Monday, December 24, 2012

AKIM and THE TEDDY VANN PRODUCTION COMPANY - SANTA CLAUS IS A BLACK MAN

It's that time of year again! No, not to wish everyone peace on Earth and good will toward men, but time for me to COMPLAIN about those radio stations that play NOTHING but "holiday favorites", in remade versions by the most HORRID people ever to set foot behind a microphone and an AutoTune program! Yaaaaaay!

You've heard me rant about this before - here in the NYC area, radio station WLTW (aka "Lite FM") has made it a holiday tradition to start bombarding us with "holiday favorites" (because heaven forbid they have the balls to say "Christmas music") about TWO WEEKS BEFORE THANKSGIVING! Thanksgiving! We've just put the Halloween decorations back in the attic and these clowns are shoving Christmas (er, sorry, THE HOLIDAYS) down our collective throats! ARRRRRGH!

To make matters worse, as I've said time and time again, the station programs the most homogenized, safe, and BLAND versions of Chris - oops - HOLIDAY songs they can come up with. It's like the musical version of the pink slime they use in McDonald's food; extruded from a machine, like one long gigantic turd, no variation whatsoever. Only the bottom of the barrel here, folks; Rascal Flatts, Rod Stewart, oh, and I hear that Taylor Swift has now come out with a nifty new version of "Santa Baby" (JUST what the world needs). Also, it seems that, just for my own personal annoyance, the station contracts every one of the artists they play to do a version of "Silver Bells" - my LEAST favorite Chr - damn it, HOLIDAY song.....

I think that's what annoys me most about the station; their insistence on calling the music "holiday favorites". Funny, every song they seem to play is a CHRISTMAS song. I've never heard any Chanukah (or Hanukkah, however you wanna spell it) songs on there, and I certainly haven't heard any Kwanzaa tunes (hell, I haven't even heard "Back Door Santa" on there, even in an inferior version by the likes of Keith Urban or Jason Mraz or Josh Groban).

If I had the opportunity, I would LOVE to go to the station's studios, tie up the program director (or unplug him, since it's most likely a computer), and take over for a day. If I did, you'd hear some GOOD holiday music by folks like James Brown, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Ventures, The Staple Singers - and this one, celebrating Kwanzaa, by Akim.

Akim is the daughter of famed record producer Teddy Vann, who produced many, many soul and R&B artists in the 1960s, such as The Bobbettes, Johnny Thunder, The Sandpebbles, Dave "Baby" Cortez, Donald Height, and Frankie and The Classicals.

But Teddy was much more than just a record producer; he was one of the first to get into the "black consciousness" movement in the 1960s. Calling himself a "born-again African", he gave his three children traditional African names - Akim, Kayode and Chinyere - and let his (and his childrens') hair grow out into a "natural". But lest you think Teddy was simply a black militant, he also preached multiculturalism; many of the Jews who lived in his neighborhood in Brooklyn noted that he could speak Yiddish almost as well as they could.

In 1973, Teddy decided to take his oldest child into the studio with him to record an LP which celebrated the holidays - the holidays as HE saw them. Teddy did not want his children growing up thinking that there was no one to represent their people at Christmas time. So he wrote this tune and made it the title cut of the LP, and the LP's one and only single. It's probably the ONLY holiday song that wishes its listeners a Merry Christmas AND a Happy Kwanzaa.

Hmmmm.....and Lite FM doesn't play this because.....?

I mean, it fits in with their "multicultural" approach to programming..... could it be that, after all these years, the station is afraid of the term "black"? I dunno. But what I DO know is that I'm gonna blast this 45 at my house as long as I'm able to. Sure, I'll never be able to relate to the lack of cultural identity vis-a-vis white America that caused Teddy Vann to write this, but I can totally get behind a dude teaching his kids about their cultural heritage, making the holiday season an opportunity for EVERYONE to enjoy their holiday without fear of ridicule, and in the end, isn't that what America is SUPPOSED to be about?

Of course, someone DID ridicule it - namely John Waters, filmmaker extraordinaire. He included "Santa Claus Is A Black Man" on a compilation called "A John Waters Christmas" (illegally) and then proceeded to call the record a "crackpot carol" and a "Christmas lunatic song". Teddy Vann was not amused. He sued Waters for improper use of the song in 2008; I don't know how the case turned out, since Teddy Vann died from cancer on December 6, 2009.

No matter how you hear this record, I guarantee that it will become one of your favorite Christmas / Kwanzaa tunes!

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and for you atheists, have a nice day. But I will not wish ANY of you a "Happy Holiday".

Love, Scrooge.

Akim and The Teddy Vann Production Company - Santa Claus Is A Black Man (Simtone 2001) - 1973

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CHRIS KENNER - TIME

As we come towards the end of another year, I get more and more melancholy. My standard line for the query "why don't you like New Year's Eve?" is "because I'm one year closer to being DEAD!"

Happy, huh?

Before you all think I'm a Gloomy Gus, I WILL say that that line doesn't matter to me so much anymore, because I'm waaaaaay too busy to be sitting round, waiting to die. But as I get older, I find I'm more concerned about the passage of time. For years my girlfriend (who is wise beyond her years) has been telling me, "you have NO concept of time". For the longest time I thought this meant that she was annoyed that I was always late getting somewhere. But I have finally figured out what she means; time moves, whether you like it or not, and you only have so much of it available to you. More simply put, get yo' ass in gear.

Another thing she may have meant about my lack of the concept of time is that time changes things. For years I lived by a strict set of rules, basically limiting myself to what I thought was "correct", never changing, never growing, because I was JUST PERFECT the way I was. Thank goodness I don't think like that anymore. I have new priorities, new responsibilities, and while that's as big of a pain in the ass as I always thought it would be, the rewards are much greater. I finally see that. Thank you Jessica.

Which is why I pull this old 45 out every December and listen, really listen to it. And that's not easy with Chris Kenner slurring his words like the drunken madman he was. I can't understand half of what he says on this record, but it sure sounds important. One of the few lines I do understand is "time makes the world go 'round / and time never forgets where you're bound / after they put you way down in the ground / it keeps movin' on." Chris follows up these lines by yelling "can I get a witness?" and a chorus answers each time with a huge "OH YEAH!!" It's a thrilling record, even if it is largely incomprehensible. Which is also a pretty good summation of Chris Kenner's career.

Chris Kenner (1929-1976) was one of New Orleans' greatest songwriters. He was also one of New Orleans' greatest drunks, and one pretty much cancelled out the other, unfortunately.

He made his first records, oddly enough, for the Baton label out of New York in 1956, but then got a record deal a little closer to home when he signed with Imperial in 1957. His first 45 for that label, "Sick And Tired", became a big local hit and caught the ear of Fats Domino, who remade the song the next year and had a big national hit with it (after buying a third of the royalties from the perpetually broke Kenner). Unfortunately, Kenner's follow-up, "Will You Be Mine", didn't do as well, and label prez Lew Chudd dropped Kenner from the roster, mainly because of his unreliability; he would regularly miss scheduled recording dates, or show up so drunk that it was hard to get a decent performance out of him.

Kenner knocked around a few more years, making records for local label Ron Records and a single for Lloyd Price's Prigan Records. In late 1960, Kenner wrote and recorded a tune called "I Like It Like That", and released it on a small New Orleans label called Valiant Records in early 1961. The record started to pick up heavy sales in New Orleans, but soon there was trouble; Valiant Records got a cease and desist letter from Valiant Records in California (later home of The Association and The Cascades). So they had to change the name of the label to Instant Records (no idea why) - but the record kept selling. Label owner Joe Banashak made a deal with Atlantic Records to distribute the disk, and it soon became the #2 record in the country, selling over a million copies, and Chris Kenner was on his way - or so it was thought.

