Skeeter Davis Confronts Nixon

As History Channel’s website explains for those born in the 1980s and beyond:

“At a [December 8, 1969] news conference, President Richard Nixon says that the Vietnam War is coming to a ‘conclusion as a result of the plan that we have instituted.’ Nixon had announced at a conference in Midway in June that the United States would be following a new program he termed ‘Vietnamization’ …

Nixon’s pronouncements that the war was ending proved premature.  In April 1970, he expanded the war by ordering U.S. and South Vietnamese troops to attack communist sanctuaries in Cambodia.  The resulting outcry across the United States led to a number of antiwar demonstrations—it was at one of these demonstrations that the National Guard shot four protesters at Kent State.”

Lost in all the hubbub over Neil Young’s “Ohio” [recorded May 21, 1970 by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and rush-released June, 1970] was this surprisingly outspoken recording by Skeeter Davis, “When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home“:

“When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home”     Skeeter Davis     1970

Recorded (before “Ohio”) January 28, 1970, “When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home” would serve as the B-side to “We Need a Lot More Jesus,” a single predicted to reach the Top 20 Country chart in the July 4, 1970 edition of Billboard (alas, it would peak at #69).

Skeeter Davis 45-cDavis would not only write the music (with its martial drumbeat, nice effect) but also its rather pointed lyric, about which Joseph A. Fry would write in The American South and the Vietnam War:  Belligerence, Protest, and Agony in Dixie:

“In 1970, Skeeter Davis aimed ‘When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home’ directly at President Nixon.  Voicing a woman’s perspective, Davis declared, ‘Every mother has to worry about the son she loves, And every sweetheart has to worry, too.’  Although Nixon did not think she should ‘protest’ or ‘question’ his policies, ‘I think I’ve got a right ’cause I just got words tonight, The Man I love was killed there yesterday, When you gonna bring our soldiers home?'”

Examining the song in a broader social context, James N. Gregory would note in The Southern Diaspora:  How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America:

“Another stream struck back at antiwar protests and other challenges to rock-ribbed values.  When Tom T. Hall recorded ‘Mama, Tell Them What We’re Fighting For,’ Ernest Tubb answered with ‘It’s for God, Country and You Mom,’ then followed with two others:  ‘It’s America’ and ‘Love It or Leave It.’  Protesters were also the target in Johnny Sea’s ‘Day of Decision,’ Bobby Bare’s ‘God Bless America Again,’ Stonewall Jackson’s ‘The Minutemen are Turning in Their Graves,’ Bill Anderson’s ‘Where Have All the Heroes Gone,’ and Terry Nelson’s ‘Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley.’  Not until 1970 was there any sort of break in ‘country music’s patriotic front.’  That year, Johnny Cash asked carefully ‘What is Truth,’ but even then an actual protest song ‘When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home’ by Skeeter Davis failed to make country station playlists.”

“When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home” would be included on It’s Hard to Be a Woman, an album reviewed in Billboard’s September 12, 1970 edition:

“With some of her strongest efforts since ‘My Coloring Book’ days, Skeeter Davis has a definite winner in this album.  Songs include her current single hit of ‘It’s Hard to Be a Woman’ and the macabre ‘Someone Up There Still Loves Me’ which could gain airplay at night; plus ‘Down from Dover,’ another strong tune that could be programmed late at night.  ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is great any time.”

Skeeter Davis LP

Vocals:  Skeeter Davis & George Hamilton IV
Guitar:  Norman Blake, Chip Young & Jimmy Capps
Steel Guitar:  Bobby Thompson & Weldon Myrick
Bass:  Henry Strzelecki
Drums:  Jerry Carrigan
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher
Piano:  Jerry Smith

Larry Fast: Digital, Experimental

Tip of the hat to my old tennis partner and high school music rival. Ed Goldstein [he was in The Head Band with future “Smooth” songwriter, Itaal Shur, and one-time-bassist-for-Sleepy-Labeef-turned-sociology-professor, Adam Moskowitz, while I was in The Max, formerly Max & the Bluegills], who recently paid tribute to Peter Gabriel and late-70s Genesis as pivotal influences on his approach to percussion, with “Games Without Frontiers” leading the way as his favorite Gabriel track.

As music entered the ’80s, I remember how things got increasingly and disconcertedly digital — MIDI, disk drives, drum machines and the like — putting some of us analog-minded folks off, at least initially.  Not Ed, though, who helped serve as a bridge to fearful, reactionary types like me, whose old school heart will always yearn for analog-only devices, such as a Hammond organ with a rotating Leslie speaker, or a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer (my college roommate had one), or an Echoplex tape delay effects unit (sax man & friend, Bruce Batté, once had one), without which dub reggae would almost certainly have never been born.

                  Hammond B-3                                   red Walnut Leslie Speaker Cabinet

Hammond B-3Leslie speaker

Moog Taurus II Bass Pedal Synth                 Echoplex – Complete with Case

Moog Taurus Bass PedalsEchoplex - vintage

“Games Without Frontiers,” unsurprisingly, would be cited in a fun historical romp – “Ghosts in the Machine:  The Most Important Drum Machines in Music History” – which begins in 1959 with Wurlitzer’s built-in percussion sidekick, the Side Man.  Peter Gabriel, as it turns out, utilized a Linn Drum predecessor I was not aware of until now – PAiA – that enjoys the distinction of being the “first programmable drum machine in history,” having been introduced to the marketplace in 1975.

Frustratingly, that information is not spelled out in the otherwise detailed credits captured on Discogs for the UK edition of Peter Gabriel’s third album from 1978.   Did Gabriel himself do the drum programming vs. Jerry Marotta & Phil Collins, the drummers listed on the track?  We do know, however, that Gabriel and Larry Fast both did some programming with respect to synthesizers, such as “Games Without Frontiers,” on which both musicians programmed synth bass lines (one of which I initially assumed to be Tony Levin playing a Chapman Stick).

Larry Fast LPSoon after playing bagpipes on the album’s concluding track “Biko,” Larry Fast — under the name Synergy — would issue his fourth long-playing release Games, an “all electronic production” that, like his three previous efforts, would be produced, engineered and programmed by Fast himself.   Released in 1979, Games is an instrumental song cycle that some might deem “experimental, ambient” (Discogs) and challenging at times but is hard to categorize given the dynamics and dramatic shifts in mood and intensity, as demonstrated on six-minute composition “Delta Four:

“Delta Four”     Synergy     1979

From the liner notes courtesy of Discogs:

Digital synthesis realized using the digital synthesizer at Bell Laboratories – Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Mixed at House of Music June and July 1979 by Larry Fast except Delta One which was mixed by Charlie Conrad & Larry Fast.  Mastered by Robert Ludwig, Masterdisk, NYC.

Digital synthesizer computer programming by Greg Sims.  Equipment used on this production manufactured by — Moog Music Inc.; Oberheim Electronics; Sequential Circuits; Paia Electronics; 360 Systems; Musitronics; MXR; DBX; MCI; Eventide Clockworks; Sony; Teac-Tascam; EMT; The Synergy System; Apple Computer Corp.; Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer; Deltalab Research.

Soundcheck:  “Delta 3” [parts A-F] developed from themes written during soundchecks on the August to December 1978 Peter Gabriel Tour.  “Delta Two” themes are remnants of 1974’s electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra writing sessions.  “Delta Four” is a surviving digital synthesizer sequencer program experiment combined with some advanced tape loops.  “Delta One” is an experiment fusing the pop and electronic vocabularies of turn of the decade composition.

Electronic music pioneer & Occasional Bagpipist – Larry Fast

Larry FastIn a 2004 interview, Larry Fast would have a lot to say about the experience of the album:

“Games was the first encounter on a Synergy album with digital synthesis and to some degree, digital recording.  It was done under laboratory conditions at Bell Labs, which was then the crown jewel of the AT&T Research Lab.  It’s still there [or is it?], but it’s now part of the crown jewels of Lucent.  AT&T was the telephone company—Ma Bell—back then and had lots of wonderful “blue sky” research going on in computers, audio and various other technologies.  They would fund these things thinking—and rightfully so—that at some point, something would surface out of these free thinking projects that might be beneficial to the phone company.  They don’t do that so much anymore.  At that time, there wasn’t any real competition in the phone business.  Now, it’s very cutthroat.  However, at that time, one of their great, shining lights was Max Matthews, one of the pioneers of computer music and electronic music, at the academic and theoretical level. One of his departments was speech and synthesis.  They were exploring several areas of synthesizers, speech and vocals, which could be made into singing.  He had worked on one project as early as 1976 that incorporated aspects of that.

