Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rev. Utah Smith

Rev. Utah Smith and wings...
Pre-flight warm up.

Wrecking the house in Houston.

Utah Smith brings eyesight to the blind.

          Rare 45 pressing of his first disc, originally on Regis (78 only)

 Utah Smith was born in 1906 in Cedar Grove, Louisiana,  in the countryside outside of Shreveport. He was schooled to the third grade, then took a job as a water boy in the cotton fields before graduating to picking cotton. He later worked in a chicken plant plucking and cleaning chickens, a job he was fired from.  In 1923, he took up the calling and became an evangelist in the Church of God In Christ, usually just called the Holiness or Sanctified Church. He was  married in 1929, set up a home in Shreveport, but was on the road by 1925 where he'd spend most of the next forty years.
  Smith had taken up harmonica as a teen, soon switching to a steel guitar, and finally an electric guitar. He also had noticed that he, as many were later to testify, had healing powers, and an ability to tell jokes. Early on he was billed as  "God's Funny Boy" and was heard preaching the Devil's funeral and attempting to move trees which of course didn't budge as well as "laying on the hands" healing the sick and maimed.  By 1938 he was using his electric guitar in his revival meetings,  his daughter for one claiming he was the "first black man to own one", and if he was not the first, he was certainly among them. Folks would travel for miles just to see the thing.
  On the gospel highway, Reverend or sometimes Elder Utah Smith proved to be a popular attraction and he criss crossed America for four decades, his photographs appeared in not only the major black publications but also Newsweek, the New York Times, in folk music publications and he was recorded and broadcast for the BBC in 1947 as part of a audio documentary called "The Story Of New Orleans Music".
He would make three commercial recordings, which would be issued on at least six different labels, three of which were versions of his theme song-- I Want Two Wings. First came a 78 RPM for Regis, recorded and first issued in 1944, then re-issued on Manor (1949), Arco (1950) and on 45 rpm on Kay-Ron (1958): I Want Two Wings b/w  God's Mighty Hand. The second disc came in 1947 and was self issued on his own Two Winged Temple label out of New Orleans-- (I Got) Two Wings b/w Glory To Jesus I'm Free, this is the rarest of his commercial discs, it was pressed as a 78 and later on 45.
In 1953 he cut a session for Checker in Chicago, two songs were released-- the third rendition of Two Wings and on the flip side Take A Trip, which is a re-working of the old gospel standard Gospel Ship.
All these discs feature his crude, open tuned guitar prominently, and he is backed by a small female choir on all of them. There also exists at least two other versions of Two Wings he recorded that exist on single copy acetates.
   Rev. Utah Smith ran his own Church in New Orleans, the aforementioned Two Winged Temple (the first location was torn down to build the Calliope projects, the second was on Octavia off Magazine), but was best known for holding revival meetings, many of which were covered in the pages of the Louisiana Weekly newspaper.  He was fairly famous in and around New Orleans, but traveled from coast to coast, catching the attention of composer and New York Tribune music critic Virgil Thomson while appearing in Newark, N.J. in '41.  Thomson approved of what he saw calling him "an interesting musical manifestation". Indeed. The same year he appeared at one of NYC's Museum Of Modern Art's "Coffee Concerts".  In the 1950's he toured with gospel stars like Mahalia Jackson, the Bells Of Joy and Brother Joe May, the Thunderbolt Of The Mid-West (for a time May's pianist was Esquerita, could Esquerita and Utah Smith have met?), knocked 'em dead in Atlanta, Memphis and Dallas, and generally made a big impression on everyone who saw him,  sometimes wearing gigantic white paper wings and always blasting away on a Gibson electric guitar.
  The gospel highway is rough on the body though, and Smith suffered from diabetes (he was said to eat twenty biscuits in one sitting) and glaucoma, and in 1961 he retired to the Octavia Street Temple's basement where he died on January 24, 1965, blind and no longer able to play his guitar, it was said  he'd taken to drink and fell down the stairs.        
   The life and times Of Rev. Utah Smith were fascinating, and for a more detailed look I refer you to Lynn Abbott's biography-- I Got Two Wings (Incidents and Anecdotes Of The To Winged Preacher and Electric Guitar Evangelist Elder Utah Smith) (Case Quarter, 2008) which also comes with a CD of his complete recordings. Amen.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Tuesday (again)...

From Pretty Poison (1968)

Tuesday Weld, poolside, early 60's.

I guess I'm repeating myself but that's what happens in your old age. Anyway, I've blogged about my
love for the kittenish charms of Tuesday Weld before (here) but when the Fang unearthed the above snapshot I thought I'd post it. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #67

Today's found photo from the Fang bears the date, printed on the right side of the border, of December '69, as if we couldn't have figured that out our self. Yes, this was taken at Altamont, the all time rock festival bummer and setting for still the greatest of all rock snuff flicks Gimme Shelter. Too bad it's not a picture of the Stones, but since they went on after dark they probably wouldn't have shown up on a snap shot.  Onstage is Sam Cutler trying to restore order, and the Jefferson Airplane, whose Marty Balin (far left) would soon be knocked unconscious, a few Hells Angels, and a whole bunch of folks who just wandered onstage. Whose idea was it to make the stage two inches off the ground?
Well, I was never much of a Jefferson Airplane fan but I do remember working security at one of their concerts as a teen and being quite impressed that the band and crew called Paul Kanter "Das Fuhrer", a title he happily responded to.  The best thing I ever read about Altamont was in the (now quite rare) Avon paperback original-- The Forgotten Festival- Altamont: Death Of Innocence In The Woodstock Nation, edited by Jonathan Eisen (Avon, 1970) which contains a first hand essay by one Lars Tush, aka Richard Meltzer titled "The Terror Beyond Death", from which I quote--"Some people are going to say it was just a matter of alcohol in the wrong hands. That's all well and good and true, but whose wrong hands do they mean? Can they mean the Angels? They might mean them and in so doing forget about incidents of violence that were going on all afternoon, all morning and the night before, even in spots where a Hells Angels never showed his face during the entire festival if you can call it that." He later proceeds to describe watching a bunch of college jocks pummel some poor kid into "a pile of his own blood and bones". As Keith Richards said "Altamont, it could only happen to the Stones man...."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Andy Shernoff

Andy's latest: Are You Ready To Rapture.

