Monday, August 30, 2010

Larry Williams

Larry Williams (center) meets some fans, 1958.
Picture sleeve for his two sided smash.
Specialty Records gig poster-- The Atomic Rock Buster.
Larry Williams was born May 10, 1935 in New Orleans, where as teen he put in some time as Lloyd Price's chauffeur. Price, then riding high on Lawdy Miss Clawdy remembered the well dressed teen-- "Larry couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a musician or a pimp". Worried about his future, his family sent him to live with relatives in the Bay Area, and it was in Oakland, fronting a group called the Lemon Drops he came to the attention of Specialty Records producer/A&R man Bumps Blackwell. Blackwell saw the nineteen year old Williams as a possible successor to Specialty's meal ticket of that time-- Little Richard, who having seen the trail of Sputnik in space while touring Australia (or more likely, seen how small his royalty checks were, having signed a publishing deal with Art Rupe that gave him a mere half-cent a disc), threw his jewelry into the ocean, denounced rock'n'roll and enrolled in Bible college.
Lloyd Price, whose own career had lost momentum when he was drafted, was no longer recording for Specialty, and attempting to launch his own label (KRC) with manager Harold Logan (later assassinated at his own Times Square nightclub-- The Turntable). Price and Logan knew they had a sure fire hit in the tune Just Because. Specialty's owner Art Rupe had Blackwell and their newly newly inked young protege Larry Williams record a note for note cover of Just Because, and with Specialty's better distribution and more money for promotion, Williams cover beat out Price's original, to rise to #11 on Billboard's R&B chart in 1957.
Larry Williams was more than a good mimic however, he was an excellent singer, pianist and songwriter, and backed by the greatest studio band ever assembled, was soon churning out classic, original rock'n'roll discs. He was indeed the crown prince to Little Richard's claim as the King Of Rock'n'Roll, and in the years 1957-1958 he would give Richard, and everyone else a run for their money.
Larry Williams' Specialty sessions, produced at various times by the aforementioned Bumps Blackwell, and later by Art Rupe, Harold Battiste and finally, Sonny Bono, employed the creme de la creme of West Coast session musicians, many of them New Orleans transplants, and veterans of countless rock'n'roll classics by Fats Domino, Little Richard, Smiley Lewis, Shirley & Lee, Ritchie Valens, etc. ad infinitum. Drummer Earl Palmer, guitarist Rene Hall, bassists Ted Brinson and Jewel Grant, saxophonists Plas Johnson, Alvin "Red" Tyler, Lee Allen, and Harold Battiste played some of their most inspired rock'n'roll behind Larry Williams. At least one of Williams sessions was done in New Orleans with Charles "Hungry" Williams on drums, Frank Fields on bass, and Roy Montrell on guitar.
It was Larry Williams sophmore disc that set the template-- -- Short Fat Annie b/w High School Dance (the b-side from the pen of future U.S. congressman and ski spazz Sonny Bono), a Little Richard styled rocker, lyrically rather dumb in fact, it still rocked like crazy and it became a #1 R&B hit, rising to #5 on the pop charts, and for the moment Larry left behind his stable of whores for the equally sleazy pastures of rock stardom.
That same year ('57) came Williams third disc, another lyrically trite, but musically smokin' platter-- Bonie Moronie b/w You Bug Me Baby, the a-side, another Williams original, it would be the commercial zenith of his career when it peaked on Billboard's pop charts at #14 (#4 R&B), while the flip, co-written with Bono-- You Bug Me Baby had its own chart run, where it rose to #45. Larry Williams was white hot shit, appearing on American Bandstand (one of the few to refuse to lip sync, where is that clip today?), and in February of '58 he hit his musical pinnacle of his rock'n'roll style with another two sided slammer-- Dizzy Miss Lizzie (heard here in the extended version that appeared only on the 78 rpm pressing) b/w Slow Down. Although it only got to#69 on the pop charts, it was a steady seller and over the next two years probably sold as many discs as his previous three hits. Rupe understood the importance of jukebox play, mastering Specialty's 78's especially "hot" (i.e. loud), and jukebox hits would sell over a long period of time. Most especially to juke box operators, since most jukes at the time still used 78's, which would wear out after several dozen plays, and a tune that took in the coins would have to be replaced every week, and would stay on the juke for many months, if not years.
Of course, Larry Williams hit the road, where he could make some real money, billed as "The Atomic Rock Buster" he tore up package shows, appearing with virtually every big name rock'n'roll and R&B artist of the era, while still maintaining a regular schedule of club gigs.
Larry Williams cut two more records for Specialty in '58, neither as good as what had come before-- Hootchie Koo b/w The Dummy and Peaches and Cream b/w I Was A Fool both failed to chart. By 1959 Art Rupe was tiring of the record biz, having lost Little Richard, he also made the ill advised decision to give Sam Cooke (who'd been recording for Rupe as a member of the gospel shouting Soul Stirrers)'s contract to Bumps Blackwell in lieu of royalties owed, he started to concentrate on his other investments, mostly in real estate. Hence, when Larry Williams recorded one of his finest discs-- She Said Yeah b/w Bad Boy it failed to chart.
Bad Boy was one of the greatest rock'n'roll records of all time and some of the alternate takes might be even better than the issued verion. One alternate, created by splicing various takes together showed up on the 1986 LP The Unreleased Larry Williams (the splicing was done by Little Walter DeVenne who was transfering the tapes) and was not included by Ace on their definitive Larry Williams-At His Finest (The Specialty Years) double CD as the compilers of that package thought that Billy Vera (who compiled the LP) and Little Walter were re-writing history by fucking with the original master tapes, which is true, but it's still fun to listen to, since Rene Hall lets loose a blistering guitar solo that seems to burn right through the stylus. For more on the subject see my Rene Hall posting from June 2009. Specialty would issue three more singles by Larry Williams that year-- Steal A Little Kiss b/w I Can't Stop Lovin' You, Give Me Love b/w Teardrops, and his swansong at Specialty-- Ting A Ling b/w Little Schoolgirl, the best of the three. Specialty also issued the LP Here's Larry Williams, a collection of his singles that year. Rupe had some excellent un-issued material in the vault which wouldn't see release for three decades or more.
