The Cool Ghoul: Theme Song Remix

It’s been ten years since the passing of Dick Von Hoene, Cincinnati’s late-night weekend TV phantom – The Cool Ghoul – as he was known professionally.  Aaron Bates, along with oldies radio station WGRR, put together a freewheeling and vintage-filled 2-minute tribute to the loveable horror figure specific to our Ohio Valley metropolitan area, at a time when local programming was commonplace on network TV:

During the late 60s/early 70s period in Cincinnati, The Cool Ghoul (as depicted below) was at his most “countercultural” – later he would take on more of a “vagabond” look:

Cool GhoulHow fascinating to come across one of the old Cincinnati Post TV listings (1970s) and be reminded of the individualized “lucky number” stamps near the pirate’s chest that you would compare against a master listing of that week’s winning numbers – good times!

Cool Ghoul - TV guideCleveland Had a Ghoul, Too

In the 1970s growing up, I used to spend summers in the Cleveland area, where my dad lived.  On Friday nights, WJW, the local CBS affiliate, featured a comedy duo – Hoolihan & Big Chuck – who, in retrospect, remind me of a Bob & Doug McKenzie style of wholesome comedy.  But Saturday night’s show with Channel 61’s The Ghoul was easily the more madcap and renegade of the two late-night weekend shows – live programming at its edgy best, where you never quite knew what was coming around the corner.

When Cleveland’s original beloved ghoul, Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) left the Great Lakes for the West Coast, the future Ghoul – i.e., Ron Sweed – who started out as Ghoulardi’s assistant, then went to work for Ghoulardi’s replacement, Hoolihan & Big Chuck.  According to Wikipedia, Sweed later took ‘The Ghoul’ to Kaiser Broadcasting station WKBF-TV in 1971: 
“Though it started as a tribute to Ghoulardi, Sweed soon developed his own eye-catching gags and energetic style.  Known for his zany, early-adolescent humor (particularly surrounding his abuse of a rubber frog named “Froggy,” his well-known penchant for blowing up model ships and aircraft with firecrackers, and his habitual smearing of Cheez Whiz over everything in sight), late night monster movies were a unique experience for Cleveland viewers in the 1970s.  The Ghoul would typically take an unbelievably bad horror movie and dump in sound bites at appropriate moments, using audio clips from novelty records, George Carlin, Firesign Theater and rock albums of the 60’s and early 70’s.  And whenever a character took a drink of something on-screen, The Ghoul would supply a good, loud belch.”
Ghoul adGhoul glossy
Link to good info about the Cleveland ghoul scene courtesy of MyMovieMonsters.com

“Plain Jane”: Mean People Suck

Thanks to Lester Bangs for pointing me to one of the more unusual storylines in pop music – B.J. Thomas’ 1966 single, “Plain Jane”:

A dramatic narrative about a serious issue, “Plain Jane” might strike today’s ears as being a bit hokey or kitschy, even though this sort of thing still happens and will continue as long as our popular culture puts a premium on looks and surface appearance.  Quoth Bangs:  “But dig the denouement:  the kids pull a fake phone call from a football hero, ‘inviting’ her to the prom, and when he fails to materialize on the big night, she commits suicide!  Take a lesson from that, kids.  Your brothers and sisters certainly did, at least until the next day at school where class lines were the lessons that mattered, where pariahs were pariahs, and the sentimental compassion mushed up from the pop songs was just that:  sentiment.”

“Plain Jane” – released December 17, 1966 – came close to bubbling under at #129 on the Billboard Pop chart.  Song composed by Mark Charron, who wrote quite a number of single sides for Thomas, as well as The Vogues, fellow Scepter artist, Chuck Jackson, Hanna-Barbera legends, Pebbles & Bamm Bamm, and many others.

Plain Jane 45Seven years prior in 1959, Bobby Darin, had also voiced something called “Plain Jane” written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, a song – when voiced by Bobby Darin – that manages to charm the listener, despite the lyric’s male chauvinism, nice hat trick that. Eddie Hickey, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians and Sammy Hagar, among others, have written original compositions entitled, “Plain Jane.”

House of Nimrod: Taking Back the Name

At some point in my youth – can’t pinpoint exactly when – the name “Nimrod” began to enjoy heavy use by male teens as an epithet of some repute in terms of its ability to convey strong public doubt about the intended victim’s masculinity.  Wiktionary points out that a Bugs Bunny reference to Elmer Fudd as a “poor little Nimrod” may have greatly contributed to its current use as a pejorative term akin to “idiot,” “doofus,” or “lamebrain.”

