“Dixie Fireball”: Modern Trucking, Vintage Sound

Another easy pick for Top 10 Truck Driving Albums Ever [besides Truck Driver Songs by The Lonesome Valley Singers] is Truckin’ Country — fourteen original and fun trucker tunes that feature dynamite musicianship and Sonny George‘s one-of-a-kind voice, including this revved-update of American folk standard, “Wabash Cannonball”:

“Dixie Fireball”     Sonny George     1998

Recorded in Semi-Fi

Sonny George - Truckin' Country

(Released on Eddie Angel’s Spinout label)

Sonny is backed by a super solid support group on this album that includes longtime Morrissey guitarist, Boz Boorer (also on 6-string bass), with Noel Brown on lap steel (and/or Jeff Mead on steel), Matt Radford on double bass, Brian Nevill on drums, and Darrel Higham taking the lead break on “Dixie Fireball.”

All songs written by Sonny George – except “Jacknife” and “The Ghostman Trucker” co-written with Boz Boorer.  Album recorded/mixed in 1998 by Liam Watson at London’s (famously all-analog) Toe Rag & Pathway Studios, as well as Starday in Nashville.

Video clip of Sonny George & The Tennessee Sons performing “Hillbilly Train” on Ch. 5’s 5’s Company from June 1997, with Boz Boorer, Brian Nevill & Matt Radford:

“Cajun Interstate”: Cajun-Built

Thanks to the bibliographic notes in 2003’s The Cajuns:  Americanization of a People by Shane K. Bernard, I was able to affirm that “Cajun Interstate” by Rod Bernard is, indeed, about the building of the highway that traverses the bottom of Louisiana – Interstate 10:

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

As Shane K. Bernard writes:

“South Louisianians were fascinated by the construction of I-10, particularly an eighteen-mile section known as the “Atchafalaya Expressway” [which opened in 1973].  The monumental elevated causeway cut directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, a vast, snake-infested wetlands that to many symbolized South Louisiana’s cultural isolation.

‘They said it couldn’t be done — building a highway over the swamps,’ mused a journalist.  The engineering feat so impressed one South Louisiana musician that he composed ‘Cajun Interstate,’ a rock ‘n’ roll paean to the structure that also manifested a growing grassroots ethnic pride movement.”

Here comes the superhighway,

That superhighway boss,

But it’s gonna take a Cajun crew

To get that road across…

Fifty mile of concrete,

Fifty miles of steel,

Louisiana sunshine,

Shining down on me.

Mama make a gumbo.

Tonight we’ll celebrate

And sing about your Cajun boy

That build that interstate.

Released on Shelby Singleton’s SSS International label in December 1970 — backed with “A Tear in a Lady’s Eyes.”  Both tunes were written by Rod Bernard (who, earlier in his career, helped pioneer a musical mix of New Orleans rhythm & blues, country, Cajun and black creole known as “swamp pop“), along with “E. Futch” — birth name of country singer/songwriter, Eddy Raven, who would later write a song also voicing praise for the Cajun work ethic, “Alligator Bayou,” on which he sang, “Working on a board road running through the swamp for a dollar and a half an hour / A Cajun man with a love for life and a whole lot of muscle power.”

Cajun Interstate 45

Thanks to Shane K. Bernard, who provided the back story on Eddy Raven (above) as well as the tip to Rod Bernard’s 1964 labor lament of working for the “Boss Man’s Son” – featuring the backing of Johnny and Edgar Winter:

“Stand by the Door”: I Command Thee

It’s too bad the term “power ballad” has ruined it for power ballads, but as power ballads go, this one is a winner:

Such an obvious anthem — with that early glam sound (courtesy of London’s Trident Studios).      Q:  So how come I only just now become aware of this song?

Stand by the Door 45

“Stand by the Door” served as the band’s fourth and final single (and album kick-off track) before Audience called it quits.  Their swansong, Lunch – which snuck in the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 200 album chart (#175) – would have remained unfinished had it not been for the critical assistance of the two horn players from Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen (and the Rolling Stones) – Jim Price & Bobby Keys – as well as Nick Judd on piano.

