Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Jimmy Smith, The Sermon.

"Anyone who plays the organ is a direct descendant of Jimmy Smith. It's like Adam and Eve -- you always remind someone of Jimmy Smith," Joey DeFrancesco.

One of the deacons of soul jazz (essentially, jazz heavily under the influence of gospel and blues) was an organist named Jimmy Smith. Smith, born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1925, started out playing the piano and the string bass, but by the mid-1950s, he had found his true instrument: the Hammond B-3 organ. Earlier incarnations of the Hammond organ dated back to the 1930s--the Hammond had been designed to be a replacement for the pipe organ, as well as an updating of the traditional upright piano which used to be a staple of most middle-class homes.

(Cultural devolution, in miniature: My grandmother kept a piano and, later, an organ, in her home; her children, at times, owned elaborate stereo systems; and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren (with the exception of a few oddballs, like those who run MP3 blogs) typically make do with tiny metal or plastic speakers attached to iPods or CD players.)

The Hammond B-3 was, to some purists, a vulgar instrument, best suited for the skating rink or movie intermissions; the B-3 was loud (thanks to the Leslie speaker), its tone was often distorted, and it was capable of generating a host of ridiculous noises. Yet the Hammond fit in perfectly with a resurgence of a smoother, simpler, more melodic type of jazz, along with the return of "dueling tenor" contests, in which saxophone players attempted to outdo each other with loud, flashy solos. By the late 1960s, the sound of the Hammond had become essentially a jazz cliche.

But Smith, when he began playing the Hammond B-3 in a trio with a pianist and drummer, exploited the organ to its limits, making it groan, wheeze, hiss, titter. And to do so, he extended compositions to elaborate lengths--forty solo choruses for "Sweet Georgia Brown," for instance. He played quadrupedally: on the Hammond's twin keyboards, his left hand provided chords, his right soloed, while, via the pedals, his left foot slammed out bass lines, and his right foot controlled the organ's volume.

When Smith found worthy partners, the result would be a sort of soulful hypnosis--long performances built around a rolling, dense groove, over which players would slowly, deliberately offer their own advices. A prime example is Smith's masterpiece, the twenty-minute "Sermon."

It begins with Smith and Art Blakey establishing the groove (Smith, via the Hammond, is providing the bass lines as well). Then comes Kenny Burrell on electric guitar, Tina Brooks on tenor sax (who stays the longest), Lee Morgan on trumpet (who starts out sparring and never relents), and Lou Donaldson on alto sax.

Recorded at Manhattan Towers, NYC, on February 25, 1958; on the essential The Sermon! Because of its length, the track had to be imported at a low bit rate to fit on my server, and so it sounds pretty dire.

The top photo is, of course, Art Kane's "Harlem 1958." Clicking on the photo should make it a bit larger. Try to find Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Henry "Red" Allen, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young. (A sobering thought: all the boys sitting on the curb are likely in their sixties now.) All is revealed here.

Monday, January 29, 2007


The Collins Kids, Whistle Bait.
The Collins Kids, Rock Boppin' Baby.

Let's begin with 14-year old Larry Collins, who, while sounding as though he's yet to attain puberty, is evidently randy enough to leer and hoot at some poor girl on the street. "She's-a whistle bait!!" he squeaks in this freakish little voice which Morpheus could have used to overdub nightmares. That said, Larry could play guitar like a madman--that neat solo on the double-necked Mosrite is all his.

And on the flip side, his 16-year old sister, Lorrie, sings about her talented boyfriend.

The Collins Kids were from Pretty Water, Oklahoma, and in a story that seems written by MGM hacks, the Collins family literally sold the farm and moved to Hollywood in the hopes their two children would become famous. The Collins Kids appeared on an LA TV station's country music show in 1954, and, aided by the publicity generated when Lorrie began dating Ricky Nelson, soon made it to national shows like Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan.

You need to see this utterly fantastic performance of the Kids performing "Rockaway Rock," in which Tex Ritter adds some truly half-hearted backing vocals.

