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 on by Little Danny | 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.

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 on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin | 15 Comments


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 on by Little Danny | Posted in Latin | 10 Comments

Odd pop

They’re guys with guitars, organs, and drums, and they’re playing in a mid-1960s combo style. On paper, they’re garage bands. But it’s still easier to categorize these three groups by what they aren’t. They aren’t really the typical clanging noisemakers revered by fans of ’60s garage bands, for instance. No Mick Jagger-style posturing, or pounding drums, or fuzztone distortion, or wild R&B-inspired guitar breaks. This week’s selections work instead with drones, detuned chords, and unique song structures, succeeding finally with something that’s my favorite kind of experimental. The inadvertent kind.

1. The Beach-Niks, Last Night I Cried (Sea-Mist)
These Iowa teens evoke an eerie drama that ’80s UK neo-psychedelic groups like the Spacemen 3 worked hard to resurrect some twenty years later. There are no solos here. Just booming tremolo guitar, bass, tambourine, and the taped-down keys of a Farfisa compact organ. Basically everything you could possibly ask of an existential meltdown.

The Beach-Niks were inducted in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000. They recorded “Last Night I Cried” circa 1965. They had silver hair. Again, they were from Iowa. Close your eyes and imagine that, Andy Warhol.

2. The Early Rock, Sunshine Sorrow (A Shakey Production)
Pop music had officially gone psychedelic by 1967. It doesn’t seem like the Early Rock set out to be psychedelic, but they wound up sounding that way. Their vision traded drums for tambourine, and embraced bright harmonies and a muffled guitar sound, all of which comes through in some fantastically harmonic drones.

An entity unknown to me, the Early Rock recorded this in California in 1967 or 1968, I’d say.

3. The Young Tigers, I Have Nothing (Foto-Fi)
Recorded in Los Angeles, circa 1964, this unique gem is also the earliest of this week’s batch.

With their squeaky clean harmonies, the Young Tigers teeter dangerously on a that fence that divides ’60s pop from white doo-wop. But “I Have Nothing” is easily redeemed by memorable patterns of chiming guitar notes and lyrics that reach for breathtaking levels of despondency.

** Big thanks this week to Steve Wynn, who recently mentioned Office Naps in his tour diary. Wynn is one of my guitar idols (during my brief years as a rock ‘n’ roller, which some say never happened). His early Dream Syndicate recordings especially are a highlight of post-Velvet Underground rock ‘n’ roll. **

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands | 6 Comments

The Moog

The Moog synthesizer wasn’t the first electronic instrument to work its way into the context of post-War pop music. There was the theremin, for example – that white swan of electronic instruments, heard for a few spectral bars on certain space-themed exotica and soundtrack albums of the 1950’s & 1960’s. The Moog, on the other hand, jostled and squawked, calling attention to itself with loops and shrill blasts like some complicated, hyperactive kid. It was, unlike the theremin, a distinctly Pop art creature. I’ve found consequently that Moog synthesizers – or, at least, Moog synthesizer records – tend to alienate people. To be fair, the problem lay not so much with the technology but rather with the use of it; Moog pop records carried with them a heavy novelty factor. When they weren’t dishing up classical standards or making corny pop hits like “Aquarius” even cornier, they often wound up as vehicles for their own gadgetry, as if wacky electronic effects alone could sell records. Well, actually, wacky electronic effects did sell a lot of records.

Either way, below are three of the more listenable exceptions.

1. The Hip Sound, Far Out (Limelight)
It sprang from the mind of Pierre Henry, the French 20th century electronic composer and artist known to the serious music community for his role in the development of musique concrète. As with his similar and much-loved (and sampled) “Psyché Rock,” “Far Out” is a demonstration of Henry’s penchant for pop. Bending Moog and French go-go brio to the will of his own collagist aesthetic, “Far Out” finally became – clanking and buzzing and squelching – something akin to Pop art. Or it became at least its own futuristic form of discotheque music.

Recorded in the late 1960’s in France, this was released domestically on Limelight records, a subsidiary of Mercury which, in addition to its jazz releases, was home to some of the more experimental music of the 60’s.

The Time Zone, Space Walker (White Whale)
Mort Garson was an arranger/composer type with a long track record in the Los Angeles studio world, and the mastermind behind some truly grandiose synthesizer albums of the late 60’s/early 70’s: kitschy concept albums with paranormal and astrological themes, and titles like The Unexplained: Ataraxia. Whatever increasingly occult shape his personal obsessions assumed in the 70’s, Garson’s most memorable recordings remained his (earlier) productions of the late 60’s, however. The psychedelic “Space Walker,” for example: a genuinely inventive construction forged from go-go drums, fuzz tone distortion, squawks, glissandos, finally zapped into life and sent hurtling towards the American record buying public in 1967 – where, promptly, it did nothing.

