Posts Tagged ‘Little Milton’

Spoofing The Kennedys

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2009

American fascination with the Kennedy family is an on-going thing, as demonstrated by the recent kerfuffle about Caroline Kennedy and the seat in the U.S. Senate held most recently by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and occupied in the 1960s by Caroline’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

That fascination may have started with Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, long before World War II. I don’t know. But I do know from my own memory that it burst into full bloom in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. president. And that fascination meant media saturation, such as it was at the time: The Kennedys were the focal point of almost everything.

These days, the scrutiny given both public figures and private figures who happen to fall into the spotlight is more intense than ever. For some, the spotlight endures. For others, the light moves on, and the individuals so lighted can then move away from the public’s center of attention, most of them – I would guess – happy to do so.

But it seems that the Kennedys, having sought the nation’s attention long ago, have – as a family – never left that bright light. And, in the early years, some of the more frivolous things resulting from that bright light were a few records.

During John Kennedy’s last year as president, one of the best-selling records in the country was The First Family, a comedy record by Vaughn Meader, whose talents included the ability to do an uncanny impersonation of the president. The LP was released during the first week of December 1962, went to No. 1 in its second week, stayed atop the album chart for twelve weeks and won the Grammy for the Album of the Year. A second album went to No. 4.

Meader wasn’t the only comedian to spoof John Kennedy. In my small collection of 45s, I have a record by Joel Langram titled “I Really Wanted To Be A ‘Singar’” (Rori 714) that gives JFK and his family an affectionate nudge in the ribs.

But the jokes were no longer funny, of course, after John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

(I’ve never bothered to find out if it’s true, but I’ve heard for years that caustic comedian Lenny Bruce opened his show on the evening of John Kennedy’s death with the words, “Poor Vaughn Meader!”)

After JFK’s death, the Kennedy fascination settled on his widow and his two brothers, and that eventually resulted in the artifact that spurred these thoughts. In 1967, Senator Robert Kennedy became the object of “Wild Thing,” a record that featured comedian Bill Minkin impersonating the senator. With nods to Kennedy’s brother, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy, and to his family, the single – credited to “Senator Bobby” – chronicles a the recording of a record aimed at making the senator more interesting to young people.

The record, of course, is a cover of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” which was a No. 1 hit in 1966. Senator Bobby’s version of “Wild Thing” peaked at No. 20 in early February of 1967 and was still at that spot a week later, forty-two years ago this week. The record was actually pretty funny at the time, and then – after RFK was assassinated in a little more than a year – not funny at all for quite some time. Those of us of a certain age, I would guess, hear it these days with a sad smile.

A Six-Pack From The Charts
(Billboard Hot 100, February 11, 1967)

“Wild Thing” by Senator Bobby, Parkway 127 (No. 20)

“Are You Lonely For Me” by Freddie Scott, Shout 207 (No. 45)

“The Dis-Adadvantages of You” by the Brass Ring featuring Phil Bodner, Dunhill 4065 (No. 64)

“California Nights” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72649 (No. 71)

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojo Men, Reprise 0539 (No. 80)

“Feel So Bad” by Little Milton, Checker 1162 (No. 91)

There may have been other records spoofing the Kennedys. Those mentioned are just the three in my collection. Additionally, I know that other, similar, records were issued poking fun at other presidents and their families.

“Are You Lonely For Me” was one of two records by Freddie Scott to make the Top 40 chart: In 1963, “Hey Girl” went to No. 10. “Are You Lonely For Me” reached No. 39 at the end of February. Scott’s muscular performance of a very good song did, however, top the R&B chart for four weeks.

There are plenty of examples of an advertising jingle or song being turned into a hit: One example that comes to mind in an instant is “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” a 1972 hit for the Hillside Singers and the New Seekers. That song began life in a television commercial for Coca-Cola. “The Dis-Advantages of You” started its life as the backing music for a series of commercials advertising a new and longer cigarette. The commercial showed such disadvantages as getting one’s cigarette caught in an elevator door and so on. The music proved so popular that “The Dis-Advantages of You” was released as a single and on an album of similar music. The single went to No. 36 and was the second Top 40 hit for the Brass Ring, which was basically a group of studio musicians pulled together by saxophonist Phil Bodnar. (The first hit was “The Phoenix Love Theme [Senza Fine]” from the film, The Flight of the Phoenix. That single went to No. 32 in 1966.)

