Earliest Recording of a Melodica?

One of Zero to 180’s earliest pieces (from 2012) concerned itself with documenting the earliest recording of a melodica (i.e., keyboard version of a harmonica), and 1966 seems to be year to beat in this regard, with the composer, Steve Reich, as well as future pop giants, The Bee Gees, having both committed the melodica to tape that same year.

This summer on a long road trip, I was enjoying a CD compilation of rare 45s and obscure album tracks that had been thoughtfully assembled by musician/scholar, Joe Goldmark, (and partner at San Francisco’s legendary Amoeba Records), when I was startled to hear a 1960s recording of South African township jive that includes a melodica!

“Ice Cream and Suckers (pts. 1 & 2)”     Soweto Stokvel Septette     1966?

Incredibly, when you search the entire Discogs database for recordings by the group, Soweto Stokvel Septette, only one item turns up:  a various artists LP release issued on the Mercury label for US distribution entitled Ice Cream & Suckers:  South African Soul, and which features the title track, parts one and two (stitched together in the mix above).

Ice Cream & Suckers - Various Artists Mercury LP-aZero to 180 is impressed with Mercury’s receptiveness to the exciting new sounds coming out of South Africa at that particular time in the 1960s (20 years or so before Paul Simon’s Graceland album) — only question is exactly when?  Before 1966, possibly?

Here’s a clue:  this 4-star review in Billboard‘s April 19, 1969 edition.  However, this description for an online auction sale pegs the album as being a 1966 LP release!  Curiously (or not), the description for this online auction sale approximates the release date to be “c. 1966,” while Lyon, France’s Sofa Records also understands the album’s year of release as 1966.

Assuming this is true, can we necessarily assume that Soweto Stokvel Septette recorded their two-part title track in 1966?  In other words, was the recording made the previous year or even earlier?  The back cover liner notes (courtesy of ElectricJive), unfortunately, do not shed light in this regard.  Nevertheless, “Ice Cream and Suckers” is now, at the very least, part of a three-way tie for earliest melodica recording.

Double-click on image below to view liner notes at maximum resolution

Ice Cream & Suckers - Various Artists Mercury LP-cc

One other supporting clue:  Soweto Stokvel Septette recorded a 45 of “South African ska” that also happened to be released in 1966, according to this vendor.

Soweto Stokvel Septette 45Zero to 180, you might recall, put Joe Goldmark’s music research to good use when its staff compiled a special list of King-related steel guitar releases from Joe’s landmark work, The International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography.

International Steel Guitar - Dobro DiscographyZero to 180 history pieces related to the steel guitar

Francis the Great – Not Yet 8

Commanding slab of 1977 West African funk that was recorded in Paris and voiced by 7-year-old FrancisThe GreatMbarga:

Francis the Great     “look up in the sky”     1977

I wonder if the person who paid $750 last September for the original 1977 release will be chagrined to know that France’s Hot Casa reissued Ravissante Baby in February, 2015.

Francis the Great

Francis’s father – legendary highlife musician, Prince Nico Mbarga – served as producer on these two extended workouts, “Ravissante Baby” b/w “Look Up in the Sky,” that feature some of the top French and Cameroonian musicians of the day.

1977 & 1978 LPs, respectively

Prince Nico LP aPrince Nico LP b

Young Francis the Great would release one more title – Crazy Tube – before retirement beckoned in 1978.

“Guitar Boy”: Africa’s Guitar King

If it weren’t for Don’t Stay Up Too Late’s thoughtful (and poetic) 100 Great Singles of the 1960s (That Haven’t Been Played to Death on Oldies Radio), I might never have learned of “Africa’s Guitar King” – Sir Victor Uwaifo – and the heavenly sounds he conjured on his 1966 single, “Guitar Boy”:

According to Uwaifo’s own website, “Guitar Boy” is a song that was directly inspired by the bandleader’s encounter one night at a Lagos beach bar with a mermaid — hence, the guitar’s “aqueous” sound.  As Jusi I Love helpfully explains, the mermaid (who the singer calls mami wata) told him, “Guitar boy, if you see mami wata, never never you run away”.  This larger-than-life tale has also been immortalized with a “sculptural representation of the mermaid and his guitar, constructed in a pool at Uwaifo’s Revelation Tourist Palazzo in Benin City.”  Don’t Stay Up Late would commemorate the singer and song thusly:

Victor Uwaifo
Had a great life-o.
But he knew he was only the king
’Cos a mermaid had once heard him sing.

