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From '50s NYC clubland, a Yma Sumac-inspired version of "Babalu" by jazz/calypso singer Phyllis Branch.
The radio showThe show is Lost Frequencies. Every Monday night from 9pm to 11pm (CST) on Marfa Public Radio I explore the atmospheric side of post-War music: bop & vocals, soul/R&B heartbreak, exotica & soundtrack moods, Latin jazz, oddball instrumentals, honky-tonk ballads, early electronics - even some dreamy '60s psychedelic pop. Tune in at Marfa Public Radio or at KRTS 93.5fm.
Ed. note: I’ve been after the Austin-based 45 collector, Wisconsin rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast and platter party host Dominic Welhouse for a post for a few years now, basically since I started Office Naps.
Dominic is one of the healthier collectors I know. He has box after box of heart-pounding vinyl rarities spanning every imaginable style, but – when it comes to music – form and a sort of classicist perfection will forever trump mere collectibility. Through our years-long conversations and MP3-laden email correspondence, I’ve come to regard him as a spiritual brother in the quest for perfect wall of sound productions and dreamy ’60s country obscurities and other otherworldly strains of post-War music. There have also been a few sub-genres of his own invention or compilation; I was thrilled when he proposed this theme.
These three 45s capture something that could be so inspired – creative, even – about local media, and local media hosts, in the post-War decades.
The first two selections relate to radio and music. Alongside entrepreneurial hustle and local record stores, venues and recording studios, a radio host played a critical role in the infrastructure necessary for nurturing a thriving music scene. Airtime for local groups and artists was procured, live appearances as emcees and disc jockeys were made, relationships among artist, label and venue were forged. At their best, the host played the role of tastemaker, passionately and consistently pushing their own sensibilities through a selected programme of favorites. But galvanizing a local scene was more than the sum of exposure, connections and good tastes. A Mad Mike or Mad Daddy took things to some fervent new level, cultivating their own sound and capturing the imagination of a local populace with flamboyant, envelope-pushing patter and playlists of wild rock ‘n’ roll originals. Theirs was charisma and a free-wheeling, specialized enthusiasm, a born type.
These three selections (the third includes television host Gailard Sartain) all document this rarer breed: the personality. These individuals drove vital, original programming to young audiences and championed up-and-coming acts but all was not just boosterism for local musicianship or the means, in Sartain’s case, for filling up a slot of television programming. In short, it was about the host’s art as an entertainer and no less than the sheer, breathtaking expanse of their personality. This dynamic reaches some sort of obvious fruition with these three selections. Terry Lee, the Weird Beird and Gailard Sartain talked, wrote, played music, acted and – with nothing to offer but their God-given charisma – they made records, too. I’ll let Dominic take it from here.
1. Terry Lee, TL’s Sleepwalk (T.L. Sound co. TLS45-1A)
Even after the payola scandals of the late ’50s, those able to cater to the tastes of teen ears made a pretty good living if they had good hustle. Terry Lee Trunzo – or as his fans knew him “Terry Lee” – could hustle with the best. In addition to his radio program, at one time or another Trunzo hosted television dance shows, promoted live concerts, DJed dance parties, managed and recorded local bands (the Swamp Rats, Arondies and the Fantastic Dee Jays, among others) and compiled albums of song favorites in album jackets featuring suave pictures of himself.
One of Trunzo’s claims-to-fame was a show segment called “Music For Young Lovers.” For a few hours every night he played nothing but make-out music. A popular part of his show, “Music For Young Lovers” was undoubtedly the soundtrack of many Pittsburgh teens furtive romantic experimentation.
In “TL’s Sleepwalk,” Terry Lee shamelessly bites Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk,” slows it down, and gives it fresh purpose. Terry Lee evokes the inchoate feelings of the romantic teen with this smooth monologue, recorded in August 1963.
Strangely, this record didn’t get a 45 release until 1987. Until then, fans of “TL’s Sleepwalk” could only find it on one of his Music For Young Lovers LPs.
2. The Weird Beard & Crazy Cajun, T’was a Weird Nite Before Christmas (Capri 509)
The Weird Beard aka Russ Knight – born Russel Lee Moore – was an extremely popular Dallas DJ in the early sixties. Working the 7pm-to-midnight shift at Dallas’s KLIF, he is reported to have enjoyed a 62% percent market share. Folks to whom I’ve talked confirm that he was hugely popular, and his appearance on the 1962 volume of the oldies series Cruisin’ bears this out. Popular with the kids, his patter often rhymed and – among his conceits – he conducted interviews with “Beatles,” young men faking Liverpudlian accents. He helped with KLIF’s JFK assassination coverage and was later deposed by the Warren Commission concerning his contact with Jack Ruby during that fateful week. Reading a transcript of his testimony yields the tidbit that Ruby brought sandwiches and celery soda (!) to KLIF DJs/reporters during assassination coverage. After Knight mentions celery soda in his deposition, he’s asked follow-up questions in which his interrogator attempts to decipher the soda’s brand. Crazy.
