Sunday, December 28, 2014

Delmore Brothers: Blues Stay Away From Me

The Delmore Brothers were one of the most important and influential acts from the early days of country music. The duo consisted of the brothers, Alton and Rabon Delmore, a pair of guitarist/vocalists who helped to pioneer the country music genre with their melding of gospel music, folk, and the blues. The brothers were born into poverty in Elkmont, Alabama.

The Delmore Brothers made their first recordings for Columbia Records, in 1931, and produced “I’ve Got the Kansas City Blues” and “Alabama Lullaby.” The duo continued to record until 1952, when Rabon Delmore died of cancer.

During their run, the Delmore Brothers recorded some of the all-time classics of country music including, “Blow Yo’ Whistle, Freight Train,” “When It’s Time for the Whippoorwill to Sing,” “Freight Train Boogie,” and “Blues Stay Away from Me.” The latter tune would be covered by later rockabilly performers Gene Vincent and Johnny Burnette, while “Freight Train Boogie” has been called the first rock and roll recording by some pundits.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Del Shannon: Runaway

Del Shannon was one of the bright lights in the somewhat barren pop musical landscape of the early Sixties that stood in the middle of the creation of rock and roll and the arrival of the Beatles. Shannon was one of the only true rockers in the early Sixties who was singing, playing guitar, and writing his own material.

Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1937. After a stint in the US Army in Germany, Shannon returned home to Michigan where he formed a band called “The Midnight Ramblers.” By 1961, he was on his own with a recording contract with Big Top Records and a No. 1 hit with the classic single, “Runaway,” one of the greatest rock songs of the decade. The song was highlighted by Shannon’s famous falsetto singing and a legendary solo on the musitron, a high-pitched organ, by Max Crook.

Shannon would score several more big hits during the Sixties with the songs, “Little Town Flirt, “ “Hats Off to Larry,” and a cover version of The Beatles’ “From Me to You” which was a hit for Shannon in America in 1963, a full 6 month before the Beatles had an American hit record.

Following the death of Roy Orbison in 1988, it was rumoured that The Traveling Willburys were considering Shannon, who had fallen on hard times, as a replacement. However, no such undertaking happened, and Shannon died of a self-inflicted rifle wound in early 1990.

The following Del Shannon albums are recommended as essential listening: “Runaway with Del Shannon” (1963), “Little Town Flirt” (1964), and “The Further Adventures of Charles Westover" (1968).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dion and the Belmonts: Legendary Doo Wop

Dion and the Belmonts, from New York City, was one of the most successful doo-wop groups that emerged during the late Fifties. Their lead singer, Dion DiMucci, was the soulful vocal centerpiece of the band. The band enjoyed a string of hits in the early sixties with songs such as “Lonely Teenager,” “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Ruby Baby,” and “Lovers Who Wander.”

When the Belmonts disbanded in the early Sixties, their leader, Di Mucci, would reemerge as “Dion” and record an excellent self-titled solo album in 1968 which would feature his huge solo hit, “Abraham, Martin and John.” The album was a departure from the doo-wop music of the earlier period.

Dimucci’s life was spared when he opted to not board the ill-fated flight in Clear Lake, Iowa, that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper following a concert in February, 1959.

Dion Dimucci’s best albums with and without the Belmonts include “Alone with Dion” (1961), “Runaround Sue” (1961), and “Dion” (1968). The best Dion and the Belmonts compilation is likely, “Dion & the Belmonts-20 Greatest Hits” (1985).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kid Ory: Tailgate Trombone

Kid Ory, born in La Place, Louisiana, in 1886, was the king of the trombone in the early years of jazz music in New Orleans. He started out played banjo, but later switched to trombone. Ory would become known for his “tailgate” style that had the trombone playing rhythmic lines underneath the free soloing of clarinets and cornets. From 1912 to 1919, Ory led an extremely popular band in New Orleans which had as members, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet and Jimmie Noone.

Ory moved to California in 1919, and in 1922, King Ory’s Creole Orchestra became the first African-American jazz band to make a recording when they recorded the songs “Ory’s Creole Trombone” and “Society Blues.” In 1925, Ory moved to Chicago, joining the migration of New Orleans jazz musicians who were seeking fame and fortune in the Windy City. In Chicago, Ory played with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz band, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five and Hot Seven and later with Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers.

During the Depression, Ory found himself out of work along with many of his colleagues. For several years he ran a chicken ranch with his brother and returned to music when the New Orleans style jazz revival happened in the Forties. He reformed the Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band in 1943, and Ory was able to play jazz until he retired in 1966, and he died at a ripe old age in 1973.

The compilation albums, “Ory’s Creole Trombone: Greatest Recordings 1922-1944” (1995) and “The Chronological Classics: Kid Ory 1922-1945” (1999) are among the best available compilations of his music.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

King Crimson: The Birth of Progressive Rock

One of the pioneering bands of progressive-rock, King Crimson came together in 1968, with guitarist Robert Fripp, drummer Michael Giles, saxophone/flute player, Ian McDonald, lyricist Peter Sinfield and bassist Greg Lake. The band chose the name, “King Crimson,” and headed to the studio in 1969, where they recorded one of the greatest albums in rock history, “In the Court of the Crimson King.” The album was an artistic set of songs ranging from the hard rock of “21st Century Schizoid Man” to the beautiful and dreamy ballad, “I Talk to the Wind.” The album is superbly written, arranged, and produced and contains unforgettable songs.

Peter Giles replaced Lake on bass and Ian McDonald departed, and with their new lineup King Crimson recorded “In the Wake of Poseidon” (1970) which was a lesser version of the previous record. The jazzy, “Lizard” (1970) and “Islands” (1971) would follow, but none of these albums came anywhere close to matching the brilliance of the debut.

Robert Fripp put together a new lineup featuring bassist/vocalist John Wetton, drummer Bill Bruford, violinist David Cross, percussionist Jamie Muir and lyricist Richard Palmer-James. This lineup was a harder rocking unit and recorded “Larks Tongues in Aspic” (1971) and “Starless and Black Bible” (1973), the best records the band had made since their brilliant debut.

