The Immortal Juke Box A5 : Toussaint McCall Nothing Takes The Place Of You

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It’s dark when you set off for another shift at the plant and it’s dark when you get back to this dark room in the boarding house held together with flaking paint.

Your overalls are stuck fast to your back and your body holds on to the ache reminding you that there are still some things you can feel.

The radio doesn’t work anymore and the TV is filled with smiling fools selling dreams no one believes in any more or pictures of boys who could be your sons dying in Vietnam for a reason you never could get.

Outside there’s someone shouting at someone something about something that never mattered anyhow. The rain’s begining to fall and the moon stares silently down promising to keep the worlds secrets for one more night.

You stopped off at the corner to buy a bottle that’ll take you through till sleep releases you from her memory for one more night.

But, for now while you wait for sleep to come you shuffle the pile of scratched 45s which have been your loyal companions through the days and weeks and months and years since she left.

You want a record that speaks of life as it is – the real life real men and women live. One song that will not pretend that disappointment and pain isn’t the price you pay for those moments of joy.

Most of these records were made in small southern studios by singers whose names are rarely spoken of on the radio or by the kids who decide who gets to top the charts.

But, for you this is the music that talks to you straight and reminds you how much a man can endure and still be a man.

Here’s one that tells your story like you wish you could tell it yourself – if you had anyone to tell it to. Tell it to me Toussaint!

Toussaint McCall is an organ playing, gospel rooted, deep soul singer from Monroe Louisianna. While his other recordings which include some gems like,’Shimmy’ are of interest to soul aficionados, ‘Nothing Takes The Place Of You’ will be the song that defines his career and provides his legacy.

Written by Toussaint and Patrick Robinson It was a considerable hit on the R&B charts when it was released on Stan Lewis’ Ronn label in 1967.

More than twenty years later it must have amazed Toussaint to find the song featuring in John Water’s 60s set movie (and soundtrack record) Hairspray.

One song is enough to make you immortal.

The song’s quality of dignified resignation will always call out to anyone who carries a torch for the one who got away but who stays pressed close to the heart and soul no matter how many years have passed.

Toussaint sings the song without unnecessary theatricality. His organ playing and vocal is a model of understated passion which has all the more impact for rejecting screams of rage and loss for quietly spoken sadness.

This is a song about a state of the heart and being that lasts and lasts not a snapshot of a momentary encounter on the roller coaster of love and romance. The tempo of the song is that of a slow beating battered heart.

You feel that Toussaint is singing the song to himself as he counts down the hours to dawn not tiring as he sings the song over and over and over.

The understated power of the song has been recognised by the most discerning judges of the music: other soul singers. It is remarkable that Nothing Takes The Place Of You has been recorded by many of the great luminaries of the genre.

I have listened to versions by the sophisicated Al Green, the majestic Isaac Hayes, the Tan Nightingale Johnny Adams, the sublime William Bell, the feisty Koko Taylor, the wonderful Gloria Lynne, the funky Bobby Powell and the stately Brook Benton.

Listening to these versions (easily located on the Internet) furnishes you with a deeply pleasurable education in the stylistic personality of each of these marvellous artists. Take the tour!

The late, great John Peel championed the little known retro classic version issued counter culturally in the punk era by Mike Spenser And The Cannibals which I offer for your delight below.

I have always had a dream of hosting a late night radio programme which would present all the music I’m championing here on the Jukebox. It would be called, ‘Turnpike’ (I’ll post the theme tune here one day).

I believe you should always sign off with a record that will echo long after it’s finished in the listeners souls.

I have no doubt Toussaint McCall’s masterpiece would do the job very well. But, don’t just take my word for it … Let Wolfman Jack say it for me!

Notes:

Toussaint’s Ronn recordings were reissued on the Fuel label in 2000 though, ‘Nothing … ‘ is the clear standout they’re well worth your attention.

Fuel have also issued a compilation of soul tracks from sister labels Jewel and Paula and a fine gospel set.

Ronn Records was founded in Shreveport by Stan Lewis one of those great regional maverick record producers/entrepreneurs so central to the development of twentieth century American music. Ronn was part of a stable of companies including Jewel and Paula Records.

The labels issued many excellent sides covering the gamut of black music: blues, R&B, Gospel, Soul and Pop.

The young Elvis Presley often called into Stan’s shop when he was appearing on the Louisianna Hayride. The great guitar riff single, ‘Susie Q’ featuring the teenage James Burton was produced by Stan and written about his daughter.

Having produced so many roots classics no one could begrudge Stan’s lottery winning moment when Paula act John Fred & His Playboy Band held the number one pop position for two weeks in January 1968 with the million-selling insanely catchy Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).

