed out, Sam was very much into the use of harmonic overtones. At a time when most blues guitarists were trying to play like B.B., Freddie or Albert King, Sam had a sound all his own.
Magic Sam lived hard and drank plenty. He cut a second LP for Delmark-- Black Magic, a fine disc but not quite up to the standard of West Side Soul. Sam toured a bit, playing at the Filmore West, Winterland and other hippie venues in addition to the usual West Side blues clubs like Sylvios and Peppers, even touring Europe near the end of his life. In 1969 he appeared at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, showing up late without a guitar or drummer, he borrowed a Stratocaster and drummer Sam Lay and knocked 'em dead. You can take a listen here. The Ann Arbor gig, with over 100,000 in the audience should have been a turning point for Magic Sam. There were rumors that Stax was interested in signing him.
Imagine Magic Sam recorded with Booker T. & the M.G.'s behind him, and a real radio promo team pushing his records. Stardom would have been assured, but it was not to be. On December 1, 1969, Magic Sam dropped dead of a heart attack, he was only 32 years old.
Magic Sam is one of those guys who doesn't easily fit into a category. His music never strayed far from the blues, but he made records that could be considered rock'n'roll, R&B or even soul.
Which just goes to show you how pointless these labels often are. Lots of collectors think of 21 Days In Jail as a rockabilly record. I bought one of his Chief singles off a list of discs titled "Belgian Popcorn" (when you think about it, isn't it all Belgian popcorn?) Had Magic Sam lived he probably would have been a star. He was young, good looking and had all the talent in the world. If he were alive today, he'd still be younger than Ian Hunter (who is still singing All The Young Dudes). Damn shame, ain't it?
Addendum: The complete Cobra and Chief Recordings of Magic Sam were last seen here.
The link is in the comment section, as is the password.
West Side Soul can also be found here. Black Magic is here. If you're a down loader you should move fast, these things have a tendency to disappear suddenly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rock & Roll On TV and In The Movies

Someday we'll be able to see this stuff in hi-def on our computers, but for now, I kind of like the ultra crappy quality of Youtube uploads, and it's free (that won't last for ever, bet your undershorts on that). Here's a few of my favorite clips, some rare, some fairly common, all great. Amos Milburn & his Chicken Shackers....what's a shacker?
The Johnny Burnette Trio take first prize on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour. Sam Butera sings Chantilly Lace, Louis Prima digs it from a front table...
Johnny Carroll from Rock Baby Rock It, different from the 45 version. Rosco Gordon serenades Butch, the alcoholic chicken, also from Rock Baby Rock It. Carl Perkins on Ranch Party, pre-toupee Jerry Lee Lewis drives 'em nuts on U.K. TV, the same week as his classic Live At The Starclub LP was recorded. Elvis first show ever (the footage is silent, ignore the corny music) at the Overton Park Band Shell in Memphis, it's amazing this exists.
Eddie Cochran on Town Hall Party (is that Gene Vincent's band?). Pee Wee Crayton more on him soon.... Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five (where's the Tympani?).
Larry Darnell, he started his career in dancing in drag. The Johnny Otis Show, Three Tons of Joy demonstrate the Hand Jive. Jackie Wilson with some tight pants. Bob Luman with James Burton from Carnival Rock, Ricky Nelson would steal the whole band. Buddy Holly and the Crickets as a three piece, I never saw this one before.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bo Diddley 3

Lobbycard for the Big TNT Show sent in by reader JNeilNYC
Sorry if I'm repeating myself, this is the third Bo Diddley post in less than a year. The first( here) and the second which has footage from The Legend Of Bo Diddley documentary I ran a couple of weeks ago, but the latter footage has been pulled, so if you missed it, you missed it. Here's the best of the Bo Diddley footage on Youtube these days. The bottom clip I decided to run the entire segment from the Ed Sullivan show with Tommy "Dr. Jive" Smalls, the Five Keys, Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson, and Lavern Baker. Feel free to write if there's something really great out there that I missed.
Bo and the Duchess (Norma Jean Wolford) Bo, the Duchess, and his entire band from the Big TNT Show, I love when they kick into the cross rhythm near the end. This was new to me....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #25

I love this picture, this couple looks like they know how to have a good time. The drink on the table looks like a margarita which would put the location in California (you kind of expect to see a bottle of Crown Royal, with the blue and gold felt bag), but that's just a guess. The clothing says 70's.
What is the gesture he's making with his right hand? And what's she got in her right hand?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Travis Wammack

