The Middle East, after hours

Mention the Middle East nowadays and it’s hard to not conjure up images of shoulder-fired grenades, the hulks of burned-out cars, blood, strife, extremism.  Decades ago, the average American – the pages of National Geographic open before him – was allowed to at least persist in his more outdated notions about the Middle East, its Oriental mystique fully intact.

Well before Abu Ghraib meant anything to you or me, there were snake-charmers, harems, and the Dance of the Sultans. And there were records about snake-charmers, harems, and the Dance of the Sultans.

1. The Glenrays, Egyptian Nightmare (Perry)
A minor key, a wordless chorus, and a sinuous saxophone line are all you need to turn bluesy instrumental burlesque into Saharan gold.

I can’t find mention of this single anywhere. I’d guess it was from ’63 or ’64, though. The Glenrays were a rocking instrumental combo with a few 45s on Minneapolis’s Gaity/Perry family of labels, surveyed brilliantly on the Bloodshot! compilations from Norton records. “Egyptian Nightmare” is actually pretty sophisticated fare by the label’s standards.

2. The Johnny Lewis Trio and Millie, Snake Hips (Coral)
Since the 1960s, saxophonist Johnny Lewis has led jazz combos in the Pacific Northwest. His funkier ’70s years have been fairly well chronicled, courtesy of Luv ‘N’ Haight’s reissue of Lewis’s sole 1972 LP, Shuckin’ ‘n’ Jivin’.

“Snake Hips” is his earliest and, in my opinion, most interesting recording. It sort of creaks around in search of some lost Rudolph Valentino movie set. There’s Millie – in duet with a eerie-sounding electric organ – her scream of terror at the end, and there are castanets.

3. The Lombardo Twins and Combo,Arabian Drums (A)
About as authentically Arabic as a chartered gondola ride down the Euphrates, but that’s not the point.

Dee Richards here puts her glottis to spellbinding use with a series of shrill ululations that shattered ashtrays in lounges across Hoboken in 1964. The whereabouts of Lombardo Twins or Dee Richards remain a complete mystery.

The record label in question seem most likely to have been known, simply, as A Records. Scan of the label below is from the obverse of the record.

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9 Responses to The Middle East, after hours

  1. Mr Fab says:

    These are fan-freakin-tastic. “Rock-xotica” I call this stuff – exotica for teenagers, usually issued on 45s, presumably ’cause kids could only afford singles, whereas Mom and Dad could spring for an entire Martin Denny album.

  2. Hi Mr. Fab, your assessment is spot-on (though the teenaged market for Rock-xotica was still pretty unprofitable, methinks). I think jazz & instrumental bands often added exotica-type stuff to their live repertoires, too, as a facile way to turn the mood “mysterious.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Glenrays Egyptian Nightmare sounds a lot like Gershwin’s Summertime. Another bit reminds me of the theme music from The Odd Couple, even though I’m pretty sure this pre-dates that show.

  4. popquagmire says:

    My guess for the label name would be A Records. The rest of the logo appears to me to be a stylized record and tone arm.

  5. Hey, don’t know why I hadn’t noticed that before, pq; I think you’re right about record + tone arm.

  6. I can confirm that it is definitely "A" Records, because I have a wallet-size promo photo of these guys with the company's address on the back. I'll be posting it (along with a link to this post, of course) soon on http://www.wfmuichiban.blogspot.com

  7. Pingback: The Middle East after hours, part two | Office Naps

  8. Todd says:

    “Egyptian Nightmare” is 1959.

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