1974: Rare inner sleeve for the Dictators Go Girl Crazy, Andy on right.

Andy Shernoff has had a longer recording career than Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters. That in itself is not so remarkable, there are plenty of pediatric rockstars out there who have been around longer. What is remarkable is that he's still great. When was the last time Ray Davies or Pete Townshend wrote a good song? (If you ask me, and you shouldn't cuz I ain't gonna argue about it, I'd say 1970 and '67 receptively).
Andy's last great song was released a couple of weeks ago (Are You Ready To Rapture, see video above, I assume you can order the 45 rpm from his website).
 Shernoff, who's career began with might be the greatest (and definitely the funniest) ever fanzine-- Teenage Wasteland Gazette (a never published final issue of which has resided in Handsome Dick Manitoba's closet for forty something years), is best known as full time songwriter, bassist and sometimes lead singer for NYC rock'n'roll institution the Dictators, whose 1974 debut The Dictators Go Girl Crazy (Epic) remains one of the greatest and most perfect punk rock records ever released. He shepherded the Dictators through three more fine LP's-- Manifest Destiny (Asylum,1977), Blood Brothers (Asylum,1978) and D.F.F. D. (Dictators Multi-Media, 2002), and don't forget Norton Records' 2009 release Everyday's Saturday that features their original demo tape and many incredible studio outtakes including lost tunes like Fireman's Friend and Backseat Boogie (a project I think I instigated when I lent Billy Miller two CD's worth of un-issued Dictators stuff, still in the vault are tunes like Too Much Fun and Tits To You as well as a killer Interstellar Overdrive).  Andy was also the guiding light behind Dictators spin-off Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, fronted the Bel-airs and the Master Plan (with the Fleshtones' Keith Streng), co-wrote tunes with Joey Ramone (for both the Ramones and Joey's solo album), produced a bunch of bands,  and was involved in dozens of other projects that slip my mind at the moment (including a second career as a punk sommelier).
I bring this up to you because I happened to wander into my own bar (Lakeside Lounge, 162 Ave B., NYC) two Wednesdays in a row (a rare occurrence these days, I assure you) where Andy currently holds court at 7 PM with his acoustic review, and I have to say, it's the best hour of live entertainment I've seen in eons.  The set changes weekly, and Shernoff has an incredibly deep catalog of great tunes to pick from, but I think last week's show which opened with an acoustic reading of Master Race Rock and included Dictators classics' Baby Let's Twist, and Hey Boys, and a beautiful version of Joey Ramone's Don't Think About It was as perfect a set as I've ever seen.  In between tunes Shernoff talks about his life and times in rock'n'roll, some of these stories are hilarious (the first Dictators shows), some are touching (the final days of Joey Ramone), some are both (the David Roter story). With free admission and half priced drinks, you really can't possibly go wrong. Andy will also be appearing at the Norton Records 25th Anniversary shindig in November, I'm not sure which night but all four are sold out, so you're either all ready going or you ain't.
Andy Shernoff may actually outlive rock'n'roll (or did that already happen?), but he's one of the last of the breed, and there are too few left to ignore him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Son House

Son House: 1965.

Howlin'Wolf berates a drunken Son House, Newport, '66.

Son House greets his "discoverers", he hadn't known he that he was lost.

I told my old pal Pat that I'd review a book he sent me in the mail- Daniel Beaumont's Preachin' The Blues: The Life & Times Of Son House (Oxford, 2011). This was many months ago and I'm just getting around to it because to be perfectly honest I do not have much to say about Son House. Which does not mean it is not an excellent book, which it is. Although I must admit, I find the most interesting parts of the book are those that deal with Son House's relationship to his "discoverers" and the white blues audience of the 1960's that had expectations of him that he could barely fathom never mind live up to.
For those who are unfamiliar-- Eddie "Son" House Jr (born March 21, 1902, probably in Lyon, Mississippi), was a great Delta blues singer and guitarist who recorded one session for Paramount Records in 1930, and was recorded again in 1941 for the Library of Congress by traveling folklorist Alan Lomax.
He was not heard from again until 1964 when Dick Waterman (who became his manager), Nick Pearls ( a collector who would go on to found Yazoo Records) and Phil Spiro found him living in Rochester, N.Y.,  this "rediscovery" happening after they had searched the Delta looking for clues.
To backtrack, House grew up in the Delta and began his career as an entertainer preaching the gospel.
As a young man he fell under the spell of the great Charley Patton, got himself a guitar and began playing the blues. He soon struck up a partnership with Patton's sometime accompanist Willie Brown, and it was through Patton's patronage he recorded for Paramount in 1930. Paramount issued four 78 RPM records:  My Black Mama pt 1 b/w pt 2, Dry Spell Blues pt 1 b/w pt 2, Preachin' The Blues pt 1 b/w pt 2 and Clarksdale Moan b/w Mississippi County Farm Blues. The latter two discs are so rare that only one known copy of each exist (and the latter didn't surface until the 21st Century), the other two are
considered more common with four known copies of each. A single copy of a test pressing of Walking Blues was found in someones garbage in the 1980's. In forty years of collecting I've never seen a Son House 78, have you? These are the discs that House's reputation is based on, and they are among the finest examples of the type of blues played in the Mississippi Delta in the late 20's and early 30's ever recorded. That said, they are a bit hard to listen to since the copies that survived are so worn out (and Paramounts never sound that great anyway) as there is more  surface noise than  music left in the discs and to listen to them is like hearing someone playing down the block while someone else holds a pan of frying bacon next to your ear. Although in recent years the sonic quality of the tranfers has improved dramatically.  Personally I've always preferred the 1941 Library of Congress recordings because you can actually hear the music, not to mention the version of  Walking Blues cut with a rocking little string band that remains the best example of what a Saturday night frolic might have sounded like full swing.  Since House had a limited repertoire all the same tunes appear on the 41 sessions, albeit with different titles, I especially like the version of Levee Camp Blues.
House has been criticised, most notably by the late Stephen Calt in his biography of Charley Patton for playing out of tune, but I tend to agree with Jim Dickinson that tuning is a "European and decadent concept", out of tune didn't hurt Chuck Berry.
After leaving the Delta, House lived in Detroit and Rochester, worked outside of music, and eventually disappeared into the woodwork until he was found and coaxed back into playing in 1964, and here lies the meat of Beaumont's book. He digs up much new info, including a self defense killing in Long Island in the 50's, and a new source of House information in the guise of Mississippi born, Rochester blues singer Joe Beard who was close to House and who had a very different take on who House was than his new found white keepers. There's lots of interesting asides, including that House was in the audience when the Rolling Stones brought Howlin' Wolf out on an episode of the Shindig TV show in '65, and House's manager being told by fellow human archaeologist Tom Hoskins (who found Mississippi John Hurt)-"What you have on your hands is a nigger".  That House would confound all their expectations by not giving a fuck, about the blues, or his white audience, may seem natural from our vantage point, but to his keepers he remained an enigma. And that's what makes this book such a fun read.
Son House is probably best remembered for being a key musical inspiration to Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, (the latter connection even led to him being signed by Columbia). I wonder how many people who sight his name have even heard the Paramount and L.O.C. sides?  Myself, I hadn't given him a listen in years, my own tastes in such things leaning more towards Leroy Carr, Geechie Wiley & Elvie Thomas (about whom nothing is known), and Charley Patton, but digging out his discs for this posting, I must say, they sure sound good. This music is nearly a century old, so it's quite amazing not just that it survived, but that it is more popular and accessible than it ever was. And that, Pat, is the best I can do for your book review.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #66

