Calvin Shields – Musical Pioneer

Hard to believe it was only 20 years or so ago I was having cheese coneys with The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s preeminent music writer Larry Nager and asking what it would take for the city to finally “own up” to its King Records history.  Last week, to my utter delight and amazement, the City of Cincinnati, under Mayor John Cranley’s leadership and with the support of City Council, leveraged the power of the state on behalf of music history — so now Zero to 180 will have to find something else to complain about.

Thanks to a $1 land swap deal, there will be no wrecking ball for the original structure used by Syd Nathan and his talented team to birth a musical enterprise that enabled King the ability to ship out in the morning a piece of music that had been recorded the evening before.  As Brian Powers point out in his King Records Scrapbook, no other label – including almighty Columbia – had the nimbleness to operate in this capacity.

Photo courtesy of Brian Powers

Unique among fellow King chroniclers and researchers, Powers organizes his King Records Scrapbook categorically — The Executives; A&R Men; Sound Engineers; Session Musicians; Recording Artists — rather than chronologically, while throwing in  fun tidbits, such as a King Records Timeline of historical highlights plus street addresses of selected King artists and executives, including Syd Nathan (who once lived in Bond Hill an easy walk from the home of drummer, Reg Grizzard, and about a mile and a half from my boyhood home in Roselawn, as the crow flies).

Rob Finnis, in his extensive liner notes for Ace UK anthology King Rockabilly, reveals some of the audio engineering aspects behind King’s legendary sound (e.g., “Fever” by Little Willie John):

The live, upfront studio sound attained by engineer Eddie Smith had the bass and drums leaping out of the speakers with maximum impact.  [Charlie] Feathers wasn’t the only beneficiary [“Bottle to the Baby“].  This sharp, larger-than-life ambience characterizes several other titles on this compact disc including “Move” [Boyd Bennett], “Peg Pants” [Bill Beach], “No Good Robin Hood” [Delbert Barker], and “Rock n’ Roll Nursery Rhyme” [Dave Dudley].  “That old King studio had a terrific sound,” explained Henry Glover.  “It had a very high ceiling, maybe 24 feet, and the control room protruded into the studio in a V-shape like the bridge of a ship so the engineer could see in front and to the side of him.  I sent for an engineer by the name of Eddie Smith who was a very good technical man.  He stayed with King for about 12 years and later worked over at Bell Sound in New York.

Everything was done at one time, there was no multi-tracking; you would continue making cuts until you got every instrument, every voice, on the 1/4 inch tape and that was considered your final mix.  In those days, we were even thinking of frequencies and emphasis on various instruments.  Out of the regular upright bass, we got a sound just like today’s electric Fender bass by close-miking it with a microphone called the 44BX and surrounding it with live-surfaced acoustic isolation panels.  The drum sound in those days was generally gotten by releasing the drum snares completely and you’d put a heavy object like the drummer’s wallet – or Syd Nathan’s wallet – on the snare and the really hard-driving backbeat stroke was actually a rimshot.

Glover would be even more emphatic in his praise for King as a facility with great sound in this passage from Arnold Shaw‘s classic roots rock historical critique, Honkers and Shouters (which includes a chapter devoted to King Records entitled “Record Company in an Icehouse”):

Shortly after he joined King Records, Glover moved to Cincinnati “because Syd Nathan had built one of the finest recording studios in the country and staffed it with Eddie Smith, a former musician who was a brilliant engineer.”

Calvin Shields behind the kit [photo courtesy Brian Powers]

Last year, on the eve of the city’s Historic Commission vote to consider the request for demolition, The Cincinnati Enquirer would subtitle Sharon Coolidge’s feature story on King in the Sunday edition, “Fight to Preserve the Legacy of King Records and Founder Syd Nathan at Crossroads” and include quotes from Patti Collins (Bootsy Collins Foundation), Elliott Ruther (Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation), Jon Hartley Fox (author of ‘King of the Queen City’), L.A. Reid (who actually grew up in Evanston), Otis Williams, Mayor John Cranley, former mayor Dwight Tillery, and Anzora Adkins of the Evanston Community Council.

Can you spot the gaffe?

Elliott Ruther, in the Enquirer piece, notes the progressive hiring practices employed by Nathan – in his attempt to extend his song publishing fortunes across the color line – that put King in the forefront of American race relations.  Powers point out that CalvinEagle EyeShields, in his studio work from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, may have been “the first black drummer to record country music.”

