57 minutes ago
Monday, November 29, 2010
This week's found photo, exact place and date unknown, shows a bunch Children Of God cult members caught in their own version of religious rapture. The Children Of God, were (and still are) a creepy hippie-Christian cult, I touched on them briefly in my June, 2009 posting on Jeremy Spencer, the Fleetwood Mac front man who quit the group to join the C.O.G. mid-tour back in 1971. The Children Of God are still around, now doing biz as "Family International" (briefly they were Family of Love), and Spencer is still with them. Children Of God were founded by the late Moses David aka Dad (born-- David Brandt Berg) who croaked back in '94, just as the law was closing in on him. Over the years all sorts of disturbing reports have come from former members from accusations of child abuse and kiddie porn, to a sort of prostitution they call "flirty fishing"-- using young women to seduce men into the cult, or out of their money. They have been run out of the U.S. and Europe, and are mostly based out of communes in South America and South East Asia.
Still, I love this photo because I find photos of people involved in stupid behavior entertaining. I asked the Fang why she liked it and she simply replied-- "because it's sick".
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Sensational Nightingales- Charles Brown impersonating June Cheeks.
Sensational Nightingales, late 50's promo photo.
June Cheeks with the Sensational Nightingales, at his peek.
I just can't seem to stay off the subject of screaming. Why is it that I love to listen to folks screaming so much? Personally, I never scream. Nor does my wife. In fact she almost never even raises her voice, save for those times she falls down the stairs (the stairs in this house are very slippery, I fall down them myself quite regularly). Anyway, you may have to ask Sigmund Freud why I enjoy to hearing musical screams, but it doesn't a genius to tell you who the greatest musical screamers of them all were. The greatest screams came from those singers that came out of the Church Of God In Christ, and of those singers there are two who have gone down in history as the greatest of the screamers. One was Archie Brownlee of the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi, who literally shouted himself to death, his lungs wracked by pneumonia, he passed away on tour with the Five Blind Boys in New Orleans back in 1960 at the tender age of thirty five. The other was Reverend Julius "June" Cheeks-- born August 7, 1929 in Spartanberg, South Carolina, (the same town that begat Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds) who will always best remembered as the hard shouting frontman for the Sensational Nightingales at their peak.
Cheeks was born into poverty, one of thirteen children, his mother, a widow known to all as "Big Chick" Cheeks, picked cotton to raise her brood. Julius, known from childhood as June, dropped out of the second grade to join his mother in the fields, a tough way to get by-- "It was bad, man. We didn't have a clock, we told time by the sun. We didn't eat right, we lived off fatback and molasses", he told Anthony Heilbut for his classic volume The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times (revised edition: Limelight Editions, 1985). He went through life illiterate, although he could sign his name. He would listen to the recorded Bible on massive stack of 78's and eventually be ordained in the Church Of Holiness Science out of Detroit. As a teenager he heard local bluesman Blind Boy Fuller, and on a neighbors' radio his favorite spiritual groups-- the Soul Stirrers, the Dixie Hummingbirds, and the Fairfield Four. In the mid-1940's June joined a local group called the Baronets and in 1946 they found themselves opening a bill for the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and the Sensational Nightingales. Cheeks was working in a filling station at the time. June Cheeks took the stage in his finest clothes-- overalls with patches sewn over the holes. When the Sensational Nightingales left town the next day they took June with them, he would become their new lead singer. To Archie Brownlee, who was also on the bill that night, up to that time, unquestionably king of the house wrecking shouters, a man who could cause an entire audience to "fall out" when he hit his blood curdling scream in the Five Blind Boys' version of The Lord's Prayer--, Cheeks was his only compitition--"Don't nobody ever give me any trouble but June Cheeks. That's the only trouble I have, that's the baddest nigger on the road". The Nightingales manager rehearsed the group from nine in the morning until late afternoon until Cheeks was ready to take the stage. It was an impressive group with hard shouting tenor singer Paul Owens, guitarist Jo Jo Wallace (who wore an Esquerita styled pompadour atop his dome, and was known for his wild stage antics, he said, when looking back on his career with the Nightingales-- "I was Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Jo Jo, rolled into one"), Carl Coates singing bass (husband to the great Dorothy Love Coates), were all in the group at the time. To this, Julius Cheeks added his thundering baritone lead, and his own wild stage antics. He'd run up and down the aisles, fall down on his knees, tell corny jokes--- "I cut the fool so bad". He was much criticised for his showmanship at the time, but the audience loved it. He was the hardest working man in the business. And along with the aforementioned Dorothy Love Coates, one of the few gospel singers to vocally back the Civil Rights movement at a time (late 40's/early 50's) when such expressions of free speech could be dangerous for one who toured the south constantly.
