Remembering George Jones : The greatest Country Music Singer who ever lived!

George Jones. The One and Only George Jones.

Four years ago the Silent Boatman, who comes for us all, carried George away.

He was, without any scintilla of doubt, the greatest singer Country Music has ever, or will ever, know.

He was born in Texas in 1931. From his dad he inherited a taste for the bottle and from his mother the hope of salvation.

The world and his own nature offered up the simultaneous allure and spectre of sin, guilt and damnation.

From some higher power he was blessed with a singing voice that could express with enormous authority and impact the whole damn bone and blood gamut of emotions we’re all forever chained and in thrall to throughout our lives.

A voice that was never unrestrained even when plumbing unfathomable depths of pain and loss.

George’s voice had to be controlled even under the most crushing spiritual and emotional pressure because it was his, and our, final defence against defeat, depression and madness.

Sing one for me George!

George could sing gospel with a repentant sinner’s fervour and in his youth with the tempo cranked up to hot rod levels he could almost sound like a rockabilly singer.

But, he lived and died as the greatest country honkytonk balladeer who ever lived.

If you want your heart pummelled and wrenched (and sooner or later we all do) no-one can perform emotional/emergency cardiac surgery like good ol’ George.

I won’t list all the hits – there are several fine compilations, easily available, where you can soak yourself in his genius for mining and assuaging in song the travails, tragedies and travesties of life, love and death.

What more do you want?

Take a few minutes now to listen to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’.

 

 

When George recorded this he was a wreck of a man almost destroyed through drink and dissolution.

The writers, Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam, gifted him a morbid son of a bitch of a song that needed a singer who could emotionally outstare the tragic story of a life stalled for decades because of lost chances and lost love.

A life only released from the stasis of loneliness and pain by the release of death.

George was more than equal to the challenge. He was well acquainted with loss and he knew what it was to be half crazy.

Knowing this as a man helped the artist to sing the song with startling tenderness.

He sings with the tone of a man who has been so blasted by the storms that have assailed him that he has surrendered all his rage.

Now, he accepts with humility the consolations of bare humanity.

Hear the dignity he gives to the wonderful line ‘All dressed up to go away’ describing the funeral bound body of the song’s protagonist.

Hear how he allows the swelling instrumentation of the chorus to lift him as he reveals with power but without undue drama why, finally, the man at the centre of the song has stopped loving her today.

Only the truly great artists can stop time.

George stops it for us by largeness of heart, force of will and depth of talent.

Now let’s hear another demonstration of George’s genius as a singer and his capacity to capture and reveal the emotional depths and complexities which can be contained in a ‘simple’ country song.

‘A Good Year for the Roses’ showcases George mining sadness, despair, anger, bitterness and weary resignation.

When George sings he makes fellow flawed pilgrims of us all.

On our pilgrimage we stumble. We fall. We fall again.

We can’t go on. Can’t go on. Yet we do. We go on.

With George’s voice beckoning us on. Step by step.

Step by stumbling step.

 

Not many really deserve to have angels sing them to their rest.

For the rest of us we could do no better than settle for the immortal tones of the sinner’s friend – George Jones.

You know I think the boatman might just have broken his vow of silence when he ferried George.

I can hear him saying, ‘Sing one for me George. Sing one for us all.’

George Jones died on April 26 2013 in his 82nd year.

God bless you George!

Carol King, James Taylor, Laura Nyro and The Drifters : Up on the Roof

 

Brooklyn 1962

Rooftop Thoughts: 

Billy Snr

When I get home I’m tired and beat. That’s why I come up here.

Up here, up on the roof where the air is fresh and sweet.

Up here it’s as quiet as Brooklyn gets.

A man can drop his shoulders and take a deep breath and let his mind roam free.

Last week I was forty four years old. Forty Four!

My folks married in ’17. A War wedding.

Dad said to Mom, ‘I won’t wait. The world won’t wait. Let’s get married now!’

I hop they had a sweet time in the short time they had together.

Dad never made it home from France. Never made it home.

Two things in life I’d like to do.

Take Kathleen and Mom with me to lay some flowers and say a prayer at Dad’s grave.

And see Billy Boy and Maureen go to College and make something of themselves.

Oh, and if I could turn back the hands of time I’d love to see The Dodgers play one more time at Ebbets Field.

One more Lucky and I’ll go back down.

Maureen (16)

Up here, up on the roof, the stars put on a show for free.

Which is just as well ’cause Mom and Dad ain’t exactly giving me a free pass to see any of the shows I’d like to see at The Fox or The Paramount.

They’d keep me out too late and I might meet the ‘wrong sort of boy’.

Of course anyone outside an apostle is the wrong sort of boy.

And, Jimmy would definitely be the wrong sort of boy.

Strike One – He ain’t Catholic.

Strike Two – He’s 21 and that according to them is way too old for me.

Strike Three – He’s a College Boy with too much money and not enough sense.

