Streisand’s “Experimental” LP

Just for fun, find a casual fan of Barbra Streisand‘s music, and study her/his reaction closely when you play a fairly obscure track – “Come Back To Me” – for his/her virgin ears:

“Come Back to Me”     Barbra Streisand     1973

Believe me, Zero to 180 is just as stunned as you are to find Streisand’s name attached to a history piece on “experimental pop” — and yet here we are, thanks to 1973’s Barbra Streisand … And Other Musical Instruments being included (#34) in Mojo’s list of The 50 Most Out There Albums of All Time in their March 2005 issue, alongside such (truly) outre artists as Ennio Morricone, John Coltrane, Holy Modal Rounders, Hawkwind, Funkadelic, Captain Beefheart, and (of course) Sun Ra.

Mojo - 50 Most Out There Albums

Mojo’s Jonny Trunk explains the album’s concept, as a whole —

“The soundtrack to Barbra’s fifth TV special, the plan was to explore – literally (and laterally) – the world of sound and music, as opposed to the world of just Babs again.  This Barbra is on a sonic world trip, and the luggage is piled very high, indeed — percussion from all global villages including darabukas, gagakus, o-daikos and baglamas, as well as Moogs, mellotrons, Studers, Arps, a Putney (!) and a Tempophon.  And don’t forget the bagpipes.  They’re from Ireland.”

“Come Back to Me,” one of the more experimental tracks on the album, finds Streisand, as Trunk playfully puts it, “talking to herself through delay pedals.”

Avant-Streisand:  Experimental Pop – emphasis on Pop

Barbra-Streisand-LP-b

Would you be surprised to learn that Billboard would deem …And Other Musical Instruments to be one of their “Top Album Picks” for the week of November 10, 1973?

“Since this is the soundtrack from her TV special, there are plenty of effects one can only enjoy with all the senses.  But since you can’t see the things going on as Barbra walks through all the visual settings which are at the core of the program, your imagination has to take command.  Nonetheless, her fine tones and majestic power are sheer entertainment.  There are lots of off-beat ideas, like an Indian raga effect on ‘I Got Rhythm’ and sound effects on ‘The World Is a Concerto.’  ‘Glad To Be Unhappy’ is Barbra at her ballad best.  Ken and Mitzi Welch’s arrangements for TV provide an interesting experience on record.”

The commercial response to Barbra Streisand’s most daring work – before and forevermore – can be shown in the album’s Billboard rankings:

  • entered the Pop chart at #146 for the week of November 24, 1973;
  • advanced to #115 the following week, December 1, 1973;
  • climbed to #75 the next week, December 8, 1973;
  • peaked at #64 the week of December 22, 1973;
  • before beginning a downward descent — #132 the week of February 9, 1974;
  • down to #149 the following week, February 16, 1974;
  • hanging on at #191 the week of March 9, 1974 before dropping from the charts.

Ten years later, Billboard‘s Paul Grein would report in his “Chart Beat” column that the TV special, unfortunately, had been “poorly received.”  38 years later, a test pressing of Streisand’s … And Other Musical Instruments LP would fetch $30 at auction in 2011.

Hendrix, Beatles, the Stones … and Streisand:
K-Tel Luminaries

Barbra Streisand – whose considerable commercial heft makes her, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, the world’s best selling female recording artist – would famously relax her “No K-Tel” policy in order to allow “Evergreen” (Theme from A Star Is Born) to appear on 1981 K-Tel release The Elite (US, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and the Netherlands), as well as 1981’s The Platinum Album (UK, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Greece, New Zealand & Australia).

K-Tel's The EliteK-Tel's The Platinum Album

Streisand would also give consent for the inclusion of chart-topping hit “People” (from Funny Girl) on K-Tel Brazil’s Sucessos Nunca Esquecidos, as well as special 2-LP set, Stars for Jerusalem, in partnership with Columbia Special Products, under the auspices of The Jerusalem Foundation.

K-Tel's Sucessos Nunca EsquecidosK-Tel's Stars for Jerusalem

Canadian version of Stars for Jerusalem reveals – Bob Dylan on K-Tel cover!

K-Tel's Stars for Jerusalem- rear cover

Seymour Stein & King Records II

Henry Stone on Seymour Stein of Sire Records:

“When I left King Records about 1956 I guess, Seymour Stein ended up interning there with Syd Nathan.  He was a young kid.  He must be about 10 years younger than me, must be about 75, or 80 by now.

He fell asleep at my birthday party at the table.  He does a great imitation of Syd Nathan, loves to do an imitation of Syd.  I became pretty friendly with him through the years.  When he left King he was editor of Billboard for a while.

[L to R] George & Susan Goldner, Syd Nathan & Seymour SteinSyd Nathan, Seymour Stein & George and Susan Goldner

He penned the charts for Billboard in New York.  I used to go up there and see him all the time.  And then I used to see him a lot when we went to Cannes, France for the music festival.  Every year they have that, they still do.  It’s called MIDEM.  It’s a big deal.  I was going there since the very beginning in the 70s.  I used to go there with my TK Productions.  I was a big man when I used to go there.

I had the biggest independent music company in the world, and they loved discos and dancing in Europe.  I used to hang out with Seymour there and he was just one of those real terrific real record guys.  He found Madonna ya know, and The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and he founded the Sire label, that was his, Sire Records.  I didn’t know him back in the King days.  Syd Nathan and I had already split up.  Syd used to talk about that son of a bitch Henry Stone.  I guess he respected me as a good record guy y’ know.  Seymour Stein’s a real good record guy too.”

Seymour Stein would be the one on the right

Seymour Stein & MadonnaStein’s signings — as noted in the text that accompanies his Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or his (abandoned) acceptance speech for CBGB’s Icon Award) — reveal a keen ear for talent in contemporary rock and pop:   The Flamin’ Groovies, The Saints, The Rezillos, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Radio Birdman, The Dead Boys, The Undertones, The Pretenders, The Replacements, The Smiths, The Royal Crescent Mob, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Cult, Modern English, The English Beat, Madness, KD Lang, Depeche Mode, Aztec Camera, Everything But the Girl, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Barenaked Ladies, and Aphex Twin, along with the aforementioned Ramones, Talking Heads, and Madonna.  Just as Cincinnati’s King Records helped give birth to 50s rock ‘n’ roll, this same scrappy indie label would then go on to play a significant supporting role in shaping modern ‘indie’ rock.

