Thursday, September 30, 2010

Webb Pierce-- Little Rosa

Red Sovine who does the spoken part on the recording of Little Rosa prefers the little ones with the big holes. 

Here, Koko the Clown takes the spoken word part that Red Sovine does on the record.
Webb Pierce and his Wondering Boys, wonder how they're all gonna fit in the Sputnik III.

Webb Pierce was the first country artist to tour Uranus, seen here in his tour bus Sputnik III

Webb Pierce (born Webb Pierce, Aug. 8, 1921, died Feb. 24, 1991) had a long and successful career as a country singer of the hard core honky tonk variety. He had thirteen #1 Billboard country hits (Hank Williams only had nine) between the years 1952-1957 and Lord knows how many top forty hits. This hot streak included such #1's as I Ain't Never, There Stands The Glass, Back Street Affair, and a cover of Jimmie Rodgers' In The Jailhouse Now, all great records. What was the last great record to go to #1 on Billboard's country chart? I honestly can't remember, it's been decades.  Webb Pierce had a Buick customized by haberdasher to hillbilly royalty-- Nudie, it had silver dollar inlays all over it, saddles for seats and real guns for door handles. I once smoked a joint while sitting in it at the the Country Music Hall Of Fame Museum at a party I went to there. The mid-50's rise of rock'n'roll as a commercial entity  sent a panic through the world of country music and some singers, like Webb Pierce, tried to respond in some fairly desperate ways. Pierce himself took a few stabs at rock'n'roll, all of them worth hearing.  He added words to Bill Justis' instrumental classic Raunchy, released a pretty cool cover version of The Everly Brothers' Bye Bye Love and of course there was his rockabilly classic Teenage Boogie (here's the obligatory, for this blog,  alternate take) which would be appropriated by T. Rex in 1974 who took it to the top of the U.K charts retitled I Love To Boogie, giving writing credits to little Marc Bolan. Not rock'n'roll but perhaps the strangest record Webb Pierce  made in his attempt to regain chart dominance was this 1956 attempt to merge two trends, one the maudlin child snuff ballad, a musical genre that has thrived in country music since its earliest days,  and that peculiar trend-- the "wop song", which are tunes done in a strange stereotyped Italian accent similar to that of Chico Marx and the character Mr. Bacciagalupe on the Abbott & Costello TV show. One record, Little Rosa, issued by Decca (of course,  here is an alternate take), the spoken part is done by Red Sovine, king of both the trucker song and the kid snuff ballad, two trends he fused in his, well, not really classic, but
certainly fascinating hit-- Giddy Up Go, which you can still hear on juke boxes in truck stops in West Virginia around Christmas time. Off the track but worth mentioning is Sovine's follow up Getty Up Stop. Getting back to Little Rosa,  in the above clip (sent in by Donna Lethal, thanks), Koko The Clown takes Sovine's role as the poor old Wop dad, Webb Pierce, of course, appears as himself.  Before anyone writes in to complain about my use of the term wop, the surname on my original birth certificate was Antonicello and my grandparents on one side were born in a town in the heel of Italy's boot called Iricino, the other side of my family is from Palermo, in whose harbor sits a statue of Antonino Giammona, my great, great, grandfather.  So I get to say wop. Also guiniea, greaseball and dago if I choose.  Other artists to record "wop songs" include Big Walter Price (Hello Maria, the flip of his R&B classic Pack, Fair and Square),  Norman Fox & the Rob-Roys (Pizza Pie) and of course Louis Prima (Bacciagalup Makes Love On The Stoop, Picco-Lena Lena, amongst others). As late as 1980 Wop songs were still a commercially viable genere as seen when Joe Dolce's Shaddup You Face
topped the Austrailian charts. Perhaps now is a good time to revive the ahead of its time attempt to fuse country music and the wop song. I bet David Allen Coe could come up with a doozie.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pat Hare

Blues Unlimited on the road: Little Jr. Parker, standing (far left), Bobby "Blue" Bland, kneeling (far left), 
Pat Hare, standing (far right). South Carolina, 1952.

Clipping from St. Paul Dispatch, Dec. '63 concerning Hare's double murder.

Pat Hare (right) with James Cotton, 1959

Pat Hare: A mean little shit, Memphis, 1955.

Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960, Pat Hare on guitar (to Muddy's right).