But then in a recent episode of TV sketch comedy, Key & Peele, I was struck by a small bit where you see the two comedians tooling down a desert highway in a classic 1960s muscle car, casually informing viewers, in the course of conversation, that Nimrod was – contrary to public perception – depicted in The Bible as a mighty hunter and man of great power (according to the Book of Genesis and the Books of Chronicles, this son of Cush and great-grandson of Noah was also once the King of Shinar).

So, of course, I had to go search the 45Cat database to see if any pop/rockers had embraced the power of the Nimrod name prior to the 1980s, when it had greater cachet.  The answer?  New Zealand’s own, The House of Nimrod.  The song?  “Slightly-delic.”  The year?  (braying of brass) 1967!

Andrew Schmidt, music writer at Audio Culture: The Noisy Library of New Zealand Music:

“In late 1967, House of Nimrod gobbled up New Zealand’s Christmas pop charts with the mischievous oddity ‘Slightly-Delic’, a song experimenting with the sound of the summer – harmony-laden psychedelic pop.

“A chance meeting between Bryce Petersen, a North Shore based children’s folk singer/songwriter, and Australian guitarist Johnny Breslin, produced enough creative sparks for a band and two singles.  Breslin had been trying to get a group together and knew a 20 year-old drummer from South Auckland, Billy Lawton, late of The Plague (with Corben Simpson).  Lawton knew a blue-playing guitarist and philosophy student Tony Pilcher (21) and young Māori bass guitarist Larry Latimer (20).”

Bottle of Wine: Year-End Hit for Pop’s Peak Year

I was intrigued to discover recently that 1950s-60s instrumental group from New Mexico, The Fireballs, had a Top 10 hit in the year (cue trumpets) 1967! with “Bottle of Wine” written by Tom Paxton, the celebrated folk songwriter, singer and community activist:

Produced by Norman Petty, of Buddy Holly fame, “Bottle of Wine” would be released – in Monterey Pop’s wake – on June 24, 1967.  “Bottle of Wine” would peak at #9 during the final week of 1967 and may have proven, in retrospect, to be the biggest chart hit for Paxton, who does not have a strong reputation for being a “singles” artist — and yet a search of the 45Cat database for songs written by Tom Paxton reveals his name to have have been branded as songwriter on dozens of 45s.

It’s worth pointing out that two different songs were used for this 45’s B-side resulting in a curious alignment of trading markets relative to each B-side:

“Can’t You See I’m Tryin’” (by Glen Campbell & Jerry Fuller) was used as the flip side for the following commercial markets:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Netherlands
  • Australia

“Ain’t That Rain” (by Barbara & George Tomsco, guitarist for the Fireballs), meanwhile, was used as the B-side for quite a number of other trading nations:

  • UK
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Lebanon
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Rhodesia
  • South Africa

Fireballs 45aFireballs 45bFireballs 45cFireballs 45dFireballs 45eFireballs 45f

“1967”: Adrian Belew, Confirmed Believer

I’ve always known there to be something particularly special about the Adrian Belew composition, “1967” – the closing track from his classic 1989 album, Mr. Music Head:

In recent years, with my growing awareness around the legend of 1967 as a peak year for pop music, I began to suspect 1967’s magical aura to be the reason behind the song’s title – “1967” – a year that is otherwise not named or even hinted at in the lyrics whatsoever.  Belew was kind enough to respond to my query about the the writing of this composition and revealed that the title “comes from my belief that particular year was the golden year of creativity in rock music.”  It’s true!

Furthermore:

“The song was written on a metal-bodied dobro in an odd tuning D A D D A D.  I call it the ‘dad’ tuning.  I was working on five different songs using that tuning.  So each time I worked on one song, I would work on the other four.  Eventually, it occurred to me to run all five together into one piece.”

This five-songs-in-one concept reminds me, in a way, of The Beatles’ legendary multi-part composition, “A Day in the LIfe”  from their 1967 modern pop masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Atlantic would release one single from Mr. Music Head, “Oh Daddy” — a father-daughter duet and #5 hit on the Modern Rock chart — with “Peaceable Kingdom” as the B-side.

Adrian Belew singleBesides being a great songwriter, Belew also enjoys renown for being able to conjure a vast array of inspired and otherworldly sounds on his various guitars, with a particular genius for emulating members of the animal kingdom.

The Adrian Belew Power trio is on tour – likely coming to a town near you

Stickmen vs Adrian Belew Power TrioAdrian Belew, it bears noting, produced the debut album by pioneering Cincinnati band of the 1970s & 80s – The Raisins – three years after their classic live performance on local PBS television series, Rock Around the Block, a showcase for local talent.

