Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Goodbye Naughts...

The Rolling Stones Ready Steady Go Special, 1966. Best Live Stones Footage Ever (in three parts).

The Stooges around the time of the Uganos recording (photo by Peter Hujar).

Danny Fields' tape box for Stooges Uganos (w/Velvets rehearsal on the other side!). 
There's nothing about Arthur Lee in today's post, I just like this photo.
When in doubt, run photos of Bebe.
As the end of the first decade of the 21st century closes in, it's time to make some sense of what happened in the last ten years. By the time I've done that, the roaring 20's should be here.  One thing is for sure, the world I once knew, and inhabited, is long gone. For lack of a better word, "bohemian" life in NYC is a thing of the past. Priced out by high rents, the city that was once a playground for the cool and the crazy is now a mall for the entitled. I came here in 1977 with $200 in my pocket, and had a job and an apartment within a week. What would I do if was eighteen today? I have no idea. I guess life, or at least social life, has moved into cyber space, which leaves old timers like me more than a tad alienated.  I think the outbreak of autism just may be the human race mutating into the type of creature it will have to be to survive in the future. The skills we don't need (human relations, face to face contact, etc.) have atrophied, welcome to product driven man. Each day is more and more like living in a Phillip K. Dick novel, except I'm not much of a Dick fan. I'm more of a Graham Greene type, and the subjects he addressed-- loyalty, duty, etc. seem almost quaint in the modern world.
Maybe it was bound to happen, you can only arrange three chords so many different ways, but Rock'n'Roll has become something akin to Dixieland, i.e. something old folks get together to do on weekends, a generation to dumb for rock'n'roll has grown up and taken the reins of pop culture, and most of the people I knew and associated with rock'n'roll are dead. Which is a long winded way of saying, I need a break. After 28 months of at least bi-weekly blogging,  I'm taking a month off to let my mental battery recharge. I'll be back at the typer around the second or third week of January.
One thing never changes, and that is the Stooges are still the kings of rock'n'roll and the touchpoint for whatever is left of the stuff. Buy yourself a Christmas present and get Rhino Handmade's Stooges: Have Some Fun: Live At Uganos, despite the quality of Danny Field's hand held cassette recording, we get to hear the band at one of their peaks, coming off the heels of recording Funhouse, they're white hot, and this disc is a must. They've got shows booked for 2012, who would have thought the Stooges would be around after 45+ years, having buried all their contemporaries (and half their band) they're like the eternal torch for rock'n'roll. For a review of the Have Some Fun check Blog To Comm  (scroll down a bit).
Those other mainstays of R&R mentality, for better or worse, The Rolling Stones may never play again, in light of Keith Richards wonderfully vitriolic Life, but then again, even they can't hold a candle to the modern day Stooges.  They haven't sounded right since Bill Wyman left anyway. I assume Bob Dylan will tour until his vocal chords snap, good for him. I must admit, I like the matador get up he's been wearing.
It's that time of year when I start missing the people-- Bob Quine, Kelly Keller, Bill Pietsch, Dee Dee Ramone, Rockets Redglare, so many others, who were part of my day to day life. Luckily for them, none of them had to think about Facebook.  See you in the new decade.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Billy Boy Arnold

Original Version before Jimmy Reed and Yardbirds cover versions.
His First and Best Disc.

Sure Sounds Good At 78 RPM.

Billy Boy Arnold circa 1993.

In late 1954, when Bo Diddley showed up at Chess Records to record a demo of an x-rated tune called Uncle John (where is that demo today?), he didn't arrive alone. In tow where three friends, the mainstays on a loose musical aggregation that played on the streets of Chicago for loose change who called themselves The Langley Avenue Jive Cats. With Bo where Jerome Green whose maracas were an important ingredient in the group's unique sound, drummer Clifton James, and our subject today, harmonica player and singer William "Billy Boy" Arnold (b. September 17, 1935 in Chicago). Missing were guitarist Jody Williams, who'd soon join the group in the studio, Roosevelt Jackson who played washtub bass and another guitarist known only as Buttercup.   Leonard Chess, who recorded the demo told Bo to clean his song up and bring his group back to record it for real, which they did on March 2, 1955. In addition to the cleaned up version of Uncle John which was re-written as Bo Diddley and recorded without Arnold, they also recorded Bo's originals I'm A Man, Little Girl, You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care) and three tunes with Billy Boy Arnold leading the group-- You Got To  Love Me, I'm Sweet On You and the harmonica instrumental- Rhumba.  Chess issued Bo Diddley b/w I'm A Man on his Checker label and the rest was history. A second session with the group was scheduled for May.
Billy Boy Arnold had already recorded back in '53 when he was just 17 years old--  I Ain't Got No Money b/w Hello Stranger, his recording debut, was issued on the Cool label, today it's so rare that he doesn't even have a copy and I've never seen nor heard it.  In the intermittent months between Bo Diddley's first and second sessions, Arnold, convinced Leonard Chess, who already had Little Walter under contract, had little use for his talents,  made his way across the street to Vee Jay Records. There he cut a session for Vee Jay with fifteen year old guitarist Jody Williams (who would re-join Bo's band, as well as doing session work for Howlin' Wolf, and recording under his own name for Argo and as Little Papa Joe for Blue Lake), and session men Henry Gray on piano, Earl Phillips on drums and Milton Rector on bass. From this session, in early May of '55 Vee Jay released under the nome du disque Billy Boy-- I Wish You Would b/w I Was Fooled (Vee Jay 146), a smoldering slice of vinyl and/or shellac depending on how many RPM's you prefer, as ever emanated from Chicago. 
Meanwhile, a week later, at Bo's second  recording session,  Billy Boy Arnold played on She's Fine, She's Mine,  but when they set about recording Diddley Daddy, Arnold explained to Chess he'd just recorded the song as I Wish You Would for Vee Jay. Billy Boy was promptly shown the door, to be replaced by Little Walter on Diddley Daddy. The songs were different enough that both men would take writer's credit on their respective discs, but Billy Boy Arnold was persona non grata with the brothers Chess.  It didn't matter anyway, since that fall Billy was back in the studio for Vee Jay recording four more sides, this time with Fred Below on drums and Syl Johnson and Odell Cambell playing guitars. Two singles were released in 1956-- I Ain't Got You b/w Don't Stay Out (Vee Jay 171) and You've Got Me Wrong b/w Here's My Picture (Vee Jay 192). His third Vee Jay session came in November of '56 which produced the single Kissing At Midnight b/w My Heart Is Crying (Vee Jay 238) and two un-issued tunes. His final Vee Jay disc was recorded in September of '57-- Rockin'-itis b/w Prisoner's Plea (Vee Jay 260), as well as two more outtakes--No, No, No, No and Everyday and Every Night.  I Wish You Would was a small, local hit, as was I Ain't Got You, the next three singles sold very few copies and Vee Jay let him go. Bo Diddley would set on a career as a rock'n'roll star, touring the world for over fifty years and leaving a recorded legacy on Checker that is second to none. Billy Boy Arnold would return to the streets, and later the clubs of Chicago's south and west sides, where his career as minor, second tiered (in terms of fame and popularity, not musical worth) bluesman lasts until this day. He wouldn't record again until 1963 when he cut his first LP for Prestige, More Blues From The South Side with Mighty Joe Young on guitar. A surprisingly good album, in my own opinion blues like rock'n'roll is a form best enjoyed on singles, whether 78 or 45, and would suffer from recording sessions where an artist would be expected to produce a whole album instead of two sides of a single. Starting in the early 60's, these blues albums were mostly aimed at white "folk blues" fans, and most of them are garbage. 
 But getting back to the five Vee Jay singles, which remain the high point in a long recording career.
All five singles have a rocker on one side and a slow blues or shuffle on the flip. I Wish You Would would become something of a standard after the Yardbirds version, a version even ending up on David Bowie's 1974 Pin Ups (an album of "mod" covers made while his manager negotiated a new publishing deal) and is still something of a blues standard today. But all five singles are great, as good as anything you'll ever hear. All use some variation of the Bo Diddley beat on one side, and all his songs are of superior quality. Arnold was an excellent lyricist, clever, never falling back on the cliches of the genre.  They have a unique sound, and a touch of menace, making them quite unique.
Eventually, as the big names died off, Billy Boy Arnold would gain fame and respectability with blues fans, especially in Europe, touring often, playing festivals in the summer months, cutting at least a dozen albums, probably more.  Having learned to play harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson (John Lee Williamson, the original Sonny Boy), although he plays harp more like Rice Miller, the second Sonny Boy, he was even making good records into the 70's, his version of Dirty Mother Fucker, on Red Lightnin', backed by a charmingly inept white British boogie band called the Groundhogs, remains popular among fans of such things.  Billy Boy was re-united with Jody Williams at the first Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans back in 2003 and they sounded great together. Arnold's still alive today, although he no longer tours much. His best sides- the Vee Jay recordings, are sadly out of print (Charley in the UK had released an album of all his Vee Jay material called Cryin' and Pleadin' in the eighties, some of the tunes later showed up in the US on a series of Vee Jay blues compilations A Taste Of The Blues, all have gone out of print). That will hopefully be corrected some day soon. Whoever undertakes such an endeavour should add the Cool single and the three songs from the first Bo Diddley session to the twelve existing Vee Jay recordings, that would make a nice CD, an excellent testament to Billy Boy Arnold's greatness. That would be called "getting it right", a rare occurrence in the music biz,  Maybe it will even appear before he dies. Stranger things have happened.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #58

