Posts Tagged ‘Muddy Waters’

Saturday Single No. 746

Saturday, July 24th, 2021

During the summer of 1942, Alan Lomax, representing the U.S. Library of Congress, was traveling in the southern United States, lugging a bulky recording machine and getting on tape music, essentially, of the people. He was accompanied by John Work of Fisk University, a historically Black university in Nashville, Tennessee.

A year earlier, at Stovall Plantation, just a few miles south of Friars Point, Mississippi, Lomax (accompanied presumably by Work) had recorded a few songs performed by a tractor driver for the plantation, a young Black man named McKinley Morganfield. In July 1942, again at Stovall Plantation and probably in the city of Clarksdale as well, Lomax and Work recorded more tunes by Morganfield. During the Stovall sessions, the duo also recorded some with Morganfield as a member of a string band called the Son Sims Four.

Morganfield, of course, would eventually be one of the millions of Black men and women who would leave the south during the Great Migration of the mid-Twentieth Century, He would end up in Chicago, where he would be known by his childhood nickname, Muddy Waters, and where he would become one of the giants of the blues

Here’s one of the tunes that the young Muddy Waters performed for Lomax, Work, and the recording machine during the 1942 sessions at Stovall Plantation, the first of two takes of “I Be Bound To Write You.” Its sound is very similar to a song Waters would record in 1948 in Chicago that would become his first hit, “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

“I Be Bound To Write You” was recorded on July 24, 1942, seventy-nine years ago today, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 527

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

It’s time for a four-track random walk through the 3,805 tracks on iTunes to find ourselves a Saturday Single:

First up is Muddy Water’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” the first single the blues musician released after making his way in 1943 from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. The track was recorded in December 1947 and released on Aristocrat – a precursor of Chess Records – in 1948. It didn’t hit the Billboard R&B chart, but in September of 1948, Waters’ “I Feel Like Going Home” went to No. 11 on R&B chart. From what I can tell this morning, in more than ten years of blogging here, I have mentioned “I Can’t Be Satisfied” only twice, once in passing and once as one of the records played daily in my mythical roadhouse.

Up pops a Bob Dylan B-side: “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” released on the flip of “Heart of Mine” in 1981 and then released on the Biograph box set in 1985. A different version of the tune showed up on the Shot of Love album in 1981, but I think I’d have to do a side-by-side, second-by-second comparison to find the differences. In the notes to Biograph, Dylan basically says that he and the band lost their ways in the version that went out as the B-side. I have to admit that I was unaware that “Heart of Mine” was released as a single in 1981; I never heard it, and it never even bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100.

And we stay with Mr. Dylan, moving back fourteen years from Shot of Love to the quiet and understated John Wesley Harding from 1967 and its meditative track “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.” With just a guitar and a harmonica and an understated voice, Dylan tells of the saint “tearing through these quarters” and offering the cryptic words

No martyr is among ye now
Whom you can call your own
So go on your way accordingly
But know you’re not alone.

Next comes the sweet love story of “1927 Kansas City” as told by Mike Reilly, who became a member of Pure Prairie League after a brief solo career. The only remnant of that solo career in the charts is “1927 Kansas City,” which tumbled around the lower levels of the Hot 100 for six weeks, peaking at No. 88 (and at No. 38 on the Adult Contemporary chart). It’s a little gooey, maybe, but it’s got some nice production touches and some nice lyrical turns, and since I’m a sucker for sweet love stories, it’s a favorite.

Well, we’ve got two Dylans, a classic blues and a sweet love story on the table. I’m tempted by the love story, of course, but I featured it here not quite three years ago. I’m also limited by the fact that Dylan’s originals do not stay on YouTube very long at all, and although some nice covers of “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” are available there (including one from last year by Eric Clapton), it was the original that popped up in iTunes this morning. So pretty much by default, we’re going to have to go with Muddy Waters. (That’s not a bad default position to have, you might note.)

Here’s Muddy Water’s 1947 recording of “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘South’

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

We’ll finally get back to Follow The Directions today and sort the 88,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer for “South,” which might be the most musically evocative of all the directions. It’s certainly the one I’ve been pondering the most since Odd, Pop and I came up with the idea for the series. But we run into problems right from the start. The player sorts for genre tags as well, so the list we get includes everything that’s tagged as “Southern Rock.”

Thus, we get most of the catalog of the Allman Brothers Band as well as work by Delaney Bramlett, Elvin Bishop, the Cate Brothers, Charlie Daniels and on and on through 1,146 mp3s. Some of those will work for us. But not only do we have to ignore southern rock, we have to ignore lots of albums with “south” in their titles but no tracks titled with “south.” That includes the epic – yes, I used the word – four-CD collection titled Sounds of the South assembled from various albums of recordings done by folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax.

We also lose, among others, Magnetic South by Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Colin Linden’s Southern Jumbo, Little Richard’s unreleased 1972 album Southern Child, Koko Taylor’s South Side Lady, Maria Muldaur’s Southern Winds, and many entire catalogs, including those of J.D. Souther, Joe South, Southside Johnny (with and without The Asbury Jukes), Matthews’ Southern Comfort and the 2nd South Carolina String Band.

But, as generally happens, we have enough left to find four records that may entertain us this morning.

We’ll start with a record that refers, evidently, to a New York City locale but that came out of Philadelphia: “100 South Of Broadway, Part 1” from a group called the Philadelphia Society. Now, Wikipedia tells us that the Philadelphia Society is “a membership organization the purpose of which is ‘to sponsor the interchange of ideas through discussion and writing, in the interest of deepening the intellectual foundation of a free and ordered society, and of broadening the understanding of its basic principles and traditions’.” Somehow, I don’t think that’s the source of this fine and funky 1974 instrumental on the American Recording label. But a moderate bit of searching brings up hardly any information: Discogs lists no other releases for the Philadelphia Society (which I suspect was a generic name for a group of studio musicians), and the record label itself, as shown at Discogs, tells us very little: only that the track was recorded at the Sigma and Society Hill studios in Philly and a few names. Googling those names noted on the label – writers Davis, Tindal and Smith and producers M. Nise and B. Adam– gets us mostly unrelated links along with some links to sites offering the record for sale. One note I saw said the record was a significant hit in Great Britain. Maybe so. But whatever its genesis and its reception, it’s a nice way to start heading south.

Gil Scott-Heron’s uncompromising poetry on his solo releases – think “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from 1971, for one – earned him (according to several things I’ve read) the title of “Godfather of rap.” He was just as uncompromising – if seemingly a little less acerbic – three years later on Winter In America, his first album with keyboardist Brian Jackson. That’s where we find “95 South (All Of The Places We’ve Been)” getting down to business after a mellow introduction:

In my lifetime I’ve been in towns
where there was no freedom or future around.
I’ve been in places where you could not eat
or take a drink of water wherever you pleased.
And now that I meet you in the middle of a mountain,
Well, I’m reaching on out from within.

And all I can think of are chapters and scenes of all of the places we’ve been.

I’m not such an old man, so don’t get me wrong.
I’m the latest survivor of the constantly strong.
I’ve been to Mississippi and down city streets.
I’ve seen days of plenty and nights with nothing to eat.
But I’m not too happy ’bout the middle of a mountain so soon I’ll be climbing again.

’Cause all I can think of are chapters and scenes of all of the places we’ve been.

I was raised up in a small town in the country down south
So I’ve been close enough to know what oppression’s about.
Placed on this mountain with a rare chance to see
Dreams once envisioned by folks much braver than me.
And since their lives got me to the middle of a mountain,
Well, I can’t stop and give up on them.

’Cause their lights that shine on inspire me to climb on from all of the places we’ve been.

From all of the places we’ve been
From all of the places we’ve . . . been a lot of places, yeah,
From all of the places we’ve been,
Been down, been down, been down, a lot of roads and places.
All of the places . . .

And from there, we slide back to the autumn of 1948 and “Down South Blues” by Muddy Waters. The track might have been issued on Aristocrat 1308 at the time – I have a note that says that might have happened, but I can’t at the moment find the online source for that note – but it was certainly part of the second package of “real folk blues” put out by Chess in 1966 and 1967. As Mark Humphries writes in the notes to the 2002 CD release, “Muddy’s two ‘real folk blues’ albums were revisionist history of a sort, attempts to provide a fresh framework for his music, especially his earliest Aristocrat and Chess label recordings. By the time the second collection appeared in 1967, Muddy and his band were making forays into such hip niteries as the Electric Circus and the Fillmore. Yet even as Muddy’s audience changed, he continued to bring them many of the songs first collected on LP under the ‘real folk blues’ rubric. While this may have been because he saw them as folk songs and thus suitable for young white listeners, it was more likely because they were core parts of his repertoire, major elements of a music gazing with one eye back at the Delta and with the other toward a future which Muddy lived to enjoy but could scarcely have imagined when these recordings were freshly minted.”

Delta Moon is an Atlanta-based band about which I don’t know much except the music. I’ve found my way to several of the group’s CDs, and every time one of the band’s tunes pops up on random on the RealPlayer, the iPod or some of the mix CDs I play in the car, I find myself pulled in. That’s especially true for the track “Goin’ Down South,” the title track from the band’s second studio release in 2004. Swampy and sticky, this is music that calls me home to a place I’ve never been.

‘I Am A Schoolboy, Too . . .’

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It’s the day after Labor Day, and here in St. Cloud, as in most of Minnesota – and most of the U.S., I imagine – the school buses roll. Teachers plan lessons and welcome new students. Students scan schedules and consider – sometimes covertly and sometimes not – who’s changed the most over what now seems to have been a brief summer.

And a new nine-month school year starts.

I could go several ways here. I thought about digging into the memory banks for a first-day-of-school story, but I’m not sure there are any left untold. So I went looking for a record about the first day of school. I didn’t find one that specific, but as I scanned the list of records the RealPlayer provided about “school,” I realized that I’ve never written about one of the great songs in the blues catalog.

It first showed up as “Good Morning School Girl” by John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy. He wrote and recorded the song for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937.

From there, the song moved on (with varying punctuation, the addition of the word “little” and mixed use of “schoolgirl” or “school girl”). The first cover version noted at Second Hand Songs – a site that’s not always complete but comes pretty close – is by Leroy Dallas & His Guitar in 1948, followed by Smokey Hogg in 1949 and L.C. Green in 1952. I should perhaps know those names, but I don’t. The version I found by Hogg at YouTube this morning is pretty good.

When we get to 1958, we see some familiar names beginning to pop up: Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Junior Wells, the Grateful Dead, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Geoff Muldaur recorded the song through the 1970s.

In 1964, we also find the Yardbirds, but their record is not the same song. Wikipedia explains: “In 1961, Don Level and Bob Love, as the R&B duo ‘Don and Bob,’ recorded a different version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ for Argo Records, a Chess subsidiary. Although it uses the phrase ‘good morning little schoolgirl’, the song has different chord changes and lyrics, including references to popular dance styles of the time. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton later covered this version of ‘Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl’ for their second UK single in 1964.”

My friend Larry, who hangs his hat at the great blog 16 Funky Corners, disputes this in a note below, saying that both the Yardbirds and Don & Bob singles are the Williamson song. It’s close, and I’ll acknowledge inspiration,  but I agree with Wikipedia. They are different songs. The clincher to me is the lack of the “I am a schoolboy, too.”

Muddy Waters recorded the song for his 1964 album Folk Singer, and his version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” is striking for its acoustic approach, rather than Waters’ usual electric arrangement. (That holds true for the entire album, of course, an early version of the “unplugged” phenomenon.)

A few years later, Mississippi Fred McDowell included “Good Morning Little School Girl” on one of my favorite blues albums, his 1969 effort I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

A few covers are listed in the 1980s, and in 1993, another great version of the tune came, unsurprisingly, from Van Morrison, who tackled “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” on his album Too Long In Exile.

(I haven’t decided: Is it creepy or just an adjustment when Waters and Morrison – and likely others who’ve recorded the song – sing “I once was a schoolboy, too,” and make the song’s narrator older than the schoolgirl to whom he’s singing?)

We skip a few more years and a few more covers and move on to 2011, when Rory Block gender-flipped the song’s lyrics for her 2011 album, Shake ’Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love Block’s work, and I think her version is my favorite, challenged by only Morrison’s and McDowell’s itself (acknowledging that there are many, many versions of the song I have not yet heard).

‘Red’

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Having brought the March of the Integers through ten steps (and not seeing a search for ‘Eleven” offer much of a return), I’ve been pondering what other ways there might be to sort the nearly 69,000 tunes in the RealPlayer that would provide interesting cross-sections of what is a wide range of music.

And then I dropped Dark Side of the Moon into the upstairs CD player late one evening. As the heartbeat faded in to start the epic album’s first track, “Speak To Me,” I looked idly at the iconic album cover with its prism. And I thought, “The spectrum. Sort titles by color.”

So this is the first of nine planned posts in a series that my pals Odd and Pop insist on calling “Floyd’s Prism.” Nine? Yes, because we plan on covering the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and then adding black and white.

Here we go with “Red.”

Our search through the mp3 shelves brings up 1,878 files, most of which we’ll not be able to use. We discard immediately anything performed or conducted by anyone named “Alfred,” which eliminates the Philharmonia Slavonica performances of two symphonies by Robert Schumann (Alfred Scholz conducting),  Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won, the 1929 plaint by Blind Alfred Reed, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (revived in recent years by Bruce Springsteen) and Alfred Lewis’ whooping and harmonica-honking take on “Mississippi Swamp Moan” from 1930.

Numerous other artists that pop up in the search are set aside (unless further search finds in their catalog a title with “red” in it): bluesman Tampa Red; Don Redman & His Orchestra (with the oddly titled 1931 single “Chant of the Weed’); Mississippi Fred McDowell (many tracks including the great soliloquy “I Do No Play No Rock ’N’ Roll”); an early 1970s band, Fred, that released, from what I’ve been able to tell, one self-titled album between 1971 and 1973; and Fred Astaire, Fred Hughes, Fred Hess, Fred Neil (who wrote “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”); Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns; Freddie King, Freda Payne and a few more.

Albums take a hit, too. We lose most tracks off numerous albums, including Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1990 movie, The Hunt for Red October, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky, Chris Rea’s Wired to the Moon, Chris Thomas King’s Red Mud, Dan Fogelberg’s Captured Angel, Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus and Jimmy McGriff’s Red Beans.

Individual titles go, too. Among them: “My Days Are Numbered” by the Bad Habits, “Blistered Heart” by Badly Drawn Boy, versions of “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles and Billy Preston, “Rip Her To Shreds” by Blondie, “Blues for Big Fred” by Richard “Groove” Holmes, “High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” by the Marvelettes, three versions of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered,” five versions of the standard, “It Never Entered My Mind,” and – as we close this section to keep it somewhat under control – Keld Heick’s Danish tune, “Jeg Ringer På Fredag” (which translates to “I’ll Call You On Friday”) and a track titled “Es Redzeju Jurina” from the album Beyond The River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia.

There are, however, many recordings with “red” in their titles, and as we select six this morning, we’ll no doubt miss some good ones.

Before Muddy Waters found his way in 1947 to the Aristocrat and Chess labels in Chicago, he recorded for Columbia. The label, along with other major labels, was struggling with change, according to the notes in the British-issued box set Chicago Is Just That Way: “The major companies . . . retained such a hidebound attitude toward their product that younger artists coming forward, like Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters, seemed to be beyond their comprehension.” Waters recorded several sides for Columbia, mostly with only his slide guitar as accompaniment. But in 1946, he recorded “Mean Red Spider” with a band, and then Columbia for some reason released the record under the name of James “Sweet Lucy” Carter.

The entry for Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Wikipedia tells an interesting story: “William Robert Emerson, known during his recording career as Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson and more recently as Rev. William R. Emerson . . . is an African American preacher and former R&B and rock and roll singer and songwriter, best known for his 1955 song, ‘Red Hot’.”  We may dig into that story more in the future, but for today, “Red Hot” is where our interest lies. Emerson wrote the song after hearing a football cheer, “Our team is red hot . . .” and recorded it on May 31, 1955, at the Sun studios in Memphis. It was released as Sun 219 but it failed to chart. (The better-known version is probably the 1957 cover by Billy Lee Riley; versions by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and by Robert Gordon with Link Wray made the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and 1977, respectively.)

Teach a monkey to play poker, and you’re asking for trouble. That’s the surface moral in “Run Red Run” by the Coasters. The fanciful tale of a monkey who turns on its owner for cheating at cards came from the minds of songwriting geniuses Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s one of the Coasters’ lesser-known hits today, but it has everything a Coasters fan would need: A good if fanciful story, great vocals (including the classic “boogetty boogetty boogetty boogetty” behind the chorus) and two sax solos that are almost certainly by King Curtis. The 1959 record went to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 29 on the R&B chart. I especially like the mention in the final verse of the “brand new Stetson hat,” which has to be a clear reference to “Stagger Lee,” which Lloyd Price had taken to No. 1 in early 1959.

Another record that tends to get lost, I think, is “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, overtaken by both the more popular hits in his vast catalog and by the two 1988 covers of the song by the English reggae group, UB40. The standard version by UB40 went to No. 34 in the U.S., and the version with a rap by Astro went to No. 1. There’s no doubt that UB40 reinvented the song memorably, and it’s true that Diamond’s original went only as high as No. 62. But Diamond’s 1968 version is worth a listen, too, either to examine the source of the later hit or just to hear a good record.

I have no idea who was in the group Kansas City, which released “Red Tower Road” as a single on the Trump label in 1970. I got the record as part of the Lost Jukebox series, and all I know from the barebones index I’ve found and from looking at the single’s label online is that the record was produced by the well-known and highly regarded Tommy Cogbill. (The video I found notes the involvement as well of Chips Moman, but a quick search this morning leaves me uncertain as to his ties to the record, although I could guess that it was recorded at Moman’s studio in Memphis.) According to one website, “Red Tower Road” was the B-side to “Linda Was A Lady,” but to my ears, it was good enough to be an A-side.

So what’s our last stop? “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” by Jesse Ed Davis” “Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie? “Rusty Red Armour” by Vinegar Joe? Well, having visited one keyboard genius earlier this week in Richard “Groove” Holmes, it only seems right that we pick up on a chance to listen to “Red Beans” by Jimmy McGriff. It’s the title track of the earlier mentioned 1976 album, and although there’s not as much keyboard in the track as one might like, it’s still a sweet workout for a Thursday.

‘I Got A Gypsy Woman Givin’ Me Advice . . .’

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

As the RealPlayer wandered randomly through the mp3s the other day, it settled on an acoustic version of “Got My Mojo Working” by John Hammond, found on his 1976 album Solo. As Hammond ran through the classic blues song, accompanying himself on harmonica, I wondered how many versions of the song are out there. And before I got into that question, I found myself wandering through the history of the song.

The bare bones of the tale are pretty well known to blues fans: A singer named Ann Cole was on tour in 1956 with Muddy Waters’ band, and for their performances, she taught Waters and his band a song she was planning to record, “Got My Mo-Jo Working (But It Just Won’t Work On You).” Waters liked the song – written by Preston Foster – and when he got back to Chicago, he changed up some of the lyrics and recorded the tune for Chess.

Many accounts say that Waters recorded the song after Cole recorded it with the backing group called the Suburbans, but the notes in the Muddy Waters Chess Box say that Waters recorded the tune on December 29, 1956, while Cole – according to Black Cat Rockabilly – cut the song on January 27, 1957 (in New York City, according to a source I’ve seen but cannot find this morning). Those dates, then, say that Waters recorded it first, but I’m not certain. (I’m pretty confident the Waters date is correct, but I don’t know the source of the date I’ve seen for Cole’s recording.) In any event, both recordings were released as singles, and the confusion continues: I’ve seen some accounts that say that both were Top Ten singles, but neither version is listed as having made the charts in Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits or his Top Pop Singles. The only version of the tune mentioned in either book as having made the charts is the cover by jazz organist Jimmy Smith, whose “Got My Mojo Working (Part I)” went to No. 51 on the pop chart and to No. 17 on the R&B chart in 1966.

As to the origins of the song itself, both Waters and Foster claimed to have written the song. There were some lyrical differences, which I’ve seen attributed to Waters’ being unable to correctly remember the words Cole sang on tour, but according to Black Cat Rockabilly, “Eventually the matter went to court, where it was ruled that Foster was the composer. But the two versions are still separately copyrighted.” I dug into my Waters collection to check the composer credit. The Chess box set, released in 1989, credits Waters by his real name, McKinley Morganfield, as does a 1984 anthology of Waters’ work titled Rolling Stone. The Fathers and Sons album, however, tells the tale differently: The 1969 vinyl release credits both Morganfield and Foster, while the 2001 CD release credits Foster alone.

