Monthly Archives: October 2006

Halloween

One of the great attractions of the 45 rpm record is its populist ideal. Independent labels, bands, even individuals – they all could afford to record and press a 45, no matter the eccentricity of the musical vision. America, after all, had a great precedent for fluke hits, and, even if yours wasn’t the next “Monster Mash,” it could be, at the very least, a vanity to amuse you and your friends – or something to sell at your high school auditorium gigs.

Thanks to low overhead costs and its potential for infinite self-expression, the 45 rpm record was, before the ’70s at least, the principal format for the more uncommercial, unusual, and exotic impulses of the American pop consciousness. Consequently, there are millions of Halloween records. Steering clear of the wacky monster voices, these selections, while not marketed specifically as Halloween fodder, make for a spooky threesome.

1. The Last Word, Sleepy Hollow (Downey)
The Last Word’s update of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is so authoritative, so gloomy, that its three minutes of tremolo guitar and creepy Munsters-style organ makes it easy to forget that the tale was originally set in the 18th Century woodlands of New York’s Westchester County.

The Last Word may have sounded like the real thing, but they weren’t actually a band proper. Rather, they were a group of Las Vegas studio musicians. Their musical competency only adds to the wickedly potent “Sleepy Hollow,” which they pulled from some forsaken corner of their collective psyche in 1966. The Last Word were like so many American ‘60s garage bands in that they did an impeccable job at both emulating the British Invasion sound (gritty R&B groups the Animals and Them, in this case) and simultaneously taking matters into deeper, more demented territory. (See also Overhauling the British Invasion.)

2. Little John and The Monks, Black Winds (Jerden)
Little John and co., to their credit, did not chose an easy lyrical route. Not your typical teenage girl trouble garage band fare, this is what I can only describe as an Appalachian-style murder ballad. A weird, gloomy variant of girl trouble, I suppose, but, still.

Hailing from Blue River, Oregon, Little John and The Monks recorded this droning, wonderfully dark dirge in 1965 for Jerden records, one of the Pacific Northwest’s great rock ‘n’ roll labels of the ‘60s. This was their only record.

3.
Albert DeSalvo, Strangler In The Night (Astor)
I don’t know a woman
And yet I crave on.
My mind tells my body,
“Don’t just stand there – GET ONE!”


Yes. YES. The Bugs – the brainiacs behind “Strangler In The Night” – were Boston’s novelty response to the British Invasion, and it was their fractured imaginations which dropped the first person testimonial (or “thoughts, feelings and emotions,” according its sleeve) of putative Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo into an otherwise unassuming teen-pop-style ballad.

The DeSalvo stand-in comes across like some square-jawed comic book hero unable to prevail against his darker impulses. An unsubstantiated story has it that Dick Levitan, tough-guy reporter for WEEI (Boston’s CBS affiliate), provided the voiceover narration on this 1964 oddball.

** Note: be sure to check out Steven Wintle’s fabulous Horror Blog, where he recently featured my guest post on Creed Taylor. Steven’s site is an effusive, literate, and wonderfully self-effacing take on the popular idea of “Horror.” Not only does he post with a sort of unnerving frequency, but he also features a lot of music. See you on the dark side. – Dan **

Posted in Garage Bands | 10 Comments

Sunshine, sunshine

Various soft-lit psychedelic images – incense, forests, clouds, flowers, rain, flowers in the rain, to name a few – got tossed around pretty indiscriminately in the pop music charts for a few precious years, thanks in part to West Coast vocal harmony groups like the Mamas & the Papas and the Association. The vogue for such imagery also suggested the extent to which California had become the mecca of warmth and good feeling by the mid-1960s. Most of all, though, it was sunshine that prevailed as this music’s dominant lyrical focus. Bright, warm, yellow, basically harmless: sunshine was the perfect metaphor for this self-invented Pacific Eden and the perfect summation of its beatified, ultra-commercial version of pop music.

Filled with hip Aquarian accoutrement like chimes, flutes, fuzztone guitars, sitars, tambourine and, of course, soaring and sunny vocal harmonies, this sunshine pop was a form of pop music which seemed to resonate with starry-eyed, suburban adolescents everywhere. Perversely, its easygoing sophistication resonated with an older generation as well, swingers who respected the idea of cultural currency but who might have otherwise been scared away by the more aggressive and increasingly political strains of rock music.

See also this early post for more sunshine.

1. The Gordian Knot, The Year of the Sun (Verve)
San Francisco’s Gordian Knot released a full length psychedelic-pop album (from which this ethereal 45 was taken) that is unfairly regarded with near-universal disdain by enthusiasts of ‘60s psychedelia.

I hear lines like “The rhythm of the summer wind calls me again” and I happily to welcome “The Year of the Sun” into my life, though. You have to learn to feel the flute.

