Monday, November 30, 2009

In fact, most blues wailing...Obscure rarities

Or should that be rare obscurities? Either way, a glance at Ebay will tell you these little buggers are getting quite pricey, which takes a lot of the fun out of collecting records. What we have today are five great records by five little known artists, all can be classified in the genre that collectors now call Black Rockers, a classification given its baptism in the recently published second edition of Tom Lincoln and Dick Blackburn's Guide To Rockabilly and Rock'n'Roll 45 RPMs (so you know I'm not makin' it up). This begs the question, just what is a Black Rocker? What makes one record a Black Rocker and another an upbeat blues record or a fast paced R&B record? I honestly couldn't tell you, although I think the influence of Little Richard would surely be one of the marks of a Black Rocker. So whatever you want to classify these five rare discs, they're all long time favorites of mine, and I thought, this being the dreaded holiday season, I'd share them with you, dear reader.
Piano pounder Freddie Hall came from Chicago where he cut a single for Chance in '54 backed by Little Walter's Aces (sans Walter) and didn't record again until 1959 when he cut this crude rocker-- She's An Upsetter b/w I Love This Carrying On for C.J., the first and best of three 45's he'd wax for that tiny label. Ike Perkins guitar playing is especially noteworthy on this one. On his next disc (Little Baby's Rock, C.J. 602) the band would be dubbed the Night Rockers, cuz that's exactly what the were. Oddly enough, in the latest edition of Blues Records 1943-1970 the personal on this record are listed as unknown. One look at the label tells us who the personal were, they're names are printed right there on the label! Someone should write in a correction, I'm way to lazy to get around to it. Anyway, the a-side bears a strange musical resemblance to the Cochran Brothers' Tired & Sleepy (Ekko, 1957), while the b-side is perhaps the crudest Muddy Waters cop ever recorded. A double sided winner.
Not much is known about Square Walton but his first session for RCA, back in 1953 produced two killer singles-- my preference is for the first, Bad Hangover b/w Fishtail Blues, although the follow up-- Pepper Headed Woman b/w Gimme Your Bankroll is also great (I still need a 45 of that one if anyone's selling or trading, my 78 RPM copy has seen better days). These sides feature the feral guitar playing of Mickey Baker as well as Sonny Terry on harmonica and were produced by Leroy Kirkland who was involved in more records than even the most crazed collector could count. Square Walton recorded one more session for RCA in '54, another four sides were cut, again with Mickey Baker on guitar, but none these sides were released. I know nothing about Square Walton and have never even seen a photo of him. Maybe for the best, perhaps he was ugly? I do know he was not Mercy Dee Walton (of One Room Country Shack fame) nor was he Jesse James Walton who recorded for HiQ although he is often mistaken for one or the other.
Alexander "Papa" Lightfoot recorded for Peacock in '49 (one of the rarest singles of all time), Sultan in 1950, Aladdin in '52, and Imperial in '54 (including an earlier, cruder, version of Mean Old Train) before arriving at Savoy who recorded him in Atlanta in 1955 with Edwin "Guitar Red" Maire's band. Both sides-- Mean Old Train b/w Wildfire, the only tunes from that session to see the light of vinyl are wild, distorted harmonica rockers. The a-side a vocal, the b-side an instrumental. Both are first class blues wailers. He wouldn't record again until 1969 when he cut an LP for Vault. Papa Lightfoot never made a bad record. If you ever run into those old Imperial Rural Blues/Legendary Masters LP's that Bear Hite compiled in the late 60's, Papa Lightfoot's Aladdin and Imperial recordings (including the un-issued stuff) are on volumes 2 and 3.
Dennis "Long Man" Binder started out recording for Sam Phillips in '52 although nothing was issued from his one session at 706 Union Ave. He appeared briefly singing and playing piano with Ike Turner's King's Of Rhythm who backed him on his only Modern single- Early Times b/w I Miss You So, two more songs from that 1954 session would later surface, one (Nobody Wants Me) on the great Ike Rocks The Blues (Crown) LP, the other on an Ace CD that appeared in the nineties. Here, on his only disc on Chicago's United label-- The Long Man b/w I'm A Lover, issued in 1955, he's backed by another guy named Guitar Red, Vincent Duling in this case (there are at least three Guitar Red's I know of), as well as Al Smith on bass, the man who produced all of Jimmy Reed's greatest discs. Two more tunes from the session would eventually be issued on Delmark. Binder would record one more record time, for the ultra obscure Cottonwood label out of Clovis, New Mexico in '59 (She's Sumpin' Else b/w
Crawdad Song), then disappear forever.
Our final selection is yet another mystery artist. Joe McCoy cut two singles for the New York based Tiara label in '58. Tiara was the label that released the Shirelles first two singles, before they went on to a stunning string of hits on Sceptor. Anyway, Hey Hey Loretta b/w Too Much Goin' On was McCoy's first and best single for the label, although his second-- Dizzy Little Girl is quite good. No one seems to have a clue as to who Joe McCoy was, or even if he was black or white (me thinks he sounds black, others disagree). Either way, Hey Hey Loretta is a classic rockin' r&b stomper, with a rolling beat that sounds more New Orleans than Broadway. Too Much Goin' On get extra points for putting a UFO in the lyrics. You don't find many records as good as this one.
Classifications are for critics and egghead writers, the line between R&B, rock'n'roll and blues is often non-existant, which is why I chose these five records as they all seem to illustrate my point. The moral of the story being, forget the classifications, records come in two types-- good and bad, and that's all you need to know*.
* I once stopped into a pub in London that was a Teddy Boy hang out and overheard a conversation about what "proper rock'n'roll" was that nearly ended in a knife fight!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sonny Burgess

Sonny Burgess around the time of Red Headed Woman.
Sonny Burgess & the Pacers onstage, 1956.
One of the greatest debuts in history, notice autograph.
Toned down, but still rockin'.
His final single for Sam Phillips, on the Phillips subsidiary, 1960.