In 1964 Knight moved to KILT in Houston. His antic behavior and popularity with the kids undoubtedly led to him laying this track down with East Texas producer Huey Meaux, a man whose activities (good and bad) could fill a large-yet-very-readable biography. Meaux’s productions are often marked by their looseness and the Weird Beard’s waxing is a case in point. This record has qualities I would describe as “psychedelic,” but I strongly suspect the drug of choice was hard liquor. What I imagine began as a fairly normal recording date became very weird, indeed. Meaux even gets in on the sonic fun himself. Every time I play this record, I struggle to discern its maker’s intended audience. As with many of the records featured on Office Naps, I doubt this one found its way into many jukeboxes.
By ’66 Knight was back at KLIF. Since then, he’s been in a variety of markets across the U.S, including a recent stint doing talk radio in Washington, D.C.
3. Natural Brass Company featuring Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi, Scope Them Turkeys Out (Brass Monkey BMR-107.01-A)
In Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1970-1973, the television airwaves carried The Uncanny Film Festival (get it?) and Camp Meeting. Essentially a way to repackage and celebrate B-movies, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and an occasional Busby Berkeley fantasia, the show included locally-produced sketch comedy. Several years before the nationally broadcast Saturday Night Live, Tulsans had their own show filled with comic hi-jinks, catchphrases, off-kilter humor, and – at least once – a musical performance courtesy of Leon Russell. By the second season they even had a cast member, Gary Busey, who’d subsequently wreck his life with drugs.
Gailard Sartain’s opportunity to stand in front of the camera is an old cliché: he was working as a television cameraman when his station’s late night movie host quit. He asked the program director, “Why not give me a shot?” and his pluck was rewarded: Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi was born. Sartain would play a variety of characters, but “Mazeppa,” the wizard who would join host Sherman Oaks (Jim Millaway) to introduce the films, was his calling card. This record dates from the show’s first year of production.
Roy Clark caught an episode of Mazeppa Pompazoidi and Sartain was invited to join the cast of Hee-Haw. Sartain went on to be a Hee-Haw regular. To this day, he enjoys a movie career as a character actor (notably, he played the Big Bopper in The Buddy Holly Story). In my imagination, The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting is like Hee-Haw, adding drug humor and increased sexual innuendo.
Also a visual artist, Sartain did the artwork for Leon Russell’s Will ‘o The Wisp LP.
I first heard Broadcast’s “Long Was The Year” back in 2000 on WFMU’s webstream. The attraction was instantaneous. Pulsating feedback and cavernous production shimmered with a strange, magnetic beauty, the bassline was pure ‘60s Los Angeles pop. Percussion and hand-wired pop electronics descended in dense, shifting layers of melody. At the center was the voice, a gorgeous presence exuding mystery and enunciating Sleep, long and fast, Let the past be the past with icy-warm reserve. This was Trish Keenan.
It was one of those momentous, too-rare minutes that changes you, even as a hardened music fan. Reality unspools a little, new worlds open up.
Broadcast defied all experiences of getting extremely excited by a group only to learn the remainder of their work was largely mediocre. Rather, to dig into the Broadcast discography was to submerge oneself deeper in a universe of glorious sound. It was a universe shockingly aligned with my own tastes, my own sensibilities, my own ideas. Broadcast made it easy to think that this universe had been constructed precisely for me.
Again, defying all pop music patterns, Broadcast’s attractiveness only strengthened in ensuing years, even with my once-ardent enthusiasm for contemporary music continuing to fade. With each new release Broadcast broke ground in some new way, forever expanding their sparkling vision into new fringes of the cosmos. Each new Broadcast release was worth obsessing about because Broadcast had obsessed about it.
Every fan will have their favorite album or song. For me their magnum opus will always be 2003’s Haha Sound. It’s one of the best albums of the 21st Century. It’s one of the best albums, period. Their last full-length release – 2009’s Broadcast & the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age – was magnificent, a kaleidoscopic, extremely psychedelic collaboration with simpatico artist Julian House, and a long-overdue addition to their sterling discography.
Details about Broadcast in the media have largely and rightfully concentrated on their music. Perhaps that’s why it’s impossible for me – merely a musical admirer – to separate Trish Keenan the individual from Trish Keenan of Broadcast. One senses, though, that Broadcast’s music was, at least in some way, an embodiment of herself. It emanates deep intelligence and an inquisitive spirit, one excited and haunted by the creative possibility of inner worlds.
It’s been some small comfort to read different personal accounts of Broadcast’s music since Trish Keenan’s tragic passing several days ago. My own experience is hardly unique. But Keenan’s music meant a great deal to me. And now a beautiful world has sadly closed.
Deepest condolences to her family and friends. Goodbye Trish Keenan, may you rest in peace.
As I scramble to wrap up an exciting new phase of the Exotica Project. Stay tuned.
Also, so help me God, Office Naps is now on the Twitter.
In the first half of the 1960s, when this week’s selections were recorded, exotica hadn’t waned as a commercial or creative force. And the Arabic world was one peculiar, and significant, branch of the exotica tree. It was a branch informed by a limited, loose and now-quaint geographic and cultural projection that was fired in turn by pop culture, especially the Middle East of Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Columbia’s various Sinbad movies, and a million other spy and swashbuckler adventures.
Even the ostensibly “authentic” National Geographic’s post-War construction of the Middle East, while well-intentioned, relayed a certain romantic exoticism. This is not to suggest that the average American’s knowledge has gotten any less limited. It’s just that the clichés have changed. The image of the Arab World of the ‘50s and ‘60s – Hollywood and Madison Avenue’s in particular – was variously opulent, desolate and mysterious, a pleasure palace of sheiks, zaftig belly dancers, hookahs and silk and incense and candles.
Every single one of these clichés would find its way into popular music in turn. This was nothing new, obviously: one needn’t look any further than Ravel’s Bolero for musical antecedents. There were ethnic field recordings and domestic releases of Lebanese and Egyptian pop (see Philips’ and Capitol Records’ International series, for one) to be had, of course, but for the most part the ‘60s proved some sort of musical peak for our cultural approximations of the “Orient,” from Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” at one of the decade to a lot of the faux-Eastern psychedelic rock (which is exotica) at the other. And every imaginable version of “Caravan,” “Delilah” and the theme from Lawrence of Arabia along the way. Even the extremely popular belly-dance LPs that nominally contained authentic music were packaged in lurid jackets that invoked every imaginable stereotype.
Most importantly, though, there were many, many glorious and gloriously obscure 45s that exploited the camels-and-caravans fantasy to the nth degree. (See the Exotica Project for a number of these faux-Eastern gems.) A fun post this week and a follow-up to this early dispatch as we explore few more of them. Aqaba!
1. The Merits, Arabian Jerk (Bandstand USA BA-20165-A)
A white group from the Memphis area, little is known about the Merits, and nothing conclusive can be stated about either Wade Tillman (or Tilmon) or Carlton Reynolds, the authors of “Arabian Jerk.”
Bandstand USA was one of several subsidiaries of Goldwax Records, Quinton Claunch and Rudolph “Doc” Russell’s excellent label that, after Stax and Hi Records, did much to advance the region’s R&B and soul talent (including O.V. Wright, James Carr, the Ovations, and Spencer Wiggins, among others) in the mid-‘60s. Also among the Goldwax discography are some country artist and garage band releases. But nothing quite like 1965’s “Arabian Jerk,” an inspired, slinky example of organ-fueled casbah hokum if ever there was one.
Its flipside (“Please Please Little Girl”) is an odd thing lying somewhere betwixt garage band and Stax R&B outtake. This seems to have been the Merits’ only 45.
2. Jack La Forge, The Cleopatra Kick (Regina R-284)
New York City-based pianist, organist, composer and bandleader Jack La Forge was in his time fairly prolific.
Born in 1926, La Forge seems to have been foremost a businessman , though one with obvious inclinations for playing music. His Regina Records, which he founded and operated, enjoyed a brief but busy run between 1963 and 1965. Among the Regina discography would be good albums by jazz saxophonist Charlie Mariano, nightclub singer Frances Faye (to whom he’d once been engaged) and obscure singer Sylvia DeSayles (to whom he’d recently become engaged), along with some interesting girl-group, jazz, instrumental and R&B 45s.
But more than anything Regina Records seems to have served as a sort of outlet for La Forge’s own musical penchant – there are at least seven full-length albums of piano-based orchestral pops fare attributed to him (not to mention his first LP – 1962’s Hawaii & I – recorded for Purpletone Records, or his last – 1966’s Hit the Road, Jack – recorded for Audio Fidelity). These albums have been largely forgotten. It’s not that the stuff is bad – covers of hip fare like “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Comin’ Home Baby” are fun – it’s just that for the most part there’s none of the studio whiz-bang or stereophonic adventure that rescue this particular brand of easy-listening retread LP.
“The Cleopatra Kick,” from 1963, is the big, mod exception to that. An original, with an electric harpsichord put to particularly deft use, the thundering arrangements and misterioso atmosphere here are provided in part by the great Don Sebesky, a studio man with his own proud legacy of now-sound-style grooviness.
La Forge died sadly early, stricken by a heart attack in early 1966 at the age of forty.
3. The Embers and Joe Mack Lackey, Alexandria (Newtime 513B)|
A possibly-Philadelphia-based group who, after writing about them nearly three years ago, remain as elusive as ever. Its flipside (“Burning Up the Airways”) offers no clues, and I’m still not entirely confident of the connection between this Embers and the Embers of “Peter Gunn Cha Cha” fame, to be honest. And there may also be a connection to the Embers who backed Pete Bennett on his Booker T. & the MGs-inspired “Fever” from 1961.
Regardless of any tenuous links that can be drawn here, this thumpingly great selection, recorded in 1962, represents something that gets a lot of genuine appreciation around here: the continuous triumph of pop exoticism over authenticity.
Newtime was part of the Newtown family of record labels, which most famously issued some early 45s by Patti Labelle.