Fripp brought back Ian McDonald for “Red” (1974), one of the band’s most-acclaimed releases. Despite almost constant lineup changes, King Crimson has forged ahead with guitarist Robert Fripp as the constant thread holding them together.
The best releases of this band’s most recent work included the following: “USA” (1975), “Discipline” (1981), “The Great Deceiver: Live 1973-1974” (1992), “Thrak” (1996), “The Night Watch” (1997), and “Absent Lovers: Live in Montreal 1984” (1998).

Friday, December 19, 2014

King Oliver: The First True King of the Cornet

Joe “King” Oliver is among the seminal figures in the history of jazz music. Oliver was an influential musician in the early days of jazz whose hot cornet playing influenced all those who followed in his footsteps including Louis Amstrong, Oliver’s student, charge and employee. It was Oliver who convinced Armstrong to leave New Orleans for Chicago, and play second cornet in Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band took the first steps on a journey that would see Armstrong revolutionize jazz and American popular music.

Oliver was born in New Orleans in 1885 and was blinded in one eye as a child. He often played cornet while wearing a derby hat in such a way as to obscure his bad eye. Oliver was one of the first cornetists to use a mute to alter the sound of his cornet. Using a mute, he was able to produce a wide variety of sounds including the whinnying of a horse.

Oliver started his professional career in New Orleans around 1908. He was a member of several marching bands, and he worked at various times in Kid Ory’s band. Ory began referring to him as “King” Oliver around 1917.

In 1919, Oliver moved to Chicago with Kid Ory and played in Bill Johnson’s band at the Dreamland Ballroom. Oliver formed “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band” in 1922, and landed a residency at Chicago’s Lincoln Gardens. His new band featured some of the best jazz musicians of the time including clarinetist Johnny Dodds, trombonist Honore Dutrey, pianist Lil Hardin, drummer Baby Dodds, and Louis Armstrong on second cornet.

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band 1923 recording sessions for the Gennet label produced some of the best-ever recordings of jazz with “Chimes Blues,” “Just Gone,” “Dippermouth Blues,” and “Snake Rag.” These recordings revealed the brilliant dual cornet playing of Armstrong and Oliver, and introduced Armstrong’s virtuosity to the world. Armstrong soon headed to New York City to join Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and the Creole Jazz Band would cease to be in 1924.

Oliver took over Dave Peyton’s band in 1925, renamed it the “Dixie Syncopators,”and moved the band to New York in 1927. Once in New York, Oliver passed up a chance to have the Dixie Syncopators become the house band at the Cotton Club. Duke Ellington took the job and went on to fame and riches. In 1929, Luis Russell took over the Dixie Syncopaters and changed their name to “Luis Russell and his Orchestra.”

Oliver recorded until 1931, but his New Orleans hot jazz style was falling out of fashion. Oliver finally settled down in Georgia, where he worked as a poolroom janitor until his death in 1938.

Oliver’s classic sides are available on the following compilations: “King Oliver’s Jazz Band 1923” (1975), “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: The Complete Set” (1997), and the series, “The Chronological Classics: King Oliver” (1991).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Larry Williams :Bad Boy

Larry Williams is one of the almost forgotten fathers of rock and roll. Williams, a pianist, had a number of huge hits during the mid-Fifties as rock and roll was beginning to dominate American popular music. Several of Williams’ songs would be recorded by more famous bands and singers, and become forever associated with them. The Beatles recorded Williams’ songs, “Slow Down,” “Bad Boy,” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” during the earliest phase of their recording career.

Williams was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1935. He made his recording debut in 1957 for Specialty Records with a ballad, “Just Because.” Williams’ forte, however, was up-tempo rockers, and he scored a hit later the same year with the rocker, “Bonie Maronie.” A slew of hits would soon follow including, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” Bad Boy,” and “Short Fat Fanny.”

Williams didn’t enjoy much success after 1957, and he fell back into the underworld life of drug-peddling that consumed much of his time prior to his music career. In the mid-Sixties, he made a comeback with an R&B band which included guitarist Johnny Guitar Watson, and he produced a couple of albums for his friend, Little Richard.

This success would not last as his drug addiction kept dragging him down. In 1977, he pulled a gun on Little Richard and threatened to kill him over a drug debt. Shortly thereafter, Williams was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, in his Los Angeles home. His death was officially deemed a suicide. He was 44-years-old at the time of his demise.

Williams’ best recordings are found on the albums, “Here’s Larry Williams” (1959), “The Larry Williams Show (ft. Johnny Guitar Watson)” (1965), and “The Best of Larry Williams” (1988).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Rolling Stones: Midnight Ramblers

The Rolling Stones are, save the Beatles, the most famous rock band of all time. The Stones emerged from London around the same time that the Beatles were breaking out from their hometown, Liverpool. While the Beatles long ago parted, The Rolling Stones are still a functioning rock band, although with some members now in their seventies, the band is now only occasionally productive.

The Stones current lineup consists of Mick Jagger on lead vocals; Keith Richards on guitar; Charlie Watts on drums; and Ron Wood on guitar. All the current members except Wood have been with the band from the beginning, and the band has seen limited personnel changes despite its long run of 50 years.

The Stones started out in the early Sixties as one of the finest white blues bands of the day, led at that time, by the late blues guitarist, Brian Jones. In the band’s earliest incarnation, they were a blues and R&B band, and Jones was the driving force and resident blues expert. The band’s name came from the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone.” The band played their first gig at London’s Marquee Club before landing a regular gig at the Crawdaddy Club. Former Beatles publicist, Andrew Loog Oldham became the Stones manager around this time.

Oldham’s first act was to secure a lucrative recording deal for his new band. Decca Records, which was still reeling from their failure to sign the Beatles, offered Oldham a sweet deal for the Stones. Oldham, then began to publicize the Stones as the anti-Beatles, a band of louts who were the polar opposite of the clean and decent Beatles. In spring 1963, Decca released the first Stones’ single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s, “Come On.”