CALVIN ‘EAGLE EYE’ SHIELDS – 1950
[PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN POWERS]

Quotes from Henry Glover & Calvin ‘Eagle Eye’ Shields
[special thanks to Brian Powers*]

“I started using drums for the first time for country music with Moon Mullican.  He fell in love with a black drummer that I had been using on several dates around Cincinnati called Calvin Shields.  He was better known as ‘Eagle Eye.’  He was very, very friendly and dear to Moon Mullican.  He played on many of his sessions, and many of the other country & western records when they began to use drums, which they didn’t do when I first came to King.  [With] Moon Mullican, I would use a heavy backbeat that this drummer called Eagle Eye, that came there with Tiny Bradshaw a few years back and made Cincinnati his home, he was ideal for that, the backbeat.” – Henry Glover

“Moon had such a great soul.  He was just like a black man to me, you know, like he thought, felt, and expressed himself and everything else.  Like we would say he had a whole lot of soul, Moon did.” – Henry Glover

“Drums were a must for Moon.  Moon wanted drums.  And he fell madly in love with this drummer called Calvin Shields that we called Eagle Eye.” – Henry Glover

“Moon Mullican was the first to use a black band at King.  In just about every case, we had a black bass or maybe a black drummer with Moon in order to get the rhythm because Moon played like a black man and he even thought like a black man – in fact, I sometimes had my ideas about whether he was black or not!  He was the very first white man, I believe, that caught my eye as being not filled with bigotry or hatred … he found himself as comfortable among blacks as he did among whites.  And it’s a very funny thing – both races in those days were displaying standoff-ish attitudes — not Moon.  Moon would make most of the black clubs in the worst parts of town and all of his friends during the course of his stay would be black people.  He’d play in black clubs and they would give him a standing ovation.  It was very rare.” – Henry Glover

“Glover introduced us. I walked in and all those white cats sitting around wondering,  ‘Hey, he’s got a black man playing his music.’  So I don’t say nothing to them and they don’t say nothing to me.  So we played and that’s when I fell in love with him because it swung.  So Moon says ‘This is my drummer,’ so when he went to buy some whiskey for the group, he bought a bottle for them and a bottle of whisky for me and him.  He said, ‘Man, I want you to take me over to the Cotton Club,’ and I took him.  Tiny Bradshaw invited him up and he played nothing but Duke Ellington music.“ – Eagle Eye Shields

“When a cat becomes a studio musician, he’s a musician who plays anything they bring in front of him to play.  When I played with Moon Mullican, I enjoyed it.  When I played that Country music, I learned to swing with that Country-Western cause I got into their mood and into their groove.  When I got ready to play Rhythm & Blues, I got into their groove.  When I play dance music, legit music, I get in to a legit feel cause I am a musician.  I didn’t become a superstar.  My thing was to be good, in order to be in demand, to be sought after.” Eagle Eye Shields

[Moon had a number of hits in 1950 produced by Henry Glover including “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” “Mona Lisa” & “Goodnight Irene”; Mullican accepted the invitation to join in the Grand Ole Opry that year.]  “Then Moon said, ‘I want to take you on the Grand Ole Opry with me, man.’  I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go on that.’  He asked me if I would travel with him.  I told him if I’ll be out there in them towns, them junctions, you might not be around and they’ll done grab me and lynch me.’  But now I wish I had because, if I had got out with Moon, I might have made a name for myself.  I might have ended up with the big one – Willie Nelson.” – Eagle Eye Shields

Moon Mullican & Henry Glover

Shields, who took not only his father’s name but nickname as well, came to King through his membership in Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra.  Eagle Eye would conduct his session work for King in between performances with Bradshaw in town at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club and on the road in New York City.  Shields would subsequently serve as drummer for the Billy Williams Quartet (1957-1961), Della Reese (1967-1973) and music director/drummer for Redd Foxx (1978-1984).

Calvin Shields with Paul Bryant (organ) & Norris Patterson (sax) – 1962 in NV

Photo courtesy of UNLV Libraries Digital Collections

The index in King Labels:  A Discography, edited by Michel Ruppli (with assistance from Bill Daniels) helpfully identifies sessions where Calvin Shields served as the drummer, thus allowing Zero to 180 to compile a special list of suggested recordings — all of them captured on tape in Cincinnati (except Willis Jackson – NYC):

           Parlophone = Home of The Beatles                            French 10-inch LP

  King EP – US                                                          French EP

Abstract expressionist cover art for 1952 French LP

Furthermore, Eagle Eye is believed – as best as Brian Powers can determine – to have played on Moon Mullican‘s version of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Well Oh Well” [recorded July 3, 1950] and the classic “Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena)” [December 8, 1950], written by Moon with Chief William Redbird, plus Hawkshaw Hawkins‘ version of Tennessee Ernie’s “Shotgun Boogie” [January, 1951] and Al Dexter‘s “Hi De Ho Boogie on a Saturday Night” [May 19, 1950] — all recorded at King’s Cincinnati studio.  Documentation from King’s early years, unfortunately, is often scant.

