Zero to Infinity: Buddy Emmons

This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians — and the subject of three prior Zero to 180 pieces.  Here is but a 45-second demonstration of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:

“Four Wheel Drive” (live)     Buddy Emmons     1965

It is a little distressing to see that 45Cat and Discogs.com (and YouTube) do not include any of the 45s Buddy Emmons recorded in the 1950s for almighty Columbia, nor his one outstanding 1960 single for Decca, “Blue Wind” b/w “Four Wheel Drive.”  This gaping historical hole is in stark contrast to the high regard in which Emmons is widely held:

“… world’s foremost steel guitarist” (Rolling Stone)
“… steel guitar innovator” (The Tennessean)
“… fabled steel guitarist” (CMT)
“… influential pedal steel guitarist” (Reuters)

How cool that my all-time favorite steel guitarist (Emmons) played with my favorite group (NRBQ) and guitarist (Duane Eddy).  Steel Guitar Forum, no surprise, already has a thread devoted to Buddy’s memory, while Edd Hurt writes a nice tribute to Emmons in  The Nashville Scene that talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations as co-founder, along with Shot Jackson, of Sho-Bud Guitars.

Buddy Emmons-aBuddy Emmons-bBuddy Emmons-c

Two essential/must-have Buddy Emmons recordings – The Buddy Emmons Collection & Redneck Jazz Explosion – I’ve noticed are both commanding high prices on Amazon, unfortunately.

Buddy Emmons-1Buddy Emmons-2

Steel Guitar Great Buddy Emmons Dies
Pedal steel player backed up artists from Ernest Tubb to Linda Rondstat
By Stephen L. Betts – Rolling Stone – July 30, 2015

Musician Buddy Emmons, widely regarded as the world’s foremost steel guitarist, hailed for his unique playing style and innovations with regard to tuning, has died at age 78.

Born Buddie Gene Emmons in Mishawaka, Indiana, and nicknamed “the Big E,” his guitar work was heard on countless recordings by acts ranging from Ray Price and Ernest Tubb, to Linda Ronstadt and the Carpenters.

At 11 years old, Emmons studied on lap steel guitar at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend, Indiana, learning to play country music by listening to the radio.  As a teenager, he joined his first bands, relocating to Illinois then to Detroit, before moving to Nashville in 1955 to join Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens’ band at 18 years old. Christened the Country Boys, Dickens’ band recorded several instrumentals, including three of Emmons’ original compositions.  After Dickens dissolved his band in 1956, Emmons and fellow guitarist Shot Jackson formed the Sho-Bud Company, which designed and built steel guitars.  Emmons also began extensive Nashville studio work, and joined Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours the following year, remaining with Tubb until 1958.

Four years later, Emmons became a member of Ray Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys.  By 1967, he was living in California, and after joining Roger Miller’s band, landed more high-profile studio work in Los Angeles, appearing on records by Nancy Sinatra, Gram Parsons, John Sebastian and others.

A 1974 return to Nashville continued his studio work, on LPs by George Strait, Mel Tillis, Gene Watson, June Carter Cash, Ricky Skaggs and many more.  Emmons was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981.  He toured with the Everly Brothers in the Nineties and would later be heard occasionally on radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Emmons retired in 2007 after the sudden death of his wife Peggy. In 2013, a tribute LP was released.  The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, featured Wllie Nelson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and several steel players including Randle Currie, from Brad Paisley’s band.  A rare bit of Emmons songwriting, “Are You Sure,” also appears on Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material as a hidden track duet with Willie Nelson.  As the story goes, he and Nelson penned the 1965 song together after a confrontation with a bar patron.

Fellow steel player Steve Fishell, who cites “The Big E” as a chief inspiration and is currently on the road with Emmylou Harris, summed up Emmons’ death to Rolling Stone Country as nothing short of a tragedy:  “It’s a towering loss in the pedal steel community and to music lovers everywhere.”