This week's found photo, exact place and date unknown, shows a bunch Children Of God cult members caught in their own version of religious rapture. The Children Of God, were (and still are) a creepy hippie-Christian cult,  I touched on them briefly in my June, 2009 posting on Jeremy Spencer, the Fleetwood Mac front man who quit the group to join the C.O.G. mid-tour back in 1971. The Children Of God are still around, now doing biz as "Family International" (briefly they were Family of Love), and Spencer is still with them. Children Of God were founded by the late Moses David aka Dad (born-- David Brandt Berg) who croaked back in '94, just as the law was closing in on him. Over the years all sorts of disturbing reports have come from former members from accusations of child abuse and kiddie porn, to a sort of prostitution they call "flirty fishing"-- using young women to seduce men into the cult, or out of their money. They have been run out of the U.S. and Europe, and are mostly based out of communes in South America and South East Asia.
Still, I love this photo because I find photos of people involved in stupid behavior entertaining. I asked the Fang why she liked it and she simply replied-- "because it's sick".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rev. Julius Cheeks

The Sensational Nightingales- Charles Brown impersonating June Cheeks.

Sensational Nightingales, late 50's promo photo.

Mid-sixties solo album, sharkskin suits for Jesus. 

 June Cheeks with the Sensational Nightingales, at his peek.
Early solo single, Holy Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee.

I just can't seem to stay off the subject of screaming. Why is it that I love to listen to folks screaming so much? Personally, I never scream. Nor does my wife. In fact she almost never even raises her voice, save for those times she falls down the stairs (the stairs in this house are very slippery, I fall down them myself quite regularly). Anyway, you may have to ask Sigmund Freud why I enjoy to hearing musical screams,  but it doesn't a genius to tell you who the greatest musical screamers of them all were. The greatest screams came from those singers that came out of the Church Of God In Christ, and of those singers there are two who have gone down in history as the greatest of the screamers. One was Archie Brownlee of the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi, who literally shouted himself to death, his lungs wracked by pneumonia, he passed away on tour with the  Five Blind Boys in New Orleans back in 1960 at the tender age of thirty five.  The other was Reverend Julius "June" Cheeks-- born August 7, 1929 in Spartanberg, South Carolina, (the same town that begat Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds) who will always best remembered as the hard shouting frontman for the Sensational Nightingales at their peak.
Cheeks was born into poverty, one of thirteen children, his mother, a widow known to all as "Big Chick" Cheeks, picked cotton to raise her brood. Julius, known from childhood as June, dropped out of the second grade to join his mother in the fields, a tough way to get by-- "It was bad, man. We didn't have a clock, we told time by the sun. We didn't eat right, we lived off fatback and molasses", he told Anthony Heilbut for his classic volume The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times (revised edition: Limelight Editions, 1985).  He went through life illiterate, although he could sign his name. He would listen to the recorded Bible on massive stack of 78's and eventually be ordained in the Church Of Holiness Science out of Detroit. As a teenager he heard local bluesman Blind Boy Fuller, and on a neighbors' radio his favorite spiritual groups-- the Soul Stirrers, the Dixie Hummingbirds, and the Fairfield Four. In the mid-1940's June joined a local group called the Baronets and in 1946 they found themselves opening a bill for the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and the Sensational Nightingales. Cheeks was working in a filling station at the time. June Cheeks took the stage in his finest clothes-- overalls with patches sewn over the holes. When the Sensational Nightingales left town the next day they took June with them, he would become their new lead singer.  To Archie Brownlee, who was also on the bill that night, up to that time, unquestionably king of the house wrecking shouters, a man who could cause an entire audience to "fall out" when he hit his blood curdling scream in the Five Blind Boys' version of The Lord's Prayer--, Cheeks was his only compitition--"Don't nobody ever give me any trouble but June Cheeks. That's the only trouble I have, that's the baddest nigger on the road".  The Nightingales manager rehearsed the group from nine in the morning until late afternoon until Cheeks was ready to take the stage. It was an impressive group with hard shouting tenor singer Paul Owens, guitarist Jo Jo Wallace (who wore an Esquerita styled pompadour atop his dome,  and was known for his wild stage antics, he said, when looking back on his career with the Nightingales-- "I was Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Jo Jo, rolled into one"), Carl Coates singing bass (husband to the great Dorothy Love Coates), were all in the group at the time. To this, Julius Cheeks added his thundering baritone lead, and his own wild stage antics. He'd run up and down the aisles, fall down on his knees, tell corny jokes--- "I cut the fool so bad". He was much criticised for his showmanship at the time,  but the audience loved it.  He was the hardest working man in the business. And along with the aforementioned Dorothy Love Coates, one of the few gospel singers to vocally back the Civil Rights movement at a time (late 40's/early 50's) when such expressions of free speech could be dangerous for one who toured the south constantly.
 Life on the Gospel Highway was not an easy one. Once Cheeks found his group stranded in Miami with only fifty cents in his pocket. "I just went and threw mine (fifty cents) as far as it could go into the Atlantic". To support his family-- a wife, two kids, and Big Chick back in South Carolina, he joined the Soul Stirrers for two years in the early fifties ("I was the one caused Sam Cooke to sing hard. I gave him his first shout") before returning to the Sensational Nightingales in time to cut a string of classic records for Don Robey's Peacock label out of Houston. From 1952-1959 he led them through a string of spine tingling discs, including such classics as Blood Of Jesus, Morning Train, Savior Don't Pass Me, What Would You Give,  I Want To Go which featured Jo Jo's rocking guitar riffs, To The End, Standing At The Judgement (which Hank Ballard and the Midnighters would re-write as the rocker What Is This I See), and his greatest recorded moment-- Burying Ground. As near as I can figure, Peacock released at least eighteen singles and five LP's on the Sensational Nightingales on which Julius Cheeks sang lead. Not long ago, attempting to engage me in conversation, a person volunteered the opinion that Graham Nash was the "greatest harmony singer of all time". Hey, I like the Hollies a little,  and I like the Beach Boys and the Byrds a lot, but when people tell me that those groups are "great harmony singers", I just want to laugh. They're good singers, sure, and they made some great records, no doubt. But if you want to hear great harmony singing. I mean great, as in as good as it could possibly get-- listen to Carl Coates' bass parts on the above discs, then listen to the subtle, restrained introduction on Blood Of Jesus, and listen to the way they build the intensity to the screaming finale of Burying Ground.
Few "rock'n'roll" records have rocked this hard. Just listen.  Then try and talk to me about Graham Nash being "great". You will know why I'm laughing. And why I don't like to talk about music with many people anymore. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, and they all stink of shit. I include myself in that summation, heck, I still listen to Mott The Hoople on occassion (to say nothing of Menster Phips and the Phipsters).
 June Cheeks left the the Sensational Nightingales in late 1959, put in a year with the Mighty Clouds Of Joy (who later went on to record a tribute LP to Cheeks), then began a solo career, releasing at least nine singles on Peacock, a few of these billed his backing group as the Sensational Knights, I assume to purposefully confuse matters.  Of these solo discs, my favorite is the bluesy Holy Wine, a Cheeks original which puts the anti-booze faction of church folk in their place, since, sighting two episodes in the New Testament where Christ himself made and served wine (first at the wedding and again at the Sermon On The Mount). Good enough for Jesus, good enough for June. Cheeks admits on the road he "had myself a time", and that he liked to drink. The flipside of Holy Wine-- Tomorrow's Sun, was a screaming rocker with a pounding boogie piano part that could have off of a Jerry Lee Lewis Sun record. Cheeks kept up his solo career, as well as preaching, until the end. Of all the 60's soul singers he inspired, only Wilson Pickett  admitted publicly just how much he had taken from this man. Toward his final days his voice was a hoarse rasp, he had literally shredded his vocal chords screaming night after night. He had worn himself out, when he died in 1981 in Newark, N.J., he was only 51 years old. To this day, no one has ever sang harder, or left a greater legacy.
A video clip (its embedding disabled) from his solo career backed by the Sensational Nights can be found here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mickey Hawks & the Nightraiders