Lunch was the second of two productions by Gus Dudgeon, producer most notable for “She’s Not There” by The Zombies (1964), “Space Oddity” by David Bowie (1969), John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Ten Years After, Bonzo Dog Band, Michael Chapman, and – most famously – Elton John.

Howard Werth:   Vocals/Acoustic Guitar

Trevor Williams: Bass/Backing Vocals

Tony Connor:      Drums/Backing Vocals

Keith Gemmel:   Tenor Sax

Nick Judd:           Piano

Bobby Keys:       Tenor Sax

Jim Price:            Trombone/Trumpet

Audience - Lunch LP

(cover by Hipgnosis & George hardie)

Did Viacom Ever Fork Over the Dough?

Intrigued to learn that tenor saxman, Keith Gemmel, would next join forces with Stackridge, whose 1971 debut single, “Dora the Female Explorer,” may well have, indeed, inspired a similarly-named Nickelodeon TV show.

“Strange Locomotion”: Perplexingly, the Singer is Not American

The title track of 1971’s Strange Locomotion might easily give one the impression that singer Kevin Coyne and his musical companions are good ol’ boys playing southern soul and boogie — however, Siren is strictly a UK aggregation:

Siren - Strange Locomotion LPElektra would release “Strange Locomotion” as the A-side of a 7-inch release in 1971.  45Cat reviewer, The Toad, humorously describes the 45 as “mid-tempo rock, with bluesy touches and Kevin Coyne’s unmistakable vocals; about as commercial as Siren ever got. The ‘B’ side is a sparse late-night bluesy ballad.”

Strange Locomotion 45

Kevin Coyne:    Vocals/Guitar

Nick Cudworth: Piano/Guitar

Dave Clague:    Bass/Guitar

Mick Gratton:    Lead Guitar

Tat Meager:       Drums

A Dandelion U.K. Production

“Happy Hunting Ground”: Astoundingly, the Band is Not English

Indiscreet, the fifth (Tony Visconti-produced) album by Los Angeles band, Sparks, was released in October 1975 on Island Records, who issued two singles from the album – neither of them including, oddly, the winsomely rocking, “Happy Hunting Ground”:

Trevor White:    Guitar

Dinky Diamond: Drums

Ian Hampton:     Bass

Ron Mael:          Keyboards

Russel Mael:     Vocals

Sparks Indiscreet LP

The previous year, Sparks had hit it big in the UK with #2 hit, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us” from Kimono My House.  1979’s “The Number One Song in Heaven” was another UK smash, while 1980’s “When I’m With You” would go on to top the French charts.  Sparks, in fact, would only crack the Billboard Top 100 with 1982’s “I Predict” (#60) and 1983’s “Cool Places” with Jane Wiedlin (#49).

Sparks would later enjoy success on the German charts with 1994’s Gratuitous Sax and Violins album, featuring hit singles, “When Do I Get To Sing My Way?” and “When I Kiss You (I Hear Charlie Parker Playing).”   In the wake of 2002’s lauded, “genre-defying opus” Lil Beethoven, Morrissey – as curator of the 2004 Meltdown Festival – would invite Sparks to perform.  Consequently or not, 2006’s Hello Young Lovers and 2008’s Exotic Creatures of the Deep enjoyed commercial success on the UK charts.

It’s an Old Story:   Worshipped Abroad, Tolerated at Home

In recent years, Sparks has been quite active, as Wiki reports:

“In October 2012, Ron and Russell performed for the first time ever as a duo, with no band.  The 18-city European tour titled ‘Two Hands, One Mouth’ began in Lithuania and followed in Latvia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, the UK and Ireland.  The final UK concert of the tour was at the sold-out Barbican Centre in London.  The tour then took the group to Japan with concerts in Tokyo and Osaka in January 2013.  In April 2013, the show was presented for the first time in the US with two performances at the Coachella Festival.  A short US tour followed [including a stop at DC’s 9:30 Club on October, 27, 2013].”