The Stones recorded their debut album, “The Rolling Stones,” in 1964. The album only contained one song written by Jagger and Richards, with the rest of the songs being blues cover songs. Oldham encouraged Jagger and Richards to work on their songwriting, as he believed that the band would have limited appeal if it continued to just perform songs by “middle-aged blacks.” Two more albums relying heavily on covers of R&B and blues, “The Rolling Stones Number 2” and “The Rolling Stones Now,” were released in 1965. The songwriting team of Jagger and Richards were beginning to produce results with their first self-written hit, “Heart of Stone,” appearing in 1964.

The Stones first album with a significant amount of original material, “Out of Our Heads,” was released in 1965. This album contained the Stones first big international hit single, “Satisfaction,” and the single turned the band into bona-fide pop stars. The album contained several other excellent tracks such as, “Play with Fire” and “The Last Time.”

The Stones would continue to improve on their next release, “Aftermath” (1966), an album of mostly original songs that includes the early classic songs, “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Lady Jane,” and “Under My Thumb.” The latter track riled feminists and helped to solidify the band’s “bad boy” image.

In early 1967, the band’s next album, “Between the Buttons,” was released. This album saw the band moving away from the blues and R&B they had long focused on, and further into the realm of rock and the psychedelia that was so pervasive at the time. Later in 1967, the band would dive headlong into psychedelia with “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” a full-blown psychedelic freak out which was panned by many critics, but is still an interesting offering with the excellent tracks, “She’s A Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years from Home.”

Between 1968 and 1972, the band would enjoy a golden period that would see the band record an outstanding string of albums which are all now considered among the very best albums of 20th century popular music.

The first, “Beggar’s Banquet,” appeared in 1968, and featured some of the best rock and blues tracks ever recorded by a rock band. “Sympathy for the Devil” is the most famous track on the album, followed closely by ”Street Fighting Man.” The blues chops of the band, especially in the case of Brian Jones, are on full display on tracks such as “No Expectations” which features fine slide blues guitar by Jones. “Prodigal Son” is a fine country blues cover. Brian Jones would die tragically from drowning in his swimming pool shortly after the release of the album.

In 1969, “Let it Bleed” appeared, and like its predecessor, it contained excellent tracks of rock and blues. Several of the band’s most famous songs are found here such as, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Gimme Shelter,” and the title track. The cover of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” is one of the highlights of the band’s recording career.

After a two-year hiatus from the studio, during which time the excellent live album, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” (1970) appeared, another classic album, “Sticky Fingers” (1971), was released. The album was the hardest rocking Stones album yet, and featured new guitarist, Mick Taylor, who was brought in to replace the deceased Brian Jones. Taylor’s presence on the album gave the band a fuller rock sound that was exploited on the numbers, “Bitch,” “Can’t You Hear Me knocking,” and “Brown Sugar.” A fine country-rock moment can be heard with “Wild Horses,” a song that Keith Richards wrote with Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers.

In 1972, the comprehensive and outstanding double album, “Exile on Main Street,” was released, and it is considered by many as the band’s definitive work. A slew of blues, R&B, and even gospel tunes populate the album along side rock songs such as the hits, “Happy” and “Tumbling Dice.” 

The Stones’ work started to slide in the mid-Seventies, with the band recording several albums which were several notches below the superb work of the past. Keith Richard’s drug use would become an issue, especially following his arrest at a Toronto hotel. It was not until 1978 that the band would finally make an album worthy of their reputation. That album was “Some Girls” (1978), featuring the stellar tracks, “Shattered” and “Beast of Burdon.”

The band’s work from the Eighties to present has been spotty, but there have always been fine moments such as the album releases, “Tattoo You” (1981), “Stripped” (1995), “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” (1996), and “Shine a Light” (2008).

The band is still a touring unit and they have ventured into new territory, playing concerts in Shanghai, China, in 2009.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Kinks: Well-Respected Men

The Kinks were one of the best and most popular British rock bands of the Sixties and early Seventies. The band was part of the British Invasion that started with the Beatles’ success in America in the early Sixties. Dave Davies famous guitar riff from the song, “You Really Got Me,” has been cited as a turning point in rock that inspired hard rock/ heavy metal.

Ray Davies, the creative force behind The Kinks, wrote the most literate and narrative songs in rock music, and infused his songwriting with a particularly nostalgic and British bent as albums such as “The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society” amply demonstrate.

The Kinks formed in 1963, in London. The band has changed personnel several times, but singer Ray Davies, his younger brother, lead guitarist Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory have always been the heart of the band. Peter Quaife, the original bassist for the band, died of kidney failure in 2010.

The Kinks recorded a number of excellent albums during their earliest incarnation including the aforementioned, “The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society” (1968) which is usually cited as the band’s masterpiece. “Face to Face” (1966), “Something Else by the Kinks” (1967), “Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire” (1969), and “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround (Part One)” (1970), were also stellar works which featured some of the most satirical and acute commentary on modern, especially British, society.

In addition to “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks enjoyed several hit singles in their early days such as “A Well Respected Man,” “Victoria,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “All Day and All of the Night,” “Tired of Waiting for You,” and “Sunny Afternoon.”

Ray Davies has spent the last several years touring as a solo act, but another Kinks reunion is always possible in the future.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd was a progressive rock band that soared to heights of popularity in the Seventies and Eighties unseen by any other progressive rock band. Formed in 1965, in London, England by Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, Pink Floyd started their career playing psychedelic music which was the vogue of the day.

In 1966, the band scored a recording deal with EMI and recorded their brilliant debut, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967). They also recorded an excellent psychedelic single, “See Emily Play.” By 1968, Syd Barrett’s drug use had begun to render him unreliable, and the band recruited a second guitarist, David Gilmour. Both Gilmour and Barrett appeared on “A Saucerful of Secrets” (1968), but the band decided to fire Barrett, and without him recorded, “Ummagumma” (1969). Pink Floyd followed it up with “Atom Heart Mother” (1970).
The album “Meddle” (1971) was something of a turning point as it was likely the best Pink Floyd album since the debut and saw the band firmly established in America. The album is a laid-back progressive rock album that features the sound that would become famous for their next album, the massively successful, “The Dark Side of the Moon” (1973), one of the biggest-selling rock albums ever.