Belew has also supplied guitar for/with an interesting array of musical artists in rock, pop and beyond — Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, David Bowie, King Crimson, Mike Oldfield, Joan Armatrading, Paul Simon, Crash Test Dummies, Nine Inch Nails — but one of my all-time favorite guest turns is a live performance captured on film, Laurie Anderson’s Home of the Brave, where he dons a rubber guitar at one point, I kid you not.

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” – that would be included on the flip side to “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and show up on their follow-up album, Leave Home:

“Celeste”: Makes a Tinkly Sound

In this black & white solo performance, Donovan tells us that “Celeste” is just a “pretty girl’s name” — but I respectfully disagree.  I find Donovan’s original 1966 studio recording “Celeste” to be a particularly effective one in capturing a certain incipient sound (and let’s be honest, I think much of it has to do with the mellotron) – the sound, in fact, of 1967, albeit one year early in order to same time:

Sure enough, as one would hope, given the song’s title, an actual celeste makes its appearance around the 2:06 mark.  Unlike a piano, the celeste (also known as celesta) employs its hammers to strike metal keys, not strings.

celeste by Mustel of Paris

Celeste by Mustel of ParisDespite the song’s strong commercial potential (in my humble opinion), I have to say I am a little surprised to see “Celeste” remain solely an album track but with one interesting exception:  “Celeste” also enjoyed release on a Sunshine Superman EP – but only for the German market.

Also worth noting:  Scott (“Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair”) McKenzie released his own version of “Celeste” as the B-side of the uplifting and affirmative, “No, No, No, No, No.”

The Celeste in Rock, Pop & Soul:  Not Just for Symphonies

When I read Ray Charles’ memoir (his collaboration with David Ritz), I remember my brain being tickled by the fact that Charles played a celeste – a “serious” instrument more commonly associated with an orchestra – on one of his earlier jazz-inflected blues from 1949, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.”  This blog piece about Donovan’s psych pop classic, “Celeste” got me to thinking:  what other rock, pop, jazz and soul tunes have also utilized the services of a celeste?   Here’s a short, though by no mean definitive, list —

"Basin Street Blues"            Louis Armstrong's Hot Five    1928
"I'll Never Smile Again"        Frank Sinatra                 1940
"Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand"    Ray Charles                   1949
"In the Wee Small Hours"        Frank Sinatra                 1955
"Everyday"                      Buddy Holly                   1957
"Wurlitzer and Celeste"         Sun Ra                        1964
"Baby It's You"                 The Beatles                   1964
"Girl Don't Tell Me"            The Beach Boys                1965
"Celeste"                       Donovan                       1966
"Sunday Morning"                Velvet Underground            1966
"The Gnome"                     Pink Floyd                    1967
"Cadence and Cascade"           King Crimson                  1970
"Penetration"                   The Stooges                   1973

Odd to find EMI recording group, Pink Floyd, issued on Capitol imprint, Tower

Pink Floyd 45

“Major to Minor”: Disharmony in Love

“Major to Minor” by The Settlers is a tuneful slice of sunshine pop with a clever lyric that uses musical terminology as a metaphor for romantic discord:

Once I thought, “Life is going my way!” – it was just like a beautiful song.
When you came, well I thought you would stay – now it seems everything has gone wrong.
Major to minor.
All the dreams that I had were so big and so grand, they burst like a toy balloon.
Major to minor.
It’s the wrong harmony, and we can’t find the key.
We’re so far apart, I can’t even start the tune.
Once our love had original words, but I’ve heard them again and again.
Some old song you can sell to the birds, when it turns to the bitter refrain.
Major to minor.
Take my hand, let me show you the way, and I’ll sing you a beautiful song.
When I find all the right things to say, you’ll forget everything that went wrong.
Major to minor.

I love the crisp and commanding “click” bass lines – I would not be surprised if they were played by the same excellent session player who performed on Cat Stevens’ debut album.

This song would appear to have been only released in the UK (as well as Europe) and thus largely unknown to American ears.  Released in pop’s peak year – 1967.  I originally stumbled upon this piece of polished pop on the compilation of tracks from the Pye label, Paisley Pop.

Title of B-side?  Brace yourself:  “I Love ‘Oo Kazoo, ‘Cos ‘Oo Love Me”

Major to Minor 45

Kitty Wells: Renegade Rocker

In that same October-November 2001 issue of No Depression, there was another piece that caught my ear — Bill Friskics-Warren’s historical account that documented Kitty Wells’ somewhat radical musical experiment with members of the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band in a brave attempt to inject her music with a contemporary rock sound.  Kitty initiated this project in 1974 soon after signing with Phil Walden’s Capricorn label, having previously recorded 40 albums or so for Decca, going all the way back to 1956.  Check out the title track from this groundbreaking project, Kitty and her all-star band’s reworking of Dylan’s “Forever Young”:

It is the exceptional artist who can sustain her popularity and cultural relevance beyond one decade, much less two; therefore, the fact that Wells charted “an unprecedented (for a woman)  27 consecutive Top 20 country singles” makes this feat, as Friskics-Warren points out, all the more impressive.  But all hot streaks eventually run cold.  And even though there are a number of examples in the 1950s & 60s of folk/rock/pop singers enjoying the backing of country musicians, Wells’ decision to join forces with the burgeoning southern rock elite was, as Friskics-Warren observes, unprecedented —

Hank Williams Jr. & Friends, a record that employed some of the same Southern rockers as hers did, is often said to be the first example of this sort of crossover.  But Bocephus didn’t go into the studio until 1975, nearly a year after Wells made Forever Young, plus Hank Jr.’s core band consisted mainly of Nashville and Muscle Shoals session pros.

“You could argue that Earl Scruggs’ 1971 blowout (Earl Scruggs – His Family and Friends on Columbia) with Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band beat Wells to the punch.  But unlike Wells, Scruggs was no perennial country chartbuster; besides, his album, like the Dirt Band’s 1972 Will the Circle Be Unbroken, was more of an event — an all-star summit that united musicians of various stripes — than a case of Nashville Skyline in reverse, like Forever Young.”

Toy Caldwell, Tommy Talton, Johnny Sandlin: Guitar
Scott Boyer:  Guitar/Fiddle/Violin
John Hughey:  Steel Guitar
Richard Betts:  Dobro
David Brown:  Bass
Bill Stewart:  Drums
Paul Hornsby & Chuck Leavell:  Piano/Organ
Ella Avery, Mary Dorsey, Donna Hall, Joyce Knight, Diane Pfeifer:  Vocals

 Recorded June 1974 at Capricorn Recording Studio in Macon, Georgia.
Produced by Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby, both familiar names from Muscle Shoals.

Kitty Wells in Macon

Gatemouth: Refuses to Be Fenced In

Artists who steadfastly resist to be pidgeonholed – Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown being one such notable example – always pique my curiosity.  Music writer, Michael Perry, in his article about Gatemouth Brown from the November-December 2001 issue of “alt-country” magazine, No Depression, describes an independence of spirit so fierce that it immediately commanded my attention:

“For 72 of his 77 years, Brown’s career has unfolded over a shifting geography of place and sound, yielding a body of work nearly impossible to categorize.  Read the bios and press clippings, and you’ll find references to blues, roots, jazz, Cajun, calypso, zydeco, bluegrass, country, funk, and swing.  Ask Gatemouth, and he’ll call it bayou swamp rock.  Or border-type country.  Or American and world music.  Or American music, Texas-style.  He plays and leaves the sorting to others.  Someone once said his country licks didn’t sound country.  ‘What country you talkin’ about?’ asked Gate.”

GatemouthDo the math, and you quickly see that Gatemouth was a musician when most kids were just entering Kindergarten.  According to Perry, “His father fiddled for friends on the weekends, and at the age of 5, Clarence began backing him on guitar.  They played a little bit of everything — regional tunes, French traditionals, German polkas.  When Gate was 10, his father started him on the fiddle.  During World War II, he got work as a drummer.”

Reading between the lines, one quickly gets the sense that a musician and songwriter with such wide-ranging interests was not really cut out to be a “singles” artist.  Sure enough, a simple scan of the 45Cat database for Gatemouth Brown’s recordings reveals this his “singles era” essentially began in the early 1950s (1949, actually) and ended in 1975 — with his cover of Lowell George’s “Dixie Chicken” — even though he released albums practically right up until his death in 2005.  Check out Gatemouth’s guitar chops on blazing instrumental, “Boogie Uproar” from 1953:

Bill Dahl, in his biography of Gatemouth on AllMusic.com, tells us that famed music entrepreneur, Don Robey, “inaugurated his Peacock label in 1949 to showcase Brown’s blistering riffs.”  Those blistering riffs were on full display in 1966 when Gatemouth served as the lead guitarist for the house band on the television show, The !!!! Beat, hosted by veteran Nashville disc jockey, Bill “Hoss” Allen — a syndicated music program notable for its stellar roster of musical performers, as well as for being filmed in color.

German label, Bear Family, fortunately has reissued all 26 episodes of The !!!! Beat on DVD, and thanks to YouTube, you can watch the entire first episode with its delightfully razzle-dazzle opening sequence (not to mention a high-octane 60-second Gatemouth instrumental around the 9:40 mark in the program):

How unbelievably sad to learn that Gatemouth passed in September of 2005 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his death almost certainly hastened as a result of having to flee New Orleans on August 28 from the storm, which destroyed his home in Slidell, Louisiana, on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain.