Lord Thunder: Final Deluxe 45?

Browsing DeLuxe releases in chronological order in Discog’s database, Lord Thunder‘s “Thunder” from 1975 appears to be the last gasp of Starday-King:

“Thunder”     Lord Thunder     1975

But wait:  1975 sounds much too late in the post-Syd Nathan saga for a new production to come out of the Starday-King studios, especially with IMG/Gusto now running the show.  I’m suspicious.

For one thing, the catalog number 106 would indicate the recording to be closer to 1969, tied to the first string of releases from the resuscitated DeLuxe imprint — at that point owned by Lin Broadcasting.  An examination of the catalog record for this 1975 Gusto 45 release on Discogs finds this revealing note:

“This is the legal second issue from 1975 – reissued for the UK Northern Soul market.  The original does not have the ‘1975 etc’ text around the outside and the release is originally from the late 60’s/early 70’s.

This late 60s “northern soul” instrumental was written by Leroy Tukes and Grady Spires, who would also put together “I Got It Made (In the Shade)” for James Duncan, released March, 1970 on Federal (and featuring Eddie Hinton on swamp guitar)..

Both songs were included on 2007 CD compilation Crash of Thunder:  Boss Soul, Funk and R&B Sides From the Vaults of the King, Federal and DeLuxe Labels — a special collection of rare tracks curated by Matt “Mr. Fine Wine” Weingarden and released on Spanish label, Vampi Soul.

So uh, no, this was not the “final” DeLuxe 45, in terms of latest original recording intended for release.

From browsing Discogs’ listing of DeLuxe releases in chronological order and then examing the catalog numbers in (relative) sequential order, I see that the highest number “152” coincides with 1973 single release from The Manhattans – “Do You Ever” b/w “If My Heart Could Speak” (with the A-side written by Agape recording artist, Myrna March, who also co-produced).  Could this possibly be one of the final recordings to come out under the DeLuxe label?  To answer this question, it sure would help to know the recording dates of the other DeLuxe 45 releases from 1973:

= “Mama’s Baby” b/w “You Are Gone” by Royal Flush
= “Camelot Time” b/w “Victory Strut” by J. Hines & the Fellows*
= “Leave My Kitten Alone” b/w “All the Time” by Reuben Bell
= “Rainbow Week” b/w “Loneliness” by The Manhattans

Ruppli provides no information whatsoever about these recordings and, in fact, does not even list Royal Flush, Reuben Bell, or J. Hines & the Fellows in the index.  Not even known whether any of these 45 releases had been recorded in the year 1973.  More research is needed to determine the final recording to come out on DeLuxe.

Click on song titles above to hear streaming audio of A & B sides

With regard to Zero to 180’s recent musings about which Bethlehem release was the last original recording intended for that King subsidiary label, this online discography has considerably more detailed information than Ruppli’s sessionography with regard to Bethlehem’s last few years of existence, thus forcing me to recalculate the situation

New Observations about Bethlehem‘s Final Releases!
Tip of the hat to the Bethlehem Records Discography Project

