The Bee Gees’ “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show,” as recorded in a half-million gallon tank by David Paul

I make a rare detour this week to feature an extraordinary video, and to talk to its creator, David Paul.

The sour truth of being an obsessive music collector is that, like any addiction, the longer you feed it the longer it takes to reclaim those visceral moments of excitement that guided you into the habit in the first place.  I listen to thousands of new and new-old recordings every month.  Of those, only a few dozen will make it into any sort of permanent rotation in my life, whether it’s my physical record collection or my iTunes playlists.  And, of those, it’s only every few months that something really takes me out of myself for a bit, and that has me instantly and obsessively reaching to replay a recording.

This was one of those recordings.

In full disclosure I am a huge fan of the Bee Gees’ ‘60s pop records – “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man,” in particular – and I’m a big fan of the sound and effect of echo.  This recording has both.  But there are many great components of David Paul’s recording beyond mere acoustics and song choice.

There’s the lighting, for one.  Simple but dramatic – an unwavering luminescent globe bathes the performer.  There’s the tank.  It creates an utterly alien, unreal atmosphere, the vastness of its interior indistinguishable in the gloom but instantly obvious from the boundless echo.   There’s the performance itself.   The chords are basic, serviceable.  Here it is the human voice that provides the focal point.   Unrehearsed but clear, it soars high, playing off oceanic masses of gorgeous, decaying sound.

Like any memorable recording, this performance transcends its components, becoming an experience.  There’s the artfulness and drama of its setting, of course, but everything here breathes honest, spontaneous, solitary joy.  There is something heroic about the pure and stupendous sound that one person can create.

Well, it stirred me.  And there was obviously a good story in there.  So I recently contacted the recording’s creator – electrician and musician David Paul – to ask him some questions, to which he kindly assented.

LD: I’d love to have any biographical details about yourself, as well as about your musical background.
DP: Well first off Dan, I wanna thank you for your interest and taking the time to expose me getting tanked! Ha!

I live in Kansas City, Missouri, where I was born and raised.  I’ve always seemed to have a knack for playing music, as far back as a young child, when I learned to play guitar by ear and noodle on my grandparents’ reed organ. I played trumpet in elementary school and worked my way up to first chair, until circumstances forced us to sell it.  I never bothered to try and read music after that.  I always had a guitar around, though, playing old three-chord standards, you know, “Home On The Range,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Down In The Valley,” etc.  Around 1971 or ‘72, I got Neil Young’s album Harvest, and that really struck a spark in me – must have learned every song on that record! That’s when I took up the harmonica.  I bought about three or four harps before I got the right key to play “Heart Of Gold.”

Back in 1978, I took up the fiddle, and about six months later I was asked to join a local band named Denver Locke. That’s when I started playing professionally – full-time for about four-and-a-half years. We had an old 1959 Greyhound bus and toured Colorado, the Northwest and Canada.  I’ve been in and out of bands every since. My most recent venture musically has been with my good friend Harv Fitzer, a professor and guitar teacher at JCCC in Kansas. Harv got on a roll and started writing songs, and I’d throw in my two cents’ worth. We just call ourselves “Fitzer and Paul”. We currently have a song called “Stupidity” on Neil Young’s web site Living With War.  You can also hear some other stuff on our website or our myspace page.

Over the years, I’ve had to have a real job, so I make a living as a handyman, jack-of-all-trades, so to speak, master of none (same with musical instruments).  Over the last several years I have been an electrician, building control cabinets and wiring for these big train and ship engines with generators on them. Many small towns have their own power houses and use these to generate electricity for peak use and power outages.

Which brings us around to how I gained access to the big tank.

LD: Right – how did you come across the tank – and at what point did you realize “Hey, this would make an interesting place for a recording”?
DP: We were working in Belleville, Kansas at the city power plant, and right outside of the place the city was upgrading their water system.  We (Steve Payne, mechanical and electrical engineer and guru for Industrial Diesel Service, and a guitar picker in his own right) watched this half-million gallon steel tank being constructed from the ground up.

When it was finished and painted inside and out, they’d left the hatch unbolted, and we got the idea to take some instruments in there in the evening after work. With flashlight in hand, we proceeded to check it out.  The sound bounced around in there so much that we could barely understand each other when we tried to talk – simply mind-boggling.  Steve commenced to experiment with his guitar, and me with my mandolin, not really playing any songs in particular, just bouncing notes around. We only had cell phones and a digital camera as a means to capture the experience.

Well, once was obviously not enough, and as luck would have it, the tank went untouched (except by us) for a few weeks. We must have had a few hours of noodling out notes in there, but so far I’ve been too cheap to by any software to try and edit it down to something listenable.

LD: The Bee Gees’ song worked beautifully within the tank.  Were you a fan of the early Bee Gees in particular, or was “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man” a spontaneous choice, knowing that it was a song that would work well in there?
DP: Being born in 1958, I grew up listening to every Beatles album as it was released, and we (brothers) had the Bee Gees’ first album somewhere around 1968. It always struck me as a great album, and was very Beatle-ish sounding. Whilst working I would think about songs to try out in the tank, and then “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man” popped in my head. I remembered how it started out with that chant that sounded like it was in a big cathedral, and wanted to see how it sounded in there. The night I recorded it, I went in there alone with a flashlight, guitar, and Panansonic Lumix digital camera. Propped the light to where it shone on the wall, and set the camera on a paint can. Proximity to the microphone is fairly critical.  I later realized being too far away, your voice is indistinguishable, and too close, you lose the “big” sound.  As luck would have it, the camera was placed about right.

LD: Your singing and harmonizing with the guitar and echo was incredible, yet it feels spontaneous.  Had you already worked out the parts to the song?
DP: Well, sorta. I never could understand what the Bee Gees were chanting in that song, so I just made something up to fit. But it was the first time I ever tried to play that song, just prior to going in there, so the spontaneity seems apparent.

In hindsight, I probably would have left the last round out of the song, but I was having so much fun with it I didn’t want to stop!