"Sonny Burgess is a performer who gives me chills whenever I hear him, he was deserving of much more than I was able to give him". - Sam C. Phillips
Albert Austin "Sonny" Burgess was born May 28, 1931, a Gemini, like me. He was hatched in the countryside outside of Newport, Arkansas, served in the Army (1951-3) and upon his discharge put together a band, called at various times the Rocky Road Ramblers, the Moonlighters, and finally the Pacers. The Pacers played a rhythm and blues and boogie woogie influenced type of country music that would later be dubbed rockabilly. When he got wind of a small label in Memphis, a mere eighty miles east releasing discs by a greasy kid named Elvis Presley who played a similar style of hyped up hillbilly, the Pacers loaded up their station wagon and headed to Memphis where proprietor Sam C. Phillips immediately put them in the studio. In addition to Sonny Burgess on lead vocals and guitar, the original line up of the Pacers was Joe Lewis (guitar), John Ray Hubbard (upright bass), Russell Smith (drums), Ray Kennedy (piano) and Jack Nance (trumpet). They were quite unique, a quality that Phillips was in constant search of. First off was Burgess' voice, he was the bluesiest and blackest sounding of all the Sun rockabilly singers, and his delivery had a saxophone like quality-- sonorous and rich, and he played guitar in a wild, nearly out of control style, his amplifier overdriven to speaker busting distortion. Then there was Jack Nance. One doesn't think of trumpet as being an instrument suitable for rockabilly, but he sounded right in the Pacers, and his solos added a distinct party like atmosphere to their sound.
Their first session on May 2, 1956 produced one of the greatest 45 rpm records ever unleashed-- Red Headed Woman b/w We Wanna Boogie. The Pacers, who were known back in Newport for their wild stage show, sounded positively feral on disc. In fact, an alternate take of We Wanna Boogie was even more savage than the issued take. To most listeners they sounded drunk. Sam C. Phillips himself was known to take a nip now and again, as were many of his artists, and a bottle of Old Grandad was not alien to the studio at 706 Union Ave., but like Elvis, Sonny Burgess did not indulge in drink (probably why he was able to keep performing at such an intense level for over a half century), he just sounded like he did. Red Headed Woman, issued in August of '56, was a good size regional hit, doing especially well in the Memphis area and Sonny died his hair red, acquired a red Fender guitar, and a red suit, for his stage act. The Pacers were working all the time, Newport was especially active, being the only wet (a place were liquor could be sold legally) city in a dry county. Bob Neal, Elvis' first manager took over as Sonny's manger and The Pacers toured throughout the south and south west appearing on the bill with Bob Wills, Ray Price, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Marty Robbins, the Collins Kids, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Elvis Presley. Their stage act grew wilder, and they were noted for forming a human pyramid onstage, and all manner of antics with the string bass.
Sonny Burgess and the Pacers cut two more sessions for Phillips in 1956 (exact dates unknown), the second session was an attempt to re-record Red Headed Woman and We Wanna Boogie, but they couldn't match the versions laid down in May, while the third session (with Jack Nance and his rockin' trumpet missing) produced his next Sun 45-- Restless b/w Ain't Got A Thing a somewhat toned down affair compared to their debut, it was released in January of '57, the same week that Sun put out Bill Lee Riley's Flying Saucers Rock'n'Roll and Carl Perkins' Matchbox. Restless is the closest thing to a pop song Burgess released on Sun. A bluesy, romping tune that opens with Burgess whistling the melody, it even had a vocal group singing back up to attempt to soften his edges. The flip side, a call and response rocker that remains a favorite with rockabilly fans to this day is one of his best ever, the lyrics tell the story-- "I got crackers/ain't got no cheese/I got a woman/but she climbs trees". Pure genius. Again, it did well regionally but Phillips did not attempt to push the song any further.
The next session at Sun was May, 17, 1957, and none of the recorded titles were deemed worthy of release, although he cut a screaming version of the R&B classic Fannie Brown that was as good as anything ever recorded at 706 Union.
The Pacers weren't summoned back to the studio again until August 14, 1957 when they cut their next single-- My Bucket's Got A Hole In It b/w Sweet Misery. The a-side, a tune that probably pre-dates recording was originally waxed by jazzbo Charles Williams, and had been recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Hank Williams (Hanks' version is well worth hearing as it's one of the few discs that Hank plays a guitar solo on), and Burgess' rendition is one of the best. Unfortunately, it inspired a cover version by Ricky Nelson who waxed the tune for Imperial with James Burton on guitar, and Phillips knew he couldn't compete with Nelson's version for exposure since he sang every week on his family TV show (Ozzie & Harriet). What should have been Sonny Burgess and the Pacers' break through record was soon dead in the water. It didn't help matters that it was released (December '57) only days after Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls Of Fire which took up all of Sam Phillips payola money and promo man Judd Phillips' time. Also cut at the same session, but not issued until the eighties was one of his best blues rockers ever-- Daddy's Blues, a classic in any one's book and some think the Pacers finest recording.
Although he was a popular live attraction, it seems that Sam Phillips knew he had dropped the ball on Sonny Burgess, and with his attention directed at pushing the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, Sonny was pushed to the back burner. He wouldn't record again until July of '58. Although his crowning glory was his voice, producer Jack Clement who had taken over most of the studio duties at Sun, and was riding high on Bill Justis' instrumental smash Raunchy, decided that an instrumental might be just the thing to get Sonny Burgess on the charts. The Pacers stayed home when Sonny Burgess recorded that day and his next single-- Itchy b/w Thunderbird, consisted of two instrumental rockers, the a-side, a menacing Link Wray style stroll on which Sonny's vibrato drenched guitar was backed by Billy Lee Riley on harmonica, James Van Eaton on drums, Charlie Rich on piano and Clement himself on electric bass. The b-side was a fast paced guitar rocker, named for the wine that Sonny Burgess didn't drink. Much confusion has ensued over the years when a pressing plant screw up led most copies to be pressed with the labels reversed. Again, this disc never reached the charts.
No one's sure of the exact date of Sonny Burgess' final Sun session, but the single, issued on the Phillips subsidiary in early 1960-- Sadie's Back In Town b/w A Kiss Goodnight is another rockabilly classic, duck voice intro and all. As the decade changed so did the public's tastes,
and if Sonny Burgess was too raw for radio in 1956, by 1960, at the dawning of the Phili teen idol era, he had not a hope in hell to have a hit was a tune as raucous as Sadie's Back In Town. Anyway, Phillips was busy pushing Charlie Rich's Lonely Weekends, one of his last big hits.
Sadie's Back In Town remains Burgess' rarest Sun disc.
While Sun only issued five singles, they recorded tons of material on Sonny Burgess, with and without the Pacers, eventually the Charley label in England (which many think was a front for a Corsican mob money laundering operation) would release four LP's worth of goodies, now out of print, they have been superseded by Bear Family's double CD set Classic Recordings 1956-59, which includes nearly everything the Sonny Burgess recorded at Sun that you would want to hear. If you're a 45 purist, check out Norton Records Sun 45 series which includes some classic Burgess sides.
