“Lonesome Whistle Blues”: Train = Pain

Unnamed vocalists perfectly evoke a lonely late night train whistle on Freddy King‘s mournfully swinging “Lonesome Whistle Blues“:

“Lonesome Whistle Blues”     Freddy King     1961

This song was catchy enough (#8 R&B) to cross over into the Pop Top 100 (#88) when released in April of 1961 on Federal, a subsidiary of King Records.

Freddy or Freddie?  Not sure even his mother knows

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” was recorded on January 17, 1961 in Cincinnati using local talent:  Philip Paul* (who still plays Saturdays with his jazz trio at The Cincinnatian Hotel) on drums, along with Sonny Thompson on piano, Bill Willis on bass, and (of course) Freddy on lead vocal and guitar [*check out Zero to 180’s profile of Philip Paul from July 2018].

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” would end up being included on 1961 LP, Freddy King Sings.  1962 album, Freddy King Goes Surfin’, however, would inspire a rather funny set of comments from the fine folks at Sundazed/Rhino when reissued on vinyl in 2013:

Syd Nathan, impresario of Cincinatti‘s [oops] King Records, was the epitome of the old-school indie record label owner. Always hustling, Nathan regularly beat the odds to release hit after hit in multiple genres. He’d try anything if he thought it might work, or more precisely, if he thought it would make money.

After Chess Records turned down guitarist/vocalist Freddy King several times for sounding too much like B.B, King, Nathan thought that sound might actually be sellable and took a chance, signing Freddy to his Federal subsidiary label. They hit paydirt with an instrumental titled “Hide Away,” which reached #5 on the R&B Chart and #29 on the Pop Singles Chart.

Encouraged by the single’s success, Nathan released a full album of King’s instrumentals, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King. (See what Nathan did there with the title, slipping in a reference to Freddy’s big hit single? Always be closing, my friends, always be closing.)  The album sold well and helped make Freddy a bankable touring act.

While others would have been satisfied to move on to the next project, Syd sensed untapped potential in the LP. Meanwhile, several artists on the West Coast were making noise in the brand new surf music scene (and by “making noise,” I mean selling records). Syd didn’t have any surf music artists under contract, but he DID have Freddy King. Surely, Syd surmised, if the kid’s went nuts for Dick Dale’s guitar instrumental workouts, they could do the same for Freddy’s. All he needed was a little marketing magic … GET A NEW COVER WITH SOME SURF KIDS!  THROW SOME CROWD NOISE OVER TRACKS SO IT SOUNDS ‘LIVE’!  CALL IT…ERR…FREDDY KING GOES SURFIN’! PRESS IT AND HAVE IT ON THE SHELVES BY NEXT WEEK!!!!!!!

While it may not have happened EXACTLY like that, King Records did release Freddy King Goes Surfin’, an album containing the very same songs (in precisely the same running order) as Let’s Hide Away… with crowd noise dubbed over the music. Did the ruse work? Though it didn’t sell as well as the original, Freddy King Goes Surfin’ did find an audience. Like Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, the album’s title is such a preposterous premise that it surely snagged many buyers on that fact alone.

“Lonesome Whistle Blues,” written by Rudy Toombs, Elson Teat & James Moore (a.k.a., Slim Harpo), would also be included, oddly enough, in 1964 King compilation LP Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs — the only recording on this album, curiously, that was not an R&B makeover of a honky tonk hit.

Muddy Waters: He’s a Pepper, Too

From reading Robert Gordon’s excellent biography of Muddy Waters – Can’t Be Satisfied –  I learned that the former McKinley Morganfield once made a little pocket change recording a radio spot for Dr. Pepper:

Is it really true – as the YouTube video clip contributor asserts – that Randy Newman wrote this blues jingle?   Could it be that this very same radio ad can be found on a rare piece of promotional vinyl, Dr. Pepper: The Most Original Soft Drink Ever – Original Cast Album?

Dr. Pepper Cast LPaDr. Pepper Cast LPb

This Dr. Pepper album sold for $50 in a 2010 Ebay purchase and is described on Popsike (online archive of rare vinyl auction sales) as  “RARE Muddy Waters Randy Newman.”

Bob Margolin, Muddy’s guitarist throughout the 70s (and as seen in the classic Last Waltz performance), recalls the following details about the jingle’s recording:

“I have no idea who wrote it.  We weren’t told.  I do remember it was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago and I played a bass line/ rhythm guitar part that you can hear clearly on the right side that led the band through very strange non-standard Blues changes.  Trying to get Muddy to sing the right words over it was not easy.  We did get it though, and I think Muddy’s belligerent voice singing those words is very…weird and funny.”

