King Syam: Most Blues Worthy

So little has been written about King Syam (a.k.a., Sam Sweet) and his lone 45 for King — a situation that has all the makings for a good blues song:

“Syam’s Blues”     King Syam     1963

Syam’s Blues” served as the single’s B-side — and yet it is the only King Syam song that people (three different ones, in fact [or so it would appear]) are uploading onto YouTube fifty years later.

“Syam’s Blues” is also part of a 20-track CD compilation, R&B Hipshakers Volume 4:  Bossa Nova and Grits, released by Spain’s Vampi Soul.

King Syam 4545 Label:  “Rock & Sock – Rough & Tough.  First Release.  New Group.  Good Sound. Solid Instrumental Programming”

Mack: Synonymous with Diesel

Can you believe it’s been 4 months and 20 days since I last featured a truck driving song?  And how perfect is it that Lonnie Mack once wrote and sang a truck driving song for 1971 Elektra album, The Hills of Indiana?

“Asphalt Outlaw Hero”     Lonnie Mack     1971

Don Nix – who also wrote “Oh What a Mighty Time” for The New Riders of the Purple Sage, with Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia (previously celebrated here) – co-wrote “Asphalt Outlaw Hero” with Lonnie Mack.

Acoustic & Electric Guitar – Lonnie Mack
Rhythm Guitar – Wayne Perkins*
Steel Guitar – Lloyd Green
Bass – Norbert Putnam, Tim Drummond, Troy Seals & David Hood*
Drums – Kenneth Buttrey & Roger Hawkins*
Fiddle – Buddy Spicher
Baritone Saxophone – Don Nix*
Keyboards – David Briggs & Barry Beckett*
Lead Vocals – Lonnie Mack & Don Nix
Choir – Mt. Zion Singers
Producer – Lonnie Mack & Russ Miller
Arranger – Norbert Putnam
Engineer – Brian Ross-Myring, Gene Eichelberger & Marlin Greene*

* designates personnel on “Asphalt Outlaw Hero”

“Asphalt Outlaw Hero” & “All Good Things Will Come to Pass” recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — all others at Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.  Elektra would issue a promo 7-inch of “Lay It Down” in 1971 but no actual singles.

Billboard’s review of The Hills of Indiana in its September 25, 1971 edition:

“Memphis, now Nashville.  Lonnie Mack bids for a chart comeback with still another fine LP country-soul and pop-gospel.  Mack is dedicated, often moving and brilliant, yet “undiscovered” by a pop public that would tune in fast if they could hear Mack soul away on ‘Rings,’ Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ and ‘All Good Things Will Come to Pass.’  Buttrey, Briggs and Putnam back Mack for an honest shot at popular exposure.”

Mojo would include The Hills of Indiana in its list of 60 Greatest Elektra Albums in the magazine’s November, 2010 issue — along with Don Nix’s Living by the Days, also from 1971.

The many moods of Lonnie Mack’s ‘The Hills of Indiana’

Lonnie Mack - Hills-1xElektra Records album sleevesLonnie Mack - Hills-2

Seven months ago, someone paid $20 for a sealed copy of The Hills of Indiana on Ebay.

Hop Wilson’s Steel Guitar Blues

Rolling Stone released two compendiums of Record Reviews in the early 70s, back when Lenny Kaye, John Mendelsohn, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Bud Scoppa, Ed Ward, Richard Meltzer, Al Kooper, Ralph J. Gleason, Paul Gambaccini, Stephen Davis, Jon Landau, Jann Wenner, and (occasionally) Nick Tosches, and even Peter Townshend (Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy album) were writing reviews for the (formerly) underground ‘rock’ publication.  Tip of the hat to Record Review’s Vol. II for pointing out Hop Wilson‘s distinctive steel guitar-driven rockin’ blues sound, as on masterpiece, “Chicken Stuff:

“Chicken Stuff”     Hop Wilson & His Chickens     1958

As Peter Guralnick would write in the Rolling Stone Record Review:

“Especially enterprising but a little further afield is Chicken Stuff:  Houston Ghetto Blues, an English album available on Flyright.  This is made up of six cuts by Hop Wilson from his legendary Ivory sessions and a side of live recordings.  Wilson, one of the few bluemen to master steel guitar, employs a driving bottleneck-style technique which shows traces of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James.  With his deep brooding voice, stunning guitar work, and the overwhelming power of his blues, he is a singer who deserves much wider recognition.”

