Some raw, wild instrumental combo rock ‘n’ roll from the late ‘50s this week. Contemporaries, these three selections embody the type of sound that would keep rock ‘n’ roll vital and interesting before the British Invasion.

While there’s no highly specific theme to otherwise link them, there are some shared sensibilities here.  Hovering about them is a vaguely Latin tinge, the kind that rock ‘n’ roll instrumentalists like the Champs and Preston Epps would mine with great success in the late’ 50s and early ‘60s.  There is, too, a wonderfully overdriven sound that owes something to the fearless guitar riffs of Link Wray and Bo Diddley.

Moreover, there’s a healthy dash of bongo-rattling exoticism.  It’s a great illustration of a phenomenon that gets a lot ink here at Office Naps and the Exotica Project: Namely, how some idea of the exotic – even if expressed in song title alone – gave license to groups like these to push the instrumental rock ‘n’ roll form into ever darker, weirder, more daring territory.

Marty Wyler and his Quartet, Chalypso No. 8 (Planet X 9623)1.  Marty Wyler and his Quartet, Chalypso No. 8 (Planet X 9623)
Marty Wyler and his Quartet were a New York City-based group, their “Chalypso No. 8” recorded in late 1957 or early 1958.  It would be among a handful of interesting 45s issued by the short-lived Planet X Records, a label that also released, in quick succession, Bernie Moore’s “Rock Guitar, Rock” and “It Takes Two,” a rare R&B vocal group side by Henry Sawyer and the Jupiters.

An October 1958 issue of Billboard connects Marty Wyler to Holland Records, another tiny New York City label with a small discography divided between rock ‘n’ roll and vocal group R&B.   But all other leads dry up early on with Marty Wyler and company.

This is Rock ‘n’ Roll 101.  Even at this early stage, the chord changes are breaking no new ground, and a thousand other instrumentals would follow the same essential formula.  But few would do it so well.  Lean, mean, all attitude, biting guitar and torrid, squealing saxophone, “Chalypso No. 8” exemplifies what makes a lot of early rock ‘n’ roll so brilliant.  It wasn’t necessarily what you did, but how you did it.

Gene Sikora & The Irrationals, Tanganyika (Coin 45-1506)2.  Gene Sikora & The Irrationals, Tanganyika (Coin 45-1506)
Milwaukee-based guitarist Gene Sikora is arguably the best-known of this week’s three artists.

Born in 1932, Sikora’s work seems to have happened largely behind-the-scenes, and not as your typical rock ‘n’ roller.   In addition to work as a guitar instructor, Sikora would play for a time with accordionist, polka maestro and Milwaukee institution Louis Bashell.

Sikora cut loose in 1959 with two churning, highly original solo 45s, both recorded by Chicago-based promoter and producer Paul Geallis and released on Frank McNulty’s Coin Records.  (In its time Coin Records would also feature some good teen pop and rock ‘n’ roll releases by Sonny Williams, Clyde Bowie and Marv Manning.)

An exoticized, percussive, noisy workout, “Tanganyika” was the first of Sikora’s Coin 45s.  Sikora’s follow-up 45 – “Non Comprendo” (and “Mystery,” its flipside) – is similar in style, his sleek guitar sound a bit reminiscent of a Chet Atkins or Nicky Roberts at their most electric and echo-drenched.

Sikora would resurface as a solo recording artist in the early ‘70s with two more 45s, both – the instrumental “Green Bay Picker” in particular – reflecting a slightly-updated version of the gorgeous style observed on his late ‘50s sides.

Thanks to Gary Myers’s On That Wisconsin Beat and Dominic Welhouse for the information.

The 4 El-Moroccos, To-bango (Alton 500-A)3.  The 4 El-Moroccos, To-bango (Alton 500-A)
Another group that seems to have come and gone without a trace, the mysterious 4 El-Moroccos unleashed this wild instrumental upon the world in July of 1959.

The salient detail here is that both “To-bango” and its flipside “El Mambo Cha Cha” were recorded under the aegis of one Julius Dixson.

Dixson got his start as a deejay but is better known as a prolific and versatile New York City-based commercial songwriter.   Among his dozens of songs placed with various aspiring vocal groups and teen singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a number would become pop or R&B hits, including 1955’s “Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)” for Bill Haley and the Comets, 1957’s “It Hurts to Be in Love” for Annie Laurie and ”Begging, Begging” for James Brown and, biggest of all, 1958’s “Lollipop” for the Chordettes.

The seemingly tireless Dixson also owned and operated several small independent record labels devoted to teen rock ‘n’ roll and commercial R&B, including Deb Records and Alton Records.   Among Alton’s discography was a sizeable hit – 1959’s “The Clouds” by the Spacemen.   The fact that the “The Clouds,” not to mention several follow-up instrumentals by the Spacemen and the Skyscrapers (another Dixson session group), was a studio-only affair leads me to believe that the 4 El-Moroccos may have been the same – that is, a Dixson project comprised of for-hire New York City musicians.

None of this detracts from the “To-bango” experience, of course, which doesn’t so much rock as swagger.  Primitive, clanging, this is where the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental stood before its final incarnation and creative peak as surf music.

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6 Responses to Primitiva

  1. oliver says:

    dude these tunes rock

    here’s a excerpt of a british folk book review in the ny times today

    dug this description

    The resulting agrarian noise thrills Mr. Young. About an early record by the band Steeleye Span, he observes the way acoustic and amplified instruments “rub up against each other like a shedload of rusted, notched and pitted farm implements.”

    rock that hoe jebediah!!!!!!!

  2. Pingback: More music « el desterrado

  3. Educational and engaging as always. Tanganyika inspired at least two 45’s. The other I know of is on Seafair, by Billy Saint, a very interesting vocal side.

  4. Little Danny says:

    Thanks Brian, and howdy.

    Yeah, “Tanganyika.” I know that Billy Saint side you mention (it’s up at the Exotica Project).

    Johnny Noubarian Quartet had a hip piano-trio-with-bongo “Tanganyika” (on RKO Unique) as well, and Buddy Collette had his “Tanganyika” on his mid-’50s Dig Records LP of the same name. And all of them composed completely independently of each other! Crazy.

  5. Peter says:

    Hi! Got to your page by first stumbling across a color movie card or poster for a 1954 movie called "Tanganyika":

    That led me somehow to your Sikora single. He’s got a little bit of two guitar techniques going on that were prominent 10-20 years later:
    * Playing a string up high, such as beyond the frets. If still "over" the frets, doesn’t press the string down firmly. His finger then gets mostly muted tones (percussive), while going down the string and getting lower and lower muted tones. Roy Buchanan would do this, then descend to the frets and go nuts with "regular" playing. Short vid; very short example at 1:23-26:

    * Fingering strings on the frets a bit more regularly with the left hand but muting with part of the =right= hand while picking. Al DiMeola does this a lot with regular melody and improv lines. See Roy vid at 0:45-57, where he’s doing it more as a steadily descending special effect.

    I’ll have to check out these other ones mentioned by Brian Phillips and Little Danny. Thanks!

    There was also a "Tanganyika Strut" (LP title and title track) by jazz trumpeter Wilbur Harden with sax giant John Coltrane, recorded 1958.06.24. (To put that in perspective for the Trane fans, this was a few months after Trane’s LP "Soultrane" and a year before both "Kind of Blue" and "Giant Steps.")
    Trane solo at 2:30:

    • Little Danny says:

      Hey Peter:

      Thanks for this info. I know there was something special going on with Sikora’s guitar-playing on that 45 – good to have it broken down a bit in terms of technique.

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