2. Chapter V, The Sun is Green (Verve Folkways)
A fairly obscure release, lucky contemporary listeners wondered, too, what it exactly took to make the sun turn green, and where they could score some.

“The Sun is Green” was the first and best of two psychedelic pop 45’s produced by Chapter V in 1968. They were a vehicle for then-Toronto native (and future country producer and husband of Emmylou Harris) Brian Ahern, but little seem to be otherwise known about Chapter V.

3. The Hard Times, Sad, Sad, Sunshine (World Pacific)
The lyrics are obscured in a blanket of echo and gorgeous harmonies here, but, if nothing else, the title gets the sunshine reference in.

From San Diego, the Hard Times released one fine, eclectic album of folk-rock and psychedelia along with a handful of 45s between 1966 and 1968.

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 10 Comments

Funk and the blues

Blues progressions and funk rhythms are one of those fusions that worked well for a time. Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” and Alvin Robinson’s “Down Home Girl” spring to mind here. It was combination that worked best in the 1960s – a time of blues-inflected top 40 hits from cities like New Orleans and Memphis – a time of R&B and soul records with earthy flavor and hard drumming and spare productions.

1. Buddy Conner, Half-Way Loving (Early Bird)
Though Buddy Conner and company were actually from the Bay Area, the organ, the Memphis-style horn section, the shuckin’, the jivin’: “Half-Way Loving” is as resolutely Southern as it gets.

But a few walloping drum beats later, they wasted no time getting into the down home spirit on this off-kilter bit of late ’60s funky soul.

2. Shelley Fisher, I’ll Leave You (Girl) (Kapp)
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard lines like “I don’t need that kind of treatment, girl / Your love is the choking kind.” Fisher can toss out every cliché from the book of blues one-liners; sometimes a selection can succeed on the sheer gutbucket strength of its drums alone.

The Mississippi-born Shelley Fisher recorded “I’ll Leave You (Girl) (For Somebody New)” shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles in 1970, and near the beginning of his long career as a singer, songwriter, and performer. He is still active today.

3. Lee Harris, I’m Gonna Get Your Thing (Get You) (Forte)
Singer and guitarist Lee Harris’s raucous “I’m Gonna Get Your Thing (Get You)” was pressed to vinyl around 1970 and released on one of Kansas City’s fine independent soul labels, Forte. (See this page for an excellent overview & discography of Forte.)

There’s warping tape near the song’s beginning – that audible whoosh – there’s the stylistic shift of the song’s last loopy minute, and, in between, there’s a roomful of musicians, manic background vocalists, and two strategically placed microphones. It’s exciting to hear things captured in such visceral fidelity. I get excited, too, at sorting out exactly whose thing is whose. Maybe it’s your thing, I don’t know.

Posted in Soul | 12 Comments

The Naked City

The late 1950s through the mid-1970s were golden years for television, Hollywood and the crime jazz soundtrack, years when staccato piano chords lurked around every dark corner, and every chase scene was heralded with a steady gallop of bongos. This was a stylized version of jazz, sometimes Latin jazz, and it was used to indicate all the grit, glamour and underworld drama of the big city.

There was the music heard in film and television scores, and there was music which sounded like it should have been in such scores, and that’s what our sights are set upon this week.

1. Harvey Anderson – Modern Jazz Quartet, Monday Night At 8 P.M. (Bayou)
Harvey Anderson played saxophone and flute and led small jazz combos in the Dallas of the 1950s and ’60s. He also showed that Texas – with or without skyscrapers, wharfs, fogs and other pulp earmarks – sustained its own undercurrent of suspense and stylish skulduggery. You could hear it in that walking bass line and flute – universal cues for “danger.” The title sounds like a fugitive from the opening pages of a hardboiled 1950s crime novel.

Fort Worth’s very own Major Bill Smith was somehow involved with this record. (See the Mark II for more on the Maj.) Producer Emmett Spinks was later an owner of Ft. Worth’s notorious Skyliner Ballroom.

Much of the information herein was taken from this neat personal history of Dallas’s 90th Floor Club, and the jazz scene there.

2. Billy Saint, Midnight Freeze (Seafair)
Seafair was a Seattle record label with terrific tastes in label design. It, along with its sister label Bolo, produced a series of rockin’ pop, R&B and instrumental releases in the 1960s. 1961′s “Midnight Freeze” is an anomaly in the Seafair/Bolo catalog, though, an unclassifiable nocturne writ in solitary tones by Billy Saint, whistler.


The flipside – early ’60s tweaked-out teen pop – bears no resemblance to “Midnight Freeze” and no further clues as to the identity of Billy Saint. A real mystery, this.


