Posts Tagged ‘Big Maybelle’

Saturday Single No. 503

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

Forty years ago today, I woke up calling a new place “home” for the first time I could remember. The previous day – July 1, 1976 – I’d moved most of the stuff I owned from my folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard to a ramshackle house in a working class neighborhood just a few blocks from the railyard on what I call the Near North Side of the city.

Hadn’t I lived other places? Well, yes, I’d lived in two places in Denmark, but those had been temporary; I knew I was going to back to Kilian Boulevard in the spring. And the same held true for the three months I’d spent in a Twin Cities’ apartment during a television internship. This time, however, I did not see myself heading back to Kilian Boulevard. And I did not remember the only other permanent move in my life, which had come when we left Riverside Drive for Kilian Boulevard in February 1957.

So as I awoke that long-ago July morning – a Friday, which means I’d have had some sort of obligations at St. Cloud State, maybe a class, a workshop or a half-day of work – what was I feeling and thinking?

I likely felt a little out of place. I know, as I wrote a few years ago, that later in the day, “there was the odd feeling that arose . . . when going home in the afternoon took me on a different route, not across the Mississippi to the East Side but west past downtown and the Polish Church and then north to just short of the railroad yard.”

Was I worried about being out on my own? I doubt it. Maybe I should have been, and maybe if the new place had been, oh, fifty miles from Kilian Boulevard instead of just two miles, I would have been. But being twenty-two, not yet knowing much about life and being just across the river from Mom and Dad, I had no major concerns.

What did concern me? Well, I did wonder how I’d get along with the other three guys in the house. Two of them, though, had been in Denmark at the same time as I had, and although we hadn’t been close there, we knew and respected each other well enough. The third guy, I didn’t know at all, but it turned out he was rarely home. He worked for a railroad and often rode the trains. I got along fine with that group, but as guys moved out upon graduation and new guys moved in, I wasn’t all that fond of the other folks in the house, and my stay there was only nine months.

I suppose I was also wondering, as I woke that first morning on the North Side, when my girlfriend would be able to come for a visit. She was working as a housekeeper at a summer theater near Alexandria, seventy miles northwest of St. Cloud. I didn’t have to wonder long; she showed up sometime that first weekend.

And life chugged along. I finished my summer work at St. Cloud State and started and abandoned a graduate program. I started work at a music store in a mall and shortly after that got fired for the only time in my life. I got two cats, and the three of us shivered through the winter in the inadequate heat provided by an oil-burning stove in the living room. I went back to school in the spring in search of a print journalism minor, and midway through that quarter, I moved to a mobile home owned by my friend Murl in the little burg of Sauk Rapids.

The house on the North Side still stands, looking more ramshackle than ever. We had an errand nearby the other day, so as we headed toward home, I drove by. Based on the toys in the tiny front yard, a family lives there now. I know that the place now has central heating, which went in shortly after I left, but I have no idea what else may have happened inside. And I really don’t need to know. It’s not like I loved the place during those nine months.

But the house on the North Side nevertheless has a grip on me that’s – how do describe it? – maybe not horribly tight but still tenacious. It was the first place, after all. And though I did not love it as I have loved other places I have lived over the years – with the most-loved place on that list being our current digs here on the East Side – it was for a time my home.

So, pulled not quite at random from about 1,500 tracks with the word “home” in their titles, here’s Big Maybelle with “Way Back Home” from 1952. The tale it tells has no relation to my musings above, but so what? It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 417

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Folks who are not baseball or tabletop baseball fans can head to the last paragraph of the post for some somewhat related music.

In the midst of a busy week, reader Steve E dropped a note here, asking about the results of last Saturday’s Strat-O-Matic tournament and about how we play the game in general.

This year’s autumn tournament was won by Rick’s 1954 Indians, who took a best of three finals by two games to one from Dan’s 1998 Braves. Rick’s Indians gave us two remarkable games: In the single-elimination opening round, Rick was down 6-2 to Rob’s 1936 Yankees as he started the bottom of the ninth. The Indians scored five runs in that ninth inning to win the game 7-6.

