“Yancey Special”: Prog Reggae II

Keith Emerson would captivate me as a grade schooler with the deep, heavy Moog sounds he conjured for “Lucky Man” — the final track, fittingly, on a 4-LP box set from 1973 that got a lot of mileage in our household growing up, Superstars of the Seventies, one of the earliest titles in the Warner Special Products series.

Superstars of the 70s-a“Lucky Man,” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer‘s 1970 debut album, derives much of its appeal from being a “power ballad” that builds to an explosive solo, and yet Aerosmith would get all the credit for having created this new rock subgenre, even though “Dream On” did not hit the record racks until 1973.

Dig the ’70s earth tones, man

Superstars of the 70s-xAfter Emerson, Lake and Palmer went their separate ways in 1979, Emerson would arrange a reggae-tinged take on a Meade Lux Lewis boogie instrumental, “Yancey Special” for his 1981 solo album Honky:

“Yancey Special”     Keith Emerson     1981

Most fascinatingly, Emerson’s first solo album post-ELP global fame would be released on an independent Italian label, Bubble, aimed at the “Italo-Disco” progressive dance market. Honky would find release two years later in the UK on Emerson’s imprint, Chord RecordsRock and Roll Paradise asserts Italy to be the only country where Honky was a hit album.

Keith Emerson - bubble This review in Vintage Rock would note —

Emerson, on an extended vacation in the Bahamas, rounded up a crew of local musicians and exploded with a wild variation of calypso and reggae tunes—foreign substances to the legions of ELP fanatics who were expecting something less whimsical and more monumental.  But really — you can’t blame him for turning his back on the “legendary” noose around his neck and indulging seafaring gems like ‘Hello Sailor’ and ‘Rum-A-Ting.’  And the irresistible boogie woogie of Meade Anderson ‘Lux’ Lewis’ ‘Yancey Special’ shakes the manacles off completely.

Keith Emerson LPAccording to the liner notes, “honky” was a nickname used by children of the island and, thus, appropriated by Emerson for the album’s title.  “Yancey Special” would hit the airwaves two years after Rick Wakeman‘s cod reggae version of “Swan Lake,” the featured instrumental in Zero to 180’s January, 2015 piece, “Prog Rock Reggae.”

Keith Emerson:  One of The Best (Literally)

BB Chronicles offers a 1990 soundboard recording of a little-known (and short-lived) supergroup named The Best that once included Keith Emerson, along with John Entwistle (The Who), Joe Walsh (James Gang/Eagles), JeffSkunkBaxter (Doobie Brothers), and Simon Phillips (801/Jeff Beck).

           Keith Emerson & the skunk                        Emerson & the ox & the skunk

Keith Emerson & the skunk-xKeith Emerson & the ox & the skunk-x

Emerson’s spirit, sadly, would leave us this past March. – his obituary from the March 13, 2016 edition of The Guardian.

“Rum Bum a Loo”: $300 Reggae

I’m a little surprised more ink has not been expended on a snappy early reggae 45 from 1970 on the Doctor Bird label that can command up to £200 [i.e., $300ish] at auction:

“Rum Bum a Loo”     The Message     1970

Rum Bum a Loo” was produced for the UK market by an entity named Philligree, which Discogs informs us, is the production team of Graeme Goodall and/or Phil Chen:.  Meanwhile, the “reggae formation” known as The Message would release no fewer than four singles in 1970.

Doctor Bird 45 Desmond Dekker fans will recognize “Rum Bum a Loo” as a near-instrumental version of Dekker’s 1st place winner of the 1968 Jamaica Independence Festival Song Competition, “Music Like Dirt (Festival 68).”  That same year the song would also be issued in the UK, though with the B-side (“Coconut Water“) imaginatively re-titled as “Coconut Woman“!

Desmond Dekker 45-aDesmond Dekker 45-b

UK 45s Record Label Discography gives us the back story on Doctor Bird:

“Initially a ska label, Doctor Bird was started in 1965 by Graeme Goodall; it issued its first single in 1966 and put out around two hundred more before expiring in 1969.  It qualifies for a mention in this list because Trojan revived it briefly in the early 1970s, for a handful of reggae singles.”

postage stamp

Doctor Bird - postage stamp

Dave Katz includes this key historical bit in Solid Foundation:  An Oral History of Reggae:

By then, Ken Khouri had moved his base of operations to 220 Foreshore Road, an industrial area west of the wharf, to establish Federal, the first fully fledged recording studio and pressing facility on the island.  It was officially in use from October 1957.  For his resident sound engineer, Khouri chose Graeme Goodall, an Australian radio technician trained in London who initially came to Jamaica to set up RJR’s cable service.