Early shot of the Night Raiders, Mickey Hawks rear center.
The Night Raiders 1958- (left to right)- Mickey Hawks, Bill Ballard, Bob Matthews, John Owens, Moon Mullins.

Screaming third single.

The third  issue of their first single.

Mickey Hawks (on the upper left) with the Nightraiders.

Fourth single, with Mullins singing lead.

Last week I decided to cover the one white gospel singer who could compete with his counterparts of color. This week's subject is one of the few white rockers who could match Little Richard's screaming delivery of a rock'n'roll song scream for scream. There has been only a few of such voices to emerge in rock'n'roll over the years. In the 50's Sun Records' star Sonny Burgess on his debut disc- We Wanna Boogie b/w Red Headed Woman would be at the forefront of this small pack. In the early 60's-- Paul McCartney on the Beatles version of Long Tall Sally and his own I'm Down
was one such set of pipes, in the same group, John Lennon, warbler of the definitive version of the Isley Brothers' Twist and Shout was another. Later, Gerry Rosalie of the Sonics, and Jim Dickinson who sides would be spread out of a series of labels small (Sun, Plantation, Quality, Southtown, Barbarian, New Rose) and large (Atlantic) would join the club. But one of the first, and to my ears, the greatest, of the  Little Richard inspired ofay howlers, would be a young lad from North Carolina named Mickey Hawks (born David Michael Hawks, July 17, 1940 in Thomasville, N.C.,  a few miles south of Winston-Salem). In fact, although it's rather unlikely that either band ever heard of the other, in as many ways as one can count, Mickey Hawks and his Night Raiders were the precursors to the sound of the aforementioned Sonics, who from 1964-66, and then again since their 2003 re-union, the Sonics, pretty much sound like the Night Raiders with the Kinks guitar sound welded on top.
It is time once again to digress. Mickey Hawks' family relocated from Thomasville to High Point, N.C., hear the Virginia border in 1942. As a young teenager, Mickey began teaching himself piano on his mother's instrument, taking in all sorts of music on the radio, most especially the country sounds that dominated the southern airwaves. In 1956 he first heard Little Richard, and would soon learn to ape both the piano and singing style of the Georgia Peach. In High School he meet a drummer named Bob Matthews (a fascinating interview with Matthews can be heard here). Together the formed a duo called the Rhythm Rockers and began entertaining teens at school and local sock hops.  Matthews was friends with a R&B styled tenor saxophone player named Moon Mullins who had a radio show on a small station in High Point.  Mullins lead a four piece rock'n'roll band, said to be the only one in the immediate area.  Soon the Rhythm Rockers-- Hawks and Matthews joined Mullins group, and now a quintet and The Night Raiders were born. In addition to Mickey Hawks on piano and lead vocal, Moon Mullins on tenor sax (and sometimes lead vocals), and Bob Mathews on drums were 14 year old guitarist Bill Ballard and bass guitarist John Owens. Mullins surmised that his group needed matching uniforms, and to raise money for a haberdasher , decided to release a record. Mullins approached his friend Eddie Robbins, and using a home made studio built on Robbins back porch, they recorded two Hawks originals-- Bip Bop Boom and Rock And Roll Rhythm. Robbins pressed up 500 copies of this record on his own Red Robbins label, which the band sold mostly at gigs. The entire press run was soon sold out, and today this first pressing (all of which were on clear red vinyl) is so rare I can't even find a photo of the label, and a copy sold at auction would easily fetch in the four figures. For reasons unknown,  Eddie Robbins would not press any more discs, but Moon Mullins would soon approach a disc jockey friend based out of Martinsville, Virginia, who pressed an additional 500 copies which were issued on the Mart label. Again, the entire press run sold out in a matter of weeks. Sometime in 1958, at a dance in Sanford, N.C. where the Night Raiders were appearing,  they were approached by a fellow (possibly a soldier stationed at a nearby base) named Ian Thomas who claimed to have contacts with a record company in Chicago. Thomas forwarded a copy of the disc to Mike Oury who worked for Mel London's Profile Records, the Chicago based indie (and sister label to London's Chief, Age, Mel and USA labels) that would issue Junior Wells first (and best) singles with Elmore James on guitar, as well as rockabilly by Hayden Thomspon (who had recorded for Sun), blues guitarist Lefty Bates, and the proto-garage band  the Noblemen (who cut an amazing version of Dirty Robber).  Soon Profile re-issued Bip Bop Boom b/w Rock And Roll Rhythm, and it began to garn airplay around Chicago, even reaching #1 on a couple of stations. Bip Bop Boom became something of a local hit in the mid-west and went on to sell some 50,000 copies, which is believable, since it is still fairly easy to find. Despite (or perhaps, because of) its primitive recordings conditions-- Bip Bop Boom remains one of the most astounding sonic displays to grace vinyl. "Bip bop boom/ it's like a sonic boom", so it said, so it was, so it shall always be.  With two wailing, guttural sax solos, an over-distorted guitar break, pounding piano and thundering drums, it is everything rock'n'roll should be, but rarely is. I've used to to fill the dance floor while DJing for three decades and I've seen crowds literally go berserk when it kicks in after the stop time introduction.  The flip side, one of those anthems to our music like Rock'n'Roll Is Here To Stay and It Will Stand, is only slightly less feral. 
  In 1959, exact date unknown, Oury took the Night Raiders into Chicago's Universal Sound studio (where Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, and so many others recorded their best work). Although Universal was a state of the art facility with  genius engineers, the Night Raiders sounded pretty much exactly like they did on their home recorded debut-- primitive and out of control. Of the six sides cut that day, four of them would be issued on two singles-- Hidi Hidi Hidi (a re-write of Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns' Don't You Just Know It, the songwriting credits were shared by Oury and someone named D.Thomas) was backed with the blasting, Link Wray style guitar instrumental Cotton Pickin' , authored by the by now sixteen year old guitarist Bill Ballard. It was released in May of '59, timed to celebrate the massive world wide jubilation that accompanied my birth, while two more tunes from the session-- Screamin' Mimi Jeanie b/w I'm Lost would escape the vaults thirteen months later. The final two tracks from that session, an original entitled Late Date Tonight and the Merrill Moore/Amos Milburn/ Ella Mae Morse & Freddie Slack/Chuck Berry/Rolling Stones (choose your favorite version) classic Down The Road Apiece went un-issued, perhaps lost forever. All four issued sides are superlative rock'n'roll, the best tune being Screamin' Mimi Jeanie which opens with a cracking"machine gun"drum roll, the likes of which would not be heard on record again until the Sonics' debut four years later. It's also Mickey Hawks best vocal. He delivers the bellowing screams with musical blood lust. Again, there's a full toned, blasting sax solo and a blistering guitar workout in the middle. It's got everything you'd want in a rock'n'roll record, all played at full throttle!
Can I find any more appropriate cliches to describe these discs? Let's try-- savage, brutal, wild, frenzied, or just plain old fuckin' great. This is the sound of hard rock'n'roll, in all its excitment and glory,  as oppossed to "heavy rock", which to my ears is lugaborious and painfully dull. 
  The Night Raiders played Chicago to promote their singles, drawing well in the clubs there. Back home in the South East, they performed around the Carolinas and Virgina area regularly for nearly seven years, building up a good size audience everywhere except their home town of High Point where for some reason they never caught on.
 Profile closed up shop in late 1960,  and the Night Raiders would not record another single until 1962, at which time Moon Mullins took over singing lead. That single -- Gonna Dance All Night pts 1 and 2 (part two was simply an instrumental version of the a-side) was released on the Richmond, Virgina based Lance label and it doesn' come close to matching their Profile output.
 Meanwhile, Hidi Hidi Hidi b/w Cotton Pickin' was re-issued on the Hunch label out of Pittsburgh, with Hawks' name mis-spelled as Hanks. This was most likely a bootleg made to cash in on local airplay it got from Mad Mike and other Pittsburgh jocks that prided themselves on playing wild, obscure discs. After that, The Night Raiders wouldn't set foot in the studio again until 1968 when the Piedmont label released the country flavored Baby I Got You on which Hawks, his singing style now much toned down, dueted with a girl singer named Gynn Kellum. The b-side was sung again by Mullins, Ain't Gonna Cry wasn't much to write your Mom about.  The original group had gone their separate ways by now, although both Hawks and Mullins kept their playing music. Micky Hawks returned to his original screaming rock'n'roll style in the eighties when he discovered that he had a sizable audience amongst Teddy Boys and record collectors in Europe. The Profile sides had been bootlegged and re-issued dozens of times, starting with their appearance on the Collector (later White Label) LP Rock'n'Roll Vol. 1 in 1971, they would appear on dozens of compilation LP's, bootlegs 45's and eventually CD's.  They still show up on compilation discs, most recently on the U.K. JSP label's double CD Virgina Rocks and the Virgin (U.K.) double CD United Rockers, both from 2009. Mickey Hawks played quite a few festival dates around England and the continent in eighties and recorded LP's of new material for the Sunjay and C-Horse labels, while the German Star Club label put out a CD that mixed the classic six Profile sides with some later recordings and some '62 un-issued demos under the title Bip Bop Boom in 1999. Hawks later recordings were fairly corny nostalgia based tunes like Fifties Girls, Harley Davidson, The Good Old Days, etc. along with some cover tunes, but his voice was still in fine shape and the Teddy Boys loved his live act.
Mickey Hawks kept performing until his death in 1989. Of the original Night Raiders-- Moon Mullins opened a club called Danceland in Madison, N.C. and may still be alive, Bill Ballard died in 2005, John Owens and Bill Matthews were both still alive last time anyone checked. And those immortal words-- "Bip Bop Boom/it's like a sonic boom", they shall live forever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gillian's Found Photos #57

