Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

Disconnected

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 22, 2009

I arose a little later than usual yesterday, as I’ve been battling a stubborn cold, and came into the study to check a few blogs and prepare a post. As the computer booted, I picked up the phone to tell the Texas Gal – already at work – that I was breathing and upright.

No dial tone.

I went to the front rooms and tried that phone. No dial tone there. So I went back to the study, planning on sending an instant message or an email. We had no ’Net access, either. I clicked on the TV, got a picture and sound and assumed that was okay. (That was an error: It turned out that most of our cable channels were down, too.) Now I really needed to talk to the Texas Gal as well as the cable company.

We gave up our cell phones a while back, so I drove down to the neighborhood convenience store. There, hunching my shoulders against a light rain, I dropped a couple of quarters into the pay phone. The Texas Gal said she’d call the cable company and told me to go home and get in out of the rain. An hour or so later, she came home for a few moments and said that a service tech would stop by during the early afternoon.

And actually, two of them did, with the second of them bearing the unwelcome news that our services would not be restored until sometime around two in the morning. He said that we were one of nine customers affected by an equipment failure, but making the ten-minute repair would require disconnecting about three hundred customers. So his bosses, he said, had told him not to repair the fault; instead, a truck would come out sometime after midnight and take care of the problem.

It was a perfectly sound business decision, but it was still annoying and a little worrying. Missing the high end cable channels for a day was no big deal. Nor was being offline, I thought. But being without a phone in case of emergency? That wasn’t good, and I told the fellow that. He nodded. “I understand,” he said. “And I’ll pass the word on. But I can’t do anything about it.”

I nodded back, and after he left, I went and found my deactivated cell phone. I think – though I’m not certain – that even deactivated phones can call 911. So I charged the phone and put it on the dining room table just in case the worst occurred. It didn’t. We had a pleasant evening: some television, some reading and, for me, a little bit of tabletop baseball.

As pleasant as the evening turned out to be though, not having ’Net access was a major annoyance: Both of us missed our normal online activities. No email or Facebook, no new blog posts to read, no way to check my fantasy football teams or the Texas Gal’s quilting group. And that pointed out to us how large a part of our lives the online world has become. It’s amazing how, in a relatively brief bit of time, we’re living so much of our lives online.

Is that worrisome? Not so long as we can do without if we have to. The things that the ’Net brings to our lives are worthwhile, fun and maybe even important. But they’re not essential. (That holds true, too, for the high-end cable channels. The telephone is another story, I think.) Still, even though I was out of touch for only a day, it’s good to be back.

A Six-Pack of Communications
“Telephone Line” by the Electric Light Orchestra, United Artists 1000 [1976]
“57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” by Bruce Springsteen from Human Touch [1992]
“(I’m A) TV Savage” by Bow Wow Wow from I Want Candy [1982]
“Race of the Computers” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It [1976]
“TV Mama” by Big Joe Turner, Atlantic 1016 [1953]
“Pick Up The Phone” by Lesley Duncan from Moonbathing [1975]

The first two of these are pretty well-known, I think, and Bow Wow Wow is, too, though maybe this track is less well-known than some of that odd band’s other music. (Sorry for the low bitrate on that one, but it’s all I had.)

Pete Carr’s name is more familiar as a session guitarist at Muscle Shoals than as a solo artist, but Not A Word On It is a pretty good solo album. All-Music Guide has a date of 1975 for the record, but I’ve seen 1976 in other places I trust, so I’m going with that. (Thanks to walknthabass at Gooder’n Bad Vinyl.)

Big Joe Turner, one of the premier blues shouters, recorded from the 1930s into the 1980s, but seems almost forgotten today. “TV Mama,” recorded when television was still very new, is an example of using the most recent fad or craze as a framework for a salacious bit of music. (I ripped this from a library collection long before I ever thought about bitrates, so this track, too, is at a lower bitrate than I normally share.)