After leaving Sun, Sonny Burgess and the Pacers simply kept going. They recorded for smaller labels like Razorback, and played every dive, frat party and juke joint in the south. Of his post-Sun recordings, my favorite is something called The Flood Tapes, a collection of recordings done in Arkansas from 1960-64 and thought lost in a flood, they turned up when Sonny's mom cleaned out her basement in the early eighties. The Flood Tapes give a good idea of what the Pacers sounded like onstage at the time. Sonny Burgess made a living at music until 1971 when he finally took a day job which lasted for fifteen years. He came back in 1986, and he came back in style. The Sun Rhythm Section consisted of rockabilly legends Sonny Burgess, Paul Burlison, (guitars) Smoochie Smith (piano), Marcus Van Story (upright bass), Stan Kessler (electric bass) and James Van Eaton (drums, although sometimes D.J. Fontana appeared in his place). I caught them many times, and Sonny stole the show, both as lead singer and lead guitarist, every time I saw them. When the deaths of Van Story, Van Eaton and Kessler broke the group up, Burgess put the Pacers back together and continued to tour and record. I had him on my radio show in October of '92 and he proved to be a soft spoken, good humored, intelligent, southern gentleman of the old school variety. Self depreciating and good natured, I can't remember ever meeting a hero of mine that I liked more.
Since his re-emergence, he has recorded many LP's including one with ex-Blaster Dave Alvin and one produced by E Street Band bassist Gary Tallant. The last time I saw Sonny Burgess was around Christmas time, 2002, when Dr. Ike brought him into the Circle Bar in New Orleans for our Christmas Party, on a bill with Billy Lee Riley, and D.J. Fontana on drums. He still sounded great, singing and playing his ass off, he looks a good thirty years younger than his age.
And he's still out there. The Pacers played dozens of dates last year, from Arkansas to Spain. The Pacers are now the longest running show in rock'n'roll and if you want to book what might be the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world right now, you can book a gig via their website: The Legendary Pacers. The last of the rockabillies-- Sonny Burgess. God bless him.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nolan Strong & the Diablos

Nolan Strong today.
Nolan Strong & the Diablos onstage, mid-50's
Detail From Fortune Records Promo Poster.
Autographs done with felt tipped pens often smear.
NOLAN STRONG & THE DIABLOS, Nolan Strong, 2nd from right, Bob "Chico" Edward w/guitar.
Ethereal, there's no other word for the sound of Nolan Strong and the Diablos. They released twenty one singles and four and a half LP's for the Fortune label and while they never had a big, national hit, they were considered stars in their own hometown of Detroit where they were the primary influence on the young Smokey Robinson, amongst others. Best known for the original recording of The Wind (which is better known here in New York City from the Jesters' cover version), I would rate them as one of the greatest of all the rhythm and blues harmony groups.
The first thing that hits you is the high, reedy, sound of Nolan Strong's voice. You can hear the influence of Clyde McPhatter, star of the Dominoes and the Drifters, and also that of the Orioles' Sonny Til, but Strong's voice was higher, lighter, with a vulnerable quality that made him sound both emotionally fragile and somewhat mystical. On his best sides, Nolan Strong's voice cannot fail to send shivers up your spine. His inflections are subtle, his intonation perfect, his timing superb. The group's harmonies jell under Nolan's lead vocal perfectly, and under that is the raunchy, guitar dominated, greasy, stomp that was the distinct mark of the Fortune Records sound.
The Diablos formed at Detroit's Central High School around 1950, the original members being Nolan Strong (lead singer), Juan Guitierrez (tenor), Willie Hunter (baritone), Quentin Eubanks (bass) and Bob "Chico" Edwards on guitar. Eubanks was soon replaced by George Scott who himself left to join the Midnighters and was replaced by Jay Johnson (who leads the group to this day). Guitierrez was replaced by Nolan's brother Jimmy around '55 (the Strongs were first cousins to Barrett Strong of Money fame). Sometime around 1954 they auditioned for Jack and Devora Brown, proprietors of Fortune Records (and it's subsidiaries HiQ and Strate8) who immediately recorded them, releasing their first single An Old Fashioned Girl b/w Adios My Desert Love (Fortune 510) in 1954.
Fortune was a strange operation, a family run label, they recorded most of their sessions in the back of their Third Ave. storefront, and their crude recording techniques served their artists well. They started out recording hillbilly and polkas but soon moved into blues, R&B, rockabilly, rock'n'roll and later soul. They recorded John Lee Hooker, Dr. Ross, Andre Williams, the 5 Dollars, Johnny Powers, Eddie Kirkland, Nathaniel Mayer, and dozens of others. They may have made more great records than any other label, but the subject of Fortune deserves its own book, today I shall concentrate only on Nolan Strong & the Diablos, probably Fortune's most consistent act.
Adios, My Desert Love sold well enough around Detroit to warrant a second session and their second single-- The Wind b/w Baby, Be Mine (Fortune 511) became their biggest hit, calling card, and one of their greatest recordings. Ethereal, there's that word again, I can't get away from it. The Wind sounds as if some weird radio station picked up a signal from the moon and sent it earthbound on a gentle breeze. The Wind never made the national charts but it was a big seller in the mid-west, and although Fortune sometimes worked with larger labels (leasing Andre Williams' Bacon Fat to Epic, while Nathaniel Mayer's Village Of Love was distributed by United Artists), they would never make a deal for The Wind, or any other Diablos recording, depriving the group of what should have been their stepping stone to stardom.
1955 saw more Diablos releases on Fortune-- Route 16 (a re-write of Route 66) b/w Hold Me To Eternity (Fortune 514) started the year off with a bang, while their next disc-- Daddy Rocking Strong (a thinly veiled cover of Otis Blackwell's Daddy Rolling Stone) b/w Do You Remember What You Did Last Night (Fortune 516) kept up the momentum. They ended the year with The Way You Dog Me Around b/w Jump, Shake and Move (Fortune 516) which matched a ballad with their hardest rocker yet. Jump, Shake and Move was a whomping, blues stomper with a stinging guitar solo from Chico Edwards, and is one of their finest discs. Sales were solid but unspectacular, and Fortune followed it up within weeks with a double sided ballad-- You're The Only Girl Delores b/w You Are, Nolan Strong's name getting top billing for the first time. It was now early 1956 and the Diablos were now working constantly, playing the Madison Ballroom and Flame Show Bar in Detroit, and appearing at the Apollo in New York, the Uptown in Philadelphia, the Howard in Washington D.C., the Regal in Chicago, the Orchid Room in Kansas City as well as appearing on innumerable package shows.