Unfortunately, Chris shot himself in the foot again with a weak follow-up ("A Very True Story") which curtailed his chart career. He continued to make interesting records for Instant, however, writing the New Orleans standard "Something You Got" (later remade by Alvin Robinson, The Moody Blues, Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown, and of course, Fats Domino) and a little tune called "Land Of 1000 Dances" (later remade by basically everybody). "I Like It Like That" was also remade by The Dave Clark Five, and it became a huge hit for them.

Kenner should have been rolling in dough at this point, with huge royalty checks coming in, but his fondness for the bottle neatly took care of that. He sold part of the publishing of "Land Of 1000 Dances" to Fats Domino in late 1962 (thereby ensuring Fats tons of royalties on a song he originally had nothing to do with), and did the same with "Something You Got" in 1964.

Things only got worse. Kenner continued to record sporadically for Instant (when they could get him to show up) until 1968, when he was thrown in jail on a conviction of statutory rape of a minor. He served three years, and after his release in 1971 he continued his downward spiral, basically living on the street. He did manage to record one single for the Hep' Me label in 1973, but soon faded out of sight, passing away a month after his 46th birthday from a heart attack. If only he had listened to the opening lines of this record - "time changes things / it keeps movin' on". But for Chris Kenner, time didn't mean a thing, and he decided not to change his ways, and it ended up destroying him.

Chris Kenner - Time (Instant 3244) - 1962

Saturday, December 8, 2012

FARON YOUNG - UNMITIGATED GALL

Yet another of the crazy assumptions made by rock critics is that most 1960s country music productions fell victim to the production style known as "countrypolitan", in which strings (not fiddles) and choruses (chorii?) were added to straight country music to make it more "palatable" to an "uptown" audience. These same critics also say that countrypolitan was a BAD thing. I'd have to disagree on all counts; sometimes the countrypolitan style really worked - like on records by Patsy Cline and Connie Smith, among others.

Sometimes, however, a record was made to be straight country - no strings, no sweeteners, no Anita Kerr Singers. Like "Unmitigated Gall" by Faron Young.

Faron Young (1932-1996) was one of the GREAT honky-tonk singers of all time. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Faron had the advantage of being in close proximity to the #2 country radio show in the nation, "The Louisiana Hayride". For a time, the "Hayride" gave serious competition to The Grand Ole Opry as the top country music show on the radio, discovering and signing stars such as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Kitty Wells, Hank Snow, Johnny Horton, and some kid named Elvis Presley. Many of these stars were later snatched up by the Opry, but it was the Hayride that gave them their start. Faron got his foot in the door as a member of Pierce's band, but his playing and singing (and his Hollywood-style good looks) were too good to keep under wraps. By age 19 he had cut his first record, released by Gotham Records of Philadelphia (!!) and by age 20 he was signed to Capitol Records, having a #2 country hit with "Goin' Steady" in late 1952. Unfortunately, Faron was drafted shortly afterwards. Despite being unable to promote his records through concert appearances, Faron still managed a trio of Top Ten country hits - "I Can't Wait" in 1953 and "A Place For Girls Like You" and "If You Ain't Lovin'" in 1954.

But once Faron got out of the Army, he was unstoppable - during 1955-1956, every record Faron released hit the country Top Ten. He also began appearing in films such as Hidden Guns, Daniel Boone: Trailblazer and Raiders Of Old California, which was where Faron got his nickname, "The Sheriff". He became Capitol Records' biggest-selling country artist. He even cut some rockabilly sides during the late 1950s (check out "I Can't Dance", if you can find a copy), and continued to have Top Ten country hits through 1962, including his biggest hit, "Hello Walls", which was #1 for 9 weeks (and was written by one of Faron's buddies, Willie Nelson).

Then, in a shocking move, after 10 years with Capitol, Faron left the label and signed with Mercury at the end of 1962. But, as they say, the hits just kept on comin', with records like "The Yellow Bandana" and "Walk Tall" hitting the Top Ten.

But behind that Hollywood-handsome smile lurked a wild man. It was common knowledge that Faron liked to drink (hell, it was common knowledge that everyone in country music liked to drink), but Faron liked to play with guns while he drank - he used to like to come home drunk and shoot holes in his kitchen ceiling when he wasn't pointing the gun at his wife and threatening her. He also had a couple of drinking buddies in his band in 1960 - Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck, two of country's most notable loonys. Faron was once famously quoted as saying, "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk!"

The above record, from 1966, is, in my opinion, one of Faron's best. Great fast-strumming acoustic guitar (sort of like a country Bo Diddley) which perfectly frames a great Mel Tillis lyric about an ex-lover who's come back (sample lyric: "Well how can you have the unmitigated gall / to come back now, expecting me to fall / right down on my knees and kiss your feet / feet that one day went-a-walkin' / out on me with a fast talkin' slob / you hardly knew his name / your mind is DERANGED").

Faron continued to have big country hits all the way into the mid-1970s, but he didn't really need singing to pay the bills anymore, due to wide-ranging investments and his founding and publishing of The Music City News, which for years was sort of the C&W version of "Rolling Stone" magazine. The strange behavior also continued - in 1972 Young was fined for spanking a six-year-old girl onstage at one of his concerts (he claimed she spat in his face). After the hits dried up, Mercury dropped Faron in 1978 and he signed with MCA the next year. After a couple of years there, Young basically dropped out of sight for a few years, resurfacing with a few records on the independent Step One label, but only one of them, "Stop And Take The Time", managed to chart - at #100.

Faron's health took a turn for the worse, and by 1991 he was no longer recording. Years of smoking had left him with emphysema and prostate cancer. The emphysema got so bad that Faron couldn't even sing a line without running out of breath or coughing. That depressing fact, combined with a poor mental state in which he was convinced that Nashville had turned its back on him (not surprising, considering how they've turned their backs on ALL the classic country artists in favor of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and some Justin Beiber-wannabe named Hunter Hayes) caused Faron to load up his gun one last time on December 9, 1996. But instead of pointing it at his kitchen ceiling, Faron Young pointed it at his own head and pulled the trigger. He died the next day, and Nashville had the unmitigated gall to suddenly recognize him again, putting his face up on a video screen for a few seconds on awards shows - a tawdry tribute to one of the greatest country and western singers of all time.

Faron Young - Unmitigated Gall (Mercury 72617) - 1966

Sunday, November 25, 2012

TRINI LOPEZ - YOU CAN'T SAY GOOD-BYE

These days, Trini Lopez is pretty much known as a music footnote, a forgotten MOR crooner or worse yet, a punchline for brain-dead sitcom writers. This is, to say the least, unfortunate, because Trinidad Lopez III (b. May 15, 1937) is possibly the greatest of all Mexican rock and rollers, right up there with Ritchie Valens.

Trini's father, Trinidad Lopez II, was a singer, dancer, musician and actor in Mexico, but moved to America with his wife at an early age to make a better life for themselves. That "better life" didn't come easy. Mexicans were frowned upon, and Trini's parents had to survive by day labor and taking in other people's laundry.

Being a poor boy from the barrio, Trini soon began hanging out on the streets. He started running with a rough crowd of kids, and could have ended up as a gang member had his father not intervened. When Trini's father found out who his son was hanging with, he gave Trini the spanking of his life - literally. He beat the boy so badly that he felt incredible remorse, so he spent a hard-earned 12 dollars to buy his son a guitar, and taught him how to play it. Trini would always say that he owed his career to that spanking.

Soon young Trini was busking for coins on the street corners with his guitar, in between classes at Dallas' Crozier Tech High School. Unfortunately, the money situation for his family got worse, not better, and Trini dropped out to help his family pay the bills. By this time, he had gotten a small group together, and began gigging in small clubs around Dallas, eventually making it to the El Cipango Club, which was in the rich section of Dallas, singing the rock and roll hits of the day along with a few original tunes.