The turban is the perfect sartorial touch for any man; Chuck Willis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sam The Sham, The Great Gaylord and many others have made this fashion statement into any art form. And it hides the doo-rag if your head is all nappy. Gals like it too.  I have no idea where or when this photo was taken, but it's nice to see there's alcohol involved, and our be-turbaned friend here seems to be patting down his diner. I for one think the turban should make a comeback. It's the perfect post 9/11 fashion statement. I can just see the headline on the New York Times Sunday Style Section-- The Turban--It's Not Just For SikH Cab Drivers Anymore!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Packy Axton

The Royal Spades, l. to r.- Don Nix, Steve Cropper, Packy Axton, Duck Dunn, Terry Johnson, Ronnie Stoots and Wayne Jackson.

         Packy (left) with Don Nix, Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper.

                 Packy Axton- final resting place.

 Packy Axton (born Charles Axton,  Febuary 17, 1941 in Memphis), was, as Jim Dickinson once put it-- "one of the most transracial individuals I've ever met". The son of Everett and Estelle Axton and nephew of Jim Stewart, his family owned and ran Stax (originally Satellite) Records. A white kid who loved R&B and rock'n'roll, Packy cut his teeth playing his tenor sax along with fellow Messick High School students Steve Cropper, Charlie Freeman, Duck Dunn, and Terry Johnson in a band called the Royal Spades (Axton trading in his guitar for a tenor saxophone to join because they already had two guitarists). The Royal Spades, who eventually configured into the group pictured above, where white kids in thrall of The "5" Royales (Cropper has just released a tribute to The "5" Royales album which I've not heard), the Midnighters, Jimmy Reed (Cropper with a harmonica on a rack for the Reed tunes), Ray Charles and other classic R&B acts of the era. When Packy Axton's mom and uncle started up a record label and store in Memphis, the Royal Spades became the right guys in the right place at the right time.  Cropper, Axton and who knows what other members of the group along with some local black session players ended up playing on Last Night, credited to the Mar-Keys, one of the all time great R&B instrumentals, basically just a dumb but funky riff played over and over again with a bridge thrown in (the master was spliced together from two takes), when it rocketed to the top of the charts in the summer of '61, the Royal Spades (now with Smoochie Smith on piano and Wayne Jackson on trumpet, Freeman long gone) hit the road, becoming the Mar-Keys.  The Mar-Keys hit the chitlin' circuit and worked it for awhile until the group's leader--Steve Cropper quit in a power struggle with Axton (to be replaced by Charlie Freeman),  and returned to Memphis and work in the studio. He'd soon to form Booker T. & the M.G.'s whose Green Onions remains the high water mark for R&B instrumentals to this day. Axton carried on as leader of the Mar-Keys for a bit before handing the band over to Freeman.
All my way of introducing you to the best thing to come through the mail slot in ages-- Charles 'Packy' Axton-- Late Late Party 1965-67 (Light In The Attic), a collection of Packy's best post Mar-Keys sides, seventeen Memphis soul instrumentals in the solid Booker T & the MG's /Mar-Keys groove, and not a dud amongst them.
   Post Mar-Keys, Packy was something of an outcast at Stax since he didn't get along with Cropper or his uncle Jim Stewart, and in 1965, along with guitarist Bongo Johnny Keyes hit the west coast, where (oddly enough) with the Stax team in support scored a hit with the Packers' Hole In The Wall (Pure Soul), then returned to Memphis to cuts sides as the Martinis', including the inebriation classic Hung Over (24 Karat) where he can be heard barfing, the The Pack-Keys, and L.H. & the Memphis Sounds.  The best of these post Stax recordings are collected on said disc including such rarities as Greasy Pumpkin by the Pac-Keys, Late Late Party by the Martinis and Out Of Control by L.H. & the Memphis Sounds.
  Packy was a libertine and a wild man. "Packy was a playboy. He was a mama's boy....Packy was allowed to do what  Packy wanted to do" remembered Cropper.  His inability to get along with Cropper, Jim Stewart and Chips Moman effectively made him persona non grata at Stax by the time the golden era arrived, and he never really got over it. Packy Axton drank himself into an early grave, he died in 1974.  In Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music (Harper & Row, 1986), still the best book on the subject, he comes off as sort of an evil hipster, the devilish alter ego to the ambitious and pragmatic Cropper. This, the first CD issued under his own name stands proudly next to the best of the early Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the M.G.'s.  Packy may not have been what you would call a great musician (is there anything duller?), but he had something; a flair, a style, and an ability to keep it simple (some times moronically so, in the best possible way), that made for great R&B sides.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nick Tosches

                                 Nitro Nick Tosches

                                        His latest 
Eau de Newark- Tosches perfume label.