“Space Walker” also bears a passing resemblance to Garson’s equally wonderful Zodiac Cosmic Sounds LP (see Richie Unterberger’s feature on Zodiac Cosmic Sounds, a true Aquarian relic).

Dick Hyman, Strobo (Command)
One of the names synonomous with the Moog, Dick Hyman – unlike other popular Moog advocates such as Jean-Jacques Perrey or Walter Carlos – came to the instrument not through a background in “serious” academic music but, rather, from many reliable years as a session pop and jazz musician. With a few exceptions (like his eight minute long “Minotaur”), Hyman’s late 60’s Moog records tend to give the sub-genre a bad name in my book, as they can come across a little too consciously wacky sometimes. “Strobo,” however – with its dense patter of mechanized rhythms (courtesy of the Maestro Rhythm Unit) and a series of shrill keyboard runs that could have been picked up on the moon – has its own futuristic charm. Easily the moogiest of this week’s bunch, its title in fact describes it perfectly.

This song only appeared on 45.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Now Sound | 14 Comments

Organ moods

Three measured doses of organ jazz ambience this week.  These selections may only bore you, or you may find something more subtle and exciting about these, something with the quality of a cinematic archetype.  Think “after hours nightclub scene.”

See also Sleeping Pills.

1. Gene Ludwig, Blue Flame (Jocida)
Atmosphere really falls into place beautifully on “Blue Flame,” a mood piece featuring Gene Ludwig’s soulful organ along with the arrangements and percussion of session musician Arthur Jenkins. (Jenkins co-authored this, along with obscure jazz composer and pianist Alonzo “Lonzo” Levister.)  The unusual vocalizations, so strangely reminiscent of a jug, deserve special mention here as well.

Gene Ludwig is a Pittsburgh-based organ player who plied the well-worn circuit of the Mid-Atlantic jazz clubs. He released a handful of high-quality soul jazz releases, mostly in 1960’s – and mostly on small indie record labels. His colorful “Blue Flame” comes to us courtesy of Johnny “I Can See Clearly Now” Nash’s record label, Jocida.

See the fabulous Funky 16 Corners for an interview with Gene Ludwig.

** A great honor this week to hear from Gene Ludwig himself! The guy is a legend, as well as a tireless proponent of jazz and Jazz Organ. Have a look at his website, too, where you can read an excellent bio – and check out photos, his calender, and his latest CD’s (and discography). A class act all the way. Thanks again, Gene. **

2. The Mark II, Dead (Charay)
The Mark II’s ghostly “Dead” was first released on the Charay record label, one of several record labels associated with Major Bill Smith, a Ft. Worth, Texas record producer, promoter, and manager who styled himself in spirit (and title) on Elvis Presley’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The “Maj,” in the tradition of the red-faced hustlers who once populated the independent record business, managed to tap dance around some of the finer points of copyright law; his entire working ethos, in fact, was based on a philosophy of cutting records and distributing them at breakneck speed. Old tracks would be recycled over and over again to fill the missing B-side of a record. New records would be rushed – still obviously unmastered – to the public.

The only problem with “Dead,” with its deep gospel flavor and unstoppable rhythm, is that it is a Major Bill production. Hastily and inexplicably faded out at the 1:48 mark, this track was, in typical Maj fashion, reused as the backing track for at least 3 different vocal releases (with different vocals overdubbed each time, of course), all on Charay Records.

“Dead” was co-written by Moses Dillard, a session guitarist and arranger.

3. Three J’s, Chalito (Part One) (Smogville)
It was the lot of the jazz musician in the 1960s to figure out how, exactly, to accommodate the ascendant rock music. Or whether to accommodate it at all, for that matter. The advent of psychedelia, with its air of experimentalism, must have intrigued at least a few young jazz musicians, of course. But, more than likely, most jazz musicians probably felt more isolated than ever from the younger intellectual audiences who, turning on now to the ear-shattering electricity of rock, might have once turned to jazz.

4. Three J’s, Chalito (Part Two) (Smogville)
Such was not quite the case with the Three J’s, however. An unknown West Coast trio, their sprawling, Latin-tinged “Chalito” smouldered with a spooky intensity and achieved, inadvertently or not, something akin to psychedelia. Or it at least successfully straddled that no man’s land where exotica simply became psychedelia.

