Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

Havens & Clapton On The Reading Table

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 22, 2008

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with two autobiographies: Richie Havens’ They Can’t Hide Us Anymore (1999, written with Steve Dawidowitz) and Eric Clapton’s Clapton: The Autobiography (2007). One is pretty good and one is fascinating.

Of the two, I’ve been working on the Havens book a little longer, and it seems to be taking me a little more effort to get into it. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m not as familiar with the outlines of Havens’ story as I am with Clapton’s. Or maybe it’s because Havens seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on the years in the early 1960s when he was scuffling around New York City’s Greenwich Village. At times, I find that fascinating and find the book hard to put down; other times, the tales seem to drag on, and I find it hard to turn the page. It could be that the book is too much a listing of people met and events lived through and not enough an assessment of how those things affected the person in the middle. I don’t get a sense of how Richie Havens felt about the things he recalls.

That’s not the case with the Clapton: I find the pages flipping by at an amazing rate, and the overwhelming sense I get is one of melancholy. Clapton, looking back at his life, is brutally honest, and he’s careful to take responsibility for the turnings in his life, many of which were accompanied by vast quantities of drugs and alcohol. Writing from the hard-won perspective of recovery, the famed guitarist is nothing so much as saddened by the way he treated the people around him, the way he approached his music and the way he lived his life for so many years.

I’ve read about half the book so far, and one of the passages I find most affecting was when he recalled the circumstances of his participation in the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, organized by his good friend, George Harrison. Clapton – deeply addicted to heroin at the time – agreed to come to New York to practice and play as long as a consistent supply of the drug could be secured for him.

When he arrived in New York, the drugs were waiting for him in his room. “I tried some, but nothing happened,” he writes. “It turned out that what they had scored for me was street-cut, with a very low amount of actual heroin in it and cut with something nasty, like strychnine, so that it was about a tenth as strong as what I was used to.”

The result was Clapton’s going through withdrawal and missing the rehearsals for the epic concert. Some medication at the last moment, Clapton says, allowed him to feel well enough to make the sound check. “[A]lthough I have a vague memory of this and then of playing the show, the truth is I wasn’t really there, and I feel ashamed. No matter how I’ve tried to rationalize it to myself over the years, I let a lot of people down that night, most of all myself. I’ve seen the concert only once on film, but if I ever want a reminder of what I might be missing from the ‘good old days,’ this would be the film to watch.”

There is, reading the Clapton memoir, the sense of a train wreck waiting to happen, most likely because so much of his story is so well known: The virtuosity, the addictions, the romances, the tragedies. But it’s well written, and there’s a very distinct voice telling the story. One of the things that amuses me is Clapton’s occasional use of British slang without any attempt to explain it. Maybe such explanations aren’t needed; maybe there’s no mystery in those usages that catch my eye. But I chuckle when I see them, as when Clapton wrote without explanation about the workman whose culinary preference was “bangers and mash” (that’s sausages and mashed potatoes to we non-Brits).

Reading Clapton this morning got me to wondering about what cover versions of songs he might have released. There is, of course, the entire catalog of traditional blues written by others long gone, especially Robert Johnson. That’s not quite what I have in mind for cover versions, though, so I dug a little deeper into Clapton’s catalog. And in 1989, he released one of the niftier – and shorter – performances of his career on Journeyman, a brief exploration of the song “Hound Dog.” Clapton’s performance of the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller composition owes very little to Elvis Presley and at least a little bit (in terms of pace, not intensity) to Big Mama Thornton, whose recording (Peacock 1612) held the top spot on the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks in 1953.

As I don’t think I’ve ever shared Big Mama’s version, here it is along with Clapton’s cover.

Big Mama Thornton – “Hound Dog” [1953]

Eric Clapton – “Hound Dog” [1989]

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!

Fairy Tales For The Hip Set

April 16, 2011

Originally posted February 6, 2007

I was less than a month old when my grandfather went out to buy a record of nursery rhymes for my sister, who was turning three in 1953. I’m not sure where Grandpa went to buy the record – that detail has been lost in the family mythology. But he found a 45 rpm record that had “Little Red Riding Hood” on one side and “Three Little Pigs” on the other, read by Al “Jazzbo” Collins. Satisfied, he paid – I imagine – something less than fifty cents and took it back to the apartment where we lived.

Sometime during my sister’s birthday celebration, I imagine, Grandpa produced the record, and my dad plopped it in the record player – one in a black plastic case that played 45s only, the same one on which my sister and I would play our first Beatles record ten-and-a-half years later. There came a riff of jazz piano . . . and then:

“Well now, little ones . . . Once upon a time in the land of Ooh-Blah-Dee there lived a fine chick named Red Riding Hood. One day, Red’s mother said ‘Honey, your grandma is feeling the least . . .’”

What Grandpa had found at the local record store was one of the great novelty records of the early 1950s, a record now fairly obscure. According to the Sept. 14, 1953, edition of Time magazine, Al “Jazzbo” Collins, a Manhattan disk jockey, had found two hip reworkings of Grimm’s fairy tales in Down Beat magazine. The tales, written by TV personality Steve Allen, had been intended, Time said, “only as a private joke for bopsters, told in the latest Tin Pan Alley argot, where ‘cool’ means good, ‘crazy’ means wonderful and anything that is really tops is simply called ‘the most.’”

The tales, Time said, “quickly reached a larger public” when Collins read them over the air, then recorded them for Brunswick. “The record,” Time noted, “has sold a reported 200,000 copies to become a solid popular hit.”

Time quoted the conversation between Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, masquerading as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother:

“ ‘Grandma, what frantic eyes you have,’ said Red Riding Hood.

“ ‘The better to dig you with, my dear,’ said the wolf.

“ ‘And Grandma, what a long nose you have.’

“ ‘Yeah,’ said the wolf, ‘it’s a gasser.’”

The flip side, with the tale of the Three Little Pigs, was more of the same, filled with hip slang and cultural references.

My grandfather, my mother told me once, was unhappy. He thought he’d failed. Well, he may not have come up with the fairy tales that would have suited my sister at the age of three. But he inadvertently left us with a classic relic of the early 1950s, and it’s remarkable that the record survived, given the haphazard handling it received in our basement playroom, where it was stacked with other records – none of which have aged nearly as well – and no doubt dropped on the floor and generally mistreated over the years.

I remember listening to the record over and over again when I was around ten, I guess. I didn’t understand that it was a spoof of a culture that was securely lodged in the decade I was born, but I loved the lingo of the times and the dry wit that I could – being at least a little precocious – grasp fairly well. Still, having listened to the two tales this week for the first time in something around forty years, I know now that as a child, I didn’t get all of Allen’s and Collins’ references. I probably chuckled more while playing the record this week than I did back in 1963.

I don’t know, though. I remember my best friend and I giggling time and again over the ending to “Three Little Pigs,” when the surviving pig lifts the lid off the pot in which he’s simmered the Big Bad Wolf, inhales the aroma of the result and proclaims, “Ah, my favorite soup: Cream of Nowhere!”


“Three Little Pigs” & “Little Red Riding Hood” – Al “Jazzbo” Collins, Brunswick 9-80226 [1953]