The same year that (future) music mogul Seymour Stein inked the liner notes for a Columbia collection of classic country hits culled from Cincinnati’s King label, Stein also composed text to accompany a corresponding compilation of King rhythm & blues hits that likewise would enjoy release on almighty Columbia’s hallowed red label, as one his earlier Sire Productions:  18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits from 1967.

LP of King R&B HIts remixed for stereo and issued on Columbia

King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits-cover-aCover also available in lemon custardKing Size Rhythm & Blues Hits - french vanilla cover

This album would be reconstituted the following year as Soul Fever: 16 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits and marketed overseas to the UK, Germany, Israel, and India.

Not owning my own copy of 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits means having to make do with a lo-res scan of the back cover provided by Discogs — and employing my image viewer’s magnification tool — in order to make out (just barely) Seymour Stein‘s original liner notes for the original 1967 Columbia LP [with additional info in brackets + streaming audio for all song titles listed]:

The past twenty-five years have seen rhythm-and-blues music emerge from the twelve-bar blues of the early 1940s to the position it now enjoys as the strongest force in contemporary pop music.  One of the main factors in the dynamic growth of rhythm and blues has been the activity of the small, independent record labels in the field.  If one were to go back over the past twenty years and check the number of hits and the hit consistency of the recording companies involved in R&B, then the King Record Company of Cincinnati, under its president-founder Sydney Nathan, would head such a list.

In the 20’s and into the 30’s, rhythm-and-blues music was known around the country as either “sepia blues” or “race” music.  In New York it was referred to as Harlem’s Hit Parade.  “Race” records were produced for consumption in Negro markets in the South and North.  They were rural in style and lacked the polish of today’s records.  Although many great artists recorded during this era — Lonnie Johnson, Bill Broonzy, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Boy Crudup and Peg Leg Howell, for example — almost none of these records reached the pop record buyers.

During the early and middle 1940’s, a number of small independent labels sprang up around the country.  Many of these either issued mostly, or exclusively, rhythm-and-blues recordings.  However, the term R&B had not yet been coined and therefore was still referred to as “race” music or “sepia blues.”

One of the earliest artists to emerge as a top R&B star was Bullmoose Jackson.  A native of Cleveland, Jackson, whose real name is Benjamin, was a member of an early blues group, the Harlem Hotshots.  Bullmoose was discovered by Lucky Millinder, top R&B bandleader, who formed the Buffalo Bearcats to back Bullmoose in his club dates.  It was Millinder who brought Jackson to the attention of King Records.  His rise to fame was phenomenal:  his first five records records all sold in excess of one million, and all reached number-one on the “race” charts.  His biggest hits were “I Love You Yes I Do” [1947], “All My Love Belongs to You” [1948], “I Want a Bowlegged Woman” [1948], “Little Girl Don’t Cry” [1949], “Big Ten Inch Record” [1952] and “I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya” [1955].

One of the earliest blues artists, dating back to the early 1920’s, is Lonnie Johnson.  He was brought out of retirement to record his biggest hit, “Tomorrow Night.”  When the recording was made, Johnson was past seventy.

Wynonie Harris, who had recorded for Aladdin prior to signing with King, enjoyed almost instant success with the label change.  His first release, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” [recorded December 28, 1947 at King Studios], was a remake of the original Roy Brown hit.  It was an immediate smash and reportedly sold in excess of a million copies.  Another million seller for Harris was “Bloodshot Eyes” [1951], a Country and Western song which was a big hit first for one of King’s hillbilly artists [who goes by the name Hank Penny].  This was probably the first time a Country tune had been popularized by an R&B artist, and Nathan recorded it almost twenty years [eleven, by my count] before Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” smash.  Harris’ other hits included “All She Wants To Do Is Rock [1949], “Lovin’ Machine” [1951] and “Good Morning Judge” [1950].

Ivory Joe Hunter, who in the mid-Fifties was a top artist with hits like “Since I Met You Baby” and “A Tear Fell,” was, in the late 1940’s, one of the leading R&B artists.  His biggest hit was “Jealous Heart” [1949], a Country tune written by Jennie Lou Carson and originally recorded by Al Morgan.  Other hits by Hunter include “Guess Who” [1949 – with Russell Procope on alto sax], popularized years later by Jesse Belvin on Victor, “Don’t Fall In Love With Me” [1948 – also with Procope on alto sax (Ruppli)] and “Too Late” [1950]. 

During the late Forties and early Fifties, Earl Bostic clicked with hit after hit.  Biggest of these were “Flamingo” [1951] and “Sleep” [1951], both million sellers, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” [1952] and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” [1951].  Bostic has passed away, but his amazing style is preserved in his many bestselling albums which live on as a legacy to his great talent.

Sonny Thompson, the great soul organist who was later to achieve fame as a record producer, recorded “Long Gone” [1951], one of the all-time R&B instrumental hits.  It is from this melody that the dance the Hucklebuck was derived.

In the early Fifties, vocal groups emerged as the major artists in the R&B field.  Among them were the ‘5’ Royales, the Midnighters and the Dominoes, all King artists.

In addition, thanks to Paul Ackerman, music editor of Billboard, the terms “race” music and “sepia blues” were forever replaced by his term “rhythm and blues” [wait — didn’t Jerry Wexler, former Billboard scribe, coin the phrase?].

Billy Ward, a former spiritual singer, formed The Dominoes from among the best talent available in Detroit.  Ward wrote and arranged most of their hits.  Lead vocalist with the group was Clyde McPhatter, while Jackie Wilson sang bass.  Their biggest hit, the controversial “Sixty Minute Man” [1951], was the biggest R&B record recorded up until that time, and sold in excess of two and one half million records.  Quite naturally, it was voted the number-one record of 1951.  “Sixty Minute Man” was followed by hit after hit, including “Have Mercy Baby” [1952 – with McPhatter], “Do Something For Me” [1950 – also with McPhatter], “The Bells” [1952] and “That’s What You’re Doing to Me” [1952].

One of the ‘5’ Royales‘ big hits on King was “Dedicated to the One I Love” [1957].  The tune, written by group members [actually credited to Lowman Pauling and King executive, Ralph Bass], became a big hit years later in versions by the Shirelles and the Mamas and the Papas.

Far and away the most powerful group in rhythm-and-blues history is The Midnighters.  Their leader, Hank Ballard, is probably one of the most prolific songwriters ever.  Originally, the group was named The Royals, but their name was changed to the Midnighters when King acquired the ‘5Royales.  That was done to avoid confusion.  As the Royals, the group enjoyed three moderately big hits, “Every Beat of My Heart” [1952], recorded years later by Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Moonrise” [1952] and “Get It” [1953].  1954 was certainly memorable for Ballard and the Midnighters, for it was then that they achieved something unprecedented and probably something never to be matched — one of the biggest records in rhythm and blues that year, “Work With Me Annie.”  In 1958 the group recorded a dance tune which did not get much attention until two years later.  It was Ballard’s own composition, “The Twist,” which developed into the biggest dance craze of the past twenty-five years.  No other artist in the field of rhythm and blues has had as many hits or as many million-selling records as Hank Ballard.  Hank’s great hits include “Finger Poppin’ Time” [1960], “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go” [1960], “Kansas City” [1959], “The Hoochi Coochi Coo” [1960], “Continental Walk” [1961], “Coffee Grind” [1960], “In the Doorway Crying” [1957] and many others.

One of the most interesting King discoveries in the Fifties was Otis Williams and the Charms.  The group, all from Cincinnati, were playing softball across the street from the King record factory when Nathan, in need of a group to record a hot tune he had just heard from the West Coast, asked the boys if they would like to audition.  From that invitation resulted the million-selling “Hearts of Stone [1954].  The group followed with hit after hit, including “Ivory Tower [1956], Gum Drop [1955], Ko Ko Mo [1955], Two Hearts [1954], That’s Your Mistake [1956] and “United [1957].

The Platters, who will be remembered as the greatest group to emerge from rhythm and blues, made their disc debut back in 1953.  “Only You (And You Alone) [1955] and “Tell the World” [1954] were their big successes.

Another great success story is that of Little Willie John, who was discovered at the age of seventeen by Nathan.  His first record, “All Around the World [1955], was an immediate best seller.  “Fever” [1956], one of his subsequent records, sold in excess of one million and was voted by Cash Box magazine the number-one record of 1956.  The tune has since been recorded by Peggy Lee and The McCoys.

Bill Doggett organized his first band in 1938, after he had played with Jimmy Gorman’s orchestra.  Although he had already enjoyed a great career, including a stint as arranger and pianist for the original Ink Spots, and also did much work with Lionel Hampton, Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald.  It was not until 1956 that Doggett reached the height of his fame.  His “Honky Tonk” holds a still-standing record* of four-million sales [*although “Stars Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco remains, according to Guinness, “the only instrumental single to reach Platinum status by the Recording Industry Association of America” with sales in excess of two million], the highest of any rhythm-and-blues instrumental, and the record, now more than ten years old, still sells today.

Freddy King is one of the greatest blues artists to be discovered in recent years.  His recording of “Hide Away” in 1961 was one of the biggest instrumental hits that year.

James Brown was discovered by King Records founder Sydney Nathan [Ralph Bass, actually] in Macon, Georgia, and was immediately flown to Cincinnati [via station wagon, one thousand miles from Tampa] to record his first record “Please Please Please” [1956], which was to become a number-one hit, and he hasn’t stopped since.  Brown is one of the most successful performers in the history of R&B.  A list of some of his hits during the past ten years would take more space than is available.  They include “Try Me” [1958], “Lost Someone” [1961], “Bewildered” [1961], “Good Good Lovin’” [1959], “I’ll Go Crazy” [1960] and many more.

In the mid 50’s and early 60’s, Joe Tex recorded “Another Woman’s Man.”  But it was not until “Hold What You’ve Got” in 1964 [for Dial] that Tex achieved the popularity he deserved.

Otis Redding was discovered by Nathan in Georgia and recorded his first session in King’s studios in Macon, Georgia.  One of the sides was “Shout Bamalama.”  Like Tex, Redding achieved fame on another label, Volt, with “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Mr. Pitiful,” for example.  However, both artists were first discovered and recorded by King Records. 

This album commemorates the development of rhythm and blues in the past quarter century.  All eighteen selections here are performed by the original artists who made them famous. 

*                    *                   *

Another Womans Man” – it bears noting – is from Joe Tex‘s first ever recording session, which took place in New York City for King Records in September, 1955:

“Another Woman’s Man”     Joe Tex     1955

Musical personnel (according to Michael Ruppli’s The King Labels:  A Discography):

Vocals:  Joe Tex
Electric Guitar:  Mickey Baker
Piano:  Andy Gibson
Tenor Sax:  Dave Van Dyke
Bass:  Unknown
Drums:  Specs Powell

“Another Woman’s Man”- would be issued by King on LP only:  (a) The Best of Joe Tex from 1965 (its first time on wax!), as well as (b) Rhythm and Blues: 18 All Time King Hits from 1968 (whose running order, curiously, duplicates 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits).

Joe Tex LP-bKing Rhythm & Blues - All Time King Hits-b

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Seed Money for Sire:  Beatlemania

Bob Mehr‘s well-researched Trouble Boys:  The  True Story of The Replacements provides some illuminating details about Seymour Stein’s fascinating roller coaster ride in the record business, as detailed here in this passage about the source of Sire’s seed money:

In high school, Stein spent summers in Cincinnati apprenticing under King Records owner Syd Nathan [1957-58], whose biggest star was James Brown.  Stein eventually would work for King full-time [1961-63], learning every aspect of the business at the company’s one-stop operation.  Back in New York, he became an assistant to record man George Goldner in 1963, then in 1966 broke off with producer-writer Richard Gottehrer.  Their label’s moniker scrambled the first two letters of their first names – SE and RI – to get Sire.

Each put up $10,000 in seed money.  Stein’s funds had come from Beatlemania’s 1964 height, when Capitol Records in Canada sold a selection of Beatles singles not available in the United States.  Stein had spirited a mass of the records out of the country, then offloaded them to US wholesalers, making a small fortune in a week.  “The statute of limitations has passed,” said Stein.  “But that’s where my share of the money came from.”

Seymour Stein would later acknowledge Sire as a tribute to “Syd Nathan and King Records,” as reported by Kevin Stapleford in 1998 for Album Network‘s “120 Influential People As Chosen By a Panel of Their Peers.”  

Q:   Why do these Canadian early Beatles 45s look so peculiar to the american eye?
Beatles 45 Canada-aaBeatles 45 Canada-bb

A:   Capitol US – incredible as it might seem – passed on the Beatles’ first Four 45s!

*

The Beatles on King Records?!

As far-fetched and fantastical as it may sound, had Syd Nathan’s negotiations with EMI’s Len Wood gone the other way, the first four Beatle singles could have all been released on King rather than Tollie (“Love Me Do“), Vee Jay (“Please Please Me” & “From Me to You“), and Swan (“She Loves You“).  As Seymour Stein recounted in a piece that he penned for Cash Box‘s March 15, 1980 edition entitled “Sire Records Expands Through Its Lengthy Involvement With the British Music Scene” —

Moving on from Billboard to King Records, the Cincinnati-based home of James Brown and other R&B greats, I came in contact with Len Wood, then managing director of EMI, King’s UK licensee.  At one meeting, he and Syd Nathan, King’s fiery founder, were heatedly debating King’s attempt to secure an option on all EMI repertoire it it was passed on by Capitol.  Nathan did not succeed, but it was not until several years later that I realized how important this option could have been.

When I heard the Beatles’ first Parlophone record, “Love Me Do,” I was not overly impressed.  Their follow-up, “Please Please Me,” was one of the most exciting records I had heard during the early part of 1963.  I was really surprised, months later, to see the record released on Vee Jay, as I felt certain Capitol would see the potential for America, especially since by that time, “From Me to You” and “She Loves You” had followed it to #1 in Britain.

It was only Vee Jay’s subsequent bankruptcy and EMI’s wisdom in licensing “She Loves You” to Swan Records as a one-off that eventually secured the Beatles for Capitol.  But Capitol was to continue passing on acts even after the Beatles breakthrough.  They basically released those artists from the Brian Epstein stable like Cilla Black and Peter and Gordon, allowing the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies, and the Animals to go elsewhere.  Decca, having virtual control of its American company, saw to it that London released product by the Rolling Stones, Zombies, Moody Blues and the remainder of its roster.  Pye, having no U.S. company of their own, would send their releases each week to the various labels they represented.  At that time (1964), I was working with George Goldner, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at Red Bird, and I remembered their scrambling with Warner Brothers for rights to Petula Clark’s “Downtown.”  

Gathering organized by EMI during King’s April 1961 European licensing tour

[L to R:  Richard Dawes, Hal Neely, Syd Nathan & Leonard George Wood]

*

Stein elaborated further in a 2016 interview with Music Ally:

I had built up a relationship with EMI when I worked for King. EMI distributed King in most territories outside of America – or licensed the music. I met one of the heads of the company, LG Wood. He told me that if I ever needed anything I could always come to him.

The Beatles were turned down twice by Capitol. They would have been gone forever if it hadn’t been for EMI’s American lawyer who was very smart. Vee-Jay had it first and they had it for three or five years.

They put out ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’. And they didn’t pay any royalties. There were very few royalties to pay but they didn’t pay them. When EMI heard ‘She Loves You’, the third record, they said this would be the smash that broke them.

Capitol, believe it or not, turned it down again even though ‘Please Please Me’ had been a hit in England – which ‘Love Me Do’ was not. Their lawyer, a guy called Paul Marshall, was one of the smartest men I ever knew and he told them to let him handle it. He took it away from VJ as they were bad and didn’t pay royalties.

He called up Dick Clark in Philadelphia who owned pieces of labels and had his own label called Swan Records. He said, “I’ll give you this record without an advance and a low royalty – but no follow ups. In exchange, you can break the band.” That’s exactly what happened. Capitol got them back from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ onwards.

Is it ironic that Syd Nathan’s former intern – rather than Nathan himself – found a way, ultimately, to cash in on the Beatles’ early success (see Seed Money for Sire above)? 

It is also curious that an indie label notable for helping to birth rock ‘n’ roll released, paradoxically, few examples of 60’s-style “beat group” rock records, aside from the odd release by The Beehives, The Exports, The Impacs, The Viceroys, Tonni Kalash, Mickey Baker, Them, and Keith Murphy & the Daze, one of King’s last signings while Syd Nathan was still alive, according to Murphy.

One that got away — King’s closest link to The Beatles

.

King Records Meets “Big Red” – Seymour Stein (Pt. 1)

In May, 2015’s piece about Guitar Crusher, it was pointed out that Seymour Stein, along with fellow Sire Records co-founder, Richard Gottehrer, had done production work on a Columbia recording in 1967, having formed Sire Productions the year before.  As Billboard would note in its chronology of the music industry executive who signed Madonna from his hospital bed while recovering from a heart infection, Stein had served his first music label apprenticeship at Cincinnati’s King Records for two years, beginning in 1957.  Syd Nathan‘s operation would prove to be a “farm league” for a number of other industry notables, as pointed out in Jon Hartley Fox‘s King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records:

King Records was a good training ground where one could get a thorough, hands-on education in all facets of the recording industry.  One of the label’s enduring legacies is the large number of producers, A&R men, and sales or marketing executives who ‘trained’ under Nathan.  Among the King alumni who enjoyed successful careers at other labels are Seymour Stein (Sire, Sire-London, and Elektra), Hal Neely (Starday and Starday-King), Henry Glover (Old Town, Roulette, Starday-King), Ralph Bass (Chess), Jim Wilson (Starday and Sun), Alan Leeds (Paisley Park), Ray Pennington (Step One), and nearly a dozen others.

As it turns out, the same year Seymour Stein produced a Guitar Crusher single for “Big Red,” Stein also organized a 12-inch release for Columbia Records (under the “Sire Productions” name) that consists entirely of country releases from the King Records vault [albeit (groan) “electronically re-channeled for stereo”].  That’s right, 1967 would see the release of a Columbia album (in name only) 18 King Size Country Hits, with extensive liner notes by Stein himself – a former Billboard scribe – that promise the LP to be “one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.”

