The Sitar

In that weird gray zone where American popular taste comingled with “ethnic” music, anything – even sitars – could happen. It may have been the Beatles who introduced it to the popular consciousness, but it took the muscle of the American record industry to so effectively turn the sitar into a cliché.

The sitar signified India, which, to a teenaged demographic, signified, of course, drugs.  But the sitar was a democratic cliché, if nothing else – for a brief year or two, it could be spotted droning away in the background of albums of everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to easy-listening maestro Jackie Gleason.  Thus briefly assuring these same teenagers’ parents that they, too, were still relevant.

1. Beautiful, Walters’ Dream (Cyclops)
Notorious Los Angeles-based producer and impresario Kim Fowley came to London in 1967 and managed to insert himself behind the controls for the first recordings of future jazz-rock eggheads the Soft Machine, then darlings of the nascent London psychedelic music scene. Sneaking the tapes back to Los Angeles, Fowley released two of these songs – under the fabricated name Beautiful – on the one-off Cyclops label.

Upshot being that no matter the duplicity involved, no matter how rudimentary the playing, the American public was going to get its sitars.

2. The Love Sitars, Paint It Black (Soul Galore)
Straight from the end sequence of The Party to you, this version of “Paint It Black” proved that uniting two cultural vectors of ’60s Pop America – rock ‘n’ roll and sitars – was no harder than coming up with the right font for your label.

No conclusive information on the Love Sitars. Their name pretty much tells you everything you need to know, though: it seems to have been the work of studio musicians from Los Angeles. No other city in the ’60s could knock out a few ersatz notes with such complete conviction.

3. The Punjabs, Raga-Riff (Prince)
This scrappy twenty-five watts of sitar power is a personal favorite of this lost sub-genre.  Whose heart wouldn’t race when they see “Sitar with Orchestra” printed on a record label?

It’s pretty easy to speculate on the story of “Raga-Riff.” Written and recorded in a day or two, casually handed out to some turned-on Los Angeles deejays. Played once and, like  fur vests, locked away in storage and forgotten about.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 17 Comments

West Coast Latin jazz

Three different Latin jazz combos this week. They sprang from the fascinating Latin jazz world of ’50s and ’60s California (the Bay Area and Los Angeles, in this case).

These were diffuse scenes. They drew their devotees from the Mexican-American and African-American communities, from the jazz musicians who’d already themselves established in California (the Cal Tjaders, Al McKibbons, Clare Fischers, et al.), and from a handful of Cubans and Puerto Ricans.

Due in part to its smaller scale, it was the versatile five- or six-piece jazz combos – rather than larger orquestas like New York City’s – which reigned on the West Coast. And it was the vibraphone, with its capacity to fill a room with shimmering, exotic sound, that was accorded such a predominant place in some of California’s more popular working jazz groups of the era, quintets like Bobby Montez’s and Cal Tjader’s, and, later, the Harold Johnson Sextet and the Afro Blues Quintet.

1. Manny Duran and His Sextet, Johnny Comes Marching Home Mambo (Cavalier)
It’s lovely to hear Duran and company deconstructing a patriotic warhorse like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” with such wild inventiveness.

Manny Duran was pianist who played in the 1950s Bay Area with other simpatico Latin jazzbos like Cal Tjader and Armando Peraza. He’s heard here along with his brothers Carlos (bass) and Eddie (guitar), percussionist Benny Velarde (see next selection), and Cliff Anderson and Bevan Brahms on vibes and percussion.

This was likely recorded around 1959 or 1960. Cavalier was small California label with a odd discography of ’50s and early ’60s pop, country and teenage-type rock ‘n’ roll 45s.

2. Cool Benny (Velarde) and His Stone Swingers, Wobble Cha (Virgo)
Benny Velarde was one of the cadre of great West Coast Latin percussionists which included Francisco Aguabella, Moises Oblagacion, Armando Peraza, and, briefly, Mongo Santamaria – a cadre which dominated their Pacific corner of the jazz universe in the ’50s and ’60s (albeit mostly in a supporting role).