Fang's back with another found photo. Fans of such things can still see the show of Found Photos-- Help Me that she curated along with Megan Cump at the Camera Cub Of New York at 336 W. 37th Street, Room #206 until December 18th. Thanks to everyone who showed for the opening party.
This weeks pic, date and place unknown, shows three gentlemen with drinks and cigarettes in hand.
Who are they and why are they here? I don't know the answer to the first, although the one on the left looks vaguely familiar (was he famous),  and they're here simply because I love the photo. Most especially because it looks like there are bullet holes in the wall behind them  (look over the head of the guy in the center). My guess is the photo was taken in the late 50's or early 60's.  The white trench coat on the fellow on the far right is a nice sartorial touch, as is the slightly out of sync eyeballs of the guy in the middle.
Keep an eye on this spot for some exciting news from the found photo department here at Houndblog.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brother Claude Ely

Brother Claude Ely with a swell hat.

The Greatest White Gospel Record Ever.

                          It Was This Big.....Brother Claude Ely.

Brother Claude Ely (born July 21, 1922 in the Virginia hill country near Puckett's Creek in Lee County, a few miles outside of Pennington Gap) was the greatest white gospel singer there ever was, and the only one I've ever heard who could hold his own with the great black gospel shouters of the golden era of gospel quartets (1946-66)-- Julius Cheeks (Sensational Nightingales), Archie Brownlee (Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi), Ira Tucker (Dixie Hummingbirds), and Paul Foster (Soul Stirrers). Okay, maybe not that good, but pretty damn close.
He sang and shouted his little heart out not for fame and fortune, but for the love of God. 
Claude Ely took to music at age twelve, laid up with a case of TB, he started on harmonica,  soon he was given a mail order Sear guitar by an Uncle-- "He brought it to my bed and laid it across my chest and by the hand of God my fingers began to play the chords and a voice came in my mouth to sing. From that day on I have been playing guitar and singing". 
 In his late teens he went to work in the coal mines of Harlan County, the scene of many of bloody labor struggle (documented in Barbara Kopple's 1977 documentary Harlan County U.S.A.), fought in World War II, and after the war returned to mining.  While shoveling coal one day in 1949 he received a calling to the ministry. Directly from above. He became a pastor of the traveling sort, bringing the word to churches in Sneedville, Tennessee, and all around Lee County and in Cumberland, Harlan County. He would spend the rest of his life as an evangelist, working tent show revivals and eventually founding his own Free Pentecostal Church, an off shoot of the Church Of God (Holiness), the white version of the Church Of God In Christ, the black church that produced more great gospel singers, make that great singers, period, than any other organization, religious or other.
 In 1953-4, Syd Nathan's King Records of Cincinnati, Ohio, the rhythm and blues and country music indie powerhouse label that (along with it's Federal, Deluxe, and Queen subsidiaries) recorded such R&B pioneers as the Midnighters, the Dominoes, James Brown, Wynonie Harris, Freddie King, the 5 Royales, and country and rockabilly artists like the Delmore Brothers, Cowboy Copas, Charlie Feathers, Moon Mullican, T. Texas Tyler,  as well as a stellar gospel roster, black and white,  that at various times included the Spirits Of Memphis Quartet, the Swan Silvertones, The Wings Of Jordan Choir, and the Brown's Ferry Four (who were actually the Delmore Brothers), recorded Brother Claude Ely at a church revival via a wire that ran through the radio station WCTW out of Whitesburg, Kentucky.  On these recordings Brother Claude and his guitar are backed by a rockin' mandolin player  whose name has been lost to time, and a female vocal group called the Cumberland Four. The first disc issued under his name -- There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down (later covered by Johnny Cash) b/w Holy, Holy, Holy (That's All Right) (King 5616) was, is, and will always be, the greatest white gospel record ever recorded, and one of the pinnacle moments of recorded American music. That same year (1954), King issued several more singles from that same revival meeting recording-- There's A Leak In This Old Building b/w Farther On (King 5617, I'm using the catalog #'s from the 45's, the 78's were issued in the 1300 series),  You Gotta Move (this was the version that inspired Elvis' cover version heard in his first film Love Me Tender) b/w Little David Play On Your Harp (King 5618), and Talk About Jesus b/w There's A Higher Power (King 5619). These records, if they had secular lyrics would have been considered among the very first white rock'n'roll records. They, however are not rock'n'roll records, nor are they the type of religious country music known to collectors as "sacred", which usually means hymns done country style. These discs are hard shouting, driving, gospel music, the type usually only heard by black artists. I know of no other white singer that could fall into this category.
 As well as traveling the gospel highway, Ely spent time as a pastor in churches in Grundy, Virginia,
Florence, Kentucky, and finally settling into a job as pastor of the Charity Tabernacle Church in the wide open sin city of Newport, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. A town more known for after hours gambling joints and strip bars than churches. 
 Brother Claude would not record for King again until 1962, when he recorded a session at Rusty York's (of the rockabilly classic Sugaree fame) studio, backed by fiddle, electric guitar, steel guitar, bass and drums as well as a male vocal group, who were also dubbed the Cumberland Four. From that session, which was issued by King as the LP The Gospel Ranger (later re-issued on Ely's own Gold Star label) came some excellent sides, not quite as wild as the church revival recordings, but well worth owning, the best tracks-- Stop That Train, I Want To Go To Heaven, My Crucified One, Fare You Well,  That Old Fireside, and Do You Want To Shout rock nearly as hard as the '53-4 sides.  If the lyrics weren't concerned with Jesus, these sides would be considered high energy hillbilly boogie and rockabilly, at it's finest.  The rest of this session along with some earlier material would be released by King on the album
At Home And At Church, again, Ely would re-issue this album on his own Gold Star label, mostly to sell at revival meetings. He traveled considerably, working all over the eastern and mid-western United States, even getting to Canada and Alaska. He sang for Jesus, and for the Holy Ghost, and he sang hard, and preached even harder.
 In September of 1977,  Claude Ely suffered a heart attack but soon recovered and was back on the pulpit by the end of that year.  On May 7, 1978, at a revival at his home base Charity Tabernacle, Ely was playing organ behind an evangelist named Maynard Banks.  Banks called on Brother Claude to sing Where Could I Go To But The Lord, which he tore into in his usual high energy manner.  Halfway through the tune he suffered another heart attack, fell off his stool and died in front of the packed house. The Holy Ghost took him home.  In 1979 Ely's daughter-- Claudette Bowling issued an LP of his home recorded demos along with some sermons on the Jordan label, it was titled Where Could I Go To But The Lord. I've never been able to track down a copy of this rare disc. In fact,  I've never even seen a copy. Since his death,  no one has bothered to check his coffin to see if the grave did indeed hold his body down, but if I had to wager on it, I'd bet that box is empty. 
In 1993, the UK Ace label issued a twenty three track CD of the best of Brother Claude Ely's King recordings, titled Satan Get Back (Ace CDCHD 456), I would say this is as an essential purchase as they come, and it includes several un-issued tracks including Ely's female backing singers-- the Cumberland Four's amazing rendition of I'm Just A Stranger Here  and Ely's s wailing  Send Down That Rain, the latter recorded at the 1953 Kentucky revival that produced his first five singles. 
 Recently, Brother Claude's nephew, a private investigator named Macel Ely II has published a biography of  Claude Ely titled  Ain't No Grave: The Life & Legacy Of Brother Claude Ely. It can be found here.  The fools who purport to tell the history of American music seemed to have relegated Brother Claude Ely to a footnote, the man who recorded the versions of Ain't No Grave and You Got To Move that inspired Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley's covers. This is monstrously unfair, for Brother Claude Ely was one of the greatest singers ever recorded, and his career deserves to be celebrated, and his music demands to be listened to. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Donald Cammell- White Of The Eye (1987)

Donald Cammell on White Of The Eye- "Tradionally art is amoral".

From White Of The Eye- David Keith and Cathy Moriarity, "I was gonna talk to you about that..."

Trailer for White Of The Eye (1987) "Does she really know him"?

In my last posting discussing Keith Richards' autobiography Life, I mentioned that Richards, who is comes off as a fairly forgiving soul (even Tony Sanchez who wrote the fun but hateful Up and Down With The Rolling Stones is given a pass)  only two people really stick in Keith's craw- one of course is Mick Jagger (see comments section of that posting for a few theories on that) and the other is film director Donald Cammell.  Cammell is an interesting figure, the subject of a documentary (The Ultimate Performance) and director of only four films (and one unreadable novel, Fan Tan,  co-written with Marlon Brando of all people).Two of his films are brilliant (the other two-- Wild Side and Demon Seed are fairly awful, but that may be because they were re-edited by the producers and make no sense at all) . Cammell first flick was Performance (1970), co-directed with Nicholas Roeg and starring Mick Jagger, James Fox and Anita Pallenberg has been much discussed over the years and is surely a rock'n'roll classic, badly received when it was first released, today it's considered a masterpiece and it even shows up on late night cable TV sometimes. Cammell's second great film, White Of The Eye which was also a box office flop and is almost never discussed these days but it is also an incredible film. It doesn't show up on TV, Netflix and rarely in revival houses (remember those?). Starring David Keith and Cathy Moriarty, this tale of a happily married serial killer (and high end stereo installer) may just be the creepiest (in a good way) flick I've ever seen. I'm at something of a loss for words here trying to describe it, but I do get a chill just thinking about David Keith's performance, for my money his best ever, although once when I saw him in my bar and tried to tell him so, he look appalled and made a hasty b-line for the door. His portayal of a seriel killer with a sense of mission is spot on perfect. But, something (perhaps his reaction to my attempted compliment) tells me he wasn't too crazy about Donald Cammell , and that White Of The Eye wasn't a great career move for him.
Donald Cammel, a debauched, fallen Scottish aristocrat (his father was a friend and biographer of Aliester Crowley) began life as painter and was doing fairly well in Paris painting portraits when he packed up his paints and headed for London in the mid-60's to make films. He wrote the script for a goofy swinging London picture called Duffy  with James Coburn and James Mason (which was terrible) and another called The Touchables which I've never seen. He then began working on Performance which would take several  years to complete and another two before it would be released. The suits at the studio (Warner Bros) back in Hollywood hated it.
After Performance, he headed to Hollywood where he wrote dozens of screenplays and treatments, none of which went beyond the meeting stage until he took a job directing Julie Christie in the rather lame Demon Seed, an unsuccessful attempt to cross Rosemary's Baby with 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film was taken out of Cammell's hands in the editing stage, so who knows if what it could have been. After White  Of The Eye flopped he wouldn't direct again for eight years, finally getting the green light for a film called Wild Side , starring Christopher Walken, Anne Heche and Joan Chen, again the producers took the film away from Cammell in the editing room and the final results were such a mess he took his name off the credits. He supported himself by directing U2 videos and selling treatments around Hollywood, several to Marlon Brando. A short that I've never seen called The Argument came out in 1999, two years after his suicide, and another project that he wrote called Bones Of The Earth is said to be set for production in 2011.
In 1972,  Kenneth Anger chose him to play the Egyptian God Osiris in Lucifer Rising ("I always type cast", Anger once stated). In the mythology of the ancients, Osiris ruled over the land of the dead.  I assume that tells us something about Cammell, but one need not know anything of mythology to understand that White Of The Eye was the product of a very brilliant and very disturbed mind.  I'm not sure where you can find it, but there's lots of oddball film sights that a Google search will turn up, many of them sell rare DVDs of commercially unavailable films. This one is worth the search.
  One last comment, in The Ultimate Perfomance, it purports that after shooting himself in the head it took 45 minutes for Cammell to die, and that he was coherant the entire time, watching the hole in his head bleed through a mirror. Evidently, his biographers found evidence against this legend, although I never read the bio (Donald Cammell: A Life On The Wild Side by Sam and Rebecca Umland), it makes a good story, and his widow does swear its true. Stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Help Me

                   From Help Me

From this Thursday, Nov. 4 through Dec. 18, 2010, Help Me, Found Photos from the Collection of Gillian McCain, curated by Gillian McCain and Megan Cump will be on display at the Camera Club Of New York.  The opening party if Thursday, Nov. 4 from 6- 8 PM.
According the press release--"Forgotten, discarded,  orphaned, lost, stolen, bought, discovered or found; the vernacular images in Help Me are culled from Gillian McCain's extensive collection of photographs in formats including tin-types, cabinet cards, Polaroids and snapshots". Fans of our regular Gillian's Found Photos feature should be sure to check out this show. The Camera Club Of New York is in the Arts Building at 336 West 37t Street  (between 8-9th Ave), suite #206, New York City. Phone info is at 212-260-9927, or click the above link for more info.
Speaking of found photos, we have a few surprises to announce on that front in the next few weeks, keep an eye on this spot.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Keith Richards

                Keith gets his ya ya out...
 Brian, engineer Ron Malo, Loog and Keith, Chess Studio, 1964.

Sweden, 1965

Panic In Norway, hosing down the fans.

Little Red Rooster, 1965. "Brenda" Jagger takes a beating in Keith's autobiography Life.

"Shooting up the charts..." Little Red Rooster again, this time on Ready Steady Go.

Seven years later

 At the risk of boring the readership of this blog to tears with yet another posting on the Rolling Stones, I can't help but throw my 2 pence in on Keith Richards' autobiography- Life (Little, Brown 2010, co-written with James Fox who only gets an editor's credit, which is I imagine why Nick Tosches and Stanley Booth both passed on the job) a subject you may already be sick of since Keith's been hitting the promotional highway rather hard, and many of you must already be suffering from Stones overload in the wake of the Exile On Main Street re-issue hype.
Me, I never seem to get sick of the Stones, and have been playing the Genuine Black Box bootleg constantly since it fell through my mail slot last summer. So what's the word on Life?
Had I never read a book on the Rolling Stones, Life would probably be one my favorite  rock'n'roll books of all time. The problem then, is not so much the book, but the fact that I've probably read every book on the Rolling Stones ever published, and there's been some good ones (Tony Sanchez- Up and Down With The Stones, Stanley Booth's The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman's Stone Alone, Marianne Faithful and David Dalton's Faithful stand out off the top of my head as favorites). But like I said, I have a couple of shelves worth of these things, and that's not including photo books.  What's left to say?  Well, there's only a few untold stories here (an early romance with Ronnie Spector, which is not as much fun as Josh Alan Friedman's take on the same subject a decade later, see Tell The Truth Until They Bleed), a lot of wild and woolly party tales, and of course, just seeing it all from Keith's point of view. Oh, and the music itself, which normally I'd say is the most boring part of any rock'n'roll read, but in Keith's case,  it's my favorite part of the book. He explains why his open G guitar tuning style only sounds right with five strings, and just how it works. He also explains Jimmy Reed's unique way of making his  resolving d7 chord (which he learned from Bobby "Honey" Goldsboro)-- he simply played one note on the D string and left the A string ringing, instead of making the whole chord! A lazy man's road to genius.  At this point I'd like to say, I disagree with Keith's deciphering of Reed's lyrics to Caress Me Baby. According to Keith, the line "Don't pull no subway/I'd rather see you pull a train" means "Don't go on dope, dont' go underground, I'd rather see you drunk or on cocaine", the way I read the line, it means -- don't leave ("don't pull no subway"), I'd rather see you get gangbanged ("I'd rather see you pull a train"). The term "pull a train" slang for a gangbang was still in use when I was in high school in Florida in the early 70's, and I think my translation is correct. Gangbang of course still meant group sex back then, not drive by shootings. For more on Keith and Jimmy Reed, (he has mastered the Jimmy Reed sound), I refer you back to my posting of his 1981 Jimmy Reed session.
 The Stones' career is given Keith's once over in the sort of blurry way he saw it from the inside, the earliest years go by at 100 miles per hour, drug busts and screaming teenagers await everytime Keith attempts leave the recording studio or concert hall.  The dope years are fun to read about, but don't sound like much fun. To be honest, there are better junkie memoirs out there (Art Pepper, Dr. John). The dope stories make up on a small part of the book, and he writes more about the tribulations of trying to score drugs more than he does about taking them.
 Life covers nearly all of the most famous Stones stories which are of course the foundation of their legend -- living in squalor in Edith Grove, the riot in Blackpool kicked off by Keith kicking a punter who was spitting at him in the head, the Redlands bust ( finally putting the Mars bar rumour to rest), Swinging London and its fabulous characters-- Robert Fraser, Michael Cooper, et al,  the fateful trip to Morocco that sealed Brian Jones' fate and won Anita Pallenberg's love, the making of Exile On Main Street, Charlie Watts changing into his best Saville Row suit to punch out Mick Jagger for referring to him as "my drummer",  all great stories, and Keith's versions add a bit of inside detail, but seem to stick to the already written script. It's funny what Keith decides to add to the oft told stories, and also what new stories he adds to the legend-- bringing in Kate Moss to testify to his attempting to dismember with a sword a guest at his daughter's wedding who stole the onions for his Bangers and Mash (Keith includes his recipe for the same dish), his own holding up a show in Toronto until the culprits who ate his Shepard's Pie are brought to justice (admitting he never eats before a show anyway, just wants to have it there in case he gets hungry), breaking down the door to Truman Capote ("Truby")'s hotel room, and the like. These stories are all pretty funny, many new to print.  He also dedicates two sections of the book to the story of the Wingless Angels-- a rasta-gospel vocal group whose Keith produced 1997 LP was one of his greatest musical triumphs (and his best album since Exile) and was criminally ignored. In fact today it's out of print, although soon to be re-issued in a package with Vol. 2, but since it's out of print,  here's a few tracks-- Morning Train, Rivers Of Babylon, and Keyman A Capella to wet your appetite for the re-issue.
In Life, Keith's friends, band and family can be treated harshly or with incredible tenderness--  Stash Klossowski de Rola is "basically full of shit", while legendary bearer of sealed bottles of pharmaceutical Merc cocaine, the late Freddie Sessler is-- "Totally horrible, revolting. Absolutely over the top, stupid at times" but "totally solid" and someone Keith obviously still holds in high regard. Even Tony Sanchez, whose Up and Down With The Rolling Stones ended every paragraph with "you bastard, I thought", comes off looking okay. No hard feelings there. But forgiving doesn't pay back seven million dollar advances, and Keith knows what his audience wants. More than dope and celebrity stories, they (we, want to read about what a jerk Mick Jagger is.  Jagger, who is referred to variously as "Brenda", "Disco boy, "Her majesty" or sometimes just "the bitch" takes a major beating in Life, one he probably deserves. For those keeping score, Brian Jones, Donald Cammell, Ron Wood and Anita Pallenberg also get spattered with various degrees of shrapnel. After Jagger, Cammell (director of Performance) gets it the worst--"the most destructive turd I've ever met...utterly predatory... ". Much of this I guess is just giving the audience what they paid for. We go see the Stones to hear our favorite songs, and to hear loud guitars playing Chuck Berry licks rather sloppily, and we buy books like this to read about what kind of assholes people can be. Rock'n'roll brings out the worst in some (most) people-- on one hand it keeps performers infantile, while on the other inflating their egos beyond comprehension. Keith sees this all with fairly clear, if sometimes pinned eyes, and in recalling what he's seen, and lived, he delivers the goods.  I mean, not many writers get a seven million dollar advance (and Little, Brown and Co. obviously have high hopes for this book, the initial first printing is said to be three million copies). I used to think it was a put on, a way to get press in the years they weren't touring and that Keith and Mick were having drinks somewhere laughing at the whole thing ("Yeah mate, then I call you a "Prince imitator"). After reading Life, I don't think that's the case. I think Keith really does hate Jagger in a way you can only hate someone you once loved. This all may end up backfiring on Keith. Is it my imagination or were the audience booing Keith during his two numbers on the Stones HBO live broadcast a few years back? The show, coming hot on the heels of Keith's press attacks on Mick for accepting a knighthood (hey, Graham Greene turned one down just for the record, and so should any artist), I'm pretty sure the crowd were booing Keith for attacking Mick. Us old time Stones fans like to think the reason the Stones can't make good records anyore is that Jagger wants them to sound current and  up to date, something the Stones never used to care about. The best new music the Stones have made since 1981 are a few good Keith tracks like 40 Licks Am I Losing My Touch. Live, they started sounding like a Vegas act around the early 90's, as Bob Dylan astutely noted, when Bill Wyman left they really stopped sounding like the Stones.
There are few surprises in life and in Life, one being that Keith likes Jackson Browne, another is Keith crediting Ian Stewart putting the Stones together, not Brian Jones, but like I said, had I never read a word about the Stones, I'm sure every word here would have held some sort of enlightenment.
Keith ends the book wondering-- "How come I could get a great drum sound in Denmark Street with one microphone, and now with fifteen microphones I get a drum sound like someone shitting on a tin roof?" I've been wondering that out loud for twenty five years now. While on the subject, the above images come from the newly published The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966 (!t/Haper Collins, 2010), a collection of amazing pix from their first American tours taken by their American road manager Bob Bonis. It makes a nice perfect companion piece to Keith's book.
Addendum- Bill Wyman imagines Mick's response to Keith's book here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gillian's Found Photo #56

