Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gillian Hills

Top: Beat Girl, classic UK bad girl flick, Demons Of The Mind: her film swansong.
With Jane Birkin, In Blow-Up
Gillian Hills was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1944 to English parents, she was raised in Paris where she was discovered by, but of course, Roger Vadim, who obviously spotted her resemblance to Brigitte Bardot, his first real meal ticket (he'd go on to discover Jane Fonda and Catherine Deneuve). After landing a small part in Vadim's Les Liaisons Dangereuses (starring Jeanne Moreau) she began a second career, cutting records in what's now called the Ye-Ye Girl style and later recorded some U.K. style pop in the style of Marianne Faithful/Lulu/Cilla Black, etc. including this one which I like quite a bit-- Tomorrow Is Another Day which appeared on Barclay in '65. . Her real career was as an actress where she made a huge impression with her second movie (and first English language flick) Beat Girl where she plays a spoiled, delinquent, brat with a pout that rivals Bardot. She later showed up in two classic and ground breaking three way sex scenes, the first in Antonioni's Blow Up (1966) where she appears with Jane Birkin, the other in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), she's the girl with the Popsicle that droogie Alex picks up in the record store along with her pal. Most of her acting work was in France, or on U.K. television, although she put in a memorable appearence in the cheesy horror flick Demons Of The Mind (1972), one of her last roles. She gave up acting in 1975, moved to New York City and started her third career, this time as a book illustrator. Still, Beat Girl, remains along with Val Guest's Expresso Bongo (1959) one of my favorite British rock'n'roll flicks, and I can't imagine anyone else in the title role, she was perfect. Whatever she's doing today, I hope Gillian Hills is having a great time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tony Fruscella

Tony Fruscella, a name from the sharkskin underground of the 1950's. Born in 1927, he was raised in a nun's orphanage in New Jersey. Little Tony was given a trumpet at age fifteen and supposedly played at Carnegie Hall the same year as part of a concert for gifted classical students. He was drafted into the U.S. Army at age eighteen upon his discharge he headed for New York City, and a career in jazz. In the early fifties he worked with Lester Young, Stan Getz, and Gerry Mulligan (appearing with Mulligan at Newport in '54). He led his own band at Open Door, a club on the south side of Washington Square Park, playing in a style that marked the middle point between be-bop and the coming sound of "cool" as embodied by Miles Davis around the same time. Is hard bop still a word? This is, well, not soft bop, but certainly soft focus bop. Jazz always had too many hyphens anyway. Fruscella's not always skillful playing is something of a precursor to Chet Baker and other west coast musicians who would rise to jazz stardom at the end of the fifties. As a leader Fruscella recorded for tiny labels like Century (1948), Xanadu (1952) and cut his an LP for Atlantic in '55 (maybe the rarest LP on the label). Then there's this live set, from the aforementioned Open Door, recorded in '53, originally issued on the Spotlight label in the early 70's. The vibe of this late night recording is incredible. You can actually hear him nod off (and bang the bell of his horn into the microphone) at one point. The chatter from the stage leaves little to the imagination, there's some dope action going on, which provides the aural subtext for A Night At The Open Door which this LP is titled. This could be the soundtrack to Sweet Smell Of Success
if it starred Sonny Tufts and Vic Tayback instead of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster.
Yet Fruscella was more than a white boy trying to be a hepster jazz man, his playing shows real sensitivity and depth. His take on the standard Lover Man is classic, and moving. One of the few versions to reference Charlie Parker's mid-nervous breakdown
recording of the same number. From the set starter Bernie's Tune (a Lieber-Stoller number), the Diz/Bird exotica classic A Night In Tunisia, Lester Young's Blue Lester, Monk's Hackensack and the standard Imagination are the highlights, there's also a nice reading of Jackie McClean's Donna and a very bluesy, extended stab at Sometimes I'm Happy. The other musicians are fairly obscure-- Brew Moore-- tenor sax (who I've never heard of but does a pretty good impression of later day Lester Young on Sometimes I'm Happy), Bill Triglia-- piano, Teddy Kotnick-- bass and Art Mardigan-- drums. They're competent enough, but Fruscella is certainly the star of the show. By the end of the fifties Fruscella's dope habit and alcoholism had ended his career in music, he would die in 1969 from a cardiac arrest and cirrhosis of the liver. Fruscella was not a genius, he was not Bird or Miles, but for one hour, one night in '53, up there on the bandstand, somewhere between a nod and rush, he captured some magic, and this record remains, for me, more than just a curiosity of narcotica-ephemera, it's actually one of my favorite jazz albums of that era, and I probably listen to it more than really great jazz records (i.e. I can't remember the last time I played an Ornette Coleman record, and I've got at least a dozen of them), which may say more about me than Tony Fruscella. Bob Quine turned me onto this one very early on in our friendship, when I was still trying to develop an ear for jazz, he certainly understood my taste (or lack there of). While it may not be Kind Of Blue, Tony Fruscella- A Night At The Open Door has an allure all it's own that has little to do with musical innovation, it has a soul that is unique, and that makes it something special.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Orson Welles- It's All True

If you've never seen the footage from Orson Welles' lost South American movie,
It's All True this footage is a must see. RKO pulled the plug when they found out that Welles was shooting mostly native fishermen and black samba clubs in the favela, a part of Brazil neither RKO nor the Brazilian government much wanted publicized. I bring up the subject only because I finally finished reading Orson Welles:Hello Americans (Simon Callow, Viking, 1997), the second volume of what will eventually be a three part biography of the Welles, and as good a book on the subject as we're likely to ever see. This volume begins with the filming of the Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and ends after his 1948 screen version of Macbeth. Despite taking in only six years of his career, it's quite a read. It's been sitting in the pile of unread books for almost a decade, now that I've finally gotten around to reading it I had to go back and look at this footage again, discovered in the early 90's and lovingly re-assembled by Bill Krohn and Myron Meisel, I remember TCM running it in 1993, it might have even played the at the Film Forum here in NYC if I remember correctly. Another example of what could have been. Also worth keeping an eye out for is F Is For Fake, Welles' 1974 documentary about art forger Elmyr and scam artist Clifford Irving (who faked Howard Hughes' autobiography), it's in regular rotation on the Ovation channel, your best bet is to tape it so you can fast forward through the longest and worst commercials in TV history.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #20

Even I'm at a loss for comment about the Fang's contribution this week. A masked debutante Satanist ball? The hand signals alone seem to point in that direction. Who are these women and what are they doing? Who dressed them like that and why? And what is that gesture they're making with their right paws? Year and place unknown, but I can't help but notice that my birthday, May 23rd is on the board in the back for a scheduled assembly. Perhaps they were gathered together to herald my coming to earth? Rather unlikely. Then again May 24 is also on the schedule, birthday of both Bob Dylan and Sun Ra, maybe it's a birthday party for the both of them....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk: Oct. 1944

Coleman Hawkins, whose 1939 version of Body and Soul would forever define the sound of the tenor saxophone, not only in jazz but in all music, is one of the most profoundly important musicians of the 20th century. And one of the most rightly heralded, he even got his own stamp. But in the conventional wisdom that is often the lie that becomes truth, most especially in telling the story of American music, he is often remembered as a traditionalist. As the star of the Fletcher Henderson band, we hear the sad tale of his replacement-- Lester Young. Henderson's wife would constantly play Hawkins records whenever Prez was around, in hopes that Prez would start to play more like Hawkins (aka Bean). Hawkins played with a fat tone, plenty of vibrato, and a gutsy sound. Lester Young of course founded his own school of playing, with a light, vibrato-less tone, in the airy upper register he often sounded like he was playing an alto sax, and soon Henderson shipped his ass back to Kansas City where he could play the way he liked as the star of the up and coming Count Basie band. This has little to do with Hawkins himself, who was always a forward looking (and playing) musician, and if he never bothered attempting to use Lester Young's harmonic innovations in his own playing, he certainly appreciated them. He once burned out the motor of a brand new car to make a jam session with Young that was hundreds of miles away. Hawkins did use the innovations of musicians who would come in Young (and Art Tatum's) wake to create what would be called be-bop. In fact, the very first session that employed these young "bop" musicians would be recorded under Hawkins guise. On Feb. 16, 1944 Hawkins cut a session for the Apollo label using Dizzie Gillespie, Leo Parker and Max Roach, it would be the first waxing of the new music that would cause such a rift in the jazz world. Eight months later (Oct. 11, 1944), Bean who was then working on 52nd St. brought his small band in the studio for the Joe Davis label to cut four tunes. It would be the first session for the already legendary pianist and composer Thelonious Monk who played piano on these sides along with Edward Robinson on bass and Denzil Best on drums. These four tunes, sometimes used to fill out various Prestige compilation CD's, are in my mind one of the greatest jazz sessions of the era, a pivotal moment where through the music the listener can look (or hear) the future of jazz, or just kick back and say-- "How come music doesn't sound this good anymore"? Monk was already well known amongst fellow musicians, holding down the piano chair at the jam sessions at Mintons (see the Charlie Christian posting), and his songs were beginning to make the rounds, but he was considered too weird, too eccentric for listeners to get, and work was hard to come by for the young Monk. Coleman Hawkins recognized his talents and hired him for his first downtown gig on 52nd Street. And brought him into the studio for the session that is our subject for today. The most striking thing about these recordings are how much Monk sounds, well, just like Monk. His style is fully developed, listen to the intro on Drifting On A Reed, it could have been recorded at virtually any time in Monk's career, he emerged with his style fully formed (there are many musicians, to this day, who think Monk was a crappy pianist, including my pal Mathew Shipp, one of the finest players in the world today, who once told me he couldn't stand to hear Monk play piano). On the same tune we hear Hawkins incorporate the new ideas into his sound with an ease that is hard to describe. He never changed his style either, but he never stopped growing, he had huge ears, he could take inspiration for anywhere, and he had huge ideas, and the talent to turn them into jazz. Flying Hawk, the only uptempo number recorded, gives Monk plenty of space. On The Bean catches Hawkins in a swinging mood, he gives Monk a short solo in the middle eight, and responds to Monk's quirkish chording with authority and ease. Recollections, a ballad, captures everything Hawkins did best, his lyricism, his soulfulness, and his technique (the double stop triplets on the first solo) all come together for a two and half minute piece of mood sculpture, I can just imagine coming in out of the rain and fog to a half empty club on 52nd St. to be met with that sound wafting through the doorway, as if to say-- you're in the right place. 52nd St isn't there anymore. Well, there's a 52nd St, but every building that housed a jazz joint has been bulldozed and replaced by ugly, modern high rise office buildings and hotels. Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk are long gone, no one could ever replace them. And jazz, like R&B and rock'n'roll is something that used to be great, it exists, but modern audiences are too dumb to understand it, too lazy to develop on ear for it. It's safe to say the best of it it is long gone, and we'll never see anything like what happened in American music in the 2oth Century again....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #19