Shields would also keep time on an enchanting Latin-flavored instrumentalé tropicalé whose musical hook is a gloriously deep bass blast of the horn (B-flat):

“Ocean Liner (Bossa Nova)”     Bill Doggett     1959/1963

Ocean Liner” – penned by Henry Glover and Bill Doggett – would originally be released in 1959 but then “rebranded” in 1963 as “Ocean Liner Bossa Nova,” just in time to exploit the runaway success of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba LP (only jazz album ever to top Billboard’s pop chart) of 1962

   *                                                 *                                                 *

Calvin ShieldsInspiration for Mack Rice’sMustang Sally“?

According to Douglas Green Associates:

Mack Rice wrote “Mustang Sally” following a visit to his friend, singer Della Reese in New York City.  Reese had off-handedly mentioned that she planned to buy her drummer a Lincoln for his birthday.  Calvin Shields, the drummer, appreciated the thought but reportedly replied, “I don’t want a Lincoln, I want a Mustang.”  Shields’ response confused Rice.  He could not understand why anyone would want the small Mustang instead of the bigger and more powerful Lincoln.  After returning to Detroit, Rice began work on a song titled “Mustang Mama.”  A serendipitous visit to Aretha Franklin’s house led to the name change to “Mustang Sally.”  Franklin believed that “Mustang Sally” fit better with the music. And so the song was born.

Obituary from the Las Vegas Review-Journal + personal remembrances

*Henry Glover quotes are from an 1980s interview with the Country Music Hall of Fame *Calvin Shields quotes are from an interview conducted by Brian Powers in 2009.

**Willis “Gatortail” Jackson played a pivotal role in Jamaican music history when spies working for Duke Reid identified the source of Coxsone Dodd’s theme song (i.e., “Coxsone’s Hop”) that cemented Downbeat‘s status as the superior sound system in Kingston:  “Later for the Gatorby Willis Jackson [1958 – sounds not a little unlike ska].  In those pre-Internet days, operators of competing mobile sound systems would use American 45s with the labels scratched off as proprietary source material.  Duke Reid’s discovery of Coxsone’s source material would prompt Dodd into creating an original Jamaican sound in 1962 – ska – in time for the birth of JA’s independence.  Much more direct evidence of the Cincinnati-Kingston connection can be found here and here

<Note:   For optimal presentation, avoid viewing this website on a smartphone>

 

“Haulin’ Freight”: 1959 (not 1951)

An Ebay sales listing from January, 2016 validates my hunch that truck driving classic “Haulin’ Freight” by Bob Newman was recorded twice — first, in 1951, and then again in 1959 with some of the rough “barrelhouse” edges smoothed out via overdubs.  The more contemporary version would be issued again in 1963, according to PragueFrank.

Interestingly enough, “Haulin’ Freight” was co-written by King’s indispensable A&R man, Henry Glover and would be included in 2012 retrospective, The Henry Glover Story.

King Truck Driver Songs LPMichel Ruppli’s 2-volume reference – The King Labels:  A Discography – lists a recording session from  October 9, 1951 that includes “Haulin’ Freight.”  However, in parentheses next to the song title, Ruppli directs you to K4264, which is an undated entry sometime in 1959 that lists 2 truck driving songs – “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues” & “Haulin’ Freight” – and simply says “dubbed from King masters.”

But listen for yourself – here’s the original 1951 version:

“Haulin’ Freight”     Bob Newman     1951

Now listen to what King Records fabricated in 1959 using the original version “dubbed from the masters” and augmented by – what I can only assume to be – a new rhythm section and lead guitar (excerpt from Charlie Coleman‘s classic country radio show):

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Haulin’ Freight” by Bob Newman]

But how they’d do it?  Is that the original vocal?   It sounds like they might have kept the original piano track, but I’m not even certain about that.  Would love to know who played on the 1959 version, my favorite of the two, despite the great guitar lines on the original.  Funny how I’ve been wrestling with this issue for years (and with Charlie Coleman above), but only just now did I figure out the deeper meaning behind “dubbed from the masters.”

Just for fun, go ahead and play both versions at the same time and note how dissimilar they sound.