Trini's songwriting skills began to mature, and in 1958 he recorded his first single for the local Volk label ("The Right To Rock"), but the record almost never came out. Seems that the producer wanted Trini to change his last name for the record (much like Bob Keene persuaded Ritchie Valens to shorten his last name from Valenzuela). Trini refused and walked out the door (made sense, since Trini was getting lots of gigs in Dallas under his real name anyway). The producer relented, and Trini recorded his single. It wouldn't be the last time that Lopez would show how proud he was of his heritage and his roots.

Somehow, the Volk 45 came to the attention of someone at King Records in Cincinnati, home of Hank Ballard, Little Willie John, James Brown and many other great R&B stars. They signed Trini to a contract, and for the next two years King would fly Trini Lopez from Dallas to Cincinnati to record. Unfortunately, none of those records became hits, though two of them, "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die" and "Nobody Listens To Our Teenage Problems", got good airplay in the Southwest. If you can ever find them, dig up Trini's King sides (you can find most of them here). You'll find that these are some of the best rockers of the late 1950s.

After the King contract expired, Trini accepted an offer from The Crickets to become their new lead singer after Buddy Holly died (Trini had befriended Buddy in the late 50s). But after Trini drove out to California to meet them, he found that The Crickets weren't in much of a mood to work - they were still collecting fat royalty checks and having infrequent rehearsals. So, Trini was left in California with no contract, no bookings, and no money. He recorded a one-off single for the local Dra label (the killer "Sinner Not A Saint", later reissued on United Modern in 1964), and accepted a 2-week engagement at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills as a soloist - just Trini and his guitar.

That two weeks turned into a year, and soon Trini moved into a residence at P. J.'s in Hollywood. He took the town by storm, and soon celebrities like Bobby Darin and Jackie Cooper were asking to sit in on drums. Don Costa from Reprise Records (Frank Sinatra's label) saw Trini one night and signed him to an eight-year contract with the label, and by 1963 Trini was a star, with hit records like "If I Had A Hammer" and "La Bamba" and hit LPs like "Live At P.J.'s". Gibson Guitars even asked Trini to design a guitar for them in 1964. He ended up designing two - the Lopez Standard and the Lopez Deluxe. Both are highly sought-after on the collectors' market. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters swears by his. In 1965, Trini was asked to host an episode of "Hullaballoo", and, true to form, insisted that some of his Mexican compadres like Vikki Carr and The Sir Douglas Quintet appear with him.

The Reprise recordings, while good, show that Trini had to dilute his rocker tendencies for wider commercial acceptance. But every once in a while he'd sneak out a killer rocker like this one, as the B-side to his remake of Bobby Darin's "Jailer Bring Me Water". Dig Trini!!

NOTE: that's not a skip in the middle of the record - someone at Reprise was a really bad tape editor.

Trini Lopez - You Can't Say Good-Bye (Reprise 0260) - 1964

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BEN HUGHES - SACK

After the seriousness of the last post, I think I should get back to doing what this blog does best - posting seriously NUTTY records you might not have heard before!

I don't know a whole lot about Ben Hughes. Apparently he was from the West Coast, making records for the Specialty, True and Hollywood labels (and may have made other records as "Sonny Woods" for Hollywood - I don't know, I don't have them). But the man could seriously rock.

I first heard this when The Hound spun it on his WFMU show - he only played it ONCE, but lucky for me I had my trusty pad and pen to write down the artist and title when he back-announced it. I managed to snag a copy for 5 bucks a few years later.

It's pretty obvious why this never became a hit - even though it rocks the house. Hughes, a big-voiced baritone, keeps singing about a sack that he fills with fruit as the backing group yells "SACK!" (and a guy in a high-pitched falsetto says "in the SACK!") .....but as the song goes on, you begin to realize he's singing about his "sack" on a MUCH more personal level, especially when he sings "I got a big-a, big-a sack, with a-fruit from A to Z / I'm gonna give the fruit to you, so you can like-a like-a me!"

Dig it.

Ben Hughes - Sack (Specialty 630) - 1958

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

ELLIOT SUIT CASE ANDERSON - THE SADDLE AND BOOT FACTORY THAT FADED AWAY IN THE LAND OF L.B.J.

With today being Election Day, the brain-dead media is in a frenzy, calling this presidential election THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF ALL TIME!! Unfortunately (or fortunately), I really don't think the American people see it that way. We basically have a choice between a celebrity suck-up who speaks pretty (Obama) but can't (or won't) stand behind the things he says (which makes him a liar, basically) but seems to want to take all the credit for everything from getting Osama Bin Laden to building small businesses he has nothing to do with ("you didn't build that") and a privileged douche-nozzle (Romney) who wouldn't know how to take a stand if he came across a stand with a sign on it that says "take me" (actually, I'm wrong; Romney is the ONLY presidential nominee I've ever known who actually takes a stand AGAINST environmentally safer forms of energy. Really, moron? Have you SEEN the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy? With people killing each other over a gallon of gasoline? Yes, let's continue our dependence on oil - THAT makes perfect sense).

But there's an old saying - "The American people get the President they deserve", and BOY is it true. I have friends - intelligent, normally rational friends - who have decided that they HATE the state of Texas because of former president George W. Bush. I can understand people hating Bush (though I don't understand why they don't hate Clinton even more), but to hate A WHOLE STATE because of the actions of ONE MAN from that state? Do these normally rational people think that all Texans are a bunch of yahoos who blindly follow anyone from Texas just because they're from Texas? You've also got the idiots who talk about "the good old days" of America as if they actually existed. Where everybody loved the President and didn't worry about what the government was doing. Guess what? Our government has been SCREWING people since day one, and people have been questioning the government since day one; it's only become the "correct" thing to do since the 1960s (and that's because everybody thinks the hippies invented revolution - which is EXACTLY what the hippies want you to think so they can sell you tie-dyes and beads and patchouli oil; talk about capitalist assholes!).

Which brings us to this record (well, really, it's more of a fascinating sound document than a record). Every time I hear it, it reminds me that not everybody loves their president, even if he's from their state. Elliot Anderson was the owner and proprietor of Anderson Saddle And Boot Co. in Laredo, Texas. Apparently, he got screwed over by the government and President Johnson's "War On Poverty" program. Basically, LBJ's "War On Poverty" focused on an increased government role in education and health care (sound familiar, anti-Obama folks?) to reduce the poverty percentage in America. Elliot doesn't elaborate in the record exactly HOW the "War On Poverty" destroyed his business, but apparently the Mexicans were all to blame (for years, Anderson had a website detailing exactly what happened, but it's been taken down, unfortunately, and I can't remember what was on it - only thing I do remember is that he talks about releasing this record in 1966); what most likely happened was that some poor Mexicans received federal assistance to learn the art of leather-making, and before long they formed their own company just across the Mexican border near Laredo and drove ol' Elliot out of business. What probably pissed him off was not the competition, or even the fact that they were Mexicans, but the fact that they took American government assistance and then, when they built a business, didn't use it to contribute to the American economy.

After many letters and phone calls to the government (which were ignored), Elliot Suit Case Anderson "wrote" this song (really just putting new lyrics to "Jimmie Crack Corn") and pressed it up on his own Poverty label. You can hear how frustrated he is at the beginning and the end of this record, when he talks about what happened to his business.

It's strange, it's not very good, but it's a fascinating peek into 1966 Texas and one man's fight against a government that would not hear his pleas for help. I truly wish I could say this record was an anachronism.....unfortunately, this could have been recorded yesterday.

