Monday, May 31, 2010

Two Great Rock'n'Roll Movies: The World's Greatest Sinner/Wild Guitar

Timothy Carey invents a new religion, and rocks his way to hell.

 You wouldn't particularly think of 1962 as a great year for movies, but oddly enough it was the year the two greatest rock'n'roll flicks ever made were released. First came The World's Greatest Sinner (1962), written, directed and starring Timothy Carey (1929-1994) who began his career in Billy Wilder's incredible Ace In The Hole (which also inspired on of the best Simpsons episodes ever the one were all the rock stars gather to record the "we're sending our love down the well" song), and can be seen in Kubrick's Path's Of Glory and The Killing (written by Jim Thompson), Brando's One Eyed Jacks, many Beach Party flicks (always as the character South Dakota Slim), even in the Wild One, as well as dozens of TV shows. He was one of the greatest and most memorable character actors of all time. The theme song, done by Frank Zappa & the Mothers' under the name Baby Ray & the Ferns was issued on Donna (a subsidiary of Del-Fi, the label that gave us Ritchie Valens, Chan Romero, The Bobby Fuller Four, and lots of great surf 45's) in a different version than the one heard in the flick (with the great How's Your Bird on the flip, it remains Zappa's finest moment and best Johnny "Guitar" Watson impersonation). Although it's never been officially released on DVD, The World's Greatest Sinner is easy to find, several companies have been selling bootleg copies taken off the TCM broadcast last year (a beautiful print I might add, much better than the old VHS copies that were making the rounds). A Pirate Bay bit torrent rip can be found here. There's not much point in me describing the plot, as it really is a work of art beyond my powers of description, but do try and see it, it can change your life.
Trailer for Wild Guitar (1962).
Arch Hall Jr. - Actor, rocker, heart-throb.
The second greatest rock'n'roll flick ever made is Ray Dennis Steckler's directorial debut Wild Guitar (1962). Steckler aka Cash Flagg would go on to direct such mind blowing low budget films as Rat Fink and Boo Boo (1966, co-written by Chicago rocker and paperback author extraordinaire Ron Haydock) and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964), Steckler's story deserves a book of it's own. Oddly enough he was the cinematographer on The World's Greatest Sinner. Both films look great, especially considering their minuscule budgets. Wild Guitar stars the always cool in that "aw shucks" way-- Arch Hall Jr. as Bud Eagle, a naive kid who just wants to rock and ends up getting run through the music industry meat grinder by a sleazy small label owner played by his real life father (who also produced the film), Arch Hall Sr. It's got a great soundtrack (all the tunes in the flick can be found on the Norton Records Arch Hall Jr. CD-- Wild Guitar, they also have the film on DVD for a mere $10, not to mention a must have complete Ron Haydock & the Boppers collection). I think I can safely say that Wild Guitar is the sort of masterpiece we shall not see in this century. Here's the theme song by Arch if you need any further prompting to buy the CD and DVD.
Arch Hall Jr. is still around and plays the occasional gig. Ray Dennis Steckler sadly passed away in January of 2009, no mention of his passing was made during the Academy Awards yearly "remember those who died this year" segment. Fuck them, Wild Guitar is better than almost any movie that ever won an Academy Award, which, in fact, if you ever want to see a list of some of the worst movies ever made, look at the ones that won Oscars--Dances With Wolves, The Titanic, My Fair Lady, Chicago, Rocky, The Sound Of Music, cripes!, I'll take an episode of The Abbott & Costello Show (oddly enough, their TV show was way better than their movies) any day. Rock'n'roll is very hard to translate to celluloid and most attempts over the years have been laughable, but The World's Greatest Sinner and Wild Guitar remain two gems,
and they deserve to be seen by anyone who cares about rock'n'roll.
ADDENDUM: Interesting post on Robert Quine (the sixth anniversary of his death was last week) by his cousin Tim can be found here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper 1936-2010

Dennis Hopper, John Ford, John Huston sent in by reader Paul Duane.
Tuesday Weld photographed by Dennis Hopper.
Trailer for Out Of The Blue, his best picture."Subvert normality man...." From the incredible documentary: Dennis Hopper- The American Dreamer by L.M. Kit Carson & Lawrence Schiller (1971)
From The Last Movie, best unwatchable movie ever?
He was a nut, but he was our nut. From Rebel Without A Cause to Key Witness to Apocalypse Now to Out Of The Blue, he livened up more movies than any other actor of his generation. He was on the best episode of Naked City, basically playing himself, a delinquent brat. He seemed to speak for all of us who can't help fucking up, everyone who has ever spent years of their life drunk, high or both, out of control, and unable to bear the straight world. Dennis Hopper was our man. Actor, photographer, director, art collector, goof ball. See some of Dennis Hopper's incredible photographs here. I have a giant print of one of his Ike and Tina Turner shots over my desk. I, for one will miss him. Obituaries can be found here, here, and here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #49

This week's found photo is a bit beat up, but it's such a great picture we had to run it anyway.
