Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The concept of "originality" has a LOT to do with people's perception - which, not coincidentally, is one of the fundamental rules of good salesmanship; it's all about people's perception of the product you're selling, no matter how crappy or useless the product is. With the arts (music, theater, painting, etc.), a different criterion also comes into play - obscurity. As in: the more obscure the person you're stealing from, the more "original" your work will seem to others.
I am NOT saying that the people who "steal" from these more obscure artists and become famous for being "original" are talentless hacks. Those who "steal" are usually the ones who love their particular art form SO MUCH that they are influenced by EVERYTHING they listen to - because they are listening to EVERYTHING in the first place! So if Keith Richards "steals" a Chuck Berry chord progression for a Rolling Stones record, and people who aren't all that familiar with Chuck's output (I don't know any of those people) buy the Stones record, they're gonna think, "Wow! What a great chord change! Keith Richards is a genius!" But that doesn't mean that Keith should be looked at as a no-talent hack who just steals other folks' riffs (though I'm pretty sure that Chuck sees it that way), it just means that Keith's Chuck Berry fixation has been so ingrained in his psyche, that Chuck and his riffs inform everything Keith does, even at the sub-conscious (or, in Keith's case, semi-conscious) level. Again, it's all part of a continuum, and also all about people's perception.
I think that same case could be made for the above record by Joe Carson being "stolen" by John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival for 1969's "Lodi". It's almost the exact same story: young musician goes to the big city to become a star, gets a few gigs, gets written up in the papers once or twice, but ends up going nowhere fast. Only difference between the two records is that while Fogerty is lamenting his lot in life, he's still gonna plug away at his chosen path, depressing as that may be, while Joe Carson is ready to quit, because he just can't take it anymore.
Ironically, Joe Carson was on his way to becoming a MAJOR country star when his life was cut short on February 28, 1964 in an auto accident. Born on November 21, 1936 in Holliday, Texas, "Little Joe" showed a remarkable aptitude for music, and by the age of 12 embarked on a professional music career. At sixteen he joined The Southernaires, who were the house band for the Southern Club in Lawton, Oklahoma, which was a major venue for many of the top country performers of the day, like Hank Williams, Tex Ritter, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Lefty Frizzell. Another member of the Southernaires was a young guitar player named Tommy Allsup, who would later become famous for playing lead guitar for Buddy Holly on that last, fateful tour of early 1959.
In 1954, Carson signed his first record deal with Mercury Records, releasing four singles which went nowhere. But Carson was a popular live act (appearing around this time on the Big D Jamboree out of Dallas, TX), and had no problem securing a deal with Capitol in late 1956 after the Mercury contract ended. Though the Capitol files say that Ken Nelson produced the sessions, pretty much everyone agrees that Joe Carson's old friend Tommy Allsup was really in charge. Unfortunately, the two Capitol singles Carson recorded died a quick death, and after making one more failed single for the D label in 1959, Joe Carson went back on the road, still searching for that one hit record that would put him over the top.
Carson's live act continued to impress, mainly because he was one of the greatest honky-tonk singers to ever step behind a microphone, right up there with Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones and Johnny Paycheck. He managed to secure a contract with Liberty Records in 1962, and after one flop single, "Shoot The Buffalo", that elusive first hit showed up - in the form of Willie Nelson.
At the time, Nelson was just beginning to taste success with his songwriting, with songs like "Family Bible" by Claude Gray and "Hello Walls" by Faron Young. Nelson was a big fan of Carson's, having seen him a number of times in Texas, and wrote a song for Joe called "I Gotta Get Drunk (And I Shore Do Dread It)". Joe recorded it on January 9, 1963, under the eye of his good friend Tommy Allsup, and it became a smash Top Ten hit on the country charts upon its release in May of 1963. The follow-up, "Helpless" (featuring a young Glen Campbell on guitar and backing vocals), also became a Top 20 country hit in August.
The flip of "Helpless" was "The Last Song (I'm Ever Gonna Sing)", and over the years it has become a lost classic - not only because of the pre-"Lodi" connection, but because of the ironic title (sort of like Chuck Willis dying after releasing "What Am I Living For" or Eddie Cochran after putting out "Three Steps To Heaven"). Of course, this record is LOADED with folks who worked closely with Buddy Holly - the song was written by Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis, and was produced, once again, by Tommy Allsup - even more of an eerie coincidence.
