Wednesday, January 9th

{ONE} BEAT IT!
It’s great, discovering that there are still things to discover, like this great 60s tv show with a fantastic typographic title: The !!!! Beat. It was essentially a black music program out of Dallas Texas, with a white presenter (Nashville DJ “Hoss” Allen) and a house band led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. There’s a bunch of episodes on YouTube, and so much to enjoy (Freddy King doing a lot with a little, the matching suit and Stratocaster of Louis Jordan’s guitarist) but my favourite performance so far is probably Barbara Lynn. As Clarence fiddles his way to the end of a country song, his band looking like the slickest Uptown Soul Revue, Hoss says “Have mercy, have mercy, thought I was on the wrong show there for a minute, lost my way in the Opry House with “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again”. Well, darlin’s, it’s nice to have Miss Barbara Lynn back with us. She’s got a swinging thing to do for us. Right here, from Beaumont, Texas, Barbara…”

And, looking like Jimi Hendrix’s younger sister, she rocks “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”, her unvarnished rhythm guitar playing and great phrasing leading the band in a Southern Soul classic. Thom Hickey at The Immortal Jukebox wrote about this performance a few years ago, but I must have missed it. Oh, and note the varnish worn down on her blonde Esquire where her wild style with a thumb pick has scraped raw the body above the scratchplate…

{TWO} LIKE EATING A PICTURE OF FOOD
At Marc Myers’ Jazzwax, this fascinating insight into the (as bassist Chuck Israels sees it) limitations of the recording process. Marc: Following my post on trombonist J.J. Johnson’s Broadway Express (1965), Chuck Israels sent along a few observations about J.J.’s Broadway, a show-tune album from 1963… “Hi Marc, I was on some of the sessions for JJ’s Broadway, and they were memorable. The experience demonstrated how inadequately most recordings represent the real sound of music played by fine musicians and experienced by listeners in the same space. Those five great trombonists, JJ, Urbie Green, Lou McGarity, Dick Hixon, and Paul Faulise made an overwhelmingly rich and powerful sound in the studio. We recorded at the old A&R Studio above Jim and Andy’s on 48th Street. It was loud and beautiful, perfectly balanced, in tune and rhythmically coordinated. You not only heard it with your ears, you could feel it on your body.

“But when we heard the playbacks, I was deeply disappointed. Little of the experience carried over into the recording, and the lush, deep and powerful blend of sound, the humanity of it, was rendered thinner and more brassy after being processed through a reverb system that the engineer, Phil Ramone, had installed in the building’s stairwell. When I hear the recording now, I enjoy it. JJ’s arrangements and the performances are all fine. The sound is good by most standards. But it’s a fraction of how the music sounded in the room. My friend, Jerry Rosen, former associate concertmaster and later pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, says listening to music on recordings is like getting kissed over the telephone. Another friend, pianist and composer-arranger Bill Dobbins, says it’s like eating a picture of food. I’m still glad we have recordings.”

{THREE} JIM AND ANDY’S SOUNDS THE BUSINESS
“Over the years, Jim & Andy’s became more than just a place for studio guys to relax between sessions. There was a shelf in the back for storing small instruments and upstairs there was room for a couple of drum sets, basses, and guitar amplifiers. There was a coat rack where guys could hang a jacket or a tux for weeks at a time. In fact, I used to leave a topcoat back there from winter to spring, and no one ever bothered it. We could also leave phone messages, letters, packages, even checks with Rocky or Jim. We always knew they’d be delivered to the right person.” – Milt Hinton in his book, Playing the Changes. [photo copyright of Milt Hinton]

{FOUR} 2019: YEAR OF DONEGAN
The Voice’s opening show had a couple of moments that, for all the programme’s set-up narratives, actually worked. The last singer, Nicole Dennis, was a professional (no bar to competing in The Voice), currently singing in the Dreamgirls chorus and understudying the part that sealed Judge Jennifer Hudson’s fame. Cue a stormin’ duet!

The contestant before, Peter Donegan, Lonnie’s son, was trying his luck, and struck gold at the mention of Lonnie’s name – Judge Tom [Jones] had recorded one of Lon’s songs! It was “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, written by Donegan and his then-guitarist Jimmy Currie, and inspired by a Josh White song, “Wanderin’”.

Although Tom said on the programme that it was written for him, Wikipedia has this to say, quoting Tom: “I did some shows with Lonnie and we became friends… One night he said: ‘Look, I have this song, you’d sing the pants off it. I’ve recorded it, but I can’t really sing it. It’s a sort of a rewrite of a song from the Thirties when the Depression was going on, called “I’m Never Going To Cease My Wandering.” I knew that song because a lot of guys used to sing it in pubs in Wales. I went to his house in Virginia Water, and he got this record out to listen to… With the big chorus on it, it sounded fantastic. He was singing it Lonnie Donegan style, completely different from the way I did, like somebody busking…” So they duly gather ’round the old Joanna and bash it out, not badly.