The young lady in the shiny dress seems to be in mid-song, and judging by the setting, I'd say she's entertaining at a party, perhaps even a rent party, and old and important tradition rhythm & blues history, where folks would push their furniture against the wall, hire a piano player, guitarist and/or singer and charge their friends to get in (usually the price was .25. 0r .50 cents), food and booze was included in the admission price. Many important musicians, from James P. Johnson to John Lee Hooker started their career playing rent parties. As for the budding Esther Phillips above, perhaps her career never got past singing for her friends, but her face looks a bit familiar, anyone out there have any ideas who she may be?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Buck Owens

Buck Owens, pre- phffyyytt you were gone.
Buck Owens & his Buckaroos squinting for the camera.
First UK EP (notice the resemblence to Mike Hurtt of the Royal Pendeltons).
Found this pic sleeve 45 at the Waterlooplein flea market in Amsterdam, 1 gilder.
Buck Owens and the Buckaroos at their peak.
Buck and musical alter ego Don Rich. Rich died in a motorcycle accident in '74.
Buck playing the late Don Rich's Tele, near the end of his life.
I've probably published a couple of hundred articles in several dozen magazines and newspapers in my life, the most pleasurable stint being as music columnist at High Times for nine years simply because they let me do whatever the fuck I wanted (until a sub-moron named Steve Bloom stepped in and began ruining my copy which is pretty much why I left), but in all those years, the only person I ever wrote about who ever took it upon themselves to call me at home and thank me was Buck Owens. We got to be friends for a bit, Buck was a helluva guy, and something of a hero of mine, and his story is so unique and atypical it's worth retelling.
Buck was born Alvis Edgar Owens Junior, Aug. 12, 1929 on a farm in Sherman, Texas (the stretch of Highway 82 that runs through Sherman is now named The Buck Owens Freeway), the eldest of three children born to Alvis Sr. and Mary Owens. When Buck was eight the family relocated to another farm in Mesa, Arizona, fleeing the dust storms and foreclosures chronicled in Steinbeck's (and John Ford's) The Grapes Of Wrath. Around the same time Alvis Jr. renamed himself Buck, after the family mule, whose asshole became a most familiar sight of his childhood. The Owens family were sharecroppers, raising mostly potatoes and cotton ("Man, you ever pick potatoes? Hard, dirty, sweaty work.....I hated every second of it" he told me in one of our first conversations). This hand to mouth, dusk to dawn, tough on the lower back dotage left a huge impression on him. He knew from a very early age that he would have to find some other way to get along. The Owens' were a musical family, and his dad played a mean harmonica, his two uncles played guitar and mom sang in church. Buck left school after the
eight grade at age thirteen and went to work as a Western Union messenger, unloaded and drove trucks, washed cars and at age sixteen he hooked up with a nineteen year old guitar picker named Ray Britten, and as Buck & Britt they talked their way onto a local radio station KTYL out of Mesa where they were given a fifteen minute radio show which was broadcast from a drive in restaurant. They eventually worked their way to Phoenix where they took up residence at a local honky tonk. Around this time Buck started playing electric guitar and would soon become an impressive guitar player who would soon have little trouble finding work as a studio musician. Lou Whitney of the Morells/Skeletons fame, who was raised in Arizona remembers the scene of Buck playing in those Arizona honky tonks as "Nothing but bee-hives chasin' hard ons".
It was in Mesa, Arizona in 1948 Buck met and married an up and coming country singer named Bonnie Cambell, and they would have two sons Buddy (who would record some good country sides under Buck's aegis under the nome du disque Buddy Allen) born in 1948 and Michael, born in 1950. Bonnie would later marry Merle Haggard (although she kept the name Owens for the rest of her days) and become an integral part of his band the Strangers until her passing in 2006. Having gone as far as they could in Phoenix, in 1951 Buck took Bonnie and the kids to Bakersfield, California, which was just then starting to develop a reputation as ground zero for west coast country music, being the home turf of the wild hillbilly boogie blasters The Maddox Brothers & Rose, and the up and coming Capitol artist Ferlin Husky. Bakersfield was a town full of transplanted Okies, Arkies and Texans driven west by the depression, and was close to the oil fields and many large farms which provided them work, so there was plenty of money to keep a good country singer working. It would sire such talent as Tommy Collins, Wynn Stewart, Merle Haggard, and of course, our subject for today. Buck's first job in Bakersfield was playing guitar in steel player Dusty Rhodes' band, but soon found a better paying job with Bill Woods' Orange County Playboys who were a Bob Wills' Playboys inspired outfit then considered California's top country dance band as well as the house band at the Blackboard, Bakersfield's largest night club. Hired as a lead guitarist, much to Buck's surprise, Woods also made him the featured vocalist, and it was at the Blackboard, a large, loud, place with no monitors that Buck really learned to project his voice and get a song across. Another major influence on Buck's musical development happened around this time when he acquired his first Fender Telecaster, which would become the trademark of his sound. "It's got one sound and it goes right between your eyes" he once proclaimed to me with a big grin on his face.
