EVERYTHING I REALLY NEEDED TO KNOW, I LEARNED FROM ROCK AND ROLL (Lesson #1: Just like Ronnie Said)

[NOTE: It’s been a while since I started a new category....Some of my friends are gonna be surprised that this wasn’t the name of my very first category....You know who you are! Any way, this category will be loosely defined as relating today’s headlines to the people-oriented history of rock and roll I try to emphasize in general....So it might get hairy at times.]

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When Ronnie Bennett (at the left above) auditioned for Phil Spector (seated) with her vocal group (already called the Ronettes and here pictured with George Harrison and English publicist Tony King) Spector leaped off his piano bench and said. “Stop….That’s it. That is it.”

He was referring to what John Lennon would later call “the Voice.” and he very specifically meant the voice he had been waiting–and hoping–to find.

It was that voice–not, as has so often been assumed and reported, Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” production technique–that so captivated the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson when he first heard “Be My Baby” that it instantly became the standard by which he would measure the rest of his life (not to mention all that glorious music).

As Ronnie Spector, then, she became a legend and one of the most important vocalists of the rock and roll era.

Then she went away.

There were reasons.

She divorced Phil Spector in 1972.

He had forced her to quit performing years before. He had also kept her effectively locked up as a prisoner in his L.A. mansion. When she finally made her terrified break, it was running…on bare feet lest her shoes make noise on the driveway pavement.

In light of the daily reports this past couple of weeks concerning various forms of abuse directed at women and children (when she met Spector she was seventeen and so essentially both) by celebrity athletes, it’s worth remembering the price she paid. For anyone who had been paying attention, Spector’s eventual murder of Lana Clarkson was no more surprising than the recent video of Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice cold-cocking his wife-to-be in a casino elevator. For some, the obvious is never really obvious unless they see it with their own eyes….or the body on the floor is actually dead (as opposed to merely knocked stone cold, as Rice’s wife-to-be clearly had been in the previously released video which did not show the actual punch). For the rest of us, the obvious is, well, obvious.

Twas ever thus.

The following is from Ronnie Spector’s autobiography, Be My Baby, which (as told to Vince Waldron) was published in 1990. It’s one of the finest–and most unflinching–of all rock and roll memoirs, not least because she told the world that, no, Phil Spector, didn’t coach her singing (he was a superb talent scout before he was anything else) and that, yes, he was very, very dangerous.

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After our successes at Madison Square Garden and the Baths, I continued doing concerts with the girls through the rest of 1974. But nothing ever matched the excitement of those shows. We spent most of our time marching in and out of oldies revues, and that got pretty depressing after a while. I was barely thirty years old and everywhere I went people were calling me an oldie but goodie.

It drove me crazy–and it sure didn’t help my drinking problem any. I used to stand backstage at these rock and roll revivals and cringe when the emcee announced us as oldies singers. I’d be standing off in the dark somewhere in the wings and raise my Dixie Cup of vodka and Coke in a silent toast. “Here’s to little Ronnie Spector,” I’d whisper to myself. “An oldie. But a goodie!” I’d say it as a joke, but I can tell you there was nothing funny about it.

Whether it was for good or bad, my oldies career finally came to an end during the holiday season of 1974. That was the year Dick Clark signed the Ronettes to take part in a rock and roll revival show he was staging at the Flamingo Hotel. And I’ll never forget my nightmare in Las Vegas.

It was great to be working with Dick Clark again–his shows were always professionally run, and this was no exception. I rehearsed my numbers with Chip and Denise on stage in the late afternoon and we were dynamite. Dick and everyone on his staff were predicting that Vegas would be the start of a whole new career for the Ronettes.

And when I finally saw our name up in lights outside the casino, I began to think so, too. They do everything about ten times bigger than life in Vegas. So naturally, the marquee outside the hotel was about a hundred feet tall, with the names of all the groups in the show spelled out in letters twelve feet high. I’d never seen “The Ronettes” spelled out that big, and I loved it.

Dick gave us a dinner break between the afternoon rehearsal and our first evening show, so I took the elevator back up to my room to rest up. I was so high from the excitement that I didn’t think anything could bring me down. Then the phone rang.

“It’s me,” the voice said. He didn’t bother identifying himself. He didn’t need to.

“Phil?” I hadn’t spoke to him in so long that I actually thought he might be calling me to wish me well on the show.

“Veronica,” he said. “What in God’s name makes you think you’re ready to play Vegas?”

I should have known Phil would be up to his same old tricks. “Okay,” I said. “Is that all you called for?”

“No,” he said. “I just wanted to give you fair warning that tonight could be the last time you appear on stage in Las Vegas. Or anywhere else.”

He was talking so calmly, for a minute I actually thought that he was saying something sensible, and that I was the one confused. “What ARE you talking about?”

“I always said I’d kill you if you left me,” he explained. “And tonight I’m making good on that promise. In two hours you will be assassinated on stage at the Flamingo Hotel.”

“I’m calling the cops Phil,” I told him. “If you even try to set foot in the Flamingo, I’ll have you arrested.” I tried to stand up to him, but he just laughed in my ear. It was a sound that went right down my spine.

“You don’t think I’d be stupid enough to pull the trigger?” he said. “That’s what I pay hit men for. And I’ve hired six of them on this job. Three black and three white. You might spot one, but you’ll never be able to get them all. They’ll be at your show tonight, and I’ve offered a million-dollar bonus to the one who shoots the bullet that does the job.”

I dropped the phone like it was a dried fish and ran out of the room. I figured the whole think was just one of Phil’s dumb jokes, but it still scared the hell out of me. One thing I knew about Phil is that you couldn’t second-guess him. What if today was the say the guy finally did crack up?

I decided to find Dick Clark and get his advice. But by the time I got down to the showroom, he was already gone. I walked through the casino with my hands shaking so bad I knew I had to get something to calm me down before I rattled myself to pieces. So I walked into the bar for one quick drink. But in those days they were never quick. And it was never just one.

I grabbed my nose and sucked down a vodka and tonic, then I set my hands down on the bar. They were still shivering. “One more,” I told the bartender. I felt so much better after the second drink that I was sure a third would do the trick. Five vodka and tonics later, my problem was solved. I no longer had to figure out whether to go through with the show or not. Dick Clark would make that decision for me.

He tried to look the other way when I stumbled into the backstage area that night. But Dick couldn’t ignore the fact that I was too drunk to make it through even one verse of “Walking in the Rain,” at the final dress rehearsal. “Ronnie,” he said, steering me over to a quiet corner backstage. “You’re in no shape to go on tonight. I’m sending you up to your room.”

Dick Clark and I go way back–I did my first national TV appearance on his show. So when I saw that glint of disappointment in his eyes, that hurt almost as much as being fired.

