Back again

Well now, been a while.

First of all, if you’re reading this, thanks.  Especially for those who’ve emailed, left encouraging comments, and otherwise continued to work through the site’s archives.

It seems like for over six months now I’ve been looking for the right moment to return.  It’s been a fairly busy time – I wrapped up graduate school, found gainful employment and moved to west Texas – but clearly the right moment, or the right state of mind, for reactivating Office Naps has been a much longer time coming than I’d hoped it would be.  Thanks for hanging in there.

There are a few noticeable formatting and display changes, some of which are the consequence of a long-overdue switch from Blogger templates to a self-hosted WordPress site, some of which are just basic improvements to image formatting and the like.  Minor tweaks and revisions will be ongoing, with the postings themselves being kept to a hopefully more manageable basis – hence the new tagline. But otherwise the basic format and premise of the site will remain the same as ever.  Please tell your friends, update your RSS feeds, comment, email me, etc.  (And do check out my new, other website, the Exotica Project.)  And thanks again.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Personal natter | 7 Comments

Desert fauna

I’ve talked a lot about the ascendance of the guitar instrumental in the interstices of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and ‘60s rock, how the nascent rock ‘n’ roll was sustained by the instrumental form during those years, how bands like the Trashmen, Johnny & the Hurricanes, Link Wray and his Raymen and countless others filled clubs, armory halls, and high school dances with wild, vital, electric music.

I’ve talked, too, about the guitar instrumental’s manipulation of atmosphere, its sort of homespun impressionism.   Lots of motifs and themes got thrown around in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, various combos freely mixing their American archetypes and B-movie motifs in a clamor of echo, space-age guitar riffs and crashing drums.  Trains, outer space and science fiction, American Indians and the West, beatniks, wild animals, classical mythology, the Far East, the jungle, natural and meteorological phenomena, gangs and the city streets, and the supernatural were just a favorite few among many images and themes evoked, with surf music, at the chronological end of the continuum, the greatest, sleekest efflorescence of them all.

The Desert

Image courtesy of Tex Gen Web.

This post’s selections are one peculiar iteration of the guitar instrumental phenomenon.  They form a loose and obvious conceit for a post, and a roundabout continuation of this very early post, but one that goes a long way in demonstrating a point I like to make.

A compelling riff or melodic arrangement was a prerequisite for a great guitar instrumental.  Production aside, the riffs and arrangement were the guitar instrumental.  And it helped for some dramatic motif – some menace, mystery or exoticism – to give shape to the recording’s sense of atmosphere and emotion.  There was nothing necessarily precise about the instrumental, though, no particular magic to its creation.   Just as often it was the title that eventually determined the particular type of tableaux, image or mood  being conveyed.

The trick, often, was not just how you did the song, but how you named the song.

The Sherwoods, El Scorpion (Maggie 501)1.  The Sherwoods, El Scorpion (Maggie 501)
The Sherwoods were a rock ‘n’ coll combo who operated along the margins of New York City’s pop music scene in the late ‘50s and early-to-mid-‘60s.

Biographical details of the group are meager, but its core songwriters seem to have been Joseph Renda, Frank DiGiacomo, and Zacharie Clements – all classmates from White Plains.  New York City’s record industry, though irrevocably losing ground to Los Angeles as the center of pop music commerce, was still a powerhouse in the early ‘60s.  With some talent and ambition, one could manage steady work, as the Sherwoods did, backing local singers (Johnny Schilling and Tony Reno), nailing down some songwriting credits (for black vocal group the Shells and, strangely, for French entertainer Henri Gabriel Salvador), and turning out a handful of somewhat dated, if fun, instrumentals, vocals, and R&B/twist-style 45s along the way.

Highlights of the Sherwoods’s discography include 1963’s rockin’ “Monkey See, Monkey Do” and their last 45 record as a group, 1965’s “Shotgun”-derivative “Ice Cream.” But it’s the terrific “El Scorpion,” released on the tiny Maggie label in 1961, that stands out.  It’s nothing too complicated, just a simple, elegant arrangement of Lecuona-style riffs and faux-Eastern organ vamps, a mix of twist and gloriously heedless exoticism for uptown dancers.

Of the three songwriters here, it was Renda who remained most active in local industry, founding the Ren-Vell studios in White Plains in the mid-‘60s and thereafter  – a bizarre 1981 album of disco-novelty-rock as Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band notwithstanding – working behind-the-scenes as an area producer and studio operator.  DiGiacomo seems to have disappeared from the pages of music history, and Clements later became a teacher and motivational speaker.

The Storms, Tarantula (Sundown 45-114) 2.  The Storms, Tarantula (Sundown 45-114)
The Storms were technically the backing band for Jody Reynolds.   Reynolds, born in 1932, was a talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist who toured with country artists and played rock ‘n’ roll guitar early on in the southern Plains and the Southwest.  Relocating to California, he succeeded in interesting the Los Angeles-based indie Demon Records in his death-dirge “Endless Sleep.”  Recorded at Gold Star Studio in 1958, the session produced a brilliant song – the biggest of Reynold’s career – but also introduces Al Casey, who played on the session at Demon Records’s insistence, into the story.

Guitarist Casey is another unsung hero of rock ‘n’ roll and the subject, I’m hoping, of a future post.  Born in 1936, Casey got his start in Arizona as part of the fascinating ‘50s Arizona rock ‘n’ roll and country scene, the same milieu that got Lee Hazlewood, Duane Eddy and Sanford Clark started, among many others, artists whose early records tended to share an overarching aesthetic due to sheer proximity and Casey’s ubiquity.  Even in his teens, Casey was backing everyone, live and on records – dozens upon dozens of them – his exquisite tone most famously propelling Sanford Clark’s “The Fool,” a hypnotic masterpiece of early rock ‘n’ roll.