By 1953 things were heating up in Bakersfield and Capitol Records signed Tommy Collins who would be the first in a line of country artists to purvey what became known as "the Bakersfield Sound", basically, electrified honky tonk music with a pronounced beat and none of the schmaltzy backing singers, strings, tinkling piano, and smoothing out that Nashville was starting to incorporate into country recordings. Collins' producer Ken Nelson, who had worked with Gene Vincent and Esquerita (and would go on to produce all the major Bakersfield singers) hired Buck to play on Tommy Collins' sessions, and soon was using Buck as lead guitarist on discs by Wanda Jackson, Gene Vincent, Del Reeves, Tommy Sands, Faron Young, even Stan Fredberg's rock'n'roll parody records. Buck also worked for other producers, most notably Lewis Talley, playing on Terry Fell's classic two sided hit Don't Drop It b/w Truck Drivin' Man issued on RCA's X subsidiary in 1954. Talley tried to interest RCA in Buck but they didn't bite, but he did get him a deal with the local Pep label which issued five singles, four under Buck's name (posted yesterday over at Uncle Gil's Rockin' Archives if you want to hear 'em), and one, a whacked out double sided rockabilly blowout under the pseudonym Corky Jones-- Hot Dog b/w Rhythm & Booze. Buck always loved rock and roll and made no bones about it, citing Chuck Berry and Little Richard as two of his biggest musical influences. The Pep singles didn't sell, but around this time Buck encountered a young Harlan Howard who was passing through Bakersfield, striking up a friendship which would lead to some great songs the two would write together, not to mention a publishing company-- Blue Book Music which would eventually earn Buck a fortune. After a season in Buck's guest room sleeping on a concrete block, Harlan would soon move to Nashville where he became one of the most successful tunesmiths of the era. Buck also met and married his second wife (he and Bonnie were by now divorced) in 1956 and this union soon begat his third son Johnny.
In 1957 Buck caught the ear of Columbia Records A&R man Don Law who had produced everyone from Robert Johnson to Johnny Cash. He offered Buck a deal, and it was this impetus that forced Ken Nelson to finally step up to the plate (he originally thought Buck lacked a unique vocal style) and while Law was en route to Bakersfield, Nelson pulled out a standard Capitol Records recording contract which Buck signed in 1957, and his first Capitol single Come Back b/w I Know What It Means was issued in October of that year. Two more singles followed in 1958-- Sweet Thing b/w I Only Know That I Love You, released in April, followed by I'll Take A Chance On Loving You b/w Walk The Floor, which came out in November. These discs, solid but somewhat pedestrian affairs sold naught, and Buck who had briefly relocated to Tacoma, Washington where he played in a band with Nookie Edwards, later of the Ventures, and appeared on his own radio show on KTNT-AM offered to let Nelson rip up his recording contract.
Although Buck Owens' unique sound hadn't quite crystallized yet, Nelson believed in Buck and called him back to California for his fourth session at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood in October of 1958. That day, with the great Ralph Mooney on steel guitar, Buck cut his first hit-- an original tune called Second Fiddle, it would rise to #24 on Billboard's country charts, and it would set Buck on his path to greatness. Another session was called for in June of '59, it sired Buck's first top ten country hit, another original tune, Under Your Spell Again, a honky tonk weeper, it's lyrics were inspired by Johnny Otis' current hit Castin' My Spell. By July it had peaked at #4.
Back in Tacoma, where he now had the first of what would be many of his own TV shows, Buck encountered the catalyst that would be the final ingredient in his sound-- then college student Donald Eugene Ulrich aka Don Rich who Buck originally hired as a fiddler but would soon master Buck's unique guitar style and they quickly developed into one of those great musical duos like Bird & Diz, Don & Dewey, Howlin' Wolf and Huebert Sumlin, that seemed to be able to communicate with each other through musical telepathy.
And the hits kept a comin'. Above And Beyond (Rich's vinyl debut, playing fiddle) rose to #3
in February of 1960, followed in August by Excuse Me I Think I've Got A Heartache (co-written with Harlan Howard) hit #2, as did another co-write with Howard-- Foolin' Around which peaked in January of '61. Buck's next record, a two sided masterpiece was a duet with Rose Maddox who had fronted the hell bent for Dexedrine proto-rockabilly family band The Maddox Brothers & Rose-- Loose Talk b/w Mental Cruelty, both sides would hit the C&W top ten while Foolin' Around was still topping the charts, giving Buck three of the top ten positions in one week. To celebrate my second birthday, Buck recorded another tune he'd written with Harlan Howard-- Under The Influence Of Love, another #2 in the summer of '61, and from the same session Nobody's Fool But Yours (which he'd originally recorded in '59) hit #11. These discs had made Buck a hot property and he and Rich hit the road, originally using local musicians where ever they played, they kept a gruelling schedule, often playing over 300 shows a year.