Nick Tosches has long been a, make that, the, most perspicacious observer of what is left of, dare I say it? Popular culture.
His latest book Save The Last Dance For Satan, published by Brooklyn paperback powerhouse Kicks Books (and perfume company) is essential reading not just for anyone who wants to know something about the history of rock'n'roll when it was actually fun, but as to why it no longer exists in today's world. Both the rock'n'roll and the fun. 
Expanded from a magazine article written for a publication so trite I refuse to type its name, Save The Last Dance For Satan examines the characters behind the scenes in the early days of rock'n'roll who were said to be "connected". Old Town's colorful Hy Weiss, motor mouth Philadelphia DJ Jerry "The Geator With The Heater" Blavant,  one time promo man (and later Madonna and Jacko's manager) Freddie DeMann,  Morris "Moishe" Levy, George Goldner, a guy named Wassel,  a guy named Bruno, and the true story of the Jaynettes' ethereal classic Sally Go Round The Roses, are all present and accounted for. I shall not ruin what I promise is a quick and gainful reading experience by telling you what it actually says about them in its pages, but you will learn how made guys and degenerate gamblers, girls who spell their name Lezli and guys who wore Velour jump suits, and of course Wassel and Bruno,  all colluded to perpetrate that music we remember as the real thing. The good shit. Rock'n'roll. And oh yeah, the pussy eating contest.  
As our world falls apart around us (Says Nick-- "I give it two years...at most"), and we watch those both at the top and at the bottom, both too dumb to and figure out where it all went wrong, scratch their assholes and moan; I quote from Save The Last Dance For Satan:
The true gage of the freedom of any community is the measurement of the degree of equality by which the fruits of malfeasance are shared by the rulers and the ruled, the cop on the beat and the man or woman on the street. The essence of democracy, as of capitalism is corruption. Only when the criminal in blue and the criminal in mufti, the peddler and the priest and the alderman and the drunkard--only when they are neighbors of common root and conspiracy is any neighborhood safe for the old lady on the stoop on a hot summer night, only then is there true charity, only then is there a justice that is real, and only then is there life in the air. As the social clubs close, so the churches empty. This is fact, not metaphor".
Nick Tosches will be reading from his latest work on Friday, September 9, at the Jefferson Market Library (425 Sixth Ave at 10th Street, New York City) at 8 PM, admission is free.  Tosches perfume (I kid you not) will be for sale.
In other Nick news, an article in Variety reported that art oaf Julian Schnabel will be directing Johnny Depp in a feature film version of In The Hand Of Dante. When questioned on the subject, Nick inhaled from his cigarette and grimaced. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #65

Here's another from the Fang that reminds me of Hubert Selby's classic Last Exit To Brooklyn. Date and place unknown.
The guy on the left is all about the eyebrows, the drag queen on the right, well it's hard to say. S/he certainly spend some time on her hair, or is that a wig?
Perhaps s/he's a friend of Esquerita (who towards the end of his days worked NYC in drag doing biz as Fabulash), or Bobby Marchan.  Hell, until a few months ago I assumed Lady Ga Ga was man in drag.
All of which has nothing to do with our picture.  I wish I could think of a caption.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kongo (1932)/ West Of Zanzibar (1928)

Top Three Clips from Todd Browning's West Of Zanzibar (1928).

William Cowen's 1932 soundie remake: Kongo.

Todd Browning, second from right. 
If I had to pick an all time favorite movie, it might just be William Cowen's Kongo, a 1932 re-make of Todd Browning's 1928 West Of Zanzibar.  In fact, both titles along with Cecil B. DeMille's Sign Of The Cross (making a rare big screen appearance this Sunday in NYC at the Film Forum), make up my top three.
  Based on the play by Chester DeVonde  and Kilbourn Gordon (which was titled Kongo and was a huge hit on Broadway), West Of Zanzibar/Kongo is one of the most gruesome, sensational and lascivious re-writings of Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness ever unleashed, it makes Apocalypse Now look like a an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
  The convoluted story line (which starts in London in Browning's version, although Cowen's remake cuts straight to the non-chase in Africa), revolves around a stage magician Dead Legs (the character's given name changes in the two versions from Phroso to Rutledge) who in an altercation over his girl gets his spine crushed and ends up a dead legged cripple.  In Browning's version Dead Legs is played by Lon Chaney (Browning's greatest leading man), in Cowan's by Walter Huston (who had played the role on Broadway).  Dead Legs follows his rival, Crane (an ivory trader, played by Lionel Barrymore in the silent), to Africa where he sets himself up as a deity amongst the the natives, controlling them with sugar cubes, tongue twisting torture, and his old stage magic routine disguised as folk religion.  When the rival shows up at Dead Legs' hut, the story then moves on to the long lost daughter of the now deceased woman they fought over. Thinking it was his rival's daughter, Dead Legs' takes possession of the girls upbringing, raising her in a sheltered convent only to degrade her in the jungle when she reaches her majority. I won't ruin the plot twist. But there's enough depravity for a dozen sideshows (Browning's specialty), my favorite being Lupe Velez as an alcoholic jungle nymph in Cowan's version of the story, although how a Mexican spitfire ended up in a shack in the Congo is never explained, I can't say I mind.  I give Cowan's version a slight edge for it's incredible dialogue, much of which revolves around the words-- "He sneered".  Browning's version looks a bit better, although both have an incredibly claustrophobic, sweltering, disturbing feel, much like Werner Herzog's wonderful soliloquy about the jungle heard in Les Blank's Burden On Dreams ("fornicating, writhing, strangulation,...the birds don't sing so much as scream in pain....").  It's hard to decide who was a better Dead Legs, Chaney has never been less than brilliant, or Huston who really brings something of his own to the role.  Either, or. West Of Zanzibar and Kongo are two must see films for anyone who likes their movies twisted, depraved, and sensational.  TCM shows them on occasion, or you can watch them in short segments on YouTube.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Brian Jones

Montreal, 65. Brian speaks up.
Brian and Anita.
Meeting the fans.
Dressed To Kill.
Pulling A Nanker.
Ruby Tuesday, with recorder, '67.
Lady Jane, dulcimer, same show as above.
A better use of the recorder.
At The Mellotron.
With Gibson Firebird, Where Is That Guitar Today?
                                     Brian Today.