Curt Boettcher, ‘60s California studio wunderkind, belongs somewhere in a rarified constellation of pop music auteurs and true industry eccentrics. His productions and arrangements, his compositions and lyrical bent, his gravity-defying voice occupy the more imaginative, cosmic end of ‘60s psychedelic pop. His entire vision was a sort of peculiar and ephemeral manifestation of the hippie Aquarian ethos.
Boettcher’s earliest recorded work was with folk quartet the Goldebriars, a group he’d help found in 1962 while a student at the University of Minnesota. A recording contract for Epic Records led to the group’s eventual relocation to Los Angeles, and their two full-length albums, both released in 1964, are if nothing else interesting artifacts, especially in retrospect, presaging the Mamas and the Papas’s sound and amply demonstrating Boettcher’s knack for unorthodox harmonies.
The GoldeBriars fell apart, but Boettcher’s contacts within Los Angeles’s folk music and industry circles, not to mention his growing reputation for innovative commercial arrangements, paid their dividends. Studio handiwork as a for-hire producer and arranger – a venture consolidated in 1966 with industry insider Steve Clark and singer Victoria Winston as Our Productions – notably begat production duties on Tommy Roe’s 1966 hits “Dizzy” and “Sweet Pea.” Among the impressive body of work created in a subsequent two-year period were also full-length productions and songs for Chad & Jeremy, Eternity’s Children, Tommy Roe and, perhaps most notably, the Association. There were dozens of pop, rock and commercialized folk 45s on myriad labels, too, and these tend to be some of the more unusual and interesting of Boettcher’s oeuvre. This week’s selections are but three examples.
Also among the 45s was a rare gem by the Ballroom, an ambitious male-female unit assembled by Boettcher in 1966, and a group that points logically to the next stage of his career. Ever-increasing demand, and a creative relationship with A&R man and surf and hot-rod producer extraordinare Gary Usher, brought Boettcher on board Columbia Records as a staff producer in 1968. There his sensibilities would reach some sort of celestial fruition with Present Tense, the first album by Usher’s pop project group Sagittarius, and especially Begin, the sole 1968 album by the Millenium, a bona fide eight-piece group, many of its participants drawn from the Ballroom and other Boettcher sessions. Begin, co-produced by studio whiz and frequent Boettcher collaborator Keith Olsen, is the most lavish realization of Boettcher’s ambitions.
But I won’t belabor the more complicated details of his biography or his musical career’s finer points – the Curt Boettcher story and mythology are already well-documented. In light of this week’s selections, it’s perhaps more helpful just to make a few observations about Boettcher’s aesthetic.
Despite some serious egomaniacal proclivities, Boettcher’s style – from his early GoldeBriars recordings to his final great work for Together Records, the brief-lived label co-founded with Gary Usher and Keith Olsen upon leaving Columbia Records in 1969 – remained consistent and steadfastly distinct. An extremely ambitious presence, Boettcher occupied a different and somewhat curious psychic plane, one that found its outlet in his bigger studio productions. Tracks like the Millennium’s “Karmic Dream Sequence #1” or the Ballroom’s “Spinning, Spinning, Spinning” are suffused with flowing layers of airy, ethereal harmonies, exotic instrumentation, studio echo and multi-tracking, tape loops and assorted electronic gadgetry. There’s a fantastical quality to nearly all of Boettcher’s productions and compositions, too, distinguished by the soaring, somewhat awestruck vocals that he favored.
The effervescent sheen does not always wear well – the more upbeat side of Boettcher’s body of work is fey and lightweight to the point of treacle. But among the darker, more minor-keyed pop are some otherworldly, unique and truly transcendent moments. The selections this week are notable examples of the latter, and comprise some of my favorite Boettcher work outside of sessions with Sagittarius and the Millennium.
Those desiring more of an introduction to the work of Boettcher are advised to check out Sundazed’s deluxe Sagittarius and Millennium product, and Rev-Ola and Sonic Past‘s various releases of rare and unissued Boettcher-related material.
1. The Oracle, Don’t Say No (Verve Forecast KF5075)
From an historical standpoint, the Oracle’s “Don’t Say No” is representative of a lot of Boettcher’s work created for Our Productions. It’s representative of the lion’s share of Los Angeles ‘60s pop productions, for that matter. Namely, there’s a kernel of a “real” group here – Louisiana native Terry Green supplies the lead vocals on “Don’t Say No,” and he penned the flipside, too, the less-psychedelic but still terrific “The Night We Fell in Love.” But there’s also a lot of assistance from Los Angeles’s omnipresent studio musicians.
“Don’t Say No” was recorded and released in late 1967. Vocalist Green had only recently arrived in California from Lake Charles, where he’d left the Bad Roads, a raw garage band legendary amongst collectors for their searing “Blue Girl” 45. “Don’t Say No” could hardly have been more different from the Bad Roads’ fuzztone and swaggering punk.