A seasoned pro by now who didn't drink much and had no use for drugs, Buck still made time for various business investments on the side including Blue Book Music (he'd bought out Harlan Howard's half early on). By 1963 he'd put together his own band, named by their moody bass player, a recent parolee from San Quentin with a spider web tattooed across his back-- Merle Haggard came up with the name The Buckaroos. Many musicians would pass through the Buckaroos, Rich being the only constant, but the classic line-up--Buck, Don, Doyle Holly on rhythm guitar, Tom Brumley on steel guitar, Willie Cantu on drums and Bob Morris on bass would come together around 1964. Ken Nelson as a producer took a 180 degree opposite approach to what was then happening in Nashville, preferring that his singers use their own bands to give them some type of uniqueness, although occasionally outside players like James Burton who played on Open Up Your Heart, and Ventures drummer Mel Taylor who gave the big beat to My Heart Skips A Beat were brought in.
Buck's first #1 (on the C&W charts) record and most identifiable record-- Act Naturally was recorded in February of '63, and was covered by the Beatles a year later with Ringo singing lead. Oddly enough, Buck and the Beatles had already formed a mutual admiration society before they recorded Act Naturally. Buck & the Buckaroos had added the Beatles arrangement of Twist & Shout to their act soon after the Beatles first landed in the U.S., while Ken Nelson remembers that four copies of every Buck Owens album had to be sent to the Beatles office at NEMS in London upon release. Act Naturally was followed up by two more chart toppers-- Love's Gonna Live Here, and the aforementioned My Heart Skips A Beat, while it's flipside Together Again would reach #2 and become a country standard recorded by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Ray Charles. When Don Rich switched his main instrument from fiddle to guitar in 1963, the stinging sound of double Telecasters coupled with a 2/4 shuffle rhythm became the basis for what became known in the biz as "the freight train sound", which, if it isn't self explanatory means that Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, road hardened and electrified, now sounded like a train barreling down the tracks. Capitol released eight LP's in three and a half years, all excellent (and all currently available from Sundazed), but his seventh LP-- Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat is what I think is one of the greatest country LP's of all time,
it includes such all time classic Buck Owens tracks like Close Up The Honky Tonks, his version of Truck Drivin' Man, Act Naturally, and A-11. Not one tune is less than superb.
Buck ended off 1964 with another two sided winner--I've Got A Tiger By The Tail b/w Cryin' Time (which Ray Charles would take to the top of the R&B and Pop charts), he was white hot shit at this point, even putting an instrumental, the superlative Buckaroo in the top ten. He began hosting his own TV show-- Buck Owens' Ranch Party, while touring the world, taking country music to places it had rarely been including Japan and Carnegie Hall (and releasing live LP's from both of those places). But Buck was a funny guy, ha ha funny and the other kind of funny. In March of '65 he took out a full page ad in a trade paper called The Music City News,
having been criticized for using a heavy rock'n'roll drum beat, playing Chuck Berry and Beatles songs onstage, etc. he printed The Pledge: I Shall Sing No Song That Is Not A Country Song, I Shall Make No Record That Is Not A Country Record, I Refuse To Be Known As Anything But A Country Singer, etc. it went. A week later he issued a rockin' version of Chuck Berry's Memphis as his next single. When later asked about it, Buck explained-- "I didn't say I wasn't gonna do rockabilly". Ever topical, he started out 1966 with Waitin' In Your Welfare Line, and followed it up with Open Up Your Heart which featured James Burton's chickin' pickin' guitar.
In 1967, with Merle Haggard singing about how proud he was to be an Okie from Musgokee and the Ballad Of the Green Beret topping the charts, Buck took the Buckaroos into the Filmore West, where their spangled suits and sparkle finished Telecasters blew everyone's minds. The money was pouring in and Buck bought two radio stations and a tv station (in the mid-80's he admitted to me that country radio had gotten so bad he couldn't listen to his own stations). Capitol issued roughly four albums a year, usually two by Buck, an instrumental album by the Buckaroos, and then a gospel, Christmas, or some other type of change up. They all sold well, because Buck and his band were able to keep to an amazingly high standard (only the Herb Alpert inspired Bakersfield Brass LP was truly wretched).
