Monday, January 31, 2011
Charlie Louvin wasn't even that lucky. If you ask ten out of ten people (outside of the south) who Charlie Louvin was, you'll be answered with a blank stare. That's a shame, because Charlie Louvin had an amazing career in the field of country music.
I was first introduced to Charlie Louvin by my father's collection of old reel-to-reel tapes. My favorite toy when I was a kid was my dad's JVC reel-to-reel tape player. I would play his old tapes and marvel at the unknown songs (Dad never listed anything on the tape boxes) that would come out of the speakers. Eventually, as my musical knowledge increased, I began to recognize a lot of the rock and roll songs my dad recorded off of friends' records and off of AM radio. But there was one tape which had about half an hour of C&W sides recorded off of radio station KXCN ("serving St. Louis and Festus") in 1966. Since my dad was doing his tour of duty in Vietnam that year, I couldn't figure out how he recorded this. One day I asked him, and he said his best friend Bobby recorded this when he himself was stationed in St. Louis during the war.
There was incredible stuff in that half-hour: Connie Smith's "The Hurtin's All Over", Porter Wagoner's version of "Ole Slew-Foot", "I Hear Little Rock Calling" by Ferlin Husky, "Send Me A Box Of Kleenex" by Lamar Morris - and "The Proof Is In The Kissing" by Charlie Louvin.
Since I knew NOTHING about country music at the time, and, as usual, nothing was listed on the tape box, it took me many, many years to track down those records (in fact, there's still one on that tape I haven't found, because I don't know the title or the artist to this day). But when I did, I developed a taste for 50s and 60s C&W that only gets stronger as the years go by (it also helps that I have a girlfriend who is a country music junkie).
Anyway, here's a little history: Charlie Louvin (real name: Charles Elzer Loudermilk) was born on July 7, 1927, in Rainesville, Alabama. He and his brother Ira grew up in nearby Henegar, AL. Ira played mandolin and Charlie played guitar, patterning themselves after such "brother" acts as The Blue Sky Boys and The Monroes. In 1943 the brothers (after a stint with the Foggy Mountain Boys) won an amateur contest in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the prize being their own morning radio show. Eventually their radio program would move to Knoxville, Tennessee's WNOX, where they became featured artists on the station's most popular program, "Midday Merry-Go-Round". All this exposure led to a contract with MGM Records in 1949, but their recording career came to a halt when Charlie got drafted and went to fight in Korea. After Charlie returned, their good friend Fred Rose (of Acuff-Rose publishing fame) convinced them to sign with Capitol, since MGM was putting all of its promotional energies toward Hank Williams.
The move to Capitol was a good one, and by 1955 the Louvin Brothers were major country stars, and in 1955-1956 they had five Top Ten country hits - "When I Stop Dreaming", "Hoping That You're Hoping", "You're Running Wild", "Cash On The Barrel Head", and their only #1 country hit "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby". They joined the Grand Ole Opry and soon became (strangely for the era) hot LP artists, releasing about 20 LPs between 1956 and 1962. Half of the LPs were of sacred songs, including the LP "Satan Is Real", which has become their most (in)famous LP because of the unintentionally hilarious cover. See it here.
Unfortunately for the Louvins, the word "production" began to creep into Nashville by the early 60s, and soon the pure backwoods sound of country was being "softened" for public consumption. Fiddles became violins, and Ira Louvin's mandolin was replaced by Chet Atkins' guitar. The pressures of "new Nashville" began to take its toll on the brothers, both professionally and personally (their relationship was always, to say the least, a bit shaky, especially since it was well-known that Ira could be a helluva mean drunk - and he was usually in the bag), and in 1963 they split up. Each brother started a solo career, and by mid-1964 Charlie had a Top Ten country hit with "I Don't Love You Anymore". Between 1964 and 1982, Charlie Louvin charted 29 times on the C&W charts (though he only had one other Top Ten hit, with "See The Big Man Cry" in 1965).
Ira didn't fare as well. Shortly after the brothers broke up, Ira was shot in an alcohol-soaked argument with his third wife, Faye. Shortly after his recovery (and a divorce from Faye), he married the girl singer in his show, Anne Young. On June 20, 1965, Ira and Anne were in the middle of a week-long series of concerts in Kansas City, Missouri when they were both killed in a car crash in nearby Williamsburg (though some sources list the location as Jefferson City, MO). It was only then that Ira had a country chart hit, with "Yodel, Sweet Molly".