The Collins' stopped recording by the early '60s, though Larry went on to write a number of country standards (like "Delta Dawn"), while Lorrie, at age 17, married Johnny Cash's manager.

Released in August 1958 as Columbia 4-41225. Find on Rockin'est.

Friday, January 26, 2007


their rockin' homework is what they love the best

Gene Summers and His Rebels, School of Rock 'N Roll.

Where Chuck Berry's "School Day" is a precise sketch of the tedium of a typical American high school, whether it's the Class of 1958 or 2007, Gene Summers' "School of Rock 'N Roll" is pure greaser fantasy, the kind of place where the only use for books is to steady a wobbling amplifier.

Summers was born in Dallas in 1939, and the Rebels (originally called the Dixie Rebels) consisted of Summers' classmates at Arlington State College--James McClung (lead guitar) and Gary Moon (drums)--along with bassist Bonny Williams, a kid who the Rebels liberated from Thomas Jefferson High School.

As awesome as "School of Rock 'N Roll" is, Summers, while sharing the stage with nearly every major rock & roll act during the late 1950s, never had a national hit.

Released c/w "Straight Skirt" in March 1958 as Jan 11-100. On Ultimate School of Rock & Roll.

Happy weekend.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Benny Goodman, Goodbye.
Ornette Coleman, The Sphinx.

Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye" had become, by the late 1930s, the standard closing number for the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Goodman had taken to the piece quickly, often investing a sorrowful tone to the lead clarinet melody. And during the war, "Goodbye" naturally became a poignant end to an evening.

Goodman had experimented a bit with his sound in the postwar years; at times he seemed to be attempting a sort of chamber bebop. Yet by the mid-'50s, there's a sense that Goodman has resigned himself, quite comfortably, to becoming a representative of a waning age.

This version of "Goodbye," recorded in the American Pavilion at the World's Fair in Brussels, in May 1958, is not Goodman's farewell performance by any means--he would continue to play regularly throughout the following twenty years, and lived until 1986. But there is a sense of summation, of departure, to this recording: it's a sweet valedictory, a farewell to the swing era, performed with grace and beauty.

With Sheldon Powell and Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Gene Allen (bari sax), Al Block and Ernie Mauro (alto sax), Billy Hodges, John Frosk, Taft Jordan and E.V. Perry (trumpets), Roland Hanna (p), Billy Bauer (g), Arvell Shaw (b) and Roy Burns (d). On Benny in Brussels.

Two months earlier, in Los Angeles, Ornette Coleman, a 28-year-old alto sax player born in Ft. Worth, Texas, began what would be his first recording sessions as a leader. The whole thing had come about almost as a whim of Contemporary Records' owner Lester Koenig. The bassist Red Mitchell had told Koenig about some raw kid playing around LA, using toy instruments (Coleman played a white plastic alto saxophone, while his trumpeter, Don Cherry, played a Depression-era "pocket" cornet.) While Coleman's live performances were controversial, to put it mildly, Mitchell said his original compositions were worth hearing.

So Koenig arranged an audition for Coleman, hoping mainly to determine if he could pass Coleman's original pieces on to more established musicians. Coleman and Cherry showed up, but Coleman, flustered, found he couldn't play his compositions on piano. So in desperation, he and Cherry delivered the tunes on their horns. Koenig, fascinated, arranged for a full band session.

"The Sphinx" comes from the tail end of the sessions for what became Coleman's first LP. Like the rest of the tracks on Something Else!!!!, it's a relatively conventional performance, though Coleman and Cherry are sharp and vivid, their solos burgeoning with fresh melodic ideas and suggesting a volcanic reservoir of talent. The following year would feature the first of Coleman's epochal Atlantic LPs, The Shape of Jazz to Come, and his legendary performances at the Five Spot in New York. So consider this a curtain raiser.

Recorded in Los Angeles on March 24, 1958, with Walter Norris (p) Don Payne (b) and Billy Higgins (d). On Something Else!!!!