In 1968, CBS canceled the very popular Smothers Brothers television show due to their anti-Viet Nam war stance, and in it's place came Hee Haw, a rip-0ff of NBC's ground breaking Laugh-In, only instead of a cast of mod hipsters, it had ultra corny country humor (which was almost never funny) and lots of country music (much of it excellent). It was a huge hit, and Buck was the co-host along with Roy Clark (another former session musician who had played with Wanda Jackson). CBS kept the show for three years, canceling only after someone at a party in the Hamptons made a snide joke about it that upset Babe Paley, CBS prexy William Paley's wife. It went into syndication where it remained for decades, eventually becoming the longest running syndicated show in history. Buck also kept his own Ranch Party show until 1973 and stayed with Hee Haw until 1986, making piles of money and becoming a household name. Sears marketed a Buck Owens brand red white and blue guitar (Pat Smear can be seen playing one on the Nirvana MTV Unplugged musical wake). Unfortunately (doesn't it seem like that's the most used word on this blog?), Hee Haw became what Buck was most known for, overshadowing his music, and eventually the overexposure hurt his credibility as a serious artist. From Hee Haw's debut there was a noticeable drop in quality of his discs, although he still made a few gems like Big In Vegas (1969) I Wouldn't Live In New York City (If They Gave Me The Whole Dang Town) (1970) and Streets Of Bakersfield (1972). Still, Buck Owens had realized fame and fortune that, for a kid who started out picking pototatoes was a nearly inconcievable feat. It all began going south on July 17, 1974 when Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident. His closest friend and confident, and musical alter ego, Rich's death sent Buck first into shock, then an extended depression. Musicially, he never recovered.
Although he had everything he'd ever wanted, including a record deal that gave him ownership of his own masters (something only Ray Charles had previously gotten), from Rich's death on, Buck's recording career was a half hearted affair, he cut down his touring dates, eventually retiring from the road for good in 1980, and basically hung around Bakersfield tending to his business affairs, watching his fortune grow, by the mid-80's he had even let his own recording catolog go out of print. He signed with Warner Brothers making a few lackluster discs that he told me "He couldn't give away". CD's replaced LP's and Buck's Capitol output was noticably missing from the shelves in record stores. In the late 80's I wrote an article about him in High Times, much of it poking fun at the caricature of a figure he'd allowed himself to become via Hee Haw, the rest of it praising his old records. Then one morning, from across the room, a voice on the answering machine (anyone who knows me, knows I rarely answer the phone, and have always screened my calls, long before the invention of caller ID) came a familar sounding voice. "Hi Jim, this is Buck Owens", I dove for the phone and we had a nice but rather short conversation. He told me he'd be in NYC in a month doing a guest slot during Dwight Yokham's sold out Carnagie Hall show. We made plans to meet.
Buck picked me up in a stretch limo a few hours before the show. When I got in he seemed shocked that I lived in a mostly Hispanic ghetto with wide open drug markets on both sides of the street, homeless men and crack addicts huddled in the doorways and girls with green hair and spandex tights, drunken Ukranian men, and all manner of street flotsam wandering about.
My building was an old tenemant in the middle of the block, and my apartment (where I lived for over twenty years) was a three room railroad with a bathtub in the kitchen and a watercloset with an old fashion box and chain toilet (like the one Michael Corleone gets the hidden gun out of in The Godfather). The Tompkin Square riots had just happned and having been blamed for starting them by that idiot Mike Tiabi on the CBS TV News ("...strange voices on the radio, urging people to rise up....", it reminded me of the William Burroughs routine "We don't report the news....we write it".) I was under surveillance by the 9th Precinct and an unmarked cop car was soon following our limo up to Carnagie Hall. Buck asked me why I lived where I did, and when I explained that I originally moved there because it was cheap (the rent was $225 a month, when I left in 2003 it had risen to $395) but that I loved the neighborhood and knew and got along with everyone from the dope spotters to the bartenders, there wasn't a soul east of Ave. A I didn't know. I felt safe and comfortable there. Buck shook his head and said "You're crazier than me". That night he stole the show with a fifteen minute guest spot in the middle of Yokham's set that featured Buck wailing away on Don Rich's champagne spangled Telecaster.