Travis Wammack was born in 1944 in Walnut, Mississippi and raised in and around Memphis, Tennessee. His father played guitar and soon little Travis was picking away. Most guitarists base their style on that of another, earlier guitarist, but Wammack has no percursor, his sound was totally original and he cites no influences other than his dad and the unnamed blues and country players he heard on the radio and later encountered in bars and on the Memphis street. Soon he put together a band and started playing wherever he could. Singer and all around hustler Eddie Bond discovered the pre-pubescent picker as the opening act on a bill that included Sun Records rockers Jack Earls and Warren Smith. Bond brought him to the Slim Wallace's Fernwood label, where Sun refugee Roland Janes was the staff producer.Wammack began his recording career, he was twelve years old. Wammack's first ever session birthed the rockabilly classic Rock and Roll Blues b/w I'm Leaving Today (another tune, I Want To Rock, was left un-issued until the next century). It did well in Memphis but nothing outside of town.
Roland Janes left Fernwood to open his own recording studio called Sonic. He began using the young Wammack as a session guitarist. It took a couple of years but eventually he started recording the youngster as a solo artist. In 1961 he waxed a scorching guitar instrumental which became a minor hit on the Ara label-- Scratchy b/w Firefly. Had he disappeared after that disc was released we'd still be talking about him today. At age sixteen, Wammack was as good a guitar player as rock'n'roll would ever produce. His style was flashy, wild, unpredictable, full of humor, tension, surprise, and fire. He had a distorted tone, and brilliant technique. Although he was and is a fine singer, his most memorable recordings would be instrumentals. Scratchy would rise to #80 on the pop charts but in some cities it did considerably better, especially when Atlantic took over its distribution. In the next six years Wammack would record twelve singles with producer Roland Janes at Sonic, six issued on Ara and another six were picked up by Atlantic. Together with a handful of un-released tracks that finally saw light of day in 1987 when Bear Family released them (it was the first CD I ever bought) they constitute one of rock'n'roll's greatest canons. Listen to the tone of his guitar on Distortion pt. 2 , his third era single. It's inhabits the middle ground between Link Wray and Lonnie Mack. He could take standards like Night Train and Louie Louie and turn them inside out, with a surprise on each turn around. It's Karate Time, and Upset, the former issued as the flip of Night Train, the latter on the b-side of Louie Louie are two of his best originals, his sound taking on the characteristics of aural quicksilver (and I don't mean messenger service).
Of the highlights of what lay languishing in the tape vault include his version of the Thunder Road theme song as well as originals Super Soul Beat and Tech-Nically Speaking. I have never before used the word gonzo, but Wammack's playing was so good I'm plumb out of adjectives.
Night Train b/w It's Karate Time, released in 1967 on Atlantic was the last of his singles to fully embody this original style, after six years and eleven flops, his style began to change. He made his living in those years as a session man, often at Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, playing on countless hits and misses. He would cut singles for Capitol (a version of Parchman Farm from 1970) and Congress (Twangin' My Thang) , before making his first, self titled LP, for Fame in 1972. He was singing almost full time now, out of control guitar instrumentals were out of style.
By the time his second LP-- Not For Sale came out in 1975 on Capricorn, he was sounding nearly as much like Duane Allman as himself. Allman, another Muscle Shoals session guitarist had achieved post-mordem hippie-rock stardom and would be the most influential guitarist in the south in the early 70's.
Neither of Wammack's solo albums sold much, and in 1975 Travis Wammack began his tenure as Little Richard's band leader, staying with him for more than a decade. At one point Wammack's son would join him in Richard's band, playing drums.
After the 1987 re-issue of the Ara sides on the afore-mentioned Bear Family CD-- That Scratchy Guitar From Memphis, Wammack began to return to his unique and much heralded style, recording a surprisingly good, self released, comeback LP Still Rockin' in 1998, followed up by Snake, Rattle and Muscle Shoals in 2000. He appeared at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in 2008, and is still at it, picking his Gibson 335 with jaw dropping speed and dexterity. There's a quote from Chet Atkins, the ever tasteful guitarist and producer responsible for the "countrypolitan" sound of the early 70's, who upon hearing Travis Wammack play was asked what he thought, he responded-- "This stuff scares me". As it very well should... a full discography can be found here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ned Sublette