Elliot Suit Case Anderson - The Saddle And Boot Factory That Faded Away In The Land Of L.B.J. (Poverty 001) - 1966

Monday, October 29, 2012

SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS - I HEAR VOICES

With the Halloween season upon us, it's time to bring out something SPOOKY. Especially since November 1st is right around the corner - and that means TWO MONTHS of Christmas music on the damn radio. Not only does Thanksgiving get cut out completely, but even Halloween gets the short end of the stick - brain-dead radio programmers will say, "oh, since it's Halloween, let's pull out 'Monster Mash' and play it once a shift and call it a day." There are exceptions, of course - but only on non-commercial radio. When I was on the air, my favorite show every year was my Halloween broadcast (in my last years at WFDU, those Halloween shows were pretty much the only time I had fun).

Most Halloween records, truth be told, aren't scary. Funny? Yes. But it's pretty hard to make a truly scary record. But if there was one guy who was equal to the task, it was Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

Screamin' Jay (b. Jalacy Hawkins, July 18, 1929, d. Feb. 12, 2000) is well-known, of course, for his 1956 record "I Put A Spell On You", which also used to get play on the radio around Halloween. But besides the truly frightening power of Screamin' Jay's voice (he originally studied to be an opera singer), the record's not really all that scary (though it did scare a lot of radio programmers; the record was banned for "suggestiveness" because of the ending, where Jay simulated - depending on who you ask - either orgasm, buggery, cannibalism, or just plain madness).

This record, however, doesn't play around. It's just plain FREAKY. It starts with a piano and guitar that sound like they're being played in a dark basement, followed by an eerie chorus wordlessly humming an evil chord Then Jay comes in, screaming like a madman as usual, but this time he seems tortured by something, even scared. He sings some weird lyrics, such as "Most lovers are blind/the rest just lose their minds" and "I long so much to be/the way I was before I was me." Even better is the fact that, when Screamin' Jay sings the title, he follows it with this noise that sounds like "affaffaffaffaffafffaaaafafaa". Meanwhile, these strange sounds come out of nowhere from all angles, and at unexpected times. Even the recording engineer gets in on the act, making very weird edits in the record at about 1:39 and 2:27. The record ends with Jay screaming his head off as the weird backing voices take over.

Happy Halloween - and DO NOT listen to this record by yourself in the dark. I can't be responsible for what happens next.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Hear Voices (Enrica 1010) - 1962

Saturday, October 20, 2012

FREDDIE and THE DREAMERS - A LITTLE YOU

WHAAAAT?

Yeah, I'm posting a Freddie and The Dreamers 45, because it's GOOD.

Freddie and The Dreamers were one of the more annoying products of the British Invasion. Annoying, at least, in the visual sense. Their lead singer (former milkman Freddie Garrity, 1936-2006) looked like Buddy Holly after a starvation diet. They did this dance called "the Freddie" in which you would wave your arms and legs around, sort of resembling an intermittently-working windmill. If that wasn't annoying enough, Freddie would jump around like a crazy little speed freak and let out an insane cackle at inopportune moments. Even when he sang ballads, Freddie would use very exaggerated dramatic movements (complete with Al Jolson-"Mammy"-style knee-drops) that looked like your neighbor's weird kid serenading your teenage daughter outside your window.

However, that being said, Freddie pulled it off with such aplomb that you couldn't help but like the guy. Plus, it must be said, that the man could REALLY sing. He proves it on this single, released on these shores in June of 1965. While a lot of Freddie and The Dreamers' singles are lightweight and some are downright silly, this one sticks out like a sore thumb, mainly because of the heavier instrumentation (and a good, trebly guitar riff played by the recently deceased Brit sessionman Big Jim Sullivan) and the more adult tone the record takes, instead of the comedic bent of most of their other singles.

The song was written by Tom Jones' (and, later, Engelbert Humperdinck's) manager Gordon Mills, and it fits in with Jones' more "mature" market (indeed, Tom recorded his own version of this in 1966). However, the "mature" market was a little out of reach for Freddie and the boys, and so the record only climbed to #48 nationally, and was the last chart item for the group in America.

Too bad, because "A Little You" is a great pop song - nothing more, nothing less - but unfortunately, Freddie's name on the record makes a lot of folks dismiss it. I was very tempted to just post the sound file and have you guess who it was. I'm sure if The Hollies or The Ivy League or Ian and The Zodiacs did this song, all the music critics and hipsters (aka useless leeches) would praise this as a minor masterpiece, in league with the work The Beatles did on the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack. But it was Freddie, lovable, laughable Freddie who put this out, and the record paid the price for having his name on it. Freddie Garrity was an oddball talent, but a talent nonetheless, and his tenure in the spotlight deserves a closer look, because there was a lot more substance there than met the eye.

Freddie and The Dreamers - A Little You (Mercury 72462) - 1965

Monday, October 15, 2012

AARON NEVILLE - WHY WORRY

As no less an authority than James (The Hound) Marshall once said on his late, lamented radio show, sometimes you gotta check out those B-sides of 45s to get a little more mileage out of 'em.

Problem is, when you're a 7-year-old kid, you don't know WHAT an A-side or a B-side is.

I have several record fiends in my family, and strangely enough they're all women. My aunt Virginia has a pretty large collection of 45s from the 50s and 60s, my aunt Susan bought more records in the 1970s than anyone, and then there was my Uncle Jerry's first wife, aunt Julia, who came from a FAMILY of record collectors; they ALL had tons of 45s just lying around the house (unsleeved, of course).

Anyway, one day at a family function, aunt Julia told me that her brother Alan wanted to get rid of some of his 45s, and would I want them? After picking myself up off the floor (I was a very dramatic 7-year-old), I said yes. I waited for 2 weeks, then my aunt delivered - there were at least 150 singles (unsleeved, of course) and I just grabbed my little record player and went to town (looking back, I must have been an easy kid to babysit).

One of the records in the stack was on a label I'd never seen before - Par Lo Records. I had no idea who Aaron Neville was, much less the fact that his family is royalty in the New Orleans music kingdom. All I knew was I stuck "Tell It Like It Is" on the turntable - and hated it. I didn't like "slowies" back in those days.

Then I turned it over and played "Why Worry" - and was blown away; so much so that for YEARS I thought this was the A-side of the record. That "blown-away" feeling persists to this day. Over the years I've come to love and appreciate "Tell It Like It Is" as one of the great soul ballads of all time. But I guarantee you, every time I pull my copy out of the files, it's this B-side that the needle hits first.

That 7-year-old kid had pretty good taste.....

....and thank you, aunt Julia.

Aaron Neville - Why Worry (Par Lo 101) - 1966

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

THE WRAY BROTHERS - NINETY NINE YEARS TO GO

One of the more curious forms of popular song is the murder ballad (and with Halloween just a couple of weeks away, it's apropos for the season). In these songs, obviously, a murder is committed, and the rest of the song details what happened (or didn't happen) to the murderer. These songs are as old as the hills, and the first instances of the publication of these ballads take place in the late 1500s! Over the years, innumerable examples have made it to the public consciousness, from the sublime ("Down In The Willow Garden", "Tom Dooley", "Frankie And Johnny", "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", "Stagger Lee") to the ridiculous (Tom Lehrer's hilarious "I Hold Your Hand In Mine" and "The Irish Ballad", not to mention Guns 'N Roses' "I Used To Love Her").

Here's one you never hear about - mainly because it was released as a B-side to a country tune by Link Wray and his brothers on the tiny Infinity label in 1963. "Ninety Nine Years To Go" is a murder ballad with the sound of a chain-gang song. In fact, the record starts with the sound of a pick-axe hitting rocks. From there, one of the Wray Brothers (it's probably not Link, it's more likely Vernon Wray on lead) sings his tale of woe; he's serving 99 years for shooting his girl because he caught her with his best friend. No big deal here, but what brings this record over the top is the boyish earnestness of the vocal; he might as well be singing about bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly.

The best part (besides the ragged backing vocals) is when the singer's girlfriend, after being shot, says with her last breath, "Jimmy, I'm not mad at you!" Hmmmm. I see, she cheated on HIM, with his BEST FRIEND, but she decides to take the high road AFTER he shoots her, saying she's not mad at him. I think the point, honey, is that he's MAD at YOU.....

By the way, if you want to hear the other side of this record (a sprightly number called "You're Sweeter Than Sugar"), check it out here.

The Wray Brothers - Ninety Nine Years To Go (Infinity 033) - 1963

Saturday, September 29, 2012

THE INTRUDERS - I'LL GO ON

No, this is not the Philadelphia soul group that had all those hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was a mid-60s punk group out of St. Louis, MO, who made a total of two singles, both for local St. Louis labels (this was the first; the other was made for the legendary Cinema label). Unfortunately, that's all I know about this record! I'm sure my friend Mike Markesich knows more - pick up his book "TeenBeat Mayhem" here and check out his blog. If you dig mid-60s snotty teenage garage records, this is the book for you!

The Intruders - I'll Go On (Marlo 1545) - 1966

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

PHIL PHILLIPS - THE EVIL DOPE


A big part of the music industry is drugs. Oh, did I shock you? Didn't think so. Over the years, some of the best (and worst - Grateful Dead, anyone?) records have been made due to the influence of drugs, whether directly or indirectly. Whether it's a drunk-out-of-his-mind Screaming Jay Hawkins tearing out his classic version of "I Put A Spell On You", The Byrds experimenting with LSD (and John Coltrane) in "Eight Miles High", Roky Erickson finding new (and more damaged) plateaus of the mind in his work with the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, or the Beatles' Rubber Soul LP (which John Lennon once referred to as their "pot album"), drugs are an integral part of the fabric of rock and roll history.

Then you have the ANTI-drug songs, great ones like "Kicks" by Paul Revere and The Raiders and, uh, well, most of the other ones suck. But not the platter I've selected for this blog post. "The Evil Dope" by Phil Phillips is the greatest anti-drug record ever made, even if it's for all the wrong reasons.

"The Evil Dope" is sort of like the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" or "Manos: The Hands Of Fate" of the music industry; the message is sincere, but the production is so amateurish that it takes up a life of its own, completely obscuring the intent. The responsible party in this case (or the "Ed Wood" of this record) is producer Buddy King, who is most likely NOT the Buddy King who sang lead with The Magnificent Men. As a matter of fact, THAT Buddy King would have been too smart to put his name on this incredible monstrosity.

Yes, this is the same Phil Phillips (born Phillip Baptiste on March 14, 1926) who had the big hit in 1959 with "Sea Of Love", and he lets you know it, too. At the beginning of this record, Phil gets right in your face - "Lil' BOY, and lil' GIRL! This is THEEEE Phil Phillips, KING of the WORLD!! The NAAAAME of this story lilboylilgirl.....is THE EVIL DOPE."

Then Phil starts to tell the story of Josh, a good kid who had worked hard and now, at the age of 17, has saved up $2000 so he can go to college (he obviously didn't pick a New Jersey school....that wouldn't pay for the textbooks). His mother throws her wonderful son a birthday party (for some reason Josh's dad is never mentioned), and afterward Josh, good boy that he is, walks his girlfriend home. But on the way back, fate steps in as Josh decides to stop at Rag-Nose Sam's place, and that's where Josh meets ol' Gap-Mouth Joe (hmmmm......wonder how they got THOSE nicknames). Rag and Gap tell Josh they've been waiting to throw him a party of their own. They go next door (why Rag-Mouth and Gap-Nose weren't there already, I don't know) where EVERYBODY is smoking MARIJUANA!!

(By the way, while Phil is telling us all this, there are snippets of funk instrumentals and drum tracks mixed waaay in the back, and they're thrown together willy-nilly, with no rhyme or reason.)

Josh is a smart kid. He tells Gappy, "NO! I understand those marijuana cigarettes are bad...." But he's soon talked into taking a puff.....and his life changes! Suddenly, the only thing Josh can say is "WHOO!!! I feel GOOD!!!" Then, the next day, Gap-Mouth tells Josh he's got something better! So he lays him down on a couch and shoots him up with heroin!! Josh has gone from the "gateway drug" to mainlining in ONE day!! "WHOO!!! I feel GOOD!!!"

Josh's mom gets suspicious. She says, "I hear you been hangin' with ol' Gap-Mouth Joe!" Josh says, "aw, Mom, leave me alone!". Then, a few minutes later, he begins to feel cold and sick (withdrawal already??) and Mom comes upstairs and asks if Josh has been "foolin' around with that DOPE". Josh gets P. O.'d, and runs away from home - and back to ol' Gap-Mouth Joe's. "WHOO!!! I feel GOOD!!!"

Well, he keeps going back to Gap-Mouth's house (Rag-Nose Sam disappears at this point; maybe he OD'd already) until he's blown his $2000 that he saved up (now maybe Gap-Mouth Joe can see an orthodontist). Now Josh has no money, but he's got to get that DOPE, so he comes up with a plan. He sees an old lady walking down the street one night, picks up a stick, and whacks her in the head! It is at this point where Phil Phillips describes the attack: "ba-DOOOOM!! Bip! Bop! Bip! Bop! Went to kickin' the stuffin's a' her! And finally the old lady was.......DEAD! STONE DEAD!" By now, the background music sounds like Ornette Coleman records being played backwards. Josh takes the money and runs to Gap-Mouth's house once again. "WHOO!!! I feel GOOD!!!"

But a few days later, the law catches up to Josh, and he gets thrown in the can. While he's there, he begins to think about all the wrong he did, and how he should have listened to his mama. Then the old withdrawal pains come up again, and Josh starts screaming, "I feel so cold, so sick! Looks like I'M GONNA DIE!!!!" Phil then says, "He fell to the floor.......he was DEAD! STONE DEAD!!" This is followed by a loud horn blast, right out of an old Universal horror picture, like when someone opens up the door and a dead body comes falling out.

Phil ends the record by happily reciting all the ways that Josh completely screwed up his life (even the background music gets happier) and (sounding like a black Criswell) ends with, "stay away from MARIJUANA, and stay away from the evil NEEDLE......STAY AWAY from THE EVIL DOPE!"

At the time he recorded this, Phil Phillips was working as a disk jockey in New Orleans (which probably accounts for the low production values - it was probably put together hastily in the radio studio), so this was probably meant as some sort of public service message. But Phil wanted to get back to singing, so he signed with the local Lanor label in 1971 and recorded a decent soul number he'd written called "It's All Right". He probably needed a B-side, and stuck "The Evil Dope" on the flip, figuring no one would ever hear it anyway.

How wrong he was. WHOO!!! I feel GOOD!!!

Phil Phillips - The Evil Dope (Lanor 559) - 1971

Monday, September 10, 2012

THE HONEY BEES - SOME OF YOUR LOVIN'

A lot of people know this song from Dusty Springfield's version, but this is the original, released in January, 1965. OK, easy enough. But the provenance of this single is kinda complicated; this was the second (and last) Honey Bees single on Fontana, but the two singles had completely different personnel!

This one's so complicated that I had to call in a favor from my buddy, girl-group collector extraordinaire John Clemente. He wrote THEE definitive book on the subject, "Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked The World" (you can get it here). Anyhoo, he's here to explain the subject......

"The Honey Bees had two singles on Fontana. The first, 'One Wonderful Night', was actually The Cookies singing under the Honey Bees' name. There actually was no real Honey Bees group. Despite years of rumors, Carole King did not sing on that record."

