Latin funk

Funk and salsa, as musical forms, were both ascendant in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. They were forms that were nourished within culturally aware, politically mobilized communities. According to the tradition that America will always co-opt its most disenfranchised, it follows that for a few years in the ‘70s you couldn’t throw a brick at our popular music without hitting a syncopated bassline or a conga drum. Things got ever weirder as the decade went on and R&B and salsa’s musical components were further unhinged from their message. Easy-listening maestros Percy Faith and Ferrante & Teicher made funk records. Nashville’s timbaleros were booked for six months solid, I’ve heard.

It was inevitable that Latin music and funk would have converged, and without that much commercial debasement, at some point. And so they did. Latin funk was a diffuse phenomenon, though, less an extension of an earlier counterpart boogaloo (with its composite of vamping Afro-Latin rhythms and R&B attitude) than a part of the overall psychedelic cultural swirl that made crossover experiments so much fun in 1970. Ray Barretto and Joe Bataan – artists identified with the boogaloo – made popular Latin funk records. Tejano artists like Augustine Ramirez and Tortilla Factory made them, as did Los Angeles’s El Chicano and Oakland’s Azteca. So, too, did black artists like Jimmy Castor and War.

‘70s Latin funk can be a real mixed bag, however. Tracks like Ray Barretto’s “Together” and Ocho’s “Hot Pants Road” hold up extremely well today, pulsing with wild, psychedelized energy while similar experiments by Harlem River Drive and Malo seem dated and overly self-conscious. All, including this week’s geographically disparate artifacts, partook of the same spirit, though, diving headlong into that cauldron where Hammond organs, vibraphones and conga drums swirled in equal measure.

1. Johnny Zamot, Spaced Out (Gema)
Among New York City’s post-War Latin musicians you’ll find the occasional Tito Puente or Eddie Palmieri, that bandleader whose visibility extended beyond just the Nuyorican community. No less vital – and certainly a more representative remainder of their cohort – are names like Hector Rivera, Bobby Valentin and Louie Ramirez, talented musicians, bandleaders, arrangers and producers with long legacies largely circumscribed by the Five Boroughs.

Born in Puerto Rico, Johnny “Ray” Zamot is a versatile percussionist and bandleader and one of the more daring of the younger generation that forged their musical skills in the orquestas and combos of New York City’s fertile ‘60s Latin scene. Unlike their mentors (who generally disavowed the style), Zamot’s was a generation that was comfortably committed to the youthful, brash style of the boogaloo, though.

Zamot is today still an active part of New York City salsa, but it’s his run of hard-to-find releases of the late ‘60s through the mid-‘70s for which he’s more widely remembered. 1968’s The Latin Soul of Johnny Zamot or 1970’s Boogaloo Frog represent a typical, if not exemplary, late ‘60s blend of boogaloo, Latin jazz, mambo, cha-cha and guaguanco – son-based Latin styles that would soon all be formalized under the salsa rubric.

Even by Zamot’s fairly adventurous standards, though, “Spaced Out” is a strange one. If its snappy horn lines and pop sensibilities seem to place it somewhere in the previous decade, then that inverted bassline and echo-drenched waaah-chuck-chuck-chuck chorus seem to point to some indeterminate, loopy year in the future.

“Spaced Out” would also appear that same year on Zamot’s self-titled album on the veteran New York City Latin label Gema.

2. Lou Garno Trio, Muy Sabroso (Very Tasty) (Giovanni)
“Muy Sabroso (Very Tasty),” as the story goes, was released as a promotional tie-in with Giovanni’s Italian restaurant/lounge in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s an unusual, though mutually remunerative, way to make a record, and the arrangement probably made Giovanni Furcini feel pretty good about himself in 1972. Not as good as the record collectors who keep coming across unopened boxes of this 45 some thirty-plus years later, of course – but still, pretty good.

Lou Garno, along with the trio’s organist (Larry Crinklaw) and drummer (Jim Golini), are all still active in Arizona jazz circles. It’s not entirely clear what role Garno played in this groovy bit of Latin-fired jazz, though, as he was and is a saxophonist and flautist. “Muy Sabroso (Very Tasty)” is not live, either, of course, despite the better efforts of our wonderfully canned emcee and audience.

A plumbing tool specialist now sits at the former site of Giovanni’s.

3. Tempo 70, El Galleton (Mericana)
Tempo 70 were a brief-lived group led by Argentinean-born Bebu Silvetti, a pianist and arranger whose career peregrinations took him to Spain, Mexico and Miami as a sort of international contractor in the world of Latin music. The early ‘70s found Silvetti in Puerto Rico, where he convened Tempo 70 for a few albums of polished salsa and Latin pop.