Sparks Indiscreet 8-track

“The Singer Sang His Song”: Leave Them Wanting More

In 1969 Columbia Special Products teamed up with the United Nations in order to help save the world’s refugee population using the proceeds from sales of star-studded hits collection, World Star Festival.  Interestingly, this musical arts venture in humanitarianism predates by nearly two years George Harrison’s groundbreaking benefit concert for the refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in August 1971.

World Star FestivalAnd whereas most of the money from Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh was tied up for years in litigation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, however, optimistically projected in his January 1970 report to the UN General Assembly:

“Although the final results of the sales of the new long-playing record World Star Festival were not yet available since sales were still continuing, it was already clear that this record would yield substantial profits for refugee assistance.  In this connexion, the High Commissioner emphasized the importance of Governments waiving taxes and duties on the record.  A full report on the subject would be submitted to the Committee at its next session.”

One of the top tunes on World Star Festival, “The Singer Sang His Song,” is a Bee Gees contribution that was part of a ‘double A-side’ – paired with “Jumbo” – that was originally released March 1968 (and available only on vinyl until 1990):

The Singer Sang His Song – Bee Gees

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “The Singer Sang His Song” by The Bee Gees.]

Only in the UK,curiously, was this song listed as the A-side — otherwise, in the US, Canada, Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Singapore & Japan, “Jumbo” was the A-side.

Bee Gees - Jumbo EP

Each artist’s recording on World Star Festival (it later became clear to me) was shortened or altered in some way – presumably as a precondition for release in order to help facilitate participation among these top pop artists.  This realization really hit home once I had become intimately familiar with the World Star Festival version of “The Singer Sang His Song” – and then happened to hear the song’s original full-length mix on YouTube:

Lo and behold, the song’s tunesmith is Neil Diamond – not the Brothers Gibb (who, lest we not forget, laid down some of the earliest melodica sounds on a popular recording).

Moral of the story:

World Star Festival‘s short version brilliantly leaves the listener wanting more, while the full-length version with the additional minute of extended coda overstays its welcome, one could argue.

Afterword – from the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme

The Executive Committee,

(1) Noted with satisfaction that considerable progress had been made in the sale of the new long-playing record World Star Festival and that representatives of other United Nations agencies and of non-governmental organizations had contributed to these results;

(2) Expressed appreciation for the fact that a number of Governments had seen fit to waive taxes and import duties on the new record, or had agreed to the remission of such impositions, as recommended by the Committee in its earlier decision on the subject;

(3) Urged Governments which had not yet done so, to consider favourably the remission or refund of duties and taxes collected on the dale of World Star Festival.

“Small Beginnings”: Shorter vs. Longer Version?

Early Yes guitarist, Peter Banks, and vocalist, Colin Carter, formed prog rock ensemble – Flash – in Summer 1971, signing with Capital subsidiary, Sovereign, and recording their first album in November (with early Yes member, Tony Kaye on keyboards).  By 1972 the group had a Billboard Top 40 hit right out of the gate with debut single – “Small Beginnings” (#29) – and album, Flash (#33).

Flash - publicity shot

“Small Beginnings” was also included – in edited form – on several hits anthologies, including 1972 K-Tel compilation, 22 Explosive Hits Volume 2:

Small Beginnings (K-Tel mix) – Flash

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Small Beginnings” (K-Tel mix) by Flash.]

K-Tel's 22 Explosive HitsApparently, the difference in song length between the album version of “Small Beginnings” and the mix offered by K-Tel is not insignificant — here, for purposes of comparison, is the full-length album version:

Q:  Which version do you prefer?

“A Woman’s World”: Feminist or Traditionalist?