And the flops kept coming. They released one more single in 1956, the rockin' Try Me One More Time b/w Teardrops From Heaven (Fortune 522) when Nolan Strong got his Greetings From Uncle Sam notice in the mail. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, and while the group kept working (brother Jimmy taking over the lead vocals), he could only record when on leave.
In 1957 Fortune issued only one Diablos disc-- Can't We Talk This Over b/w Mambo Of Love (Fortune 525). 1958 brought one of their hardest rockers-- My Heart Will Always Belong To You b/w For Old Time Sakes (529), their only release that year.
In 1959 Nolan Strong was discharged from the service and returned to the group full time, Fortune released two singles in a row to celebrate-- I Am With You b/w Goodbye Mathilda (Fortune 531) followed only weeks later by If I Can Be With You Tonight b/w the incredible I Want To Know (Fortune 523). By now the doo-wop revival was in full swing and The Wind was getting it's second wind, selling especially well on the east coast. Here's an alternate take for you alternate take fans.
Unfortunately, Fortune was never able to cash in, but they kept a steady stream of Diablos product coming, releasing the single--Since You Been Gone b/w What Are You Gonna Do (Fortune 536) and the first Diablos LP-- Fortune Of Hits, (they'd eventually release Fortune Of Hits Vol. 2, Mind Over Matter, The Diablos versus The 5 Dollars (with one side devoted to each group) and finally in 1983 Daddy Rock, an LP with a good percentage of un-issued material including this alternate take of I Wanna Know that may just be their greatest moment.
On the same LP are a cappella versions of Daddy Rocking Strong (called Daddy Nolan Strong) and Jump Shake and Move. These outtakes just hint at what treasures might be on the original master tapes. Speaking of outtakes this un-issued version of The Way You Dog Me turned up on a bootleg in the nineties.
Nolan Strong and the Diablos again came close to having a hit in 1962 with the soul shaker Mind Over Matter (which the Temptations covered doing biz as the Pirates) b/w Beside You (Fortune 546) , but again, Fortune's resources were limited and without national distribution it failed to move outside the Detroit area. One wonders why Mind Over Matter wasn't handed over to UA to distribute, since UA had done pretty well with Nathaniel Mayer's Village Of Love the same year. The Diablos covered Village Of Love on one of their last releases, Fortune 563.
Fortune issued one or two Diablos singles every year into the mid-sixties, the best, and strangest being Fortune 569-- Ali Oochie b/w You're Not Good Looking (But You're Presentable). Most of the Diablos material came from either the pen of Nolan Strong or Devora Brown, and both sides of Fortune 569 were Devora Brown originals. The a-side, is a strange, novelty rocker about a genie, it's pretty cool, but it's the b-side, that for shear perversity makes you shake your head in wonder. I mean, what kind of person would sing a love song to a girl and tell her-- "You're not good looking, but you're presentable"?
Fortune Records was always, in its own way, an extension of Jack and Devora Brown's peculiar world view, they produced every session, and their unique stamp is on virtually every record. They ran the label together until a 1980 car accident left Jack an invalid, and after that Devora took charge until her own passing in the early nineties. Their oddball ways extended from the studio to the way they ran their business, which is probably why they had so few hits.
By the mid-sixties, locked into a contract with Fortune, it became obvious to Nolan Strong that his career would never take off. At one point, while playing an oldies show in New Jersey he and the Diablos were recorded a cappella in a hotel room singing standards like Rockin' Robin and Old McDonald. This hotel recording was eventually released on Relic as the Velvet Angels, and the subject became practically an obsession with Devora Brown. When I interviewed her in the late eighties, no matter what question I asked, her answer would eventually lead back to how Nolan betrayed her and the industry ripped her off by releasing the Velvet Angels, a record that couldn't have sold more than a few hundred copies at best. Her paranoia grew to the point that when Fortune issued its final two LP's-- Daddy Rock and Andre Williams' JailBait LP in '83, she refused to wholesale them to anyone.
Nolan Strong, knowing his chance for stardom had passed started drinking heavily, eventually he passed away in February of 1977 (his brother Jimmy had died in 1970), he was only 43 years old. The Browns would never let Nolan Strong out of the contract he had signed as a teenager, and this must have been a bitter pill for him when he saw his friends and neighbors topping the charts over at Motown, who would have signed Strong in a second if they could have. The Browns (their children took over the label when Devora died) never leased the Fortune masters to another label nor did they make the transition to CD's, losing what could have been a considerable payday as collectors worldwide discovered the wonders of their incredible catalog. They were constantly raising the asking price, at one point they wanted thirty million, the same price Berry Gordy got from MCA for Motown. Once they made a deal with the U.K. Ace label to re-issue their catalog, only to back out at the last minute. Their prudence became their loss when a bootlegger from Boston (who had served time for kiddie porn) simply bootlegged the entire catalog on CD (these are the Regency CD's that flooded the collector's market over the last fifteen years). With the advent of file sharing, the Fortune catalog has lost most of the value it might have had, and because of the Browns paranoia we may never hear the un-issued material, or even the released stuff in decent sound quality taken from the original master tapes. The tapes themselves now seem to be partially lost, some in California, some in Michigan, the result of the younger generation of Browns arguing over their ownership. Hopefully the Fortune masters will surface someday. If Norton, Ace or Bear Family could work out a deal, we would finally see a re-issue program worthy of the catalog, but I wouldn't hold my breath. A few years ago the building on Detroit's Third Ave. that housed Fortune was knocked down, today it's an empty lot. Jay Johnson leads a group called Nolan Strong's Diablos and they appear at doo wop oldies shows every once and awhile. The rest of the original group have passed away. But the Diablos recordings are still here, whether you find 'em on bootleg CD's or original 45's and 78's, Nolan Strong's voice, wavering, timeless, as though it's been out there in the universe for ever, just waiting, ...ethereal.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gillian's Found Photo #28

I'm not sure what scares me most about the Fang's contribution this week, the look on the woman's face, her wig, or the bruise on her right thigh. It is certainly a haunting image, any way you look at it. Date and place unknown (anyone want to take a guess), but if I had to take a guess, I'd say this Polaroid was taken in a cheesy motel outside of Reno around 1963.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tony Joe White

At the very first Ponderosa Stomp (I don't even think it was called the Ponderosa Stomp yet, it might have been called the Knights Of The Mau Mau Ball), held at the Circle Bar in New Orleans (size: 750 square feet) Dr. Ike brought in, among dozens of other greats (Howard Tate, R.L. Burnside, Paul Burlison, Tousaint McCall, et al) Tony Joe White. I'd never seen him live but have always loved his records. He showed up with just a drummer, his guitar and a harmonica on a rack-- Jimmy Reed style, and he blew what was left of my mind. He could play all the parts on his records--- horns, strings, multiple guitar lines, etc. all on his guitar, just using his fingers (no pick). He just sat there and rocked, never looking at the crowd. He'll always be best known for Polk Salad Annie, I Got A Thing About You Baby, and Rainy Night In Georgia, the first two better known by Elvis' versions, the latter by Brook Benton.