Ned Sublette* is someone who's been around the New York music scene since the late 70's, playing his own, ever changing, often perverse, style of country music, which culminated in the classic album Cowboy Rumba (Palm, 1999), which fuses country and western swing with Afro-Caribbean rhythms, Cowboy Rumba should have kicked off a revolution in country music, the idea of adding percussion and Afro-Caribbean rhythmic elements seems like a natural progression for country, but it seems to have gone over most people's head. I guess he's not as cute as Ryan Adams. Another of his musical claims to fame is the song "Cowboys Are Often Secret", a pre- Brokeback gay cowboy tune recorded by Willie Nelson (whose version I've never heard). Sublette also founded the Qbadisc label which imported real Cuban music for those who don't need or want Ry Cooder's pasteurization process.
In this century Sublette has taken to writing, the results so far are three of the books that should be on everyone's mandatory reading list: Cuba and its Music: From First Drums To The Mambo (Chicago Review, 2004), The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver To Congo Square (Lawrence Hill, 2008) and The Year Before The Flood: A Story Of New Orleans (Lawrence Hill, 2009)
Cuba and its Music has already been acknowledged worldwide as a classic, easily the best book on the subject in English. The subject itself is a field nearly as wide as, say-- jazz, for despite the small size of the island, Cuba has produced some of the most influential music and musicians in the hemisphere. Cuba and its Music, the first of two volumes (the second yet to be published will pick up the story in the late 1940's) really does begin with the first drums heard in Spain-- Almoravides war drums which arrived in Spain with an invading African army in 1086. Sublette follows the story from traveling troubadours of the middle ages (the first singer-songwriters), through the Inquisition, the discovery of the New World, the music of slaves, the diaspora that followed the slave uprising in Santa Domingo (now Haiti) through the various forms of music that developed around the island of Cuba from the earliest Spanish inhabitants to the mafia sponsored Havana of the mid-20th century, when the town was jumping. It's a mind boggling piece of research, but if my description makes it sound dry or academic, this book is anything but, it's a real page turner and Sublette's passion for the subject (and his sense of humor) shine through on every page. Sublette's thesis is that Cuban music is the lost link, one that has been suppressed since the earliest days of the embargo (1959), in the chain that makes up American popular music, he calls it "The Other Great Tradition". He also explains the music and its rhythms and beats in way that even a non-musician can easily understand. For myself, it's nice to finally know what the clave is, and how it differs from what we call swing.
The World That Made New Orleans won't tell you much about Fats Domino or Professor Longhair, but it will tell you plenty about the town, the culture, and the times that cultivated the soil their music grew in. Again, Sublette traces things back as far as they go, you will learn plenty about Thomas Jefferson that they didn't teach you in school. The Haitian diaspora again is a key element in the story (for those unfamiliar with history's only successful slave revolt the standard text on the subject is C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins, Random House, 1963 but a more fun way to learn about it might be Madison Smart Bell's trilogy of novels-- All Souls Rising(Pantheon, 1985), Master Of The Crossroads (Pantheon, 2000) and The Stone The Builder Refused (Pantheon, 2004), he also wrote an excellent biography of Tousaint Louveture, the 'Black Napoleon'). New Orleans, which at various times has flown the flag of France, Spain, the Confederacy, and the United States, is the most unique of American cities, and this book examines the groundwork laid by those cultures that would in time produce jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, even its own style of hip hop known down there as bounce, and