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Tuesday, May 31, 2011
"The best performances never get recorded, the best recordings never get released and the best records don't sell", so proclaimed the late Memphis musician/producer/philosopher Jim Dickinson the last time I saw him alive. Never was that adage so true than in Memphis where Dickinson plied his trade for four decades.
Today's subject, a great Memphis garage band who called themselves The Jesters (not to be mistaken for the Jesters from Brooklyn who covered the Diablos' The Wind, or or the Jim Messina led surf group, or Charley Pickett's cousin Mark Markem & the Jesters who cut the all time classic Marlboro Country or any any of the other dozens of group who had previously used that name) are one of the greatest examples of said truism, even though they did release one of the greatest 45's of the era, and the last great Sun record.
The aforementioned Jim Dickinson is of course, part of the story, since the Jesters' only released platter was as much his record as theirs, although in fact the only time he ever played with the group on whose contribution to the pantheon of sides he sang and pounded piano, was the January 1966 day it was recorded at (the second) Sun Studio (639 Madison) in Memphis.
I, as they say, digress.
The Jesters were formed in 1964, led by guitarist Edaward LaPaiglia aka Teddy Paige, who had previously led a teenage aggression called the Church Keys, and was heavily into the '5' Royales (then living in Memphis and recording for the Home Of The Blues label), Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley and Freddie King. Paige hooked up with singer Tommy Minga, previously of the Escapades, and added rhythm guitarist Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Records Sam C. (and fresh from a stint as a fake midget wrestler), bassist Bill Wulfers and drummer Eddie Robertson in short order. Their set list was heavy on old blues, R&B and rockabilly tunes as well as originals, some re-writes of classic R&B tunes, some quite unique, and short of British Invasion hits that were the staple on most local white groups at the time.
At this time Jerry's older brother Knox Phillips was pretty much running the show at the much diminished Sun Records, Sam was disillusioned and bored with the record biz and preferred to concentrate on his radio stations, and Knox began recording the Jesters. Tapes from two sessions with eleven tracks from the original band have survived, as well as the two sides issue on 45, although these would not see release until the late 1980's when they were first issued on Charley's Sun: Into The 60's box set and later in 2009 on the Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men:The Sun Masters which added four Escapades tracks to fill out the CD.
The sides with Tommy Minga singing are all first class, snot nosed, garage howlers-- What's The Matter Baby, Get Gone Baby, Strange As it Seems, the original, Minga fronted version of Cadillac Man, a version of Bill Doggett's Hold with added lyrics and retitled The Big Hurt, the '5' Royales Slummer The Slum barely re-written as Stompity Stomp, as well as versions of Boppin' The Blues, Night Train From Chicago, Heartbreak Hotel and the Bo Diddley cop-- Jim Dandy and Sweet Sixteen would all fit perfectly on any volume of Back From The Grave (Crypt). Certainly had it been released at the time What's The Matter Baby could have given the Standells, Shadows Of Night, Knickerbokers and other crude hitmakers of that year a run for their Beatle boots.
How and why Tommy Minga's voice was deemed unsuitable for issued wax is unclear, but once it was decided to bring Jim Dickinson in on piano and lead vocals, Cadillac Man was transformed into another creature all together. Rather than a snarling, Them/Rolling Stones styled garage rocker, it became a throw back to an earlier era at Sun, that of full throated screamers like Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley. Sam Phillips was said to be highly excited by the possibilities, and secured Jim Dickinson (who had previously cut two singles under the tutelage of Sun alumni Bill Justis) contract release and put the band back in the studio to cut a b-side, a version of Little Walter's My Babe (itself a version of Sister Rosette Tharpe's version of the old gospel standard This Train). Cadillac Man b/w My Babe was issued by Sun in 1966 and died a quick death. In a year ('66) that saw the Shadows of Night, 13th Floor Elevators and Standells hit the charts, the Dickinson led version of Cadillac Man had probably less commercial appeal than the material cut with Tommy Minga singing. It was also the beginning of the end for the Jesters. There would be no follow up. At some point they recorded a version of Smokey Robinson's What So Good About Goodbye with Jimmy Day singing, but it too sat on the shelf for decades.
The band, with Minga back in front, briefly resumed gigging, but soon fell apart. Lack of success had halted their forward motion, and when a rock'n'roll group is not moving forward, it is dying.
By late '66 it was over for the Jesters, Tommy Minga put together a new version of the Escapades. They released two singles I Tell No Lies (issued on both Arbert and XL) and Mad Mad Mad (Verve) both in late '66. Teddy Paige played some sessions, ending up on discs by David Allen Coe and Cliff Jackson, left music to work construction and eventually relocated to the U.K where he was said to have taken to wandering around in medieval minstrel garb, complete with saber. He was briefly institutionalized in the nineties after a run in between said sword and a neighbor. Jerry Phillips would find work at the family radio stations, the other two got real jobs.