"As for 'Some Of Your Lovin'', the group on this record is The Orchids, who had previously released a few singles on Columbia, like 'Harlem Tango'. 'Some Of Your Lovin'' was a demo that producers Gerry Goffin and Carole King had lying around. 'One Wonderful Night' had gotten good airplay and charted locally (in New York), so Fontana wanted another Honey Bees single. There is another version with the exact same backing track that has Carole King singing lead, and was later released in 1966 on Goffin-King's Tomorrow label as the B-side of her single 'Road To Nowhere'. I do not know whose vocal was recorded first."

Thanks, John. For those of you who have read his book, I have exciting news; he's working on a revised edition! It'll have MORE groups, MORE interview material, MORE pictures, MORE girl-group goodness! Watch this space for further details!!

The Honey Bees - Some Of Your Lovin' (Fontana 1505) - 1965

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SIDEWALK SKIPPER BAND - STRAWBERRY TUESDAY

PSYCHEDELIC!

This group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, led by Brian Ballestrieri, released two incredible psych 45s on Capitol in 1968 - this was the first.

It was a good idea at the time - US group becomes the "answer" to the psych groups out of merrie olde England........

Unfortunately, the group's timing was a bit off. As Beatles' publicist Derek Taylor famously said in late 1967, "the only people that will be using the word 'psychedelic' in 1968 are TV comedians and brain-dead disk jockeys." The other problem was that Capitol tried to promote them as a SINGLES band. Psych singles were a staple in the UK, but in the US, record buyers wanted psych LPs, not singles. It also didn't help that Capitol made damn sure that you knew this was an AMERICAN psychedelic group in their publicity - full page-ads in the music trades introduced them as "The Sidewalk Skipper Band (of AMERICA)" and contained phrases like "America is ready for the SSB" and "they have made themselves ready for America". So their two Capitol singles failed miserably, though they are held in very high regard with psych collectors these days. After one final 45 for the Teen Town label in 1969, the group disbanded.

Check out the (always cool) Flower Bomb Songs blog for more info about this undeservedly obscure band here.

Sidewalk Skipper Band - Strawberry Tuesday (Capitol 2127) - 1968

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CONNIE SMITH - THE HURTIN'S ALL OVER

“There's really only three female singers in the world: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending.” - Dolly Parton

I fell in love with Connie Smith before I ever saw her. No other female country singer could pack as much heartbreak and hurt into a single note (without artifice) as Connie. Thankfully, her voice has never lost that quality. The 1967 LP "The Best Of Connie Smith" is one of my "desert island discs" - if (God forbid) I ever had to sell my collection, I'd still keep that one, with a handful of others.

By the way, Connie STILL holds the record for the longest run at #1 for a debut single (her first 45, "Once A Day", stayed at #1 for 8 weeks in 1964). Eat your heart out, Taylor Swift.

"The Hurtin's All Over" was the first song I ever heard by Connie Smith. It was the first song on an old reel-to-reel tape that my father had in his collection (discussed earlier on this blog in this post). It was sort of a surreal experience; the tape was recorded from an AM radio broadcast and Connie's song kept cross-fading in and out with a football game on another station on the dial. But through the football announcer and the 12 KHz whine, I heard a voice of such purity, mixed with incredible heartbreak, which just POPPED out of that old Scotch 7-inch reel. Unfortunately, I had no idea who it was that was singing.


It took a year or two, but I eventually found out it was Connie Smith. Since that day, I have been scarfing up every piece of Connie Smith vinyl (and CD plastic) I can find. When I had the radio show, I was one of only two DJs in the NY/NJ area (the other was my girlfriend Jess) that played Connie's 2011 release, Long Line Of Heartaches (you can find it here).

"The Hurtin's All Over", for me at least, towers above all of her other hits. If there ever was such a thing as "country soul" with emphasis on the country, with a little "girl group" heartache mixed in, this is it. The backing is pure country, but Connie's vocal is so soulful that it takes the record to another dimension.

Unfortunately, like most soul singers, Connie Smith drew her inspiration from hard times. Born Constance June Meador, August 14, 1941, in Elkhart, Indiana, Connie's childhood was not a happy one. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, causing Connie to have a nervous breakdown when she was just in her teens. Also, while in her teens, she nearly severed one of her legs off in a lawnmower accident. While recuperating in the hospital, she learned to play guitar. She was soon entering herself in various talent contests, and was already a seasoned performer by the time she graduated high school in 1959. By this time she was living in Ohio, and at the age of 20 Connie married for the first time, to Jerry Smith. They had their first (and only) child together in March of 1963.

Shortly afterward, though, Connie's life began to change in ways she could not have imagined.

In August, 1963, Connie entered another talent contest at the Frontier Ranch park near Columbus, Ohio, where she was heard by Bill Anderson, who encouraged her to go to Nashville and record. Connie couldn't, with a new baby in the house, but she continued to play concerts in the Columbus area. It was on another country show in January, 1964 that she ran into Bill Anderson again, and this time he invited her to sing with him on Ernest Tubb's "Midnite Jamboree" program in Nashville. Connie went this time, and returned to Nashville a few months later to record some demos of a new batch of songs that Bill Anderson had written. The purpose of the demos were to get established female artists to record the songs. Bill's manager sent the dubs to Chet Atkins at RCA Victor, who immediately asked who the singer was. Once he found out, Atkins signed Connie to RCA Victor on June 24, 1964. About a month later, she had her first session with the label, out of which came the record that put Connie in the stratosphere, "Once A Day". The record shot straight to #1 on the country charts. It had been a year to the day Bill Anderson first saw Connie in that talent show.

The hits just piled up after that; "Then And Only Then", "I Can't Remember", "If I Talk To Him", "Nobody But A Fool (Would Love You)", "Ain't Had No Lovin'", "The Hurtin's All Over", "I'll Come Runnin'", "Cincinnati, Ohio", "Burning A Hole In My Mind", "Baby's Back Again", "Run Away Little Tears" - ALL which hit the Top Ten from 1964-1968. But by the end of that incredible run of hits, Connie Smith was a mess. The pressures of stardom and the long periods of time away from her family had taken its toll. Her first marriage ended in a shambles in 1966, and she ended up marrying the lead guitarist in her band, Jack Watkins. One year (and another child) later, she and Watkins divorced. She began to contemplate suicide.

That's when Connie Smith made the decision to save her own life. She decided that God and family were more important than stardom and a career. In 1968 she became a born-again Christian, came off the road, and reconnected with her children. Her chart career suffered, but not much - she did manage another six Top Ten country hits from 1968 to 1972 - but her personal appearances became less and less frequent, and when she did appear, you were just as likely to get a gospel show as a program of Connie's greatest hits. In fact, she was nearly fired from the Grand Ole Opry in the early 1970s for sermonizing at length from the stage at the Ryman Auditorium.

Connie married again, to a telephone repairman named Marshall Haynes, and brought her family on the road with her (in a much-truncated schedule). They had three daughters together. In the meantime Connie left RCA Victor for Columbia Records, but managed to score only two Top Ten hits while there. She then signed with Monument in 1977, who tried to update her sound (her biggest hit on the label was a cover of Andy Gibb's "I Just Want To Be Your Everything", if you can imagine that), and when the contract ran out in 1980, she basically withdrew from the business, spending her time doing her favorite job - being a mother, though she did record an LP in a one-off deal with Epic in 1985.

Unfortunately, Connie's marriage with Haynes ended in 1992, and, with her children grown, Connie decided to get back into the business. She signed with Warner Bros. in 1996, and she was immediately paired with Marty Stuart, a country star in his own right, who co-wrote and produced the resulting LP. Their collaboration must have sparked a fire, because Stuart, a Smith fan since he was a child, married Connie the next year, and they're still married today. Stuart also produced her 2011 LP Long Line Of Heartaches, which received much critical acclaim, but not much in sales, probably because it was REAL country, not the country-rock that Nashville pushes today. It was her first album in 13 years, and we may have to wait another 13 for her next one, but it'll be worth it (guess this makes Connie Smith the Scott Walker of country).