If You Can Get Past The Commercial There's Some Great Early Color Footage Here.

Brian co-wrote this one, better than anything they'd done in decades.

I don't have much to add to what I had to say about Brian Jones (Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones, born February 28, 1942, died July 3, 1969) two years ago on the fortieth anniversary of his death. But I guess I still miss him.  In his best selling auto-hagiography Life, Keith Richards' downplays Brian's contributions at every chance he gets, even crediting the formation of the Rolling Stones to Ian Stewart.  Brian is still getting the shit end of the stick after all this time. Well, at least he never looked as goofy as Ron Wood, who could have taken at least a few fashion tips from Brian.  It's forty two years since Brian's death and I'm still saying my goodbyes.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #64

This week's found photo is dated Oct. '67.  Place unknown, but it sure seems like California. The kind of girl Brian Wilson wrote songs about. I imagine her dancing to the Byrds at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip.  A couple of years later she might have put in some time at the Spahn Ranch (as did Beach Boy Dennis Wilson), or with the Weather Underground or even at the Playboy Mansion. Today she would have half dozen facial piercing, or have her non-existant flaws rebuilt by a plastic surgeon for that ever popular "half melted Barbie" look that for some inexplicable reason some modern women feel makes them look better. Personally I like women just the way they are, flaws and all. Any one want to guess what she's staring off at?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All Fall Down (1962)

All Fall Down- Beatty as his sleazy best.

Hoo-boy. Hot on the heels of Splendor In The Grass, in which he plays a good boy so gosh darn good he wouldn't even screw carpenter's dream Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty starred in this little remembered but highly entertaining flick playing a women abusing sleaze bag. I'd say it might be his best role ever. I caught John Frankenhiemer's All Fall Down for the first time recently on late night cable where it followed Splendor... in one of TCM's theme nights, and it made quite on impression. With a script by William Inge (Splendor, Bus Stop, Picnic), and a solid cast headed by On The Waterfront's lip quivering co-star Eva Marie Saint as the thirty something virgin Echo O'Brien (great name),  Shane's Brandon De Wilde as Beatty's obnoxiously good little brother and Karl Malden and Angela Lansbury as the long suffering parents, this one really packs a punch. Beatty would go on to become a major scenery chomping star with Bonnie & Clyde (1966) and then a major embarrassment with Ishtar (1987) and the  rapping politician Bullworth (1998) (those two seemed to have effectively ended his career), but left to someone else's devices he was actually an excellent actor.  In this day and age of diminished cinematic expectations, All Fall Down stands out as a forgotten, if not classic, at least (low) class act.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Howlin Wolf at 101.

With Hubert Sumlin and a cool guitar.
Early deodorant ad.
Well worth the $1.00.
He just swallowed his harmonica.
At Sylvio's, '64.
Early shot, another cool guitar.
At home in Chicago, a White Sox fan?
Back at Sylvios.
Yet another cool guitar.

Upsetting the folks at a Folk Festival.

 European TV, '66.

Howlin' Wolf (born Chester Arthur Burnett outside of West Point, Mississippi, June 10, 1910, died January 10, 1976) would have been 101 today, had he lived. If they dug him up and stuck his bones onstage he'd still be better than 99.9% of what passes for blues or rock'n'roll these days. I've already blogged on him before (here and here), so I have little to add, except he remains my very favorite singer, and when ever I hear so and so (name your most overrated singer here) is a great "soul" singer, I want to stick a Howlin' Wolf 78 in their ear. If you are not familiar with Wolf's music, start with his early Chess and RPM sides, then the un-issued Sun Sessions, forget the psychedelic "birdshit" album, the London Sessions and SuperBlues jams unless you are a completist. For further reading I suggest James Segrest and Mark Hoffman's Moanin' At Midnight: The Life and Times Of Howlin' Wolf (Pantheon Books, 2004). Happy Birthday Wolf, where ever you are.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Jesters

The Jesters, l. to r. Jerry Phillips, Billy Wulfers, Eddie Robertson, Teddy Paige
                The Jesters with Sam C. Phillips.

Jesters promo 45 with Jim Dickinson's scrawled autograph.