  • The James Brown recording session from May 20, 1970 (David Matthews’ “The Drunk” recorded in two parts, with only Part Two issued) that ended up as the B-side of a Bethlehem (not King) 45 “A Man Has to Go Back to the Crossroads” b/w “The Drunk”  appears to be the last original recording released on Bethlehem — a session that took place at King Studios in Cincinnati (as did the session for the single’s A-side on March 2, 1970, on which David Matthews served as Director).  Interesting to note that A-side “charted on 18 July, 1970 on Record World‘s “Singles Coming Up” chart peaking at #110″ (Discogs).  Note:  If you scrutinize this electronic version of Record World‘s July 18, 1970 issue (page 24), you will see that “Crossroads” peaked only at the #134 position.  Also, on page 1 of this issue, “Sex Machine” is selected as one of the Singles of the Week (“James Brown pulls no punches and proves once more that he is truly ‘Soul Brother Number 1’ with ‘Get Up I Feel Like a Sex Machine'”), while on page 7,”Crossroads” is reviewed as one of the “four-star” single picks of the week (“He seems to have a new release every other day.  This is a genuinely compelling ballad for those who find ‘Get Up’ too heavy.”). Lastly, Record World‘s version of the “bubbling under” LP chart (“LP’s Coming Up”) lists JB’s It’s a New Day – Let a Man Come In And Do the Popcorn album at the #20 spot in this same issue, while “Sex Machine” (identified more chastely as “Get Up”) is at the #30 position on the Top 50 R&B Chart, up seven spots from the previous week.
  • The next-to-last entry for 1970 says that Arthur Prysock laid down 12 tracks with “unidentified orchestra” and Bill McElhiney serving as arranger/director at Nashville’s Starday-King recording facility on April 8, 1970 for Prysock’s Unforgettable album (released on King).  The two singles from this LP, curiously, would be issued on separate labels — “Cry” b/w “Unforgettable” on King, while “Funny World” b/w “The Girl I Never Kissed”  ended up on Bethlehem.
  • This discography of Bethlehem recordings/releases from 1958 to the present ends in the year 1970 — and yet omits any references to The Saloonatics from 1969. What up?  1969 would also see recording sessions in Cincinnati for Wayne Cochran and His C.C. Riders (previously paid tribute here), as well as The Dee Felice Trio (with Frank Vincent) for LP and 45 releases on Bethlehem.

As it bids adieu to the King Records’ 75th Anniversary Celebration, Zero to 180 would like to pose these four questions:

  1. What is the last original recording for Starday-King that took place at Cincinnati’s King Studios?
  2. What is the final recording — regardless of whether the artist was under contract to Starday-King — that took place at the (former) King Studios in Cincinnati?
  3. What is the last original recording at the Nashville Starday Studios intended for release on Starday-King or one of its subsidiaries?
  4. What is the last original release from Starday-King before the label’s sale to IMG/Gusto?

A Starday/King/DeLuxe Musical Prank*

Whoa!  Is it possible that 1973 instrumental “Victory Strut” by J. Hines & the Fellows (on Starday-King subsidiary, DeLuxe) features what must be some of the earliest turntable scratching on record?!   But alas, the comment below – in reply to the person who posted this audio clip – reveals musical tomfoolery perpetrated at the hands of DJ Ol’SkOul!

“So as much as I love the record scratches on this, I actually bought this 45 thinking they were a part of the song. Sooo yeah, you might want to tell people this is your remix of it.  Either way thanks for posting. Great tune.”

Hear for yourself =  special ‘REMIX’ of “Victory Strut”

DJ Ol’SkOul likewise provides turntable embellishments for A-side “Camelot Time

History Messing with My Mind Dept.

Recently, in the course of scanning the index in Ruppli’s King Labels sessionography, I was struck by a fairly unusual name: “SACASAS”.  Anselmo Sacasas, it turns out, was a Cuban bandleader who recorded exactly one session for King Records in Miami on April 8, 1955 – four songs recorded, including one tune entitled (hold onto your hats) “Trumpcrazy”!

Billboard‘s reviewer would score this trumpet-heavy “Latino instrumental” a 72 (in the “good” range) in its July 23, 1955 edition.  This extremely obscure 45 was nearly lost to history until an audio clip was posted on YouTube in July of 2016.

“Trumpcrazy”     Sacasas & His Orchestra     1955

For King Records History Fanatics Only:

49-Page Compilation of “Maxi-Tweets” from King Records Month 2018 (pdf file)

King’s Budget Subsidiary Label

According to Both Sides Now Publications:

“In late 1958, Audio Lab was formed as a budget label subsidiary to Cincinnati-based King Records.  From 1959 -1962, Audio Lab released a lot of material that had never appeared in album form, including rare albums by Bullmoose Jackson, Annie Laurie, April Stevens, Lattie Moore, [Hank] Penny, the Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Newman, H-Bomb Ferguson, Sticks McGhee and John Lee Hooker.”

One track that enjoyed a second lease on life via Audio Lab was the first (non-45) album appearance of a song that would become a part of the American cultural fabric years later when used as a recurring skit on TV’s “Hee Haw” – link to related Zero to 180 history piece.  As Both Sides Now observes, “The original version of [‘Pfft! You Were Gone‘] made its first (only?) LP appearance on [the Kentucky Colonel] Audio Lab album” (Bear Family’s 20-track CD compilation from 1984 Hangover Boogie doesn’t count).

