Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

‘White’

Friday, January 31st, 2014

And so, after several delays, we land on “White,” the last of nine chapters in Floyd’s Prism, looking at songs whose titles feature the seven colors of the spectrum plus black and white.

As with nearly all of the previous entries, when we sort the tracks in the RealPlayer, we get a total of 766. That’s many more than we need, but many of them, we cannot use. Some show up, as I noted the other day, because they’re tagged with the notation, “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” But others, equally unuseable, show up for other reasons.

Some have words in their titles that are close to “white,” including eleven versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And we’ll also pass on “Whitestone Bridge,” a 1973 tune from the Irish band Tír na nÓg; “Whitewash,” a 1976 outing by the Gin Blossoms; and two versions of Curtis Mayfield’s 1971 offering, “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey).”

Out goes everything by the Average White Band, Tony Joe White, country singer Joy Lynn White, vintage singers Bukka White, Josh White and Georgia White, harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, current performer Jack White and country singer Lari White. We also dismiss the great “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, a few vintage tracks by Paul Whitehead & His Orchestra and two tracks from Lavelle White, one on Duke from 1958 and the other from her 2003 album, Into the Mystic. And we pass by every track in the collection by Barry White; we could have kept his “Rhapsody in White,” but we decided against it.

What else? Three albums titled Black & White, by the BoDeans, the Pointer Sisters and the previously mentioned Tony Joe White, fall by the wayside, as do Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album Bright White (we posted the title tune here the other week), Michael Omartian’s 1974 effort White Horse, most of David Gray’s 200 album White Ladder and Gene Clark’s 1971 offering White Light. We also pass by the Cowboy Junkies’ 1986 album Whites Off Earth Now!! and numerous singles on the White Whale label.

So we take what’s left, which turns out to be plenty for our purposes this morning.

I mentioned David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder above. It’s a CD that’s truly not strayed far from our player during the years since it came out, a tuneful and literate album. The best-known track on the record is no doubt “Babylon,” which made seven different Billboard charts, reaching No. 57 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Top 40. While the title track is nowhere near as well-known (and doesn’t have nearly as great a hook as “Babylon,” to be honest), “White Ladder” is still a good track from an artist whose body of work has sometimes been uneven (and sometimes gets a little repetitive, to be honest).

Nearly seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out to be the tales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood written by Steve Allen and then told by Al “Jazzbo” Collins in early 1950s jazz and hipster lingo. The 1953 record was an unlikely hit, and it spun off more such performances. Today’s selection is “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” as told by Collins later that same year. The story came from the pen of Douglas Jones, whose ear for the hipster argot was, to my own ears, not as sharp as was Allen’s. Still, it’s a fun trip through the woods to the dwarves’ rib shack.

There’s not a lot more for me to say about the late Levon Helm. Today’s sorting brought up Helm’s take on the Carter Stanley tune “White Dove,” from Helm’s 2009 album, Electric Dirt. The album went to No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and was awarded a Grammy as the Best Americana Album in 2010.

From 2009 we drop back sixty-eight years to what is certainly the most sentimental song in this set of six. But then, wartime can do that, and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” is one of the quintessential songs of World War II. Written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, the tune reflects the unease of Britons facing Nazi Germany alone and expresses hope for a return to normal life after the war. Though other versions might have become better known on this side of the Atlantic, especially the version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the version by Vera Lynn – the original, I believe – is the one that the Brits loved, despite the sad fact that bluebirds are not indigenous to the British Isles and have never flown over the tall white cliffs. Lyricist Burton, notes Wikipedia, was an American who seemingly didn’t know any better, but no matter: Since 1941, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” anyway.

