Earliest Recording of a Melodica?

One of Zero to 180’s earliest pieces (from 2012) concerned itself with documenting the earliest recording of a melodica (i.e., keyboard version of a harmonica), and 1966 seems to be year to beat in this regard, with the composer, Steve Reich, as well as future pop giants, The Bee Gees, having both committed the melodica to tape that same year.

This summer on a long road trip, I was enjoying a CD compilation of rare 45s and obscure album tracks that had been thoughtfully assembled by musician/scholar, Joe Goldmark, (and partner at San Francisco’s legendary Amoeba Records), when I was startled to hear a 1960s recording of South African township jive that includes a melodica!

“Ice Cream and Suckers (pts. 1 & 2)”     Soweto Stokvel Septette     1966?

Incredibly, when you search the entire Discogs database for recordings by the group, Soweto Stokvel Septette, only one item turns up:  a various artists LP release issued on the Mercury label for US distribution entitled Ice Cream & Suckers:  South African Soul, and which features the title track, parts one and two (stitched together in the mix above).

Ice Cream & Suckers - Various Artists Mercury LP-aZero to 180 is impressed with Mercury’s receptiveness to the exciting new sounds coming out of South Africa at that particular time in the 1960s (20 years or so before Paul Simon’s Graceland album) — only question is exactly when?  Before 1966, possibly?

Here’s a clue:  this 4-star review in Billboard‘s April 19, 1969 edition.  However, this description for an online auction sale pegs the album as being a 1966 LP release!  Curiously (or not), the description for this online auction sale approximates the release date to be “c. 1966,” while Lyon, France’s Sofa Records also understands the album’s year of release as 1966.

Assuming this is true, can we necessarily assume that Soweto Stokvel Septette recorded their two-part title track in 1966?  In other words, was the recording made the previous year or even earlier?  The back cover liner notes (courtesy of ElectricJive), unfortunately, do not shed light in this regard.  Nevertheless, “Ice Cream and Suckers” is now, at the very least, part of a three-way tie for earliest melodica recording.

Double-click on image below to view liner notes at maximum resolution

Ice Cream & Suckers - Various Artists Mercury LP-cc

One other supporting clue:  Soweto Stokvel Septette recorded a 45 of “South African ska” that also happened to be released in 1966, according to this vendor.

Soweto Stokvel Septette 45Zero to 180, you might recall, put Joe Goldmark’s music research to good use when its staff compiled a special list of King-related steel guitar releases from Joe’s landmark work, The International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography.

International Steel Guitar - Dobro DiscographyZero to 180 history pieces related to the steel guitar

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

“Operation X”: Top-Secret Trucker Tune

Dave Dudley’s earliest recordings go back to King Records, interestingly — six sides altogether, with three written by Dudley and one co-written with Louis Innis.  Dudley would record for a handful of small labels before being signed to Mercury in the wake of “Six Days on the Road” and its breakout success (in retrospect, his first & last Top 40 pop hit).

Dudley, of course, recorded other material besides truck-driving tunes, such as these back-to-back singles released in 1965/66 – “What We’re Fighting For” & “Vietnam Blues” – the first written by Tom T. Hall and the second by up-and-comer, Kris Kristofferson.  But within the world of trucker music, “Operation X” stands apart in one important respect:  this is the only truck driving song (at least, that I know of) written about the Korean War:

“Operation X” from 1965 Mercury LP, Truck Drivin’ Son-of-a-Gun

Those famously percussive guitar riffs are being popped off by Jimmy Colvard, no doubt — and yet nowhere is his name in these credits from the indispensable LP Discography:

Jerry Kennedy:  Guitar & Dobro
Harold Bradley & Ray Edenton:  Guitar
Pete Drake:  Steel Guitar
Bob Moore:  Bass
Buddy Harman:  Drums
HargusPigRobbins:  Piano
Recorded:  March, 1965 – Columbia Studios – Nashville

Well as long as there’s a truck I won’t forget
Korea and Operation X.

I won’t forget the year of ’54
I drove a truck in that Korean war.
Haulin’ GI’s to the front and back
In a truck they called Deuce and a half.
The others called it Operation X
We had to move in just an hour or less.

First ethanol and maintenance that was all
And there were twenty men I had to haul.
That south Korean sky was smoky black
I was third in convoy from the back.
But twenty minutes out they hit the nail
It was mortar they were sendin’ in the mail.

