Don Sebesky: Clavinet Pioneer

Last November’s tribute to the funkiest musical instrument known to humankind would seem to designate NRBQ‘s “Stomp” (recorded December, 1968) as among the earliest of recordings to feature the clavinet, even though by article’s end I reveal my trump card: “Attractive Girl” by The Termites — an album track on 1967’s Do the Rock Steady, a Studio One LP that was originally released in Jamaica and the UK.

Termites LP-aTermites LP-bb

My gratitude to the mysterious Felix, who points out that Don Sebesky‘s “Water Brother” from 1968’s Distant Galaxy album – based on the recording date – undoubtedly precedes NRBQ’s first recordings for Columbia and highlights the clavinet work of Sebesky himself:

“Water Brother”     Don Sebesky     1968

Distant Galaxy, Sebesky’s second album for Verve, would find Larry Coryell (again) on guitar (“Lady Madonna”) and sitar (“Guru-Vin”), along with Chuck Rainey, Dick Hyman and Hubert Laws, among others, providing musical support.

Don Sebelsky LPAlthough a solo artist from the late 1960s through the 1990s, Sebesky enjoys much greater renown as an arranger, whose CV includes Jimmy Dean, Astrud Gilberto, Sonny Stitt, Dionne Warwicke, Esther Phillips, Hank Crawford, Leslie Uggams, George Benson, Maynard Ferguson, Gilbert Bécaud, Paul Desmond, Charles Brown, Wes Montgomery, Willie Bobo, Walter Wanderley, Doc Severinson, Carmen McRae, and Roberta Flack.

Sebesky’s earliest recognition, however, was for his jazz trombone work with Kai Winding, Tommy Dorsey, and Stan Kenton, among others.

Check out the assemblage of talent for Don Sebesky’s 1973 2-LP set

Don Sebelsky - Giant BoxUnfortunately, I’m about to pull another trump card of sorts out of my sleeve:  Aaron Kipness’s Hohnet Clavinet FAQ from 2007 in which the question of First Clavinet Recordings is addressed on page ten.  Stevie Wonder (to no one’s surprise) is identified as a potential clavinet originator; “ShooBeDooBeDooDaDay,” which opens with a funky clavinet riff, was released, according to the FAQ, in 1966!   Upon closer inspection, however, credible sources point to March, 1968 as the song’s actual release date.

The FAQ, additionally, offers Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” (released January, 8, 1968 and recorded, according to Soulful Kinda Music, three days prior) as an early clavinet recording, which it is.

Nevertheless, “Attractive Girl” by The Termites – a track from their 1967 Studio One LP Do the Rock Steady remains, as best as I can determine, the medal bearer for Earliest Clavinet Recording.

Clavinet Update!  Special thanks to Jim Kimsey, whose March, 2016 comment ponied up “Six O’Clock” by (NRBQ fan) John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful – recorded in 1967 – as a new candidate for “Earliest Clavinet Recording” — now tied with “Attractive Girl” by The Termites.

The Stonemans (or is it Stonemen?)

The grammarian in me finds it unbelievably difficult to refer to the legendary bluegrass family dynasty as “The Stonemans” – I keep wanting to say “The Stonemen.”  Surely, I’m not the only person who wrestles with this conundrum?

Image of The Stoneman Family courtesy of Discogs

Stoneman FamilyErnestPopStoneman‘s musical career goes all the way back to the 1920s, and he would later form a group that comprised, at least by the mid-1960s, five of his thirteen children.  The Stonemans (sigh) – as Amazon’s editorial review points out – would “hit the country charts often but are now strangely forgotten.”  Apparently, they were not considered a singles band, as very few 45s appear to have been released over the course of their recording career.

Stoneman Family LP

1968 album, All in the Family, for instance, would reach #42 on the country chart, although one winsome, bittersweet tune – Jack Clement‘s “Tell It To My Heart Sometime” – would be passed over for single release, sadly:

That same year, The Stoneman Family would be one of the featured artists in the 1967 feature film, Road to Nashville — Donna Stoneman nearly runs away with the movie in her spirited performance on an unnamed “surf bluegrass” instrumental whose title proves to be rather elusive:

The Stonemans     [Unknown] Instrumental     1967

The All Music Guide to Country has these interesting biographical details about Ernest Stoneman and his musical progeny:

“His [early solo] career reached its peak in 1927, when he became the top country artist at Victor and led the Bristol sessions, which helped The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers gain renown.  Stoneman continued to record through 1929 setting down more than 200 songs…

“At the end of the 1940s, he and his talented clan began performing as The Stoneman Family.  By 1956 he had earned the moniker “Pop” and appeared on the NBC television game show The Big Surprise, where he won $10,000.  Later, his children’s band, The Blue Grass Champs, became The Stonemans, which Pop himself joined after retiring from the [munitions] plant in the late 50s.  He continued appearing with them and singing lead vocals through the early 60s.  In 1965, The Stonemans signed with MGM in Nashville and hosted a syndicated TV show.  In 1967, Stoneman’s health began to deteriorate, but he continued recording and performing through the Spring of 1968; he died in June.”