Could “Guitar Boy” have been the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s epic 1968 composition, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)“?

Uwaifo’s biography also informs us that, as a result of the popularity of his songs, a Ghanaian fabric was nicknamed “Joromi” (a song based on the story of a legendary hero in Benin history, as well as the name of Uwaifo’s own style of Highlife music), while “Guitar Boy” was used as a code name for a military coup in Ghana in the 1970s.

                 Uwaifo invented this double-neck “magic guitar” with 18 strings that can Be “rotated 360 degrees at the speed of sound”

Victor Uwaifo LPComb & Razor provides very interesting biographical details and music history here.

Present-day Sir Victor Uwaifo, I’m happy to report, is a vital web presence — be sure to check out all the tributes from heads of state, dignitaries, and government officials.

“Click Song #1”: African Pop Goes International

Is it really true what Wikipedia says about Miriam Makeba – that she’s the “first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world”?   Given that Makeba released her first U.S. album in 1960, one can only conclude that African pop, essentially, had no American distribution links until “the Year of Africa” (as 1960 is also known, due to significant events — “particularly the independence of seventeen African nations — that focused global attention on the continent and intensified feelings of Pan-Africanism” (Wiki).

Makeba would record “Click Song” on 1960 RCA album, Miriam Makeba, while former husband, Hugh Masekela, would likewise record the song on his first US release, 1962’s Trumpet Africaine on Mercury.  Makeba would also record “Click Song” while briefly under contract to Mercury in 1966 and then revisit the song on 1967’s Pata Pata, her first of several albums for Reprise:

South African-born Makeba sings this song in Xhosa, the famously percussive tongue that her father spoke.  Seven years later, Makeba would perform this song at the Zaire ’74 three-day music festival that accompanied the epic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman for the heavyweight championship crown.

            1968 single released in spain            1972 single released in the netherlands

Miriam Makeba 45 picture sleeve IIaMiriam Makeba 45 picture sleeve Ia

1968 Netherlands 45

Miriam Makeba 45 picture sleeve IIIa“Click Song” also saw release on 1965 LP, Jimmy Come Lately, by Four Jacks and a Jill, South African folk-popsters who would later hit the American Top 20 on March 30, 1968 with their abstrusely catchy single, “Master Jack” [but wait – in an oddly curious twist:  RCA, in 1969, would release a 45 solely for the New Zealand market with hit single, “Master Jack” as the B-side and “Click Song” as the A-side].

Cher Speaks Xhosa

Would you be stunned to learn that Cher would record her own version of “Click Song #1” for 1968’s Backstage, her last album for Liberty?  Also released as the A-side of a 45.

Cher 45

“Zambesi”: Hank Marvin for President

What a revelation it must have been in the early 1960s when folks first encountered the clear, ringing tone of Hank Marvin’s Stratocaster on such soaring guitar instrumentals as “Mustang,” “Kon Tiki,” “Spring Is Nearly Here,” and “Thunderbirds Theme.”

Who else was getting that kind of sound out of an electric guitar at that time?   Answer:  nobody.

Shadows 1961 LP

Of course, it wasn’t Hank Marvin alone but the sound of the group – the strummed acoustic guitars, for instance, that command your attention in the opening of “Apache” – that made The Shadows, along with The Ventures, the two leading lights of the 1960s instrumental scene.

A great example of The Shadows’ group chemistry at work is “Zambesi” from 1964’s original 14-track release, Dance with the Shadows:

“Zambesi”     The Shadows     1964

How fun to see the bass player picking off an exquisite little solo run at one point in the arrangement.  “Zambesi” – the final track of a 4-song Dance with the Shadows EP released in UK and Australia – was originally written by Nicolaas Cornelius Carstens, a South African accordionist and songwriter [click here for the original version].

Zambesi 45

Interesting to discover that Columbia also released “Zambesi” as a single, but where – in South Africa, perhaps?  It is unclear — this UK singles discography, for instance, does not show a 7-inch release for “Zambesi.”

Shadows 1964 LP

How predictable, and no less disheartening, to learn that the US version of the original UK EMI album, Dance with the Shadows, is shorn of a couple tracks.   Atlantic would release a 12-track version of the album in 1964 and re-title it, The Shadows Know!!!  (get it?)

Check out Hank’s guitar sound on 1962’s “Wonderful Land” – Dutch TV