Sunday, December 30, 2007

Absent Friends

Ike Turner, I'm Lonesome Baby.
Ike and Tina Turner, Sexy Ida (Pt. 1).
Porter Wagoner, Midnight.
Janis Martin, Will You Willyum.
Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Powell's Prances.
Oscar Peterson, Blues Etude.
Cannonball Adderley, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Studie ii.
Nellie Lutcher, Come and Get It, Honey.
Hank Thompson, A Six Pack To Go.
The Mamas and Papas, I Saw Her Again Last Night.
Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, Some Velvet Morning.
Willie Tee, Teasin' You.
Albert and Donald Ayler, Ghosts.
Bobby Byrd, I Know You Got Soul.
UGK, The Game Belong To Me.
Luciano Pavarotti, Di Quella Pira (from Il Trovatore).
Boston, More Than a Feeling.
Frankie Laine, Do Not Forsake Me (Theme from High Noon).
Stan Kenton Orchestra with June Christy, Everything Happens to Me.<
Dan Fogelberg, Part of the Plan.
Luther Ingram, To the Other Man.

Ike Turner, 1931-2007. "I'm Lonesome Baby," from 1951, which features one of Ike's few lead vocals, is on Sun Sessions; "Sexy Ida" is on Proud Mary.

Porter Wagoner, 1927-2007. On RCA Country Legends.

Janis Martin, 1940-2007. On The Female Elvis.

Max Roach, 1924-2007. On At Basin St.

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007. On Solo.

Joe Zawinul, 1932-2007. (Among many other things, composer of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"). On Live at The Club.

Karlheinz Stockhausen
, 1928-2007.

Nellie Lutcher
, 1912-2007. On The R&B Years 1948.

Hank Thompson, 1925-2007. On Greatest Songs.

Denny Doherty, 1940-2007. On The Mamas and Papas--20th Century Masters.

Lee Hazlewood, 1929-2007. On Morvern Callar.

Willie Tee (born Willie Turbinton), 1944-2007. On Atlantic R&B Vol. 6.

Donald Ayler, 1942-2007. From his Guardian obit: "At John Coltrane's funeral service in 1967, Donald Ayler stood on a balcony beside his saxophonist brother and played a spine-chilling lament. Wildly flagging his trumpet valves and swaying backwards and forwards, he seemed to scream through the instrument." On Love Cry.

Bobby Byrd, 1934-2007. On Best of James Brown Vol. 3 and iTunes/Amazon downloads.

Pimp C
(born Chad Butler), 1973-2007. On Underground Kingz.

Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007. On The Best.

Brad Delp
, 1951-2007. On Boston.

Frankie Laine
, 1913-2007. On Jezebel.

Marion "Buddy" Childers, 1926-2007. Lead trumpeter in Stan Kenton's big band. On City of Glass.

Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007. On Very Best.

Luther Ingram, 1937--2007. "And if I should ever have a son...I'll teach him to understand/When I say 'Boy, you gotta give a heck/promise you'll always give respect/to the other man.'" On Greatest Hits.

Ave atque vale: Megan Matthews, Verity Lambert, Edward Yang, Madeleine L'Engle, Zakia Zaki, Lloyd Alexander, Solveig Dommartin, Alisher Saipov, Albert "Dapper" O'Neill, Kurt Vonnegut, Whitney Balliett, Tom Snyder, Stylus Magazine, The DVD Journal, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Helen Hill, Alexandra Boulat, László Kovács, Molly Ivins, Barbaro, Sidney Sheldon, Johanna Sällström, Tom Moldvay (on behalf of my 11-year old self), Jean Baudrillard, Doug Marlette, Ernest Gallo (on behalf of my great-aunt, deceased, a connoisseur of Gallo wine), Jake, Tony Wilson, Hilly Kristal, Norman Mailer, Benazir Bhutto, the 1,004 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Boris Yeltsin, who, in 1995, said: We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone. Freedom is like that. It's like air. When you have it, you don't notice it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Century in Jumps (Slight Return)


Noel, Silent Morning.
Serge Gainsbourg, Mon Légionnaire.
Miaow, Did She.
Rosie Flores, Crying Over You.
Don Pullen-George Adams Quartet, Sun Watchers.
Great Plains, Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Drinking.
Witchdoctor and the Dominating Three MCs, Kickin' It Live.
Sonny Rollins, Just Once.
French Frith Kaiser Thompson, Bird in God's Garden/Lost and Found.
10,000 Maniacs, A Campfire Song.
Rush, Time Stand Still.
Hüsker Dü, You Can Live At Home.

We have a problem, a serious one, we can do little to cure without your understanding and your help. Very simply put, the growing practice of unauthorized home-taping of our albums is doing each one of us great damage. Yet most people don't give it a second thought...

Look at it from our point of view. Home-taping is now so common-place, so unrestrained, it has put a sizable dent in our incomes, is jeopardizing our recording and "live appearance" careers and is already causing record companies to limit the number of new artists and new albums they invest in and promote...

Jazz is not a mass-market phenomenon. We wish it were. Our art form is not for everyone. It's [sic] appeal is to a select, sophisticated audience--a one-on-one kind of music. We rarely reach "Gold" or "Platinum" certifications for sales. The truth is that even big-time bootleggers ignore our product because they've learned even our biggest "hits" add up to too-small numbers. They figure it hardly pays them to rip us off.

So you don't have to be a computer expert to realize that just one single, unauthorized home-taping copy may represent a significant percentage of our total volume...If the practice doesn't stop, we are all losers.

"Open letter" purportedly signed by Don Pullen, Stanley Turrentine, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon and 15 other jazz musicians, included in various Blue Note jazz LPs released in 1987.

(Top photo, "Clinton St., 1987" courtesy of Ted Barron.)

Noel Pagan's debut single from the spring of 1987 is an ode to lust, abandonment and heartbreak--the usual verities of pop music--but many at the time heard death and plague in it, especially when in the chorus, Noel wakes up alone. A dark memory from the year of Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On, of ACT UP, of the AIDS Quilt; it's an ecstatic wake song.

Pagan, a fine, if unremarkable singer boosted by Little Louie Vega's dense, propulsive remix, had another dance hit in 1990 with "The Question" but hasn't been heard from much since.

Released as 4th and Broadway 439; on Pure '80s Dance.

Fin de Gainsbourg: For three decades Serge Gainsbourg had kept a pace ahead of popular music, drawing strength from its permutations, mocking it and treasuring it; he was a presence in everything from jazz to ye-ye to funk to art rock to, at age 50, making a classic reggae LP. But (as with his fellow protean, Miles Davis) the '80s at last defeated him, reducing Gainsbourg to shock tactics like burning a 500 Franc note on television, making the bizarre, repellent "Lemon Incest" with his 13-year-old daughter and leching on Whitney Houston (you've seen the clip already, I'm sure).

His last record, You're Under Arrest, was reminiscent of a de Maupassant story adapted in Max Ophuls' Le Plaisir, in which an old man wearing a mask whirls around a nightclub, frantically chasing youth, until he falls, close to death, upon the dancefloor. Yet there was one last triumph on the album, when Gainsbourg resurrected Edith Piaf's "Mon Légionnaire".

"Mon Légionnaire" is about a one-night-stand the singer has with a brutish soldier, who is covered in tattoos (one, on his neck, says "not seen, not taken") and who doesn't even tell the singer his name. For Piaf, the song fit perfectly into her image of being a woman continually devastated by love. But Gainsbourg's version is sung by, perhaps, an old man in a Parisian gay bar, who murmurs his tale with relish: far from being a song of abandonment, it's become a memory that warms his waning life.