Bob Newman 45aBob Newman 45b

July 1976: Meet the Ramones

One of my mom’s friends gave me two back issues of Rolling Stone, both dated July of 1976.  One issue in particular – the July 15th edition, with The Beatles on the cover, coincidentally enough (as you’ll later see) – is a time capsule rich in details, big and small:

Rolling Stone - Fab Four 76As soon as I turned the page, right away on the inside cover I couldn’t help but notice this full-page (and somewhat provocative) ad for a 1970s ‘midnight movie’ – Tunnel Vision – that somehow escaped notice my entire life until just now..

Tunnel Vision - posterScattered throughout the issue are a number of arresting moments in popular music during a period that would be considered in the decades-to-come as “classic rock”:

  • Full-page ad for David Bowie – in his starring role in a film about an alien who fell to Earth – that features a bold image that was later used as the basis for 1977’s Low album cover.  Later in the issue, the film is panned by reviewer, Paul Nelson, under the title, “Bowie Film Falls Flat: Too Much of Nothing.”  There an outsized quote in the magazine’s Random Notes section from Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, who declares, “Worse film I’ve ever seen, so dreadful … so arty-farty beyond.”
  • Daryl ‘The Captain’ Dragon (of The Captain & Tennille) is quoted in Random Notes remarking on “the tremendous burden” he and Toni faces in influencing young fans and goes on to say, “The Beatles misused that responsibility and turned a whole generation on to drugs.  We’re going to be very careful how we use our new fame.”
  • Neil Young – whose song “Alabama” once inspired a legendary “musical fight” with Lynyrd Skynyrd – actually ended up taking Ronnie Van Zandt’s band on tour with him in the summer of 1976.  According to Random Notes, “those Southern men who once sang they didn’t need Neil Young around anyhow will tag along with Young and Steve Stills on some July/August outdoor dates.  In real life, Skynyrd are Young are pals.  ‘They play my kind of music,’ says Neil, ‘They sound like they mean it.'”
  • Late-breaking news item about a surprise reunion of Country Joe & the Fish, who were expected to play a festival gig in Wales as one of the headlining acts.  The other headliner?  Bob Marley & the Wailers.  Barry Melton reveals what prompted the reunion:  “The festival was originally June 5th, and [Steve] Stills canceled out.  So my agent in London called and asked me how to get hold of Steve Miller – they were offering $50,000.  I found out Miller was all booked up and said, ‘Hey Phil, we’d do it for 40 thousand.’  They said ‘yes.’  Not quite for $40,000, but enough for us to make a lot of money.'”
  • Full-page advert inside the issue’s back cover for Toots & the Maytals‘ “eagerly awaited second album” – Reggae Got Soul – that is dominated by a large photo of Toots Hibbert on stage caught at a particularly transcendent moment, with his back and arms fully outstretched, and one word – Toots! – in giant letters above his head.
  • Legendary Los Angeles session player – saxophonist, Steve Douglas – had just completed one of the most unusual recording sessions ever committed to tape:  inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops!  Said Douglas, “I’m a student of archaeology, and I thought the chamber would be incredible to play in.”  The chamber was so responsive, he said, that he created drum effects by simply tapping on his flute.  Douglas was shopping the album for a label at the time.
  • Frustrated plea from Dave Marsh in his “American Grandstand” column with regard to One for the Road, the “new” album by Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance.  Says Marsh, “It isn’t the most terrific record I’ve heard lately, just one of the most engaging … But record companies aren’t interested in an oddity, even a beautiful one, and One for the Road probably won’t be released in America.  The first Slim Chance album had disappointing sales, and Lane’s contract with A&M has lapsed.”
  • Austin record collector, Doug Hanners, “has unearthed a mid-60s album called Soundsville that contains cut by such biggies as The Beach Nuts and The Rough Necks, among others.  The album sold for 99 cents in grocery stores back then, but now it would fetch up to $20.  The reason:  both groups featured Lou Reed.”   I suspect the album may have increased in value over the years.  Rolling Stone then queried Reed himself, and he told the magazine that “he’d spent time as a staff writer for Pickwick Records, which specialized in the quickie, cheapie LP trade … They paid us a couple bucks a week, and we churned out these things.  Then we’d go in and record them – do it quick, like ten albums in three hours.”
  • Article by Paul Gambaccini about Patti Smith‘s recent tour of Europe & the UK in which she taped an appearance on BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test and played shows in Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam & Paris, in addition to London.   Although Smith was generally well received, the press on Patti was not by no means universally adoring, as Melody Maker “printed a parody of a review, as if to take the woman seriously would be to admit the existence of a rock & roll cancer.”  The reviewer for The Evening Standard was more succinct, “She is the only girl singer I have ever seen spit onstage.”