Voyages Around Van : Introduction

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Van Morrison, twinned with Bob Dylan, has been the pole star illuminating my love of twentieth century popular music. Untold hours, since I was a teenager, spent listening to the treasure house of his recordings and attending scores of live performances have given me some of the signal pleasures of my life.

The powerful nourishing river of his music, fed by deep tributaries, has carried me into love and appreciation of many, many great musicians and the traditions they came out of and worked within. His deep respect, love and practitioner’s knowledge of the blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, soul and folk music which he has demonstrated repeatedly throughout his career have been an education and a blessing.

From the first moment I heard Van sing, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ in the early 1970s on the Saturday lunchtime show of the estimable, ‘Emperor Rosko’ on BBC radio and was catapulted into transcendent joy I have been an obsessive follower of his musical journeys and a grateful beneficiary. ‘Voyages Around Van’ will be a series tracing some of those journeys.

When Van Morrison at his best sings a song, one of his own or one from one of his approved forebears or contemporaries that has somehow called to him, you are forced to stop, take heed and listen with true bodily and spiritual attention rather than the mere overhearing it can be so easy to lapse into when listening to lesser music. The rewards more than justify the effort.

Certain songs from other artists have clearly captivated Van’s imagination to the extent that he has felt compelled to record them and return to regularly in concert – mining them for deeper levels of meaning throughout his career. One of these is the bewitching ballad, ‘Dont Look Back’ Van found within the catalogue of an artist who has profoundly influenced him; his elder brother in the blues, John Lee Hooker. A discussion of that song will follow very shortly! In the meantime as a treat on a glorious summertime in England day here’s Brown Eyed Girl – the original lightning strike that lit a still blazing flame.

Muhammad Ali : The Supporting Cast – Tunney Hunsaker

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…. Tunney Hunsaker!!

Muhammad Ali is a sporting and cultural star to outshine Sirius.

He has become a totemic figure occupying significant space in the global collective consciousness and our dreams. Many of us have measured out our youth, maturity and now old age following and being inspired by his legendary deeds and the generosity of talent, heart and spirit he has expended in his regal life.

In the brilliance of his life and career the lives of many others from an extraordinarily diverse range of backgrounds have been illuminated.

The Supporting Cast series of posts will spotlight some of these lives.

David Remnick in his excellent book on Muhammad Ali calls him the King Of The World which seems entirely appropriate to me. And, like Kings from time immemorial Ali has had inner and outer courts seeking and competing for his attention, his financial largesse and his affection.

Beyond the courts there have been multitudes who have witnessed his reign and interacted with him directly and indirectly as bitter enemies, flag waving supporters, sceptical observers and head shaking in wonder historians.

Again, like a King he has had to face internal dissension and threats to his crown from dangerous outside and foreign sources – opponents within the boxing ring and from society at large.

He has had his trusted advisers, his jesters and his nay saying doubters. He has survived it all and not without heavy cost triumphed against all these forces to end his days in seemingly serene repose.

Enter in Act 1 aged 30 from Fayetville West Virginia weighing 192 pounds, Tunney Hunsaker! The date was October 29th 1960 when Eisenhower was in the last dwindling days of his presidency and the seemingly endless promise of JFK’s new frontier was about to begin.

The venue was Ali’s home town of Louisville Kentucky. Some 6000 souls can say they were present at Ali’s professional boxing debut and Tunney Hunsaker’s cameo role in his legendary career.

Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the serving Police Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the serving Police Chief of Fayetville.

He had turned Pro in 1952 and following a promising early start, winning ten of his first dozen bouts, he had taken a long lay off between the middle of 1953 and 1958.

On his return he was coming off a series of 6 straight losses including one against Ernie Terrell when he laced on the gloves to fight Ali. Ali’s management team, like all those wanting to ease a serious prospect into his career, wanted a match that would teach the young cub something about the pro game but not one that would place him in any serious danger of defeat.

Hunsaker was there to be a literal and metaphorical range finder. He was an honest and durable fighter but not one blessed with outstanding talents.

Ali was starting his professional life after a stellar amateur history. He had over a hundred contests under his belt and he was just back from Rome with a gold medal around his neck.

He was also the proud owner of a hatful of golden gloves titles – all these triumphs attained while still a teenager. His early trainers, Joe Martin and Fred Stoner, knew he was something special but how far could he go? Tunney Hunsaker was the first step on the unfolding story which would answer that question.

As Tunney stood in his corner looking across the ring the young Ali he saw was a superb physical specimen. Six foot three in height and weighing 186 pounds with the sheen of youthful fitness and condition.

More than that he had a personal aura, a glow that said this is somebody who will make a mark on the world.