Connie Smith could have gone down the path that so many other stars had gone down - depression, drink, drugs, an early death - but, lucky for us, she took stock of her life and made the decision to save her life, instead of giving it to her career.

Today (August 14, 2012) is Connie's 71st birthday, and she is still (in the words of a 1965 LP title) "cute 'n' country".

Happy birthday, Connie, and thank you.


Connie Smith - The Hurtin's All Over (RCA Victor 47-8964) - 1966

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

DEL SHANNON - MOVE IT ON OVER

I just got back from Traverse City, Michigan, where I was lucky enough to attend the premiere screening of Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story at the Traverse City Film Festival, thanks to my buddy JT and especially his lovely wife Heidi, who gave up her ticket so I could see it (thanks again, Heidi). It's an excellent documentary about Detroit's Grande (pronounced grand-ee) Ballroom, which was THE place to be for Detroit rock and roll in the late 1960s. The phrase "kick out the jams" was COINED at the Grande. Everyone played there: Mitch Ryder, Iggy and The Stooges, Alice Cooper, The Who, SRC, The Amboy Dukes, The Rationals, The James Gang, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Dick Wagner and The Frost, Cream, Bob Seger, and, of course, the MC5, who were more or less the house band there.

One of the many great things about this film is that it makes a really great argument for the Grande as the premier ROCK ballroom, as opposed to the premier arena for the music of the counterculture. The mid-1960s saw Detroit begin to have its problems (race riots, urban decay) and so the people of that city began to take on a hard-edged stance just to be able to survive. Plus, it was (and still is) a blue-collar, industrial place, where machinery, noise and ugliness were just part of everyday living. Detroit rock and roll always had a bit of toughness to it, but by the heyday of the Grande, the noise and (dare I say it?) grunginess in the music was pushed more and more to the forefront, and Detroiters embraced it as their own. As a result, the Grande kicked ass - you weren't gonna see Crosby, Stills and Nash or Melanie at the Grande - somebody (probably one of the MC5) would have kicked them right off the stage and given them an ass-whipping they'd not soon forget. When Janis Joplin first played there with Big Brother, the audience (and the other acts) gave the group what for until they amped it up! That was the prevailing wind at the Grande - kick out the jams or get the FUCK off the stage so somebody else can.

Perhaps someday there'll be a documentary about the early Detroit rockers from the late 50s and early 60s; the original badasses like Jack Scott, Bill Haley, The Royaltones, Danny Zella & The Zell Rocks......and Del Shannon.

Del Shannon (1934-1990) was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His mother taught him the ukelele at a young age, and soon he became proficient on guitar. By 1958, he had joined a rockabilly band in Battle Creek, where he changed his name to Del Shannon. Del became a familiar face in clubs in Battle Creek and Ann Arbor, and in 1960 Ann Arbor deejay Ollie McLaughlin introduced Del to producers Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik, who signed him to their EmBee Productions company, who had a lease deal with Bigtop Records in New York.

We all know what happened next. Shannon's very first 45, "Runaway", became a #1 national hit, and he became a star. For the next two years, Del racked up hit after hit on Bigtop and toured the world, meeting The Beatles on a tour of the UK in 1963. He really liked their tune "From Me To You" and recorded and released it as a single when he got back to the States - it hit #77 on the charts in July of 1963, becoming the first tune penned by Lennon-McCartney to chart in the US. Unfortunately, that was his last single on Bigtop; a feud with Balk and Micahnik came to a head at that time (seems they weren't paying him his correct royalties) and Del broke with EmBee Productions. He formed his own label, Ber-Lee Records, but EmBee had his records blackballed throughout the industry, and Ber-Lee folded after just two releases; Del gave in and returned to EmBee. By this time Bigtop had been bought out by the Amy/Mala/Bell group of labels in New York, and so Del's recordings were now leased to Amy Records.

The hits continued: "Handy Man", "Do You Want To Dance", "Keep Searchin'" and "Stranger In Town". Del also had a hit with his song "I Go To Pieces" when Peter and Gordon recorded it. But by mid-1965, the winds of change really began to hit the rock and roll scene. Del saw it coming. Living and playing in the Detroit area, Shannon undoubtedly heard the harder rock that had yet to hit the mainstream, and decided that this was the direction to go into. Pairing with Motown session man and guitar legend Dennis Coffey, they wrote "Move It On Over", possibly one of the LOUDEST records ever made, and released it on Amy in August of 1965.

Unfortunately, it was waaaaay to early in the game for Del to release a monstrosity like this. The record flopped, only reaching #128 on Billboard's "Bubbling Under" chart. People must have thought that Del had lost his mind. It didn't help that the song shared a title with a Hank Williams classic, since Del had released an LP of Hank Williams songs several months before, and folks probably thought it was just a remake (like I did when I first saw this 45). But MAN ALIVE is this an aggressive record! Del sounds like he's trying his damnedest to completely blow his voice out, while Dennis Coffey and the band churn out some NASTY punk-rock (and the briefest guitar solo in history).

I'm sure the crowd at the Grande Ballroom would have loved this.....if they only knew about it.

Del Shannon - Move It On Over (Amy 937) - 1965

Monday, July 23, 2012

ROLF HARRIS - TIE ME KANGAROO DOWN SPORT (Original Version)

I recently read an interview with one of the guys from Def Leppard who said that the band was re-recording the classic tunes from their back catalog to sell on iTunes. Mr. Leppard also said that the songs, though re-recorded, would sound EXACTLY like the originals. Now the obvious question is, why re-record the songs to sound exactly like the originals when the originals are widely available? The Leppard man gave a refreshingly honest answer - because they'd OWN 100% of the new recording, as opposed to a small piece of the original. That doesn't make Def Leppard any less mercenary, but at least they admit that they are.

To be honest, we shouldn't judge at all. We've been dealing with re-recorded versions of oldies for YEARS, thanks to companies like Gusto and Big Seven Music, who drag old geezers out of retirement to go through their old hits one more time (with awful "karaoke"-style backing music) for an oldies compilation LP. Usually it's pretty easy to tell the original from the "new" version, especially if the guy recorded the original when he was 16 and made the re-recorded version at 63.

Once in a blue moon, however, we get tricked, especially when the supposed "original" isn't the original at all!

One of the weirdest records of 1963 was made by an Australian singer/comedian (by way of the UK) named Rolf Harris. It was called "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". Released on these shores by Epic, the record introduced a lot of Aussie terms to the US, not to mention the "wobble board" effect (actually a piece of MDF). The record was a sensation, hitting the Top Ten in the US and inspiring a cover version by Pat Boone (which has to be heard to be believed - I'll post it someday). Rolf Harris became an international star, and that was that.

But it wasn't that simple. The hit record that Epic put out was a re-recorded version. It wasn't even the first time that "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" was released in the US.

Rolf Harris (b. March 30, 1930, Wembley Park, Perth, Australia) is something of a Renaissance man. A champion swimmer in his teens, he also displayed a knack for art and music. He moved to England in his early 20s for art school, and from there went into TV work as a cartoonist (appearing live on TV drawing characters with a puppet named "Fuzz"). He later got into acting, appearing on several British TV programs and films. He also appeared at a club in London called The Down Under, which catered to Australians and New Zealanders who missed their homeland. It was at this club where Rolf first sang "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport".

In 1960, Perth, Australia formed its first TV station, and they called Rolf to come back and do a children's TV show and a variety show at night. Rolf accepted, and one night, after a taping, Rolf sat down with four local musicians in the empty TV studio and recorded "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". The recording was released by EMI in Australia in the summer of 1960 and became a #1 hit there. It also became a #1 hit in the UK when released there. The record was also released in the United States on the 20th-Fox label, but didn't sell.

