Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eddie Kirkland

It's one of those non-reversible rules of life that says, not everyone who wears a turban is a great rhythm & blues singer, but every rhythm & blues singer who wears a turban is great. Eddie Kirkland, sometimes known as Eddie Kirk is a great blues singer, guitarist and harp player and he wears a turban with sartorial splendor. Not only that, he's made some incredible records for the likes of King, Volt, Fortune, Modern/R.P.M., Tru-Sound and LuPine. He was shot in the head. He rocked like a crazy man. Now I shall tell you his story. Eddie Kirkland was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1923 and raised in Dothan, Alabama. He learned to play guitar and harmonica. In 1935 he ran away from home, jumping on a truck that carried the Silas Green Show as a stowaway: "Back then I had a little act, I put the harmonica inside my mouth and beat the "hambone" at the same time", this way he got his first job in showbiz, at $20 a week ("that was big money back then, five shows a day"). He joined the Army during World War II and was given a dishonorable discharge for smacking an officer. He headed for Detroit where his mother had settled and got a job working at the Ford plant and began sniffing around for ways to make it in music. He also trained as a boxer around this period, and influenced greatly by Lightnin' Hopkins developed his own guitar style. He mostly played local bars and house parties, sometimes with Eddie Burns, and it was on the house party circuit that he first encountered John Lee Hooker. Kirkland was one of the few guitarists who could second Hooker's unique style. Since Hooker kept to no regular meter he would drive other musicians nuts and made most of his recordings solo. Kirkland however was able to lock into to Hooker's unusual sense of timing, and as heard on these early discs for Modern we hear Kirkland's finger picking anticipate Hooker's every move. Key To The Highway and It Hurts Me So (the latter with a cheesy horror movie organ chord dubbed onto the master tape) were recorded in Detroit in '52. The same session produced two sides with Eddie singing and Hooker in support-- It's Time For Lovin' To Be Done and That's All Right which saw release on Modern's RPM subsidiary under the name Little Eddie Kirkland. He toured the south with Hooker, and played up and down Detroit's Hasting Street. In 1953 Eddie Kirkland cut some excellent blues sides for King-- No Shoes, Please Don't Think I'm Nosey, Mistreated Woman and It's Time For My Lovin' To Be Done, at this point he had developed his own unique and exciting style, sounding like no one else. No Shoes is particularly excellent, here's an alternate take. Eddie's next release wasn't until 1959 when he recorded this monstrous version of I Must've Done Something Wrong b/w I Need You Baby for Jack and Devora Brown's Fortune Records, one of the coolest labels of all time. Elmore James would record the tune for Fire in New York the following year but Kirkland claims to have written it. You might remember the Yardbirds version from their first LP. Eddie Kirkland's original version didn't sell and today could you trade a mint copy for a decent car. It is one of the rawest, nastiest sounding records ever recorded. He also appeared on an Andre Williams Fortune disc but can't remember which one, only that it wasn't Bacon Fat. A year later, sometime in 1960, Eddie recorded the first of two versions of Train Done Gone this one for the tiny Detroit based LuPine label. Other un-issued sides for LuPine later showed up on the Relic LP Three Shades Of The Blues. In 1961, he re-recorded Train Done Gone for Tru-Sound in New York City with a band that featured King Curtis on sax. It's even wilder than the LuPine version. An entire LP of material was cut for Tru-Sound and it's worth hunting down (it was re-issued by Red Lightning in the 80's), it's a killer, as much rock'n'roll as blues, it's one of the best albums ever made. In 1964, his name shortened to Eddie Kirk ("Eddie Kirk is my Georgia name") he was back at King where he recorded It's Monkey Time and Hawg Killin' Time with a group that featured Wayne Cochran, the Gorgeous George of R&B on bass. I've never heard It's Monkey Time but Hawg Killin' Time was so great he'd cut it three times. A year later (1965), Kirkland took the tune to Memphis where he cut it as The Hawg Part One b/w The Hawg Part Two on Volt (why was b-side was left off the Stax-Volt box set?). Here Kirkland is playing harmonica and Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Al Jackson Jr. from Booker T. & the MG's are backing him up. A second Volt single-- Them Bones b/w I Found A Brand New Love, cut at the same session was issued the same year. Three years passed without Eddie seeing the inside of a studio, he had relocated to Macon, Georgia where he was managed by Phil Walden (Otis Redding's manager, later to hit paydirt with the Allman Brothers). He spent most of the years 1965-68 backing soul stars like Otis Redding, Mabel John and Joe Tex.
In 1968 he was back in Detroit and recording again for Fortune, waxing his third version of the same tune, this time retitled The Grunt. His daughters can be heard in the backround. It's hard to say which version is best, but they're all great as you can well hear. The third time was not the charm, unfortunately, as for the third time the Hawg/Grunt sunk without a trace, and like all of Eddie Kirkland's best sides it is quite rare today. In 1970 Kirkland made his last truly great recordings with an LP on the Trix label. This time he recorded in Macon, Georgia. He wouldn't release another record until 1979's Disco Mary on the Fantastic label, the title telling you why you don't want to hear it. He's cut other records since then but none of them are quite as raw as his 50's and 60's sides. He spent twelve years in the New York area where he performed regularly before moving down to Florida. I never saw him put on a bad or lackluster show. and while the quality of his recordings took a dip after 1970, Kirkland was and is still a great and excitable live performer. He took to billing himself as "The Swami of the Blues", and sometimes as "The Road Warrior of the Blues". He somehow got himself shot in the head. Eddie Kirkland, who with one lucky break could have been a huge star was reduced to making a living as an auto mechanic. He appeared in Dan Rose's flick Wayne County Ramblin' (with an all star cast that includes Iggy Pop, Nathaniel Mayer, and Bill Pietsch, you can see the trailer below). As of late Eddie Kirkland has had plenty of health problems as any 86 year old who took a bullet in his head would. He toured regularly until the last couple of years, appearing all over the U.S. and Europe, but he seems to have slowed down quite a bit in the last few years but he's still alive, and that in itself is no small achievement. Besides, let's face it 99% of all so called "blues" musicians, black or white, are bores, and that's one thing Eddie Kirkland never has been. Wild, crude, repetitive, but not for once second boring.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #10

   Here's a happy little sepia toned honey.  By the looks of her boots (and the way she holds her cigarette) she may be the mother of the girls in GFP #5. I don't know what kind of uniform that is she's wearing but it ain't the Campfire Girls.  Year and place are unknown (anyone want to guess?), and just why is she smiling?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jack Nitzsche