Life on the Gospel Highway was not an easy one. Once Cheeks found his group stranded in Miami with only fifty cents in his pocket. "I just went and threw mine (fifty cents) as far as it could go into the Atlantic". To support his family-- a wife, two kids, and Big Chick back in South Carolina, he joined the Soul Stirrers for two years in the early fifties ("I was the one caused Sam Cooke to sing hard. I gave him his first shout") before returning to the Sensational Nightingales in time to cut a string of classic records for Don Robey's Peacock label out of Houston. From 1952-1959 he led them through a string of spine tingling discs, including such classics as Blood Of Jesus, Morning Train, Savior Don't Pass Me, What Would You Give, I Want To Go which featured Jo Jo's rocking guitar riffs, To The End, Standing At The Judgement (which Hank Ballard and the Midnighters would re-write as the rocker What Is This I See), and his greatest recorded moment-- Burying Ground. As near as I can figure, Peacock released at least eighteen singles and five LP's on the Sensational Nightingales on which Julius Cheeks sang lead. Not long ago, attempting to engage me in conversation, a person volunteered the opinion that Graham Nash was the "greatest harmony singer of all time". Hey, I like the Hollies a little, and I like the Beach Boys and the Byrds a lot, but when people tell me that those groups are "great harmony singers", I just want to laugh. They're good singers, sure, and they made some great records, no doubt. But if you want to hear great harmony singing. I mean great, as in as good as it could possibly get-- listen to Carl Coates' bass parts on the above discs, then listen to the subtle, restrained introduction on Blood Of Jesus, and listen to the way they build the intensity to the screaming finale of Burying Ground.
Few "rock'n'roll" records have rocked this hard. Just listen. Then try and talk to me about Graham Nash being "great". You will know why I'm laughing. And why I don't like to talk about music with many people anymore. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, and they all stink of shit. I include myself in that summation, heck, I still listen to Mott The Hoople on occassion (to say nothing of Menster Phips and the Phipsters).
June Cheeks left the the Sensational Nightingales in late 1959, put in a year with the Mighty Clouds Of Joy (who later went on to record a tribute LP to Cheeks), then began a solo career, releasing at least nine singles on Peacock, a few of these billed his backing group as the Sensational Knights, I assume to purposefully confuse matters. Of these solo discs, my favorite is the bluesy Holy Wine, a Cheeks original which puts the anti-booze faction of church folk in their place, since, sighting two episodes in the New Testament where Christ himself made and served wine (first at the wedding and again at the Sermon On The Mount). Good enough for Jesus, good enough for June. Cheeks admits on the road he "had myself a time", and that he liked to drink. The flipside of Holy Wine-- Tomorrow's Sun, was a screaming rocker with a pounding boogie piano part that could have off of a Jerry Lee Lewis Sun record. Cheeks kept up his solo career, as well as preaching, until the end. Of all the 60's soul singers he inspired, only Wilson Pickett admitted publicly just how much he had taken from this man. Toward his final days his voice was a hoarse rasp, he had literally shredded his vocal chords screaming night after night. He had worn himself out, when he died in 1981 in Newark, N.J., he was only 51 years old. To this day, no one has ever sang harder, or left a greater legacy.
A video clip (its embedding disabled) from his solo career backed by the Sensational Nights can be found here.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Early shot of the Night Raiders, Mickey Hawks rear center.
The Night Raiders 1958- (left to right)- Mickey Hawks, Bill Ballard, Bob Matthews, John Owens, Moon Mullins.
Screaming third single.
The third issue of their first single.
Mickey Hawks (on the upper left) with the Nightraiders.
Fourth single, with Mullins singing lead.