Lesley Duncan was a top session vocalist in England during the 1970s and released a few solo albums that were critically praised but didn’t sell all that well, from what I can tell. “Pick Up The Phone” is a nice piece of mid-1970s pop; if you like it, you’ll like the rest of Moonbathing as well as Duncan’s other work, I think.

Default Mode

January 23, 2020

I’m hardly here this morning. The head cold I managed to pick up at Urgent Care Saturday is settling in nicely, and I wore myself out with several essential chores yesterday. So I’m going to default to seeking out today’s date – January 23 – in the RealPlayer. We’ll see what we get. (A reminder: I likely have recording dates for maybe five percent of the tracks in the program.)

And our search brings us fourteen tracks. The tunes range temporally from “It’s Moving Day,” recorded by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers on January 23, 1930, to the Temptations’ “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” which was laid down on January 23, 1964.

The other names in the brief list include Lead Belly, Artie Shaw, Howlin’ Wolf, Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, Claude King, Ann Cole, Tony Bennett, and a few that are not as recognizable.

And it comes to mind that we don’t often listen to Nat King Cole around here. Nothing wrong with the music; it just tends to get pushed to the back of the shelf by other stuff. So we’ll pull him forward today. Here’s “Can’t I?” with Cole accompanied by Billy May & His Orchestra. It was recorded on this date in 1953, peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard airplay chart (going nearly as high on the sales and juke box charts), and went to No. 7 on the magazine’s R&B jukebox chart (if I’m reading the data correctly).

It’s a nice piece.

‘You May Be High . . .’

May 22, 2019

When the Rolling Stones recorded “You Got To Move” and released it on Sticky Fingers in 1971 (with the title offered as “You Gotta Move”), they credited the song to Fred McDowell, a Tennessee-based farmer and blues singer who’d somehow been given the name of Mississippi Fred McDowell. It was not an unreasonable decision, as McDowell had recorded the tune in 1965 for his second album on the Arhoolie label, which was released a year later and listed him as the song’s writer.

Here’s that version by McDowell:

(It’s worth noting that McDowell was an anomaly in the blues revival of the late 1950s and the 1960s: He’d never recorded before, while many of the blues artists celebrated during that revival had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Whether that made McDowell’s previously unrecorded music more “authentic” – as I’ve seen written in at least a couple of places – is for others to judge. It was certainly new to listeners, and, despite McDowell’s frequent use of an electric guitar, clearly linked to the Delta tradition.)

But McDowell did not write the song. Second Hand Songs lists the song as “traditional,” noting four recordings that predate McDowell’s 1965 recording. (McDowell’s 1965 recording is not listed at all; his 1969 live version with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers is listed, another reminder that as useful as the website is, it’s not complete.)

Those four earlier listed recordings came from the Willing Four in 1944, the Two Gospel Keys (Emma Daniels and Mother Sally Jones) in 1947, Elder Charles Beck & His Religion In Rhythm in 1949, and Blind Gary Davis with Sonny Terry in 1953. One can assume two things, I think: There were other recordings as well before McDowell recorded his 1965 version, and the song no doubt predates the Willing Four’s version. By how much, who knows?

And I’m going to make a third assumption: That crediting the song’s creation to McDowell on his 1966 album was an error by someone at Arhoolie. McDowell would certainly have known that he’d learned the song elsewhere, and everything I’ve read about McDowell tells me that he was an unassuming, almost humble man. I have my doubts that he’d have claimed the song as his.

(At Second Hand Songs, “You Got To Move” is called “traditional,” and on the CD version I have of Sticky Fingers, it’s credited to McDowell and Davis. I don’t know what credits there are on more recent versions of the CD or the LP.)

McDowell recorded the song at least a couple more times: The previously mentioned 1969 recording with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers for an album titled Amazing Grace, and in a 1971 performance in New York City that was released as a live album two years later.