Chad Mitchell was, as his name reminds us, the founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that placed eight albums in the Billboard 200 between 1962 and 1965 (the last two charting after Mitchell left and the group was renamed just the Mitchell Trio (and included among its members at that time John Denver). Mitchell at that point embarked on a solo career, and one of the artifacts of that rather unsuccessful effort is the 1969 album Chad. The album, writes Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide, was “an odd match of Mitchell’s crooning folk vocals with covers of then-recent folk-rock-ish songs by Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’), Dino Valente (‘Let’s Get Together’), and far more obscure titles like Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye & Hello,’ H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The White Ship,’ Jim & Jean’s ‘What’s That Got to Do with Me,’ and the Association’s ‘Bus Song’.” It’s the Lovecraft tune that draws us in this morning. The album-opener, “The White Ship” is, in its weird and unmarketable (but oddly compelling) way, 1969 summed up in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

From 1969’s folk-rock self-indulgence, we head to 1957 and a concise country anthem, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. The tale of the young fellow all spiffed up for the dance only to have his gal waltz off with someone else was No. 1 on the Billboard country charts for five weeks in mid-1957. It was one of a remarkable eighty-three records Robbins placed in the country Top 40; the record also went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, where Robbins had thirty-six records in or near the chart over the years.

‘Three’

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

There aren’t a lot of threes out there. When I sort the 65,000 or so mp3s on the RealPlayer for the word “three,” I get 302 tunes. But – as in the recent cases of “One” and “Two” – I have to winnow out some chaff. And in the case of “Three,” there’s a lot of chaff.

For example, I have to ignore numerous albums by Three Dog Night and a few by the Three Degrees. I haven’t yet finished sorting and tagging a multi-disc anthology of R&B saxophone, so the twenty-seven tracks on Disc Three of that collection go by the wayside. The same with a nice 1963 album of Brazilian jazz by the Bossa Three and country singer Pat Green’s 2001 album Three Days.

Still, we’re left with enough tunes to explore this morning; certainly six of them should be worth a listen. We’ll travel in generally chronological order.

One of the first things I ever posted at Echoes In The Wind was the tale of my grandfather and the 45 rpm record he purchased for my sister’s birthday (her third, I believe). The record had “Little Red Riding Hood” on one side and “Three Little Pigs” on the other, as read by Al “Jazzbo” Collins. As I wrote in early 2007: “What Grandpa had found at the local record store was one of the great novelty records of the early 1950s, a record now fairly obscure. According to the Sept. 14, 1953, edition of Time magazine, Al ‘Jazzbo’ Collins, a Manhattan disk jockey, had found two hip reworkings of Grimm’s fairy tales in Down Beat magazine.” When Collins read and then recorded the tales – written by TV personality Steve Allen – they reached a wider audience than the hipsters who were Allen’s presumed audience, with the Brunswick recording that my grandfather purchased having sold 200,000 copies by mid-September 1953, according to that piece in Time magazine. The record’s no longer so obscure, perhaps, with numerous copies of it popping up on YouTube, but in any case, today seemed like a good day to revisit Jazzbo’s “Three Little Pigs.”

It’s startling to realize – as I did this morning – that in the five-plus years I’ve been blogging about music, I’ve written hardly anything about Donovan. I’ve mentioned him maybe twenty times and a couple of his tunes have showed up, one in an early mix and another as a Saturday Single. But I’ve never devoted a post to him or taken a close look at either his chart success or critical success. I know his work: Several of his LPs are in the stacks and more than eighty Donovan mp3s are in the player, but I guess that his music has never really meant that much to me, so I’ve never spent much time thinking about it. Will I now? I kind of doubt it. But one of his trippy tunes did show up this morning: “Three Kingfishers” from his 1966 album Sunshine Superman.

From trippy to trippier we go: The Incredible String Band, according to All Music Guide, was one “of the most engaging groups to emerge from the esoteric ’60s.” I’m not sure that “engaging” is the word I’d use; from this corner, “impenetrable” would be more accurate. AMG gives The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter – the group’s third album, released in 1968 – five stars, noting that the album stands as the group’s “undisputed classic among critics and musicians alike.” And here’s what AMG had to say about the track that showed up in this morning’s search: “‘Three Is a Green Crown’ is a psychedelic folk song in all its hypnotic droning glory.” Classic? Glory? Well, okay.

