“Rise”: The Spirit of Sahm

It was hard not to get swept up in Ed Ward‘s enthusiasm in his October 1, 1970 Rolling Stone review of an up-and-coming Texan band (by way of Prunedale, California) that had been “discovered” and mentored by Doug Sahm.  The band’s debut, a masterpiece in Ward’s estimation, had been released on almighty Columbia imprint, Epic, and described as a curious collision of sounds — “Creedence meets The Byrds” (as others have since quipped), with horns, steel guitar, fiddles and a healthy amount of Tex-Mex thrown in — but in a unified and cohesive way, Ward assures us.

I was reminded of Ward’s original review when I read James ‘Bigboy’ Medlin’s tribute to the Texas Tornado himself – Doug Sahm – in this year’s ‘Southern Music Issue’ of the Oxford American, so imagine my complete disbelief when I switched on the Internet to learn more these renegade rockers … only to discover not a single trace of their existence!  Unfathomable.  How could this be?  Even trusty ol’ Discogs.com was bereft of any info about the one and only long-playing release by “Love and the Lovers,” as they are clearly named in the review (as well as the index of The Rolling Stone Record Review, where Ward’s piece had been reprinted).

As it turns out, heh heh, it was just a typo.  If you type the phrase “Louie and the Lovers,” a veritable floodgate of information spews forth.  At the top of the list, interestingly enough, is Ed Ward’s piece for National Public Radio about the 2009 release of the band’s complete recordings by pioneering reissue label, Bear Family, of Germany.  How fascinating to learn from Ward’s NPR piece that, after the band’s experience with Epic, Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler (at Doug Sahm’s urging) would pick up the baton.  At great expense, Wexler would fly Louie and the Lovers in his private jet – their first ever plane trip – for recording sessions in Miami, as well as Hollywood, only to release one single and then shelve a (“long-rumored”) second album that had been planned for release.

Title track “Rise” would lead off their debut Epic album on which the band would be backed by Doug Sahm’s band, The Honky Blues Band:

“Rise”     Louie and the Lovers     1970

Not to be confused with Little Louie and the Lovers, who would release one single in 1962 before vanishing.

Even with major label backing and support from A-level musicians during the Miami recordings sessions – Dr. John, Joe Lala, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Flaco Jimenez – as Ward notes in “The Slow ‘Rise’ of a Lost Treasure,” the band’s recordings would fail to make a dent in the marketplace, a situation undoubtedly exacerbated by their decision not to tour.  Over time, however, the music’s reputation would grow — to the point that Sony UK, in 2003, would reissue the band’s debut on compact disc, followed by Bear Family’s decision six years later to release the band’s entire 27-song output.

Louie & Lovers 45

“Hitchcock Railway”: Train Line of Liberation

Hitchcock Railway” – the A-side of a 1968 RCA single by José Feliciano released here and abroad – made the Top 100 here in the US (#77) and Top 40 in Australia (#24):

Musical Personnel

Jose Feliciano – vocals & guitar

Ray Brown – string bass

Jim Gordon – drums

Jim Horn – flute improvisations & recorder

Mike Melvoin – organ & horn arrangements

Milt Holland – percussion (elsewhere on album)

Arranged by Al Capps

Hitchcock Railway 45“Hitchcock Railway” kicks off side two of 1968’s, Souled — an album that hit #24 on the pop album chart, as well as #4 R&B chart, #34 Soul Album chart, and #5 on Canada’s pop chart.  As with Porter Wagoner, RCA would go on to release multiple albums per year by José Feliciano during the peak of his popularity —

                                       Staggering Output:  An RCA Thing

                                                  Year          # of albums
                                                  1965          1
                                                  1966          2
                                                  1967          3
                                                  1968          3
                                                  1969          4
                                                  1970          2
                                                  1971          4
                                                  1972          3
                                                  1973          2
                                                  1974          2

“Spanish Grease”: El Chicano Expands into Italy & UK

El Chicano – a Los Angeles band who created what they termed, “the brown sound” – hit the US top 40 in 1970 with the Latin jazz funk instrumental, “Viva Tirado” on the Kapp label.

et.0501.arvizu.01

Kapp – an indie label started in 1954 by David Kapp, brother of American Decca label founder, Jack Kapp – had been sold at the end of 1967 to MCA in “a new surge to be a major record complex.”  El Chicano’s 1970 debut album, Viva Tirado, therefore enjoyed international distribution in Canada, Germany and France.  Their second album, Revolución – which includes the track, “Spanish Grease” – saw the group expand into Italy and the UK … but at Canada and Germany’s expense:

“Spanish Grease”     El Chicano     1971

“Spanish Grease” is a cover of Willie Bobo’s first hit, co-written with trumpeter/arranger, Melvin Lastie.

hp photosmart 720

’20 Heavy Hits’: If For No Other Reason, the Album Cover

Not too long ago I picked up 20 Heavy Hits, a bubblegum-leaning collection of radio hits from 1968 that appears to be the predecessor to Crystal Corporation’s, 20 Solid Gold Hits.  Even though it was only a buck, I almost didn’t get it since I already had most of the tunes on other albums.  But in the end, it was the cover – specifically, the sumptuous Victorian-era elevator – that convinced me:20 Heavy Hits

In the end, I’m glad I picked up this collection, if for no other reason than to hear Ricardo Ray‘s hip Latin take on Shirley Ellis‘ 1963 top 10 hit, “Nitty Gritty“:

“Nitty Gritty”     Ricardo Ray     1968

This song is the lead-off track from The Ricardo Ray Orchestra’s 1968 album of the same name, released on Alegre, an imprint of Roulette.

Pop & Rock’s Latin Roots: “Cerveza”

The Drifters’ original 1961 version of “Sweet for My Sweets” has a distinct Latin feel – which brings to mind a piece of writing by Dave Marsh that I found to be illuminating some years ago, still do.

In his 1984 article for The Boston Phoenix – “Rock and Roll’s Latin Tinge” – Marsh recounts how, in his frustration over failed attempts to convince a colleague that Latin forms were, indeed, a significant factor in the evolution and development of rock and roll, he compiled (with the help of John Storm RobertsThe Latin Tinge) this somewhat detailed list of rock & roll’s Latin roots and influences:

  • Bo Diddley’s beat (derived from the mambo);
  • Professor Longhair’s piano rhythms, which extend to New Orleans pianists from Fats Domino to Allen Toussaint;
  • Chuck Willis’ “C.C. Rider” & Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” (both grounded in the rhumba);
  • The Drifters and their use of the Brazilian baiao rhythm;
  • Ritchie Valens (whose big hit, “La Bamba” was a Mexican folk song);
  • “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, a band of Chicano migrant workers;
  • “Land of 1000 Dances,” both because Chris Kenner was a Longhair disciple and because Cannibal & the Headhunters, who did the best version of the song, were Chicanos from East LA;
  • Surf music, whose entire guitar style, the raison d’etre of the form, can be said to derive from “Malaguena” and similar Mexican-American standards;
  • The Premiers’ “Farmer John,” an impeccable frat-rocker written and performed by another East LA band;
  • Such doowop groups as The Teenagers and Harptones, all of which had key Latin members;
  • The Sir Douglas Quintet and the rest of the Tex-Mex bands;
  • The boogaloo (based on the Latin bugalu, which was popularized in 1966 by Joe Cuba’s instrumental version of “Bang Bang”);
  • Santana (Woodstock’s breakout stars who famously fused rock and Latin American music);
  • War’s low-rider rock and its trickle-down effect on Stevie Wonder’s midseventies records;
  • The slick psychedelicized salsa of Earth, Wind & Fire during their “Serpentine Fire” period;
  • And finally the disco movement, which continues to adapt Caribbean rhythmic accents and arrangements.

In 1958 one Latin-flavored instrumental went to the top of the pop and R&B charts – “Tequila” by The Champs.  What a long and healthy life that song has lived, as indicated by the number of cover versions on Wikipedia (e.g., George Benson having recently visited the tune on 2011’s Guitar Man).   Of course, there were near-covers, as well, such as “Cerveza” by trumpeter Shorty Rogers using the alias, Boots Brown.

“Cerveza”     Boots Brown & His Blockbusters     1958

The Accidental Hit

“Tequila” was written by Dan Flores (the one who also played the “dirty” sax solo), but because he was already under contract with another label, the songwriting credit is attributed to alter ego, Chuck Rio.  “Tequila,” however was originally a fun jam song that was recorded impromptu at the end of a recording session at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studios for Dave Burgess (a rockabilly artist under contract to Gene Autry’s Challenge label) by his backing musicians.  The song was originally the B-side to Dave Burgess’ “Train to Nowhere” – a single that was (ironically, perhaps) not going anywhere until DJs began playing the flip side, thus making “Tequila” the first pop instrumental to hit number 1 on the Billboard charts (and, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, “the first instrumental group to go to the top spot with its first release”).  What’s funny is that “The Champs” didn’t exist until this song unexpectedly blew up large, at which point one had to be created in order to tour off the success of that song’s sales.Latin-America