The wobble was one of about a million dance crazes in the early to mid-’60s. The wobble could tenuously claim some Latin forbears, too, with some ’60s New York City Latin groups – Joe Cuba’s and Joe Quijano’s come to mind – performing twist-cum-chas in a style known as “wobble.” No word on whether that’s actually Velarde heard here enthusiastically offering his encouragement with those exhortations, though.

3. Tony Martinez Quintet, Ican (RCA)
Tony Martinez was a bandleader and vibraphonist whose names pops up occasionally in the context of Los Angeles Latin music.

On this early Latin jazz recording (ca. ‘54), Martinez leads his razor-sharp quintet through a classic Eddie Cano composition, with the great Cano himself handling piano duties. “Ican” is the template for the dark, exotic strain of Latin jazz that found favor in post-War California nightclubs (see also Roscoe Weathers) – both Cano and Martinez whip through their parts with the kind of crazed, infernal energy that must have spooked the bourbon ‘n’ pineapple crew down at PJ’s.

“Ican” was later covered with characteristic elan by conguero Poncho Sanchez (who’s kept the spirit of West Coast Latin jazz alive in recent decades) on his Bien Sabroso album.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Latin | 14 Comments

The Shingaling

The Shingaling, like the term “boogaloo,” refers to two separate (but related) mid-’60s pop phenomena.

There’s the “shingaling” synonomous with Latin Soul – jazzed-up guajiras and mambos with an R&B kick, sung in English and Spanish by younger Nuyoricans. Possibly more familiar, though, is the “shingaling,” the peculiar evolution of ’60s soul dance music shortly before the polyrhythmic funk of “Cold Sweat”-era James Brown changed everything. It sustained a tradition of dancefloor lyrics, though it was arguably more sophisticated than the R&B styles that preceded it. It had big, jazzy horn riffs, it looked good in mod suits and it had a walloping beat. And, most of all, it was just crazy danceable.

1. Gene Waiters, Shake and Shingaling (part 1) (Fairmount)
All the requisite ingredients are here: the horns, the titantic drum fill, the lyrics about keeping “it” moving. Spiced with guitar and some churning organ, “Shake and Shingaling” is the essence of shingaling soul.

“Shake and Shingaling” absolutely brims with the confidence that comes from being part of the New Breed, that elite, vague club that once carried a great deal of currency, even if only in the lyrics of contemporary ’60s soul music.

2. Carl Holmes and the Commanders, Soul Dance No. 3 (Blackjack)
Carl Holmes – talented guitarist, screamer, and a kind of tightly wound version of Wilson Pickett – here conjures the transcendent 1966 blare of American dancefloor mojo.

Carl Holmes led various R&B and soul combos throughout the the 1960s and ’70s, and toured the Mid-Atlantic extensively, including my old stomping grounds south-central Pennsylvania. (See the fantastic Funky 16 Corners for more info on Carl Holmes.)

3. Bobby Sax, Sock It (DePlace)
1969’s “Sock It” is, even for the style, exceptional.  Monumental slabs of echo, horns and drums are its component parts.  Sound bleeds from its every channel.

The Washington DC-based saxophonist and vocalist Bobby “Sax” Hughes’s discography extends well into the ’70s, and includes a number of other hard-edged soul and R&B 45s, though none with quite the same heart-pounding tempo or needle-in-the-red volume levels as “Sock It.”

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Soul | 8 Comments

The Middle East, after hours

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.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age | 9 Comments

Overhauling the British Invasion

It was 1966. As far as both hipness and the sales of rock ‘n’ roll records went, the British were still outclassing their upstart counterparts from the States. Naturally, we agitated as a nation to summon up a dignified response to the British Invasion – something that would channel all our twitchy, obsessive energy.  It’s arguable whether we ever quite generated that same amount of fervor with the American teenyboppers. But our boys were, in the meantime, imitating the British bands to the best of their abilities – or, at least, taking characteristic glee in deconstructing the Brits’ handiwork.

