Gene Rosenthal & Adelphi Records: Ahead of the Curve

I suspect Gene Rosenthal will roll his eyes at the obviousness and artlessness of this observation, but let history officially note:   In 1966, when Eric Clapton and company were reviving Skip James‘ “I’m So Glad” for Cream’s debut album (which enjoyed worldwide distribution – even Saudi Arabia, unofficially), Rosenthal had already recorded the pioneering blues guitarist two years prior — James’ first recordings since the Depression — at his parents’ house in Silver Spring, Maryland!

Adelphi Studios – 516 E. Indian Spring Drive – Silver Spring, MD
(since equipped with solar panels, but still awaiting historical plaque)

adelphi-studios-aThus, Gene’s Adelphi Studios helped to put Silver Spring on the world’s musical map before Track Recorders had even opened its doors, while Rosenthal’s audio engineering skills would help draw attention to such other “rediscovered” blues artists as Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Johnny Shines, DavidHoneyboyEdwards, Big Joe Williams, Furry Lewis, and Gus Cannon, as well as emerging local guitarist, “Takoma” John Fahey.

Rosenthal, as some blues enthusiasts might tell you, was part of a so-called “East Coast Blues Mafia” of non-conformists and free-thinking types who took an activist approach toward revitalizing the careers of forgotten American blues artists.  This group of renegades would include Fahey and Bill Barth (who tracked down Skip James), Ed Denson (who relocated Bukka White, with assistance from Fahey), Dick Spottswood and Tom Hoskins (who used the lyrics of “Avalon Blues” to locate Mississippi John Hurt), along with Michael Stewart, Henry VestineMax Ochs, Stefan Grossman, Nick Perls, and others who collectively sought out blues, country, folk and other “primitive” sounds (i.e., simple, therefore “unsophisticated”) decades before the rest of America would catch on to the notion that ‘simple’ can convey a power that often eludes more athletically-gifted musics with fancy time signatures and such.

Gene Rosenthal – Adelphi Studios c. 1963gene-rosenthal-aa

“Beloved abroad, but underappreciated at home” is a common theme that runs through the history of the arts and one that would ring true to some extent, at least initially, for Adelphi Records.  As Billboard would note nearly 40 years ago in its December 24, 1977 edition, “The label is another example of small American record manufacturers finding a greater response for its artists abroad.”

And yet Adelphi Records is still very much a vital concern some 48 years later, having signed a new artist — Ken Swartz & the Palace of Sin, who recorded an album in New Orleans, Smile Away the Blues — and inked a major deal with respected Oxford, Mississippi-based indie label Fat Possum to acquire Rosenthal’s vaunted “Blues Vault,” from which it has assembled Worried Blues, a ten-album series that features rare and previously out-of-print recordings on vinyl, CD, and digital download (released July 21).

Zero to 180 notes an independence of spirit in Rosenthal, whose label remains one of the last of the original postwar independent labels (having entered the business initially as a distribution point for Takoma and Arhoolie as early as 1964) that brings to mind another notable “indie” – Syd Nathan – whose King Records would inspire Seymour Stein (and Richard Gottehrer) to create Sire Productions, thus sowing the seeds of today’s contemporary “indie” scene.  Rosenthal, in fact, would help organize his fellow music entrepreneurs into a national association of independent record distributors (known initially as the National Association of Independent Record Distributors, or NAIRD) just a few years after forming Adelphi Records.

Gene Rosenthal:  The Track Years

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This historian-in-training would arrive in the DC area just as Track Recorders was closing its doors, thus making my attempt to piece together the studio’s history feel somewhat like groping in the dark.  Let me first express much appreciation to all the participants who helped “crowd source” this work-in-progress and fill in the historical gaps, particularly Rosenthal, who helped me understand his unsung supporting role, as it relates to the Track Recorders story:

“Adelphi made a (zero-dollar) deal with Track’s then engineer, Obie O’Brien, and loaned Track Adelphi’s Spectrasonic 16x4x2 Mixing & Recording console, along with their Scully 280-2/4, which is clearly visible [in this photo] as the 2nd Scully in the main studio, as well our Sony ES 22T studio transport machine which was used in Studio ‘B.’  When Obie left, he couldn’t guarantee the safety of Adelphi’s equipment any longer, so it was removed at the same time as his departure.”

Adelphi - Scully 280-24 machadelphi-sony-es-22t-machine

[Adelphi’s Scully 280-2/4]                                [Adelphi’s Sony ES 22T]

.

Ah, the truth is starting to become clear!

In the earlier Track Recorders history piece, do you recall the Billboard snippet from the June 17, 1972 issue that noted Track’s having “two rooms” – albeit the second one “incomplete” and thus not fully operational?  Rosenthal, consequently, endowed Track with equipment that helped transform “Studio B” into a secondary room that could be used for playback and editing, as well as a place for conducting auditions.