It's that ape again! See Gillian's Found Photo #3 (March 9, 2009) for the original appearance of Zip in the pages of the Houndblog. Zip, according to Red Boy was a character on the Howdy Doody television show, of which I have few memories of (born in '59, I only remember Howdy himself and Clarabelle). Anyway, the two non-simeon's look like they just stepped out of a late 40's road noir like They Live By Night or Gun Crazy (recently retitled Deadly Is The Female for Lord knows what reason, why change the title of a movie sixty years later?). Then again, the guy looks a bit like Boston cult leader/record collector/musician Mel Lyman , but I don't think it's him. What do you think is in her cup? My guess is a coffee/Benzedrine combination.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Little Walter B.C. (before Checker)

Little Walter (Marion Walter Jacobs, b. 1930 in Marksville, Louisiana) was a monster. The bulk of his recorded output was for the Chicago based Chess Records' Checker subsidiary and should be one of the building blocks for any good record collection. No other blues instrumentalist so completely changed the sound of their instrument (with the arguable exception of T-Bone Walker), making the harmonica into both an effective lead and rhythm instrument, using amplification and echo, not to mention the chromatic harp to expand it's vocabulary in a dozen different directions. But the subject of Little Walter is too large and complex to take on here, besides I have little to add to the excellent and definitive biography of Little Walter-- Blues With A Feeling: The Little Walter Story (Routledge, 2002) by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines, a volume that anyone who cares about the subject should invest in. No, today's subject is one session, eight songs, recorded by Little Walter and guitarist/vocalists/drummer Baby Faced Leroy along with their boss Muddy Waters in January of 1950 for the Parkway label, four 78 rpm singles were issued, three on Parkway and one on Regent (later re-issued on Savoy), two each billed to Baby Face Leroy Trio and Little Walter Trio. Walter had already recorded once for the Ora Nelle label in 1947, and was a member of Muddy Waters' group (known around Chicago as Muddy Waters' Drunk-Ass Band), but Leonard Chess, who had found his first success with Muddy, recording him solo with just guitar and stand up bass on the hit Rollin' Stone b/w Feel Like Goin' Home, refused to record Muddy with his band in the studio, and chomping at the bit for some exposure of their own, Baby Face Leroy and Little Walter (who had arrived in Chicago together and played without Muddy on Maxwell Street most Sunday mornings, in violation of Musician Union rules) showed up at the door of the new Parkway label, run by record distributor Monroe Passis, with Muddy in tow, to record what would be one of the high water marks of Chicago blues. Given Parkway's numbering system it's a bit hard to figure out the order that these discs were issued, not that it matters. Parkway 104 might have been the first-- issued as Baby Faced Leroy Trio-- Boll Weevil b/w Red Headed Woman is a crude slice of country blues sung by Leroy who also keeps time on the bass drum. Walter is present on harmonica, Muddy on guitar, and there has been much speculation over the years if the second guitar heard is Jimmy Rogers, the guitarist in Muddy's working band, or Baby Face Leroy playing guitar along with the bass drum simultaneously. Either way, it's a fine record, much rougher around the edges than anything Chess would have issued. Parkway 501 also issued under Baby Face Leroy's name was not only the best of what was recorded that January afternoon, but in my estimation one of the two greatest electric blues sides of the fifties Chicago style (the other-- Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' At Midnight b/w How Many More Years was oddly enough recorded in Memphis for Sam Phillips and leased to Chess in '51). Rollin' and Tumblin' pt.1 b/w Rollin' and Tumblin' pt. 2 features Muddy's scraping slide guitar and Little Walter's percussive harp playing, riding over a relentless drum beat from Leroy's foot. The a-side, which is an adaptation of the tune recorded in 1929 by Hambone Willie Newbern, find Leroy's vocal, part chant, part song, answered by Muddy's wordless humming as it builds like a voodoo ceremony. By pt. 2 the words have all but vanished and Leroy and Muddy are simply moanin' and wailin' away wordlessly as musical stew boils over into a mind numbing froth. Jungle music indeed. When word got back to Leonard Chess that Muddy had recorded this tune for another label, Chess got right on the case and had Muddy in the studio to re-record the song and kill the smaller label version. Unfortunately, Chess forgot to have Muddy bring Little Walter and Baby Face Leroy with him, and the re-recorded version is nowhere near as good as the Parkway original. If you were going to pare your record collection