Hunsaker’s hope would have been the knowledge that frequently lions of amateur boxing do not deliver on their promise in the brutal mans world of pro boxing. Most of them will not become contenders let alone champions.

Did this jive talking flashy pink Cadillac kid from Louisville have a true fighting heart? Could he take a heavyweight punch and recover?

Hunsaker was not to know that Ali, at this stage of his career, virtually lived in the gym spending long sweat soaked hours forging the fighting skills that he would so thrillingly display in the decades ahead. Or that he had a fighter’s heart as big as his imagination which was virtually limitless.

The six rounds of the bout were an education for both fighters. Ali learned that a heavyweight punch did hurt but that he coud handle the pain and not let it distract him from his work.

Hunsaker learned that the kid was much faster with his jab, his movement and his thought than any boxer he had ever faced. All his old pro tricks, the holding and pushing and feints were to no avail against an opponent who had talent and fitness to burn.

Tunney Hundaker became the first pro to learn the hard way how Ali’s lightning jab and the slashing combinations of punches that followed could sap the body’s strength and befuddle the mind.

At the end of the fight Hunsaker was bloodied and well beaten and Ali elated and looking forward to a future as a champion of champions. Hunsaker with typical honesty admitted that Ali was just too good and predicted that he would become heavyweight champion of the world.

We all know what happened later for Muhammad – tales of impossible glory, triumph and tragedy celebrated in story, song and myth.

But what became of Tunney Hunsaker after he had banked the three hundred dollars he got for the fight and the caravan moved on?

Well, he had six more fights winning two before he faced his final opponent in the ring, Joe Shelton, in his home state on April 6th 1962. He lost this fight when he was knocked out in the tenth and then faced the toughest battle of his life as he lapsed into a coma from which he did not emerge for nine days.

His fighting heart and devoted medical care pulled him through and he returned to Fayetville to resume his role as a community cop for decades after. He was inducted into the law enforcement hall of fame and was thrice awarded the title of Sunday School teacher of the year.

Tunney Hunsaker died on April 27th 2005.

There is a bridge named after him crossing the New River Gorge. He served his sport and his community with steadfast courage and loyalty and won their respect and affection.

That’s an epitaph any one of us would be proud of.

This post dedicated on Father’s Day to my Dad, Wally Hickey, with whom I spent many happy times discussing the life and lore of Muhammad Ali.

On Drums: Charlie Watts !!

Charlie Watts, gentleman, scholar and drummer at large was 73 this year. Here’s a short tribute.

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Famously, at the live show captured on Get Your Ya Yas Out Mick Jagger informs the patrons that,’Charlie’s good tonight ain’t he!’. Well yes Mick he certainly was and then some.

Charlie Watts has been the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones for half a century and more providing calm craft in the midst of all the hoopla and madness.

While he has surely seen about everything a man can see he has remained steadfastly and stoically himself.

A wry, unimpressable observer who loves to listen to his beloved jazz and play the drums with the scratchy rhythm and blues band who somewhat to his amazement transformed themselves into the greatest rock and roll band the planet has ever produced.

Charlie’s role in the band is crucial to the DNA of the band’s unique sound. Keith is released to sway and swagger to his heart’s content because Charlie is always there behind him urging him on and on while being ready to catch him if like an over ambitious trapeze flyer it looks like he might fall.

Whatever else has changed that partnership has endured and thrived through the years ensuring the distinctive leery vitality of the band remains in rude good health

One of the many glories of the Stones is the majestic way in which they build and hold tension in their rockers – say Tumbling Dice or Brown Sugar. You’ll notice how groups covering the Stones almost always rush and ruin the songs because they can’t match the rhythmic control marshalled by Charlie.

While he is the engineer driving the awesome power of the Stones streamliner in full flight he is also the brakeman making sure they make it round the sharp turns safely and arrive on time at their destination.

The listening audience are taken up, held and thrilled as the band, anchored by Charlie, progress through their set taking care to pace themselves – allowing ballad breaks before the celebrated avalanche ending sends everybody home exhausted and elated.

Charlie Watts is the zen master of rock drumming. His inherent restraint, informed by the jazz heritage he so treasures, allows him to play what needs to be played and nothing more.

He is at the service of the music, the sound and the dynamic shape of the individual song. No band has been better served by its drummer than the Rolling Stones.

So, as the Rolling Stones embark on one more last hurrah Charlie will endure the travelling, the media and the endless waiting for the wonderful pleasures of those few hours on stage when he can just play the music along with his faithful companions of so many years.

Charlie was fabulous in 1964, fantastic in 1974, fervour filled in 1984 and 1994 and remained unflashily fluent in 2004. Things will be no different in 2014.