“I’m sorry, Dick,” I slurred. “I just didn’t want the hit men to get me.” I was trying to give him an explanation, but it was useless. He had no idea what I was talking about, and he had better things to do than listen.

….that little incident pretty much killed the Ronettes as an oldies act.

Not in our hearts, though…Never in our hearts:

 

 

RECORD MAN (Bob Crewe, R.I.P.)

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(Bob Crewe, left, with Frankie Valli in the recording studio. Bob Gaudio, Crewe’s frequent Four Seasons’ writing partner with the beard in the background, circa 1960s)

If the particular style of writer/producer who emerged in the late fifties/early sixties were to be judged only by the quality and importance of the records he made (as opposed to the will and ability to self-mythologize), Bob Crewe would be as well known and respected as Phil Spector.

Alas, he never managed to lock his wife in the house for five years and make her watch Citizen Kane every night or, better yet, commit a murder, so Crewe’s death this week at age 83 did not elicit the kind of front-page headlines Spector’s will when he shuffles off this mortal coil.

That’s a shame, because as a record man and talent scout–as the things that should matter–he was pretty much Spector’s equal.

Whatever modern notoriety Crewe had attained at the time of his passing was by virtue of being a minor–if flamboyant–character in Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons that was lifted off the ground a decade back by beat cops and waitresses, unused to having what they cared about celebrated, who took to paying Broadway prices to see it ten and twenty times and has been running ever since. Evidently in real life, Crewe–besides being adult, urbane and sane (Mortal Sins all, in the eyes of the crit-illuminati)–was actually pretty discreet about being a gay man in a macho industry. Discreet enough that I certainly have no idea how he felt about being so often criminally ignored. (And I know I sound like a broken record, but, no, he isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

Perhaps he felt the records themselves were the best revenge.

It’s certainly interesting to note that his genius productions with the Seasons are more likely to annoy the right people these days than anything the Beatles or the Stones ever did.

I perhaps owe him a special debt. The Four Seasons were my way into rock and roll and it takes nothing away from their own genius to admit they wouldn’t have been anybody’s way into anything without him.

And they were only a small part of his achievement, which–as writer, producer, or both, covered everything below and much, much more. Phil Spector need not be ashamed that he didn’t best Crewe’s achievements.

Few did.

As writer (warning, the second one might make your head explode):

As producer:

As writer and producer:

And his signature achievement…as co-writer and producer…As I like to say…Hey, Time? You think you caught Bob Crewe?….Catch this:

Hope freedom’s ringing wherever you are man, because you sure left a lot of it here.

(NOTE: Regarding the link in the text above, I’m always looking to add lifetime memberships to the Dead Brain Cell Count Brigade. Anyone who prefers the Tremeloes to the Four Seasons certainly qualifies. Welcome Katy Shaidle!)

DEVIL OR ANGEL? I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND….or GREIL MARCUS VS. GREIL MARCUS (Segue of the Day: 9/17/14)

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I’ll probably be giving this a full review in a week or two. But meanwhile…

The best thing about Greil Marcus is that he has spent a lot of his life chasing down stories that generally reside in the shadows and bringing them to people like me, who would almost certainly not hear them otherwise. Here’s the priceless highlight of the tale of Peggy Sue Rackham (nee Gerran) and Donna Fox, from a chapter on Buddy Holly in Marcus’ latest book The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs that constitutes his finest sustained writing in years:

“I never knew there was a Peggy Sue,” Fox says in the film [a 1993 documentary called Peggy Sue]; Peggy Sue didn’t know there was a Donna. “And it was even more amazing,” Rackham says, “to find out we were living in the same town–and had for years. I called Donna at her office, and luckily got her on the phone. ‘Is this Ritchie Valens’ ‘Donna’?’ ‘Yesssss…’” Rackham remembers Fox saying, her guard up–she’d had calls like this before. “‘Well–this is Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue.’

“Want to do lunch?”

As stories go, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Now…The most exasperating thing about Greil Marcus?

At the end of the book (I’m about half-way through but I skipped ahead to read this part), he has a good piece on Amy Winehouse and the Shangri-Las.

Except for a few brief, subsequent pieces on Shangs’ lead singer Mary Weiss in his regular columns, Marcus’ last lengthy mention of the Shangri-Las prior to this was here, from the June 30, 2004 edition of City Pages–the last entry of the last “Real Life Rock and Roll Top Ten” Marcus wrote for that publication:

10) Shangri-Las, City Hall Park, New York City, June 19 In the May 17, 2001 edition of this column, then running in Salon, I included an item, written more than a week earlier, on an A&E documentary that featured an interview with Mary L. Stokes–formerly Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, the lead singer with long, straight blond hair. She was talking about why the 1964-65 tragedies of “Remember,” “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” or “Leader of the Pack” were not difficult for her: because, she said, she had enough pain in her own life to stand up to the songs. A few days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, I heard that Stokes, now a manager for a furniture company, was present when the towers were hit and when they came down; I contacted her and asked her to write about that day for this column, and she did. When I read that the Shangri-Las would be performing in New York City, I asked my friend Robert Christgau to cover the show; as this will be my last column in City Pages for at least a year, the idea of tracing that circle, if not closing it, seemed right.

Christgau reports: “This may be the oldest crowd I’ve been in anywhere short of the Metropolitan Opera (and a beatnik poetry reading I attended a few years back). Intros by Randy Davis of WCBS-FM, ‘New York’s oldies station,’ promising to ‘walk you right down memory lane’ in the ‘real heart of New York City.’ ‘They were known as the bad girls of rock and roll…’ Backing band all in black, three ladies in black slacks with V-cut red satin tops. Stage left a brunette in her twenties, stage right a well-preserved forty/fifty something, also brunette. But there’s no Mary Weiss in sight–unless she now has brownish hair in a curly frizz, which would be bad for business. Four or five dozen onlookers come up in front of the stage in the sun, those on benches stay there, most of the crowd of perhaps 200 hangs back in the shade, including senior latecomers who really need to sit. The band vamps, sounding way too perky, and they are: The opening number is ‘You Can’t Hurry Love,’ followed by ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss,’ the nicest hit in the Shangri-Las’ repertoire, which is also too perky. It’s a generic oldies set (‘Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘The Loco-Motion,’ ‘Be My Baby,’ etc.) with three Shangri-Las tunes.”

It turns out the Shangri-Las are the Shangri-La: Marge Ganser, “the twin who didn’t die of a barbiturate overdose,” accompanied by her daughter Mary and a friend. Christgau: “Five blocks from Ground Zero, we’re told (well, not ‘we,’ but the younger fans Marge was looking down at; we ‘survivors’–yes, the term was adduced, by young Mary–know enough to stay out of the midday sun) we’re going to have ‘a hell of a history lesson.’ And the lesson is that although the Shangri-Las live (except for the dead Ganser) their individual-collaborative achievement does not; the lesson is that the past is already smooshed together into one perky playlist.”