Last week I decided to cover the one white gospel singer who could compete with his counterparts of color. This week's subject is one of the few white rockers who could match Little Richard's screaming delivery of a rock'n'roll song scream for scream. There has been only a few of such voices to emerge in rock'n'roll over the years. In the 50's Sun Records' star Sonny Burgess on his debut disc- We Wanna Boogie b/w Red Headed Woman would be at the forefront of this small pack. In the early 60's-- Paul McCartney on the Beatles version of Long Tall Sally and his own I'm Down
was one such set of pipes, in the same group, John Lennon, warbler of the definitive version of the Isley Brothers' Twist and Shout was another. Later, Gerry Rosalie of the Sonics, and Jim Dickinson who sides would be spread out of a series of labels small (Sun, Plantation, Quality, Southtown, Barbarian, New Rose) and large (Atlantic) would join the club. But one of the first, and to my ears, the greatest, of the Little Richard inspired ofay howlers, would be a young lad from North Carolina named Mickey Hawks (born David Michael Hawks, July 17, 1940 in Thomasville, N.C., a few miles south of Winston-Salem). In fact, although it's rather unlikely that either band ever heard of the other, in as many ways as one can count, Mickey Hawks and his Night Raiders were the precursors to the sound of the aforementioned Sonics, who from 1964-66, and then again since their 2003 re-union, the Sonics, pretty much sound like the Night Raiders with the Kinks guitar sound welded on top.
It is time once again to digress. Mickey Hawks' family relocated from Thomasville to High Point, N.C., hear the Virginia border in 1942. As a young teenager, Mickey began teaching himself piano on his mother's instrument, taking in all sorts of music on the radio, most especially the country sounds that dominated the southern airwaves. In 1956 he first heard Little Richard, and would soon learn to ape both the piano and singing style of the Georgia Peach. In High School he meet a drummer named Bob Matthews (a fascinating interview with Matthews can be heard here). Together the formed a duo called the Rhythm Rockers and began entertaining teens at school and local sock hops. Matthews was friends with a R&B styled tenor saxophone player named Moon Mullins who had a radio show on a small station in High Point. Mullins lead a four piece rock'n'roll band, said to be the only one in the immediate area. Soon the Rhythm Rockers-- Hawks and Matthews joined Mullins group, and now a quintet and The Night Raiders were born. In addition to Mickey Hawks on piano and lead vocal, Moon Mullins on tenor sax (and sometimes lead vocals), and Bob Mathews on drums were 14 year old guitarist Bill Ballard and bass guitarist John Owens. Mullins surmised that his group needed matching uniforms, and to raise money for a haberdasher , decided to release a record. Mullins approached his friend Eddie Robbins, and using a home made studio built on Robbins back porch, they recorded two Hawks originals-- Bip Bop Boom and Rock And Roll Rhythm. Robbins pressed up 500 copies of this record on his own Red Robbins label, which the band sold mostly at gigs. The entire press run was soon sold out, and today this first pressing (all of which were on clear red vinyl) is so rare I can't even find a photo of the label, and a copy sold at auction would easily fetch in the four figures. For reasons unknown, Eddie Robbins would not press any more discs, but Moon Mullins would soon approach a disc jockey friend based out of Martinsville, Virginia, who pressed an additional 500 copies which were issued on the Mart label. Again, the entire press run sold out in a matter of weeks. Sometime in 1958, at a dance in Sanford, N.C. where the Night Raiders were appearing, they were approached by a fellow (possibly a soldier stationed at a nearby base) named Ian Thomas who claimed to have contacts with a record company in Chicago. Thomas forwarded a copy of the disc to Mike Oury who worked for Mel London's Profile Records, the Chicago based indie (and sister label to London's Chief, Age, Mel and USA labels) that would issue Junior Wells first (and best) singles with Elmore James on guitar, as well as rockabilly by Hayden Thomspon (who had recorded for Sun), blues guitarist Lefty Bates, and the proto-garage band the Noblemen (who cut an amazing version of Dirty Robber). Soon Profile re-issued Bip Bop Boom b/w Rock And Roll Rhythm, and it began to garn airplay around Chicago, even reaching #1 on a couple of stations. Bip Bop Boom became something of a local hit in the mid-west and went on to sell some 50,000 copies, which is believable, since it is still fairly easy to find. Despite (or perhaps, because of) its primitive recordings conditions-- Bip Bop Boom remains one of the most astounding sonic displays to grace vinyl. "Bip bop boom/ it's like a sonic boom", so it said, so it was, so it shall always be. With two wailing, guttural sax solos, an over-distorted guitar break, pounding piano and thundering drums, it is everything rock'n'roll should be, but rarely is. I've used to to fill the dance floor while DJing for three decades and I've seen crowds literally go berserk when it kicks in after the stop time introduction. The flip side, one of those anthems to our music like Rock'n'Roll Is Here To Stay and It Will Stand, is only slightly less feral.
