“Tacos & Grits”: Jazz Trombone

Zero to 180 kicks off its musical salute to grits with an obvious winner of an instrumental, “Tacos and Grits” by Al Grey:

“Tacos and Grits”     Al Grey     1963

The first featured song in Zero to 180’s music & grits series — launching on the heels of Saturday’s big Max Fleischer event at the AFI — happens to be represented on YouTube  by exactly one audio clip, one that is illustrated (for mystifying reasons) by a still image of Betty Boop.

Trombone:  Al Grey
Piano:  John Young
Guitar:  Leo Blevins
Bass:  Ike Isaacs
Drums:  Phil Thomas
Engineer:  Ron Malo
Supervisor:  Esmond Edwards
Liner Notes:  Holmes (Daddy-O) Daylie

A single clause would speak volumes:  “Recorded December 17, 1963” – as it says on the cover of Al Grey’s Boss Bone album.  One day.   Just like Stones Jazz by Joe Pass.  Even the debut album by The Beatles would require a handful of recording sessions.  Recording for the Boss Bone album would take place at Ter Mar studios – i.e., Chess.

Al Grey 45-b“Tacos and Grits” would be released on Chess subsidiary, Argo, in 1964 — did it chart?  Rest assured, Al Grey did register his copyright for “Tacos and Grits” in 1964.

Fish tacos and grits

Tacos & GritsGood news!  “Taco and Grits” would be used as background music to accompany Mr. Fine Wine’s DJ patter on WFMU’s Downtown Soulville radio show on July 11, 2014.

When Pelé Tried His Hand at Pop

Thanks to my neighbor Stan, who graciously lent me a documentary, Once in a Lifetime, about the New York Cosmos and the groundbreaking-though-ill-fated North American Soccer League.  While last weekend’s recent record snowstorm raged, I was riveted to the screen, grateful to have power — and incredulous that the most prominent 1970s American soccer franchise (who once fielded such international icons as Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer) was founded by executives from a major record label!

New York Cosmos DocumentaryThe New York Cosmos is a modern fairy tale, whose humble origins would include players dodging the broken glass on the team’s first playing field at Randall’s Island.  The first seismic shift in this Cinderella story occurs when Warner Communications CEO Steve Ross risks major shareholder ire by signing Brazil’s national hero, Pelé, for $5 million.   Pelé would play three seasons for the Cosmos from 1975-77 and finish out his professional career with an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Brazil’s Santos (where he began his career) in which he played, fascinatingly enough, for both teams.

Pelé, who is often ranked as the world’s finest footballer, would enter the realm of popular music the same year he officially hung up his jersey.  1977 would see Pelé join forces with renowned Brazilian bandleader, Sergio Mendes (who would headline 2012’s Silver Spring Jazz Festival) on a 45 released by Warner-distributed Atlantic Records.

Pelé 45Now you might be wondering why a music blog that’s devoted to boosting the legacies of under-recognized artists would profile someone who’s a household name the world over.  Excellent question, by the way.  And here’s the answer:  you can find a handful of YouTube audio clips for “Meu Mundo É Uma Bola” — and yet only a tiny percentage of the planet’s population have viewed/listened to them (i.e., 12,000+ currently)   How likely is it that the low numbers on YouTube can be explained by millions of Pelé fans preferring instead to listen to their original 45?  Not very.  Yet another musical mystery that vexes.

“Meu Mundo É Uma Bola” (i.e., “My World Is a Ball”)    Pelé     1977

I can only presume that the world’s greatest soccer star ended up not hitting the sales targets established by executives at Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, as Pelé’s musical career is a surprisingly and brutally short one.

The documentary makes excellent use of popular music to tell the story, one of the most inspired decisions being the use of Sparks‘ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” to underscore the tension incurred when Steve Ross, in a naked attempt to boost attendance and add even more marquee power to the Cosmos, signs Giorgio Chinaglia, whose flamboyant playing style and outsized ego are in stark contrast to Pelé’s humble and team-oriented approach.  How amusing to discover that Chinalgia would release his one and only 45 – “I’m Football Crazy” – three years before Pele’s lone single for Atlantic.  Would you be infuriated to know that Chinaglia’s single has considerably more views on YouTube?

Giorgia Chinaglia 45Sports rockers might particularly enjoy Football45’s passel of picture sleeves that feature other famous footballers who once enjoyed a dalliance with pop music.

Hey Stan, I hope you don’t mind that I hang onto this documentary a little while longer — these Bonus Features aren’t going to watch themselves.