Unsurprisingly, Silver Spring’s Track studio — with its futuristic Neve 8036 console (and its motorized mechanical faders), not to mention 3M 16-track tape machine — would be the recording facility of choice for a handful of Adelphi artists in the mid-to-late 1970s on the following LP releases:

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Liz Meyer was – as noted in Richard (“music writer”) Thompson’s 2011 obituary for Bluegrass Today – “one of Europe’s adopted American bluegrassers” who was a “very pro-active and vocal promoter of the European World of Bluegrass (EWoB) and European bluegrass music in general.”

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  • Bill Holland & Rent’s DueIf It Ain’t One Thing…
    Recorded and mixed substantially at Track between 1974/75 — released 1975 (Adelphi AD 4104).  Reviewed by none other than Robert Christgau (“Dean of American rock critics”), who bestowed the album with a B+.

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Phred A. Heutte, in the April,1980 edition of DC arts monthly Unicorn Times, would observe If It Ain’t One Thing to be “one of the first Adelphi rock albums,” as well as “one of the only local albums in a barren period for DC vinyl,” noting that it “was well recorded by the standards of the day, and received positive notices from all quarters, particularly for Bill’s solid, quietly humorous and intelligent lyrics.”    Holland would inform Heutte that “Gene Rosenthal somehow sold 2000 Bill Holland records – before anybody outside my close family knew who that was – simply because they heard it on the air, or saw it in a store, or somehow told them about me,” adding that he “had worked very closely with Adelphi on all phases of the first LP, from recording to mastering to stuffing publicity packages himself.  ‘I could have written that article in the March issue [about manufacturing records],’ he laughs.’”

[Unicorn Times]

Bill Holland - promo ad

  • Stephen SpanoEye to Eye
    Recorded in 1975 at Track’s main studio, as well as Adelphi Studios & Bethesda’s Urban Recordings (Adelphi AD 4103).  Rosenthal would perform engineering and production responsibilities.

Eye to Eye’s trippy photo-montage and “textured” album cover

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This “kaleidoscope of folk, rock, and jazz” (as described by Adelphi) is well demonstrated on album opener “Love Is the Sound,” with its inventive bass work.   Music blogger Play It Again, Max (who profiles “out-of-print LPs never issued on CD”) declares Eye to Eye to be “a great record” and “well worth the listen.”

  • The Reuben Brown Trio Featuring Richie ColeStarburst
    Recorded completely at Track 1975 and released 1976 — featuring the DC jazz group, The Reuben Brown Trio:   Reuben Brown, Marshall Hawkins, Bernard Sweetney. (Adelphi AD 5001 — also re-released on CD – GCD 5001).

U.S. cover (left) designed by Dick Bangham vs. JAPANESE cover (right)

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Cole has worked with such artists as Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Art Pepper, Sonny Stitt, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Crawford, Boots Randolph, Phil Woods, Eddie Jefferson, Bobby Enriquez, Nancy Wilson, Tom Waits, and Manhattan Transfer.

  • The Nighthawks:  Several Nighthawks LP releases were recorded at Track =
    Open All Nite [Adelphi AD 4105, noted below in Adelphi Album Releases of the 1970s] engineered by Obie O’Brien in 1976; as well as Side Pocket Shot, its ‘progressive’ and wider-ranging follow-up (Adelphi AD 4115), engineered and mixed by Gerry Wyckoff & (Cap’n) Jon Curlin in 1977 [noted below in Dick Bangham Historical Spotlight]; Jacks & Kings (Adelphi AD 4120) from 1978, which was recorded with members of The Muddy Waters BandPinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Guitar Jr. & Calvin Jones — plus Dave Maxwell “in the wee wee hours of Summer & Fall 1977”; and the live album, Times Four (venue: El Mocambe, Toronto – c. 1979), with studio sessions recorded 1977-78 at Track, plus a live set hosted by John Hall at Georgetown’s radical radio station, WGTB — released in 1982 (Adelphi 2-LP AD 4130/35).

adelphi-nighthawks-jacks-kings-lpadelphi-nighthawks-times-four-lp

Gerald Herzhaft in the Encyclopedia of the Blues says Pinetop Perkins “is at his best on the collections Living Chicago Blues (Alligator) and Jacks and Kings (Adelphi); the latter was recorded with the Nighthawks.”  Brawner Smoot, meanwhile, would write in his review for Unicorn Times‘ October, 1982 edition — “The previously unreleased material is a representation of the broad range of influences the Nighthawks have absorbed during their ten year, ten album trek around the States”  (check out highlight “How Many More Years” with Guitar Jr.).

  • Bill Blue Band — Two Adelphi LP releases recorded and mixed at Track:
    Sing Like Thunder — Recorded 1978, released 1979  (Adelphi LP – AD 4109).
    Givin’ Good Boys A Bad Name — Recorded 1979, released 1980 (AD 4118), and “produced by [Cap’n Jon] for Adelphi,” according to Unicorn Times in their April, 1980 edition.

adelphi-blue-bill-band-thunder-lpadelphi-blue-bill-band-bad-name-lp

Says one 60s/70s rock blogger — “After releasing two albums Indian Summer Blues and Street Preacher on the Richmond, Va. based Feather Records, Bill signed with the prestigious Adelphi Records, one of the best blues labels in the US with worldwide distribution releasing Sing Like Thunder and Givin’ Good Boy’s A Bad Name. This gave [Blue] the exposure to play venues all over Europe and the US.”

Bill Blue Band - Unicorn Times (Jul 79)

[Thanks to Bill Hanke Music Research Archives for vintage unicorn times access]

+                         +                         +                         +                         +

However, there is a built-in structural problem in trying to tell the history of Gene Rosenthal and Adelphi Records in a linear fashion for, at any point in the story, a number of vectors may be in play, as Gene has worn many hats over the years:  musicologist, audio engineer, photographer, producer, label owner, distributor, political organizer and activist (who spoke out, for instance, against the strict segregation policy of DC’s Glen Echo amusement park).

Using Takoma Records as the source of inspiration as Washington City Paper’s David Dunlap, Jr. noted in 2006 – Rosenthal would launch Adelphi Records in 1968 (“I named it after a Fahey song, ‘The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill,’”), and only four years hence be one of the principal forces behind the creation of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD, to evolve into AFIM, or the Association for Independent Music), along with Dennis Bursh and Gary Seibert. The following year, 1973, Rosenthal – along with Takoma’s Charlie Mitchell and Bob Koester of Chicago’s Delmark Records – would serve on the Steering Committee when the NAIRD officially established itself (the same year, incidentally, Adelphi would release the first solo album by one of pop music’s all-time songwriters, Gerry Goffin).

Adelphi - Backwards Sam Firk-bAdelphi - Backwards Sam Firk-c

The Original Adelphi Studios:
516 East Indian Spring Drive

Prior to the studio’s construction, Rosenthal – as Billboard‘s Chris Morris would note – had been a “discophile” who used his reel-to-reel equipment to copy rare, expensive blues 78s (likely from Joe Bussard, who was influential to other blues scholars in making his 78s collection available to people like John Fahey).  “The only way to make copies of early 78s, because you couldn’t afford to buy them,” Rosenthal pointed out, “was to have a tape recorder.  Most of us couldn’t afford brand-new equipment, but very good second-hand semi-professional gear.  Shortly after that, as my friends actually started going out and doing the first round of rediscoveries, the only thing to add was microphones.  I had an early interest in audio, anyway, so it was just a natural progression.”

Construction efforts to turn the basement of 516 East Indian Spring Drive into a proper functioning recording studio began in late 1962 and were completed by mid-1964.  Adelphi Studio’s inaugural recording — John Fahey’s third album, Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites — would take place on August 22, 1964, with DC’s new “beltway” (i.e.,Interstate 495) but a stone’s throw away, having officially opened five days prior.

“Contemporary Guitar” – recorded at Adelphi Studios

John Fahey - Dance of Death LP

The following month or so, Rosenthal would record Skip James within days of his being rediscovered and brought back to the DC area by Fahey, Bill Barth and Henry Vestine. Gene Rosenthal fills in the details via the Adelphi Records website:

Skip [James] was found in the Tunica County, Mississippi, hospital by John Fahey and Bill Barth, young guitarists who were acting on a tip from Ishmon Bracey.  Like James, Bracey had recorded blues 78s during the late 20s/early 30s heyday, but, as a sanctified preacher, Bracey had no interest in returning to the Devil’s music.  According to Barth, age and infirmity had put James at the bottom of the plantation hierarchy, responsible for such mindless tasks as overseeing the sowing of cotton seeds into furrows, and Skip was both delighted and anxious to leave Mississippi farm life.  The two young men paid the modest hospital bill and whisked Skip away to the thriving East Coast folk scene.  After rehearsals and several performances, including a brief but memorable appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, Skip was ready to record again.  Fahey, Barth and partner Ed Denson arranged for sessions with sound engineer Gene Rosenthal in the basement studio of the Rosenthal home in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Those sessions, supplemented with live performance tapes made by Rosenthal at the Ontario Place Coffee House.

