Joaquin = Jazz + Steel Guitar

EarlJoaquinMurphey (who co-wrote yesterday’s featured song “Steel Guitar Jubilee“) is held in very high esteem among steel guitarists, with one performance in particular — “Oklahoma Stomp” by Spade Cooley’s Orchestra — almost single-handedly cementing his reputation (Bob Dunn, notwithstanding) as the first “sophisticated jazz steel guitar player,” as Texas Steel Guitar Hall of famer Tom Morrell would eulogize in The Independent‘s 1999 obituary of Murphey.

Spade Cooley 78Ace music historian Rich Kienzle – in Southwest Shuffle – points out:

“Murphey’s abilities to combine complex chordal work with remarkably fluid, expressive single-string soloing set him apart from any other steel guitarist in the country” while the aforementioned “Oklahoma Stomp,” is a “Murphey tour de force that’s lost none of his power in the nearly six decades since he recorded it.”

Kevin Rainey’s 2001 tribute to the great steel guitarist for The Journal of Country Music, “Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey:  Steel Man Extraordinaire,” notes that Murphey was very much a musician’s musician — “Joaquin is my idol,” the almighty Speedy West once declared.  One-time Bob Wills musician, Herb Remington, would witness Murphey’s performing with Tex Williams‘ group and remark to Rainey:

“I thought it was a clarinet playing.  I couldn’t find him in the band.  I went up to the bandstand and I couldn’t find the steel guitar.  He was playing a little lap steel way back in the back of the bandstand.  And when he played, it was like hearing a good clarinet solo.  A jazz solo, which is what he listened to.  And it just dumbfounded me.  I’d never heard a steel guitar like that before.”

In fact, if you listen to “Oklahoma Stomp,” Murphey’s guitar actually sounds like a clarinet around the 1:20 mark in the song — must be heard to be believed.

Not a lot of pictures of Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey out there

Joaquin MurpheyThough he would initially make his mark with the Spade Cooley Orchestra, Murphey would depart soon after.  Rainey informs:

“In 1946, Murphey and accordionist George Bamby left the Cooley band to join Andy Parker and the Plainsmen (themselves a Cooley spin-off, having formed from a nucleus in the band led by Cooley bassist and vocalist, Deuce Spriggens).  The band worked Pappy Cheshire’s show on KMPC, did the Saturday night Hollywood Barn Dance, recorded for the Coast label, and appeared in some of Eddie Dean‘s westerns.  Murphey’s performance of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on Coast remains one of his most revered performances, though it has yet to be reissued on CD.”

How curious that the ever-dependable PragueFrank does not affirm Murphey’s musical presence on Andy Parker and the Plainsmen‘s version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” – a performance that historians and music enthusiasts concede to be Joaquin and no other:

“Sweet Georgia Brown”     Andy Parker and the Plainsmen     1946

Musical question mark[YouTube audio not yet available]

Wait a minute, I swear I listened to “Sweet Georgia Brown” on YouTube about a week ago … and now I can’t find hide nor hair of it!   Was that just a dream – or did it really happen?  Today’s blog piece hinged on “Sweet Georgia Brown” being the featured song.  Now what?

Plan B:  “Let’s Go Sparkin‘” by Eddie Dean & The Plainsmen, with Murphey on steel:

Q:  Is it possible that Freddie Roulette is paying tribute to Murphey on his unusually expressive (and previously-celebrated) composition “Joaquin”?

L-to-R top row: George Bamby (accordion), Paul ‘Clem’ Smith & Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey.
Bottom row: Charlie Morgan (far L), Eddie Dean (black hat) & Andy Parker (white hat).

Andy Parker and the Plainsmen

Kudos to B-Westerns.com for this photo of Andy Parker & the Plainsmen

What’s in a Nickname?

Most of us have long wondered, was ‘Joaquin’ Murphey of mixed Irish-Latin descent?  Actually, no:  Murphey – according to Kienzle – earned this sobriquet from country disc jockey, Bert “Foreman” Phillips, “in honor of California’s San Joaquin Valley.”

“Steel Guitar Jubilee”: Jubilant

I can’t get over how relaxed and appealing the kick drum sounds on this recording – almost threatens to steal the show:

 “Steel Guitar Jubilee”     Lloyd Green     1964

I admit, it’s hard to completely tune out the immaculate musicianship of the others who are supporting Lloyd Green on his 1964 debut LP, The Big Steel Guitar. released on Bob Shad’s Time Records —  a label whose roster would include Gordon Jenkins, Al Caiola, Hugh Montenegro, and (somehow) Ray Charles for a couple of (possibly “dodgy“) 45s.