Today's selection is one of Charlie's most rockin' sides. It was released as the B-side of Charlie's version of Roger Miller's "Less And Less" in November 1964. It's a really bluesy, "forget you, girl" number that has a strange (but cool) echoey riff on the bass and great drums. I hope you enjoy this and become inspired to hunt down other great Charlie/Louvin Bros. records.
Also, thanks, Dad, for letting me play with those reel-to-reels.
Charlie Louvin - I Don't Want It (Capitol 5296) - 1964
Monday, January 24, 2011
D A N C E ! ! !
On the last Sunday of every month, my radio show "On The Record" turns into the "Classic Soul Blowout", where I spin nothing but soul and R&B records from the 60s and 70s. Soul records have been the lifeblood of my existence ever since I was a kid. I started collecting records when I was a baby (literally - my parents would throw old 45 rpm records in my crib to get me to stop crying!! Somewhere in my photos I actually have a picture of me in my crib with a few 45s.....if I find it I'll post it) and quickly decided that the record collector life was for me. I was a weird kid. Anyhoo, doo-wop was the name of the game where I grew up (Newark, NJ), so as soon as I had the wherewithal (and the pocket money) I went searching for old original doo-wop 45s.
It didn't happen. They were just too damn expensive. I saw old guys (old to me, anyway) paying sums of three, four hundred dollars for ONE 45. That was alien to me. I thought old 45s were supposed to be had for a quarter or fifty cents, like at the garage sales I went to. To this day, I still think that way - there isn't a record IN THE WORLD worth three or four hundred dollars to me. The MOST I have ever paid for a record was $225.00, and that was for an original copy of the "That'll Be The Day" LP by Buddy Holly - mint minus, original flat black label. I kept it for 10 years and sold it to a guy in Finland for $250.00.
I quickly realized I was not going to be a doo-wop collector for several reasons; a) too expensive; b) as much as I love it, doo-wop is formula music - after a while, it all starts to sound similar; and c) I can't STAND doo-wop record collectors - they listen to NOTHING but group harmony records (they HATE the term "doo-wop"), think that The Beatles ruined all music, and they all try to one-up novice collectors by saying things like, "You ever heard-a dis rekkid? You NEVER heard-a dis rekkid! Dey pressed FOUR copies-a dis rekkid in a garage in 1955, an' I got one! I paid FIVE THOUSAND dollars for dis rekkid! My wife divorced me 'cause I spent the kids' college fund on dis rekkid, BUT I GOT DIS REKKID! Your copy is a repro! I got the original!". The saddest part is that these collectors have priced doo-wop records out of the range of most collectors' pockets, so nobody WANTS original doo-wop 45s anymore. Even sadder is the fact that, as the years go by, the big-time doo-wop collectors are dropping dead from old age, and their children will sell their collections for pennies on the dollar (probably to pay for that college education they never received).
Back to when I was a lad: when I'd ask the record man if he had any OTHER 45s, he'd point me to a box and say with disdain, "well, we have these other 45s - soul, surf and (gag) GARAGE rock (gag)". So I bought those. For a quarter, 50 cents, sometimes a dollar. In my mind, if I went out to buy records with $100 in my pocket, I'd CERTAINLY rather come home with 100 or 200 soul, blues, surf and garage 45s than ONE or TWO doo-wop 45s.
But I digress. My fascination with soul music started at an early age, when a neighbor gave me a copy of "The Best Of Sam Cooke" on RCA Victor. Not a bad place to start! In those early years, I collected what they call "sweet soul" - slow to mid-tempo tunes, heavy on the group harmony. But as the years went by, I began to get into soul records with a beat - not necessarily "Northern Soul" which I think is one of the most OVERRATED forms of music - and began going to clubs whose DJs played these records.
That's how I learned about "The Boston Monkey" - my good friend Phast Phreddie Patterson turned me on to this (and a host of other cool records). Richard Anthony and The Blue Notes were, apparently, a Philadelphia group, hooking up with producer Frank Virtue (most famous for "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" with his group, The Virtues) and making records for Virtue's Fayette and Virtue labels. Then, in late 1965, the new dance craze came along - The Boston Monkey. How the Boston Monkey differed from the Monkey is beyond me, but by early 1966 there were records about it by Billy Butler, Alvin Cash, Les Cooper and The Soul Rockers, The Manhattans, and The Hustlers. But Richard Anthony and The Blue Notes top them all. It's a killer production by Billy Jackson and Jimmy "Wiz" Wizner (who did a lot of work for other Philly groups like The Tymes and The Dovells) and has a killer riff that runs through the whole song (same one as The Temptations' "Get Ready"). It was released in April, 1966, and died on the vine (Swan Records was on its last legs as a label, closing up shop in early 1967). Well worth the hunt, especially if you want to kick-start a 1960s soul party.