LD: You mentioned “Within You Without You,” too.   Did you try any other songs in there?
DP: One night I had my fiddle in there, and the Beatles’ song “Within You Without You” came to mind.  I probably played that over and over for at least half an hour, having never played it before, until I thought I was happy with it. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the means to edit the sessions, so I haven’t posted any more “tank sessions” on YouTube yet.  If I remember right, I think I have bits of “Amazing Grace”, and some Moody Blues stuff on the fiddle, as well as lots of miscellaneous noise.

LD: And what was the experience of being and playing in the tank like?
DP: There was just such a magical feeling and sound inside the tank – especially when you turned off the flashlight… total darkness, only your mind’s eye at work. Every little sound was something new to your ears! It could be angelic, or to the other extreme. I wish there had been more time (and inspiration), and better equipment to really take advantage of the rare opportunity. We could have/ should have done so much more with it. And then, as usual, all things must pass, and the tank hatch was sealed, and filled with water, of which the town of Belleville now drinks.

LD: And then you eventually posted this to the Internet...
DP: Yeah, I’m glad I did. I am truly amazed and flattered by all of the comments and interest I have received from people around the world! For some reason, it has really had an impact on a few people. I love reading the comments, some of which are very humorous, and so far all have been quite positive. I wonder if any of the surviving  Bee Gees will ever hear it?

Thanks again to David for the interview and for his remarkable recording.  I would encourage anyone who enjoyed the video to leave a comment on David’s YouTube page (or here at Office Naps, too).

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam, Psychedelic/Pop | 4 Comments

Midnight in the Naked City

The common tropes of Asphalt Jungle, Peter Gunn, D.O.A., The Maltese Falcon, This Gun for Hire, Johnny Staccato and dozens of other classic crime and detective serials and movies are well documented.  Watching how certain motifs – the chase scenes, the smoky nightclubs, the femme fatales – get individually rendered and manipulated is one of the pleasures of Film Noir.

My favorite instrumentals tend to have some strong visual, atmospheric or cinematic component to them.  What’s so satisfying about the coded forms within film and television crime dramas applies to the corresponding jazz, pop and R&B instrumental music of the era.  Each finds expression in shared, meaningful motifs that are at once clichés, as well as things to be savored – the dark jazz of the nightclub scene, the galloping bongos of the chase through the streets, the sultry sax of the femme fatale’s entrance and so forth.

This week, as a sort of follow-up to some previous posts on the crime jazz and “suspense” instrumental phenomenon, we explore another favorite motif:  The solitude and quiet danger of the city.

One Man Against the World

It's one man against an unforgiving world this week on Office Naps. Image from the 1961 movie Blast of Silence, courtesy of the excellent Criterion Confessions.

This form owes a bit to “After Hours,” and a lot to the atmospherics of “Harlem Nocturne” and the brooding riffs of themes like The Naked City.  The visual analogue here is one of the cynical hero turning up his collar and disappearing into the night, or closing out an empty bar, the city’s loneliness, and his own isolation, rendered in the moody tones of the tremolo guitar and a lonely saxophone, a languid ballad marking the rhythm.

It’s one man against a corrupt, dangerous world this week on Office Naps.

Rusty Isabell, Manhunt (Brent 7006)1.  Rusty Isabell, Manhunt (Brent 7006)
A handful of 45s comprises pianist Rusty Isabel’s recorded legacy.

Born in Arizona in 1938, Isabell recorded his earliest sides barely out of his teens, allying himself early on with some of the central characters in Phoenix’s endlessly fascinating early rock ‘n’ roll scene (which I touch on here and here).  Starting in 1958, a brief flurry of wild rock ‘n’ roll songs and barrelhouse piano-driven instrumentals – often under the aegis of local Phoenix songwriter and guitarist Don Cole – would ensue for Isabell, including a 45 for the local Porter Records label (as Red “Hot” Russell), one for Capitol Records (as the Rio Rockers), and, following those, two more 45s that were picked up for release by the New York City-based indie label Brent.

This body of recordings was somewhat uncharacteristic of Phoenix in those years, often showing more of a Jerry Lee Lewis influence than the revved-up hillbilly and deep, echo-flooded guitar aesthetic that dominated the city’s early rock ‘n’ roll product.

Isabell’s most interesting sides tend to be his most atmospheric.  There’s the stupendous “Mexican Rock ‘n’ Roll” (with the Rio Rockers), for one.  And there’s this selection, his final 45 release.   Released in October 1959, “Manhunt” is perhaps the most uncharacteristic of them all, dripping with mood, ghostly laugh-cries and a downward, dirge-like drift.

There are rumors of a late ’60s live LP recorded in Las Vegas, but, following “Manhunt,” the Rusty Isabell trail becomes a bit difficult to follow.

Thanks to the Black Cat Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the liner notes to Bear Family’s excellent Rockin’ and Boppin’ in the Desert for the information.

Lem Davis, Lem Told Beethoven (Pattern 103B)2.  Lem Davis, Lem Told Beethoven (Pattern 103B)
Lemuel Davis, born in 1914 in Tampa, was a prolific saxophonist whose professional career took hold in the early ‘40s New York City jazz world.

Widely respected in his time, Davis honed his skills in the pre-War swing jazz idiom.  His peers in the ‘40s included some of the style’s most popular exponents.   Among others, Davis played and recorded with Billie Holiday, Rex Stewart, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, Joe Thomas, Eddie Safranski and, significantly, Coleman Hawkins and Eddie Heywood.  Davis would also occasionally record with his own band during these years.

It was a generation of musicians making an often uneasy transition to the radical new bop forms that were emerging in the early ‘40s, and Lem Davis would be no different.  Davis continued to gig with small jazz and R&B combos, and recording dates with popular bandleaders and musicians like King Pleasure, Buck Clayton, Joe Thomas and Bennie Green followed throughout the ’50s.   A far from ignoble fate – New York City was, after all, then at its apex as the world’s jazz capitol.