There are, of course, other covers out there, some by artists I know and others by artists unfamiliar to me: The Party Boys, Mike Cooper & Ian A. Anderson, Mick Taylor, Herman Alexander, the Radiators, Corey Harris, Jorma Kaukonen, Townes Van Zandt, Cassandra Wilson, Aerosmith, and Koerner, Ray & Glover are just some of them.

Most of those are faithful to the Delta sound of McDowell’s version; some of them reach back to what I assume are the song’s Gospel origins; and some are hybrids. Here’s one of the latter, the version offered by Sista Monica Parker on her 2008 album Sweet Inspirations.

‘White’

January 31, 2014

And so, after several delays, we land on “White,” the last of nine chapters in Floyd’s Prism, looking at songs whose titles feature the seven colors of the spectrum plus black and white.

As with nearly all of the previous entries, when we sort the tracks in the RealPlayer, we get a total of 766. That’s many more than we need, but many of them, we cannot use. Some show up, as I noted the other day, because they’re tagged with the notation, “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” But others, equally unuseable, show up for other reasons.

Some have words in their titles that are close to “white,” including eleven versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And we’ll also pass on “Whitestone Bridge,” a 1973 tune from the Irish band Tír na nÓg; “Whitewash,” a 1976 outing by the Gin Blossoms; and two versions of Curtis Mayfield’s 1971 offering, “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey).”

Out goes everything by the Average White Band, Tony Joe White, country singer Joy Lynn White, vintage singers Bukka White, Josh White and Georgia White, harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, current performer Jack White and country singer Lari White. We also dismiss the great “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, a few vintage tracks by Paul Whitehead & His Orchestra and two tracks from Lavelle White, one on Duke from 1958 and the other from her 2003 album, Into the Mystic. And we pass by every track in the collection by Barry White; we could have kept his “Rhapsody in White,” but we decided against it.

What else? Three albums titled Black & White, by the BoDeans, the Pointer Sisters and the previously mentioned Tony Joe White, fall by the wayside, as do Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album Bright White (we posted the title tune here the other week), Michael Omartian’s 1974 effort White Horse, most of David Gray’s 200 album White Ladder and Gene Clark’s 1971 offering White Light. We also pass by the Cowboy Junkies’ 1986 album Whites Off Earth Now!! and numerous singles on the White Whale label.

So we take what’s left, which turns out to be plenty for our purposes this morning.

I mentioned David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder above. It’s a CD that’s truly not strayed far from our player during the years since it came out, a tuneful and literate album. The best-known track on the record is no doubt “Babylon,” which made seven different Billboard charts, reaching No. 57 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Top 40. While the title track is nowhere near as well-known (and doesn’t have nearly as great a hook as “Babylon,” to be honest), “White Ladder” is still a good track from an artist whose body of work has sometimes been uneven (and sometimes gets a little repetitive, to be honest).

Nearly seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out to be the tales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood written by Steve Allen and then told by Al “Jazzbo” Collins in early 1950s jazz and hipster lingo. The 1953 record was an unlikely hit, and it spun off more such performances. Today’s selection is “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” as told by Collins later that same year. The story came from the pen of Douglas Jones, whose ear for the hipster argot was, to my own ears, not as sharp as was Allen’s. Still, it’s a fun trip through the woods to the dwarves’ rib shack.

There’s not a lot more for me to say about the late Levon Helm. Today’s sorting brought up Helm’s take on the Carter Stanley tune “White Dove,” from Helm’s 2009 album, Electric Dirt. The album went to No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and was awarded a Grammy as the Best Americana Album in 2010.

From 2009 we drop back sixty-eight years to what is certainly the most sentimental song in this set of six. But then, wartime can do that, and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” is one of the quintessential songs of World War II. Written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, the tune reflects the unease of Britons facing Nazi Germany alone and expresses hope for a return to normal life after the war. Though other versions might have become better known on this side of the Atlantic, especially the version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the version by Vera Lynn – the original, I believe – is the one that the Brits loved, despite the sad fact that bluebirds are not indigenous to the British Isles and have never flown over the tall white cliffs. Lyricist Burton, notes Wikipedia, was an American who seemingly didn’t know any better, but no matter: Since 1941, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” anyway.

Chad Mitchell was, as his name reminds us, the founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that placed eight albums in the Billboard 200 between 1962 and 1965 (the last two charting after Mitchell left and the group was renamed just the Mitchell Trio (and included among its members at that time John Denver). Mitchell at that point embarked on a solo career, and one of the artifacts of that rather unsuccessful effort is the 1969 album Chad. The album, writes Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide, was “an odd match of Mitchell’s crooning folk vocals with covers of then-recent folk-rock-ish songs by Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’), Dino Valente (‘Let’s Get Together’), and far more obscure titles like Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye & Hello,’ H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The White Ship,’ Jim & Jean’s ‘What’s That Got to Do with Me,’ and the Association’s ‘Bus Song’.” It’s the Lovecraft tune that draws us in this morning. The album-opener, “The White Ship” is, in its weird and unmarketable (but oddly compelling) way, 1969 summed up in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

From 1969’s folk-rock self-indulgence, we head to 1957 and a concise country anthem, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. The tale of the young fellow all spiffed up for the dance only to have his gal waltz off with someone else was No. 1 on the Billboard country charts for five weeks in mid-1957. It was one of a remarkable eighty-three records Robbins placed in the country Top 40; the record also went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, where Robbins had thirty-six records in or near the chart over the years.

‘Three’

September 25, 2012

There aren’t a lot of threes out there. When I sort the 65,000 or so mp3s on the RealPlayer for the word “three,” I get 302 tunes. But – as in the recent cases of “One” and “Two” – I have to winnow out some chaff. And in the case of “Three,” there’s a lot of chaff.

For example, I have to ignore numerous albums by Three Dog Night and a few by the Three Degrees. I haven’t yet finished sorting and tagging a multi-disc anthology of R&B saxophone, so the twenty-seven tracks on Disc Three of that collection go by the wayside. The same with a nice 1963 album of Brazilian jazz by the Bossa Three and country singer Pat Green’s 2001 album Three Days.

Still, we’re left with enough tunes to explore this morning; certainly six of them should be worth a listen. We’ll travel in generally chronological order.

One of the first things I ever posted at Echoes In The Wind was the tale of my grandfather and the 45 rpm record he purchased for my sister’s birthday (her third, I believe). The record had “Little Red Riding Hood” on one side and “Three Little Pigs” on the other, as read by Al “Jazzbo” Collins. As I wrote in early 2007: “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.” When Collins read and then recorded the tales – written by TV personality Steve Allen – they reached a wider audience than the hipsters who were Allen’s presumed audience, with the Brunswick recording that my grandfather purchased having sold 200,000 copies by mid-September 1953, according to that piece in Time magazine. The record’s no longer so obscure, perhaps, with numerous copies of it popping up on YouTube, but in any case, today seemed like a good day to revisit Jazzbo’s “Three Little Pigs.”

It’s startling to realize – as I did this morning – that in the five-plus years I’ve been blogging about music, I’ve written hardly anything about Donovan. I’ve mentioned him maybe twenty times and a couple of his tunes have showed up, one in an early mix and another as a Saturday Single. But I’ve never devoted a post to him or taken a close look at either his chart success or critical success. I know his work: Several of his LPs are in the stacks and more than eighty Donovan mp3s are in the player, but I guess that his music has never really meant that much to me, so I’ve never spent much time thinking about it. Will I now? I kind of doubt it. But one of his trippy tunes did show up this morning: “Three Kingfishers” from his 1966 album Sunshine Superman.

From trippy to trippier we go: The Incredible String Band, according to All Music Guide, was one “of the most engaging groups to emerge from the esoteric ’60s.” I’m not sure that “engaging” is the word I’d use; from this corner, “impenetrable” would be more accurate. AMG gives The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter – the group’s third album, released in 1968 – five stars, noting that the album stands as the group’s “undisputed classic among critics and musicians alike.” And here’s what AMG had to say about the track that showed up in this morning’s search: “‘Three Is a Green Crown’ is a psychedelic folk song in all its hypnotic droning glory.” Classic? Glory? Well, okay.