From around '69 to '71 the music industry was hyping something called "swamp rock": Creedence, Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Joe White, Dr. John, Joe South, and others were thrown into this marketing category. Even the Ventures, ever the bandwagon jumpers cut a "swamp rock" album. This was Tony Joe's foot in the door, although it was his songwriting (having tunes cut by Elvis, Tina Turner, Brook Benton, etc.) that paid the bills.
Tony Joe White was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, in 1943, way back in bayou country, his accent is as thick as motor oil, he was the oldest of seven children. Influenced by Lightnin' Hopkins he began leading bands as a teenager, spending seven years on the chitlin' circuit before getting signed to a recording and publishing contract by Monument. I don't think any of these early bands-- Tony Joe & the Mojos, Tony's Twilights, etc. recorded, but I could be wrong.
I remember reading a quote from Kim Fowley about the greatest things he ever saw in his life, one was Tony Joe White backed by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, "He was Elvis that night" recalled the most quotable man in rock'n'roll history. I wish I had a tape of that, anyone know if it was ever released? He wasn't Elvis the night I saw him, he was the white Jimmy Reed. Even more so than J.J. Cale, who does a pretty good white Jimmy Reed himself. He's still at it, for a couple of grand he'll show up at your bar, with a guitar, harmonica and drummer, and rock for an hour or so. Here's a few more of my favorites-- Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You,
Even Trolls Love Rock'n'Roll, Roosevelt and Ira Lee, They Caught The Devil and Put Him In Jail, High Sheriff Of Calhoun Parish, Takin' That Midnight Train. If you get a chance to see him, go. If anyone out there has any of the live stuff with Booker T. & the MG's let me know!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jiving Juniors

The Jiving Juniors- Jamaican R&B circa' '1958
Their only U.S. release.
The Jiving Juniors were a Jamaican vocal group, heavily influenced by American rock'n'roll
and rhythm and blues who cut at least a dozen singles for possibly as many labels. The group was Eugene Dwyer, Herman Sang, Maurice Winter, and lead singer Derrick Harriot who'd go on to stardom in Jamaica later as a solo act, producer and label owner. Many other singers passed through the group but names are hard to come by at this late date. They cut sides for producer Duke Reid's bewildering variety of labels as well as a few for his main competitor Sir Coxone Dodd, they even recorded for future prime minister Edward Sega. They had one single issued in the US-- Moonlight Lover b/w Sweet As An Angel for the tiny, Harlem based Asnes label (whose first release was the Dorsets' brilliant homage to the swine-- Porkchops.). Their first disc appeared around 1958, their last in '62. That's pretty much all I know about 'em. But man, they sounded good. Listen to their cover of the Starlites Valerie (for the Starlites incredible story see last months entry here). Here's a few of my favorites-- I Wanna Love, Tu-Woo-Up-Tu-Woo, I Love You, Come On Honey, Don't Treat me Bad, My Heart's Desire, Dearest Darling, and their biggest Jamaican hit-- Lollipop Girl. Their harmonies are gorgeous, but they still sounded dirty and raw, and they could rock when they wanted to. They never made the transition to ska and by '62 they must have sounded dated to Jamaica's record buying public, but to me, nearly a half century later, they sound as good as any of the major American groups of the era, in fact better than most. Duke Reid always used the best musicians on his discs and you be sure that Rolando Alphonso (sax), Don Drummond (trombone), Owen Grey (piano), Ernest Ranglin (guitar), and Arkland "Drumago" Parks (drums) were on a lot of these sides. There were tons of great R&B acts in Jamaica before the dawn of ska-- the Blues Busters, Laurel Aitken, Derrick and Patsy, the Mellolarks, et al, but the best one I've ever heard are the Jiving Juniors, and even though I don't have much to tell you about them, their sounds are priceless. There's a bootleg called Jamaican Doo-Wop Vol. 1 (no label, I never saw a volume two), that has a bunch of their tunes, and Trojan UK has issued a three CD box Tojan Jamaican R&B Box Set, 50 tunes over three CDs with an excellent selection of pre-ska R&B and rock'n'roll from the Island.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Stooges- James Williamson's Return

Raw Power, Live at the Planeta Terra Festival, Nov. 7, 2009, San Paulo, Brazil Search & Destroy Cock In My Pocket Death Trip (this must be the first time they ever played this one live)...
The Stooges are back, with James Williamson on guitar, a year ago this would have been almost unthinkable, but with Ron Asheton's passing there was no other man for the job. Oddly enough "Straight" James had just taken an early retirement from his executive job at Sony.
He sounds great, still playing the Les Paul he played on Raw Power, great set list that included
pre-Raw Power material and two Iggy solo tunes (Lust For Life and The Passenger). The whole set list can be found here. Steve McKay is now onstage for the whole set, playing a lot of sax and some percussion, I can't wait for 'em to hit NYC...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger at the Cinematheque,Paris, 1950
Marianne Faithful as Lilith in Lucifer Rising, 1980
Donald Cammell as Osiris, Lucifer Rising, 1980
Seal of Crowley's Magick Order of Argenteum, good for 10% discount.
Kenneth Anger, child of Hollywood.
Autograph..... Invocation Of My Demon Brother, Mick Jagger at the moog on the soundtrack. Anger on Crowley, April 2009 Scorpio Rising part one.... Anger documentary.... Mouse Heaven, Anger's homage to Ubl Werks original Mickey...
Kenneth Anger will be 83 on February 3rd, he remains America's premier underground film maker, a position he has held since 1947 when he shocked the world with Fireworks, his seventh film but the first to be seen by anyone outside a small circle of friends. He was twenty when Fireworks was released although he'd started work on it at age seventeen. He has now made twenty two films, mostly shorts, and lives on money provided by his current benefactor
French clothing designer Agnes B. (who also supports Harmony Korine amongst other artists and film makers). It's safe to say he's America's greatest non-commercial film maker, perhaps of all time.