Bye-bye.

And, at the end of Marcus’ notes for Ten Songs…sans apology, with the proverbial straight face:

“Shangri-La Mary Ann Ganser died in 1970 at twenty-two; her twin sister Marge Ganser died in 1996 at forty-eight.”

Oh..so he does know.

He might have also mentioned that Marge Ganser did not have any children–named Mary or otherwise–but perhaps that information has not yet filtered through.

So, okay, maybe exasperating isn’t quite strong enough a word. Let’s just say it’s the cool contempt for the great unwashed–the assurance that everybody is a sucker (or a con) but them–that slays me.

And kind of makes me wonder if that great story up top there is even true.

I’ve posted it before, but for a reminder of how the living, breathing Shangri-Las felt about having their name and image (a perfect name and revolutionary image which they, unlike most groups of their era, made up entirely on their own) and money stolen from them you can watch this:

Of course, since Robert Christgau saw fake Shangri-Las in New York City in 2004 (assuming he didn’t just make the whole thing up), we know how their court fight came out. So here’s a happier memory:

And, in case you were wondering….these guys had their money stolen, too….Which is why they were on the road in February, 1959, hopping a plane so they could get off that freezing tour bus on the day something in the music really did die:

…More on the book, good and bad, shortly!

 

OVERTURNING THE NARRATIVE (Old School Mercury Rising: Occasional Sports’ Moment #17)

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Haven’t had a sports moment in a while. I even laid off when Tim Duncan and the Spurs wasted the Heat in the NBA finals–getting revenge for last year’s heartbreak and sending King LeBron in search of World Peace, a Higher Purpose and a general approach to life and basketball that looks a lot more like Duncan’s (for all of which I certainly applaud him).

Permit me, though, to pause for a quick congratulations to the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, who just completed a season in which they established themselves as the new standard for the greatest women’s team ever.

The playoffs were mostly a walk-through, but there were two moments of possible angst–the end of the third quarter of a deciding Game Three in the Western Conference Finals against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx and the fourth quarter of Game Three of the Finals against the Chicago Sky.

I’ll get to some details shortly, but suffice it to say that, with all the new pieces added since 2009, including Brittney Griner (who, in her second season, developed a fantastic offensive game to go with all those blocks and dunks that have made her famous beyond the usual realm of women’s basketball and turned herself into a real force), when it came to winning time, it was still Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor (pictured above) who delivered the goods.

This was their third WNBA championship together (playing separately they’ve both won numerous times on the international stage, Olympics, FIBA, Euro-Leagues and the like) and the basics still applied: Taylor was the glue, Taurasi the glitter.

You need both to win. It will be a crying shame if Taylor, a superstar talent who has sacrificed her stats for years to do all the “little” things that don’t show up in box scores, doesn’t make the Basketball Hall of Fame just because there’s no stat for “If there are four people in this pile and I’m one of them, I’m coming out with the ball.”

There was a defining moment in their chemistry at the end of that third quarter in the Western Conference decider. The game was tied with about half a minute left–tight as a tick, basket for basket. Taurasi made a jump shot and then a half-court three-point heave to give the Mercury a five point lead and open up the game. They never looked back and those shots made every highlight reel I saw.

Deservedly so. But you had to watch the game to know that Taylor went into a pileup to win a loose ball that set up the first shot. Then she reached in on the defensive end and wrestled the ball away from a jump shooter, forcing a turnover with 0.8 left in the quarter.

As the announcers were chastising Taylor for risking a fifth foul (which would have put her on the bench for most of the fourth quarter in what was then a close game), the Mercury in-bounded the ball to Taurasi who made the “miracle” half-courter that broke the game open.

That basic theme repeated itself over and over in the (again, basket-for-basket) fourth quarter of the championship clincher against the Sky, won (with Griner injured and on the bench the entire game) when Taurasi made the last of a series of acrobatic shots to put the Mercury ahead and Taylor (who was maybe the seventh tallest player on the floor at that point) knifed through a crowd and grabbed the rebound of the Sky’s miss at the other end to seal the deal.

The WNBA has been a punching bag for the Boys Club (especially at talk radio) since its inception. And, truth be told, it hasn’t always been pretty. Too much imitation of the modern, mostly clueless NBA for my taste (the Curse of David Stern reaches everywhere)–though not from these two, who play very Old School.

But the script has definitely flipped.

Right now, at this moment, the hard-core truth is this: The hardest nosed basketball player in the world and the most entertaining basketball player in the world are both women and both pure winners. And they just happen to play on the same team.

Can’t wait for next season!

Here’s Taurasi’s half-court shot, caught by someone in the arena (just missed Taylor’s play, unfortunately, but nice atmosphere!)

And here’s the broadcast version, with the announcers questioning Taylor’s judgment….while the shot is being made…and, believe me, there is absolutely nothing more hilarious than referring to a tussle over the ball that involves Penny Taylor as “fifty-fifty”:

 

WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (Keith Carradine Nails Wild Bill Hickok, Gets Killed For His Pains)

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(John Hawkes and Timothy Olyphant, each assaying his entire range of facial expressions in Deadwood, and Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok)

It may not always be obvious, but I really do prefer to accentuate the positive. So when I finally caught up to Deadwood this week, David Milch’s “revisionist/realist” vision of the west that ran on HBO from 2004 to 2006, I was hoping–against what I knew were long odds based on what I’d read and various clips I’d seen over the years–that I could find something good to say about it.

Not too long into the first episode, I realized it had one very good thing, which was Keith Carradine’s riveting performance of Wild Bill Hickok, a mytho-historical figure who has probably been portrayed on screen only slightly less often than Wyatt Earp and Jesse James.

Naturally, I didn’t want it to stop there. I looked really hard for a second good thing. Ten episodes in, I haven’t found it, unless having my suspicions confirmed that–given the bright “creative” minds involved–not much was likely to be very realistic and nothing at all was going to be revised counts as a positive.

I actually consider that last to be sort of value-neutral, so Carradine as Wild Bill it is.

I’ll admit it’s not a small thing.

I’m sure the script called for Hickok to meet his famous demise at the end of the fourth episode before Carradine was even cast. But, if it hadn’t, they probably would have needed to move the enterprise  forward. Based on the ten episodes I’ve seen so far, letting him hang around for even four episodes might have been a mistake, because having even one person walk through this drag-ass exercise in po-mo pretension for four seconds (let alone four episodes) who looks, sounds, moves and behaves like someone who might have actually lived a life worth telling  a story about–in the Old West or anywhere else–just knocks the whole enterprise sideways.