“California Nights” was the last hit for Lesley Gore, whose Top 40 run started in 1963 with “It’s My Party” going to No. 1. “California Nights,” which to me sounds very much like the folk-pop/pop-rock of the Mamas & the Papas from the same time, went to No. 16, the eleventh and last Top 40 hit for Gore.

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” a cover of the Stephen Stills song recorded by the Buffalo Springfield, was the only Top 40 hit for the Mojo Men, a San Francisco group. The record went to No. 36 and came to some prominence again in 1972 when Elektra Records legend Jac Holzman and music historian Lenny Kay chose the single as one of twenty-seven tracks on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, a collection that’s been the model for many anthologies in the ensuing thirty-seven years.

Little Milton, a Mississippi native who recorded for Chess, Stax and several other labels during the course of a long career, made the Top 40 only once: In 1965, with “We’re Gonna Make It,” a record that went to No. 25 on the pop chart but topped the R&B chart for three weeks. “Feel So Bad” never went higher than No. 91, but it’s a heckuva record.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Isaac Hayes

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 11, 2008

The over-riding image I have of Isaac Hayes is from the Academy Awards telecast in 1972, his shaved head and gold chains gleaming as he performed the “Theme from Shaft.” I’d never seen anything like it.

But then, neither had the rest of the world.

Hayes, who crossed over Sunday at his home in Memphis at the age of sixty-five, was one of those artists who pushes past boundaries. The most obvious boundary at the time was his winning an Oscar for Best Song for the “Theme from Shaft,” as Hayes was the first black composer to win the award.

But those who knew about Hayes before Shaft already knew that he pushed limits. His 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul, had only four tracks on it. One of those tracks, a version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” ran 18:42, with much of the track consisting of Hayes’ ruminations about the song’s meaning in a way that some critics have said anticipated rap. I don’t know if the comparison is valid, but I’ve seen it in more than one place over the years. I do think, however, that it’s valid to say that his work on Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft and his 1971 album, Black Moses, pointed the way to the funk of the later 1970s.

Hayes’ work as a recording artist was impressive on its own; a look at the discography available at All-Music Guide is testament to that. The list runs from 1967’s Presenting Isaac Hayes to Instrumental, a 2003 anthology of work from the early 1970s. His last album of all-new material was Branded, released in 1995 along with Raw & Refined, a collection of unreleased tracks from over the years.

But the more impressive list at All-Music Guide is the one headed “Songs Composed By.” From “(Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm,” recorded by Foxy Brown in 1996, through “Zeke the Freak,” which Hayes recorded during a stint at Polydor in the late 1970s, the list of tracks currently available on CD runs twenty-four pages.

Add Hayes’ albums to his extraordinary writing credits, and then throw in the work he did as studio musician and producer, and you have one remarkable career. Then consider that Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack forty miles north of Memphis, and you have a remarkable life as well.

Here’s a selection of tracks as a salute to that career and that life.

A Baker’s Dozen of Isaac Hayes
“Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9038, 1971

“B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, Stax single 195, 1966

“You Got Me Hummin’” by Cold Blood, San Francisco single 60, 1969

“Soulsville” by Isaac Hayes from the soundtrack to Shaft, 1971

“I’m A Big Girl Now” by Mable John, Stax single 225, 1967

“Hold On! I’m Comin’!” by B.B. King & Eric Clapton from Riding With the King, 2000

“You Don’t Know Like I Know” by Sam & Dave, Stax single 180, 1966

“Never Can Say Goodbye” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9031, 1971

“I Thank You” by Bonnie Raitt from The Glow, 1979

“My Baby Specializes” by Delaney & Bonnie from Home, 1968

“Little Bluebird” by Little Milton from Waiting For Little Milton, 1973

“Do Your Thing” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9042, 1971

“Lay Lady Lay” by Isaac Hayes from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

A few notes:
Most of these don’t need commentary, I would guess. All but two of them came from Hayes’ pen, with most of those being co-written with Dave Porter of Sam & Dave, his long-time writing partner at Stax.

The three selections from Shaft – the main theme, “Soulsville” and “Do Your Thing” – were Hayes’ solo compositions. The versions of the theme and “Do Your Thing” presented here are single edits; on the official soundtrack, the theme ran 4:39 and “Do Your Thing” ran an extraordinary 19:30.

The two songs here that didn’t come from Hayes’ pen are “Never Can Say Goodbye” and, of course, “Lay Lady Lay.” The former is a single edit of a track from Hayes’ 1971 album Black Moses. “Lay Lady Lay” comes from a Bob Dylan tribute album issued by House of Blues in 1999 that’s had its title changed several times. When I bought it, it was called Tangled Up In Blues.