His days as a hitmaker over, and Williams drifted back into the life-- pimping and dealing drugs. He spent part of late 1959 in jail on a narcotics charge. His next recordings would be a on the Chess label-- starting with My Baby's Got Soul b/w Everyday I Wonder. He was attempting to update his sound, and was a bit ahead of the curve. Four more singles were issued by Chess (1960-1), solid but unspectacular R&B, not quite soul, not quite rock'n'roll, they garned little airplay and almost no sales. He had no discs released in 1962 and only one in '63, on Mercury, I Can't Help Myself b/w Woman, a below par soul outing. In 1964 Williams struck up a partnership, musical and other, with another giant talent from rock'n'roll's gravy years who had fallen into obscurity-- Johnny "Guitar" Watson, although their first disc together-- Beatle Time pts 1 & 2 on Jola was less than something to shit your panties over.
One can understand why Williams would want to pay tribute to the Beatles, since they covered no less than three of his tunes--Dizzie Miss Lizzy, Slow Down and Bad Boy, while the Rolling Stones opened their Out Of Our Heads (UK) and/or side two of December's Children (US) LP with a seething rendition of She Said Yeah, sporting one of Keith Richard's coolest guitar riffs ever, and paced at a balls to the wall tempo.
In the 1965 Larry Williams toured the U.K., bringing along Johnny Guitar Watson, where he cut two live LP's-- Larry Williams On Stage (Sonet), a live run through of his hits filled out with Little Richard and James Brown covers, and The Larry Williams Show featuring Johnny Guitar Watson with the Stormville Shakers (Decca) which was highlighted by a version of the Yardbirds' For Your Love. From here he'd leave the old sound of rock'n'roll behnd for good.
Back in the States he signed to Columbia's Okeh subsidiary, first re-cutting his old hits with modern, horn heavy arrangments, and producing a similar venture for Little Richard. Both are fairly dreadful. Larry Williams was not the type of guy to look back, and was constantly trying to keep up with the times. His most successful attempt at a comeback would come with his next LP, recorded in tandem with Johnny "Guitar" Watson-- Two For The Price Of One (Okeh), a soul album in the style today called "Northern soul" (not because it was recorded in the Northern U.S. but because it gained popularity in Northern England at clubs like Manchester's Twisted Wheel). Two For The Price Of One produced one minor hit, a version of Cannonball Adderly's Mercy Mercy for which they added lyrics. Actually my favorite part of the record is the cover on which the two players, decked out in their finest sharksin pimp wear are seen surfin' (or is that water skiing?) on their new Cadillac Eldorados.
They followed it up with a psychedelic soul single on which Williams and Watson were backed by the Frisco rock group Kaleidoscope (featuring a young David Lindley on electric sitar)-- Nobody b/w Find Yourself Someone To Love, which went nowhere, but stands up today as an interesting piece of cross cultural confusion. They pre-dated Norman Whitfield's psychedelic soul productions for Motown by a good year or so. Mercy Mercy would be Larry Williams final commercial success, and after the Okeh stint, Williams cut sides for Venture, MGM and Bell, all with Johnny "Guitar" Watson. They would part musical ways in the mid 70's, after which Johnny Guitar Watson would finally strike gold in the late 70's, re-igniting his career as a funk meister with A Real Mutha For You and Love Jones. By this time, Williams had once again returned to "the life", not only pimping but dealing coke. In her autobiography I, Tina, Tina Turner blames Williams for turning Ike Turner onto freebase, Andre Williams who spent a lot of time around Ike at his Bolic Sound studio around the time remembers Larry as Ike's main connection in the early 70's. Somehow I think Ike would have found his way to the drugs with or without Larry Williams, but pimping and dealing are how Larry Williams supported himself for most of his life. He would record one last album, in 1978 for Fantasy-- That Larry Williams
appeared with little fanfare. It opened with a disco remake of Bonie Moronie, the rest of the songs all had the word funk in the title, the less said about this disc the better.
On January 7, 1980, Larry Williams was found in his Laurel Canyon home with his hands cuffed behind his back and a bullet in his head. The LAPD deemed it a suicide but most people who knew him thought he was murdered. Various theories on who might have killed Larry Williams have been floated over the years, suspects named include Watson (which is almost certainly not true) and the LAPD. The rumor that the words Space Guitar were carved into his chest however can me traced back to yours truly and my own sad attempt at humor when writing the liner notes for the CD re-issue of Two For The Price Of One. I made it up, thinking most fans would get the joke, unfortunately I've seen the story re-printed as evidence that Watson had something to do with Williams murder. Not everyone gets my jokes. Anyway, at this late date it's unlikely we'll ever know the truth about who pulled the trigger on Larry Williams.
From the mid-80's through 2004 many outtakes from his glory days at Specialty have surfaced, and not all of them created artificially. The aforementioned Ace package-- At His Finest, is an essential part of any record collection and contains a wealth of previously un-heard material including versions of Sugar Boy Crawford's Jockamo (Iko Iko), Huey Smith's Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu, Little Richard's Heebie Jeebies, Lloyd Price's Lawdy Miss Clawdy, and among the originals left on the shelf are alternate takes and unnisued tunes like Baby's Crazy, Bad Boy (take 5, take 6), Hocus Pocus, You Bug Me Baby, The Dummy, Slow Down, and Hey Now, Hey Now.
Larry Williams-- pimp, rocker, fashion plate. He sure was something.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Secret World Of The Rolling Stones- The Genuine Black Box