But the contemporary media spotlight would largely be accorded to the bop modernists henceforth, and perhaps Davis’s decrease in momentum was inevitable.  After some early ‘50s leader dates for the Prestige label, this 45 seems to have been the last release under his own name.  Written by obscure New York City-based composer and songwriter Maynor Steward, and released on the tiny Pattern Records label in the late ’50s, “Lem Told Beethoven” is of a piece with a lot of late ’50s R&B instrumentals.  But there’s some “Harlem Nocturne” about its tremolo guitar, too, and a whole lot of after-hours moodiness.   Like the unspooling introduction to some monochrome thriller, you can almost hear a narrator intoning in sotto voice.  The streets were dark with something more than night.

Davis passed away in 1970 in New York City.

Abie "Available" Baker, The Web (Laurel Lu-6001)3.  Abie “Available” Baker, The Web (Laurel Lu-6001)
A New York City-based bassist and bandleader, Abie Baker recorded prolifically in the 1950s and early ’60s.  That Baker’s recorded work occurred largely behind-the-scenes – even more so than Lem Davis – tends to obscure his name these days.

Baker first appears in discographies in the late ’40s, though I suspect his recording career extends at least back to the ’30s.  Likely born in the early part of the 20th century, biographical details are meagre, though his work as a bassist over the ensuing decade-and-a-half would include sessions for many of the era’s important R&B-oriented singers and vocal groups: Hadda Brooks, Steve Gibson and the Red Caps, Nappy Brown, Larry Darnell, “Big Mike” Gordon, the Four Fellows, Big Maybelle, Ethel Ennis, the Coasters, LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Mickey Baker, Baby Boy Jennings and others.  Many of these sessions saw release on Atlantic and Savoy Records, two labels – Atlantic, especially – with impressive discographies of New York City R&B and jazz.   Baker, as further indication of his talents, regularly played alongside blue chip session men like Buddy Lucas, Sticks Evans, Al Sears, Bert Keyes and King Curtis.

There were also a few releases to his own name.   Baker’s earliest seems to be a 1949 single date as the Abe Baker Trio.  This 1959 selection, though, is perhaps the most interesting.  Released on Tony Sepe’s 45-only Laurel Records, a brief-lived New York City label (Baker would supply arrangements for a few other Laurel releases), “The Web” and its flipside “Moccasin Rock” are as pure a statement of creeping, end-of-the-rope anxiety as ever graced the two sides of a 45.

Interestingly, “The Web” can be heard punctuating moments of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, a wonderfully campy mad scientist flick that the Mystery Science Theater guys would later resurrect.

Also, Abie’s son Mickey Baker – who would achieve fame as part of the great R&B and pop duo Mickey & Sylvia, and for his considerable prowess as a session guitarist – is heard playing guitar on this selection.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura | 4 Comments

You’re No Good

“You’re No Good” was written by one Clint Ballard (1931-2008), an El Paso-born musician, songwriter-for-hire and band manager who enjoyed his greatest success in the mid-’60s.  “You’re No Good” is one of Ballard’s best-known, if not best, compositions.  (Other well-known Ballard works include “The Game of Love,” a big 1965 hit for Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders and “I’m Alive,” a UK hit for the Hollies the same year.  Additionally, Ballard’s songs would enjoy smaller-scale success in the hands of Jimmy Jones, Ricky Nelson, the Zombies and Frankie Laine, among others.)

Like any number of contemporary smashes – Ray Charles’s “Unchain My Heart,” Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” and Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” come to mind – “You’re No Good” brought uptown pop appeal to a dark R&B sound.

It was helped in no small way by the steely, sophisticated resolve of the lyrics, and furthermore by the perfection of the song’s musical composition.  Realized early on in sleek arrangements by Lieber and Stoller (for Dee Dee Warwick, see below) and by Calvin Carter (for Betty Everett, who made the number a hit in late ’63 for Vee-Jay Records), a dark, propulsive beat set the standard for and shape of all subsequent recordings, including a fairly faithful, if limp, reading by Linda Ronstadt, for whom it was a hit in 1974.

It’s just one of those durable compositions.  Like “Summertime,” or “Fever,” I suspect that there’s a bad version of “You’re No Good” somewhere out there, but I’ve yet to hear it.

Dee Dee Warwick, You’re No Good (Jubilee 45-5459) 1.  Dee Dee Warwick, You’re No Good (Jubilee 45-5459)
It would remain Dee Dee Warwick’s burden to play little sister to an international star.

Born Delia Warwick in 1945 into a musical family in Newark, New Jersey – Dee Dee’s sister was, famously, Dionne Warwick.  As part of the group the Gospelaires, Dionne and Dee Dee – along with their aunt Cissy Houston – would grow up performing together in the local church.

The early ‘60s brought a tide of bright gospel talents over into the pop world and the nascent market for what was then coalescing as soul music.  The teenaged Warwick’s musical predilections would be marshaled into her work as a back-up vocalist – again, often alongside sister Dionne – on many early ‘60s R&B sessions, including a number of recordings for the powerhouse indie label Atlantic Records.

This studio work led to her debut as a solo artist, 1963’s “You’re No Good.”  Released on the prolific New York City indie Jubilee Records, produced by the then-unstoppable songwriting-production team of Mike Lieber and Jerry Stoller, this, in addition to being the first recording of “You’re No Good,” would become a decent-sized hit for Warwick.  It would in turn be a much bigger hit for singer Betty Everett a few months later.  But for many, myself included, this – with Dee Dee turning in a deadly performance, not to mention the very early use of the fuzztone guitar – is the definitive version of “You’re No Good.”

Clearly the talent was there, but, unlike her sister, Dee Dee neither seemed to possess the proclivity for the show business spotlight nor the great fortune of landing herself as one of the most visible voices for the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songwriting team.  More hits on different labels would ensue for Dee Dee – including 1965’s “We’re Doing Fine” on the Blue Rock label, “I Want to Be With You” and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” both in 1966 for Mercury Records, and “She Didn’t Know,” recorded for Atco Records in 1970.  But, as with many in the early generations of crossover R&B artists, the early ’70s onwards were a time of slowly diminishing returns, bungled commercial opportunities and decreasing exposure for Warwick.

Dee Dee Warwick passed away in 2008.