By the late ‘50s, Casey was dividing his time between Phoenix and the West Coast, his path crossing with Reynolds in Los Angeles for the “Endless Sleep” session.  Casey, thereafter a de facto member of the Storms, would join Howard Roberts (rhythm guitar) and Noel Stutte (bass) on a series of Reynolds’s follow-up singles.  None of these ever achieved the same popular success, but “Tarantula,” recorded in 1959, would perhaps remain the Storms’ finest moment.  Session saxophonist Plas Johnson joins them here, but “Tarantula” truly is Casey’s record, his cavernous licks instantly identifiable and dominating the record.  Rarely would rock ‘n’ roll guitar be so redolent of the high desert.

Reynolds remained in Southern California, running a music store, working in real estate, and occasionally playing music.  He passed away in November, 2008.  Casey, too, continued in Los Angeles.  He enjoyed a few instrumental hits in the early ‘60s as the Al Casey Combo, and a surf LP lark (Surfin’ Hootenany), but the preponderance of his work came as a prolific commercial pop, easy-listening and rock session guitarist.  He returned to Arizona in 1983, remaining active in music until his death in September, 2006.

Cecil Moore, Diamond Back (Sarg 206-45) 3.  Cecil Moore, Diamond Back (Sarg 206-45)
Cecil Moore was a talented guitarist and singer who grew up singing and playing country in his early years and who found a fleeting niche with his series of hot rock ‘n’ roll guitar instrumentals.

Born in 1929 in Luling, a small central Texas oil town, Moore, some time in Korea excepted, would remain in the area for the entirety of his musical career, working the rural Texas club and dancehall circuit as both a backing musician and as leader of the Notes.  Earliest recordings under Moore’s aegis – most of his recordings, period – were recorded for release on Charlie Fitch’s Sarg Records, a clearinghouse for local rock ‘n’ roll, country, polka and conjunto, and a label that epitomized what was great about regional indies and Texas music.  Moore’s first batch of recordings were good ‘50s country- and R&B-inflected rock ‘n’ roll.

It wouldn’t be until 1964 and the release of this atmospheric burner, however, that Moore enjoyed any broader chart success.  Not much in the way of melody on “Diamond Back,” just Southwestern-y rhythm and gorgeous guitar tone – and the suggestion of its title, of course – again deftly summoning the desert environment.

Alas, Moore, isolated in central Texas and away from the big studios, would never fully capitalize on his talents.  Guitar instrumentals would never be as popular again, and though a series of similar, often great, sides from Moore would follow, “Diamond Back” would be his crowning commercial moment.

Moore seems to have largely retired from music by the ‘80s.  He passed away in February, 2006.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Instrumentals/Surf | 14 Comments

A note to kind Office Naps readers

Some of you have noticed that your author, who has made it a habit to drop things for months at a time, then to only suddenly reappear like that errant stepfather, has done it again.

A bit of explanation. When one’s waking hours are spent pitch-adjusting blue audograph discs or wondering whether more time shouldn’t be spent with something called digiprov, other things – important things – perspective, for one, updating music blogs, another – tend to get pushed aside. Healthier souls, even in their busiest stretches, commit themselves to at least some daily moment of relaxation or favorite activity. The word, I think, is balance. That’s something I’ve never much messed around with.

But Office Naps is something that we record collectors strive for. An unmediated, unregulated forum for our collections, simply, and an audience there to pay the tiniest bit of attention. Believe me, having someone, anyone, to listen to your music and your various exhortations about music is a true pleasure. And you, readers, you’re more than just anyone, you’re the best.

Which is to say I’ll be back. Just give me another month or two.

much love,
Little Danny

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Personal natter | 37 Comments

No car, no woman, no money

Whither the hard-luck lounge singer?

The dark-lit cocktail lounge at city limits, its few patrons and the décor both well past their prime. The nightclub singer, somewhere between down-on-his-luck and end-of-his-rope, staring pathos in the eye.

This week: everything that gets idealized, if that’s the word, about old Vegas. (It’s also sort of a follow-up to this earlier post.)

Our historical revisionism aside, none of these three singers was from Las Vegas. Nor, probably, were they nightclub performers. But the overwrought vocals and haplessness are there. It was a shtick that would become even more of a caricature, reaching a nutty crescendo in the ‘70s, when every huge-lapels-and-sideburns duo from here to Elko self-released an album: Steve and Cozy Sing!

Photo courtesy of Tom Spaulding’s excellent NorCal Explorer blog

But these three souls are downright compelling, if not good. Unlike a lot of previous Office Naps posts, they’re gathered together without a shared lineage to unambiguously connect them, or any obvious commercial antecedents. The Rat Pack – Dean Martin especially – may have played the part to a certain extent, but they were the boozy, free-spirited playboys, debauched rather than dejected. These, on the other hand, were the guys who always hung out down near the end of bar with an inevitable refrain: no car, no woman, no money.

1. Henry Thome, Wolf Bait (Viv)
I’ll begin with a bit about Phoenix’s Viv Records.

Viv was a label founded by Lee Hazlewood in 1955, when he was still a local country music DJ, and fledgling producer and songwriter, his “Some Velvet Morning” still a decade away, his hip drifter persona only beginning to develop. (Hazlewood’s ‘50s credits are nonetheless impressive, including “The Fool,” recorded by Sanford Clark, and a series of twangy instrumentals by guitarist Duane Eddy.) Viv was typical of the better independent regional labels that flourished in post-war America, the sort that chronicled hinterland music otherwise neglected by the labels in Chicago, New York City, Nashville, or Los Angeles, the sort run by individuals with certain ambitions, if not an idiosyncratic ear for music.

And that individual was Loy Clingman, a folk/country musician and songwriter who himself had recorded for Viv Records and who, by the late ‘50s, had bought the label from Lee Hazlewood. In addition to operating Viv (and several tiny affiliates), Clingman – a junior high teacher by trade – also ran the Baboquavari coffeehouse in Scottsdale with his wife. Given what must have been considerable strains upon his time, he managed it all with an enviable persistence. From the late ‘50s onwards, Clingman released a schedule of Phoenix-area 45s through Viv: country and rockabilly, folk, and, later, garage bands – as well as a smattering of local R&B; and soul along the way.