Many songs on this LP were million sellers when first issued, according to Stein

King Size County Hits - Seymour Stein LP-a

This album, sadly, would seem to be the only one released — is it fair to presume Columbia had felt sales to be insufficient enough to warrant future volumes?  It’s not for lack of trying though, as Stein very helpfully provides some historical context on the factors that helped King succeed in the marketplace:

Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today.  The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the ‘hillbilly’ world was Midwestern Hayride, the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain.  Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro.  Lloyd ‘Cowboy’ Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati.  With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of ‘Midwestern Hayride’ had achieved any amount of success on records.  Most had never recorded despite their popularity among the Midwest and South.

King Records In the big leagues = On “Big Red” one year before Nathan’s passingKing Size Country Hits II

Billboard reported the following news item in its July 8, 1967 edition:

Col. to Release Two R&B, Country LP’s From King

NEW YORK — Columbia Records will issue two albums of all time best sellers from the catalog of King Records.  One package will contain country material and the other rhythm and blues.  The deal, considered unusual, was okayed by Bill Gallagher, Columbia Records vice-president, after discussions with Seymour Stein of Sire Productions.  Stein, who regards the deal as a tribute to the achievement of Syd Nathan, president of King, produced the packages from masters in the King archives.

Each of the albums contains 18 performances.  The country package, titled 18 King Size Country Hits, includes “Signed Sealed and Delivered” by Cowboy Copas, “Blues Stay Away From Me” by the Delmore Brothers, “Mountain Dew” by Grandpa Jones, “Money, Marbles and Chalk” by the writer Pop Eckler, and sides by the Carlisle Brothers, Jimmy Osbourne, Wayne Raney, Moon Mullican, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Reno and Smiley.

The second package, titled 18 King Size Rhythm and Blues Hits, contains such classics as “Fever” by Little Willie John; “Work With Me Annie” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters; “Hearts of Stone” by Otis Williams and the Charms; “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett; “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and the Dominoes, and additional sides by James Brown and the Flames, Otis Redding, The ‘5’ Royales, Ivory Joe Hunter, Freddy King, Bullmoose Jackson, Wynonie Harris, and Earl Bostic.

The packages will also be distributed by the Columbia Record Club.”

Could the 1949 recording, “Money Marbles and Chalk” – fittingly, the album’s final track – be the only one ever released by Pop Eckler, who wrote songs for Rex Allen, Red Sovine, and Wink Martindale, as well as King labelmates, Grandpa Jones and The Stanley Brothers?

“Money, Marbles and Chalk”     Pop Eckler     1949

Eckler authored “Money, Marbles and Chalk,” also covered at the time by Chet Atkins and Stubby and the Buccaneers, as well as later by Patti Page (1957) and King colleagues, Reno & Smiley (1961), while Link Trotter would give it a go in 1973.Pop Eckler 78Stein would have this to say about Eckler:

Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of “Money, Marbles and Chalk.”   The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.

Seymour Stein’s liner notes for 18 King Size Country Hits belowKing Size County Hits - Seymour Stein LP-rear cover

18 King Size Country Hits
Liner notes by Seymour Stein

This is one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.  All the tunes, which first appeared on the King Records label under the aegis of Sydney Nathan, its founder and president, are performed by the original singers who made them famous.  Many of the recordings were million sellers when they were first issued.

Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today.  The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the “hillbilly” world was Midwestern Hayride, the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain.  Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro.  Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati.  With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of the Midwestern Hayride had achieved any amount of success on records.  Most had never recorded despite their popularity throughout the Midwest and South.

King’s first artists came from Midwestern Hayride, and one of the first releases, “It’s Raining Here This Morning” by Grandpa Jones [1944], was a substantial hit.  He is still a favorite on records, and on the Grand Ole Opry.  Another of his greatest hits was [1947‘s] “Mountain Dew.”

The end of World War II brought one of King’s biggest early hits, the original “Rainbow at Midnight” by the Carlisle Brothers [1946], which dealt with the joyous feelings of soldiers after the war.

By 1948, Cowboy Copas had emerged as the leading Country and Western singer in America.  His biggest hit was a song written by Sydney Nathan under the pseudonym Lois Mann, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” [1947] one of the few million-selling Country discs.  Another million seller for him was “Tennessee Waltz” [*first recording of songApril 1947 at King Studios], penned by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart especially for Copas.  The tune was recorded years later by Patti Page and has since become the state song of Tennessee.  Copas became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and remained with it until his golden voice was forever stilled in 1963.

Also, in the late 1940s a Cajun song sylist and pianist from Houston, Moon Mullican, began recording.  He too had his share of gold records:  “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” [1949] and “”Sweeter Than the Flowers” [1947], both from Nathan’s pen.  The King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, Mullican was forerunner to one of the greatest of all Country artists, Hank Williams, who also sang many Cajun melodies.  Late in 1966, Mullican passed away following a long illness.

In 1947, a young singer, Hawkshaw Hawkins, who had been performing on radio station WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, sent to King Records a “demo” made in a penny arcade for 25¢.  So enthused was Nathan by the voice on the record that he immediately summoned the artist to nearby Cincinnati.  As it turned out, Hawkins’ initial investment paid more than a million fold.  Some of his biggest hits included “Slow Poke” [1951], “Sunny Side of the Mountain” [1947], “Shot Gun Boogie” [live performance + ‘bullwhip act’], “Pan American” [1948], “If I Ever Get Rich Mom” [1953] and “Picking Sweethearts” [1953].  In 1962 he recorded “Lonesome 7-7203.”  It is unfortunate that the record did not reach the number-one position all across the nation until after Hawkins’ tragic death in 1963 [in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas].

Bonnie Lou, a star since 1951 of Midwestern Hayride, heard the pop version of “Seven Lonely Nights” by Georgia Gibbs in 1953.  Nathan immediately rushed Bonnie Lou into the King studios to cut her own enormously successful version of the hit.

The Delmore Brothers, Alton and Rabon, one of the original groups in Country music, date from the late 1920s.  As composers they are famed as writers of “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” popularized by Rosemary Clooney.  Although they recorded for many labels, their biggest hit, “Blues Stay Away From Me” [1949], was recorded during their term with King [and co-written with Wayne Raney and Henry Glover].  Both brothers recently passed away [actually, Rabon in 1952, Alton in 1964].

Clyde Moody recorded another Nathan composition, “Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday” [1947], an immediate smash.  Moody had already been established via his hit recording of “Shenandoah Waltz.”  Like Cowboy Copas, Moody was best known for his waltz recordings.

Jack Cardwell skyrocketed to fame with his recording “Death of Hank Williams” [1953].

Wayne Raney can still be heard over local radio in Cincinnati, playing and singing with his family favorite Country and sacred tunes.  He enjoyed many, many hits, including the number-one hit “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” [1949], also a big pop hit for Rosemary Clooney [backed by Hugo Winterhalter].

Jimmy Osbourne‘s music usually dealt witth morbid, tragic themes.  Biggest of these was “Death of Little Kathy Fiscus” [1949], a number-one record in 1949.  It told the true story of the death by drowning of a young child, and of the futile attempts to rescue her.

Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of “Money, Marbles and Chalk” [1949].  The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.

At present, two big Country and Western acts are the Stanley Brothers (Ralph and Carter) and the team of Don Reno and Red Smiley, both of which are extremely popular both in the Country and folk-bluegrass fields.  One of the Stanleys’ biggest hits is “How Far to Little Rock” [1960]. Carter Stanley passed away in 1966.  Reno and Smiley are represented by their first and biggest hit, “I’m the Talk of the Town” [1953].

Although every selection in the album has been a Top Ten hit, they comprise more than just a collection to past successes.  They are an intrinsic part of the history and development of America’s Country and Western music.

Note:  The following year in 1968, these same songs were repackaged and re-sequenced by King as 18 All Time King Hits Country and Western.

“Washita Love Child”: Jesse Ed & Eric Whatsisname

In The World of Indigenous America, Brian Wright-McLeod writes of the “powwow style” and its influence in popular music, as exemplified by such artists as Jim Pepper, Peter DePoe, and Jesse Ed Davis:

“Jesse Ed Davis (Comanche-Kiowa) began his work as a leading session guitarist in the early 1960s when he accompanied country singer Conway Twitty.  The powwow influences in Davis’s music are both subtle and yet apparent to the trained ear.  From his first solo album, Jesse Davis (Atco, 1970), the song ‘Washita Love Child’ contains both lyrical references (‘And I did that powwow thing’) and the combined background vocals of Merry Clayton, Clydie King, and Gram Parsons, utilizing the vocal refrain of ‘hey-ya-hey’ typical of the powwow song style, but arranged by Davis as a standard back-up vocal.  The back beat and rhythm of the song are obviously powwow-based.”

Edited by ROBERT WARRIOR

World of Indigenous AmericaThe autobiographical “Washita Love Child” – with its driving beat and guest guitar solo by Eric Clapton – seems the obvious choice for the album’s opening track, and yet it would get bumped to the #3 spot:

“Washita Love Child”     Jesse Ed Davis with Eric Clapton     1970

Musician credits for Jesse Davis

  • Guitar, Keyboards & Vocals:  Jesse Edwin Davis III
  • Guitar:  Eric Clapton & Joel Scott Hill
  • Backing Vocals:  Bobby Jones, Clydie King, Gloria Jones, Gram Parsons, Maxine Willard, Merry Clayton, Nikki Barclay & Vanetta Fields
  • Keyboards:  Ben Sidran, John Simon, Larry Knechtel & Leon Russell
  • Bass:  Billy Rich & Steve Thompson
  • Drums:  Alan White, Bruce Rowland, Chuck Blackwell & Steve Mitchell
  • Percussion:  Alan Yoshida, Jackie Lomax, Johnnie Ware, Pat Daley, Pete Waddington & Sandy Konikoff
  • Tenor Saxophone:  Frank Mayes
  • Tenor Saxophone:  Jerry Jumonville [solo]
  • Trombone & Trumpet:  Darrell Leonard
  • Baritone Saxophone & Clarinet:  James Gordon
  • Producer, Arranger & Album Cover Concept:  Jesse Edwin Davis III
  • Cover Painting:  Jesse Edwin Davis II

Jesse Ed Davis 45-aJesse Ed Trivia That Might Blow Your MInd, If Slightly

~ Jesse Ed Davis released “Sue Me Sue You Blues” in 1972 before the song’s author, George Harrison, issued his own version on 1973’s Living in the Material World.

~ Jesse Ed Davis provided musical support for two artists who would each record distinctive versions of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” for debut albums released in 1971 & 1973, respectively:  Leon Russell (guitar) and Bryan Ferry (backing vocals).

~ In 1973, when Jesse Ed Davis and Iggy & the Stooges shared the same label for exactly one album, Columbia released a “split EP” (4 songs on a 7-inch 33 rpm record) that paired the two artists, bizarrely, for the first and last time.

Jesse Ed & Iggy-aJesse Ed & Iggy-b

~ In 1987, the year before his untimely death, Jesse Ed Davis contributed a guitar solo on the closing track “At Last” for Scott Colby‘s Slide of Hand album on respected punk label, SST (Black Flag, Minutemen, Descendents, Bad Brains, Hüsker Dü & Meat Puppets, et al.)


Jesse Ed Helped Breathe Life into the Following Songs:

~ “Doctor My Eyes” — the breakout hit from Jackson Browne’s 1972 debut album.

~ “Heal Your Heart” on Stevie Miller Band’s 1972 album, Recall the Beginning…A Journey from Eden.

~ “Open Up the Watergate (And Let the Sunshine In)” on 1974 Bert Jansch album, L.A. Turnaround.

~ “(What a) Wonderful World” from David Bromberg’s Midnight on the Water album from 1975.

~ “Stand By Me” (slide guitar solo) on John Lennon’s hit version from 1975’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album.

~ “Don’t Think … Feel” from 1976 Neil Diamond album, Beautiful Noise.

~ “Hard Workin’ Man” by Captain Beefheart with Jack Nitzsche & Friends from 1978 soundtrack album, Blue Collar.


Jesse Ed Played Guitar (et al.) on the Following Albums

  • Taj Mahal     Taj Mahal     1968
  • Taj Mahal     The Natch'l Blues     1968
  • Rolling Stones & Friends     Rock & Roll Circus     1968  [Taj Mahal]
  • Taj Mahal     Giant Steps     1969
  • Jesse [Ed] Davis     Jesse Davis     1970
  • George Harrison & Friends     Concert for Bangladesh     1971
  • Gene Clark     White Light     1971
  • Roger Tillison     Roger Tillison's Album     1971
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie     She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina     1971
  • John Lee Hooker     Endless Boogie    1971
  • B.B. King     L.A. Midnight     1971
  • Albert King     Lovejoy     1971
  • Albert Collins     There's Gotta Be a Change     1971
  • Lightnin' Hopkins     It's a Sin to Be Rich     1972
  • Jesse Ed Davis     Ululu     1972
  • Alex Richman     Salty     1972
  • Jim Pulte     Out the Window     1972
  • Jesse Ed Davis     Keep Me Comin'     1973
  • Rod Taylor     Rod Taylor     1973
  • Dion     Born to Be With You     1975
  • Mac Davis     Burnin' Thing     1975
  • Harry Nilsson     ... That's the Way It Is  +  Sandman     1976
  • David Blue     Cupid's Arrow     1976
  • Jimmy Cliff     Follow My Mind     1976
  • Leonard Cohen     Death of a Ladies' Man     1977
  • Ben Sidran     A Little Kiss in the Night     1978
  • Jack Nitzsche & Friends     Soundtrack from 'Blue Collar'     1978

Top 10 Trucker Tune from ’71

Zero to 180’s previous piece about a surprisingly decent truck driving song by The Archies – “Truck Driver” – makes a pretty persuasive case for 1968 being pop’s peak for the dieselbilly artform.  1971 might be no match for 1968, however, yesterday’s featured song – “I’ve Come Awful Close” – along with today’s spotlight track, Barbara Mandrell‘s “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home, also from 1971, demonstrates neither is it a slouch:

“Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home”     Barbara Mandrell     1971

Intriguing that Mandrell, a formidable steel guitarist in her own right, would graciously step aside and allow Lloyd Green and Pete Drake to earn a proper day’s wage.

“Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” – a #10 country chart hit – was one of five Top 40 country hits included on 1973’s The Midnight Oil — a #8 country album.

Barbara Mandrell LPAlbum Recording Credits

Guitar:  Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Billy Sanford, Harold Bradley & Bobby Thompson
Steel/Dobro:  Lloyd Green & Pete Drake
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher & Johnny Gimble
Piano:  Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins
Bass:  Junior Huskey
Drums:  Willie Ackerman
Recorded:  *September, 1971  Columbia Recording Studio – Nashville
(Majority of album tracks recorded in 1973*)

Barbara Mandrell 45One other notable truck-driving tune from 1971:
                               ~ Dick Curless‘ “Leaving It All Behind” from Capitol LP Doggin’ It.

Barbara Mandrell Once Laid Down the Jams

Barbara Mandrell performed a stellar country jazz arrangement of “Steel Guitar Rag” for Johnny Cash‘s 1976 Christmas Special — part of Zero to 180’s all-star tribute to the steel guitar standard written by (“Take it Away”) Leon McAuliffe.

Hank Garland: Lost Album of ’60

Fascinating that a musician of the caliber of Hank Garland (who was signed to Columbia, for cryin’ out loud) would release a companion album of sorts – Subtle Swing – to the groundbreaking (and previously discussed) Jazz Winds from a New Direction, and yet so little information to confirm its existence, aside from Sundazed’s 2004 vinyl reissue.

Poke around online and you will discover that Subtle Swing was tacked onto 2013’s CD reissue of Who Is Gary Burton? as an inducement for fans of the noted jazz vibraphonist — but at the expense of Hank Garland!

Gary Burton LPDig deeper still, and you will correctly deduce that Sony, in partnership with Sundazed, incorporated Hank’s entire Columbia output [1959’s Velvet Guitar + 1960’s Subtle Swing + 1961’s Jazz Winds + 1962’s Unforgettable Guitar] into a double compact disc, albeit in jumbled order, when issued in 2001.

Jazz Wax notes that the recording session for Subtle Swing took place six days after the Jazz Winds in a New Direction album had wrapped on August 24, 1960 (here we go again, an entire album recorded in a single day) although, it’s not quite true that the “same group” of musicians played on this follow-up album — only Garland and Burton remained from Jazz Winds.

Check out the stereo drums that kick off album closer, “Call D. Law” – a clever bit of wordplay that also pays tribute to Columbia boss and benefactor, Don Law:

“Call D. Law”     Hank Garland     1960

Hank Garland:  Guitar
Gary Burton:  Vibraphone
Bob Moore:  Bass
Doug Kirkham & MurreyBuddyHarman:  Drums
Bill Pursell:  Piano
Don Law:  Producer

The CD liner notes by the indispensible Rich Kienzle sheds light on the special reasons underlying Subtle Swing‘s obscurity.

“Six days later, Hank returned to the studio for two days to produce a jazzy album for the song licensing firm SESAC, who produced country and gospel recordings for the radio stations that took licenses with the company.  This session was geared as much to the radio market as it was to the jazz audience.  The band, however, was strictly Nashville, including Burton, Bob Moore, pianist Bill Pursell, and drummer Doug Kirkham, who’d worked with Hank in Billy Burke’s combo.

If Jazz Winds emphasized Hank in a [Tal] Farlowesque context, the ten-song SESAC effort, released to clients under the title Subtle Swing, reflected the influence of pianist George Shearing’s Quintet.  Programming requirements seemingly mandated no songs longer than four minutes.  It’s a Garland-Burton effort all the way.”