By 1978, they had some of the very earliest digital synthesizers, running essentially as software, with some concurrent specialized hardware they had built on minicomputers.  They were just mind-boggling to me after struggling to extract sounds from the Moog, Oberheim and related instruments I had been working with in the analog world.  This was positively world changing.  Again, like any technology at the beginning, it was a little tedious and difficult to control. I was just getting my feet wet, but there were a few passages recorded at Bell Labs that found their way onto the Games record.  The passages were enhanced with some of the analog synthesizers to flesh out the arrangements.  It was a very eye opening experience.  It set part of the tone for the album.  The other aspect of Games it that I was on the road a lot with the Peter Gabriel band and recording with them as well.  It meant that some of the writing was done on the road, captured on small cassette recorders and lots of scribbled-down notes.  It was the first album where I hadn’t set aside a block of time in my composer’s studio to write.  It was a different approach.”

Is it ironic that this digital work was issued on 8 TRACK?

Larry Fast 8 trackEd Goldstein’s current percussion philosophies are being carried out through Big Car Jack.

Big Car Jack-xThis piece, by the way, is not Zero to 180’s first reference to bagpipes in popular music — sorry Ed, I’m not referring to AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but rather “Reggae Bagpipes“!

Abstract Interjection!  This is the 4th Zero to 180 piece tagged as “Experimental Pop

The Left Banke: Clavinet ’67

A big breakthrough in Zero to 180’s lifelong quest to identify the “first clavinet recording Michael Brown plays a Hohner clavinet on “Let Go of You Girl” from The Left Banke’s debut album, released February, 1967 (i.e., 2 months before John Sebastian’s “6 O’Clock“):

“Let Go of You Girl”     The Left Banke     1967

Steve MartinCaro:  Lead vocal
Tom Finn & George Cameron:  Harmony vocal
Tom Finn:  Bass
George Cameron:  Drums
Rick Brand:  Guitar
Michael Brown:  Hohner Clavinet

What’s interesting is that this information would not come to light until 2011, when Sundazed included very detailed credits in its CD ‘gatefold digipak’ reissue.  The credits for the original 1967 LP, by comparison, make no mention of the clavinet.

Left Banke LP

Just for a laugh, go back to those “detailed credits” above and note the choice of keyboard played by Michael Brown on the very next track — that’s right, an electric harpsichord!

But alack and alas, those fine folks at Sundazed confirm that Michael Brown, indeed, was privileged to have had the opportunity to test drive a “pre-release” Clavinet:

“The strain of the road weighed heaviest on the mercurial Michael Brown, who eventually opted out of the Left Banke’s touring lineup; his place was filled by Emmett Lake.  ‘Being on the road was hard for Mike,’ says [Tom] Finn.  ‘He had the first prototype of the Clavinet on the road, and it sounded great.  But it went out of tune very easily, and that became a nightmare for him.  We’d throw it in the back of a U-Haul trailer, and by the time we got to the gig it sounded horrible.’”


Left Banke fans are willing to pay more than $200 for the original debut album on vinyl in glorious monophonic sound – with one person in the UK who would dole out £278 ($441).

Is this really the end of Zero to 180’s clavinet history quest?

“Six O’Clock”: First Clavinet?

Jim Kimsey – much to my annoyance – would connect the dots first:  John Sebastian‘s opening clavinet chords tick-tick-ticking the seconds of the new dawning day on “6 O’Clock” just might be the earliest recording of a clavinet, having been released April, 1967:

“Six O’Clock”     The Lovin’ Spoonful      1967

I also wholeheartedly share Kimsey’s supposition that “[NRBQ clavinet master] Terry [Adams] heard [‘Six O’Clock’] and that’s when he went after his own clav… I have no corroboration on this though.  He was and remains a big Lovin’ Spoonful/J. Sebastian fan.”

US picture sleeve – front ….                                   ….and rear

Lovin Spoonful 45 US-aLovin Spoonful 45 US-b

That’s right, Sebastian would join the NRBQ on stage (e.g., DC’s Wax Museum in 1982) and in the studio, as on 1983’s Grooves in Orbit (banjo & dobro) and 1989’s Wild Weekend (guitar & autoharp) — while the ‘Q would provide backing for Sebastian on two tracks for 1985’s The Care Bears Movie.  Sebastian would also sit in with the NRBQ in 2004 at their 30th anniversary extravaganza (that was professionally filmed – will it ever see light of day?).

French EP

Lovin Spoonful 45 France-EPSebastian throws a spanner in the works, though, with his choice of words in the blurb for “Six “O’Clock” in his liner notes for Rhino’s Lovin’ Spoonful CD anthology from 1990:

“It was largely built around the instrument of the day, which was the electric harpsichord.  For the first time, I was starting to yearn a little bit for the past.  It’s a song of recollection about early romantic situations.  Very often, in the early years, I’d end up in Washington Square in that early morning after, and ‘Six O’Clock’ is about that.”

Q:  Is it possible that Sebastian’s “electric harpsichord” was, in actual fact, a clavinet?

I very much suspect* it is, as the key phrase in the passage above would be “of the day.”  Fascinatingly, in the June 24, 1967 edition of Billboard, immediately below an article entitled “Rock Groups Lead Search for New Instrument Sounds” is this brief related news item “Firms Preview New Products“:

 “NEW YORK—Two instrument manufacturers here will be introducing some musical equipment and amplification innovations at the Music Show in Chicago next week.  Mershon Musical products will exhibit their Hagstrom 8-string bass and four of the largest amplifiers ever made for electric instruments — the Unicord Monster 1, 2, 3 & 4.  Mershon will call their display ‘The Trip Room’ and will show 29 new Hagstrom, Unicord and Inivox products.
      Mershon is also inviting all attending the convention to a party at the Cheetah in Chicago where the equipment will be displayed in the psychedelic background of the teen-age nightclub.
      M. Hohner, Inc., will also have several new items in addition to their harmonica and melodica lines.  They will show their Resonation, a piano accordion which incorporates a new concept of tone chamber construction.
      In the electronic organ department, Hohner will introduce two new sound portables.  The Clavinet, a battery-operated, first-of-its-kind is best described as a cross between a clavichord and an electric guitar.  The Symphonic 35 is a lightweight organ giving sustained sound on treble or bass or both.”

 Norway                                                            Germany

Lovin Spoonful 45 Norway-xLovin Spoonful 45 Germany

Given that the recording of “Six O’Clock” preceded the official launch of Hohner’s “new” keyboard instrument per the Billboard news item above, how likely is it that Sebastian had used a “pre-release” Hohner clavinet vs. an actual “electric harpsichord”?

My web quest would immediately point me to a pair of video clips from the Lawrence Welk Show, of all things – one (identified as ‘Winter 1967’) features an “electronic harpsichord” (designed by Welk’s own conductor), and another clip from ‘1968’ – “Windows of Paris” – introduced by Welk, who identifies Frank Scott as the musician playing the “new” electric harpsichord.  George Martin, according to Walter Everett’s The Beatles As Musicians, would play a Baldwin electric harpsichord on Abbey Road‘s “Because” [Trivia:  Baldwin, a Cincinnati company, would purchase guitar companies Burns (1965) and Gretsch (1967)].

Baldwin electric harpsichord, as shown in the “Because” link above

Baldwin electric harpsichord-xUltimately, the big question for history:  Did Hohner allow access to the “new” Clavinet prior to its official commercial launch per the June 24, 1967 Billboard news item above?  Moreover, whose ears are able to detect the sometimes subtle differences between the Hohner Clavinet and an electric harpsichord?  For the record, I have queried John Sebastian, who I hope can put an end to all this speculation.  Or do I?


Lovin Spoonful 45 Spain“Six O’Clock” would spend a total of 8 weeks on the charts, peaking at #18 during the week of June 10, 1967.

* John Sebastian would settle the whole Clavinet vs. electric harpsichord question himself in a follow-up piecePaul Beaver Played Clavinet, Too.”

Peppermint Trolley: Clavinet ’67

It’s always a thrill when somebody who actually served on the front lines of music history reaches out to help fill in some of the historical gaps.  Just last month, Danny Faragher of the Peppermint Trolley Company chimed in on an earlier NRBQ piece that attempts to identify the earliest popular recording of a clavinet:

“I played a clavinet while recording with our group, the Peppermint Trolley Company (1967-68).  We cut our hit single, Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mindin November of 1967 for Acta.  The record broke in May and June of 1968.  I played the instrument through a Fender amp with the tremolo prominent.  I used it throughout our eponymously titled LP.   In the Seventies, recording with the bands, Bones, and the Faragher Brothers, I would return to the ax occasionally, playing more in the R&B style pioneered by Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston.”

“Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mind”     Peppermint Trolley Company     1967

“Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mind” would stay in the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for ten weeks and peak in July, 1968 just inside the Top 60.  Billboard would identify this single as worthy of its “Special Merit Spotlight” (new singles “deserving special attention of programmers and dealers”) in the February 3, 1968 edition:  “Smooth blend of voice, good material in an easy beat folk rock vein with much commercial appeal.”

Picture sleeve for UK 45 on EMI’s Stateside imprint

Peppermint Trolley 45-bBut wait a minute, why does the song title sound familiar?   And Jesse Lee Kincaid, the person who penned the tune — why does that name ring a bell?  That’s because Zero to 180 already featured “Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mind” back in December, 2014!

Faragher’s clavinet (which predates NRBQ’s “Stomp” by just over a year) can be heard more prominently on the single’s B-side — a baroque slice of psychedelic pop, “9 O’Clock Business Man,” somewhat in contrast to the ‘West Coast harmony style’ (later dubbed “sunshine pop“) for which the group is more known.  By the way, if you enjoyed the dance to “9 O’Clock Business Man” in the video link above, check out this other performance of the same song at Hamilton, Ontario’s Gage Park. by Mike Long, an unstoppable dance force.

Peppermint Trolley 45-aaHow curious to learn that the Peppermint Trolley Company would be part of a lineup for a big music event attended by 120,000 people at an amusement park in Aurora, Ohio in 1968,  just one year before my dad would relocate to that rural Cleveland suburb from Cincinnati — as chronicled on Danny Faragher’s website:

“‘Our live dates were rare’ – (says Faragher) – ‘We probably played about ten gigs during the entire life span of the band… Bakersfield, Phoenix, and then there was the Biggie in Cleveland.’  This ‘Biggie’ was a package concert …WIXY’s second annual ‘Appreciation Day,’ held on August 2, 1968 in Geauga Lake Park, just outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  The Peppermint Trolley Company. shared the stage with Gene Pitney, The Box Tops, Jay and the Techniques, The 1910 Fruitgum Co., and [Ted Nugent’s]  Amboy Dukes.  The event drew a crowd of 120,000 attendees.  At that time, it was the largest audience ever assembled in the Cleveland area.”
In addition to arranging and singing the original Brady Bunch theme, the Peppermint Trolley Company would also make a guest appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies, as well as this episode of detective series, Mannix (where the owner of the recording studio is played by Harry Dean Stanton, who would later introduce The Replacements on their sole Saturday Night Live appearance):

The Beatles – EMI artists – listed on the rear of Peppermint Trolley’s UK picture sleeve:

Peppermint Trolley 45-bbA near-mint copy of the Peppermint Trolley debut album might set you back as much as $75.  Peppermint Trolley fans might also be intrigued to know there exists an “extremely rare promotional 45 sent to radio stations in 1967 for Sunn Guitar amplifiers” with three radio spots for The Who on the A-side, with the Peppermint Trolley singing a radio spot to “She’s the Kind of Girl” and another featuring bassist Greg Tornquist saying “it sounds groovy and clean.”

Lee Hazlewood vs. Don Nix: ’73

I discovered another musical coincidence recently — two albums with similarly-constructed titles released the same year by two hip and influential songwriter-producer-arrangers:  Poet, Fool or Bum by Lee Hazlewood -vs.- Hobos, Heroes & Street Corner Clowns by Don Nix, both from 1973.

Lee Hazlewood LP-1Don Nix LP

On his one and only album for Capitol, Hazlewood surprisingly (or not) turns over production reins to Jimmy Bowen (vinyl copies would later fetch decent money).   Hazlewood would then find himself ejected from the cover of the UK edition of Poet, Fool or Bum – could it have been the prospect of having to market Hazlewood without his trademark mustache?  Hazlewood and Tim Buckley, it bears noting, would be the first among many artists to record “Martha” off the debut album by Tom Waits.

UK cover

Lee Hazlewood LP-2In 1973, Capitol would issue a pair of singles:  “Nancy and Me” b/w “Kari” in May, followed by a promo 45 in November of “Feathers” b/w “The Performer“:  an especially powerful B-side — “a stark and somewhat autobiographical picture of a singer who’s sick of the game”  as writes Michael Erlewine in All Music Guide to Country:

“The Performer”     Lee Hazlewood     1973

Stax, meanwhile, would issue two singles from Hoboes, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns — “Black Cat Moan” b/w “The Train Don’t Stop Here No More” (released in 1973 in the US, UK & Germany), followed by “She’s a Friend of Mine” b/w “When I Lay My Burden Down” in October.  I’m only sorry Stax didn’t put more promotional heft into the latter 45, which would have sounded great on the radio in 1973, especially when the strings kick in at the chorus:

“She’s a Friend of Mine”     Don Nix     1973

How fascinating to discover that “Black Cat Moan” would be the lead-off song for the famous John Peel broadcast of May 29, 1973 on which he played side one of Tubular Bells by a then unknown Mike Oldfield on tiny indie label, Virgin Records – a radio first (and “the show that launched the Branson empire!“)

 Pretend it’s the B-side “The Performer”        Written, performed & produced by Don Nix

Lee Hazlewood 45-aDon Nix 45-a

Charles Shaar Murray vs. Barton Lee Hazlewood

Financial Times grimly reported last July that the New Musical Express — the first magazine, in 1952, to publish the pop charts in the UK, and one which once boasted a circulation of 270,000 during its 1970s peak — has now been turned into a freebie publication by its owner, Time Inc. UK (worse:  content is no longer solely devoted to music).  NME, nevertheless, will always have its own distinctive place in Lee Hazlewood history, as noted here:

“In 1952 the NME greeted the arrival of rock and roll with the breezy exclamation: “Guitars are news!”  Two decades later its star writers behaved as though they were rock stars themselves, chief among them Nick Kent, who extended his worship of Keith Richards to contracting a severe heroin addiction.  Reviews toughened up, such as Charles Shaar Murray’s one-word dismissal of a 1974 album called Poet, Fool or Bum by the US singer Lee Hazelwood:  ‘Bum.'”

German 45

Don Nix 45-b

“Bye Bye”: Faded Rural America

My father-in-law, Jim, is a folk music enthusiast whose music collection, I noticed, includes John Hartford‘s groundbreaking ‘hippie-grass’ album Aereo-Plain from 1971, his first for Warner Brothers.  Somehow I got the notion that “Bye Bye” — John Hartford’s standout track from 1972 Warner Brothers 2-LP sampler Days of Wine and Vinyl — was part of Aereo-Plain.  Not true.  “Bye Bye” would belong to Aereo-Plain‘s successor, Morning Bugle from 1972, fittingly the album’s final track:

“Bye Bye”     John Hartford     1972

An unnamed contributor to the (John) Hartford Forum would write:

I bought the Morning Bugle album when it first came out.  I’ve played it many times. Especially “Bye-Bye.”  It seemed to capture a way of life in rural and small-town middle America that was fading away.

Personnel on Morning Bugle, which was recorded at Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studio:

John Hartford:  Vocal, Banjo & Fiddle
Norman Blake:  Guitar, Dobro & Mandolin
Dave Holland:   Acoustic Bass
John Simon:     Producer & Chorus

            Morning Bugle                                   Warner Brothers 2-LP sampler

John Hartford LP-aJohn Hartford LP-b

Warner Brothers, it seems, viewed Hartford as strictly an album artist, as there were no 45s issued during his time with the label.  Barry (“Dr. Demento“) Hansen would be commissioned by Warner Brothers to write these words for Days of Wine and Vinyl, as “Bye Bye” would also serve, fittingly, as the final song on the fourth side of this 2-LP sampler album:

“As we get down to that inevitable final drop of wine, and final groove of vinyl, we are graced with an extraordinarily eloquent farewell from John Hartford.  Equally talented with voice, banjo and pen (Doubleday recently brought out a collection of his lyrics in poetic form, Word Movies), Hartford is best known for his TV stints on The Glen Campbell Show and on The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, as well as several specials of his own.  Hartford is also rather famous for a song he wrote, ‘Gentle on My Mind,’ which has been recorded more than 200 different times.  For two years in a row, it was the most frequently recorded song in the world.

‘Gentle on My Mind’ is a song that gently stretches the limits of candor permissible within its middle-of-the-road milieu, a trait that one also might have noticed in Hartford’s television appearances.  One writer described John as ‘someone who managed to mean more and more the less he said.’

Like Glen Campbell, John Hartford began his musical career as a studio musician.  Whereas Glen worked in Hollywood, John became a Nashville regular with his winning ways on the 5-string banjo.  Eventually, RCA Records signed him as a solo artist.  He made eight albums for Little Nipper before moving to Warner Bros. in 1971.

Morning Bugle is John’s second collection for WB, following the high-flying Aereo-Plain.  The new album features John’s longtime accompanist, Norman Blake, on guitar, plus a surprise bassist, Dave Holland, whose name was up to now much better known to jazz fans than to country folk, thanks to his work with Miles Davis in particular.  Holland does quite nicely.  The album, in fact, was recorded almost entirely ‘live-in-the-studio’ with only the sparest of overdubs.  In addition to ‘Bye Bye,’ Morning Bugle contains the movingly nostalgic ‘Streetcar’ and ‘Nobody Eats at Linebaugh’s Anymore’ (a reference to the changing face of Nashville) and the time-grizzled ‘Old Joe Clark.'”

Not Eric Clapton                                           Eric Clapton

John Hartford IJohn Hartford II

Morning Bugle, which barely scraped under the Billboard 200 chart at #193, according to Wikipedia, “sold so poorly that Warner Brothers decided to devote no promotion at all to Hartford’s next release Morning Bugle.  Nevertheless, Aereo-Plain has been called the forerunner of the genre now known as ‘Newgrass.'”

Ian McLagan’s Reggae Bump

I still wish I had those post-it notes my brother Bryan made when I was 11 that helpfully pointed me to (1) which Jimi Hendrix albums to seek out (e.g., Electric Ladyland) and (2) which ones to avoid (e.g., Midnight Lightning).  Decades later I would make the accidental and hilarious discovery that Jimi Hendrix — who took a playful swipe at surf music in his groundbreaking composition, “Third Stone from the Sun” — and obscure “beach music” artist, Robert Ray Whitely, would both release songs entitled “1983the very same year.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Big Brother’s (and Big Sister’s Day) so we could thank our older siblings for all their musical guidance and encouragement?

This past week I had the chance to reread Keith Richards’ 2010 memoir, Life (which my mother-in-law recently passed along), and somehow I only just now learned that keyboardist Ian McLagan was part of The New Barbarians, a rather unlikely musical aggregation that brought together Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Keys, and McLagan, with legendary instrumentalists, Stanley Clarke and JosephZigabooModeliste — but only for a single tour and without producing any recordings.  [Not completely true:   I would later learn that McLagan was able to rally the group into Zuma Beach’s Shangri-La recording studio at the conclusion of the tour to lay down their 12-minute take on “Truly” by The Cimarrons – according to the BBC, the UK’s “first self-contained indigenous” reggae group.]

[L to R:  McLagan, Wood, Keys, Modeliste, Richards, Clarke]

New BarbariansNot too many years ago, brother Bryan had given me an autographed CD of Ian McLagan‘s second and final album for Mercury, 1981’s Bump in the Night, upon which Ian had written “Hi Chris, this one’s for Steve & Ronnie” (Marriott and Lane, undoubtedly — former comrades-in-arms in The Small Faces).  Tight-fisted Mercury would only allow one single for McLagan’s first album and none for its follow-up; nevertheless, if I were in charge, “Not RunninAway” would be my choice for the A-side:

“Not Runnin’ Away”      Ian McLagan     1981

Guitar, Keyboards & Lead Vocals:  Ian McLagan
Bass:  Ricky Fataar
Drums & Vocals:  Ricky Fataar
Lead Guitar & Vocals:  Johnny Lee Schell
Horns:  Bobby Keys

I’m happy to report that McLagan’s memoir All the Rage is, as widely reported, immensely good fun.  And also informative:  Phil Chen who we encountered last week, as one of the principal producers at UK early reggae label, Doctor Bird – would also be a dear friend of McLagan going back to the early 1960s, as recalled in All the Rage:

“Thanks to the constant barrage of phone calls to agents and bookers, we got to play at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, Soho, quite a few times, opening for Graham Bond or Gary Farr and the T-Bones, or, more usually, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, whose bass player Phil Chen is still my old mate.  The Jamaican Chinaman or Chinese Jamaican, whichever way you look at him, never seems to get any older, or like me, any taller.  Years later he toured with Rod Stewart and in 1979, joined the New Barbarians for our final gig at Knebworth in England.”

Ian-McLaganSadly, McLagan, a long-time resident of Austin, Texas, left us December 3, 2014.

Lucky Ladybug:  Still Reigning Champ — First Use of Phasing?

McLagan’s remarks in All the Rage on the use of phasing in Small Faces’ classic “Itchycoo Park” immediately brought to mind Zero to 180’s piece from July, 2013 about the first use of phasing in a popular recording and whether (a) 1959’s “The Big Hurt” by Miss Toni Fisher – as Rhino claims in its Nuggets II box set (and McLagan concurs) – or (b) November, 1958‘s “Lucky Ladybug” by Billy and Lillie – as Zero to 180 asserts – was the first to employ this futuristic sound effect.  At the very beginning of the song is where you can most easily hear the phasing effect, which is especially pronounced on the cleaned-up/remastered version on CD.

Billy & Lillie promo

Making Each Cymbal Crash Count

Listen carefully and you can count each of the three cymbal crashes in this unjustly obscure – and humorous – rocksteady 45 from Jamaican vocal group The Three Tops: about a “gambling lady” with a yen for the one-armed bandit:

“Slot Machine”     The Three Tops     1968

I am fascinated by this uniquely minimalist Jamaican approach with regard to the crash cymbal, thus helping to ensure that each use really counts.  Note, too, the kick drum pattern that accompanies each crash, as well as the unusually deep bottom of the mix overall — pushing the bass forward decades before the modern pop world would eventually catch on.  Produced by KarlSir JJJohnson, with what sounds to my ears like Lyn Taitt on the staccato lead guitar.

Kilowatts 45-cSays London’s venerable Dub Vendor about the 45 itself:

Two prime slices of Boss Reggae from The Kilowatts aka The Three Tops, allegedly.”

Armed with this new information, I would quickly learn – no surprise – that blank labels of “Slot Machine” [by The Kilowatts] can fetch up to $400 (though not always, fortunately).

One blank label marked “Gambling Lady” — while another is marked “Bandit”

Kilowatts 45-bKilowatts 45-a

Kingstonians’ $800 Rocksteady

Heavy 1968 rocksteady from the studio of KarlSir JJJohnson, with Lyn Taitt, possibly, on guitar.  But the real mystery lies with the vocalists themselves, The Kingstonians, specifically the basso profundo:

Q:  Are the tapes being slowed down, or does the bass vocalist really sing that deep?

“Put Down Your Fire”     The Kingstonians     1968

While I admit it is possible that the bass vocalist’s range could really be that low, I am suspicious, since none of the other Kingstonians singles from that same year feature backing vocals with anywhere close to the same bottom end.  Listen for yourself — preview the audio yourself on YouTube by using song titles from this Kingstonians singles discography.

In 2012, someone would pay $797 for an original Jamaican white label pressing (vs. UK 45 issued on Doctor Bird) of “Put Down Your Fire.”  It cannot be denied:  some people are prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on Kingstonians 45s — including over $2,000 for “Torture and Flames” by lead vocalist Jackie Bernard.

Kingstonians 45-aNote the address on the 45 above – “133 Orange Street” – which would make it next-door neighbors with Rockers International, one of the last remaining vinyl shops on Kingston’s famed record row, Orange Street, and the subject of a Guardian piece from March, 2015: “Rockers International Records on Orange St., Kingston:  Reggae Playlist.”

PRINCE BUSTER‘s former record store – Orange St. [photo courtesy Guardian UK]

Prince Buster's record shop