Buddy Killen:  Bass
MurreyBuddyHarman:  Drums
Bill Pursell:  Percussion
Fed Carter, Harold Bradley & Kelso Herston:  Guitar
HargusPigRobbins:  Piano
Charlie McCoy:  Harmonica

Lloyd Green debut LP-bDiscogs made a mistakeTom Bradshaw himself confirmed via email that he, in fact, was not sitting in the producer’s chair for 1964’s The Big Steel Guitar.

Remember SESAC from Zero to 180’s previous piece on Hank Garland’s “lost album” from 1960?   According to Sandra Brennan in the All Music Guide to Country, SESAC would play a pivotal role in the development of Lloyd Green as one of the top session players working the Nashville scene:

“In 1964 [Lloyd Green] began working as a part-time assistant at the SESAC office for Roy Drusky.  Although the pay was low, the job did give Green the opportunity to make demos and do session work.  He remained with SESAC for three years, and soon was earning $50,000 a year from session work.  Green worked with pop musicians as well, including Dame Vera Lynn, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr, as well as on the Byrds’ seminal Sweetheart at the Rodeo.  He had just a handful of solo chart hits, including instrumental versions of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ in the early 70s.  He also made the charts singing ‘You and Me.'”

Big Steel Guitar would also be reissued as Steel Guitar Record Club No. 4 in 1975 – courtesy of Tom Bradshaw (referenced above).

Lloyd Green debut LP-bbHistorical note:  “Steel Guitar Jubilee” – penned by ‘Joaquin’ Murphey & Smokey Rogers – was originally released by Smokey and His Western Caravan in February, 1951.

Can you believe it has only been one year since we last checked in with Lloyd Green?

Lloyd Green’s Secret Hawaiian Album of 1964

1964 would see the release of a second (though unnamed) Lloyd Green full-length album, Hawaiian Enchantment, albeit on a different label — Modern Sound Records.  Thank you to LP Discography and El Rancho for confirming the album’s existence.   .

Lloyd Green Hawaiian LP-bLink to 2002 interview with Lloyd Green, courtesy of Chart Records Appreciation Site.

Hank Garland: Lost Album of ’60

Fascinating that a musician of the caliber of Hank Garland (who was signed to Columbia, for cryin’ out loud) would release a companion album of sorts – Subtle Swing – to the groundbreaking (and previously discussed) Jazz Winds from a New Direction, and yet so little information to confirm its existence, aside from Sundazed’s 2004 vinyl reissue.

Poke around online and you will discover that Subtle Swing was tacked onto 2013’s CD reissue of Who Is Gary Burton? as an inducement for fans of the noted jazz vibraphonist — but at the expense of Hank Garland!

Gary Burton LPDig deeper still, and you will correctly deduce that Sony, in partnership with Sundazed, incorporated Hank’s entire Columbia output [1959’s Velvet Guitar + 1960’s Subtle Swing + 1961’s Jazz Winds + 1962’s Unforgettable Guitar] into a double compact disc, albeit in jumbled order, when issued in 2001.

Jazz Wax notes that the recording session for Subtle Swing took place six days after the Jazz Winds in a New Direction album had wrapped on August 24, 1960 (here we go again, an entire album recorded in a single day) although, it’s not quite true that the “same group” of musicians played on this follow-up album — only Garland and Burton remained from Jazz Winds.

Check out the stereo drums that kick off album closer, “Call D. Law” – a clever bit of wordplay that also pays tribute to Columbia boss and benefactor, Don Law :

“Call D. Law”     Hank Garland     1960

Hank Garland:  Guitar
Gary Burton:  Vibraphone
Bob Moore:  Bass
Doug Kirkham & MurreyBuddyHarman:  Drums
Bill Pursell:  Piano
Don Law:  Producer

The CD liner notes by the indispensible Rich Kienzle sheds light on the special reasons underlying Subtle Swing‘s obscurity.

“Six days later, Hank returned to the studio for two days to produce a jazzy album for the song licensing firm SESAC, who produced country and gospel recordings for the radio stations that took licenses with the company.  This session was geared as much to the radio market as it was to the jazz audience.  The band, however, was strictly Nashville, including Burton, Bob Moore, pianist Bill Pursell, and drummer Doug Kirkham, who’d worked with Hank in Billy Burke’s combo.