Pat Hare was born Auburn Hare, December 20, 1930 in Cherry Valley, Arkansas where he was raised by his grandmother on a plantation owned by a Mrs. Fay Van, he had had a brother who died at the age of six.
In 1940, the family moved to a farm near Parkin, Arkansas, and around the same time young Auburn, whose grandmother nicknamed him Pat, started playing guitar. In his teens he took lessons from Joe Willie Wilkins, who played in Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller)'s band, appearing on Sonny Boy's King Biscuit Flour radio show. He also fell in with Howlin' Wolf, and played in Wolf's band on weekends around the Forrest City/West Memphis area while still in his teens. He also played minor league baseball, and drove a "big John Deere tractor" on the farm.  He was already developing into something of a bad drunk, a mean little shit who at one time climbed up on a chair to punch Howlin' Wolf who towered over him (and probably could have killed him bare handed had he retaliated).
Wolf took him back to his family and recommended they give him a whupping. There are other stories about young Pat Hare, it's hard to tell which ones are true and which are exaggerations, athough there's probably at least a kernel of truth to most of them-- that he took a few shots a Wolf with a pistol, that he attacked a man with a rake, breaking his own finger in the process (one of his little fingers was bent and would remain so for the rest of his life).  Wolf kept him on, using him for his own radio show that broadcast from West Memphis' KWEM, and Hare also appeared on the radio with James Cotton, Willie Nix, Joe Hill Louis and later on Memphis' all black WDIA playing behind his cousin Walter Bradford.
  Pat Hare made his recording debut backing up Bradford on a session held at Sam C. Phillips' Sun Studio in the spring of 1952. The record-- Walter Bradford's Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin' But The Blues (Sun 176) is so rare that no one has actually ever seen a copy. Hare claimed to have played on several of Howlin' Wolf's RPM sides cut around the same time (the ones produced by Ike Turner and recorded at KWEM's studio), but Wolf's guitarist of the time Willie Johnson claims that he played on the sides in question. To my ears it sounds like Johnson, although their playing had many similarities. Both musicians could play complicated jazzy leads which would be followed up by crude, violent fills and chord crashes. Both used an extremely distorted tone (in day and age well before the invention of foot pedals and distortion boxes which are standard fare for any guitarist for the last forty years).  Pat Hare had left Howlin' Wolf's band (or more likely, was fired) in 1952, and it was then he joined up with Little Junior Parker's band, staying with them until April of '53. Parker shared his band with Bobby "Blue" Bland, and they toured together as "Blues Unlimited". When not touring, he would return to the family farm, and play around Memphis working with various musicians including Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Ike Turner, and James Cotton whose band became his most regular gig of the time. He also became the favorite session guitarist of producer Sam Phillips who had just opened his studio on the corner of Union and Marshall in Memphis and was leasing tunes to RPM in Hollywood and Chess in Chicago, and then releasing them on his own Sun label. Hare appeared on sides by Rosco Gordon, Little Junior Parker (including this one which appeared on Duke-- Sittin' Drinkin and Thinkin'), Walter Horton, Big Memphis Ma Rainey, Kenneth Banks and others. One of the greatest thrills for young Pat Hare however was getting to play with one of his musical heroes-- Memphis Minnie who had retired to Memphis and  whom Hare backed at a Memphis gig one weekend in 1953.
At Sun he appeared two early James Cotton singles, which in retrospect, would be the greatest recordings ever issued under Cotton's name-- My Baby b/w Straighten Up Baby (Sun 199) and Cotton Crop Blues b/w Hold Me In Your Arms (Sun 206). What  made these discs so special was Hare's demonically, distorted guitar attack, it sounded as if  his strings were made of barbed wire, most especially on Cotton Crop Blues.
Another excellent session for Sun was led by harmonica player Coy "Hot Shot" Love. It would produce another disc of singular greatness-- Wolf Call Boogie b/w Harmonica Jam (Sun 196).  Here's an alternate take of Wolf Call Boogie for those who prefer to lead an alternative lifestyle.
In May of '54, Sam Phillips decided to record Pat Hare under his own name. James Cotton was scheduled to play harmonica on the session but the two got into a fist fight that day, and Cotton disappeared. Instead, Hare is backed up by Israel Franklin on bass and Billy Love on piano on the two tunes.  The first is a monstrous reading of Dr. Clayton's Cheatin' & Lyin' Blues, re-titled on the tape box I'm Gonna Murder My Baby, it was and still is, one of the most foreboding and ominous recordings in the entire blues canon, along with Bonus Pay which is actually a cover of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's Ain't Gonna Be That Way.  Phillips chose not to release Hare's disc which would not be heard until it slipped out on a bootleg on the Redita label in 1976, and later appeared on Charley Records' Sun Blues Box in the eighties. I paraphrase the late, great, Memphis institution Jim Dickinson-- "the best performances don't get recorded, the best recordings don't get released, the best releases don't get heard". However, like, say Robert Johnson (whose first LP, issued twenty four years after his death sold only a few thousand copies in the first few years on the market, but by the late 80's would become a platinum, million selling, box set) the few who heard I'm Gonna Murder My Baby knew it was something special and they all told someone else who told someone else and eventually it would become something of an underground blues hit amongst hardcore fans and collectors. Perhaps helped along by the way history would play itself out.
  Meanwhile, Pat Hare had become a full time musician, and he would appear on many other discs, most notably Bobby "Blue" Bland's hit Further Up The Road (Duke 170) where his guitar is featured prominently and Little Junior Parker's I Wanna Ramble (Duke 137), one of his best discs, Hare adds his own unique attack to a riff developed by Floyd Murphy on Parker's earlier Sun recordings Mystery Train and Love My Baby. Hare went back on the road with the Blues Unlimited tour until Bland fired him sometime in 1957. It was the same year that James Cotton, who had joined Muddy Waters' band brought Pat to Chicago to replace Jimmy Rogers in, what was known to their contemporaries as Muddy Waters' Drunk Assed Band. He would play with Waters for the next few years, appearing on the Muddy Waters Live At Newport and Muddy Waters' Sings Big Bill LP's.
Pat Hare did not get along with Leonard Chess and was not featured much on the Chess discs he plays on, although Hare has some nice moments on the Sings Big Bill album, the first Waters LP to be recorded in stereo. His trademark distorted sonic attack is replaced by a cleaner, low volume sound. Probably at Leonard Chess' insistence, trying to make  him sound more like Jimmy Rogers who favored a more twangy sound.  Hare shines brightest on Hey Hey and Moppers Blues from Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill.
 Somtime between 1960-63 (the exact date is unclear) came the first "incident" to hint that Hare, who was fairly mild mannered when sober, was becoming an out of control drunk. Having left his wife in Cleveland, Hare had a girlfriend in Chicago named Louise Kennedy. They fought a lot, Hare often accused her of cheating. One night he couldn't get her on the phone so he went to her apartment with a loaded Winchester rifle and emptied it through her front window. She was home, but just too afraid of Hare's temper to answer the door. The police put out a warrant for Hare, who first hid with Muddy Waters then went back to Memphis to stay with Joe Willie Wilkins. Finally, in '63 he returned to the family farm in Parkin, it was there that former Muddy Waters sidemen Mojo Burford and Jojo Williams tracked him down. They were starting a new band in Minneapolis and brought Pat north to play with them.  Soon they were gigging at Mattie's Bar-B-Q in South Minneapolis.  Pat Hare was drinking heavily and often had to be sent home for passing out on the bandstand.  Once, after being sent home for two nights running, Hare demanded that Burford pay him anyway. When Burford refused Hare threatened to shoot him. Things would get worse from here, much worse.
 On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 15, 1963 Hare spent the afternoon drinking wine with well known blues drummer S. P. Leary (who was in town working in band with former Howlin' Wolf guitarist Willie Johnson and Elmore James' former sax player J.T. Brown). Pat Hare at the time was living with a married woman named Aggie Winje.  Pat called a friend of Aggie's named Pat Morrow who drove him to a third friend's house where he drank a half pint of gin. There the two proceeded to the house of James McHie, who was Hare's boss at his day job as a window washer.  James McHie wasn't home, so Hare told McHie's wife to bring him to his apartment when he got in, explaining he was having trouble with Aggie who wanted to return to her husband. When Hare got home he took a couple of potshots at Aggie who ran out to Morrow's car and asked if she'd take Hare with her, she was throwing him out. Morrow took off leaving Aggie with Pat, who had worked himself into a lather. Hare got a phone call at a neighbor named Charles Cook's apartment, and while he was on the phone Hare told Cook-- "That woman is going to make me kill her".  The phone call was from Pat Marrow's husband who was looking for her-- "You got the wrong Pat", Hare told him.  Hare returned to his and Aggie's apartment where they continued to fight, soon, more shots were heard. A woman named Florence Whipps called the police. Officers James E. Hendricks and Chester Langaard responded within minutes.  Officer Hendricks, armed with a shotgun  headed to Hare's apartment and was heard to say "Give me the gun", followed by three shots. When Office Langaard, a few steps behind his partner arrived to see Hendricks on the floor and Hare pointing a pistol at him. Aggie was on the couch with two bullet holes in her. Langaard shot Pat Hare twice and called for back  up. Two ambulances arrived, the first took away office Hendricks who died en route to the hospital. Aggie and Pat were taken to General Hospital and both underwent surgery.  Aggie would die on January 22, 1964.  When questioned, Hare remembered only that he was drunk and claimed to have no recollection of shooting anyone.
 At the trial Pat Hare waved his rights to a jury trial, and the judge was Tom Bergin, a former cop. The trial, held February 14, 1964 lasted all of one day and Pat Hare was found guilty of first degree murder of Officer Hendricks while at the same time pleading guilty to third degree murder in the case of Aggie Winje's shooting. He was sentenced to life in prison and was sent off to Stillwater State Prison, changing his stage name to 21961-E.  In prison Hare joined AA and quit drinking,  he played in the prison band-- Sounds Incarcerated, playing jazz, country, blues, and rock'n'roll to fellow inmates and later the band was allowed to travel outside the prison, appearing at public events, concerts, hospitals, and other venues.  Hare was denied parole in 1974, and in 1975 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was operated on and had part of one lung removed.  In 1977 the cancer returned and he was given chemotherapy for cancer of the throat and underwent a second surgery, this time having the muscles from the left side of his neck and under his tongue removed. He was transferred to a minimum security prison. He was often allowed to leave the prison to perform music, even appearing with Muddy Waters at a local concert where Muddy was opening for Eric Clapton.
He was filmed in 1980 for a local Minnesota tv show called PM Magazine, and was about to be given a medical pardon when he succumbed to cancer on September 26, 1980. By the time of his death, the ironic story of Pat Hare and I'm Gonna Murder My Baby had entered blue lore. There was an interview with him, done in prison, that appeared in Living Blues magazine, and later a long feature about him in Juke Blues (the later being the source for the names and dates in this posting).
His Sun material would be re-issued many times, including on a Japanese P-Vine LP called Memphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1. So goes the story of Pat Hare, killer blues guitar player.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bobby Marchan