Promo copies of this record have a blank B-side. Both myself and Phast Phreddie are searching for a stock copy which actually has the B-side, called "No Good". Anybody got one?
Anyway, tune in to my "Classic Soul Blowout" show on WFDU-FM, 89.1 on your dial if you're in the NYC area, or at www.wfdu.fm on the internet! I'll even let doo-wop collectors take a listen!
Richard Anthony and The Blue Notes - The Boston Monkey (Swan 4257) - 1966
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Be forewarned. You may never be able to get this record out of your head. Be forewarned.
"Bila" by The Versatones ranks right up there with "Shombalor" and "Rubber Biscuit" as the best examples of nonsense syllable doo-wop. But while "Shombalor" and "Rubber Biscuit" have some sort of melody, and are fun to attempt to sing along with, this record sounds atonal and THREATENING, as if the group will jump out of the record and dance around your house like a bunch of crazy people. In fact, if you dropped a microphone into a mental ward, the result would probably sound a lot like this record. There is NO information about this group, either on the internet or in the dozens of books about rock and roll history in my personal library. Apparently this group only made this ONE 45, and disappeared from view (by the way, these are NOT the same Versatones who recorded for RCA in 1956-57). Even though it was re-released several times, the record never hit the national charts.
Yet, over the years, it has become a well-remembered track for record collectors, especially in the New York and Philadelphia areas. The record is insane, the recording itself is the lowest of lo-fi; heck, it wasn't even the A-side of the record. What's the story here?
Apparently, this was a New York group, because they came to the attention of novelty record king Dickie Goodman, who was based in New York, sometime in late 1957. Dickie was in the midst of a falling out with the distributor of his record label, Luniverse Records, so he decided to go independent, forming the All Star Record Corporation, which would distribute the final Buchanan and Goodman single on Luniverse, "The Flying Saucer Goes West". Before the "Flying Saucer" craze, Goodman was actually a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, and had written a song called "Tight Skirt And Sweater" for the Versatones to record as the first release on the All Star label. They needed a flip side, and the group had their own song (written by the mysterious "C. Worrell - S. Tindall") called "Bila", so Dickie had them knock it out in one take and he put out the 45 in March or April 1958. "Tight Skirt", the A-side, began receiving airplay almost immediately (it didn't hurt that Alan Freed was a close friend of Dickie's) but soon there were problems - the record was banned by many stations for "obscenity" (probably because of the "leering" way they sang about the girl in the tight skirt and sweater - that's the only reason I can figure) and soon died a quick death, along with All Star Records.
Let's fast forward a couple of years, to 1960. The New York subway tunnel below Times Square at Broadway and 42nd Street had a tiny record shop located in it, called Times Square Records. The proprietor was a cadaverous old man named Irving "Slim" Rose. You can read the history of his store here. Anyway, Slim sold obscure doo-wop 45s, many of which became big-time collectors' items after Slim had them played on Allan Fredericks' "Night Train" program (which was sponsored by Times Square Records, naturally). Slim loved weird group sounds, and had an old copy of "Tight Skirt", but LOVED the flip, "Bila". Fredericks started playing it on his radio show, and Slim soon sold out of his stock of old All Star copies. Luckily for Slim, at that time (March 1960) Fenway Records in Pittsburgh reissued the track (because it was a Top Ten hit in that city, thanks to radio station KQV), and "Bila", now promoted to the A-side, sold respectably in the New York area, mainly out of Slim's store.
We fast forward again, to 1963 Philadelphia. Jerry Blavat, the legendary "Geator With The Heater" on WCAM radio, finds a copy of "Bila" and starts thrashing it on HIS show, creating a HUGE demand for the track in Philly (Blavat did this a lot - in 1964 he started playing a record called "God Only Knows" by The Capris and created another big demand, even though the record was originally released in 1954!!). Atlantic Records somehow heard about this, and re-released "Bila" in December, 1963. Once again, the record flopped nationally, but it kept selling in Philadelphia! So Jerry Greene, proprietor of the Record Museum store in Philly (and former right-hand man to Slim Rose until Slim, in his usual stingy way, decided that Jerry wasn't worth the nominal raise he asked for) leased the track from Atlantic and issued it on his Lost Nite label, where it sold many, many copies throughout the 1960s.