And we may as well trip on. In 1968, as the blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s faded further into memory, Chess Records had an idea: Take the vocal tracks from some of Muddy Waters’ greatest performances and lay them over psychedelicized instrumental tracks. The result was Electric Mud, which was reviled by blues purists and either sold well or was generally ignored by its target audience of tripped-out hippies, depending on which source you read. In 1969, it was Howlin’ Wolf’s turn, with a record that proclaimed “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either.” Here’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” the way it sounded in 1963. And here’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” as it showed up on that 1969 tripped-out album.

Mention the title “Three Little Birds” to a casual fan of reggae, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. I imagine that many folks would guess that the song by Bob Marley and the Wailers finds its title in its chorus of “Don’t worry ’bout a thing.” Released in 1977 on the album Exodus, the song is one of the sunniest in Marley’s catalog, and it’s a good place to find our stopping point this morning.

Saturday Single No. 271

January 7, 2012

Some time ago, while wandering through the offerings at Amazon, I happened upon a listing for a four-CD set titled That’s What They Want: Jook Joint Blues, subtitled “Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943-56.”

I’ve been fascinated for some time – as long-time readers likely know – with the era when the strains of blues, R&B and country music recombined into the music we call rock ’n’ roll. So the box set – compiled by a British label, JSP Records – made its way pretty quickly into my basket, along with a companion set called Juke Joint Blues 2 and a third set titled Chicago Is Just That Way, featuring blues from that city from the years 1938 to 1954.

Those sets arrived in the weeks before the holidays, and I’ve been happily busy ever since, ripping the ten CDs to mp3s and then sorting out the tags for the mp3s. The CD sets have pretty good annotation, listing – as much as possible – recording dates, locations and personnel. The records’ catalog numbers are not included, probably because the sets were released in Britain, but I keep handy a listing of websites where I can find that information. Having to look in two places makes the process of tagging a little more cumbersome, but it’s still fun.

And the listening has been, for the most part, good. Some of the tracks have a lot of surface noise or poor sound quality, but those have been few.

So sorting the tags on those 278 tracks has been keeping me busy; I have a ways to go on those yet. For some reason, the Texas Gal seems to think that dusting, cooking and taking care of the catboys is more important than figuring out the catalog number for Tarheel Slim’s 1954 recording of “Too Much Competition.” (It appears to have been Red Robin 24.) So I have to temper my enthusiasm for my new old music with the requirements of everyday life, which means that the cataloging process here is slow.

And this week, I added to the pile of tracks to catalog. For Christmas, the Texas Gal gave me a gift card for Amazon. So on Christmas night, I selected two more four-CD sets from JSP: When the Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues, Rare Cuts 1926-1941 and Memphis Blues: Important Postwar Blues. Those arrived this week, adding another 211 tracks for me to enjoy and catalog. (I sometimes think I enjoy the research and cataloging almost as much as I enjoy the music.)

But I’m sometimes baffled by my enthusiasm for music that was recorded – for the most part – before I was born, music that stems from a culture distant from mine in many ways. What is it that draws me in those directions: to Chicago, to Memphis, to Mississippi and on into the past? I ponder that as I sort catalog numbers and recording dates, and I have no answers. All I know is that the music moves me. I hear, as one example, the blues harp intro to Frank Edwards’ “Gotta Get Together” and I’m pulled toward it. I have some theories why, and I dabble with those, but maybe the more important thing is accepting that we love what we love when we find it.

That’s enough to know right now, with the riches of new old music and the equally important business of keeping up with daily life heaped on my plate. So for good chunks of the coming days, my little corner of the universe will continue to sound alternately like a Mississippi juke joint, a Memphis radio station or a Chicago recording studio. And as I’m sorting my way through those nearly 500 tunes new to my collection, I’ll also – if only on a subconscious level – be sorting my way as best I can to an understanding of where that music fits into my life and why it seems these days to be essential to me.