Bobby Marchan before.
Bobby Marchan after.

Bobby Marchan answering the musical question, where ya goin' fat bitch?
Bobby Marchan, and a face full of make up early 50's.
Onstage at the Tijuana Club, New Orleans, early 50's.
Although forever equated with classic New Orleans rock'n'roll as lead singer for Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns, Bobby Marchan, (Oscar James Gibson, born April 30, 1930) was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio (today, best known as the home of Truckworld, the world's largest truckstop).
As a teen he began hitting the local drag shows (Youngstown had drag shows in the 40's? Indeed it did), and soon young Bobby began "dressing up" and performing in full drag. Influenced by another highly effeminate, Ohio born, rhythm and blues star of the era-- Larry Darnell, now renamed Bobby Marchan, our hero, also started singing. By 1953 Marchan had formed a group of six female impersonators he dubbed the Powder Box Revue and hit the road. The drag tradition in blues and rhythm and blues is an old and grand one, which culminated in the rise of Little Richard, a subject I touched on partially in my posting on Billy Wright last year, if you care for more background on the subject. Marchan found his most receptive audience in New Orleans, a town where the best sepia room-- the Dew Drop Inn had a full time female impersonator Patsy Valdalia as its emcee, and was host to such drag performers as pre-Specialty Little Richard (who also balanced a chair on his chin while he sang), Esquerita, and many others. Dr. John in his wonderful autobiography Under The Hoodoo Moon (St. Martins Press, 1994) remembered meeting a drag queen named Loberta, a few days later he met Bobby Marchan, he had no idea they were one and the same. Although Marchan occasionally worked the Dew Drop, his main outlet was around the corner at the Club Tijuana, an important R&B venue where Guitar Slim, Earl King, and Marchan's soon to be partner in sound Huey "Piano" Smith all began their careers.
Bobby Marchan began his recording career in the fall of '53 when Aladdin Records recorded him in New Orleans, issuing a single-- Have Mercy b/w Just A Little Walk in early 1954.
The disc was a typical R&B disc of the time, very much in the ballad style of Larry Darnell and it did nothing. Two songs from the session remain unissued until this day. Later that same year, Marchan recorded his second single for Dot in Nashville-- You Made A Fool Of Me b/w Just A Little Wine, basically another Larry Darnell impersonation, it didn't sell, nor did it hint at what was soon to come as Marchan found his own voice and style in the coming years.
Performing in drag at the Tijuana, he fell in with Huey "Piano" Smith, who after an apprenticeship with Guitar Slim, and some touring with Earl King and Shirley & Lee, was working for Johnny Vincent who had been fired from his A&R post at Specialty Records and was just launching his own Ace label, based out of Jackson, Mississippi, but using mostly talent from New Orleans. Marchan's first record for Ace, with Smith on the piano with Lee Allen (tenor sax), Edgar Blanchard (guitar) and Charles "Hungry" Williams (drums) was issued under the name of Bobby Fields (probably because he was still under contract to Dot at the time)-- Helping Hand b/w Pity Poor Me. Again, this disc only hint at the glories to come. But he was getting closer.
Meanwhile in 1956, Huey "Piano" Smith, with the vocal group The Clowns had cut two excellent singles for Ace before Marchan joined as lead singer-- Everybody Whalin' b/w Little Liza Jane followed up in early 1957 with Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu pts 1 and 2. In 1957 Marchan cut another solo disc for Ace, with Smith and his band in support-- Little Chickie Wah Wah b/w Don't Take Your Love From Me, the same  year he joined the group full time.
As a member of Huey Smith & the Clowns , he  re-organized the vocal group--  the Clowns, with himself as one of the lead singers, he added Geri Hall (an out of the closet bull dyke who often bragged that she was the most masculine member of the group), John "Scarface" Williams, bass singer Billy Roosevelt and Eugene Francis, who couldn't sing much but with his dyed green hair, added much stage presence. Bobby Marchan's first record as a member of Clowns was I'm Just A Lonely Clown b/w Free Single and Disengaged, a good harmony number, with Huey Smith's rolling piano, they were now closing in on their unique sound.
It  would be their next disc-- High Blood Pressure b/w Don't You Just Know It that the sound of Huey Piano Smith & the Clowns would finally come together. It was and is one of the most unique and recognizable sounding discs in rockn'roll history, as well as being their best two sider, it would become their biggest hit. What can I say? Just listen to it. The a-side is more of a gang chant than a group harmony sound, on the flip, with it's nonsensical lyrics, The Clowns sound like the Little Rascals if they'd grown into teenagers and just huffed some glue-- "A Ha Ha Ha Ha/dooba dooba dooba dooba/hey-ayo"! It was all set over Huey Smith's rollicking, Professor Longhair influenced piano and Hungry Williams funky, second line drum beat, and sported a growling tenor sax solo from Lee Allen. It simply has never been topped. High Blood Pressure rose to #9 on the pop charts and the group hit the road. Huey Smith himself soon tired of touring and went back to New Orleans to work in the studio and eat beans and rice, a young James Booker was sent out as his replacement, the audience non the wiser. Meanwhile, Bobby Marchan had become the de facto leader of the group, on and off stage.  Although Marchan didn't perform in drag with the Clowns, they were sharp dressers ("One night we went out in matching plaid suits with Bermuda shorts, the crowd went wild when they saw those outfits"), and Marchan rehearsed the group on the dances and comedy skits that accompanied the tunes.
Huey Smith and the Clowns attempted to follow up their hit with two excellent discs-- Havin' A Good Time b/w We Like Birdland in early '58 followed soon by Don't You Know Yokomo b/w Well I'll Be John Brown. Both fine records, and good sellers around New Orleans, but neither made the national charts.  The first Clowns record to give Bobby Marchan top billing was You Can't Stop Her b/w Rockin' Behind The Iron Curtain, (these are alternate takes, as good as the issued versions). One of the groups toughest rockers-- You Can't Stop Her,  graced the a-side, while the flip exploited the ridiculousness of cold war politics in typical Clown fashion.  It was a decent size local hit, but again, it failed to chart nationally.
The record that should have sealed their fate as national stars however was hijacked out from under their noses by their own record company.  Everyone who heard Sea Cruise knew it would be a smash, however, Ace's owner Johnny Vincent, in the wake of Elvis Presley's unprecedented success decided that if he gave the tune to a white boy, he simply couldn't miss.
He didn't. The original master take, with Marchan and the Clowns harmony lead vocal was shelved and a local white kid named Frankie Ford, who sounded a lot like Marchan, was brought in to overdub his voice on to the master. It was one of the biggest hits of 1958 and Ford, who I like a lot, has been able to make a comfortable living off of the tune ever since. The same trick was used on the flipside-- Loberta (Bobby's drag name) on which Ford's voice was also dubbed, with the name changed to Roberta. It was a decent size hit on it's own. It sported one of early rock'n'roll's best lines-- "I pawned my pistol/I pawned my watch and chain/I'd of pawned Roberta but Roberta can't sign her name".  Huey Smith & the Clowns next disc was the below par Would You Believe I Have A Cold b/w Genevieve, they followed it up with the doo wop ballad Dearest Darling b/w Tub-Ur-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Flu.  Ace issued Huey Smith and the Clowns first LP-- Having A Good Time, which sported a photo of only Huey Smith on the cover, a move that stuck in Bobby Marchan's craw. After all, it was him onstage, touring his ass off, holding the group together, and singing lead on nearly all their tunes. Also, from here Huey Smith & the Clowns singles would take a noticeable dip in quality, as Smith spent more and more time working with Ford and other acts, novelty and dance craze tunes like Beatnik Blues and Pop-Eye became the order of the day, although their were two more shining moments, the first issued under Marchan's name was Hush Your Mouth b/w Quit My Job, issued in 1960 it would be the last disc issued on Ace under Bobby's own name.  The other, issued in '61, but I'll bet was recorded much earlier was She Got Lowdown b/w Mean Mean Mean, the a-side being a tough, second line rocker of the highest caliber.  For all his hard work leading and touring with Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns, Bobby Marchan felt that he was getting little name recognition out of the deal. Both LP's and the EP issued by Ace featured only photos of Huey, and when Marchan approached Johnny Vincent about recording his rendition of There Is Something On Your Mind, Vincent vetoed the idea, since Big Jay McNeeley's version with Little Sonny on vocals was already something of a hit on the Swingin' label.  Marchan began recording for Bobby Robinson (who had been in and out of New Orleans recording hits with Lee Dorsey), first releasing  Snoopin' and Accusin' b/w This Is The Life on Fire in early '59,  a sort of cross between the Clowns and the Coasters styles, then the aforementioned There Is Something On Your Mind pts. 1 and pt 2, which he waxed in Chicago and leased to both Fire and Chess despite still being under contract to Johnny Vincent.  When There Is Something On Your Mind hit the charts in 1960 the lawyers went to work. Chess never released their version, and Bobby Robinson bought off Johnny Vincent for a reported $12,500. The record stayed in the charts for eleven weeks, peaking at #1 R&B (#31 Pop) on Billboard's charts. With There Is Something On Your Mind, Bobby Marchan would leave the Clowns style behind, the disc is a throwback to his drag days, an over the top bluesy ballad with a campy, spoken word breakdown in the middle (on the 45, the spoken part starts off Pt. 2, which would be the hit side that was played on radio). Bobby Marchan would record for Robinson's Fire label for the next two years including, recording an excellent proto-soul dance number The Bootie Green b/w It Hurts Me To My Heart with Allen Tousaint in support, and finish up his relationship with Bobby Robinson with a version of Guitar Slim's The Things I Used To Do pt. 1 and pt. 2, done in the same histrionic style of There Is Something On Your Mind, it would be released on the Sphere Sound label, Fire having gone into receivership earlier that year. Excellent though it was, Robinson was in poor financial shape and had no money to promote the disc, and soon Marchan had moved on. He would record two for excellent singles for Stax in '64 -- What Can I Do  and You Won't Do Right, one for Cameo (Shake Your Tambourine, a soul shaker and a minor hit in '66), and then Dial where he cut several singles including the stomping  Get Down and Get With It which would be covered by Little Richard and later Slade (the writer's royalties he made off the Slade hit would be the most money he'd ever earned off one of his records).  He toured heavily in the 60's, working with everyone from Otis Redding to James Brown, but by the early 70's demand had fallen off and he went back to working drag shows, becoming the regular emcee at Club Alhambra in New Orleans, then hosting a live, riotous version of the Gong Show at the Club 2400, appearing in a blond wig and tight, sequined cocktail dress. He kept his hand in the music biz, and in a way that has never been made quite clear was one of the original founders of the Cash Money label, the New Orleans hip hop (or as they call it down there, bounce) label that produced stars like Juvenile and Lil Wayne.  He also performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, back when local New Orleans legends were more welcome than Phish and Bon Jovi who seem to have taken the event over (which is why Ira Pandos and his Mystical Knights of The Mau Mau began the Ponderosa Stomp, going on this weekend down in New Orleans).  By the late 90's his health began failing. He had to have a kidney removed (why isn't that kidney on display at the rock'n'roll hall of fame?), and then was then struck down by cancer, dying on December 5, 1999.  The drag tradition in R&B continues on to this day in performers like New Orleans rapper Katie Red, but the real history of these "freakish men" has yet to be fully explored, and has never really been acknowledged. Of the many untold secrets that still hide up the rumbled skirt of R&B and rock'n'roll history, one suprise you will find is a black cock, and I'm not talking about roosters. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #54