Three American garage bands here – all doing mutated cover versions of British Invasion hits.

1. The Malibu’s, I’m Cryin’ (Quill)
One of the great attractions of the garage band phenomenon is that breakneck velocity and pure teenbeat spirit assume a greater significance than musical proficiency. And how much amphetamine died to make this record? This version of the oft-covered Animals song came from the Malibu’s (sic) – an unknown Chicago band, circa ’65.

2. The Swamp Rats, It’s Not Easy (St. Clair)
These Pittsburgh malcontents had a minimalist streak that would have made the Velvet Underground proud – and the good taste to reduce the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Not Easy” to a driving one-chord drone.

The Swamp Rats released a handful of brilliant punky 45s in the mid-’60s.

3. The Evil, Whatcha Gonna Do About It (Living Legend)
Buried somewhere in this racket is a Small Faces hit. Like all of this week’s artists, Miami’s The Evil ratchet up the tempo of the song in question, jettisoning all that is decent and subtle in the name of their art and the pure 1966 American thrill of violence.

Heavyweight Capitol records – home to the Beatles, Beach Boys, and many, many others – later picked this record up for distribution, though unfortunately (but probably prudently) seeing fit to remove that ear-piercing guitar break for its second issue.  Either way, Capitol was apparently sensing there was some hit potential in this song.  There wasn’t.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands | 8 Comments

Vocal Noir

Some obscure, atmospheric jazz vocals this week.

1. Mark Murphy, Come and Get Me (Riverside)
“Come and Get Me” is just so macabre – and on so many levels.  From those first creeping bass notes to the strings’ final eerie groan, Murphy is able to wrench every last drop of emotion from his plea, all with a sort of unhinged delirium rare in jazz. And it’s rarely captured with such effectiveness, too. Can you hear him pleading with his woman? Do you understand when he sings “Come and get me,” that he’s pleading with his dead woman?

The NYC jazz label Riverside had the prescience to record Murphy’s hipster vocals with sympathetic musicians on several fine, jazzy albums in the early ’60s. Mark Murphy still records (and performs). He later recorded this song for his 1973 album Bridging the Gap.

This version of “Come and Get Me” was only released on 45.

2. Jeri Simpson, My Black Lace (Sun-Kist)
A bachelor’s vacation on some far-flung jungle isle might seem like a good idea at first.  Much of what ’50s exotica implied, though, was that, really, wouldn’t your time be better spent elsewhere, away from the reality of the steaming tropics and unfriendly natives and language barriers and everything? Instead, say, on your couch?

Jeri Simpson’s sultry vocals exemplify that spirit of armchair adventure. “My Black Lace” is an invitation, and, when she hits those husky notes, who are we to turn her down? Ms. Simpson’s performance is showcased here to great effect by the restraint of the backing musicians, an intimate style popularized by the torch singer Julie London on some of her sexier ’50s albums (she even used the same two backing musicians – Kessel and Leatherwood).  London never sang with quite the same jungle ardor, though.

It’s from Los Angeles. I otherwise have no idea about who Ms. Simpson is, sadly.

3. Marilyn Ross, Out of This World (Suave)
Not as feverish as this week’s other selections, but Ms. Ross – complemented by a touch of Latin percussion and her cool jazz accompaniment – transforms this Harold Arlen evergreen into pure boudoir fantasy

Recorded for Beverly Hills’s own Suave record label, sometime in the late ’50s, Marily Ross is joined here by West Coast jazz stalwarts Clare Fischer and Red Mitchell.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura | 3 Comments

Bossa America

The Bossa Nova had already been maturing in Brazil for several years when, in 1959, the movie Black Orpheus first broke the sounds of Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim to a larger American and European audience. The wheels were set in motion, though it took Stan Getz and João and Astrud Gilberto with 1963’s “Girl From Ipanema” to truly charge the American popular consciousness.