You'd be hard pressed to find a more varied and interesting career in music than the one lived by Jack Nitzsche (1937-2000), or one that left more great music. People throw the word genius around as though it means something, but virtually everyone who ever got within ten yards of Jack Nitzsche uses that word, so I thought I'd get it out of the way. If there's such a thing as a musical genius in rock'n'roll or pop, then he was one. Or as close as you can get without knowing advanced calculus. Maybe you never heard of him. He's best known in rock'n'roll as the arranger on all of Phil Spector's hits, the job that first brought him to music biz prominence, or as the composer of soundtrack music (The Exorcist, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Officer and a Gentleman, Performance, Blue Collar, Hot Spot, a complete filmography can be found here), or for playing on the first four Rolling Stones albums and producing Buffalo Springfield's Expecting To Fly and Neil Young's debut LP, but he made all kinds of records, for all kinds of people, as a producer and arranger and to each record he adds something unique. As unlikely as this sounds has contributed to great records by the Monkees, Miles Davis, P.J Proby, Doris Day, the Flamin' Goovies, Ral Donner, Don & the Goodtimes, Mink DeVille, Randy Newman, Mick Jagger, Sonny Bono, Glen Cambell, Sonny & Cher, Lou Christie, Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart, the Rolling Stones (including the horn arrangement on Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadows), Soupy Sales, Ringo Starr, Them, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Young Jessie, Steve Wonder, Ronnie Spector with and without the Ronnettes, the Germs (!), and enough obscurities to drive a record collector nuts. A full discography can be found here. With this in mind, it's amazing how little has been written about Jack Nitzsche. I can't remember reading one major magazine piece on him except one in Crawdaddy back in '73 (here), extremely odd since his life story would make a great book. Ace (the U.K. re-issue label) has recently released two CD compilations of Nitzsche productions and/or arrangements: The Jack Nitzsche Story: Hearing Is Believing, you can find Vol. 1 (1962-1979) here and Vol. 2 here if you don't want to pay for them. The scope alone of these two 26 song sets is a bit mind boggling. Surf, pop, girl groups, soul, R&B and rock'n'roll, he could handle it all. Represented are his early solo 45's like Lonely Surfer and his TV theme music style arrangement of Link Wray's Rumble, Marianne Faithful's stunning Sister Morphine, Buffy St. Marie's chilling version of Neil Young's Helpless, the Everly Brothers' version Young's Mr. Soul, P.J. Proby's You Make Me Feel Like Someone, Porpoise Song from the Monkees' psychedelic explotation flick Head, soundtrack excerpts from Blue Collar, including the Captain Beefheart/Ry Cooder classic Hard Workin' Man and the closing theme from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), Miles Davis blowing over John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal's bluesy guitar jam from the Dennis Hopper's movie Hot Spot, along with lots of obscurities like the previously un-issued Surf Finger, and Round Robin's Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann. There's even some hits here, best of all to my ears being Jackie DeShannon's original Needles & Pins (which the Pretenders used as the blue print for their arrangement of the Kinks' Stop Your Sobbin', listen to the way Jackie DeShannon sings "Stop it! Stop it" as the tune fades). Nitzche's longest and most successful collaboration over the years was with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It started when Young was still with the Buffalo Springfield and Nitzsche arranged Expecting To Fly, he would go on to produce most of Young's debut LP as well as Crazy Horse's first album without Young (a very underrated album), he later worked on Harvest and Time Fades Away. In 1970 he toured with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, playing piano, a live recording at the Filmore West has made the rounds for years but I think this tape from the Cincinnati Music Hall is better. In fact, one of the best sources on Jack Nitzsche is Jimmy McDonough's Neil Young bio Shakey (Random House 2002), a somewhat frustrating read since Nitszsche is a much more interesting subject than Neil Young. Another decidedly oddball Jack Nitzsche project was 1973's St. Giles Cripplegate (Reprise), a neo-classical piece said to be a favorite of jazz arranger Gil Evans. It's kind of like a film soundtrack to what ever movie you want to program in your own head. I met him once in New Orleans where he was involved in recording C.C. Addcock, a south Louisiana guitar player, then playing in Warren Storm's Little Band Of Gold. We were introduced through Taylor Hackford (ain't I the name dropper?) and although we only talked for about a half hour, it was obvious this was a guy with a very deep knowledge of music, he seemed to know something about every cool record ever made from Slim Harpo to Link Wray. I'd heard nothing but horror stories about the guy but he was funny and very nice and nothing like I expected him to be. Then again, Chuck Berry was nice when I met him, too. The two things that stand out in my mind was that he went ballistic at the mention of Mick Jagger. It was later explained to me that Mick had fucked Buffy St. Marie many years earlier, since she was the love of Nitzsche's life, the subject was still a raw scab.
I was glad I wasn't the one who brought up Jagger's name. Of course, there's the stories. Anyone who spent any time around Nitzsche had a wild story (at least one). I can't confirm any of them. There was a headline making assault charge made by actress Carrie Snodgrass (she claimed he raped her with a gun), the charge was later dropped, even her common law husband Neil Young didn't believe her. Jack was a dope fiend. That's the only one I can confirm, don't ask how, I won't tell you. Besides for a man of means, expensive drug habits aren't really a problem. Well, it's not like Nitzsche's career went unheralded, he worked constantly, made a ton of money, even won an Oscar. As a way of ending this thing here's some of my favorite Jack Nitzsche music, from the soundtrack of Performance-- first comes Buffy St. Marie's eerie, wordless wail on The Hashishin and some of Ry Cooder's best guitar work can be heard here on Powis Square and Get Away . The Merry Clayton Singers' are credited on Turner's Murder and the other tunes here are credited to Nitzsche himself-- Natural Magic, Harry Flowers, Dyed Dead and Read, Rolls Royce and Acid and the final theme Performance. It's one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite soundtracks (and if you get a chance, try and see director Donald Camel's other masterpiece-- White Of The Eye. Once David Keith, who starred along with Cathy Moriarty, came in my bar and I tried to talk to him about the movie, he put down his beer and ran for the door). Here's another one I really like, from 1978, these are from the Blue Collar soundtrack. The band is Ry Cooder and Jesse Ed Davis on guitars, Tim Drummond on bass, Jim Keltner on drums and Stan Sileste on piano. Most of the tunes are re-writes of classic blues, but the vibe is beautiful. Not a bad movie either. Here are the credits. Here's Zeke, Jerry and Smokie, Quittin' Time, FBI, Coke Machine and the Blue Collar Main Theme and End Title. The Captain Beefheart title tune is posted above. Someday, someone, somewhere will write the Jack Nitzsche story (sorry, but I'm not the guy for the job) and jaws will hang open, and maybe even some ears will open up too. And a big thanks to Scott for the pic sleeves....

Friday, April 24, 2009

Slim Harpo

"Why would anyone want to hear us do King Bee when they can hear Slim Harpo's version"-- Mick Jagger." Like a lot of Americans of my generation, I discovered the blues via the Rolling Stones. My grandparents bought me the first Stones album for Christmas in 1964 (I was five), and the first song on side two was a note-for-note cover of Slim Harpo's I'm A King Bee. It quickly became my favorite song. I thought I was pretty cool with my high rolled collar, polka dot shirt (three buttons on the cuffs), corduroy pants and Beatle boots, walking around singing "I'm a king bee/buzzin' 'round your hive". I had no idea what the song meant, but I loved the sound. The way Bill Wyman's bass just zoomed up and down the neck, Keith's solo, so simple a cat could have played it, just one note repeated three times on the fourth bar. I had no idea who Slim Harpo was. My grandparents also bought me a transistor radio shaped like a Jaguar XKE and I slept with it every night, tuning in the Miami stations for the latest sounds, in this manner I first heard My Generation by the Who, Don't Bring Me Down by the Pretty Things and Gloria by Them. Spinning the dial I discovered a late night black dj named Butterball on WMBM out of Miami Beach, his theme song was a Bill Doggett instrumental called Boo-Da-Ba and he played the latest Motown and Stax hits along with something much darker and stranger-- Jimmy Reed and Elmore James were on his nightly playlist as was Slim Harpo's Rainin' In My Heart. Sometimes I could tune in WLAC out of Nashville where Hoss Allen and John R. ruled the night, and they played Slim Harpo as well as other blues discs on Excello with tantalizing names like Lightnin' Slim, Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester, and Silas Hogan. There were nightly advertisements for Ernie's Record Mart (which owned Excello Records) and Randy's Record Shop (which owned Dot Records), you could order these records from Ernie's or Randys and have 'em delivered to your trailer (see Bob Quine's copy of a 1963 Randy's catalog above), or you could buy a hundred baby chicks for your own coop (only a dollar) and I can just imagine some poor mail man cursing the place as he humped a hundred baby chicks down the street to somebody's mailbox. On WLAC Jimmy Reed did a wine commercial, Bo Diddley advertised hair products. So this is how I come to the blues. I got to skip the part where you pick cotton and drink sterno. In those years-- 1964-66 I got heavily into the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Them and the Kinks, whose repertoires were heavy on the Excello sides. In the U.K. the Stateside label had been licensing Excello discs and issued two LP's-- Authentic R&B and The Real R&B, the importance of which cannot be understated. The Kinks alone covered three songs off of the former-- Jimmy Anderson's Naggin', Lazy Lester's I'm A Lover Not A Fighter and and Slim Harpo's Got Love If You Want It. Along with Chess and Vee Jay discs by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Billy Boy Arnold, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, these compilations were drawn from heavily to fill out any beat group's set list. The Stones would return to the Slim Harpo catalog as late as 1972 when they covered Shake Your Hips on their last truly great album-- Exile On Main Street. These Stateside LP's were not seen in the U.S. but their reverberation could be felt coast to coast. Which brings us back to me. Me and Slim Harpo. Slim Harpo and I. Whatever. Rainin' In My Heart had been a top 20 R&B hit in 1961 (#34 pop) and was still being played on the radio when I first tuned in around '64, but in 1966 Slim scored a monster hit--Baby Scratch My Back which went to #1 R&B in January on '66, (even reaching #16 Pop, a most unlikely event). It was probably the best selling down home blues record of all time and was the first real blues record I ever bought. I was seven years old. Baby Scratch My Back was the crowning jewel in a brilliant career. A career that went something like this: Slim Harpo was born James Moore in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana on February 11, 1924. His parents died when he was a teen and he took a job in New Orleans on the docks as a stevedore to support his younger brother and three sisters. Eventually he returned to Baton Rouge and found work as a day laborer and soon began playing music as a sideline, billing himself as Harmonica Slim. He was backing up Lightnin' Slim when first he showed up at Jay Miller's Crowley, Louisiana studio around 1957. Soon Miller gave Slim his own audition. Miller hated Slim's voice and suggested he start singing through his nose, giving a rather nasal but pleasing sound. Since there was already a Harmonica Slim working the west coast Miller renamed his new discovery Slim Harpo. I think this is a good place to work some background on Jay Miller into this story since he is an extremely important part of it. J.D. "Jay" Miller was a Crowley, Louisiana businessman, big in construction and later local politics and real estate who had opened a record store and as a sideline began recording local talent--black, white and Cajun including the likes of Carol Fran, Guitar Gable, Warren Storm, Classie Ballou, Al Ferrier, Johnny Jano, Katie Webster, Rocket Morgan, Clifton Chenier, Charles Sheffield, Tabby Thomas and Lightnin' Slim and issuing records on his own labels such as Feature, Zynn, Rocko, Ringo, Fais Do Do, and eventually leasing masters to larger labels like Dot, Decca, Jamie and eventually striking up an exclusive deal with the Nashville based Excello/Nasco label giving them the first pick of any of his masters. Together Miller and Excello would strike pay dirt first with with Lightnin' Slim and later with Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Jimmy Anderson, and other blues singers who sounded like Jimmy Reed to varying degrees. Miller built his own studio in the back room behind his little record store and that is where he made his records. Although music would be a side line for most his life, he was an excellent producer, co-writing many of the tunes (under the name J. West), he knew how to take a standard 12 bar blues and turn it into a pop tune. He liked exotic percussion and the use of maracas, wood blocks, etc. are a prominent feature of many of his productions. He also had a knack for coming up classy monikers for his blues singers, the best being Lonesome Sundown. An interesting aside was that Miller, who had recorded so many blues greats also had a label called Rebel that specialized in ultra racist country records by someone named Johnny Rebel. He had a box of these in his store as late as 1982 when I went there. Jay Miller issued Slim Harpo's first disc-- I'm A King Bee b/w I Got Love If You Want It Babe (Excello 2113) in 1957. It was a good size regional hit and both tunes would become blues standards. The b-side, with it's rhumba beat would become as popular as the a-side and would become a standard among British R&B groups being recorded by the Kinks and Yardbirds amongst others, although the original has never been matched. I'm A King Bee, is one of the coolest records of all time. The zooming bass sounds like a bee buzzing and the sharp, one note (repeated thrice) guitar solo was the bee's sting. The Stones didn't attempt to change even a note. Slim Harpo was backed by Guitar Gable's band, featuring the great Jockey Etienne on drums. Between 1957 and 1961 Miller recorded Slim Harpo in six sessions, releasing a handful of fine singles and album tracks including some blazing rockers like Yeah Yeah Baby, Don't Start Cryin' Now, Hey Little Lee as well as atmospheric blues pieces like Moody Blues, Snoopin' Around, the soliloquy on stuperdom Blues Hangover, Buzzin', One More Day, Strange Love, and brilliant, but un-issued sides like Wild About My Baby and Cigarette which were buried on Flyright compilation albums in the 80's and are still un-available on CD today, a shame since they're better than much of the released material. The genius of these records is their simplicity. In fact they're so wonderfully understated it's hard to know what to tell you about them. Then again, you have ears, take a listen. After Harpo's initial session with Guitar Gable's band he was recorded with his own outfit-- the King Bees: Rudy Richard and James Johnson on guitars (the later sometimes playing the bass part on guitar), Willie "Tomcat" Parker on sax and Sammy K. Brown on drums, often with Lazy Lester adding additional percussion. While performing live Slim Harpo played guitar with his harmonica on a rack like Jimmy Reed, but in the studio he rarely played guitar. It was 1961 when Slim Harpo really hit big with Rainin' In My Heart (Excello 2194), a swamp pop ballad (Miller and Harpo thought it a country tune) which went to #2 R&B and # 14 Pop. Since Miller was paid a small royalty by Excello, from which he paid Harpo his share, arguments over money ensued. Slim Harpo refused to record for Miller for almost two years, going so far as attempting to jump ship and sign with Imperial (even recording a session for them that went unreleased when Miller's lawyers stepped in). Despite a good working relationship, bad blood over money would be a constant factor in the partnership between Jay Miller and Slim Harpo. Excello cashed in on the hit by releasing Slim Harpo's first LP-- Rainin' In My Heart (Excello 8003), the second blues album I ever owned, it was the staple of southern bargain bins for years. A finer record would be hard to find, as would an uglier album cover. It was September of '63 before Miller and Harpo got back to work on a follow up to Rainin' In My Heart and much momentum had been lost. His next disc-- I Love The Life I'm Livin' b/w Buzzin' was a fine record but failed to sell. Luckily, like Miller, music was pretty much a sideline for Slim Harpo who kept his day job, eventually opening his own trucking company. He did play nearly every weekend, mostly around Louisiana/Texas/Mississippi/Alabama but would go anywhere there was a gig. In 1961 a couple of high school kids recorded Slim Harpo and the King Bees live at the Sage Avenue Armory in Mobile, Alabama, although the tape wasn't released until 1997 (as Sting It Then on the U.K. Ace label), it's an invaluable document and one of the few live blues recordings of the era. Despite the crude sound of the P.A. we get to hear what Slim Harpo sounded like in front of an audience-- here's the Star*Time introduction and live versions of I'm A King Bee, I Got Love If You Want It Babe, Buzzin' as well as renditions of Lazy Lester's Sugar Coated Love and Lee Dorsey's Lottie Mo. You really owe it to yourself to go hunt this one down before it disappears for good, as these things tend to do. In 1966 Slim Harpo managed to extradite himself from Jay Miller and was signed directly to the Excello label, a move that burned Miller's ass. He would eventually sue Excello to recover his masters and lose, the deciding judge being the father of country singer and former WFMU DJ Laura Cantrell. The loss of Miller as a producer saw something of a dip in the quality of Slim Harpo's recorded output but he still managed to record some great material, including the #1 R&B smash Baby Scratch My Back (whose tremolo guitar riff John Fogerty would build a career on) which was followed up with such dance floor classics as Shake Your Hips (covered by the Stones' on Exile On Main Street, again, they didn't change a note, Jagger even calling himself Slim Harpo in the second verse), Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu (don't you love the way he says "Philly dog! Boogaloo!"? and Tip On In pts 1 and 2, and a beautiful ballad-- I've Been Your Good Thing that stands with his best ever. Excello issued three more LP's and a slew of singles including mediocre covers of Folsom Prison Blues and Mohair Sam. Slim Harpo's last record was a good one, Jody Man, about a back door man/pimp. Since the chart topping Baby Scratch My Back, he'd appeared at the Whiskey A Go Go in L.A., Steve Paul's The Scene in New York City (where the above photos were taken by Bob Gruen), he opened the show for James Brown at Madison Square Garden and almost toured the U.K. with Lightin' Slim. Slim Harpo looked to have a long and profitable career ahead of him. Between hit records, gigs and a profitable trucking business the future looked bright. Sadly, with all these good things happening, he promptly had a heart attack and dropped dead at age 46. During his life Slim Harpo got little respect from white blues writers. In his pamphlet size book Crowley Louisiana Blues (Blues Unlimited, 1968) Mike Leadbitter, the first writer to call attention to Jay Miller and his artists, called Harpo's recorded output "mostly dreadful". It wasn't until the Flyright label began releasing Jay Miller's unreleased tapes in the 80's that a critical evaluation began. Eventually the AVI label in the U.S. and the Ace label in the U.K. began re-releasing Harpo's back catalog with some care. Still, he (and Jay Miller) have been ignored by the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame (I guess they are not as cool as Art Garfunkel or Graham Nash), but let those ignorant fools live their stupid lives and listen to their stupid music. I'll take Slim Harpo any day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sabel Starr 1958-2009

Sabel (sometimes spelled Sable) Starr nee' Shields died recently of cancer, she had been suffering from several brain tumors over the last year. She was 51  years old. Sabel, from Palo Verde in the San Fernando Valley outside of L.A. found infamy as an under age groupie in Hollywood in the heyday of the rock'n'roll scene centered around the crowd at Rodney's English Disco. She appeared on the cover of Star magazine in 1973, and was often seen in the pages of Rock Scene, Creem, Phonograph Record and other magazines of that era. In her own way she was as much of a rock star as any of her celebrated beaus.   Sabel was the girlfriend of Johnny Thunders, Ron Asheton and later Richard Hell and was also close friends with the Stooges, Led Zep, and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie. I first met Sabel the day I arrived in New York City (May, '77), she was hanging around with the late Greg Shaw, then manager of the Flamin' Groovies and editor of Bomp magazine. I never knew her well but she was always nice, funny, and quite beautiful. After moving to New York to be with Johnny, an experience that left her traumatized when she ended up as Johnny's punching bag, she left the rock'n'roll world for good. Eventually she moved to Reno where she married, had two children and worked as a black jack dealer. The best Sabel stories can be found in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk by Gillian "Fang" McCain and Legs McNeil (Grove Press, 1996). Phillipe Marcade of the Senders saw Sabel as recently as last year and reported that she looked great and was doing well, which makes her death all the sadder. He sister Coral dated Iggy Pop for several years. Iggy wrote a song about Sabel and Johnny called Look Away which can be found on the LP Naughty Little Doggie (Virgin, 1998).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #9

Another week, another 'what the fuck?' found photo courtesy of the Fang. This one is from February of 1970. What are we looking at? A cheap hotel room, a young, comatose girl in a mini-dress passed out on a double bed, her black cocktail dress on hanger next to her, and a man with a decidedly satanic vibe attempting to read her heart beat with what might be transistor radio ear phones.  Their wedding rings seem to match. He looks like a member of the Process Church Of The Final Judgement. The door is open. For further background, I remember that Venus by the Shocking Blue was the #1 record for most of that month. With all this in mind can somebody tell me what they think is going on in this photo?

Friday, April 17, 2009

What's The Word- Thunderbird!

Me and Quine were standin' out in front of CBGB's one night, around 1980, smoking cigarettes, catching a breeze, shootin' the shit when an old black wino came stumbling out of the Palace Hotel next door. He was dressed in a ragged sharkskin suit, wore a battered, Lester Young style pork pie hat, and he had the mouthpiece of a sax hanging from a cord around his neck. He stuck a dirty, calloused hand out---"Yo, young blood, lemme hold a dollar". "Yo, professor, lemme hold a dollar". His eyes were milky red, his lips were cracked. "I used to play with Bird". Me- "You played with Bird?" "Yeah, man" he replied. "I played with Bird. I played with Trane too..Bird and Trane....Thunderbird and Night Train! Ahhahahaha". I gave him a dollar. This memory was sparked by an entry a few days ago on the Blues For Redboy blog, one of my favorites. Red Boy had posted the Casual-Aires version of (What's The Word)Thunderbird (Brunswick) along with a record I've never heard before, and now want very much-- Thunderbird Twist by the Thunderbirds on the Delta label, from here in NYC, year unknown to me. Great record, I hope you agree. And I hope Redboy doesn't mind my borrowing his copy for my blog (feel free to lift anything from this blog for your page, R.B.). There's a lot of good versions of Thunderbird, and a lot of good songs called Thunderbird that ain't the (What's The Word) Thunderbird tune that sparked the ignition in my brain that led to this blogeration. For those who don't know, Thunderbird is a fortified wine much preferred by degenerates and alcoholics everywhere. I drank a lot of this shit hanging out at the Seminole reservation next to where I grew up in Florida when I was a teen. My liver still hurts from it....well, my liver hurts because I have hepatitis C and cirrhosis, but the memory of Thunderbird, and Night Train (see the October posting All Aboard....The Night Train) and Mad Dog 20/20 bring back memories of some truly foul hangovers. These wines are created for one reason-- fast inebriation, and they have been celebrated in song for just that reason. Shall we proceed to the vinyl? My favorite version of Thunder Bird is by Hal Paige & the Whalers, a fine New York based R&B stomping outfit who recorded excellent sides for Atlantic and Fury as well as this one on the Bronx based J&S label (which originally issued Johnnie & Joe's Over The Mountain, Across The Sea before Chess picked it up). It's a raw, crude, fast paced rocker with the classic lines-- "what's the word?/thunderbird, where do you cop?/ beauty shop, what's the price?/ cut it twice" giving it cross audience appeal (alkies and dope fiends). It was covered on Mercury by tenor sax honkin' man Red Prysock, retitled What's The Word? Thunderbird! The label dates it to Oct. 11, 1957. The same tune shows up again, missing the dope references on the Roselawn label by the Thunder Rocks, this time titled What's The Word in version that is pure guitar rock'n'roll. West coast guitar great Rene Hall cut a tune called Thunderbird for Specialty that is a completely different song, but still a great record. That's Plas Johnson on the tenor sax and Earl Palmer beating out the drums. Hall is one of the most under rated guitarists (and arrangers) in rock'n'roll history and is a subject I will get around to writing about one of these days. Blues man Little Walter Jacobs knew from shitty wine, it killed him at age 32, and he too used the Thunder Bird title for one of his greatest Checker sides. It was the b-side of his second biggest hit-- My Babe, and it's classic Little Walter all the way with his saxophone like tone soaring over Fred Below's always propulsive drumming. That's Robert Jr. Lockwood on lead guitar. It was issued in January of 1955. Sonny Burgess, the great Sun rockabilly singer mastered the art of sounding inebriated on such killer discs as Red Headed Woman b/w We Wanna Boogie (Sun 247, 1956), and Ain't Got A Thing b/w Restless (Sun 253, 1957). Oddly enough, like Elvis he was a teetotaler. Sam Phillips couldn't get a hit with Burgess' magnificent voice, so in the wake of the mega smash Raunchy he tried Burgess out as an instrumental artist issuing his tune called Thunderbird backed with the slow groove Itchy (Sun 304, 1958). Much confusion has ensued over the years since virtually every copy pressed had the labels reversed! The fast song is Thunderbird. Itchy is the slow, Link Wray style side. Issued under Burgess' name, it's something of an early supergroup with Billy Lee Riley providing the harmonica and Charlie Rich tickling the ivories. James Van Eaton who played on all the Jerry Lee Lewis and Billy Lee Riley Sun sides is on the drums. He was one of the great unsung heroes of Sun Records (dig the way he propels Jerry Lee on his early Sun discs). That's Sonny's autograph on the label pictured above, he signed it when he came out to my radio show in the early nineties. Sonny's a heck of a nice man, and one of the greatest rockers of all, in my opinion. On the Ermine label is a group called the Thunderbirds who are almost certainly not the guys performing the Thunderbird Twist heard above, but this oddball instro-mental-- Stalkin' The Thunderbird was issued in 1962 and that's about all I can tell you about it. In this era of economic collapse I'm sure we're going to see a lot less Cristal and a lot more Thunderbird in the alcoholic intake of musicians, and while it may be vile tasting stuff, it surely inspires better music than fine champagne. This I know is true. ADDENDUM TO YESTERDAY'S POST: Comedy writer/producer/archivist and all around genius Eddie Gorodetsky sent a version of Thunderbird by Slim Gaillaird from a Dot LP which I've never heard before and it's so incredible I just had to add it. Check out these lyrics: "What's the word/Thunderbird/what's price?/thirty twice/what's the flavor?/Ask your neighbor/what's the reaction?/Satisfaction/Who drinks the most?/Us colored folks!" Talk about having a way with words! Thanks Eddie, you're the best. And thank you Slim Gaillard in heaven-a-roonie.
ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM: Reader KevanA pointed out that I used to play the Nitecaps (of Wine Wine Wine fame) version of Thunderbird on my radio show quite often. That version, which is great, slipped my mind when I was writing the above. It can be found here. Thanks Kev....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Phil Spector Trial- A few thoughts....

A few thoughts on Phil Spector, currently incarcerated awaiting sentencing for second degree murder charges: * You Lost That Lovin' Feelin' is one of the worst rock'n'roll records ever made. * Spector's best record is this one-- Oh Baby issued on the Annette label under the name of Harvey & Doc with the Dwellers (Doc being Doc Pomus). * His best group, the Sleepwalkers never recorded. I can't remember where I read it, but I do remember an interview with Kim Fowley where he recalls their only gig, a band, dressed in 40's Noir/gangster garb (Phil on lead guitar), takes the stage in trench coats and blows the audience away with a Link Wray/Peter Gunn type spooky rock'n'roll sound. The other members include Steve Douglas and Sandy Nelson, then members of Kip Tyler & the Flips who where occasionally managed by Phil's soon to be institutionalized sister Shirley. * Having seen Phil pull a gun on somebody once (at Doc's funeral), I'm fairly sure he pulled the trigger, although my guess is it was an accident and manslaughter would have been a more fitting charge. No doubt Phil rejected a plea bargain to such charges. I also think Bruce Cutler bought off a juror in the first trial (my opinion, based on no facts, only that Cutler was caught doing it in one of John Gotti's trials). That said, prison life will not be easy for Phil, I hope he's under suicide watch 24/7. * A working girl friend of mine used to trick with Phil, after each meeting she'd come in the bar and quickly down 3-4 shots of tequila and then excuse herself and go to the ladies room and throw up. Her scatological stories were so vile even I don't feel like repeating them. * When it's all said and done, it's hard not to feel sorry for Phil. I feel even worse for Lana Clarkson (seen here doing her Little Richard impersonation from the Home Shopping Channel) and her family. Spector's lawyers attacking her obviously backfired with the jury (who could have found Phil guilty of involuntary manslaughter). They'll probably get stiffed on their fees, as Phil is broke. * Nick Tosches began working on a book about Spector several years back (even interviewing Spector's first wife Annette, who had never given an interview before), but he soon gave the project up. When I asked him about it he just shrugged. The subject just couldn't hold his interest long enough to write a book about it. Nik Cohn had a similar experience in the early seventies. Come to think of it, I've run out of things to say myself....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #8

Gee, but this is a fucked up photo, I'm not even sure what to say. The thing on the left, near the rear seems to have wandered in from a Diane Arbus shoot somewhere in the neighborhood, the lady with the balloons, lord only knows, the sad ass queen on the right, probably a bank president. My guess it this was taken in New Orleans, Lundi Gras night (the night before Fat Tuesday when the all the most decedent balls are happening). I can remember coming into my own joint at six a.m. and finding some of the ugliest and most vile human couplings imaginable, right there in the bar, post- AIDS. Of course, this could just as well have be in New York, Wichita, or Gila Bend, Arizona. Anyone wanna guess?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Guitar Slim