Since I've covered musician/pimps Larry Williams and Johnny "Guitar" Watson in recent posts, this shot from Fang's archive's seemed like a natural for this weeks found photo. Slick here sure looks sharp in that natural 'fro and (rabbit?) coat. Peta types be damned (how come the Peta people only defend the rights of cute animals? Who will dare stand up for the cockroaches, mosquitoes, waterbugs, and rats, aren't they living creatures? Speaking of which, plants scream out in pain when you pick 'em, as any person of science can explain, so those soybeans you're eating have indeed been murdered just like those pork chops you decline, just because it tastes bad doesnt mean its good for you). Anyhoo, the coat in question seems to a customized job, check out the hem line just below the bottom set of buttons, looks like a completely different type of fur filling out the last foot and a half.
Getting back to our model de jour, the back of the photo reads Pillbury, Madison, Sutro, 225 Bush Street, Nov. 5-73, 5th Floor. Pillsbury (I assume who ever inscribed the back misspelled it), Madison and Surtro is a law firm that works out of 225 Bush Street in San Francisco (although these days they seem to have moved to the 6th floor), which I guess means Slick here was facing some sort of charges back in '73. Anyone from the law firm remember this fellow? If I was on the jury I'd find him innocent for purely sartorial reasons. Then again, maybe he was/is a lawyer....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Young John Watson (Johnny Guitar Watson) 1953-62