NME Award, '65 Brian teaching Ron Asheton how to dress.
NME Awards ceremony, 1964.
Backstage, Mick explains to Charlie why white shoes with black laces are cool.
Hey Keith! Duck! Onstage, 1964.
Same gig, .005 seconds later.
Hey you morons, take my picture!
Brian on the dulcimer, 1966. He could play it, but could he spell it?
Brian on recorder, Ruby Tuesday live, 1966.
Charlie contemplates life as a Rolling Stone.
Having felt pretty much like a sucker for shelling out way too much money for the deluxe re-issues of Exile On Main Street (on the bonus DVD Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues is cut down to 10 minutes? I mean, why bother?) and a Get Your Ya Ya's Out box set, I was delighted to find falling through my mail slot what is most definitely the greatest Rolling Stones bootleg ever assembled-- The Genuine Black Box 1961-1974 (Scorpio), a six CD set of studio outtakes, demos, radios show recordings and other rarities -- 144 tracks in all, by the same folks that gave us the best Dylan (Genuine Basement Tapes Vol.1-5 which they superseded with the sonically upgraded four CD A Tree With Roots box, Genuine Live 1966, an 8 CD collection of the entire '66 U.K. tour with the Hawks, and Genuine Bootleg Series Take 1-3, three triple CD set of the best un-issued tracks from all eras), Velvet Underground (the triple CD Dispatches From The Dream Factory) and many previous Stones boots over the years.
It's beautifully packaged and knowingly annotated (unlike the Exile re-issue which gets the words to Tumblin' Dice wrong among other minor but irritable errors), tons of ultra rare photos and ephemera, but it's the music what counts and with this baby I think I can throw away a good dozen or so earlier bootlegs since this comprehensive set not only beats what's been out there over the years for sound quality, I'm fairly actually astounded at how much excellent material is here that I didn't have. Being something of a completest (read: brain damaged) on the subject of vintage Rolling Stones (my cut-off point is '73 except for that great '81 session where Keith does his best Jimmy Reed impersonations which I posted last January) and the Keith produced rasta gospel group The Wingless Angels whose 1997 album was the best record Keith had been involved in since Exile. I have no idea where you can buy something like the Genuine Black Box, so don' ask me. And I have no idea how much it costs, but it can't be much more than the $145.00 I spent on my (count 'em) tenth copy of Exile. And you get a lot more for your money, both in music and packaging. Since the Scorpio folks were nice enough to send me a review copy and I assume they have to eat and pay off roadies, sound men and tape vault custodians, I'm not going to give away all six CD's for free (I haven't seen it on the web yet, don't mistake it for the Black Box triple CD that's all over the place these days, but if you check Captain Crawl every day for the next few months it's bound to show up). But I can tell you what's there, and since the Stones (and/or Abkco) seem to have no interest it making this stuff available legally, I'm not going to feel to guilty about it either.
So what do you get? CD 1 kicks off with Little Boy Blues & the Blue Boys, Mick's first group (with Dick Taylor on guitar) first demo, recorded in Taylor's parents living room doing Jimmy Reed's On Your Way To School, followed by three tunes done a month later, all from the Chuck Berry song book- Johnny B Goode, Little Queenie and Beautiful Delilah. The liner notes credit Keith Richard with playing guitar, but it's more likely Dick Taylor and Bob Beckworth. There supposedly 12 tunes on the original tape, I'd imagine Scorpio is saving the rest of future volumes. The Stones first demo session in Oct. of '62, (the line-up is Mick, Keith, Brian and Ian Stewart with Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman on drums) are heard doing an ultra crude run through of Bo Diddley's You Can't Judge A Book, two more tunes were cut that day--Jimmy Reed's Close Together and a tune called Soon Forgotten but they have never surfaced anywhere that I know of. The classic Rolling Stones line-up (Jagger/Richards/Jones/Wyman/Watts/Ian Stewart) recorded their first five song demo at Regent Sound on March 11, '63 (engineered by Glyn Johns who would go on to engineer many of their best 60's LP's) and it's presented here in its entirety, and in the best fidelity I've heard yet-- on Diddley Daddy, Bright Lights, Big City, Honey What's Wrong, Road Runner and I Want To Be Loved we hear the Stones' sound rapidly solidifying, they haven't masted the studio yet, but they have arrived at their sound-- no doubt.
The rest of disc one is devoted the Stones' earliest attempts to make a great record along with some rare BBC Saturday Club recordings. An alternate take of their second UK 45- Fortune Teller is one track that is new to my ears. Early sessions from Regent Sound can be found here, including an incredible alternate take Not Fade Away from their first album, their first truly great recording. Two early originals-- the Beatles-esque It Should Be You is one ultra rarity found here along with the never issued anywhere Leave Me Alone. Of course classic bootleg stuff like Andrew's Blues, Mr. Spector and Mr.Pitney Came Too, et al are all here, again, in about the best sound quality yet committed to wax (or whatever CD's are made of). And some more ultra rare stuff like a version of Jimmy Reed's Ain't That Lovin' You Baby recorded for a Radio Luxembourg broadcast, the infamous Rice Krispies radio spot, BBC's Saturday Club recordings of Cops & Robbers, I'm Movin' On, and Beautiful Delilah, an extended version of Don't Lie To Me, different from the one that showed up on Metamorphosis (and December's Children), and the final track on the 33 tune first disc-- the long version of 2120 South Michigan Ave, it has an extra guitar solo not heard on the issued version (from the 5 x 5 EP), my buddy the late Bob Quine was convinced the extra guitar was played by Muddy Waters, me, I think it's Brian.
