Category Archives: Rock ‘n’ roll

Bright Lights

Bright Lights!

Like AM Radio Dust, its companion volume, Bright Lights is just as much an exploration of lost spaces and places as it is of sound.

I hope you enjoy it.

Bright Lights
(single MP3 file)

Susan Rafey, “The Big Hurt”
Jerry Lee Trio, “Banshee”
Rick Durham and the Dynamics, “Southern Love”
Stan with the Marauders, “Echo Valley”
Maggie Ingram with the Ingramettes, “Melody of Love”
Zena Ayo, “Long Long Gone”
Mike Baltch Quartet, “Delilah”
Cheryl Thompson, “Black Night”
The Checker Dots, “Alpha Omega”
Fantastic Dee-Jays, “This Love of Ours”
The What Four, “Gemini 4″
Carole King, “A Road to Nowhere”
The Bittersweets, “Hurtin’ Kind”
Charles Wright and the Malibus, “Runky”
The Missing Links, “I Cried Goodbye”
J. Gale and the Games, “A Million Nothings”
The Benjamin Specials Gospel Singers, “I Am on the Right Road Now”
Link Wray, “Girl from the North Country”
Shirley Mc Donald accompanied by The Kay Nines K-9′s, “You”
The Santells, “These Are Love”
Houston and Dorsey, “Ebb Tide”
Dub Benson, “Shaping Up Today”
Henry Kaalekahi, “Hookipa Paka – Maunawili”
Johnny Love, “Rain Drops”
George Johnson, “Capricorn”
Fay Simmons, “Bells”
Cee Cee Carol, “The Right Guy”
Lou Smith, “I’ll Be the One”

Posted in Blues, Country, Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Girl-Groups, Gospel, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Mixes, Now Sound, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul | 10 Comments

Nature Boy

I can think of at least a few reasons for the continued appeal of the song “Nature Boy.”

There’s its philosophical, pseudo-mystical message for one. It was heady, if not radical, stuff for 1948, at least as far as pop songs went, and furthermore its gentle sentiment and lyrics, unlike many “message” songs, have weathered with enviable resilience over the years.

It helps that melodically it’s also a difficult song to get wrong. There’s a robustness to its structure, one that has engendered a particularly attractively set of moody, exotic arrangements amongst its many adaptations.

"Nature Boy" sheet music

The original 1948 sheet music for "Nature Boy," with an image of Eden Ahbez. Image courtesy of Online Collections (The Strong) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

There’s also the not-insignificant appeal of Eden Ahbez, the Wanderer himself and the songwriter behind “Nature Boy.”  I covered Eden Ahbez here, this fascinating, quintessentially American character who also embodied, self-conciously, but still sort of admirably, “Nature Boy.”   “Nature Boy,” the song, is Eden Ahbez – a combination of autobiography and self-mythology.

I’m not alone in my fascination with the song. Since its million-selling treatment by Nat “King” Cole in 1948, it’s become a pop and jazz standard.  And it’s also inspired a decades-long, wildly varied body of readings across many styles.  This week’s three versions are but a few of my favorites.

Clete Grayson and the Thurston Trio, Nature Girl (Nature Boy) (Pacific PA-1007-A 45-111)1.  Clete Grayson and the Thurston Trio, Nature Girl (Nature Boy) (Pacific PA-1007-A 45-111)

Released in 1961 on what was almost certainly a Los Angeles-based label, there’s surprisingly little else to be learned of either Clete Grayson, the Thurston Trio or Pacific Records (which was unrelated to the more widely known Pacific Jazz / World Pacific Records).

Either way, Clete Grayson was certainly a capable vocalist, and he sings here with winning gusto. His lyrical gender transposition is a unique twist, and the professional production isn’t too shabby, either, with an emphatically rockin’ beat and an ondioline making a rare solo appearance during the instrumental break.