Johnny "Guitar" Watson, onstage at the Twisted Wheel, Manchester, '65 (photo by Brian Smith).
Young John Watson, perpares to take his Stratocaster on a space trip.
John Ray Watson Jr. was born in Houston, Texas, February 3, 1935 , and learned to play piano from his father, a blues and boogie woogie man who played around Houston's Dowling Street on occassion. After witnessing Gatemouth Brown, John Jr. borrowed his grandfather's guitar (promising with his fingers crossed behind his back he would not play the blues on it, as Gramps was a man of god with no use for the devil's music), and soon he had mastered the instrument. Eventually Watson would play not only piano and guitar but sax, drums, and almost any other instrument that came into his hands.
In 1950, when his parents split up, Watson arrived in Los Angeles with his father (he'd bring his mother out west later and live with her for most of the rest of his life), and, spotted at a local talent show, soon found work pounding piano in Chuck Higgin's Mellotones, a highly popular tenor sax honkin' R&B outfit who where especially popular with Mexican teenagers in the area (hence their hit Pachuko Hop). In 1952, with Higgins' band, Watson made his recording debut, singing lead and pounding the 88's on the Combo label singles like Motorhead Baby (the flipside of Pachuko Hop), Love Me Baby b/w Ain't Gonna Leave Baby, Stormy b/w Blues Mambo, Just Won't Treat Me Right b/w Bug Jump, and appearing as pianist on many of Higgins' Combo instrumentals like Cotton Picker, Iron Pipe, Chuck's Wig, et al.
By 1953 Johnny Watson was leading his own band and was soon signed to Federal, a subsidiary of Cincinnati's King Records. Billed as Young John Watson, his first session was held in L.A. on February 20, 1953, and with Watson singing and playing piano he was backed by guitarist Wayne Bennett (long time star of Bobby Blue Bland's band and later with Ray Charles) and a local rhythm section, it produced two excellent blues rockin' singles-- No I Can't b/w a remake of Motorhead Baby, followed by Highway 60 b/w Sad Fool. A second session was held in May and two more singles were released-- I Got Eyes b/w What's Going One and Walkin' To My Baby b/w Thinking, Harold Grant replaced Bennett on guitar on these sides. These singles were all in a solid Fats Domino/Lloyd Price mold, with riffing saxophones and an emphasis on the beat. But they merely hinted at what would soon come.
It was Johnny Watson's third Federal session, on Febuary 1, 1954 that he first played guitar.
Man, did he play guitar. The first of the four tunes recorded that day, the echo laden instrumental Space Guitar is still one of the wildest, most unusual, and greatest guitar instrumentals ever waxed. It is still ahead of it's time. Space Guitar b/w Half Pint Of Whiskey remains, and will always remain, near the top of my own personal pantheon of sides. In 1991
this alternate take of Space Guitar found it's way onto a Charley Records CD that is long out of print. A second single from the session-- Gettin' Drunk b/w You Can't Take It With you, laid the ground work for the style of music Johnny Watson would make for the next eight years.
A stomping R&B beat over which Johnny shouted the blues in his high, slightly nasal tenor, what makes these discs so special is his highly unique style of guitar playing. Influenced by Gatemouth Brown and probably Guitar Slim, his style of using clipped, stuttering phrases, followed by violent, explosive outbursts of dissonant notes, changed the sound of the guitar forever. Frank Zappa would learn to mimic this style and use it to great effect on early singles like Baby Ray & the Ferns' How's Your Bird b/w The World's Greatest Sinner and
the Heartbreakers' Cradle Rock b/w Everytime I See You (both on Donna). Despite the greatness of these recordings, Young John Watson's six singles had not made the charts and failed to sell, and soon he parted ways with Federal, signing with the Bihari Brothers' Hollywood based RPM label in late 1954.
Now billing himself as Johnny "Guitar" Watson and working with Maxwell Davis' band, he cut six singles for RPM between 1954-56: Hot Little Mama b/w I Love To Love You, Too Tired b/w Don't Touch Me (I'm Gonna Hit The Highway), a cover a Earl King's Those Lonely Lonely Nights b/w Someone Cares For Me, Oh Baby b/w Give A Little, Three Hours Past Midnight b/w Ruben, She Moves Me b/w Love Me Baby, all good sellers in the L.A. area, making him something of a local star, although only Those Lonely Lonely Nights would chart nationally, peaking at #10 on Billboard's R&B charts in 1955. An interesting rarity was issued on the parent label Modern in 1955-- Cordella De Milo's Ain't Gonna Hush (an answer song to Joe Turner's Honey Hush) b/w Lonely Girl, both which prominently feature Watson's blaring guitar.
By 1954 Johnny "Guitar" Watson was a big draw live in the L.A. area, known for all manner of guitar acrobatics including playing with his teeth, hanging from the rafters, and the obligatory 50 foot chord to wander through the audience with on his roadie's shoulders. Nearly everything Jimi Hendrix would do, Watson had done more than a decade earlier.
In the early 90's, musician John Zorn brought me back a double CD from Japan on the P-Vine label called Gonna Hit The Highway: The Complete RPM Recordings. The only other copy I've ever seen is the one Zorn brought back for Bob Quine. Now that I think about it, I don't remember if I ever thanked him, so thanks John. Anyway, on this CD we hear Johnny in session, working with Maxwell Davis' band to get a master take, may I present for purely historical purposes these fascinating outtakes: Those Lonely Lonely Nights Takes 1-10, Hot Little Mama Takes 2-6, Hot Little Mama #2 Takes 2, 3,5, Too Tired takes 1-3, Ruben takes 1-4, She Moves Me takes 1-4, as well as additional alternate takes of Too Tired ,Don't Touch Me and this demo of Gangster Of Love with Johnny at the piano. It's obvious from the fly on the wall quality of these recordings that Watson was all busines in the studio, and it showed in the final product. His RPM singles sound as good today as they did when they were issued in the 50's.
After splitting with the Bihari's, he cut an unissued session for Johnny Otis' Dig label in 1956 (finally released on the U.K. Ace's label's Dig These Blues series, Telephone Boogie is one of his best instrumentals), and in late '56 producer Bumps Blackwell brought him to Keen Records where he cut two singles-- Gangster Of Love (actually a cover of the Cadets' Love Bandit)b/w One Room Country Shack, followed by Honey b/w Deana Baby in 1958. From there he would label hop for the next eight years cutting more rock'n'roll oriented sides like The Bear b/w One More Kiss for Class, Rat Now b/w Falling In Love for Goth, Untouchable b/w Johnny Guitar for Arvee, The Eagle Is Back b/w Looking Back for Escort, before ending up back at King for another seven singles between 1961-62, the best of which was the gorgeous pimp-blues ballad Cuttin' In which would rise to #6 R&B in March of '62. A fabulous dance floor grinder, it never fails to put chills up my spine. The rest of the early 60's King sides are a mixed bag, with fine remakes of Gangster Of Love and Those Lonely Lonely Nights mixed in with crap like Posin' and Embraceable You. King would issue an LP (his first) in late '63. He cut a forgettable single for Highland-- Wait A Minute Baby b/w Oh So Fine in '64 before striking up a musical partnership with Larry Williams later that year, touring Europe together and finally getting signed to Okeh where they made the Two For The Price Of One LP covered in last month's Larry Williams post, as well as an album of Fats Waller covers In A Fats Bag featuring Johnny at the organ.
Johnny "Guitar" Watson would go on to appear on several Frank Zappa/Mothers albums, and later recorded with David Axlerod, Herb Albert, and George Duke amongst others. But from here on out his style of music would change, he was no longer a blues shouting guitar slinger but a soul man who would eventually evolve into the super-player funk star scoring a string of funk hits for the DJM label between 1976-79 including A Real Mutha For Ya and Love Jones, then moving on to A&M in the early 80's for more of the same except the A&M records didn't sell. His last chart entry was 1984's Strike On Computers on Valley View which petered out at #77 R&B.
Johnny "Guitar" Watson's offstage life, like that of his partner Larry Williams, was colorful to put it mildly. He lived the life of a player, pimping and dealing on the side. He drove an Excalibur, and many customized pimp mobiles, dressed in outlandish hats, gold teeth, and fur coats, he looked like an extra in a Pam Grier film. But hey, it's tough to make money in the music business, and the R&B market is the most fickle of all (which is why so many R&B singers return to the gospel circuit when their run of hits records is over). Like all of us, he played the hand he was dealt. Watson kept making music, always trying to keep up with the times. He had a good following in Europe and Japan where he often toured. It was in Japan, on May 17, 1996, that he suffered a heart attack onstage at a club in Yokohama. He keeled over and died in the middle of a guitar solo. Somehow, I think that might have been the way he wanted to go out, living up to his legend to the end.
These days I look at (and try to listen to) guitar players, and there's a lot of technically good ones, with their racks and racks of foot pedals and effects and they all sound the same. Same tone, same phrasing, same everything. But when I pull out the old shit-- Johnny Guitar Watson, Lafyette Thomas, Wild Jimmy Spruill, Mickey Baker, Pete "Guitar" Lewis, (add your favorite name here), I'm amazed at how unique their sound was, how easily recognizable their style is.
I wonder why that is?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shirley Clarke: Portrait Of Jason, The Cool World

Detail from Lobby Card for The Cool World that's too big for my scanner.
From Portrait Of Jason (1967) The Cool World (1964)
Last night we went to an opening at the Steven Kasher Gallery of photographs (and some artwork) from Max's Kansas City. The show was to celebrate the book Max's Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock'n'Roll by Steven Kasher (with some excellent commentary by Danny Fields among others). One photo that caught my eye was of Jason Holiday standing in front of Max's.
That photo (not in the book) wass labeled as "unidentified" (oddly enough a photo of him in the backroom which made it into the book is correctly labeled), which is a shame, as he is the star of one of the most fascinating documents of the era and the Max's scene- Shirley Clarke's fascinating documentary-- Portrait Of Jason (1967). Jason was a hustler, junkie and a character, who also often worked for rich ladies (including a stint as Carmen McCrea's houseboy in San Fransisco) as an assistant/butler/maid/go-fer. Clarke simply sat him down in the Chelsea Hotel and in one twelve hour long night, fueled by an ample supply of reefer and booze and had him tell his life story, which he did. Boy did he. Born Aaron Paine in Newark, N.J., his father was a street slick nicknamed Brother Tough and his mother was from "a good Negro family". By the time he was twelve it was obvious to all around him that he was a flaming queen, and as such incurred much wrath from his macho father. "I knew every whore, pimp and bulldagger in the town. And they all said 'You're queer'!" he relates to the camera. Jason had many scams, in addition to hustling, and working for rich old ladies (one of whom he admits drugging every afternoon so he could go out and cop while she dozed), he spent time in many jails and mental institutions, and was receiving an SSI gold check (crazy money as we used to call it) from the government to supplement his hustles.
But Jason, who was known in the backroom at Max's for performing at "showtime" longed to put together a cabaret act, which I don't think even came to fruitation. But as he gets higher and drunker, and more revealing, Portrait Of Jason gives the viewer a glimpse into a world few have ever reported on (although for those interested John Rechy's City Of The Night (Grove Press, 1963) would be the place to start). I have no idea what became of Jason Holiday, but Clarke's cinema verite portrait opens a window on a world long gone, the pre-Midnight Cowboy black hustler underground. In my post on Billy Wright last year I touched on the tent show queen tradition in rhythm and blues and rock'n'roll and how it crystallized in the music of Little Richard, Portrait Of Jason is another side of the same coin, and a must see for freak loving people watchers everywhere.
While we're on the subject of filmmaker Shirley Clarke, she also made another one of my all time favorite movies The Cool World a look at youth gone wild in 1964 Harlem and Coney Island, this pre-Civil Rights riots look at inner city black America is priceless, like a Chester Himes novel come to life.
Both Portrait Of Jason and The Cool World are available on DVD, I got my copies at the Museum Of Modern Art giftshop, although I'm not sure where you can find them out of New York City. Netflix has neither, but a Google search should turn up copies for those interested.
Shirley Clarke who passed away in 1997 is a sadly overlooked film maker these days, and she would go on to make an excellent documentary about Ornette Coleman-- Made In America (1985) among other films. I wish someone would do a retrospective of her work, it's long overdue.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba)

This clip was sent to me back in June by reader Jeff Martinek, check out the incredible soundtrack by Felix del Pilar Perez Castro, better known as "Sami". The film-- Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) was made in '64 by Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov. Much of the film is fairly dreary pro-communist propaganda, but there's a few truly sublime moments, the above being my favorite. Anyway, I've been out of NYC and just got back, so I'll try and come up with at least one post by the end of this week.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #53

Fang's back with another found photo. Again, date and place are unknown, but I think that's the California State Highway Patrol in uniform. What I don't understand, is what so damn funny?
Both officers and the young lady with prerequisite mascara overdose, much teased hair, and very cool pinstriped pants seem quite amused, the young, self styled James Dean (obviously the driver) less so. Can anyone make out the model of sports car behind them? Or figure out what's so damn funny? I'd guess the year somewhere between '62-66.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lester 'Roadhog' Moran