And after losing the first game of the finals to the 1998 Braves, Rick’s Indians pulled off another ninth-inning comeback. Trailing 4-3, Rick tied the game and then loaded the bases with two out, setting up a game-winning and finals-tying grand slam home run by the little remembered Wally Westlake. The deciding game had its own drama, staying scoreless until the eighth inning. The Indians scored twice in the eight and twice in the ninth, with three of the four runs being unearned. The Braves managed only a single run in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Indians their second title in the nine tournaments that we’ve played.

Steve asked how teams are selected for the tournament. We play old-style, the basic Strat game with cards and dice (though Rob and I both have the computer-based game; my disk is from seven years ago). Rob and Dan have large collections of Strat-O-Matic teams, and we pull our teams from that pool. Once any one of us selects a team, he “owns” that team for succeeding tournaments. And the only team allowed to play in consecutive tournaments is the defending champion. (Rob elected not to play the defending champs, the 1920 Indians, in last week’s tournament.)

The teams I “own” after ten tournaments are the 1905 Giants, 1919 White Sox, 1930 Athletics, 1930 Cardinals, 1931 Athletics, 1941 Yankees, 1948 Indians, 1956 Yankees, 1961 Reds, 1965 Twins, 1971 Pirates, 1975 Reds, 1991 Twins, 2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox and the 2006 Twins. My best finish was in 2009 when I got the ’48 Indians to the finals and lost two games to none to Rob’s 1922 Giants.

A note about game play: I said we play the basic game, and we do, but over the years, Rob and I have developed numerous modifications to that basic game, accommodating things like how a catcher’s defense affects a base-runner’s chances of stealing a base, how an outfielder’s defense affects a base-runner’s ability to take an extra base on a single or double, and pitcher’s fatigue. If Steve or anyone else is interested in those modifications, leave me a note, and I’ll share them.

And since we’re talking about play and about 1954, here’s a track from that year from one of my favorites, Big Maybelle. “Ain’t To Be Played With” is a tune that Maybelle recorded for the Okeh label in September of that year, but it went unreleased. I found it on the collection The Complete Okeh Sessions, 1952-1955, and even though it’s about an entirely different kind of play, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Black’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As we continue Floyd’s Prism and look for six good tracks with the word “black” in their titles, we have lots of material to work with, as a search through the more than 72,000 mp3s on the digital shelves brings up a total of 665 results. There is, however, the normal winnowing that takes place.

Whole albums (except the occasional title track) must go, including three albums titled Black & White, one each from Tony Joe White (1969), the Pointer Sisters (1981) and the BoDeans (1991). We also lose, among others, Black Cadillac by Rosanne Cash (2006), Black Cat Oil by Delta Moon (2012), Black Eyed Man by the Cowboy Junkies (1992), Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971), Long Black Train by Josh Turner (2003), Long Black Veil by the Chieftans (1995), Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin (1972), and the soundtracks to the films Black Swan, Black Snake Moan and The Black Dahlia.

Three singles on the Black & White label are cast aside, two by T-Bone Walker and one by Ivie Anderson & Her All Stars. Single tracks from two albums titled Black & Blue go by the wayside; the albums came from Lou Rawls in 1963 and the Rolling Stones in 1976. I have two tracks that Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull recorded in the 1920s for the Black Patti label; those are set aside. One track each from Ruby Andrews’ 1972 album Black Ruby and XTC’s 1980 effort Black Sea miss the cut, too. One of my favorite Danish tracks, “Mød Mig I Mørket” (which translates to “Meet Me In The Dark”) came from Malurt’s 1982 release Black-out, so that goes away, too. And we lose the great “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters on the Black Swan label.

Groups and performers must be winnowed as well. We lose, among others, the Black Crowes, Black Heat, the Black Keys, Black Uhuru, Blackburn & Snow, the Blackbyrds, Margaret Johnson & The Black & Blue Trio (who recorded “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” in 1926), Otis Blackwell and Willie “61” Blackwell, eight of whose 1941 sides for Bluebird showed up in the box set When The Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues (Rare Cuts 1926-1941).

But we have plenty of records left.

We start with a guide to a cool wardrobe in the summer of 1957, when “Black Slacks” from Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones went to No. 17:

Black slacks. I’m the cat’s pajamas.
I always run around with crazy little mamas.