Cresa Watson, You’re No Good (Charay C-90-A)2.  Cresa Watson, You’re No Good (Charay C-90-A)
Someday I suspect the Cresa Watson story will be revealed but, alas, this is not that moment.

Some of the Cresa Watson mystery can be attributed to her association with Charay Records, one of a family of local labels (including Soft, Shalimar, Le Cam and Zuma, among others) operated out of Fort Worth by the infamous record hustler Major Bill Smith.

It wasn’t that The Maj didn’t release good stuff – his was an incredible discography of soul, R&B, garage bands and pop – it was that that the good stuff tended to get recycled endlessly, and shamelessly.  The Maj’s business practices meant that the same compositions (often credited spuriously to his own name) got circulated amongst many of his labels’ artists and that, similarly, backing tracks were reused multiple times with different overdubbed vocals or musical parts.  Sometimes the exact same recording would be credited to several artists, and sometimes different recordings would be given the same label release number.  For Major Bill ultimately the name of the game was wringing out as much royalty dough as possible.  Another 45 could always be released.

None of this should obscure the fact that her cumulative handful of actual recordings, while scattered across a much larger number of 45s, reveal in Watson a young and expressive soul voice.   Among her releases perhaps the best known is the legendarily suicidal “Dead,” also released on Charay Records.  (“Dead” is a confounding mystery unto itself.  In typical Maj-style, it was released multiple times as both a vocal and instrumental with different overdubs, and credited at least a dozen different ways, this version included.)

But “You’re No Good” is by far my favorite Watson-related record.  Released in 1969, though likely recorded a bit earlier, this, in Watson’s hands, is the darkest of this week’s three versions, its raw, churning R&B combo instrumentation giving it an appealingly weedy reek.

Trudy Johnson, You’re No Good (Capitol P-2631)3.  Trudy Johnson, You’re No Good (Capitol P-2631)
From North Richmond, California, vocalist Johnson grew up in the ‘50s singing gospel music before crossing over, as so many of her generation did, into the R&B, blues and pop world.

Johnson, by all accounts, first attracted significant local press in the ‘60s for her appearances with the Spiders, an interracial soul group and mid-‘60s fixture of the East Bay R&B circuit.  Contemporary accounts detail her magnetic presence and statuesque height.

This was Johnson’s debut disc. “You’re No Good,” and its bluesy a-side “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” (a big hit for Lou Rawls several months earlier), were produced and arranged in 1969 by longtime arranger Phil Wright and future Capitol Records president David Cavanaugh – frequent studio collaborators themselves, with close ties to Capitol’s pop and jazz stable.  Despite its flawless, classy production – a hallmark of that grand era of Capitol’s soul and R&B programme – and Johnson’s vital performance, the 45 made little progress in the charts.

Johnson has continued to perform in California as a versatile jazz, pop, R&B and jazz vocalist in the years since, though has remained somewhat out of the national spotlight, and has recorded only sporadically (including an obscure mid-‘70s 45 date with Lionel Hampton).  You can learn more about Johnson here.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Soul | 4 Comments

Journey into Mellow

A shorter post this week, owing not to lack of enthusiasm but rather to the scarcity of specifics about the subjects, as well as to their somewhat unclassifiable nature.

In the late ’60s there seemed to briefly prevail a commercial space where underground rock met the instrumental chops of the studio and professional musicians, a space tinged with hippie sunshine, now sound psychedelia and, dare I say it, even jazz.

It’s a bit hard to pinpoint, exactly.  But think the isolated autumnal interludes on any number of the era’s arthouse and b-movie sountracks – everything from the Last of the Ski Bums, The Naked Angels and The Touchables to Chastity, The Trip and The Golden Breed, and many, many others.   Think, too, of some the solo instrumental releases from session musicians like Louie Shelton (Touch Me), Big Jim Sullivan (Sitar Beat) and Hal Blaine (Psychedelic Percussion), or the innumerable anonymous studio psychedelic cash-in creations that went even further, and stranger: Fire & Ice Ltd., the Friendsound, the Ceylieb People, the Mesmerizing Eye, the Soulful Strings, the Free Pop Electronic Concept, etc..   Think the ’60s groovy jazz-pop experiments of vibist Lynn Blessing, Hungarian-born guitarist Gabor Szabo, or Szabo-related group the Advancement.

Mellow moods

Strictly mellow interludes this week

Stylistically, these were examples that could have only happened in the late ‘60s – the trajectories of pop, rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelia, soundtracks, jazz and easy listening would never line up quite the same way again.

Obscurities all, this week’s three selections converge somewhere along the most ragged edge of that ’60s pop-psychedelia-jazz continuum, and are further infused with a healthy amount of garage band do-it-yourself energy.  They would have made for great “mellow” interludes in some AIP biker exploitation flick: “Sonny’s Theme,” or “After the Party,” or “Sunset Rest.”   Alas, they were destined for a different sort of obscurity.

The Fugitives, Wind of Love (Midnight No. MN-101-B)1.  The Fugitives, Wind of Love (Midnight No. MN-101-B)
The Fugitives were a working Georgia band consisting, at least in part, of Calvin Lynch, Tony McMichael and James Tester.

This instrumental was released on Calvin Lynch’s brother Franklin’s Midnight Records.   Midnight Records was just one of several tiny labels that Franklin Lynch operated, and that helped to document some of southern Georgia’s ’60s soul, gospel, country and teen rock hopefuls.  (Franklin Lynch’s story is covered in greater depth at the superb Georgia Soul blog.)

The Fugitives’ first two 45s were released on Franklin Lynch’s New Talent Records, and recorded at the Middle Georgia Recording Studio  – another Franklin Lynch operation – located in the town of Monticello, about one hour southeast of Atlanta.  (The Fugitives would function as a sort of house band at the studio, incidentally.)   While good, these releases were in the standard ’66-era R&B-inflected garage band vein.

“Wind of Love” was the Fugitives’ third, and final, 45.   Recorded later – in 1969 – it sounds a bit like a spontaneous jam, and it probably was.  But there is an unusual quality to it, too;  at a time when local rock bands nationally were indulging in ever longer, ever more ponderous, passages, “Wind of Love,” is simple, almost spare, in its arrangement.

It’s a record well worth seeking out.  Its flip (“Easy Come, Easy Go”) is driving, ahead-of-its-time rock ‘n’ roll with obvious appeal to fans of Hackamore Brick or Loaded-era Velvet Underground.

Space Shuttle, She’s On My Mind (Oxala SLR-807)2.  Space Shuttle, She’s On My Mind (Oxala SLR-807)
Space Shuttle was an obscure San Diego outfit that recorded this around 1970, I’d hazard.

The composer on both sides, and brainchild of the group, was one Don Auten (or D.R. Auten), a longtime San Diego-based guitarist, singer, songwriter and composer.   A self-taught talent, Auten’s resume extends back to the early ‘70s and encompasses overlapping careers in engineering, design and guitar-building.  Auten’s profile is very much of the musician-craftsmen-technician school, evoking a slightly earlier and more individualistic era of southern California music, when guitar playing and building often went hand in hand with an engineering or technical background.

This gorgeous original, recorded when Auten was barely out of his teens, mixes bits of psychedelicized pop and jazz in a unclassifiable, very Aquarian, blend.  Its slightly-more-uptempo flipside is cut from similar cloth as well.

Auten’s name surfaced in credits from time to time in ensuing decades, but the ’90s onward have been the more productive time, musically speaking, for Auten, with a generous number of full-length solo guitar releases to his name.   D.R. Auten still lives and creates music in the San Diego, and can currently be found playing jazz guitar there with the Gaslamp Jazz Band.

3.  Morning-Noon & Night, I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You (Peace [United Under One] 6744)Morning-Noon & Night, I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You (Peace [United Under One] 6744)
This is a reverb-flooded, sun-baked, charmingly shambling cover of the Bee Gees’ 1968 hit.  I suspect this selection’s origins may lie somewhere in the Midwest or the South, but even that generalization is complete and utter speculation.

Its flipside is another stretched-out instrumental cover – Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” this time.  It’s a bit livelier but with similar, somewhat stoned aesthetic.

I’d guess this was recorded around 1970 but, otherwise, nothing.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands, Instrumentals/Surf, Miscellaneous Flotsam, Psychedelic/Pop | 6 Comments

Daughters of Yma

The inimitable South American vocalist Yma Sumac is one of the figureheads of ‘50s exotica, often if not always mentioned in the same breath as Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman.

And for good reason.  Sumac was exotica’s ultimate thrush and its much-needed female half.  Her music and album covers, like Baxter’s and Denny’s, encapsulated all that was at once breathtakingly evocative and ridiculous about post-War exoticism. The music – arranged and composed for the most part by maestro Les Baxter and Sumac’s husband-at-the-time Moises Vivanco –  was pure South American pastiche, an orchestrated fantasy of sun maidens and pasión and lost Andean cities and strings and flutes and percussion.

Yma Sumac, Voice of the XtabayAs with Denny or Baxter, Sumac’s album covers played a critical role in extending the fantasy. They featured the striking young Sumac, resplendent in precious metals and stylized native finery, poised mid-song amidst elaborately staged tableaux of Incan imagery and gorgeous orange and blue volcanic sunsets.  Usually there was the suggestion of fire.  Always there was an air of ancient mystery.

But it was her voice that was the singer’s immediate identifier and lasting claim to fame.  A shattering instrument that Sumac made to ululate, trill, groan, moan and swoop in a virtuosic exposition of sound and color, it was said to be four octaves, and hailed in its day as a revelation.  (Hear excerpts of “Xtabay (Lure of the Unknown Love)” and “Chuncho.”)

Yma Sumac, Legend of the Sun VirginIn no way did Sumac make for easy listening, though.  This is perhaps what distinguishes Sumac among exotica’s dominating figures, and what doesn’t get mentioned enough.  One didn’t casually put on a Sumac record the way one did with a Baxter or Lyman record.  Sumac’s voice was just too commanding, too jarring, too avant-garde to work as a background mood-setter.  Theater unto herself, Sumac exuded charisma and mystery and compelled listeners’ attention with something that was more sexual power than sexuality.   Furthermore, while a Les Baxter or Martin Denny made no particular personal claims on the imaginary lands they conjured, Yma boldly embodied those lands with her music and album covers – even if hers were hardly any more authentic.  The whole psychology of the Yma Sumac listening experience was different.

Sumac was first discovered touring the country with a South American folk trio in the late ‘40s.  Her first album, Voice of the Xtabay (Capitol Records, 1950), was a sensation, selling in the hundreds of thousands, her five or six subsequent albums also charting well.

The common line was that Sumac was a child of the remote high Andes, and a direct descendent of Incan royalty, though details of her biography have never been confirmed. Sumac’s diminishing public presence in the decades after her ‘50s heyday did little to refute the legend that persisted even up to her passing in 2008.   I’m not the first to suspect her biography was in reality somewhat more mundane.

But, still, there could only ever be one Yma Sumac.  Interestingly, there were some notable releases from other vocalists that do bear some comparison.  Jewish singer Bas Sheva’s The Passions is the famous, and probably best, example.  Leda Annest’s wordless Portrait of Leda and Sylvia Copeland’s Wild is Love are also cited.  But that guileless American habit of capitalizing upon others’ commercial precedent was for once subdued by the greater force of Sumac’s personality and sheer distinctiveness.  Though now utterly fascinating, and irresistible as a subject, at the time to try to sing anything like Yma Sumac was to invite instant, and inevitably unflattering, comparison.  For the most part those who would make like Sumac, this week’s exercises included, would remain a one-off phenomenon.

Note: These three selections can also be found at my new site, the Exotica Project.

Carmen Lesay, Sunset Mood (Kal K-602)1.  Carmen Lesay, Sunset Mood (Kal K-602)
Recorded and released around 1960, “Sunset Mood” is an obscure Les Baxter composition and a barely-disguised derivation of his own “Quiet Village.”

Obscure being the defining word here.