As the sign in this weeks' found photo says, here is the famous guitar player from Argentina, Alberto Lesama. What he's doing with that (rubber?) crustacean? Other than attempting to water his friend, it is beyond me. I'm at a complete loss for a comment.  So I thought I'd make a contest out of this week's found photo posting. The best caption wins a copy of New York Review Books Classics new edition (restored from the original manuscript) of William Lindsay Gresham's classic 1947 novel Nightmare Alley (with an introduction by Nick Toshes), one of the greatest forgotten novels of the 20th Century. I ended up with an extra copy, so I will go to the post office and mail it off to the winner. Send your captions into the comments section, me and Fang will pick the winner, after we announce the winner you can mail your address to us care of this sight to claim your prize.
Addendum: A winner will be announced Sunday, Oct. 24, so you have a whole 24 hours to get those entries in.
Addendum #2: And the weiner, errr...winner is: Viva with her answer:
"Ed Ward is right:"
Please e-mail me c/o this site to have your prize (W.L. Gresham's Nightmare Alley) sent to where ever it is you want it sent.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

General Johnson/The Showmen

                                           The Showman

General Norman Johnson (born in Norfolk,Virginia, 1943) died last Wednesday at his home outside of Atlanta. He was 67. An obit can be found here. He is best remembered for being the lead singer on the Chairman Of The Board's chart topper Give Me Just A Little More Time, and writing Patches for Clarence Carter, Want Ads for the Honey Come and Bring The Boys Home for Freda Payne, but to me he'll always be remembered as the lead voice on one of my all time favorite records-- It Will Stand  b/w Country Fool by the Showman (Minit, 1961), produced by Allen Tousaint.  The Showmen an R&B vocal quintet, originally from Norfolk, Virginia, relocated to New Orleans after signing to Minit.  Although It Will Stand only reached #80 on the charts, it sold for years and the song was extremely popular around the beaches of North Carolina where it was considered a "shag" classic.  The Showmen's sound was at the crossroads of the older 50's group harmony style and the coming Soul music. General Johnson's voice had a beautiful gravely quality to it, with a natural vibrato that made him an extremely distinctive singer. I know nothing about his background, but I'll bet my socks he started singing in church.   The Showmen were, in addition to lead singer General Johnson-- Milton "Smokes" Wells- bass, Dorsey "Chops" Knight- second tenor, Gene "Cheater" Knight- first tenor, and Leslie "Fat Boy" Felton- baritone. They recorded for Minit and its subsidiary label Instant from 1961-6. After parting with Minit, where they made their best discs, they recorded for BB, Swan, Imperial and Lawn. Some of their other great discs  include This Misery, The Wrong Girl, Swish Fish, I'm Coming Home, Strange Girl, True Fine Mama and an alternate take of It Will Stand. Jonathan Richman covered It Will Stand in 1976 on the Beserkley label.
After leaving the Showman, Johnson headed to Detroit where the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland put together the Chairmen of the Board around him, scoring a huge hit with Gimme Just A Little More Time.  It Will Stand remains the ultimate rock'n'roll anthem, and it will be remembered as long as someone out there loves real rock'n'roll.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Elmore James

Elmore James (center) with Homesick James (right) and Robert Plunkin (behind drums).

Elmore's death certificate

Elmore James, J.T. Brown on sax, on the bandstand, Chicago, '59.
Elmore with an admirer.
Just realized I got an extra one of these if anyone wants to trade.....
Elmore in color, late 50's.
Flair Records' promo shot, early 50's.
Near the end, early 60's.

 Elmore's grave, with the wrong dates for both birth and death. 

Barry Soltz' scan of an Elmore James 45, signed by Elmore to Hound Dog Taylor. 