Highly Selective Discography of Buddy Emmons on Steel Guitar

Nancy Sinatra     Country My Way     1967

Gary Burton     Tennessee Firebird     1967

The Dillards     The Wheatstraw Suite     1968

Judy Collins     “I Pity the Poor Immigrant”     1968

John Phillips     John, The Wolf King of L.A.     1970

Denny Doherty     Watcha Gonna Do     1970

∞ John Sebastian     “Rainbows All Over Your Blues”     1970

Sandy Denny     “Crazy Lady Blues”     1971

Rowan Brothers     Rowan Brothers     1972

Odyssey     Odyssey     1972

Roger McGuinn     “Water Is Wide”     1973

Gram Parsons     GP     1973

Judee Sill     Heart Food     1973

Henry Mancini Orchestra     Country Gentleman     1974

Benny Martin     Tennessee Jubilee     1975

John Hartford     Nobody Knows What You Do     1976

Hargus “Pig” Robbins     Country Instrumentalist of the Year     1977

Ian Tyson     “Turning Thirty”     1978

Ricky Skaggs     Sweet Temptation     1979

Levon Helm     American Son     1980

= k.d. lang     “Shadowland”     1988

Emmons steel guitarsEmmons steel

Photo above courtesy of the Steel Guitar Forum

“Hold It Baby”: Swedish Soul

Just as “Boliver Shagnasty” conveys the comic sensibility of a more modern mindset, Sweden’s Slam Creepers similarly seems like a band name of relatively recent vintage (e.g., 80s hardcore?) — and yet, their first release, fascinatingly enough, was a split single in 1965 a 7-inch flexi-disc in which shared Slam Creepers shared space with The Hollies and fellow Swedish band, Lucas!

Vinyl debut:  Slam Creepers on … flexi-disc!

Slam Creepers flexi-discFour years and a handful of singles later, Slam Creepers would find themselves in another “shared” arrangement — a 12-inch “Shelby Singleton product” wherein the band would be rubbing shoulders on the same LP with Jeannie C. Riley, The Hep Stars, and Mister “Cincinnati Kid” himself, Prince Buster!

The Hep Stars would include future ABBA founder, Benny Anderson
Title of the Hep Stars’ first album:  ‘WE AND OUR CADILLAC

Great Youth Festival LP-xWorth considering  how “radical” it was in 1969 to release a sampler album that co-mingled late 60s country (Riley), Jamaican rocksteady (Buster) & Swedish pop (Slam Creepers & The Hep Stars) – although this album was issued in the Spanish market.

From a typography standpoint, I am very intrigued that Slam Creepers utilized – as would their American musical colleagues, The Afro-Blues Quintet Plus One – the “Future Shock” typeface for the cover of their 1967 debut album:

Are there any earlier LPs with this same “Future Shock” typeface than these from 1967?

Slam Creepers LPAfro Blues LP-x

CONTEST OPEN TO ALL:
Who can find the earliest musical use of this 1960s typeface?

Future Shock-x

In 1968, Slam Creepers would issue two singles, and – in the noblest Beatles fashion – these four songs would not find release on the band’s sophomore ’68 LP Sweet Ruth.

Slam Creepers’ 1968 B-side “Hold It Baby” reveals a refreshing American soul influence:

“Hold It Baby”     Slam Creepers     1968

Wanna take a trip to Catchy Town?  Check out 1968 sure-fire hit, “We Are Happy People“.

Boliver Shagnasty = Rusty York?

Seriously, you expect us to believe that someone in 1958 is named “Boliver Shagnasty”?  Whose name, no less, is on a 45 that bears the randy song title “Tapping That Thing”?   Sounds like a Wayne’s World prank.  And yet it really happened.

Boliver Shagnasty = Rusty York in disguise?

Boliver Shagnasty 4545Cat contributor makes the following controversial claim:

“According to ancient rumour, the artist was Rusty York, who was contracted to King Records.  Syd Nathan wouldn’t allow these tracks to be recorded, so this was a “moonlighting” job.  [Note well] only what I’ve heard!”

