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the average American – the pages of National Geographic open before him – was allowed to at least persist in his more outdated notions about the Middle East, its Oriental mystique fully intact.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.