And we may as well trip on. In 1968, as the blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s faded further into memory, Chess Records had an idea: Take the vocal tracks from some of Muddy Waters’ greatest performances and lay them over psychedelicized instrumental tracks. The result was Electric Mud, which was reviled by blues purists and either sold well or was generally ignored by its target audience of tripped-out hippies, depending on which source you read. In 1969, it was Howlin’ Wolf’s turn, with a record that proclaimed “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either.” Here’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” the way it sounded in 1963. And here’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” as it showed up on that 1969 tripped-out album.

Mention the title “Three Little Birds” to a casual fan of reggae, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. I imagine that many folks would guess that the song by Bob Marley and the Wailers finds its title in its chorus of “Don’t worry ’bout a thing.” Released in 1977 on the album Exodus, the song is one of the sunniest in Marley’s catalog, and it’s a good place to find our stopping point this morning.

Saturday Single No. 271

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Some time ago, while wandering through the offerings at Amazon, I happened upon a listing for a four-CD set titled That’s What They Want: Jook Joint Blues, subtitled “Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943-56.”

I’ve been fascinated for some time – as long-time readers likely know – with the era when the strains of blues, R&B and country music recombined into the music we call rock ’n’ roll. So the box set – compiled by a British label, JSP Records – made its way pretty quickly into my basket, along with a companion set called Juke Joint Blues 2 and a third set titled Chicago Is Just That Way, featuring blues from that city from the years 1938 to 1954.

Those sets arrived in the weeks before the holidays, and I’ve been happily busy ever since, ripping the ten CDs to mp3s and then sorting out the tags for the mp3s. The CD sets have pretty good annotation, listing – as much as possible – recording dates, locations and personnel. The records’ catalog numbers are not included, probably because the sets were released in Britain, but I keep handy a listing of websites where I can find that information. Having to look in two places makes the process of tagging a little more cumbersome, but it’s still fun.

And the listening has been, for the most part, good. Some of the tracks have a lot of surface noise or poor sound quality, but those have been few.

So sorting the tags on those 278 tracks has been keeping me busy; I have a ways to go on those yet. For some reason, the Texas Gal seems to think that dusting, cooking and taking care of the catboys is more important than figuring out the catalog number for Tarheel Slim’s 1954 recording of “Too Much Competition.” (It appears to have been Red Robin 24.) So I have to temper my enthusiasm for my new old music with the requirements of everyday life, which means that the cataloging process here is slow.

And this week, I added to the pile of tracks to catalog. For Christmas, the Texas Gal gave me a gift card for Amazon. So on Christmas night, I selected two more four-CD sets from JSP: When the Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues, Rare Cuts 1926-1941 and Memphis Blues: Important Postwar Blues. Those arrived this week, adding another 211 tracks for me to enjoy and catalog. (I sometimes think I enjoy the research and cataloging almost as much as I enjoy the music.)

But I’m sometimes baffled by my enthusiasm for music that was recorded – for the most part – before I was born, music that stems from a culture distant from mine in many ways. What is it that draws me in those directions: to Chicago, to Memphis, to Mississippi and on into the past? I ponder that as I sort catalog numbers and recording dates, and I have no answers. All I know is that the music moves me. I hear, as one example, the blues harp intro to Frank Edwards’ “Gotta Get Together” and I’m pulled toward it. I have some theories why, and I dabble with those, but maybe the more important thing is accepting that we love what we love when we find it.

That’s enough to know right now, with the riches of new old music and the equally important business of keeping up with daily life heaped on my plate. So for good chunks of the coming days, my little corner of the universe will continue to sound alternately like a Mississippi juke joint, a Memphis radio station or a Chicago recording studio. And as I’m sorting my way through those nearly 500 tunes new to my collection, I’ll also – if only on a subconscious level – be sorting my way as best I can to an understanding of where that music fits into my life and why it seems these days to be essential to me.