We’ll scatter out and find a hole they said
Cause Operation X is catchin’ lead.
I wheeled into a side road to the left
Drivin’ to an almost certain death.
I heard the steady screepin’ of the shells
The burnin’ powder sent a deadly smell.

And it happened as I pulled into a stop
They hit us and I blacked out from the shock.
Somehow I got back to the States alive
And now I got another rig to drive.
My bumper sign says “Operation X”
It’s there ’cause I’m the only one that’s left.

“Operation X” was written by – who else? – Tom T. Hall.  Is it wrong of me to point out that by 1954, the United States had ceased combat in the Korean War (says the State of New Jersey’s website:  “On July 27, 1953, the Armistice was signed, and all fighting stopped”)?

“Summertime’s Another Name for Love”: Pizzicato in Pop

Chicago’s New Colony Six released seven singles on the Mercury label from 1967-1970. “Summertime’s Another Name for Love,”  from 1968’s Revelations album, sounds like an obvious A-side to me – and yet it ended up being the B-side to “Can’t You See Me Cry.”

I especially enjoy the tantalizingly brief pizzicato passage in the song’s instrumental coda — as you will, too:

“Summertime’s Another Name for Love”     New Colony Six     1968

 

Released June 6, 1968, the single spent eight weeks on the Billboard pop chart, having climbed to the #52 spot at its peak.

New Colony Six 45

“BluEmmons”: Landmark Steel Guitar Jazz

Just as Louis Jordan’s pairing of jump blues with country-style steel guitar was seen as a radical move in 1947, Buddy Emmons’ decision to feature his masterful steel guitar stylings within a modern jazz context was considered equally bold in 1963 when Mercury released groundbreaking album, Steel Guitar Jazz.

“Bluemmons”     Buddy Emmons     1963

“BluEmmons” – a Buddy Emmons original – is the album’s kick-off track.

Buddy vs. Buddie?   Only his mother knows.

Steel Guitar Jazz LP“Buddy Emmons wasn’t the first musician to be featured playing a pedal steel guitar in a jazz setting, but it is unlikely that anyone else recorded an entire date playing one prior to this 1963 session.  Although both he and the instrument are indelibly associated with country music, Emmons makes it work for several reasons.  He’s surrounded by some top players, including Bobby Scott, Jerome Richardson, Art Davis, and Charlie Persip; he also interacts with the band rather than overdoing the special effects available to him, especially the horn-like sounds obtained from his use of the slide.  Emmons also chose an intriguing mix of material.  Obvious highlights are the loping treatment of “Where or When,” featuring Richardson’s delicious soprano sax trading off with the leader, and Emmons’ hot playing of “(Back Home Again In) Indiana.”  Equally rewarding are the jazz classics:  Ray Brown’s soulful “Gravy Waltz,” an intricate romp through Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” and Horace Silver’s toe-tapping “The Preacher.”  This was pretty much a one-time affair for Emmons, who returned to country music, though he did record some additional jazz with guitarist Lenny Breau during the 1970s.  Although the instrument never really caught on in jazz, this highly recommended album, which was finally reissued on CD in 2003, is well worth checking out.”    —    Ken Dryden, All Music

Musical Roll Call – Special Trucker’s Edition: “There Ain’t No Easy Run”

Dave Dudley and Tom T. Hall collaborated on a musical roll call that cleverly pays tribute to the rich tapestry of American trucking firms that happened to be in existence as of December 1967 when this song was recorded and subsequently released on Dudley’s 1968 Mercury album, Thanks for All the Miles:

There Ain’t No Easy Run – Dave Dudley

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear “There Ain’t No Easy Run” by Dave Dudley.]

[The above audio clip taken from a special all-trucking edition of Charlie Coleman‘s Classic Country that was guest selected by Zero to 180 alter ego, The Dieselbilly Kid.]

There Ain’t No Easy Run” was a Top 10 country hit, while the album made the Top 40 on the country charts.

Dave Dudley - Thanks for All the Miles

Musician and recording credits for this album – although isn’t that Jimmy Colvard (“Six Days on the Road”) playing his distinctive brand of percussive lead guitar?

Jerry Kennedy - guitar/dobro
Harold Bradley, Ray Edenton, Jerry Shook, Chip Young - guitar
Pete Drake - steel
Bob Moore - bass
Buddy Harman - drums
Hargus Pig Robbins - piano
Recorded:
December 1967 - Columbia Recording Studio - Nashville