One of the reasons that I love many of the tracks I’ve found in these new sets, of course, is that they just flat rock. As an example, take Joe Hill Louis’ “Hydramatic Woman.” Recorded in Memphis in May of 1953 – about four months before I was born – it owes a substantial debt to Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88.” But with Big Walter Horton blowing his harp around Louis’ vocal and Albert Williams’ piano riffs (the drummer’s name is unknown), it still boogies. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 265

November 26, 2011

I’m not at all certain when I first heard of Big Maybelle. I might have read something about her during my digging into R&B  history in the 1980s and 1990s.

But I’m pretty sure the first time I heard her – and knew it was Big Maybelle’s voice coming through the speakers – was in January 2000, when I made a trip to Cheapo’s and brought home the two-LP set Big Maybelle: The Okeh Sessions, a collection of twenty-two recordings that Maybelle Smith laid down between October 1952 and March 1955.

Ten years later, I supplemented the vinyl set with a CD package that includes those twenty-two recordings and four more, evidently unearthed since the vinyl was released. Add to those packages some tracks I’ve found in various anthologies, a few albums I’ve found in various crevices on the ’Net, and one more CD, and I have about three hours’ worth of music by Big Maybelle.

I’m not at all sure why I’m fascinated by the story and the music of Maybelle Smith, who was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1924 and who passed on – from complications of diabetes – in 1972. She was, as one might expect from her name, a large woman, weighing – according to one account – more than two-hundred-and-fifty pounds. Based on some things I’ve read, she was stubborn and a little hot-headed; and it’s certain – from Peter Grendysa’s notes to the CD The Complete Okeh Sessions and things I’ve read elsewhere – that heroin addiction shortened both her career and her life.

She wasn’t unknown during her lifetime: She placed six records on the Billboard R&B Top 40 between 1953 and 1966. The first three – “Gabbin’ Blues,” “Way Back Home” and “Country Man,” all from 1953 – made the R&B Top Ten. Her last R&B hit, in 1966, also resulted in her only appearance in the Billboard Hot 100: A cover of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” which went to No. 96 in the Hot 100 and to No. 23 on the R&B chart.

Big Maybelle could shout and she could rock, which one might expect, given the tradition of black women in blues and R&B that tracks all the way back to Ma Rainey and includes Bessie Smith and (skipping many) Big Mama Thornton. But she could also handle softer stuff with tenderness, as she did with “Don’t Pass Me By” on the Rojac label in 1966.

During her career, Big Maybelle recorded for a variety of labels. (Check out her discography at Soulful Kinda Music.) I have yet to dig up a lot of the stuff she recorded for Savoy and Brunswick in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which I’d be interested in hearing. This week, I’ve been looking into stuff she recorded for Rojac – like the track linked above – in the mid- to late 1960s. Somewhere out on the ’Net a while back, I came across The Last of Big Maybelle, which intrigued me; wanting session information about the tracks, I ordered the CD, only to find there’s really no discographical information in the package. I’ve been doing some digging, and I’ve found likely original sources for sixteen of the twenty-two tracks. I’ll keep digging on the remaining six.

At the same time, I’ll look for the Savoy and Brunswick stuff. I got a taste of the former a few years ago when the Texas Gal gave me a four-CD box set of music from the Savoy label. One of the tracks in that set was Big Maybelle’s “Blues Early, Early (Parts 1 & 2).” And as I was checking the notes this morning, I noticed that the track – originally released as two sides of a 45 – had been recorded on November 26, 1957, fifty-four years ago today.

But, as nifty as it would have been to share that tune in a video, YouTube informs me that it’s not allowed. So I’ll drop back to one of her three R&B hits from 1953. Here’s “My Country Man,” which went to No. five on the R&B chart, fifty-eight years ago this week. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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!”

Enjoy!

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