this book is essential to understanding the hows and whys of what was to come. The Year Before The Flood is Sublette's mostly an autobiographical account of growing up in northern Louisiana (redneck country), Texas, and then spending a year in New Orleans in 2004, the year before Katrina demolished what might have been the last culturally unique spot in the U.S. (it's the only place I know of where Starbucks failed to catch on). I spent half my time in New Orleans from 1999 until mid-2004, kept an apartment and my car there, and I can attest, at the turn of the century, New Orleans was undergoing something of a revival, a mini-golden age. Years after I stopped going out at night in New York, where everyplace was crowded, oppressive and full of the un-coolest people you can imagine (the very people I moved to NYC to get away from took over the town), I went out every night in New Orleans, there was always something going on, and it was fun. Where else do people dance to jazz? There was always a party or a crab boil or some great music to see. At the Circle Bar, a postage stamp size dump that I own a piece of, we were able to have Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the best baritone player in jazz, do a regular Monday night gig when he wasn't touring. We could bring in talent like Andre Williams, Barbara Lynn, Classie Ballou, hell, with help from Dr. Ike we had Howard Tate and R.L. Burnside (on the same night!). Sublette captures the feel of the New Orleans I knew, everything good and bad about moving there from somewhere else. I must say, since my tenure in New Orleans started shortly after I was diagnosed with hepatitis C and had to quit drinking, I saw the town in a very different way that just about anyone else who lived there-- I was usually the only sober person in the room. New Orleans has drive through daiquiri stands! Sublette's book conjures up the music, the pot holed roads, the excess, the crime, the humidity, the day to day flow of New Orleans life. He also examines the conditions that allowed Katrina to happen, putting the blame squarely where it belongs (the most obvious being that the Bush/Cheney administration cut the funding for the upkeep of the levees 80% and the oil companies who demolished the wetlands south of the city that soak up the excess water). Even if I hadn't had such a close parallel experience than that described in The Year Before The Flood, I would have to say this is a great book. There's plenty about the local music scene-- brass bands, r&B, hip hop (including a very funny chapter about the Cash Money and No Limit scene and the now leveled housing projects that produced them), jazz, and plenty of stuff that doesn't fit into any category such as the music of Mardi Gras Indians. I love the funny personal antidotes, and as in Cuba and its Music, there is a lot of very passionate writing about the music, which is what drew both he and I there to begin with.
Nothing good lasts long. I remember one night driving home on Tchoupitoulas when Lightin' Hopkins came on the radio, and I thought to myself, enjoy it now, this can't last. I'm naturally cynical, and while New Orleans has survived, I don't think it will ever truly be what is was. It was targeted from above, just like New York in the 80's, let go so far that companies like Disney could come in and buy it up cheap and rebuild it into a theme park. Walked down the Deuce lately? My bet is that New Orleans will look like modern 42nd St. in ten years. If you missed it, or just miss it, this book might be the best way to relive the New Orleans scene before Katrina.
I read a lot, and I buy a lot of books. As a music person, I probably have read 90% or more of the books written about blues, jazz, R&B, and rock'n'roll in the last thirty years, that's a lot of bad writing to take in, and some really great writing too. I put Ned Sublette's three books in that later category, and recommend 'em without reservation.
*For the record, Ned Sublette was the person who recommended WFMU recruit me as a disc jockey which resulted in my 13 year stint on the air.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bo Diddley In The Studio