It was guys like Yokham and the other "new traditionalists" of the era that brought Buck out of his depression. In fact his last two hit records were duets with younger artists who were greatly inspired by his earlier work. The first came in 1979 when he cut Play Together Again with Emmylou Harris which rose to #12 C&W (Harris, who began her career as a member of Gram Parsons' Fallen Angels often name checked Buck in interviews) and in 1988 he re-cut Streets Of Bakersfield with the aforementioned Dwight Yokham, it went to #1 C&W. It didn't pass Buck's notice that Yokham's career was launched not out of Nashville, but on the punk rock circuit, opening for bands like the Blasters and X. Anyways, after the show Buck taped an interview for my WFMU radio show along with a station ID. I tried to drag him with me to see Iggy Pop who was playing on the west side Pier that night but he begged off saying he was a bit tired. Over the years I'd get a card or note from Buck, or a hello through mutual friends. Every once in awhile he'd call just to chat or say hi, or to ask my opinion on a record label like Sundazed (who did beautiful re-issues of his best Capitol sides with bonus tracks and excellent sound quality) and Rhino. In 1997 his assistant and piano player Jim Shaw called and told me Buck wanted me to help write his autobiography. His timing couldn't have been worse. I'd just opened a bar and was in the process of opening a second one, I was also managing an all girl band and was close to getting them a record and publishing deal, and I had just begun a new relationship with a women that I'd later marry. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to leave New York and sit around Bakersfield for six months banging on a typer. I reccomended a few other writers and told him if they didn't work out I'd might be free in three years. It was the last time I heard from him. He never wrote his story. Soon his health began failing: he had a stroke, then a heart attack, followed by a bout with oral cancer which resulted in a piece of his tongue being amputated. He opened an upscale nightclub in Bakersfield called Buck's Crystal Palace and took to performing there regularly, but I never made it out there. He cut another album for Capitol which featured good but not great remakes of Hot Dog (the title track), Act Naturally (in a duet with Ringo, the album's best track), A-11, and a few new but forgettable tunes. It didn't sell many copies. But thanks to the new generation, and Buck leasing his vintage Capitol sides to Rhino, Sundazed and later Bear Family, the kudos were starting to come in. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 (the most overdue C.M.H.O.F. entry in the history of that organization) and the Nashville Songwriter's Hall Of Fame, he hosted a re-union of the Buckaroos who were still alive at the Crystal Palace in '99, and kept a regular schedule of performing there. He sold one of his radio stations (KNIX in Pheonix) to the evil Clear Channel empire, but he kept KUZZ in Bakersfield until the end. On March 25, 2006, he finished his set at the Crystal Palace, walked back into his dressing room and died of a heart attack.
Buck Owens, he created a style of country music so simple and perfect, his formula-- take a common expression, and add a shuffle or waltz time beat and three chords or four chords, and then sing and play 'em like you mean it, was absurdly effective, and he left a body of work that is as solid and enduring as the Telecasters used to make it. I miss the hell out of him.
ESSENTIAL BUCK OWENS ALBUMS: Bear Family has a 7 CD box set of the complete Capitol years, Rhino has a scaled down three CD box, but if you want to pick and choose, Sundazed has
re-issued all his best LP's, I'd say the best are: My Heart Skips A Beat/Together Again, Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos- On The Bandstand, The Best Of Buck Owens, I Don't Care, I've Got A Tiger By The Tail, The Instrumental Hits Of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, Roll Out The Red Carpet, Dust On Mother's Bible, Carnegie Hall Concert, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos In Japan, The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 2, Buck Owens Sings Tommy Collins, Buck Owens (aka Under Your Spell Again), and Before You Go/Nobody But You.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Did Keith Richards Invent Kraut Rock?

Don''t feel much like blogging these days since in that never ending game of bumper cars played by those of us who travel around NYC on bicycle against those in SUV's (who are always looking at their blackberries or Iphone and not the road), flesh and bone is sure to be the loser. Hence, my right hand has been in a hard cast and the rest of my body is awfully sore from the SUV the ran into me at 30 MPH at the intersection of 10th and B. last week. But since the Stones are out there promoting the re-issue of Exile On Mainstreet (originally released the day I turned a teenager, May 23, 1972), I thought I'd post this peculiar clip of Keith exploring Krautrock territory before the Krauts themselves got around to it. I'll be back soon as I can type with both hands.....
Never saw this one before.
Thanks to Donna Lethal for sending the clip and Brendan O'Reilly for the BBC4 Kraut Rock documentry (and the Scott Walker, Hank Williams, etc. stuff). Ich fange an, die Deutsch klingt.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #48

This week's found photo is like a Gidget movie or Beach Boys tune come to life. It's amazing, there really was a time like that. When all a kid had to care about was the sun, the beach, mating rituals and rock'n'roll. These days you can get shot trying to surf the wrong beach in Southern California, and you won't find Dick Dale and his Del-Tones or Eddie & the Showmen at the Rendezvous Ballroom. Where did it all go wrong? And do you think any of these kids ended up at the Spahn Ranch a few years later?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Clarence Gatemouth Brown

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, with some sharp creased trousers.
Early publicity shots from Peacock Records. Dueting with Freddie King on the local Nashville R&B TV show The Beat.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, born April 18, 1924 in Vinton, Louisiana, was raised in Orange, Texas and had a long and varied career. His main instruments were guitar and violin (although he started his career as a drummer in San Antonio), played and sang in blues and R&B bands, led a large swing group, cut country records (including some with Roy Clark), jazz sides which ranged from swinging Basie like charts to setting himself against the fusion of the Dixie Dregs type later in his career, even recorded some traditional Cajun styled things, playing his fiddle in the style of a west Louisiana Frenchman. The most interesting and influential part of his recorded body of work were his earliest sides done for the Houston based Peacock Records, owned by "Diamond" Don Robey, a Black-Jewish gangster who's story shall be a subject of a later blog.
Brown was influenced by T-Bone Walker, the first recorded electric blues guitarist, and taking Walker's fluid, jazz like, single string riffs as a template created an explosive style that would influence and become the bridge between Walker's more urbane style and the more primitive, violent style of players like Guitar Slim (who used Brown's Boogie Rambler as his theme song),
Johnny Guitar Watson, Albert Collins, Earl King, and dozens of others, known and unknown.