Which brings us to Henry Thome. The almost comical sung-spoken asides, the lonesome piano, the 3 am trumpet solo: “Wolf Bait” could have had its own talk show. Thome plays the lovelorn sap brilliantly here, but, strangely, he was by all accounts a folk-singer who performed around Scottsdale and Phoenix in the early ‘60s. Thome was a regular at Clingman’s Baboquavari coffeehouse, apparently, a relationship that resulted in Thome’s three Viv 45s released between 1962 and 1963. This was the first of the three records, though none, of those I’ve heard, are particularly folk-y.

Nor were any of the Viv releases particularly successful. This record, from 1962, would be one of the label’s better performers – not for “Wolf Bait” but for its flipside “Scotch and Soda,” an oddly jazzy reading of an unattributed song from the Kingston Trio’s debut album a few years prior.

In addition to Thome, both “Wolf Bait” and “Scotch and Soda” feature Mike Condello (bass) and Bob Morgan (playing “drums” on a cardboard box). Notable Arizona musicians both, Condello in particular released some excellent late ‘60s psychedelic records, and was musical director for The Wallace and Ladmo Show, a local children’s television show.

2. Bobby Blue and the Love Orchestra, Black & Blue (Love)
Though presumably based in the New York City area, many questions will likely never be answered about Bobby Blue and this excellent version of “Black & Blue.” Including the thorny one of race. I only bother to mention this because “Black & Blue” is a well-known song, actually, one written by African-American lyricist Andy Razaf during the Depression, and famously performed by Fats Waller, Razaf’s great interpreter. Razaf penned, among hundreds of others, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” but “Black & Blue” is especially poignant, with understated commentary on racial injustice.

But Bobby Blue, in this version, crucially changes one of the original’s lines, and one of its most poignant: “I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case / Cause I can’t hide / What is on my face.”

Anyway, Blue’s version barely sold, which is a different type of poignant.

Love Records was a small Brooklyn-based label owned and operated by Alan Hartwell, a jazz bandleader. Hartwell produced the label’s sole hit: drummer Cozy Cole’s hip instrumental “Topsy.” (Cole, incidentally, would revisit “Topsy” several times in coming months for Love Records, including “Turvy,” parts I and II, and “Topsy-Turvy,” parts I and II – never too much of a good thing, that.) A full-length Cozy Cole album (Cozy Cole Hits), a few 45s from jazz singer Savina Cattiva – plus this week’s mystery selection, recorded in 1960 – would round out the label’s short, happy run of releases.

Surprisingly, Love Records has been reactivated by Hartwell himself in recent years.

3.  Trey Barker, Valley of Tears, Part II (Fifo)
The songwriters here are Bob Markley and Baker Knight.

Bob Markley – self-styled bohemian, scion of Oklahoma oil wealth – first appeared in Los Angeles in the early ‘60s with a law degree and a burning desire for fame. Markley wrote a song or two (including this selection), and released one dire teen-pop 45, but his dreams only reached any sort of bloom as part of one of the stranger phenoms of ‘60s L.A. psychedelia: the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Most of this group preceded Markley, actually – core members Michael Lloyd (later a big-time producer and industry executive) and Shaun and Danny Harris had already been making home recordings together – and fell in with Markley after an introduction through notorious Hollywood rock impresario Kim Fowley in 1965. Markley desperately wanted to play frontman, and the group was impressed enough with Markley’s well-heeled circles and financial leverage to take him aboard. Thus was one of the stranger bonds in ‘60s pop music forged.

Baker Knight is an entirely different entity. A guitarist, singer and prodigious songwriter, the Alabama-born Knight journeyed to Los Angeles in 1958, where Ricky Nelson would make his fabulous “Lonesome Town” a big hit. From some ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll 45s to, later, some strange psychedelic pop, Knight would continue to release records under his own name, but his bread and butter would always remain songwriting. Ricky Nelson in particular would record Baker Knight songs, though several of the pop stars of the Frank Sinatra-owned Reprise label – Dean Martin, Nancy Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sinatra himself – would also record Knight’s material in the ‘60s.

“Valley of Tears”: something is clearly working here. Like “St. James Infirmary,” “House of the Rising Sun,” or, for that matter, “Lonesome Town,” this is just as much a state of mind. A great, weird blend of high atmosphere and bluesy hard luck, “Valley of Tears” could have shown that ham Presley and his “Heartbreak Hotel” a thing or two about creating a mood. Likely recorded around 1960 or ’61, Knight’s involvement here is not entirely confirmed, actually. Given the lyric’s similarity to “Lonesome Town,” though, this is almost certainly his handiwork. (Baker and Markley were acquaintances, moreover – Baker later contributed the song “Shifting Sands” to the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.)

The story behind “Valley of Tears” will, I suspect, always remain obscure. This was only one of hundreds of songs that Baker wrote or co-wrote, and no, and I do mean no, information is available about singer Trey Barker. (I have the sneaking suspicion that Trey Barker is Baker Knight.) Also murky is the extent of Markley’s involvement with the mysterious Fifo label, which had a short, spotty run of obscure 45s in the early ‘60s, finally bringing everything full-circle with a lone album release in 1966, the ultra-rare debut by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Classic puzzle-wrapped-in-an-enigma stuff here.

Either way, Baker would continue writing songs. Elvis had a hit with his “The Wonder of You” in 1970, and Knight wrote country and pop songs with success in ‘70s, including Mickey Gilley’s 1976 version of “Don’t the Girls Get Prettier at Closing Time.” Baker retired from the music business in the ‘80s and moved back to Alabama, passing away in 2005.

As for Markley, despite artifice and his all-around dubious talents, his connections paid off to the extent that the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band released five interesting, if wildly uneven, albums for Reprise Records. However, Markley, according to legend, also later tangled with the police and, later still, drifted into dementia. The saga of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band is thoroughly chronicled here.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Miscellaneous Flotsam | 17 Comments

The War of the Roses

Boys and girls singing duets: not a new thing. You can probably trace an unbroken line from show tunes like “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” (1937’s On the Avenue) and “Do I Hear You Saying” (1928’s Present Arms!) backwards to 17th or 18th Century opera; Pamina and Papageno in The Magic Flute or Nero and Poppea in Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea.

