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

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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.”

Tribute to MLK: Eerily Prescient

Wilson Simonal‘s tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., a single that was released – eerily enough – the year before his assassination:

“Tributo a Martin Luther King”     Wilson Simonal de Castro     1967

Tributo a Martin Luther King” was the A-side of a single released in 1967 – around the same time Simonal hosted his own television variety show (where he can be seen singing this musical tribute to Dr. King).

Largely unknown outside of South America, Wilson Simonal – according to Jason Ankeny’s biography in AllMusic – is deemed “a seminal force in the development of Brazilian music” and the Brazilian nation’s “first black superstar,” as well as the inventor of the “pilantregem” sound – a “dynamic fusion of soul, jazz, and samba infused with rhythms inspired by the Latin American boogaloo sound.”

Wilson Simonal EPc

“Baia”: Carol Kaye as Bandleader

One weekend in late March 2009 I was listening to Bob Edwards‘ radio show while on my way to an event and had to pull over to finish listening to the rest of his interview with legendary session bassist, Carol Kaye – who is estimated to have played on more than 10,000 [!] recording dates.  Bob was a total fanboy as he interviewed this pivotal musician who, quite literally, played on all the hits, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

I have since come across a great instrumental – “Baia” – by Carol Kaye (& the Hitmen) in a rather rare turn as bandleader, and I’m stunned to discover that this 1965 recording seems not to have been released on vinyl back in the day:

“Baia”     Carol Kaye & the Hitmen     1965

This 1996 German release appears to be the only commercial access to Carol Kaye in her one-time role as Recording Artist – who, by the way, wrote 4 of the 16 songs assembled here.  Check out the lineup of musicians:

Bass Guitar – Carol Kaye & Rene Hall
Double Bass – Al McKibbon
Drums – Earl Palmer
Flute – Bill Green
French Horn – Dwight Carver
Keyboards – Ray Johnson
Lead & Rhythm Guitar – Carol Kaye
Percussion – Gary Coleman
Saxophone – Jim Horn & Bill Green
Trombone – Lew McCreary & Dick Leith
Vibraphone – Gary Coleman

Producer – Carol Kaye
Arranger – Carol Kaye & H.B. Barnum
Engineer – Bob Ross
Reissue Producer – Bert Gerecht

Notes

Recorded in Hollywood Circa 1965

 *                           *                          *

Carol Kaye on bass

                                 “The Clique” vs. “The Wrecking Crew”

Carol was part of a group of in-demand musicians, who are most commonly known as “The Wrecking Crew,” although Carol strictly insists she and her colleagues referred to each other as “The Clique:

“Sky and Sea”: 5D’s Jazz Vocal Instrumental II

Two years following sunshine pop’s progressive peak, The 5th Dimension would once again explore wordless vocal jazz – “Sky and Sea” from 1972’s Individually and Collectively, their fourth album for Bell:

“Sky and Sea”      The 5th Dimension     1972

This song – arranged by Bob Alcivar (no surprise) with Bones Howe – was written by Brazilian songwriter, pianist, singer, and “a father of the bossa nova,Johnny Alf (who passed in 2010 at the ago of 80) and originally entitled, “Céu e Mar.”

Johnny Alf LP

“Meu Piao”: Disco Nova

In the late 1990s I took a chance on a CD at Marshall’s (from the cheap-o bins they use to keep near the register) by Astrud Gilberto — the 1960s singer who helped popularize bossa nova.  The title of the disc, Gold, was not only misleading but annoying, since these ten songs had already been sequenced (differently) and released in 1977 as an album entitled, That Girl From Ipanema.

Astrud Gilberto LP

The standout track for me is “Meu Piao” – sounds like a club hit from the original disco era, and yet it appears never to have been released as a single:

“Meu Piao”      Astrud Gilberto     1977

I particularly enjoy the elegant disco stylings of the session bass player toward the end of the song.  I find it funny, though slightly maddening, that these extensive musician and production credits for this album list two notable session bassists – Ron Carter and Will Lee –  and yet still fail to name the artist responsible for the nice fretwork on the bass guitar for “Meu Piao”!

Song written by Alfredo Ricardo do Nascimento (a.k.a., Zé Do Norte)

Mason Williams: Music + Comedy + Art

From David Bianculli’s history of the Smothers Brothers’ groundbreaking television variety show, I discovered that Mason Williams was much more than the guy who wrote the million-selling instrumental, “Classical Gas.”   Williams not only recorded albums for Warner Brothers (and Mercury & Vee Jay) but also wrote incisive and edgy sketches for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (as well as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Roger Miller Show, and Saturday Night Live, et al.) and produced a couple clever pieces of conceptual art, most notably an actual-size photograph of a Greyhound bus in 1967.

That same year Williams released The Mason Williams Phonograph Record album with a cover photo that once again explored the intersection of art and Greyhound buses – one of the more intriguing album tracks is a composition in which Williams fuses “baroque” musical elements with a bossa nova backbeat and sunny syllables sung in classic West Coast fashion:

“Baroque-a-Nova”     Mason Williams     1968

Billboard deemed the album a “Special Merit Pick” and posted this review in their March 23, 1968 edition:

TV comedy writer Mason Williams, known for his clever, satiric material on the ‘Smothers Brothers’ show, has put together a wacky and whimsical ode to musical styles, touching on all bases — classical, pop, folk, jazz, and compositions for orchestra.  Williams shows off a pleasant voice and a wealth of talent in “Wanderlove,” “She’s Gone Away” and “Long Time Blues.”

“Baroque-a-Nova” would faithfully serve as the b-side for “Classical Gas” worldwide.

Mason Williams’ Bus Book was a strictly do-it-yourself affair that came packaged thusly:Mason Williams's Bus Book

“South American Getaway”: Sunshine Pop’s Case of the Blahs

This track sounds like a collaboration between Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson – only it isn’t.  Although it wants to be:

Just like The 5th Dimension’s “Dimension 5ive,” this is technically a vocal tune yet one without lyrics.  It also has that sunny Southern California vibe – at first – but by song’s end, I would have to describe the overriding emotion as closer to melancholy.  Sunshine pop contemplating its navel … orange.

I found this Burt Bacharach composition – “South American Getaway” – on the soundtrack to the film, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid – released 1969, roughly the same time period as “Dimension 5ive.”  These two songs together might comprise sunshine pop’s “progressive peak.”   But are there other songs that merit inclusion in such an elite group?