Another great example of King material previously not available on LP —

1962 Audio Lab LP attributed to Moon Mullican entitled Instrumentals (that also, oddly, includes two tracks by Hank Penny and one song each by Mel Cox & Cowboy Copas).

All of these instrumentals are fairly obscure, especially the 1947 Cowboy Copas B-side “Jamboree” that got much better buzz in Billboard ‘s Dec. 13, 1947 edition compared to its A-side “I’m Tired of Playing Santa Claus to You”:  “Plenty of good hill country guitar and fiddle in an instrumental potpourri of folk melodies” [streaming audio for “Jamboree” not yet available on YouTube, unfortunately].

Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s early 1954 Los Angeles sessions for Federal and King – including “Mambo Mexicana” – would be reissued five years later on an Audio Lab LP entitled Big Band Modern, a reminder of the mambo mania that had gripped the nation at the time this song (today’s featured track) was released:

“Mambo Mexicano”     Gerald Wilson Orchestra     1954

Based on available discographical information, these 1954 recordings would appear to be among the earliest in a career that would span well into the new century, as NPR’s 2011 piece “The Gerald Wilson Orchestra:  A Living Legacy” affirms (Wilson, as it turns out, is one of many famous jazz musicians who “did time” in Earl Bostic’s band — in this case, one of four trumpeters who played on a December 4, 1958 Los Angeles recording session (six tracks, including “My Reverie” and “All the Things You Are“).

Today’s featured artist:  Gerald Wilson & HIs Orchestra

Kicking off our rogue’s gallery of Classic Audio Lab LP Covers is this modernist gem:

Grammar maven in me cannot allow disparity in song titles below go unremarked:

For more info on Audio Lab

Link to Audio Lab Discography c/o Discogs

Link to Audio Lab EPs Discography c/o 45Cat

Link to Audio Lab Album Discography c/o Both Sides Now

Link to auction prices of Audio Lab LPs & EPs c/o Popsike

Calvin Shields – Musical Pioneer

Hard to believe it was only 20 years or so ago I was having cheese coneys with The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s preeminent music writer Larry Nager and asking what it would take for the city to finally “own up” to its King Records history.  Last week, to my utter delight and amazement, the City of Cincinnati, under Mayor John Cranley’s leadership and with the support of City Council, leveraged the power of the state on behalf of music history — so now Zero to 180 will have to find something else to complain about.

Thanks to a $1 land swap deal, there will be no wrecking ball for the original structure used by Syd Nathan and his talented team to birth a musical enterprise that enabled King the ability to ship out in the morning a piece of music that had been recorded the evening before.  As Brian Powers point out in his King Records Scrapbook, no other label – including almighty Columbia – had the nimbleness to operate in this capacity.

Photo courtesy of Brian Powers

Unique among fellow King chroniclers and researchers, Powers organizes his King Records Scrapbook categorically — The Executives; A&R Men; Sound Engineers; Session Musicians; Recording Artists — rather than chronologically, while throwing in  fun tidbits, such as a King Records Timeline of historical highlights plus street addresses of selected King artists and executives, including Syd Nathan (who once lived in Bond Hill an easy walk from the home of drummer, Reg Grizzard, and about a mile and a half from my boyhood home in Roselawn, as the crow flies).

Rob Finnis, in his extensive liner notes for Ace UK anthology King Rockabilly, reveals some of the audio engineering aspects behind King’s legendary sound (e.g., “Fever” by Little Willie John):

The live, upfront studio sound attained by engineer Eddie Smith had the bass and drums leaping out of the speakers with maximum impact.  [Charlie] Feathers wasn’t the only beneficiary [“Bottle to the Baby“].  This sharp, larger-than-life ambience characterizes several other titles on this compact disc including “Move” [Boyd Bennett], “Peg Pants” [Bill Beach], “No Good Robin Hood” [Delbert Barker], and “Rock n’ Roll Nursery Rhyme” [Dave Dudley].  “That old King studio had a terrific sound,” explained Henry Glover.  “It had a very high ceiling, maybe 24 feet, and the control room protruded into the studio in a V-shape like the bridge of a ship so the engineer could see in front and to the side of him.  I sent for an engineer by the name of Eddie Smith who was a very good technical man.  He stayed with King for about 12 years and later worked over at Bell Sound in New York.