Created by Curt and Keith Olsen for their Mee-Moo Production partnership, the recording really pulls out all the stops, even by Boettcher’s baroque standards, a haunting opus of Indian instrumentation, electronic studio effects, cascading harmonies and blissful astrological vibrations.
The writer here is Ruthanne Friedmann, incidentally, who penned “Windy” for the Association and “Spinning, Spinning, Spinning” for the Ballroom, among others, and who enjoyed an interesting solo career of her own in California.
2. Action Unlimited, My Heart Cries Out (Parkway P-115-B)
“My Heart Cries Out” is among the most obscure of Boettcher’s truly top-flight productions. The recording was the work of an actual group, though again the Action Unlimited’s original sound is subsumed to a good degree by the mass of Boettcher’s psychedelic production.
The core of the group Action Unlimited was formed at Eastern Kentucky University as the Maroons. By 1966, having changed their name to Action Unlimited, they were working in California to support Dick Clark, then current television host of Where the Action Is! Consisting, at least in part, of Kent Fox, Dave Osborn and Dewey Pope, the group – with the help of Dick Clark’s ties to Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway Records and the hustle of Our Productions manager Steve Clark – released “My Heart Cries Out” in 1966.
Ahead of its time for 1966 – ahead of its time, period – the shifting layers of sound here are textbook Boettcher. A longing, deeply melancholic track, the tape-delay-treated vocals and instrumentation, one of Boettcher’s favorite studio tricks, work to especially great, hypnotic effect, seemingly pulsating into infinity.
The Action Unlimited would tour the West Coast and Las Vegas for a few years, but this would remain their only release.
3. Lee Mallory, Many Are the Times (Valiant V-751)
Born in the Bay Area in 1945, Lee Mallory was a life-long guitarist, songwriter and vocalist. One of Boettcher’s most simpatico associates, the bulk of Mallory’s recorded work was measured out in the late ‘60s, a legacy in no small part related to his collaboration with Boettcher.
Mallory as a teenager was drawn towards the folk music scene, then in full bloom, his skills as a performer honed in early performances in various San Francisco spots. Like many Boettcher project regulars, Mallory first made the connection in Los Angeles, where he’d relocated in the mid-‘60s. Mallory fell in quickly with Boettcher and Our Productions, lending his musicianship as a supporting player amongst the Boettcher session fraternity, and landing his songs with several Our Productions artists.
“Many Are the Times,” recorded and released in 1966, was Mallory’s debut single, and is a majestic expression of a Los Angeles folk music scene that was then emanating all sorts of interesting electrified, rock-inspired sounds. Mallory’s voice and performance, though particularly riveting here, owe much to the shimmering, soaring drama of Boettcher’s production and vocal arrangements.
Mallory’s second Valiant Record 45, also facilitated through Our Productions, was released in early 1967. It was not as strong, and neither of these two 45s went very far commercially. Mallory’s work as a session musician continued apace, however, his talents as a guitarist and supporting vocalist finding their way into Boettcher’s Ballroom and Sagittarius productions and securing him a place as a core member of the group the Millennium. Millennium’s album Begin featured Mallory’s songs “I’m with You,” “Karmic Dream Sequence #1,” and “Sing to Me,” with more Mallory songs recorded for an unreleased successor to Begin. After the Millennium dissolved, Lee’s association with Boettcher lasted long enough to log more session time for The Blue Marble, the second Sagittarius album, and to land a few songs on it, including “All That I Am Is Me” and the title track.
In the late ‘60s, Mallory joined the national touring company of Hair as a chorus singer and lead guitarist. Various projects with fellow Los Angeles musicians would follow upon his return, but the ensuing decades were generally less prolific for Mallory as far as recording went. Returning to the Bay Area in the early ‘80s, Mallory remained a regular performer. Mallory died in 2005 at the age of 60.
Rev-Ola’s That’s the Way It’s Gonna Be retrospective is a great place to hear more from Lee Mallory.
It’s impossible to talk about jazz pianist Horace Silver without regurgitating the same plaudits that, in reality, are entirely accurate. To begin with, Silver is a consistent and prolific composer with an enviable body of original material to his name. Moreover, he is one of the giants of post-War bop piano, a sophisticated craftsman and highly influential trendsetter. The elegant, stylized aspects of blues and gospel music that have infused his playing since the early ’50 subsequently informed the hard bop aesthetic that coalesced later in that decade, many of the musicians who’ve passed through Silver’s combos championing the style in turn.
But if it’s the infectious, earthy tones of compositions like “The Preacher” and “Sister Sadie” for which Silver is best known, it’s the dark, Latin-tinged and exotic side of his discography – compositions like “Song for my Father,” “The Dragon Lady,” “Safari,” “Tokyo Blues,” “Baghdad Blues” and many others – that have made Silver, for me, a lasting favorite.
The influence of Cape Verdean folk music (Silver’s father came from the Portuguese-speaking Cape Verde islands off the West African coast) on Silver’s exotic strain gets a lot of citation. In my opinion the extent of that influence is a bit overstated. If anything, it was Afro-Latin forms – the early Latin bop experiments of Machito, Dizzy Gillespie and Chico O’Farrill, for instance, as well as the pervasiveness of and vogue for popular Latin rhythms like mambo, guaguanco and cha at the time in New York City – that informed Silver’s aesthetic in at least equal measure.
