Diplomat — the boutique label that gave us albums by The Beatle Buddies, The Ska-Men, The Monterey Brass, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Lonesome Valley Singers, Dick Dale, and those Santo & Johnny knock-offs, Dan & Dale — also bequeathed us a 12-inch long-playing release by The Green Valley Guitars, who recorded an eye-popping 33 (!) Country & WesternFavorites on a single disc that was most likely released in 1968.
Lead-off instrumental, “Shenandoah,” features a refreshingly human moment around the 33-second mark when the guitarist seems to lose his way momentarily, followed by a brief bit of musical silence and then a rush of melody to make up for lost time:
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play ”Shenandoah” by The Green Valley Guitars.]
Album includes “Boy in Buckskin”; “Blood on the Saddle”; “Boogie on the Guitar”; “Cheyenne”; “San Antonio”; “Wyatt Earp”; “Jesse James”; “Wild Bill Hickok”; “Buffalo Bill”; “Old Cowhand”; “Kentucky Fiddler”; “Nashville, Tennessee”; “Big Rock Candy Mountain”; “Chisholm Trail”; “Pride of the Prairie Mary”; “Boll Weevil” & “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Very little is known about The Green Valley Guitars, otherwise.
But then I learned of an even more direct connection between these two unlikely cities: Prince Buster‘s 1967 single on King Records:
“Ten Commandments (from Woman to Man)” Princess Buster & Her Jamaicans
In 1967, Prince Buster was touring the UK (where “Al Capone” was a Top 20 hit), as well as the US to promote his RCA Victor LP Sings His Hit Song Ten Commandments. How fascinating then to discover that the “Cincinnati Kid” singer himself would end up seeing one of his productions being released on James Brown‘s label, ultimately.
Issued as a split single, with “Papa Jack” by Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires on the reverse:
“Papa Jack” Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires
These two songs, of course, were not recorded in Cincinnati’s King studios but leased from at least one other label. This 45, as far as I can tell, was King‘s sole venture into Jamaican pop music. However, this one-off release obscures a much deeper narrative taking place behind the scenes, as Lloyd Bradley reveals in Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King, his indispensible history of Jamaican popular music:
In America, almost perversely, the best chance ska had to succeed was scuppered by the Jamaican government. In the mid-1960s, probably around the same time that “Ten Commandments” was an American hit, King Records, a label that had been very successful with R&B and soul, wanted the American rights to Buster’s whole catalogue. Syd Nathan, the company’s no-nonsense owner, was making moves to acquire it on the recommendation of soul legend James Brown, far and away King’s star act, who been turned on to Buster during a visit to Jamaica. As King had good relations with both black and mainstream radio stations, they were the most likely candidates to make it happen, and there’s a good chance that the sheer effervescence of Buster’s music would have opened door. However, King and United Artists (who were handling things for the Jamaican Social Development Commission) couldn’t agree on the publishing. Buster, by then an outspoken minister for Islam and a perpetual thorn in the authorities’ side, remains convinced this was no accident.
Record World‘s Feb. 18, 1967 issue lists the Philips “import” 45 of “Ten Commandments” — a “Regional Breakout” hit in New York City, Nashville, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland (et al.), according to Philips’ full-page promotional ad in Billboard‘s Jan. 28, 1967 edition — at the #50 position on their 100 Top Pops chart, up four spots from the previous week. Page three of that same edition includes a news item – “Royal Ruckus” – about the brewing donnybrook over “the two versions of ‘The Ten Commandments From Woman to Man‘ on RCA Victor and King [Records].”
Both are by songstresses [sic] calling themselves Princess Buster, and although the official comment from RCA was “no comment,” it was rumored around that RCA was going to try to enjoin the King version.
Actually the RCA tune, according to the label copy, is sung by Prince and Princess Buster. The King version is by Princess Buster and her Jamaicans.
Both disks are answer records to the Philips disk of “The Ten Commandments” by Prince Buster — the same Prince on RCA’s slice, according to an RCA source.
RCA Promo ad in Cash Box – Feb. 1967 (courtesy of 45Cat)
Truth & Accuracy Dept.
Funny how one additional letter added to a song’s title can so profoundly impact the meaning of the song itself. Imagine Spain‘s citizenry in 1968, for instance, trying to make sense of Prince Buster’s 7-inch release “Madness” with its flip “Cincinnati Kids“!
Tip of the hat to Joe’s Record Paradise, Silver Spring’s legendary music store (that also sells 8-tracks, cassettes, 78s, books, magazines, videos – and includes a shrine to one-time Silver Spring resident, Root Boy Slim, plus lots of other great DC music memorabilia) for a sweet deal on a stack of wax, including a great 1968 Studio One album from the beginning of the post-rocksteady period, Reggae Time.