I need to explain who Elmore James is to anyone who reads this blog? I should hope not, but since I've been playing his records constantly for the last forty years I thought I should do a bit of a round up, critical review of his recorded catalog, since, although he never really made a bad record, and about 70% of what he recorded were variations on the same song and the same riff (Dust My Broom), I think a run down of what he left us is in order. Truth is, I have no other ideas today, and I love the photos (above) and the music (below), my comments hardly matter.
Elmore James was born Elmore Brooks on January 27, 1916 on a farm outside of Richland, Mississippi in Holmes County. His mother was a fifteen year old unwed farm hand named Leola. She eventually hooked up with a man named Joe Willie "Frost" James who may have been Elmore's father.  Little Elmore was given Joe Willie's last name and grew up on a series of farms in and around Lexington and Durant,  Mississippi, also in Holmes Country. He managed to graduate from the fourth grade before quitting school. Starting out on a self built three string guitar, and influenced by the recordings of master slide guitarists Tampa Red and Kokomo Arnold, he taught himself to play the blues and by the late 1930's was remembered playing around Holmes county under the name of Cleanhead James. He may or may not have played with Robert Johnson, and may or may not have picked up his signature tune Dust My Broom from Johnson  (although Leroy Carr had recorded a very similar tune in 1933 called I Believe I'll Make A Change, the riff was adapted from a Kokomo Arnold tune). In his well researched biography of Elmore James-- The Amazing Secret History Of Elmore James (BlueSource Publications, 2003) Steve Franz makes a case that Johnson may have learned the tune from the younger musician.
By his late teens Elmore had fallen in with Sonny Boy Williamson #2 (Rice Miller) and can be heard playing guitar behind Sonny Boy on his early Trumpet sides (the master tapes of which have been lost on some of these, substituted by re-recorded versions without James).  Trumpet's owner Lillian McMurray signed Elmore to a record contract in 1951 but for some reason he refused to record anything for her, she was only able to get one side out of him, and this was done by secretly taping a rehearsal.  The original recording of Dust My Broom  (with Sonny Boy on harmonica) was issued under the name Elmo James in November of '51 and became a sizable blues hit.  Since she couldn't get a b-side out of Elmore, the flip, credited to Elmer James was a version of Catfish Blues done by one Bobo Thomas. These sides were later leased to Ace. Since the master tapes are long gone, and the price of a good condition Trumpet 78 has risen into the three figures in recent years, I'd recommend keeping an eye out for the Ace pressing which sounds better and will probably cost a lot less.  The idea of an exclusive recording contract seemed to figure lightly in Elmore's mind, since while still under contract to Trumpet, to whom he refused to record (a funny taped phone conversation between McMurry and Elmore was published in some blues mag years ago, unfortunately I can't remember which one), Elmore signed a second contract with the Bihari Brothers' LA based Modern/R.P.M/Flair/Kent family of labels, instituting a lawsuit from McMurry who eventually took a cash settlement from the Biharis.  Meanwhile, the Bihari Brothers gave Elmore's contract to their likable but hapless elder brother Lester who was attempting to launch the Meteor label in Memphis.  His first release was a re-recording of Dust My Broom, retitled I Believe (My Time Ain't Long), and it would be the best selling record the legendary, but short lived, Meteor label produced. Elmore put together the first version of the Broomdusters with J.T. Brown on sax, Little Johnny Jones on piano, and later his cousin Homesick James Williamson on bass and/or second guitar and hit the chitlin' circuit where he was always a popular draw. He traveled around the south, and often north into Chicago steadily for the next ten years. At one point Elmore was so hard to pin down, the Biharis sent Ike Turner out with a portable recording rig to find him. Turner finally tracked Elmore down in Canton, Mississippi and cut a session one afternoon at the Club Bizarre, with Ike himself on piano, it produced some of his finest recorded moments including 1839 Blues, Sho' Nuff I Do,  and Canton, Mississippi Breakdown.  Elmore's discs were issued not only on Meteor, but Flair, Modern, and Kent in a rather bewildering discography which can be found in Les Fancourt and Bob McGrath's Blues Discography: 1943-1970 (Eyeball Productions, 2006) or the aforementioned bio by Steve Franz.  While under contract to the Bihari's he cut sessions for the Chess Brothers in Chicago in '53 (issued on Checker), and Chief also in Chicago in '57 (these sides were later leased to Vee Jay and include the amazing 12 Year Old Boy). The Biharis cut Elmore where ever they could find him, sessions were held in Chicago, New Orleans and possibly L.A., sometimes they recorded Elmore solo and dubbed the rhythm section onto the masters later in L.A. Some of the highlights of his years with the Biharis include Dark and Dreary, Hand In Hand, Hawaiian Boogie, One More Drink, Long Tall Woman,  and Can't Stop Lovin'. He really never cut a bad side, but I think the Modern/Flair/Meteor sides might be his best, every thing he ever recorded for the Biharis can be found on the Ace three CD box set-- The Classic Early Recordings 1951-56 (Ace ABOXCD-4).
Having fallen out with the  musicians union at some point in the late 50's he was banned from playing Chicago for three years (1956-59) and returned to Mississippi where he played clubs and might have made moonshine to supplement his income. He can also be heard on Junior Wells' early States singles, Big Joe Turner's TV Mama on Atlantic, and discs by Little Johnny Jones (Atlantic and Flair), J.T. Brown (Meteor) and Willie Love (Trumpet).
 Sometime in1959, Harlem record hustler and label and record store owner Bobby Robinson tracked Elmore down in Chicago and would record over fifty sides with him in the next three years, recording him in Chicago and New York. These final sides, originally released on Fire (and later re-issued on Enjoy, Sphere Sound, Fury, Bell, Trip, Sue, and other labels) are uniformly excellent and include Bobby's Rock, a version of Rollin' and Tumblin' with Wild Jimmy Spruill on second guitar, Tampa Red's It Hurts Me Too (a sizable hit), Eddie Kirkland's Done Somebody Wrong,  Look On Yonder Wall, Pickin' The Blues,  and Elmore Jumps One as well as re-recordings of virtually his entire repertoire, most of it in stereo. Robinson also had the wherewithal to record Elmore talking about his early life (here). A double CD box of the complete Bobby Robinson recordings was issued in the 90's by Capricorn as King Of The Slide Guitar.  Elmore James also cut one  last session for Chess in 1960 which produced the classics I Can't Hold Out, The Sun Is Shining, and Madison Blues, these along with the 1953 Checker discs would be packaged with some John Brim sides on the essential Chess LP Elmore James/John Brim-Whose Muddy Shoes (Chess 9114).
  Virtually every bluesman interviewed on the subject had good memories of Elmore James. He was well liked and highly regarded by his peers. Howlin' Wolf kept Dust  My Broom in his set until the end of his life because-- "That was Elmore's song". He was remembered as a nice guy, albeit one who loved to drink and had a preference for home made moonshine, which is rather hard on the body. In his forties he had a series of heart attacks which slowed him down considerably. My late pal Jimmy Spruill who recorded with Elmore in 1960 remembered him as having to stop and rest between takes, but when he got up to play he'd get so excited he'd nearly give himself another heart attack. That excitement translated into his guitar sound which has never really been matched although over the years other musicians including Hound Dog Taylor, Johnny Littlejohn, J.B. Hutto, and Lil' Ed Williams have managed to made a living attempting to imitate it.
On May 23, 1963 Elmore James suffered his final, fatal heart attack in Chicago at the home of his cousin Homesick James. He was only 47 years old. He died before anyone bothered to interview him or even film him. Had he lived, he would have been one of the biggest stars of the 60's blues revival.  The year of his death, a young Keith Richard spotted a little blond guy sitting in with Alex Korner's band at a club in London's Soho. He was billed as Elmo Lewis and he was playing Dust My Broom. It was Brian Jones, and soon they'd join forces to form the Rolling Stones. In the years since Elmore James' death white musicians like Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac, George Thorogood, the Allman Brothers, and too many others to mention have taken Elmore's sound to the bank. While just about anyone with a guitar and a slide could learn the Dust My Broom riff in a half hour, nobody made it sound as good as Elmore James. That holds true to this day. 

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
copyright Hound Archive