Once the famous fatal bullet finds its mark in the back of Will Bill’s head, we’re left with Ian McShane’s Al-Pacino-In-The-West bluster (I’d call it one-note but that’s giving it credit for far too much dimension) and Timothy Olyphant’s thousand-yard-stare (which, if, as I suspect, is his version of the laconic western hero, has given me a whole new measure of appreciation for Gary Cooper which I wouldn’t have previously believed either necessary or possible) and Milch’s evident belief that adding three “fucks” and a “cocksucker” to lines nobody who knows anything at all about “the West” as either history or myth could possibly read with a straight face to begin with will make it all come good in the end.

But, for all that, I’m still grateful Carradine got to assay his Hickok in something or other, and, while I regret he didn’t get the stage he deserved (preferably in something scripted by Charles Portis or Thomas Berger) I still have to honor a performance that gives us both a definitive version of the cold-eyed killer we’ve seen so often…

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and one we haven’t seen at all….

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(NOTE: Going over Carradine’s IMDB listing to see what all I might have missed I was reminded that he was a Robert Altman regular in the seventies. Robert Altman, if we didn’t thank you then–for this and many other gifts–we thank you now!)

THE ARCHITECT OF ROCK’S EARLY DAWN… (Cosimo Matassa, R.I.P.)

 

COSIMOMATASSAThere are a lot of folks–an alarming number of them quite influential–who prefer to believe that “rock ‘n’ roll” was really a form of magic. That it simply “appeared” out of the ether somewhere in the American South and, as Ishmael Reed once sardonically put it: “Jes’ grew.”

Rock ‘n’ roll did not appear by magic. Like all of human history, whether for good or evil, whether transcendent or mundane, it was made exclusively by people. Mostly by very talented and ambitious people.

Not one of whom was more significant than the New Orleans record man Cosimo Matassa, who just passed away at the age of 88.

If rock ‘n’ roll–as both a distinctive sound and a challenge to the reigning cultural hegemony–was “born” anywhere, it was in his J&M Studio on Rampart Street. I’d pick Dec. 10, 1949, the date of Fats Domino’s first session (out of which came “The Fat Man,”) as the delivery date.

But if you wanted to slide back a little, to Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” (1947), or move forward a bit to Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (1952) or Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” (1955), you still wouldn’t be wrong.

As the effective mentor of both Dave Bartholomew (pictured with Fats below) and Allen Toussaint–probably two of the top half dozen “record men” in the history of the music–the breadth and depth of Matassa’s influence was as least as sizable as those of far more famous men like Sam Phillips or the Chess brothers. Thankfully, he was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 (decades after he should have been…but at least he didn’t have to die first–we know that tune).

A much fuller account of the man’s achievements (and the genuine love that he–unlike almost every other hard-headed business man of that raucous era–inspired among the musicians who recorded for him) can be found here.

For those interested in knowing more, I’d also recommend Rick Coleman’s fine biography of Fats Domino and the very reasonably priced collections of Matassa’s music that were put out by Proper Records a few years back.

Not to mention, you know, “The Fat Man,” and “Tutti Frutti!” (both of which I highlighted in my recent vocal histories of 50′s R&B so, this being the kind of serendipity I could do without, I won’t link them here.)

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(And thanks to Rock and Rap Confidential for the heads up and the link!)

 

FIFTIES’ R&B: Part II, 1955–1959 (Great Vocal Events In the History of Rock and Roll, Part 4)

R&BPOSTER Again, a few precious drops from a mighty flood. One thing that is different from Part I is that I’ve linked to many more live versions. This is partly because much of this music is more likely to be familiar in its recorded form–and partly because television was becoming a force by 1955 and there are many more TV performances available, many of them revelatory (even if they are sometimes from a slightly later vintage than the original recording). Enjoy:

1955:

“Tweedlee Dee”–Lavern Baker: Another old fashioned Earth Mother, shouting in the style that had been familiar for such going back to at least the twenties, but the novelty lyric and slightly sped-up tempo (which she handles beautifully) sent it reasonably high (#14) on the pop charts. The wave was beginning to break for shore.

“Sincerely”–The Moonglows (Bobby Lester, lead vocal, Harvey Fuqua, Pete Graves, Prentiss Barnes, harmony vocals): A huge record in the careers of Alan Freed (who took a half-composer credit and showcased the group at one of his early, cross-racial New York Rock n’ Roll extravaganzas) the Chess Brothers (who began looking beyond straight blues when the record broke wide open in both original and white “cover” versions and, in the wide world waiting, found, among other things, one Chuck Berry). Eventually, the Moonglows made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the basis of this one miraculous record, they earned it.

“The Wall Flower” (a.k.a. “Roll With Me Henry”)–Etta James and the Peaches (Etta James and Richard Berry, shared lead vocals): I don’t hear much of the Peaches. Basically, this consists of barely legal Etta (or is seventeen not quite?…see below) sparring with Richard Berry, who had a habit of showing up everywhere in those days and does a nice job of not sounding too worldly.

“Earth Angel”–The Penguins (Cleve Duncan, lead vocal, Curtis Williams, Dexter Tisby, Bruce Tate, harmony vocals): A new kind of swoon–with Duncan’s tenor so ethereal he sounds like a man who was haunting himself long before he consoled the future.

“I Got A Woman”–Ray Charles: Roughly seven years into his recording career, the genius shows up. Like all good things, it was worth the wait. (Included a scorching live version here from a slightly later period, so if you only click on one link, I’d advise this one.)

“Bo Diddley”–Bo Diddley: It wasn’t so much the beat that was new, as Bo’s relationship to it. Nobody had been quite so shamelessly “country” in the city before. And his flat, slightly ominous tone was not entirely comic. As Ellas McDaniel, he might have been a bumpkin–here today, gone tomorrow, one fluke hit. As Bo Diddley, he was a mastermind, able to parlay the lyrical and vocal basics fully defined here, into a legend. That’s what alter-egos are for. (Okay, I lied before. If you only click on one…let it be this one.)

“Ain’t It A Shame” (a.k.a. “Ain’t That a Shame)–Fats Domino: Modulate, modulate, modulate. Truth be told, Fats had been content to repeat himself quite a bit throughout the first half of the decade. This was the first time he really broke past the formula he had set out in “The Fat Man” five years earlier. Even then, he made this leap to the open field sound so natural–like breathing–that he’s been underestimated ever since, like the guy everybody can outrun, unless he’s somehow slipped by and they’re trying to catch him.

“Maybellene”–Chuck Berry: Without a vocal style to match, Berry’s genius as a guitar player and songwriter might have very easily been marginalized. Faster and funnier than anyone had ever been, but without a trace of novelty or affect. The essence of what the punks and rappers would later chase–and never catch. (Oh, by the way, if you only watch one of these….Aw, I give up. Just watch ‘em all.)

“At My Front Door”–The El Dorados (Pirkle Lee Moses, Jr., lead vocal, Louis Bradley, Arthur Bassett, Jewel Jones, James Maddox, Richard Nickens, harmony vocals): Sheer dynamics. And controlled improv as the Beats and Boppers could only imagine.

“Tutti Frutti”–Little Richard: This hit like an atom bomb–only if an atom bomb were a good thing. From this distance it’s possible to judge that the secret was all in the interpolations–gospel screams delivered like tats from a semi-automatic instead of drawn out siren wails or moans meant to summon the world beyond. In the moment I doubt anyone, black or white, really cared–too busy trying to put the pieces back together.

“Only You”–The Platters (Tony Williams, lead vocal, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Zola Taylor, Herb Reed, harmony vocals): If ballad singing were properly understood as one of the central components of the rock ’n’ roll revolution, then Tony Williams would occupy a place as honored as Chuck Berry’s among guitar players. Maybe more. After all, there were guitar players who got past Chuck Berry. Nobody–not even Jackie Wilson or Roy Orbison–ever really got past Tony Williams.

“All Around the World”–Little Willie John: As singular a voice as this most explosive and expansive era produced. His emotional command was as pure as Tony Bennett’s. But, here, questions of pitch and tone were left to hang if they didn’t serve the larger purpose, which was the reformation of “taste.”

“Mannish Boy”–Muddy Waters: A vocal–half roaring assertion, half pleading purr–that stands to urban blues as Mount Everest stands to mountain peaks.

1956:

“Speedoo”–The Cadillacs (Earl Carroll, lead vocal, Bobby Philips, Lavern Drake, Earl Wade, Charles Brooks, harmony vocals): Verbally, and–more to the point–vocally, a kind of answer record to the Dominos’ “Sixty Minute Man.” Tortoise…meet hare.

“Blue Suede Shoes”–Carl Perkins: The first record of the revolution–and the first since Louis Jordan had turned the trick a few times in the mid-forites–to storm all three major charts (Pop, Country, R&B) all at once, beating “Heartbreak Hotel” by a few weeks. More laid back than memory has generally allowed for, but it’s not Bing Crosby laid back. More like a guy who always knows where the back door is even if he’s rocking the house down. A different kind of reserve, then, and a different kind of excitement.

“Why Do Fools Fall In Love”–The Teenagers (Frankie Lymon, lead vocal, Herman Santiago, Jimmy Merchant, Joe Negroni, Sherman Garnes, harmony vocals): Lymon’s flat, near-toneless delivery and slightly ragged phrasing were not new. Bo Diddley and plenty of second line blues singers had already mined the depths of affectless-ness. Nor was his flight to the upper register (sudden and spectacular as it was) all that novel. Clyde McPhatter had dozens of imitators by this point. What was different then? Well, none of the others were thirteen. I’ll have more to say about this when I get to the vocal history of the bubble gum aesthetic. For now, I’ll just say the implications for the teen-pop future were enormous.

“Smokestack Lightnin’”–Howlin’ Wolf: Hoo-doo’s last stand. About ten thousand white boy bands laid down some credible (or incredible) version of the record’s stringent lyrical imagery and propulsive instrumental dynamics. I don’t think any of them were ever foolish enough to attempt living up to the vocal, which would find its real heir in Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing.

“Drown In My Own Tears”–Ray Charles (Ray Charles, lead vocals, Margie Hendrix, Dorothy Jones, Darlene McCrea, harmony vocals): The first truly epic side of Charles’ career. He always lagged a beat behind the times, waiting, assessing. But when he struck, as here, he always moved in for the kill.

“Long Tall Sally”–Little Richard: For anyone who thought “Tutti Frutti” couldn’t possibly be turned into a formula…or who thought it would lose something if it did.

“Please, Please, Please”–James Brown with the Famous Flames (James Brown, lead vocal, Bobby Byrd, Johnny Terry, Sylvester Keels, Nash Knox, harmony vocals): Should we pause to recall that James Brown was as inventive and transformative a ballad singer as he was a beat master? And that the ballads came first? Yes. Yes, we should.

“Treasure of Love”–Clyde McPhatter: On his early group sides (with the Dominoes and Drifters), McPhatter often turned out full-blown comic operas in two and half minutes. Here, it’s just opera, albeit with Romance’s version of the Sermon on the Mount substituted for the melodrama.

“Fever”–Little Willie John: This song begs for at least a touch of the pure Show Biz Peggy Lee would later supply (and wonderfully, by the way). Little Willie John was a Doomed Soul. So he just did what doomed souls do–cut to the heart of it and left the knife in.

“Roll Over Beethoven”–Chuck Berry: Rock and roll’s great statement of purpose, carried by a vocal that’s a miracle of rhythm singing. Berry managed the dynamics of a fast doo wop (or a locomotive) without a backing group or resorting to any of the usual gymnastics. Somehow, in the middle of the mayhem, he stays cool. Did I say miracle?…Follow the link to the definition of “priceless.”

“Let the Good Times Roll”–Shirley and Lee (Shirley Goodman and Lee Leonard, shared lead vocals): The first time a man and a woman sounded so at home singing about you-know-what…to each other….on the same record. Don’t worry. You won’t need your second hand to count all the times it’s happened since.

“Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel”–Elvis Presley (Elvis Presley, lead vocal, harmony vocals, Gordon Stoker, Hoyt Hawkins, Neal Matthews, Hugh Jarrett): A stunning pairing–and landmark all around, even in R&B’s signature year. “Hound Dog”’s barber shop crooning (courtesy of the Jordanaires) and “Don’t Be Cruel”’s sly dodges turned so many expectations on their respective heads that the world has been reeling from the effects ever since. The possibilities from this moment forward were endless. Just because we chose so many of the wrong ones, doesn’t make the accomplishment–achieved at a single, marathon New York session the morning after Elvis was thoroughly humiliated on The Steve Allen Show–any less breathtaking.

“In the Still of the Nite”–The Five Satins (Fred Parris, lead vocal; Ed Martin, Jim Freeman, Al Denby, harmony vocals): In whence history’s definitive doo-wop–shoo-doo-dooby-doo!–lays Cole Porter ever so gently in the shade.

“(Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone”–Roy Montrell: A definitive example of what rock and roll had done to jump blues. Faster than anything Roy Brown or Wynonie Harris would have attempted. Not to mention even rougher around the edges. No more holding back!

“Blueberry Hill”–Fats Domino: Does it make sense that the architect of rock ‘n’ roll would deliver the consummate swoon ballad? That he would make Louis Armstrong’s version sound slightly pretentious? Does to me.

1957:

“Blue Monday”–Fats Domino: The Fat Man’s version of mourning. Workers unite!

“Love Is Strange”–Mickey and Sylvia (Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanderpool, shared lead and harmony vocals): Rock and roll dada, Part I. (As Sylvia Robinson, Vanderpool would, not so incidentally, found Sugarhill Records, the first important rap label–history never comes from nowhere. How do you call your lover boy?)

“Ain’t Got No Home”–Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry: Part II (and, at last, the logical spiritual sequel to Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man”–nearly seven years later in case you’re wondering just how far ahead of his time Fats really was.) By FAR the most surreal lyric ever recorded–and it’s only half as weird as the vocal.

“Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On”–Jerry Lee Lewis: Another triple chart smash (it actually went higher R&B than Pop), on which Jerry Lee growls and chides and speaks in tongues (even more so here than on the record) and marries Memphis to the swamps without even sounding like he’s holding a shotgun….well, at least not for the usual reasons.

“Little Darlin’”–The Gladiolas (Maurice Willams, lead vocal, Earl Gainey, William Massey, Willie Jones and Norman Wade, harmony vocals) and “Little Darlin’”–The Diamonds (David Somerville, lead vocal, Bill Reed, second lead bass vocal, Ted Kowalski, Phil Leavitt and Bill Reed, harmony vocals): Black original eclipsed–both commercially and cosmically–by a white cover which was recorded with the naked intention of achieving the former possibility by specifically mocking the intrinsic worth of the latter. Things had gotten complicated, to say the least. The Diamonds’ version was the last true “cover” record (i.e. a record by a white artist that was recorded and released to complete with, and eclipse, a black artist) to top Billboard’s Hot 100. (The practice was revived briefly in the British Invasion, with some big hits resulting but none which topped the chart). It also went #2 R&B….nine spots higher on the black chart than the Gladiolas’ version. Maurice Williams would flip the script a few years later when “Stay” went #1 on the Hot 100 in 1960 (but only #3 R&B).

“Searchin’”–The Coasters (Billy Guy, lead vocal, Carl Gardner, Cornell Gunter, Will ‘Dub’ Jones, harmony vocals): The Coasters were able to be the era’s great comedians because they were one of the era’s great straight R&B vocal groups, able to turn from rubber-face Lewis to straight-laced Martin and back again on a dime. I wouldn’t even try to sort out how many twists and turns this particular journey takes from mask to mask. I just sing along.

“Short Fat Fannie”–Larry Williams: Proof that Little Richard’s and Fats Domino’s fundamental notions (if not their spectacular leaps to freedom) could be credibly pastiched by a consummate journeyman catching his breath between a valet gig and a dope-dealing gig. As I say, things had gotten strange.

“Louie Louie”–Richard Berry and the Pharaohs (Richard Berry, lead vocal, Godoy Colbert, Robert Harris, Noel Collins, harmony vocals): What’s remarkable at this distance is that the consummate frat rock anthem–courtesy of the man who, as a session singer, had provided the menace on “Riot in Cell Block #9”and the voice of sly experience on “The Wallflower”–was originally delivered with a distinct (if admittedly urgent) delicacy. A nice reminder of Berry’s day job, which was providing the beating heart for L.A.’s irrepressible doo wop scene.

“Mr. Lee”–The Bobbettes (Jannie Pought, Emma Pought, Reather Dixon, Laura Webb, Helen Gathers, lead and harmony vocals**): Young and bright–but punctuated by hiccups and growls that consistently undercut the chirpiness. A nice bridge between the lighter side of the blues and the girl group ethos waiting just around the corner upon which they would have no small effect.

“Think”–The ‘5′ Royales (Johnny Tanner, lead vocal, Eugene Tanner, Lowman Pauling, Jimmy Moore, Obadiah Carter, harmony vocals)–Something like the invention of funk, with Lowman Pauling’s razor sharp lead guitar and Johnny Tanner’s pleading half-shout splitting the patent. As of this writing, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s largest–and longest running–oversight.

“I’m a King Bee”–Slim Harpo: Definitively laconic and not a hit, but a sure signifier. Mick Jagger was certainly listening and of his efforts along the same lines one can certainly say that, well, bless his heart he certainly meant well.

“Jailbait”–Andre Williams (Mr. Rhythm): The answer to the question implicitly posed in “Wallflower” above. (Signature line: “Please Mr. Judge I ain’t gonna bother young girls no more.”….I mean, I almost believe him.)

“Farther On Up the Road”–Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland: Bland had been making records for at least five years. This was his first hit and his ability to haunt the most urbane setting with the shadow of the cotton fields–and the history that lay in back of those fields–would remain unmatched.

“Reet Petite”–Jackie Wilson: Did not make the R&B chart…but did crease the pop chart and make the top ten in the UK. More confusion, then, but included here because it jump-started not only Jackie’s solo career (about which more below), but also the dreams and ambitions of its composer, one Berry Gordy, Jr., who used the royalties to fund a little start-up business that would eventually be called Motown. (Love this video by the way.)

1958:

“Maybe”–The Chantels (Arlene Smith, lead vocal, Sonia Goring, Rene Minus, Jackie Landry Jackson, Lois Harris, harmony vocals): The ground from which the important part (the part about respect and equality) of what came to be called “the sexual revolution” first rose. Later perceived by many as the first “girls want to, too” record. Maybe. I hear it as the first “girls also yearn” record.

“I’ll Come Running Back to You”–Sam Cooke: As to personal style: The heir to Nat Cole’s mantle as the epitome of cool-running. As to vocal style: Unprecedented. No one–not even Clyde McPhatter–had ever been quite so light on his feet without conceding a single ounce of the full weight of Black America’s experience, and that dichotomy is evident, if not yet full-blown, even here at Cooke’s “Pop” beginning.

“Good Golly Miss Molly”–Little Richard: The mayhem had to be defined somewhere. Might as well be here.

“Get a Job”–The Silhouettes (Bill Horton, lead vocal, Rick Lewis, Earl Beal, Raymond Edwards, harmony vocals: The purest chaos brought to bear on the pursuit of order’s first rule: GET A JOB!…Which they never could find. The trapdoors forever resting under Black America were never better defined.

“Don’t You Just Know It”–Huey ‘Piano’ Smith: (Huey Smith, lead vocal, Bobby Marchan, Junior Gordon, Roland Cook, likely second lead and harmony vocals***): Proof, if anybody needed it, that Black America could sublimate personality as well as White America. Really good beat, though, and you probably couldn’t help dancing to it.

“Splish Splash”–Bobby Darin: Atlantic signed Darin as their token white boy when they lost the bidding war on Elvis. Laugh if you want, but he, too, went #1 R&B. Oh, what a world….

“To Be Loved” and “Lonely Teardrops”–Jackie Wilson: The first two big hits for Mr. Excitement. The way he earned the nickname was by applying shock treatment to the heart. In the end, we didn’t know quite what to do with him–Stand in awe? (Sure, but don’t stand too close.) Bathe his voice in strings, horns n’ choruses imported straight from Squaresville? (Yes, alas). Sign him to Motown? (No, alas) We kept asking the questions and coming up with the wrong answers. These things happen, and Jackie Wilson became a big star anyway. Still…Oh, what a world we might have had.

“Do You Wanna Dance?”–Bobby Freeman: The fundamental rock ’n’ roll question of course, but Freeman’s vocal is beautiful because it’s a question. Yeah, he knows the answer, but he doesn’t take it for granted.

“Johnny B. Goode”–Chuck Berry: Machine gun verbal aesthetics carried to ridiculously sublime extremes. DeepdowninLou’sianaclosetoNewOrleans…seriously?

“Willie and the Hand Jive”–The Johnny Otis Show (Johnny Otis, lead vocal): Otis was a white man who had immersed himself so deeply in black music (for either purely aesthetic or highly commercial reasons, depending on who told the story) that he was almost bound to step out in front of his “Show” (generally made up of fairly anonymous African American singers and players working on salary) with at least one classic hit vocal. This silly transcendent thing was it.

“For Your Precious Love”–Jerry Butler & the Impressions (Jerry Butler, lead vocal, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden, Richard Brooks, Arthur Brooks, harmony vocals): Deeper than the ocean, wider than the sea and the starting point of three important careers (Butler, Mayfield, and the Impressions themselves), all of whom challenged and met this standard repeatedly, none of whom ever actually topped it. Only because, well, nothing could.

“Rockin’ Robin”–Bobby Day: Proof that it didn’t take a genius like Chuck Berry to deliver songs that would have been relegated to novelty (or even camp) status only a few years before with a passion and fierce joy fully worthy of life’s other, better side.

“A Lover’s Question”–Clyde McPhatter: Features Clyde completely relaxed and floating so far above the fray that one can’t help thinking he had learned a thing or two from Sam Cooke’s recent success. Who knows, really, but in any case it showed how definitively his voice would have been ready for the sixties if only his body and soul had managed to hold out.

1959:

“Pretty Girls Everywhere”–Eugene Church and the Fellows (Lead Vocal, Eugene Church): Proof the revolution had got pretty far along. This fine number, which would have been on the cutting edge three or four years earlier, was, by now, a standard item. (Couldn’t find any information on the Fellows.)

“I Cried a Tear”–LaVern Baker: Redolent of older sounds, but hip to the times as well–it’s easy to imagine this beautiful, slow torch, climbing the country charts if the world had been just a slightly better place as the decade came to a close. It didn’t of course. Baker’s last really big pop hit. The reaction was setting in, just a little.

“Stagger Lee”–Lloyd Price: A basic New Orleans stomp, elevated to newly mythic status by Price’s ability to sound mock-horrified, mock-confused and mock-knowing all at once.

“It’s Just a Matter of Time”–Brook Benton: A throwback who would hold on through the entire sixties. One of the very few records that truly looked forward and back with equal assurance. The arrangement and lyric certainly have something to do with it, but Benton’s resonant, time-challenging baritone was the key ingredient.

“Kansas City”–Wilbert Harrison: Vocalists as formidable as Brenda Lee and Paul McCartney later fell prey to the seductive temptation to over-emote on this just a tad. Harrison keeps it perfectly measured. He sounds happy but also relaxed about it–like he knows the good times aren’t necessarily either here to stay or gone for good. And he’s certainly prepared to take the moment at it comes regardless.

“Sixteen Candles”–The Crests (Johnny Mastro*, lead vocal, Harold Torres, Talmadge Gough, J.T. Carter, harmony vocals): One of the few records from the era that really is teen-to-the-bone…and a pretty good candidate for the first “blue-eyed soul” record at that.

“There Is Something On Your Mind”–Big Jay McNeely and Band (Little Sonny Warner, lead vocal): An especially lovely example of the old styles not merely hanging on but changing subtly to keep up with the times.

“You’re So Fine”–The Falcons (Joe Stubbs, lead singer, Eddie Floyd, Willie Schofield, Joe Stubbs, Mack Rice, harmony vocals): If ever-so-slightly bigger names had been involved (Joe was Levi’s brother and the forerunner of Wilson Pickett in the Falcons, Floyd would have hits on Stax, Rice would be a cult item of his own, etc), this would probably get even more play than it does as the possible first soul record (a chimera nearly as elusive as the first rock ’n’ roll record). Would have been all kinds of typical/typal too–proto- stereo- arche-, you name it: Stax recorded in Detroit. In the fifties. Can’t get any more far-seeing than that.

“Sea Cruise”–Frankie Ford: Huey “Piano” Smith, one of New Orleans signature R&B piano players and band leaders had a falling out of some sort with his label. Or they just didn’t like his vocal. Or something. So they plugged a local white boy into the lead vocal spot, kept the rest of the track and released the result to big success all around. Funny thing was, Ford lived up to the deepest, fiercest tradition in fifties R&B without breaking a sweat. Of course he did….Oh, what a world….

“What a Difference a Day Makes”–Dinah Washington: Sounding wonderfully assured…and as though nothing had happened in a decade to change a thing.

“There Goes My Baby”–The Drifters (Ben E. King, lead vocal, Charlie Thomas, Dock Green, Elsbeary Hobbs, harmony vocals): Often called the first R&B record (or at least the first big hit) to feature strings…or something along those lines. I’m guessing the writer/producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller simply heard Ben E. King’s voice–part velvet, part sandpaper, impossibly romantic, leading a new set of Drifters–and realized they had an awful lot to live up to.

“What’d I Say, Parts 1 and 2″–Ray Charles (Ray Charles, lead vocal, Margie Hendrix, Dorothy Jones, Darlene McCrea, harmony vocals): As I’ve noted elsewhere, he was almost comically cautious. As I’ve noted elsewhere, when he showed up, he showed up big. This was so big, so irresistible, so RIGHT, that Ray very soon after signed a big contract with ABC (a subdivision of Paramount) and set about doing what I suspect he had always wanted to do–namely, defining the modern ballad. He rarely recorded up-tempo afterwards and never got this loose again on record. Probably because he had nothing left to prove.

“Sea of Love”–Phil Phillips with the Twilights (Phil Phillips, lead vocal): The lugubrious side of the Louisiana swamps, given fullest possible reign. Amazing how many “one hit wonders” featured singers who sounded like they had all the time in the world.

“Shout, Parts 1 and 2″–The Isley Brothers (Ronnie Isley, lead vocal, O’Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley, harmony vocals): Sunday morning fully transported for the first time to Saturday night.

“I Only Have Eyes for You”–The Flamingos (Nate Nelson, lead vocal, Tommy Hunt, Terry Johnson, Paul Wilson, Zeke Carey, Jake Carey, harmony vocals): By now, what was later called (in a brilliant bit of reactionary propaganda) The Great American Songbook, was just another development that had paved the road to something better.

“Say Man”–Bo Diddley: Bo’s only Top 40 pop hit (it got to #20) is the one on which he mainstreamed the rap aesthetic….But that’s another story.

*–Later, as a solo act and leader of the group Brooklyn Bridge, Johnny Maestro.

**–I found no source that identified the lead for the Bobbettes–which, given the deceptive complexity of their harmonics, might be fair enough.

***–I found the exact personnel of the Clowns, Smith’s backing vocal group, just about impossible to pinpoint to any given session. This is my best guess–please let me know if you have better intel!

JUST IN CASE YOU THOUGHT THE WORLD GOT ALL COMPLICATED DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY, OTIS REDDING IS HERE TO SUGGEST OTHERWISE (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #31)

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I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about rock n’ roll’s early days, but, after four decades of being obsessed, there’s still hardly a week that goes by that something doesn’t remind me of just how much is left to learn.

So, this week, my drifting-off-to-sleep-at-the-end-of-another-world’s-on-fire-day music has been Rhino’s Otis Redding box set Otis!

Because I’m not exactly young, not exactly prone to shutting down early, and very likely to find peace in all things Otis, I haven’t been making it past the first disc, or even very far into the first disc.

But I have been making it as far as the third track, which is “Shout Bamalama” a great little number I’ve heard fairly frequently before where The Big O pays up his Little Richard dues.

Somehow or other, I never realized, until it caught me drifting off to sleep this week and jerked me awake like a live wire, how close the “party style” intro is to Marvin Gaye’s epochal “What’s Going On,” which was released just over a decade later.

The world wasn’t yet on fire when Redding recorded his number. It was holding its breath.

By the time Gaye lifted that intro (whether he relied on memory or telepathy I don’t know…but theres’ an even stronger connection than with Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ party records) the fire was threatening to rage out of control (from whence state it has never quite fully been doused).

I like that kind of convergence. Probably would have been worth a post in any case.

But then I went to YouTube to see if “Shout Bamalama” was available. You know, just in case.

And I found the link below.

When you get there, the record starts at about 1:10.

Kind of inconvenient, but I’m linking to this particular video because….well, because I doubt you would believe me if I just told you one of Otis Redding’s earliest singles was released on the Confederate label. Or that the label logo was a Confederate flag.

Or that the record itself epitomizes what, in my oh-so-southern-existence, I’ve so frequently heard referred to as “that screaming nigger music” (a common phrase generally accompanied by a wrinkled nose and prefaced by something like “Some of it’s pretty but I just can’t stand that…”).

I mean, some things you just have to see–and hear–to believe.

And…for comparison’s sake…as we continue slouching toward Bethlehem…

 

THE ICE IS STILL SLOWLY MELTING: NANCY SINATRA HAS A TALE TO TELL (Found In The Connection: Rattling Loose End #30)

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The current issue of The Believer has an interview with Nancy Sinatra which continues a process of de-bunking one of the Fundamentalist Rock and Roll Narratives perpetrated by the Priesthood of the Svengali (an especially pernicious subdivision of the crit-illuminati).

Nancy was one of many pre-Janis, pre-Aretha female singers who were perceived as the product of some producer’s singular genius which would have worked just about as well with any other lucky girl said genius happened to pick from the bunch.

Over the last twenty years or so, the young women who (outside of their records) were given no voice in the early and mid-sixties when they re-made the world as surely as Elvis or the Beatles, have told their stories (the stories that everyone from Tom Wolfe to Rolling Stone assiduously ignored both in the moment and for a long time afterward).

Those stories have a lot of common themes, most of which are voiced below.

So, joining Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love, Cher Bono, Mary Weiss and many others, Nancy once again assures us that, in the real world, people are not clay models or sock puppets being maneuvered about by mad geniuses (in her case Lee Hazlewood) however wonderfully talented those geniuses may have been. Unfortunately the entire interview is not available on-line, so I’ve pulled some choice quotes and highly recommend the issue (and the magazine generally) to those who can find and afford it:

On acceptance in the music industry:

NS: They had a lot of great artists join the label (Reprise) at that point. But I think most of the executives at the label looked at me as Frank’s daughter. They didn’t look at me as a fashion icon or an influence on the womens movement or anything like that. They just tolerated the existence of me. And I know the result of it made me not welcome by my musical peers. I never felt I was part of [a scene], and they never accepted my music or me.

On an enduring myth:

BLVR: At what point did Lee famously instruct you to start singing ‘like a fourteen-year-old girl who screws truck drivers’? (NOTE: Now there’s the crit-illuminati mindset and value system in a nutshell for you.)

NS: I don’t know where that twisted version of what said came from. I know that that’s been floating around in various forms for a long time. He said much more gently to me, ‘You’ve been married, you’ve been divorced, and people know that. They know that you know what’s going on in life, so you’ve got to behave on the record like you do know.’

On the working relationship between herself, Hazlewood and musical director Billy Strange:

NS: Lee’s lyrics were the guiding light for us, because he wrote these wonderful fantasies. Billy took them and put them to music. And what I did was follow along. The beauty of it was that I added enough to it to make it happen. Lee had done a lot of this stuff with other people and he didn’t get anywhere with it. Lee’s muse in those days was Suzi Jane Hokom. Suzi Jane sang on all those duets. And he sang with Ann-Margret and several other ladies. But it just didn’t have the magic that Nancy and Lee had. So I told him in no uncertain terms over the years that he really owes me a lot, too. He wasn’t the Svengali that he thought he was. So it was a symbiotic relationship that turned out some pretty damned special music. I’m proud of all of it and proud of my contributions to it.

On those fashion statements (though not this one, especially):

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NS: All those clothes that I wore in the early 60′s were [Mary Quant’s]. I brought them from London to Los Angeles and wore them all around. At that point nobody knew what a miniskirt was, so I’d get people throwing me lines like ‘The tennis court is over there,’ stuff like that….And the fact that I ran into her when I was in London promoting those silly songs (from early in her career)–God’s hand must have been on my shoulder. I was at the right place at the right time. Little did I know that I would run into a song called “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and that I already had the outfits. I didn’t have to go shopping for them.

On her legacy:

NS: I’m very glad that I saw it and could take advantage of working with Lee. But I don’t know, honestly, if any other woman singing in those days would have tolerated the treatment from Lee that I put up with over the years. We had the classic love/hate relationship. I’m not ashamed to say that. I think he would say the same thing.

Just as a final note. Hazlewood passed away in 2007 from cancer. Like Shadow Morton and Sonny Bono and most of the others who either sought Svengali-hood or had it thrust upon them in that age-gone-by, he was a man who had his faults, many of which he owned up to in time. He was not, like Nancy’s close friend Phil Spector or England’s Joe Meek, a monster. Like all of them, man or monster, he made beautiful records….