Its commercial potential immediately obvious, jazz musicians from coast to coast were soon adding “Mas Que Nada” and “One Note Samba” to their repertoires – or were, for better or for worse, being goaded by managers and record executives into making Bossa Nova-themed albums. This was mostly for the better. It just meant that, in the typical American fashion, Bossa Nova became a fairly loose concept, something any jazz record could invoke with the right breezy rhythm section and the promise of South American latitudes.

1. Dan Yessian Quintet, Basadelic (Sound Patterns)
Imagine my disappointment when it turns out that this wasn’t “basadelic.”

Nominally the most Brazilian of this week’s selections, this nifty jazz instrumental from the hip Michigan label Sound Patterns has a lovely, confident swing. Dan Yessian, a Detroit-area saxophonist, was later the founder and head honcho of the Yessian music production house.

I’d guess that this released around 1968.

2. The Cals, Amazon Bossa Nova (Loadstone)
Even by most the liberal standards, “Amazon Bossa Nova” is not a Bossa Nova.

It’s got an unfamiliar time signature, though, and the rattle of maracas. And though it isn’t music that seeks to startle, or to move us the brink of tears, it’s tropical – or tropical-ish – an organ jazz cocktail with no overriding motive beyond a certain loose sophistication. There’s your Bossa Nova right there.

The Cals – a hip young teen jazz and pop trio who played the lounges and clubs of the Bay Area and nearby San Rafael – were guitarist and bassist Doug Cox, organist John Allair and drummer Pete Lind.  Their “Amazon Bossa Nova,” one of several similar 45s for W.C. Stone’s great R&B label Loadstone, was recorded and released in the mid-’60s.
Pete Lind and Doug Cox still play in Bay Area jazz circles today.

3. Mk. III, Mocha Nova (Tigertown)
Just drums, flute, and a reedy-sounding electric organ. “Mocha Nova” is another low-key nightclub jazz charmer, brought to us by this obscure Tampa trio.

“Mocha Nova” has the relaxed sort of cool that would have only been heard long after nightfall, when, with the local populace asleep, it was finally safe for jazz flutes to come creeping out. Great stuff either way. “Mocha Nova” was recorded in 1966.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Latin | 1 Comment

The psychedelic hinterlands

Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1960s weren’t the sole province of psychedelic pop. This week we pack for the long trek to the psychedelic hinterlands.

1. Jazz Bend Me Blues Band, Lady Weaver (Algar)
Things were different in the late 1960s, with many colorful, fantastic varieties of hippie music flourishing.

“Lady Weaver” is hardly some magical Renaissance Faire vision, though, despite its title – it comes across more like a long, lonely, bearded spell in woods.

Where does one geographically place the Jazz Bend Me Blues Band’s off-kilter tremolo guitar and xylophone? I’m not sure, exactly, but I get the vague sense that this bit of ramshackle weirdness was a product of the Pacific Northwest.

2. West Minist’r, Carnival (Razzberry)
West Minist’r was a Midwestern group, a sort of Beatles-by-way-of-the-Breadbasket. All three of their ’60s 45s definitely carry a distinct Anglo influence.

This is a personal favorite. And proof, too, that, with some chemical fine-tuning, anything – even carnivals – can be made psychedelic. It just takes the right combination of backyard production, blissed-out harmonies, and church organ, though it’s really that walloping drumbeat which sets “Carnival” apart for me.

“Carnival” was released in 1969.

3. King Biscuit Entertainers, Pride (Burdette)
“Pride” is chiming, uncharacteristically quiet fare from the King Biscuit Entertainers, an accomplished bunch who built a reputation from years of energetic live shows on the Pacific Northwest’s ballroom circuit.

The vocals are obscured into oblivion by that fascinating ’60s studio gadget, the Echoplex tape delay, but, with their two minutes of deftly produced psychedelic pop, the King Biscuit Entertainers otherwise waste no time in getting right down to the business of getting mellow.

“Pride” was the first of two King Biscuit Entertainers 45s for the Burdette label. Burdette was itself a short-lived late ’60s subsidiary of Jerden Records, the Pacific Northwest’s ’60s rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 1 Comment