With any style of mainstream, mass-produced culture, no matter how commercial, there are bound to be a few nonconformists, oddballs that slip through the cracks in the guise, in this case, of conventional pop music.  One of thousands of teen pop and rock ‘n’ roll records being cranked out in the early ‘60s, “Nature Girl (Nature Boy)” might not have succeeded commercially – it’s just too strange – but it is unequivocally great.

(I owe my copy of this gem to Jack at the great Out of the Bubbling Dusk.   Thanks Jack.)

Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, Nature Boy (A&M 953)2.  Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, Nature Boy (A & M 953)

Richard Barbary is a puzzling case in the world of ‘60s R&B, a talented unknown who seems, after just one excellent, lavishly-produced album on a major label, to have just as quickly disappeared.

A singer with a smooth, world-weary baritone, Barbary had, at the time of this record, just one release under his belt – 1967’s “Get Right” b/w “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” the debut 45 for future soul powerhouse Spring Records.

But Barbary is better heard on his first LP, Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, which was rolled out with all the trimmings – sumptuous production, a cadre of cream-of-the-crop session players, deluxe gatefold album cover – by A&M Records in 1968.

Richard Barbary: Soul Machine

Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, the album.

Produced by Creed Taylor, arranged by studio veterans Artie Butler, Horace Ott and Jimmy Wisner and recorded by legendary jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder, it’s an East Coast recording but, with its up-to-the-minute production qualities, a West Coast sounding record.  It seems to have been conceived somewhat in the style of a Lou Rawls, Willie Tee or Jerry Butler – smooth-voiced, sophisticated R&B singers with appeal to both pop and jazz markets.

“Nature Boy,” which is featured on Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, is one of the album’s highlights, both Barbary’s mellow reading and a subtle, Horace-Silver-influenced Afro-Latin jazz feel asserting the song’s inherent wistfulness.

A&M Records invested no small amount of stock in Barbary, perhaps cultivating him as their Lou Rawls.  But his debut would, sadly, and for reasons unknown, turn out to be his only album. Furthermore, it seems to have been his last recording, period.  I would love to know more of the story.

Etta Jones, Nature Boy (Prestige 45-237A)3.  Etta Jones, Nature Boy (Prestige 45-237 A)

Like other stylists who never quite got their due – Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln springing to mind – the great Etta Jones never crossed over much into the more visible worlds of R&B and pop music,  perhaps ultimately to the detriment of her career, though she was widely respected as one of the purest of all jazz vocalists.

Born in 1928 in South Carolina, Etta Jones came up in Harlem.  After winning the attention of bandleader Buddy Johnson at an Apollo talent contest in 1943, she joined his popular orchestra, her exposure thenceforth leading to more work, including gigs with drummer J.C. Heard and pianist Earl Hines, and a set of fascinating mid-‘40s releases recorded with Leonard Feather.

Jones seems to have sung jazz from the very outset of her professional career.  Her early recordings evince mature sensibilities – the Billie Holiday influence is at its most pronounced, and era-standard jump blues are suffused with deep feeling.  But, despite the early promise, Jones was not swept up in a bebop revolution that might have logically included her.  Her fortunes as an artist foundered as the 1950s progressed, but changed with 1960’s Don’t Go to Strangers, her debut full-length album recorded for the Prestige jazz label.  Don’t Go to Strangers was a commercial success, and many critics have since cited the album as a water mark (it was also earned her the first of three Grammy nominations in her lifetime).

Don’t Go to Strangers would in reality be but one of a large number of highly consistent sessions for Prestige Records during Jones’s reemergence in the first half of the ‘60s.  Her unusual reading of “Nature Boy” deserves a special place of honor here. Recorded and released in late 1962, her all-star support included Jerome Richardson (tenor saxophone), Sam Bruno (bass), Bobby Donaldson (drums) and either Kenny Burrell or Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar.  Though it didn’t ultimately find much commercial traction, Prestige sensed enough potential in its chugging, Latin beat to release it as a single to the relatively lucrative jukebox/R&B market.