"The best performances never get recorded, the best recordings never get released and the best records don't sell", so proclaimed the late Memphis musician/producer/philosopher Jim Dickinson the last time I saw him alive. Never was that adage so true than in Memphis where Dickinson plied his trade for four decades.
Today's subject, a great Memphis garage band who called themselves The Jesters (not to be mistaken for the Jesters from Brooklyn who covered the Diablos' The Wind, or or the Jim Messina led surf group, or Charley Pickett's cousin Mark Markem & the Jesters who cut the all time classic Marlboro Country or any any of the other dozens of group who had previously used that name) are one of the greatest examples of said truism, even though they did release one of the greatest 45's of the era, and the last great Sun record.
The aforementioned Jim Dickinson is of course, part of the story, since the Jesters' only released platter was as much his record as theirs, although in fact the only time he ever played with the group on whose contribution to the pantheon of sides he sang and pounded piano, was the January 1966 day it was recorded at (the second) Sun Studio (639 Madison) in Memphis.
 I, as they say, digress.
  The Jesters were formed in 1964, led by guitarist Edaward LaPaiglia aka Teddy Paige, who had previously led a teenage aggression called the Church Keys, and was heavily into the '5' Royales (then living in Memphis and recording for the Home Of The Blues label), Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley and Freddie King. Paige hooked up with singer Tommy Minga,  previously of the Escapades, and added rhythm guitarist Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Records Sam C. (and fresh from a stint as a fake midget wrestler), bassist Bill Wulfers and drummer Eddie Robertson in short order. Their set list was heavy on old blues, R&B and rockabilly tunes as well as originals, some  re-writes of classic R&B tunes, some quite unique, and short of British Invasion hits that were the staple on most local white groups at the time.
  At this time Jerry's older brother Knox Phillips was pretty  much running the show at the much diminished Sun Records, Sam was disillusioned and bored with the record biz and preferred to concentrate on his radio stations, and Knox began recording the Jesters.  Tapes from two sessions with eleven tracks from the original band have survived,  as well as the two sides issue on 45, although these would not see release until the late 1980's when they were first issued on Charley's Sun: Into The 60's box set and later in 2009 on the Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men:The Sun Masters which added four Escapades tracks to fill out the CD.
 The sides with Tommy Minga singing are all first class, snot nosed, garage howlers--  What's The Matter Baby, Get Gone Baby, Strange As it Seems, the original, Minga fronted version of Cadillac Man, a version of Bill Doggett's Hold with added lyrics and retitled The Big Hurt, the '5' Royales Slummer The Slum barely re-written as Stompity Stomp, as well as versions of Boppin' The Blues, Night Train From Chicago, Heartbreak Hotel and the Bo Diddley cop-- Jim Dandy and Sweet Sixteen would all fit perfectly on any volume of Back From The Grave (Crypt). Certainly had it been released at the time What's The Matter Baby could have given the Standells, Shadows Of Night, Knickerbokers and other crude hitmakers of that year a run for their Beatle boots.
  How and why Tommy Minga's voice was deemed unsuitable for issued wax is unclear, but once it was decided to bring Jim Dickinson in on piano and lead vocals, Cadillac Man was transformed into another creature all together. Rather than a snarling, Them/Rolling Stones styled garage rocker, it became a throw back to an earlier era at Sun, that of full throated screamers like Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley. Sam Phillips was said to be highly excited by the possibilities, and secured Jim Dickinson (who had previously cut two singles under the tutelage of Sun alumni Bill Justis) contract release and put the band back in the studio to cut a b-side, a version of Little Walter's My Babe (itself a version of Sister Rosette Tharpe's version of the old gospel standard This Train). Cadillac Man b/w My Babe was issued by Sun in 1966 and died a quick death.  In a year ('66) that saw the Shadows of Night, 13th Floor Elevators and Standells hit the charts, the Dickinson led version of Cadillac Man had probably less commercial appeal than the material cut with Tommy Minga singing. It was also the beginning of the end for the Jesters. There would be no follow up. At some point they recorded a version of Smokey Robinson's What So Good About Goodbye with Jimmy Day singing, but it too sat on the shelf for decades.
 The band, with Minga back in front, briefly resumed gigging, but soon fell apart. Lack of success had halted their forward motion, and when a rock'n'roll group is not moving forward, it is dying.
 By late '66 it was over for the Jesters, Tommy Minga put together a new version of the Escapades. They released two singles I Tell No Lies (issued on both Arbert and XL) and Mad Mad Mad (Verve) both in late '66. Teddy Paige played some sessions, ending up on discs by David Allen Coe and Cliff Jackson, left music to work construction and eventually relocated to the U.K where he was said to have taken to wandering around in medieval minstrel garb, complete with saber. He was briefly institutionalized in the nineties after a run in between said sword and a neighbor.  Jerry Phillips would find work at the family radio stations, the other two got real jobs.
  The Jesters were among the best and most unique garage bands in that peak year for garage band rock'n'roll. Paige's guitar playing is especially noteworthy, he works in quotes from Lowman Pauling, Freddie King, and Bo Diddley, yet still retained a unique and biting sound. Tommy Minga too had his own style, having perfected the requisite 'teenager with hard on who hates his parents' delivery. Jim Dickinson would of course go on to long and colorful career, recapped after his 2009 death here. Had What's The  Matter Baby been issued on 45, it may have been a hit, or sold so few copies that it would got for $500 on Ebay today, either way, the best sounds the Jesters left behind are among the best garage punk I've ever heard.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #63

And you thought that come hither look on the face of the gal in FP#62 was for you? No, it looks like the party was already underway. And yes, that is a Johnny Mathis album under this guy's armpit, a deck of cards on the bed, a pack of smokes and a beer on the nightstand. What'd ya think is on the rest of this role of pix?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mr Ghetto: Wal Mart

Who says New Orleans isn't the cultural capitol of the world?

I'm not much of a hip hop or bounce (as they call the local brew in New Orleans) fan, but this just kills me.
Shot in New Orleans at the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas, a couple of blocks from where I used to live.
This is the part of New Orleans (a hair and nails watching cornucopia, just check out the 'do and nails on anyone working the register at Pop-eyes) that doesn't make it on HBO's The Treme. I haven't been back to New Orleans in sometime (too many ghosts), this makes me really miss the place.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #62

This little minx knows how to get a man....good records. There's the second Elvis album, Jackie Wilson,
Patti Page (how much is that doggie in the window....?), and a pile of unidentifiable 78's except the black, gold and white Specialty label at the top of the pile, my bet is that one is Little Richard, although it could be Willie Joe and his Unitar, or Don & Dewey singing Justine. Hell, that just may be Justine herself! Well before my mind runs away with me, I'll just say this week's Found Photo may be one of the Fang's finest moments.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jack Scott

Jack Scott as a balladeer.
With bowling trophy.

Jack Scott- attempting to match Elvis' sneer.