Disc two picks up the story in 1964 at Chess Studio in Chicago (where 2010 S. Michigan was recorded) and from that session are five outtakes High Heeled Sneakers, the killer instrumental Stewed & Keefed, Look What You Done, How Many Times and Meet Me In The Bottom, the rarest tracks from the session that produced their first U.S. hit-- It's All Over Now. The other twenty five tracks are a mix of BBC and studio outtakes including alternate versions of I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys, Suzi Q., a take on Little Walter's arrangement of Big Bill Broonzy's Key To The Highway from an early session at RCA Recorders in L.A., where much of their best work was done, the amazing Fanny Mae (which they'd re-write as Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man) which I'd never heard (only the BBC recording has previously surfaced), the wonderful Looking Tired, a version of We're Wasting Time with a guitar solo, Bo Diddley's Crackin' Up from a BBC broadcast, and more. These first two discs alone would make this one of the most essential Stones bootlegs ever, but sixty six songs later we're not even at the halfway point!
By 1966 the Stones had mastered the recording studio and the art of making records and disc three's twenty four tracks start near the beginning of the golden era, opening with 19th Nervous Breakdown (with a different lead vocal track) and two alternate versions of Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In The Shadow), both with different lead vocals over a very different mix of the basic track, the second has a piano intro not heard on the final version. Also present are Get Yourself Together (two alternate versions, one with an added electric guitar), demos for Yesterday's Papers and Dandelion (the latter is Keith's home demo with him singing lead), alternate mixes of We Love You and 2000 Light Years From Home, the infamous Gold Painted Nails (the last time Andrew Oldham would set foot the studio with the Stones), Did Everybody Pay Their Dues? which is Street Fightin' Man with its original lyric and vocal track, many alternate mixes of Begger's Banquet era tracks, the version of Jumpin' Jack Flash from the short promo film they made to promote it (very different but every bit as great as the issued 45), along with a few tracks familiar from other bootlegs-- Family, Blood Red Wine, Highway Child, finishing up with an outtake version of Mick's first solo disc-- Memo From Turner from the film Performance (Keith refused to play on it because of Mick and Anita's sex scenes, encouraged by Donald Camell, bugged him, so Mick recruited Ry Cooder, Stevie Winwood, Al Cooper and Traffic's Jim Capaldi and had 'em sounding just like the Stones by the final take).
Disc four covers more of the same ground in the years 1968-69. Opening with another alternate version of Child Of The Moon (the b-side of the Jumpin' Jack Flash 45), more alternates of Memo From Turner and Family, a fantastic nine minute jam on Muddy Waters' Still A Fool, the demo for Sister Morphine, alternate mixes from Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed, including Gimme Shelter with Keith singing lead and You've Got The Silver with Mick's lead vocal, both over the familiar final backing tracks (they couldn't quite decide which tune would be Keith lead vocal debut until the last minute, acetate test pressings of Let It Bleed were even pressed with the reversed vocals). The final track on this disc is the acoustic demo for Exile's All Down The Line, recorded in L.A. in '69.
Discs five and six round up the goodies from their final glory days, opening with 1969's Got A Line On You (which by '72 would become Exile's finale Shine A Light, why wasn't this on the Exile box?). Of course Cocksucker Blues is here as well as the version of Brown Sugar with Clapton on slide, alternates of Wild Horses, Sway (no strings, different guitar solo) and Bitch. The highlights for me on disc five are the alternate versions of Exile's two covers'-- Robert Johnson's Stop Breaking Down (different vocals and slide guitar, no harmonica) and Slim Harpo's Shake Your Hips (a completely different version) and Who Am I?, again, these should have made it to the Exile deluxe package. There's also a nice alternate take of Dead Flowers (Suzie started life as Lucy in the lyric), probably their best country song ever (unless I'm Movin' On from the Got Live If You Want It EP counts).
The final disc rounds up the rest of the Exile era outtakes, opening with Let It Rock from the UK Brown Sugar three song EP, there's Exile On Main Street Blues (from the NME flexi-disc), I Ain't Lyin', I Don't Care and both early takes of Lovin' Cup (Ian Stewart thought the first '69 version was the best thing they ever recorded). These tracks sound better here than on the Exile box where it's obvious they'd been tampered with recently. Goats Head Soup outtakes finish things off, the best being a ragged but right cover of Dobie Grey's Drift Away and 'Til The Next Goodbye, Mick Taylor's final recording with the Stones.
Probably because everything they recorded before Sticky Fingers is owned by the estate of the late Allen Klein (a truly vile human in a business full of venal and despicable people, he did time for stealing from the money raised by George Harrison for the staving children in Bangla Desh), the Stones have given little thought to their back catalog. The CD's of their old LP's have always sounded like shit, and they've never issued even one bonus track until first the Get Your Ya Ya's Out box, then the aforementioned Exile package, leaving these things to the bootleggers. The Scorpio crew have always been at the top of the heap when it comes to Stones boots (and Dylan, Neil Young, the Velvet Underground, et al), but with the Genuine Black Box, the Scorps have outdone themselves. If you only own one Stones' bootleg, it would have to be The Genuine Black Box, it's worth every penny (or shilling).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Secret World Of Elvis III

