Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Those of you keeping score, add this one to the list. I first heard this on an old reel-to-reel tape my father had (remember?) and have been obsessed with it ever since. Turns out Lamar Morris was the lead guitarist for The Bama Band, who were Hank Williams, Jr.'s backing group. I'm guessing Hank had some pull with MGM, and got his buddy Lamar a contract. For his first 45, Lamar wrote "Kleenex" with Mack Vickery, who would go on to write a few of Jerry Lee Lewis' 1970s country hits (including the just plain dirty "Meat Man"). If not for anything else, "Kleenex" should be considered a great country 45 for its opening lines - "You can send me a box of Kleenex/Make it the biggest one they've got/'Cause since it seems I'm gonna be your ex/I know I'm gonna cry a lot".
Now, anyone who rhymes "Kleenex" with "your ex" is either a genius or a loony. I'm going with loony here. Let's face it, you couldn't have too great a stronghold on reality if you were touring with Hank, Jr. in the 60s and 70s, writing with a guy who once put out a live LP from a women's prison (and was one of Jerry Lee's best buddies, albeit one whom Jerry Lee never shot), AND allowed your first solo session to be produced by the truly certifiable Jack Clement (who had a gigantic swing installed in his living room and wrote the aforementioned "Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart"). But, hey, so what? If we only allowed sane individuals to make records, there wouldn't be any good ones.
By the by, Lamar's still alive and kickin'! Check out his website.
Lamar Morris - Send Me A Box Of Kleenex (MGM 13586) - 1966
Friday, October 18, 2013
Thee Midniters. The best band to ever come out of East L.A. Unfortunately, their records were seldom heard OUTSIDE of East L.A. But for those lucky folks who saw them live, or owned their records, these guys were unbeatable. They could do it ALL -rock any house, croon sweet ballads, raise the roof with a little soul, even get political (dig up their "The Ballad Of Cesar Chavez" 45 for that). In East L. A., these guys were like the BEATLES.
The group started out in the early 60s, evolving from a band known as The Gentiles (!!!) and playing local clubs and entering contests known as "Battle Of The Bands". They called themselves The Midnighters, but soon changed their name to THEE Midniters to avoid getting sued by Hank Ballard and his group of Midnighters. In those days, the group wore masks over their eyes for that extra air of mystery. The group's lead singers were Little Willie Garcia (aka Little Willie G) and Lil' Ray Jimenez. Jimenez left in 1964 to go solo (and made a single for the Impact label), but Little Willie G soldiered on.
The group's fortunes changed in late 1964 when one of their live shows was recorded by their manager, Eddie Torres, who got the group a deal with local L. A. label Chattahoochee Records. One of the group's signature songs was the old Chris Kenner tune "Land Of 1000 Dances", which the group released as their first single. With the support of DJ's like Huggy Boy (Dick Hugg) on KRLA and Godfrey on KTYM, the disc got heavy airplay. However, at almost exactly the same time, another group from East L.A., Cannibal and The Headhunters, released their version, which eventually became the bigger hit. As for who came up with the "naaah, na-na-na-naaah" riff (which is not on Kenner's version), we'll probably never know. Little Willie G says he came up with it, but according to Bob Shannon and John Javna's book Behind The Hits, Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia (no relation to Willie G) forgot the words one night and improvised the lick on the spot. Who knows? Who cares? Despite losing the hit to Cannibal, "Land Of 1000 Dances" became the biggest hit Thee Midniters ever had, hitting #67 nationally.
After several follow-ups on Chattahoochee (including "Whittier Blvd.", a wild instrumental, and the killer garage-rock 45 "I Found A Peanut"), manager Eddie Torres formed his own label, Whittier Records, in early 1966. Thee Midniters immediately had a big hit in L.A. with the label's first release, "Love, Special Delivery", and Whittier was on its way, though on a small scale - they didn't have the distribution of a larger label, so the records pretty much stayed in the L.A. area.
The 45 I'm blogging about now has a weird history. In early 1967 the group released their fourth single for Whittier - "The Walking Song (Shouldn't You Wonder)"/"Never Knew I Had It So Bad". Even though "The Walking Song" was the A-side, "Never Knew I Had It So Bad" started getting big-time spins in L.A., so Eddie Torres re-released "Never Knew I Had It So Bad" as an A-side, and put the group's version of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" on the flip. That was kind of a strange move, because usually a canny label boss would put a song on the flip that was one of his copyrights, to make even more money off of a hit record (this is why sometimes you find old 45s with alternate B-sides). But Eddie Torres apparently didn't care or didn't know any better.
In either case, I'm certainly glad he did what he did, because this version of "Everybody Needs Somebody" puts an ass-whipping on every other recording of it (yes, including Wilson Pickett's, though not by much)!! Supposedly recorded live (though who knows - many times it was studio cuts with audience noise dubbed in), the band is absolutely ON FIRE and at its garagiest and grungiest, with Little Willie G contributing one of his most soulful vocals ever!!
Thee Midniters went on from there, but with Little Willie G going solo in late 1968, the group lost a lot of its drive. That combined with the frustration of not having national success (and the money that came with it) caused the group to call it quits in 1969.
For many years, Thee Midniters' records remained buried in the L.A. scrap heap, and the group, though a local legend, were all but forgotten about. But over the years, this group has gotten the respect it so richly deserves. Norton has reissued several of their singles and an LP called In Thee Midnite Hour, but if you really want to get the full effect of the incredible range of these guys, check out the Micro Werks CD box set called Thee Complete Midniters (though, be forewarned, since the master tapes were lost long ago, and vinyl copies had to be used, the sound isn't quite CD-quality).
If you want to hear more of Thee Midniters (and other East L.A. groups), check out this AMAZING blog.
Thee Midniters - Everybody Needs Somebody (Whittier 504) - 1967