down to a dozen or so discs, this is one that would make the cut. Parkway 502 was billed to Little Walter Trio and the a-side-- Just Keep Lovin' Her a remake of the same tune that Walter had recorded for Chance in 1947 at his second session. This version is better than the Chance recording, an upbeat blues with Walter's vocal and harmonica just starting to show the authority he would wield so effortlessly in the next decade of recording. The b-side however-- Moonshine Blues I find more interesting for the first appearance on record of Little Walter's guitar playing. That's Walter playing lead, with a distorted, nasty edge to his sound. Muddy's guitar can be heard underneath, holding the proceedings together. Walter really was a hell of a guitar player (he thought himself much superior to Muddy, whose playing he considered crude and old fashioned according to Glover, Dirks and Gaines). There's a hint of Guitar Slim in his attack. The final two sides from that day, also issued under the moniker Little Walter Trio-- Muskadine Blues b/w Bad Acting Woman appeared on as Regent 3296, on the New Jersey label that acquired the masters to satisfy a debt. Regent would soon itself be acquired by Savoy, the jazz-gospel-R&B indie out of Newark, N.J. run by the ignoble Herman Lubinsky, the least liked record man of his day. Both sides of this platter are dominated by Little Walter's guitar playing. Muskadine Blues is the Robert Lockwood tune-- Take A Little Walk With Me, a tune many think to have been penned by Robert Johnson, one of two so called "lost tunes" that Johnson never got around to recording (the other was also eventually recorded and credited to Lockwood-- Little Boy Blue). Walter doesn't hold back much on the guitar, taking the solos in a crude, overboard fashion that sounds great over Muddy's slide playing. Bad Acting Woman seems to pick up exactly where Muskadine ends, and again it's a side so primitive it's unlikely that Chess would have issued it. In fact the entire session probably would have been shelved by Chess, which prided itself in well recorded, well played blues records. Many critics have written about these recordings, singling out Rollin' and Tumblin' as a masterpiece and writing off the other sides as mere curiosities, and many have criticized Walter's guitar playing as inept.Going back to Glover, Dirks and Gaines again, their opinion is that Walter's guitar playing is "functional if not particularly noteworthy...if nothing else, the session makes it obvious where his real talent lies" (i.e. playing the harmonica). I beg to differ, I think Little Walter was a unique and interesting guitarist, once again, it's hard to get away from the word crude, but in blues crude is good, no one listens to blues to hear slick (except idiots), and I think these sides (readily available on the Delmark CD The Blues World Of Little Walter which is rounded out by excellent early and obscure sides by J.B. Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim) are as worthy of a listen as anything he later recorded for Checker, and Little Walter's Checker output was of a very high standard indeed. But it's a different side of Little Walter, not the sharkskin suited musical visionary whose Checker recordings still sound futuristic and modern, but the rough and tumble kid who slept on pool tables and hustled for spare change on the streets of Chicago's Jewtown. It's the best look at early Little Walter we have, and it's the next best thing to having been there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Small Faces

Nothing to say this week, been sick and don't really feel like writing, but since I've been reading Simon Spence's Immediate (Black Dog Publishing), an excellent look at Andrew Oldham's UK label, I started looking at these Small Faces clips that I'd book marked over a year ago. Some excellent footage of a great band that here in America were basically a one hit wonder (Itchycoo Park). I don't think they ever toured here, and certainly were rare to see on TV. The top clip is lip sychned but nice to see in color and with the added presence of ex-Ikette P.P. Arnold (First Cut Is The Deepest). The German Beat Club clips are killer, even though I've never liked Sha-La-La-La-Lee much (neither did they, Steve Marriot refused to sing it live after 1966). I like how their instruments look so huge (because they were so tiny). Tiny or not, they packed a punch. I recommend you find the BBC sessions (look here and notice the pw for unstuffing is mud) which make a great addition to their studio sides which I assume everyone has already.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #18

Etheyl Mae here is showing off her new guitar, a Christmas present according to the scribble on the back of the photo. Date and place unknown. Someplace snowy for you blind readers. I love this photo, for no particular reason. Perhaps it's the proto-mullet hair-do? Do you think she became a country singer or a rocker?