One of the reasons that I love many of the tracks I’ve found in these new sets, of course, is that they just flat rock. As an example, take Joe Hill Louis’ “Hydramatic Woman.” Recorded in Memphis in May of 1953 – about four months before I was born – it owes a substantial debt to Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88.” But with Big Walter Horton blowing his harp around Louis’ vocal and Albert Williams’ piano riffs (the drummer’s name is unknown), it still boogies. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 265

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

I’m not at all certain when I first heard of Big Maybelle. I might have read something about her during my digging into R&B  history in the 1980s and 1990s.

But I’m pretty sure the first time I heard her – and knew it was Big Maybelle’s voice coming through the speakers – was in January 2000, when I made a trip to Cheapo’s and brought home the two-LP set Big Maybelle: The Okeh Sessions, a collection of twenty-two recordings that Maybelle Smith laid down between October 1952 and March 1955.

Ten years later, I supplemented the vinyl set with a CD package that includes those twenty-two recordings and four more, evidently unearthed since the vinyl was released. Add to those packages some tracks I’ve found in various anthologies, a few albums I’ve found in various crevices on the ’Net, and one more CD, and I have about three hours’ worth of music by Big Maybelle.

I’m not at all sure why I’m fascinated by the story and the music of Maybelle Smith, who was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1924 and who passed on – from complications of diabetes – in 1972. She was, as one might expect from her name, a large woman, weighing – according to one account – more than two-hundred-and-fifty pounds. Based on some things I’ve read, she was stubborn and a little hot-headed; and it’s certain – from Peter Grendysa’s notes to the CD The Complete Okeh Sessions and things I’ve read elsewhere – that heroin addiction shortened both her career and her life.

She wasn’t unknown during her lifetime: She placed six records on the Billboard R&B Top 40 between 1953 and 1966. The first three – “Gabbin’ Blues,” “Way Back Home” and “Country Man,” all from 1953 – made the R&B Top Ten. Her last R&B hit, in 1966, also resulted in her only appearance in the Billboard Hot 100: A cover of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” which went to No. 96 in the Hot 100 and to No. 23 on the R&B chart.

Big Maybelle could shout and she could rock, which one might expect, given the tradition of black women in blues and R&B that tracks all the way back to Ma Rainey and includes Bessie Smith and (skipping many) Big Mama Thornton. But she could also handle softer stuff with tenderness, as she did with “Don’t Pass Me By” on the Rojac label in 1966.

During her career, Big Maybelle recorded for a variety of labels. (Check out her discography at Soulful Kinda Music.) I have yet to dig up a lot of the stuff she recorded for Savoy and Brunswick in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which I’d be interested in hearing. This week, I’ve been looking into stuff she recorded for Rojac – like the track linked above – in the mid- to late 1960s. Somewhere out on the ’Net a while back, I came across The Last of Big Maybelle, which intrigued me; wanting session information about the tracks, I ordered the CD, only to find there’s really no discographical information in the package. I’ve been doing some digging, and I’ve found likely original sources for sixteen of the twenty-two tracks. I’ll keep digging on the remaining six.

At the same time, I’ll look for the Savoy and Brunswick stuff. I got a taste of the former a few years ago when the Texas Gal gave me a four-CD box set of music from the Savoy label. One of the tracks in that set was Big Maybelle’s “Blues Early, Early (Parts 1 & 2).” And as I was checking the notes this morning, I noticed that the track – originally released as two sides of a 45 – had been recorded on November 26, 1957, fifty-four years ago today.

But, as nifty as it would have been to share that tune in a video, YouTube informs me that it’s not allowed. So I’ll drop back to one of her three R&B hits from 1953. Here’s “My Country Man,” which went to No. five on the R&B chart, fifty-eight years ago this week. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.