In 1959, exact date unknown, Oury took the Night Raiders into Chicago's Universal Sound studio (where Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, and so many others recorded their best work). Although Universal was a state of the art facility with genius engineers, the Night Raiders sounded pretty much exactly like they did on their home recorded debut-- primitive and out of control. Of the six sides cut that day, four of them would be issued on two singles-- Hidi Hidi Hidi (a re-write of Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns' Don't You Just Know It, the songwriting credits were shared by Oury and someone named D.Thomas) was backed with the blasting, Link Wray style guitar instrumental Cotton Pickin' , authored by the by now sixteen year old guitarist Bill Ballard. It was released in May of '59, timed to celebrate the massive world wide jubilation that accompanied my birth, while two more tunes from the session-- Screamin' Mimi Jeanie b/w I'm Lost would escape the vaults thirteen months later. The final two tracks from that session, an original entitled Late Date Tonight and the Merrill Moore/Amos Milburn/ Ella Mae Morse & Freddie Slack/Chuck Berry/Rolling Stones (choose your favorite version) classic Down The Road Apiece went un-issued, perhaps lost forever. All four issued sides are superlative rock'n'roll, the best tune being Screamin' Mimi Jeanie which opens with a cracking"machine gun"drum roll, the likes of which would not be heard on record again until the Sonics' debut four years later. It's also Mickey Hawks best vocal. He delivers the bellowing screams with musical blood lust. Again, there's a full toned, blasting sax solo and a blistering guitar workout in the middle. It's got everything you'd want in a rock'n'roll record, all played at full throttle!
Can I find any more appropriate cliches to describe these discs? Let's try-- savage, brutal, wild, frenzied, or just plain old fuckin' great. This is the sound of hard rock'n'roll, in all its excitment and glory, as oppossed to "heavy rock", which to my ears is lugaborious and painfully dull.
The Night Raiders played Chicago to promote their singles, drawing well in the clubs there. Back home in the South East, they performed around the Carolinas and Virgina area regularly for nearly seven years, building up a good size audience everywhere except their home town of High Point where for some reason they never caught on.
Profile closed up shop in late 1960, and the Night Raiders would not record another single until 1962, at which time Moon Mullins took over singing lead. That single -- Gonna Dance All Night pts 1 and 2 (part two was simply an instrumental version of the a-side) was released on the Richmond, Virgina based Lance label and it doesn' come close to matching their Profile output.
Meanwhile, Hidi Hidi Hidi b/w Cotton Pickin' was re-issued on the Hunch label out of Pittsburgh, with Hawks' name mis-spelled as Hanks. This was most likely a bootleg made to cash in on local airplay it got from Mad Mike and other Pittsburgh jocks that prided themselves on playing wild, obscure discs. After that, The Night Raiders wouldn't set foot in the studio again until 1968 when the Piedmont label released the country flavored Baby I Got You on which Hawks, his singing style now much toned down, dueted with a girl singer named Gynn Kellum. The b-side was sung again by Mullins, Ain't Gonna Cry wasn't much to write your Mom about. The original group had gone their separate ways by now, although both Hawks and Mullins kept their playing music. Micky Hawks returned to his original screaming rock'n'roll style in the eighties when he discovered that he had a sizable audience amongst Teddy Boys and record collectors in Europe. The Profile sides had been bootlegged and re-issued dozens of times, starting with their appearance on the Collector (later White Label) LP Rock'n'Roll Vol. 1 in 1971, they would appear on dozens of compilation LP's, bootlegs 45's and eventually CD's. They still show up on compilation discs, most recently on the U.K. JSP label's double CD Virgina Rocks and the Virgin (U.K.) double CD United Rockers, both from 2009. Mickey Hawks played quite a few festival dates around England and the continent in eighties and recorded LP's of new material for the Sunjay and C-Horse labels, while the German Star Club label put out a CD that mixed the classic six Profile sides with some later recordings and some '62 un-issued demos under the title Bip Bop Boom in 1999. Hawks later recordings were fairly corny nostalgia based tunes like Fifties Girls, Harley Davidson, The Good Old Days, etc. along with some cover tunes, but his voice was still in fine shape and the Teddy Boys loved his live act.