Friday, July 10, 2009

JB Lenoir

JB Lenoir (the JB doesn't stand for anything, the last name pronounced len-Or), was born in Monticello, Mississippi, March 5, 1929. Sometimes his name was spelled Lenore on record labels. He spent some time in New Orleans, where he picked up guitar tips from Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, and played with Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and Elmore James. He moved to Chicago in 1949 and was mentored by Big Bill Broonzy. Playing the clubs in Chicago he came to the attention of some small labels, on his first session he was backed by Snooky Pryor on harp, Sunnyland Slim on piano and Eddie Taylor on guitar, the two songs recorded -- In The Evening and Please Don't Go Away were issued on the Negro Rhythm label on an LP that appeared in 1950 and is incredibly rare.
The same year he recorded a session for Joe Brown's tiny, JOB label, the results which were leased out to Chess who issued them in 1950. One of these -- Korea Blues was a minor hit. He recorded sides for JOB in 51-52, then moved to Al Benson's Parrot label in 1954 where he recorded another minor hit-- I'm In Korea b/w Eisenhower Blues, giving him a reputation of something of an early "protest" singer, although the summation of his "protest" songs were the aforementioned two tunes, he wouldn't bother with such material for another decade. His next Parrot single--Mama Talk To Your Daughter b/w Man Watch Your Woman came out in October of 1954 and showed some signs of real genius. The a-side was a mid-tempo rocker that featured J.B. Brown (from Elmore James' Broomdusters) blaring, out of tune saxophone, while JB's guitar solo, heard almost near the end of the song is one of the most incredible things I've ever heard. He simply thwonks the same chord exactly twenty times in a row with no variation in tone or timing, then plays a short turn-around. Brilliant! The first time I heard it, it made me laugh out loud. It's rare to hear a musician with a sense of humor in their playing. His next Parrot session produced a sound alike single- Mama, Your Daughter's Going To Miss Me b/w What Have I Done, along with the wonderful Give Me One More Shot which would later appear on a Chess LP. His final Parrot disc--Fine Girls b/w I Lost My Baby appeared in late '55, the same year he was signed by the Chess brothers to their Checker label. His first Checker single which was issued at the end of '56 was a real winner-- Don't Touch My Head b/w I've Been Down So Long. The a-side is one of the best protest songs ever written about a hair-do ("Don't touch my head/cause I just got a bad process"). When I Am Drinking, one of his best booze tunes was also recorded at this session although it sat in the vault until issued in the 70's. Checker issued two more singles with Lenoir-- (Mama) What About Your Daughter b/w Five Long Years ('56) and over a year later Daddy Talk To Your Son b/w I Don't Know. Both a-sides are re-writes of Mama, Talk To Your Daughter, but not quite as good. Chess didn't issue most of what they recorded on Lenoir until the 1970s when they issued a two record set of his best recordings (here scroll down, the URL and password are in the comments section). Sides like Voodoo Boogie and JB's Rock are solid blues rockers and would have sounded great on 78 RPM blasting out of juke boxes but these discs would go un-heard until after JB's death. By the end of the 50's, Chess cut him loose. For most artists, their time on Chess was the high spot of the career both musically and commercially, but Lenoir was just coming into his own.
After leaving Chess he recorded a single in 1959 for Shad-- Louella b/w Back Door, and another for Vee Jay in 1960, the rocker Do What I Say b/w Oh Baby, an interesting attempt at re-writing Ray Charles' What'd I Say. JB Lenoir really starts developing his unique sound with an unusual session for USA in 1962 billed to JB Lenoir and His African Hunch Rhythm which produced the incredible I Sing 'Em The Way I Feel b/w I Feel So Good. The African inflected rhythm section added another dimension to his music, with the primitive drumming on I Sing 'Em The Way I Feel, he pioneered a sound that the rest of the world would eventually know under the marketing moniker of "world beat". This sound was familiar in the Mississippi hill country for two hundred years, maybe more, and would sound familiar to anyone who has heard the music of Otha Turner or Sid Hemphill, men who carried on the tradition of African-American fife and drum music (Turner playing well into the 21st century). Where Lenoir first heard it is anyone's guess.
As the "folk blues" world began providing better paying work for musicians deemed "folk" by white college students, JB traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic, and got a record deal with Polydor's Crusade subsidiary for whom he cut two LP's, the first Vietnam Blues is an attempt to market Lenoir as a "protest singer" to the folk audience, the second LP JB Lenoir (re-issued as Born Dead and Down In Mississippi) is something of a minor masterpiece. Issued in '66, this discs shows Lenoir really getting into his "African Hunch rhythm", a fact belayed by the name of his publishing company-- Ghana Music. His guitar playing is full of subtlety, deceptively simple and effective. Like Jimmy Reed his playing was both percussive and hypnotic. Even the move to acoustic guitar didn't remove his edge. This is the album that really gave the white college audience it's first glimpse of JB Lenoir. From that LP, there are some re-makes of earlier material-- Feel So Good, Mojo Boogie, Talk To Your Daughter, Feelin' Good, as well as newer tunes like Down In Mississippi, Born Dead, and If I Get Lucky. This record also foreshadows the sound of Ali Toure Faraka, the guitarist from Mali who was influenced by John Lee Hooker. Sadly, it would be his last recording session. JB Lenoir's career was slowly but surely moving forward, each record deal was with a larger, better distributed company, and he had toured Europe in 1965 where he was developing a good following. John Mayall had become something of a mentor for him in the U.K. giving him great cache with blues fans. Things were looking good for JB Lenoir career wise, the white blues audience was just starting to develop in the U.S. and he was in excellent field position to capitalize on the situation. Unfortunately a 1967 car accident killed him, he was only 38 when he died. In the years after his death, virtually every session he ever recorded, alternate takes and all would eventually become available around the world, kicked off by the Checker LP Natural Man in 68 and the aforementioned two disc set from Chess in '72. The Checker, Parrot and JOB sides are easier to find (on re-issue CD) now than when he was alive. Two interesting pieces of JB Lenoir ephemera also surfaced in recent years. First is the short film made in the early 60's by photographer Peter Amft, a Swedish fan who made a brief color film on JB in his Zebra striped jacket (second from bottom), this was later included in the Wim Wenders part of the stupid PBS TV documentary Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues (which included Tom Jones but didn't mention Jimmy Reed, although I must admit prejudice since the book that was released to cash in on the TV show carried an article I wrote but was never paid for, ripped off by the bug-eyed freak Holly Warren whose name is on the contract that she had no intention of honoring). Another interesting recording was issued in 2003 on the obscure Fuel label, it was from a tape made in 1963 at a small club called Nina's Lounge in Chicago and features JB Lenoir playing live to a tiny crowd (the CD's eighteen tunes are split between Lenoir, Sunnyland Slim and JohnLee Granderson with a teenage Mike Bloomfield).Some highlights are I Want To Know, I Had My Touble, Louise, and Mojo Boogie, all done pretty much solo, and he sounds great. There just aren't many live recordings of the great blues men in their prime, so this one is quite a find. Notice how his guitar sounds exactly like it does on the Parrot and Checker singles. Had he lived, JB Lenoir would have no doubt developed a larger (white) following and maybe even made a few bucks. It was not to be. There just wasn't many happy endings for blues singers.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Billy Lee Riley

Billy Lee Riley ... one of the remaining original Sun Records artists, Is in VERY bad need of help! Billy has had his share of health problems, and is now battling Stage FOUR bone cancer. Although musicares is helping with house payment, car and such, He and Joyce are totally out of money and can barely afford to eat. This is a CALL FOR HELP to all musicians and fans. Please remember, twenty bucks from all of us would make a HUGE difference in Billy's life! What if this was you? Let's all get together and send something today to Billy and Joyce and show them that he means alot to us. If you have a website, a facebook or myspace, please post this need for help on it! We can't save the world, but it will mean alot in Billy Lee's life! His Address is: Billy Lee Riley 723 Crest Drive Jonesboro, Arkansas 72401 The above was re-printed from Rockabilly Hall Of Fame site. Billy Lee Riley's Flyin' Saucers Rock and Roll was one of the first rockabilly 45's I ever heard, it totally changed my life. Some of his other classic Sun 45's were Red Hot (this is an alternate take), and his first record, one of my very favorites-- Rock With Me Baby b/w Trouble Bound. I saw him play at the Circle Bar Christmas Party in 2003 and he was incredible. If anyone of these old guys had the whole package to make it, it was Billy Lee Riley, unfortunately Sam Phillips only had the money to promote a couple of artists, so he chose Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, leaving Riley on the back burner. He managed to stay in music as a session man, then gradually staged a comeback and was a big draw on the international rockabilly circuit. Give the poor fella a hand.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Brian Jones