The last years of the Wall

Like Chrissy Hynde and Ira Kaplan, Cath Carroll is one of the few examples of that mythic beast--the rock critic turned musician. Carroll, born in Bristol, UK, formed the band Glass Animals while also editing a Manchester fanzine called City Fun, which allegedly was so snobbish that it ignored or belittled local bands like Joy Division and the Buzzcocks, lavishing praise only on a chosen few such as the Fall and the Smiths.

When Carroll moved to London in 1984, she began working for the NME while forming a new band, Miaow, with Chris Fenner and Steve McGuire--ironically, it was Tony Wilson's Factory Records, which Carroll's fanzine had routinely knocked, that signed Miaow in 1987 and released the single "When It All Comes Down." Here is the b-side, the pop gem "Did She." Carroll went on to become an indie legend (she is probably better known for being the subject of the Unrest's "Cath Carroll" than for her actual music).

Released with "When It All Comes Down" as Factory 179; collected on When It All Comes Down.

The pope pays his respects to Pinochet

For an hour or two in the early 1980s, it looked as though a fusion of punk, neo-rockabilly and honky-tonk revivalism was in the making in Los Angeles--it was the era of the Blasters and Jason and the Scorchers, when Dwight Yoakam was playing onstage with X and Los Lobos.

Rosie Flores
, born in San Antonio in 1950, had moved to San Diego as a teenager. She had grown up listening to Elvis, Patsy Cline and the Everly Brothers, and in the early '80s she joined the Screamin' Sirens, a punk rockabilly act in which Flores sang and played lead guitar. ("Notorious for their wild, panty-flashing live shows, they had a fairly predictable fan base, composed of 'mainly older men or really young men'." (Audra Schroeder)) When Yoakam hit big in 1986, Reprise signed Flores in the hopes she would be Yoakam's female equivalent, even asking Yoakam's producer/guitarist Pete Anderson to produce the record. The result was an excellent country LP graced with tracks like "Crying Over You," yet Reprise wasn't happy with the sales ("I didn't sound enough like Reba McEntire," Flores said in a later interview) and dumped her. (At the same time, Sire had signed k.d. lang, stuck with her for a record or two, and eventually had a major country artist in their roster.)

Flores is still playing today (she's in Austin, TX, on Dec. 21); most of her CDs are here.

Released as Reprise 28250-7 c/w "Midnight to Moonlight" and on the Reprise LP Rosie Flores; later collected on the Rounder CD Honky Tonk Reprise (and also on iTunes).

Great Plains' "Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Drinking" was the sort of happy oddity found on college radio stations in the '80s, and treasured by people bored by contemporary pop radio or, far worse, the Boomer Reconquista on "classic rock" stations well underway by 1987.

Great Plains were from Columbus, Ohio and were led by singer/guitarist Ron House--it was the kind of band that wrote songs about Rutherford B. Hayes, Dick Clark and underground fanzines. In "Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Drinking," House spies his heroes, having gotten out of the grave for a night, meeting up and having some beers, toasting each other and the revolution for good measure.

Originally on the Homestead LP Sum Things Up; collected on Length of Growth.

Amy Arbus, Phoebe Legere Accordion (10th Street and Avenue B)

The pianist Don Pullen, who "had scars on the backs of his hands from raking them across keys to effect aggressive glisses and clusters on the piano" (Gary Giddins), worked in Charles Mingus' Jazz Workshop, served as musical director for Nina Simone and in 1979 formed an enduring quartet with saxophonist George Adams, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Dannie Richmond. In the '80s, when much of mainstream jazz embraced traditionalism and "class" as a way to lure back dwindling audiences (coupled with such brilliant record company ploys as the begging letter referenced at the top of the post), the Pullen-Adams Quartet was a counter-reformation--a group heartened by the revolutions of the past twenty years, yet committed to tight, swinging performances.

Adams' "Sun Watchers," which led off the 1987 LP Song Everlasting, features a Pullen solo that begins with light, dancing single notes and evolves into dense, bewildering chords (Giddins described a typical Pullen performance of the period: "in one passage, his third and fourth fingers were bent down so that the fingers connected with the keyboard at the joints"), while Adams on tenor saxophone offers a concise song of himself.

The quartet wouldn't last much beyond this record, sadly--drummer Richmond died in 1988, Adams died in 1992 and Pullen died of lymphoma at age 55 in 1995. "Sun Watchers" was recorded in New York on 21 April 1987; on Song Everlasting, which is long out of print.

Boston harbor, 1987

A metallic wonder from hip hop's pioneer era, "Kickin' It Live" is by the DJ Witchdoctor and the MCs Count Coolout, Rock Master J and Mellow Nate Dee. Minimalist, unnerving, funny, rocking, it appears to be made out of scraps of sound from an alternate future. With lines like Rock Master's "When I'm on the microphone I do whatever I please/I make the ladies jump up, the guys stand at ease."

Released as Timberwolfe 2001, a 12" single c/w "Program for Love" and "Rock The House." Never released on CD, for whatever fool reason.

After 1965 or so, jazz musicians faced a dearth of new pop songs suitable for transformation. Where once you had Gershwin and Berlin writing dozens of songs a year and a thriving culture of b-list talents, each of whom could turn out something like "Body and Soul" on a good day, the most talented young songwriters of the '60s and '70s were producing material that either offered limited melodic inspiration to work with (Dylan, Jagger/Richards, Cohen, etc.), while the likes of Bacharach and Lennon/McCartney sewed their compositions up in definitive studio productions, making jazz covers an often fruitless task (viz. the Crusaders' "Eleanor Rigby" and many other examples.)

So jazz players worked with what was left, and sometimes lived on lean beef. Sonny Criss did "Up Up and Away," Miles Davis chose "Time After Time," Ramsey Lewis did "So Far Away." And here Sonny Rollins takes on Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "Just Once," an enormous R&B hit for James Ingram. Rollins doesn't condescend to the material, nor is he constrained by its limitations--he takes simple joy in the melody and the changes, and soars away at the end, supported by Jerome Harris' supple electric bass playing.

Recorded in Berkeley, Calif., in September 1987, with Clifton Anderson (tb), Mark Soskin (p) and Marvin "Smitty" Smith (d); on Silver City.

French Frith Kaiser Thompson were avant-garde guitarist Henry Kaiser, guitarist/bassist Fred Frith (from Henry Cow), former Captain Beefheart drummer John French (aka Drumbo) and Richard Thompson. I would love to read a transcript of the conversations that led to the four getting into a recording studio together in 1987. (I mean, look at the LP cover.)

"Bird in God's Garden," sung by Thompson, was written by Hakim Archuletta, a friend of Thompson's from the Sufi band The Habibiyya, and features a gorgeous, aching melody; the lyric's Sufi beliefs are close to early Christian Gnosticism, offering the idea that human existence is life in prison, a tale of a divine soul trapped in an earthly cage, or in this case, of a bird from paradise now soaring alone in a cold sky, but taking solace in the knowledge it one day will return to its proper sphere. In this recording, "Bird" is mixed with a few passages from a Frith composition "Lost and Found," which Frith performs on solo violin.

Recorded in San Francisco; On Live, Love, Larf & Loaf.

Blatant nostalgia dept.:

The 10,000 Maniacs' "A Campfire Song" comes from an LP so earnest that each track has a specific socio-political message: child abuse, illiteracy, depression, environmental destruction, patriarchal weddings, militarism, and then there's "Peace Train" for dessert (though it was later yanked after Cat Stevens allegedly supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie). Yet to dislike this music, for me, would be to scorn the joys and idealism of youth, which is the cheapest, most foolish form of cynicism. "A Campfire Song" is the prettiest track on the record, with Natalie Merchant all power and generosity, a sweet little guitar solo by the late Robert Buck, and a celebrity guest appearance by Michael Stipe.

