“Pony Tail”: Red Rhodes on the Crown Label

How inspiring to see that Orville J. “RedRhodes – the legendary steel guitarist who, by the late 1960s, was one of the most in-demand session musicians on the West Coast – got his start on Crown.

           Once a day – 1961                blue blue day – 1962           Steel Guitar Rag – 1963

Red Rhodes - Crown aRed Rhodes - Crown bRed Rhodes - Crown c

Pony Tail,” from 1965’s Guitars Go Country LP, sounds – most intriguingly – like some long-lost Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant number:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Pony Tail'” by Red Rhodes.]

Red Rhodes - Crown LP

Red Rhodes would go on to release a live album on indie label, Happy Tiger, in 1969 — Red Rhodes & the Detours + Live at the Palomino — and his backup band, interestingly, would include Jerry Cole, another Crown alumnus.

Everyone Loves Red:  A Selected Red Rhodes Sessionography*

The Ventures in Space – The Ventures – 1964
Begin – The Millennium – 1968
Notorious Byrd Brothers – The Byrds – 1968
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings – Michael Nesmith – 1968
Bubble Gum, Lemonade & Something for Mama – Cass Elliot – 1969
Instant Replay – The Monkees – 1969
It’s Not Killing Me – Mike Bloomfield – 1969
John Phillips – John Phillips – 1969
Hand Sown, Home Grown – Linda Ronstadt – 1969
Nancy – Nancy Sinatra – 1969
Weeds – Brewer & Shipley – 1969
The Blue Marble – Sagittarius – 1969
Magnetic South – Michael Nesmith – 1970
Loose Salute – Michael Nesmith – 1970
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor – 1970
Tom Rush – Tom Rush – 1970
Nevada Fighter – Michael Nesmith – 1971
Possum – Possum – 1971
Lead Free – B. W. Stevenson – 1972
One Man Dog – James Taylor – 1972
Rhymes and Reasons – Carole King – 1972
Son of Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson – 1972
A Song for You – The Carpenters – 1972
Summer Breeze – Seals & Crofts – 1972
Tantamount to Treason – Michael Nesmith – 1972
And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ – Michael Nesmith – 1972
Willis Alan Ramsey – Willis Alan Ramsey – 1972
Five & Dime, 1973 – David Ackles – 1973
Pure Country, 1973 – Garland Frady – 1973
Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash – Michael Nesmith – 1973
Valley Hi – Ian Matthews – 1973
Calabasas – B. W. Stevenson – 1974
L.A. Turnaround – Bert Jansch – 1974
Black Bach – Lamont Dozier – 1974
The Prison – Michael Nesmith – 1974
Diamonds & Rust – Joan Baez – 1975
Marriott – Steve Marriott – 1975
Midnight on the Water – David Bromberg – 1975
Sweet America – Buffy Sainte-Marie – 1976
Frolicking in the Myth – Steven Fromholz – 1977
Road Songs – Hoyt Axton – 1977
The Way I Am – Billy Preston – 1981
Tropical Campfires – Michael Nesmith – 1992

*Proof of popularity courtesy of Wikipedia

“Fireproof Money Belt”: Joan Harris, Non-Fictional

Around the same time the fictional Joan Harris was battling the corporate wolves at Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Price in the Mad Men television series, the real Joan Harris was battling fellow artists for her place in the pantheon of pop music.  Harris may or may not have realized all her artistic ambitions, but she did leave us a nicely rocking slice of country that goes by the curious title, “Fireproof Money Belt“:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Fireproof Money Belt” by Joan Harris.]

“Fireproof Money Belt” is a standout track from what appears to be the first of at least two albums released on Custom, an “economy” imprint of budget label, Crown – itself a subsidiary of Modern Records.  As with The Green Valley Guitars, very little information is known about the elusive Joan Harris or the song itself (as the label doesn’t believe in songwriter credits – see below).  However, based on the discography provided by the indispensable Both Sides Now Publications, I would guess Country Girl and Other Country & Western Favorites to have been released in 1968.

Joan Harris LP b

Based on the matrix number and title of Joan’s next release, Harper Valley PTA, my guess is that Custom also released this follow-up album in 1968 to capitalize on Tom T. Hall’s six-million-selling, international smash hit (and first song by a woman to top Billboard’s pop and country charts at the same time).

Would be curious to hear “Whose Ox is being gored”

Joan Harris LP cParent label, Crown, would also release both Joan Harris albums, apparently:

Joan Harris LP aJoan Harris LP aa

Crown:  King of the Junk Labels – A Brief History from Both Sides Now

Crown Records was a budget label for the Bihari Brothers, who ran the Modern and RPM labels.  Crown started in December, 1953 with four artist signings (including Joe Houston), as the Bihari Brothers’ R&B label, but they didn’t release albums on Crown until 1957.  In March, 1957, Saul Bihari announced that Modern and RPM albums would be discontinued and reissued on the Crown label at $1.98 per album.  Later in the year, the price dropped to $1.49 per album to compete with budget labels like Tops.