So, if you’re in the audience make sure that you really put your hands together for the drummer!

Alan Gilzean: Elegance In Action

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Elegance as a quality in life, sport and the arts is hard to define but easily recognised. It’s surely something to do with speed of thought, economy of movement, grace under pressure.

The elegant glide to triumphs without overt strain so that we catch our breath and sigh, ‘that’s how to do it!’. And, having seen the elegant work their magic with such panache we queue up to see them do it again so we can exclaim I was there and saw them do it.

Fred Astaire in every dance routine of his career. Lester Young launching into a saxophone soliloquy, Barry Richards caressing the cricket ball to the boundary, Barry John casually wrong footing an entire All Black defence.

P G Woodhouse crafting a perfect inimitable paragraph. Maria Bueno conjuring a Wimbledon winner.

The elegant performer wins your heart and your allegiance to their cause. This is not a matter of statistics, of heaped titles or medals but of indelible memories, stories of famous feats to be retold to your own and the following generations.

My own exemplar of elegance is the one and only Alan Gilzean a footballer whose fabled history at Dundee, Spurs and for Scotland feels more wondrous as each season passes.

At Dundee he scored an incredible 169 goals in just 190 games between 1959 and 1964. He was the glory of the best side they ever had under the tutelage of the great Bill Shankly’s brother, Bob.

With the Dark Blues he won the the league title in 1961/62 and the following year he was the spearhead of their thrilling run to the semi-final of the European Cup where they lost to the eventual winners – the lordly AC Milan.

At the end of 1964 the ever shrewd Bill Nicholson bought him for Spurs where he was to remain until the endof the 73/74 season. The Spurs fans quickly came to adore Gily recognising a player who met their demand for style as well as success.

In no time he was lionised as the King of White Hart Lane – a title he will hold in perpetuity!

The statistics relate that he scored 133 goals for Spurs in 429 games and that he was a member of the sides that won an FA Cup, two League Cups and a EUFA cup.

But, with Alan Gilzean it’s not the numbers that you remember it’s the breathtaking elegance of his play – the way he could amaze you game after game with the subtlety of his footballing imagination.

He insouciantly brought off feats of skill and technique that other fine players could only dream of – leaving opponents admiringly bemused and teammates exhilerated.

Alan Gilzean was to use a fine Scots term a supremely canny player. He seemed to have an advanced football radar system that allowed him to know exactly where he was in relation to his markers and his team mates. He could compute the trajectory of any pass that came towards him on the ground or in the air and instantly assess whether the ball should be held up or delivered on.

He had exquisite touch on the deck regularly wrong footing defenders before setting up goal chances for himself or one of his strike partners. His sense of football space and keen eye for opportunity made him one one of the great collaborators.

He forged a legendary striking partnership (the G men!) with the peerless Jimmy Greaves who profited greatly from Gilzean’s vision. No one has ever been better at coolly converting chances into goals than Jimmy Greaves and Gilzean provided him with a wealth of those chances.

Indeed, Jimmy has called Gilzean the best player he ever worked with – some accolade. Where Jimmy was all poise and deadly sureness Gilzean’s other principal strike partner, Martin Chivers, was all power and swagger. Gilzean was a superb foil to both.

One of Alan’s great attributes was his ability to change the direction of play to open up seemingly closed paths to goal. He was the master of the shimmy, the feint and the dummy – leaving many a defender bewildered and bamboozled in his wake.

He turned the back-heel into an art form and won the plaudits for artistic impression from the White Hart Lane faithful.

However, the defining skill of his genius was his heading of which he was the supreme master.

To watch Alan Gilzean working his way through his heading repertoire was an intensely pleasurable privilege. The power header, the precisely placed in the corner of the net header, the chance on a plate for Jimmy header, the eternal glory of the Gilzean glancing header and the masterpieces that were the Gilzean back headers will forever define the art and science of heading a football.

He seemed to intuitively understand a geometry too complex for Euclid when it came to directing headers.

Given his eminence and elegance as a player I propose some additions to the language to reflect his unique contribution to footballing and sporting culture.

Gilzean: Noun – A sporting term for a perfectly executed back header or back heel gemerally resulting in a goal being scored.

Gilzean: Verb – To display enormous technical skill with nonchalance.

Alan Gilzean was brave, hugely talented and gave unstintingly of those talents.

He is a footballing immortal whose legend will burn bright wherever elegance and beauty of style are celebrated.

God bless you Alan Gilzean – long may you amble!

Further reading: Happily there is an excellent book on our hero, ‘In Search Of Alan Gilzean: The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend’ by James Morgan.