"... suddenly a wave of humanity come washing over the street-- kids, men, women, and couriers. "Here comes Slim! Slim's on the way!" A fleet of three red Cadillacs pulls up, and here's the man himself, emerging in a bower of red-robed beauties, dressed to match the Caddies, plus a retinue of courtiers, janissaries, mountebanks, and tumblers. "Need to change into my singing pants, gents," says Slim. The small hall fills to bursting with his excited public, so when he finally appears, we urge Slim to get rid of the rooters, needless distractions. Slim nods gravely, plugs in his trademark hundred foot long guitar cord (an accessory that allows him to roam the streets outside the clubs he plays, corralling customers) and invites his sidemen to kick off the blues in B-flat. The cats vamp as Slim circles the room, addressing each of his admirers one by one, saying/singing how he hates to see them leave. But leave they do-- except for the ladies in red, the most pulchritudinous of whom identifies herself as a shake dancer scooped up by him in Vegas only last month. "You know that thousand dollar advance you gave him?" she asks. "Sure" I answer "Well, I got it all", she winks, her face a portrait in dimples. "At three hundred a week". But by then Slim's already getting down, singing the blues and picking up a storm on guitar." --- Jerry Wexler, Rhythm and the Blues (Knopf, 1993) Guitar Slim's The Things I Used To Do (Specialty, 1954) is one of my all time favorite records. The way the guitar riff rises and falls, it sounds like ole Slim's heart is heaving and sighing. The sound of his guitar, with its wirey, distorted edge, sounds like some type of bird being strangled, or perhaps a yelping dog sinking in quicksand. But you know how those pulchritudinous women can make you feel, especially when they're trying to impress the janassaries and mountebanks. It can just plum get a man down. The Things I Used To Do was the best selling blues record of the year 1954 and spent six weeks at #1 on Billboard's R&B charts. Ray Charles played piano on it and some say did the arrangement, you can hear him exclaim"yeah" in the stop before the song's finale. Guitar Slim was born Eddie Lee Jones in Greenwood, Mississippi, on December 10, 1926. He never knew his father, his mother died when he was six. He was sent to live with his grandmother on a plantation in Hollandale, Mississippi where he picked cotton and plowed behind mules. Staring up a mules ass all day would make anyone desire a posse of janassaries and pulchritudinous shake dancers to say nothing of the tumblers. His first musical experience was singing in church on Sunday mornings, but soon Saturday night came to his attention. Little Eddie began hanging around the local juke joint where he fell under the spell of guitarist Robert Nighthawk (Robert Lee McCoy, see Nov. posting on him). Young Eddie Lee's first instrument was piano and he was playing boogie woogie and blues, sometimes behind his hero Nighthawk, as a teenager. He hooked up with a guitarist named Johnny Long together they played a few jukes, picking up a coin or two, maybe a fish sandwich if they got lucky. Eddie married in 1944 and was drafted shortly afterwards. Eddie Lee Jones served in the Pacific theater, defeated the Japanese and was duly discharged in 1946. He was back in Hollandale working at a cotton press that same year. He hung around for eighteen months and then left Mississippi and his wife for good. Where he was for the ensuing year and half only the pulchritudinous women know but he was sighted working as a dancer in Willie Warren's group in Lake Village, Arkansas. It was Warren who taught Slim to play guitar and after achieving proficiency on six strings, Jones headed for New Orleans to begin his career in earnest. Renamed Guitar Slim, he put together a band with Huey "Piano" Smith and was soon playing at the legendary Dew Drop Inn, making his formal debut there on August 26, 1950 sandwiched in between a female impersonator (Bobby Marchan, lead singer of Huey Smith & the Clowns was employed there in such a capacity) and, what else? Of course, a shake dancer. Musically, Slim had discovered a new musical role model in Texas powerhouse guitar player Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, whose hits on the Peacock label like Boogie Rambler, My Time's Expensive, and Boogie Uproar featured a fairly explosive guitar style. Like T-Bone Walker he played clean, single string leads, but was more explosive, more demonstrative. Where T-Bone playing was cool and breezy, Gatemouth's style was red hot and burning. Remind me to blogerate about Gatemouth's Peacock sides sometime. Guitar Slim would never develop Gatemouth Brown's chops, but he would more than make up for it in enthusiasm and wildness.
Sometime in 1951 he cut his first discs, four tunes recorded for Imperial, issued on two 78's which went nowhere. He made another record in '52 for Bullet Records in Nashville-- Feelin' Sad, a blues that only hinted at what was to come (Feelin' Sad would later be covered by Ray Charles on the Ray Sings The Blues LP for Atlantic in '59). Johnny Vincent, then working as a talent scout and producer for Art Rupe's L.A. based Specialty Records signed Slim in 1953. His first session, held in New Orleans at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studio (the place that recorded more great rock'n'roll records than even the fabled Sun Studio in Memphis) on October 23, of that year saw Slim fronting a band of first call New Orleans session players- Earl Palmer on drums, Lee Allen and Alvin Tyler on saxophones, Frank Field on bass and the aforementioned Ray Charles on piano. From this session the Things I Used To Do emerged. It took dozens of takes to nail the master, since overdubbing was impossible on J&M's primitive recording gear and everytime Slim would play a great solo he'd stop the take and say-- "Did you hear that?" or "Listen to that!". Ray Charles' audible "yeah" at the end of the tune came from relief at having finally gotten through a take, not emotional enthusiasm. An excited Johnny Vincent quickly shipped the masters to L.A. for Rupe to issue. Art Rupe, who would become one of the most important record men in history (recording, amongst others Little Richard, Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams, Willie Joe & his Unitar, et al), in a rare show of bad taste thought The Things I Used To Do was the worst piece of shit he had ever heard. Legend has him using those exact words-- worst piece of shit he ever heard. Still, he released the record so as not to hurt Vincent's feelings (that part of the story I don't quite buy, Rupe wasn't the type to waste money on a person's feelings, but that is how Johnny Vincent told the story and Rupe never disputed it, at least not in any interview I've read). The Things I Used To Do was a smash and Specialty would record Guitar Slim several more times, issuing a total of eight singles between 1954-56, although none would come close to matching the sales of The Things I Used To Do. Still, Guitar Slim waxed some incredible sounds while at Specialty-- The Story Of My Life might be the single most depraved blues guitar solo ever recorded, or at very least one of 'em*. It was a record Frank Zappa often name dropped in interviews, telling clueless rock writers "if you've never heard The Story Of My Life by Guitar Slim you haven't lived". Specialty wouldn't issue an LP on Guitar Slim until 1970, and later in the CD era virtually every outtake in it's vaults would find their way to plastic, including this little false start and studio chatter included version of I Got Sumpin' For You Baby which gives us a glimpse of Slim at work in the studio. Some highlights from these years -- Well I Done Got Over, Trouble Don't Last, the rocker Guitar Slim, Quicksand, Think It Over, Twenty Five Lies, and Reap What You Sow. On these tunes you can hear the church that Slim left behind in his voice, in his guitar playing we hear the future coming too fast and furious to make sense of. In fact in those days Guitar Slim couldn't find an amp loud enough so he'd plug into the P.A. head direct and turn it to the maximum setting. Unable to match his initial hit, Guitar Slim and Specialty Records parted ways in 1956. Atlantic picked him up and recorded him for its Atco subsidiary, but either the fire was burning dim or Wexler and Ertegun didn't know how to get the best out of him because the sides he cut for Atco are decidedly mediocre compared to the Specialty recordings, although as a fan of the poultry in blues form I've always liked this rather stupid chicken rocker--- The Cackle, an outtake which didn't escape until the 1980's. Slim and Atlantic soon went their separate ways, he would never record again. Guitar Slim was still a popular live attraction, and gigs are how musicians make their money. Guitar Slim always gave the crowd their money's worth, and usually more. He would enter from the rear of the club, being carried in on the shoulders of his bearers, playing his guitar (with the one hundred foot long cord) as they hefted him through the adoring crowd and deposited him on the bandstand. He would solo his way off the bandstand and into the street, sometimes stopping traffic. Here's a great story: Somewhere in Texas, Gatemouth Brown, T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton and Slim, all on the same show which was billed as "The Battle of the Guitar Players". Slim enters the dressing room and announces-- "Gentlemen, we have the finest guitar players in the country all gathered here tonight, but by the end of the night, ain't nobody's s gonna even know any of you was here". His showmanship was such that he knew he could steal the show even from such guitar acrobats as T-Bone Walker and his hero Gatemouth Brown. Slim lived and drank as hard as he sang and played, and by 1959 he started missing shows (Earl King was often called in to substitute, even touring as a fake Guitar Slim), or would show up too sick to play, and on February 7, 1959, before a scheduled appearance at New York's Apollo Theater (he was one of the few blues man who was popular with the sophisticated Harlem audience), Slim's liver and lungs gave out. A year earlier a doctor had told him if he didn't quit drinking he'd soon be dead, a warning that fell on deaf (and probably ringing) ears. Eddie Lee "Guitar Slim" Jones died in New York City at the Cecil Hotel in Harlem. 118th Street, the same street my grandmother grew up on (although she lived on the east side in what was then the Italian section, now mostly Hispanic, the Cecil was on the west side). Slim was 32 years old. Unlike the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper four days earlier, Guitar Slim's death brought no display of public grieving, no bio pic was ever made, and thank God, nobody ever wrote an allegorical song about it. He never gave an interview, was never filmed or recorded live. In this day of portable recording devices on every cell phone may I bemoan the fact that no live recording-- audio or visual, of Guitar Slim has ever been found. Damn shame, too. I guess we're lucky he ever got recorded at all. * I can think of only four that come close-- Young John Watson's Space Guitar on Federal, Clarence Holliman's solo on Bobby Blue Bland's It's My Life, Baby on Duke, and Ike Turner's whammy bar workout on Billy Gayles' No Coming Back also on Federal. If we count records that weren't issued until long after they were recorded, and why not, we can include Pat Hare's I'm Gonna Murder My Baby, recorded for Sun but un-issued until the 70's. Oddly enough all these were recorded between 1953-6, over a decade before distortion pedals were invented.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