1972’s “El Galleton,” Tempo 70’s highpoint, somehow successfully steers between cuatro- and percussion-driven Afro-Latin rhythms, Hammond-fueled funk and jazzy piano runs – each with a section to itself: “El Galleton”’s charts could have been a disaster in less skillful hands. A technical bonanza for the band, of course, though hell for anyone on the dancefloor.

This selection was taken from Tempo 70’s debut album (entitled El Primer LP), which also happened to the first full-length release of Mericana Records, the New York City Latin label operated (along with Caytronics Records, a Mexican pop clearinghouse) by the Cayre Brothers before they went on to found disco giant Salsoul Records.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura, Latin, Soul | 7 Comments

Office Naps Middle Eastern Mix

The third installment of the Office Naps mix, and it’s all over the place. From Turkish wah-wah guitars and ’60s garage ragas to Yusef Lateef’s Mecca-wise wail, it’s Middle Eastern only in the loosest possible sense of the term. If there ever there was a darbuka to be struck or an argol to be wrangled, however, it’s probably in there. Enjoy.

-DJ Little Danny

Office Naps Middle Eastern Mix
Rosko With The John Berberian Ensemble, Perfection (Music and Gibran: A Contemporary Interpretation Of the Author Of The Prophet, Verve Forecast)
Charles Kynard & Buddy Collette, Blue Sands (Warm Winds, World-Pacific)
The Freak Scene, Grok! (Psychedelic Psoul, Columbia)
Elias Rahbani, Dance of Maria (Mosaic of the Orient, EMI)
Fifty Foot Hose, Opus 777 (Cauldron, Limelight)
Mohamed “Mike” Hegazi and His Golden Guitar, Nouni (Belly Dance With Zeina, Emi)
The Off-Set, Xanthia (Lisa) (7”, Jubilee)
Lloyd Miller with the Press Keys Quartet, Gol-E Gandom (Oriental Jazz, East-West)
Fairuz, Yalla Tenam Rima (Bint El-Harass, soundtrack, Parlophone)
Istanbul Calgicilari, Sax Gazel (Disco Fasil I, Bip!)
T. Swift & The Electric Bag, Free Form In 6 (Are You Experienced, Custom)
1st Century, Looking Down (7”, Capitol)
Don Randi Trio, Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver Jazz, Reprise)
The Kaleidoscope, Pulsating Dream (Side Trips, Epic)
Omar Khorshid and His Guitar, Guitar El Chark (Rhythms From the Orient, Voice of Lebanon)
Ozel Turkbas, Bovzovkia Solo (Dance Into Your Sultan’s Heart, Elay)
The Devil’s Anvil, Hala Laya (7”, Columbia)
Ganimian & His Oriental Music, Swingin’ The Blues (Come With Me To the Casbah, Atco)
Okay Temiz, East Breeze (Drummer of Two Worlds, Finnadar)
Clyde Borly & His Percussions, Afromania (Music In 5 Dimensions, Atco)
Sabah with Chahine’s International Orchestra, Hully Gully (Halli Galli Dabka) (Music From a Millionaire’s Playground, Parlophone)
Yusef Lateef, Sister Mamie (Live at Pep’s, Impulse!)
The Rotary Connection, I Took A Ride (Caravan) (Rotary Connection, Cadet Concept)
Dorothy Ashby, Soul Vibrations (Afro-Harping, Cadet)
Herbie Mann, Incense (Impressions of the Middle East, Atlantic)
Lalo Schifrin, The Snake’s Dance (Lalo = Brilliance: The Piano of Lalo Schifrin, Roulette)
Tony Martinez and His Mambo Combo, Pharoah’s Curse (7”, GNP)
Johnny Lewis Trio and Millie, Snake Hips (7”, Coral)
Sonny Lester & His Orchestra, Song of India (Little Egypt Presents More How To Belly-Dance For Your Husband, Roulette)

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Miscellaneous Flotsam, Mixes, Now Sound, Psychedelic/Pop | 15 Comments

Struck wordless

You’ll hear them sometimes on easy-listening records of the ‘50s and ‘60s, theremin-throated songbirds, their voices swooning, wailing and wordlessly calling in a celestial llllaaaahhhhhhhhs. Jungle exotica, easy-listening themes for outer space, atmospheric soundtrack pieces, and lush orchestral confections: these were the native habitats of the wordless vocalist. Sometimes clustered in groups, more often crooning by themselves, their voices were coloratura that hovered somewhere between the South Pacific and the Crab Nebula. A primarily female phenomenon, wordless vocals were a sort of stand-in for the feminine mystique, conjuring tropical siren to green-tinted moon maiden.