On In My Tribe.

My favorite anecdote about Rush (who I saw at the Hartford Civic Center in '89--a fine show although Mr. Big, the worst band in history, opened for them) is that the band would occasionally take French lessons on tour, as they wanted to do something productive with their downtime.

"Time Stand Still" is the band at their most poignant--it's an appreciation of the pleasures and values of the moment, treasured only when they disappear. The lyric, by Neal Peart (who would lose his daughter and his wife in the following decade), finds grace in simple phrases, with Geddy Lee delivering a restrained, touching vocal, helped by Aimee Mann singing the title phrase.

On Hold Your Fire.

Sequentially, at least, "You Can Live At Home" is the last-ever Hüsker Dü track--the end of what used to be known as Side 4 on the massive Warehouse: Songs and Stories.

The band was about to have a bitter divorce, with the group's songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart cursing each other in the press, and Warehouse is filled with songs that seem to harbinger the break-up--Mould's "Standing in the Rain" or "Friend You've Got to Fall", Hart's "Back from Somewhere." The band's manager killed himself just before Hüsker Dü went on tour to support the record, Hart and Mould were both fighting various addictions, and the end, when it came, was long and brutal.

Yet Warehouse is a document of a band still at the peak of their strength. "You Can Live At Home," in particular, shows the Huskers finally able to achieve in the studio a worthy approximation of their live sound--earlier records "produced" by the hapless Spot were alternately watery- or muddy-sounding, with Hart's drums paper-thin and Mould's vocals and guitar one thick blur. Here, there seem to be two dozen vocal tracks, so Hart can whirl and soar around himself, making a dervish of sound. Mould screams and squalls on guitar, Hart chants over and over "you can live at home now--you can live at home now" (a rebuke or a reassurance?), Greg Norton stamps it all with a tensed muscle of a bassline. It's the last will and testament of the greatest band of the decade.

That's it for me until after Christmas, so please have a merry one.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Century in Jumps (Slight Return)


Millie Jackson, If You're Not Back In Love By Monday.
Merle Haggard, A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today.
The Users, I'm In Love With Today.
Etoile de Dakar, Thiely.
Rose Royce, Do Your Dance.
John Cale, Memphis.
Philip Glass, Victor's Lament.
Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Perrine Était Servante.
Anti Social, Traffic Lights.
Fox, Livin' Out My Fantasies.
Hank Jones Trio, Mona's Feeling Lonely.
Hot, Angel In Your Arms.
Air, G.v.E.
Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, Keep Me Turning.

I can't put my finger on it. I don't know exactly what is wrong. But something is very wrong with this country. Something has happened. And it is rotten. Young girls in high school are pregnant. People in parks get raped. Criminals, who are obviously guilty, are saved by all kinds of technicalities, all kinds of clever lawyers. And they go out and steal again. You know what I mean? And the judges, liberal judges, seem more interested in giving people their rights than doing justice...I am afraid to go out at night and so are most of my friends. So we sit at home and lock our doors. What's wrong? No wonder there's so much trouble with kids. Watch television all day--cops, robbers, murders, drug busts. What do we expect kids to do when this filth is on everyday?

Everybody talks about why the country produced Watergate and why defense contractors rob the government, and corporations don't give a damn about our rivers and streams. Everybody knows the answer but they don't want to talk about it. It makes America look rotten. The holy buck, that's why money, money...who cares about your neighbor or the consumer? America is the buck. Everyone is on the make, and why not? know the old capitalist saw, self-interest ultimately serves everyone. The cheapest product at the best price and all that stuff. Let's face it, we know it's a bunch of --Nobody believes any more that what's good for General Motors is good for America. What a laugh!

Excerpts from two callers on Boston talk radio, 1977, recorded and transcribed by Prof. Murray Levin in Talk Radio and the American Dream.

R&B and country music, or, to speak broadly, Southern black and white music, had had a quiet alliance for decades, inspiring everything from Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music to the Flying Burrito Brothers' take on "Dark End of the Street" to Al Green reviving Hank Williams. But by the late '70s, the musics were drifting apart, reflecting an estrangement in styles and a growing cultural separatism.

One last attempt to find common ground is Millie Jackson's take on Merle Haggard's "If We're Not Back in Love By Monday," itself a song about last-ditch reconciliations. Haggard's original is sung by a husband pushing his estranged wife to take a trip somewhere, leave the kids with the sitter, and try to work it out, mainly in bed. Jackson, however, removes herself from the game, only narrating--she's spoken to the couple and urges them to try and save their relationship. Jackson never reveals if she has a stake in the affair: maybe she's just a mutual friend, or a relative; maybe she stands to gain if the marriage fails.

And yet while Jackson gives a detailed itinerary of what the couple should be doing (room service, disco dancing), as she goes on, a mournfulness sinks into her singing. "Before you bury your love/just make sure you let it die" she says.

Released as Spring 175 c/w "A Little Taste of Outside Love," and also on the Ace LP Feelin' Bitchy.

And here's Haggard himself, sitting at the kitchen table after a long day at work, shuffling through a stack of bills, wondering when they put a lien on his life.

"A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today" was one of the last things Haggard recorded for Capitol, which left it in the can for almost two years; finally released in September 1977 as Capitol 4477 c/w "Blues Stay Away From Me"; on Lonesome Fugitive.

The Users have done only a handful of gigs and don't really have anything to raise them above the usual run of noisy kids. They play loud and fast, and the singer says "shit" as though his granny might be listening.

Review of the "Sick of You/I'm In Love With Today" single, Negative Reaction, 2 June 1977.

The Users--singer James Haight, bassist Bobby Kwok, guitarist Chris "Panic" Free and Andrew Bor on drums--had played a mere two shows before recording their first single, and even after playing (sporadically) for almost two years still didn't own any equipment. They managed to make one more single before falling apart in 1979.

"I'm In Love With Today" is rock & roll distilled to its basic ingredients, which, according to the Users, were "sex, drugs and frustration." Punk rock spat at the past while nicking most of its ideas from it, and saw no future ahead--it was vicious music of the present tense.

Released in June 1977 as Raw 1; on Raw Deal.

De Maria, The New York Earth Room

"Thiely" is dominated by the astonishing voice of the 18-year-old Youssou N'Dour: an unearthly, joyous wail, a muezzin's call.

The history of the Senegalese band Etoile de Dakar goes back to the nation's independence from France in 1960. A nightclub owner/promoter named Ibra Kasse assembled a local supergroup, recruiting members of the Guinea Band de Dakar (which played Latin-inspired music) and the guitarist-heavy Star Band de Senui. The combination, the Star Band de Dakar, performed rumbas infused with Senegalese rhythms, in particular the upright sabar drums.

The Star Band persisted in various incarnations until the late 1970s, when N'Dour, a prodigy who had been singing publicly since he was 12, joined them. Around this time the band was also amending its sound, using a small taba drum (also known as the "talking drum") to create a denser, polyrhythmic base.

In 1977, N'Dour bolted, forming a new offshoot group--Etoile de Dakar--with much of the Star Band's players. These included tama player Assane Thiam, guitarists Badou N'Diaye and Alpha Seyni Kante, Babacar Faye (percussion), Matar Gueye (sabar drums), Abdou Fall (timbales) and, backing N'Dour, the singers Alla Seck, Hadji Faye and Eric N'Doye. Embraced by a generation of young Senegalese delirious to have, in N'Dour, their own pop star, the band put out a series of cassettes that became the soundtrack of the late '70s in Senegal as well as much of Western Africa.

In the '80s, Etoile de Dakar would splinter again and N'Dour would move on to become a global pop figure, but tracks like "Thiely" preserve them forever at the peak of youth and unity. Recorded at the Jandeer Night Club, Dakar, Senegal; on Music In My Head.