To this day, "Bila" remains a Philadelphia favorite. Jerry Blavat still dusts it off every once in a while when he makes personal appearances. Every time I play it on my radio show, someone always calls and says "I can't BELIEVE you played that!"
I still don't know what this song means, and I don't think anyone ever will. Except C. Worrell and S. Tindall. Maybe.
The Versatones - Bila (All Star 501) - 1958
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I seriously want to thank those of you who have viewed the last couple of posts and left encouraging comments. I really appreciate it! People have been saying how great it is to find all this great heretofore unknown music. Well, it's not just about great music with me. Sometimes I buy records based on.....well.....the fact that they're terrible, or just plain strange. Records that make me think, "how the heck did THIS get released?", or, "did they really expect this to get airplay?". This is one of them - "Melvin" by Bobbi and The Beaus.
I'll be the first to admit I don't know anything about this record. I bought it for two reasons - I collect anything on the Unart label (sort of an offshoot label of the newly-formed  United Artists Records; the label only lasted until late 1959, so I'm trying to get every release on the label), and both sides of this 45 were written by Jerry Goldstein and Bob Feldman, who would later team up with Richard Gottehrer and form FGG Productions, which created great records by The Angels ("My Boyfriend's Back"), The McCoys ("Hang On Sloopy") and their own group, The Strangeloves ("I Want Candy"). Goldstein would later work with the group War, creating Far Out Productions to lease their recordings to United Artists.
Pretty hip producers, eh? Well, this record goes to show that everybody has to start somewhere, and everyone needs a place to be bad. This record is, well, strange. It's about a kid named Melvin who is constantly bossed around by his shrewish mother - she's always on his case to do his homework, take a bath, do his chores, and give her the money he earns from his part-time job. The best part is when Melvin screams out in frustration, "that woman gets me SO EXCITED!!!!" Kinda weird to say that about your mother, but we'll let it go. Finally, Melvin calls his dad to get involved when Mom picks up a shoe to beat Melvin. Poor Dad ends up getting bashed in the head for his troubles, and the record ends. Seriously, that's it. Dr. Phil would have a field day with this family.
I'll bet that Feldman and Goldstein are The Beaus, but I've never been able to identify the female voice (Bobbi) on this record. I'll bet just as much that Feldman and Goldstein left this record off their individual resumes. Still, this is an "historical" document in recorded sound. At least I think, anyway.
Bobbi and The Beaus - Melvin (Unart 2009) - 1959
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Wow, Rich. Fraud? That's a pretty strong word. Well, I wouldn't say it if this 45 didn't exist to back it up. This is the ORIGINAL version of "Kick Out The Jams", which was only available as a giveaway promo 45 at the group's free Fillmore East concert in New York in 1968 - about 6 months before the group's LP of the same name was released - and, as you can hear, lead singer Rob Tyner sings "KICK OUT THE JAMS, BROTHERS AND SISTERS!" instead of the usual "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!". Now, this begs the question - if this was a GIVEAWAY 45 that was never actually released to record stores, and only available at a concert given at the Fillmore East (whose patrons had certainly heard the word "motherfucker" at least ONCE in their lives), then why did the group record this "brothers and sisters" intro at all? Especially if the group was supposed to be sooooooo revolutionary? Even the LABEL COPY says "Preview Pressing For Brothers And Sisters of The MC5". Did the group's "manager" John Sinclair (another drug-addled hippie disguised as "political activist") take the day off at that point?
Here's my theory: the MC5 wanted to get well-known in the NYC area, so they pressed this 45 and gave it away at the concert, hoping someone would bring it to the attention of someone in NYC radio and it would get airplay. Not a bad idea at all, but it didn't work. The music was too far ahead of what was happening in late '68. So when it came time for the LP to be released, the group, dopey John Sinclair, and Elektra decided to include a different recording of "Kick Out The Jams" with the X-rated intro, KNOWING that there would be problems (and LOADS of publicity, however bad). Then, when the pressure got too high, Elektra would splice off the original intro and put the "brothers and sisters" intro back in, and THEN release it as a single. Here's where the fraud comes in: forever afterwards, the group (and Sinclair) would claim that the X-rated intro was spliced off WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE, and that the "MF" intro was the way they wanted it all along. Oh, really? Like 1969 radio was going to play the word "motherfuckers" on the air?? Like Elektra was gonna sell ANY copies of the LP outside of Detroit with NO radio play?? Like you didn't record the "brothers and sisters" intro 6 months before to get the record on the radio in the FIRST place??? COME ON!