In Patrick Humphrey’s excellent biography of Lonnie, he tells how Elvis heard the song when Jones performed it as part of his Vegas show (which became the model for Elvis’ own return to live performing). “Tom had told Elvis that the song was written by this guy Lonnie Donegan. ‘Oh I know him,’ replied the King, ‘He used to take me on in the charts’. In 1976, at one of his last-ever recording sessions, Elvis finally covered “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”.

Sometime this year the BBC should broadcast Billy Bragg’s documentary on the cultural impact of “Rock Island Line”, directed by George Scott., which is based on Billy’s fine book, Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World.

{FIVE} PROBABLY NOT

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Five Things End of Year Part 2 follows next week.

Wednesday, August 2nd

ONE ROCK REFERENCES EVERYWHERE…

5-tiger

For this one, we have Tiger (the Danish retailer, a “celebration of all things fun and creative”) to thank. Which leads us neatly on to…

TWO ROCK ’N’ ROLL GUNS FOR HIRE
Subtitled The Story Of The Sideman, this was an enjoyable, if slightly repetitious, watch, that sadly proved why most sidemen are sidemen. There’s an artistic gulf between being a great musician playing anything brilliantly at the drop a hat, and an artist with something to say, who realises that he needs people who can play anything brilliantly at the… you get the picture. Presenter Earl Slick was as r ’n’ r as they come, even when he was chopping wood outside his cabin in upstate New York, but the moment that he and Bernard Fowler (second vocalist, the Rolling Stones) start in on the Bowie stuff – oh, mama, hands in front of your face time.

THREE SORT-OF-SATISFIED SIDIES
Steve Cropper, perfect sideman, relished the role and was happy and content, as he’d written some of soul music’s most cherished – and lucrative – songs (see One). Wendy and Lisa found their version of success by branching away from the frontman role into award-winning tv and movie scoring. They are so openly in love with music-making that the scenes of them in the studio playing and talking, were the programme’s most interesting. Here’s the bit when Wendy realises that something has gone wrong…

Prince (in the film Purple Rain) “This is a song the girls in the band wrote – Lisa and Wendy…”
Wendy Melvoin: “The song “Purple Rain” – in the movie he says, I’d like to perform a song the girls wrote… I had an interview and someone misquoted me, asked Did you write “Purple Rain”, and the answer in print was Yes. I get a phone call from Prince, and he’s extremely upset. “Why did you say that? Do you think you wrote “Purple Rain”?” And I said, “Stop. No, but we helped you”.

Prince walked in the room and said, here’s the chord progressions… I thought to myself that’s like a Country progression, and what I pride myself on is finding a way to re-harmonise something that’s very simple. So, I played the chords, but I stretched bottom notes and I put ninths, different shades… here comes the chords… [Wendy plays beautiful suspensions over Lisa’s piano, creating the gorgeous feel that we know and love].

“Did I write “Purple Rain”? Neoowww. But would “Purple Rain” have been the song that you hear to this day without chef [meaning herself] coming in – this is the dish I wanna cook, I’ve assembled a crew here – what are we gonna do? I wanted to be a great guitar player in a great band. I wanted to be a great player. But there’s ambivalence about that role that I had, and what I knew Lisa and I were giving him.

I did have moments of anger at him – I always wanted him to say, You are great! God, I couldn’t do this without you… that didn’t come out of his mouth. Prince made it perfectly clear that if you had that role, and you were next to him, playing, that was his validation. In the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted his validation… But when it came right down to it, he had every right to ignore you. He hired you. He wanted to do this thing, and he was signed to Warner Brothers. And it wasn’t specified, there wasn’t a distinction made that You are now going to partake in my soup. It was just like – This is gonna be awesome, aren’t you going to be having fun? I’m having fun. And we’re like Yeaaahhh!

FOUR ANOTHER SIDEMEN MOVIE!
Now, this movie here, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, celebrates three sidemen of the blues: Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Looks good. I remember seeing Willie with Muddy Waters at, I want to say the Edmonton Sundown (or maybe it was The Rainbow), and for half the gig I was convinced that Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was the star of the show. The rest of the band kept great time and Willie played his thing, song after song, a brilliant dancing, shuffling beat. He could play the slowest blues and make it move and groove. Here’s a nice ’76 concert in Dortmund, from around that time. Check out “Long Distance Call” at around 48 minutes, his cymbals following James Portnoy’s harp. Wonderful.

FIVE ROOTS, RADICALS AND ROCKERS AT THE LIBRARY
Billy brings the music home to America – whilst explaining the twist given to it by Britain’s jazzers, skifflers, and bluesers – talking to an audience at the Library of Congress. It took place, worryingly, in the Mumford Room. My researches don’t reveal if it’s named after Marcus Mumford or not. I’m hoping not. [Thanks to Charlie Banks for the link.]

PLUS…
So many good pieces to read in the last few weeks. Here’s two – Patti Smith’s farewell to her friend Sam Shepard in the New Yorker and Richard William’s lovely note about Shepard’s co-write with Bob Dylan on “Brownsville Girl”, one of the great vocal performances in the whole of American music.

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