Reggae’s “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida”

The Rocksteady Kid — Zero to 180’s radio alter ago — once had the good fortune to experience the frantic exhilaration of spinning classic Jamaican pop of the three-minute variety on the University of Maryland’s student radio station.  I very quickly learned you can’t be complacent when the tunes are coming so fast and furious:  stop to think for very long, and you just might miss your cue for the next track.

Things got even nuttier when the late, great Charlie Coleman (on Eastern Shore’s WKHS) allowed me to program a couple all-truck-driving radio shows in which a goodly number of the tunes were of the two-minute variety.   We were playing with fire each time we tried to carry on a conversation, and sure enough, one time we ended up playing one Moby Grape song too many.

Charlie Coleman & The Dieselbilly Kid @ WKHS     December, 2004

hp photosmart 720I can only imagine, therefore, the considerable ease of being a disc jockey in the 1970s when “Album-Oriented Rock” was the dominant format and short, sharp songs were the exception to the rule.  Stories are legend of DJs putting the needle on such long-winded tracks as Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain” (ten minutes), Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” (fifteen minutes), or that hoary cliche “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” (seventeen minutes) so they could then disappear from the control room for vast stretches of time to do whatever.

One of the Rocksteady Kid’s favorite memories – and proudest radio moments – was when he had to cut the radio show short unexpectedly in order to allow the station to broadcast that night’s University of Maryland basketball game.  Thus, with nearly twenty minutes to fill, the Kid made an executive decision to play one final track as a swansong.  And it’s a doozy:

Lee Perry     “Free Up the Prisoners”     1978

I’m a little surprised that, with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s world renown as an “audio alchemist” of the First Order, only one audio clip exists on YouTube (with a paltry 1,248 “views,” no less).

Dave Katz has this to say about this epic track in his biography, People Funny Boy:  The Genius of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry:

“Also noteworthy [from 1978] was ‘Free Up the Prisoners,’ a vocal magnum opus from Perry himself cut on a peculiar ‘Disco Prisoner’ 12-inch single at 33 RPM.  Issued on his new Conquering Lion of Judah label with a beautiful picture sleeve, ‘Free Up the Prisoners’ was nearly 13 minutes of Perry listing the reasons why those in captivity should be freed over a relaxed and rolling re-cut of [Clancy Eccles’] ‘Feel the Rhythm’; two versions of the single were issued in quick succession, the second made notably different through its inclusion of a prominent piano riff.  As the song progressed, a crescendo of sound effects emerged, with sine waves and electric seesaw sounds gradually overpowering the mix; the sobering B-side, ‘Chase Them,’ spoke of non-Rasta elements such as income tax and birth control that needed to be chased away.”

Lee Perry Disco 45Jo-Ann Greene’s review of the song on AllMusic is also worth a peek.

“Truckin'”: Charlie Jackson on the Spar Label

A huge tip of the hat to the late, great Charlie Coleman for playing the righteous sounds on his Coleman’s Classic Country radio show in the greater Annapolis/DC area – a part of the nation that desperately needs help with the quality of its radio programming.  Charlie was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to program a couple of all truck-driving radio shows, and it delights me every time to hear his bemusement over the fact that this hot little number by Charlie Jackson – “Truckin'” – was issued on a tiny label, Spar, that not a lot of people can honestly say they have represented in their vinyl record collections:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Truckin'” by Charlie Jackson.]

An obvious candidate for an A-side, “Truckin'” – recorded at Spar Recording Studio and produced by Tommy Downs – unfortunately, was never released as a single.

Released on LP

Charlie Jackson LP

8-Track, too

Charlie Jackson 8-trackThanks to the Bowling Green State University’s library catalog, I was able to identify a handful of other titles released on Nashville’s Spar label, such as Ricky Page Sings Harper Valley PTA, Hits Are Our Business by The Now Generation, Country Hits and also Straight from Nashville – the last two by The Nashville Country Jamboree and all four released between the years 1968-1970.

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The Internet also helped to fill in some of the gaps in the library’s catalog of Spar releases.

Spar LP eOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExhibitionSpar LP iSpar LP j

        Interesting to see this LP            get re-branded Later in this fashion

Spar LP LaSpar LP Lb

Richie Unterberger, in his review of a 2007 CD anthology by The Now Generation, sheds some much-needed light on Spar’s operations:

“In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the studio-only ensemble, The Now Generation, were principally known for issuing albums full of soundalike covers of contemporary hits, although they did put out some original material.  Top Nashville session men like Henry Strzelecki, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Wayne Moss, Bill Purcell, Kenny Buttrey, “Pig” Robbins, and Charlie McCoy were among the musicians who played on Now Generation releases.  Fortunately, this 20-track compilation concentrates on the original material, as much of the CD is taken from their self-titled 1967 debut LP, their only album not to fall into the ‘soundalike’ bag.”

For those who don’t have the time to trawl through second-hand vinyl, help has arrived:  those fine folks at Yellow Label have rounded up enough material for a three-CD set of 7-inch recordings from Spar Records, home of such unsung musical artists as Bobby & the Beagles; Sandy & the Beachcombers; Jimmy Tig & the Rounders; Phoebe, Unky & Fatty Ann; Joe Pain; Ken Kennedy & The Now Generation, among many, many others.

Spar RecordsInformative piece about Spar Records’ budget subsidiary – Hit Records – in which MusicMaster Oldies makes this hilarious observation:

“[Ted Jarrett and Bill Beasley] ran another budget label called Spar Records.  It was on that label that Bobby Russell made his recording debut with a Nashville teen garage band called Bobby Russell And The Beagles.  It was 1964, the year the Beatles hit it big in America.  Clearly the “Beagles” was intended to trade off the success of The Beatles.”

Fascinating to learn that Bobby Russell would go on to have a Top 40 hit with the song “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” – memorably covered later by The Ray Charles Singers.