Her Prestige Records run ended in the mid-‘60s, and though Jones was never again quite as prolific in the studio, her performing career resumed with renewed energy for the next decades, a long-time partnership with soul jazz saxophone stalwart Houston Person proving especially fruitful.

Etta Jones passed away in 2001 from complications of cancer.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Rock 'n' roll | 6 Comments

AM Radio Dust

AM Radio Dust

 

A new, or new to Office Naps, mix this week.

AM Radio Dust was my 2009 contribution to the annual CD mix swap over at the Waxidermy forums, the weird id of contemporary record collecting.

AM Radio Dust is a good reflection of where my tastes as a collector and music enthusiast stand.  It’s a parallel universe of sound, a lost, echo-y place of girl-groups, instrumental obscurities, haunted country singers and teen crooners, inadvertent drone and difficult-to-classify, space-age flotsam.

I did choose to re-record (320kpbs) and re-mix the original tracks, however, which suffered from some variable bit rates and generally poor mastering.  As always, nothing was cleaned up, though, no pops or clicks removed.  So here it is.

AM Radio Dust
(single MP3 file)

AM Radio Dust

(zip file with mixed tracks)

The Houstons, “Solar Light”
The Caravelles, “Hey Mama You’ve Been On My Mind”
Jimmy Barden & Donna Byrd, “It’s Never Easy”
Undecided?, “Make Her Cry”
Shadow Casters, “Going to the Moon”
Kumar Basnyet, “Chyangba Ta Naun”
Donald Adkins, “Lonley Side Walks”
Joe D. Gibson, “21 Years (It Takes a Worried Man)”
Jerry Williams & the Epics, “Whatever You Do”
Ervin Litkei, “Music to Play E-S-P By”
The Ultra Mates, “Pitter Patter”
Andrew Paul with Music by The Agents, “A Hearts Not a Toy”
The Desert Rats, “Sohonie”
The Stratfords, “Never Leave Me”
Red Garrison and His Zodiacs, “Chant of the Jungle”
Tracy Pendarvis and the Swampers, “A Thousand Guitars”
Holmes Sisters, “The Love of Jesus”
Ronny Kae, “Swinging Drums”
The Lawrence Comp., “Moon Beams”
Wilbert Harrison, “Happy in Love”
Buddy Long, “It’s Nothin’ to Me”
Johnny Williams, “Another Love”
Bill Osborn – Guitar Solo By Doug Allen, “Bamboo and Rice”
Little John and The Monks, “Black Winds”
Lorrie Collins, “Another Man Done Gone”
Willie Gregg and the Velvetones, “You Fool”
Mona Davis, “I’ll Pick Up My Heart”
Billy Sol and the Thunderbirds, “When You’re Alone”

Posted in Country, Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Gospel, Instrumentals/Surf, Mixes, Now Sound, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll | 18 Comments

Blue Flame: a new mix

I put together a new mix for my Dutch compadre Cortez for the fifth anniversary of his fabulous Club Cortez blog.  You can find it there now.

Club Cortez has been around as long as Office Naps.  Cortez’s tastes in music immediately stuck out from the pack then – believe it or not, there just weren’t that many of us around in 2006 – and, moreover, they still do.   That we share eclecticism and certain stylistic sensibilities – a broad appreciation for musical beauty, for one – doesn’t hurt, of course.  Either way, I hope and fully expect us to be rhapsodizing about music and our latest obscure finds five years from now.

Blue Flame, a new mix

Blue Flame, my new mix over at Club Cortez.

When I delivered the mix over to Cortez, I was feeling a bit abstract, describing it to him this way:

A mix for the bittersweet hours.

Here is mystery and melancholy strewn with chunks of ecstatic, post-War energy: Jazz on a rhythm & blues kick, rock ‘n’ roll on a mambo kick, a palpable sense of clubland’s frayed edges. Put the lights out behind you when you leave.

But I’d say that’s about right.  If you enjoy Office Naps (or the Exotica Project or the Lonely Beat), you’ll dig it, anyway.