Queen's Silver Jubilee, Southlakes, UK

Rose Royce's "Do Your Dance": a call for its listeners to get on the floor, offering the means through a few simple steps and a groove that simply demands a response, and carrying the DNA for three decades' worth of dance/hip-hop tracks in its genetic code.

Rose Royce was a Los Angeles-based studio group that began as Edwin Starr's backup band. Through Starr they met Norman Whitfield, who used them for a number of sessions in the early '70s, including the Undisputed Truth and the Temptations. Whitfield began putting together material for what was supposed to Rose Royce's debut LP, but what wound up being the soundtrack to Car Wash. The title track became the hit that put Rose Royce into the pantheon of '70s official pop cultural memories, as regurgitated on VH1 specials and so forth.

"Do Your Dance" was a follow-up single in '77, meant to show the band wasn't a Hollywood fluke; thirty years on, it's a pretty convincing argument. Rose Royce was lead singer Rose Norwalt, Kenny Copeland (trumpet, vox), Henry Garner (d), Terral "Terry" Santiel (congas), Lequeint "Duke" Jobe (b), Michael Moore (sax), Freddie Dunn (trumpet) and Michael Nash (keybs).

Released as Whitfield 8440 as a two-sided single (this is an edit, sadly--try to find the nine-minute version); on Very Best.

What the hell is John Cale doing to Chuck Berry's "Memphis"? Turning one of Berry's most poignant songs into a guitar grind with the occasional squalling viola. Where Berry sounded numbed, telling in painstaking detail the hard facts of his divorce, Cale sounds deranged, to the point where you know the operator is calling the cops as soon as he hangs up. A friend, hearing this for the first time, asked if it was Grand Funk Railroad, which Cale may have taken as a compliment.

Released on the "Animal Justice" EP, Illegal IL 003, in September 1977 c/w "Chicken Shit" and "Hedda Gabler"; later collected on Sabotage/Live.

A year after his breakthrough Einstein On the Beach (which finally allowed Philip Glass to stop having to drive cabs and fix dishwashers to support himself), Glass composed the soundtrack to North Star, a film about the sculptor Mark di Suvero. "Victor's Lament," named after a steel I-beam structure that di Suvero made for Muhlenberg College, puts Glass' minimalism into the context of rock & roll-- it seems at times to be a variation on Ray Manzarek's organ solos in the Doors' "Light My Fire."

On North Star.

Truman Capote at leisure

"Perinne Etait Servante" is an ancient Burgundian song, whose subject at first blush appears to be the classic medieval situation of the lecherous friar and the naive servant. But it's far more gruesome. Perinne, the servant of the village priest, has her boyfriend come over after dinner; the boyfriend suggests that they embrasser; the priest, seeing them, hides in the pantry...where he is stuck for six weeks, completely forgotten. When his household finally remembers him, they find his corpse in the pantry, eaten by rats! The song had a revival in the '40s when Les Compagnons de Chanson turned it into a gurning farce.

The McGarrigle sisters, from Quebec, offer "Perinne" as a rousing sing-a-long--it's almost a Christmas carol. On Dancer With Bruised Knees.

Jimmy Carter walks the South Bronx

Sid Vicious: "Before I started playing, I never really noticed the bass--couldn't tell it from a piano. I heard records as just a wall of sound. I'd have to think before I could pick anything out."

Charles M. Young: "It's true you hate the traditional rock stars who've made big names for themselves?"

Vicious: "I absolutely despise those turds. The Stones should've quit in 1965. You never see any of those cunts walkin' down the street. If it gets so you can't see us that way, I don't want it."

Young: "But the entire American music industry is poised to turn you into the next big thing. They'll suck out any integrity the band has."

Vicious: "But how can they? I only know one way to live. That's like now."

from Young's "Rock Is Sick and Living in London," Rolling Stone, October 1977.

Anti Social's "Traffic Lights" is the ultimate punk record: a barely-released 7" single (c/w "Teacher Teacher") by a band hardly anyone saw perform, and whose members, all ciphers, vanished soon afterward, never to be heard from again.

This site details two men's obsessive search to find out any concrete fact about the band. All there was initially were rumors and clues--an article in a Birmingham newspaper about the band offering £15,000 to anyone willing to be guillotined on stage; a neighbor recounting how the band's manager had been killed in a car crash--and more than a decade of searching yielded nothing.

Then when it was reported that John Peel had a copy of "Traffic Lights" in his box of singles, the truth about Anti Social finally came out--it's a wild tale involving biker fights, a fake suicide attempt and audiences getting sprayed with animal entrails. Check out the link above for more.

Released as Dynamite 1 in December 1977.

Hanson, Woman With a Dog.

The band Fox was the conjunction of an Australian singer named Susan Traynor and Kenny Young, who had co-written "Under the Boardwalk." Traynor had been in folk groups and Young had been in various rock bands--in the mid-'70s, after they met, Traynor changed her name to Noosha Fox and began wearing glam clothes, as though she intended to be the female Bryan Ferry.

Fox seemed to be a constant battle between Noosha Fox's charisma and Young's desire to run a more straight-ahead rock group. So after Noosha had been stuck as a backing vocalist for much of the band's second LP, which was a flop, the band reinstated her in 1976, when she sung "S-S-S-Single Bed," their biggest hit.

The space opera valentine "Livin' Out My Fantasies" is one of Fox's last recordings--there's definitely a Rocky Horror Picture Show influence to this track, for good or ill. On Blue Hotel, the last Fox LP.

more fashion masterpieces from the 1977 JC Penney catalog here

Hank Jones, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, before the end of World War I, is a jazz pianist who is one of the music's last ties to the past--he's played with nearly everyone, from Coltrane to Hot Lips Page, and at age 89 is still on stage; the late Milt Hinton, who started out with Cab Calloway, was one of the finest bassists in history; the drummer Bob Rosengarden is the jazz equivalent of Ringo Starr--solid, underrated, dependable, with a host of friends, winding up routinely at the heart of extraordinary things.

In 1977, the three were playing together in Florida, and decided to make a record, calling up the producer Hank O'Neal. I'll let him take over, from his liner notes on an LP simply called The Trio:

Much in the same way I know damn well the fancy Cuisinart in my kitchen won't be spinning in the year 2000, I'd bet anything the old cast iron skillet that has been in the family since the '20s will still be working just fine. Some things are durable and virtually timeless; this record falls into that category.

Amen. Enjoy Hinton's "Mona's Feeling Lonely," a showcase for both Hinton and Jones' playing, but the rest of the LP is equally as good. It's the sound of men so comfortable with themselves, and each other, that every sound they make seems correct.

Recorded in New York on 17 October 1977; on The Trio, one of my favorite records. From O'Neal's 2003 addendum to the liner notes (included when the album was finally released on CD): "The original release of this record sold a few thousand copies in the '70s. The CD will sell a few thousand copies, now that it is reissued. It is still as good as it was when it was released, maybe it is even more relevant, and is a decent value for the cost of the CD. It is not afflicted with the bloat or pretentiousness that is hurting much of the record industry." And now it's an MP3 download for $9, which, for European/Asian readers, is like pocket change these days, right?

Storeowners defending their turf during NYC blackout, 13 July 1977 (more photos here)

Another soul/country fusion track on Millie Jackson's Feelin' Bitchy was Tommy Brasfield's "Angel in Your Arms,"in which the singer, after finding out that her man's been catting around on her, plans a bit of lusty revenge. The Los Angeles-based trio Hot--Gwen Owens, Cathy Carson and Juanita Curiel--had the biggest hit with the song, occupying the ground between Jackson's funk version and Barbara Mandrell's straight-up country rendition from a few years later.

