Ian McLagan’s Reggae Bump

I still wish I had those post-it notes my brother Bryan made when I was 11 that helpfully pointed me to (1) which Jimi Hendrix albums to seek out (e.g., Electric Ladyland) and (2) which ones to avoid (e.g., Midnight Lightning).  Decades later I would make the accidental and hilarious discovery that Jimi Hendrix — who took a playful swipe at surf music in his groundbreaking composition, “Third Stone from the Sun” — and obscure “beach music” artist, Robert Ray Whitely, would both release songs entitled “1983the very same year.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Big Brother’s (and Big Sister’s Day) so we could thank our older siblings for all their musical guidance and encouragement?

This past week I had the chance to reread Keith Richards’ 2010 memoir, Life (which my mother-in-law recently passed along), and somehow I only just now learned that keyboardist Ian McLagan was part of The New Barbarians, a rather unlikely musical aggregation that brought together Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Keys, and McLagan, with legendary instrumentalists, Stanley Clarke and JosephZigabooModeliste — but only for a single tour and without producing any recordings.  [Not completely true:   I would later learn that McLagan was able to rally the group into Zuma Beach’s Shangri-La recording studio at the conclusion of the tour to lay down their 12-minute take on “Truly” by The Cimarrons – according to the BBC, the UK’s “first self-contained indigenous” reggae group.]

[L to R:  McLagan, Wood, Keys, Modeliste, Richards, Clarke]

New BarbariansNot too many years ago, brother Bryan had given me an autographed CD of Ian McLagan‘s second and final album for Mercury, 1981’s Bump in the Night, upon which Ian had written “Hi Chris, this one’s for Steve & Ronnie” (Marriott and Lane, undoubtedly — former comrades-in-arms in The Small Faces).  Tight-fisted Mercury would only allow one single for McLagan’s first album and none for its follow-up; nevertheless, if I were in charge, “Not RunninAway” would be my choice for the A-side:

“Not Runnin’ Away”      Ian McLagan     1981

Guitar, Keyboards & Lead Vocals:  Ian McLagan
Bass:  Ricky Fataar
Drums & Vocals:  Ricky Fataar
Lead Guitar & Vocals:  Johnny Lee Schell
Horns:  Bobby Keys

I’m happy to report that McLagan’s memoir All the Rage is, as widely reported, immensely good fun.  And also informative:  Phil Chen who we encountered last week, as one of the principal producers at UK early reggae label, Doctor Bird – would also be a dear friend of McLagan going back to the early 1960s, as recalled in All the Rage:

“Thanks to the constant barrage of phone calls to agents and bookers, we got to play at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, Soho, quite a few times, opening for Graham Bond or Gary Farr and the T-Bones, or, more usually, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, whose bass player Phil Chen is still my old mate.  The Jamaican Chinaman or Chinese Jamaican, whichever way you look at him, never seems to get any older, or like me, any taller.  Years later he toured with Rod Stewart and in 1979, joined the New Barbarians for our final gig at Knebworth in England.”

Ian-McLaganSadly, McLagan, a long-time resident of Austin, Texas, left us December 3, 2014.

Lucky Ladybug:  Still Reigning Champ — First Use of Phasing?

McLagan’s remarks in All the Rage on the use of phasing in Small Faces’ classic “Itchycoo Park” immediately brought to mind Zero to 180’s piece from July, 2013 about the first use of phasing in a popular recording and whether (a) 1959’s “The Big Hurt” by Miss Toni Fisher – as Rhino claims in its Nuggets II box set (and McLagan concurs) – or (b) November, 1958‘s “Lucky Ladybug” by Billy and Lillie – as Zero to 180 asserts – was the first to employ this futuristic sound effect.  At the very beginning of the song is where you can most easily hear the phasing effect, which is especially pronounced on the cleaned-up/remastered version on CD.

Billy & Lillie promo

“Lucky Ladybug”: First Pop Use of Phasing?

Phasing is a special effect in recorded music that gives the mix an Alice-Through-the Looking-Glass, otherworldly sound and has been famously employed, for instance, on 1967’s “Itchycoo Park” by Small Faces [first occurs around the 0:48 mark].  As the blog, Let Your Hair Down, helpfully explains:

The effect as used on “Itchycoo Park” was, at that time, an electro-mechanical studio process. Two synchronized tape copies of a finished recording were played simultaneously into a third master recorder, and by manually retarding the rotation of one of the two tape reels using the fingers, a skilled engineer could subtly manipulate the phase difference between the two sources, creating the lush ‘swooshing’ phase effect that sweeps up and down the frequency range. Because the original single version was mixed and mastered in mono, the flanging effect in “Itchycoo Park” is more pronounced in its original mono mix, and is noticeably diluted in the subsequent stereo mix.

Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and Caleb Quaye’s over-the-top “Baby Your Ph(r)asing Is Bad” – both from 1967 – are other noteworthy examples from this particularly adventurous pop period, however, as Rhino points out in the liner notes to the Nuggets II box set, phasing was used as early as 1959 on Miss Toni Fisher’s hit, “The Big Hurt.”

Billy & Lillie

Or possibly even one year earlier – so say researchers at Zero to 180 – on the #14 hit “Lucky Ladybug” by Billy and Lillie.  Check out the special effect on the muted trumpet, as well as the bright hand claps that answer the vocal lines on this 45 from Philadelphia’s Swan label:

“Lucky Ladybug”     Billy and Lillie     1958

Song written by Frank Slay, Jr. and Bob Crewe, the latter famous for 60s go-go classic, “Music to Watch Girls Go By.”