Gary Burton’s Tennessee Firebird

Jimmy Colvard was a teen in 1963 when he played those distinctive snapping and popping guitar sounds that helped make “Six Days on the Road” a runaway hit for Dave Dudley.  I have since learned that Colvard played guitar on a number of albums in the 1960s and 70s by such artists as Wynn Stewart, Waylon JenningsJohn Hartford, Ferlin Husky, Vassar Clements, Doug Kershaw, Kris Kristofferson, Ivory Joe Hunter, Dick Feller, Doc & Merle Watson, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton and French rocker, Eddy Mitchell.  Colvard was also part of the later lineup of Barefoot Jerry. (1975’s You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On).

One of Colvard’s more interesting associations was the 1966 country jazz experiment, Tennessee Firebird, by Gary Burton & Friends (near and far) on RCA.

Check out the musicians who played on this session:

Banjo:  Sonny Osborne
Bass:  Henry Strzelecki & Steve Swallow
Drums:  Kenneth Buttrey & Roy Haynes
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher
Guitar:  Chet Atkins, Jimmy Colvard & Ray Edenton
Harmonica:  Charlie McCoy
Mandolin:  Bobby Osborne
Organ:  Gary Burton
Piano:  Gary Burton
Saxophone:  Steve Marcus
Steel Guitar:  Buddy Emmons
Vibraphone:  Gary Burton 
Producer:  Brad McCuen & Chet Atkins

This heavyweight assemblage of talent recorded a country jazz take on Bob Wills standard “Faded Love” that, of course, included some space for the vibraphone:

“Faded Love”      Gary Burton & Friends     1966

“Jazz encounters the world of Country Music. An exciting Jazz Quartet together with great Country instrumentalists” — LP cover.

Recorded September 19-21, 1966 in RCA Victor´s “Nashville Sound” Studio.  RCA issued a DJ promo 45 of the title track in 1967 to get the word out (would be curious to know of any recordings by earlier artists that also feature the unlikely pairing of banjo and vibraphone).

Billboard selected Tennessee Firebird as a “Jazz Spotlight” in the album reviews for their March 18, 1967 edition:

An interesting, enjoyable experiment — country music artists supporting an accomplished jazz musician — and it works.  The effect is countrified, but solid jazz.  Tunes country fans would recognize include “Born to Lose,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Gone.”  This album will sell well in the jazz field and many country music fans will purchase it, too.”

Cash Box‘s review from their April 8, 1967 edition:

An interesting and effective blend of jazz and country sounds, this striking album by Gary Burton and Friends could win the approval of an extremely diverse audience.  Alternately playing vibes, piano, and organ, Burton leads his group through twelve rousing instrumentals including “Gone,” “Just Like a Woman,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Alone and Forsaken.”  Deserves close attention.

Interesting to note that a few months later, Burton “was beating out melodies from his RCA Victor Tennessee Firebird LP with [Larry] Coryell’s searing guitar driving each phrase home” at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, as reported in the July 15, 1967 issue of Cash Box.

Looking back at Nashville’s history as a world-class recording center for a diverse range of musical sounds and styles — not just “folk” and country — Billboard‘s Nashville Bureau Chief, Gerry Wood, would write about jazz’s under-acknowledged contribution in the April 26, 1980 edition for a feature piece entitled “Music City No Limits – A Billboard Spotlight” (p. 41):

Nashville’s radio clout with two 50,000-watters has had an immense effect on the music industry.  Thousands of present day music business performers and executives cut their teeth on the late night offerings of WLAC or its down-the-dial counterpart, WSM, home of the “Grand Old Opry.”  WSM can be heard in all 48 continental states — as a mail-in contest proved a few years ago.

And then, along came jazz.

In the late ’50s, the music scene drew a very young Gary Burton to Nashville from Indiana, and he impressed no less an expert than Chet Atkins, who won the Playboy Jazz Poll guitarist award for nearly a decade.

Monday night jam sessions were held for years in Printer’s Alley at the Carousel Club — an off night when the country musicians would sit in and play jazz.  The leading picker was always Hank Garland, but the rest of the jazz lovers were on hand — and they included Gary Burton.