Either way, it’s one of his best-known Latin-derived recordings that gets the spotlight this week. “Señor Blues” first appeared on Silver’s classic 1956 album Six Pieces of Silver. It was recorded by some top-flight musicians, all borrowed from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers: trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Louis Hayes. And, crucially, it was one of Silver’s earliest Latin-inspired compositions. The hypnotic melody, unusual time signature and perfectly balanced arrangement of “Señor Blues” exemplify everything appealing about Silver’s darker, more exotic proclivities.
Since its original release, “Señor Blues” has been recorded countless times, organically working its way into the Latin jazz repertoire as well. It has also, perhaps more than any other Silver composition, inspired a fair number of vocal readings over the years. The lyrics were penned by Silver himself, as far as I can tell, and are simple to the point of cliché, and not a bit ridiculous:
Señor Blues is what they call him
Way down Mexicali way
Señoritas fallin’ for him,
With the hope that he will stay
But somehow the image of the wayfaring lothario works here. It fits the mysterious atmosphere of the composition beautifully, summoning the night, heartbreak and wild impulses all at once, transporting the listener to other, more tempestuous places.
1. Jeri Southern, Señor Blues (Capitol F4135)
Vocalist Jeri Southern was born Genevieve Hering in 1926 in the tiny northeastern Nebraska town of Royal.
A tremendous musical talent, Southern began classical piano training very early on. Upon graduating from Notre Dame High School, Southern increasingly gravitated towards pop, and not long thereafter, jazz. Omaha hotel residencies and World War Two Navy recruiting tours were followed by the inevitable move to the Chicago in the late ‘40s. As her professional nightclub career gained momentum, it would be her unique singing – a talent that she’d only developed incidentally – that attracted the most attention.
Better club dates followed, and so did regular Chicago radio and television appearances, and so, eventually, did a contract with Decca Records. Along with some excellent early ‘50s 78 sides for the label, her seven jazz-inflected Decca albums – from 1953’s Warm… Intimate Songs in the Jeri Southern Style to 1958’s Southern Hospitality perhaps best encapsulate Southern’s introspective style. Southern had a gift for balancing control with naturalistic, almost detached, expressiveness – the result of which is a deep, very attractive sense of melancholy. In addition to accompanying herself on piano, Southern’s Decca records also showed a notable penchant for unusual song choices – witness “Miss Johnson Phoned Again Today” or the exotic “One Day I Wrote His Name Upon the Sand.”
Southern’s Decca records proved her most commercially successful, giving her minor hits with “You Better Go Now,” “Joey” and “Fire Down Below.” Several full-length efforts for Roulette Records in the late ‘50s were also of similarly high quality.
After relocating to Los Angeles in the late ‘50s, this 45-only version of “Señor Blues,” released early in 1959, would inaugurate a short-lived contract with Capitol Records. And what a version. With Bob Thompson’s orchestra providing thunderous, dramatic support, Southern is characteristically deadly here, exuding world-weariness and a cool sexuality.
Two full-lengths ensued for Capitol Records – both superlative efforts, again – but Southern, exhausted with the music business’s machinations, famously exited the industry at age thirty-six, in 1962, never to return. In addition to penning the 1972 book Interpreting Popular Music At The Keyboard, Southern would live out her years as a vocal and piano coach in Hollywood. She died in in 1991 from complications from pneumonia.
2. Bill Henderson with the Horace Silver Quintet, Señor Blues (Blue Note 45-1710-A)
Chicago-born jazz singer Bill Henderson (b. 1926) took to show business at a very tender age, singing and dancing for local city Vaudeville-type theater and radio productions. Like many of the post-War generation of jazz modernists, he spent time overseas during World War Two, entertaining in Europe as part of an Army Special Services company. After the war, Henderson returned to Chicago to scuffle, resuming work in the music business in the ‘50s as a vocalist with an early incarnation of Ramsey Lewis’s jazz combo. Again, like many jazz musicians of his generation, Henderson made his way to New York City, relocating there in 1956.
In 1958, Henderson made his debut recording with this, his very confident reading – and the first vocal original, I believe – of “Señor Blues.” Along with Henderson’s distinctive baritone voice, it features the support of the Horace Silver Quintet, who are heard here two years after Silver’s original instrumental recording, this time with Silver, Louis Hayes (drums), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Eugene Taylor (bass) and Junior Cook (tenor saxophone). Released only on 45, it sold fairly well for Blue Note Records, whose 45 discography remained widely popular in the jukebox era of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
This record would be one of several Henderson 45-only releases for Blue Note, and it demonstrates the rich, slightly rasping, blues-tinged croon that was his trademark.
Henderson’s career would be divided between Chicago and the East Coast over the next few years, with a series of solid and versatile bop-oriented albums for the Verve and Vee-Jay labels, dates largely made with different configurations of Chicago-based jazz musicians. (A 1963 Oscar Peterson session was a notable exception).
