Monthly Archives: July 2006

The Middle East, after hours

Mention the Middle East nowadays and it’s hard to not conjure up images of shoulder-fired grenades, the hulks of burned-out cars, blood, strife, extremism.  Decades ago, the average American – the pages of National Geographic open before him – was allowed to at least persist in his more outdated notions about the Middle East, its Oriental mystique fully intact.

Well before Abu Ghraib meant anything to you or me, there were snake-charmers, harems, and the Dance of the Sultans. And there were records about snake-charmers, harems, and the Dance of the Sultans.

1. The Glenrays, Egyptian Nightmare (Perry)
A minor key, a wordless chorus, and a sinuous saxophone line are all you need to turn bluesy instrumental burlesque into Saharan gold.

I can’t find mention of this single anywhere. I’d guess it was from ’63 or ’64, though. The Glenrays were a rocking instrumental combo with a few 45s on Minneapolis’s Gaity/Perry family of labels, surveyed brilliantly on the Bloodshot! compilations from Norton records. “Egyptian Nightmare” is actually pretty sophisticated fare by the label’s standards.

2. The Johnny Lewis Trio and Millie, Snake Hips (Coral)
Since the 1960s, saxophonist Johnny Lewis has led jazz combos in the Pacific Northwest. His funkier ’70s years have been fairly well chronicled, courtesy of Luv ‘N’ Haight’s reissue of Lewis’s sole 1972 LP, Shuckin’ ‘n’ Jivin’.

“Snake Hips” is his earliest and, in my opinion, most interesting recording. It sort of creaks around in search of some lost Rudolph Valentino movie set. There’s Millie – in duet with a eerie-sounding electric organ – her scream of terror at the end, and there are castanets.

3. The Lombardo Twins and Combo,Arabian Drums (A)
About as authentically Arabic as a chartered gondola ride down the Euphrates, but that’s not the point.

Dee Richards here puts her glottis to spellbinding use with a series of shrill ululations that shattered ashtrays in lounges across Hoboken in 1964. The whereabouts of Lombardo Twins or Dee Richards remain a complete mystery.

The record label in question seem most likely to have been known, simply, as A Records. Scan of the label below is from the obverse of the record.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age | 9 Comments

Overhauling the British Invasion

It was 1966. As far as both hipness and the sales of rock ‘n’ roll records went, the British were still outclassing their upstart counterparts from the States. Naturally, we agitated as a nation to summon up a dignified response to the British Invasion – something that would channel all our twitchy, obsessive energy.  It’s arguable whether we ever quite generated that same amount of fervor with the American teenyboppers. But our boys were, in the meantime, imitating the British bands to the best of their abilities – or, at least, taking characteristic glee in deconstructing the Brits’ handiwork.

Three American garage bands here – all doing mutated cover versions of British Invasion hits.


1. The Malibu’s, I’m Cryin’ (Quill)
One of the great attractions of the garage band phenomenon is that breakneck velocity and pure teenbeat spirit assume a greater significance than musical proficiency. And how much amphetamine died to make this record? This version of the oft-covered Animals song came from the Malibu’s (sic) – an unknown Chicago band, circa ’65.

2. The Swamp Rats, It’s Not Easy (St. Clair)
These Pittsburgh malcontents had a minimalist streak that would have made the Velvet Underground proud – and the good taste to reduce the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Not Easy” to a driving one-chord drone.

The Swamp Rats released a handful of brilliant punky 45s in the mid-’60s.

3. The Evil, Whatcha Gonna Do About It (Living Legend)
Buried somewhere in this racket is a Small Faces hit. Like all of this week’s artists, Miami’s The Evil ratchet up the tempo of the song in question, jettisoning all that is decent and subtle in the name of their art and the pure 1966 American thrill of violence.

Heavyweight Capitol records – home to the Beatles, Beach Boys, and many, many others – later picked this record up for distribution, though unfortunately (but probably prudently) seeing fit to remove that ear-piercing guitar break for its second issue.  Either way, Capitol was apparently sensing there was some hit potential in this song.  There wasn’t.

Posted in Garage Bands | 8 Comments

Vocal Noir

Some obscure, atmospheric jazz vocals this week.

1. Mark Murphy, Come and Get Me (Riverside)
“Come and Get Me” is just so macabre – and on so many levels.  From those first creeping bass notes to the strings’ final eerie groan, Murphy is able to wrench every last drop of emotion from his plea, all with a sort of unhinged delirium rare in jazz. And it’s rarely captured with such effectiveness, too. Can you hear him pleading with his woman? Do you understand when he sings “Come and get me,” that he’s pleading with his dead woman?

The NYC jazz label Riverside had the prescience to record Murphy’s hipster vocals with sympathetic musicians on several fine, jazzy albums in the early ’60s. Mark Murphy still records (and performs). He later recorded this song for his 1973 album Bridging the Gap.

This version of “Come and Get Me” was only released on 45.

2. Jeri Simpson, My Black Lace (Sun-Kist)
A bachelor’s vacation on some far-flung jungle isle might seem like a good idea at first.  Much of what ’50s exotica implied, though, was that, really, wouldn’t your time be better spent elsewhere, away from the reality of the steaming tropics and unfriendly natives and language barriers and everything? Instead, say, on your couch?

Jeri Simpson’s sultry vocals exemplify that spirit of armchair adventure. “My Black Lace” is an invitation, and, when she hits those husky notes, who are we to turn her down? Ms. Simpson’s performance is showcased here to great effect by the restraint of the backing musicians, an intimate style popularized by the torch singer Julie London on some of her sexier ’50s albums (she even used the same two backing musicians – Kessel and Leatherwood).  London never sang with quite the same jungle ardor, though.

It’s from Los Angeles. I otherwise have no idea about who Ms. Simpson is, sadly.

3. Marilyn Ross, Out of This World (Suave)
Not as feverish as this week’s other selections, but Ms. Ross – complemented by a touch of Latin percussion and her cool jazz accompaniment – transforms this Harold Arlen evergreen into pure boudoir fantasy
.

Recorded for Beverly Hills’s own Suave record label, sometime in the late ’50s, Marily Ross is joined here by West Coast jazz stalwarts Clare Fischer and Red Mitchell.

Posted in Jazz Obscura | 3 Comments

Bossa America

The Bossa Nova had already been maturing in Brazil for several years when, in 1959, the movie Black Orpheus first broke the sounds of Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim to a larger American and European audience. The wheels were set in motion, though it took Stan Getz and João and Astrud Gilberto with 1963′s “Girl From Ipanema” to truly charge the American popular consciousness.

Its commercial potential immediately obvious, jazz musicians from coast to coast were soon adding “Mas Que Nada” and “One Note Samba” to their repertoires – or were, for better or for worse, being goaded by managers and record executives into making Bossa Nova-themed albums. This was mostly for the better. It just meant that, in the typical American fashion, Bossa Nova became a fairly loose concept, something any jazz record could invoke with the right breezy rhythm section and the promise of South American latitudes.

1. Dan Yessian Quintet, Basadelic (Sound Patterns)
Imagine my disappointment when it turns out that this wasn’t “basadelic.”

Nominally the most Brazilian of this week’s selections, this nifty jazz instrumental from the hip Michigan label Sound Patterns has a lovely, confident swing. Dan Yessian, a Detroit-area saxophonist, was later the founder and head honcho of the Yessian music production house.

I’d guess that this released around 1968.

2. The Cals, Amazon Bossa Nova (Loadstone)
Even by most the liberal standards, “Amazon Bossa Nova” is not a Bossa Nova.

It’s got an unfamiliar time signature, though, and the rattle of maracas. And though it isn’t music that seeks to startle, or to move us the brink of tears, it’s tropical – or tropical-ish – an organ jazz cocktail with no overriding motive beyond a certain loose sophistication. There’s your Bossa Nova right there.

The Cals – a hip young teen jazz and pop trio who played the lounges and clubs of the Bay Area and nearby San Rafael – were guitarist and bassist Doug Cox, organist John Allair and drummer Pete Lind.  Their “Amazon Bossa Nova,” one of several similar 45s for W.C. Stone’s great R&B label Loadstone, was recorded and released in the mid-’60s.
Pete Lind and Doug Cox still play in Bay Area jazz circles today.

3. Mk. III, Mocha Nova (Tigertown)
Just drums, flute, and a reedy-sounding electric organ. “Mocha Nova” is another low-key nightclub jazz charmer, brought to us by this obscure Tampa trio.

“Mocha Nova” has the relaxed sort of cool that would have only been heard long after nightfall, when, with the local populace asleep, it was finally safe for jazz flutes to come creeping out. Great stuff either way. “Mocha Nova” was recorded in 1966.

Posted in Latin | 1 Comment

The psychedelic hinterlands

Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1960s weren’t the sole province of psychedelic pop. This week we pack for the long trek to the psychedelic hinterlands.

1. Jazz Bend Me Blues Band, Lady Weaver (Algar)
Things were different in the late 1960s, with many colorful, fantastic varieties of hippie music flourishing.


“Lady Weaver” is hardly some magical Renaissance Faire vision, though, despite its title – it comes across more like a long, lonely, bearded spell in woods.

Where does one geographically place the Jazz Bend Me Blues Band’s off-kilter tremolo guitar and xylophone? I’m not sure, exactly, but I get the vague sense that this bit of ramshackle weirdness was a product of the Pacific Northwest.

2. West Minist’r, Carnival (Razzberry)
West Minist’r was a Midwestern group, a sort of Beatles-by-way-of-the-Breadbasket. All three of their ’60s 45s definitely carry a distinct Anglo influence.

This is a personal favorite. And proof, too, that, with some chemical fine-tuning, anything – even carnivals – can be made psychedelic. It just takes the right combination of backyard production, blissed-out harmonies, and church organ, though it’s really that walloping drumbeat which sets “Carnival” apart for me.

“Carnival” was released in 1969.

3. King Biscuit Entertainers, Pride (Burdette)
“Pride” is chiming, uncharacteristically quiet fare from the King Biscuit Entertainers, an accomplished bunch who built a reputation from years of energetic live shows on the Pacific Northwest’s ballroom circuit.

The vocals are obscured into oblivion by that fascinating ’60s studio gadget, the Echoplex tape delay, but, with their two minutes of deftly produced psychedelic pop, the King Biscuit Entertainers otherwise waste no time in getting right down to the business of getting mellow.

“Pride” was the first of two King Biscuit Entertainers 45s for the Burdette label. Burdette was itself a short-lived late ’60s subsidiary of Jerden Records, the Pacific Northwest’s ’60s rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse.

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 1 Comment