A “Hey Paula” benefits from the same thing that made a “No Two People” special a few decades earlier. Chemistry, namely – the warmth and harmonics of the male and female voice added together, the sweet frisson of flirtation.

The ‘50s and ‘60s were golden decades for male-female duets in all different quarters – pop, folk, R&B;, country, even jazz (think “Girl from Ipanema”). There are plenty of enduring examples: Louis Prima & Keely Smith’s “That Old Black Magic,” Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange,” Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell’s “All I Have to Do Is Dream” – “I Got You Babe,” of course. They captured the male-female thing in its carefree or deeply inspiring moments. Even the ribbing of Otis Redding & Carla Thomas’s “Tramp” or Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “Jackson” is affection in the guise of mere sauciness.

And there’s your problem: love is not all sunshine and strawberries. For every ten “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”’s, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell recorded only one “Give In You Just Can’t Win,” a wildly implausible ratio in the scope of romantic dalliance.

To that there would always be country music, where the brokenhearted were part of the genre’s biological fabric. Kitty Wells & Roy Drusky’s “I Can’t Tell My Heart That,” Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton’s “Holding on to Nothing,” Dottie West & Kenny Rogers’s “Two Fools Collide,” George Jones & Tammy Wynette’s “Cryin’ Time.” Believe me, the list is endless. You cry in your beer, the jukebox keeps on playing, things get worked out.

But if those wistful, grown-up discussions seem a bit old-fashioned in their restraint, then this week’s selections offer something more in the way of epithet-screaming catharsis. These spread the bitterness all around, verse by combative verse, with the raw sound to match. This phenomenon – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-style combat – would be pretty limited, unfortunately. But how could it not be? It was sort of like sitting at a table with a bickering couple, one just tries to stay out of the crossfire.

Time to reopen some old wounds.

1. Bud & Kathy, Hang It Out to Dry (Downey)
A mystery duo, Bud & Kathy recorded “Hang It Out to Dry” for the Los Angeles-based Downey Records.

Downey Records embodied all that is great about local, independent labels. Begun in the early ‘60s by Bill Wenzel and son Jack in Downey, California, the label took root in Wenzel’s Music Town record store. Downey would release a number of great instrumental 45s, including the Rumblers’ “Boss” and the Chantays’ “Pipeline,” two definitive early ‘60s Southern California surf hits. By 1965, the Wenzels transitioned to briefly take advantage of the suburban garage band phenomenon, issuing 45s by the Sunday Group, the Last Word and the Barracudas before shutting down the operation in 1967.

Among those releases would be this great raver from 1966, written by Pat McGowan, the man behind Pat and the Californians’ “Be Billy,” an earlier Downey release. Kathy is thrilling here, her voice an icy-cool dagger of reason. Bud is… being Bud. You have to love the basic conceit of “Hang It Out to Dry,” though. It’s not like there aren’t easier ways to tell off your lover, but sometimes only duet form will do.

2. Jon & Robin, You Don’t Care (Abnak)
Texas duo Jon & Robin were John Howard Abdnor Jr. and Javonne (Robin) Braga.

In the early 1960s, Abdnor’s father, Dallas businessman-turned-record-baron John Abdnor, Sr., started Abnak Records, a label that would earn its greatest national notice with some sterling rock 45s by the Five Americans, including “Western Union.”

Abnak’s initial 45 releases mostly indulged Jon Abdnor Jr.’s own songwriting and performing ambitions. The label would expand to accommodate favorite sons the Five Americans, and would add the R&B-oriented; Jetstar Records subsidiary, too. And Abdnor would continue recording: from the teen pop of his first 45 to the country-rock and strange psychedelia of 1969’s Intro to Change LP, Abdnor’s series of records encompassed the entire Abnak timeline, if not the general arc of ‘60s pop.

But Abdnor’s best, and best remembered, records were with local teenager Javonne Braga, henceforth known as “Robin” (to fulfill the lingering obligations of the duo’s original female half, a vocalist named Robin). As a duo, Jon & Robin would have a run of interesting pop records for Abnak between 1965 and 1969. In a strictly ‘60s pop sort of way, their dozen 45s and two LPs were nothing if not eclectic, incorporating folk-rock, soul and AM radio stylings with a pleasant, vaguely Southern aesthetic. This would include their crowning achievement from 1967. “Do It Again A Little Bit Slower” was Jon & Robin capitalizing on the gimmick of Sonny & Cher. Neither were particularly telegenic, but the song’s charm was enough to make it a sizeable pop hit.

Jon & Robin’s second album, Elastic Event. Thanks to Strider’s Journal for the image.

Jon & Robin also tried out other styles, dabbling in the more aggressive tones of the garage band sound. There would be the jangly, “Gloria”-influenced “Love Me Baby.” And th
ere was this selection, also from 1967, a laundry list of grievances set to a pounding beat. Minus the white lip-gloss all over the microphone, every relationship will have its “You Don’t Care” moments.

Jon & Robin’s productions were polished, their performances – backed often by the Five Americans – excellent, and their songs occasionally great, especially material written by Wayne Carson Thompson (author of the Boxtops’ “The Letter”). But, even if their voices were better, without the momentous melodic hooks or Los Angeles industry connections, they never quite escaped the “regional act” taint. Plus they just looked so tragic in their psychedelic duds. Jon & Robin would release more good records together – and some apart, too, singing solo – but only with middling success.

The Abnak label itself folded in 1971. Robin reportedly married Five Americans drummer Jimmy Wright, and seems to have retired from music. Jon, sadly bedeviled by bouts of mental illness, was convicted in the murder of his girlfriend in the early ‘70s.