The bulk of Anger's reputation rest on the films he calls the Magick Lantern Cycle which is all his work from Fireworks (1947) through Lucifer Rising (1980), these are collected in two beautifully packaged DVD's-- The Films Of Kenneth Anger Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 which are easy enough to find and a must have for any film buff. Film critic I'm not, but these films, all shorts, have a dreamlike (often nightmare like) quality that burn their intense imagery into your back brain. As a chronic insomniac I like to put them on in the wee hours when I can't sleep but am too tired to concentrate on a narrative flick. I just sit there and stare at the screen and soon find myself in a half dream like state while the images fold into each other. In fact, my dreams have always looked a lot like certain Anger films --especially Rabbit Moon (1950) and Lucifer Rising.
Anger is often sited as the guy known for introducing the use of cutting images to a pop music soundtrack that was so successfully adopted by Martin Scorsese in Mean Streets (1973) and other films, it's now a tired Hollywood cliche, but this technique is still powerful when seen in Anger's Scorpio Rising (1964) which is probably his most popular film. It follows a bunch of rather nellie looking bikers (who bear no small resemblence to the guys on the covers of the old Jubilee doo-wop LP covers-- Rumble, Boppers, Whoppers and The Paragons versus the Jesters) around Brooklyn, inter cutting them with pop culture icons, comics strips, swastikas, some footage of Jesus from an old, silent, Biblical epic, and the like, it's an acknowledged underground classic.
There are two excellent books on the subject of Kenneth Anger-- Anger- The Unauthorized Biography by Bill Landis (Harper Collins, 1995) and Kenneth Anger by Alice L. Hutchison (Black Dog, 2003). Landis' book, incredibly well researched, is really a hoot. In turns worshipful and hissy-fit bitchy, he tells the story from young Kenneth Angelymeyer, a precious Southern California child, spoiled by his star struck Grandmother (who paid for his early films), following him from the set of Max Reinhardt's Midsummer's Nightdream (he played a boy prince in the film, the set burst into flames at one point), highschool film maker (with pal Curtis Harrington, a school mate) to Paris where he was a protege of Jean Cocteau, through Europe in the fifties and back to the States in the early sixties where he settled first in New York to make Scorpio Rising then in San Francisco in time for the summer of love, playing the magus host to all sorts of hippie flotsam including Bobby Beausoleil (Anger's original choice for Lucifer in Lucifer Rising, he would be the first of the Manson murderers to be convicted, later he would do the soundtrack for Lucifer Rising from his prison cell when original composer Jimmy Page could only come up with 22 minutes worth of music, find it here). One of the funniest part of the book concern an idiot named Bruce Byron who was one of the bikers in Scorpio Rising and would go on to harass Anger and anyone who got within one hundred feet of him, claiming he had written and directed Scorpio (I once had the misfortune of riding in Byron's cab, covered in Scorpio Rising memorabilia and had to suffer through his rant). From there, Landis follows Anger to London where he fell in with the Rolling Stones and a crowd of rich, decedant, luminaries as J. Paul Getty Jr., gallery owner Robert Fraser, Donald Camel (the director of Performance who had a role in Lucifer Rising). Anger's influence on the Stones was great, culminating of course in Sympathy For The Devil. In fact, the Stones promo film for 2000 Light Years From Home (directed by Michael Cooper) looks so much like an Anger film even Andrew Loog Oldham assumed it was directed by Anger until recently. Anger became very close to Anita Pallenberg and later Jagger's girlfriend of that time, Marianne Faithful, would play the lead in Lucifer Rising (her gold make-up was partially made up of heroin when she got her stashes mixed up en route to Egypt where they shot at the Pyramids). Landis writes well about Anger's films, and hatefully about Anger's personal life. Landis, who was responsible for the amazing Sleazoid Express 'zine (and later co-wrote the book of the same name with Michelle Cliffotd) died earlier this year at age 50. Still, just a glance at the index of Anger: The Unauthorized Biography will tell you this is a book you want to read: Forrest Ackerman, Bobby Beausoleil, Stan Brackage, Jean Cocteau, Aleister Crowley, Curtis Harrington, Mick Jagger, Anias Nin, Alfred Kinsey, Jimmy Page, Anita Pallenberg, Jack Parsons, Mickey Rooney, Andy Warhol, etc., the names alone conjure up a world of glamour, decedance, drugs, and the occult. Some of the most interesting people from the music, art and film worlds all found common ground in Anger's world of film and fantasy. Perhaps as the author of two classic volumes of Hollywood dish and dirt, the legendary Hollywood Babylon (Straight Arrow, 1972) and Hollywood Babylon II (Straight Arrow, 1983) it is only fitting that Anger himself become the subject what is often a mean spirited tome, but Anger is still a must read.
Hutchison's book concerns itself only with Anger's work, giving only the basic biographical details. She covers all of Anger's films with detailed analysis, but it's the collection of stills, memorabilia, photos, graphics, posters, etc. that make this coffee table style paperback a must own for the Anger fan. It's a work of art in itself, with many quotes from Anger and much of his occult inspired graphic work through out. It also includes commentary (in English and French) from contemporaries like Stan Brackage, Anais Nin (who had role in Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome, 1954), Jonas Mekas and others.
I don't know anything about Aliester Crowley, other than that he's fun to read about ("the wickedest man in the world"--pshaw...compared to Dick Cheney he was Mother Theresa), and even less about the occult, but I don't think you need a background in such things to enjoy the films of Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle. Since Lucifer Rising, he seems to have entered a new phase as a film maker with short works about Hitler Youth (Ich Will!, 2000), an homage to the original Mickey Mouse as drawn by Ubl Werks, (he had fangs)-- Mouse Heaven (2004), Crowley's art work-- The Man We Want To Hang (2002), bascially a montage of Crowley's drawings and paintings, some of it from Jimmy Page's collection, Elliot's Suicide, about friend and neighbor, the musician Elliot Smith who stabbed himself to death (2004), even an anti- smoking film-- Don't Smoke That Cigarette (2000, mostly montage of vintage cigarette ads). He even started work on a film about cricket, a passion of Paul Getty Jr's which was never completed because Getty died and the funding disappeared. A complete Anger filmography can be found here.