But what really stands out in retrospect is the full-page ad placed by former King Records employee, Seymour Stein, promoting the debut album by The Ramones, leading lights of a new American rock sound that would later be deemed ‘punk’:

Ramones 1976 adWhat’s clear in hindsight is how this point in time, July 1976, was a changing of “the guard” (i.e., The Beatles) with a new rock sound emerging out of New York City – in the form of Patti Smith, The Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Television, et al. – during a particularly vibrant period of musical innovation in that city’s storied history, enabled in part by an economic recession that resulted in affordable housing rates for artists who were aiming to move the music forward on a variety of fronts – punk, hip hop, disco, salsa, jazz, classical – as brilliantly documented by Will Hermes (in Love Goes to a Building on Fire).

The first Ramones album was most definitely a shot across the bow.  Sire would release two singles from this landmark debut album, with one track – “California Sun” (written, coincidentally enough, by one-time King Records executive, Henry Glover) that would be included on the flip side to “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” here in the States and show up on their follow-up album, Leave Home, an album that was mixed, as any schoolkid in Montgomery County, Maryland will tell you, in part, at Silver Spring’s Track Recorders.

“California Sun”     The Ramones     1976

“California Sun” would nobly serve as a B-side overseas:  in the UK (backing “I Remember You”), the Netherlands (backing “Blitzkrieg Bop”), and Italy (on an EP), whereas Japan would show the song the respect it so richly deserved by according it A-side status.

“Stop and Go Boogie”: It’s the Spaces in Between

Thanks to Dave Sax, whose liner notes from King Hillbilly Bop ‘n’ Boogie provide the back story on Louis Innis, a member of the “dream band” at King Records who had cut his first tune with the label in late 1947.   Prior to joining King, Innis had been a member of WLW’s house band, The Plantation Boys, playing bass on Hank Penny’s first King session.  Innis would later “gain his own radio and television shows at WLW, as well as on the Indiana Hayride at WFBS, Indianapolis.”

According to Sax, “This ‘dream band’ for both King & Mercury [Louis Innis (bass/rhythm guitar); Zeke Turner (guitar); Jerry Byrd (steel); Tommy Jackson (fiddle)] is heard on many sides here including ‘Stop and Go Boogie‘ which was intended as a backing track for ‘Rag Man Boogie,’ a song scheduled for Hawkshaw Hawkins’ March 1950 session”:

“Stop and Go Boogie”     The Brewster Avenue Gang     1950

The liner notes explain further – “Hawk never did get around to singing the song, and it seems that it was decided that Red Perkins should record it instead, which he did in July.  When the hoped-for track arrived at Ace in this form, Ace’s Tony Rounce suggested that the musicianship and interest might still merit its inclusion as a bonus track.  Master guitarist’s Zeke Turner’s crisp sound is well evident here and becomes a part of the King hillbilly sound for several years.”

Rag Man Boogie

Songwriting credits go to label owner Syd Nathan & Henry Bernard – alter ego for songwriter/arranger/producer/talent scout/trumpeter, Henry (Bernard) Glover, one of the first African-American music industry executives, whose professional reputation was cemented in the 1940s & 50s working for King.  Even though Glover left King in 1958 to join Morris Levy’s Roulette label, he would later re-join King briefly to serve as label head until its acquisition by Starday.

Henry Glover & Levon Helm:  A Shared History

It’s really true:  Henry Glover and Levon Helm went into business together, co-founding a new recording venture, RCO Productions, in 1975.   I Estivate, Therefore I Am states that Glover and Helm’s friendship goes back a couple decades:

“Glover’s relationship with Helm dates back to the late 1950s, when Helm was hanging in Canada with Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson as Ronnie Hawkins’ backup band. Glover, who as a consummate A&R man knew talent when he saw it and had become friendly with Helm, convinced the Hawks, as they were known, to go out on their own (initially recording them as the Canadian Squires), then as Bob Dylan’s backup band and ultimately, The Band.   Years later, after The Band dissolved, Helm asked Glover to shepherd his first solo project into existence, which was this RCO All-Stars album.”

Levon Helm & Henry Glover at Woodstock, Spring 1977

Henry Glover & Levon Helm

Brian Powers’ King Records Scrapbook notes that, while with RCO Productions, “Glover’s projects included producing a Muddy Waters album and the soundtrack for the Martin Scorcese documentary The Last Waltz, about the Band’s last concert in 1976.”