3. The Gas Company, Get Out of My Life (Reprise)
The Gas Company was the vehicle of Los Angeles songwriter Greg Dempsey and his longtime collaborator, Kathy Yesse.

Greg Dempsey’s first credits turn up in 1965. There were a few independent songwriting credits: Los Angeles garage band the Purple Gang recorded his “I Know What I Am,” for instance. Dempsey also produced an obscure 45 by Junior Markham & the Tulsa Review, an R&B-oriented; group of studio musicians that included the young Leon Russell and Levon Helm.

In 1965 Dempsey would also join forces with the brilliant Jack Nitzsche, a Los Angeles studio wizard with a gift for dramatic arrangements and productions. This partnership would spawn a few co-authorship credits over the next year or two, including P.J. Proby’s “Sweet Summer Wine” and Don & the Goodtimes’ “I Could Be So Good For You.”

More to the point, Nitzsche would also produce several 45s by Dempsey’s group the Gas Company. The group’s roster featured more session musicians – guitarist Ken Bloom, bassist (and future Crazy Horse guitarist) Greg Leroy, drummer Gary Greene – suggesting a studio project rather than a working band. Either way, the Gas Company’s four singles records between 1965 and 1967 were commercial California pop and folk-rock, and were neither successful nor, this selection aside, especially noteworthy. Nor is Nitzsche’s involvement here necessarily a measure of success: he had a hand in a prodigious number of ‘60s pop sides, many of them quite obscure. Still, these activities give one a sense of Dempsey’s milieu.

Even less, or no, information about the early career of Kathy Yesse exists. Yesse sang with Dempsey on all of the Gas Company’s output, including 1966’s “Get Out of My Life,” the third and best of four singles. The accompaniment here is mid-‘60s Los Angeles folk-rock to the bone, if deceptively cheery, considering the song does not mince its words, except to rhyme them.

Dempsey and Yesse would continue to record into the mid-‘70s, sporadically but nearly always together. One of these efforts was quite memorable: a 1968 album of baroque psychedelia as the Daughters of Albion (again, basically a studio project), now a minor cult collector’s item. Others, like Kathy Yesse’s 1973 album Amazing (credited to her as Kathy Dalton), have not held up as well. Except for a few appearances by Yesse as a background singer on a some obscure Van Dykes Parks dates in the ’80s, the duo since seems to have largely settled for obscurity.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands | 4 Comments

Cool, man, cool

These selections are noteworthy not only for their curio factor, but also for their contributions to the same aesthetic that made Cozy Cole’s “Topsy” (hear excerpt here) and the Viscounts’ “Harlem Nocturne” popular. They seem to speak the same Lonelyville argot, conjuring clichés and swirling them about in a cocktail of inflamed passions, bongos and street smarts.

West Side Story and Mike Hammer and The Nervous Set was post-War America besotted with the image of the city as alternately dangerous, bohemian and craaaazy. Certain subcultures suited this image more colorfully than others, and pop culture would be right there, ready to fire the suburban imagination with a confusion of stereotypes and garbled slang. Nowhere did pop culture’s various creations – its jazz musicians, its detectives and underworld types, its juvenile delinquents, its beatniks, especially its beatniks – turn up more mangled and mixed than in popular music. From the jazz-punctuated chases of Johnny Staccato and Perry Como ridiculously crooning “Like, Young” to the gangland theater of Link Wray’s “Rumble,” it was a good time to be a cliché.

If they didn’t satisfy some deeper level of middle class fantasy, then the macho action and sexual license were all still pretty exciting at least. Which is not to say hard-boiled detectives were mere invention or that there wasn’t anything by way of “authentic” poetry readings or recreational drug use in certain quarters – there was. But realism was plainly not why viewers turned to Peter Gunn every week. Allen Ginsberg wrote in editorials and spoke on radio, defending his cohort against the insult of the term “beatnik.” To which the Life magazine readers of America distinctly answered: less “Howl,” more “Kookie’s Mad Pad,” please.

This week: little authenticity, plenty of fantasy. These three achieve a sort of hat-trick by offering no fantasies specifically, yet many fantasies all at once, and vaguely. Sometimes you can be all things to all people.

1. Fleet & Freddy, Pad (Protone)
Fleet & Freddy were Fleet Tomlinson and Freddy Countryman.

Fleet Tomlinson had a forgotten 45, “Bumping Knees,” on Los Angeles indie label Arlen. He also produced, wrote and played on Bobby Hicks’s rocker “Hassle It Jack,” a 1958 single on the hip Skyway label. Freddy Countryman – a guitarist, I believe – had a handful of early ‘60s rockin’ country numbers and twangy guitar instrumentals on yet another tiny Los Angeles label, Western Electronic Divisions.

So what happens when two aspiring spirits on the fringes of the record industry knock heads?

1959’s “Pad” clearly never set out to be any sort of pop masterpiece. Nor, sadly, did it have much of the bounce of popular contemporaries like “Tequila” or “Topsy,” instrumental hits with commercial appeal and, of all things, drums. “Pad” was just too weird. But there is something beautiful about the way juvenile delinquency, slang, drugs, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll – all the sideshow clichés of the beatnik craze – are woven together so deftly.

As if trying to prove the limitations of the concept, there are actually three different recordings of “Pad.” Fleet & Freddy’s is less manic than the Bobby Summer’s original version (hear excerpt here), by far the most popular – to misuse the word – version, which came out earlier that year on Capitol Records. Fleet & Freddy’s version was also more atmospheric than the song’s third and final incarnation (hear excerpt here) by Fritz & Jerry on Los Angeles’s RIP Records.

Fleet & Freddy had one more record together, 1961’s “Drag Race Boogie,” again on Arlen.

2. The Madmen of Note, Peppermint Fink (Ra-O)
Appleton, Wisconsin. Plattsburgh, New York. Albuquerque. Wherever. Wherever there were towns and hinterland cities and teenage abandon – that is where the sound of regional rock ‘n’ roll of the late ‘50s and pre-British Invasion ’60s will take shape. There will be armory halls to be rented cheaply, bands in matching suits every Saturday night, teenagers to dance.

The Pacific Northwest had its network in these transitional years – the record shops, recording studios and teen dances from Portland to Pullman. It had the sympathetic DJs, small-time record label owners, producers and entrepreneurs – all the teen scene prerequisites. If only the Kingsmen, the Raiders and, to a lesser extent, Tacoma’s Wailers (with 1959’s “Tall Cool One”) ever enjoyed much in the way of national chart success, the region in its time was a paradise garden of rock ‘n’ roll combos, teeming with cheap guitars and overdriven amplifiers. Bands like the Wailers, Dynamics, Viceroys and Galaxies defined the sensibility: raucous instrumentals, ballads and shouting R&B-edged; party numbers.

Except for sometimes being racially integrated, it must be pointed out here that there was nothing unique about the Northwestern combo itself. Rather, it’s just that the Pacific Northwest was the most cohesive and crazily fertile of all the regional scenes of the transitional era. This would eventually change with psychedelia and the new infrastructure of Rock.

Before that, though – before the British Invasion, even – there were the Madmen of Note, one of hundreds of groups breaking strings across the region’s dancehalls and ballrooms. On pape
r, other Seattle-area 45s like the Exotics’ “Oasis” or the Night Peoples’ “Zazerac” promised hip exotica but had a way of winding up closer to “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” or “Night Train.” A peppermint fink sounds like some Doctor Seuss phantasm, but this 1963 selection is the real thing, a booming drama somewhere between striptease grind and Middle Eastern raqs.

The Madmen of Note, live. George Lind, Elliot Wakefield, Bob Delgato, Charlie Johnson, Larry Evans. (Photo from Pacific Northwest Bands.)

Consisting at various times of Robert Delgado (drums), Larry Evans (keyboards), Charlie Johnson (bass), George Lind (guitar), David Raby (guitar and organ), Ken Raby (bass), and Elliott Wakefield (saxophone and vibraphone), the Madmen of Note hailed from Lake Stevens, just north of Seattle. All in their late teens, they played local clubs in the early ‘60s, and recorded this one exceptional 45. As was typical of the age, many of the Madmen’s members played with other area groups. Additionally, both “Peppermint Fink” and its flipside “Club 21” were co-written by saxophonist Ray Guyll, who played in Lake Stevens compatriots the Cherchers.

Nowhere is early ‘60s Pacific Northwest rock ‘n’ roll documented better than Norton’s Northwest Killers series. Thanks also to Pacific Northwest Bands for the Madmen of Note information.

3. The Rockbusters, Tough Chick (Cadence)
Soundtrack composer and “Barry” of the Tamerlanes, Barry De Vorzon was born in New York City in 1934. Like his parents, De Vorzon was musically inclined; his family moved to California, and there, De Vorzon, clearly taken with the allure of pop music success, set about finding it.

De Vorzon was first, though not necessarily foremost, a pop singer. He released a few teen-oriented 45s in the late ‘50s, a fairly short-lived arc that hit paydirt in 1963 with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight,” by Barry and the Tamerlanes, the group he’d assembled with songwriting partners Bodie Chandler and Terry Smith.

It would be songwriting and music publishing that proved the more durable line for De Vorzon. Initially his royalties owed more to songwriting – Marty Robbins and Johnny Burnette squeezed minor hits out of his “Just Married” (’58) and “Dreamin’” (’60) – than to musical compositions, which were not unqualified successes. In late 1958, De Vorzon, operating under the nom de plume John Buck and the Blazers, released the “Forbidden City” instrumental 45 on New York City’s Cadence Records. “Forbidden City” (hear excerpt here) was especially hip, but its release on Cadence – as well as its inexplicable re-release a few months later on Warner Brothers – failed to arouse any interest. (Except in Germany, where flipside “Chi Chi” was a fluke hit – another story altogether.)

Which brings us to 1959’s “Tough Chick.” The Rockbusters’ sole release, it was released six months after “Forbidden City” and another twelve hours before it went out of print. Certain clues suggest that the Rockbusters and John Buck and the Blazers are the same. “Tough Chick” appeared on Cadence Records, and, moreover, it was another De Vorzon composition. Not to mention the atmospherics of both.

But De Vorzon had bigger fish to fry. Since 1960, he and partner Billy Sherman had run Valiant Records, a Los Angeles label with a string of hits running from the pre-Beatles era – Shelby Flint (“Angel on My Shoulder”), the Cascades (“Rhythm of the Rain”), and, of course, Barry and the Tamerlanes – to the Association’s sunshine pop to some nifty garage band and psychedelic records.

Ever the prolific songwriter, De Vorzon’s career solidified in the late ‘60s with his film and television music credits. Among them would be the films Xanadu and Private Benjamin and the themes for television’s S.W.A.T., Rolling Thunder and Simon & Simon. One tune, “Cotton’s Theme” (originally heard in Bless the Beasts and Children), was re-recorded as “Nadia’s Theme,” the eternal opener of The Young and the Restless.

De Vorzon also scored cult soundtracks like 1970’s R.P.M. and 1979’s The Warriors. So often with career music-types, their most interesting work is clustered near the beginning. This was the case with De Vorzon: deadly and deliberate, “Tough Chick” came before all the nutty impulses were quashed by record industry protocol and life’s little details, like earning a living.

De Vorzon has won a total of six daytime Emmys for his music for soap operas Another World and Guiding Light, and one Grammy (Best Instrumental Arrangement) for “Nadia’s Theme.”

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Instrumentals/Surf | 9 Comments

Office Naps Winter 2008 Psychedelic Pop mix

The latest version of the psychedelic pop mix, streamlined and scratchier than ever.

If anything, people tend to remember the decade for the sitars and sunshine harmonies and fuzzed-out guitars. The reputation is not entirely undeserved. But I am here to say that it was echo, great heaping slabs of it, that really makes things go ‘round.

Anyway, there were a million deserving songs that didn’t make the mix, and we wish them good luck in their future pursuits.