These 1964 recordings for Takoma would not see release, however, until 1993, after Rosenthal had the opportunity to buy back his own recordings.

adelphi-skip-james-lpLater in 1964, perhaps November or December, Rosenthal would record Mississippi John Hurt at the Ontario Place Coffee House for Dick Spottswood’s Piedmont label (Gene would also engineer Pete Seeger’s interview of Hurt at a house in DC’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood around that same time).  Toward the end of 1964, or possibly early 1965, Rosenthal would also record blues guitarists Archie Edwards and Frank Mizell, at Adelphi Studios.

Rosenthal – who met Michael Stewart while attending George Washington University from 1960-62, where he co-founded GW’s Folk Music Club (incorporated later as the Folklore Society of Greater Washington) – would work for Project Hope between the years 1962-1964, before recording Mississippi John Hurt in late 1964.

Gene would return to his studies, first locally for one year (Montgomery College, 1964) then in St. Louis for a couple more (Washington University, 1966-1967), before deciding to take the big plunge — via Adelphi’s founding in 1968 — to commit himself fully to music.

Soon after the label’s formation, Rosenthal — along with sister Carol and Mike Stewart — would take to the road.  As noted in in The Guardian‘s 2007 obituary for Stewart:

Adelphi conducted several field trips to blues locales to trace and record half-forgotten musicians.  Stewart was always on hand, whether to jog the performers’ memories by playing them their own music, learned from rare 78rpm discs, or to provide accompaniment.  In Memphis he played with guitarist RichardHacksawHarney; in Chicago with Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards and Big Joe Williams [the latter serving as talent scout]; and in St Louis with pianist Henry Brown and singer-guitarist Henry Townsend.

[Memphis Piano Red, with Stewart, visiting Sleepy John Estes AT HOME IN TENN.]

Mike Stewart & friends

Adelphi’s inaugural release, meanwhile, would be the 1968 debut album by a fellow member of the so-called East Coast Blues Mafia member, Mike Stewart, under the nom de guerre “Backwards Sam Firk” (now available as a digital download — GCD 1001).  As it turns out, Stewart had been the first to lay down tracks at Adelphi in 1963, before construction had been completed on the studio. 

adelphi-backwards-sam-firk-lp-i-xFirk would team up with Stephan Michelson (i.e., “Delta X“) for 1969’s Deadly Duo (on which the pair would be joined by Tom Hoskins on “Nineteen Fifty-One Blues”) and also blues musician and singer, Henry Townsend (whose earliest recording “Henry’s Worry Blues”  was released by Columbia in 1930) for Henry T. Music Man., a collection of recordings made between the years 1969-1974 — including 1971 sessions at Adelphi.

adelphi-backwards-sam-firk-lp-ii-badelphi-backwards-sam-firk-lp-iii-b

Little Brother Montgomery’s Long Road toFolsom Prison Blues
… and Adelphi Records:
Historical Spotlight

little-brother-montgomery-crescent-city-blues

Zero to 180 previously examined the issue of Johnny Cash having to pay restitution to Gordon Jenkins over the misuse of a song “Crescent City Blues” that Cash essentially adapted for “Folsom Prison Blues.”   Clearly, Zero to 180 did not examine closely enough, as Jenkins himself had appropriated the title as well as melody of Little Brother Montgomery‘s 1930s instrumental of the same name (as noted by Jonathan Silverman in Nine Choices: Johnny Cash & American Culture from 2010).

Little Brother Montgomery would later record No Special Rider – with Jeanne Carroll – for Adelphi in 1969, the label’s third album release.

1971 would see the beginning of additional new recordings of Adelphi artists previously recorded on the road in 1969, facilitated in part by these same artists visiting the Washington, DC area for musical engagements, such as Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival.

Adelphi’s early releases would embrace African-American “roots” music — Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus Cannon, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Johnny Shines (one-time touring mate of Robert Johnson), and George & Ethel McCoy (niece and nephew, by the way, of Memphis Minnie [McCoy]) — at a time when many (white) Americans were still getting their blues distilled through a British sensibility — if at all.

1972 letter from renowned photographer David Gahr to Gene Rosenthal

adelphi-letter-from-david-gahr-1972

Suni McGrath, whose Cornflower Suite would be Adelphi’s second full-length release, would note his primary musical influences on the album’s cover notes:

“The music on this record is my attempt to explore and further the American acoustic guitar.  I have four sources for the musics here presented:  Bulgarian music for rhythmic modes and ideas, also modulation of melodic modes and harmonies; Hindustani for subtle melodic graces and ideas of variation; Fahey for the conception of the art; Bartok for modal harmonies analogous to conventional western harmony, and treatment of themes.”