Jack Scott with backing singers the Chantones.
I've always loved the sound of Jack Scott (born Giovanni Dominico Scafone Jr.,  Jan. 24, 1936, in Windsor, Ontario). He had an loose, almost swinging rock'n'roll sound, he had an amazing voice and was an excellent tunesmith, writing nearly all his own best sides.  
  At age ten his family relocated across the border to Hazel Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and it was hear he formed his first band-- the Southern Drifters, playing country and rockabilly. His first session came in early 1957 at Detroit's Universal Studio, it produced  Greaseball (an early version of Leroy which remained unreleased until the 90's) and four sides that were picked up by the ABC/Paramount label and make up his first two singles--
Baby She's Gone b/w You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar, his debut, followed later in the year by Two Timin' Woman b/w I Need Your Love, both singles are in the moody, Elvis mode. The primitive thumper Baby She's Gone is the best of the four sides with it's  foreboding, nearly ominous throb, and killer guitar solo by Al Allen (which Robert Quine would steal part of and insert into punk anthem Blank Generation twenty years later). It was around this time he hooked up with bass player Stan Getz (not the jazz saxophonist) and his Tom Cats who would be his backing band for the next year or so (and later go on to even greater obscurity as Johnny Powers' band).  
In the spring of '58 Scott, who had made some local waves was signed to Carlton Records and was back in the studio, recording his first real hit My True Love b/w Leroy (both sides making the Billboard charts with the a-side rising to #3), and the follow up-- With Your Love b/w Geraldine, a lesser hit, rising to #28 and kicking off a six single backwards chart run that would take him through the end of '58 with  Goodbye Baby b/w Save My Soul (#8), The Way I Walk b/w  Midgie (#38), I Never Felt Like This b/w Bella (#78) and There Comes A Time b/w Baby Marie (#71). Carlton also issued his first LP,
ten of its twelve titles being originals, including all his 45's, it was even issued in true stereo, vocals and guitars on one side, bass and drums on the other, it's a great record to practice guitar playing to because you can put the balance all the way to once side and play along with the rhythm section. The stereo pressing have the word Stereo written vertically down the left side of the jacket in press on felt block letters. It's probably the first stereo rock'n'roll LP ever released.
 Jack Scott was drafted in 1959 and he'd spend most of the year in the U.S. Army, Carlton releasing lesser sides and a second LP to keep his name alive. Later that year upon his discharge he left Carlton and signed with another small company- Top Rank. By this late date, in order to survive rockers, following in Elvis' footsteps (whose first post-Army single was the re-write of Mario Lanza's version of O Sole Mia-- It's Now Or Never), had to become ballad singers (Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty,The Everly Brothers) or watch their careers wither (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins). 
Scott who always excelled at ballads had no problem adjusting and topped the charts with the ballado-profundo What In The World's Come Over You (#5 Pop), although the flip side was a rocker Baby Baby. He followed it with another weeper-- Burning Bridges which became his biggest ever hit, rising to #3. Carlton responded in the other direction by digging out the rocker Go Wild Little Sadie from his sophomore LP and issuing it on the Guaranteed imprint around the same time, it was a close to frantic as Scott ever sounded.
Jack Scott had a nice career going for him, but he was never able to turn it into major stardom. He left Top Rank shortly after Burning Bridges and spent the 60's label hopping, cutting sides, some truly excellent, for Capitol (Strange Desire, one of my favorites, a throw back to his Carlton discs, and the unissued Good Deal Lucille stand out), RCAs Groove subsidiary (including the excellent rockin Christmas two sider-- Jingle Bell Slide b/w There's Trouble Brewing, and the killer-- Wiggle On Out), Dot and progressively lesser labels. Despite, or probably because he never really changed his sound,  he never made the transition to country stardom that revived the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty.
By the 70's "The Canadian Elvis" would be reduced to playing Teddy Boy revivals in the U.K. (he shared a live album in '77 with Charlie Feathers, Buddy Knox, and Warren Smith) and the occasional oldies show. His last chart showing was a revival of Burning Bridges done as a duet with Carrol "Baby Doll" Baker, a minor Canadian country hit in 1992. He eventually retired from live performing  unable to find a suitable band (and the economics of touring makes hiring real musicians unfeasible).  In recent years a bootleg emerged claiming to be a Jack Scott  live recording circa 1961, it's actually from the mid-80's, but shows him still at the height of his powers, sounding pretty much like his old discs, as these versions of The Way I Walk and Goodbye Baby prove, time did not decay his easy going swagger.
 If rockabilly, at it's best, was mostly about a guy with a hard on telling himself (and the world) how cool he is,  then Jack Scott was it's prophet. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Apocalypto (2006)

Apocalypto: Mayans party like it's 1999.

Am I the only person who thinks this is a great film?  On the heels of the $370 million plus grossing, gay/S&M/Catholic soft core porno flick The Passion Of The Christ (2004), alcoholic mess Mel Gibson got to write his own ticket,  and then went on to write, produce and direct this spectacular, career ending monstrosity of a movie. Apocalypto has some of the most amazing acting, sets, hair and make-up ever seen on the screen. It's like Cecil B. DeMille and John Waters were directing simultaneously. The scene where the hero, forest dwelling Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood whose career may have also been killed by this film) is taken captive and is about to be sacrificed to the Mayan Sun God (Kinich Ahau, played by the Sun it's best on screen appearence since Antonioni's Red Desert) is one of the most compelling, and whacked out scenes ever to (dis)grace the silver screen. Since it's on cable nearly every day I've watched it dozens of times and it never fails to stun me. I especially love the little fat prince and the shaman's ability to roll his eyes back in his head.  I'll not defend Mel Gibson's drunken rants (which I find highly entertaining and can listen to over and over), and I can't say I've liked his acting except the first two Mad Max flicks, but this one is a doozie. Worth setting your Tivo/DVR for.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gillian's Found Photo #61

Now here's couple of stylin' young thugs. Date and place unknown, but judging by the trousers I'd say early to mid-60's (or as scientists like to call it, the pre-flare era).  Can anyone identify the arsenal? Don't you want to see what the rest of this roll of photos looks like?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rosco Gordon

Rosco Gordon

Me and Rosco Gordon, 1996.

Rosco Gordon from the film Rock Baby Rock It.

Rosco Gordon serenades Butch the alcoholic chicken.
Rosco Gordon, Butch and Sam Phillips.

   Still the easiest 45 to find on this label.
Signed Duke 129.

Return to Sun, the one was written by rocker Hayden Thompson.

Notice writing credit and mis-spelled first name.