Well, all the girls look when I go by.
It’s what I wear that makes ’em sigh.

Black slacks: I wear a red bow tie.
Black slacks: They say “Me, oh my.”

Later in 1957, the quartet from Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed “Black Slacks” with another single of fashion advice, “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox,” but that one only went to No. 42, and – reading between the lines in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – ABC-Paramount dropped the group. Bennett & The Sparkletones got one more shot, on the Paris label, but “Boys Do Cry” bubbled under at No. 125 in September 1959.

I took a stab at the history of the song “Long Black Veil” in 2009 (in a Saturday post that has yet to show up at our archival site), but I have sixteen versions of the song on the digital shelves, so it was almost inevitable that one of them would show up today. I’ve settled on the album track the Kingston Trio released on The New Frontier in late 1962. The album went to No. 16, but as good as that sounds, it was only the second of the trio’s twelve charting albums between 1958 and 1962 to miss the Top Ten. The trio’s time was passing, notes Bruce Eder of All Music Guide: “The Kingston Trio’s 14th album for Capitol Records appeared at a time when folk music was changing around them in ways that no one could have predicted just a couple of years earlier. Bob Dylan had not yet charted a record, but he was at Columbia Records and he was writing serious, topical, angry songs that would soon start getting attention; and a rival folk group called Peter, Paul & Mary was starting to make headway with the public doing songs that had a political and philosophical edge.”

Nor could I ignore “Baby’s In Black” by the Beatles. The track came to my sister and me as part of Beatles ’65, an album cobbled together by Capitol by taking some U.K. non-album singles and B-sides, one track from A Hard Day’s Night and several tracks from the British release Beatles For Sale. While my CD collection and the mp3’s digital tags reflect the track’s origins as an album track on Beatles For Sale, my memory will always have it as part of Beatles ’65, especially since I know there is a 1964 picture somewhere in our family archive – as yet still unfound – of me wearing my Beatle wig and plugging my ears with our copy of Beatles ’65 propped in my lap. Beyond that, “Baby’s In Black” remains a good early Beatles track.

There’s not a lot of information out there – at least readily available information – about soul singer Billy Thompson. He had no hits in the Billboard Hot 100 or on the R&B chart. The bare bones are there at Discogs.com: He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, and he “went to the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, where he majored in musical composition, and arranging.” That’s it. That, and the 1965 single “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye/Black Eyed Girl” on the Wand label, which is the only thing I can find listed at Soulful Kinda Music, which is pretty comprehensive. I’ve never heard “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but if that Wand single is the only record Thompson made then “Black Eyed Girl” is a hell of a resume by itself.

As regular readers have no doubt realized over the years, I love pretty much anything ever recorded by Big Maybelle Smith. From her work on King Records in the 1940s through her time at Savoy in the 1950s and at Rojac in the 1960s, I find something to like in almost anything she did. And among my favorites are the quirkily selected covers found on Got A Brand New Bag from 1967. Among them is “Black Is Black,” which Los Bravos took to No. 4 in 1966. That was a great single, but Big Maybelle’s take on “Black Is Black” is, to my ears, just as good.

And we’ll close today with one of the most evocative songs of 1990: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. According to Myles’ YouTube channel, the record was originally released in Canada in 1989 and then hit the U.S. in 1990. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says “Black Velvet” entered the Hot 100 during the first week of January that year; in March, the record was No. 1 for two weeks and topped the Album Rocks Track chart for two weeks as well. In addition, Myles’ performance earned her the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist.

‘Yellow’

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Here we are with “Yellow,” the third installment of Floyd’s Prism. Sorting nearly 70,000 mp3s for the word “yellow,” we’re left with only 125 titles. And not all of them will work for us this morning.

Good chunks of several albums go by the wayside: Of the six Beatles’ tracks on the 1969 Apple release Yellow Submarine, we lose five, with only the title tune remaining. We lose almost all of The Unfortunate Rake, Vol.2: Yellow Mercury, a 2003 album by the Crooked Jades, a San Francisco band whose work could easily be labeled Americana. Almost all of Donovan’s 1966 album, Mellow Yellow, falls to the cutting room floor, as does all of Hot Tuna’s 1975 album, Yellow Fever, and most of the Neville Brothers’ 1989 effort, Yellow Moon. I don’t have much from Elton John’s Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road, but the only thing that survives there is the title track, which we’ll set aside anyway.