There were a few albums that featured the wordless vocalist as a headlining star and soloist, but releases like Mary Mayo’s Street of Dreams (1953) and Leda Annest’s Portrait of Leda (1958) were rare. Mostly the wordless vocalists were talented studio and background singers like Marni Nixon, Patricia (aka Petula) Clark, Loulie Jean Norman and  Mayo.

Jackie Gleason used them, as did Les Baxter and Juan Esquivel. And so did this week’s artists. As is sometimes the case here, selections are joined by a shared musical device rather than participation in any musical movement or sub-genre. This week’s selections were the phenomenon of independent minds thinking alike, mostly, but the net effect of was basically the same: instrumental music transformed into space-age reverie.

1. Yusef Lateef, Titoro (Riverside)
The pre-‘70s discography of multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef is one of jazz’s most fascinating and otherworldly. Born in Detroit, and long identified with that city’s post-War jazz scene, Lateef grew up playing tenor saxophone; his early musical apprenticeship would culminate with a stint in Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop orchestra of the late ‘40s. Studies in composition and flute followed, and when Lateef’s own recording career as a leader began in 1957, his eastward proclivities were already intact. The next ten years would produce a singular body of work on jazz labels like Savoy, Riverside, New Jazz, and Impulse.

Yusef Lateef could, and did, play straight ahead with the best of jazz’s heavyweights. It’s his Eastern-themed albums and compositions, however, which represent his most interesting work. From Lateef’s earliest dates, albums like Jazz and the Sounds of Nature, Prayer to the East, Eastern Sounds, Jazz ‘Round the World showcased an interest in African, Asian, and, most importantly, Middle Eastern music. Compositions like “Iqbal” and “Mahaba” were, at the time, essentially unique, the reedman’s unabashed exoticism matched only by his acquisitive tastes in unorthodox solo instruments. In addition to being one of era’s most respected jazz flautists, Lateef blew bassoon and oboe. He blew shenhai and argol, too, with a muezzin’s fervor.

Though always well regarded by his peers, Lateef is, even today, rarely championed by jazz’s critical and historical establishment. It’s no fault of their own, I suppose, but they have long confused exotic with kitschy.

This exotic, Afro-Latin version of Billy Taylor’s “Titoro” (which was cut during the 1961 sessions for Lateef’s The Centaur and the Phoenix album) was only released on 45 in its day.

After a late ‘60s switch to Atlantic Records, Lateef’s records were marketed to a younger audience with great crossover success but less originality. Yusef Lateef is today long retired from the commercial record business. At the age of eighty-six, he has remained very productive, dividing his time between academia, composition and his own record label, YAL.

2. Rita Moss, Daydream (Rozell)
A Los Angeles-based pianist and singer, Rita Moss began her recording career as a pop and jazz soloist in the mid-‘50s, but would release material only sporadically thereafter. She was pictured on her first album (1956’s forgotten Introducing Rita Moss) singing while simultaneously playing, one hand on each, piano and bongos. A later stretch at Los Angeles-based Dot Records produced three late ‘60s albums with Moss singing in lusher orchestrated pop territory. It would be Moss’s sung theme to 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby (her vocals are heard only in the movie, I believe) and a smallish cult hit the same year, “Just a Dream Ago,” that represent her lasting claim to fame.

Then there is this obscurity, likely recorded in the early ‘60s, and produced in Hollywood, mood machine to the world. “Daydream,” a Duke Ellington original, has a strange, formless beauty in Moss’s hands, a blank canvas for whatever shadowy fantasy we want to project upon it.

3. Big Jox Orchestra, Cut-A-Loose (Valencia)
“Cut-A-Loose” lacks a certain refined musicianship, but makes up for it with sheer beatnik insouciance. There but for the grace of wordless vocals go thee: this might have been just another sloppy jazz 45.

With infamous producer and record impresario Leo Austell’s writer credit here, it can be reasonably adduced that “Cut-A-Loose” was recorded in Chicago. Otherwise, we’re dealing here with a mystery group, a group that will, I suspect, always remain so.  No matter how many times we google “big” and “jox” together over the coming decades.

