“Seven Deadly Finns”: Roots Rock Rediscovery

Back in the days of vinyl (i.e., “before music was free”), there seemed to be endless time to pore over the contents of a record album.  However, truth is we invested the time, since budgetary restraints (and lack of YouTube) made it incumbent upon the listener to really make the most of each musical purchase.

As someone whose limitless appetite was often constrained by limited funds, I have a particularly fond spot in my heart for various artists compilation albums, particularly the ones that have a strong hit-to-miss ratio.  UK indie label, E.G. Records, issued one such album in 1982 – First Edition – a good-value gathering of offbeat songs that run the gamut from art-rock to ambient-pop.

First Edition LPHow interesting to learn only now that Eno oddball track – “Seven Deadly Finns” – with its doowop touches and nice little yodel near the end, is a single that appears on no other album but this one (even then, only the American – not the UK version!)

Even more fascinating to discover this live television performance, where a still-glam Eno sings to a noticeably different backing track than the rambunctious mix on the First Edition compilation album:

“Seven Deadly Finns”     Brian Eno     1974

Eno’s 70s take on the early 50’s rock sound fits right into Peter Doggett’s narrative (as captured in his biography of David Bowie in the 1970s – The Man Who Sold the World) that “it seemed [in the early-mid 70s] as if everyone in British pop was remembering the 1950s and early sixties, from Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’ to 10cc’s ‘Donna’ and Wizzard’s ‘Ball Park Incident,’ taking a self-conscious look back at an era they had originally experienced without a hint of irony.”

Saw this concert film (at concert volume) at a cincinnati cinemahouse in 1973

Good Times Roll aRoots Rock’s Reawakening:  Moving Forward (by) Looking Backward

Bob Dylan & The Band     Original Basement Tapes Sessions     1967

The Beatles     “Lady Madonna” single    1968

The Beatles     Get Back Sessions     1969

Bill Deal & the Rhondels     “May I”     1969

Sha Na Na     Woodstock Performance     1969

Bryan Ferry     These Foolish Things Sessions     1973

David Bowie     Pin Ups Sessions     1973

The Who     Quadrophenia Sessions     1973

Various Artists     American Graffiti (film)     1973

Various Artists     Let the Good Times Roll (film)     1973

David Essex (et al.)     That’ll Be the Day (film)    1973

Rockin’ Ronny     “We Like Rock and Roll”     1973

David Essex (et al.)     Stardust (film)     1974

Brian Eno     “Seven Deadly Finns”     1974

John Lennon     Roots      1975

Jimmie Rodgers: First to Be Posthumously Produced?

Believe it or not, Sean Combs isn’t the first person to fashion new musical product from older material created by commercially viable artists who are no longer extant.  Far from it.

Back in 1955, twenty-five years after Jimmie Rodgers‘ passing, RCA Victor convened an overdub recording session in Nashville with members of Hank Snow’s backup band, The Rainbow Ranch Boys, along with Chet Atkins.  “In the Jailhouse Now #2” is but one of Rodgers’ classic recordings that received a little posthumous sweetening:

[Pssst: Click the triangle to play “In the Jailhouse Now #2” by Jimmie Rodgers & Friends.]

Is it possible that Jimmie Rodgers is the first musical artist whose recordings would be retooled post-mortem to meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace?

Jimmie Rodgers 78

Interesting to note that “In the Jailhouse Now” (1928) & “In the Jailhouse Now #2” (1930) were both released as B-sides.

Thanks to PragueFrank for identifying the names of the musicians who helped modernize Jimmie’s original recording in order to give it that “Nashville Sound” —

  • Jimmie Rodgers (vocals & guitar)
  • Chet Atkins (electric guitar)
  • Joe Talbot (steel guitar)
  • Tommy Vaden (fiddle)
  • Ernie Newton (bass)

Date of overdub recording session:  March 18, 1955
Recording location:  RCA Victor Studio, Methodist TV, Radio & Film Commission
Producer:  Stephen Sholes

Otis Williams & The Midnight Cowboys: Mere Marketing Myth?

I found an album from the early 70s at a record swap whose compelling story on the back cover I immediately latched onto due primarily to my interest in the King Records legacy – and secondarily to the groovy day-glo cowboy backdrops:Otis Williams & Midnight Cowboys

“Otis Williams . . . another black country singer?  The name Otis Williams may ring a bell if you’re also a pop music fan.  He had such hits as ‘Ivory Tower,’ ‘Ling Ting Tong’ and ‘Hearts Made of Stone.’   Back in the 50s he tried to persuade King Records to record him country, so you might have heard Otis Williams sing country before and didn’t realize it.  He was the guy who sang country harmony on most of the country hits from King Records.  The closest he came to cutting a country song was ‘Hearts Made of Stone’ and it was a million pop seller.

“In early 1960 he went to Epic Records [imprint of Columbia] with still a burning desire to be a country singer.  He recorded [Patsy Cline hit] ‘I Fall to Pieces,’ it was a great production, but it wasn’t a country record.  Now he’s with us here at Stop Records and he still wants to sing country.  I wanted something a little different, more than just another black singer, so Otis formed an all black country band, which he named the Midnight Cowboys.  These are the musicians that played behind a lot of the country artists in the Cincinnati, Ohio area.    No this isn’t just another black country singer, it’s a man who has done what he has been trying to do for many years, and he does it as well as any country singer I’ve heard.”

Pete Drake, President – Stop Records      [liner notes on back cover]

According to the Real Mr. Heartache blog, the thrust of the story is complete bunk – a bald-faced attempt to stoke controversy in order to increase sales.

The real story, according to Mr. Heartache, is that Williams had relocated to Nashville to work as a talent scout and shared an office with songwriter, Tom T. Hall, who at the time was working as a booking agent:

“Pete Drake, who would write those dubious liner notes, came through the office one day and convinced Williams to try his hand at country music for his label Stop Records. There was no all black Cincinnati country band and The Midnight Cowboys was pure invention, named after the popular movie. Louis McQueen does not play the fiddle and Bennie Wallace sat behind the steel guitar just for the photo shoot.

“The sessions took place at Music City Recorders and were produced by Drake and Elvis’ former guitarist, Scotty Moore . . . The rest of the sessions are an uncredited mix of Nashville studio cats and Williams current touring band, The Endeavors.

“The closest thing Williams would come to a hit country record, though, was with ‘I Wanna Go Country,’ which in May of 1971 peaked at 72 on the charts. It was a novelty number written by Charlie Monk and Jim Owen that was a bit too jokey to be taken seriously. The single should have been his office mate’s [Tom T. Hall’s] ‘How I Got To Memphis.’”

I agree – “How I Got to Memphis” is definitely one of the best tracks on the album.

So is Otis’s playful take on Jimmie Rodgers’ signature holler, “Blue Yodel # 8” – more commonly known as “Mule Skinner Blues.”  As Robert Christgau cogently observes, Charley Pride “would never deliver the ‘come here boy’ in ‘Mule Skinner Blues’ with such sarcastic relish” as Otis Williams:

“Mule Skinner Blues”     Otis Williams & the Midnight Cowboys     1971

I love the bit of marketing on the front cover -“Stereo-monic:  This Record Provides Both Stereophonic and Monaural Sound Reproduction.”  Also interesting to note that this 1971 album follows on the heels of producer Pete Drake’s sessions for George Harrison’s 1970 debut (triple) album, All Things Must Pass, where Drake played pedal steel.

Bonus video link to Dolly Parton singing “Mule Skinner Blues” on The Porter Wagoner Show.