Brian, on a prospecting mission. John Lennon reads the shocking news. Brian At the Mellotron.
Rare sleeve.
Final resting place, Cheltenham. Dressed to kill..... Brian and Anita, the perfect couple....  
After the Beatles came the Stones and of the Stones one could never have ignored Brian Jones with his puffed up Pisces, all-knowing, all suffering fish eyes, his incredible clothes, those magnificent scarves, Brian always ahead of style, perfect Brian. How could Brian have asthma, a psychological disease (we're told) and certainly something strange for a member of a rock and roll group. We read in interviews that Brian saw himself as the original lead Stone, a position he held until their American tour singled out Mick for the honor in the hearts of the American female.
Can you remember 1964 when the Stones were called homosexual for long hair? (Were you?) Brian with two fourteen year old girls draped on each arm, must have laughed. And yet, the center of attention was drifting. In a group the attention may be evenly distributed (we all knew and loved John, Paul, George and Ringo) but in the Stones it was to be Mick. Now normally in a group an instrumentalist can never overshadow a lead singer (Exception: The Yardbirds where Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page did just that to poor Keith Relf). In the Stones there was Mick, the pivotal center. Charlie and Bill were for gourmets. That left Keith and Brian. Lead guitar always beats rhythm guitar for popularity, so that left Brian, who one assumes therefore turned to more and more exotic instruments to establish his presence to both himself and others. This is what I'm worth. Let me see you play the damn thing....but the great mass looked to Mick not Brian to be their leader through this Fall From Grace. And how can you take that? "But I started the thing," you might say. "It was my records in the first place, I turned them on, must I be a damn singer to turn on the world?" Yes, Or the champion of the guitar.
Then, of course, there are more problems, the drug arrests, the constant mental turmoil. What if they tour without me? Financial. Could I starve? (He died well in debt). If they play without me I shall be disgraced and have nothing where as if I leave and strike out on my own I'm out before they get me (how sad! how inevitable!), and I create my own myth, style, voice, the eyes will be on me, I have a future, there's so much I know, music, music, music, who would know it from THAT, I can do it, I have to do it, I will do it.
And of course the disorientation, am I backwards, forwards, the asthma attack (I am going to choke), the fall (where is the pool?!) and everything settles like a quiet bubble coming in spurts and then thin streams until finally the last one has popped itself right out of earthly existence.
-- Lou Reed excerpt from Fallen Knights and Fallen Ladies from the book Nobody Waved Goodbye (a casualty report on rock and roll) edited by Robert Somma, Fusion Books, 1971.
Not a mention in the press, upstaged by Jacko mania, does any one care anymore? July 3 was forty years since Brian Jones died, pulled out his swimming pool, "death by misadventure" it said on the paperwork. Asthma attack? Murdered by a thug laborer? Just got too damn loaded? Does it matter? Brian Jones was not built to last, he was never meant to be an old man. Had he lived, what would he have been?
As a non-singer, non-writer, his options were limited. If Brian handled fame badly, he certainly would have handled the lack of it worse. He could never have lived the life of Mick Taylor, whom most of us wouldn't recognize if he was sitting on the next bar stool. An old Brian? A fat Brian? A bald Brian? It could never have been. Mick may look like Don Knotts these days and Keith could adorn an iodine bottle, but Brian is etched in our memory, forever young, forever perfect. Of course he was an asshole, what rock star isn't? A monster even, what kind of cretin would hit a woman? Blacken beautiful Anita's mysterious eyes. Unthinkable.
But we forgive him even that, he left us a lot, he left us the Stones. It's hard to fathom that in the five short years Brian was in the Rolling Stones just how much great music they made. Depending on if you count the UK or US version (I'm still astounded the UK versions of most Stones LP's have never been re-issued, since they're much better)
they recorded either eight or ten albums, non counting the 45's and b-sides that never made it to LP. Brian's last performance with the Stones-- No Expectations was in '68, they no longer needed him once they got through their extremely under rated psychedelic phase. Everyone wanted to play with the Stones from Gene Pitney to Phil Spector to Al Kooper, it was easy to find players to fill out the recordings, not so easy for Brian to find something to replace the Stones in his life. We've all seen Godard's One Plus One with an out of it Brian attempting to make himself useful. "What can I play?", "What can you play?" Mick retorts, even his musicianship has failed him. He stopped showing up for sessions about that time. By Let It Bleed Keith had mastered the slide, with a few tuning tips from Ry Cooder (I find it hilarious when Cooder claims the Stones ripped off his riffs, he stole 'em from Blind Willie Johnson). Brian was no longer needed, and more trouble than he was worth. It was the era of the superstar lead guitarist and "Clapton Is God", a role Keith could have filled if he wanted to, but he chose to move into Brian's role-- rhythm and slide, and they brought in a hotshot young lead player, with the prerequisite John Mayall resume. Mick Taylor couldn't play rhythm guitar to shave his wife, listen to Get Your Ya-Ya's Out, when Keith takes a solo (Sympathy For The Devil, Little Queenie) the rhythm falls out. But rhythm guitar was the perfect place for Keith to drive from. Ron Asheton told me when the Stones were rehearsing in the next studio down from the Stooges only Charlie, Keith and Mick Jagger rehearsed, as long as Charlie followed Keith, the rest would fall in place. Poor Brian.
One thing that is rarely discussed is how good the Stones were at making records, they took to the studio like a preacher to a Cadillac and while the Keith was basically in charge in the studio, Brian's contributions are undeniable, whether it was as the world's greatest rhythm guitarist (The Last Time, Not Fade Away, Mona), or harmonica player (Spider & the Fly) or slide player (I Wanna Be Your Man) the early Stones records couldn't have been without him. As they moved into pop and psychedelia, Brian became the ultimate utility man-- Aftermath, Flowers, Between The Buttons (was Miss Amanda Jones about him?), Satanic Majesties Request are full of his flourishes-- the synth playing on Please Go Home, the sitar on Paint It Black and Mother's Little Helper, marimbas on Out Of Time, recorder on Ruby Tuesday and Citadel, mellotron on 2000 Light Years From Home, clarinet on She's A Rainbow. He knew just what to play, and what not to play. Listen to this alternate take of the basic track to Satisfaction. It was said Brian hated the song, and often would play the riff to "I'm Popeye The Sailor-Man" (no one could hear 'em over the screams at that point anyway), but listen to how he and Keith lock together-- perfect. Or Empty Heart, the greatest tune they never played live. Sloppy, out of tune and wonderful. Some rarities: Down In The Bottom (Chess version)-- Brian on slide!, Key To The Highway (another Chess outtake), Crackin' Up, Fanny Mae (BBC), Diddley Daddy, I Wanna Be Loved, Road Runner (these three from their 1963 demo), I Know (this is actually a Metamorphosis era Mick and Keith outtake, but I really like it and it's hard to find, Brian's probably not even on it). I was ten when Brian died, I'll always remember where I was when I heard the news (at the beach). He was the first person I would ever miss. I still miss him. Brian Jones, forty years gone, and we're still wondering about him. As John Ford said-- He was expendable.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pete "Guitar" Lewis