Mickey Hawks kept performing until his death in 1989. Of the original Night Raiders-- Moon Mullins opened a club called Danceland in Madison, N.C. and may still be alive, Bill Ballard died in 2005, John Owens and Bill Matthews were both still alive last time anyone checked. And those immortal words-- "Bip Bop Boom/it's like a sonic boom", they shall live forever. Amen.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Fang's back with another found photo. Fans of such things can still see the show of Found Photos-- Help Me that she curated along with Megan Cump at the Camera Cub Of New York at 336 W. 37th Street, Room #206 until December 18th. Thanks to everyone who showed for the opening party.
This weeks pic, date and place unknown, shows three gentlemen with drinks and cigarettes in hand.
Who are they and why are they here? I don't know the answer to the first, although the one on the left looks vaguely familiar (was he famous), and they're here simply because I love the photo. Most especially because it looks like there are bullet holes in the wall behind them (look over the head of the guy in the center). My guess is the photo was taken in the late 50's or early 60's. The white trench coat on the fellow on the far right is a nice sartorial touch, as is the slightly out of sync eyeballs of the guy in the middle.
Keep an eye on this spot for some exciting news from the found photo department here at Houndblog.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Brother Claude Ely with a swell hat.
The Greatest White Gospel Record Ever.
Brother Claude Ely (born July 21, 1922 in the Virginia hill country near Puckett's Creek in Lee County, a few miles outside of Pennington Gap) was the greatest white gospel singer there ever was, and the only one I've ever heard who could hold his own with the great black gospel shouters of the golden era of gospel quartets (1946-66)-- Julius Cheeks (Sensational Nightingales), Archie Brownlee (Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi), Ira Tucker (Dixie Hummingbirds), and Paul Foster (Soul Stirrers). Okay, maybe not that good, but pretty damn close.
He sang and shouted his little heart out not for fame and fortune, but for the love of God.
Claude Ely took to music at age twelve, laid up with a case of TB, he started on harmonica, soon he was given a mail order Sear guitar by an Uncle-- "He brought it to my bed and laid it across my chest and by the hand of God my fingers began to play the chords and a voice came in my mouth to sing. From that day on I have been playing guitar and singing".
In his late teens he went to work in the coal mines of Harlan County, the scene of many of bloody labor struggle (documented in Barbara Kopple's 1977 documentary Harlan County U.S.A.), fought in World War II, and after the war returned to mining. While shoveling coal one day in 1949 he received a calling to the ministry. Directly from above. He became a pastor of the traveling sort, bringing the word to churches in Sneedville, Tennessee, and all around Lee County and in Cumberland, Harlan County. He would spend the rest of his life as an evangelist, working tent show revivals and eventually founding his own Free Pentecostal Church, an off shoot of the Church Of God (Holiness), the white version of the Church Of God In Christ, the black church that produced more great gospel singers, make that great singers, period, than any other organization, religious or other.
In 1953-4, Syd Nathan's King Records of Cincinnati, Ohio, the rhythm and blues and country music indie powerhouse label that (along with it's Federal, Deluxe, and Queen subsidiaries) recorded such R&B pioneers as the Midnighters, the Dominoes, James Brown, Wynonie Harris, Freddie King, the 5 Royales, and country and rockabilly artists like the Delmore Brothers, Cowboy Copas, Charlie Feathers, Moon Mullican, T. Texas Tyler, as well as a stellar gospel roster, black and white, that at various times included the Spirits Of Memphis Quartet, the Swan Silvertones, The Wings Of Jordan Choir, and the Brown's Ferry Four (who were actually the Delmore Brothers), recorded Brother Claude Ely at a church revival via a wire that ran through the radio station WCTW out of Whitesburg, Kentucky. On these recordings Brother Claude and his guitar are backed by a rockin' mandolin player whose name has been lost to time, and a female vocal group called the Cumberland Four. The first disc issued under his name -- There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down (later covered by Johnny Cash) b/w Holy, Holy, Holy (That's All Right) (King 5616) was, is, and will always be, the greatest white gospel record ever recorded, and one of the pinnacle moments of recorded American music. That same year (1954), King issued several more singles from that same revival meeting recording-- There's A Leak In This Old Building b/w Farther On (King 5617, I'm using the catalog #'s from the 45's, the 78's were issued in the 1300 series), You Gotta Move (this was the version that inspired Elvis' cover version heard in his first film Love Me Tender) b/w Little David Play On Your Harp (King 5618), and Talk About Jesus b/w There's A Higher Power (King 5619). These records, if they had secular lyrics would have been considered among the very first white rock'n'roll records. They, however are not rock'n'roll records, nor are they the type of religious country music known to collectors as "sacred", which usually means hymns done country style. These discs are hard shouting, driving, gospel music, the type usually only heard by black artists. I know of no other white singer that could fall into this category.