Elvis taking lessons in French, Paris, 1959.
The final prescription from Dr. Nick, Aug. 1977.
Elvis in Paris, 1959 with what looks like Bill Wyman in drag.
I'd hate to have been Elvis when he woke up the next morning.
Looking For Elvis' wallet?
Copping a feel....
Although nothing here is as musically astounding as the version of Stranger In My Own Hometown I posted last week, I thought a few of these goofy live and rehearsal x and NC-17 private moments with Elvis might provide a cheap laugh or two for some of you folks out there.
What we have here are Got My Mojo Workin' (with a nice solo from James Burton), I Wash My Hands In Muddy Water, It's Midnight, Polk Salad Annie, Promised Land, US Male, You Gave Me A Molehill (aka You Gave Me A Mountain) and perhaps the oddest of all-- Elvis' Soliloquy On Drugs. The last one there sounds like a case of 'roid rage. Will we ever understand what went through Elvis' mind?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jeff Beck 1964-66

The Yardbirds' Stroll On in Antonioni' Blow Up. Jeff Beck, velvet collar and cuffs.
Jeff Beck, 1967, in a very clean suit.
Ass backwards on a scooter, 1966.
Jeffery Beck was born June 24, 1944, in Wallington, Surrey, England, a fairly typical U.K suburban town. His first musical experiences were singing in a church choir, two years of piano lessons and a few lessons on upright bass from an uncle. In 1958, at age 14, he saw Buddy Holly and the Crickets live and became enthralled with rock'n'roll guitar. His sister was dating a neighborhood pal named Jimmy Page and together they began woodshedding. His first band was called The Nightshift, of whom little is remembered except it was with the Nightshift he was spotted by Paul Lucas, a bass player/vocalist who with his brother John on rhythm guitar and vocals and one Ray Cook on drums had a band called the Tridents. The Tridents lead guitarist Mickey Jopp was leaving the band and Beck was offered and accepted the job. Soon the Tridents had a weekly gig at Eel Pie Island, the scene of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds earliest triumphs. The Tridents never landed a record deal, but they did cut a two song demo-- Trouble In Mind and Wandering Man Blues, the only other Tridents material that has surfaced is an incredible six minute rave up on Bo Diddley's Nursery Rhyme (Was the rest of the set recorded? If so where is that tape today?) recorded at Eel Pie Island. These early Tridents tapes show that Beck's unique style was nearly fully developed by 1964. Beck's first proper studio session was with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, produced by Joe Meek, a group that both he and Page occasionally played with, the single-- Dracula's Daughter b/w Come Back Baby was typical of Sutch's early material, the a-side a goofy, horror-rock novelty in the Monster Mash vein, the b-side a killer guitar rocker. Beck's solo on Come Back Baby shows all the strengths he would later display a few years later in the Yardbirds in all its tasteless eminence. In late 1964 the Yardbirds' lead guitarist-- Eric "No Chin" Clapton left the band, refusing to play on their new single For Your Love, proclaiming it "pop trash", which in turn became quite a blessing for the Yardbirds who remembered the Tridents' guitarist from Eel Pie Island and immediately recruited him. With the Yardbirds, Beck would really make his mark on the world of rock'n'roll, his peak moments coming on side one of Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds (especially Mister Your A Better Man Than I, Heart Full Of Soul, I'm A Man and Train Kept A Rollin'), the best parts of their third album Roger The Engineer aka Over Under Sideways Down (the U.S. title), a disc that my pal Tim Warren (Crypt Records) has denounced in print as "prog rock", but I beg to differ and think Rack My Mind, Jeff's Boogie (this is the version from the 45, different from the LP), and Nazz Are Blue (aka Dust My Broom) to be pretty fucking cool. Note, the mono and stereo versions of said LP have different guitar parts on many of the tunes.
Just for the hell of it, here's another version of Train Kept A Rollin' from a '66 BBC broadcast.
Unlike Clapton, who simply stole his riffs from American guitarists from Matt "Guitar" Murphy to J.J. Cale and everyone in between, Beck's playing rarely showed the obvious influence of other guitarists, rather, he sounded more like he was inspired by the sound of garbage trucks backing up or ducks being stepped on. He phrased more like a horn player, albeit a horn player having an attack of spastic hiccups.
In late 1966, bass player Paul Samuel-Smith left the Yardbirds (to find fortune producing Cat Stevens), rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja switched to bass and Beck's childhood pal and studio musician extraordinaire (that's Page on Donovan's Sunshine Superman) Jimmy Page was added on second guitar. Only three recordings were made with this line up, one single, which was perhaps the peak of U.K. psychedelia-- Happening Ten Years Time Ago along with it's flipside, the wonderfully trashy Psycho Daises (which Beck sang lead on), along with a re-write of Train Kept A Rollin' called Stroll On which appeared the soundtrack of the film Blow Up (although in the film Page is playing bass, on the recording he's playing guitar). These three tracks would be the last truly great recordings of the Yardbirds, at least until a live tape of the line up surfaces (a true holy grail, especially since the Velvet Underground's Waitin' For The Man was in their set list at the time. There is a live rendition of it, in rather dodgy sound quality, from the post-Beck era, but the fidielty is so bad it's hardly worth burning to MP3 to include here). By early '67 Beck, who was burned out from touring, was regularly blowing off gigs, and was finally asked to leave the Yardbirds. They would carry on for another year an a half as a four piece, recording the below par Little Games LP and a live album at New York's Anderson Theater which was quickly withdrawn from circulation. After a short retirement and a bad car wreck, Beck scored a hit in the UK with his first solo single-- Hi Ho Silver Lining b/w Beck's Bolero, and then put together the first version of the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, Ron Wood and Nicky Hopkins. Beck had switched from playing a Fender Esquire (an early version of the Telecaster) to a Gibson Les Paul, which seemed to change his style of playing, and helped indulge his tendencies to heavy-osity, and not in a necessarily good way, although I do have a soft spot in my heart for Truth and Beck-Ola albums, probably from hearing them so many times as a young teen, but they're no match for Stroll On. Beck later admitted without the creativity of the rest of the Yardbirds, especially Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, he felt lost. The rest of his career has been documented many times elsewhere and holds little interest for me personally. Although, for those who care, Beck, Bogart and Appice's Live In Japan album was one of Lester Bangs' all time favorites for its shear tastelessness (at that time Beck had added the musical colostomy bag, a plastic bag full of God knows what that had one end plugged into the guitar and the other a tube that the player blew into, most people remember it from Peter Frampton's Comes Alive, to his ostentatious musical arsenal). Me, while regarding the high spots of his post-Yardbirds career, I can say I admire his Gene Vincent tribute album, for his playing was truly impressive (you try playing Cliff Gallup's solos note for note), but if I want to hear those tunes, I'll play a Gene Vincent record.
One personal antidote. Around 1974 I was working for a concert promoter as a "security guard" (aka bouncer) at concerts around South Florida. Jeff Beck, then promoting his fuise-ack
album Wired, was playing at the 4,000 seat Miami Jai-Lai Fronton. I was working the backstage, dressing room door, and watched the show from the side of the stage. Without a doubt, the loudest thing I have ever heard in my life was Jeff Beck's monitors. When he hit the first note on his guitar I thought my head would cave in. Eventually the sound man turned off the house p.a. system, the monitors alone were loud enough to fill the hall ten times over. Looking into the audience it seemed like at least half the people in the front five rows had their fingers in their ears. I later noticed that when ever someone had to communicate with him backstage they either had to shout or make hand signals, I think he was almost completely deaf. I also think he may have sustained some brain damage in that car wreck.
I haven't followed Jeff Beck's career much since those days, although I did hear his rather dreadful rendition of the Beatles' A Day In The Life on the car radio recently. Lost indeed. These days, Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja still have a band called the Yardbirds that gigs around the U.K, perhaps Jeff should rejoin them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Secret World Of Elvis II