If Jazz Winds emphasized Hank in a [Tal] Farlowesque context, the ten-song SESAC effort, released to clients under the title Subtle Swing, reflected the influence of pianist George Shearing’s Quintet.  Programming requirements seemingly mandated no songs longer than four minutes.  It’s a Garland-Burton effort all the way.”

Rare original copy of 1960 SESAC album — sold for $47 in 2004

Hank Garland - original 1960 cover“Now that the Hank Garland Quintet is a ‘fait accompli’ on SESAC Recordings, the young guitarist stands in the unique position of moulding a new career on the firm foundation of his C&W successes.  With a patient hand and perceptive musicianship, he has unified the instrumental skills of five performers to produce these refreshing sounds.  The “subtle swing” which has always been a vital part of Garland’s playing transcends his newest contribution to musical entertainment.”  [liner notes from the back cover]

But tragedy would intervene in Garland’s life when a blown rear tire resulted in a serious accident that would leave him permanently impaired.  1962’s Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland would essentially be a repackaging of the SESAC recordings — his musical career forever halted.  In 1992, Bear Family would gather Garland’s 1940s & 50s Decca recordings, including a pair of excellent unissued tracks from 1957, “Baby Guitar” and “Hank’s Dream.”

2004 reissue — “designed for repeated listening” as the original LP promised

Hank Garland LP-a

Cherokee Cowboys: Proven Band

Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) solo release – check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:

“Devil’s Dream”     The Cherokee Cowboys     1965

Ray Price: guitar & vocal
Grady Martin & Pete Wade:  lead guitar
Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris:  rhythm guitar
Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day:  steel guitar
Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray:  fiddle
Floyd Cramer:  piano
Harold Bradley:  bass guitar
Pete Burke & Buddy Killen:  bass
Buddy Harman:  drums
Johnny Bush:  drums & vocal

Recorded:
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville

The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965
[photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]

Cherokee Cowboys - 1965(Top Row) Pete Burke, Wade Ray, Buddy Emmons
(Bottom Row) Charlie Harris, Johnny Bush, Keith Coleman

Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).

Cherokee Cowboys LP-a

Rich Kienzle would include Price and the Cherokee Cowboys in Southwest Shuffle:  Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing & Country Jazz:

“It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers.  Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.  Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys.  With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.

At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey.  He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked.  Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly.  “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed.  “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.”  Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.”

1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”).  Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with MoisesBlondieCalderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.

Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.

Cherokee Cowboys LP promo

(Son of) Plays Guitar Like a Piano

I finally got around to learning how to convert VHS into DVD so that I could preserve a rare piece of Ameri-music-ana:  a live performance of “Tulsa Trot” by noted western swing outfit, Tex Williams and His Western Caravan, that offers a second startling peek at the unorthodox technique of Dickie Phillips who plays guitar in “lap” fashion — like a piano.

“Tulsa Trot”     Tex Williams and His Western Caravan     195?

[note:  Look for drummer, muddy berry, who pulls a great face at song’s end]

Capitol Records would pay for a full-page ad in Billboard’s February 24, 1951 edition that identified “Tulsa Trot” — first mentioned two weeks earlier as a new “folk” release — as a “hot seller.”

Tex Williams 78-bBillboard’s Country & Western (Folk) Record Reviews in the February 17, 1951 edition would include this (terse) write-up:  “Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings.”  Music Weird blog rightly asks:  what is aterptempo?

As it turned out, it would be Jimmy Bryant – not Phillips – who joined Dean Eacker and Smokey Rogers on guitar at the January 8, 1951 Capitol recording session, along with Fred Tavares on steel guitar, Ossie Godson on piano, Pedro DePaul on accordion & Deuce Spriggins on bass.

Smokey Rogers – a recording artist in his own right, who also co-wrote “Tulsa Trot” along with steel guitar wiz, EarlJoaquinMurphey – would release his own version soon after, as reported in the April 14, 1951 edition of Billboard.  Check out Joaquin Murphey’s hot steel guitar riffing on Rogers’ somewhat more polite version:

“Tulsa Trot”     Smokey Rogers     1951

“The Fuzz”: Strictly B-Side

I’m guessing that Grady Martin‘s 1961 B-side “The Fuzz” influenced Les Paul to soup up his 1963 album trackHam ‘N Grits” with a little “fuzz bass”:

“The Fuzz”     Grady Martin     1961

The historical consensus is that Grady Martin himself accidentally invented “fuzz bass” during a 1960 recording session for Marty Robbins — Dave Hunter recounts the incident in Guitar Effects PedalsThe Practical Handbook:

“The Fuzz-Tone connection hints that we need to look further back, and across the pond, for even earlier examples of recorded guitar distortion.  Gibson, and hence their subsidiary brand, Maestro, was given the circuit that became the Fuzz-Tone by studio engineer, Glen Snoddy.  Snoddy, in turn, had devised the transistorized fuzz-generating design to replicate a sound he’d heard while recording Marty Robbins‘ 1960 hit “Don’t Worry,” when a tube preamp in one of the mixer channels had started to fail and yield a distored tone on Grady Martin’s bass solo.  Whoever decided to stick with the track, rather than re-record it through a properly functioning channel, was on to something:  the result was Nashville’s first recorded fuzz guitar (a short-scale Danelectro bass, in fact).  Courtesy of Maestro, Snotty’s fuzz circuit soon made the trendy new sound available to the world.”

Grady Martin 45-aaGrady Martin 45-bbListener Glen G. at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog (who asserts that Martin was playing a 6-string bass on “Don’t Worry”) has compiled a “spectacular country fuzz” listening list, and 1961’s “The Fuzz” is at the front of the pack, chronologically speaking.

“The Fuzz” would enjoy another shot at life when included in 3-disc early ’60s compilation, I Got a Woman:  Gems from the Decca Vaults USA 1960-1961 — a European release.

Decca Box Set 1960-61

“Ham ‘N Grits”: LP Track Only

Check out the opening “fuzz bass” lines on this tasty album selection – “Ham N Grits” – that never got singled out for release on a Les Paul 45:

“Ham ‘n Grits”     Les Paul & Mary Ford     1963

Issued on 1963 Columbia album, Swingin’ South – and nowhere else.  Recorded in early 1963 in Mahwah, NJ, with Les Paul at the helm.  So little has been written about this instrumental, although happy to see that “Ham ‘N Grits” was deemed fit for inclusion in the highly-selective 6-CD box set, Only the Best of Les Paul and Mary Ford.

“Ham ‘N Grits” would enjoy reissue on this two-fer

Les Paul & Mary Ford CDIn 2001, Collectables would pair Swingin’ South with 1961’s Warm and Wonderful album on one CD — available right now for only $7.49 (half of its suggested retail price)..

Ham & Grits with Red-Eye Gravy                       Grits with Tasso Ham

Ham and Grits-a [ham & grits w red-eye gravy]Ham and Grits-b [grits w tasso ham]

 Cheesy Grits with Sauteed Ham & Kale     Ham & Grits at Nashville’s Silver Sands

Ham and Grits-c [cheesy grits w sauteed ham & kale]Ham and Grits-d [ham & grits w butter at Nashville's Silver Sands]

“Ham ‘N Grits” is the 3rd installment in Zero to 180’s musical homage to almighty hominy.

“Grits & Corn Bread”: Watts 103

Musical salute to Georgia ‘s Official Prepared Food continues with “Grits & Corn Bread” – a song that listerners can enjoy at a variety of playback speeds.   Zero to 180 is partial to the medium speed:

“Grits and Corn Bread”   The Soul Runners     1966

Billboard would identify “Grits & Corn Bread” as a ‘Breakout Single’ in its January 28, 1967 edition.– debut 45 from The Soul Runners, who would be the forerunners to the estimable Watts 103 St. Rhythm BandHip Wax makes the historical connections:

“After [Dyke & the Blazers leader Arlester] Christian was shot to death in Phoenix, Arizona, another great soul-funk act arose like a phoenix.  Christian’s final sides were recorded with the guitar-bass-drums nucleus of the nascent Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band.  Led by Fred Smith, Watts began as the Soul Runners, a hip group similar to Booker T. & the MGs, with singles on a soul-food theme.  The classic version of ‘Spreadin’ Honey,’ for instance, appeared on both sides of the name transition and was remade by Watts on their first, underrated LP of cheery, adventurous, mod soul.  But, not quite making it as either funk or soul jazz, the band sorely needed a charismatic vocalist to front the band, another Arlester Christian [i.e., future front man, Charles Wright].”

Musically starchy?  Rather meaty, actually

Soul Runners 45Billboard’s band biography bespeaks:

“As the Soul Runners, the group scored a 1967 hit with the instrumental ‘Grits and Cornbread’; rechristened the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, they scored again later that same year with another instrumental, ‘Spreadin’ Honey,’ and with the support of comedian Bill Cosby (whom they’d previously backed in the studio) were signed to Warner Bros. soon after.”