“Tapping That Thing”     Boliver Shagnasty     1958

One cannot think of the song title – “Tapping That Thing” – without being reminded of McDonald’s hilariously misguided ad campaign from ten years or so prior:

I'd Hit It McD's ad

Plays Guitar Like a Piano #2

It’s shocking & sad what little footage exists of “Dickie Phillips that shows his unorthodox method of playing the electric guitar.  Here is the only clip on YouTube that shows Phillips playing with Tex Williams & the Western Caravan — note how he places the guitar across his lap and presses his fingers firmly downward on the strings in the manner of a pianist:

“the Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams & His Western Caravan     195?

[Guitar solo by “Dickie” Phillips begins at the 0:45 mark in the video]

Herb Steiner chimes in via the Steel Guitar Forum on Tex Williams’ musical personnel:

The steel player in ‘Talkin’ Boogie’ is Wayne Burdick.  Singing with Tex is Deuce Spriggens on bass and Jimmy Widener on guitar.  Max Fidler is the lead violinist, Ossie Godsen on vibraphone, Warren Penniman on drums, and I don’t recognize the other players.  Really good band, y’all.

I have a (better quality) clip of this same band performing “Tulsa Trot” that features a wonderful and more intricate solo from Dicky Phillips that is really fun to watch — I regret that this performance is not yet available on YouTube.

Sorry – distracted by the vintage vegas architecture

Tex Williams LPHowever, Tex Williams did do another live performance of “The Talking Boogie” on TV’s Town Hall Ranch Party with our old friend Joe Maphis, who plays his one-of-a-kind double-neck guitar:

“The Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams with Joe Maphis & Western Ranch Party     1958

Phillips’ individualistic approach to playing the instrument, although similar to a Chapman Stick (without the “double tapping“) is somewhat unique — I challenge you to produce a video that shows another guitarist whose playing method duplicates Dickie’s. Text below is excerpt from Phillips’ obituary:

JAMES RICHARD “DICKIE” PHILLIPS, b. August 30, 1920, Beamon, Pettis County, Missouri; d. April 23, 1991, Jackson County, Missouri; m. MARTHA KILLEBREW, ca. 1940, St. Louis, Missouri.

James Richard Phillips was an accomplished musician, playing the fiddle and guitar with many well known bands, such as Spike Jones, Tex Williams and Bob Scobey.  He played with Pat Boone’s backup band and appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show as a regular attraction for several months, both on radio and television.

When he was with the Tex Williams band, he played background music for a number of movies, including several of the Walt Disney animated films. During his youth, he played with a band which appeared in Hawaii and during this time he contracted tuberculosis.

Link to follow-up piece on Dickie Phillips.

THIS JUST IN:  Late-breaking news (June 16, 2017)

An electric violin that was developed by Leo Fender, in partnership with Dickie Phillips, was purchased on Ebay in 2004 Ben Heaney (of DeltaViolin – deltaviolin.com) but “took me a long time to get my head round what I’d bought.”  As it turns out, the story has taken on considerable historic significance, as this 1958 production prototype is the world’s rarest electric violin!   One of only two of its kind, and “500 times more rare than a Stradivarius,” Heaney adds that “the BBC just broadcast a recording of the 1958 Fender Electric Violin – no samples, no synths, no loops… – a single take divided into three sections and multi-layered.”

UK music fans will hear this electric violin for the first time, essentially, as Heaney prepares to take this instrument on tour, as well as in the recording studio, in the coming months.  The instrument can already be heard on a track called “Where’s the Fire Gone” by The August List — the first recording “to feature this particular age of Fender violin,” according to Heaney, who also enthuses to Zero to 180:

“The sound is fantastic. Totally unlike ANY electric violin on the market today … with the possible exception of a prototype I’ve helped a new maker develop…

The reason is simple, seemingly no one has used Fender’s pickup solution.  That’s why it sounds different.  Almost every other violin is using a piezo, so ultimately share a root sound” — save this prototype.

Click on this link to hear a solo recording of the world’s rarest electric violin.

It’s French – and Very Catchy

Thanks to Whole Foods for nourishing my soul with its affordably-priced (no, seriously) 3-disc set of French pop, Café Paris:  42 Classic Songs from France.  This past week, I have found myself particularly taken with one song by a French singer-songwriter whose name, Michel Polnareff, was new to me — Jimmy Page, lo and behold, I would discover to be the unnamed session musician who plays the riff that refuses to vacate the premises:

“La Poupée Qui Fait Non”    Michel Polnareff     1966

Now, of course, it’s one thing for this unpaid music enthusiast to declare “La Poupée Qui Fait Non” (“The Doll That Says No”) catchy as all get out, but as I poke into the song’s subsequent history, I am quite struck by the range of artists who have been similarly charmed by the song’s wiles over the decades.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, for instance, can be heard messing around with the song (though just for fun), while Montreal glam punkers The 222s would record a rockin’ “70s” version (albeit in 1981).

English alternative dance act, St. Etienne would craft their own catchy 90s arrangement in 1994, while “iconic” French Canadian singer-songwriter Mylène Farmer would join forces in 1996 with Algeria’s (semi-official) “King of Rai,” Khaled, to take this song into yet another alluring direction. (click here if you have nothing else to do all day).

A-side of a 4-song EP that also includes the track “Beatnik”

Michel Polnareff EPPerhaps it’s time for the current trendsetters of contemporary popular music to rediscover this song?

Joie de vivre!  This is the seventh Zero to 180 piece thus far tagged as French Pop.

The Chosen Few: Rhyming Is Overrated

Thanks to Lyle Upchurch for pointing me to Muncie, Indiana’s The Chosen Few, who released a garage rock classic “You Don’t Rhyme” in 1967, pop music’s peak year:

“It Just Don’t Rhyme”     The Chosen Few     1967

Dig the arrangement of the song’s ending, with the plaintive guitar chord and (spoiler alert!) surprise harmony vocal.

That same year (November 23, 1967, to be exact), the Chosen Few would have the honor of opening for The Who at the New Barn, Lions Delaware County Fairgrounds, in their own hometown!

The Chosen Few would get signed to RCA and release their debut album in 1969 — the following year this album would find release in, of all places, Brazil (in mono, though).

Chosen Few LPThe Chosen Few’s debut RCA 45 – “Maybe the Rain Will Fall” b/w “Deeper In” – would also enjoy distribution in the UK and Australia.

Garage Hangover has the band’s history, with cool photos and all the group name and lineup changes over the years

“It Just Don’t Rhyme” vs. “Nothing Rhymed”:   Smackdown!

Just three years later, Gilbert (“Alone Again Naturally”) O’Sullivan would release a song whose title likewise implied that it lacked a rhyme scheme (“Nothing Rhymed“) when, in fact, the opposite was true.

Who Really Wrote “Hang On Sloopy” – Ohio’s Official State Song?

LATE-BREAKING CONTROVERSY:  Did The Chosen Few – not The McCoys – really write Ohio’s official state song “Hang On Sloopy”?  Garage Hangover includes a quote from Brent Nephew, son of bandmember Steve Nephew:  “Not many people know this but my mom tells me they also wrote ‘Hang on Sloopy’ which was stolen by the McCoys in 1969, I believe. I don’t know if that can be verified or not but it would be interesting to know more.”  As Rick Derringer explains in this video clip, the song was brought to the band by their producers — but did Bert Berns really write it while living in Cuba, as Derringer says?

“Evil, Evil Evel”: Insane Fool?

My dad worked in retail merchandise for many years, and I remember fondly when he came home from the annual toy industry convention with the hot new toy at the time:

Evel ToyIdeal introduced this stunt cycle toy on the heels of the 1971 Evel Knievel biopic that starred George Hamilton and inspired a handful or so of 45s.  Stu Phillips and Bob Stone would write “Evel Knievel,” a song covered by Rawhide (1971) and George Hamilton (1972).  Two individual compositions with the same title, “The Ballad of Evel Knievel,” would be released in 1972 (Hub Reynolds) and 1974 (John Culliton Mahoney – actually a “split” single with Evel himself on the A-side “reciting” a song he had co-written, “Why”)

Evel 45However, Eddie Carr and his backing band, The Navajos, didn’t need cues from Hollywood to celebrate the derring-do of Evel Kneivel.  No, sir.  Eddie and the boys had the vision and gumption to sing Evel’s praises a full three years before the release of the 1971 film:

“Evil, Evil Evel Knievel”     Eddie Carr & the Navajos     1968

Stevie Wonder, to my great surprise and excitement, would also throw his hat in the ring with a 1972 B-side entitled “Evel, but alas … a typo.

Not Your Father’s “Purple Haze”

I just stumbled upon another freaky coincidence that is not unlike Germany’s 1966 one-off single by The Dead-Heads In the year 1968, two artists – The Jimi Hendrix Experience and singer, Robert Ray Whitley – would both release original songs entitled “1983”!   Am I the only one who finds that bizarre?   Who wants to bet that Ray Whitley’s “1983” sounds even remotely similar to Hendrix’s epic 13-minute underwater odyssey?

That same year Dion (“Runaround Sue”) DiMucci would release his version of hoary Hendrix classic “Purple Haze” that is curiously – and musically – defiant.  Dion uses the song’s lyrics .. and discards the rest!  If you prefer your “Purple Haze” as a downbeat pastoral ballad, then you’re really in for a treat:

“Purple Haze”     Dion     1968

“1983” by “beach music composer” Ray Whitley

Ray Whitley 45

“Witchi Tai To”: Pop Chant

How did I only just learn of “Witchy Tai To”?  This morning I heard this song for the first time, and it immediately occupied the empty spaces in my soul and refused to leave:

“Witchi Tai To”     Topo D. Bill     1969

I am hardly the first person to react this way to the song — many voices on the web likewise characterize the song as an “earworm” of major proportions.  Is it possible that Jim Pepper’s adaptation of an ancient (peyote) chant is the first such Native American chant to be played on pop radio?  Brewer & Shipley confirm the hunch:  “To this day ‘Witchi Tai To’ is the only hit in the history of the Billboard pop charts (reaching #69 in 1969) to feature an authentic Native American chant.”  Pepper’s hit version was recorded with the group, Everything is Everything, and issued, unsurprisingly, on Vanguard.

Ed Ward drew my attention to this song when he reviewed a non-LP version of this mesmerizing tune by “Topo D. Bill” (get it?), a pseudonym for “Legs” Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and special friends, although there is fervent speculation as to whom — possibly Keith Moon on drums and members of Yes lending support.  “This song,” wrote Ward, “is on its way to becoming a ‘standard’ in the rock field, and no wonder, since it lends itself to myriad interpretations so readily.”

This 1979 Trouser Press tribute to the Charisma record label states that (1) a pseudonym was used for this single since the Bonzos were still under contract to United Artists at the time of the song’s release and (2) “Witchi Tai To” was the label’s inaugural 45.  David Fricke gets the amusing back story from Charisma’s founder, Tony Stratton Smith:

“For this masterpiece of a single, Larry insisted on either ‘Witchi-Tai-To’ or ‘Springtime for Hitler.’  We were just closing a deal with a German distributor, so we didn’t think ‘Springtime for Hitler’ would be all that good and went with ‘Witchi-Tai-To.’  I also remember that single because we were counting every penny in those days.  I said to Larry, ‘Well, you’ve got your studio and musicians.  What else do you want?’  He said, ‘I’ll tell you, old boy, if you could arrange for 44 drumsticks of chicken and a dozen bottles of champagne…’  I told him he had to be joking. ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘we’ve got to have a supper break.’  And like an idiot, I fell for it.”

            UK 7″                                    German 45                                French 7″

Witchi Tai ToWitchi Tai To-aWitchi Tai To-b

Is “Witchi Tai To” the ‘standard’ Ed Ward predicted it would be?  Perhaps not yet – but it could and should be the “native” part of our American pop canon.

Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham & Chuck Rainey (et al) backed Jim Pepper on his debut LP

Jim Pepper LP

World’s 1st Dead Heads: Germany?

How freaky that the Grateful Dead’s played their first show on December 4, 1965 (billed as The Dead, not The Warlocks)  — and then the very next year, a group of young German musicians would form a band called The Dead-Heads:

“Stupid-Baby”     The Dead-Heads     1966

This seven-inch is almost certainly the one and only record release by The Dead-Heads.

Dead-Heads 45