Easily among my top-ten favorite exotica 45s, “Sunset Mood” brilliantly incorporates many of exotica’s definitive motifs – its bird calls, vibraphones, flutes, etc.  Its flipside, a calypso-cum-samba, is also a Baxter composition, though not a terribly interesting one, even if it does include, as I believe it does, the ubiquitous Plas “Pink Panther” Johnson on saxophone.  It all makes me wonder whether Carmen Lesay (if there truly was a Carmen Lesay) was marketed as a “tropical” nightclub act.

The record’s production values and Los Angeles pedigree also lead me to think that other jazz-versed session musicians and Baxter associates – players like pianist Eddie Cano, percussionist Larry Bunker and guitarist Howard Roberts – may have been involved.  But, alas, that’s pure speculation.  Even the publishing company, Nemrac (Carmen spelled backwards), reveals or confirms nothing.

All leads run out early and fast with Carmen Lesay.

Bat’ya, Main Theme of Exodus (Chelan C-500)2.  Bat’ya, Main Theme of Exodus (Chelan C-500)
Compelling creative forces intersected to produce this gem in 1961 or ’62.

The two significant names here are Bat’ya, of course, and Bumps Blackwell, whose orchestra supported her on this date.

Robert “Bumps” Blackwell (1922-1985) was a talent scout, A&R man, songwriter, producer and arranger, a pioneer who helped lay the groundwork for Los Angeles as the pop music capitol of the ‘60s.   Though he’d remain a fixture within the Los Angeles music industry well into the 1980s, Blackwell’s name is most frequently associated with early rock ‘n’ roll and soul, and with his championing of Little Richard and Sam Cooke, specifically.

Bat’ya is by far the lesser-known quantity.  An Israeli-born, European-trained singer and performer, the one album to her name – Bat’ya Sings Great Israeli Hits – released on Frank Sinatra’s then-new Reprise Records in 1961, reveals little biographically about the singer.

Bat’ya and Blackwell’s collaboration is not as unlikely as it sounds.   Blackwell, a skilled musician and bandleader, had a hand in a number of contemporaneous pop, jazz and Latin dates, for starters.  But their “Main Theme of Exodus” still sounds like nothing you’d expect.  Released on Blackwell’s Chelan Records (a label he’d run off-and-on for over a decade), it capitalizes on the popularity of Ernest Gold’s 1960 Exodus soundtrack theme while sounding nothing like it or, for that matter, Bat’ya’s Great Israeli Hits album.  Abstract and otherworldly, Bat’ya is clearly channeling Sumac more than anything else here, summoning the dark spirits from other, more shadowy places.

The 45 – and the elliptical references to a certain Bat’ya scattered in the literature – do nothing in the way of revealing any details of her biography.  All of Bat’ya’s documented performances (including, I believe, a few television appearances) in this country can be traced to 1960 or 1961, which lead me to speculate that she did not settle in the states for long.  “Cyprus Wine,” this single’s flipside, is another atmospheric and jazzy nightclub original, its songwriting credit to Blackwell along with a mysterious “D. Elyagon” and “I. Miron” (whom I’d guess is Issachar Miron, writer of “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” and other Jewish folk songs) further compounding the mystery.

Sylvie Mora, Taboo (Verve V-10197x45 B)3.  Sylvie Mora, Taboo (Verve V-10197×45 B)
Subtler shades of Yma than this week’s other two selections but, still, they’re there.

In Mora’s hands, “Taboo” – possibly my favorite of many chestnuts by Ernesto Lecuona, that genius forefather of modern exotica – is given one of its infrequent, and one of its best, vocal readings.

Mora seems to have been a pop and jazz vocalist based, again, on the West Coast, but with just a few scant 45s to her name, I’m obliged to report that she too exhausts further investigation.

This selection, released in 1960, would be the second of Mora’s 45s for New York City-based jazz powerhouse label Verve Records.  Both this and her excellent first 45 (with recordings of favorites “Summertime” and ”Misirlou”) were recorded in Los Angeles in August of 1959 under the direction of the great West Coast jazz bandleader, arranger and composer Russ Garcia.  Aside from a 1975 45 on Columbia Records, for whom she recorded as Silvia Mora, these would form the extent of Mora’s discography.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age | 8 Comments

Early country rock

Country rock is largely, and probably accurately, identified with late ‘60s Los Angeles.

The new sensibility drew its earliest and most influential adherents from a variety of musical quarters and pedigrees.  In 1966 and ’67, when it first began to take shape, country rock was just as much open-minded country and bluegrass session musicians crossing over into the rock ‘n’ roll world as it was seasoned veterans from southern California’s commercial rock and folk-rock groups.  For the starpower it drew – the Byrds’ Chris Hillman and Gene Clark, the Buffalo Springfield’s Richie Furay and the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith – it was a rejection of the commercial and musical excess of Los Angeles, a return to serious musicianship and songwriting roots.

Its devotees, drawn together by the new sound and songwriting possibilities of this music, defined and refined the movement at shared gigs and impromptu sessions.  The proximity and participation of a group of adventurous, extremely competent young session musicians – their skills honed from playing in California country music epicenter Bakersfield – cannot be overstated here, either.  While many of the rock ‘n’ rollers were skilled instrumentalists, it was prodigies like Clarence White, Gib Guilbeau and Gene Parsons who could really play the pedal steels and mandolins and fiddles with authority, and who gave these early experiments a sense of gravitas.

Out of the initial organic collaborations, shared interests and connections came the records.  Though obscure releases by the International Submarine Band, the Gosdin Brothers and Hearts and Flowers helped to define the sensibility and sound of country rock, it would be would higher-profile releases like the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, from 1968, and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace Of Sin, from early 1969, that proved the movement’s defining, influential moments.  It didn’t hurt, of course, that the Michael Nesmiths and Chris Hillmans had prior industry connections, or that the major labels were relatively adventurous in the day.  Nor did it hurt that the session players’ ubiquity on these early records ascribed the nascent country rock a professional and unifying aesthetic.