“You Don’t Love Me”: Where Blues and Reggae Intersect

Thanks to Steve Hoffman‘s blues show on WPFW, today I was able to make the connection (as many others have done before me) that the inspiration for Dawn Penn‘s massive 1967 rocksteady hit, “No No No,” came directly from Willie Cobbs‘ hugely influential 1960 blues single, “You Don’t Love Me” — which, itself, was derived from a Bo Diddley tune five years prior, “She’s Fine She’s Mine“:

“You Don’t Love Me”     Willie Cobbs     1960

For comparison, check out Dawn Penn‘s interpretation, with musical support from Studio One’s Soul Vendors:

“You Don’t Love Me (No No No)”     Dawn Penn     1967

Or check out prototype as laid down by Bo Diddley:

“You Don’t Love Me”     Bo Diddley     1955

Long before Kingston, Jamaica became known as the “Nashville of the Third World,”  some of reggae’s most famous producers and label owners originally gained fame as mobile sound system operators playing obscure (at least, at that time) American jump blues and boogie 45s — albeit with identifying information removed from the labels to prevent other sound systems from knowing the names of the songs or artists behind their most popular records.   Relying on non-Jamaican recordings worked well enough in the pre-Internet 1950s.  ClementCoxsoneDodd, for instance, long enjoyed a reputation as the ranking sound system operator whose signature tune, “Coxsone Hop” (in reality, a 1950 honking sax instrumental called “Later for Gator” by Willis ‘Gatortail’ Jackson) ruled the Kingston dancehalls for an impressive seven years.  Until, that is, the fateful night Coxsone’s chief rival, Duke Reid, pulled the rug out from underneath him completely.  Prince Buster witnessed it all go down (as recounted in Lloyd Bradley‘s definitive history of Jamaican music, Bass Culture):

“I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand.  He drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar.  I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom [compatriot] to give me a hand.  The psychological impact had knocked him out.  Nobody never hit him.

We hold him up against the bar and try to shut out the noise.  Not only they play ‘Coxsone Hop,’ but they play seven of Coxsone’s top tunes straight.  When that happen, you know that tomorrow morning those tune’ll be selling in every fried-fish shop.”

Fortunately for the rest of the world, what initially seemed like a door slamming shut was actually a window of opportunity for sound system operators instead to obtain their musical “exclusives” by forging their own original sounds – which, in Coxsone’s case, led directly to the creation of Studio One, whose songs continue to rule the dancehalls today.

Coxsone behind the board

CoxsoneHow interesting to see Dodd draw on his prior experience as a sound system operator in refashioning “You Don’t Love Me” for a Jamaican audience.  Even more interesting to learn that Dawn Penn, who initially dropped out of the music business in 1970, would re-work “No No No” in a more contemporary dancehall style and hit the top of the Jamaican charts in 1994.   Most fascinating of all is that fact that two of the world’s top pop singers, Rhianna and Beyonce, breathed new life into this nearly 60-year-old tune when they covered “You Don’t Love Me” in 2005 and 2010, respectively.

Wait – didn’t Willie Cobbs (or Bo Diddley) write this song?

You Don't Love Me 45

Tore Up vs. Tore Down? Musical Retort, Possibly

On March 12, 1956 drummer and vocalist, Billy Gayles, recorded “I’m Tore Up” in Cincinnati at the King Records studio backed by Ike Turner and His Rhythm Rockers:

“I’m Tore Up”     Billy Gayles     1956

Note the songwriting credits:  Ike Turner & Ralph Bass

I'm Tore Up 45

Nearly five years later on January 18, 1961, guitarist and singer, Freddy King, recorded  “I’m Tore Down” in the same location, with Sonny Thompson on piano, Bill Willis on bass, two (possibly three) tenor hornsmen — and drummer, Philip Paul (profiled in depth here):

“I’m Tore Down”     Freddy King     1961

Raise your hand if you hear Eric Clapton every time Freddy sings one of those high notes.

Did King (actually, Sonny Thompson) write his song as a playful riposte to Gayles?  How likely is that he had simply been unaware of the work of a fellow King recording artist?

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Goodbye 78s:  The Slow Death of the 10-Inch Record

Interesting to note that the Gayles song from 1956 had also been issued as a 78, but the same cannot be said for King’s 1961 single.

I'm Tore Up 78

“Ooh Baby”/”Wrecking My Love Life”: Bo Diddley, Song Surgeon

In a re-match of three blues heavyweights – Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley (taking Little Walter’s place) – The Super Super Blues Band from 1968 on Chess is classic stuff.  A local radio blues show once played the album’s second track, which really tickled my ear, so I poked around a little and discovered that, sure enough – just like it says on the track listing – this song really is a fusion of two Bo Diddley songs:  “Ooh Baby” (from 1966) and “Wrecking My Love Life” (from 1967):

Album recorded in Chicago in September 1967 – issued January 26, 1968 on Checker.

  • Bo Diddley:  vocals, guitar
  • Howlin’ Wolf:  vocals, harmonica
  • Muddy Waters:  vocals, guitar
  • Otis Spann:  piano
  • Hubert Sumlin:  guitar
  • Buddy Guy:  bass
  • Clifton James:  drums
  • Cookie Vee:  vocals, tambourine

Bo Diddley, Cookie Vee & Dave Myers @ Montreaux 1972

       Cookie Vee, Bo Diddley & Dave Myers at Montreux, 1972