After one more single, "Double Life", in January, 1964, Carson went back on the road. After a concert in Wichita Falls, TX on February 28th (in which, reportedly, the last song Carson sang was "The Last Song"), Carson packed his gear and got in his car. Unfortunately, he never made it home. He was 27 years old, leaving a wife, a young son, and the prospects of one of the greatest careers in country music history.
Joe Carson - The Last Song (I'm Ever Gonna Sing) (Liberty 55614) - 1963
Friday, March 23, 2012
One of the burning questions in my life is, "why was this NOT a hit??". Guess I need to get more of a life....
First time I heard this record, I was BLOWN AWAY. It was so commercial, yet so TOUGH. KILLER guitar lick, WAILING harmonica, even the acoustic guitar in the middle section sounds like it could kick your ass - why was this NOT a hit??
I don't know anything about the Scott Bedford Four. I'm not even sure there WAS a Scott Bedford - the more research I do, the murkier the facts become. I first heard they were from Connecticut, then Northampton, Pennsylvania. Now the conventional wisdom points to Allentown, PA as their hometown. As for the members, I have seen a listing - John Kave, John Deproperzio, Bill Barlip (who plays the killer guitar riff on this record) and....Lou Resh. But NO Scott Bedford!
Here's what I do know....sometime in 1964 the group hooked up with independent producer Pierre Maheu (who was married to Jiggs Allbut of The Angels) and recorded their first single for Joy Records, called "Last Exit To Brooklyn" (NOT the same song as Gene Pitney's "Last Chance To Turn Around"). The single rose as high as #129 nationally in May, 1965, their only 45 to chart.
Unfortunately, Joy Records went out of business shortly afterward (which was probably what stopped "Last Exit" from charting higher) but Pierre had other connections; his wife's group, The Angels, had recently parted (amicably) with their lead singer, Peggy Santiglia, and were now doing business with new lead singer Toni Mason as The Halos for Congress Records. Pierre got the Scott Bedford Four signed to the label, and they began recording a new single - "You Turned Your Back On Me" - written by Pierre with producer Tommy Kaye and someone named "Gamble" (Kenny?). Pierre hooked up with legendary producer, arranger and label owner Leroy Glover, who worked his particular magic to make this a killer garage classic - but with an eye on the Top 40. Again, why was this NOT a hit??
The record was released in August, 1965. WMCA in New York gave it a couple of spins, but it failed to excite any interest at all. I don't understand it. Only thing I can figure is that Congress Records botched the job. There were a few other records released on Congress at about the same time - like the Halos' "Do I?" and The 7th Avenue Aviators' "You Should O' Held On" - that were ultra-commercial, ultra-great, yet failed to crack the market. These records now go for big money because they're so great (but obscure) and EVERYBODY wants them.
The group went on to make one more single for Congress (a remake of The Drifters' "Sweets For My Sweet" backed with "How Does It Feel?" - which was a complete rip-off of Bobby Jameson's "I'm Lonely" - that is also loved by garage collectors) before breaking up, discouraged. Which is a shame, because these guys, for one single at least, could have knocked the whole world flat on its ass.
WHY WAS THIS NOT A HIT???
The Scott Bedford Four - You Turned Your Back On Me (Congress 247) - 1965
Saturday, March 17, 2012
The other thing wrong with country music (actually, today's music in general) is that there's WAAAAY too much emphasis on how an artist looks. That's the only explanation I can figure for the phenomenon known as Taylor Swift. Yes, she's got a pretty face, nice to look at, and her songs aren't even that bad - BUT SHE CAN'T SING. She sounds OK on the studio recordings, but watching her sing live on TV, that's painful. I'm sure Taylor's the nicest girl in the world, really loves her fans, and is genuinely humbled by all the attention and awards.....but I can NOT imagine, 30 years from now, some grizzled old dude walking into a bar, ordering a shot and a beer, and asking if there's any TAYLOR SWIFT on the jukebox to help him forget his troubles.
That's why I love older country records. Those folks were country when country definitely wasn't cool. It also didn't matter (too much) how they looked. Dave Dudley was a big, burly guy (in fact, he was the very definition of "burly") with long sideburns who probably could have sat with his fans in some bar and not be recognized. He certainly didn't look like a star, but most stars would have been envious of his career. Born David Pedruska on May 3, 1928 in Spencer, Wisconsin, Dave Dudley's original ambition was to be a professional baseball player. Unfortunately, he only got to the semi-pro stage before hurting his arm, and his baseball career was soon over and done with. Dave had a big baritone voice, and decided to get into the music business, forming a country music trio and working as a disk jockey at radio station WTWT in Wausau, Wisconsin. He signed his first record contract with the legendary King Records in 1955. Unfortunately, he was injured in a 1960 car accident and the next year was spent recuperating. In the early 60s he recorded one-offs for labels like Vee and Jubilee, having minor country chart action with those records.
Dave had been living in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 1960, and was a local presence there, where he and his band The Country Gentlemen held residence at the Gay 90s Club, while also appearing regularly on radio station KEVE. It was there where he met Jim Madison, who owned a small label called Golden Wing Records. Dave signed with Madison as a producer, talent scout, A&R man, and recording artist in 1962. After his first single on Golden Wing (country updates of the folk chestnuts "Barbara Allen" and "John Henry") bombed, Dudley recorded his second single for the label in April, 1963 - "Six Days On The Road", which was written by Earl Green and Peanuts Montgomery (George Jones' main songwriter, and brother of country star Melba Montgomery). It became such a smash that the largest record company in Minneapolis (Soma Records, later home to "Liar, Liar" by The Castaways) had to distribute it. The record soon zoomed to #2 on the country charts, and also placed in the Top 40 on the pop charts!
"Six Days On The Road" pretty much dictated the rest of Dave's career - many of his songs were about truck drivers and trucking. Some of his biggest hits include "Trucker's Dream", "There Ain't No Easy Run", "Truck Driving Son-Of-A-Gun", "Rollin' Rig", "Anything Leavin' Town Today", and the immortal "Rolaids, Doan's Pills, and Preparation H". In fact, in the 1980s the Teamsters truck drivers' union in Nashville gave Dudley a solid gold lifetime membership card in recognition of his great trucking songs.
Anyway, "Six Days" was such a big hit that Dave Dudley started attracting the attention of major labels, and in late 1963 Dave signed with Mercury Records. However, his third Golden Wing single, "Cowboy Boots" had just been released. Mercury had a subsidiary label called Wing Records, so they made Jim Madison change the name of his label to Golden RING Records to avoid confusion. "Cowboy Boots" was another big country hit, and Dave Dudley was now a Mercury artist.
The other direction that "Six Days On The Road" pointed Dave Dudley in was musical; it had a rockabilly feel without actually being rockabilly, and Dudley's booming baritone voice blended in perfectly with the sound. The same sound served him throughout his career. Listen to a Dave Dudley record from 1965, and one from 1975, and you'll be struck by how similar they are musically - the shuffle beat, the booming voice, the rockabilly-styled guitar and the great lyrics.
Dave stayed with Mercury until 1974, when he formed his own label, Rice Records, which lasted, on-and-off, until the early 80s. After a brief affiliation with United Artists and the revived Sun Records, Dave went into semi-retirement, occasionally recording and releasing a single (including the 2002 "Dave Dudley, American Trucker", released in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). Oddly enough, very few of his songs have been released on CD, so his original 45s and LPs are much sought-after by classic country fans. He died in Wisconsin on December 22, 2003, from a heart attack.
The above record is one of my favorite Dave Dudley songs, the B-side of one of his last country Top Ten hits ("Comin' Down"). It has "BOOGIE" written all over it. If you overdubbed a fuzz guitar and phased drums, and brought the key up a LOT higher, and put a 30-second guitar solo in the middle of it, 18-year-old girls in white cowboy hats and cutoff jean shorts would be SCREAMING about this record. But Dave Dudley knew what he had, and he didn't need anything else. Pop success? Big deal. Dave had his truckers' union card and the support of a million drivers. And that was just fine by him.
Dave Dudley - Six-O-One (Mercury 73193) - 1971
Monday, March 12, 2012
Bobby Day (born Robert Byrd in Fort Worth, TX on July 1, 1928) didn't need to rip anyone off. He's known today as a one-hit wonder for his monster 1958 smash "Rock-In Robin", but he was so much more - a writer, producer, record label owner and music publisher, involved in a number of hit records over the years. But, hey, VH1 watchers can't be bothered to find out any of that information (their little brains get taxed easily). That's why I'm here.
In the late 1940s, Robert Byrd left his home state of Texas and lit out for California in search of fame and fortune. He was soon playing in clubs in Los Angeles, including Johnny Otis' Barrelhouse Club, where he changed his name to Bobby Day. He also formed a group, called The Flames, later to be known as The Hollywood Flames. After recording a few singles (oddly enough, under his real name) for the Sage & Sand, Cash and Jamie labels, Bobby signed with Class Records in 1957, which was a label owned by songwriter Leon Rene (writer of hit songs such as "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman", the doo-wop standard "Gloria", "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and his best-known tune "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano").
One of the first singles Bobby Day recorded for Class was a tune he had written called "Little Bitty Pretty One". The record failed to sell, but became a big hit a few months later for Thurston Harris on the Aladdin label. But Bobby wasn't exactly starving for a hit - at about the same time Thurston Harris was hitting the charts with "Little Bitty Pretty One", Bobby and his group The Hollywood Flames had a hit record on the Ebb label with "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz", also written by Bobby Day. The song had the line "Well, buzz-buzz-buzz goes the bumble bee/Tweedlee-deedlee-dee goes the bird" - which would later come in handy in a big way for Bobby.
During 1958, Bobby and his entourage were VERY busy - Bobby continued to release solo singles for Class, while he and The Hollywood Flames continued to make records for Ebb AND moonlight as The Turks for the Keen label ("Fathertime"). Plus, since he apparently wasn't busy enough, Bobby formed a duo with fellow Flame Earl Nelson and called themselves Bob and Earl (Earl later paired with another Bob - Bobby Relf - and THAT Bob and Earl had the hits with "Harlem Shuffle" and "Baby, It's Over". To make things even MORE confusing, Bobby Relf also made records as Bobby Garrett; Earl Nelson would later record as Earl Cosby and, as Jackie Lee, would have a huge hit with "The Duck" in late 1965).
Leon Rene of Class Records must have been getting tired of all the shenanigans - in early 1958 he wrote a song (under the nom de plume of Jimmie Thomas - didn't ANYBODY on the West Coast do business under their own name???) called "Rock-In Robin" (known today as "Rockin' Robin" - but original Class 45s all say "Rock-In Robin"). When it came time to record the song, either Bobby or Leon decided to steal the "tweedlee-deedlee-dee" from "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz" and have the background singers chant it. For the flip, one of Bobby Day's own songs, "Over And Over", was chosen. The record became a million-selling smash, hitting #2 on the charts, and Bobby appeared on most of the top music shows of the day (including "American Bandstand").
Unfortunately, despite several great follow-ups (including the "Rock-In Robin" answer "The Bluebird, The Buzzard And The Oriole"), Bobby Day never had another hit, and he parted ways with Leon Rene in 1962. Signing with RCA Victor in 1963, Bobby worked with Jack Nitzsche (Phil Spector's right-hand man) on a series of singles which, unfortunately, flopped. However, Bobby wasn't starving, due to his composer royalties from "Little Bitty Pretty One" (which at this point had also been recorded by Frankie Lymon and Clyde McPhatter, not to mention the reissues of the Thurston Harris version on various "oldies" compilations). When the contract with RCA lapsed in early 1964, Bobby laid low for about a year, then in mid-1965 formed Byrdland Records and Queline Publishing.
For his first release, Bobby decided to get into the West Coast soul-dance market with a tune called "Keep The Ball Rolling" (not the same song that Jay and The Techniques would have a hit with in 1967). For the flip, Bobby decided, hey, since the Brits were making a fortune recycling American R&B, why not turn the tables? The recording session took place in the summer of '65, and the record that was ALL OVER the airwaves at that point? "Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. So Bobby wrote a complete soul knockoff......not that anyone was going to hear it anyway, being a B-side and all that!
Well, it's great. Just don't tell Mick 'n' Keef. They'll sue, the greedy bastards.
Anyway, the record (released in late 1965) failed to make any noise whatsoever, and by 1967, Byrdland was finished as a label (though Bobby Day kept the publishing company for years afterward). After a one-off single for Sure-Shot in 1967, Bobby Day was pretty much finished as a recording artist. However, he continued to earn money for "Little Bitty Pretty One" (which was recorded by The Jackson 5 in 1972, Cliff Richard in 1983, Huey Lewis and The News in 1994, and was also used in several TV commercials) and "Over And Over" (The Dave Clark Five recorded it in late '65, their version hitting #1 on the US charts).
Bobby moved to Australia (!!!!) for a few years in the 1970s before settling in Florida, then moving back to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. For years, the fans in the United Kingdom clamored for him to come over and sing, and he finally did just that in 1989. Unfortunately, a year later, on July 27, 1990, Bobby Day succumbed to cancer at age 62.
Bobby Day - I Don't Need No Information (About My Gal) (Byrdland 001) - 1965
Monday, March 5, 2012
That's one of the great things about collecting records; you're never going to have EVERYTHING, but you're sure gonna have fun TRYING......and along the way you'll pick up some nice surprises, like "That's How Much" by Jay Brown.
I can't even remember where I picked up this record - might have been a purchase off of that online auction site which will not be mentioned here (because they basically SCREW the very folks who make them profitable - the sellers). Anyway, I probably bought this because 1) I thought it was danceable soul; 2) because it was on Atco - there's a lot of hidden gems on that label up to about 1969 or so; and 3) it was cheap.
Well, when I finally got the record onto my turntable and played it, I was pleasantly surprised - it wasn't a soul record at all, but a Bo Diddley-fied stormer with a country/garage edge, cool female backing vocals and some WAILING harmonica! First thing I did was ask myself, "who IS this guy, and why is he not famous?" That's when my record geek detective skills kicked in, and I started scanning the labels for familiar names. I saw the name "Janes" as the writing credit for the record's B-side, "Don't Push Me Around", and also saw that both sides were published by Cotillion Music (Atlantic/Atco's in-house publishing company) and Rolando Music .....hmmm..... Rolando...... Janes.......ROLAND JANES! Well! Once I found out that ol' Roland was behind this record, it didn't take long to find out who Jay Brown was.
You probably don't know who Roland Janes is, but you've definitely heard his work. One of the many, many "unsung heroes" of the music business, Roland Janes started his career with a chance meeting with legendary producer Jack Clement, who, at the time (1956), was working with an up-and-coming rockabilly singer named Billy Lee Riley. Janes joined Riley's band as lead guitarist, and shortly afterward the whole band (and Clement) were hired by Sam Phillips at Sun Records; Clement as an engineer, and Riley and his group as the Sun Records house band. Sam Phillips was so enamored of Riley and the band, he once said, "I was disappointed we never broke him into the big time. His band was just a rockin' MOTHER!!"
Janes played on most (if not all) of Jerry Lee Lewis' and Billy Lee Riley's legendary Sun sides (where the band was billed as "Billy Lee Riley and The Little Green Men"), until Riley left Sun in a fit of pique in early 1958. Janes then went out on the road with Bill Justis and Jerry Lee for a year, until Billy Lee Riley got hold of him again, talking about a career on the other side of the studio glass. The two of them formed Rita Records in late 1959, scoring a national hit in 1960 with Harold Dorman's "Mountain Of Love". Unfortunately, Riley was a bit of a loose cannon, and he quit the label, which folded soon afterwards. After gigging in St. Louis for a year, Janes returned to Memphis in 1962 and opened his own studio, Sonic Sound. There he cut hits such as "Scratchy" by Travis Wammack, "I'm Movin' On" by Matt Lucas, "My Girl Josephine" by Jerry Jaye, and most likely the above record, cut in late 1965. After the studio folded in 1974, Janes went to work for the Sounds Of Memphis studio, and eventually ended up back with Sam Phillips, engineering and producing at Phillips' custom studio at 639 Madison Ave. in Memphis, where he remains to this day, cutting sessions.
Jay Brown? Well, that was a pseudonym for......J. W. Brown, who holds a special place in rock and roll history - not only was he Jerry Lee Lewis' bass player, he was also Jerry's uncle AND father-in-law (by dint of Jerry marrying J. W.'s thirteen-year-old daughter, Myra Gale). A resume like that would be enough for most people, but J. W. didn't stop there - he was also lucky enough to be Jerry Lee's (possible) first shooting victim (though Jerry always maintained it was accidental - Jerry was shooting holes in a door that J. W. just happened to be standing behind)!!! He is also notable for being the first person - ever - to play the electric bass on television, appearing with Jerry Lee on the Steve Allen show in 1957 for the legendary performance of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On". He's also the guy standing on the back of the truck with Jerry Lee and drummer J. M. Van Eaton at the beginning of the film "High School Confidential". Brown's still around, despite Jerry Lee and his guns, and last year he wrote a book chronicling his 50-year relationship with his legendary nephew - get it here.
As for this record, Janes leased it to Atco, who released it in January, 1966. Unfortunately, the music owed more to 1963 than 1966, and that's probably why it stiffed. But that doesn't mean it's not great; it was just recorded and released too late for the trend.
If you want to read more about Roland Janes, Billy Lee Riley, Jerry Lee Lewis and the whole lot of artists who recorded for Sun Records, I suggest the excellent book "Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and The Birth of Rock 'N' Roll" by Colin Escott with Martin Hawkins. Get it here.
Jay Brown - That's How Much (Atco 6394) - 1966