3.
Johnny Frigo Sextet, El Negro (Orion)
The Chicago-based Johnny Frigo is recognized today for a long career as a jazz bassist and, later, as a violinist. Frigo is also known as the composer, leader and bassist on a series of obscure albums commissioned in the late 1960s by dance instructor and choreographer Gus Giordano. It was a series intended for use in Giordano’s jazz dance classes and workshops, and, performed by the Johnny Frigo Sextet, it comprised an idiosyncratic, if not highly listenable, body of originals and covers of then current rock, soul and soundtrack numbers.

The jazzy horn riffs, the suspenseful piano chording, the flute, the relentless patter of the bongos – no surprises here, though Frigo does throws things into a different gear – an upbeat Latin cha cha – in the last minute of this selection. This was the music lingering like Kent cigarette smoke around any private dick worth his salt in the 1960s.

The crème de la crème of Frigo’s Orion recordings was later anthologized by Ubiquity records.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin | 15 Comments

Boogaloo

The boogaloo was a fascinating musical phenomenon of 1960s Spanish Harlem, an organic result of both the Puerto Rican community’s proximity to the city’s African-American neighborhoods, and the popular, pervasive influence of 1960’s soul music. Joe Cuba (“Bang Bang”), Ray Barretto (“El Watusi”), the TNT Band (“The Meditation”), and Mongo Santamaria (“Watermelon Man”) all had hits by wedding jazzy horn lines, jumbles of English and Spanish lyrics and vamping piano motifs to Afro-Latin styles like montuno, rumba and guajira, fitting, in turn, these elements into an R&B sensibility. It was perfect for the side of a 45 rpm record, it was perfect for radio play.

There’d been similar musical composites before the boogaloo. There was Latin jazz, and more significantly, the mambo and cha-cha-cha, styles which enjoyed massive popular success in this country after World War II. The boogaloo transcended El Barrio and the Five Boroughs in its day and, moreover, was the first to do so with an identity distinct to New York City’s Puerto Rican (i.e., Nuyorican) community and culture.

Despite its appeal amongst and beyond New York’s heterogeneous audiences, the boogaloo was dismissed by the older generations of the city’s Latin musicians. In retrospect, they really didn’t have much to worry about. The boogaloo was a transitory phenomenon. By the late 1960s, a formalized group of Latin styles had coalesced as salsa, replacing everything as the predominant musical voice of Nuyorican identity.

The boogaloo is sometimes referred to as the shingaling, a species distinct from – though sort of spiritually related to – this shingaling.

1. King Nando and His Orchestra, Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling, pt I (Swinger)
It’s King Nando exhorting us to do the shingaling – and, later, on side two, to join him at the Bronx’s Orchard Beach, where again we do the shingaling. L
yrics were not the point of the boogaloo, they were an afterthought, another means for exciting an audience into motion. Any sort of catchy, shouted interjection might do. In this way the boogaloo was no anomaly in the great arc of American popular dance music:

2. King Nando and His Orchestra, Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling, pt II (Swinger)
Fernando “King Nando” Rivera was the singer and guitarist responsible for this summertime anthem. As a bandleader King Nando exercised great taste. Nando’s group’s rhythmic and melodic drive was distinguished by his attractive electric guitar parts, parts which replaced what would have normally been a piano’s role. “Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling” was taken from the first (circa 1965) of King Nando’s three excellent boogaloo albums of the 1960s, all released on the tiny Swinger label.

3. Pepe Fernandez & His Orchestra, Having Fun (20th Century Fox)
It’s a similar atmosphere as “Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling.” And, again, the lyrics: not so profound. Having fun just about sums it all up.

I can claim no knowledge of Pepe Fernandez’s whereabouts, unfortunately. 20th Century Fox, the brief-lived record division of its better known parent company – 20th Century Fox Film Corporation – was a label with West Coast affiliations. I’m fairly certain, however, that Fernandez hailed from New York City. Producer Jackie Mills was working in New York City in 1967 (when this was recorded), and, moreover, “Having Fun” just has that hard-driving New York City sound.

4. Diane & Carole & The Watchamacallits, The Fuzz (Speed)
Diane and Carole were the rare female lead vocalists in the boogaloo era.

As if the “fuzz” references weren’t wonderful enough, “The Fuzz” gives a cautionary lesson to all would-be delinquent types in the process. This is among a handful of boogaloo records about drugs: the buying of drugs, the doing of drugs, and the lamenting of the buying and the doing of the drugs.

“The Fuzz” was written and arranged by Louie Ramirez, one of the biggest, hippest names on the New York City Latin scene of the ’60s and ’70s. This selection was taken from Diane and Carole and company’s full-length album on Speed records, yet another tiny, short-lived Latin record label from the era.

** Note: Oliver Wang has graciously invited me aboard the mighty Soul Sides steamship for what will hopefully be an ongoing, fortnightly series of guest posts, a series which will focus more on LP’s – and various trippier, funkier, and exotic forms found therein. And, hey, here’s my inaugural post. Which, in classic form, is not an LP, but a 45. Hope you enjoy! -Dan **

Posted in Latin | 10 Comments