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

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

“Bob”: The Willis Brothers, Not Weird Al

Bob” is the title track of a Willis Brothers album released on the Starday label in 1967:

Bob - Willis Brothers LPThe song is written from the perspective of Bob’s wayward pal, who playfully chides him for choosing the path of domesticity rather than remaining carefree and unencumbered:

“Bob”     The Willis Brothers     1967

“Remember the good ol’ days ’round the ‘Frisco yards, Bob?   For you, they’re gone,” the song taunts.  Bob’s friend, the song’s protagonist, is staying with Bob for a short visit – telling stories of the past, stoking the fires of wanderlust and making Bob’s wife nervous.  But then, in a nice ironic twist, the friend surprises us by informing Bob:

“Just forget all the talk, Bob, about the good ol’ days.  ‘Cause your wife is a little bit scared, Bob, you want to be free.  But you and me both know, Bob, you’re better off than me.  Remember those cold nights out in the ‘Frisco yards, Bob – and the hard cold ground?”

Album produced by Jack Clement, who also wrote “Bob” – along with Vincent Matthews.   Is it really true that “Bob” would serve double duty as both title track and B-side?

Bob - Willis Brothers 45Song title would be commandeered 36 years later by Weird Al for his brilliant Dylan spoof.

Is it too much of a stretch to tag this piece as “Latin Soul” due to the use of mariachi horns throughout the song?

“Adios Aloha”: Honky Tonk Internationale

In 1972 Starday-King released a country compilation LP (on their Nashville imprint) entitled, Almost Persuaded, that was strictly a ladies-only affair:  Rose Maddox, Dolly Parton, Jan Howard, Dottie West, Lois Williams, Betty Amos – and Ruby Wright.  Ruby’s playful little rocker, “Adios Aloha” — written by June Carter & Don Davis — is the standout track for me:  a sly lyric that is supported by unusually (for a Starday release) deep and warm bass tones, as well as exuberant drumming and punchy mariachi horns.

Adios Aloha – Ruby Wright

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Adios Aloha” by Ruby Wright.]Almost Persuaded

As it turns out, “Adios Aloha” is not a Starday recording but rather a song originally released in 1965 on the RIC (Recording Industries Corporation) label as the A-side of a single.  Starday-King must have simply leased the song – along with its flip side, “A Smile on My Lips” – for this 1972 collection of country coquettes.

Ruby Wright

Curiously, though, Ruby does have a bona fide King Records connection:             Between the years 1949 and 1959 Wright was a King recording artist.

Billboard‘s November 14, 1970 edition would reveal Ruby Wright’s Cincinnati connection in its regular report from one of the “music capitals of the world’:

Ruby Wright, widow of Barney Rapp, veteran band leader and talent booker who died of a heart attack here October 14, will continue operation of the Barney Rapp Entertainment Agency, with offices in the Sheraton-Gibson Hotel.  She will be assisted in the venture by her four daughters.  Miss Wright, for many years a featured singer on [local NBC TV] WLW-T here until her retirement a year ago, said last week that she will also continue with the office’s expanding tour business and the producing of the local annual Shrine Circus.

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