Everything was done at one time, there was no multi-tracking; you would continue making cuts until you got every instrument, every voice, on the 1/4 inch tape and that was considered your final mix.  In those days, we were even thinking of frequencies and emphasis on various instruments.  Out of the regular upright bass, we got a sound just like today’s electric Fender bass by close-miking it with a microphone called the 44BX and surrounding it with live-surfaced acoustic isolation panels.  The drum sound in those days was generally gotten by releasing the drum snares completely and you’d put a heavy object like the drummer’s wallet – or Syd Nathan’s wallet – on the snare and the really hard-driving backbeat stroke was actually a rimshot.

Glover would be even more emphatic in his praise for King as a facility with great sound in this passage from Arnold Shaw‘s classic roots rock historical critique, Honkers and Shouters (which includes a chapter devoted to King Records entitled “Record Company in an Icehouse”):

Shortly after he joined King Records, Glover moved to Cincinnati “because Syd Nathan had built one of the finest recording studios in the country and staffed it with Eddie Smith, a former musician who was a brilliant engineer.”

Calvin Shields behind the kit [photo courtesy Brian Powers]

Last year, on the eve of the city’s Historic Commission vote to consider the request for demolition, The Cincinnati Enquirer would subtitle Sharon Coolidge’s feature story on King in the Sunday edition, “Fight to Preserve the Legacy of King Records and Founder Syd Nathan at Crossroads” and include quotes from Patti Collins (Bootsy Collins Foundation), Elliott Ruther (Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation), Jon Hartley Fox (author of ‘King of the Queen City’), L.A. Reid (who actually grew up in Evanston), Otis Williams, Mayor John Cranley, former mayor Dwight Tillery, and Anzora Adkins of the Evanston Community Council.

Can you spot the gaffe?

Elliott Ruther, in the Enquirer piece, notes the progressive hiring practices employed by Nathan – in his attempt to extend his song publishing fortunes across the color line – that put King in the forefront of American race relations.  Powers point out that CalvinEagle EyeShields, in his studio work from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, may have been “the first black drummer to record country music.”

CALVIN ‘EAGLE EYE’ SHIELDS – 1950
[PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN POWERS]

Quotes from Henry Glover & Calvin ‘Eagle Eye’ Shields
[special thanks to Brian Powers*]

“I started using drums for the first time for country music with Moon Mullican.  He fell in love with a black drummer that I had been using on several dates around Cincinnati called Calvin Shields.  He was better known as ‘Eagle Eye.’  He was very, very friendly and dear to Moon Mullican.  He played on many of his sessions, and many of the other country & western records when they began to use drums, which they didn’t do when I first came to King.  [With] Moon Mullican, I would use a heavy backbeat that this drummer called Eagle Eye, that came there with Tiny Bradshaw a few years back and made Cincinnati his home, he was ideal for that, the backbeat.” – Henry Glover

“Moon had such a great soul.  He was just like a black man to me, you know, like he thought, felt, and expressed himself and everything else.  Like we would say he had a whole lot of soul, Moon did.” – Henry Glover

“Drums were a must for Moon.  Moon wanted drums.  And he fell madly in love with this drummer called Calvin Shields that we called Eagle Eye.” – Henry Glover

“Moon Mullican was the first to use a black band at King.  In just about every case, we had a black bass or maybe a black drummer with Moon in order to get the rhythm because Moon played like a black man and he even thought like a black man – in fact, I sometimes had my ideas about whether he was black or not!  He was the very first white man, I believe, that caught my eye as being not filled with bigotry or hatred … he found himself as comfortable among blacks as he did among whites.  And it’s a very funny thing – both races in those days were displaying standoff-ish attitudes — not Moon.  Moon would make most of the black clubs in the worst parts of town and all of his friends during the course of his stay would be black people.  He’d play in black clubs and they would give him a standing ovation.  It was very rare.” – Henry Glover

