Monday, April 23, 2007


The Falcons, You're So Fine.
Larry Bright, Mojo Workout.
John Coltrane, Syeeda's Song Flute.
The Fascinators, Oh Rose Marie.
Buster Brown, Fannie Mae.
Kitty Wells, Mommy For a Day.
The "5" Royales, I Know It's Hard But It's Fair.
Dave "Baby" Cortez, The Happy Organ.
Arthur Gunter, No Naggin' No Draggin'.
Eugene Church, Pretty Girls Everywhere.
Charles Mingus Septet, Fables of Faubus.
The Bell Notes, I've Had It.
Webb Pierce, I Ain't Never.
Mississippi Fred McDowell, Soon One Mornin' (Death Come A-Creepin' In My Room).
Lefty Frizzell, The Long Black Veil.
The Sheppards, Island of Love.
The Coasters, What About Us.
Danny Zella and His Zell Rocks, Wicked Ruby.
Frank Sinatra, The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else).
Robert Lowell, Skunk Hour.

The '50s are dead, long live the '50s.

The Falcons' "You're So Fine," the best single of '59 for me, starts with four bars of rolling piano notes, then erupts with Joe Stubbs' (Levi's brother) lead vocal. The record (and the Falcons as a whole) is a dress rehearsal for '60s soul--in addition to Stubbs, Eddie Floyd is also on vocals, and in a year or two, the young Wilson Pickett would join the group.

"You're So Fine" was released as Flick 001 and then as Unart 2013 (this is the original Unart 45 here, folks, hence the scratchiness/fuzziness--consider it a demonstration for youngsters as to how most people actually heard records in 1959.). On 29 R&B Classics.

Larry Bright
once claimed he was Howlin' Wolf trapped in the body of Pat Boone. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, raised in Texas, and a Navy veteran, Bright was playing dive clubs in Los Angeles when he was discovered by producer Joe Saraceno. In October '59, Bright went into the studio to record a version of "Hound Dog," but fifteen minutes into the session he changed his mind, instead making up a new dance song based on Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Working," which Bright only half-remembered. The session pros, who included Earl Palmer and Red Callender, went along with him. "Mojo" became a huge hit on the black music charts by mid-1960 (many DJs and listeners thought Bright was a black artist).

Released as Tide 006 c/w "I'll Change My Ways" (Bright didn't, really--his drinking sabotaged a number of opportunities, including being Elvis' guitarist). On Shake That Thing!

For jazz, 1959 was the year the canon was created--it was the year of Kind of Blue, Time Out, Giant Steps, Mingus Ah Um, The Shape of Jazz to Come and a bunch of other records that can be found in every single Barnes & Noble jazz section in the country.

"Syeeda's Song Flute" is from John Coltrane's Giant Steps. While it's not as groundbreaking as the title track, its sweet, sliding melody (it was named after Coltrane's 10-year-old daughter, whose name is actually spelled "Saida") makes it one of my favorites from that record. Recorded in New York on May 5, 1959, with Tommy Flanagan (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Art Taylor (d).

The Fascinators were from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn--they were Tony Passalaqua, Angelo La Grecca, Nick Trivatto, Ed Wheeler, and George Cernacek. (Cernacek, the bass singer, was really a tenor in disguise, and had to smoke cigars before recording so his voice would be deeper). They were signed to Capitol, recorded a few tracks with a session band that included the ubiquitous King Curtis on sax and Panama Francis, Count Basie's drummer. After three singles, with "Oh Rose Marie" being the last and greatest, Capitol dumped the group, which quickly disbanded.

Passalaqua went on to have a career of near-misses: he joined the Soul Survivors but left six months before the band released "Expressway to Your Heart"; he joined the Archies after the hits had dried up. Released as Capitol 4247 c/w "Fried Chicken and Mac-Aronie." On Spotlite on Capitol Vol. 2.

Buster Brown was born Wayman Glasco in Cordele, Georgia, in 1911, and spent much of his life playing harmonica and singing at local clubs. He moved to New York and was working at a barbecue restaurant when he was discovered by Fire Records owner Bobby Robinson. And in '59, at the age of 48, Brown finally got a hit record with an electric blues called "Fannie Mae," the sound of an era that seemed to be disappearing by the day.

Released as Fire 1008 c/w "Lost in a Dream." On Peter Young's Soul Cellar.

Kitty Wells typically was cast as the wronged woman in her songs (i.e., "A Woman Half My Age"), so her "Mommy For a Day" is a reversal--here, Wells is apparently the cheater (though she claims she's been a victim of village gossip), the spouse cast out of her home and who is only allowed to see her daughter on Sundays. Wells sings the lyric with a measure of stoicism, but it's only a front--there's a well of self-pity and misery behind every word.

"Mommy" was written by Buck Owens and Harlan Howard, and produced by Owen Bradley: released as Decca 30804. On Millennium Collection.

The "5" Royales
came to an close with the decade, and in '59 they released their last great records: "Wonder Where Your Love Has Gone," in which the band seems to be outmaneuvering Ray Charles to create soul music for the next generation, and "I Know It's Hard But It's Fair," where Eugene Tanner falls in love with his best friend's girl but sounds blissful enough about it.

"Fair" was recorded on March 10, 1959 and released as King 5191; On It's Hard But It's Fair.

meet the royal couple

"The Happy Organ": if you've a taste for cheese, this is a fine vintage. Dave "Baby" Cortez had blown his voice out and couldn't sing the track selected for one Saturday morning recording session, so he started goofing around on the organ, though he could only play in the key of C. Clock records owner Doug Moody called the jam, which was basically a riff on "Shortnin' Bread", "The Happy Organ," gave it to a Richmond DJ on a lark, and the song eventually hit #1 nationally. Released as Clock 1009; on 25 Rockin' Instrumentals.

