“In late 1958, Audio Lab was formed as a budget label subsidiary to Cincinnati-based King Records. From 1959 -1962, Audio Lab released a lot of material that had never appeared in album form, including rare albums by Bullmoose Jackson, Annie Laurie, April Stevens, Lattie Moore, [Hank] Penny, the Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Newman, H-Bomb Ferguson, Sticks McGhee and John Lee Hooker.”
One track that enjoyed a second lease on life via Audio Lab was the first (non-45) album appearance of a song that would become a part of the American cultural fabric years later when used as a recurring skit on TV’s “Hee Haw” – link to related Zero to 180 history piece. As Both Sides Now observes, “The original version of [‘Pfft! You Were Gone‘] made its first (only?) LP appearance on [the Kentucky Colonel] Audio Lab album” (Bear Family’s 20-track CD compilation from 1984 Hangover Boogie doesn’t count).
Another great example of King material previously not available on LP —
1962 Audio Lab LP attributed to Moon Mullican entitled Instrumentals (that also, oddly, includes two tracks by Hank Penny and one song each by Mel Cox & Cowboy Copas).
All of these instrumentals are fairly obscure, especially the 1947 Cowboy Copas B-side “Jamboree” that got much better buzz in Billboard ‘s Dec. 13, 1947 edition compared to its A-side “I’m Tired of Playing Santa Claus to You”: “Plenty of good hill country guitar and fiddle in an instrumental potpourri of folk melodies” [streaming audio for “Jamboree” not yet available on YouTube, unfortunately].
Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s early 1954 Los Angeles sessions for Federal and King – including “Mambo Mexicana” – would be reissued five years later on an Audio Lab LP entitled Big Band Modern, a reminder of the mambo mania that had gripped the nation at the time this song (today’s featured track) was released:
“Mambo Mexicano” Gerald Wilson Orchestra 1954
Based on available discographical information, these 1954 recordings would appear to be among the earliest in a career that would span well into the new century, as NPR’s 2011 piece “The Gerald Wilson Orchestra: A Living Legacy” affirms (Wilson, as it turns out, is one of many famous jazz musicians who “did time” in Earl Bostic’s band — in this case, one of four trumpeters who played on a December 4, 1958 Los Angeles recording session (six tracks, including “My Reverie” and “All the Things You Are“).
Today’s featured artist: Gerald Wilson & HIs Orchestra
Kicking off our rogue’s gallery of Classic Audio Lab LP Covers is this modernist gem:
Grammar maven in me cannot allow disparity in song titles below go unremarked:
Hard to believe it was only 20 years or so ago I was having cheese coneys with The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s preeminent music writer Larry Nager and asking what it would take for the city to finally “own up” to its King Records history. Last week, to my utter delight and amazement, the City of Cincinnati, under Mayor John Cranley’s leadership and with the support of City Council, leveraged the power of the state on behalf of music history — so now Zero to 180 will have to find something else to complain about.
Thanks to a $1 land swap deal, there will be no wrecking ball for the original structure used by Syd Nathan and his talented team to birth a musical enterprise that enabled King the ability to ship out in the morning a piece of music that had been recorded the evening before. As Brian Powers point out in his King Records Scrapbook, no other label – including almighty Columbia – had the nimbleness to operate in this capacity.
Photo courtesy of Brian Powers
Unique among fellow King chroniclers and researchers, Powers organizes his King Records Scrapbook categorically — The Executives; A&R Men; Sound Engineers; Session Musicians; Recording Artists — rather than chronologically, while throwing in fun tidbits, such as a King Records Timeline of historical highlights plus street addresses of selected King artists and executives, including Syd Nathan (who once lived in Bond Hill an easy walk from the home of drummer, Reg Grizzard, and about a mile and a half from my boyhood home in Roselawn, as the crow flies).
Rob Finnis, in his extensive liner notes for Ace UK anthology King Rockabilly, reveals some of the audio engineering aspects behind King’s legendary sound (e.g., “Fever” by Little Willie John):
The live, upfront studio sound attained by engineer Eddie Smith had the bass and drums leaping out of the speakers with maximum impact. [Charlie] Feathers wasn’t the only beneficiary [“Bottle to the Baby“]. This sharp, larger-than-life ambience characterizes several other titles on this compact disc including “Move” [Boyd Bennett], “Peg Pants” [Bill Beach], “No Good Robin Hood” [Delbert Barker], and “Rock n’ Roll Nursery Rhyme” [Dave Dudley]. “That old King studio had a terrific sound,” explained Henry Glover. “It had a very high ceiling, maybe 24 feet, and the control room protruded into the studio in a V-shape like the bridge of a ship so the engineer could see in front and to the side of him. I sent for an engineer by the name of Eddie Smith who was a very good technical man. He stayed with King for about 12 years and later worked over at Bell Sound in New York.
Everything was done at one time, there was no multi-tracking; you would continue making cuts until you got every instrument, every voice, on the 1/4 inch tape and that was considered your final mix. In those days, we were even thinking of frequencies and emphasis on various instruments. Out of the regular upright bass, we got a sound just like today’s electric Fender bass by close-miking it with a microphone called the 44BX and surrounding it with live-surfaced acoustic isolation panels. The drum sound in those days was generally gotten by releasing the drum snares completely and you’d put a heavy object like the drummer’s wallet – or Syd Nathan’s wallet – on the snare and the really hard-driving backbeat stroke was actually a rimshot.
Glover would be even more emphatic in his praise for King as a facility with great sound in this passage from Arnold Shaw‘s classic roots rock historical critique, Honkers and Shouters (which includes a chapter devoted to King Records entitled “Record Company in an Icehouse”):
Shortly after he joined King Records, Glover moved to Cincinnati “because Syd Nathan had built one of the finest recording studios in the country and staffed it with Eddie Smith, a former musician who was a brilliant engineer.”
Calvin Shields behind the kit [photo courtesy Brian Powers]
Last year, on the eve of the city’s Historic Commission vote to consider the request for demolition, The Cincinnati Enquirer would subtitle Sharon Coolidge’s feature story on King in the Sunday edition, “Fight to Preserve the Legacy of King Records and Founder Syd Nathan at Crossroads” and include quotes from Patti Collins (Bootsy Collins Foundation), Elliott Ruther (Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation), Jon Hartley Fox (author of ‘King of the Queen City’), L.A. Reid (who actually grew up in Evanston), Otis Williams, Mayor John Cranley, former mayor Dwight Tillery, and Anzora Adkins of the Evanston Community Council.
Can you spot the gaffe?
Elliott Ruther, in the Enquirer piece, notes the progressive hiring practices employed by Nathan – in his attempt to extend his song publishing fortunes across the color line – that put King in the forefront of American race relations. Powers point out that Calvin “Eagle Eye” Shields, in his studio work from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, may have been “the first black drummer to record country music.”
CALVIN ‘EAGLE EYE’ SHIELDS – 1950
[PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN POWERS]
Quotes from Henry Glover & Calvin ‘Eagle Eye’ Shields
[special thanks to Brian Powers*]
“I started using drums for the first time for country music with Moon Mullican. He fell in love with a black drummer that I had been using on several dates around Cincinnati called Calvin Shields. He was better known as ‘Eagle Eye.’ He was very, very friendly and dear to Moon Mullican. He played on many of his sessions, and many of the other country & western records when they began to use drums, which they didn’t do when I first came to King. [With] Moon Mullican, I would use a heavy backbeat that this drummer called Eagle Eye, that came there with Tiny Bradshaw a few years back and made Cincinnati his home, he was ideal for that, the backbeat.” – Henry Glover
“Moon had such a great soul. He was just like a black man to me, you know, like he thought, felt, and expressed himself and everything else. Like we would say he had a whole lot of soul, Moon did.” – Henry Glover
“Drums were a must for Moon. Moon wanted drums. And he fell madly in love with this drummer called Calvin Shields that we called Eagle Eye.” – Henry Glover
“Moon Mullican was the first to use a black band at King. In just about every case, we had a black bass or maybe a black drummer with Moon in order to get the rhythm because Moon played like a black man and he even thought like a black man – in fact, I sometimes had my ideas about whether he was black or not! He was the very first white man, I believe, that caught my eye as being not filled with bigotry or hatred … he found himself as comfortable among blacks as he did among whites. And it’s a very funny thing – both races in those days were displaying standoff-ish attitudes — not Moon. Moon would make most of the black clubs in the worst parts of town and all of his friends during the course of his stay would be black people. He’d play in black clubs and they would give him a standing ovation. It was very rare.” – Henry Glover
“Glover introduced us. I walked in and all those white cats sitting around wondering, ‘Hey, he’s got a black man playing his music.’ So I don’t say nothing to them and they don’t say nothing to me. So we played and that’s when I fell in love with him because it swung. So Moon says ‘This is my drummer,’ so when he went to buy some whiskey for the group, he bought a bottle for them and a bottle of whisky for me and him. He said, ‘Man, I want you to take me over to the Cotton Club,’ and I took him. Tiny Bradshaw invited him up and he played nothing but Duke Ellington music.“ – Eagle Eye Shields
“When a cat becomes a studio musician, he’s a musician who plays anything they bring in front of him to play. When I played with Moon Mullican, I enjoyed it. When I played that Country music, I learned to swing with that Country-Western cause I got into their mood and into their groove. When I got ready to play Rhythm & Blues, I got into their groove. When I play dance music, legit music, I get in to a legit feel cause I am a musician. I didn’t become a superstar. My thing was to be good, in order to be in demand, to be sought after.”– Eagle Eye Shields
[Moon had a number of hits in 1950 produced by Henry Glover including “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” “Mona Lisa” & “Goodnight Irene”; Mullican accepted the invitation to join in the Grand Ole Opry that year.] “Then Moon said, ‘I want to take you on the Grand Ole Opry with me, man.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go on that.’ He asked me if I would travel with him. I told him if I’ll be out there in them towns, them junctions, you might not be around and they’ll done grab me and lynch me.’ But now I wish I had because, if I had got out with Moon, I might have made a name for myself. I might have ended up with the big one – Willie Nelson.” – Eagle Eye Shields
Moon Mullican & Henry Glover
Shields, who took not only his father’s name but nickname as well, came to King through his membership in Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra. Eagle Eye would conduct his session work for King in between performances with Bradshaw in town at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club and on the road in New York City. Shields would subsequently serve as drummer for the Billy Williams Quartet (1957-1961), Della Reese (1967-1973) and music director/drummer for Redd Foxx (1978-1984).
Calvin Shields with Paul Bryant (organ) & Norris Patterson (sax) – 1962 in NV
The index in King Labels: A Discography, edited by Michel Ruppli (with assistance from Bill Daniels) helpfully identifies sessions where Calvin Shields served as the drummer, thus allowing Zero to 180 to compile a special list of suggested recordings — all of them captured on tape in Cincinnati (except Willis Jackson – NYC):
Abstract expressionist cover art for 1952 French LP
Furthermore, Eagle Eye is believed – as best as Brian Powers can determine – to have played on Moon Mullican‘s version of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Well Oh Well” [recorded July 3, 1950] and the classic “Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena)” [December 8, 1950], written by Moon with Chief William Redbird, plus Hawkshaw Hawkins‘ version of Tennessee Ernie’s “Shotgun Boogie” [January, 1951] and Al Dexter‘s “Hi De Ho Boogie on a Saturday Night” [May 19, 1950] — all recorded at King’s Cincinnati studio. Documentation from King’s early years, unfortunately, is often scant.
Shields would also keep time on an enchanting Latin-flavored instrumentalé tropicalé whose musical hook is a gloriously deep bass blast of the horn (B-flat):
Mack Rice wrote “Mustang Sally” following a visit to his friend, singer Della Reese in New York City. Reese had off-handedly mentioned that she planned to buy her drummer a Lincoln for his birthday. Calvin Shields, the drummer, appreciated the thought but reportedly replied, “I don’t want a Lincoln, I want a Mustang.” Shields’ response confused Rice. He could not understand why anyone would want the small Mustang instead of the bigger and more powerful Lincoln. After returning to Detroit, Rice began work on a song titled “Mustang Mama.” A serendipitous visit to Aretha Franklin’s house led to the name change to “Mustang Sally.” Franklin believed that “Mustang Sally” fit better with the music. And so the song was born.
*Henry Glover quotes are from an 1980s interview with the Country Music Hall of Fame *Calvin Shields quotes are from an interview conducted by Brian Powers in 2009.
**Willis “Gatortail” Jackson played a pivotal role in Jamaican music history when spies working for Duke Reid identified the source of Coxsone Dodd’s theme song (i.e., “Coxsone’s Hop”) that cemented Downbeat‘s status as the superior sound system in Kingston: “Later for the Gator” by Willis Jackson[1958 – sounds not a little unlike ska]. In those pre-Internet days, operators of competing mobile sound systems would use American 45s with the labels scratched off as proprietary source material. Duke Reid’s discovery of Coxsone’s source material would prompt Dodd into creating an original Jamaican sound in 1962 – ska – in time for the birth of JA’s independence. Much more direct evidence of the Cincinnati-Kingston connection can be found here and here.
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Zero to 180 was browsing Lovin Spoonful‘s 7-inch releases on Discogs and decided to give a listen to an obscure 45 track, “Lonely” – a harmonica instrumental, as it turns out – only to discover upon further examination that this song was released as an A-side for the Brazilian market only!
“Lonely” Lovin’ Spoonful 1967
Zero to 180’s pleased to see Kama Sutra did up the occasion right with a picture sleeve:
Hey, wha’ d’ya know, “Lonely” (or “Solitário”) would also be tapped as a B-side for the Japanese market:
Wow – just discovered the existence of this entry in 45Cat for a US single release for “You’re a Big Boy Now” b/w “Lonely (Amy’s Theme),” with a date of “Jun. 1967” indicated but ultimately “unreleased” – what’s the story?
King Records would try to cash-in on the success of “Tequila” by The Champs, as Johnnie Pate‘s 1958 Federal 45 “Muskeeta” would demonstrate:
Johnnie Pate’s “Muskeeta” 1958
Johnnie Pate (b, ldr); Ronald Wilson (fl); Williams Wallace (p); Wilbur Wynne (g); Donald Clark (d).
Chicago, March 20, 1958
According to Armin Büttner‘s Johnnie Pate history website, the version of “Muskeeta” on the French EP (below) is exactly the same as the version on King LP 584, but for a tenor sax probably overdubbed by Ronald Wilson himself. It is not yet known, which version of “Muskeeta” is on Federal 45-12325.
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.
“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
Good 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.
Thanks to my neighbor Stan, who graciously lent me a documentary, Once in a Lifetime, about the New York Cosmos and the groundbreaking-though-ill-fated North American Soccer League. While last weekend’s recent record snowstorm raged, I was riveted to the screen, grateful to have power — and incredulous that the most prominent 1970s American soccer franchise (who once fielded such international icons as Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer) was founded by executives from a major record label!
The New York Cosmos is a modern fairy tale, whose humble origins would include players dodging the broken glass on the team’s first playing field at Randall’s Island. The first seismic shift in this Cinderella story occurs when Warner Communications CEO Steve Ross risks major shareholder ire by signing Brazil’s national hero, Pelé, for $5 million. Pelé would play three seasons for the Cosmos from 1975-77 and finish out his professional career with an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Brazil’s Santos (where he began his career) in which he played, fascinatingly enough, for both teams.
Now you might be wondering why a music blog that’s devoted to boosting the legacies of under-recognized artists would profile someone who’s a household name the world over. Excellent question, by the way. And here’s the answer: you can find a handful of YouTube audio clips for “Meu Mundo É Uma Bola” — and yet only a tiny percentage of the planet’s population have viewed/listened to them (i.e., 12,000+ currently) How likely is it that the low numbers on YouTube can be explained by millions of Pelé fans preferring instead to listen to their original 45? Not very. Yet another musical mystery that vexes.
“Meu Mundo É Uma Bola” (i.e., “My World Is a Ball”) Pelé 1977
I can only presume that the world’s greatest soccer star ended up not hitting the sales targets established by executives at Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, as Pelé’s musical career is a surprisingly and brutally short one.
The documentary makes excellent use of popular music to tell the story, one of the most inspired decisions being the use of Sparks‘ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” to underscore the tension incurred when Steve Ross, in a naked attempt to boost attendance and add even more marquee power to the Cosmos, signs Giorgio Chinaglia, whose flamboyant playing style and outsized ego are in stark contrast to Pelé’s humble and team-oriented approach. How amusing to discover that Chinalgia would release his one and only 45 – “I’m Football Crazy” – three years before Pele’s lone single for Atlantic. Would you be infuriated to know that Chinaglia’s single has considerably more views on YouTube?
Rufus Harley‘s sole 45, “Bagpipe Blues” on Atlantic Records – an original amalgamation of Scottish highland and African-American musical traditions from 1965 – was undoubtedly the first of its kind. The title track of Harley’s second Atlantic album – “Scotch and Soul” – would find a way to incorporate Afro-Cuban jazz into the mix, as well:
“Scotch and Soul” Rufus Harley 1966
Harley would release four albums for Atlantic between 1965-1970 — plus one track (“Pipin’ the Blues”) on Sonny Stitt’s 1967 Deuces Wild album on Atlantic. Harley’s 1972 release, Re-Creation of the Gods on the Ankh label, would be his last for awhile.
Rufus Harley would re-emerge in 1982 to play the bagpipes on one track (“Sweater”) from Laurie Anderson’s 1982 debut “avant-pop” album, Big Science. In 1994 The Roots would also feature Rufus Harley’s bagpipes on one of their earlier efforts, From the Ground Up., as well as the following year’s Do You Want More?!!!??!
“Cerveza” by Boots Brown (see previous post about rock/pop’s Latin roots) was only one of the more obvious attempts to cash in on the runaway success of “Tequila” by The Champs in 1958. “Chili Beans” by Felix & His Guitar also does a great job of appropriating that familiar riff while at the same time adding a melodic counterpart that might possibly have kept the legal wolves at bay:
“Chili Beans” b/w “puerto rican riot” Felix & His Guitar 1958
Felix & His Guitar (backed by The Hot Peppers) released one other recording in 1958, “Two Tacos” b/w “Summer Love” — and then nothing more.
A song title (“Ticklish Ghetto”) from my big tribute to pioneering producer, Sonia Pottinger, inspired me to identify all other popular songs in which “ticklish” is part of the title.
“Ticklish Mambo” – surprisingly or not – is one of the few 45 releases with a ticklish title:
“Ticklish Mambo” René Touzet 1957
“Ticklish Mambo” served as the B-side to “Manhattan” – released March, 1957 on GNP.
Cuban-born bandleader, René Touzet, moved to the United States in 1944 after a hurricane destroyed his Havana club. Touzet worked with Desi Arnaz, Xavier Cugat & Stan Kenton (famed for his ‘Wall of Sound‘) before leading his own orchestra beginning in the mid-50s. Touzet’s would record ten albums for GNP, with 1956’s “El Loco Cha Cha Cha” – the song that inspired Richard Berry to write “Louie Louie” – a career highlight.
Largely unknown outside of South America, Wilson Simonal – according to Jason Ankeny’s biography in AllMusic – is deemed “a seminal force in the development of Brazilian music” and the Brazilian nation’s “first black superstar,” as well as the inventor of the “pilantregem” sound – a “dynamic fusion of soul, jazz, and samba infused with rhythms inspired by the Latin American boogaloo sound.”