The Jesters were among the best and most unique garage bands in that peak year for garage band rock'n'roll. Paige's guitar playing is especially noteworthy, he works in quotes from Lowman Pauling, Freddie King, and Bo Diddley, yet still retained a unique and biting sound. Tommy Minga too had his own style, having perfected the requisite 'teenager with hard on who hates his parents' delivery. Jim Dickinson would of course go on to long and colorful career, recapped after his 2009 death here. Had What's The Matter Baby been issued on 45, it may have been a hit, or sold so few copies that it would got for $500 on Ebay today, either way, the best sounds the Jesters left behind are among the best garage punk I've ever heard.
Friday, May 27, 2011
And you thought that come hither look on the face of the gal in FP#62 was for you? No, it looks like the party was already underway. And yes, that is a Johnny Mathis album under this guy's armpit, a deck of cards on the bed, a pack of smokes and a beer on the nightstand. What'd ya think is on the rest of this role of pix?
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Who says New Orleans isn't the cultural capitol of the world?
I'm not much of a hip hop or bounce (as they call the local brew in New Orleans) fan, but this just kills me.
Shot in New Orleans at the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas, a couple of blocks from where I used to live.
This is the part of New Orleans (a hair and nails watching cornucopia, just check out the 'do and nails on anyone working the register at Pop-eyes) that doesn't make it on HBO's The Treme. I haven't been back to New Orleans in sometime (too many ghosts), this makes me really miss the place.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
This little minx knows how to get a man....good records. There's the second Elvis album, Jackie Wilson,
Patti Page (how much is that doggie in the window....?), and a pile of unidentifiable 78's except the black, gold and white Specialty label at the top of the pile, my bet is that one is Little Richard, although it could be Willie Joe and his Unitar, or Don & Dewey singing Justine. Hell, that just may be Justine herself! Well before my mind runs away with me, I'll just say this week's Found Photo may be one of the Fang's finest moments.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Jack Scott as a balladeer.
With bowling trophy.
Jack Scott- attempting to match Elvis' sneer.
Jack Scott with backing singers the Chantones.
I've always loved the sound of Jack Scott (born Giovanni Dominico Scafone Jr., Jan. 24, 1936, in Windsor, Ontario). He had an loose, almost swinging rock'n'roll sound, he had an amazing voice and was an excellent tunesmith, writing nearly all his own best sides.
At age ten his family relocated across the border to Hazel Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and it was hear he formed his first band-- the Southern Drifters, playing country and rockabilly. His first session came in early 1957 at Detroit's Universal Studio, it produced Greaseball (an early version of Leroy which remained unreleased until the 90's) and four sides that were picked up by the ABC/Paramount label and make up his first two singles--
Baby She's Gone b/w You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar, his debut, followed later in the year by Two Timin' Woman b/w I Need Your Love, both singles are in the moody, Elvis mode. The primitive thumper Baby She's Gone is the best of the four sides with it's foreboding, nearly ominous throb, and killer guitar solo by Al Allen (which Robert Quine would steal part of and insert into punk anthem Blank Generation twenty years later). It was around this time he hooked up with bass player Stan Getz (not the jazz saxophonist) and his Tom Cats who would be his backing band for the next year or so (and later go on to even greater obscurity as Johnny Powers' band).
In the spring of '58 Scott, who had made some local waves was signed to Carlton Records and was back in the studio, recording his first real hit My True Love b/w Leroy (both sides making the Billboard charts with the a-side rising to #3), and the follow up-- With Your Love b/w Geraldine, a lesser hit, rising to #28 and kicking off a six single backwards chart run that would take him through the end of '58 with Goodbye Baby b/w Save My Soul (#8), The Way I Walk b/w Midgie (#38), I Never Felt Like This b/w Bella (#78) and There Comes A Time b/w Baby Marie (#71). Carlton also issued his first LP,
ten of its twelve titles being originals, including all his 45's, it was even issued in true stereo, vocals and guitars on one side, bass and drums on the other, it's a great record to practice guitar playing to because you can put the balance all the way to once side and play along with the rhythm section. The stereo pressing have the word Stereo written vertically down the left side of the jacket in press on felt block letters. It's probably the first stereo rock'n'roll LP ever released.
Jack Scott was drafted in 1959 and he'd spend most of the year in the U.S. Army, Carlton releasing lesser sides and a second LP to keep his name alive. Later that year upon his discharge he left Carlton and signed with another small company- Top Rank. By this late date, in order to survive rockers, following in Elvis' footsteps (whose first post-Army single was the re-write of Mario Lanza's version of O Sole Mia-- It's Now Or Never), had to become ballad singers (Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty,The Everly Brothers) or watch their careers wither (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins).
