Archive for the ‘1954’ Category

I Know I Read It Somewhere

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 26, 2008

In October, when I wrote about Henry Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues” and the resurrection of the song’s opening riff in Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country,” I said:

“What’s fascinating is that, with a birth year of 1874, Thomas is evidently the earliest-born African-American whose music was ever recorded. And since he wrote and developed his music in the years before the blues developed fully – that happened, most think, around 1900, and Thomas’ music evidently was developed in the 1890s, though not recorded for another thirty years – Thomas’ music is an aural canvas of the music African-Americans were listening to one generation after emancipation.”

On Tuesday of this week, citing that paragraph about Thomas, reader Joseph Scott wrote:

Some of the people who have him beat:
Ella McMullen Lassiter c. 1839
George W. Johnson c. 1846
Billy McCrea 1850s
John Scruggs c. 1850s
John Wesley “West” Jenkins 1859
Mary C. Mann 1860
Bob Ledbetter 1861
Harriett McClintock c. 1862
‘Clear Rock’ Platt c. 1862
Seth Weeks c. 1865
Harry T. Burleigh 1866
Thaddeus Goodson c. 1867
Wilson Boling c. 1868
Will Marion Cook 1869
Daddy Stovepipe c. 1869
Albert Glenny 1870
Jim Booker c. 1870
Pete Hampton 1871
Isadore Barbarin 1872
Octave Gaspard 1872
Uncle George Jones 1872
John Work Jr. 1872
Andrew Baxter 1872 or 1873
W.C. Handy 1873
John Rosamond Johnson 1873
William Parquette 1873
Joseph Petit 1873

Daddy Stovepipe and Andrew Baxter were important country blues musicians.

Best wishes,
Joseph Scott

That’s a fascinating list, and I am grateful to Mr. Scott for leaving it. As to where I read the contention that Henry Thomas was evidently “the earliest-born African-American whose music was ever recorded” (and thus the conclusion of the significance of his recorded music), I’m not sure. I read a lot. I have a pretty good memory for the facts and suppositions I come across, but I don’t always credit my source or keep track of where I read stuff. In this case, it would have been useful if I’d had a source to cite. The CD I have of Thomas’ recordings is Texas Worried Blues, a 1989 issue on the Yazoo label. I took a quick look this morning at the CD’s rather dense notes – historically valuable but awkwardly written and filled from margin to margin with liberal doses of music theory – but I didn’t find the inaccurate statement that spurred Mr. Scott to leave his note here. It could be in any number of books I’ve read about early African American music over the past ten years.

What I’m saying is: I don’t know where I got the information about Thomas’ evident place in history. I probably should have couched my statement more carefully, perhaps even starting it by writing, “I’ve read somewhere, though I cannot remember where at the moment, that Henry Thomas was evidently . . .” But I do know that I read that statement about Thomas and his place in line somewhere. And I guess I just feel a need to reassure my readers that with the exception of my occasional flights of whimsy – and I think those are easily identified – I don’t make stuff up.

I’ve made errors before and have had readers correct them, and I’m as grateful for those corrections as I am unhappy about the errors. But this seems to have been a doozy of an error, based on the length of the list that Mr. Scott provided. All I can say is “Sorry!”

Here are a few songs whose titles, if not their lyrics, might be loosely appropriate this morning:

A Six-Pack of Error
“Am I Wrong” by Keb’ Mo’ from Keb’ Mo’ [1994]
“Everybody’s Wrong” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily Whenever I May Find Her [1967]
“Errors of My Way” by Wishbone Ash from Wishbone Ash [1970]
“The 1st Mistake I Made” by the Bee Gees from 2 Years On [1971]
“My Mistakes of Yesterday” by Clydie King, Minit 32025 [1967]
“My Big Mistake” by Big Maybelle, Okeh 7042 [1954]

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My Time In Middle-earth

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

‘Blue Monday’ Times Three

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 5, 2008

“Blue Monday, I hate blue Monday,” sings Fats Domino. “Got to work like a slave all day.”