Teresa Brewer – whose duet with Mickey Mantle, “I Love Mickey,” reached #87 in 1956 – would later record ever so briefly for Shelby Singleton.  June 1968’s “A Woman’s World” was the first of but two singles Brewer recorded for SSS International:

The song initially gives the impression of threatening to challenge the status quo regarding gender roles and division of responsibilities, as the singer sobs over the plight of a homemaker’s isolation and lack of fulfillment.  “The woman’s born to make the man a home,” begins the second verse, “You cook and clean and sew all the time he’s gone.”  But somehow, just the sight of him entering their domicile after a long day’s work is enough to make her forget all about the deep structural inequities of their relationship.

Who wrote this song, I wonder – and was it a man?  I am hoping to obtain the answer to that question without leaving my seat, but alas, the Internet has let me down.  So I go fetch the record, half expecting to see the name “Tom T. Hall” when, lo and behold, it turns out to be Teresa Brewer herself!  Or wait – is it?  According to the songwriting credit on the 1969 Plantation compilation album, Country Gold Volume 1, Brewer is the song’s composer.  But according to the 45 image that I just now retrieved and attached to this blog piece, the tune’s creator is Ben Peters (a man – just as I had suspected).   The truth?

Teresa Brewer 45“A Woman’s World” was paired with “Ride-a-Roo,” a large rubber ball toy that kids bounce upon (also known worldwide as a space hopper, moon hopper, skippyball & hoppity hop).

Ride-a-Roo poster(Also known as a kangaroo jockey ball)

Commercially speaking, “A Woman’s World” did not do well, unfortunately — according to 45Cat, “this record did not chart.”  As one YouTube contributor astutely observes, this song finds Teresa Brewer very much in the Sandy Posey mold.  How interesting to consider that just five years hence we will find Teresa in London embracing the hard rock sound of Oily Rags.

The liner notes for the 2-disc anthology of Shelby Singleton’s Plantation and SSS labels, Plantation Gold, confirm Ben Peters as the tune’s author.

Teresa Brewer & MuppetsTeresa Brewer with Miss Piggy & Kermit – July 1977

 

Vikki Carr: Living on a Prayer, a Hope & a Hand-Me-Down

Let’s see if we can track all the prominent women pop vocalists’ excursions down South in the late 1960s and into the new decade:

(1) Dusty Springfield (née Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien) kicked things off when she recorded her classic Dusty in Memphis album at American Sound Studios in November 1968.

Dusty in Memphis(2) Cher recorded her critically-acclaimed (though commercially under-appreciated) album 3614 Jackson Highway at the newly-opened Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in June 1969.

3614 Jackson Highway LP(3) Lulu followed suit, traveling to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in September 1969 to record her New Routes album with such musicians as Duane Allman, Cornel Dupree, and Jim Dickinson.

New Routes LP(4) Joan Baez, in 1970, recorded an album in Nashville, One Day at a Time, that boldly – for its time – mixed Willie Nelson & the Stones with traditional folk and country songs.

One Day at a Time LP(5) In 1970, Vikki Carr likewise recorded an album in Nashville – Nashville by Carr –– that was her last for Liberty, who issued two singles – neither of them including the track, “Living on a Prayer, a Hope & a Hand-Me-Down.”

Living on a Prayer, a Hope & a Hand-Me-Down – Vikki Carr

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle to hear ”Living on a Prayer, a Hope & a Hand-Me-Down” by Vikki Carr.]

Guitars:      Harold Bradley, Pete Wade, Ray Edenton, Pete Drake,                                 Kelso Herston, Jerry Shook
Bass:          Junior Huskey, Henry Strzelecki, Norbert Putnam
Piano:         Larry Butler, Hargus “Pig” Robbins
Drums:        Buddy Harmon
Utility:       Charlie McCoy,
Voices:       Nashville Edition

 Nashville by Carr LP

Danny Gatton & Buddy Emmons: Kings of Steel

DC Week (actually, fortnight) concludes its special run with a joyous instrumental romp from the Federal City’s formidable guitarslinger, Danny Gatton, joined by pioneering pedal steel virtuoso, Buddy Emmons, from their short-lived incendiary partnership, The Redneck Jazz Explosion:

This performance of Buddy Emmons’ composition, “Raisin’ the Dickens,” was recorded live at DC’s legendary Cellar Door between the years straddling 1978-79 (i.e., New Year’s Eve show – ain’t I a stinker?) with bassist, Steve Wolf, and drummer, Scott Taylor, rounding out the rhythm section.