Everything about “Cut-A-Loose” suggests an early- to mid-‘60s release. Again, total speculation.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Miscellaneous Flotsam | 12 Comments

Sitars, part two

(Ed. note: This is the second installment of, God willing, an ongoing series on sitar 45s. The saga began here. – Little Danny)

Starting with its early and perhaps most famous pop appearance on the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” the sitar was the right instrument at the right moment. Its drones, its flurries of exotic scales – the sitar inherently sounded psychedelic while simultaneously evoking India, that composite Western fantasy of all things mystical and heightened-consciousness. The sitar captured a counterculture’s imagination to such an extent that to hear the instrument today, even in the hands of classically trained musicians, is to evoke hazy visions of beads and flower child gullibility.

It’s always the ‘60s bands we hold dearest which we believe to have played their own instruments. Everybody knows the Monkees were a prop, we can accept that. We still want the Byrds to have played their own instruments on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” however, and Love to have done the same on their Forever Changes album. But they didn’t. With so much ‘60s pop, it’s not always easy to discern the genuine article from the handiwork of studio surrogates.

No such confusion with sitars in play however. By 1967 any hip record producer would have been keenly aware of this new subcontinent fetish and would have coveted the sitar. Of course, being unwieldy instruments, fragile and complicated to tune, sitars were – when procured at all – played by trained studio musicians like Bill Plummer, Vinnie Bell or Mike Deasy. Many American ’60s garage bands probably coveted sitars, too, but they were many times likelier to have guitars that they played like sitars.

Heard in a ’60s pop song the sitar usually means only one thing: played by professionals. Sitars would remain almost categorically an instrument of the big studios. This week on Office Naps, we again examine the sitar, a celebration of pop music masquerade.

The Ceyleib People, Changes (Tygstl) (Vault)
“Changes (Tygstl),” from 1968, comes to us from a loose-knit group of Los Angeles session musicians that, when not maintaining a hectic schedule in the studio world, was indulging in some seriously unencumbered grooviness.

The young whiz Ry Cooder, for one, played guitar on this selection. So too did stalwart session guitarist Mike Deasy, who, along with the sitar duties here, co-wrote this under the pseudonym of “Lybuk Hyd”. Deasy and Cooder would be joined by Joe Osborne (bass), Larry Knechtel (bass and keyboards, later in Bread), Jim Gordon (drums, later in Derek & the Dominos), and jazz keyboardist Mike Melvoin. Even in 1968 these were names unlikely to evoke more than blank stares. Reading charts for a Mancini film soundtrack one week, interpreting Brian Wilson’s instructions the next, these guys loomed large, however, as core members of the “Wrecking Crew,” the studio group who, amongst their thousands of sessions, played on some of the classic Phil Spector and Beach Boys productions.

“Changes (Tygstl)” is the highlight of the Ceyleib People’s Tanyet LP, an entire album of Eastern-inspired meanderings from 1968. Was their Tanyet a purely creative response, an experiment and a means to exorcise urges long stifled by too many Jan & Dean sessions? Or was Vault Records (which served mostly as a West Coast subsidiary for R&B and jazz giant Atlantic Records) simply attempting to cash in on the vogue for all things Aquarian? Like so much in ‘60s Los Angeles pop music, the answer isn’t straightforward. The answer lies somewhere in those cracks between opportunism, dissolution and creativity.

This would be the sole 45 culled for release from the Ceyleib People’s Tanyet album.

2. The Believers, Soul Raga Cookin’ (Capitol)
Capitol Records, though responsible for some top-notch psychedelic LPs, hadn’t quite navigated the straits of late ‘60s pop and rock with the same savvy as West Coast label rivals like Warner Brothers, A&M, Reprise, Dunhill and Uni.  The Beach Boys were becoming increasingly irrelevant by 1969, at least in terms of their chart success, and the Beatles, with their newly founded Apple Records, had negotiated their Capitol contract down to a distribution-only agreement a year earlier.  Pink Floyd wasn’t yet the powerhouse, and Grand Funk Railroad had just made a somewhat forgettable debut album.

But Capitol Records was, by other standards, still a bona fide industry powerhouse. Among other late ‘60s sellers, the label enjoyed the unrivalled popularity of a host of Southern-inspired pop-country artists. Bobbie Gentry (“Ode to Billie Joe”), Glen Campbell (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman”), and Joe South (“Games People Play”) belonged to a group of artists that was in some ways a stylistic vestige of Capitol’s pioneering Bakersfield country sound and that, in other ways, engendered a hipper, unclassifiable brand of Southern pop-country.