“‘Blue Monday,’” wrote Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock & Soul, “is the foundation of a rock and roll tradition of songs about hatred of the working week and lust for lost weekends. The chain now includes such significant links as the Coasters’ ‘What About Us,’ Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds’s ‘Seven Day Weekend’ (the first call for the abolition of Mondays, blue or otherwise), the Vogues’ ‘Five O’Clock World,’ ‘Friday on My Mind’ by the Easybeats, ‘Manic Monday,’ the hit Prince wrote for the Bangles, and the Sex Pistols’ ‘Holidays in the Sun’ (in which the vision turns ugly from mass unemployment and begins to die).”

Marsh wrote in 1989, a couple of generations ago as far as music genealogy goes. If I wished, then, I could dig through the last nineteen years of pop and rock and no doubt find other examples of dismay for the fact that we are born to toil, whether that toil be tightening bolts on the assembly line, installing someone else’s new clutch, balancing lunch plates at the diner, making alterations in someone’s new dress, planning lessons and teaching fifth-graders, installing new software, researching legal precedents or writing an account of a ballgame with a deadline fast approaching. I’m sure those songs are out there, but I’m more interested this morning in “Blue Monday,” as Marsh sees it as a signpost.

In “Blue Monday,” Marsh notes, it’s not just hatred of the work week that’s on the table: “Fats,” Marsh writes, “is talking about something much more modern: the demand for leisure. He discards the working week and his loathing of it in the first verse; it’s the weekend that the song dwells upon, and in the end Fats’ feeling for its excesses is clear and profound. ‘Sunday mornin’ my head is bad,’ he sings, ‘But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had.’”

In other words, Marsh sees “Blue Monday” as possibly the quintessential song for 1950s America, the time and place when leisure became more and more a regular portion of life instead of something possessed by very few and envied by the many. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Not everyone prospered so. But enough did so that having fun for the sake of fun was widespread enough to be the subject of “Blue Monday” and the other songs yet to come in the chain Marsh cites above.

Interestingly, Fats’ version of “Blue Monday” was not the first recorded. Smiley Lewis recorded and released the song – written by New Orleans genius Dave Bartholomew – in 1954, when it was released as Imperial 5268. Modern rock and roll charts starts in 1955, so I don’t know how well Lewis’ version sold. But Bartholomew and Domino recorded Fats’ version in 1956 and released it as Imperial 5417. It entered the charts the second week of January 1957, eventually making its way to No. 5.*

In the fifty years since then, “Blue Monday” has been a popular song to pick up. All-Music Guide lists more than 250 CDs with a version of “Blue Monday.” Even accounting for the repeats of Domino’s version (and for other songs of the same title), there’s an impressive total of covers. Other artists listed as having recorded the song include Bonnie & Francis, the Crickets, Bobby Darin, Dion, Dave Edmunds, Ian Gillan, Wilbert Harrison, Cecil Hill, Huey Lewis & the News, the Kingsnakes, Alexis Korner, Delbert McClinton, Randy Newman, Bob Seger, Cat Stevens, Dave Van Ronk and the Zydeco Boneshakers.

I won’t say that my favorite cover version of “Blue Monday” gets to the song’s center better than any of those versions, as I have – oddly enough – heard none of the versions by the artists listed in the above paragraph. But I really doubt very much that anyone – other than Domino, and maybe Lewis – can deliver the song any better than New Orleans’ own Dr. John, who recorded “Blue Monday” for his 1992 album, Goin’ Back to New Orleans.

Here, then, are Smiley Lewis’ original version, Fats Domino’s hit cover and Dr. John’s take on Dave Bartholomew’s “Blue Monday.”

Smiley Lewis – “Blue Monday” [Imperial 5268, 1954]

Fats Domino – “Blue Monday” [Imperial 5417, 1956]

Dr. John – “Blue Monday” [From Goin’ Back to New Orleans, 1992]

*A quick check of Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B & Hip-Hop Hits shows no sign of Smiley Lewis’ version of “Blue Monday,” making me think – though I could certainly be wrong – that its sales were not too notable. Fats Domino’s version, on the other hand, was No. 1 for eight weeks on the R&B chart.  Note added July 25, 2011.

From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.