Featured song:   “Cornflower Suite” by Suni McGrath (1969)

[Pssst:  click on triangle above to play the entire “Cornflower Suite” by Suni McGrath]

1969’s Cornflower Suite (currently out of print and trading on Ebay for $19-$87, though soon to be re-released) was recorded at Silver Spring’s Adelphi Studios, as well as the following albums bulleted below:

adelphi-suni-mcgrath-mourning-dove-lpadelphi-roy-bookbinder-travelin-man-lp

adelphi-neil-harpe-lpadelphi-houston-stockhouse-lp

  • Suni McGrath‘s 1972 album, Childgrove received engineering and production assistance from Gene Rosenthal (who also served as photographer).
  • Paul Geremia‘s Hard Life Rockin’ Chair from 1973 would also be produced and engineered by Rosenthal at Adelphi Studios.

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  • Stephen Spano would record the backing track for “Pam’s Song” from 1975’s s Eye to Eye at Adelphi Studios.(while the song would be further embellished at Track Recorders — see album history above)
  • Harmonica Frank FloydHarmonica Frank Floyd (Swamp Root) — full-length release from one-time “medicine show” performer of songs that were recorded 1972-74 and issued in 1976.

Letter to Creem Magazine – Feb. 1974 editionadelphi-harmonica-frank-creem-letter

Cover design & illustration by Dick Bangham — Liner notes by Frank Floyd

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< = = = Historical Spotlight on Dick Bangham = = = >

DC-area artist Dick Bangham — most famously associated with his front cover image for Root Boy Slim‘s Zoom album of 1979 — has enjoyed working with Gene Rosenthal on a number of album releases over the years, in terms of cover design, illustration and/or art direction (most recently, he and wife Linda did the art & design work on the new album by Ken Swartz & the Palace of Sin noted above):

Bangham’s earliest Adelphi commission would be to provide the ink illustration for DC-area “hippie” ensemble Beverly Pureheart’s (now rather rare) EP from 1969: Continue reading

“Snowfall”: Soulful + Strings

The Soulful Strings evoke the magic of falling snow — thanks to Dorothy Ashby‘s harp — on their classic instrumental track, “Snowfall“:

“Snowfall”     Soulful Strings     1968

Discogs helps us appreciate how The Soulful Strings were able to create an identifiable sound despite only playing other people’s material:

“The Soulful Strings was a project of the Chicago soul arranger Richard Evans, working with several musicians from the Cadet Records house band between 1966 and 1971 including Charles Stepney, Bobby Christian, Billy Wooten, Phil Upchurch, Lennie Druss, and Cleveland Eaton.

Employing a repertoire composed almost entirely of covers, Evans and company created a unique sound, combining a sharp, soulful rhythm section with a lush string backing.  Evans pushed the strings to the front, assuming an attitude previously reserved only for the hulking funk of bass and rhythm guitar.  It was this crucial element that made The Soulful Strings sound, so successful.”

soulful-strings-magic-of-christmas-lp“Snowfall” can be found on The Magic of Christmas, released in 1968 on Chess jazz subsidiary label, Cadet.

soulful-strings-magic-of-christmas-xCadet would issue 7 albums by The Soulful Strings between the years 1966-1970.

Hank Garland: Lost Album of ’60

Fascinating that a musician of the caliber of Hank Garland (who was signed to Columbia, for cryin’ out loud) would release a companion album of sorts – Subtle Swing – to the groundbreaking (and previously discussed) Jazz Winds from a New Direction, and yet so little information to confirm its existence, aside from Sundazed’s 2004 vinyl reissue.

Poke around online and you will discover that Subtle Swing was tacked onto 2013’s CD reissue of Who Is Gary Burton? as an inducement for fans of the noted jazz vibraphonist — but at the expense of Hank Garland!

Gary Burton LPDig deeper still, and you will correctly deduce that Sony, in partnership with Sundazed, incorporated Hank’s entire Columbia output [1959’s Velvet Guitar + 1960’s Subtle Swing + 1961’s Jazz Winds + 1962’s Unforgettable Guitar] into a double compact disc, albeit in jumbled order, when issued in 2001.

Jazz Wax notes that the recording session for Subtle Swing took place six days after the Jazz Winds in a New Direction album had wrapped on August 24, 1960 (here we go again, an entire album recorded in a single day) although, it’s not quite true that the “same group” of musicians played on this follow-up album — only Garland and Burton remained from Jazz Winds.

Check out the stereo drums that kick off album closer, “Call D. Law” – a clever bit of wordplay that also pays tribute to Columbia boss and benefactor, Don Law :

“Call D. Law”     Hank Garland     1960

Hank Garland:  Guitar
Gary Burton:  Vibraphone
Bob Moore:  Bass
Doug Kirkham & MurreyBuddyHarman:  Drums
Bill Pursell:  Piano
Don Law:  Producer

The CD liner notes by the indispensible Rich Kienzle sheds light on the special reasons underlying Subtle Swing‘s obscurity.