Anyway, here’s Cole’s very good version:

Waters’ studio version was good, too, but it pales in comparison to the version he and his band offered up at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, a two-part performance released on the 1960 album At Newport and happily preserved on film:

Getting back to the question I started with, fifty-two groups or performers are listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded versions of  “Got My Mojo Working,” ranging from the versions by the Nightcaps and by Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962 to  Johnny Winter’s cover of the song on his album Roots in 2011. I have sixteen versions of the tune in the mp3 library (and probably a few more on vinyl that have not yet been ripped to mp3s), including a version by Long John Baldry from his 1964 album, Long John’s Blues. Digging around for a video of that track this morning led me to the following fascinating video from an April 28, 1964 taping of a British television program called Around the Beatles:

(Despite the comments from the original YouTube poster, I saw no Rolling Stones there, and the website The Beatles Bible does not list them as being guests on the program. The guests were P.J. Proby, the Vernons Girls, Long John Baldry, Millie, The Jets, Cilla Black and Sounds Incorporated. The show was aired in Britain on May 6, 1964, and in the U.S. on November 15, 1964.)

Other noteworthy versions of “Got My Mojo Working” on my dusty shelves come from Manfred Mann, Canned Heat and Etta James and from Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars. Others from the list at Second Hand Songs that I’d like to hear are the previously mentioned cover by Johnny Winter and versions by Pinetop Perkins, Magic Sam, Ike & Tina Turner. (One version that I heard for the first time this morning that’s likely to get a fair amount of play here is, oddly, by Melanie.)

One version not listed at Second Hand Songs is one that I saw mentioned as I stumbled through some research this morning and that I managed to find at YouTube. It’s a smoldering take on the tune by a singer whose name I first came across at the very end of Dave Marsh’s listing of the 1,001 best singles, The Heart of Rock & Soul. Marsh tells the tale of Michael Goodwin and a long-buried tape from Goodwin’s college radio station days. Listening to the tape years later, Goodwin came across a unidentified song that – after much searching – was found to be “No Way Out” by Joyce Harris, a piece of New Orleans-inflected rockabilly that’s as incendiary as anything I’ve ever heard.

“No Way Out” was recorded for the Texas-based Domino label, and I learned this morning that Harris also took on “Got My Mojo Working” for Domino, recording a track in 1960 that wasn’t released until 1998 (evidently on the import package The Domino Records Story). It’s not my favorite version of “Got My Mojo Working” – that would be Waters’ performance at Newport – but it’s pretty high on the list.

Another List From Your Host

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

This is most likely a fool’s errand, but, being a lover of lists, I got to wondering the other evening about what names would show up on a list of the most influential musicians, performers and/or songwriters in American popular music. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this, but no real research, so this is a first draft, if you will. I know I’ll likely miss some, and suggestions will be gladly accepted in the comments.

I’ll start with one Nineteenth Century figure and two whose careers span the divide between the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, and after that, we’ll stay in the last century.

Stephen Foster

John Philip Sousa

Ma Rainey

Louis Armstrong

The Carter Family

Duke Ellington

Muddy Waters

Cole Porter

Frank Sinatra

Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Chuck Berry

Elvis Presley

Phil Spector

Berry Gordy

Bob Dylan

Prince

And there we’ll stop. I know, only one woman. I considered several others: Jenny Lind, Bessie Smith, Julie London, Carole King and Madonna among them, and of those names, I think Bessie Smith’s would have been the next to be listed. But I wanted to keep the list to a manageable length.

And I also wanted to stop, essentially, twenty-five years ago, which is why the list stops with Prince. There no doubt have been writers and performers in these past twenty-five years who will belong on such a list someday, but I think we need to let the dust settle a little. If I were forced to guess right now, two names that I think will belong on that list would be those of Kurt Cobain and Will.I.Am.

There are, of course, plenty of folks from the years I’m considering who came close but didn’t seem to me to have as much influence on American pop music as the sixteen listed above. The next two likely would have been Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson. There’s no doubt that they changed American music, as did those listed above. But then, so did others not listed, like Scott Joplin, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Stephen Sondheim, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and on and on.