Get the mix and playlist at Club Cortez, and do check out what he’s got going on over there.   Thanks to Cortez for inviting me aboard and, again, congratulations.

Posted in Blues, Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Mixes, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul, The Exotica Project, The Lonely Beat | 2 Comments

Have guitar will travel

Much has been made of the classic Bo Diddley beat, the now-clichéd shave-and-a-haircut rhythm.  Popularized by Diddley, the beat’s place in rock ‘n’ roll was staked when his eponymous 1955 debut for Checker Records turned into a surprise success.  Affirmed early on in hits by Johnny Otis (“Willie and the Hand Jive”) and Buddy Holly (“Bo Diddley”), the Bo Diddley beat would be enshrined for good with the appropriations of the Rolling Stones and seemingly every other mid-’60s British beat group and American garage band.

Less is made of the sound of Bo Diddley’s guitar playing, though, and the specific raw, pulsating, electric beauty of it.  This is the factor that, for me, lies squarely at the core of Bo Diddley’s eternal appeal.  Before the Velvet Underground or Jimi Hendrix, few other rock ‘n’ roll guitarists – besides, perhaps, Link Wray – were so consistently, deliberately and gleefully moving the weird electric frontier of rock ‘n’ roll forward.

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley, 1961, guitar hero as gunslinger. An appreciation of the pioneering guitar sound of Bo Diddley this week.

With their raw, trebly fidelity and cavernous echo and tremolo, Bo Diddley’s classic ‘50s and ‘60s recordings for Checker Records, like many of the blues and R&B records of post-War Chicago, crackled with electricity. Some of this was in keeping the studio production standards of the time.  More, simply, had to do with Diddley’s own tastes.

Different ingredients factored into Diddley’s proclivities.  As an artist he was clearly attracted to certain sounds, rhythms and, moreover, the possibilities of electricity.  In interviews he’s acknowledged early violin lessons, freight trains and influence of John Lee Hooker.   As a tinkerer, Diddley understood electronic technology, maintaining his own home studios, wiring his equipment and designing his guitars.

And, so, consequently, much brilliant music came from these predilections.  Bo Diddley’s recordings – percussive expositions of sustain, odd tunings, feedback, distortion and crashing reverb – weren’t necessarily accidents, even if they started out that way.  The instrumental interludes and workouts that lined Bo Diddley’s numerous LPs from the ’50s and ’60s are especially rich.  Guitar solos were treated as rhythmic breaks rather than individual clusters of notes; the break in a song like “Give Me a Break” became an opportunity for strange, percussive, awesome sound.  The hypnotic effects of repeated, overdriven chords and electronic noise were explored in different, otherworldly ways.  Drones and odd harmonics were generated and then incorporated into the logic of a song like “Back to School.”  The first ten seconds of“We’re Gonna Get a Married” highlights some of the most beautiful guitar tone ever.  And so on.

As an appreciation, this week we look at a few prime examples of ‘50s and early ‘60s R&B.  Listen for the guitars.  They’re overdriven, suffused in tremolo, echo and other early analog effects, they’re played with rhythmic gusto, with trance-like repetition favored over melody.  All three selections, to some degree, owe a debt to the experiments of our hero Bo Diddley.

Wilbert Harrison, Happy in Love (Fury 1047 F-1093)1.  Wilbert Harrison, Happy in Love (Fury 1047 F-1093)
Wilbert Harrison was the idiosyncratic vocalist, songwriter, guitarist and pianist best known for 1959’s “Kansas City” and 1969’s “Let’s Work Together.”

Identifying Wilbert Harrison’s orbit in post-War music is somewhat difficult, as he didn’t really follow any of the typical patterns of his R&B contemporaries; if any, his career and, in some small way, style were analogous to Fats Domino’s, though that’s simplifying things, too.  Despite countervailing trends and decades of commercial releases between the early ‘50s and mid-‘70s, Harrison never really reinvented himself or changed his style – his vocals always stayed low-key and curiously hypnotic, his productions charmingly nonchalant.