Thanks to Tapir’s Reggae Discographies for its detailed listing of Doctor Bird releases from 1966-1970 that feature a Who’s Who of Jamaican production talent:

Sonia Pottinger
Clement Coxsone Dodd
ArthurDukeReid
– Justin “Phillip” Yap
– Edward “Bunny” Lee
– Byron Lee
Joe Gibbs
– Clancy Eccles
KarlSir JJJohnson
LeeScratchPerry
– Garnet Hargreaves
– Albert Gene Murphy
– Lloyd Daley
– Leslie Kong
– Laurel Aitken

Toussaint’s Danish-Flavoured Pop

Do not understand why so very little has been written about Allen Toussaint‘s 1968 composition “Hands Christianderson,” the instrumental B-side released 47 years ago this very month:

“Hands Christianderson”     Allen Toussaint     1968

I hear a bit of Burt Bacharach-style melodicism in the trumpets and backing vocals, though the final product is unmistakably Toussaint-ian.  Tip of the hat to Home of the Groove for breaking it down:

“With a title as quirky as the composition itself, this unusual and complex production appeared on the second of three Toussaint singles released by Bell in 1968, featuring him on piano, and in a few cases, vocals.  I wonder if he designed ‘Hands’ to play pop counterpoint to the lush but more straight ahead instrumental hit song of the same year, ‘Love Is Blue,’ by Paul Mauriat.  It has the same kind of over the top, multi-instrument arrangement, including strings, but with quite a rhythmic twist – kind of like ‘Hand Jive’ meets Riverdance.  If anyone ever asks you if a song can be poly-rhythmic and syncopated and NOT be funky, play this!

As far as I can tell, that would be Zig and George of the Meters pumping the kick drum pedal and plucking the bass strings respectively; and you can probably see why the temperamental and highly funkifried Mr. Modeliste chafed at being put to rather mechanical tasks such as this and eventually stopped playing on many of Toussaint’s productions.

Maybe Allen was hoping this might be picked up as another TV theme song (as had his earlier “Whipped Cream”, when covered by Herb Alpert), or for a movie soundtrack.  I don’t know, but it seems he enjoyed and saw commercial potential in such pop instrumentals, as he had been doing them since the late 1950s, though not on this scale.  ‘Hands’ was cleverly done, maybe too much so, as it quickly patty-caked off into the sunset; taking with it the other side of the 45, ‘I’ve Got That Feelin Now,’ which went in another musical direction entirely, call it soul easy-listening.”

Allen Toussaint 45-aYou can find “Hands Christianderson” on a 2007 CD release entitled What Is Success:  The Bell & Scepter Recordings — essentially, a reissue of Toussaint’s acclaimed 1970 LP From a Whisper to a Scream, (originally released as Toussaint) plus the A & B sides of three Bell 45s from 1968-69.

Hans Christian Andersen:  poet, playwright, novelist & fairy tailor

Hans Christian Andersen

“Winged Mammal Theme”: Batty B-Side

Michael Stipe and his REM bandmates, it would appear, are bat fans, as evidenced by their non-LP B-side, “Winged Mammal Theme.”   This abstract (near) instrumental take on “The Batman Theme” – flip side to their 1992 hit, “Drive” – would be rejected, interestingly enough, for the soundtrack to Batman Returns. Thankfully, this song, as Tom Hawker observes, would prove useful as tinkly background music for The Weather Channel:

“Winged Mammal Theme”     REM     1992

Before we completely leave behind the topic of bats (as I’m running out of material), it is amusing to note that – as mentioned in this previous Zero to 180 piece about Mayf Nutter – Frank Zappa once wrote (and arranged & conducted) “Boy Wonder I Love You,” a 45 by Burt Ward, who played Robin on TV’s Batman series:

“Boy Wonder I Love You”     Burt Ward     1967

Finally, “Release the Bats” by Nick Cave’s Birthday Party – I feel strangely compelled to confess – once caused a heated argument between myself and Tom Newbold, a close friend who, sadly, is no longer with us.  Tom once played “Release the Bats” at considerable volume in close quarters, at which I took great offense.  At the time, I accused Tom of “musical assault,” while he insisted that he was simply motivated by great art that required sufficient amplification to be fully appreciated.

REM 45The dear, departed “Newbs,” in fact, directly stoked my fascination with music history as a result of my having failed colossally to help Tom settle a musical debate that should have been a slam dunk.  The issue of contention:  rock and roll’s place of origin, geographically speaking.  “Uh, England?” this hopeless Beatlemaniac meekly offered from the back seat.

Joe Pass: Unlikely Mid-60s Stones Fan

If you search the web for information about a 1967 album on the World Pacific label by jazz guitar great, Joe PassThe Stones Jazz – you will generally see uniform agreement that this album was recorded on July 20, 1966.  I love that:  one day to record an entire album.   Around this same time period, the Beatles had just finished recording an album – Revolver – that had taken 77 times longer than The Stones Jazz to record.

Stones Jazz - Joe Pass

On the back cover there are 10 Stones songs listed – all but one of them from their fertile 1965-1966 period:

“Lady Jane”; “I Am Waiting”; “19th Nervous Breakdown”; “Not Fade Away”; “As Tears Go By”; “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”; “Play With Fire”; “Paint It, Black”; “What a Shame”; and “Mother’s Little Helper”

Mysteriously, the 11th song is not even mentioned,  even though it’s the best song on the album – and the only Joe Pass original, “Stones Jazz:

“Stones Jazz”     Joe Pass     1966

It’s nice to see four trombone players listed on the album credits with tenor sax being the only other member of the horn section.  Album engineered by Bruce Botnick.

Joe Pass:  Guitar
Dennis Budimir:  Guitar
John Pisano:  Guitar
Ray Brown:  Bass
John Guerin:  Drums
Victor Feldman:  Percussion
Bob Florence:  Piano
Bill Perkins:  Tenor Sax
Milt Bernhardt:  Trombone
Dick Hamilton:  Trombone
Herbie Harper:  Trombone
Gale Martin:  Trombone