So why this list today? Well, I was looking at how the Ultimate Jukebox would play out from here on, and I noticed that several of the chapters had multiple entries for which I hadn’t yet been able to find clips on YouTube. I did some shifting of those entries so that no more than one of those would show up in each segment, without paying attention to which songs they were. After I did that, I noticed that this week’s random list of songs ranged from the 1940s to the 1990s, beginning with Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

That got me thinking about Waters’ place in that hypothetical list of American music, and I took a closer look at this week’s entries and saw that two more of those whom I’d place on such a list would also show up this week: Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. And I began to think about who else would be on that list. So there you go.

(I do have to acknowledge one thing: After my initial round of tinkering with the upcoming segments of the Ultimate Jukebox, I noticed that this week’s entry had songs from the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1990s. [I think; see the final paragraph.] I looked ahead and switched the next song from the 1980s into this week, replacing a second song from the 1970s. This will be the only time I switch a song for any reason other than balancing the non-YouTube entries.)

And here’s the video for the most recent song on this week’s list. (You may have to sit through a brief advertisement.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 18
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters, Aristocrat1305, 1948
“Carol” by Chuck Berry, Chess 1700, 1958
“Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” by Dion, Laurie 3464, 1968
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Buddah 383, 1973
“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. 04594, 1983
“Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys, 1999

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” was Muddy Waters’ first hit after moving permanently to Chicago from Mississippi in 1943, and it followed five years of scuffling in Chicago’s clubs while working day jobs. The Aristocrat label was run by Leonard and Phil Chess, who soon changed the label name to Chess, and Waters recorded for the label into the 1970s. Because of reissues, his discography is difficult to follow, but during his lifetime, he released about sixty singles and thirty albums, including compilations, says Wikipedia. It’s probably impossible to overstate his influence on blues and rock and American pop culture. Want one small reminder? Listen to “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in the player below and note the introduction. Then go listen to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Pony Boy” and pay close attention at the forty-second mark.

Muddy Waters – “I Can’t Be Satisfied”

Just as with Waters, Chuck Berry’s influence on the music we listen to is vast and incalculable. From “Maybellene” in 1955 through a live version of “Reelin’ & Rockin’” in 1973, Berry got fourteen singles into the Top 40 (and more than that on the R&B chart). And according to a piece I read recently – though I cannot for the life of me remember where it was – Berry, now 83, still shows up once a month at a St. Louis club to play a set. He was (justifiably) among the first members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his riffs have influenced – directly or indirectly – anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar with rock music on his or her mind. I won’t say “Carol” is my favorite Berry tune, but it’s not heard as often as, say, “Johnny B. Goode” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or a few others. Given that, its relative lack of familiarity makes me listen a little bit closer, which is a good thing.

Dion’s “Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” was the B Side to his 1968 hit “Abraham, Martin and John” and had to be a stunning surprise to anyone who ever flipped the 45 over. Dave Marsh called it “a surging, churning, angry, anguished version of Robert Johnson’s country blues,” adding, “Haunted electric guitars clang and clash against one another, drums pound in from another room, uniting in a wad of noise symbolizing nothing but spelling out pain and fear.” Yeah, it’s all of that, and it’s a compelling record, one that Marsh placed at No. 452 in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles

Gladys Knight – with and without the Pips – had twenty-seven Top 40 singles between 1961 and 1996, and “Midnight Train to Georgia” is likely the best of all of them. The tale of a man’s retreat from California to his home in Georgia – and the willingness of his (one assumes) California lady to go with him – was No. 1 for two weeks on the pop chart and for four weeks on the R&B chart in late 1973. Unlike a lot of stuff that topped the pop charts even in 1973, this was an adult record telling an adult tale of displacement, failure, loyalty and finally, a different type of success in the wake of that failure. And it had a compelling mid-tempo groove, too.

I’ve written a little bit previously about “On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, noting that it’s the best non-Springsteen Springsteen record I know of, so we’ll pretty much leave it at that. The record is from the 1983 movie Eddie & The Cruisers, and in the fall of 1984, it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 7; it was also No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart for five weeks.

 I confess to a quandary. I have a date of 1999 on my mp3 of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” but everything I see this morning dates the release as 2000. I’m certain I have a reason for dating it 1999 – perhaps a recording date listed somewhere in the notes to some anthology – but I can’t lay my hands on that information this morning. If I’m wrong, then this week’s chapter misses the 1990s and there goes that nifty little bit of programming. Ah, well. It’s still a great piece of music.