Joe South wrote and produced this particular selection. Born in Atlanta, South was already a rising phenom in the early ‘60s, a seasoned country and R&B session guitarist in Nashville and Muscle Shoals who would later develop into a talented singer-songwriter. A series of solo records on Capitol commenced for him in 1968, and so, too, did the crossover hits. South compositions like “Games People Play” and “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” defined his idiosyncratic, country-flavored blend of soul, folk, and pop. With their occasionally psychedelic and electronic production, they were improbable hits then, and odd, if highly enjoyable, relics today; South is remembered better for covers of his own compositions. “Hush” (Deep Purple), “Down In the Boondocks” (Billy Joe Royal), “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” – Joe South compositions all.

“Soul Raga Cookin’” came from the sessions that comprised South’s third LP, 1969’s Games People Play. This trippy selection was excised from the same jam that served as the backing track for South’s “Hole In Your Soul,” and attributed to “The Believers.” (Sharing their name with the Joe South opus, “Be a Believer.”)

“Soul Raga Cookin’” is many things: psychsploitation artifact, boogie raga with Bo Diddley beat, cosmic swamp brew. Capitol obviously tossed this single out there in the hopes that at least one of its component parts might stick.

But that isn’t a real sitar we hear. It was an electric sitar, an instrument that looked very much like a guitar, that was played very much like a guitar, and that generally lived up to its name.

Joe South is today semi-retired from the music business. Check out a vintage clip of him – with electric sitar – at his website.

3. The Flower Pot, Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’ (Vault)
The Flower Pot was, like the Ceyleib People, a Mike Deasy vehicle.

Deasy must have felt very strongly about this composition. Its Dylan-inspired free associations and funky, flower-power aesthetic made just enough loopy sense that Deasy prevailed upon West Coast sunshine popsters the Association to cover it on Insight Out, their third album. The two versions are nearly identical, and it’s not clear whose – the Association’s or the Flower Pot’s – was released first.

It isn’t clear, either, who is singing on “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’,” whether they were a “real” group or, more likely, a studio composite. It is undoubtedly Deasy who we again hear on sitar, though, and again he is mashing the hell out of the instrument’s drone strings. He was probably joined here by some of the same session players – like Joe Osborne and Larry Knechtel – who’d played with him on “Changes” (and on the Associations’ version of “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’,” as well).

This artifact was released in 1967. Deasy, with California sunshine pop producer/arranger extraordinaire Curt Boettcher, would release yet another full-length album of budget-priced rainbow thrills the same year with his Friar Tuck and His Psychedelic Guitar LP on Mercury Records. Its recent reissue includes Deasy’s two singles from the Flower Pot.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 8 Comments

Win, Lose, or Spy

The James Bond character is one of the 20th Century’s great fictional heroes. Ian Fleming’s literary conception of the character (Casino Royale, 1953) and, later, its cinematic adaptation (starting with Dr. No in 1962) galvanized the whole spy genre and captured the imagination of a modern, post-War demographic.

I’m not here to restate the Bond phenomenon’s cultural impact or argue its continued relevance, though. Written by British composer Monty Norman, and performed and arranged by his countryman John Barry, the “James Bond Theme” did as much to invent a whole new musical genre as Dr. No did to invent a silver screen archetype. Heavy on the brass, strings and high drama, Barry’s ‘60s Bond themes were agile and stylish, their moments of deadly surf guitar and churning organ suggesting motion, danger, and international hijinx.

A wave of Bond-inspired soundtracks albums logically followed, with unlikely artists from Count Basie (Basie Meets Bond) to Ray Barretto (Señor 007) all channeling their inner 007s and investing themes like “Thunderball” and “From Russia With Love” with their particular musical pedigrees. From R&B novelties and surf music to easy-listening instrumentals, Bond-inspired themes were everywhere in ‘60s pop. Office Naps dives into the great backwash of imitators this work.

1. Sounds Incorporated, Bullets (Columbia)
Sounds Incorporated formed in Kent, England, around 1960. Theirs from the start was an unenviable lot. An instrumental combo with a twin, saxophone-led sound, Sounds Incorporated were neither gritty enough to be absorbed into London’s R&B scene nor really modern enough for the British Invasion. They could claim a few minor hits in the UK, but it’s usually the group’s association with the Beatles (they shared manager Brian Epstein, opened for the Beatles on some mid-‘60s tour dates, and assisted the group on “Good Morning Good Morning”) and their backing work for touring Americans like Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis or Sam Cooke for which they’re best remembered.

In 1964, though, Sounds Incorporated stepped briefly from their role as arbiter of all things brassy, brash, and British, and into the spy netherworld of “Bullets.” “Bullets,” with its hipster aesthetic and Roland Kirk-style over-blown flute is exactly what you hear descending into that grotto nightclub at SPECTRE headquarters.

If they’d persisted a few more years, they might have been Britain’s answer to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, but, after several years of residency in Sydney, Australia, Sounds Incorporated called it quits in 1971.

2. Stan Kenton and His Orchestra, 007 (Capitol)
Kansas-born jazz bandleader, arranger, composer and pianist Stan Kenton formed his first big band in Los Angeles in the early ‘40s. Many of West Coast jazz’s young lions would come to pass through the Kenton Orchestra almost as a rite-of-passage, especially during its experimental and creative peak of the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Heavyweight soloists like Art Pepper, Bud Shank, and Shelly Manne and hip jazz arrangers/players like Bob Cooper, Gerry Mulligan and Bill Holman all cut their teeth on Kenton’s incongruous “progressive jazz” concept, which put across the harmonic innovations of bebop with a surprising measure of swing – and commercial success.

Changes in size and configuration notwithstanding, the Kenton Orchestra became less an innovative force over the following decades and more, somehow, like a transatlantic ocean liner: needlessly extravagant and decreasingly relevant. In the mid-‘60s, the orchestra still had at least one thing going for it, though: size. It was gigantic, almost ridiculously so, and still very much capable of the dizzying drama and bombast that it was renowned for.

It was an orchestra in search of the James Bond theme. Though I’m afraid this selection is as close as we’ll ever get. A few years later Kenton would be recording “Colored Spade” and “Walking in Space” for his 1967 version of the Hair soundtrack, but this is my favorite from what was turning into Kenton’s most crassly commercial years. Incidentally, 1965’s “007” is partly the handiwork of producer David Axelrod, the trademark psychedelic guitar and clear drum sound of his ’60s Capitol residency in full effect here.

3. The John Schroeder Orchestra, Agent 00-Soul (Cameo)
History, despite recent attempts to recast him as a sort of icon of mod cool, will mostly invoke John Schroeder’s name as part of the younger generation of producers and composers who reinvigorated British easy listening music for the Swingin’ ‘60s. Like other British producers, Schroeder had hipper tastes in American music than most Americans, and it was Schroeder’s good fortune as a popular producer to release numerous albums under his own name (as well as under the Sounds Orchestral and City Of Westminster String Band monikers) well into the 1970s. They had their odd and groovy exceptions, but these albums were generally comprised of pallid instrumental fare like Schroeder’s best-known hit, a cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and polite covers of some American soul numbers like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Rescue Me.”

Schroeder’s 1965 version of Edwin Starr’s “Agent 00-Soul” is one of his better moments. Here he transforms – with an arranging assist from fellow British studio maestro Johnny Harris – this Detroit soul chestnut into a cheeky nightclub caper. If half the game in ‘60s instrumental pop was production, then Schroeder, clearly besotted with the possibilities of bottomless studio echo, was the right man for this job.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Now Sound | 10 Comments

Song of the Jungle

Vocal exotica never quite carved out the niche that its popular instrumental sister did in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A popular singer might toss the occasional “Bali Hai,” “Moon of Manakoora” or “Caravan” into the mix, but rarely did exotica a singer make.

Not so for instrumental orchestra and band leaders like Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, of course: their jungle fantasia sold by the million, with dozens of album-length variations on the same eternal themes.

America’s post-War popular singers conjured mood and place, too. But they interpreted themes and emotions as well, relating stories, relating, in the process, to an audience. A Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee or Sarah Vaughan demanded a broader songbook than just grass shack paeans and meditations on tropical love. Torch singers like Julie London or Jeri Southern were all perfume-and-cigarette-smoke atmosphere, but even their songbooks were based around love. Rarely did they sing about the tropics.

Still, plenty of vocalists did have their exotic moments, even if they were worn chestnuts like “Jungle Drums.” Vic Damone (Strange Enchantment), Bing Crosby (Return to Paradise Islands) and Frank Sinatra (Come Fly With Me) made travelogue-style albums with some nominally exotic themes, while, with assistance from Martin Denny, obscure singers like Sondi Sodsai and Ethel Azama made full-fledged exotica albums.

Such records might transport you to a South Seas paradise, too. Just not in quite the same way that a jazzy instrumental tone poem and your living room Barcalounger could. Rather, these transport you to a nightclub that looked a lot like that South Seas paradise.

That said, I can’t promise that this week’s selections will get you even that far. They’re showing Paradise, Hawaiian Style later tonight on TV. That might be a better place to start.

1. Don Sargent and the Buddies, Voodoo Kiss (Catalina)
A teen-oriented rock ‘n’ roll singer from California, we know Don Sargent from a handful of obscure 45s from the late ‘50s, but, other than that, there’s very little to work with. It’s easy to imagine Sargent as a sort of a Ricky Nelson-type, though, a good-looking guy with a perfect white smile, a pleasant voice, and a dad who worked in the film industry. You know, the guy who always played the older brother’s best friend on television. The senior class treasurer, maybe.

And, somewhere in that chasm between white bred American wholesomeness and sadomasochistic energy throbs the irrepressible, kinky heart of “Voodoo Kiss.” That’s the beauty of this selection: it’s pure American product.

“Voodoo Kiss” was recorded in 1959 for the tiny Catalina label based in Los Angeles.

2. Darla Hood and the Fabulous Modesto Orchestra, My “Quiet Village” (Ray Note)
Darla Hood was a cast member on The Little Rascals, director Hal Roach’s wildly successful series of comedy shorts about America’s favorite plucky pipsqueaks. The show began in the early ‘20s as Our Gang and soldiered on into the mid-‘40s under various auspices (and with ever renewed supplies of rascals). The original series was syndicated for television finally in the ‘50s under its better-known moniker The Little Rascals.

From mid-‘30s onwards, Darla Hood was one of the show’s featured characters, playing herself, basically, from age four to age ten. After Our Gang, she continued to make singing and acting appearances, sustaining a show business career with better luck, if nothing else, than most of her former colleagues.

Hood’s 1959 vocal version of Les Baxter’s exotica standard “Quiet Village” was recorded at the seasoned Hollywood age of twenty-eight. It’s pretty much what you’d expect any Little Rascal to sound like after a few decades at the margins of the spotlight: bigger, brassier, the original Mel Leven lyric drained of its subtle obsessiveness and replaced with searing vibrato.

3. Paul Leader and H.B. Barnum’s Circats, Devils Pad (Tropical Isle)
Hope springs eternal, and so does misery. Women are perpetually the death of a guy like Paul Leader, and so, alas, are booze, horse racing, and cheap cologne.

Released around 1963, this seems to have been Leader’s only record, with a Latin combo assembled for the occasion by the rising West Coast studio man H.B. Barnum.  Leader’s whereabouts and identity remain completely unknown, unfortunately.  Both parties were obviously at critical stages in their lives here, though, with Barnum continuing on to a successful career in Los Angeles as a freelance jazz, pop, and soul producer and arranger, and, later, television composer, and our man Leader, I’d like to think, moving on to his third divorce.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age | 5 Comments

Office Naps to return at some vague point next week

For anyone interested in a description of the fifteen-year-old me, I have a post over at Soul Sides as part of O-Dub’s ongoing summer series. Not included are visuals of me trying to get muscles, also that same summer.

Apologies for the ongoing delays; two weekends of travel + internet not working at house make Danny a dull boy. Have a great weekend!

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam | 4 Comments

Their hearts filled with love

No lofty cultural themes or sub-sub-sub-genre exhumations this week on Office Naps, just a survey of 1969, that transitional year when funky drums collided with a vestigial girl-group aesthetic. Heartache, sequined jumpsuits to ensue.

1. Betty Everett, 1900 Yesterday (Uni)
“Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)” remains both Betty Everett’s greatest-selling record and the greatest disservice to the memory of her talents. Blessed as she was with a wistful, tart voice, Betty Everett was far more capable than what the bright girl-group pop of “Shoop Shoop” might have suggested.

Betty Everett, born in 1939, grew up singing gospel in Mississippi. Barely out of her teens, she relocated to Chicago, there working her way from one small independent blues label (Cobra) to the next (CJ) without much chart success. A move from gritty R&B; material into more sophisticated territory accorded Everett some attention, and the regional chart success of the slow-burning soulful blues “Your Love Is Important to Me” brought her to Vee-Jay Records, one of Chicago’s best-known indie labels. Everett would again dent the charts with a fine version of Dee Dee Warwick’s “You’re No Good,” but it was 1964’s “Shoop Shoop Song” (which Everett recorded with great reluctance) that incontrovertibly landed her in the spotlight and, later, oldies radio rotation hell.