After time spent in the ‘60s as a vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra, then still a touring juggernaut, Henderson settled in Los Angeles in the late ‘60s, where he pursued an acting career. There were several jazz albums to his name for Los Angeles-based labels, along with some notable guest spots, but Henderson mostly supported himself with voiceover work and parts in television and film in the ‘70s and ‘80s, his recording and performance schedule slowing correspondingly.
Henderson, still currently living in Los Angeles, seems to have dedicated himself anew to his singing in recent years, with some notable East Coast appearances and a live album, 2008’s But Beautiful: Bill Henderson Live at the Vic, featuring the octogenarian vocalist sounding happily limber.
You can keep up with Bill Henderson at his website.
3. Rose Hardaway, Señor Blues (Decca 9-30893)
A now-obscure entertainer and vocalist, details about Rose Hardaway are meager at best.
Born in Arkansas in 1931, raised in Chicago, Hardaway’s name was best known in the ‘50s, when she spent periods in Detroit, New York City, London and Paris. She seems to have carved a role in musical theater – not to mention a place in elite black entertainment circles – from the start. At least in the early ‘50s, she was noted mostly for her fetching looks and her work in touring entertainment revues – as a risqué shake dancer, namely – the ups and downs of her personal life tracked obsessively by Jet magazine during the decade.
At some point in the mid-‘50s, Hardaway seems to have begun concentrating more on vocal work, with ensuing appearances in touring shows and various musical productions. In the late ‘50s, a handful of recordings also appeared. Released in mid-1959, Hardaway’s “Señor Blues,” a torrid, vampy reading that betrays her theater sensibilities, would be the first, and best, among them. Another Decca 45 (“That’s What We’re Here For b/w “What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You”) would follow, with a full-length album by Hardaway released in 1960 for the New York City-based Latin-oriented label Seeco.
That album – It’s Time for Rose Hardaway – was a solid pop vocal effort. It would also be her last recording. There’s little, almost drastically so, about Hardaway’s subsequent whereabouts. She seems to have been beset by various travails at points in her life, however. In 1952, she was picked up for drugs (along with pianist Erroll Garner) as well as cited independently as the “other woman” in the divorce proceeding between dancer Teddy Hale and his wife. And in 1959, she was jailed for some combination of larceny and forgery, though in the short run this seems to have been inconsequential to her recording career.
There are more details, undoubtedly, but for the moment they remain untold, it being hard not to suspect that further personal and legal troubles contributed to her complete disappearance from the limelight. I would love to know more about Rose Hardaway.
One of the reliable axioms of commercial music is that every chart success will inspire a legion of derivatives. In no way is this meant as criticism. The pattern tends to get a lot of appreciation around here, the cycles of emulation and appropriation being one of pop music’s peculiar charms, especially when applied to the endless quantities of independently produced and created post-War American records.
The mid-’60s American garage band phenomenon? A textbook example. Thousands of local bands from the suburbs of southern California to the frozen hinterlands – inspired by the British Invasion and the success of the Beatles and company (and the wave of popular American bands like the Byrds and Paul Revere & the Raiders that followed shortly thereafter) – picked up guitars, compact organs and drums, and made some terrific music in the process.
A cumulative body of thousands of obscure, small-label 45s is their legacy, but, the occasional Nuggets compilation or indie movie soundtrack appearance aside, knowledge of these raw, sometimes brilliant and nearly always interesting recordings, especially the more obscure examples, is still largely consigned to the worlds of record collecting and fanatical music appreciation. And within that rarified world it’s generally the rawer, hormonal end of the garage band continuum – the fuzz-guitar-wrangling, drum-bashing, girl-putting-down bands, the bands emulating the harder British R&B-based groups like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Animals, Them, etc. – that dominates discussion. (Which is not to discount the many American garage bands who produced unique and wildly inventive sides with no obvious antecedents.)
But this makes for a slightly skewed representation of what was actually going on. While local teenage bands were certainly covering the Kinks and the Yardbirds with zeal, in nearly equal measure they were playing Motown hits and R&B dances, square AM pop, Dylan songs and protest fare – even jazzy numbers like “Comin’ Home Baby” or “Summertime.” Anything, really, with some commercial antecedent or live performance potential – anything that lay within the musical reach of the average musician in their teens or early twenties, and that was a lot – might get the garage band treatment.
Which brings us to this week’s artists. Not everyone could be, or wanted to be, Mick Jagger. Inadvertently reflecting the flower-child innocence of West Coast sunshine pop, the harmony vocals, 12-string guitars and reflective, imagistic lyrics here favor sensitivity over the attitude and raunchy swagger that garage band collectors tend to cherish. The selections are vaguely redolent of British groups like the Hollies and the Searchers (and the Beatles, too, in their chimier moments) and American groups like the Byrds, the Merry-Go-Round, the Beau Brummels and even, dare I say it, the Monkees. And while their small label release, raw production qualities and teen combo aesthetic still conform to the typical garage band profile, these tracks lie at a poppier, prettier, more romantic end of the spectrum, and unapologetically so.
