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