The first jazz LP to be cut in modern Nashville probably was the Tennessee Firebird album that Brad McCuen produced with Burton for RCA.  “We used Burton’s quartet and a large number of local pickers,” recalls McCuen.  “The men had a good time and this experience led to the formation of the band Area Code 615 which cut several commercially successful albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

Nashville is the home of of the statewide Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society, an organizations that for the past seven years has held a Jazz Festival that has brought Nashville such attractions as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz and their groups.

McCuen and Bruce Davidson have a National Public Radio network show on jazz that originates from the studios of WPLN-FM, Nashville, and is syndicated.

Burton and Garland had already worked together in the studio six years earlier on Garland’s second solo album, Jazz Winds From a New Direction, recorded August 23, 1960.  Rich Kienzle explains how the musicians initially connected in his first-rate liner notes for Sundazed’s 2001 CD reissue:

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“[Hank’s first] album appeared in January, 1960 on Columbia’s Harmony budget label, not a first-priority release but one that got his foot in the door.  As the Carousel jams continued [i.e., after-hours improvisations with fellow Nashville A-teamers at Jimmy Hyde’s Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley], the club became a magnet for every jazzman passing through town.  One night, Dave Brubeck showed up.  Another night, members of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra stood awestruck as Hank tore through “Back Home in Indiana.”  RCA executive Steve Sholes, Chet Atkins’s boss and close friend, brought Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to the Carousel.  Wein booked the group, Hank, Atkins, [Floyd] Cramer, Boots [Randolph], [Bob] Moore, [Buddy] Harman and a few others for Newport in July.  RCA would record the live performance [1961’s After the Riot at Newport LP].

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Billboard’s Oct. 31, 1960 review: “The country acts acquit themselves with distinction on seven tracks, with honors going to vibest Gary Burton, guitarist Hank Garland and pianist Floyd Cramer.”  

“Hank needed a vibes player for his band that summer.  Boots brought him talented 17-year-old Princeton, Indiana native Gary Burton.  Preparing to begin classes that fall at the famed Berklee College of Music (where in 2001 he serves as Executive Vice-President).  Burton played locally with Hank and became a Carousel regular who accompanied the group to Newport.  After rioting ended the festival prematurely, they recorded an impromptu session at the rented mansion they stayed at.  Two songs, “Relaxin'” and “Riot-Chous,” an extemporized bop piece that Boots and Hank created, figured prominently in Hank’s next Columbia session, scheduled for August 24.

[Incident at Newport — Billboard’s “Nashville” beat — July 11, 1960 edition“Newport Jazz Festival was musically successful but hectic for local musicians who had little to do with which way they were going when they met a milling mob of thousands head-on.  Group, including Floyd Cramer, Brenton Banks, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, Gary Burton and Hank Garland, was going one way when they met the mobbing crowd going the other.  The Nashvillians joined the crowd and helplessly went along with them.  They finally managed to identify themselves, however, and recorded with RCA Victor’s Chet Atlkins before leaving for home.”]

“That day, Hank Garland realized his dream when he recorded the album that became Jazz Winds From a New Direction.  Burton was along for the auspicious occasion.  So were two established New York jazzmen:  bassist Joe Benjamin and Hank’s old [Paul Howard & His Arkansas] Cotton Pickers buddy Joe Morello, now well-known as drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Though listed as producer, Don Law held the title in name only.  Grady Martin, Hank’s friend and friend session partner, actually ran things in the studio.”

Bear Family’s 1989 CD reissue, by the way, includes “Panhandle Rag” as a bonus track.  More recently, Tennessee Firebird was issued in 2014 on CD in Japan.

Five Years Ago:  Gary Burton & Hank Garland featured prominently in Zero to 180’s piece from March 2016, “Lost Album of ’60

History Bonus!

Presenting Gary Burton” by Ted Williams — Record World — Apr. 24, 1965

Cincinnati’s Big 3 Indie (Labels)

The mod organ and soulful vibraphone make a winning combination in 1967’s “Perfect Girl” by The New Lime from Campbell County, Kentucky:

“The Perfect Girl”     The New Lime     1967

[The organ+vibes immediately brings to mind seminal single “Space Walk” by The Astros!]

It is 2015, and I am only now aware – thanks to independent producer and music writer, Randy McNutt – that I have been unintentionally ignoring a third significant Cincinnati music production mill in addition to (1) King Records and (2) Fraternity:  (3) Counterpart!