Rare original copy of 1960 SESAC album — sold for $47 in 2004

Hank Garland - original 1960 cover“Now that the Hank Garland Quintet is a ‘fait accompli’ on SESAC Recordings, the young guitarist stands in the unique position of moulding a new career on the firm foundation of his C&W successes.  With a patient hand and perceptive musicianship, he has unified the instrumental skills of five performers to produce these refreshing sounds.  The “subtle swing” which has always been a vital part of Garland’s playing transcends his newest contribution to musical entertainment.”  [liner notes from the back cover]

But tragedy would intervene in Garland’s life when a blown rear tire resulted in a serious accident that would leave him permanently impaired.  1962’s Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland would essentially be a repackaging of the SESAC recordings — his musical career forever halted.  In 1992, Bear Family would gather Garland’s 1940s & 50s Decca recordings, including a pair of excellent unissued tracks from 1957, “Baby Guitar” and “Hank’s Dream.”

2004 reissue — “designed for repeated listening” as the original LP promised

Hank Garland LP-a

Cherokee Cowboys: Proven Band

Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) solo release – check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:

“Devil’s Dream”     The Cherokee Cowboys     1965

Ray Price: guitar & vocal
Grady Martin & Pete Wade:  lead guitar
Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris:  rhythm guitar
Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day:  steel guitar
Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray:  fiddle
Floyd Cramer:  piano
Harold Bradley:  bass guitar
Pete Burke & Buddy Killen:  bass
Buddy Harman:  drums
Johnny Bush:  drums & vocal

Recorded:
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville

The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965
[photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]

Cherokee Cowboys - 1965(Top Row) Pete Burke, Wade Ray, Buddy Emmons
(Bottom Row) Charlie Harris, Johnny Bush, Keith Coleman

Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).

Cherokee Cowboys LP-a

Rich Kienzle would include Price and the Cherokee Cowboys in Southwest Shuffle:  Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing & Country Jazz:

“It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers.  Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.  Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys.  With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.

At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey.  He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked.  Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly.  “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed.  “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.”  Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.”

1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”).  Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with MoisesBlondieCalderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.

Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.

Cherokee Cowboys LP promo

“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.

Donovan’s Color-Your-Own Cover

Artsy-craftsy types might find connect-the-dot album covers to be a bit stultifying — where’s the creativity?  Connect these dots – and in this precise order, commands the album cover.  Sorry, I prefer to make my own decisions.

One Donovan album I have had a hard time finding in second-hand shops is one that tickled my brain as a youngster with its D-I-Y concept:  Inside the gatefold of 1973’s Cosmic Wheels, as the Unofficial Donovan website points out, “there’s a copy of The Flammarion woodcut (an anonymous wood engraving) with the note, ‘Get your cosmic crayons, kids, and colour in’.”

Black & white gatefold cover for Donovan’s 1973 album, Cosmic Wheels

Donovan's Cosmic Wheels-aa

With a bit of grit and a modicum of talent, you, too, can transform this monochromatic image into a dazzling cosmological work of wonderment.  Clearly, no half measures will do — full and total commitment is required the moment your colored pencil is pressed into service:

Donovan's Cosmic Wheels-bb

Hard to believe that Cosmic Wheels hit the Top 30 on this side of the Atlantic [20 weeks on Billboard‘s album chart, peaking at the #25 position], given the challenge of locating a used copy.  An edited version of “I Like You” from Cosmic Wheels would reach #66 in the US and became the last charting single Donovan would have.  Billboard‘s “From the Music Capitals of the World” column reported in their April 14, 1973 edition that “Gramophone Record Company held an unusual promotion announcing the new Donovan album, Cosmic Wheels, with a slide and music presentation at the Johannesburg Planetarium.”
Donovan LP
Thanks to brother Bryan for pointing out the quality of musical personnel who helped bring these songs to life:  Chris Spedding, JohnRabbitBundrick, Cozy Powell, Alan White, Jim Horn, Bobby Keys, Phil Chen, and even Suzi Quatro, among others.
In a bizarre artistic move, Donovan Leitch would release the most scatological recording ever associated with almighty Columbia Records, “Intergalactic Laxative” — a song that would almost certainly incur fines from the FCC if played on radio, even today.  I had originally intended to feature this album track (and B-side) as an oddball Dr. Demento-like selection … until I actually heard the song.  But since I’m trying to run a clean website, regrettably I must go with the A-side instead:

“Maria Magenta”     Donovan     1973


Bob Johnston’s Moldy Goldies

Bob Johnston – who famously produced Dylan‘s Highway 65 Revisited & Blonde on Blonde and Johnny Cash‘s Folsom Prison, among many other classic albums – left us last August.  How startling to discover that Johnston used Nashville’s finest session musicians in 1966 to record a “dazzling anti-masterpiece” (as notes AllMusic’s Mark Deming) that delighted in “punking” the pop radio hits of the day – a Columbia release with the comically bloated title, Moldy Goldies: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston And His Mystic Knights Band And Street Singers Attack The Hits.

Sean Wilentz, in Bob Dylan in America, would deem it “one of the most obscure rock albums of the 1960s.”   Nashville Cream, in a 2012 interview with Johnston, would describe the album as, “superbly demented.”

Check out the vaguely Sgt.Pepper-inspired album cover:

Bob Johnston LPAnd yet this album was released in 1966 – prior to Pepper!

Listen as Bob and the boys deconstruct Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game” to hilarious effect (this will require, unfortunately, that you manually drag the “progress bar” all the way to the 25:35 point — very last song on the album).  Try not to laugh when Johnston starts to lose it:

Bob Johnston’s entire ‘Moldy goldies/Colonel Jubilation’ album

Leader: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston
Bass: Henry “Big Irish” Strzelecki
Drums:  Kenneth “Sledgehammer” Buttrey
Tambourine:  Durl Glin, Kenneth “Sledgehammer” Buttrey
Guitar:  Charlie “Bugs” McCoy, One-Finger Mac Gayden
Upright Piano:  Hargus “Pig” Robbins
Player Piano:  Jerry Smith
Harmonica:  Charlie “Bugs” McCoy, Henry “Big Irish” Strzelecki
Trombone:  Wayne “Tailgate” Butler
Trumpet:  Charlie “Bugs” McCoy*, “Taps” Tidwell
Violin:  Brenton “Ping-Pong” Banks
Vocals:  Durl Glin, Princess La Mar Fike, Mortuary Thomasson, Tommy “Mole” Hill
Vocals:  [Swamp Women] – Incomparable R. Lean, Luscious Norma Jean Owen
Producer:  Bob Johnston
Engineer:  Mortuary Thomasson