Wilbert Harrison

Wilbert Harrison in the early '60s. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

Wilbert Harrison was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1929.  Following service in the Navy, Harrison settled in Miami for a spell in early ‘50s, where he’d pick up some of the Afro-Caribbean beat that later seeped its way into his recordings, and where his debut 45, 1952’s “This Woman of Mine,” would be released by the local label Rockin’ Records.  Harrison decamped to Newark, New Jersey, and a long, steady, consistent schedule of 45 releases would ensue for over twenty years, the best of them recorded between the early ‘50s and the early ‘60s, and these largely for two New York City-based labels – the R&B- and jazz-oriented Savoy Records and its late ‘50s upstart rival, Fury Records.

The Savoy sides were first-rate, at times presaging Harrison’s late ‘50s sound, but did little commercially.  Harrison’s stock soared upon his move to Bobby Robinson’s Fury Records in the late ‘50s.  His debut for the label was his version of Lieber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” which topped the charts in 1959.   Driven by a rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section, the single was an extension of the sound that Harrison had been developing, just sleeker and leaner.

“Kansas City” set the stage for many Harrison 45s that followed in turn.   To a certain extent that includes this selection, 1961’s “Happy in Love,” a Harrison original.  There’s the same loping rhythm and the expressive-but-slightly-detached vocals of Harrison.  Supported by an unknown group, there’s bit of a call-back to the echo- and tremolo-drenched guitars of a prior Harrison high-water mark, too, 1959’s “Don’t Wreck My Life.”   But the dual guitar work here is even more extraordinary, with a droning, ecstatic quality that is like little else from the time, Bo Diddley notwithstanding.   Surprisingly, the 45 has received little attention over the years.

Harrison continued to release 45s steadily into the mid-‘70s, for an array of mostly small independents.  There was some minor chart action, along with a few concessions along the way – 1963’s “Say It Again” featured girl-group-style back-up singers – but Harrison’s style – his vocals, his casual production sensibilities, his laid-back, shuffling rhythms – always prevailed.  A surprise hit came in the form of “Let’s Work Together,” a two-part single that reached the pop charts in 1969 and that was, with characteristic Harrison nonchalance, performed as a one-man band.

Harrison’s recordings tapered off in the mid-‘70s.  He died in 1994 in Spencer, North Carolina.

2.  Art Neville, Arabian Love Call (Specialty 656 5174)Art Neville, Arabian Love Call (Specialty 656 5174)
Born in 1937 into a famous Louisiana musical family, Art Neville’s decades-long career has largely been spent within the world of New Orleans rhythm & blues.  Neville remains active with a number of music-related project to this day, including some newer incarnations of the Meters, but he is perhaps still best known to the general public for his role in the Neville Brothers, an ongoing group formed with his younger brothers Charles, Cyril and Aaron in the late 1970s.

The Neville Brothers would ease comfortably into their role as national ambassadors for New Orleans music, but, earlier on, between the mid-‘50s and the mid-‘70s, Neville was, along with his brothers, situated on the vanguard of New Orleans music, absorbing R&B as it evolved through soul and funk, integrating the Afro-Caribbean tinge and syncopated rhythms of New Orleans, generating vibrant new forms in turn.

Art Neville

Art Neville in the '60s. Image courtesy of Red Kelly's mighty The B Side.

Art, though never as well known as his brother Aaron, can point to his own benchmarks in the national spotlight.   At one end, there was 1954’s “Mardi Gras Mambo.”  Featuring the teenaged Neville’s lead vocal, it was a big hit (and subsequent carnival oldies staple) for his group the Hawketts.  At the other end there was, perhaps most significantly, his handiwork as keyboardist for and founding member of the Meters, whose late ‘60s and early ‘70s hits “Sophisticated Sissy,” “Cissy Strut”, “Look-Ka Py Py” and “Chicken Strut” remain riveting, definitive moments of New Orleans instrumental funk.