Other hits followed for Everett at Vee-Jay (including duets with Chicago soul legend Jerry Butler), but nothing, alas, on the scale of “Shoop Shoop.” Following Vee-Jay’s collapse in 1966, Everett recorded for other Chicago record labels with mixed success. An on-and-off relationship with Leo Austell – Chicago businessman, producer, and Everett’s long-time manager – lead Everett finally to the Los Angeles-based Uni Records in the late ’60s.

Which brings us to this selection. On Uni Records, Everett enjoyed probably the most successful of her comeback hits, “There’ll Come A Time,” the title track from an excellent album of big, sophisticated soul. “1900 Yesterday,” written by Chicago producer and songwriter Johnny Cameron, would be the third single released from that album in 1969.

For every Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin there will always be a hundred Betty Everetts, genuine talents who, like so many soul and R&B; singers in the history of the vocation, struggled to sustain – if not simply attain – their transitory moment of fame. The pop spirit was there on “1900 Yesterday.” So too were the strings, the sweeping production, the melodic grandeur and the emotional pathos. Everett had the presence, talent, and depth to transition smoothly into soul/pop diva territory at the dawn of the ‘70s, but for better or for worse it just never came to pass. Everett notched a few more minor R&B; hits in the early ‘70s, but her Uni recordings would be her swan song.

Hawaiian lounge-pop group Liz Damon’s Orient Express would release a very popular version of “1900 Yesterday” in 1971.

2. Inell Young, The Next Ball Game (Big-9)
No one seems to recall much detail of Inell Young, a New Orleans vocalist whose legacy rests on a handful of late ‘60s 45s and the undying obsession of soul collectors. Even the irrepressible Edwin Bocage (aka Eddie Bo), the New Orleans institution who arranged and composed two of Young’s three records, seems to have been somewhat nonplussed by Young, remembering her in Wax Poetics (2004, issue no. eight) as a troubled creature, and suggesting she succumbed to a drug overdose.

The chaos of Inell Young’s lifestyle was belied, though, by the exceptionally finessed vocal on 1969’s “The Next Ball Game,” the one and only release on the Big-9 record label. Like all of this week’s selections, there’s also a bit of Motown-style emotional pathos around the edges of Young’s voice, even when you can’t quite understand her. Was this Eddie Bo’s bid for a pop record? The sensibility is there, sure, but whatever Bo’s aspirations, there’s no getting around where this record was made: the sun rises in the east, the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and so, too, for every New Orleans record will there be syncopated horns and colossal rhythm.

These particular colossal rhythms were in fact the handiwork of James Black, a versatile drummer who played on many of Eddie Bo’s house releases. “Next Ball Game” exemplifies the way Black could dominate a song; he took the blank spaces normally found between other drummer’s beats and filled them with skittering wallop and his own boundless enthusiasm.

No surfeit of praise is too much for Eddie Bo, either, the composer and creative soul behind “The Next Ball Game” and countless New Orleans gems. Eddie Bo is a true hero of the city’s recorded music, his groundbreaking recordings, production and arranging credits, and compositions (not to mention his talents on the keyboard) read like a condensed version of several decades (1950s-‘70s) of post-War New Orleans R&B;, soul and funk.

3. Eula Cooper, Heavenly Father (Atlantic)
This was one of only a handful of 45 releases from Georgia’s Eula Cooper, a soul singer whose scant body of work lies in inverse proportion to its exceptional quality. 1969’s “Heavenly Father” was originally released on the Atlanta-based Tragar, and picked up for wider distribution by soul heavyweight Atlantic Records. This would be Cooper’s only release to see proper distribution.

“Heavenly Father” is an odd one. Musically speaking, Cooper’s hypnotic vocals and her backing group – which may or may not be the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm and horn section – seem to be going in slightly different directions at times. Still, though, they seem to wind up in the same place. Lyrically speaking, “Heavenly Father” is an appeal to a higher power, leading me to wonder: why waste such an appeal on your reprobate boyfriend? I save my appeals for more important things, like getting out of speeding tickets.

“Tragar Production,” seen here on the label, refers again to Tragar Records. As a label, it was one of Georgia’s finest R&B and soul indies, its roster of long-forgotten names today reading like a who’s who of disillusionment and abandoned musical dreams.

Credit for the information on Eula Cooper must go entirely to Brian Poust, creator of the Georgia Soul Blog and the Georgia Soul website, one of the internet’s best regional soul surveys. Here you can listen to another Cooper 45, the sublime “Try.”

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Soul | 9 Comments