About a year and half ago I had dinner with Kenneth Anger. Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain were filming an interview with him for a cable TV show about the occult and rock music, later we all went out to eat. The restaurant was very loud and since I was seated next to Anger we could only talk to each other, and then only by talking directly into each other's ear (I hate going to restaurants in New York these days for that reason, they're all so fucking loud you can't hear the person across the table from you). We talked about Todd Browning whose West Of Zanzibar was on TV the night before (he admires his work), and about Phil Spector, then on trial, he told me Spector had been "a bastard" to deal with when he had to secure the rights to He's A Rebel to use in the DVD version of Scorpio Rising. Anger was nothing like his reputation, he was charming, polite, witty, rather soft spoken, and at age 81, he looked twenty years younger, in fact he looked like Lou Reed circa Sally Can't Dance, except he looks a lot better than Reed does these days. He sure didn't seem like the type to have the word LUCIFER tattooed across his chest.
America no longer produces unique characters like Kenneth Anger , the corporate takeover of pop culture and blanding out of things in general has filled our lives with boring celebutards and pretentious dorks. Underground film these days in not very interesting, in fact, regular TV is better. Which only means we should appreciate Anger while he's still here, because he and the world he came from will soon be gone, and there's nothing to replace them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


From Private Elvis, a collection of sleazy photos of G.I. era Elvis on leave in Paris having fun, long out of print....
From Pic mag, May, '56, a digest size sleaze mag...
Nowadays, anytime some weenie pulls out a guitar there's twelve morons with a camera phone there to document the event, but there are very few great recordings from rock'n'roll's golden era. There are no great live recordings from many of the major figures of the era-- Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Link Wray, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, none of them had good live albums. The few that do exit-- Bo Diddley's Beach Party (Checker, 1963), James Brown Live At The Apollo (King, 1963), Jerry Lee Lewis Live At The Star Club, Hamburg (Phillips, 1964), along with a few recent discoveries-- Are You Ready?- Roy Orbison & the Teen Kings Live (Roller Coaster), Slim Harpo's Star* Time (Ace) are exceptions, not the rule. For example, RCA has never issued a great Elvis live LP, this is truly a crime. The best live Elvis they ever released was a 45 to promote the Golden Celebration box set back in 1980, Baby Let's Play House b/w Hound Dog, recorded at the Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, Tupelo, Mississippi, September 26, 1956. The Golden Celebration box had a disc of recordings from this show, but the sound quality was nowhere near as good as the sound heard on the 45, listen to Hound Dog from the LP and compare it to the 45 version earlier in this paragraph.
Why can't RCA put out the entire Alabama Fair & Dairy Show recordings with sound quality as good as the 45?
In 1980 RCA put out a ten disc Silver Anniversary box set, from which one disc was a performance from the USS Arizona Memorial Concert, March, '61. This show featured Elvis' regulars Scott Moore (guitar) and D.J. Fontana (drums) augmented by Hank Garland (guitar), Bobby Moore (bass), Floyd Cramer (piano), and Boots Randolph (sax). They perform incredible versions of Reconsider Baby, Such A Night, That's Alright Mama, One Night, et al. It's probably his best recorded live show, certainly his best post-Army live recording.
Surely, given today's technology, the tapes can be presented in much better sound than the muddy recording from that box. I mean, we're talking Elvis, it's not like RCA is going to lose money on the deal. This is just one example of why the record biz is in the dumper, it's not the downloading so much as the morons who run the biz without a thought as to what people really want. RCA-- Record Cemetery Of America (which is now owned by BMG, that stands for Big, Mean, Germans). Given that anything over fifty years old is in the public domain in the E.U. maybe some European label can work on it. I'd like to see one great live Elvis album before I die.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


S.Q. in '58, gettin' a reaction from the ladies....
Rare EP, same cover as his Capitol LP
The b-side of his first disc, it was the theme song for my radio show for 13 years...
Detail from autographed copy of Wildcat Shakeout for you handwriting analysis freaks..
Esquerita lights up.....
Meeting of the mindless (left to right) Me, Billy Miller, Julie Whitney, Esquerita, Todd Abramson, Miriam Linna, Tramps, 1981.
"If a producer or arranger was deputed to the sessions he must have been bound and gagged and put in a corner, for there was little sign that anyone responsible for the records had been concerned for their commercial potential...The violence that was normally only a promise (or threat) in rock'n'roll was realized in Esquerita's sound"-- Charles Gillett- The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock'n'Roll (Dell, 1970)
"Truly the farthest out man has ever gone"-- liner notes to Capitol LP 1186 (1958)
S.Q. (Steven Quincy) Reeder, Jr. was born in Greenville, South Carolina on November 20, 1935. He started playing piano in church,-- Greenville's Tabernacle Baptist, and also fell in with two aspiring opera singing sisters-- Cleo and Virginia Willis, who gave him singing lessons. Soon, as a teenager he set out on the Gospel Highway first with the Three Stars and later playing behind Brother Joe May, the "Thunderbolt Of The Midwest", a flamboyant gospel singing sissy best remembered for his hit Search Me Lord on Specialty. He recorded as a pianist behind the Heavenly Echoes, a Brooklyn based quartet, appearing on their version of Didn't It Rain (Baton, 1953). He returned south, working clubs from Atlanta to Greenville with someone called Sister Rosa, an evangelist of sorts. Then began putting together a rock'n'roll act, establishing himself with a residency at the Owl Club on Greenville's main black drag-- Washington Street. This is where Little Richard first encountered him, their first meeting was in the bathroom at the bus station where they were both "trying to catch something---you know, have sex".
Richard was already singing professionally, often in drag, sometimes balancing a chair on his chin as part of his act. S.Q. taught him his thundering piano style, this would be the key element in Little Richard's development of the style that would take him to the top of the charts. While Richard returned to Macon, then New Orleans (he'd already cut discs for RCA and Peacock in a style that owed much to Atlanta's Billy Wright) and finally in '55 hit paydirt with a cleaned up version of the drag queen anthem Tutti Frutti on Specialty.
S.Q., now renamed Esquerita was discovered at the Owl Club by Paul Peek, then a member of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps. Esquerita played on Peek's single The Rock-A-Round b/w Sweet Skinny Jenny (NRC) and was then spirited off to Dallas by Gene Vincent where he hooked up with a band- Ricardo Young- drums, Vincent Mosley- guitar, Tony White- bass and a tenor sax player whose name no one remembers. In Dallas he cut a set of wild demos including early versions of tunes he'd later wax for Capitol-- Rockin' the Joint, Please Come Home, Oh Baby, Sarah Lee, et al, that wouldn't be released until 1987, when Norton Records issued them as Vintage Voola.