David Gordon – on Yahoo’s ‘Southern Soul List‘ – does his own dot-connecting, as he links The Soul Runners with CharlesPackyAxton (son of Stax co-founder, Estelle Axton) of The Packers, among other related groups.  “Grits and Corn Bread” would be released January, 1967 – according to Gordon.

Meanwhile, over at Spectropop’s Group Discussion, “Davie” Gordon would post an even more elaborate discography that links Magnificent Montague, The Soul Runners, and countless related artists.

 corn (grits + bread) = (C)G + CB

Grits & Corn Bread“Grits & Corn Bread” is the 2nd installment in Zero to 180’s musical tribute to corn grits.

“Tacos & Grits”: Jazz Trombone

Zero to 180 kicks off its musical salute to grits with an obvious winner of an instrumental, “Tacos and Grits” by Al Grey:

“Tacos and Grits”     Al Grey     1963

The first featured song in Zero to 180’s music & grits series — launching on the heels of Saturday’s big Max Fleischer event at the AFI — happens to be represented on YouTube  by exactly one audio clip, one that is illustrated (for mystifying reasons) by a still image of Betty Boop.

Trombone:  Al Grey
Piano:  John Young
Guitar:  Leo Blevins
Bass:  Ike Isaacs
Drums:  Phil Thomas
Engineer:  Ron Malo
Supervisor:  Esmond Edwards
Liner Notes:  Holmes (Daddy-O) Daylie

A single clause would speak volumes:  “Recorded December 17, 1963” – as it says on the cover of Al Grey’s Boss Bone album.  One day.   Just like Stones Jazz by Joe Pass.  Even the debut album by The Beatles would require a handful of recording sessions.  Recording for the Boss Bone album would take place at Ter Mar studios – i.e., Chess.

Al Grey 45-b“Tacos and Grits” would be released on Chess subsidiary, Argo, in 1964 — did it chart?  Rest assured, Al Grey did register his copyright for “Tacos and Grits” in 1964.

Fish tacos and grits

Tacos & GritsGood news!  “Taco and Grits” would be used as background music to accompany Mr. Fine Wine’s DJ patter on WFMU’s Downtown Soulville radio show on July 11, 2014.

Popeye in Pop’s Eye

Very much looking forward to this Saturday’s special event at the AFI in Silver Spring in which Gary Lucas, Sarah Stiles and a stellar supporting cast will provide musical accompaniment to 1930s Max Fleischer cartoon classics, most notably Popeye and Betty Boop – a “spotlight evening” for this year’s Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Max Fleischer & Betty Boopimage courtesy of Washington Jewish Film Festival

As the WJJF website notes:

“Celebrating the release of the titular album–on Silver Spring-based label Cuneiform–legendary guitarist Gary Lucas joins forces with Tony-nominated singer & actress Sarah Stiles (Avenue Q, Hand to God) for a loving musical tribute to the swinging, jazzy soundtracks that adorned master animator Max Fleischer’s surreal, wacky and Yiddish-inflected Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons of the 1930’s.

Backed by the cartoons themselves, and the cream of NYC’s jazz performers (Jeff Lederer on reeds, Rob Jost on bass, Rob Garcia on drums and Mingus Big Band’s Joe Fiedler on trombone), Lucas and Stiles have a rare evening in store.”

Check out Lucas & Stiles on the delightful “Broken Record

Gary Lucas CDThe coolest treatment of Popeye in vintage pop music is undoubtedly this original song by Lamont Anthony – a.k.a., Lamont Dozier of Dozier-Holland-Dozier fame – released on Motown imprint, Anna, in 1960:

“Popeye”     Lamont Anthony (Dozier)     1960

45Cat helped me discover that The Nomads released a 45 on Indiana indie label, Genie, in 1960 – “Santa Fe Rock” b/w “Popeye the Sailor” – that would get picked up the following year for national as well as overseas (i.e., Australia & New Zealand) distribution by ABC-Paramount:

“Popeye the Sailor”      The Nomads     1960

Jack Mercer, voice of Popeye, would release a 78, “Never Pick a Fight with Popeye” b/w “Help Help” (voiced by Mae ‘Olive Oyl’ Questel) — a “Golden Record” that promised “two great NEW songs” for just 29¢ in 1959.

“Never Pick a Fight with Popeye”    Jack Mercer (& the Sea Weed Singers)    1959

Other Musical Tributes to Popeye

Michael Anthony’s bass solo during Van Halen concerts would include “Popeye

Popeye Epiphone Guitar