“Glover introduced us. I walked in and all those white cats sitting around wondering,  ‘Hey, he’s got a black man playing his music.’  So I don’t say nothing to them and they don’t say nothing to me.  So we played and that’s when I fell in love with him because it swung.  So Moon says ‘This is my drummer,’ so when he went to buy some whiskey for the group, he bought a bottle for them and a bottle of whisky for me and him.  He said, ‘Man, I want you to take me over to the Cotton Club,’ and I took him.  Tiny Bradshaw invited him up and he played nothing but Duke Ellington music.“ – Eagle Eye Shields

“When a cat becomes a studio musician, he’s a musician who plays anything they bring in front of him to play.  When I played with Moon Mullican, I enjoyed it.  When I played that Country music, I learned to swing with that Country-Western cause I got into their mood and into their groove.  When I got ready to play Rhythm & Blues, I got into their groove.  When I play dance music, legit music, I get in to a legit feel cause I am a musician.  I didn’t become a superstar.  My thing was to be good, in order to be in demand, to be sought after.” Eagle Eye Shields

[Moon had a number of hits in 1950 produced by Henry Glover including “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” “Mona Lisa” & “Goodnight Irene”; Mullican accepted the invitation to join in the Grand Ole Opry that year.]  “Then Moon said, ‘I want to take you on the Grand Ole Opry with me, man.’  I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go on that.’  He asked me if I would travel with him.  I told him if I’ll be out there in them towns, them junctions, you might not be around and they’ll done grab me and lynch me.’  But now I wish I had because, if I had got out with Moon, I might have made a name for myself.  I might have ended up with the big one – Willie Nelson.” – Eagle Eye Shields

Moon Mullican & Henry Glover

Shields, who took not only his father’s name but nickname as well, came to King through his membership in Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra.  Eagle Eye would conduct his session work for King in between performances with Bradshaw in town at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club and on the road in New York City.  Shields would subsequently serve as drummer for the Billy Williams Quartet (1957-1961), Della Reese (1967-1973) and music director/drummer for Redd Foxx (1978-1984).

Calvin Shields with Paul Bryant (organ) & Norris Patterson (sax) – 1962 in NV

Photo courtesy of UNLV Libraries Digital Collections

The index in King Labels:  A Discography, edited by Michel Ruppli (with assistance from Bill Daniels) helpfully identifies sessions where Calvin Shields served as the drummer, thus allowing Zero to 180 to compile a special list of suggested recordings — all of them captured on tape in Cincinnati (except Willis Jackson – NYC):

           Parlophone = Home of The Beatles                            French 10-inch LP

  King EP – US                                                          French EP

Abstract expressionist cover art for 1952 French LP

Furthermore, Eagle Eye is believed – as best as Brian Powers can determine – to have played on Moon Mullican‘s version of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Well Oh Well” [recorded July 3, 1950] and the classic “Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena)” [December 8, 1950], written by Moon with Chief William Redbird, plus Hawkshaw Hawkins‘ version of Tennessee Ernie’s “Shotgun Boogie” [January, 1951] and Al Dexter‘s “Hi De Ho Boogie on a Saturday Night” [May 19, 1950] — all recorded at King’s Cincinnati studio.  Documentation from King’s early years, unfortunately, is often scant.

Shields would also keep time on an enchanting Latin-flavored instrumentalé tropicalé whose musical hook is a gloriously deep bass blast of the horn (B-flat):

“Ocean Liner (Bossa Nova)”     Bill Doggett     1959/1963

Ocean Liner” – penned by Henry Glover and Bill Doggett – would originally be released in 1959 but then “rebranded” in 1963 as “Ocean Liner Bossa Nova,” just in time to exploit the runaway success of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba LP (only jazz album ever to top Billboard’s pop chart) of 1962

   *                                                 *                                                 *

Calvin ShieldsInspiration for Mack Rice’sMustang Sally“?

According to Douglas Green Associates:

Mack Rice wrote “Mustang Sally” following a visit to his friend, singer Della Reese in New York City.  Reese had off-handedly mentioned that she planned to buy her drummer a Lincoln for his birthday.  Calvin Shields, the drummer, appreciated the thought but reportedly replied, “I don’t want a Lincoln, I want a Mustang.”  Shields’ response confused Rice.  He could not understand why anyone would want the small Mustang instead of the bigger and more powerful Lincoln.  After returning to Detroit, Rice began work on a song titled “Mustang Mama.”  A serendipitous visit to Aretha Franklin’s house led to the name change to “Mustang Sally.”  Franklin believed that “Mustang Sally” fit better with the music. And so the song was born.