Monday, January 22, 2007


Paul Perryman, Satellite Fever Asiatic Flu.

Strange as it may seem now, this was a topical song, referring to the resurgence of the "Asiatic Flu," which had first appeared in Russia during the last years of the 19th Century. The 1957 pandemic began in China early in the year and had spread to the United States by the summer. (Shoghi Effendi, leader of the Bahá'í faith, died from it, along with possibly a million others worldwide.) The outbreak, and the subsequent mass vaccination campaign, already had inspired songs like Ebe Sneezer and His Epidemics' "Asiatic Flu," whose lyrics included the immortal couplet "You know what I think about this here disease/Give it back to the Asians and let them (sneeze sound)!"

Add in some hysteria about the Russians' launch of Sputnik, and the potential for nuclear war via outer space, and you've got the raw material for a gloriously insane rock & roll attack, featuring an inspired, vulgar, squalling sax break.

(And it goes without saying that the whole thing is a pretty transparent rewrite of Huey "Piano" Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" from the previous year.)

Of Paul Perryman I know absolutely nothing, except that he released a few other singles for Duke in 1957 and 1958, the most notable being "Just to Hold My Hand," soon covered by Clyde McPhatter. Perryman may have been from Alabama, and some have speculated he was a protege of Duke's owner Don Robey, but who knows. The man exists now as a name on a few half-century-old 45s. Still, with a track as great as "Satellite Fever," that's achievement enough.

Released as Duke 181 c/w "I'm Walking Out." The only place to find it on disc is apparently the out-of-print Pittsburgh's Favorite Oldies, Vol. 6.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, Get It Over Babe.
Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, How Long Will It Last.
Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, I'm Gonna Forget About You (Matchbox).

While the lives of Ike Turner and Sam Phillips had intersected throughout the 1950s, these tracks mark the terminus. For Turner, the future held untold promise, as in a year's time he would meet a singer named Anna Mae Bullock; for Phillips, life was starting to wind down.

Phillips and Turner had known each other since 1951, when Turner's band had recorded "Rocket 88" at Sun Studios. The record, which had put Sun on the map and is one of those evergreen candidates for "first rock & roll record ever made," had also been Turner's first-ever recording session. Turner had wanted to sing, but Phillips told him to stick to guitar (Turner wound up playing piano on "Rocket 88" too) and let Jackie Brenston sing lead.

Turner, grateful to have a hit record, served as a talent manager of sorts for Phillips in the early '50s, sending a number of blues musicians down to Memphis, telling them that there was one odd white man on Union Avenue who would let black musicians play the way they wanted to.

But by 1958, it had been two years since Sun had released a record by any black artist other than Sun mainstay Rosco Gordon. After selling the rights to the Elvis Presley sessions, Phillips had concentrated on breaking country/rockabilly acts. But one by one, his proteges left him. Johnny Cash went to Columbia in '58, while newcomer Roy Orbison went to RCA. And Phillips' biggest artist, Jerry Lee Lewis, saw his career implode after his "cousin marriage" scandal erupted and stopped recording for a few years.

Sometime in 1958, Ike Turner showed up at Sun with some tracks he had recorded in St. Louis, and Phillips bought them. Perhaps Phillips meant to pass them on to some of his affiliated labels, like Flip; maybe Phillips was considering releasing black music again. Or maybe, as the curators of the Sun Records: The Blues Years box suggest, it was simply "an acknowledgement of former shared glories." In any case, Phillips never released the tracks.

The Turner tracks aren't lost masterpieces by any means, but they are some catchy jump blues, sung with gritty soul by Tommy Hodge. There's a nice, relaxed tone to the band's sound, and Turner's guitar (the brittle rhythm playing on "Get It Over Babe," and his fleet lead guitar work on "I'm Gonna Forget About You") is always compelling.