Ticket stub sent in by Timmy, show was canceled due to fleas!
Lester Roadhog Moran accepts plywood disc for sales of 1,250 units, April, 81.
Left to right: Wesley W. Rexrode, Henry "Red" Vines, Ray "Wichita" Ramsey, Ruby Lee Moran, Lester 'Roadhog' Moran, where the lost highway meets Route 66, you get off and take a left at the Bait & Ammo'll eventually wind up at Burford's Barber Shop (that's Burford in the top right corner).
Lester "Roadhog" Moran passed away last night from natural causes. That is, he rolled over on the loaded shotgun he always slept with and it discharged, blowing his brains out. In Rainbow Valley where Moran spent his entire life this was indeed considered natural.
Lester "The Old Roadhog" Moran, along with his Cadillac Cowboys (Red, Wesley and Wichita) kept a strain of country music alive long after most people thought it had died, or should have died. What killed off Lester Moran's style of music of course was the invention of the tuner. These days anyone with $20 can tune their guitar in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately for Moran (and his band), tuners never made it into the culturally isolated Rainbow Valley, and when his record company tried to buy him one he rejected it, saying only "I never did like seafood much....".
Moran did leave behind some, errr, let's say, very distinct, music including this classic recording done Live At The Johnny Mack Brown Highschool back in 1974, an aircheck from his Saturday Morning Radio Show on WEAK in the Rainbow Valley (another aircheck can be found on side two of the Live At The Johnny Mack Brown Highschool album issued by Mercury), and this mind boggling audition tape sent to Mercury Records. It was the latter which got him his record deal which produced the first one, the one in the middle was released by the Statler Brothers who needed some material to fill out an album in 1973 when they either ran out of their own material, or just decided the record company didn't pay 'em enough money to deliver an entire LP. Lester's backing group -- The Cadillac Cowboys-- Red (Henry Vines), Wesley (Wesley W. Rexrode) and Wichita (Raymond Ramsey Jr.), will attempt to carry on without him. They will be holding auditions for a new lead singer this Saturday morning at the Johnny Mack Brown High School auditorium, or parking lot if they can't get the keys to the auditorium. Or at Burford's Barber Shop. They haven't decided yet. Says Wichita-- "We're looking for someone who looks good and knows lots of good jokes, Shania Twain is our first choice so be sure to tell her, if we're not over at the Johnny Mack Brown High School, try Burford's Barber Shop". Funeral services will be held in the parking lot behind Burford's tomorrow morning. Lester 'Roadhog' Moran is survived by his ex-wife Ruby Lee, their son Lester Junior aka Tater, and daughter Tiffany Mae. Tiffany Mae Moran followed her father's path into show business and can be seen dancing at the Mouse's Ear (124 Rural Route #6, Rainbow Valley) every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night. She starts at nine unless she's late. The folks at the Mouse's Ear report they've got a brand new pole to replace the one that got broken at their Christmas party last year. Lester 'Roadhog' Moran also has nine grandchildren, five named Bubba, and Shawonda, Critter, Brittney and Lester III (aka Trey).
Addendum: Although he did put a load of buckshot through his head in his sleep, it turns out Lester 'Roadhog' Moran is not dead after all. After being declared deceased by the Rainbow Valley coroner Herschel Rexrode (a double first cousin to Wesley Rexrode of the Cadillac Cowboys, seems like everyone in the Rainbow Valley is related somehow), it was reported that Moran got up off the slab, and began picking buckshot out of his head with tweezers, getting all of the buckshot out several hours later, the doctors stitched him up and he's recovering nicely.
Evidently none of the buckshot penetrated his skull ("I've always been told I've got a hard head"). Unfortunately, getting the paper work reversed is rather complicated business and nobody knows exactly how to go about getting a person who has been declared dead, undeclared dead (or declared undead, which would make him a vampire or a zombie, legally speaking, of course), so according to the old Roadhog-- "Maybe I'll stay dead for a bit, I'm told it's a good career move...sure worked for Elvis". When asked how he's feeling he let out his trademark "Well, All right"!
Here's to a speedy recovery to Lester 'Roadhog' Moran, although Witchita says--"We'd still like Shania Twain to join our group, and I'm sure the ole Roadhog will understand if she decides she wants the job, we all have families to feed. Ever since the plant closed up and moved to India, things have been tough here in the Rainbow Valley". Ms. Twain was unavailable for comment.
There are rumours however that Ms. Twain too has been conisdering using outsourced musicians from India in her backing group, so don't be suprised if you hear a pedal steel sitar on her next record.
Addendum #2: We've just uncovered some historically important interviews with Lester Moran done by Ralph Emery. One is long, the other is short.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Earl King