Nestled among the album tracks is a song by The Heptones – “Tea for Two” – that features a great rolling bass line played in unison with piano, along with nice horn accompaniment and fun special effects that open and close the song:
No songwriting credits are listed for any of the songs on the album, however, I was able to confirm that “Tea for Two” was written by Leroy Sibbles, who is still very much active on the music scene.
In today’s digital environment, where Auto-Tune and other corrective software can smooth out all the rough edges, this human quest for perfection paradoxically can sometimes leave music feeling a little – what’s the right word? – sterile. Or soulless. Not fully human. One of my previous pieces identified and celebrated musical bloopers that, refreshingly, remind the listener that music is a human endeavor – and that, perhaps, maybe we need to revisit our attitude about what we consider “mistakes.”
One of the more endearing moments in Jamaican music occurred when a bassist lost his way temporarily – and provided an intriguing, shall we say, harmonic counterpoint that makes the song a heckuva lot more interesting than if he had played his part straight. Check out the bass lines on rude boy rocksteady classic, “Juvenile Delinquent,” by The Sensations and note the musical tension induced around the 1:20 mark when the bottom end diverges from the rest of the band. Will the bassist for the Baba Brooks Band find his way home again, the listener is left wondering. Happily, the bassist catches up with the chords … but then loses his way again briefly at the next chorus. Delightful.
UPDATE: Just discovered (January 2, 2017) that this song is a lyrical – if not musical – take on “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Imagine browsing through a bunch of old records and finding a cover whose only text was a title – “Bubble Rock is Here to Stay” – and an encircled statement that whimsically declared, “There is no artiste on this album – the songs are the stars.”
Only when you pull the vinyl out of its sleeve does the album actually give an artist attribution: Jonathan King. I knew from endless youthful readings of Nicholas Schaffner’s The Beatles Forever that Jonathan King was a “pop-star-turned-pundit” who was one of the lone voices of opposition to the Beatles’ groundbreaking 1966 album, Revolver, dismissing much of it as “pseudo-intellectual rubbish.” The previous year, King had had a big international hit with “Everybody’s Gone to the Moon.”
With 1972’s Bubble Rock Is Here to Stay, it would appear that King has attempted to recast classic pop & rock tunes in new and fresh settings – as indicated on the liner notes:
“The multi-million sellers – as never heard before. Fabulous old wines in beautiful new bottles! Would you believe ‘Rock Around the Clock Waltz’? Would you imagine ‘Twist and Shout’ with a string quartet? Have you heard ‘It’s My Party’ gay and heavy? ‘The Wanderer’ rocking with violin and mouth organ? ‘Have I the Right?’ guitar freakout and ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ rock and roll? ‘Reflections’ squashed into the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ bass riff? ‘It’s Over” as a whispered instrumental; ‘Sweets for My Sweets’ – pounding drums, fuzz bass and swinging violins; ‘Rain and Tears’ (the European giant) with organ and mandolin.”
“Sweets for My Sweets” – the album track with the most commercial potential – is a Pomus & Shuman song originally made famous in 1961 by The Drifters:
Sweets for My Sweet
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Sweets for My Sweet” by unattributed artist]
Love the Flub: Musical Bloopers
Sometimes a mistake left in the mix can lend a refreshing human-ness to the listening experience – as on “Sweets for My Sweet,” where the fuzz bassist flubs the note near the fade out (around the 1:53 mark) but does a decent job of covering his mistake. Other fun moments of imperfection in pop recording history include –
“I’m Gonna Love You Too” by Buddy Holly & the Crickets: you can actually hear, er, crickets chirping at the very end of the song (around the 2:09 mark).
“Wendy” by The Beach Boys: during an instrumental break you can hear someone cough (at the 1:19 mark).
“He’s a Doll” by The Honeys: you don’t need a music degree to hear the flubbed drum break (at the 1:00 mark) that immediately follows the first chorus – would you be stunned to discover that the culprit is none other than legendary session drummer, Hal Blaine?
“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War: the fluffed note in the keyboard intro (0:02) is so obvious and so easily re-doable – and yet they decided to keep it. Fascinating.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles: during the instrumental coda near the end of the song, bassist Paul overshoots the note by two frets (at the 4:23 mark) but disguises the flubbed note in such a way that most probably have no idea it’s there.
“With Your Love” by Jefferson Starship: toward the end of this upbeat ballad (around the 2:37 mark), bassist Pete Sears defies convention by playing a G against an F Major 7 chord – a “mistake” that I would sorely miss should the band unwisely decide to correct through some sort of digital trickery.