The tracks feature Carlson Oliver (tenor sax), Fred Sample (p), Jesse Knight (b) and the Unknown Drummer. On The Sun Sessions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Lazy Lester, I Hear You Knockin'.
Lazy Lester, I'm a Lover Not a Fighter.

Lazy Lester, born Leslie Johnson in Torras, Louisiana, in 1933, is one of the great swamp blues players, noted for his songwriting as well as his skills on a host of instruments, including harp, bass, drums and guitar. I first heard about Lester from the Rev. Frost, who offered this mini-bio when he wrote about Lester last summer:

"While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, [Lester] met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching fruitlessly for an AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice. In 1956, Lester stepped out front at J.D. Miller's (the prolific south Louisiana producer) Crowley, LA, studios for the first time. Lester proved invaluable as an imaginative sideman for Miller, utilizing everything from cardboard boxes and claves to whacking on newspapers in order to locate the correct percussive sound for the producer's output."

Miller also allegedly gave Lester his nickname, based on Lester's meandering way of talking ("I never was in a hurry to do nothing," Lester said later).

By the late 1960s, Lester had given up on playing music professionally, in part because he felt he had been ripped off repeatedly by his label, Excello. Lester's songs, which he said were collaborations with his producer Miller, had not-so-mysteriously become sole Miller compositions by the time they were released on disc, and Lester claimed he received basically zero royalties from them. So Lester headed north, to work some odd jobs and go fishing.

And while he's been lured back on stage and in the studio in the decades since, Lester rightfully has remained wary of the professional music world.

"I Hear You Knockin'" and "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" (the latter covered by the Kinks a decade later) are Lester at his finest. Both were recorded in Crowley, La., in May 1958, with Al Foreman (g), Bobby McBride (b) and Warren Storm (d). "Lover" was released as Excello 2143, "Knockin'" as Excello 2155. On Excello Story Vol. 3.

Lester is still performing--here are his current tour dates (he's going to be in Finland soon, which may interest the few Finnish regulars who frequent this site).

Friday, January 12, 2007


Lawrence Ferlinghetti, See It Was Like This When...
Jack Kerouac, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, American Haikus (excerpt).

In April 1958, the San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen coined the word "beatnik," a play on "Sputnik," tossing the neologism into an otherwise run-of-the mill gossip piece which, thanks to the grace of time, is at least 75% incomprehensible. (It warms the heart to think that someone in 2050 will be baffled by any reference to "Federline.")

The appearance of "beatnik," a word detested by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who rightly saw they were being turned into cartoons, was the death knell of the whole Beat movement (the following year would see the ludicrous movie The Beat Generation--producer Albert Zugsmith even copyrighted the title--and the introduction of Maynard G. Krebs). The Beats were profiled relentlessly in Life and Look and Time, while the most notable Beats, like Kerouac, were appearing on television and releasing LPs. Mainstream culture, for a moment, was fascinated by the Beats, perhaps considering them court jesters for the atomic age. It was all a dry run for the far greater obsession/revulsion that marked the media's encounters with the counterculture of the following decade.

Still, the finest works of the waning Beat era retain their life, in part because the Beats would come up with bewildering, sharp-edged images, as in Kerouac's "American Haikus," or, simply, because they're funny. I've written about how Allen Ginsberg's "America" is more stand-up routine then portentous declamation. And here's the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, with a miniature adventure called "See It Was Like This When...," which is a segment of A Coney Island of the Mind. The folk group Aztec Two-Step took their name from it.

This recording was made some time later, at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. On In Their Own Voices.

Jack Kerouac's "American" haikus don't follow the classic haiku five syllable-seven syllable-five syllable format. Kerouac thought the syllabic restrictions only worked in the Japanese language--he was interested instead in attempting to capture, in as few words as possible, some tiny fragment of experience.

In a recording of some of the haikus, though, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, on dueling saxophones, steal the show, often trumping Kerouac's image with an inspired phrase. There's the dancing string of notes after "cats step slowly," the machine-gun burst after "aging young couples," the jaunty swagger after the line about young girls running up the library steps, and more.

Kerouac's haikus are collected in Book of Haikus. And this recording (which is about ten minutes in its entirety) was made in New York in 1958 and released on the LP Blues and Haikus a year later. Find on the Kerouac Collection.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Charlie Walker, Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.
Jean Shepard, He's My Baby.

Here's to the late bloomers. Charlie Walker, born in Copeville, Texas, in 1926, had been playing professionally since World War II, as a guitarist and singer with Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers. And with the Eighth Army Signal Corps, Walker served in postwar Japan, playing country music on the radio to homesick soldiers.

Discharged in 1947, Walker and his band, the Texas Ramblers, worked for a few years around the Corpus Christi area, but were getting nowhere. So Walker became a DJ for a number of Texas radio stations, getting his big break in 1951 when he moved to San Antonio's KMAC.

Ray Price, who had become a huge country music star by the mid-'50s, pushed Walker to get back in the studio, urging his own label Columbia to sign Walker, and recommending that Walker use Price's own producer, Don Law, and most of the session players who worked on his hits, including Floyd Cramer on piano, and guitarists Harold Bradley and Pete Wade. The final ingredients were a great song--Harlan Howard's "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down"--and an irresistable, echoing shuffle beat delivered by Buddy Harman. The track became a #2 country hit.

Walker would keep alternating as DJ and musician, recording a number of smaller hits in the 1960s, and ultimately joined the Grand Ole Opry, where he remains today. (Some info from David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren's Heartaches By the Number.)

"Pick Me Up" was recorded in Nashville on June 5, 1958, and released in August as Columbia 41211. On Honky Tonk Heroes.

And pay no attention to Jean Shepard's admonition at the start of "He's My Baby" that she and her band can't play rock & roll "very good"--as soon as that shifty guitar pattern begins, and the drums kick in, any worries go out the door. Shepard sounds a bit uncomfortable at times, but you get the sense that, with a few more performances like this, she might have rivalled Wanda Jackson as a rock & roll legend. "Maybe it wasn't very good, but it was awful loud, wasn't it?" she smirks at the end. See, she had the spirit.

Recorded live on the radio (don't know which station), possibly in November 1958. On the out-of-print Honky Tonk Heroine. The studio version is on That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 3.

Monday, January 08, 2007


The Quarrymen, In Spite of All the Danger.
The Jades, Leave Her For Me.

It's juvenilia Monday!

"In Spite of All the Danger" is one of the pair of songs that make up the first recording by the future Beatles. While the more widely-known track, the then-Quarrymen's version of "That'll Be the Day," is an eager, competent but purely amateur take ("it is to rock and roll what evaporated chocolate is to chocolate," Devin McKinney), "Danger," an original song, is far odder, a wandering half-blues that seems to have been destined for the margins upon its very conception.

On July 14, 1958, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and their friends, pianist John "Duff" Lowe and drummer Colin Hanton, lugged their gear to the home of Percy Phillips (a "naffy old man," as Hanton recalled later), who ran the only recording studio in Liverpool. This was a small room with one microphone, a tape recorder and record-cutting machine.

The Quarrymen had intended to do a number of takes, ambitiously planning to lay down a backing track and then do multiple vocal overdubs, but soon discovered they only had enough money for Phillips to record a live take and transfer it to disc. So they dashed out an acceptable version of "That'll Be the Day," the only song they had rehearsed as a quintet.

Then, suddenly, McCartney announced the next track would be a song neither Hanton nor Lowe had ever heard before. The latter two protested that they needed to rehearse the new song, at least do one run-through, but Phillips snarled that they needed to it cut it immediately ("for seventeen and six you're not here all day"), so Lennon told Hanton and Lowe, "just follow us," and the tape rolled.

Who knows why the Quarrymen chose "In Spite of All the Danger" to record--it simply might have been the only complete original song they had at that point. (It's also the only McCartney-Harrison composition in existence.) While the lyrics aren't much, as you'd expect, the track has a shifting, restless feel to it--McCartney hovers around one wailing note, Lennon's lead vocal conveys both longing and assurance, and Harrison's guitar part, which sounds like the product of many a night's practice, is sharp and ringing.

If the Quarrymen's version of "That'll Be the Day" is a spirited imitation, an attempt to duplicate exactly a record that had captivated them, "In Spite of All the Danger" is far more inchoate. There's some Everly Brothers, Holly, some doo-wop, some country ballad, all meshed together--it feels like the song has flickered into being in a communal mind, soon to wink out again. The poor state of the recording, its murkiness, hiss and fluttering sound, adds to the track's almost primeval feel. It is, as McKinney wrote in Magic Circles, "an old record performed by young men."

So the Quarrymen walked out of Phillips' studio, elated to have made their first record. They would trade it around for a while, and Colin Hanton's brother even played it on the PA system at the staff canteen of the firm for which he worked, to the grumblings of some of his co-workers. But the disc soon got lost, and the band, moving onward, apparently never played "In Spite of All the Danger" again. (Many of these details are taken from Bob Spitz's recent biography.)

Lowe eventually found the disc in the early '80s, and sold it to McCartney; the performances were finally released, nearly forty years after their recording, on Anthology 1. (However, the "In Spite of All the Danger" included on Anthology has been truncated--the version included here, which I found on this marvelous site, is about thirty seconds longer).

"The Jades wasn't a band, it was just one guitar and two other guys singing. I was in the background. I wrote the stuff, I didn't sing it. We would play shopping malls and some really bad violent places." Lou Reed.

The Jades' "Leave Her For Me" is the first appearance on record by Lewis Allen Reed, who was 16 years old when it was made, around the same time the Quarrymen were in Percy Phillips' house. Unlike "In Spite of All the Danger,"however, this was a legitimately commercial record, featuring the great King Curtis on saxophone, and which was picked up by the national label Dot.

Reed and his high school friends Phil Harris and Al Walters, after a successful gig at a school variety show, got together one night and wrote "Leave Her For Me" and "So Blue," two paint-by-numbers doo-wop songs. Still, the songs were compelling enough, and the Jades soon caught the attention of A&R man Bob Shad, who worked for Mercury. Like many A&R men, Shad dreamed of running his own label, and figured recording a trio of Long Island kids would be as good a place as any to start.

So Shad got them into the studio, along with a session band that featured Curtis; Reed played rhythm guitar and sang backup, Walters sang bass and Harris sang lead. At one point, Shad felt the kids weren't delivering adequate vocals, and brought in a session singer who, according to Reed, had an enormous mound of snot hanging out of his nose. (Many more fantastic details in this interview with Harris.)

Reed later recalled that the song was played once on the radio by Murray the K, and that he received royalties of 78 cents, while Harris said the height of the Jades' fame was occasionally appearing on lists of singles that could be played from a diner booth.

Released on November 28, 1958, c/w "So Blue" as Time 1002. On Rockin' On Broadway and also iTunes.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Fred Katz and His Jammers, Dexterity.
Carmen McRae, Flamingo.

Charlie Parker's "Dexterity," recorded in October 1947, is about as typical as bebop gets--it's yet another variation on the "I Got Rhythm" changes, with a knotty opening theme delivered by the two horns, followed by a steeplechase Bird solo. Miles Davis and Duke Jordan dash out solos, the latter upended by a eight-bar explosion from Max Roach.

In 1958, the cellist Fred Katz transmuted "Dexterity": the opening is now a neatly-arranged contrapuntal exercise, which begins with eight bars of Katz bowing his cello. Katz and John Pisano's guitar take on the roles of Bird and Miles, then the cast expands with trumpet, vibes, bass and drums. Pisano gets the first solo, followed by Gene Estes musing on vibes. And Roach's brief drum salvo in the Parker original is here transformed into an elaborate, lengthy excursion, complete with a fade-out, by Frank Butler, who would later accompany John Coltrane as a second drummer (working with Elvin Jones) during Coltrane's last years.

Katz was born in Brooklyn in 1919, and trained with Pablo Casals. He earned a living via session work and touring, accompanying the likes of Lena Horne and Tony Bennett, though he was also a founding member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet in the mid-'50s. He is perhaps best known for his film work--he actually appears on-screen with Hamilton in Sweet Smell of Success, and he scored a number of movies for Roger Corman, including the first Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket of Blood.

Katz's take on "Dexterity" was recorded in Los Angeles sometime in 1958, and also features Pete Candoli (t) and Leroy Vinnegar (b). It's on the LP Fred Katz and His Jammers, Decca 9217, which, along with most other Katz recordings from the '50s, has never been released on CD.

Carmen McRae, born in Harlem in 1920, was considered a cult favorite: while treasured by the elite group of bop players who hung out at Minton's, she was a complete unknown outside of New York. That changed in 1953, when she began recording for Decca and Kapp, making a dozen LPs that remain some of the finest jazz vocal discs ever released, including By Special Request, Mad About the Man (a tribute to Noel Coward), and the woefully out-of-print Carmen for Cool Ones.

For a taste of what McRae routinely delivered during the '50s, here's "Flamingo," blessed by a McRae vocal whose loveliness is unearthly, and featuring Ben Webster on tenor sax and Irving "Marky" Markowitz on trumpet (he was a Woody Herman veteran).

Recorded in New York on August 4, 1958, with Fred Kellin, Donald Corrado, Dick Berg and Tony Miranda, all on French horns, Don Abney (p), Mundell Love (g), Aaron Bell (b) and Ted Sommer (d). On Birds of a Feather, a wonderfully bizarre "concept" LP in which each track is about birds. Seriously.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


GL Crockett, Look Out Mabel.
GL Crockett, Did You Ever Love Somebody.
The Cyclones, Bullwhip Rock.

All right, back to business. Let's finish off the '50s, yes? Hopefully before the springtime comes.

George L. "Davy" Crockett was a black rockabilly musician--he was born in 1929 in Carollton, Mississippi, and had moved to the Washington DC area by the late '50s. His complete oeuvre consists of some three or four singles, the first (and only '50s release) being "Look Out Mabel"/"Did You Ever Love Somebody."

"Mabel" wears its influences pretty openly--the melody is similar to "Mystery Train," and Crockett's vocal owes a bit to Bo Diddley, though Crockett has his own brand of loopy enthusiasm. Crockett (or maybe Earl Hooker) provides some pretty sharp guitar as well (allegedly, this is one of Mark Knopfler's essential songs), and some unknown master delivers the rollicking piano.

To make things ever more confusing, there were multiple takes recorded for both "Mabel" and "Did You Ever" during Crockett's first session--one set of takes was used for the 1958 single, Chief 7010, and another pair was used for a re-release in 1965, on Checker 1121. (The 1965 re-release was prompted by the success of Crockett's "It's a Man Down There," his biggest hit.) Both of the tracks featured here, I believe, are from the '65 single (but were recorded in '57 or '58).

Crockett died in Chicago in 1967. Only one picture of him exists (see below), and he never granted (or was asked for) a single interview.

Find on That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 10.

The Cyclones rolled out of Tyler, Texas--they were Wayne Brooks, Jr., who had a thundering, relentless piano style, Dennis "Thunder" Jones on lead guitar, Mike Henderson, Johnny Harvey and Pete Martinez. Bill Taylor and, later, Bob Williams sang on a few Cyclones tracks, none of which amounted to much on the charts.

"Bullwhip Rock" was actually the B-side of the Cyclones' first single, "Nelda Jane," which was one of the first releases on Trophy Records. But DJs soon flipped the disc over in favor of "Bullwhip"--it became a major hit in East Texas, and even broke the Billboard 100 (hitting #83).

Released in September 1958 as Trophy 500. Find on Golden Age of American Rock N Roll Vol. 8.