The album is undeniably a masterpiece, and it contains some of the band’s most famous songs, “Money,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Us and Them.” Roger Waters would become the band’s leader in the wake of the album’s phenomenal success. In 1975, Pink Floyd recorded the fine album,”Wish You Were Here,” which was followed by another solid album, “Animals” (1977).

In 1979, “The Wall,” an album which tells the story of a rock star named Pink who slowly goes insane, was released. A film of the same name accompanied the album. The album proved to be another masterwork, and it was written largely by Waters. The album contained the classic tracks, “Another Brick in the Wall,” “Mother,” and “Young Lust.”

Original Pink Floyd member, Rick Wright, was ousted by Waters during the recording of the Wall, and Waters and Gilmour began to bicker. “The Final Cut” (1983) was another Waters-dominated effort and Waters quit the band in 1985, thinking that other members would follow.

David Gilmour decided to stay and keep the name, “Pink Floyd.” Waters and Gilmour fought over the ownership of the band’s name, and the courts awarded it to Gilmour. Gilmour recorded the Pink Floyd album, “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” (1987) with session musicians. In 1994, with Rick Wright back in the ranks, Pink Floyd recorded a new album, “The Division Bell,” before disbanding shortly thereafter.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Prine: Illegal Smile

John Prine was one of the best of the folk-flavoured singer/songwriters that emerged alongside Neil Young and others in the early Seventies. Prine, who is still active today, is one of the wittiest songwriters of the singer/songwriter clan. When he appeared on the scene in the early Seventies, he was designated by some writers as a “New Dylan,” an up and coming singer/songwriter with talent and integrity reminiscent of the young Dylan.

Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois, in 1946, and following a stint in the US Postal Service, became involved in the Chicago folk scene of the late Sixties. A chance meeting with pop singer Paul Anka led to a chance to record, and his brilliant debut album, “John Prine” was released in 1971. Prine's debut was a superb collection of topical songs that included, “Sam Stone,” a tale of a drug-addicted Vietnam veteran, “Hello in There,” a song about the neglect of the elderly, and “Paradise,” a plea for the conservation of nature.

Prine's sophomore effort, “Diamonds in the Rough” (1972) was another fine work with solid songs such as the title track and “They Ought to Name a Drink after You,” all delivered with spare accompaniment. “Sweet Revenge,” an album that rivals Prine's terrific debut album as his best release, followed in 1973. Sweet Revenge was another superb collection of folk and country-inflected songs, this time with the support of a larger studio band. Highlights from this one include, “Christmas in Prison,” “Please Don’t Bury Me,” “Dear Abby,” and “Mexican Home.”

Prine's next few albums saw him exploring a more rock-oriented sound fleshed out by a backing band that included electric guitar, bass, and heavy drums. The effect was partially-successful on solid releases such as “Common Sense” (1975) and “Pink Cadillac” (1979). “Bruised Orange,” an excellent release from 1978, was a return to his simpler folk sound.

The Eighties was a quiet period for Prine from a recording standpoint. He recorded a few studio albums, but nothing of note.

In 1991, however, Prine was back with a vengeance. With the help of fellow musicians and admirers such as Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Petty, he recorded another classic, “The Missing Years,” a brilliant folk-rock album brimming with top notch songs such as “Picture Show,” “Great Rain,” “The Sins of Memphisto,” and the title track.

Despite being recently sidelined with throat cancer, Prine continues to tour and record often brilliant albums. His most recent classics are “In Spite of Ourselves” (1995) and “Fair and Square” (2006).

John Prine

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Heart Like a Wheel

Kate and Anna McGarrigle are sisters from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, who in 1975 formed a folk duo and went on to write and record some of the best contemporary folk music of the last 30 years. The musical McGarrigle family grew as Kate married folk singer, Loudon Wainwright and bore him musical children, singers Martha and Rufus Wainwright.

The McGarrigles appeared on the music scene in 1976 with the release of their classic debut album, “Kate and Anna McGarrigle,” a superb collection of songs ranging from folk and blues to gospel all sung with the McGarrigle sisters’ trademark tight harmonies. The album’s highlights are the songs “Mendocino” and “Heart like a Wheel,” with the latter tune becoming a hit for Linda Ronstadt. The song, “Go Leave” is for Kate’s husband Loudon Wainwright, with whom she had a famously difficult marriage.

The McGarrigle’s follow-up release, “Dancer with Bruised Knees” (1977), was another fine effort that like the debut album, included several songs sung in French.

The McGarrigles have continued to record fine albums, and the best of their more recent offerings are “French Record” (1981), “Love Over and Over” (1982), “Heartbeats Accelerating” (1990), and “Matapedia” (1996).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

Leonard Cohen, born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1936, is one of the most enduring of the folk music heroes that emerged during the Sixties. As a songwriter, he is only rivaled by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and few others in the folk/rock universe. Cohen is noted for his quirky takes on the traditional love song and his use of religious imagery to paint portraits of regret and heartbreak.

Cohen’s debut album was the stark, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” (1967), which features his spare guitar playing and solemn, almost spoken vocals. The album contains the superb songs, “Suzanne,” “Master Song,” “The Strange Song,” and “So Long, Marianne.” Cohen’s guitar and vocals are tastefully supported by the occasional restrained electric guitar, string, reed, horn or woodwind.

Cohen’s debut may well be his masterpiece, but several other contenders were yet to come, including, “Songs of Love and Hate” from 1971. This album is sonically quite similar to his debut and contains somewhat less familiar, although just as memorable songs such as, “Avalanche” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag.” In 1974, Cohen recorded the fine album, “New Skin for the Old Ceremony,” the first of his albums in several years to rival his earliest work. The music here is somewhat sunnier than that on his earlier classics with a somewhat countryish flavor.

Cohen has disappeared from the music scene for long periods during his career to pursue other artistic endeavours such as writing books or poetry, but he has always managed to return with his faculties intact. After a long hiatus, Cohen returned to music in 1988, and recorded another classic with the synth-pop album, “I’m Your Man,” featuring the classic songs, “First We Take Manhattan” and “Take This Waltz.”