Obituary from the Las Vegas Review-Journal + personal remembrances

*Henry Glover quotes are from an 1980s interview with the Country Music Hall of Fame *Calvin Shields quotes are from an interview conducted by Brian Powers in 2009.

**Willis “Gatortail” Jackson played a pivotal role in Jamaican music history when spies working for Duke Reid identified the source of Coxsone Dodd’s theme song (i.e., “Coxsone’s Hop”) that cemented Downbeat‘s status as the superior sound system in Kingston:  “Later for the Gatorby Willis Jackson [1958 – sounds not a little unlike ska].  In those pre-Internet days, operators of competing mobile sound systems would use American 45s with the labels scratched off as proprietary source material.  Duke Reid’s discovery of Coxsone’s source material would prompt Dodd into creating an original Jamaican sound in 1962 – ska – in time for the birth of JA’s independence.  Much more direct evidence of the Cincinnati-Kingston connection can be found here and here

<Note:   For optimal presentation, avoid viewing this website on a smartphone>

King’s “Tequila” Knock-Off

King Records would try to cash-in on the success of “Tequila” by The Champs, as Johnnie Pate‘s 1958 Federal 45 “Muskeeta” would demonstrate:

Johnnie Pate’s     “Muskeeta”     1958

Johnnie Pate (b, ldr); Ronald Wilson (fl); Williams Wallace (p); Wilbur Wynne (g); Donald Clark (d).

Chicago, March 20, 1958

Cash Box‘s April 19, 1958 review acknowledged the structural similarities, though not in a bad way necessarily:

Pate sets his flute to a “Tequila”-like backdrop and hands in an exciting side.  At mid point a voice belts out the word “Muskeeta.”  Good mambo rock ‘n roll.

According to Armin Büttner‘s Johnnie Pate history website, the version of “Muskeeta” on the French EP (below) is exactly the same as the version on King LP 584, but for a tenor sax probably overdubbed by Ronald Wilson himself.  It is not yet known, which version of “Muskeeta” is on Federal 45-12325.

Johnnie Pate - Muskeeta - French EPThis would not be the first time King Records would attempt to mine this particular vein, as Zero to 180’s lengthy examination of “Rare & Unissued King Tracks” revealed another 45 released that same year, “Snake Charmer” by The Puddle Jumpers that attempted to ride the coattails of “Tequila” and its unexpected meteoric ride.

Billboard‘s April 21, 1958 edition reports that “Muskeeta” made the #5 spot of “R&B Best Sellers” that week in the Cincinnati area.  Song would be included on 1958 full-length release Swingin’ Flute Dance Beat for the Ivy League.

“Tacos & Grits”: Jazz Trombone

Zero to 180 kicks off its musical salute to grits with an obvious winner of an instrumental, “Tacos and Grits” by Al Grey:

“Tacos and Grits”     Al Grey     1963

The first featured song in Zero to 180’s music & grits series — launching on the heels of Saturday’s big Max Fleischer event at the AFI — happens to be represented on YouTube  by exactly one audio clip, one that is illustrated (for mystifying reasons) by a still image of Betty Boop.

Trombone:  Al Grey
Piano:  John Young
Guitar:  Leo Blevins
Bass:  Ike Isaacs
Drums:  Phil Thomas
Engineer:  Ron Malo
Supervisor:  Esmond Edwards
Liner Notes:  Holmes (Daddy-O) Daylie

A single clause would speak volumes:  “Recorded December 17, 1963” – as it says on the cover of Al Grey’s Boss Bone album.  One day.   Just like Stones Jazz by Joe Pass.  Even the debut album by The Beatles would require a handful of recording sessions.  Recording for the Boss Bone album would take place at Ter Mar studios – i.e., Chess.