A few artists fail to make the finals, too, as we bypass records by the Yellow Balloon, the Yellow Brick Road, the Yellow Jackets, the Yellow Hair, Yellow Autumn (the entire 1977 album Children Of The Mist), and two tracks of Native American chants from the album Lewis & Clark: Sounds of Discovery performed by, among others, Courtney and Dana Yellowfat. But even with all of that, we have plenty of tracks left.

We’ll start with a Donovan song, “Mellow Yellow.” I’m not going to mess around with Donovan’s original version, though. Over the years, I’ve wearied of the Welsh performer’s catalog to the point that a Donovan tune on the RealPlayer almost always makes me click to the next track and a Donovan tune on the car radio generally makes me push the button for another station. Instead, we’ll start today’s exercise with Big Maybelle’s cover of “Mellow Yellow” from her 1967 album, Got A Brand New Bag. The Rojac label released several singles from the album – “96 Tears” went to No. 99 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 23 on the R&B chart – but “Mellow Yellow” wasn’t on any of them.

Jaime Brockett’s 1969 album, Remember The Wind And The Rain, brought the New England-based singer – and occasional songwriter – some play on late-night free-form radio with his thirteen-and-a-half minute epic, “Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic,” a track based at least a little bit on Leadbelly’s 1948 recording, “The Titanic.” But our interest here today is another track from the same album, the Michael Smith-penned “Talkin’ Green Beret New Super Yellow Hydraulic Banana Teeny Bopper Blues,” which includes jabs at Spiro Agnew, Dick Clark, lock-step patriotism, apple pie and, of course, the Green Berets.

Among my favorites from the 1990s is the sometimes bleak and always moody group October Project. I recall hearing “Bury My Lovely” from the group’s self-titled 1993 album on Minneapolis’ Cities 97 during the mid-1990s, and once I got a CD player in the latter portions of that decade, I began to listen to more of the group’s stuff. “Sunday Morning Yellow Sky” comes from the 1995 album Falling Farther In, and like most of the group’s work, it was written by Julie Flanders and Emil Adler. Add Mary Fahl’s unique voice, and you have a disquieting yet beautiful piece. Near the end, Fahl sings:

Sunday morning, yellow sky
The sun is floating diamond high
Hours passing, a baby cries
In the arms of someone you imagine

Close your eyes
This is your lullaby
Close your eyes
This is your lullaby

I don’t know what it means, but I love it.

“Don’t cross the double yellow line” sings the Music Machine in its 1967 single “Double Yellow Line.” I found the single in one of the Nuggets box sets that have proliferated in the CD era, based on the original Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era released in 1972. “Double Yellow Line” was released as a single but bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 111, having far less success than the group’s better-remembered single “Talk Talk,” which went to No. 15 in January 1967. Even having found the lyrics online this morning, I’m not entirely certain what “Double Yellow Line” is about, but it’s a nice bit of garage rock for a Thursday morning.

I mentioned the Neville Brothers’ album Yellow Moon above; the one track we do not have to ignore this morning is the very sweet title track. Written by Aaron Neville, “Yellow Moon” bops along the sidewalk and through the swamp, funky and sweet with a very snaky solo on what sounds like a soprano saxophone. The album was one of the first I bought after I got my first CD player in the previously mentioned late 1990s, and all of its tracks – but especially “Yellow Moon” – remind me of some good times on Pleasant Avenue during the latter years of that decade. As to the music, the album went to No. 66 on the Billboard 200, and according to Wikipedia, Lou Reed called it one of the best of 1989.

Yellow Sunshine was a funk/R&B group that was formed in Philadelphia in 1972 or 1973, says the website Discogs, and one listen to the group’s “Yellow Sunshine” bears that out. The 1973 single, released first on the Gamble label and later on TSOP, didn’t chart. Nor did the group’s self-titled album, and the group split up, with the group’s keyboard player heading to work for the legendary Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and two other members joining the equally legendary group MFSB.

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.