Released as Big Tree 10085 c/w "Just Cause I'm Guilty"; on Have a Nice Day Vol. 20.

Thirty years on, teenagers are still trying to kill you

Air was Henry Threadgill, who played everything from the alto saxophone to a device he called the "hubkaphone," a sort of gamelan made out of hanging hubcaps; the bassist Fred Hopkins, the true heir to Charles Mingus; and the brilliant drummer Steve McCall. All three were born in Chicago, and had come to New York by the mid-'70s. In the days before NYC's gentrification, places like TriBeCa were wastelands in which anyone could rent a huge loft for peanuts, and so these lofts became jamming sites, recording studios and rehearsal halls for jazz musicians who in some cases had nowhere else to go.

"G.v.E" is from Air's third LP, Air Time. It begins with Threadgill crashing away on the hubkpahone while Hopkins and McCall repeat the same figures on bass and cymbals, until Threadgill takes up the bass flute and at last offers the main theme--a gorgeous, simple melody inspired by composer Hopkins's research into the music of Burundi.

Recorded in Chicago on 17 November 1977; on Air Time, which at last is released on CD! Buy it.

Resnais' Providence

Finally, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's "Keep Me Turning": reconciliation, longing, resignation, appreciation of simple pleasures ("stack up the potatoes"), renunciation of futile dreams ("They saw the Messiah/but I guessed I missed him again").

On Rough Mix.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Century in Jumps (Slight Return)


John Lennon, Good Morning, Good Morning (demo).
Dusty Springfield, What's It Gonna Be.
Laura Lee, Dirty Man.
The Techniques, Queen Majesty.
Delia Derbyshire, Chromophone Band.
The Nice, Azrial (Angel of Death).
Fantastic Johnny C, Boogaloo Down Broadway.
Anna Karina, Pistolet Jo.
Gilberto Gil, Roda.
Quarteto Novo, Vim de Sant'Ana.
Joe Tex, Show Me.
Oscar Toney Jr., That's All I Want From You.
The Rolling Stones, Get Yourself Together (I Can See It).
The Mops, Blind Bird.
The Unrelated Segments, Story of My Life.
Linda Jones, Hypnotized.
Bob Dylan and the Band, The Royal Canal.
Otis Redding, (Sittin' On the) Dock of the Bay (alternate take).
John Coltrane, Offering.
Ringo Starr, Radio London Signoff Message.

Another Be-In on the Panhandle today. Quicksilver Messenger Service. Afterwards, I walk Haight Street, thousands of people now, everything happening so fast as the news hits the rest of the country.

Lots of people filming & snapping pictures. Evangelist on the corner telling everyone about the coming of Christ, the fall of the power structure next spring. Kid handing out clothes to girl embarrassed by his generosity.

"I thought you wanted to sell them to me," she says.

"Money's absurd,” he says & laughs.

I meet Denise outside Drogstore Cafe. She's short, dark, round face, wide mouth. Ask her to go in for coffee; she gets on bus instead. Just about to leave when she comes running off & tells me she'll stay if I have a phone.

Hitching back to my place, girl picks us up in jeep. Hippie feminine but she shifts like a truck driver.

At my place we drink wine & pull down the wall bed. She puts in her diaphragm. I'm ecstatic.

"I hope this isn't going to be a transient thing," she says.

I assure her it won’t be.

Diary entry of Peter Vincent, 7 June 1967, San Francisco.

Good morning! John Lennon's piano demo of "Good Morning, Good Morning," recorded most likely in January 1967, is the embryo of what would become a galumphing, unstable (each phrase in the verse of the final track has a different number of beats), hilarious and bilious rant. Along with George Harrison's memento mori "Within You Without You" and "A Day in the Life," "Good Morning" is the shadow in an otherwise sunlit record--it's a view of the human circus from the perspective of the amused misanthrope, with a chorus phrase that resurfaces "like a chronic headache" (Alan Pollack), much like the television commercial that originally inspired Lennon to write the song. As a bonus, here is the tape of animal noises used in the final mix.

Dusty Springfield's "What's It Gonna Be" is analog-era studio pop perfection: a performance built on a collection of elements--descending bass, horror-movie strings, a guitar kept in the shadows, telegraph organ, girl chorus, drum fills--all of which build in intensity and desperation. Springfield sings the verse with restraint, but lets herself go at last, desperately wishing for something tangible from a lover she can't read. A quick, hushed breath; everyone resumes their places. Brutally, suddenly, they then slip into oblivion, the title question left unanswered.

Released as Philips 40498 c/w “Small Town Girl”; on 20th Century Masters.

Laura Lee Newton, born in Chicago in 1945, began singing professionally in a gospel group, and by the mid-'60s had become a top session singer, backing Wilson Pickett on “Mustang Sally.” She wrote "Dirty Man" about her manager, Edward Phelps (the song was originally titled "Dirty Old Man"). When she tried to cut the track at Chess Studios in Chicago, however, nothing worked. "They were not as warm and soulful," Lee said years later about the Chicago musicians and producers. "They had pre-eminence and they walked around and their suits and ties – they just didn’t have it!" Finally the producers decided to send Lee down to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

So "Dirty Man" finally came into being there, thanks to the relaxed groove provided by the regular Muscle Shoals crew, including Spooner Oldham, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson. But it's Lee's singing--riotous, sensual, hard-edged--that turns the track from solid soul into something indescribably good. Released as Chess 2013 c/w “It’s Too Hard”; on That's How It Is.

Laura Lee's history is detailed on this site and here's the lady's own Myspace page.

Porter, Anne In a Striped Dress.

The Techniques' "Queen Majesty" is a remake of Curtis Mayfield's "Minstrel and Queen," with a lead vocal by Pat Kelly so delicate it seems as though it could break at any second. Duke Reid's production brings doo-wop and early soul down to Jamaica, converts them into rocksteady at its loveliest.

Released as Treasure Isle 7019 c/w “Fighting For Your Right”; on Blessed Love.

The British television show Doctor Who, notorious for its woeful special effects and occasional woeful performances, was musically quite avant-garde in its first decade, using the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop for its main theme and sometimes incidental music (the soundtrack to the Jon Pertwee serial The Sea Devils sounds like it was scored by Xenakis).

The dizzy "Chromophone Band"'s echoing, ghostly electronic heartbeat is an ancestor to all sorts of strange relations, from house beats to Timbaland's productions. Written by regular Who composer Dudley Simpson and realized by Delia Derbyshire, (shown here at her most charming in her laboratory in 1968). It's from the serial The Macra Terror, which aired in March 1967 (starring my favorite Doctor, Patrick Troughton), and which was set in a holiday camp overtaken by enormous sentient crabs.

On At the BBC Radiophonic Workship Vol. 1.

It's 1967, so naturally you're going to have a rock song about the Hebrew/Muslim angel of death at some point. The Nice, Keith Emerson's first band, "came together in a void" (John Peel)--they were assembled by ex-Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to back the soul singer P.P. Arnold and began recording on their own by late '67. Perhaps most remembered for Emerson's stage antics, such as burning the American flag and sticking knives in his keyboards, The Nice broke up in 1970.

"Azrial," one of their first tracks, features a great sludgy guitar riff by Davy O'List while the rest of the band hails the apocalypse. Released in November 1967 as Immediate 59, the b-side of "Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack"; now a bonus track on the Nice's first LP, Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack.

Kelly, Spectrum

The Fantastic Johnny C was born Johnny Corley, in Greenwood, SC, in 1943; he was discovered singing in a church choir by the singer/producer Jesse James. And James' "Boogaloo Down Broadway," which hits upon Wilson Pickett's recent "Funky Broadway" as well as trying to cash in on the boogaloo craze in New York (though the record was to boogaloo what "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was to ragtime), was Johnny C's only major hit.

