Mama = Honky Tonk Woman

Just when you thought the “Honky Tonk Woman” carcass had been picked completely clean, one more interesting thing would somehow turn up — this moving and quaintly rocking tale of a British working-class family:

“Mama Was a Honky Tonk Woman”     Hurricane    1973

One-time Rolling Stone percussionist, Carlo Little, would document his experience with Hurricane on his own website:

“The greengrocer venture did not herald the end of Carlo’s musical career.  He joined yet another band at this time:  Hurricane, which was put together by producer Mal Gray, and included pianist Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee, guitarist Dave Wendels, and on bass Stuart Colman.  (Stuart and his wife Janet are Godparents to Carlo’s eldest daughter.  He later had success as a producer and had many hit records with Shakin’ Stevens and others).  Other musicians involved with the band included Dick Middleton and Matthew Fisher.  The band were signed to Decca and recorded an album.

Although their single ‘Mama Was A Honky Tonk Woman‘ had good reviews, they did not manage to achieve further success.”

This bio on bassist Stuart Coman from Black Cat Rockabilly Europe provides additional historical perspective:

“Later that year [1971] Stuart joined Hurricane, a band originally formed by Mal Gray (of the Wild Angels).  As it turned out, Gray only briefly performed with the band, however they proved popular touring on the Northern club circuit.  The other band members were established in British Rock n Roll; Dave Wendells (guitar) and Carlo Little (drums) had both been with Screaming Lord Sutch, while on piano, the incomparable Freddie Fingers Lee added further mayhem.

SC:  “Freddie would take out his glass eye on stage and throw it to me to catch.  Usually I caught it, but one night I missed and his eye disappeared down a hole in the stage.  We had another gig to go on to, but couldn’t go until we’d found Freddie’s eye, so we went under the stage, crawling around with torches and finally found it all covered in cobwebs.  Freddie put it straight back in!”

On arriving at the next gig an hour late, the promoter refused to believe their excuses and smacked Freddie in the face.  SC:  “We did our set, but we didn’t get paid.”  The glamorous lifestyle of a touring rock n roller!  The band released one single, ‘Mama Was A Honky Tonk Woman’/’Shakin’ an’ Breakin’’ (Decca F13435) which failed to make any impression on the charts despite the ‘B’ side being a strong rocker.”

The use of fuzz bass on the catchy singalong chorus makes for a great hook, not to mention the sweet major 7th key change toward the end that kicks the song into one last gear.

Original 45 picture sleeve does fairly well at auction.  Roots Vinyl Guide, curiously, classifies the single as “Neo Rockabilly Teddy Boy.”

belgian picture sleeve                                french picture sleeve

Hurricane 45-aHurricane 45-b

“The Fuzz”: Strictly B-Side

I’m guessing that Grady Martin‘s 1961 B-side “The Fuzz” influenced Les Paul to soup up his 1963 album trackHam ‘N Grits” with a little “fuzz bass”:

“The Fuzz”     Grady Martin     1961

The historical consensus is that Grady Martin himself accidentally invented “fuzz bass” during a 1960 recording session for Marty Robbins — Dave Hunter recounts the incident in Guitar Effects PedalsThe Practical Handbook:

“The Fuzz-Tone connection hints that we need to look further back, and across the pond, for even earlier examples of recorded guitar distortion.  Gibson, and hence their subsidiary brand, Maestro, was given the circuit that became the Fuzz-Tone by studio engineer, Glen Snoddy.  Snoddy, in turn, had devised the transistorized fuzz-generating design to replicate a sound he’d heard while recording Marty Robbins‘ 1960 hit “Don’t Worry,” when a tube preamp in one of the mixer channels had started to fail and yield a distored tone on Grady Martin’s bass solo.  Whoever decided to stick with the track, rather than re-record it through a properly functioning channel, was on to something:  the result was Nashville’s first recorded fuzz guitar (a short-scale Danelectro bass, in fact).  Courtesy of Maestro, Snotty’s fuzz circuit soon made the trendy new sound available to the world.”

Grady Martin 45-aaGrady Martin 45-bbListener Glen G. at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog (who asserts that Martin was playing a 6-string bass on “Don’t Worry”) has compiled a “spectacular country fuzz” listening list, and 1961’s “The Fuzz” is at the front of the pack, chronologically speaking.

“The Fuzz” would enjoy another shot at life when included in 3-disc early ’60s compilation, I Got a Woman:  Gems from the Decca Vaults USA 1960-1961 — a European release.

Decca Box Set 1960-61

“Ham ‘N Grits”: LP Track Only

Check out the opening “fuzz bass” lines on this tasty album selection – “Ham N Grits” – that never got singled out for release on a Les Paul 45:

“Ham ‘n Grits”     Les Paul & Mary Ford     1963

Issued on 1963 Columbia album, Swingin’ South – and nowhere else.  Recorded in early 1963 in Mahwah, NJ, with Les Paul at the helm.  So little has been written about this instrumental, although happy to see that “Ham ‘N Grits” was deemed fit for inclusion in the highly-selective 6-CD box set, Only the Best of Les Paul and Mary Ford.

“Ham ‘N Grits” would enjoy reissue on this two-fer

Les Paul & Mary Ford CDIn 2001, Collectables would pair Swingin’ South with 1961’s Warm and Wonderful album on one CD — available right now for only $7.49 (half of its suggested retail price)..

Ham & Grits with Red-Eye Gravy                       Grits with Tasso Ham

Ham and Grits-a [ham & grits w red-eye gravy]Ham and Grits-b [grits w tasso ham]

 Cheesy Grits with Sauteed Ham & Kale     Ham & Grits at Nashville’s Silver Sands

Ham and Grits-c [cheesy grits w sauteed ham & kale]Ham and Grits-d [ham & grits w butter at Nashville's Silver Sands]

“Ham ‘N Grits” is the 3rd installment in Zero to 180’s musical homage to almighty hominy.

“Sewer Lady”: Musically Unsanitary

Neal Hefti‘s soundtrack to the Batman TV series is top-flight 60s instrumental music – playful and imaginatively-produced.  “Sewer Lady,” from the 1966 album, Batman Theme and 11 Hefti Bat Songs, was inexplicably overlooked by RCA for single release:

“Sewer Lady”     Neal Hefti     1966

RCA Victor would release the “Batman Theme” 45 in late 1965 in the US and in Europe the following year — here’s the 45 picture sleeve for the Netherlands market:

Batman 45 - Netherlands1966 also saw the release of Dickie Goodman’s affectionate sample-laden tribute, “Batman and His Grandmother” (who, at story’s end, gets drafted – reverse spoiler alert).

RCA would later issue “Batman Theme” as a single in the UK and Australia with “Holy Diploma, Batman – Straight A’s!” as the B-side in 1988.

“Sweets for My Sweet”: Unattributed Artist

Imagine browsing through a bunch of old records and finding a cover whose only text was a title – “Bubble Rock is Here to Stay” – and an encircled statement that whimsically declared, “There is no artiste on this album – the songs are the stars.”  Bubble Rock - 1972

Only when you pull the vinyl out of its sleeve does the album actually give an artist attribution:  Jonathan King.   I knew from endless youthful readings of Nicholas Schaffner’s The Beatles Forever that Jonathan King was a “pop-star-turned-pundit” who was one of the lone voices of opposition to the Beatles’ groundbreaking 1966 album, Revolver, dismissing much of it as “pseudo-intellectual rubbish.”  The previous year, King had had a big international hit with “Everybody’s Gone to the Moon.”

With 1972’s Bubble Rock Is Here to Stay, it would appear that King has attempted to recast classic pop & rock tunes in new and fresh settings – as indicated on the liner notes:

The multi-million sellers – as never heard before.  Fabulous old wines in beautiful new bottles!  Would you believe ‘Rock Around the Clock Waltz’?  Would you imagine ‘Twist and Shout’ with a string quartet?  Have you heard ‘It’s My Party’ gay and heavy?  ‘The Wanderer’ rocking with violin and mouth organ?  ‘Have I the Right?’ guitar freakout and ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ rock and roll?  ‘Reflections’ squashed into the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ bass riff?  ‘It’s Over” as a whispered instrumental; ‘Sweets for My Sweets’ – pounding drums, fuzz bass and swinging violins; ‘Rain and Tears’ (the European giant) with organ and mandolin.”

“Sweets for My Sweets” – the album track with the most commercial potential – is a Pomus & Shuman song originally made famous in 1961 by The Drifters:

Sweets for My Sweet

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Sweets for My Sweet” by unattributed artist]

Love the Flub:   Musical Bloopers

Sometimes a mistake left in the mix can lend a refreshing human-ness to the listening experience – as on “Sweets for My Sweet,” where the fuzz bassist flubs the note near the fade out (around the 1:53 mark) but does a decent job of covering his mistake.  Other fun moments of imperfection in pop recording history include –

“I’m Gonna Love You Too” by Buddy Holly & the Crickets:  you can actually hear, er, crickets chirping at the very end of the song (around the 2:09 mark).

“Wendy” by The Beach Boys:  during an instrumental break you can hear someone cough (at the 1:19 mark).

“He’s a Doll” by The Honeys:  you don’t need a music degree to hear the flubbed drum break (at the 1:00 mark) that immediately follows the first chorus – would you be stunned to discover that the culprit is none other than legendary session drummer, Hal Blaine?

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War:  the fluffed note in the keyboard intro (0:02) is so obvious and so easily re-doable – and yet they decided to keep it.  Fascinating.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles:  during the instrumental coda near the end of the song, bassist Paul overshoots the note by two frets (at the 4:23 mark) but disguises the flubbed note in such a way that most probably have no idea it’s there.

“With Your Love” by Jefferson Starship:  toward the end of this upbeat ballad (around the 2:37 mark), bassist Pete Sears defies convention by playing a G against an F Major 7 chord – a “mistake” that I would sorely miss should the band unwisely decide to correct through some sort of digital trickery.