Cohen is still active in music today, now well into his seventies. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lefty Frizzell

Lefty Frizzell was a country/honky-tonk singer/songwriter who was a popular artist in the Fifties. Frizzell was born in Corsicana, Texas, in 1928. Frizzell acquired the nickname “Lefty” as a child following a schoolyard fight. Frizzell’s music would prove to be a major influence on future country stars such as Merle Haggard.

In 1950, Frizzell scored a major hit single with the song, “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.” Frizzell was a prolific writer and he scored numerous hits during the Fifties with “Always Late (With Your Kisses),” and the original version of the classic, “Long Black Veil.” Frizzell continued recording hits during the Sixties, and scored his biggest ever hit with “Saginaw, Michigan” in 1964.

Frizzell had always been a big drinker, but his alcoholism was steadily worsening and Frizzell died in 1975 from a stroke at the age of 47.

Frizzell recorded his debut album, “Songs of Jimmie Rodgers” in 1951. The album was ostensibly a tribute to Rodgers, but it also heralded the arrival of a major artist in Frizzell. Other fine albums recorded by Frizzell during his career are “Saginaw, Michigan” (1964), “The Sad Side of Love” (1964), and “The Legendary Lefty Frizzell” (1973).

Among the compilations available for this artist are the following: “Remembering: The Greatest Hits of Lefty Frizzell” (1975), “The Best of Lefty Frizzell” (1991).

Left Frizzel Promo shot

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Little Feat: Dixie Chicken

Little Feat was formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1969, by guitarist/songwriter Lowell George and bassist Roy Estrada. Both men were former members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. The original lineup was completed with the addition of Richard Hayward on drums and Bill Payne on keyboards.  Their first two albums were “Little Feat” (1971) and “Sailin’ Shoes” (1972). The albums were critical successes but failed by commercial standards. 

The band broke up during 1971-72, but reformed with new members, Paul Barrere on guitar and Sam Clayton on percussion. Roy Estrada was replaced on bass by KennyGradney. The first album featuring the new lineup is the classic, “Dixie Chicken” (1973). The album is widely-hailed as their best ever and its tighter, funkier sound is thanks in large part to its new members.

The band produced two more excellent efforts with “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” (1974) and “The Last Record Album” (1975). Apparently Barrere and Payne needed to relieve Lowell George of much of his songwriting duties due to George’s escalating drug use.

Despite their increased popularity, Little Feat would never enjoy broad mainstream success. The concert tours that Little Feat embarked upon in the late Seventies rendered the material for the double live album “Waiting for Columbus” (1978).

Lowell George disbanded Little Feat in 1979 and embarked on a solo career. He died shortly thereafter of a heart attack the same year. Little Feat’s final album with George, “Down on the Farm,” was released after his death, in 1979.

Little Feat Publicity Pic

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carl Perkins

Carl Perkins, born in Tipton, Tennessee, in 1932, is one of the fathers of rock and roll music. Perkins started his career playing country music and then became a rockabilly performer when that style gained prominence on the strength of Elvis Presley’s first recordings with Sun Records. Perkins also recorded for Sun Records with Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis as label mates.

Perkins recorded his first single in 1955, and in 1956, he recorded his classics, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Honey Don’t.” The former tune would become a rock standard and be recorded by a plethora of artists including Elvis Presley. The latter song would be covered by The Beatles in the early Sixties. By the Sixties, Perkins had returned to country music.

Among Perkin’s classics recordings are the following albums and compilations: “Dance Album of Carl Perkins” (1958), “Whole Lotta Shakin’,” (1958), “Original Golden Hits” (1970), and “Original Sun Greatest Hits” (1986).

Perkins, one of the true gentlemen of rock and roll and country music, died in 1998.

Original Yellow Label Sun Single

Friday, November 14, 2014

Little Richard: Rippin' it Up

Little Richard was probably the most flamboyant of the early fathers of rock and roll. Richard’s flamboyance, which usually manifested itself in colorful clothing and animated behavior, also found expression through Richard’s claims that he had invented rock and roll music. Nevertheless, he was a singer, pianist, and songwriter of the highest order, and one of the most influential figures in rock and roll history

Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, in 1932. He started his career as an R&B singer/pianist, making his first recording in 1951 with the single, “Taxi Blues,” for RCA. Richard recorded several more singles before he scored his first big hit with “Tutti Fruitti” in 1955. The next year, 1956, would see Richard record a slew of hits including the classic songs, “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Rip it Up.”

In 1957, a full-length album of Richard’s songs would appear, “Here’s Little Richard,” one of the first rock album masterpieces. The album contained all of Richard’s hit singles up to that point and other fine tracks. Another classic album would follow in 1958, with “Little Richard,” featuring the classic songs, “Keep-A-Knockin,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Lucille,” and “The Girl Can’t Help It.” Richard’s popularity and fine piano chops helped to position the piano as an important instrument in early rock and roll.

In the Fifties, Richard disappeared from the pop music scene as quickly as he had appeared, turning to bible studies at a theological college. He would record only gospel music for the next four years. Little Richard eventually returned to rock and roll and is still active today.

Little Richard

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Woody Guthrie: Oklahoma Cowboy

Woody Guthrie was the most important figure in the history of American folk music. Guthrie was more than a singer and musician. He was a real-life incarnation of John Steinbeck’s character, Tom Joad, from “The Grapes of Wrath” and a committed left-wing political activist.

Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912. When he was fourteen, he began playing the guitar and harmonica and learned the English and Scottish folk songs from the parents of his friends. Despite being a bright student, Guthrie dropped out of high school and started busking on the streets. When he was eighteen, his father ordered him to come to Texas to attend school, but Guthrie spent his time in Texas busking and reading in the library.  By 1930, Guthrie joined thousands of other “Okies” (Oklahomans) who were migrating to California to search for work and escape the “dust bowl” drought that plagued Oklahoma.

In California, Guthrie worked odd jobs, and by the end of the Thirties, he had managed to land a job playing folk and “hillbilly” music on the radio. At this time, he wrote the songs that would later become his legendary collection of “dustbowl ballads.” In 1936, he began to perform at communist party events in California, and although he never joined the party, he would later be tagged as a communist.