This introduction glosses over many of the personalities, stories and individual contributions, if only for reasons of space.  Incidentally, country rock was a relatively ego-less and – at least from a commercial standpoint – uncalculated phenomenon. At least initially.  Its true believers formed more a diffuse movement than anything so self-conscious as a “scene,” and the form was defined more by its working relationships than its personalities: everyone seemed to know each other, if indirectly, and they sang, played and wrote all over each others’ records.  While charismatic newcomers like Gram Parsons helped galvanize the form, personalities and ideology were largely subordinated to the music.  It made a statement only insofar as to disavow pop’s excess.

A genuinely innovative music in its early days, its aesthetic, its emphasis on songwriting, its whole back-to-basics precept, proved attractive enough to sustain commercial interest.  There’s obvious irony in what country rock became, and the bloated decadence of the Eagles and a million imitators.  The fire gone, the music wasted and watered-down, the original players long out of the game.  So commercial music goes.

Doug Dillard & Gene Clark, Why Not Your Baby (A&M 1087)1.  Doug Dillard & Gene Clark, Why Not Your Baby (A&M 1087)
In early 1969, when “Why Not Your Baby” was recorded, Gene Clark and Doug Dillard were at interesting, though somewhat different, points in their careers.

The Missouri-born Clark is probably most familiar to ‘60s rock fans as the lead singer, songwriter, and founding member of Los Angeles folk-rock innovators the Byrds.  Having parted ways with the Byrds in 1966, Clark was, if anything, beginning a return to his country and songwriting roots, the increasingly experimental rock of the Byrds further behind him as decade wore on.  Doug Dillard, a virtuosic banjo player, also Missouri-born, had himself recently separated from the Dillards, a well-regarded Los Angeles group who’d started out the decade as bluegrass traditionalists but who’d been struggling without much support against the rigid formalities of the form.

As it happened, and as with many of this post’s musicians, Dillard and Clark’s paths had intersected several times previously.  The Dillards had already toured with the Byrds, and Doug Dillard, in addition to playing on Clark’s first solo album (1966’s Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers) had supported the Byrds live on several occasions.

Los Angeles was a smaller musical world in the late ‘60s.  Based on their acquaintanceship and shared connections, Dillard and Clark began informally writing songs together and playing with guitarist and future Eagle Bernie Weadon, then recently of Hearts and Flowers fame.  With allies at A&M Records (to whom Gene Clark was already under contract to as a solo artist), an album by the group – known now simply as the Dillard and Clark – followed in the summer of 1968.  The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark would prove, in retrospect, one of the earliest and finest of the Los Angeles country rock albums.

Between that and their second (and last) album together – 1969’s Through the Morning, Through the Night – Dillard and Clark would record one of the great lost pop singles of the ‘60s.  Joined by Leadon as well as Donna Washburn on vocals, David Jackson on bass and Jon Corneal on drums, “Why Not Your Baby” was something of a return to the plaintive melodicism of Clark’s work for the Byrds like “Feel a Whole Lot Better” or “Set You Free This Time.”  With its  minor key hooks and “Walk Away Renee”-style string arrangements, the song, though not typical of Dillard and Clark’s work, stands out as perhaps the best product of their collaboration.

Dillard and Clark would split later that year.  Though he’d never reclaim prior levels of visibility, Gene Clark – a somewhat fragile personality who’d never been entirely comfortable in the limelight – would continue to release interesting, sometimes brilliant, music until his passing in 1991.  Doug Dillard would maintain an active solo and session career in bluegrass and roots-oriented music.

Corvettes, Level With Your Senses (Dot 45-17283)2.  Corvettes, Level With Your Senses (Dot 45-17283)
With just two great 45s to their name, the Corvettes were an under-recorded unit.

It certainly wasn’t for lack of talent.  The group’s members shared backgrounds among some interesting rock and pop innovators.  At its core the Corvettes were two singer-songwriters and guitarists: Chris Darrow – previously with the unique Eastern-tinged group Kaleidoscope in New York City, and, more recently, with the jug-band-turned-rockers the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – and Jeff Hanna – himself a founding member of the Dirt band.   After the two parted ways with the Dirt Band in 1969, Hanna and Darrow would be joined by an acquaintance, John London (bass), himself an occasional session musician and songwriter who’d most recently logged time in the excellent Los Angeles folk-pop group Lewis & Clarke Expedition.   London’s friend John Ware (drums) rounded out the Corvettes’ line-up.

Together, the group represented that early subset of Los Angeles-based rock musicians making a return to more roots-oriented forms.  Even in 1969, when “Level With Your Senses” was released (produced by the group’s friend Micheal Nesmith), the Corvettes were perhaps still before their time.  The group was obviously confident with this transitional sound, though, their fine harmonies, slightly turned-on lyrics and the ringing electric guitars incorporated beautifully into a unified whole.

In short order, the Corvettes would be connected by Nesmith to the young Linda Ronstadt, who was then advancing her solo career, and for whom the Corvettes began work as a supporting group.  But the Corvettes didn’t gig much on their own, nor did their records’ release on the fast-foundering Dot Records help.   Finally, and perhaps fatally, Jeff Hanna left to reform the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  His subsequent replacement – omnipresent guitarist Bernie Leadon – was himself poached by the Flying Burrito Brothers shortly thereafter, and Ware and London followed the exodus, accepting Michael Nesmith’s invitation to join his country-rock outfit, the First National Band.  At a time when country rock was still a largely unproven commercial commodity, it’s hard to blame them for aligning themselves with the more established names.

It was the end, nominally, of the Corvettes, though Darrow himself would continue with Linda Ronstadt and a long career at the rootsier end of the California folk, country and pop spectrum.   Jeff Hanna, too, remained active as a player, maintaining a version of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in subsequent decades.

The Gosdin Bros., There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To) (Bakersfield International BIP-1006)3.  The Gosdin Bros., There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To) (Bakersfield International BIP-1006)
Though ostensibly the most “country” of this week’s artists, the Gosdin Brothers’ history, too, was intertwined with members of the Byrds.