Released as Jamie 920 c/w "Waiting for the Rain"; on Boogaloo Down Broadway.

Serge Gainsbourg's cod-Western ballad "Pistolet Jo" (who only slept with one eye closed, the other was "toujours ouvert") was sung by the actress Anna Karina in Pierre Koralnik's 1967 TV film Anna. Karina was in the process of breaking up with Jean-Luc Godard (a friend once showed up at their apartment to find the pair had destroyed every piece of furniture in the place during a fight, and were now sitting in separate corners of the living room, both naked), and she sings Gainsbourg's novelty with the gusto of someone enjoying a breath of silly liberation.

Released on the Anna soundtrack. Also from Anna--"Roller Girl".

Adam Clayton Powell, NYC.

By 1967, the anos de chumbo ("years of lead") had begun in Brazil. A military dictatorship which had seized power in 1964 was by now headed by president Artur da Costa e Silva, who ordered the Congress disbanded, banned all opposition parties and imposed harsh controls on the media, including cracking down on various undesirable musicians.

A year before the Brazilian singer/guitarist Gilberto Gil was arrested and sent to prison by the junta for "anti-government activity," he had recorded his debut album Louvação, from which the ebullient "Roda" ("Circle") comes. After getting out of jail, Gil and fellow dissident Caetano Veloso fled to London, where they spent the '70s in exile. After the military finally relinquished control in 1985, Gil returned to Brazil and was eventually named minister of culture.

The Quarteto Novo kept their politics to themselves, but their intricate rhythms and graceful solidarity--the players seem to anticipate each other's next breath--provided an elegant contrast to blundering fascism. The quartet consisted of Teo de Barros (bass and guitar), Heraldo do Monte (viola and guitar), Airto Moreira (drums) and flautist/pianist Hermeto Pascoal.

"Vim de Sant'Ana" is from the Quartet's self-titled debut LP from 1967; the band broke up two years later.

Joe Tex's "Show Me" is secretly half a country song--while it's got a driving R&B beat and soul horns, it was also recorded in Nashville, has some twanging guitar and is sung by Tex with some Western grit in his voice. And the song's subject--the happiness achieved by a man and woman settling down--is about as down home as you can get.

Recorded 1 February 1967, with Clyde Williams on drums, Lee Royal Hadley on guitar and Sly Sellers and Anthony Dorsey on the show-stealing trombones. Tex later claimed he wrote the song in four minutes. Released as Dial 4055 c/w "A Woman Sees A Hard Time (When Her Man Is Gone)"; on The Very Best.

In the high church of soul, Oscar Toney Jr. is a forgotten deacon, but his testimonies are worth seeking out. Toney, born in Selma, Ala., in 1939, as a youth sang in a gospel group, the Sensational Melodies of Joy. In "That's All I Want from You," Toney demands the apparently impossible--an everlasting, pure love--and uses the tools of gospel to seek for it. Midway through, though, he realizes his folly: "tomorrow's not promised to no one," he says. Released on the magnificent Bell LP For Your Precious Love.

Warhol, Marilyn

"Get Yourself Together" or "I Can See It" is the great lost Rolling Stones track--why they didn't release it in '67, when the band put out two records and several non-LP singles, remains a mystery (they certainly could have found room on Satanic Majesties, at least). It's a variation on the "19th Nervous Breakdown"/"Have You Seen Your Mother Baby" formula, in which Jagger, who in this period typically castigated his girls for not being hip or libertine enough for his tastes, at last grants his approval--maybe his girlfriend finally took acid, or at least slept with him. With a lead guitar that sounds strung with barbed wire, while Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart and Charlie Watts provide a rhythm bed as dense as granite. While not top-shelf Stones, it's better than pretty much anything they recorded after 1978.

Recorded in London during the Between the Buttons sessions, and never officially released. (The Chesterfield Kings eventually recorded a version.) Destined at some point to appear in a Wes Anderson film.

The Mops were a Japanese rock band, whose members were mostly high-school students: Tarou Miyuki (g), singer Hiromitu Suzuki, Kaoru Murakami (b), Mikiharu Suzuki (d), and lead guitarist/vocalist Masaru Hoshi. They began in 1966 by emulating the Ventures, then discovered the Animals and radically changed their style (lead singer Suzuki worshiped Eric Burdon). And in late 1967, after their manager suggested they become a psychedelic band, the band began performing blindfolded in the hopes of altering their perceptions--LSD being nearly impossible to find in Japan at the time. (Information from Julian Cope.)

"Blind Bird," the b-side of their first single, is probably the band's most well-known track in the U.S., in which Suzuki begs "Please kill me!" while the rest of the Mops howl and thrash about (in 6/8 time). The Mops eventually left psychedelia behind to become a heavy-metal act by the early '70s, before unfortunately breaking up--you could only imagine what they would have done with punk rock.

Released as the b-side of "Asamade Matenai," released in November 1967; on Psychedelic Sounds in Japan.

The Unrelated Segments' "Story of My Life" is an adolescent morality tale with guitars--the singer's just learned that money doesn't guarantee happiness, but unlike with the hippies, the concept enrages him.

The Segments were a quintet of Detroit high-school students--singer Ron Stults, guitarists Rory Mack and John Torok, bassist Barry VanEnglen (who does some wild runs toward the end of the track) and drummer Andy Angelotti. They recorded three singles for SVR Records (which was licensed by Hanna-Barbera)--"Story Of My Life," the first and best (recorded, with its b-side, in three and a half hours), was released in January 1967 as HBR 514 c/w "It's Unfair"; on Nuggets.

Linda Jones, born in Newark, NJ, in 1944, recorded for a number of labels in the early '60s, with nothing much to show for it, until she was discovered by songwriter/producers George Kerr and Jerry Harris, who got her better gigs and a contract with Warner Brothers subsidiary Loma Records.

“Hypnotized,” her first single for Loma and allegedly recorded in one take, is a flat-out masterpiece--while Jones sings of being under her lover's spell, it's her own phenomenal vocal that does the real transfixing. After "Hypnotized" Jones had a few more hits, but by 1972 the diabetes she had endured since childhood was worsening. After a show at the Apollo Theater in which she nearly collapsed and had to fight through her performance, Jones was rushed to the hospital, where she died a week later. She was 28. (Information from Mike Boone's profile on Jones.)

Released as Loma 2070 c/w “I Can’t Stop Loving My Baby”; on Greatest Hits.

Brendan Behan composed "The Royal Canal" (also known as "The Auld Triangle") for his first play, The Quare Fellow. The play, based on Behan's own imprisonment for much of the '40s in Mountjoy Gaol (he had been an IRA member during the war), opens with the song, which then continues as a refrain, sung off-stage throughout the play. "Royal Canal," originally sung by Behan himself, is a lament on the purgatorial nature of prison, of how each day bleeds into the next, of life reduced to mere routine. Or, as Avon Barksdale would say decades later, in The Wire: "You only do two days [in prison]--the day you go in, the day you come out."

During the early sessions of what would be known as the Basement Tapes, Bob Dylan rummaged through his past; each day in the basement he unearthed a new memory: Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger ballads, ancient folk songs like "Lang a Growin'," Luke the Drifter parables, contemporary material like Ian and Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds." And at some point, he retrieved "Royal Canal." By the time Dylan had arrived in New York in 1961, "Royal Canal" had become a Greenwich Village standard--it's likely Dylan learned it during his coffeehouse apprenticeship, possibly from Liam Clancy.

The Basement Tapes recording, in which Dylan appears to be teaching the Band the song as they play (which wasn't the case, as typically they would rehearse before rolling the tapes) is suffused with longing but also feels deadened--when Dylan sings about being with the women in the female prison, it's almost abject in its futility. With Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson (providing the "triangle" noise via clavinette).