Quick, before they take it down again, check out this great Bo Diddley footage-- 

Welk Goes Latin from Debbie Fountain on Vimeo.

ADDENDUM: Well, I knew it would get pulled soon. On 9/19/09 it was yanked. I wish the person who was writing to the director (see comments) didn't! If you missed it, the Legend Of Bo Diddley is one of the greatest documentaries of all time, and hopefully it will be made available again. Keep an eye on this blog for more Bo Diddley soon....btw when will Bo's home made porno films surface? See Etta James' autobiography Rage To Live for more on that subject....

Show Folks....

I'm still putting my files back together after a major computer crash but I should be back to the subject of music early next week. Here are some of my favorite showbiz images. The top photo is of course by August Sander (1876-1964) one of the greatest photographers in history. The middle shot shows Lobster King Harry Hackney (center, rear) and his Lobster Waitresses in Atlantic City, on the boardwalk, not sure of the year. The bottom is the irrepressible Gypsy Rose Lee and her daughters circa 1950 (photo by Ralph Steiner). Her autobiography Gypsy (1957) is a pretty good read, the movie which is based on the musical of the same name is pretty lame. She was quite the art collector and her L.A. home supposedly had original works by Picasso, Juan Miro, Max Ernst, et al.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On With The Show...

I love this photo. On the back it reads "July '03 Season 1923". I'm not sure who A.G. Barnes was but Harry Earles who played Hans in Tod Browning's Freaks and Tweedle Dee the Dwarf in both versions of The Unholy Three 1925 and 1930 (the first was silent and directed by Browning, the second version was the talkie remake directed by Jack Conway) is the little guy in the front with his left hand in his pocket. Now that's entertainment!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gillian's Found Photos #24

The Fang's come up with an interesting phound foto this week. Is it a bachelorette party? The wallflower section at a house party? These gals have some Atlantic soul 45's on the table and their hair all done up, they're ready to go, what do you think they're doing? I may not be doing many updates in the next few weeks due to a big computer crash (actually, an attack by a Snow Leopard which mangled my hard drive). I'll be busy trying to recover things from various back up (I triple backed up, and still lost a lot of crap), but since it's almost a year since I started this blog and have been fairly diligent about updating 13-15 times a month a think I've earned a bit of a breather.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Freddie King

These clips come from a local Texas TV show called The Beat, I mean The !!!! Beat, which was hosted by the legendary WLAC (Nashville) disc jockey Bill "Hoss" Allen, and the house band was Gatemouth Brown and his band. I believe the year is 1966. I love everything about these clips, from Freddie's shiny sharkskin suit (slightly too tight), to the big, greasy, conk on top his head. Notice that he didn't use a pick, his thumb looks gigantic on the strings. Freddie King (born Freddie Christian on September 30, 1934 in Glimer, Texas, one of the many dates that Wikipedia gets wrong) started out playing drums, working with Smokey Smothers, John and Grace Brim and Jimmy Reed. He switched to guitar after cutting his first disc for the El Bee label in 1956 and became a fairly big star riding high on a string of instrumental hits on the Federal label-- Hideaway (1960), San-Ho-Zay (1961), The Stumble ('61), etc. He later recorded for Atlantic's Cotillion subsidiary and then Leon Russell's Shelter Records where he recorded with Eric Clapton (who recorded King's Hideaway while in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers). He died of a heart attack in 1976 at age 42.
Bear Family has many volumes of The !!!! Beat available on DVD, performers included Rosco Gordon, Otis Redding, The Mighty Hannibal, Etta James, Louis Jordan, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, and too many others to mention--playing live, not lip synching.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, March 20, 1915. She grew up singing in The Church Of God In Christ, picked up a guitar somewhere along the way and went on to become one of the most popular gospel singers of the 40's, (and the first to attempt to "cross over" joining the Lucky Millinder Orchestra with whom she cut four sides in 1948). She cut a series of amazing discs for Decca, many with Sammy Price on piano, including my favorite-- Strange Things Happen Every Day. She was a flamboyant figure, fond of feathered boas and exotic hats, and she played a style of guitar that we, today, recognize as rock'n'roll (as evidenced by the clips here, she adhered to Jim Dickinson's theory that tuning was a "decadent and European" concept). After leaving Decca she recorded some good sides for Savoy (including amazing duets with with Marie Knight who just passed away) and Mercury's Wing subsidiary, among other labels, and after her popularity waned, found a second career in Europe where she was wildly popular in the sixties. Diabetes eventually destroyed her health. She had a stroke in 1970, and one of her legs had to be amputated. She died in 1973 in her adopted hometown of Philadelphia. Many early rockers including most notably Carl Perkins have sited her guitar playing as a primary influence on early rock'n'roll. These clips are really wonderful, out of tune guitar and all....