Office Naps Winter 2008 Psychedelic Pop mix
Blair Smith, Vision of Molly (7”, Pompeii)
The Sunshine Trolley, Cover Me Babe (7”, Trump)

The Gallants, Robin’s Blues (7”, Capitol)

Opus I, Backseat ’38 Dodge (7”, Mustang)

Things to Come
, Come Alive (7”, Warner Brothers)
The Gates of Eden, Elegy (7”, Warner Brothers)
Sagittarius, The Truth Is Not Real (Present Tense, Columbia)
The West Coast Workshop, Ode to Jackie, Dorothy and Alyce (The Wizard of Oz and Other Trans Love Trips, Capitol)
The Models, Bend Me, Shape Me (7”, MGM)
Unknown Korean Composer, Side 2 Track 4 (Heavenly Home Coming to Stars, part II soundtrack, SRB Korea)
The Parade, This Old Melody (7”, A&M;)
Ian Freebairn-Smith, Other Hawaii (TV Track) (The Other Side of Clouds EP, Proud Bird)
6 7/8, Ski-Daddle (7”, Dot)
Ustad Vilayat Khan, Title Music: Tom’s Arrival (The Guru soundtrack, RCA)
Click, Fat Lady in the Wicker Chair (7”, Laurie)
The Advancement, Child At Play (The Advancement, Philips)
Hearts and Flowers, Tin Angel (Will You Ever Come Down) (7”, Capitol)
Bill & Howdy, Misty Morning Confrontation (7”, Verve-Forecast)
The Pretty Things, My Time (7”, Fontana UK)
Somebody’s Children, Shadows (7”, Uptown)
London Phogg, The Times to Come (7”, A&M;)
The Relations, The Image (7”, Reena)
The Brain Train, Me (7”, Titan)
The Robbs, Castles in the Air (7”, Atlantic)
Evie Sands, It’s This I Am, I Find (7”, A&M;)
Ananda Shankar, Snow Flower (Ananda Shankar, Reprise)
The Fallen Angels, Most Children Do (The Fallen Angels, Laurie)
The Elite, I’ll Come to You (7”, Charay)
The Vejtables, Shadows (7”, Uptown)
The Electric Tomorrow, The Electric Tomorrow (7”, World-Pacific)

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands, Instrumentals/Surf, Miscellaneous Flotsam, Mixes, Now Sound, Psychedelic/Pop | 11 Comments

Oh, Calcutta!

Oh! Calcutta! wanted to be provocative in the worst possible way.

Released Off Broadway in 1969, the musical revue featured sketches of various sexual neuroses and peccadilloes, and included frontal nudity – only the second major musical after Hair to do so. Oh! Calcutta! also had some avant-garde cred – respected British theater critic Kenneth Tynan conceived and assembled the program, with bankable names like Samuel Beckett, Jules Feiffer, Margo Sappington, Dan Greenburg, John Lennon, Jacques Levy and Sam Shepard contributing sketches.

Sometimes mere pedigree and nudity aren’t enough. Sometimes weak writing and silly, rigidly heterosexual humor will earn you a reputation as an inconsequential diversion. New York Times critic Clive Barnes concluded after the opening: “To be honest, I think I can recommend the show with any vigor only to people who are extraordinarily underprivileged either sexually, socially or emotionally.” Musical theater was only beginning to embrace the counter-culture’s possibilities, but others, like Stag Movie, The Faggot, or Let My People Come – or Hair, for that matter – would explore sexual politics more gracefully and more incisively. None of this deterred curious patrons, however, who made Oh! Calcutta! both an instant sensation and, over the course of its original run as well as a record-setting revival begun in 1976, a long-lasting tourist staple.

But the original cast recording for Oh! Calcutta! (originally released in 1969 on Aidart Records, a tiny affiliate of United Artists Records) is another story. Composed and performed by Robert Dennis, Stanley Walden, and the young Peter Schickele (of P.D.Q. Bach and Schickele Mix fame), operating here as the Open Window, the score consists of songs and instrumental interludes that accompanied and divided the revue’s sketches, rather than being full-blown musical numbers. It was similarly derided in contemporary reviews, and it did not sell well, but the original score stands up today as superior even to the great Hair score. There is excellent psychedelic pop to be found in among the heavily arranged chamber-rock.

Thankfully, America’s easy listening bandleaders were not oblivious to the resilient groove of the title track. Alongside “Aquarius,” “Last Tango in Paris” or “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “Oh, Calcutta” was popular, albeit briefly, among those meisters still optimistic about bridging that cursed generational divide. Ferrante and Teicher did a swell job of it and so did, all things considered, Al De Lory: I suspect any version of “Oh, Calcutta” merits at least a casual listen.

1. The Dave Pell Singers, Oh, Calcutta (Liberty)
Born in New York City in 1925, saxophonist Dave Pell’s formative professional gigs were with Tony Pastor’s big band. Upon relocating to California in mid-‘40s, he’d join a succession of bandleaders: Bob Crosby, Bobby Sherwood, Bob Astor, and, finally – between 1947 and 1955 – Les Brown and His Band of Renown.

These were competent bands, popular but hardly the cutting edge of jazz. Indeed, Pell’s entire trajectory would be characterized by this sort of commercial orientation. In addition to a series of budget-oriented big band tribute albums, Pell released many decent-selling jazz records throughout the ‘50s with a smaller group – his popular octet (many of its members borrowed in turn from the young modernists of Brown’s orchestra). Even these dates, while sophisticated, were on the more conservative, tightly arranged side of West Coast jazz.

There has always been that pragmatic streak among certain jazz talents, the pull to the more reliable life of studio arranging, directing and producing. Post-War musicians like Shorty Rogers and Quincy Jones made big names for themselves thusly, while many others – the Bob Florences, Manny Albams, and Johnny Mandels of this world – toiled further from the spotlight. This pragmatism diminishes none of their art, necessarily – especially some of their wilder soundtrack moments – but it does open a certain distance from their “authentic” jazz roots. Dave Pell? Just part of the trend.