Don't get me wrong - I'm sure that Rob Tyner screamed the "MF" intro at every concert he and the Five ever did, but PLEASE, all you moronic rock critics, don't insult my intelligence by claiming that these guys were some kind of revolutionaries by putting the word on their first LP, because this pre-LP single proves the lie. They were just another group that wanted to get on the radio, and when they couldn't, their mush-brained manager decided to use the tool of every dumb-ass politician wannabe (not to mention every dumb-ass politician) who wasn't smart enough to come up with a new idea - HYPE.
That being said, this is one awesome 45. It is so much better than the released commercial version (Elektra 45648, as opposed to this one, which was denoted Elektra MC5-1, for all you record geeks) because it has even MORE energy, more ferocious vocals from Tyner, it's got a better mix, and it's slightly faster! Fred "Sonic" Smith's guitar riff (and crazed solo) will stick in your head forever, if you have any sense of what great rock and roll is AT ALL. Any MC5 fan can tell me this is one of the greatest rock and roll records ever made, and I'd agree completely. But if that same fan needs to tell me WHY they were so great, I'm walking away.
The MC5 - Kick Out The Jams (Elektra MC5-1) - 1968
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Before I get to the task at hand, I want to wish everyone reading this (all nine of you) a Happy New Year!! Secondly, since I didn't have the chance to post LAST week (due to the holidays, natch), we're gonna have TWO posts this here week! Whoopee!! Yay! Hooray....woo....yip.........hey, WHERE DID YOU NINE PEOPLE GO????
Anyway, since this is a new year, I just thought I'd start with the letter Z and feature this undeservedly obscure 45 by the undeservedly obscure British group, The Zephyrs. These guys were best known for having Mick Jagger shooting off his big-lipped yap about how much he HATED them and their remake of Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell". Of course, if the Stones had made a record anywhere NEAR as good as the above illustrated in the last, oh, 30 YEARS or so, I'd be writing about them instead of The Zephyrs. While there's more information about Mick and the boys than you'd ever need, there's almost NOTHING about this group to look up, except for here.
If you can't be bothered to click the above link, here's a short summary: The Zephyrs put out 6 singles in the UK between 1963 and 1965. They were produced by Shel Talmy, expatriate American working and living in the UK as an independent producer. After their first 45 ("What's That All About") was put out on UK Decca, the group switched labels to UK Columbia (reportedly because Shel and the head of Decca did NOT get along at all, with Talmy referring to Decca's head in later years as a "creep and a bastard") where their first single for that label, the aforementioned cover of Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell", stiffed because of Mr. Jagger's criticism of it to anyone who would listen. The group only had one hit, in 1965, with "She's Lost You", which peaked at #48 on the UK charts. Talmy decided that the record might fare better in America, but none of the major American labels wanted The Zephyrs. Talmy finally got "She's Lost You" released on Rotate Records in America, which apparently was used as a "tax write-off" label by its distributor, Colpix/Columbia Screen Gems, who were also distributing the fast-fading Dimension label (who were known for releasing records by The Cookies, Little Eva, Carole King, etc.). Other acts on Rotate included Vic Fontaine and The Montaines, The Candy Girls, Roberta Sherwood, and Bobby Lindsay and The Orchids! I know this because I actually own all those records, strangely enough. Anyway, "She's Lost You", while a good record, hardly made a dent in the charts, though it DID get airplay on WMCA radio in New York in April 1965 and made their "Good Guy" charts for a couple of weeks.
I guess the folks who ran Rotate were excited about the "action" that was stirred up by "She's Lost You", and so the label decided to ask Talmy for the follow-up. Unfortunately, by that time, The Zephyrs had broken up, releasing one last single, "I Just Can't Take It" (probably about Mick Jagger's arrogance) which wasn't considered strong enough for release in the US. So Rotate went through the tapes they already had and put out "Wonder What I'm Gonna Do" as the follow-up. Never mind that in the UK it was the single that was released BEFORE "She's Lost You"!
Well, Rotate put it out in July, 1965, and it sank without a trace. A shame, really, because this 45's a real Brit STOMPER, with killer, jangly guitar, good vocals, and a bass guitar and bass drum that just won't quit! Unfortunately, it was to be the last time anyone heard from The Zephyrs.
Another one of those "shoulda been a hit" tunes that got lost in the shuffle in those heady days of 1965......
By the way, I just found another blog that featured "She's Lost You" - and has a VIDEO of The Zephyrs! Dig it here.
The Zephyrs - Wonder What I'm Gonna Do (Rotate 5009) - 1965