One possible reason for the single's failure in the States was the quality of the recording. It was crude, to put it mildly - it made Gary (US) Bonds' records sound state-of-the-art. Another reason was the Aussie terms used in the song (like "abo" - short for aborigine - and "didgeridoo") - no one knew what Rolf was talking about, especially in 1960.

After a residency in Vancouver, Canada for most of 1961, Rolf returned to the UK, where producer George Martin had Rolf re-record all his songs for a greatest-hits LP, and also produced his new single, "Sun Arise", which became a huge hit in the UK, and also got some chart action when released in the US on Epic in early 1963. Epic released the George Martin-produced LP shortly afterwards (as "Sun Arise"), and DJs began playing "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" off of the LP. The cut became so popular on US radio that Epic pressed a single, and THAT one became the big hit that we all remember.

It just wasn't the original.....

Rolf Harris - Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport (20th-Fox 207) - 1960

Thursday, July 19, 2012

THE DETERMINATIONS - YOU CAN'T HOLD ON TO LOVE

I haven't posted a really good soul 45 in a while, so here's one from (I'm guessing) a Philadelphia group. Seems this was their only 45, on the Important label (one of the literally HUNDREDS of small imprints distributed under the Jamie/Guyden banner).

Both sides of this 45 are fantastic: the A-side, "That's What I Like", is fine mid-tempo soul with an eerie echo on the vocal, but it's the flip that everybody goes crazy for. "You Can't Hold On To Love" is HUGE on the Northern and Brooklyn scenes, but it doesn't annoy me like most Northern 45s - the vocals here are top-notch, and the tempo, while faster than "That's What I Like", doesn't even come close to the breakneck speed preferred by some of those amp-heads who scream "KEEP THE FAITH" while grinding their teeth to a nub.

Of course, the Northerners also love it because it's rare as hen's teeth - expect to pay anywhere from 150 to 300 bucks from a dealer.

I'll never forget the day I found this - I was hanging out with Jack, the owner of my all-time favorite record store (the late, lamented Yesterday's Books & Records in Montclair, NJ) when two skinny black dudes (one wearing sunglasses) walked in with a GIGANTIC box LOADED with unsleeved soul 45s. There must have been 500-600 45s in that box. Some of them were in decent shape; a lot of them were trashed. The sunglasses dude wanted some ridiculous amount of cash from Jack for the 45s (like $1000). When I remarked on the condition of some of the records, Mr. Sunglasses told me that he knew of a cleaner that magically took scratches off of records. Of course, I called bullshit on that and me 'n' Sunglasses went at it for about 10 minutes. Finally Jack offered the guy 100 bucks for the 45s, and since it was a hot day and they didn't want to carry the box back out to try and peddle it to someone else, they took it. I immediately dove into the 45s and pulled out a number of things (for a buck each) - Big Maybelle on Rojac, The Soul Stirrers on Sar, The Meters on Josie, and this one, among others. The bummer was, I didn't have a lot of cash with me that day, so I couldn't buy more - so I left the OTHER THREE COPIES of this 45 (two stock, one promo) in the box. When I came back a week later, the box was gone. I often wonder what else I left in there, since there were a LOT of records I didn't recognize AT ALL.

The Determinations - You Can't Hold On To Love (Important 1010) - 1967

Monday, July 9, 2012

LOVE - A HOUSE IS NOT A MOTEL

Sorry, rock critics, Beatle fans, and all-around music geeks, but the greatest LP released in 1967 was NOT "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". It was Love's "Forever Changes", an LP so far ahead of its time (yet so timeless), that pop music is STILL trying to capture its stately perfection.

Released in November, 1967, a full year after the group's last LP (which, back then, was a LIFETIME between LPs),"Forever Changes" perfectly crystallizes the other side of the Summer Of Love - the seeds of what came next in that horrible year of 1968.

This song from that LP covers a lot of the alienation people were feeling, as if something really, really bad was coming over the horizon. "In my house I've got no shackles/you can come and look if you want to", this song's first line, suggests freedom, but Arthur Lee sees it differently; YOU can come and look, he says, but I'm staying put, here on my own turf. And as much as you call his name, he's STILL not coming out. Kind of a nice allegory for Love's career, actually - they were HUGE in Los Angeles, but never made it nationally because Arthur refused to tour outside of the LA area.

Arthur also predicts the America of the 21st century with the line "The news today will be the movies for tomorrow" - hell, Oliver Stone and half the crap on the Lifetime Network should be paying royalties to Arthur Lee's estate! But the scariest imagery comes through at the end, when Arthur sings: "And the water's turned to blood/and if you don't think so/go turn on your tub/and if it's mixed with mud/you'll see it turn to gray". These lines come from a conversation that Arthur Lee had with a soldier who had just come back from his tour of duty in Vietnam. The soldier told him that the one thing he'd always remember was that human blood, once a crimson red, turned gray when it flowed into the mud.

"Forever Changes" did not sell well upon initial release (it only hit #154 on Billboard's LP chart, and that was probably based on massive sales in LA and almost nowhere else). In February, 1968, the group finally released a single from the LP - "Alone Again Or"/"A House Is Not A Motel". "Alone Again Or" charted high in LA (of course) and failed everywhere else. By this point, the group itself was in tatters, with several members addicted to heroin and money problems were rampant. After releasing the non-LP single "Your Mind And We Belong Together" in June, 1968, the group splintered, with Arthur retaining the group name for future projects.

If you've never heard "Forever Changes", do yourself a favor and get a copy. It really is scary how good it is. It could have been released this morning and would still sound fresh.

By the way, this is the first music link I uploaded in STEREO. Best part is, it's TRUE stereo. So listen on earphones if you can!

Love - A House Is Not A Motel (Elektra 45629) - 1968

Saturday, June 23, 2012

HERMAN'S HERMITS - IT'S ALRIGHT NOW

This is a really DUMB record. But it ROCKS!

By 1969, Herman's Hermits weren't the hitmaking machine they once were, at least in the US. They hadn't had a Top Ten hit here since "There's A Kind Of Hush" in early 1967. But in the UK, the group continued to have major success - their previous single to this one, "My Sentimental Friend", was their second biggest hit in the UK (behind "I'm Into Something Good"). As a result, this was the last US Herman's Hermits 45 on MGM.

The A-side, "(Here Comes) The Star", was a cover of a #1 hit in Australia recorded by TV show host and singer Ross D. Wylie. Herman's Hermits toured there in the fall of '69, and decided to record the song for themselves. It hit #33 on the UK charts, but completely missed over here.

Too bad, because if you flip this little biscuit over, you get one of the Hermits' most savagely rockin' sides! I know, I know, Herman's Hermits aren't exactly known for their hard rockers, but when you realize that most of their early singles had session musicians on them like Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass....well, the potential was there, anyway. Even though a lot of their hits are pretty lightweight, check out tracks like "My Reservation's Been Confirmed" (which was the US B-side of "Dandy"), "Wild Love" (from the Hold On soundtrack LP), their KILLER rendition of Frankie Laine's "Jezebel" (on the There's A Kind Of Hush LP), and this one.

The record starts off with a killer guitar riff (that gets repeated through the entire song) over four-on-the-floor drums. Then Peter Noone's voice comes in, echoey and phasey as all get-out, singing what passes for lyrics; I mean, dig this - "It's alright/It's alright/Doin' it all, really havin' a ball/It's alright."

DUMB. But great!

The record pretty much goes nowhere after that, but that guitar riff just gets more and more insistent, so much so that by the end of the record the drummer is beating the holy bejeezus out of his kit. In a way, "It's Alright Now" foreshadows the pounding, stomping sound of UK pop of the early 1970s on records by Gary Glitter, among others.

Herman's Hermits - It's Alright Now (MGM 14100) - 1969