Counterpart RecordsCounterpart Records is the brainchild of Shad O’Shea (Howard Lovdal, by birth).  According to McNutt, after CBS sold its Cincinnati’s radio affiliate, WCPO, O’Shea was no longer a radio show host, thus, O’Shea immediately shifted his career focus, first to creating a label – Counterpart – and second, to building a brick-and-mortar recording facility.  Says McNutt:

“[O’Shea’s] Counterpart Records label, when I was in high school was like a major to me.  His records were played on WSAI and other stations.  He broke many good rock-band records.  Then he’d sell them to larger indies or the majors.  He had a wall in hallway office at the studio with nothing but 45s that he produced or released over the years, including ones on Mercury, RCA, Columbia, Laurie, Monument, SSS International, and other labels.  There must have been 50 records on that big wall.  He recorded groups such as the New Lime, which went from Counterpart to Columbia under his guidance; the Mark V out of Dayton (‘Hey Conductor‘), and other groups.

“Counterpart was regional, going into Kentucky and Indiana.  But its big strength was in Cincinnati and Dayton.  Shad had a big hit if he sold 5,000 copies.  Sometimes he would get a hot regional record, and it would catch the eye of a major or a national independent.  They would lease the master from him.  This happened to him with the Mark V’s “Hey Conductor” in, I believe, 1967.  The group was from Dayton.  The record was then re-released on Mercury’s Phillips label.

“I started cutting records over at Counterpart and became a close friend of his.  He bought the Fraternity Records name from Harry Carlson in 1975.  I placed masters with both Harry and Shad over the years.  In fact, I might be the only indie producer to have the distinction (small as it is) of placing masters with all three owners of Fraternity.”

Shad O’Shea (and Webster)

Shad O'Shea The New Lime:   Singles Discography

Whenever I Look In Her Eyes/And She Cried ---- Fraternity F947   1965
It's Your Turn to Cry/Only You --------------- Boss 9915         1966
Meant to Be/Walkin the Dog ------------------- Counterpart 2495  196?
That Girl/She Kissed Me (With Her Eyes) ------ Counterpart 2577  1967
That Girl/She Kissed Me (With Her Eyes) ------ Columbia 4-44017  1967
There Goes Girlfriend/Girl Long Blonde Hair -- Counterpart 2593  1967
Meant to Be/Perfect Girl --------------------- Counterpart 2599  196?
Ain't Got No Soul/I Still Remember ----------- Counterpart 2609  1967
Donna/The Gumdrop Trilogy -------------------- Counterpart 2626  196?
Donna/The Gumdrop Trilogy -------------------- Columbia 4-44597  1968
Sunny/I Still Remember ----------------------- Minart 150        196?

 Link to Buckeye Beat‘s tribute page to The New Lime.

“Ital Vibes”: Vibraphonic Reggae

Reggae is another realm of popular music where the vibraphone so rarely makes a foray.  As a result, Jamaican vibraphonist, Lennie Hibbert, pretty much has the field all to himself, as the intersection of reggae and the vibes essentially begins and ends with this one soul. Hibbert’s theme song – if one were to exist – would most definitely be “Village Soul,” easily his best known composition, but 1974’s tuneful instrumental “Ital Vibes” is another great starting point for vibraphone-infused reggae:

“Ital Vibes” – Lennie Hibbert – Produced by Harry Mudie

The bulk of Hibbert’s early work appears to be with Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label, where he recorded as part of Coxsone’s house band, The Sound Dimension, and also released a few singles under his own name.

Hibbert did appear, however on at least two Nyabinghi-inflected singles recorded at the studio of pioneering female producer, Sonia Pottinger:  “The Retreat Song” (with MillicentPatsyTodd) and “Pure Soul” (with Count Ossie & Lyn Taitt), both from 1968.

Hibbert would record two long-playing releases as a solo artist on Studio One — 1969’s Creation and 1971’s More Creation — before moving on to Harry Mudie‘s label for at least one single, 1974’s wonderfully understated slice of ‘strings reggae’ – “Ital Vibes” b/w version mix “Vibes Skank” (billed as Mudies All Stars).

rear cover – 1969 Studio One LP, Creation

Lennie Hibbert

Hibbert’s biography on AllMusic points out that in 1976 the vibraphonist would be awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music, as well as his work as an educator at Kingston’s legendary Alpha Boys School, training ground for an extraordinary number of Jamaica’s top musicians and where a hall would be named in honor of Hibbert, who passed in 1984.