Rufus Harley’s “Scotch ‘n’ Soul”

Rufus Harley’s sole 45, “Bagpipe Blues” on Atlantic Records – an original amalgamation of Scottish highland and African-American musical traditions from 1965 – was undoubtedly the first of its kind.  The title track of Harley’s second Atlantic album – “Scotch and Soul” – would find a way to incorporate Afro-Cuban jazz into the mix, as well:

“Scotch and Soul”      Rufus Harley    1966

Harley would release four albums for Atlantic between 1965-1970 — plus one track (“Pipin’ the Blues”) on Sonny Stitt’s 1967 Deuces Wild album on Atlantic.  Harley’s 1972 release, Re-Creation of the Gods on the Ankh label, would be his last for awhile.

Rufus Harley would re-emerge in 1982 to play the bagpipes on one track (“Sweater”) from Laurie Anderson’s 1982 debut “avant-pop” album, Big Science.  In 1994 The Roots would also feature Rufus Harley’s bagpipes on one of their earlier efforts, From the Ground Up., as well as the following year’s Do You Want More?!!!??!

In 2005 Harley would take the helm on his French-only CD release, Sustain.   Sadly, Harley would pass the following year – click on link to his New York Times obituary.  Hip Wax also has this affectionate tribute to the world’s only jazz bagpipist.

Rufus Harley and Friends In New York City

Rufus Harley & Co.Rufus Harley was also a special guest on 1967 Herbie Mann LP, The Wailing Dervishes, on the track, “Flute Bag.”

Herbie Mann with Rufus Harley LPThis Date in History:  March 22, 1965 = Rufus Harley’s appearance on To Tell the Truth.

Felix & His (Cash-in) Guitar

“Cerveza” by Boots Brown (see previous post about rock/pop’s Latin roots) was only one of the more obvious attempts to cash in on the runaway success of “Tequila” by The Champs in 1958.  “Chili Beans” by Felix & His Guitar also does a great job of appropriating that familiar riff while at the same time adding a melodic counterpart that might possibly have kept the legal wolves at bay:

“Chili Beans” b/w “puerto rican riot”     Felix & His Guitar     1958

Felix & His Guitar (backed by The Hot Peppers) released one other recording in 1958, “Two Tacos” b/w “Summer Love” — and then nothing more.

Two Tacos 45

“Ticklish Mambo”: Hilarity Ensues

A song title (“Ticklish Ghetto”) from my big tribute to pioneering producer, Sonia Pottinger, inspired me to identify all other popular songs in which “ticklish” is part of the title.

“Ticklish Mambo” – surprisingly or not – is one of the few 45 releases with a ticklish title:

“Ticklish Mambo”     René Touzet     1957

“Ticklish Mambo” served as the B-side to “Manhattan” – released March, 1957 on GNP.

Ticklish Mambo 45Cuban-born bandleader, René Touzet, moved to the United States in 1944 after a hurricane destroyed his Havana club.  Touzet worked with Desi Arnaz, Xavier Cugat & Stan Kenton (famed for his ‘Wall of Sound‘) before leading his own orchestra beginning in the mid-50s.  Touzet’s would record ten albums for GNP, with 1956’s “El Loco Cha Cha Cha” – the song that inspired Richard Berry to write “Louie Louie” – a career highlight.

Tribute to MLK: Eerily Prescient

Wilson Simonal’s tribute to Martin Luther King, a single that was released – eerily enough – the year before his assassination:

“Tributo a Martin Luther King”     Wilson Simonal de Castro     1967

“Tributo a Martin Luther King” would be the A-side of a single released in 1967 – around the same time Simonal would be given his own television variety show (where he can be seen singing this musical tribute to Dr. King).

Largely unknown outside of South America, Wilson Simonal – according to Jason Ankeny’s biography in AllMusic – is deemed “a seminal force in the development of Brazilian music” and the Brazilian nation’s “first black superstar,” as well as the inventor of the “pilantregem” sound – a “dynamic fusion of soul, jazz, and samba infused with rhythms inspired by the Latin American boogaloo sound.”

Wilson Simonal EP

“Rise”: The Spirit of Sahm

It was hard not to get swept up in Ed Ward‘s enthusiasm in his October 1, 1970 Rolling Stone review of an up-and-coming Texan band (by way of Prunedale, California) that had been “discovered” and mentored by Doug Sahm.  The band’s debut, a masterpiece in Ward’s estimation, had been released on almighty Columbia’s imprint, Epic, and described as a curious collision of sounds — “Creedence meets The Byrds” (as others have since quipped), with horns, steel guitar, fiddles and a healthy amount of Tex-Mex thrown in — but in a unified and cohesive way, Ward assured us.

I was reminded of Ward’s original review when I read James ‘Bigboy’ Medlin’s tribute to the Texas Tornado himself – Doug Sahm – in this year’s ‘Southern Music Issue’ of the Oxford American, so imagine my complete disbelief when I switched on the Internet to learn more these renegade rockers … only to discover not a single trace of their existence!  Unfathomable.  How could this be?  Even trusty ol’ Discogs.com was bereft of any info about the one and only long-playing release by “Love and the Lovers,” as they are clearly named in the review (as well as the index of The Rolling Stone Record Review, where Ward’s piece had been reprinted).

As it turns out, heh heh, it was just a typo.  If you type the phrase “Louie and the Lovers,” a veritable floodgate of information spews forth.  At the top of the list, interestingly enough, is Ed Ward’s piece for National Public Radio about the 2009 release of the band’s complete recordings by pioneering reissue label, Bear Family, of Germany.  How fascinating to learn from Ward’s NPR piece that, after the band’s experience with Epic, Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler (at Doug Sahm’s urging) would pick up the baton.  At great expense, Wexler would fly Louie and the Lovers in his private jet – their first ever plane trip – for recording sessions in Miami, as well as Hollywood, only to release one single and then shelve a (“long-rumored”) second album that had been planned for release.

Title track “Rise” would lead off their debut Epic album on which the band would be backed by Doug Sahm’s band, The Honky Blues Band:

Not to be confused with Little Louie and the Lovers, who would release one single in 1962 before vanishing.

Even with major label backing and support from A-level musicians during the Miami recordings sessions – Dr. John, Joe Lala, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Flaco Jimenez – as Ward notes in “The Slow ‘Rise’ of a Lost Treasure,” the band’s recordings would fail to make a dent in the marketplace, a situation undoubtedly exacerbated by their decision not to tour.  Over time, however, the music’s reputation would grow — to the point that Sony UK, in 2003, would reissue the band’s debut on compact disc, followed by Bear Family’s decision six years later to release the band’s entire 27-song output.

Louie & Lovers 45

“Bob”: The Willis Brothers, Not Weird Al

“Bob” is the title track of a Willis Brothers album released on the Starday label in 1967:

Bob - Willis Brothers LPThe song is written from the perspective of Bob’s wayward pal, who playfully chides him for choosing the path of domesticity rather than remaining carefree and unencumbered:

“Remember the good ol’ days ’round the ‘Frisco yards, Bob?   For you, they’re gone,” the song taunts.  Bob’s friend, the song’s protagonist, is staying with Bob for a short visit – telling stories of the past, stoking the fires of wanderlust and making Bob’s wife nervous.  But then, in a nice ironic twist, the friend surprises us by informing Bob:

“Just forget all the talk, Bob, about the good ol’ days.  ‘Cause your wife is a little bit scared, Bob, you want to be free.  But you and me both know, Bob, you’re better off than me.  Remember those cold nights out in the ‘Frisco yards, Bob – and the hard cold ground?”

Album produced by Jack Clement, who also wrote “Bob” – along with Vincent Matthews.   Is it really true that “Bob” would serve double duty as both title track and B-side?

Bob - Willis Brothers 45Song title would be commandeered 36 years later by Weird Al for his brilliant Dylan spoof.

“Hitchcock Railway”: Train Line of Liberation

“Hitchcock Railway” – the A-side of a 1968 RCA single by José Feliciano released here and abroad – made the Top 100 here in the US (#77) and Top 40 in Australia (#24):

Musical Personnel

Jose FeLiciano – Vocals, Guitar

Ray brown – string Bass

Jim gordon – drums

Jim horn – flute improvisations & recorder

mike melvoin – organ & horn arrangements

milt holland – percussion (elsewhere on album)

                                *                          *                          *                          *

Hitchcock Railway 45“Hitchcock Railway” kicks off side two of 1968’s, Souled — an album that hit #24 on the pop album chart, as well as #4 R&B chart, #34 Soul Album chart, and #5 on Canada’s pop chart.  As with Porter Wagoner, RCA would go on to release multiple albums per year by José Feliciano during the peak of his popularity —

                                       Staggering Output:  An RCA Thing

                                                  Year          # of albums
                                                  1965          1
                                                  1966          2
                                                  1967          3
                                                  1968          3
                                                  1969          4
                                                  1970          2
                                                  1971          4
                                                  1972          3
                                                  1973          2
                                                  1974          2

 

“Spanish Grease”: El Chicano Expands into Italy & UK

El Chicano – a Los Angeles band who created what they termed, “the brown sound” – hit the US top 40 in 1970 with the Latin jazz funk instrumental, “Viva Tirado” on the Kapp label.

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Kapp – an indie label started in 1954 by David Kapp, brother of American Decca label founder, Jack Kapp – had been sold at the end of 1967 to MCA in “a new surge to be a major record complex.”  El Chicano’s 1970 debut album, Viva Tirado, therefore enjoyed international distribution in Canada, Germany and France.  Their second album, Revolución – which includes the track, “Spanish Grease” – saw the group expand into Italy and the UK … but at Canada and Germany’s expense:

“Spanish Grease” is a cover of Willie Bobo’s first hit, co-written with trumpeter/arranger, Melvin Lastie.

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