William Lindsay Gresham

William L. Gresham's Nightmare Alley (1947) is that rarest of all beasts, a great book that became a great movie. A hard boiled noir set in a traveling carnival, it's main character Stan Carlisle, a hustler turned spiritualist, may be the most cynical character in American popular culture. Tyrone Power played him well-- oily, unctuous, not quite likable, it's easily Power's most memorable role (full credits can be found here) Nightmare Alley was written by William Lindsay Gresham, who was born in Baltimore in 1909, raised in Brooklyn, New York, and wrote only five books in his lifetime. Largely forgotten today, Gresham deserves to be remembered as one of America's best low life chroniclers. There's not a whole helluva lot of info on Gresham's life. Growing up in Brooklyn he was fascinated by the Coney Island sideshows (which are still there, probably the last in the world). He worked there as a kid and may have traveled with a show as a young man. Like all good young leftist would be writers of the era, he volunteered and served as a medic on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War (see George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia, 1952, for an excellent look at that war from a volunteer medic's viewpoint). Returning to the U.S. he went to work as an editor for various pulp mags, many of which he contributed short stories to, and published his first novel Nightmare Alley in 1947. Nightmare Alley was well received on publication and would eventually go through dozens of paperback editions. It's still the easiest of his books to find today and was included in the Library of America Crime Novels of the 1930 and 40's collection in 1998 along side classic works by James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Edward Anderson, and Cornell Woolrich (edited by Robert Polito, this is one of the Library of America's best collections and worth searching out). The movie was released the same year, directed by Edmund Goulding, it would later become a staple of late night TV and is considered a film noir classic. Gresham was an alcoholic and a mean drunk and today is better remembered for being an abusive husband to poet Joy Davidman, his first wife, who would leave him for C.F. Lewis before dying of cancer, a chain of events used for the basis of the Richard Attenborough's film Shadowland (1993), than as a writer. After Davidman left him he quickly married her cousin Rene Rodriguez. The above card which reads "You Would Rather Die Than Face Truth" was something he carried in his wallet for many years, I bought it from the same guy who sold me his insurance card (also above). In the same sale of Gresham artifacts Nick Tosches ended up with the original Tarot deck whose cards are reproduced as chapter headings in the original, hard back edition of Nightmare Alley. Gresham's drinking kept him from being able to capitalize on his initial success and he often found himself drying out in the nuthouse. This setting would provide the material for his second (and final) novel Limbo Tower which appeared in 1949. Set in the mental ward at a New York hospital, it didn't sell and no movie was made from it. It's easy to see why Limbo Tower, fine as it is, didn't find an audience. Limbo Tower is a relentlessly grim book, and I like grim books but grim is not a selling point. It had none of Nightmare Alley's color and a double dose of its cynicism. It's commercial failure hit Gresham hard and he would spend the next ten years on an extended bender, supporting himself by writing stories for pulp mags for quick cash, and not much of it. His final three books were all non-fiction. In 1954 Gresham revisited the world of traveling shows with the wonderful Monster Midway, another look at the world of freaks, hustlers, and all manner of sideshow flotsam and cretins that road shows attract. It's first chapter is a glossary of carny lingo. The characters are sketches of real show folk Gresham knew. Although hard to find, Monster Midway is well worth looking for, I'm sort of amazed it's been out of print since the mid-50's. Gresham would publish two more books-- a quickie bio of Harry Houdini-- Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls (1959) and a book on bodybuilding: The Book Of Strength: Body Building The Safe and Correct Way (1962) written as he was dying in a shabby, rented room at a time when he could barely lift a toothbrush never mind a barbell. Although Gresham joined A.A. and quit drinking a year or two before his death, he had already ruined his health and once sober, Gresham deteriorated rapidly. First he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, then cancer which resulted in having part of his tongue amputated, finally he started going blind. With nothing but poverty, darkness, and a painful death in his future, Gresham checked into a cheap SRO hotel in Times Square and took an overdose of sleeping pills, killing himself. His exit was nearly as bleak as the end of Nightmare Alley itself ("'s only until we get a real geek...").
His death received almost no attention, as a writer he was long forgotten. The only obituary he got was in the bridge column of the New York Times (although that final factoid comes from the notoriously unreliable Winkapedia so don't hold me to its accuracy, I'm feeling a bit lazy this morning). I'm no literary critic, but I do like to read, so for those of you out there that have never read Gresham or have never seen the movie Nightmare Alley (which after years of legal problems with producer George Jessel's estate is back in the regular late night rotation on the Fox Movie Channel and is readily available on dvd) here's something I think you're really gonna like. Step right this way...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gillians Found Photo #7

This week's found photo-- date and place unknown. It's a Polaroid, faded to a lovely jaundice. I like the way the fellow on the right is cuddling his bottle like it's a baby. Can anyone tell what type of hootch it is? His eyes come right out of a Wynonie Harris song ("your eyes look like two cherries/in a glass of buttermilk"). His breath seems to seep right through time, you can almost smell the booze breathe. The child in pigtails seems like she's knows something that the adults will never figure out. She's almost haunting. Where and when is this is from? What are they celebrating? It's any one's guess.

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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