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee

Granville "Stick" McGhee (left) with his brother, Brownie Granville "Stick" McGhee without his brother Brownie.
"But the sages of Hellas knew nothing of the song whose title is "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee", nor did they know that this song inspired more great recordings than any other song in the history of what people on television refer to as the rock'n'roll field. We must excuse the sages, for they passed on long before the song we speak of, long, even, before television, itself". -- Nick Tosches, Unsung Heroes Of Rock'N'Roll (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984)
It's true, it seems this song is almost impossible to fuck up, or more likely, it is a song that would not attract to it the type of performer who could fuck it up. Notice, almost unique among American R&B hits, the lack of cover versions by British bands. The story of Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee begins with a guy named Stick McGhee, brother of folk-blues star Brownie McGhee, as well as warbler of such other fine tunes as Jungle Juice (King) and Sleep In Job (Herald). Note his name was Stick, not Sticks as many re-issue labels have billed him. In the afore-quoted classic volume The Unsung Heroes Of Rock'N'Roll, Nick Tosches includes a short biography of the man they called Stick, and you should read it, in fact if you are the slightest bit interested in rock'n'roll you should own a copy of said book. Taken from Tosches' tome we know that McGhee picked up on a song that he learned in the army, a drinking song popular with black soldiers that went-- "Drinkin' wine mother fucker drinkin' wine", and after his discharge in 1947 he added some verses and recorded it, in it's cleaned up guise (Spo-Dee-O-Dee standing in for Motherfucker in the lyric) for the tiny Harlem label, which had neither the money nor will to promote it. The recording was crude with just one guitar and a slap bass as instrumentation, but the performance was spirited, and the song itself great, but this record was, like so many other fine discs, a commercial flop and soon forgotten. Fast forward to 1949. Ahmet Ertegun, president of the then fledgling Atlantic Records is hanging around at a distributors office when an order from New Orleans comes in for many thousands of copies of the Stick McGhee record which by some fluke had become something of a hit in and around New Orleans. Morty Shad who owned the Harlem label knew nothing of this, for the wily Ertegun took the order and tracked down Stick through his brother Brownie and re-recorded the record on Atlantic, in a superior version that added Wilbert "Big Chief" Ellis on piano and Gene Ramey on drums. Notice that in the Atlantic version the St. Petersburg local is changed to New Orleans in the lyric. Atlantic sent these discs to New Orleans, and then all over the country. It became the first hit on Atlantic Records and keep the label alive in the year of 1949, a time when they could have conceivably gone under for lack of sales. It rose to #2 R&B (and #26 Pop) on the Billboard magazine chart in April of '49. Cover versions started coming out of the woodwork: R&B, country, rockabilly, and more. One of the first and best was a stompin' R&B rendition by Wynonie Harris on King (this version rose to #4 R&B in May of '49). Wynonie could sure belt it out. Sam Phillips loved the tune and recorded a wild proto-rockabilly version on Sun with Malcom Yelvington in '54. He recorded Jerry Lee Lewis' version in '57 but it would not see the light of the pressing plant until the 1970's. Jerry Lee loves the tune and has been singing it for over fifty years now. He's recorded it numerous times, although he's never topped the version waxed at Sun he did chart briefly in '73 with this version on Mercury which rocks pretty hard. Atlantic Records would return to the song several times including fine renditions by Glen Reeves (actually on their Atco subsidiary, 1956) and Larry Dale (1961). The Johnny Burnette Trio cut a wild version, actually two versions, for Coral. The version on their classic LP is fantastic, but the 45 version is even better. While we're on the subject of rockabilly, I've always like Wally Deane's rendition on Artic There's all sorts of lyrical variations among the versions of the song, one peculiar spin put on the thing by the Five Strings (not yet Sid King and the Five Strings as they would soon become) who recorded it for Columbia in 1955 and changed the Spo-Dee-O-Dee into Drinkin' Wine Spoli-oli for reasons we may never know. An attempt to cut a PG version was made by Donny Baker on Rainbow who turned the song into the rather harmless Drinkin' Pop (Soda-Oda) although the guitar solo is great as is the red plastic it was pressed on. Actually, now that I've pulled it off the shelf and played it, it's better than I remember it being. Another positively perverse take on things came from Andrew Tibbs with Drinkin' Ink Splink which appeared on Aristocrat (the label would eventually morph into Chess). Given the 1947 release date, it may not have even been influenced by Stick McGhee's song at all, although it sounds it. Sometimes a good idea is just in the air and emerges simultaneously in different guises in different locals and I think that may be the case here. By the end of the fifties the song became a standard with frat party bands and early garage rockers and it mutated into a slightly different song, this time known simply as Wine Wine Wine, the best known version being the one cut by Texans' the Nightcaps on Vandam in 1960. There are some truly killer versions of Wine Wine Wine like this one by the Devons (actually the Sir Douglas Quintet) on Pic (1965) and the Renegades V on Dubonet (1961), which may be the finest version of all. Pittsburgh's legendary disc jockey Mad Mike put out many volumes of his Mad Mike's Mouldies LP's (now available on Norton) and on one of them he put Drinkin' Wine by the Fames, a fantastic version, anyone out there know the original label on this one? Of course we can't forget Jim Dickinson's savage tear through of the number which he just called Wine and cut, for, but of course, Atlantic in 1970. It opens his classic Dixie Fried LP in style. Can I throw in one recent version? Well, I'm gonna anyway, here's Richard Thompson doing Drinkin' Wine Spo-O-Dee-O-Dee, since it proves an Englishman can do the song justice, if you just get the right Englishman. Well there ya go, nineteen versions of the same damn tune, all different, all great in their own way. Having covered Night Train and Thunderbird in past blogs, I think this one was overdue. Like I said, it's a hard song to fuck up. Mop! Mop!

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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