Redneck Jazz Explosion - Live

The roots of The Redneck Jazz Explosion were laid in Nashville where the Danny Gatton Band went to record in 1977 and were joined by Emmons in the studio for “Rock Candy” – inspired by Brother Jack McDuff’s 1963 recording featuring a young George Benson on guitar.  The inclusion of this one track on Gatton’s subsequent 1978 LP, Redneck Jazz, garnered strong word-of-mouth from players and fans alike, as well as enthusiastic praise from the likes of Guitar Player magazine and the Washington Post, who would write in their review, “In sheer technical terms, Gatton has few peers on the electric guitar … in good company, he is asserting his position as the preeminent guitarist of the post-World War II generation.”

Danny Gatton's Redneck Jazz LP

Danny and Buddy reunited for two nights in Nashville at Randy Wood’s Old Time Pickin’ Parlor on July 28-29, 1978 joined by Buddy Spicher on fiddle, Bucky Barrett on guitar, Dick Heintz on keys, and Steve Wolf & Dave Palamar on bass and drums, respectively.

                             Emmons       spicher      Palamar       Wolf      gatton

Redneck Jazz ExplosionAs Steve Wolf recounts in “Some Gatton History” on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website:

“The Redneck Jazz Explosion quartet traveled the East Coast from Boston & New York, to Atlanta and consequently attracted the interest of Atlantic Records. A serious offer was made by Atlantic, but for his own reasons Danny chose not to accept it. Those negotiations in part, prevented the release of the live Cellar Door sessions at the time.  A trio version of the band, minus Buddy, also performed regularly around the DC/Baltimore area.”

New York Times critic, John Rockwell, on February 6, 1979 wrote:

“Sunday night Mr. Gatton was at the Lone Star Cafe for a single evening and drew a big crowd.  Partly that’s because his latest band … includes Buddy Emmons, the pedal street guitarist who’s something of a cult figure at the Lone Star.  But Mr. Gatton deserves his own cult.”

As Brawner Smoot (Gatton’s manager/booking agent) details in the CD liner notes of the Cellar Door concert:

“Carol Posnick [booking agent for DC’s sadly-defunct Cellar Door], a devoted Gatton supporter, always graciously scheduled the band for a three-to-five-day stay (unusual as most artists made a one- or two-day appearance there).  She also allowed me to add the guitar duo of the aforementioned Tom Principato and another hometown picker, Pete Kennedy to share the bill as the opening act.  The combination created cohesive and magical evenings showcasing the area’s finest guitar talents.”

The title track of the Redneck Jazz album, it bears pointing out, was written by vocalist/guitarist, Evan Johns, who coined the term and was joined in the Danny Gatton Band by John Previtti on bass and Dave Elliott on drums.

Danny Gatton                                          Evan Johns

Danny Gatton & Evan Johns II

 Steel Guitar Jazz vs. Redneck Jazz

Buddy Emmons, as Ken Dryden points out in his AllMusic review, “wasn’t the first musician to be featured playing a pedal steel guitar in a jazz setting, but it is unlikely that anyone else recorded an entire date playing one prior to this 1963 session.”  Brawner Smoot, in the liner notes to the Redneck Jazz Explosion Live at the Cellar Door reissue adds that “Buddy Emmons was no stranger to the [jazz] idiom having recorded his instrument’s first jazz album in New York City on July 22, 1963 for Mercury Records.”

Steel Guitar Jazz - Buddy Emmons