Al Grey 45-b“Tacos and Grits” would be released on Chess subsidiary, Argo, in 1964 — did it chart?  Rest assured, Al Grey did register his copyright for “Tacos and Grits” in 1964.

Fish tacos and grits

Tacos & GritsGood news!  “Taco and Grits” would be used as background music to accompany Mr. Fine Wine’s DJ patter on WFMU’s Downtown Soulville radio show on July 11, 2014.

When Pelé Tried His Hand at Pop

Thanks to my neighbor Stan, who graciously lent me a documentary, Once in a Lifetime, about the New York Cosmos and the groundbreaking-though-ill-fated North American Soccer League.  While last weekend’s recent record snowstorm raged, I was riveted to the screen, grateful to have power — and incredulous that the most prominent 1970s American soccer franchise (who once fielded such international icons as Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer) was founded by executives from a major record label!

New York Cosmos DocumentaryThe New York Cosmos is a modern fairy tale, whose humble origins would include players dodging the broken glass on the team’s first playing field at Randall’s Island.  The first seismic shift in this Cinderella story occurs when Warner Communications CEO Steve Ross risks major shareholder ire by signing Brazil’s national hero, Pelé, for $5 million.   Pelé would play three seasons for the Cosmos from 1975-77 and finish out his professional career with an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Brazil’s Santos (where he began his career) in which he played, fascinatingly enough, for both teams.

Pelé, who is often ranked as the world’s finest footballer, would enter the realm of popular music the same year he officially hung up his jersey.  1977 would see Pelé join forces with renowned Brazilian bandleader, Sergio Mendes (who would headline 2012’s Silver Spring Jazz Festival) on a 45 released by Warner-distributed Atlantic Records.

Pelé 45Now you might be wondering why a music blog that’s devoted to boosting the legacies of under-recognized artists would profile someone who’s a household name the world over.  Excellent question, by the way.  And here’s the answer:  you can find a handful of YouTube audio clips for “Meu Mundo É Uma Bola” — and yet only a tiny percentage of the planet’s population have viewed/listened to them (i.e., 12,000+ currently)   How likely is it that the low numbers on YouTube can be explained by millions of Pelé fans preferring instead to listen to their original 45?  Not very.  Yet another musical mystery that vexes.

“Meu Mundo É Uma Bola” (i.e., “My World Is a Ball”)    Pelé     1977

I can only presume that the world’s greatest soccer star ended up not hitting the sales targets established by executives at Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, as Pelé’s musical career is a surprisingly and brutally short one.

The documentary makes excellent use of popular music to tell the story, one of the most inspired decisions being the use of Sparks‘ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” to underscore the tension incurred when Steve Ross, in a naked attempt to boost attendance and add even more marquee power to the Cosmos, signs Giorgio Chinaglia, whose flamboyant playing style and outsized ego are in stark contrast to Pelé’s humble and team-oriented approach.  How amusing to discover that Chinalgia would release his one and only 45 – “I’m Football Crazy” – three years before Pele’s lone single for Atlantic.  Would you be infuriated to know that Chinaglia’s single has considerably more views on YouTube?

Giorgia Chinaglia 45Sports rockers might particularly enjoy Football45’s passel of picture sleeves that feature other famous footballers who once enjoyed a dalliance with pop music.

Hey Stan, I hope you don’t mind that I hang onto this documentary a little while longer — these Bonus Features aren’t going to watch themselves.

Bossa Country -or- Honky Nova?

On my one and only visit to Northampton, Massachusetts (NRBQ’s 35th anniversary show in 2004), I ducked into a second-hand vinyl shop and came away with a K-Tel country collection from 1976:  Country Superstars – 20 Greatest Hits.

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-frontThis collection of early-to-mid 70s hits includes 1976 dieselbilly hit “Roll On Big Mama” by Joe Stampley, plus Johnny Cash’s “A Thing Called Love” (1971), Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” (1973), Hank Snow’s “Hello Love” (1974) and Dotty [sic] West’s “Country Sunshine” (1974), among others.