As well as traveling the gospel highway, Ely spent time as a pastor in churches in Grundy, Virginia,
Florence, Kentucky, and finally settling into a job as pastor of the Charity Tabernacle Church in the wide open sin city of Newport, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. A town more known for after hours gambling joints and strip bars than churches.
Brother Claude would not record for King again until 1962, when he recorded a session at Rusty York's (of the rockabilly classic Sugaree fame) studio, backed by fiddle, electric guitar, steel guitar, bass and drums as well as a male vocal group, who were also dubbed the Cumberland Four. From that session, which was issued by King as the LP The Gospel Ranger (later re-issued on Ely's own Gold Star label) came some excellent sides, not quite as wild as the church revival recordings, but well worth owning, the best tracks-- Stop That Train, I Want To Go To Heaven, My Crucified One, Fare You Well, That Old Fireside, and Do You Want To Shout rock nearly as hard as the '53-4 sides. If the lyrics weren't concerned with Jesus, these sides would be considered high energy hillbilly boogie and rockabilly, at it's finest. The rest of this session along with some earlier material would be released by King on the album
At Home And At Church, again, Ely would re-issue this album on his own Gold Star label, mostly to sell at revival meetings. He traveled considerably, working all over the eastern and mid-western United States, even getting to Canada and Alaska. He sang for Jesus, and for the Holy Ghost, and he sang hard, and preached even harder.
In September of 1977, Claude Ely suffered a heart attack but soon recovered and was back on the pulpit by the end of that year. On May 7, 1978, at a revival at his home base Charity Tabernacle, Ely was playing organ behind an evangelist named Maynard Banks. Banks called on Brother Claude to sing Where Could I Go To But The Lord, which he tore into in his usual high energy manner. Halfway through the tune he suffered another heart attack, fell off his stool and died in front of the packed house. The Holy Ghost took him home. In 1979 Ely's daughter-- Claudette Bowling issued an LP of his home recorded demos along with some sermons on the Jordan label, it was titled Where Could I Go To But The Lord. I've never been able to track down a copy of this rare disc. In fact, I've never even seen a copy. Since his death, no one has bothered to check his coffin to see if the grave did indeed hold his body down, but if I had to wager on it, I'd bet that box is empty.
In 1993, the UK Ace label issued a twenty three track CD of the best of Brother Claude Ely's King recordings, titled Satan Get Back (Ace CDCHD 456), I would say this is as an essential purchase as they come, and it includes several un-issued tracks including Ely's female backing singers-- the Cumberland Four's amazing rendition of I'm Just A Stranger Here and Ely's s wailing Send Down That Rain, the latter recorded at the 1953 Kentucky revival that produced his first five singles.
Recently, Brother Claude's nephew, a private investigator named Macel Ely II has published a biography of Claude Ely titled Ain't No Grave: The Life & Legacy Of Brother Claude Ely. It can be found here. The fools who purport to tell the history of American music seemed to have relegated Brother Claude Ely to a footnote, the man who recorded the versions of Ain't No Grave and You Got To Move that inspired Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley's covers. This is monstrously unfair, for Brother Claude Ely was one of the greatest singers ever recorded, and his career deserves to be celebrated, and his music demands to be listened to.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Donald Cammell on White Of The Eye- "Tradionally art is amoral".
From White Of The Eye- David Keith and Cathy Moriarity, "I was gonna talk to you about that..."
Trailer for White Of The Eye (1987) "Does she really know him"?