As a label, Crown has a mixed reputation.  Many of their albums contain early rock and roll or jazz and are sought after by collectors.  On the other hand, Crown put out a lot of schmaltz, knockoffs, and otherwise forgettable music, all packaged in cheap covers, giving Crown the “other” reputation as the King of junk labels.

Crown albums started out by reissuing the material from Modern and RPM, which was often excellent and sought-after.  After running out of Modern and RPM reissues, Crown soon settled down to become another of the low-budget labels putting out generic music, knockoffs of current hits, or deceptive artist names meant to confuse the undiscerning buyer, much like Tops or Pickwick’s labels.  And Crown became one of the earliest labels to start hawking music with a famous artist’s name in huge letters, but the music inside was by “members” of their former orchestra.

As the Bihari budget label, Crown quickly earned itself a reputation as a junk record label, and by sheer volume of issues and reissues became known as the King of junk record labels (yeah, they even have a crown…).  Cost savings measures (= “cutting corners”) were obvious everywhere.  The covers were cheaply made, and fell apart almost instantly. The back slicks were the only thing that held the two slabs of cover cardboard together, and the paper didn’t last long; finding a Crown album today without a seam split is indeed unusual.  The back and front slicks themselves were often recycled unused slicks from old records; on many you can see the pictures from old front covers right through the paper.

The records themselves often sounded worn out right out of the package, with all kinds of bumps and wrinkles or other vinyl anomalies.  The preference for material for release was public domain tunes so no royalties need be paid (check how many times the song “Ida” shows up – scores of times.  How many other labels have that song?).  Other songs were purchased outright for a few bucks from the artists used for recording, who were paid a flat fee for recording, with no possibilities of future royalties.  Songs were recycled, too, with generic artists’ names rotated so the same recordings could be used again and again under different names.  Some masters were even “traded out” to other budget labels, who renamed the artists and provided Crown in turn with their generic recordings that Crown could name for themselves.  For this reason, the same recordings would show up on several labels under different artists’ credits, and even under different song names.

Jerry Cole: The Neil Young of L.A. Session Players

How funny it struck me the moment I discovered that the guitarist known for cranking out low-down and dirty hot rod, surf & twang instrumentals for beloved budget label, Crown, is the same highly-sought after session musician who did considerably more polished work for such A-list talent as The Byrds (“Tambourine Man”), Nancy Sinatra (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”), The Beach Boys (“California Girls” & “Sloop John B”), Paul Revere & the Raiders (“Kicks”), The Dixie Cups (“Chapel of Love”), and The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”), among many others.  That’s Jerry, by the way, on Pet Sounds’ opening track, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” playing a detuned 12-string guitar run directly into the console with added live reverb – as opposed to what many assume to be a harp – kicking off the song.

Guitars a Go Go LPCompare any of the above-named tracks with this rough-around-the-edges instrumental – “Mustang” – from 1965 Crown classic, Guitars a Go Go, by Jerry Cole & the Stingers:

A one-time member of The Champs (along with Glen Campbell and Seals & Crofts), Cole released a handful of instrumentals on Capitol (with and without his Spacemen) between the years 1963-1965.  This 2008 article from The Independent points out that Jerry Cole’s work as a studio guitarist included residencies in a number of television series, including Shindig!, Hullabaloo, Laugh-In, and The Sonny & Cher Show, while Cole’s profile on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website gives the distinct impression that Jerry has worked with just about everybody in the music business.

UNESCO World Heritage Album Cover

Jerry Cole Psychedelic LP

Jerry Cole:  A Colleague’s Remembrance

Steel guitarist, Jerry Hayes, paid tribute to Jerry Cole on the Steel Guitar Forum in 2003:

“I just had a great phone conversation with an old pickin’ bud from SoCal named Jerry Cole. We played for a while together at Bonnie Price’s Foothill Club and also did some casuals together over the years. I hadn’t talked to Jerry for almost 18 years. It was great catching up with what’s been going on with him. JC has just been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and is currently the conductor/Guitarist for Nancy Sinatra in her shows. Jerry was a part of the Los Angeles Country Music Scene for many years but was also a very accomplished sight reader which gave him an edge in getting other types of work. If you remember watching the Sonny & Cher TV shows and later the Cher Show when they’d pan the band in the back you’d see Jerry with that little Stratocaster. He had a custom built Strat which was 3/4 size and just looked like a little shrunken black strat. He was the one who turned me on to slide guitar and some cool jazz voicings on guitar. On top of all the guitar talent was the fact that JC was a front line vocalist. I used to love playing those Roy Orbison tunes on Pedal Steel behind him. That stuff really lends itself to steel guitar. For those who never knew Jerry, he was only around 5’1″ or 5’2″ tall. I’m 6’4″ tall and we’d have fun doing those two guys on one guitar things like Joe Maphis and Larry Collins used to do. The crowd would go nuts. I’d walk up behind him and we had it worked out where I’d play strings 4, 5, & 6 near the nut and bridge and he’d move his hands in closer and play strings 1, 2, & 3. Anyway, I was happy to be back in touch with him after all these years and just wanted to share a little about the guy. One small dude in size but a monster and giant when it came to the guitar……JH”

Jerry Cole