"With each day's details repeating, with never a new thought, no spark of passion, this is 'I Shall Be Released' without any hope of freedom." (Greil Marcus, Invisible Republic.) Recorded at "Big Pink," West Saugerties, NY, summer 1967; as yet not officially released. One day, maybe.

Otis Redding recorded "(Sittin' On the) Dock of the Bay" three days before his death in a plane crash on 10 December 1967. This is an alternate, earlier take (take 2), with a Redding vocal that's close to the equal of the master take--Redding sings the bridge with a bit less strength than in the master, while the whistling (which Steve Cropper said came about because Redding had forgotten a vocal fadeout they had rehearsed earlier) isn't quite there yet.

"Dock of the Bay" can't help but sounding like an epitaph, but it was intended more as a milestone--Redding acknowledging he was leaving his established base in soul and finding a wider audience (he had dominated the Monterey Pop festival a few months before). Redding had been listening to Sgt. Pepper, and there are indications "Dock of the Bay" would have been part of a song cycle, likely as the centerpiece: a reflection on time, a consideration of a passed life, and sung, as Dave Marsh wrote, "akin to the way a father's huge, calloused hands hold a tiny baby for the first time."

Recorded 6-7 December 1967; the official take was released in January 1968 as Volt 157 c/w "Sweet Lorene"; the master take is on Very Best, take 2 is on Remember Me.

John Coltrane's last recording session in February 1967, about five months before his death, produced six tracks later collected on the LP Expression--the finest, most epic performance being "Offering." "Offering" begins as confidently and serenely as "Love Supreme" until Coltrane begins to dig and tear into the piece, relentlessly repeating the same notes again and again--midway through, Coltrane begins to spar with drummer Rashied Ali, while sounding as though he's also dueting with himself. There's a joy in Coltrane's playing, a sense that the discoveries and triumphs he had achieved were a prelude to something greater, yet never realized; he proves, as Montaigne wrote, "our life is nothing but movement."

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, on 15 February 1967, with Alice Coltrane on piano and Jimmy Garrison on bass; on Expression.

And finally, a sample of the final minutes broadcast on Radio London, the legendary UK pirate radio station shut down on 14 August 1967. Ringo offers his condolences, "A Day In the Life" plays, and then silence.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Century in Jumps (Slight Return)


Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Two Funky People.
Brenda Lee, Dynamite.
The Cues, Why.
Tommy Blake, Lordy Hoody.
Bola Sete, Aquarela do Brasil.
Al Simmons with Slim Green and the Cats From Fresno, Old Folks Boogie.
Magic Sam, All Your Love.
Johnnie and Jack, That's Why I'm Leavin'.
Henri Pousseur, Scambi.
Jenks "Tex" Carman, Wolf Creek.
Jean Shepard, The Other Woman.
The "5" Royales, Say It.
Jackie Lee Cochran, Mama Don't You Think I Know.
Ellis Larkins, I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You.

I'm praying that you'll buy ON THE ROAD and make a movie of it...Don't worry about the structure, I know to compress and re-arrange the plot a bit to give a perfectly acceptable movie-type structure: making it into one all-inclusive trip instead of the several voyages coast-to-coast in the book, one vast round trip from New York to Denver to Frisco to Mexico to New Orleans to New York again. I visualize the beautiful shots could be made with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak. I wanted you to play the part because Dean (as you know) is no dopey hotrodder but a real intelligent (in fact Jesuit) Irishman. You play Dean and I'll play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I'll show you how Dean acts in real life...

All I want out of this is to able to establish myself and my Mother a trust fund for life, so I can really go around roaming around the write what comes out of my head and free to feed my buddies when they're hungry...what I want to do is re-do the theater and the cinema in America, give it a spontaneous dash, remove pre-conceptions of "situation" and let people rave on as they do in real life...The French movies of the 30's are still far superior to ours because the French really let their actors come on and the writers didn't quibble with some preconceived notion of how intelligent the movie audience is...American theater & Cinema at present is an outmoded dinosaur that ain't mutated along with the best in American Literature.

Excerpts from a letter written in late 1957 by Jack Kerouac to Marlon Brando. Brando never responded.

Al Cohn and Zoot Sims came up in the waning days of big-band jazz--they met in Woody Herman's Second Herd, where they were featured saxophone soloists, along with Stan Getz and Serge Chaloff. Sims and Cohn, both disciples of Lester Young's style, became lifelong friends (someone once called them the Damian and Pythias of jazz), playing together in various incarnations, ranging from a duo backing Kerouac to co-leaders of a quintet, until the 1980s. They died within three years of each other.

Their clarinet duet, "Two Funky People," is their friendship embodied in music. Cohn takes the first solo, cool and wistful, while Sims offers a more jovial response. Teddy Kotick on bass and the young Mose Allison on piano have their brief say, and then Sims and Cohn soar off stage. Nick Stabulas, on drums, quietly frames it all.

Recorded in New York on 27 March 1957 and released on the Verve LP Al and Zoot, my copy of which, as you will hear, is showing its age.

Brenda Lee's "Dynamite" shows how the little powerhouse (standing just 4' 9") earned her nickname. Lee, born Brenda Mae Tarpley in Atlanta in 1944, was able by age three to perfectly sing back a tune she had heard only once, and by five was winning talent competitions. After her father was killed in a construction site accident, Lee became the major breadwinner for her family, and was making records by her 12th birthday.

After making a few singles that didn't do much, Lee caught fire in 1957: she outsang Ray Charles on the man's own song ("Ain't That Love") while on "Dynamite" the chipper backing vocalists seem to be trying to distract the listener from Lee's white-hot vocal. Just try to not think about the disturbing fact that a 12-year old girl is howling about getting "one hour of love tonight."

Released as Decca 30333 c/w "Love You 'Til I Die"; on Anthology. Brenda setting off "Dynamite" live in 1957, and again in Japan in 1965.

The Cues were Atlantic Records' house vocal group, assembled by arranger Jesse Stone, and used for backup vocals on dozens of Atlantic records in the '50s, performing under a host of pseudonyms--they were the Rhythmakers for Ruth Brown, the Ivorytones for Ivory Joe Hunter, the Blues Kings for Joe Turner, the Boleros for Carmen Taylor and, for LaVern Baker, the Gliders (info from JC Marion's page on the group).

The group, which consisted of lead singer Jimmy Breedlove, Ollie Jones, Abel De Costa, Robie Kirk and Eddie Barnes, eventually branched out from Atlantic (they backed up Roy Hamilton on his glorious "Don't Let Go") and would occasionally cut a single of their own, with only middling success, although the fantastic "Why," which only hit #77 on the national charts, deserves far more recognition.

Released as Capitol 3582 c/w "Prince or Pauper"; on Golden Age of American Rock & Roll Vol. 10.

Diebenkorn, Man and Woman in a Large Room

Tommy Blake, if never a major rock & roll figure on the charts, certainly lived the life--enduring a hardscrabble childhood in Shreveport, losing an eye in Korea (or so he claimed) and shot to death by his wife on Christmas Eve, 1985. (What led to the latter is a source of contention--scroll down on this site for Rashomon-esque competing perspectives.)

"Lordy Hoody," one of the singles Blake cut for Sam Phillips in the late '50s, is rock & roll at its rawest and purest: slurred, incomprehensible lyrics; thudding bass; yelps and screams; war drums; utterly vicious lead guitar by Carl Adams; and a chanted, hypnotic nonsense chorus that likely inculcated any teenager in earshot.

Recorded 14 September 1957 and released as Sun 278 c/w "Flat Foot Sam"; on Koolit: The Sun Years Plus.

The Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete was born Djalma de Andrade in Rio in 1923 (in his youth, he got the nickname "Bola Sete," which is the Brazilian equivalent to the eight-ball, i.e., the only black ball on the billiard table--Sete was often the only black member of his early groups). Obsessed with the great guitarists of the Depression era--Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel--Sete began playing in local samba groups, and by the '50s and '60s, after spending some years playing at upscale U.S. hotels like the Park Sheraton in NYC, was working with the likes of Vince Guaraldi and Dizzy Gillespie as well as leading his own trio.

Sete's version of Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil" showcases his soulful, intricate playing. Sete died in 1987, and is a bit of a neglected figure (few of his records ever made it to CD), though there seems to be renewed interest in his work of late.

"Aquarela" was recorded 8 February 1957 and released as Odeon 14254 c/w "Bacara", as well as on the '57 LP Aqui Está o Bola Sete. See Sete playing with a trio here.

Other versions of "Brasil," the country's unofficial national anthem: Joao Gilberto, Elis Regina, Carmen Miranda, Gal Costa, Daniela Mercury and Caetano Veloso, The Scorpions, José Carioca and Donald Duck.

Ozu's Tokyo Twilight

Al Simmons was the drummer of an obscure band called the Cats From Fresno, who recorded for Johnny Otis's Dig label. One day in the studio, the Cats decided to let Simmons take a vocal--"Old Folks Boogie" (a rewrite of several electric blues, including John Lee Hooker's "Gotta Boogie" and "Boogie Chillun" and Little Junior's "Feelin' Good") is the result, and it's a monster. It was one of Captain Beefheart's favorite tracks.

Released as Dig 138 c/w "Hand Me Down Baby" (sung by Sidney Maiden); on Teenage Rock N Roll Party. Thanks to the Rev. for introducing me to this one.

Magic Sam, born Samuel Maghett to sharecroppers near Grenada, Mississippi, in 1937, moved with his family north to Chicago as part of the great postwar black migration. In Chicago, Sam was a chawbacon--raw, uncouth, a bit wild. As a child he had crafted his own instruments, diddley-bows of baling wire nailed to the side of a barn, or makeshift guitars from cigar boxes, and in Chicago, when he began playing professionally, Sam took the same approach with his guitar style--taking the Delta blues and mixing it with what he was hearing in the clubs, especially records by Muddy Waters and B.B. King. (Much info from Greg Johnson's article linked above.)

Willie Dixon, by 1957, was sick of working for Chess Records, which he felt wasn't paying him enough and which seemed uninterested in the new blues players to hit Chicago, like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. So Dixon and Eli Toscano, who was mainly known as a gambler, formed Cobra Records--described as a sort of shadow government to Chess, often signing the same artists Chess did and pushing its engineers to get a similar sound. The difference was Cobra also had a taste for young, hungry blues players.

"All Your Love," built off a riff from Ray Charles' recent "Lonely Avenue," was the first track Sam cut for Cobra, a single he recorded with Dixon, pianist Little Brother Montgomery, drummer Billie Stepney and Mack Thompson on bass.

By 1960, Cobra had folded and Sam had been drafted into the Army (he quickly deserted, and was eventually sent to military prison). After some hard years, Sam began building his reputation again, playing the Fillmore East and becoming a favorite of the new generation of blues players, when he died of a heart attack in 1969, at age 32.

Released as Cobra 5013 c/w "Love Me With a Feeling"; on West Side Soul.

Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin, both from Tennessee, were one of several "brother" duet acts in country music who weren't actually brothers (though Anglin eventually married Wright's sister). While starting out offering fairly standard country fare, Johnnie & Jack began incorporating fresher sounds into their records--a Latin beat in "Poison Love," calypso in "Cryin' Heart Blues" and doo-wop in their cover of the Spaniels' "Goodnight Sweetheart." And "That's Why I'm Leavin'" is about as much rockabilly as it is straight country.

Anglin was killed in a car crash on the same day in 1963 that services were held for Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, who had been killed in a plane crash (it was a horrific week for country music); Wright, who was married to Kitty Wells, continued on as a solo act and later became part of the Kitty Wells Family Show.

Released as RCA 6932 c/w "Oh Boy, I Love Her"; only available on this massive box set.

4th St, Santa Ana, Calif.

Henri Pousseur's "Scambi," an Ultima Thule of recorded music, is a series of electronic noises (some of which were first used by Stockhausen in his "Gesang der Jünglinge" a few years earlier), and also a completely "open" work--while Pousseur assembled the version here in the RAI Studio di Fonologia in Milan, in 1957, he intended the piece to be constantly reassembled and remastered. (The Scambi Project has documented these changes over the years.)

"Scambi" ("Exchanges") is alternately charming (some of the sounds resemble bird calls), terrifying, annoying and commonplace (some of the tones have become part of the 21st Century's background noise, reincarnated as cel phone beeps, ATM machine twits, etc).

On Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music Vol. 1.

Jenks "Tex" Carman was a bizarre figure in the '50s--a cowboy Hawaiian guitar player with a wayward sense of tuning and rhythm; he managed to record a few modest hits and appeared on regional television programs, sometimes wearing a cowboy hat, sometimes a headdress (he claimed to be part Cherokee). Carman vanished around the time JFK was elected, though at the end of the past century he was exhumed by hipsters and placed in various cabinets of curiosities (yours truly proving no exception).

"Wolf Creek" was one of the tracks Carman recorded for the small label Sage and Sand--released as Sage 251 c/w "My Broken Heart Won't Let Me Sleep"; on Cow Punk.

Jean Shepard routinely cast herself as the betrayed woman in her songs, which makes "The Other Woman" a shock: here, Shepard is the adultress, and she has no remorse over her actions. While sounding bold and fearless at first, Shepard's character reveals her delusions as the song goes on--she's terrified that her lover's wife will win him back, and by the end she is reduced to singing, like a child in a schoolyard, "he loves me, he loves me" over and over again until the fadeout.

Recorded 28 December 1956 and released as Capitol F3727 c/w "Under Suspicion"; on the shamefully out-of-print Honky Tonk Heroine.

Louise Brooks at age 50

The "5" Royales' "Say It" is one of their lost masterpieces, eclipsed by their '57 hit singles "Think" and "Dedicated To the One I Love." "Say It" conveys a simple, if sadly familiar situation--the singer knows it's all over with his lover, he can almost taste it, and all he wants now is for her to say the words. "Say it!" he demands, with the rest of the Royales backing him up--they grow more threatening with each reiteration. And each time he entreats her, Lowman Pauling's guitar delivers a squall of notes. The track ends with Pauling spiraling downward on his Les Paul: nothing is resolved: she still hasn't said it.

Recorded in Cincinnati on 13 August 1957 and released as King 5082 c/w "Messin' Up"; on It's Hard But It's Fair.

And in Jackie Lee Cochran's "Mama Don't You Think I Know," the singer doesn't even have to ask--he's figured it all out, and now he just wants her to get the hell out.

Released as Decca 9-30206 c/w "Ruby Pearl"; on That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 2

Finally, the pianist Ellis Larkins, accompanied by Joe Benjamin on bass, offers a reverie on "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You." Larkins, a greatly underrated pianist whose elegant and gracious playing accompanied the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Humes, Eartha Kitt and Ruby Braff, was known in the '70s in New York for playing weekly at Gregory's, a club in the Upper East Side, and the Carnegie Tavern, a small bar behind Carnegie Hall.

His version of "Ghost of a Chance" was recorded in New York on 2 December 1957; on the Decca LP The Soft Touch (an album far more tasteful than its cover art) and never released on CD.

Happy Thanksgiving. And for the rest of the world, happy Thursday.