STRANGER IN MY OWN TOWN from Marc Campbell on Vimeo.

Someone named Marc Cambell made this video to go with Wednesday's Elvis posting.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Secret World Of Elvis

Elvis on leave from the army in Paris, early 1959.
Several weeks ago I wrote a posting on Percy Mayfield and put out a call to see if anyone out there had a line on Elvis' x-rated outtake version of Mayfield's masterpiece Stranger In My Own Hometown. Reader JohnnyQ responded with a link to said recording, and having downloaded it, in a fit of excitement sent out copies to several friends that I thought would enjoy hearing Elvis sing "motherfucker", "cocksucker" and "hard prick" in the same tune. Of the responses I got back, my favorite was from esteemed author and cultural commentator Nick Tosches, who wrote: "Jim: as somebody who always felt that Elvis killed rock'n'roll until it rose from the dead again in 1965, I must say that this raises the value of his stock considerably in my mind. In fact, aside from Heartbreak Hotel and one cut on Having Fun On Stage ("...when you look in the mirror and see you are bald", or whatever it is), this is the best Elvis I've ever heard".
I concur, it is indeed right up there with Mystery Train and the version of Reconsider Baby from Elvis' Back in my own mind. So for those who don't bother with the comment section, I thought I'd put it right out here for the world to hear. It's just too good to keep a secret. Monday was the thirty third anniversary of Elvis' death (and the seventy first anniversary of Robert Johnson's death, and it would have been Kelly Keller's fifteenth birthday, had she lived) so consider this my tribute to all three. Don't you love the photos?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Joe Hill Louis