“Six days later, Hank returned to the studio for two days to produce a jazzy album for the song licensing firm SESAC, who produced country and gospel recordings for the radio stations that took licenses with the company.  This session was geared as much to the radio market as it was to the jazz audience.  The band, however, was strictly Nashville, including Burton, Bob Moore, pianist Bill Pursell, and drummer Doug Kirkham, who’d worked with Hank in Billy Burke’s combo.

If Jazz Winds emphasized Hank in a [Tal] Farlowesque context, the ten-song SESAC effort, released to clients under the title Subtle Swing, reflected the influence of pianist George Shearing’s Quintet.  Programming requirements seemingly mandated no songs longer than four minutes.  It’s a Garland-Burton effort all the way.”

Rare original copy of 1960 SESAC album — sold for $47 in 2004

Hank Garland - original 1960 cover“Now that the Hank Garland Quintet is a ‘fait accompli’ on SESAC Recordings, the young guitarist stands in the unique position of moulding a new career on the firm foundation of his C&W successes.  With a patient hand and perceptive musicianship, he has unified the instrumental skills of five performers to produce these refreshing sounds.  The “subtle swing” which has always been a vital part of Garland’s playing transcends his newest contribution to musical entertainment.”  [liner notes from the back cover]

But tragedy would intervene in Garland’s life when a blown rear tire resulted in a serious accident that would leave him permanently impaired.  1962’s Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland would essentially be a repackaging of the SESAC recordings — his musical career forever halted.  In 1992, Bear Family would gather Garland’s 1940s & 50s Decca recordings, including a pair of excellent unissued tracks from 1957, “Baby Guitar” and “Hank’s Dream.”

2004 reissue — “designed for repeated listening” as the original LP promised

Hank Garland LP-a

“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.

Bill Doggett’s “Soft”: Enduring

Bill Doggett and his Hammond organ, in 1957, would breathe (via flute) fresh life into Tiny Bradshaw‘s “Soft” from 1952 – both versions released on King.  Even though Doggett’s “Soft” would ‘only’ peak at #51, Billboard’s “Hot 100 Chart History” indicates this song to have spent 14 weeks on the chart – impressive staying power for an instrumental:

“Soft”     Bill Doggett     1957

Billboard would report “Soft” as an ‘R&B territorial best seller’ (1) in Detroit in its October 14, 1957 edition and (2) Cincinnati in its December 21, 1957 edition.  “Soft” would also be included in Billboard’s ‘Top 100 Sides – Store Recorded Sales’ for the week ending October 26, as well as December 7, 1957.

                     US 45 on King                          UK 45 on “Beatle” label Parlophone

Bill Doggett US 45Bill Doggett UK 45

The song would endure into the 1970s.  However, King Records would do a curious thing.  On the one hand, King would reissue “Soft” as a single in 1971 – though as a B-side (!) – while just the year prior, the song had been deemed fit to serve as the title track of a Bill Doggett LP compilation.  What gives?  Perhaps the 1971 single was an attempt to give record buyers a “double A-side” release with two solid tracks and no filler, so perhaps I should lighten up a little.

                   1971 King LP — “Soft” as title track        1970 King 45 — “Soft” as B-side

Bill Doggett LP (1970)Bill Doggett 45 reissue (1971)

It’s the Bill Doggett Centennial!

Bill Doggett, who recorded an instrumental in 1956 (“Honky Tonk”) that sold over 1 million copies — a ridiculous number, especially for King Records.  2016, therefore, means that “Honky Tonk” turns 60 (which is the new 40, anyway), and the artist who recorded it was (curiously enough) 40 years old at the time, as Bill Doggett was born exactly one hundred years ago.  I have to confess:  I didn’t figure this out on my own.  This information would come directly from Bill Doggett II, nephew and namesake, who recently reached out to Zero to 180 in response to the precarious future of the original King Records historic site in Cincinnati:

“King Records and its building are to Cincinnati Music History what Capitol Records and its building are to Los Angeles and West Coast r&b and jazz.  Preserving the building and turning it in to a restored TOURIST Destination will bring Tax revenue dollars and TOURISM.  Think BIG….not small.  THIS YEAR is The BILL DOGGETT CENTENNIAL 1916-2016 and THE 60TH Anniversary of the landmark KING Gold Record: HONKY TONK Parts 1/2.”