Capitol which was enjoying great success with Gene Vincent as their own answer to Elvis, took the bait and signed Esquerita as their response to Little Richard's commercial breakthrough. Esquerita was sent to Nashville to record under the tutelage of Ken Nelson (who produced Gene Vincent and would go on to great success with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard). In August on 1958 his first session produced two singles-- Oh Baby b/w Please Come Home, and perhaps his finest two sider- Rockin' The Joint b/w Esquerita & the Voola (drummer Ricardo Young getting a label credit). These discs failed to sell but Capitol stuck with Esquerita, releasing two more singles - Laid Off b/w Just Another Lie, and Hey Miss Lucy b/w I'm Battie Over Hattie and an entire LP, ten of it's of twelve tunes not issued on 45 including Hole In My Heart, Gettin' Plenty Lovin' (also cut as My Baby's Tops on Federal by the Gardenias with Ike Turner's Kings Of Rhythm in support) and a whacked out rendition of Buddy Holly's Maybe Baby. The LP was also released as three four song EP's, all quite rare today. Nobody bought these records and they became legendary amongst collectors. These sides remain one of rock'n'roll's greatest legacies. This was the real thing-- out of tune piano, screaming vocals, crashing cymbals, the entire band seemed on the verge of either falling apart of shooting off into space like a rocket. Every record collection should include these discs, which are easy enough to find on CD nowadays.
In the U.K. a re-issue on the Ember label-- Wildcat Shakeout collected his entire Capitol output and appeared in the early 70's, later French Capitol put out a two record set that included all the un-issued stuff from the Nashville sessions as Believe Me When I Say Rock'n'Roll Is Here To Stay in 1979.
Esquerita cut a striking figure, as the above photos (which can be seen in the Kicks Magazine publication The Great Lost Photos Of Eddie Rocco) illustrate. Six inches of processed conk, rhinestone shades, all manner of make up and jewelry, it's amazing he wasn't killed on the streets of the southern towns he played in.
Meanwhile, after leaving Capitol, Esquerita headed for New Orleans where he appeared at the Dew Drop Inn regularly, cut sides for Okeh, Instant, and Minit (including an instrumental version of Green Door, one of his best post-Capitol sides). On these sides he reverted to the name Eskew Reeder but by the late 60's he was doing business as the Magnificent Milochi, recording for Brunswick under that name. He did sell a couple of tunes to Little Richard-- Freedom Blues and Dew Drop Inn which Richard recorded for Reprise in '69 (Eskew's version of Doo Drop Inn was issued on 45 by Norton with the Dallas demo of Rockin' The Joint on the flip side). Dew Drop Inn would be his swansong recording. A full discography can be found here.
The seventies were tough on Esquerita who got by with whatever gigs he could get. He played New Orleans, showed up in Puerto Rico where he also did some time in prison and by the end of the decade washed up in New York City where he lived in a series of SRO Hotels in midtown, doing some small time dealing and pimping, put in a few short stints at Riker's Island, and finally got a gig at a tiny club on West 17th Street called Tramps, a strange combination of blues club (Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Joe Turner, and Johnny Shines all appeared there) and hang out for the Westies, a bunch of Irish mobsters that were used as muscle by the Mafia and also ran the west side docks in Hell's Kitchen. Tramps was a stones throw from Max's Kansas City,
the Gramercy Gym (where Cus D'amato would soon be training Mike Tyson), Julian's Poolhall, and the Dugout Bar (where a frosty mug was .50 cents).
I think it was the fall of '81 when me and my friends, Esquerita fans all, noticed that Tramps' tiny ad in the Village Voice was advertising "Every Monday: Esquerita!". Could it be?
Rare discs in hands, we headed for Tramps, and there he was: the legend, the man-- Esquerita himself! His hair was short, and he looked like he'd ridden some hard miles, but it was he, the guy who made those insane records way back when. There must have been a dozen people in the audience that first night, but he was amazed and thrilled that anyone, never mind bunch of white kids who were either in diapers or hadn't been born yet, knew of his great achievements at Capitol Records. He signed our discs, had his photo taken with us, and he was our pal--- our very own pet legend.
Billy Miller and Miriam Linna got very close to Esquerita, they had not yet started Norton Records (Vintage Voola would be their second release), but were then publishing Kicks magazine and put Esquerita on the cover of the second issue. Billy's liner notes to Vintage Voola are among the funniest and most entertaining liner notes ever, it's worth the price of the disc just to read them. Esquerita showed up at a party at I can't even remember whose house and gave a private recital, rocking through versions of Slow Down and Dizzy Miss Lizzie while a bunch of drunken white kids danced around the piano. I got to know him around this time also. I was leaving an afternoon double feature on 42nd Street and I bumped into him on the Deuce, he remembered my face from Tramps and the party, and we got to talking. He came back to the lower east side where I then lived with me. Back then, what is now the East Village was something of a drug supermarket. Between 1st and 2nd ave. you could buy nickel bags of pot in storefronts like the Red Door and the Black Door, between Ave. A and B. were the coke spots, selling garbage head blow in $5 and $10 bags at places like the Rock and the Pony Pack. From B east it was dope land-- heroin, with lines forming at 5 PM in front of infamous spots like Laredo (10th & B) and the Toilet (3rd & B). Esquerita liked drugs, and they were much cheaper in the east village than in mid-town where he lived, or Harlem, where he had enemies. We did some hanging out, although our tastes in drugs were very different, I took him around and showed him the ropes a bit. A move I'd live to regret as he took to banging on my window at all hours of the night wanting to borrow money. Finally, I stopped answering the door or the phone for him (I'd move from a front, ground floor apartment on 10th St to a rear, four floor walk up on 11th between A & B). I think he owed me around $300 when he died, at which point I had been avoiding him for months. Big Joe Turner referred to him as "Give Me Money, Give Me Money Esquerita". He got busted a few times, ended up in Rikers for a few six week bids (he had lost an eye in prison in Puerto Rico, at Riker's he was segregated and kept with the drag queens in their own wing). Near the end of his life a friend of mine had seen him out in Brooklyn, washing windshields for change. That was around the time I started doing the radio show, late '84. Esquerita and the Voola was my theme music. Crack had hit in late '83 and Esquerita became very hard to deal with around that time. I'd lost touch with him when I heard the news, he'd died of AIDS in Harlem Hospital on October 23, 1986. He was the first person I knew to die of AIDS but he wouldn't be the last. When Vintage Voola was released I wrote about him in the Village Voice, so I got back $150 of the $300 he owed me. I wished I had taped our conversations (he knew everyone worth knowing in rock'n'roll and had amazing stories, most of which I forgot). I wish I'd had him on the radio show. I wish he was still around...

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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