By the Forties, Guthrie was in New York City, and his “Oklahoma cowboy” nickname and reputation endeared him to the leftist folk music community in the city. He recorded his album, “Dust Bowl Ballads” (1940), for Victor Records shortly after his arrival. The album has long been hailed as a superb document of an episode of American history as related by a man who lived it. Guthrie also recorded for Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress, singing and speaking about his adventures during the dust bowl period of ten years before.

Guthrie landed another radio job in New York City, this time as the host of the “Pipe Smoking Time” show which was sponsored by a tobacco company. He also appeared on CBS radio on the program, “Back Where I Came From.” Guthrie managed to get a spot on the show for his friend, the legendary African-American folk singer, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter.

By 1941, Guthrie was in Washington State to write and perform songs about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the employ of the American Department of the Interior. Guthrie wrote 26 songs for a film which was to be produced about the project, but the film never came to fruition. The songs, “Pastures of Plenty” and “Grand Coulee Dam” would become famous nonetheless.

In 1944, Guthrie met Moses Asch of Folkways Records for whom Guthrie would record hundreds of songs including perhaps his best known tune, “This Land is Your Land.” Folkways would later release these songs in various collections.

By the mid-Fifties, Guthrie’s health was deteriorating with the onset of Huntington’s disease. He was eventually bedridden in Bellevue Hospital, in New York City and in 1960, was visited by a very young and awestruck admirer, Bob Dylan. Guthrie languished in Bellevue hospital until his death in 1967.

Guthrie’s work is best heard via the albums, “Dust Bowl Ballads” (1940), “Bound for Glory” (1956), “Library of Congress Recordings” (1964), “Bed on the Floor” (1965), and “This Land is Your Land” (1967).

That machine kills fascists!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

David Allen Coe

David Allen Coe, born in Akron, Ohio, in 1939, along with Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, helped to pave the way for a country subgenre of music called “outlaw country.” The subgenre featured longhaired, denim-wearing heroes like Coe who embraced and expressed a rule-breaking philosophy of life.

Coe, like Merle Haggard, came by his outlaw image honestly. Both Coe and Haggard did lengthy stretches in prison prior to the start of their music careers. Coe’s debut album, released shortly after his release from prison, is a bluesy masterpiece. The album was titled, “Penitentiary Blues.” With songs like “Cell 33,” Dear Warden,” and “Death Row,” the album is musically and lyrically riveting.

Coe released many fine country albums during the Seventies including, “The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy” (1974), “Longhaired Redneck” (1976), “Texas Moon” (1977), and “Tattoo” (1978). In 1975, Coe scored a major country hit with a cover version of Steve Goodman’s, “You Never Even Call Me by My Name.”

Coe is still alive and well and active in music.

David Allen Coe-Photo by Matthew Woitunski

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Clarence Carter

Clarence Carter is usually remembered as a soul singer who recorded a few hits for the great R&B/soul label, Atlantic, during the Sixties and Seventies. However, Carter was much more than that. He was a bluesman and a talented blues guitarist and songwriter. Carter was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1936.

Carter’s versatility was on full display on his debut album, “This is Clarence Carter” (1968). The album contained disparate tracks including the funky hit, “Looking for a Fox,” and the pure soul of “Slip Away.”

Carter’s sophomore effort, “The Dynamic Clarence Carter” (1969), was another fine eclectic collection of songs with numbers as diverse as the soul ballad, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and a cover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” Testifyin’” (1969) was another strong album. In 1970, Carter scored another big pop hit with the title track of his next album, “Patches.”

Carter has continued to record, but has produced nothing to compare with his first four albums for Atlantic.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Camel is a progressive rock band from Guildford, England. The band came together in 1971, and had guitarist Andrew Latimer, bassist Doug Ferguson, drummer Andy Ward, and keyboardist Peter Bardens as original members.

Their first album, the fine “Camel” was released in 1973. The debut album was a very solid example of progressive rock with tightly performed selections relying heavily on keyboards and lengthy tracks that allowed the musicians space to solo and improvise. “Slow Yourself Down” and “Mystic Queen” are standout tracks from this one.

Camel’s second album, “Mirage” (1974), proved to be the band’s masterpiece with inspired arrangements, playing and songs. “Free Fall,” “Supertwister,” and “Lady Fantasy” are the highlights here. The album is one of the all-time classics of progressive rock.

Camel’s next two albums, “The Snow Goose” (1975) and “Moonmadness” (1976) were both stellar efforts, and come close to reaching the heights achieved on Mirage. The former album is an instrumental showcase for the more brilliant arrangements and ensemble playing, and is conceived as a concept album about the life cycle of the snow goose. The latter album is more keyboard-driven, but is just as memorable. Camel’s outstanding live album, “A Live Record” (1978), with its spot on live renditions of studio material amply demonstrated the brilliance of this band’s individual members.

After falling on hard times in the Eighties, Camel bounced back in the Nineties with several solid albums including, “Harbor of Tears” and “Rajaz.”

Peter Bardens passed away in 2002.

Camel in concert

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bob Seger: Old Time Rock 'n Roll

Bob Seger was one of the most popular and mainstream of the rock singers of the Seventies. Seger, born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1944, had, in his initial incarnation, been a blues-rock/soul singer in a band called “The Bob Seger System.” This band came together in 1968 and played gritty blues rock and R&B. The band’s debut album, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (1969), was a fine effort that had the title track become a minor hit. The band would record two more albums before folding in 1970.

Seger would reemerge as a solo artist, and several early Seventies albums were released under his name that garnered little commercial or critical attention. That would all change with Seger’s next supporting outfit, “The Silver Bullet Band.” Seger and his new backing band came together in 1974, and Seger would finally find the commercial and critical success that he had long been striving for. The first release of Seger and The Silver Bullet Band was a superb live album, “Live Bullet,” from 1976. The album features the new band playing a number of Seger’s older songs in inspired performances.

The band’s next release, “Night Moves,” (1976) would be the breakthrough that would turn Seger into an overnight success more than a decade after his career had begun. The album consisted of hard rock gems such as “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” “Come to Poppa,” and “The Fire Down Below,” but it was the folk-flavoured title track, “Night Moves,” that would become a massive hit. Another fine track, “Mainstreet” would become a minor hit.

Seger would follow-up one classic album with another with the release of “Stranger in Town” (1978). Like its predecessor, this album was a huge commercial and critical success thanks to outstanding tracks such as, “Hollywood Nights,” “Still the Same,” “Feel Like a Number,” and the hit ballad, “We’ve Got Tonight.”

Seger would record several more solid albums such as “Against the Wind” (1980) and “Nine Tonight” (1981) before drifting from the spotlight.

Bob Seger in 1977

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Beatles: History and Classics

The Beatles are almost universally regarded as the greatest act in the history of post-war popular music, and that claim is hard to deny when one considers their status as the biggest selling musical act in history, their universal critical acclaim, and the never duplicated hysteria that surrounded the band during the height of “Beatlemania” in the Sixties. The cult of the Beatles is alive and well around the world more than 40 years after the band’s demise.

The group got its start in Liverpool, in the Fifties, as a John Lennon-led skiffle band called the “Quarryman.” Lennon was a rebellious Liverpool youth who had been introduced to rock and roll music from the recordings brought across the Atlantic and into Liverpool by English merchant sailors. It was from these recordings that Lennon and his generation in England were first introduced to the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and other early fathers of the music. Eager to emulate his new heroes and make a name for himself, Lennon recruited some schoolmates to join him in his new band. Members would come and go until the band settled with a lineup of Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best, a drummer.

The band changed their name to the Silver Beetles for a time and then finally settled on “The Beatles.” The band acquired an avid local following in Liverpool and became a fixture at the Cavern Club, where they performed inspired sets on a regular basis. While the band was playing clubs in Hamburg, Germany, Sutcliffe fell in love with a German girl and decided to stay behind, leaving the Beatles a four man outfit. Sutcliffe would die of a brain hemorrhage at age 21 in 1962.

The group made its first recording as the backing band for singer Tony Sheridan on the single, “My Bonnie,” which received airplay in Liverpool area. The popularity of this record inspired Liverpool record shop owner Brian Epstein to attend one of the Beatles’ Cavern shows, and when Epstein witnessed the wild reaction of the audience, he convinced the group to take him on as their manager. Epstein convinced the band to drop drummer Pete Best from the group in favor of Ringo Starr from a rival Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The final roster of the Beatles was set with Lennon and Harrison on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass, and Ringo Starr on drums. The group would record the moderately successful single, “Love Me Do,” before the end of 1962.

Epstein then began to search for a record label to sign his band. After numerous rejections, the band was finally signed by the Parlophone label. The Beatles recorded their first album for the label, “Please Please Me,” in 1963. The album was recorded in a single day, apparently to capture as close as possible the immediacy of their live shows. Although Epstein had trouble finding a U.S. label to sign the band, he managed to get the Beatles booked on the Ed Sullivan TV Show in April, 1964. New York disc jockey, Murray the K, hyped the Beatles upcoming TV appearance, setting the stage for the birth of Beatlemania. The Beatles appearance on the Sullivan show was a sensation seen by millions of Americans, and the Beatles become international superstars overnight.

The Beatles thus began an exhausting two years of near constant recording and touring. The early Beatles records were released separately in the U.S. and U.K., sometimes with different titles. For example, “Please, Please Me,” the band’s first U.K. album was released in the U.S. as “Meet the Beatles.” The names of the albums don’t matter much as everything this band recorded is essential, and any collection of Beatles music is guaranteed to be of high quality. Titles to look for from the 1964 albums are:” With the Beatles,” “Twist and Shout,” “A Hard Days Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” and “Beatles 65.” The Beatles’ music would soon change from light poppy love songs to darker and more introspective fare as the group attempted to expand its musical horizons.

With the release of the album, “Help” (1965), the Beatles began the process of reinventing themselves. The title track, “Help,”  “Yesterday,” and the very Dylanesque, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” saw the group moving into previously uncharted territory. Their songs were still just as catchy, the harmonies still as sweet, but the material had become darker and more intriguing.

This artistic growth continued on the next album, “Rubber Soul” (1965), and for the next five albums. This string of albums represents the Beatles’ best work and some of the best albums of popular music ever recorded. On Rubber Soul, the band begins to experiment musically with the inclusion of sitar on “Norwegian Wood,” and several songs such as “Michelle,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “In My Life” which could easily be classified as “folk rock.” 

The Beatles’ following studio release, “Revolver” (1966), sees the Beatles at the peak of their powers. Revolver is an astonishing collection of songs representing a myriad of styles from the art rock of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Good Day Sunshine” to the hard rock of “Taxman” and full blown psychedelic experimentation in “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

The release of Revolver coincided with the band’s retirement from live performances. Freed of life on the road, the Beatles would dedicate themselves to experimentation in the recording studio. With the able support of their producer, George Martin, the group would again reach new heights of creativity in the studio with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967). This album’s overt experimentation was an attempt by John Lennon and Paul McCartney to outdo the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson who had raised the studio bar with his work on the Beach Boys’ classic recording, “Pet Sounds,” during the previous year. “Sgt. Pepper,” which is often cited as the Beatles’ magnum opus, is every bit as thrilling as Revolver with epic songs such as “Lovely Rita,” “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “She’s Leaving Home,” and ‘A Day in the Life.”

The Beatles kept rolling with the double album simply titled, “The Beatles” (1968). Its unadorned, solid white cover earned it the nickname, “The White Album,” among fans. The album is amazingly eclectic and contains nary a bad tune amid its myriad of tracks. Among the album’s classic tunes are, “Blackbird,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Revolution,” “Back in The USSR,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

In 1969, The Beatles would release their last true studio album, “Abbey Road.” Group in-fighting that had lasted for several years was becoming intolerable and Paul McCartney was tiring of holding things together. McCartney would later signal the demise of the band by releasing his first solo album in 1970. Abbey Road was another brilliant effort that contained classic tracks such as “Come Together,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and most impressively, the medley of short, connected songs that finishes the album.