Arthur Gunter, a few years after he made "Baby Let's Play House," is going back home, and he's not that happy about it: all he wants is to not fight for one evening, but he seems resigned to the fact that squabbling is all he and his woman have left. Released in August 1959 as Excello 2164; on Excello Story Vol. 3.

Eugene Church, by contrast, is all optimism. Everywhere he goes, he sees women that he wants to meet, but whether he acts on his impulses is another story. "Pretty Girls Everywhere" also features some of the loopiest lines in rock & roll history:

If I make it to the show,
There's a pretty girl there.
Even at the rodeo,
They came on horses

Released as Class 235 c/w "For the Rest of My Life"; on Lost Gems.

he's got a house made-a glass

Orval Faubus was the governor of Arkansas. In defiance of the Supreme Court, he had first called out the National Guard to prevent African-American students from attending Little Rock Central High, and had shut down the Little Rock school system during the '58-'59 school year rather than allow integration. Fate dealt with Faubus pretty handily, though: by the '70s, he was left so destitute as the result of a divorce that he had to take a job as a bank teller. And for the final twist, if Faubus is remembered at all in the 21st Century and beyond, it will be as a name on a composition by a black jazz musician.

Recorded in New York on May 5, 1959, with Charles Mingus (b), Jimmy Knepper (tb), John Handy (as, cl) Booker Ervin (ts), Curtis Porter (ts, as), Horace Parlan (p), and Dannie Richmond (d). On Mingus Ah Um.

The Bell Notes were from Long Island--they were Carl Bonura (lead vocals, sax), John Casey (d), Ray Ceroni (lead vocals, g), Lenny Giambalvo (b), and Peter Kane (p). "I've Had It," their first single for Time Records, is ur-garage rock, with a great caveman guitar riff. The singers may be ticked at their girlfriend, but they sound more drunk than anything else. Released as Time 1004 c/w "Be Mine"; on Still Rockin'.

Webb Pierce's "I Ain't Never" finds Webb trying on rock & roll for size, with the help of Hank Garland and the Jordanaires. Pierce never had as big a crossover pop hit again (it reached the Top 20 in some markets), nor would he ever again come close to rocking this much.

Recorded in Nashville on May 15, 1959 and released as Decca 30923; on King of the Honky Tonk.

Two mortality tales: Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Soon One Morning"--the sound of a man who's looked death in the face a few times, and doesn't seem too mussed about it. Recorded in the summer of '59; on Southern Journey Vol. 3.

And Lefty Frizzell's "The Long Black Veil," a newly-written ballad that seems like a lost Hawthorne story. Recorded March 3, 1959 and released as Columbia 41384; on Look What Thoughts Will Do.

The Sheppards were Murrie Eskridge, O. C. Perkins, Millard Edwards, Jimmy Allen, James Isaac and Kermit Chandler. In their "Island of Love," the singer sounds so desperate to believe in this lover's paradise that you wonder just how bad things are for him at home. Released as Apex 7750 c/w "Never Felt Like This Before." On The Only Doo Wop Collection You'll Ever Need.

The Coasters' last great single, "What About Us"/Run Red Run," is where the masks start to slip off. "Red" begins with poor Red playing poker with his pet monkey, and gets progressively weirder and more violent, ending with the Fall of Man. The amazing "What About Us" is pure class resentment, a precursor of the Kinks' "Dead End Street" or CCR's "Fortunate Son." Released in November '59 as Atco 6153; both sides are on Coast Along with the Coasters.

Danny Zella was a six-foot, 280-pound bruiser from Detroit, and his "Wicked Ruby" was the only hit for Fox, a Detroit label trying to sign up local talent until it was wiped off the map by a rival label one Berry Gordy was launching. "Wicked Ruby" holds no indication as to Detroit's Motown future: its crude, thumping beat and wailing sax mark it instead as a glorious throwback. Released as Fox 10057; on Golden Age Vol. 8.

"The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else," by Gus Khan and Isham Jones, was a song that Frank Sinatra recorded a half-dozen times in his youth, but in this version, an outtake from No One Cares, Sinatra seems graciously resigned to fate.

"The One I Love" was cut from No One Cares for technical reasons. In the early days of stereo LPs, sides had to be short due to the broad groove width needed for "optimum separation of channels." So "The One I Love," though it was the best track on the album, was dumped and forgotten, surfacing at last in 1973, when the Longines Symphonette released a mail-order Sinatra compilation. With the recent CD reissue of No One Cares, the track's finally back where it belonged. Recorded, with arrangements by Gordon Jenkins, on March 25, 1959.

And at last, while summer is just on the horizon for us here in the U.S., for Robert Lowell, a long winter is beginning on Nautilus Island, Maine.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town...
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
"Love, O careless Love..." I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat...
I myself am hell;
nobody's here--

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat...

Skunk Hour.

Films of '59

Rio Bravo. The duet alone makes it genius.
Ride Lonesome.
North by Northwest.
Day of the Outlaw.
Les Quatre-Cents Coups. Antoine Doinel in therapy.
Shadows. If you like the first minute, see the rest.
Apur Sansar (The World of Apu).
The Hanging Tree.
Neotpravlennoye pismo (Letter Never Sent).
Bridges Go Round. Might be from '58.
OhayƓ (Good Morning).
Ballada o Soldate (Ballad of a Soldier).
The Wonderful Country. I'll say it one last time: everything Bob Mitchum did in the '50s is worth seeing.
Some Like It Hot.


So what lies ahead? First, a few one-off posts--theme ideas that never made the grade, jokes, curios. And then, around Memorial Day, it will be time for another overly ambitious theme series for the summer, which you might enjoy (if not the posts, then the summer at least).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who played the tenor sax solo on The Falcons' "You're So Fine,"