Neville’s time between the late ’50s and the late ’60s would see a string of lesser-known New Orleans R&B and soul 45 sides recorded for several different record labels, among them Specialty Records and, later, Instant and Sansu Records.

Which brings us to “Arabian Love Call.”  Art Rupe’s Specialty Records, for whom Neville recorded this track in late 1958, would, along with several other West Coast labels, help get New Orleans R&B to the national market in the rock ‘n’ roll era.  Of the three different 45s that Neville recorded for Specialty, “Ooh-Whee Baby” and “Cha Dooky Do” were small novelty-oriented hits, but the third and best of these 45s, “Arabian Love Call,” represents something else entirely.

Recorded at the storied Cosimo Recording Studios in New Orleans, the session, in addition to Neville on vocals, included first-rate support from Roy Montrell (guitar), Frank Fields (bass), Ed Blackwell (drums), Allen Toussaint (piano) and Alvin “Red” Tyler and Rufus Gore (saxophones).  With its minor key, sly Latin rhythm and stunning, Diddley-esque tremolo guitar work by Roy Montrell, “Arabian Love Call” transcends its lyric, exploring all sorts of weird, resonating modes, its sound, like the best of such experiments, becoming almost psychedelic in the process.

3.  Marvin and Johnny, Ain’t that Right (Modern 45x947)Marvin and Johnny, Ain’t That Right (Modern 45×974)
An excellent ‘50s Los Angeles R&B duo, Marvin and Johnny were influential in the R&B market in their time, anticipating the sound of rock ‘n’ roll without ever enjoying much crossover success.

The singers responsible for Marvin and Johnny’s “Ain’t That Right,” were Marvin Phillips (b. 1928) and Emory Perry (b. 1931).   This was, in fact, not the first line-up of Marvin and Johnny – Marvin Phillips, at the duo’s core, would perform with several different “Johnny” counterparts at various points – but it would be the most prolific and stable of the duo’s incarnations.   (Further confusing matters, Phillips had previously anchored the duo Marvin and Jesse with R&B legend Jesse Belvin.)

Marvin and Johnny

Marvin and Johnny, from a mid-'50s promotional photo. Image courtesy of the great French music blog Roll Call

Transplanted Southwesterners both (Emory Perry was from Texas, Marvin Phillips from Oklahoma), both also played saxophone, working at one point alongside each other for popular Los Angeles R&B bandleader Richard Lewis in the late ‘40s.

Emory Perry officially joined Marvin Phillips after Marvin’s previous “Johnny” (Carl Green, with whom Phillips recorded “Baby Doll” for Specialty Records, a 1953 R&B hit) had left the duo.  Phillips and Perry would go on to chart with both sides of their “Cherry Pie” b/w “Tick Tock” 45 in 1954 for Modern Records, another big Los Angeles-based R&B label, and one of the several sister R&B labels run by the Bihari brothers in the ‘50s.

No further hits ensued for Marvin and Johnny, but they would continue to perform, tour and record and release 45s throughout the next several years.  (Marvin Phillips worked again for a bit with Jesse Belvin during this time, too, and would also record solo as Long Tall Marvin in 1956.)

Most of the many mid-’50s Marvin and Johnny sides were representative of Los Angeles’s commercial post-War, pre-rock ‘n’ roll R&B: a mixture of smooth ballads and raucous sax- and guitar-driven uptempo R&B, usually with high-quality session support.  Recorded in 1955, “Ain’t that Right,” like all of this week’s selections, was representative, too, yet also somehow different within the artist’s oeuvre.  The stuttering Bo-Diddley-style riffs are mostly an exercise in percussive sound here, with the strange, sinuous unison guitar-and-vocalization breaks adding an otherworldly dimension to an already unusual approach.  Heady stuff for mid-’50s commercial R&B.

As the sound of rhythm and blues evolved rapidly in the early ’60s, Marvin and Johnny’s own commercial recordings would taper out; both remained in the Los Angeles area for years to come, though largely retired from the music business.

Posted in R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll | Leave a comment