Randy Newman: Once a Rocker

Randy Newman once rocked quite convincingly on “Gone Dead Train,” a song that was included in the soundtrack to 1970’s notorious art film, Performance, and was – oddly enough – one that he himself did not write:

“Gone Dead Train”     Randy Newman     1969
–  Conceptual train video by Nicos  —

“Gone Dead Train” would also be released as the A-side of a Warner Brothers UK single; however, this version (reports Discogs.com contributor, “touwell“) is “completely different from the version that appeared on the Performance album – faster and more rocking.”

Written by Jack Nitzsche & Russ Titelman — Arranged & Produced by Jack Nitzsche
“Conducted” by Randy Newman

Randy Newman 45

Ben Fong-Torres sheds light on Russ Titelman’s role via Willin’:  The Story of Little Feat:

“Through [Phil] Spector, Titelman met the composer and arranger Jack Nitzsche, of “Lonely Surfer” fame, and worked with him on various film scores and recordings.  When Nitzsche began scoring Performance, Mick Jagger’s first acting vehicle, in 1969, he called Titelman to help out.  Together the two wound up writing ‘Gone Dead Train,’ which would include Ry Cooder on slide guitar and Randy Newman on vocals.”

Musician credits also include Jerry Scheff, Elvis Presley’s bassist, with organ work by the aforementioned Randy Newman.

There’s also this interview snippet from Timothy White’s The Russ Titelman Story courtesy of SpectoPop:

Q:  In 1969, you found yourself playing guitar on ‘Memo From Turner’, for Jack Nitzsche’s soundtrack to the Mick Jagger film, Performance.

A:  Actually, the core of the studio band on that record was Randy Newman, Ry Cooder and myself, and it was recorded in Los Angeles at Western Studios.  But Jagger wasn’t there during our sessions. The band Traffic had done a recording of ‘Memo From Turner’, but Jagger and Nitzsche didn’t like it. So we replaced their track, playing along to Jagger’s existing vocal and a click track. I played the Keith Richards-sounding “jing-a-jing” on rhythm guitar, and Ry Cooder did the slide guitar parts.

And then Jack and I wrote ‘Gone Dead Train’, and Randy Newman sang it, and we cut it live. They needed a song for the credits and Jack said he wanted to lyrically use all this voodoo and blues terminology for this story of this faded rock star, a burnt-out character who can’t get it up anymore. I saw the track part as Chuck Berry-like in feel but more raucous.

Covered by Crazy Horse on their 1971 Reprise album.

“Gone Dead Train” thankfully would merit inclusion in Rock Song Index:  The 7500 Most Important Songs for the Rock and Roll Era.

Pop the Cork:  This is the 23rd piece in Zero to 180 tagged as Film & TV Soundtracks.

“Freight Train”: Duane Eddy + Steam

When my son was young, I sure got a lot of mileage out of Buffalo Bop’s bootleg compilation of American train song 45s – Choo Choo Bop.

Choo Choo BopRusty Draper’s version of “Freight Train” is only one of many highlights on this packed 29-song set that includes a bonus track of vintage steam train recordings.  Striking how many competing versions of “Freight Train” were released in 1957 alone – over a dozen.  Even though the song is attributed to two individuals with the surnames James & Williams, the simple truth of the matter is that folk musician & songwriter, Elizabeth Cotten, is the acknowledged author of “Freight Train” – a song written in the early 20th century that only became popular during the British skiffle & American folk revival era.

Duane Eddy would put together his own fetching version with strings in 1969 – produced by Jimmy Bowen and arranged by Glen D. Hardin:

“Freight Train”     Duane Eddy     1969

This single – b/w “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” – would bubble under at #110 in 1970.

Duane Eddy Train 45A total of four train songs profiled thus far on Zero to 180.

“Streamline Train”: Folk Deco

Interesting to see the original 1936 recording of “Streamline Train” by Red Nelson recast in the UK as a skiffle tune in 1957, as the folk movement began to gain momentum in the US:

“Streamline Train”     The Vipers Skiffle Group     1957

    check out these striking images of streamline locomotives that accompany      Red Nelson’s original version of “Streamline Train”

Bob Dylan, in his February 6, 2015 acceptance speech as the recipient of MusiCares’ “Person of the Year” award, would have some illuminating observations to make about folk music that, at the same time, go a long way toward demystifying Dylan’s own songwriting process (thanks to Shortstaxx for the tip):

“I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs.  And I played them, and I met other people that played them, back when nobody was doing it.  Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.  For three or four years, all I listened to were folk standards.  I went to sleep singing folk songs.  I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals.  And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other.  I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I’d heard it just once.

“If you sang ‘John Henry’ as many times as me – ‘John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.’  If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ too…

“I sang a lot of ‘come all you’ songs.  There’s plenty of them.  There’s way too many to be counted.  ‘Come along boys and listen to my tale / Tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm Trail.’  Or, ‘Come all ye good people, listen while I tell / the fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well…’

If you sung all these ‘come all ye’ songs all the time like I did, you’d be writing, ‘Come gather ’round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing.'”

“Lonesome Whistle Blues”: Train = Pain

Unnamed vocalists perfectly evoke a lonely late night train whistle on Freddy King‘s mournfully swinging “Lonesome Whistle Blues“:

“Lonesome Whistle Blues”     Freddy King     1961

This song was catchy enough (#8 R&B) to cross over into the Pop Top 100 (#88) when released in April of 1961 on Federal, a subsidiary of King Records.

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” was recorded on January 17, 1961 in Cincinnati using local talent:  Philip Paul (who still plays Saturdays with his jazz trio at The Cincinnatian Hotel) on drums, along with Sonny Thompson on piano, Bill Willis on bass, and (of course) Freddy on lead vocal and guitar.

Freddy or Freddie?  Not sure even his mother knows

Freddy King surf LP “Lonesome Whistle Blues” would end up being included on 1961 LP, Freddy King Sings.  1962 album, Freddy King Goes Surfin’, however, would inspire a rather funny set of comments from the fine folks at Sundazed/Rhino when reissued on vinyl in 2013:

“Syd Nathan, impresario of Cincinatti’s [sic] King Records, was the epitome of the old-school indie record label owner.  Always hustling, Nathan regularly beat the odds to release hit after hit in multiple genres.  He’d try anything if he thought it might work, or more precisely, if he thought it would make money.  After Chess Records turned down guitarist/vocalist Freddy King several times for sounding too much like B.B, King, Nathan thought that sound might actually be sellable and took a chance, signing Freddy to his Federal subsidiary label.  They hit paydirt with an instrumental titled “Hide Away,” which reached #5 on the R&B Chart and #29 on the Pop Singles Chart.

“Encouraged by the single’s success, Nathan released a full album of King’s instrumentals, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King. (See what Nathan did there with the title, slipping in a reference to Freddy’s big hit single?  Always be closing, my friends, always be closing.)  The album sold well and helped make Freddy a bankable touring act.  While others would have been satisfied to move on to the next project, Syd sensed untapped potential in the LP.

“Meanwhile, several artists on the West Coast were making noise in the brand new surf music scene (and by “making noise,” I mean selling records).  Syd didn’t have any surf music artists under contract, but he DID have Freddy King.  Surely, Syd surmised, if the kid’s went nuts for Dick Dale’s guitar instrumental workouts, they could do the same for Freddy’s.  All he needed was a little marketing magic…GET A NEW COVER WITH SOME SURF KIDS! THROW SOME CROWD NOISE OVER TRACKS SO IT SOUNDS ‘LIVE’!  CALL IT…ERR…FREDDY KING GOES SURFIN’! PRESS IT AND HAVE IT ON THE SHELVES BY NEXT WEEK!!!

“While it may not have happened EXACTLY like that, King Records did release Freddy King Goes Surfin‘, an album containing the very same songs (in precisely the same running order) as Let’s Hide Away… with crowd noise dubbed over the music. Did the ruse work?  Though it didn’t sell as well as the original, Freddy King Goes Surfin’ did find an audience. Like Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, the album’s title is such a preposterous premise that it surely snagged many buyers on that fact alone.”
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Musical Roll Call pt. 1: “Soul Train”

Little Royal‘s musical roll call of soul music luminaries – “Soul Train” from 1972 – is connected to the post-Syd Nathan era of the King Records story after Starday Records had purchased King and henceforth became known as Starday-King:

“Soul Train”     Little Royal      1972

Interesting to see which artists were chosen for the various work assignments aboard the train – i.e., Wilson Pickett as engineer, Ike & Tina as faretakers, Staples Singers as cooks, Isaac Hayes as bandleader, and Elvis (oddly) as banker.  Most surprising of all is the inclusion of The Osmonds (as conductors) — I can only assume this is in response to the their funky hit of the year prior, 1971’s “Crazy Horses.”  Click here to check out a live clip of the overly-rocking Osmond Brothers stomping their way through this American Indian-inspired piece of hard-charging funky rock – with suitable stage attire that must be seen to be believed.

Tri-Us was a groovy little label that was not long for this world, alas.

Soul Train - Little RoyalClick on this link to view the label’s releases, most of them Huey P. Meaux productions devoted to Little Royal.   According to Little Royal’s bio on the website, Last.fm:  “Little Royal’s Tri-Us recordings are worth checking out, as they are fine pieces of Southern soul in its final hour.”