In my last posting discussing Keith Richards' autobiography Life, I mentioned that Richards, who is comes off as a fairly forgiving soul (even Tony Sanchez who wrote the fun but hateful Up and Down With The Rolling Stones is given a pass) only two people really stick in Keith's craw- one of course is Mick Jagger (see comments section of that posting for a few theories on that) and the other is film director Donald Cammell. Cammell is an interesting figure, the subject of a documentary (The Ultimate Performance) and director of only four films (and one unreadable novel, Fan Tan, co-written with Marlon Brando of all people).Two of his films are brilliant (the other two-- Wild Side and Demon Seed are fairly awful, but that may be because they were re-edited by the producers and make no sense at all) . Cammell first flick was Performance (1970), co-directed with Nicholas Roeg and starring Mick Jagger, James Fox and Anita Pallenberg has been much discussed over the years and is surely a rock'n'roll classic, badly received when it was first released, today it's considered a masterpiece and it even shows up on late night cable TV sometimes. Cammell's second great film, White Of The Eye which was also a box office flop and is almost never discussed these days but it is also an incredible film. It doesn't show up on TV, Netflix and rarely in revival houses (remember those?). Starring David Keith and Cathy Moriarty, this tale of a happily married serial killer (and high end stereo installer) may just be the creepiest (in a good way) flick I've ever seen. I'm at something of a loss for words here trying to describe it, but I do get a chill just thinking about David Keith's performance, for my money his best ever, although once when I saw him in my bar and tried to tell him so, he look appalled and made a hasty b-line for the door. His portayal of a seriel killer with a sense of mission is spot on perfect. But, something (perhaps his reaction to my attempted compliment) tells me he wasn't too crazy about Donald Cammell , and that White Of The Eye wasn't a great career move for him.
Donald Cammel, a debauched, fallen Scottish aristocrat (his father was a friend and biographer of Aliester Crowley) began life as painter and was doing fairly well in Paris painting portraits when he packed up his paints and headed for London in the mid-60's to make films. He wrote the script for a goofy swinging London picture called Duffy with James Coburn and James Mason (which was terrible) and another called The Touchables which I've never seen. He then began working on Performance which would take several years to complete and another two before it would be released. The suits at the studio (Warner Bros) back in Hollywood hated it.
After Performance, he headed to Hollywood where he wrote dozens of screenplays and treatments, none of which went beyond the meeting stage until he took a job directing Julie Christie in the rather lame Demon Seed, an unsuccessful attempt to cross Rosemary's Baby with 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film was taken out of Cammell's hands in the editing stage, so who knows if what it could have been. After White Of The Eye flopped he wouldn't direct again for eight years, finally getting the green light for a film called Wild Side , starring Christopher Walken, Anne Heche and Joan Chen, again the producers took the film away from Cammell in the editing room and the final results were such a mess he took his name off the credits. He supported himself by directing U2 videos and selling treatments around Hollywood, several to Marlon Brando. A short that I've never seen called The Argument came out in 1999, two years after his suicide, and another project that he wrote called Bones Of The Earth is said to be set for production in 2011.
In 1972, Kenneth Anger chose him to play the Egyptian God Osiris in Lucifer Rising ("I always type cast", Anger once stated). In the mythology of the ancients, Osiris ruled over the land of the dead. I assume that tells us something about Cammell, but one need not know anything of mythology to understand that White Of The Eye was the product of a very brilliant and very disturbed mind. I'm not sure where you can find it, but there's lots of oddball film sights that a Google search will turn up, many of them sell rare DVDs of commercially unavailable films. This one is worth the search.
One last comment, in The Ultimate Perfomance, it purports that after shooting himself in the head it took 45 minutes for Cammell to die, and that he was coherant the entire time, watching the hole in his head bleed through a mirror. Evidently, his biographers found evidence against this legend, although I never read the bio (Donald Cammell: A Life On The Wild Side by Sam and Rebecca Umland), it makes a good story, and his widow does swear its true. Stranger things have happened.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
From this Thursday, Nov. 4 through Dec. 18, 2010, Help Me, Found Photos from the Collection of Gillian McCain, curated by Gillian McCain and Megan Cump will be on display at the Camera Club Of New York. The opening party if Thursday, Nov. 4 from 6- 8 PM.
According the press release--"Forgotten, discarded, orphaned, lost, stolen, bought, discovered or found; the vernacular images in Help Me are culled from Gillian McCain's extensive collection of photographs in formats including tin-types, cabinet cards, Polaroids and snapshots". Fans of our regular Gillian's Found Photos feature should be sure to check out this show. The Camera Club Of New York is in the Arts Building at 336 West 37t Street (between 8-9th Ave), suite #206, New York City. Phone info is at 212-260-9927, or click the above link for more info.
Speaking of found photos, we have a few surprises to announce on that front in the next few weeks, keep an eye on this spot.