Lots of flowers, love and pretty things this week on Office Naps.
1. The Second Set, Picture Window (Raven OOS-2A)
I feel pretty confident in declaring this a Pittsburgh-area record. According to BMI publishing, the authors on both sides of the 45 are Alan Sirockman and Dennis Lash. The Second Set recorded and released “Picture Window” in 1967, but, alas, investigative efforts on this obscurity pretty much hit the wall there.
Regardless, the stunning “Picture Window” exudes an attractive melancholy that’s peculiar to all of this week’s selections. Additionally, its dramatically ringing guitar break stands out as one of the most effective non-solos, ever.
LD: A great thrill to hear recently from Alan Herod, one of the original authors (credited as A. Sirockman) and performers behind the long-mysterious “Picture Window” by the Second Set. Alan took some time to kindly provide much-needed background information.
The Second Set were in reality based in the northern West Virginia town of Clarksburg. The group originally formed in 1965 as the Mysterians, eventually changing their name to the Second Set to avoid confusion with Question Mark and the Mysterians, who were ascending the pop charts in 1966 with “96 Tears.”
A quartet, the Second Set’s original members included Dennis Losh (lead guitar and vocals), Dave Hood (rhythm guitar and vocals), Johnny Marra (drums) and Alan Herod himself playing bass and (occasionally) keyboards. Drummer Marra had left the group at the time of “Picture Window” and its flipside (“Walking Home,” another great original), replaced by Ron Marucca for the recording.
Befitting the lyrical introspection and musical ambitiousness that separates the Second Set’s 45 from the thousands of other mid-’60s garage band records, the group did play locally, but – accordingly to Herod – the bulk of the group’s material was original, and their following was correspondingly somewhat limited.
The group would record two other 45s, originals all – “Toward the Sea” and “Time,” along with “My Little Girl” – around the same time. These two 45s, issued under the Mysterians’ name, would also see release on Raven Records, a label owned and operated by Herod and local deejay Lee Rhoades. (The label, in its time, would also issue some other fine period rock ‘n’ roll, including 45s by local groups the Prodigals and the Esquires.)
Alan stills makes music, playing with his sons and several other musicians in the group Now & Then. Many thanks again to Alan for the update and for this sterling examplar of 1960s jangle-pop.
2. The Revelles, Little Girl (Jim-Ko B-106)
The Revelles were an excellent rock ‘n’ roll band from Chicago, a city whose suburbs already teemed with excellent garage bands in the ‘60s. Clearly no slouches, the Revelles managed steady gigs, radio airtime and a handful of 45s in 1965 and ’66, despite a brief existence and a flurry of line-up changes. (Their shifting roster reads like a who’s-who of late ‘60s Chicago-area rock, with future members of the Robbs, the Flock and the New Colony Six each doing time in the group.)
Their second 45 – 1965’s “You Don’t Love Me No More” – is well-known amongst garage collectors, and is pure mid-‘60s angst. In my opinion, though, “Little Girl” is their finest moment, its swirling harmonies, chiming guitar parts and moody aesthetic bearing some resemblance to Saturday’s Children, the Revelles’ Anglophilic compadres from Chicago’s northwestern suburbs. Written by the group’s lead guitarist and vocalist Bruce Mattey, the Revelles’ lineup at the time of “Little Girl” also seems to have included Bruce Gordon (bass and vocals, and another of the group’s mainstays) and Marty Pichinson (drums).
Released in 1966 on James Kolb’s Jim-Ko, a cool Chicago independent label whose short run included some local R&B, garage and psychedelic rock 45s, “Little Girl” would be the last of the Revelles’ four 45s. (Oddly enough, “Little Girl” was re-released a year later by the Los Angeles-based RPR Records, and attributed to the Shady Days.)
Bruce Mattey performs with a new version of the New Colony Six out of Chicago these days, his “Little Girl” occasionally working its way into their live repertoire.
3. The Plum Beach Incident, Pretty Thing (Orpheum 4503)
A Washington D.C.-area band, the Plum Beach Incident released this keen and gorgeous (again, unabashedly) gem in late 1968.
The group’s members included Art Morales (lead guitar and vocals), Dave Yarnell (guitar and vocals), Steve Crowson (bass and vocals), Johnny Smith (keyboards), Keith Edwards (drums) and twin sisters Karen and Sharon Theet (vocals).
Recorded in New York City, “Pretty Thing” was produced by veteran easy-listening arranger and composer Richard Wolfe, and released by Orpheum Records, a short-lived label operated by Bill Grauer, the founder of the great jazz label Riverside Records.
“Pretty Thing” itself was penned by the Brill Building songwriting team of Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz (whose best-known credits together include “Green Tambourine”). Incidentally, Gary Lewis & the Playboys turned in a decent – though more commercial, and not nearly so haunting – reading of “Pretty Thing” for their 1968 album Now!
This would be only 45 to the Plum Beach Incident’s name, unfortunately.