The Alabama-born Gosdin Brothers – singers and string players both – were Vern and Rex Gosdin.  Vern joined Rex in Los Angeles in 1961, their voices and native talent landing them among the city’s nascent folk music scene, including future Byrd Chris Hillman’s bluegrass band the Golden State Boys.

An open-minded unit, connections made early on paid off with two higher-profile full-length releases.  The first album – 1967’s Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers – found them providing harmony support for the recently-solo Byrd Gene Clark.   The second, the brothers’ only album together as leaders, was 1968’s Sounds of Goodbye.  Both were marvelous efforts, and go well back-to-back, the former sounding very much like prime electric Byrds, albeit with a slight country twang (Byrds Chris Hillman and Mike Clarke both played on it, in fact, along with Clarence White), the latter a showcase for the brothers’ harmonies, songwriting and ongoing interests in blending country and folk-rock.

And, in between those two albums came several obscure recordings, including this sterling 1967 gem, the second of two 45-only releases for the Bakersfield International label.   The first 45, “Hangin’ On,” was a minor country hit earlier that same year.  Both 45s presaged the direction of their Sounds of Goodbye album.

“There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To) was a notable release for several reasons.  For one, the session brought together the same young country and bluegrass studio musicians who played on so many embryonic southern California country rock records.  Guitarist Clarence White, fiddler Gib Guilbeau, drummer and guitarist Gene Parsons and bassist Wayne Moore all took part in the session.

Furthermore, “There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To” was recorded for and released by Bakersfield International Records, a label founded by talent scout, producer, singer and songwriter Gary Paxton.  The label’s ’67-’68 run of eight 45s capture both the energy of early California country rock and the superior talents of some of its supporting contributors.

Historicity aside, Paxton – who’d recently relocated to Bakersfield from Hollywood, and who is easily a chapter of music unto himself – was a sympathetic match for the Gosdins.  But I suppose it only goes to show the limits of open-minded country artists and their producers.  The early Bakersfield International experiments worked beautifully, and so did the Paxton-produced Sounds of Goodbye.   Likely they were, according to the old saw, just too country for the rock ‘n’ rollers, too rock ‘n’ roll for the country audience.  Highly-rated these days, none of the Gosdin Brothers’ early recordings would create much stir at the time.

Both Gosdins would retire from music not long thereafter.  Rex Gosdin passed in 1983.  Vern Gosdin, later nicknamed “The Voice,” returned to straightahead country music, enjoying a very successful career starting in the late 1970s.  He passed away in 2009.

“There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To” was notably covered by the Byrds on their Ballad of Easy Rider album.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Country, Psychedelic/Pop | 4 Comments

Office Naps Summer 2010 Psychedelic Pop mix

The fifth installment of the Office Naps psychedelic pop mix. Sunshine dreams, bad trips, and modern astrology for Today’s Teen.

Office Naps Summer 2010 Psychedelic Pop mix
Pinnochio & the Puppets, Fusion (7″ 45, Mercury)
Jackie & Gayle, Remember (7″ 45, United Artists)
Lynn LaSalle, Randee Ramjet (7″ 45, Hy Nibble)
Nite People, Is This a Dream (7″ 45, Page One, UK)
Blossom Toes, Telegram Tuesday (We Are Ever So Clean, Marmalade, UK)
John Dunn, I’m a Deeper Blue (7″ 45, Flick City)
Cherro King, I’m So Afraid I’ve Lost You (7″ 45, Commerce)
Preston, Water Falls (7″ 45, Sound Patterns)
The Tears, Rat Race (7″ 45, Onyx)
Don Voegeli, Sound Patterns with Logo (Four) (excerpt) (Four Notes in Search of a Tune, vol. 2, University of Wisconsin – Extension)
Mort Garson & Jacques Wilson, I’ve Been Over the Rainbow (The Wozard Of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey, A&M)
Gossip, Whispering Wind (7″ 45, Gossip)
The Mirage, Tomorrow Never Knows (7″ 45, Philips, UK)
East Side Kids, Little Bird (7″ 45, Valhalla)
Jerry Goldsmith, Trip (Sebastian, soundtrack, Dot)
Kaleidoscope , A Dream for Julie (7″ 45, Fontana, UK)
The Appletree Theatre, What a Way to Go (7″ 45, Verve Forecast)
Zodiac Cosmic Sounds (Mort Garson), Pisces – The Peace Piper (Zodiac Cosmic Sounds: celestial counterpoint with words and music, Elektra)
Johnny Thompson Quintet, For Us There’ll Be No Tomorrow (7″ 45, Guitarsville)
ESB, Let Me Touch You (7″ 45, Inarts)
Apperson Jackrabbit, Candy Cane Sound (7″ 45, Steamer)
Action Unlimited, My Heart Cries Out (7″ 45, Parkway)
The Cadaver, Haven’t Got the Time (7″ 45, Kaleidoscope)
The Executives, Moving in a Circle (7″ 45, Festival, Australia)
Tom Dissevelt, Spearhead (Fantasy in Orbit, Philips)
Smokey and His Sister, Imagination (Smokey & His Sister, Warner Brothers)
The Common People, Here, There, and Everywhere (7″ 45, United of flbl&g)

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands, Mixes, Now Sound, Psychedelic/Pop | 7 Comments

The Exotica Project

I’m pleased to announce the Exotica Project, my new 45-related website.

The Exotica Project explores a somewhat disparate collection of one hundred exotic-themed 45s through the motifs that unite them.  The site approaches “exotica” more as a style, and a motivating and creative force, than anything so rigid as a genre, expanding what have become exotica’s somewhat ossified boundaries in the process.

The Exotica Project: 100 Dreamland 45s
The site’s big gimmick is an index that maps exotica’s building blocks – stylistic components like bird calls, vibraphones and flutes, for instance – to these one hundred otherwise different selections.

I will occasionally be swapping in different selections from my backlog of records (as well as new acquisitions) and, with time, hopefully adding in more site functionality and information about the records themselves.

In the meantime, enjoy the Exotica Project.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Miscellaneous Flotsam, The Exotica Project | 10 Comments