Pete "Guitar" Lewis, far right with the Johnny Otis Show, early 50's
Our subject today: Pete "Guitar" Lewis, is another man of mystery. A brilliant guitar player whose style could be primitive and aggressive or subtle and jazzy, he sounded like himself and no one else. His sound is immediately recognizable, his touch was immaculate, and today, nobody except his one time boss Johnny Otis even remembers that he even existed.
Lewis was discovered by Johnny Otis at amateur night at the Club Alabam which Otis was the co-owner of, and was soon added to the Johnny Otis Show, appearing on all their recordings from 1951-55. Virtually all of his recordings (except his last) where done under Johnny Otis' tutelage, and when he left Otis' group in 1955 he returned to obscurity. We know he was born somewhere in the South, and that he died in L.A. in the early 70's, where and when he was born are unknown at this time. With Otis he made his mark in a big way, appearing on all his Regent/Savoy recordings, his guitar is featured most prominently on Harlem Nocturne, Boogie Guitar, and Hangover Blues, as well as sides for Peacock (Shake It being the best), and Mercury (more on those later). Working for Otis, who was then doing A&R and producing for Don Robey's Peacock label, he backed up Johnny Ace and Big Mama Thorton-- whose first session produced Hound Dog, Walking Blues, Nightmare and Hard Times, tunes which all feature Lewis' guitar front and center. Lieber and Stoller remember the original arrangment of Hound Dog being written around a riff that Lewis developed in the studio. He was recorded as a leader for Federal, eight titles recorded over two sessions in 1952 resulted in these four singles: Louisiana Hop b/w Crying With The Rising Sun, Raggedy Blues b/w Harmonica Boogie, The Blast b/w Chocolate Porkchop Man and Ooh, It's Midnight b/w Scratchin'. Peacock recorded him a year later and issued one single-- Goin' Crazy b/w Back Door Troubles (this one is so rare I've been looking for it for twenty years and still haven't seen a copy).
Perhaps the highlight of his career came when the Johnny Otis Show recorded a session for Mercury with the great tenor man Ben Webster, the Duke Ellington alumni
responsible for countless great jazz sides. The four song session includes two tunes where Pete Lewis trades off riffs with Webster-- One Nighter Blues and Goomp Blues,
stunning performances (the other tunes cut that day in '51-- three takes of Stardust,
Basie's One O'Clock Jump and a goofy novelty tunes called Oopy Doo don't have guitar solos). One might imagine that this session was a chance for Lewis to really prove himself as a musician, one able to hold his ground with the best of 'em, and Ben Webster was certainly the best of 'em. Listen to their exchange on One Nighter Blues-- Webster's warm fog of a tone sounds so good pitted against Lewis' jagged, distorted blues riffing. It's a shame they didn't record more together, or that this trend didn't catch on. Had this record been a hit, Lord knows what sax-guitar duets we might have seen-- Lester Young and Guitar Slim? Charlie Parker and Gatemouth Brown? The mind boggles. But it was not to be, it was an experiment whose time had not yet come, and we wouldn't hear anything remotely like it until Miles Davis' A Tribute To Jack Johnson eighteen years later (fans of peculiar jazz/rock fusion and/or guitar-sax duels might want to check out Albert Ayler's Drudgery where he jams out the blues with Henry Vestine of the Gamblers (Moondawg/LSD-25) and Canned Heat fame, a most perverse piece of trash which I love) .
Otis also recorded him for his own Dig label with Get Away From Here, a track that was un-issued until the 90's. He appears on other Johnny Otis Dig recordings like Midnight Creeper, Ali Baba's Boogie, and Groove Juice and Country Boogie, released under Preston Love's name. In late 1955 he left Johnny Otis after an argument (his replacement was Jimmy Nolen who was later replaced by Otis' son Shuggie Otis), Lewis recorded only one more time, backing up Willie Egan on the Vita label, he can be heard on the rocker Come On. From there, who knows? Johnny Otis said the last time he saw Pete Lewis was during the Watts riots in the summer of '66, he was a wino on the street. He hadn't worked in music in years. There ya go, another great one, lost to time, except for the incredible recordings he made. Pete "Guitar" Lewis was a monster.
ADDENDUM TO TODAY'S POST: Barry Soltz checked in to remind me of a great Pete Lewis solo that I forgot about--- Little Esther with the Dominoes on Federal-- The Deacon's Movin' In, and also that Ben Webster and Pete Lewis play together on Little Esther's Better Beware (also on Federal, I didn't realize that was Ben Webster)--- thanks Barry.

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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