I Got Those Ol’ Subcomittee Blues Again
“As thousands take their seats Thursday night at New York’s Barclays Center to watch Kiss, Cat Stevens and other artists be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”, writes Marc Myers in the Wall Street Journal, “Cecil ‘Big Jay’ McNeely will be preparing dinner in his one-bedroom apartment in the Baldwin Hills section of central Los Angeles. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, Mr. McNeely helped pioneer rock ’n’ roll. His wailing blues saxophone and feverish R&B concerts set new showmanship standards for many rockers who followed—including Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown. He also helped integrate R&B, paving the way for rock’s mass-market ascendancy in the second half of the 1950s… “Having more early R&B artists inducted would be great, but ultimately it’s the decision of the subcommittee,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation president and CEO Joel Peresman. “Then their recommendation needs to garner enough votes among nominating-committee members to get on the ballot.” That last sentence on Big Jay McNeely’s omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes you question the very notion of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, doesn’t it?
“And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too”
Bob G. sends me a link to a site where eloquent strippers talk about music and politics, and one of the choices leads me to this discovery about Lester Maddox. As Wikipedia says: “Maddox’s name appears in the opening lines of Randy Newman’s song “Rednecks” in allusion to his appearance on The Dick Cavett Show:
“Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show/With some smart-ass New York Jew/And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too.
Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool/If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong/So I went to the park and I took some paper along/And that’s where I made this song.”
He was a populist Democrat, and a staunch segregationist, refusing to serve black customers in his Atlanta restaurant in defiance of the Civil Rights Act. Amazingly, Maddox was the 75th Governor of Georgia (from ’67 to ’71). After his 1974 gubernatorial bid, and with his political career seemingly over and with massive debts, Maddox began a short-lived nightclub comedy career in 1977 with an African-American musician, Bobby Lee Sears, who had worked as a busboy in his restaurant. Sears had served time in prison for a drug offense before Maddox, as lieutenant governor, was able to assist him in obtaining a pardon. Calling themselves The Governor and the Dishwasher, the duo performed comedy bits built around musical numbers with Maddox on harmonica and Sears on guitar.” Truth, truly stranger than fiction, as this newspaper clipping from the time attests.
Duke Fakir, Four Tops singer, How We Made “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, The Guardian
“We were all in the studio one day when Holland-Dozier-Holland said they wanted to try something experimental. They had this thumping backing track played by the Funk Brothers – it had an amazing drum beat created by timpani mallets hitting a tambourine. The sound was fabulous, but then Eddie said they wanted Levi Stubbs [the Four Tops’ lead singer] to do Bob Dylan-type singing over it. Levi was uncomfortable at first. He said: “I’m a singer. I don’t talk or shout.” But we worked on it for a couple of hours, recording it in pieces, talking part after talking part. Eddie realised that when Levi hit the top of his vocal range, it sounded like someone hurting, so he made him sing right up there. Levi complained, but we knew he loved it. Every time they thought he was at the top, he would reach a little further until you could hear the tears in his voice. The line “Just look over your shoulder” was something he threw in spontaneously. Levi was very creative like that, always adding something extra from the heart. The finished song didn’t sound like the Four Tops. We just assumed it was some experimental thing that would go on an album. A few weeks later, Motown boss Berry Gordy sent us a memo: “Make sure your taxes are taken care of – because we’re going to release the biggest record you’ve ever had.” He called us into his office, and I remember one of us asking: “So when are we going to record this great song?” He said: “You already have.” We’re all thinking: “Huh? Then he played “Reach Out” and we said: “Hold on, Berry, we were just experimenting. Please don’t release that as a single. It’s not us. It has a nice rhythm to it but if you release that we’ll be on the charts with an anchor.” He laughed, but we left the meeting feeling very upset, almost angry. I was out driving when I heard the song on the radio for the first time. It hit me like a lead pipe. I turned my car round and drove right back to Berry’s office. He was in a meeting but I opened the door and just said: “Berry, don’t ever talk to us about what you’re releasing. Just do what you do. Bye.”
Mistaken Wall Painting. Don’t Hold Front Page.
Waiting in the car, the sunlight drew me to something on the wall at the end of our street. And in one of those “doesn’t that look like the face of Jesus in my burnt tortilla?” moments, I thought it was a version of the cover of The Band. I know – mad. What it actually is: the number £29,000. Which in itself is quite strange…
Ronnie Scott’s Jook Joint
Reading A London Year (a compilation of diary entries for each day drawn from myriad sources) I come upon this, written on the 27 march, 1776 by Edward Oxnard.
“In the evening went to Drury Lane to hear the Oratorio of the Messiah composed by Handel. It is impossible for me to express the pleasure I received. My mind was elevated to that degree, that I could almost imagine that I was being wafted to the mansions of the blest. There were more than a hundred performers, the best in England.”
I knew how he felt as I sat in the best seat of the house (thanks H+E!) and listened to Ronnie’s super-talented MD James Pearson lead his house band through a soul-heavy set that was flatly astonishing. If you’d asked me beforehand if I wanted to hear “Proud Mary”, I’d have politely declined. What could anyone bring to that karaoke warhorse, written by John Fogarty and pummeled into the ground by Tina Turner? I reckoned without Michelle Jones and a band who played everything with taste and feeling. It’s hard to know where to start… The first half had been the Alex Garnett quartet with Dave Jones on bass, fleet fingered but mountainously funky, Pearson on keys and Elliot Henshaw on drums, moving from the twenties to the seventies, jazz-wise, with ease. The same musicians became the nucleus of the band for the second set, joined by a five piece horn section featuring, joy of joys, a baritone sax. They also added three terrific singers and the sensational Adam Goldsmith, fresh from essaying every guitar style known to man in The Voice house band. A medley of Cop Theme Tunes was followed by a perfect “Night Train”, hot horns to the fore. There was so much to enjoy here, especially Goldsmith’s Curtis Mayfield-style licks wrapping around Polly Gibbon’s sultry vocal on Ray Charles “What Would I Do Without You?” and his angry soloing on “I’d Rather Go Blind”, counterpointing Michelle Jones.
I could have watched Elliot Henshaw all night. I had to go up to him afterwards and tell him that he was one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen. In the quartet it was “Big Noise From Winnetka” (expansive and dynamic Krupa-esque tom thumping) one moment, Mr Magic-era Harvey Mason (a model of funk precision) the next. His cymbal playing behind the soloists was hair-raisingly good, every intonation wieghted and propulsive. In the R ’n’ B/Soul second half, where they were reading charts for unfamiliar arrangements, he was just as jaw-dropping. Not a missed turnaround, not a bridge or chorus that didn’t lift higher than the one before. Hugely recommended, the Jook Joint’s on Sundays, once a month, with a shifting cast of great musicians.