This must be the rarest post war blues record of all, Sam Phillips' first attempt to launch a label, with partner DJ Dewey Phillips.
Joe Hill Louis with one third of his one man band.
Another rare one....
Joe Hill Louis (left), Ford Nelson (piano), B.B.King in the back with guitar. Joe Hill Louis- One Man Band
The first time I heard Joe Hill Louis I didn't even know it was him. It was two tunes, both instrumentals used as filler on the Howlin' Wolf Crown LP-- Twisting and Turning and Backslide Boogie (why they used them beyond me as there was enough Wolf material in Modern/RPM/Crown's vault for at least two albums), but the snake like, twisting, wiry sound of his guitar driving his chugging, crude harmonica really got me, I spent a year with my old Harmony Silvertone trying to reproduce his tone, eventually giving up the guitar for a typer in frustration as not being able to even get close the sound he achieved. Musically speaking, if you spliced the chromosomes from John Lee Hooker, both Sonny Boy Williamsons and Dr. Ross together you'd get a sound something like Joe Hill Louis.
Joe Hill Louis was born Lester Hill, September 23, 1921 in Froggy Botttom, Tennessee, between Memphis and the Mississippi border. When his mother died and his father remarried, his new stepmother ran him off at age fourteen and the homeless youngster wandered into Memphis where he was taken in by a well to do white family-- the Canale's, big in vending machines, one of them- Drew Canale would eventually become a state senator from Shelby County. He was employed first as a houseboy and later chauffeur and would spend almost the rest of his entire life (except for a few months when he married in his mid-20's) living with and working for the Canales. It was the Canale's kids, who encouraged young Lester to throw a beating into the neighborhood bully, a punk who called himself Prince Henry, who would add the Joe Louis to his name, after the heavyweight champion.
It was his teens Joe took up music, starting on the Jew's harp, then adding harmonica, guitar and drums, and eventually figuring out that if he played them all at once he wouldn't have to split the money with a band. By 1949 he was appearing on Memphis all black WDIA, doing a ten minute lunch time blues show where he was billed as "The Be Bop Boy", although the music he played was far from what we today call Be Bop, his sound being closer to John Lee Hooker than Charlie Parker. Later, after picking up the sponsor Pepticon (an over the counter all purpose patent medicine whose main ingredient was grain alcohol), he would become the first "Pepticon Boy" (B.B. King would be the second). One friend remembered that Joe "lived on the stuff". His radio show made him a popular club attraction in Memphis where he also often appeared playing for change in Handy Park, and in the jukes and road houses outside of town. Around this time, he briefly married a woman named Ruthie or Ruthy Mae who bore him a son, but the marriage was short lived and he was soon back living with the Canales.
It was future politician Drew Canale who would be the first to record Joe Hill Louis, recording four tunes in Nashville in November of 1949 that he would sell to Columbia Records who issued Joe's Jump b/w Don't Trust Your Best Friend and Railroad Blues b/w A Jumpin' And A Shufflin' before the year ended. He plays guitar, harmonica and drums simultaneously on all four sides, which capture him a basic blues shuffle mode, using an acoustic guitar and not yet using the over distorted sound that would be a feature of his coming discs.
In early 1950 Louis had come to the attention of sound engineer Sam C. Phillips, fresh from a recent bout of electro-shock treatments for depression, Phillips who had probably heard Louis' radio show, first saw him play at a gig in Moscow, Tennessee. He was the first black artist Phillips had ever met and worked with. He remembered him as dapper, sharp, well organized, likable, very entertaining but something of a loner. Sam was attempting to start his own record label and had partnered up with the crazed Memphis radio phenomenon Dewey Phillips, who was a big fan of Louis, to create the It's The Phillips label. Sam recorded three tunes with Joe and pressed up a few copies of Boogie In The Park b/w Gotta Let You Go, leaving the third tune Nappy Headed Woman on the shelf. The resulting 78 RPM disc is so rare today you would need to trade a kidney, two Russian sex slaves and a kilo of real Chandu opium for a copy, if one ever came up for sale.
It's The Phillips label failed, but Sam kept recording Joe Hill Louis in at least sixteen more sessions between 1950-1953, at first leasing the best of the results to the brothers' Bihari in Los Angeles. The Biharis released, on their Modern label I Feel Like A Million b/w Heartache Baby (Nighttime Is The Rightime) and Boogie In The Park b/w Cold Chills in 1950, Street Walkin' Woman b/w Walkin' Talkin' Blues, Gotta Go Baby b/w Big Legged Woman, a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's Eyesight To The Blind b/w Goin' Down Slow which added Ford Nelson on piano, as well as Peace Of Mind b/w Chocolate Blonde all in '51. A handful of unissued sides would eventually be released on budget Kent LP's in the late 60's. By 1952 Sam was sending Joe Hill Louis' masters to the Chess brothers in Chicago who released When I Am Gone (Treat Me Mean and Evil) b/w Dorothy Mae on Checker in 1952. These are all fine, rocking sides, full of distorted guitar, blaring harmonica and clattering drums done up in a truly unique style.
By late '52 Sam C. Phillips had gotten his own label Sun up and running (although he did end up in court with both the Biharis and Chess brothers over the rights to Howlin' Wolf, Jackie Breston and Rosco Gordon whom he'd been recording and leasing sides to both factions). The fifth release on Sun was Joe Hill Louis' We All Gotta Go Sometime b/w She May Be Yours (But She Comes To See Me Some Time) in January of '53. A distorted, crude, overamplfied masterpiece of shellac if I ever heard one, and I have heard a few. Despite recording a wealth of fine material with Louis including a fantastic final session in November of '52 that saw Louis backed by Big Walter Horton on harmonica and Mose Vinson on piano, he would see no more releases on Sun Records. Killer performances like Tiger Man and Hydramatic Woman (a Rocket 88 re-write) would sit in the vaults until the 1980's when Charley first released them on the Sun Blues Box (although the Japanese P-Vine label would collect the best of his Sun Recordings for the LP Be-Bop Boy in the early 80's, issued on beautifully high quality shiny black vinyl). Phillips also used him as a session man and he can be heard playing guitar on Rufus Thomas' incredible Bear Cat (The Answer To Hound Dog) and drums on Big Walter Horton's Off the Wall and guitar on Walter's Blues In My Condition and Selling My Whiskey which were leased to Modern. Phillips later stated he thought he was getting a "better sound" with Doctor Ross, another one man band recording for Sun at the time.
Like Charlie Feathers before him, frustrated by Phillips unwillingness to issue more discs he headed across town to Meteor Records, a small time operation the Bihari's had set up for their errant eldest brother Lester, who recorded two singles with Joe, issued under the moniker Chicago Sunny Boy (probably an attempt to garn sales by passing him off as one of the Sonny Boy Williamsons, his harmonica playing sounded like a crude cross between both of their styles). These fine sides (the rhythm section was dubbed onto the masters in L.A.)-- Jack Pot b/w Western Union Man and On The Floor b/w I Love My Baby, released in 1953, garned little sales, but remain high points in Joe Hill Louis' discography. Un-issued tunes from the Meteor session like Joe Hill Boogie and Good Morning Little Angel would eventually find there way to LP's on the budget Crown label (see the Pee Wee Crayton posting for more on Crown). From here Joe Hill Louis would record for tiny local labels like Rockin', Big Town, Vendor, Mimosa (which was a re-issue of the Vendor disc, which was owned by Drew Canale) and House Of Sound, most of these were cut with a full band including a tenor sax player, an obvious attempt to update his sound to compete with the onslaught of rock'n'roll. These discs all very rare, and most of them have never been re-issued. And to make the story even sadder, I don't have any of them. There was also an un-issued session cut for Duke which has never surfaced although a fantastic final un-issued session that ended up in the hands of Ace's Johnny Vincent (who never released any of it), was eventually issued in the U.K. on Westside in the nineties -- 4th & Beale, Heartache Baby, and Goin' Down To Louisiana being the best of it.
In the summer of 1957 Joe was doing some yard work for the Canales' when he cut his finger which then became infected by the fertilizer he was using. He didn't bother to get it treated and a few days later he collapsed on Beale Street. Rushed to the hospital, on Aug. 5, 1957, he died a painful death from tetanus (lock jaw) at John Gaston Hospital, where Bessie Smith had died two decades earlier.
Joe Hill Louis was remembered as a likable, humorous sort of fellow, a ladies man, and a nice guy. His music may have been too crude and distorted to be commercial, although crude and distorted didn't hurt the careers of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf, all who where enjoying good record sales during the years that Louis' discs were first released. Most likely his lack of touring, and a lack of promotion are what kept him in obscurity to all but Memphis residents to whom he was a familiar site on Beale Street, Handy Park, and on WDIA. He died too young to reap the benefits of the sixties blues revival, but his records sound better than ever today, he was a unique guitarist, and the one man band style served his unique sense of timing well, in a gloriously clattering musical racket. The cream of his Modern/Crown/Kent sides can be found on the UK Ace label's Boogie In The Park CD, while his (mostly) un-issued Sun recordings are available on the essential Sun Blues Box (Charly, the CD version expanding greatly on the original vinyl set). Although he's best remembered for putting Sam C. Phillips in the record biz, Joe Hill Louis was more than just historically important, he was one of the greats.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #52