Having started out as a fiddle player, he played in an unusual style, rarely using his first finger,
instead using a capo and fingering like a violin player, which made his style nearly impossible to duplicate exactly. It was incredibly effective and his earliest Peacock sides which find him set against a swinging horn based R&B band were jukebox hits across the south and still sound great today. He recorded for Robey from 1949-1959, and although he had no national hits, he had some good local sellers and was a huge club draw throughout the south. Some of my favorites are the aforementioned Boogie Rambler, Boogie Uproar, Gatemouth Boogie, Midnight Hour, That's Your Daddy Yaddy Yo, Dirty Work At The Crossroads, Atomic Energy, Gate Walks The Board, Okie Dokie Stomp, My Time's Expensive, She Walks Right In, the extremely rare two sided beer commercial Pale Dry Boogie pts 1 and 2, and, the only of his Peacock sides to feature his bluesy violin playing-- Just Before Dawn. The influence of these discs cannot be understated, nor can the fact that nothing about these discs sound dated, his guitar playing was never cliched or dull. He captured the jolting sound of the joy of discovering the capabilities of the electric instrument like few other guitarists ever have. His playing had convulsive bursts of energy alternating with jazzy, urbane phrases that keep the listener constantly on edge. They must have sounded great on those old 78 jukeboxes in the bars and roadhouses of the Gulf Coast.
Gatemouth Brown left Peacock in 1959 and spent some time in Nashville, leading the house band on the local TV show The Beat for famed R&B/Gopel DJ Hoss Allen (DVD's of that incredible show are available from Bear Family and can be seen all over Youtube), appeared on Hee Haw, cut records in all the aforementioned styles for a dozen labels, and at one point in the late 60's gave up music to become the sheriff of some town in New Mexico where he had resettled.
The way of the badge was not for Brown however and he returned to music, eventually rebuilding his career as an international blues and jazz star (his audience was mostly in Europe and Japan of course, although he maintained a steady schedule of blues festival and club appearances coast to coast), and played incredible guitar and fiddle no matter what the setting. The last few times I saw him live, the best part of the set was when he'd send the band offstage and play incredibly wild solo guitar numbers that sound like nothing he ever put on wax. I wish I could find the interview I read with him in some guitar magazine in the early 90's where he talks about why he hates modern blues guitar players so I could get the quote right, but Brown had little use for the cliched blues bores that emerged like a bad outbreak of acne across the face of the music world from the late 60's on. Some folks like his later recordings for Rounder, Alligator and Hi-Tone, and while I admit, he always played great, these discs are not nearly as interesting to me as his first, seminal sides for Peacock. These later discs (and re-issues of his Peacock years) are easy enough to find, and are usually inexpensive, every record store with a used blues bin will have a good selection of them. In his final three decades he toured the world continuously, and eventually, as a life long smoker who suffered from emphysema and a couple of heart attacks, he died of lung cancer in 2005. His final days were not good, he had settled in Slidell, a suburb of New Orleans (whose cheerleaders' slutty uniforms always liven up the Mardis Gras parade), and had his home destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Evacuated back to Orange, Texas where he had started out, he died there a week and a half later (September 10, 2005) and that's were his body is buried today. I'm not going to feel guilty about posting a few tunes, Don Robey never paid anyone a nickel in royalties, and he put his name as songwriter on most of the discs he released. I've got to get to work on that story, just the things Andre Williams told me about Robey could fill a book. But Clarence Gatemouth Brown, now there was a hell of a guitar player.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Amos Milburn & Moon Mullican

Despite the crummy sound quality, this is a nice clip of Amos Milburn pounding it out. Milburn's amazing version of Down The Road Apiece. Moon Mullican, doesn't sound all that different than Amos Milburn.
Moon's Rock'n'Roll Bullfrog in living color.
Two pre-rock'n'roll barrel house boogie woogie piano players, both from Texas, one black, one white. One considered an R&B pioneer, the other a C&W star. Despite the different settings, they're basically playing the same thing. Especially similar is their piano playing. When watching these clips the first thought that came to my mind was Paul Newman's great line in The Hustler while he's watching Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats playing pool-- "look those chubby little fingers.....". Amos Milburn, who had a good run as an R&B hit maker from 1947-53, would record Chicken Shack Boogie twice, the second version (Aladdin 3332) is the better of the two, recorded in New Orleans, it's one of the greatest records ever made. After the hits dried up at Aladdin he cut some sides for King and a very rare LP for Motown (partially produced by Andre Williams).