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moving

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2007

Although many people in the U.S. and the rest of the world that observes Christmas are now at their destinations, I’d wager that nearly as many are still in motion, heading toward their holiday celebrations with that odd mixture of anticipation, anxiety and exasperation that holiday travel brings.

When I was a kid, our holiday traveling was simple: driving about a hundred and thirty miles from St. Cloud to my grandfather’s farm near the small southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton. Some years, we’d go down to the farm a week or so before Christmas, and then – during my teen years and later – we’d head down on Christmas Eve.

Either way, we marked Christmas Eve with a dinner of creamed lutefisk over potatoes. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish, one that tends to put off those not raised in the Nordic tradition. It begins with dried whitefish that is then rehydrated in solutions of first, cold water; second, water and lye; and third, cold water again. The rehydrated fish is then baked, flaked and stirred into a cream sauce and served over potatoes. The aroma of lutefisk baking is pungent and distinctive; it is also for me the scent of Christmas Eve at Lamberton. If I ever smell it again, I will in an instant be in that farmhouse two miles outside of town where I spent my first eighteen Christmases.

Looking back, although the times we went to the farm in the days before Christmas were fun – there was always something to explore out in the barnyard, and trips into town with Grandpa almost always resulted in a treat of some kind – my memory tends to settle on those years when we made the three-hour trek to Lamberton on Christmas Eve itself. Each of the small cities on our route had its holiday decorations up, brightening the way through town, and along the way – in the cities and out on the farms that we saw across the snowy fields – houses, other buildings and trees were strung with brightly colored lights.

As we drove through the gathering dark of the late December afternoon, we listened – as did nearly all Minnesotans, as I’ve mentioned before – to WCCO, the Minneapolis radio station. With our headlights slicing through the dimness ahead, we’d hear the announcer note, on a regular basis, that military radar had once again observed the presence of a high-flying object setting out from the North Pole. By the mid-1960s, my sister and I no longer believed in a flesh and blood Santa Claus, but I think that we both smiled every year when we heard the radio bulletin. It was part of our Christmas Eve.

And so was movement. We drove through the late afternoon, heading toward lutefisk and then a church service, then gifts, and the next day, a large family dinner. Christmas itself meant resting in a familiar place, but Christmas Eve meant moving, whether it was the motion of a fictional Santa Claus from the North Pole or the motion of the mid-1960s auto carrying me and my sister toward our place of Christmas rest.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moving
“Diamond on the Move” by Pete Rugolo from Music From Richard Diamond, 1959

“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” by Little Milton from We’re Gonna Make It, 1965

“She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe single 8308, 1965

“Move to Japan” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

“I’m Movin’ On” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Train Keep On Movin’” by the 5th Dimension from the Up, Up and Away sessions, 1966 & 1967

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from D & B Together, 1972

“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples from We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007

“She Moves On’ by Paul Simon from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1989

“You Got To Move” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from One Foot in the Groove, 1997

“Moving” by Howlin’ Wolf from The Back Door Wolf, 1973

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380, 1978

“Something In The Way She Moves” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort from Second Spring, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Diamond on the Move” is from an album of music from a late 1950s television show. Richard Diamond, Private Detective was on first CBS and then NBC during the years 1957 to 1960, following a stint on radio from 1949 to 1953. I don’t recall ever seeing the show, but I came across a rip of music from the soundtrack some time ago and thought it was kind of cool.

The Sir Douglas Quintet was the vaguely British-sounding name that producer Huey Meaux gave to Doug Sahm and his band in 1965 in order to compete with the vast number of hits coming into the U.S. from England during what was called the British Invasion. There was nothing of the Mersey River in the work of Texans Sahm and his band; their river was the San Antonio. But the song went to No. 13 and musical polymath Sahm had a long career until his death in 1999.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” comes from one of 2007’s greatest albums, Mavis Staples’ extraordinary tribute to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, We’ll Never Turn Back. With help from the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – called in the 1960s the SNCC Freedom Singers – as well as from South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and roots musician extraordinaire Ry Cooder, Staples’ album is both a joy and a moving historical document. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an adaptation of the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which some sources list as traditional but that other sources credit to the Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t normally post things recorded so recently, but this is too marvelous to pass by.

The Howling Wolf track comes from The Back Door Wolf, the last album the massive bluesman recorded before his death in 1976.