“Right By My Side”: (Curt) Boettcher & (Bobby) Jameson

I couldn’t help noticing that Bobby Jameson wrote the kick-off song on Michele O’Malley’s Saturn Rings album.  Curt Boettcher, interestingly, would be picked to produce Jameson’s second album (although the first “proper” album under his own name) – Color Him In.  “Right By My Side” is the A-side of the album’s second single issued by Verve (while his first single had been released, curiously enough, as simply by “Jameson” – no first name):

Bobby Jameson — “Right By My Side” — August, 1967

Jameson’s outstanding first album, as it turns out, had been recorded under a pseudonym (Chris Lucey), and its cover, bizarrely, featured a photo of Brian Jones, face down, playing the mouth harp and doing a rudely abstract gesture with his middle finger, I kid you not.

Cubist cover for Jameson’s 1967 album on Verve

Bobby Jameson LP coverFor those not familiar with this stranger-than-fictional tale, Bobby Jameson’s first album – Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest – is a set of songs that Jameson wrote to order based upon a supplied set of song titles!   As Jameson himself reveals on his website, his artistically successful UK tour of 1964-65, where he appeared on Ready Steady Go and recorded with The Rolling Stones, nevertheless did little for his finances.  Thus, broke and hungry, Jameson was vulnerable when he agreed to take on the character of “Chris Lucey” and write new songs to substitute for those whose titles had already been printed on the album jacket for (the real-life) Chris Ducey, who fled to another label, where he was under contract.  The songs, written over two weeks’ time and recorded with Marshall Lieb (Phil Spector’s bandmate in The Teddy Bears) are amazingly – given the circumstances – excellent and worthy of a world audience.

Obliquely Impolite Hand Gestures in the Annals of Pop – ‘Chris Lucey’ & Moby Grape

Chris Lucey LPMoby Grape LP

Artist as Musicologist:  Check out Bobby Jameson’s annotated chronological listing of his own vinyl releases from 1963-1977.

Unlikely +/- One-Off Songwriter Pairings

Thanks to Bill Hanke for one of my all-time favorite bits of Beatle trivia:

Q:   Title of the only Harrison-Lennon composition?
A:    1961’s “Cry for a Shadow”

Cry for a Shadow1964 German Beatles 45

Bobby Jameson’s late 1964 single, “All I Want Is My Baby,” was co-written by Andrew Loog Oldham (manager of The Rolling Stones) and Keith Richards – one of two such songs by this unlikely pairing (the other being “I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys“):

Fuzz guitar (maybe) by Jimmy page + backing vocals (possibly) by mick Jagger

Unwashed masses, I turn to you — any other unlikely/one-off songwriter pairings out there?

“Concrete Jungle”: Paradise, in fact, for Joe South

I love the grand Spectorian splendor of this Ray Stevens arrangement for Joe South – “Concrete Jungle” – that was released January 25, 1964 on MGM:

“Concrete Jungle”     Joe South     1964

According to PragueFrank, South had recorded this song plus “The Last One to Know” on October 20, 1963 – possibly in Atlanta.

South would go on to produce a version of “Concrete Jungle” for The Tams, who would release a 45 on ABC-Paramount in 1965.  Meanwhile, Ray Stevens would arrange and produce a version for Bobby Allen Poe, who would release a 45 on Monument in 1966.

Joe SouthGoing back to 1958, Joe South released a steady string of singles for a number of smaller, independent labels mainly – NRC, Ember, Fairlane, Allwood, MGM, Tollie, Apt, Columbia – before signing to Capitol, where he had his first big hit with 1968’s “Games People Play” (although, to be fair, 1958’s “The Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor” did go as high as #47).

Not only did South enjoy respect from his peers as a songwriter (inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979), but he was also a session guitarist of note who backed Aretha Franklin (“Chain of Fools”), Bob Dylan (“Visions of Johanna”), and Tommy Roe (“Sheila”), among others.