Scott who always excelled at ballads had no problem adjusting and topped the charts with the ballado-profundo What In The World's Come Over You (#5 Pop), although the flip side was a rocker Baby Baby. He followed it with another weeper-- Burning Bridges which became his biggest ever hit, rising to #3. Carlton responded in the other direction by digging out the rocker Go Wild Little Sadie from his sophomore LP and issuing it on the Guaranteed imprint around the same time, it was a close to frantic as Scott ever sounded.
Jack Scott had a nice career going for him, but he was never able to turn it into major stardom. He left Top Rank shortly after Burning Bridges and spent the 60's label hopping, cutting sides, some truly excellent, for Capitol (Strange Desire, one of my favorites, a throw back to his Carlton discs, and the unissued Good Deal Lucille stand out), RCAs Groove subsidiary (including the excellent rockin Christmas two sider-- Jingle Bell Slide b/w There's Trouble Brewing, and the killer-- Wiggle On Out), Dot and progressively lesser labels. Despite, or probably because he never really changed his sound, he never made the transition to country stardom that revived the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty.
By the 70's "The Canadian Elvis" would be reduced to playing Teddy Boy revivals in the U.K. (he shared a live album in '77 with Charlie Feathers, Buddy Knox, and Warren Smith) and the occasional oldies show. His last chart showing was a revival of Burning Bridges done as a duet with Carrol "Baby Doll" Baker, a minor Canadian country hit in 1992. He eventually retired from live performing unable to find a suitable band (and the economics of touring makes hiring real musicians unfeasible). In recent years a bootleg emerged claiming to be a Jack Scott live recording circa 1961, it's actually from the mid-80's, but shows him still at the height of his powers, sounding pretty much like his old discs, as these versions of The Way I Walk and Goodbye Baby prove, time did not decay his easy going swagger.
If rockabilly, at it's best, was mostly about a guy with a hard on telling himself (and the world) how cool he is, then Jack Scott was it's prophet.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Apocalypto: Mayans party like it's 1999.
Am I the only person who thinks this is a great film? On the heels of the $370 million plus grossing, gay/S&M/Catholic soft core porno flick The Passion Of The Christ (2004), alcoholic mess Mel Gibson got to write his own ticket, and then went on to write, produce and direct this spectacular, career ending monstrosity of a movie. Apocalypto has some of the most amazing acting, sets, hair and make-up ever seen on the screen. It's like Cecil B. DeMille and John Waters were directing simultaneously. The scene where the hero, forest dwelling Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood whose career may have also been killed by this film) is taken captive and is about to be sacrificed to the Mayan Sun God (Kinich Ahau, played by the Sun it's best on screen appearence since Antonioni's Red Desert) is one of the most compelling, and whacked out scenes ever to (dis)grace the silver screen. Since it's on cable nearly every day I've watched it dozens of times and it never fails to stun me. I especially love the little fat prince and the shaman's ability to roll his eyes back in his head. I'll not defend Mel Gibson's drunken rants (which I find highly entertaining and can listen to over and over), and I can't say I've liked his acting except the first two Mad Max flicks, but this one is a doozie. Worth setting your Tivo/DVR for.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Now here's couple of stylin' young thugs. Date and place unknown, but judging by the trousers I'd say early to mid-60's (or as scientists like to call it, the pre-flare era). Can anyone identify the arsenal? Don't you want to see what the rest of this roll of photos looks like?
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Me and Rosco Gordon, 1996.
Rosco Gordon from the film Rock Baby Rock It.
Rosco Gordon serenades Butch the alcoholic chicken.
Rosco Gordon Jr. was born in Memphis in 1934, the youngest of eight children, growing up on Florida Street. He taught himself piano by sitting next to his sister while she practiced her lessons and before the age of eighteen had won the Talent Show at Beale Street's famed Palace Theater (the M.C. was Rufus Thomas) and was appearing on WDIA, America's first all black radio station (where B.B. King got his start around the same time). Through WDIA's owner James Mattis he was sent to see Sam C. Phillips who recorded him, leasing his sides to the Bihari Brother' RPM label out of L.A., charting for the first time with Saddled The Cow (Milked The Horse) b/w Ouch! Pretty Baby which went to #9 R&B in September of '51. Then Phillips sent two versions of the same master-- Booted, one to RPM and a slightly different alternate take to Chess in Chicago. The Chess version hit #1 R&B in February of '52 kicking off a three way tug of war which ended up with RPM securing Gordon's contract (and the services of talent scout/band leader Ike Turner who had topped the charts for Chess with the Phillips produced master Rocket 88 under the guise of Jackie Breston & his Delta Cats, Chess would get Howlin' Wolf in the same deal). Since RPM was no longer dealing with Phillips, Gordon cut sessions in Memphis at Tuff Green's house in a makeshift studio, moonlighting for Phillips who then sold the masters to Mattis' Duke label. Soon Duke was sold to Peacock's owner, Don Robey, along with Gordon, Bobby Blue Bland (who was Rosco's chauffeur, he made his debut singing on a Rosco Gordon b-side), and Johnny Ace. Confused? Don't worry you will be.