This soul sister looks ready for a night out on the town. Either that or she's an off duty Ikette (or Raylette). The slight peak of red panties is a nice touch. I'm having a hard time dating this one, can anyone tell by the shoes?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

George V. Higgins

George V. Higgins- Hard boiled crime novelist, lawyer, journalist in his final "author's photo".
Trailer for The Friends Of Eddie Coyle.
I've been so busy, and it's so damn hot that it's been hard to concentrate on doin' this blog, so here I sit with three half finished posts that I have no idea when or how I'll get finished. So I thought I'd do a quickie about one of my favorite hard boiled writers-- George V. Higgins (born, Nov. 13, 1939- died, Nov. 6, 1999). Higgins, had worked as an assistant district attorney, journalist, lawyer (whose clients included at various times Eldridge Cleaver and G. Gordon Liddy) and later professor at Boston University but will best be remembered for a series of hard boiled novels set in the Boston area and chronicling the Irish low life and organized crime (or disorganized crime in many cases). Higgins books are authentic accounts of the lives of real people, real people that he created. Higgins had such a near perfect ear for the way these mugs talked and thought, and the best of his books are easily among the finest hard boiled writing I have encountered. I haven't read all twenty seven novels, but I can vouch the dozen or so I've read, including his first-- The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1972), which was the template for one of the truly great crime flicks of the 1970's, and maybe Robert Mitchum's last truly transcendent performance. In fact, after listening to people rave about Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006) which I personally I thought was rather mediocre (the real story of Whitey Bulger was so much more interesting), I started going on rants on how much better The Friends Of Eddie Coyle was, demanding that to anyone who told me they liked The Departed that they see it, for it is truly the masterpiece Boston Irish crime noir. Not only does Mitchum capture the sad life of an over the hill, nickel and dime, Boston hood in great nuance, there's an exceptional performance from the always great Peter Boyle and a solid cast that includes such under appreciated pros as Richard Jordan, Joe Santos, Alex Rocco, and Steven Keats, all faces you'll probably recognize even if you don't know their names.
Higgins' novel is as good, no, actually it is even better than the film. He followed it up with basically one novel a year until the mid-nineties, including a series of books based around the character of Jerry Kennedy- Kennedy For The Defense (1980), Penance For Jerry Kennedy (1985), Defending Billy Ryan (1992) and Sandra Nicholas Found Dead (1996). Jerry Kennedy, the self described "best sleazy lawyer in town" is a great character, and these books are undoubtedly based on things Higgins saw and heard in his time in practice and in the prosecutor's office. The Jerry Kennedy books are fast, fun, reading, perfect for a hot summer day when all you can really do is lay around and read, listen to music, and if you're as brain dead as me watch Law & Order (especially Criminal Intent with Vincent D'Onofrio as Detective Bobby Goran, sort of a Sherlock Homes meets Colombo with a lot of personal baggage and the strangest body language seen on the tube since Redd Foxx's Fred Sanford, errr... I'm way off the track as usual, is there an emergency exit in this parenthesis?).
Anyway, Higgins, with his amazing ear for conversation, likes let his characters tell the story, which means lots of dialogue, and it also means lots of innuendo and the reader has to do some thinking to put the plot line and action together, this scares off many readers who prefer the blunt Jim Thompson approach to hard boiled. Me, I like the challenge. Perhaps the best example of what I'm talking about (at least from the titles I've read) is Higgins' final, posthumously published novel--- At The End Of Day (2000), Irish and Italian hoods, and cops, we mostly over hear them, talking in their own lingo, and when it all comes together, it's like a slap upside the head. Great book. I think it's my second favorite Higgins novel, after The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. A great pair of bookends to his literary career.
I'll leave you with one last thought on the subject. At dinner one night, a bunch of friends had decided to take a vote as to what group of people are the ugliest in the world. We narrowed it down to two groups, one is a tribe in Papa New Guinea with a genetic problem that leaves them with permanetly snotty noses, and the other were Southies, the sawed off, pushed in face, south Boston Irish. We took a final vote. The Southies won. George V. Higgins gave those ugly faces a voice, and not just southies, but nearly all of Boston's underworld comes in for examination in
his nearly two dozen books on the subject.
Higgins didn't just write hard boiled crime books, he wrote short fiction, non-fiction, books on sports and politics, one on writing (oddly enough, when, after The Friends Of Eddie Coyle was published, a young Nick Tosches wrote him a letter asking him how he came upon his prose style, Higgins' reply was that he hadn't the slightest idea how he came on to it), and I think a few others. George V. Higgins died fairly young, at age sixty he dropped dead of a heart attack. The Friends Of Eddie Coyle remains in print, and the film version is available on DVD and still shows up on TCM, but many of his books, including At The End Of The Day, have sadly gone out of print. I think it's time to bring them back, especially after the orgy of Irish crime non-fiction books that appeared in the wake of the success of Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neil's Black Mass, the story of Whitey Bulger (still at liberty, if someone hasn't killed him) and his FBI agent friend John Connelly.
I've read about five of these tell-alls, and while none of them are as good as Black Mass, Black Mass, great story that it is, isn't as good a books as The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (sometimes fiction is a better way to tell the truth than so called "non-fiction") for the same reason that the film The Departed isn't as good as the film The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. I put George V. Higgins near the top of my list of crime fiction writers, and if you like to read, you owe it yourself to give him a try. Start with The Friends Of Eddie Coyle and work forward.

? & the Mysterians 2

? and the Mysterians post gig show @ the Great Jones Cafe last Saturday.
With Ronnie Spector at Lincoln Center last Saturday.
While I work on the next post (got really behind on things and have three half finished posts),
here's an addendum to last weeks' ? & the Mysterians post, taken at the Great Jones Cafe
where the Mysterians played a good hour without ?, then ? came up and did a few numbers.
Despite idiotic reviews in the Voice (there's still a Village Voice?) and NY Times (there's still a NY Times?), it was a great show, congrats to Dr. Ike, who always delivers the goods.

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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