Pell’s years as studio musician (he would back Mel Torme and June Christy, among many others), octet leader, and budget record label producer (for the infamous Tops Records) led, by the early ‘60s, to a turn as a producer and A&R; man at Liberty Records, then one of the more successful post-War California labels. Experience in the industry clearly had served Pell well. At Liberty he had produced pop records in a big way for artists like Gary Lewis, Bobby Vee, the Ventures, Martin Denny, Gene McDaniels and the young Vicki Carr. Pell’s time there also included a few of his own albums – two commercial pop/jazz records in 1963, and finally, in 1969, the Dave Pell Singers’ Mah-Na-Mah-Na LP. Everything about that album, including this glorious selection, was a quick study in studio-tempered grooviness, raining down sunshine down all over Orange County. What generation gap?

After the Liberty marque was bought by United Artists Records in the late ‘60s, Pell worked behind-the-scenes in the Los Angeles industry, scoring and coordinating music for the television shows Stand Up and Cheer and The Real Tom Kennedy Show as well as a rash of Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood vehicles: Sharkey’s Machine, Sudden Impact, Cannonball Run II, Honkytonk Man and Paternity. Pell would release two albums with his Lester Young tribute group Prez Conference in the late ‘70s. In more recent decades, Pell revived his octet and founded specialty labels Headfirst Records and Group 7 Records. Dave Pell is still active today.

2. The Milt Okun Arrangement, Oh, Calcutta (Decca)
Milton Okun, born in New York City in 1923, was a junior high music teacher and folk music fan when he joined Harry Belafonte as a pianist and singer (and later as arranger and conductor) in the mid-‘50s.

Okun parted ways with Belafonte in 1960, thereafter taking on various production and arrangement work around Greenwich Village’s burgeoning folk scene. Alongside several long-forgotten albums of his own folk song interpretations, Okun’s dozens of ‘60s production credits would include obscure singers like Lynn Gold and Ernie Sheldon as well as – thanks to good fortune and a good ear for commercial talent – many of the folk revival’s most popular artists: the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Miriam Makeba. The folk revival began foundering in the mid-‘60s; Okun forged ahead with his artists and with newer talents like Laura Nyro. His biggest protégé, however, would be John Denver, a Chad Mitchell Trio alum whom Okun mentored after the Trio’s dissolution, and whom Okun would continue to produce for another decade.

Denver was perhaps his single greatest success, but Okun’s production duties extended to assorted improbables, including ‘70s soft rockers the Starland Vocal Band (of “Afternoon Delight” fame) and future tenor celebrity Placido Domingo in the early ’80s. This is not to mention Okun’s written articles about folk music, his string of song books of the late ‘60s and ‘70s – among them Something to Sing About, Great Songs of the Sixties, Country Music’s Greatest Songs and Great Songs of Lennon and McCartney, or his music education magazine, Music Alive!, begun in 1981.

Okun’s was a broad, impossible-to-pigeonhole career, but fitting this languid 1969 version of “Oh, Calcutta” in somewhere is still a bit of a challenge. It’d been years since Okun had recorded under his own name. This sounded like a studio lark, and it probably was. Lucky record buyers didn’t care about any of that, though. They knew it’d still be life of their next party.

To a great extent, Okun’s business interests have now largely superceded his musical associations. The Cherry Lane Music Group, which Okun founded in 1960, is, as of 2008, a major player in the music publishing business, with publishing, print, digital and licensing divisions and a lucrative, if schizoid, roster that includes and Quincy Jones alongside Ralph Macdonald and Tom Paxton.

Okun is also still active as a director at the Los Angeles Opera.

3. Henry Jerome, Oh, Calcutta (United Artists)
Like Dave Pell and Milt Okun, trumpeter Henry Jerome was a working musician who found his eventual calling in the studio. Born in New York City in 1917, Jerome formed his first dance bands in his late teens. His band, Henry Jerome and His Stepping Tones, was familiar to late ‘30s audiences for its regular appearances along the northeastern ballroom circuit, and for its residencies at (and radio broadcasts from) New York City’s Edison Hotel.

Jerome, hitherto stylistically indebted to Hal Kemp’s dance orchestra, began to update his orchestra with hipper musicians in the early ‘40s. The band – including pianist Al Haig, saxophonist Al Cohn, drummer Tiny Kahn, trombonist/composer Johnny Mandel and guitarist Billy Bauer – would be something of a bop jazz cauldron, though the modernization was mostly for naught. The swing era drew to a close and Jerome finally dissolved his group in the late ‘40s.

After some forgettable mid-‘50s pop albums on MGM and Roulette Records (as well as themes for children’s show Winky-Dink and You in the mid-‘50s and for the Soupy Sales show a few years later), Jerome joined the Decca record label. There, in addition to his work as an A&R; director and producer, he’d release a series of his Brazen Brass stereophonic project albums. By 1967, Jerome was at United Artists Records, where he recorded one more Brazen Brass-style album, and continued his pop productions. Along with pop and country crossover singer Bobbi Martin, these included, not insignificantly, his production of the original Oh! Calcutta! score.

From 1969, I believe this selection is the original theme’s very first cover version. More upbeat than the original, and set at least slightly in the future, this is “Oh, Calcutta” reimagined with a payload of tiny lights and chirping electronics, Destination 1999.

Jerome’s involvement with the record industry tapered off sometime in the very early ‘70s. Sadly, current information about subsequent activities or whereabouts is scarce.

Henry Jerome’s legacy still is known among two peculiar groups, however. Fans of early rock ‘n’ roll recall him for his somewhat unexpected involvement (under the pseudonym Al Mortimer) with Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio, who waxed some intense rockabilly sides under Jerome’s watch in 1956 and ’57. Fans of unrepentant deregulation, of course, remember Henry Jerome for his ‘40s orchestra, an organization that included not only future Nixon-era White House Counsel Leonard Garment on saxophone, but also future Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan on, against all logic, bass clarinet.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Now Sound | 5 Comments