A Young Earl King doing his best Guitar Slim impersonation.
Some early Ace 45's, nice to look at.
Earl King's debut, with Huey Smith and Lee Allen in support.
It's hard to keep suits pressed on the road.
Earl King with a bad case of blues guitar face.
Nearly a hit, and an out of tune classic.
Earl whistles along with Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and the Meters, than becomes a mike stand.
Earl King was born Earl Silas Johnson, February 7, 1934 in New Orleans and grew up in the Irish Channel, at 2834 Constance Street (I shared an apartment at 1430 Constance for a while). His father, who was dead by the time Earl was two, played blues piano and was an occasional preacher. His mother, known as "Big Chief" (later the inspiration for the tune King wrote for Professor Longhair) sang in the Antioch Baptist Church, where Earl too put in some time singing in the choir as a tyke. By age fifteen he was playing blues guitar, forming a group called the Swans that won the amateur talent show at the Dew Drop Inn (Ernie Kador, later K-Doe was the emcee) one night, grand prize: $5, cash money. Soon he fell under the spell of Guitar Slim ("the performanist man I ever knew", he recalled, inventing a word in the process), then on top of the blues world with The Things I Used To Do, a tune Earl would keep in his setlist until his final days. He took a few guitar lessons from the flamboyant showman, who gave him a Les Paul guitar.
His other guitar tutor was Huey "Piano" Smith, who according to King, "Can play guitar exactly like Guitar Slim", although Smith has never recorded on guitar, and never played it onstage.
When Guitar Slim was laid up after a car accident (he ran his Caddy into a bulldozer) in the mid-50's, promoter/Dew Drop owner Frank Pania sent Earl King out on the road in his place, not bothering to tell anyone that he was sending a substitute, Earl appeared as Guitar Slim, and having learned every nuance of his style, no one in the audience was any wiser. In Atlanta, they showered him with dollar bills and carried him offstage in triumph.
It was around this time (1953) Earl, under his real name Earl Johnson cut his debut disc for the Savoy label. Backed by a dream band made up of Huey Smith on piano, Lee Allen on tenor sax, Roland Cook on bass and Charles "Hungry" Williams on drums, he waxed a solid R&B rocker called Have You Gone Crazy backed with a Fats Domino styled ballad Beggin' At Your Mercy. These sides sold naught, which was all for the best since Savoy's owner, Herman Lubinsky was a cheap prick who never paid anyone, anyway. Back in New Orleans, Earl took a regular gig at the Tijuana Club on South Saratoga St. as well as gigging with Huey Smith at the Dew Drop on LaSalle.
That year he had caught the ear of Johnny Vincent, A&R man for Specialty Records (the man who'd signed Guitar Slim), and Earl cut his first session for Specialty in March of '54, again backed by Huey Smith and Lee Allen along with Alvin "Red" Tyler on tenor sax, and the monstrous Earl Palmer on drums. Four sides emerged from this session, all in the Guitar Slim vein-- A Mother's Love b/w I'm Your Best Bet Baby, which became a minor Gulf Coast hit, and What Can I Do b/w 'Til I Say Well Done.
A Mother's Love was to be issued under the name King Earl, but when a printer's mistake reversed the order, Earl Johnson had a new name-- Earl King
A second Specialty session produced No One But Me b/w Eating and Sleeping, and issued under the name The Kings-- Sitting and Wondering b/w Funny Face, his final disc for Specialty.
Soon after, Specialty owner Art Rupe sent Johnny Vincent packing. Vincent promptly returned to his home in Jackson, Mississippi to strike out on his own with the Ace label.
Since Guitar Slim was said to be none to happy to have his protege and imitators discs competing with his own for the same label's promo attentions, Earl King would follow Johnny Vincent to Ace.
In 1954, Earl and Huey Smith were sent by Vincent to Jackson, Mississippi to record under the aegis of Trumpet Records' Lillian McMurray at her tiny, one track studio, backed by Joe Dyson's band.
The first issue from that session, the gloriously out of tune swamp blues ballad Those Lonely, Lonely Nights b/w Baby Get Your Gun was a big regional seller, and would have been a national hit if Johnny Guitar Watson's cover version on R.P.M. hadn't received more promotion, and better national distribution, hence outselling the original. As much as I love Johnny Guitar Watson, I prefer Earl King's version. Actually, I favor the b-side, which rocks harder than any of his previous sides thanks to Huey Smith's two fisted piano pounding.
The follow up Mother Told Me Not To Go b/w Is Everything Alright show King growing into his own style, and evolving as an excellent songwriter ("He was a bitch of a writer" remembered Johnny Vincent, who well understood the real money in the music biz was in song publishing more than record sales, it still is). His next release would come out on Ace's Vin subsidiary and be credited to Handsome Earl-- Everybody's Got To Cry b/w I Met A Stranger.
Also in 1955 came two more singles on Ace proper--- Little Girl b/w My Love Is Strong and It Must Have Been Love b/w I'll Take Yo Back Home. None of these discs were hits, but they were all good local sellers, and Vincent kept recording Earl King for the next five years releasing roughly one disc every year, in order came You Can Fly High b/w Those Lonely Lonely Feelings, Well O' Well Baby b/w I'll Never Get Tired, Everybody's Carried Away b/w Weary Silent Night, Buddy It's Time To Go b/w Don't You Know Your're Wrong, and on the Rex subsidiary Darling Honey Angel Child b/w I Can't Help Myself, issued to compete with his first Imperial disc, since it was an embryonic demo version of the same tune. A couple of great tunes were remained in the vault, including I'm Packing Up, a secular re-write of the Ward Singers' gospel classic that is one of King's best rockers and the swamp pop ballad Nobody Cares. They would eventually be issued by the UK Westside label in 1997, although his Ace sides are currently out of print since Westside went under.
Johnny Vincent had recognized that Earl King was a multi-talented artist, and soon was placing his tunes with other singers and using King as a producer and arranger in the studio (Jimmy Clanton's mega-hit Just A Dream is one that King claimed to have produced, uncredited), but by 1960 Vincent and King had parted ways.
What should have been Earl King's big break came in 1960 when he signed with Lew Chudd's Imperial Records, the label that brought Fats Domino to stardom and had recorded many of the greatest New Orleans R&B and rock'n'roll records of the era including Archibald, Sugar Boy Crawford, Smiley Lewis, and Dave Bartholomew's band (who backed most of these artists in the studio). Working with Batholomew as producer, his first session for Imperial, from the fall of 1960 produced a two part minor hit-- Come On pts. 1 and 2 (Let The Good Times Roll), followed by a cover of Guitar Slim's The Things I Used To Do b/w Love Me Now, using a band that featured James Booker on piano and future Meters' bass player George Porter Jr. Come On would be particularly influential, showing Earl King's fully developed unique style at its best (Jimi Hendrix would cover it on the Electric Ladyland album). Six months later in the spring of '61 he was back in the studio, backed by Dave Bartholomew's band. Many of the first string, famous names (Lee Allen, Earl Palmer) in Bartholomew's band were gone by that point, relocated to L.A. and big time session man paychecks, but Bartholomew always had great bands and those heard on Earl King's discs included Wardell Quezergue on trumpet (who co-arranged with King), James Booker on piano and the underrated Robert French on drums. The first single from this grouping was the excellent Come Along With Me b/w You're More To Me Than Gold. His next Imperial single You Better Know b/w Mama and Papa appeared in '61, followed by Case Of Love b/w Come Along With Me which had appeared earlier the same year as the flip side of a re-recording of A Mother's Love. Earl King ended '61 with what would become his signature tune and should have been a monster hit-- Trick Bag, the flip side of which Always A First Time had a brief chart run. Trick Bag would become an R&B standard, but by the time it was released Lew Chudd was fast losing interest in the record business and had put Imperial up for sale. The disc got little in the way of promotion, although it remains a gulf coast juke box favorite to this day, down there it's probably Earl King's best known song.
Commercial success never happened for Earl King. A brief fling at Motown resulted in one un-issued session and contract hassles . He produced, wrote and recorded a few soul discs for the small New Orleans labels NOLA and Watch, wrote tunes for Smiley Lewis (I Hear You Knockin'), Professor Longhair (Big Chief), Lee Dorsey (Do-Re-Me), Fats Domino (Teenage Love) and the Dixie Cups (Ain't That Nice) as well as having his tunes covered by lots of people including the aforementioned Hendrix, Dr. John, Robert Palmer, et al. His next shot would come in '72 when Atlantic signed him, and had Alan Tousaint produce an LP with the Meters in support, unfortunately they'd never release Street Parade (the title track came out as a single on Kansu and was something of a local hit in New Orleans) which was finally issued in '81 by Charley in the U.K., Street Parade was a great record, it might have made some noise if it had been released and promoted when it was originally recorded, why Atlantic never issued it is unclear. His final years saw him cut three albums for Black Top-- Dazed, Sexual Telepathy, and Hard River To Cross, all three suffer from mediocre production, but they all have a few hidden gems, my favorite is Time For The Sun To Rise, a world weary tune about seeing the sun come up from the wrong end, after yet another night of partying.
While at Black Top my friend, the late Kelly Keller, got to know Earl pretty well, so once in a while I'd tag along when she'd visit him. He hung out at a donut shop, and that's where we'd go see him, or else drop by his house. He was a nice man, full of the lore and history of New Orleans music, always with a funny anecdote about whoever's name we'd bring up. The last time I saw Earl was in 2001, he was playing at a club in the French Quarter called Storyville.
We'd spent the day before hanging out with him and his was funny, but quite frail, he was diabetic, and his penchant for drinking and drugs wasn't helping his health one bit. When we got to the club we saw him sitting at a side table, resplendent in a red suit, watching his band warm up. He didn't remember us. I can understand him forgetting me, but Kelly was a close friend, he looked at her as if he'd never seen her before. It wasn't long before we realized he didn't even know who he was. He was so fucked up, when it came time to play, he walked onstage, forgot to plug in his guitar, and simply wandered around the stage for a minute or two (it felt like an hour), before shaking his head, mumbled an apology into the mike and stumbled offstage. Back in his seat, the club owner came over to tell him he wasn't going to pay Earl as he'd have to refund the money to the paying customers. Earl just stared straight ahead, not acknowledging what he'd just heard (or didn't hear). It was so sad I just wanted to go home and throw up. A few months later, while touring New Zealand he had to be hospitalized and sent home. In 2002 local New Orleans radio station WWOZ announced on the air that Earl had died, but it was a bit premature, he was just missing for a few days. On April 13, 2003, however, he really died, from the complications of his diabetes. He got more attention in death (including finally getting a cover story in Offbeat, the local New Orleans entertainment magazine) than he had gotten in life for many, many years. But that's always the way, isn't it?

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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