Lennie Hibbert photoLennie Hibbert enthusiasts may want to seek out his exceptionally rare debut album, Moon-Light Party at the Myrtle Bank Hotel, although be prepared to pay through the nose: one copy sold in 2006 for $760.  Be advised, however, this is actually a studio album and not a live recording as the title would seem to suggest.

“Space Walk”: Psychedelic Vibes, Man

Paul ‘Ollie’ Halsall, as previously noted, was one of the rare rock musicians to utilize the vibraphone – an instrument that is often confined to jazz and 1960s pop & northern soul, sadly.  The vibes, when placed in the right context, can add such gorgeous tonal color to a song, as demonstrated on Jimi Hendrix’s dreamy ballad, “Drifting” (as played by Buzzy Linhart, who had been given exactly one hour (!) to learn and execute his complex part) – or on the mysterious and foreboding intro to “Monkey Man” by The Rolling Stones (as played, surprisingly enough, by bassist Bill Wyman) just to name two obvious examples.   Perhaps the vibraphone is ripe for rediscovery by the next generation of popsters?

VibraphoneA number of years back, my life had been inadvertently saved when I hastily tried to sell back a bootleg compilation of psychedelic 45s burned to compact disc.  Fortunately, Baltimore’s Sound Garden music store refused to take The Psychedelic Experience Volume 1, thus forcing me to re-evaluate the contents of this collection.  Somehow I had overlooked the second track on the disk — “Space Walk” by The Astros:

“Space Walk”     The Astros     1965

This arresting instrumental immediately grabs the listener with an intoxicating sound that is achieved in no small part by the unlikely use of the vibraphone.  How on Earth did this tune escape my attention the first time around?

45Cat informs us that this single had been predicted by Billboard to reach the Hot 100 — and yet it seems never to have even charted.  Most interestingly, this forward-looking piece of pop was released in June, 1965 (just three months after cosmonaut Alexey Leonov became the first human to walk in outer space), thus anticipating to some degree the psychedelic sound that would follow one to two years later.  Could this be among the first “psychedelic” recordings?  Tantalizingly little appears to be known about this recording otherwise.

Many thanks to Office Naps for singing the praises of label owner, Leo de gar Kulka, the unacknowledged star of the song and whose engineering prowess at Golden State – one of Northern California’s largest studios at the time – would help pioneer “the San Francisco sound” of such artists as Sly & the Family Stone, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Charlatans, Sons of Champlin, The (pre-Dead) Warlocks, and many others – click here for a Golden State Recorders discography.  Check out this brief bio of Kulka courtesy of Studio Electronics Inc – founded by none other than Kulka himself.

“Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye”: Unlikely Alien Invasion

Eyeballing the list of artists who released 45s on Decca’s progressive imprint, Deram, I am amused by the “far-out” names that remain largely unknown on this side of the pond:  West Coast Delegation; The Wards of Court; Rubber Bootz; Cuppa T; Granny’s Intentions; John Street & the Inmates of No. 12; The Crocheted Doughnut Ring; The Virgin Sleep; Bernie & the Buzz Band; Anvil Flutes and Capricorn Voices; Martin’s Magic Sounds; Currant Craze; and The Syn, among others.  A shameless attention-getting ploy perhaps but a harmless one.

Similarly, a song title such as “Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye” practically begs to be heard — fortunately, this tune about Martian invaders armed with lethal pastries does not disappoint:

Timebox – “Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye” – March, 1969

“Baked jam roll in your eye:  are you trying to kill or feed me?” the humans straight-facedly inquire of Martian commander, Klaus.  Will the Earthlings prevail armed only with song?

“Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye” is Timebox’s successor to “Girl Don’t Make Me Wait,” with its brilliant B-side, “Gone Is the Sad Man” — a song that could easily be mistaken for some long-lost Beatles single.  Would you be surprised to learn that one of the song’s co-writers, Paul ‘Ollie’ Halsall, would later become part of the Pre-Fab Four (depicted as Leppo, “the fifth Rutle” in the faux-documentary, All You Need Is Cash)?  Neil Innes, at a 1997 Beatlefest in Los Angeles, would identify Halsall as a primary contributor in the making of the first Rutles album and pronounce him “the most underrated guitarist in the world.”  Halsall, who died in 1992, enjoys distinction as one of rock’s only vibraphone players.

A-Side composed by Mike Patto & Ollie Halsall

Timebox 45