Moon Mullican cut tons of records for King, most of them great, my favorite is Seven Nights To Rock. He was also pals with Hank Williams with whom he co-wrote Jambalaya. He later recorded for Coral, Starday, and Spur but his King sides are the best. Black or white, this is what it sounded like in Texas roadhouses in the late 40's and early 50's. For a fascinating look at one of the sleaziest strips of Texas nightlife ever, see Josh Alan Friedman's piece on Jacksboro Highway nightspots from his Black Cracker Online blog. I'm not sure if Amos Milburn or Moon Mullican ever played The Jax, but I'll bet my socks they were both on the jukeboxes in a lot of them joints.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #47

What do you make of this bunch and their snazzy headgear? Myself? I'm at something of a loss for words. Could this be the humble beginnings of the very creepy Plushie movement? The launching of a new cartoon character that never made it to the TV screen? A satanic cult with a sense of humor? Hugh Hefner's household staff before their yearly Easter Egg hunt? Your guess is as good, well, actually, probably better, than mine. But it really is a great, if somewhat creepy photo. They should do an episode of Mad Men with the whole cast dressed in those hats.
ADDENDUM: A reader has identified the hats as the cartoon character Crusader Rabbit, Jay Ward's pre-Rocky & Bullwinkle, made for TV animation show, which I must admit, I have no memories of, although I must have seen it at some point as a tyke having been born in 1959.
It sure makes the photo seem less creepy, it's probably a party full of Jay Ward's staff.
There are links in the comments section if you care to investigate more background on Crusader Rabbit.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Phil Karlson

Walking Tall (1973) with Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser. From The Phenix City Story (1955) from the Brothers Rico with the great Richard Conte Kansas City Confidential (1952) From Kid Galahad with Elvis (1962)
Phil Karlson, real name Phil Karlstein, (b. July 2, 1908, d. December 12, 1985) began his career as a prop man at Universal studio, then worked his way up the ladder doing virtually every job
on the set, eventually working his way up to assistant director on Abott and Costello films by suggesting gags directly to Lou Costello. He made his best films for tiny "poverty row" studios like Eagle/Lion and Monogram, and today is best remembered for a string of excellent, low budget, film noir and crime pictures made in the 50's-- Scandal Sheet (1952) (written by Sam Fuller), Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), Hell's Island (1955), 5 Against The House (1955), The Phenix City Story (1955), The Brothers Rico (1957), and Key Witness (with Dennis Hopper, 1960). These all show up on TV, especially TCM late at night and are all worth watching. The 60's were not kind to Karlson and he was stuck directing awful Elvis (Kid Galahad), and Dean Martin (The Silencers, The Wrecking Crew)
formula drek, he was obviously hired because he was known to be able to work on a small budget. He made a comeback witht the self produced drive in hit-- Walking Tall (1973) with Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser, a former wrestler turned sherrif who attempts to clean up his corrupt backwater hometown (it was remade in naughts with The Rock). Walking Tall is a masterpiece and stands with Monte Hellman's Cockfighter and Richard Compton's Macon County Line (written by Max "Jethro Bodine" Baer Jr.), as the best of that peculiar early 70's genre "country noir". Where the original 40's film noir genre exposed the corruption and sleaze behind the enticing bright lights of the big city, country noir showed that the same corruption was found back home in the small towns the city folks left behind. This genre lived and died in fairly short time period and was even touched upon by a-list directors like John Boorman whose 1972 classic Deliverance horrified middle America. Phil Karlson was right at home with this genre, and his final movie-- Framed (1975) which also starred Baker is almost as good as Walking Tall, and worth another look. Interviewed by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn for their excellent, groundbreaking book Kings Of The Bs (E.P. Dutton, 1975) he was quoted: "Every successful films I've made has been based on fact". This is especially true of his two best-- The Phenix City Story and Walking Tall, both of which were taken from then current news stories. Although I originally saw Walking Tall at a seven screen drive in (Florida still has one, there were five when I was growing up), it still looks great on TV and the remake is something of a travesty.Joe Don Baker, who usually plays a bad guy (Charley Varick being one of his most memorable roles) makes the transition to hillbilly hero admirably. Phil Karlson's movies not only show up on TV from time to time, they are easy to find on Netflix. I'd recommend them especially for fans of Sam Fuller, Anthony Mann, Don Siegal, and other straight shootin' types of studio b-list, contract directors of the era. They make great late night viewing.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bo Diddley and the Duchess

Bo Diddley w/the Duchess, Hollywood Au-Go Go, 1965 From the same show. This clip is new to me.
It's been a few months since my last Bo Diddley posting (Bo Goes Guitar Shopping) but while checking around Youtube I found four clips I hadn't seen posted before, all featuring the Duchess (Norma Jean Wolford), Bo's incredible second guitarist. I can't think of a better way to waste time than watching vintage Bo Diddley. For more check the archives. BTW it looks like"Story Of Bo Diddley" documentry is coming out on DVD legally, so for all those fans who've been hunting for it for all these years, Bo's estate will be releasing the thing legit, finally. It's got some of the best Bo footage I've ever seen.

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
copyright Hound Archive