Track listing

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-track listingLost to the winds of time, unfortunately, is the institutional knowledge at Canada’s K-Tel corporation as to who made the curious decision to include a “country bossa nova” song from 1964 – Skeeter Davis‘s charming kiss-off “Gonna Get Along Without You Now“:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     ‘K-Tel version’

But wait:  as it turns out, Skeeter Davis’s version would hit two times, the second time being 1971 (thanks, Wikipedia), hence its inclusion on a K-Tel 1970s country compilation.  The version above – it just dawned on me – is a ‘new’ arrangement from 1971.  The original release from 1964 below sounds markedly different:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     1964

Could this be the first county pop number to take commercial advantage of the fresh bossa nova sounds that were sweeping popular music in the early-to-mid 1960s?

US 45                                                          UK release

Skeeter Davis 45-aSkeeter Davis 45-b

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now” was written by Milton Kellem in 1951 and has been covered in a wide variety of styles to date – more recently, Zooey Deschanel & Matt Ward (as She and Him) in 2010.   Kellem’s name would be associated with a number of 45s, from the 50s & 60s, including a King B-side for Bubber Johnson, ’59’s “House of Love.”

Rufus Harley’s “Scotch ‘n’ Soul”

Rufus Harley‘s sole 45, “Bagpipe Blues” on Atlantic Records – an original amalgamation of Scottish highland and African-American musical traditions from 1965 – was undoubtedly the first of its kind.  The title track of Harley’s second Atlantic album – “Scotch and Soul” – would find a way to incorporate Afro-Cuban jazz into the mix, as well:

“Scotch and Soul”      Rufus Harley    1966

Harley would release four albums for Atlantic between 1965-1970 — plus one track (“Pipin’ the Blues”) on Sonny Stitt’s 1967 Deuces Wild album on Atlantic.  Harley’s 1972 release, Re-Creation of the Gods on the Ankh label, would be his last for awhile.

Rufus Harley would re-emerge in 1982 to play the bagpipes on one track (“Sweater”) from Laurie Anderson’s 1982 debut “avant-pop” album, Big Science.  In 1994 The Roots would also feature Rufus Harley’s bagpipes on one of their earlier efforts, From the Ground Up., as well as the following year’s Do You Want More?!!!??!

In 2005 Harley would take the helm on his French-only CD release, Sustain.   Sadly, Harley would pass the following year – click on link to his New York Times obituary.  Hip Wax also has this affectionate tribute to the world’s only jazz bagpipist.

Rufus Harley and Friends In New York City

Rufus Harley & Co.Rufus Harley was also a special guest on 1967 Herbie Mann LP, The Wailing Dervishes, on the track, “Flute Bag.”

Herbie Mann with Rufus Harley LPThis Date in History:  March 22, 1965 = Rufus Harley’s appearance on To Tell the Truth.

Felix & His (Cash-in) Guitar

“Cerveza” by Boots Brown (see previous post about rock/pop’s Latin roots) was only one of the more obvious attempts to cash in on the runaway success of “Tequila” by The Champs in 1958.  “Chili Beans” by Felix & His Guitar also does a great job of appropriating that familiar riff while at the same time adding a melodic counterpart that might possibly have kept the legal wolves at bay:

“Chili Beans” b/w “puerto rican riot”     Felix & His Guitar     1958

Felix & His Guitar (backed by The Hot Peppers) released one other recording in 1958, “Two Tacos” b/w “Summer Love” — and then nothing more.

Two Tacos 45

“Ticklish Mambo”: Hilarity Ensues

A song title (“Ticklish Ghetto”) from my big tribute to pioneering producer, Sonia Pottinger, inspired me to identify all other popular songs in which “ticklish” is part of the title.

Ticklish Mambo” – surprisingly or not – is one of the few 45 releases with a ticklish title:

“Ticklish Mambo”     René Touzet     1957

“Ticklish Mambo” served as the B-side to “Manhattan” – released March, 1957 on GNP.

Ticklish Mambo 45Cuban-born bandleader, René Touzet, moved to the United States in 1944 after a hurricane destroyed his Havana club.  Touzet worked with Desi Arnaz, Xavier Cugat & Stan Kenton (famed for his ‘Wall of Sound‘) before leading his own orchestra beginning in the mid-50s.  Touzet’s would record ten albums for GNP, with 1956’s “El Loco Cha Cha Cha” – the song that inspired Richard Berry to write “Louie Louie” – a career highlight.