Honky Tonk”:  Promotional video from Bill Doggett Productions

Latest Report on Efforts to Save the King Records Historic Site

What Will It Take to Save King RecordsCincinnati Magazine – January 6, 2016

Don Sebesky: Clavinet Pioneer

Last November’s tribute to the funkiest musical instrument known to humankind would seem to designate NRBQ‘s “Stomp” (recorded December, 1968) as among the earliest of recordings to feature the clavinet, even though by article’s end I reveal my trump card: “Attractive Girl” by The Termites — an album track on 1967’s Do the Rock Steady, a Studio One LP that was originally released in Jamaica and the UK.

Termites LP-aTermites LP-bb

My gratitude to the mysterious Felix, who points out that Don Sebesky‘s “Water Brother” from 1968’s Distant Galaxy album – based on the recording date – undoubtedly precedes NRBQ’s first recordings for Columbia and highlights the clavinet work of Sebesky himself:

“Water Brother”     Don Sebesky     1968

Distant Galaxy, Sebesky’s second album for Verve, would find Larry Coryell (again) on guitar (“Lady Madonna”) and sitar (“Guru-Vin”), along with Chuck Rainey, Dick Hyman and Hubert Laws, among others, providing musical support.

Don Sebelsky LPAlthough a solo artist from the late 1960s through the 1990s, Sebesky enjoys much greater renown as an arranger, whose CV includes Jimmy Dean, Astrud Gilberto, Sonny Stitt, Dionne Warwicke, Esther Phillips, Hank Crawford, Leslie Uggams, George Benson, Maynard Ferguson, Gilbert Bécaud, Paul Desmond, Charles Brown, Wes Montgomery, Willie Bobo, Walter Wanderley, Doc Severinson, Carmen McRae, and Roberta Flack.

Sebesky’s earliest recognition, however, was for his jazz trombone work with Kai Winding, Tommy Dorsey, and Stan Kenton, among others.

Check out the assemblage of talent for Don Sebesky’s 1973 2-LP set

Don Sebelsky - Giant BoxUnfortunately, I’m about to pull another trump card of sorts out of my sleeve:  Aaron Kipness’s Hohnet Clavinet FAQ from 2007 in which the question of First Clavinet Recordings is addressed on page ten.  Stevie Wonder (to no one’s surprise) is identified as a potential clavinet originator; “ShooBeDooBeDooDaDay,” which opens with a funky clavinet riff, was released, according to the FAQ, in 1966!   Upon closer inspection, however, credible sources point to March, 1968 as the song’s actual release date.

The FAQ, additionally, offers Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” (released January, 8, 1968 and recorded, according to Soulful Kinda Music, three days prior) as an early clavinet recording, which it is.

Nevertheless, “Attractive Girl” by The Termites – a track from their 1967 Studio One LP Do the Rock Steady remains, as best as I can determine, the medal bearer for Earliest Clavinet Recording.

Clavinet Update!  Special thanks to Jim Kimsey, whose March, 2016 comment ponied up “Six O’Clock” by (NRBQ fan) John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful – recorded in 1967 – as a new candidate for “Earliest Clavinet Recording” — now tied with “Attractive Girl” by The Termites.

Liberation’s Sweet Sound

The alluring flute and vibraphone are just a ploy – liberation’s crafty end game.of using music to help listeners recognize the shared humanity that binds us all:

“Liberation”     The Afro-Blues Quintet Plus One     1965

“Liberation” is the debut single/opening statement from The Afro-Blues Quintet Plus One, who released five albums between the years 1965-1969.  45Cat appears to tell us that “Liberation” b/w “Walk on By” was released twice in 1965 but with the A & B sides flipped!  Is this really true?

Twin 45s but with the two sides flipped?     Note:  Hal David bumped from the credits

Afro-Blues 45-aAfro-Blues 45-b

1967 LP (early appearance for this “Future Shock” typeface?)Afro Blues LP

Dorothy Ashby’s Jazz Harp

Just as Rufus Harley expanded the musical possibilities of the bagpipes, Dorothy Ashby likewise liberated the harp from its orchestral internment.  Dorothy Ashby, as it says on her 1957 debut album, was a “jazz harpist” – though not strictly.  1968’s “Soul Vibrations,” as you can hear, would also incorporate funk and electronic sounds into the musical mix:

“Soul Vibrations”     Dorothy Ashby     1968

Zero to 180 is particularly delighted to see the ‘Future Shocktypeface being employed on the album cover.

“Soul Vibrations” would find release as a promo 7-inch on Cadet, a jazz subsidiary of Chess (its flip side “Lonely Girl” – says the 45 – is “from Paramount film Harlow“).

Dorothy Ashby 45In a fascinatingly futuristic move, Ashby would nearly coin the term “Hip Hop” by accident with the release of her 1972 album, Hip Harp.

Dorothy Ashby LPWho’s Counting?  This is the sixteenth Zero to 180 piece thus far tagged as Jazz.

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.