When A Buck And A Half Bought Something.
  Rosco Gordon Jr. was born in Memphis in 1934, the youngest of eight children, growing up on Florida Street. He taught himself piano by sitting next to his sister while she practiced her lessons and before the age of eighteen had won the Talent Show at Beale Street's famed Palace Theater (the M.C. was Rufus Thomas) and was appearing on WDIA, America's first all black radio station (where B.B. King got his start around the same time). Through WDIA's owner James Mattis he was sent to see Sam C. Phillips who recorded him, leasing his sides to the Bihari Brother' RPM label out of L.A., charting for the first time with Saddled  The Cow (Milked The Horse) b/w Ouch! Pretty Baby which went to #9 R&B in September of '51.  Then Phillips sent two versions of the same master-- Booted, one to RPM and a slightly different alternate take to Chess in Chicago.  The Chess version hit #1 R&B in February of '52 kicking off a three way tug of war which ended up with RPM securing Gordon's contract (and the services of talent scout/band leader Ike Turner who had topped the charts for Chess with the Phillips produced master Rocket 88 under the guise of Jackie Breston & his Delta Cats, Chess would get Howlin' Wolf in the same deal).  Since RPM was no longer dealing with Phillips, Gordon cut sessions in Memphis at Tuff Green's house in a makeshift studio, moonlighting for Phillips who then sold the masters to Mattis' Duke label. Soon Duke was sold to Peacock's owner, Don Robey, along with Gordon, Bobby Blue Bland (who was Rosco's chauffeur, he made his debut singing on a Rosco Gordon b-side), and Johnny Ace. Confused? Don't worry you will be.
 Since Rosco had two top ten hits and had seen no royalties (and the Biharis had cut themselves in for a piece of his songwriting by putting their nome-de-disque Taub on all his discs), Rosco Gordon took the short money upfront, and hence would cut a disc for whom ever was willing to put his price (usually $3-400) in his pocket. Between the years of 1951-59 he cut eleven singles for RPM (including the #2 hit No More Doggin'), eight for Duke, five for Sun (the biggest seller The Chicken appearing on both Sun and its subsidiary Flip), one for Chess (the aforementioned Booted), and four more for Vee Jay, including his biggest hit-- Just A Little Bit, featuring Classie Ballou on guitar, which would go on to become an R&B standard.
  It would be a daunting and quite pointless task to attempt to put these twenty-nine discs in any sort of chronological order. In fact, much of the best material was left in Sam Phillips' vault which remained un-issued until the early 1980's when Charley Records (a rumored money laundering operation for the Corsican mob) began releasing un-issued Sun recordings in bulk.  The basic Rosco Gordon sound was based around his piano pounding (known as Roscoe's rhythm), shuffling drums, guttural saxophone and often distorted guitars, over which Rosco usually delivered a wonderfully mush mouthed vocal. In addition to the above sides, some of his best were, and still are--  RPM 322- Rosco's Boogie b/w So Tired,  Duke 129- Three Cent Love b/w You Figure It Out, the a-side sporting a beautiful solo from Pat Hare, the flip perhaps his most over the top vocal, RPM 358- New Orleans Wimmen b/w What You Got On Your Mind, Sun (and Flip) 227- Weeping Blues b/w Love For You Baby, Sun 257- Shoobie Oobie b/w Cheese and Crackers, Sun 305 Sally Joe b/w El Torro (the a-side an experiment in rockabilly, the flip an uncharacteristic Spanish guitar led instrumental that is rarely re-issued but I love), RPM 369- Dream On Baby b/w  Trying RPM 384- Whiskey Made Me Drunk b/w Tomorrow May Be Too Late, Duke 173- Tummer Tee b/w I've Loved and I've Lost. Among the best of the un-issued sides you'll find T-Model Boogie, Decorate The Counter, Let's Get High, Bop With Me Baby, I'm Gonna Shake It, I Don't Like It and Nineteen Years Old.  He was cutting excellent sides into the late 60's such as this 1964 duet with his wife Barbara which appeared on New York's Old Town label-- Gotta Keep Rollin', and this 1968 remake of Just A Little Bit which appeared on gangster Nate McCalla's Calla label.
  Rosco Gordon had a colorful career. In one run in with hoodlum label owner Don Robey, Robey threatened to kick Gordon (he'd previously crushed Little Richard's testicles in an argument over royalties). Gordon patted the revolver tucked into his belt and told Robey the foot he kicked him with was the foot he would put a bullet in. He escaped with his testes in tact.  He toured the south on many package shows, relocated to Shreveport, La. in the late 50's where he met his second wife Barbara (his first marriage at age 15 lasted only weeks), and kept churning out discs. He also toured the Caribbean where he was wildly popular, No More Doggin' being one of the biggest R&B hits in Jamaican history and along with Fats Domino's Be My Guest and Wilbert Harrison's Kansas City, the blueprint for the coming ska sound. He also appeared in one of the greatest rock'n'roll movies of all time-- Rock Baby Rock It (1957) along with rocker Johnny Carroll, in it Gordon serenades his pet chicken Butch (he later told me Butch, whom he toured with, was an alcoholic).
 In the late 60's he relocated to Queens, New York, where he founded his own Bab-Roc label issuing a handful of singles in the 70's and then, in the style of TV's George Jefferson, opened a dry cleaners. He kept performing till the end of his life and was in fine form as late as the millennium. He recorded an album for ska pioneer Clement "Sir Coxone" Dodd  in the 90's, it wasn't particularly good, but I was thrilled to meet Dodd who was selling the discs from a cardboard box at the back of one of Gordon's gigs in Brooklyn.  In his final days Rosco Gordon attempted to patch things up with Sam Phillips who took great offense to Rosco's disregard of exclusive contracts (even though Phillips had operated much the same way at the dawn of his career) and still harbored a grudge.  In 2000 Rosco booked time at Sun Studio and asked Sam to produce a few sides. Rosco recorded an album at Sun but Phillips never showed. It was issued as Memphis, Tennessee later that year.  In 2002 Rosco Gordon died of a heart attack in Rego Park, Queens, New York. Perhaps if life on earth continues for long enough, someone will compile a re-issue of his complete Duke sides.

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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