Alaska Coldly Pushes Texas Aside

One of Joe South’s earliest 45s is a novelty tune that playfully laments Texas’s change in status as the nation’s largest state upon Alaska’s entry into the Union:

“Texas Ain’t the Biggest Anymore”     Joe South     1959

“Lost Highway”: Hank Williams + Chet Atkins & Friends

One other prominent (and tragic) artist from country music’s early years to get the cosmetic posthumous remix is Hank Williams, whose death in 1953 in no way stopped MGM from issuing new product for the marketplace (often multiple albums per year) through 1981 and beyond.  Hank Williams, for instance, was the recipient of an added string section on at least three albums — not to mention the backing of Nashville’s finest on one key track – “Lost Highway” – that appears to have been embellished in a 1968 overdub session and later issued on 1977 LP Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits Vol. 2:

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Lost Highway” by Hank Williams & Friends.]

Lost HighwayThanks to the Hank Williams Discography for identifying the names of the musicians who helped modernize Hank’s original recording in order to give it that “Nashville Sound” —

  • Hank Williams (vocals & guitar)
  • Chet Atkins (electric guitar)
  • Sammy Pruett (electric guitar)
  • Tommy Jackson (fiddle)
  • Jerry Rivers (fiddle)
  • Don Helms (steel guitar)
  • Eddie Hill (rhythm guitar)
  • Jack Shook (rhythm guitar)
  • Floyd Chance or Ernie Newton or Cedric Rainwater (bass)
  • Owen Bradley or Fred Rose (piano)

Date of overdub recording session:  September 26, 1968

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Jimmie Rodgers:  First To Be Posthumously Produced?

“Johnny Zero”: Reduced to Nothing

Recorded by Merle Kilgore in early November, 1963 at Columbia Recording Studio in Nashville and released January 1964 as a single by MGM:

“Johnny Zero”     Merle Kilgore     1963

Does Merle Kilgore sound like Johnny Cash because they were such good friends, or were Merle and Johnny good friends because their musical styles were so compatible?

Johnny Zero 45

Johnny Zero” (co-written with Don Christopher) can also be found on MGM country compilation album, Great Country & Western Stars.

MGM country LP

“Wildwood Flower on the Autoharp”: Fine Arts vs. Popular Arts

In 1967 Sheb Wooley released a great single, where the A-side – “Love In” – hilariously mocked the “free love” sentiment then in vogue, while the B-side proudly proclaimed the simple music of the “folk” to be the kind that touches his soul the deepest:

Wildwood Flower on the Autoharp – Sheb Wooley

[Pssst:  Click the triangle to play “Wildwood Flower on the Autoharp” by Sheb Wooley.]

Wildwood Flower 45

That’s right, another salvo in the age-old battle between the fine arts and the popular arts

And the victor of this particular musical fight?   Naturally, popular music – where all the best brawlers are.

The Mother of All Autoharp Players

Mother Maybelle sure had a distinctive way of picking out the melody lines on her autoharp, as this clip from The Johnny Cash Show can attest:

“Black Mountain Rag”      Mother Maybelle Carter      1970

“Rain Flowers”: Power Pop Spawned by The Beatles

The received wisdom is that The Beatles single-handedly invented ‘power pop’ with       “And Your Bird Can Sing,” an album track from 1966’s Revolver.  The truth, however, is a little more elusive.  One could point out that “Paperback Writer” – a song that very much embodies the power pop sound – predates “And Your Bird Can Sing” by thirteen days.  Furthermore, Pete Townshend is often give credit for having coined the term when he was famously quoted in 1967 by Keith Altham in New Music Express as having said, “Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ which I preferred.”

Every Mothers’ Son‘s second and final album for MGM – 1968’s Every Mother Son’s Back – would find the group charging out of the gate with a song very much in the power pop spirit, “Rain Flowers”:

Note the stirring entrance of the clavinet just prior to the vocal — another early appearance for the relatively new electric keyboard in the year 1968.

Every Mother's Son - ad

“Museum”: Herman’s Hermits’ Lone Moment of Hipness

I dismissed Herman’s Hermits ages ago (“I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” etc.) but then, in recent years, was given a copy of their 1967 MGM album Blaze (by Tom Avazian – who else?), and had to admit that the kick-off tune was a surprisingly effective one:

“Museum”     Herman’s Hermits     1967

I only just now learned that “Museum” is, in fact, a Donovan cover.

Museum - Herman's Hermits