King Records: Oddball Historical Tidbits

Triple Threat – the debut album by jazz multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk – was originally released on the King label in 1956, rereleased on Bethlehem as Third Dimension, and on the Affinity label as Early Roots.  Kirk on tenor sax, stritch, manzello, & siren (!), with James Madison on piano, Carl Pruitt on bass, and Henry Duncan on drums.

Roland Kirk-Triple Threat-aTitle track “Triple Threat” recorded in New York City on November 9, 1956

Rare James Brown single – “The Drunk” – was released in 1970 on King subsidiary, Bethlehem. Unfortunately, no audio recording available yet on the web, which is a shame since the song features rhythmic propulsion by William Hargis “Beau Dollar” Bowman.  Egon notes in his well-researched audio essay about the outsized influence of short-lived drummer for James Brown, “Beau Dollar,” who would also be a King recording artist in his own right:

“Recorded one year after ‘Mother Popcorn’ in May 1970, ‘The Drunk’ is supposedly Bowman’s last recording for King.  Since Stubblefield and the rest of Brown’s classic ’60s band – with the exception of drummer John ‘Jabo’ Starks – had either left Brown’s employ or been fired by this point, [James Brown discographer, Alan] Leeds postulates that Bowman – the only drummer in Cincinnati that could have pulled off this beat – played on this David Matthews-penned instrumental.  Matthews’ overall assessment of Bowman is clearly illustrated on this single: ‘Beau was the best white funk drummer in Cincinnati … This single was his heaviest, and a fitting swan song.'”

James Brown - The Drunk 45

From Michel Ruppli’s The King Labels discography we learn that “part two” is what ended up being issued as the A-side while “part one” remains unissued to this day.  Both parts recorded on May 20, 1970 at King’s Cincinnati studios.  Musical fight45Cat lists “The Drunk” as the A-side while Discogs deems it the B-side.  Both sources agree that its backing track – “A Man Has to Go Back to the Crossroads” – charted on July 18, 1970 on Record World’s “Singles Coming Up” chart, peaking at #110.

One more James Brown-related historical note:  Troy Seals, hall-of-fame songwriter (and one-time member of The Dapps who wrote “Two Old Cats Like Us“), once played guitar on an April, 1967 recording session at King’s Cincinnati studios that resulted in “Why Did You Take Your Love Away from Me”:

LP-only track:  “Why Did you take your love away from me”

In 1959 The Sportcoats would release their one and only King single – title of the flip side:  “‘A’ Side!  At the time of release, Billboard staff would give this single a one-star rating; a copy of this 45 is currently for sale on Ebay for $100.

Hundred-dollar disc?

Sportcoats $100 45An artist by the name of Scoopie Brucie released his lone single on King Records, 1972’s “The Whole Thing,” a country novelty tune “with lyrics based on the tagline of the old Alka Seltzer ad campaign.  The vocal style apes that of Jerry Reed, even working in titles of Reed’s songs ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot’ and ‘She Got the Gold Mine, I Got the Shaft’ into the lyrics” (says Discogs) backed with “Ya’ll Come.”

Scoopie Brucie 45Pee Wee King‘s ace western swing outfit – The Golden West Cowboys – once backed country comedian, Minnie Pearl, in an August, 1946 recording session [possibly] at Cincinnati’s King Records (says Prague Frank – although Randy McNutt, in King Records of Cincinnati, states 1947 to be the year Syd Nathan “built a recording studio in back of the loading dock” – hmm) that yielded exactly one single, “In the Shadow of the Pine” b/w    “On Top of Old Smoky.”

Minnie Pearl King 78Randy McNutt weighs in on the controversy:  “The Minnie Pearl recording could not have been recorded at the King Recording Studio as we know it.  It didn’t open until the fall of 1947.  Perhaps the King guys were using some equipment there and recording by then. I don’t know.  I know they had been experimenting early on with various kinds of recording equipment.  The Pearl record was cut in August and September of 1946, but the location is not given in the company log, according to the King Labels, A Discography.  It could have been done anywhere–perhaps even at the Bucky Herzog studio in Cincinnati. I’d be interested in knowing where.”

Simon & Garfunkel‘s first 45 – their #49 hit from 1957 (sung as ‘Tom & Jerry‘) that in no way resembles the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Suzie – was leased by Syd Nathan in 1958 and reissued as a King 7-inch, “Hey, Schoolgirl.”

Tom & Jerry King 45Similarly, in 1963 King would lease the tapes to Slim Dusty & His Bushlanders version of 1960 Australian hit – “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” – that would hit big three years later in the US:

Slim Dusty King 45On a limited budget – as always – this would be the closest King could come to actually getting a piece of The Beatles during their initial burst of fame:

Beehives King single