Sadly, too few recordings feature Hop Wilson (who also went by “Poppa Hop” and also “Poppy Hop”).  John Broven, thankfully, provides some helpful historical background in South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous

“As word spread that there was a recording studio in Lake Charles, a few blues artists, mainly from Texas, started arriving at Goldband.  Hop Wilson was easily the best.  His first recording, ‘Chicken Stuff’ in 1958, was a startling instrumental that had all the bounce of an old country dance number … At the time Hop was touring Texas and Louisiana with Ivory Semien’s band.  He had a second Goldband release, the stark ‘Broke and Hungry,’ before recording three impressive singles for Ivory Records in the early 60s.”

Goldband’s Eddie Shuler would note how “[“Chicken Stuff”] is unique in the blues field” in that “he played a Hawaiian guitar — six strings of blues soul.”

Hop Wilson & Steel Guitar     1963

Hop Wilson on steel guitarHop WIlson’s soulful steel-based blues sound would set the stage for ground-breaking album, Sweet Funky Steel, released by Freddie Roulette (pictured below), coincidentally enough, around the time of this Rolling Stone Record Review‘s publication (as featured previously on Zero to 180).

Freddie Roulette & pipe

Freddie Roulette’s Sweet, Funky Steel

Freddie Roulette coaxes all manner of sweet, funky feeling out of his doubleneck lap steel guitar on the track “Joaquin” from his debut solo album:

“Joaquin”     Freddie Roulette     1973

Steel Guitar:  Freddie Roulette
Bass, Acoustic Guitar:  Victor Conte
Drums:  Paul Lagos
Guitar:  Coleman Head
Saxophone:  Richard Aplanap
Mixed by Fred Breitberg
Produced by Harvey Mandel
Recorded by Baker Bigsby

Prior to Sweet Funky Steel, Roulette had played with Charlie Musselwhite and the Chicago Blue Stars, whose 1969 debut LP kicks off with the “Fred Roulette” composition, “I Need Your Loving.”

Freddie Roulette

Billboard included this album as an “Also Recommended” pick (under ‘jazz’) in its September 29, 1973 issue with these words of praise:

Title is a perfect description of a truly charming, contemporary jazz-blues session on talking steel guitar.  Best cut:  “Smoked Fish

How fascinating (and sad) that Freddie Roulette would release his groundbreaking album Sweet Funky Steel in 1973 — and then issue no other recordings for over 20 years.  One gets the sense that this album may have been a bit ahead of its time and had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

With the release of Psychedelic Guitar Circus (1994), Back in Chicago (1996), Spirit of Steel (1999), Man of Steel (2006) and Jamming with Friends (2012), it would seem that the artist and his audience have, at last, found each other.

Photos of esteemed “guitar client” Freddie Roulette can be found at Berkeley’s renowned Subway Guitars.

Sweet Funky Steel LP

1954: An Explosive Year for Music

We all know that 1954 was the year of Elvis Presley’s famous and influential Sun recordings, but 1954 was also highly noteworthy for the combined impact of these 3 particular tunes — all instrumentals:

1.  “Stratosphere Boogie” by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant:  phenomenal, blazing twin guitar work – rock and roll by any other name (although some might call it “hillbilly jazz“).  Recorded September 2, 1954.  Bryant is using a “Stratosphere Twin” double-neck guitar with 6-string and 12-string necks.  The 12-string neck, curiously, is tuned in thirds, thus sounding like twin lead guitars playing lines in harmony.

Stratosphere Twin - Jimmy Bryant

“Stratosphere Boogie”     Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant     1954

2.  “Space Guitar” by JohnnyGuitarWatson:  unhinged guitar paired with playful production (and unpredictable reverb) – as Larry Nager so adroitly dubbed it, “punk blues.”  Recorded as ‘Young John Watson’ in Los Angeles on February 1, 1954 and released on Syd Nathan‘s Federal Records.

“Space Guitar”     Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson     1954

Space Guitar 453.  “Pork Chop Stomp” by Grady Martin and His WinginStrings – crisp production,       great chops (so to speak) and a little humor go a long way.  That’s Bud Isaacs on pedal steel, with Grady Martin and Hank Garland both playing lead on this spirited piece of western swing – recorded January 13, 1954.

“Pork Chop Stomp”     Grady Martin & His Wingin’ Strings     1954

Grady Martin doubleneck guitarApproximately 12 Years Later:

Johnny Echols of seminal Los Angeles folk-punk band, Love, would be seen playing one of those rare Stratosphere double-necks originally made famous by Jimmy Bryant:

Johnny-Echols-with-Stratosphere