I’d guess that “Chalito” was recorded in 1968. I believe, also, that the Smogville label was actually from Oakland, and not Los Angeles as you might suspect.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura | 15 Comments

Great Britain

No clever themes unite this week’s 1960’s psychedelic pop selections. Beyond being unapologetically British, that is.

1. Phil Cordell, Red Lady (Janus)
Phil Cordell was a British folk-popster & songwriter who found greater (or, rather, relatively greater) fame in the 70’s with an idiosyncratic pop project called Springwater.

The effervescent “Red Lady,” remains, however, his crowning acheivement – a chugging tour de force of bohemian languor, sung with all the veiled drug references and quasi-mysticism appropriate for 1969. Fading out in a kaleidoscopic hum of sitar-like slide guitar (which Cordell, a multi-instrumentalist, is himself presumably playing), harp, cymbalum, and the obligatory “wailing forest maiden,” you, like me, may wonder whether there was a downside to all this narcotic bliss. Unless you count the bloodshot eyes, there wasn’t.

“Red Lady,” originally released on the Warner Brothers UK label, was released stateside on the Janus label (pictured here).

2. The Societie, Bird has Flown (Deram)
The Societie were a Scottish group, with the Hollies’ lead vocalist Allan Clarke handling production on this oddly loping pop chestnut from 1967. Further research reveals little else on who the Societie were, unfortunately. Further research reveals little else about subtleties of the lyrics of “Bird Has Flown,” too, as I inevitably seem to get derailed by all that cavernous echo. There are moments when I honestly can’t even tell whether the drums are running backwards or forwards. Really, who cares? It’s echo, for God’s sake.

3. Peter Sarstedt, Blagged! (World-Pacific)
Maybe it’s that British pop songwriter Sarstedt seems today to be regarded as a somewhat frivolous period relic. Maybe it’s the era’s general production philosophy that the more flanging, the better. (Flange is the distinct “phasing” effect heard on the drums). Maybe it’s the lush sound reminiscient of the early Bee Gees records. Well, whatever; I find this to be an endearing specimen of the British psychedelic baroque.

Though it’s more identifiably psychedelic, “Blagged!” also bears comparison to some of the seemier fare of the cult 60’s crooner Scott Walker. Sarstedt projects a similar, cynical kind of masculinity – a posture which his weary bravura rescues from being merely corny.

“Blagged!” was recorded in 1968. Like “Red Lady,” the 45 pictured here was the American issue of the record.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 16 Comments

Girl trips

This week, three female harmony-soul records from the early ’70s. Their production styles are wildly different, but they’re all suffused with the lightly trippy aesthetic of the era.

1. The Three Degrees, Collage (Roulette)
An enduring Philadelphia female vocal trio, the Three Degrees found national fame in the mid-1970s on Gamble and Huff’s massively influential early disco label, Philadelphia International Records.

Named, I’d guess, for its pastiche of gloomy and strikingly imagistic lyrics, “Collage” was, aesthetically, light years from the Soul Train dance lines and gold lamé. This was 1970, when pulling out all the stops in the studio meant a technicolor cascade of minor-key harmonies, chimes, vibraphone, and wah-wah guitar.

2. Sweet and Innocent, Express Your Love (Active)
Cooing with a charming lack of affectation, Sweet and Innocent strive here to fill those holes in their hearts.”Express Your Love” is sweet, innocent, and – like a love letter sung into a portable tape recorder in a teenager’s bedroom – almost too intimate.

They recorded this echo-drenched sleeper in Memphis in the early 1970s.

3. Patti Drew, Keep On Movin’ (Capitol)
Chicago-based Patti Drew has a voice that’s a powerful, wondrous thing, and she really unleashes the full dramatic force of it on “Keep On Movin’.”

The pop charts were once friendlier to anthems of survival, empowerment, and “personal voyaging.”  Listen to the gravitas with which Ms. Drew intones lyrics like, “But somewhere, somehow / I’m going to keep on trying / until in the end / I finally win.” It was a different era, 1970.

** Many, MANY thanks this week to Oliver, who gave Office Naps a sweet shout-out from his mighty Soul Sides site. Oliver’s discipline – and his peerless writing and tastes – were a real inspiration to me (and should be for any music blogger). Back when he was reviewing LP’s on a monthly basis and posting drool-y album scans, back before “blog” meant anything to you or me, HIS was one of the first homegrown music sites that I regularly checked (and it still is one of the few). Check Soul Sides everyday. **

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Soul | 15 Comments