“Let It Be,” which was recorded prior to Abbey Road, would be released in 1970 with the title track, “Let it Be,” and Lennon’s “Across the Universe” as standout tracks.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Bobby Fuller Four: I Fought the Law

The Bobby Fuller Four was one of the best American rock and roll bands from the early to mid-Sixties-a time when good rave-up rock and roll was in short supply. The band formed in Baytown, Texas, in 1961, with Bobby Fuller on guitar and lead vocals. Fuller’s brother Randy served as the band’s bassist.

The band started its recording career as a surf rock combo and had the song, “King of the Beach” as its first single. The band found its sound with the fine hit single, “Let Her Dance” in 1965. The band’s next single, “I Fought the Law,” was an instant classic and stands today as one of the all-time greatest rock and roll singles. 

Both of the aforementioned hit singles can be found on the album, “I Fought the Law” (1966). This album and a number of compilation albums are recommended.

Bobby Fuller was found dead in his car outside his Hollywood home during the summer of 1966.Foul play has always been rumoured in Fuller's demise, but no solid evidence has ever come to the fore.

Randy Fuller tried to continue the band after Bobby’s death, but ultimately failed.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fats Domino: The Fat Man

Fats Domino was one of the most successful of the founding fathers of rock and roll. Domino hailed from New Orleans and started his career as a New Orleans R&B performer. He is forever remembered for the early rock and roll hits, “Blueberry Hill,” “The Fat Man,” I Want to Walk You Home,” “Walking to New Orleans,” “Ain’t it a Shame,” “Blue Monday,” and “I’m in Love Again.” The man was one of the giants of the Fifties, scoring almost three times as many hits as either Chuck Berry or Little Richard.

Domino was born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. in New Orleans, in 1928. After spending time in the Dave Bartholomew band as pianist, he made his first recordings in 1950 with “The Fat Man” and “Detroit City Blues.” “The Fat Man” was an important recording in the development of what was to become rock and roll. The song was co-written, as were most of Fats' big hits, with trumpeter, Bartholomew. The song became a huge R&B hit, and it is one of the most successful debut singles in pop music history.

By the time rock and roll emerged in the mid-1950s, Domino was already an established R&B star, and his transition to rock and roll was an easy one. In 1955, he scored his first hit on the pop charts with “Ain’t it a Shame,” the song that introduced him to white audiences and turned him into one of the first rock and roll stars.

Domino’s best recordings can be most easily found via compilation. Among the best Domino compilations are “Rock and Rollin’ with Fats Domino” (1956), “Fats Domino Swings 12, 000, 000 Records” (1958), “The Fantastic Fats Domino-20 Original Hits” (1977), and “My Blue Heaven-The Best of Fats Domino” (1990).
Photo by Heinrich Klaffs

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'

Jazz singer/songwriter/pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller was born in New York City, in 1904. While he is not a household name to the extent of fellow jazz legends, Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, and Goodman, Fats Waller was no less important or influential. In the opinion of his fellow musicians, especially Louis Armstrong, he was a giant among giants.

As a youth in New York City, Waller sought out the Harlem stride piano legend, James P. Johnson, and became the great pianist’s understudy. Soon thereafter, Waller was one of the best stride pianists in the city. The stride style is sort of the jazz version of boogie-woogie, and as such, it is quite palatable to the ears of rock music fans. Waller would eventually become one of the very best pianists that jazz ever produced. Only the likes of Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Oscar Peterson could match his virtuosity.

In addition to being one of the finest musicians in early jazz, Waller was one of the best and most prolific songwriters in jazz, penning the standards, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain't Misbehavin.” Many of Waller’s compositions are humorous, and display his penchant for writing clever lyrics laden with double-meanings.

Waller’s first recording was made as early as 1922, with the sides, “Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues” recorded for the General Phonograph Company. After a few more recording sessions in 1923, Waller’s recording career would begin in earnest in 1927 with a solid string of classic sides that would continue until his death in 1943.

Waller’s first big hit, “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” appeared in 1929, and was followed by scads of others including, “African Ripples,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Viper’s Drag,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” “S’Posin’,” “You’re Feets Too Big,” “All That Meat and No Potatoes,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” and “A Good Man’s Hard to Find.”

These recordings and more can be found on several excellent compilations of Waller’s music such as the multi-volume “The Complete Fats Waller,” “The Very Best of Fats Waller” (2000), and “The Centennial Collection” (2004).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer

Lewis’s musical journey started in his hometown of Ferriday, Louisiana, where he was born on September 29, 1935. Lewis was a cousin of television evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart and country singer Mickey Gilley. Lewis studied the piano from the age of ten, and his mother enrolled him in a bible college in Texas.

According to a famous story, Lewis was thrown out of the school on his first day for performing a raucous version of “My God Is Real”. It is stories such as this one and Lewis’s fervent performances that earned him the moniker, “The Killer.”

At 21, Lewis auditioned for Sun Records, and Sam Phillips signed him as soon as he heard the tape of the audition. His first single, “Crazy Arms,” was a minor hit, and. Phillips believed that Lewis could become another Elvis Presley. Accordingly, Phillips poured out money for the promotion of Lewis’s follow-up, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

The record was banned on many radio stations across America, but it went to be a huge hit on the country, R&B and pop charts. His next single, “Great Balls of Fire,” became his trademark song, and another release, “Breathless,” made for three huge Lewis hits in a row. In the meantime, Lewis was also gaining a reputation as a live performer unequalled in intensity.

Lewis had secretly married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, the daughter of his bass player and uncle, J.W. Brown. While on a trip to England, the British press found out about the marriage and ripped him to shreads, causing Lewis to retreat to the U.S. His career went into rapid decline as a result.
Smash Records signed Lewis, and he began recording country music in his own style, and due to the label’s bargaining with country music disc jockeys, Lewis became a star again.

After overcoming a series of personal problems with drugs and alcohol and a divorce from Myra Gale, Lewis became one of the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986. In 1989, Lewis was the subject of the film, “Great Balls of Fire,” which told his life story. Lewis re-recorded all of his old hits for the film, and has continued to record and play live since.

Several fine compilations of Lewis’ early hits are available, including the three-volume, “Original Golden Hits” (1969) and “Original Sun Greatest Hits” (1983).