Since Rosco had two top ten hits and had seen no royalties (and the Biharis had cut themselves in for a piece of his songwriting by putting their nome-de-disque Taub on all his discs), Rosco Gordon took the short money upfront, and hence would cut a disc for whom ever was willing to put his price (usually $3-400) in his pocket. Between the years of 1951-59 he cut eleven singles for RPM (including the #2 hit No More Doggin'), eight for Duke, five for Sun (the biggest seller The Chicken appearing on both Sun and its subsidiary Flip), one for Chess (the aforementioned Booted), and four more for Vee Jay, including his biggest hit-- Just A Little Bit, featuring Classie Ballou on guitar, which would go on to become an R&B standard.
It would be a daunting and quite pointless task to attempt to put these twenty-nine discs in any sort of chronological order. In fact, much of the best material was left in Sam Phillips' vault which remained un-issued until the early 1980's when Charley Records (a rumored money laundering operation for the Corsican mob) began releasing un-issued Sun recordings in bulk. The basic Rosco Gordon sound was based around his piano pounding (known as Roscoe's rhythm), shuffling drums, guttural saxophone and often distorted guitars, over which Rosco usually delivered a wonderfully mush mouthed vocal. In addition to the above sides, some of his best were, and still are-- RPM 322- Rosco's Boogie b/w So Tired, Duke 129- Three Cent Love b/w You Figure It Out, the a-side sporting a beautiful solo from Pat Hare, the flip perhaps his most over the top vocal, RPM 358- New Orleans Wimmen b/w What You Got On Your Mind, Sun (and Flip) 227- Weeping Blues b/w Love For You Baby, Sun 257- Shoobie Oobie b/w Cheese and Crackers, Sun 305 Sally Joe b/w El Torro (the a-side an experiment in rockabilly, the flip an uncharacteristic Spanish guitar led instrumental that is rarely re-issued but I love), RPM 369- Dream On Baby b/w Trying RPM 384- Whiskey Made Me Drunk b/w Tomorrow May Be Too Late, Duke 173- Tummer Tee b/w I've Loved and I've Lost. Among the best of the un-issued sides you'll find T-Model Boogie, Decorate The Counter, Let's Get High, Bop With Me Baby, I'm Gonna Shake It, I Don't Like It and Nineteen Years Old. He was cutting excellent sides into the late 60's such as this 1964 duet with his wife Barbara which appeared on New York's Old Town label-- Gotta Keep Rollin', and this 1968 remake of Just A Little Bit which appeared on gangster Nate McCalla's Calla label.
Rosco Gordon had a colorful career. In one run in with hoodlum label owner Don Robey, Robey threatened to kick Gordon (he'd previously crushed Little Richard's testicles in an argument over royalties). Gordon patted the revolver tucked into his belt and told Robey the foot he kicked him with was the foot he would put a bullet in. He escaped with his testes in tact. He toured the south on many package shows, relocated to Shreveport, La. in the late 50's where he met his second wife Barbara (his first marriage at age 15 lasted only weeks), and kept churning out discs. He also toured the Caribbean where he was wildly popular, No More Doggin' being one of the biggest R&B hits in Jamaican history and along with Fats Domino's Be My Guest and Wilbert Harrison's Kansas City, the blueprint for the coming ska sound. He also appeared in one of the greatest rock'n'roll movies of all time-- Rock Baby Rock It (1957) along with rocker Johnny Carroll, in it Gordon serenades his pet chicken Butch (he later told me Butch, whom he toured with, was an alcoholic).
In the late 60's he relocated to Queens, New York, where he founded his own Bab-Roc label issuing a handful of singles in the 70's and then, in the style of TV's George Jefferson, opened a dry cleaners. He kept performing till the end of his life and was in fine form as late as the millennium. He recorded an album for ska pioneer Clement "Sir Coxone" Dodd in the 90's, it wasn't particularly good, but I was thrilled to meet Dodd who was selling the discs from a cardboard box at the back of one of Gordon's gigs in Brooklyn. In his final days Rosco Gordon attempted to patch things up with Sam Phillips who took great offense to Rosco's disregard of exclusive contracts (even though Phillips had operated much the same way at the dawn of his career) and still harbored a grudge. In 2000 Rosco booked time at Sun Studio and asked Sam to produce a few sides. Rosco recorded an album at Sun but Phillips never showed. It was issued as Memphis, Tennessee later that year. In 2002 Rosco Gordon died of a heart attack in Rego Park, Queens, New York. Perhaps if life on earth continues for long enough, someone will compile a re-issue of his complete Duke sides.