But, oh but, but, but Jimmy dances like a dream, he makes me laugh and he makes me feel like no one ever knew me before he met me.

I won’t be able to see him for two whole days.

So I come up here on the roof and turn the dial on the radio to WINS and when ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’ comes on I know that he will be singing along too just a few blocks away.

And the stars above are our stars and it’s our show.

Billy Boy (14)

Up here, Up on the roof you’re immune from all that rat race noise down in the street.

Two places in the world where I can be myself and let my thoughts roam free.

This rooftop and The Central Library.

You go in through those Bronze doors and you feel you are somebody and they got a million books.

A million books!

You read a book like ‘Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ or ‘The Invisible Man’ and pretty soon you know that there’s a whole lot more to the world than a Brooklyn tenement.

I never had any interest in Baseball even when Dad took me to see The Dodgers play at Ebbets Field.

But, I liked it being just me and him together and I liked the names – Campanella, Snider, Reece, Robinson, Koufax.

Up here, up on the roof looking up at the stars I feel like I’m going to write my own stories one day.

Kathleen (35)

Up here, up on the roof it can seem as if my cares just drift right into space.

Thinking of Bill, Maureen and Billy Boy if only I could just wish and make their worlds trouble free.

I was only 16 when I met Bill. And he was all of 21.

He said I made him laugh and that when I danced with him for the first time he felt more alive than ever before.

And, he ain’t been anything but sweet to me since the day we met.

He misses the Dad he never knew.

Maybe I can persuade him to take that trip to France – what else are savings for?

Kathleen has grown up so fast. She’s almost as mature as she thinks she is.

Bill wants to shield her from the wicked world. I guess that’s Dad’s and Daughters.

Maybe it’s time we invited that boy round. You never know Bill might take to him.

Maureen says he’s a lifelong Dodgers fan.

And, Billy Boy. He’s so quiet. His nose never out of a book.

Other Moms got to worry about their boys and gangs.

All I got to worry about is how much time he spends at The Central Library!

Maybe I should encourage him to write stories of his own.

Somehow up here, up on the roof I feel everything is going to turn out all right.

Up here. Up on the roof.

 

 

In 1962 Carol King and Gerry Goffin, one of the greatest partnerships in songwriting history wrote, ‘Up on the Roof’ a song which, to this day, seems to whisper enchantments in the New York night air.

The recording by The Drifters with Rudy Lewis’ magical lead vocal is the very definition of romantic uptown Rhythm and Blues.

Such a song will always be sung.

For Carol’s enticing melody and for Gerry’s heartfelt, heart stirring lyric.

Carol and James Taylor provide contrasting meditations on a theme before the inimitable Laura Nyro lifts our hearts and souls into the empyrean beyond.

Right into space where it’s peaceful as can be.

 

Jesse Winchester Remembered … The Songwriters’ Songwriter

Sometimes I’m asked because of my eclectic tastes if there is one under appreciated, lesser known artist who deserves to be much better known.

i always answer – Jesse Winchester.

 

To explain why and to pay tribute to his wonderful songs three years after his death I am Reblogging my Post on him from 2014.

An investment in Jesse Winchester records will pay you dividends for your lifetime.

Jesse  Winchester died at the age of 69 in April 2014.

I first heard him in the mid 1970s on Charlie Gillett’s rightly legendary radio show, ‘Honky Tonk’ which became my open university course on 20th century popular music.

Jesse Winchester was a highly accomplished songwriter and an affecting singer who could hush a room with the intensity of his performances.

He was recognised by fellow songwriters of the calibre of Elvis Costello, John Prine and Ron Sexsmith as a master of their calling.

Bob Dylan, surely the dean of Songwriting, said that you could not talk about the best songwriters in the world without including Jesse and he paid him the compliment (granted to few of his contemporaries) of playing one of his songs on his wonderful radio show, ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’.

Jesse was born in Memphis and always carried with him a southern courtliness and a very strong sense of place. When he wrote about a state or a town, say Mississippi or Bowling Green, he brought it to life with such arrestingly vivid imagery that you really felt you had spent time there with him as your home town guide.

There was an elegiac, black and white photograph quality to many of his best songs. I often went to the prints of Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange, who shot so many evocative documentary images of the pre-civil rights era south, to find a visual companion for his work.

It seems to me that his songs emerge into the air like photographic prints blooming into rich detailed life from the developing fluid of his imagination.

Jesse Winchester’s songs were mature crafted works: the product of a highly intelligent and sensitive man with an acute sense of the power of the memories we accumulate as we move through a life.

Memories of our communities, our families, our friends and lovers, our contempories and the times we were together in. Inevitably, recollections of victories and defeats, of love we held onto and love we threw away.

He had the will and the artistry to closely examine those memories and to clothe them in story songs illuminated by powerful sensory images. Listening to the best of his songs is a rich immersive experience which can feel like a dream that stays with you long after you have woken up and which you know will reurn to haunt you.

My favourite Jesse Winchester song is, ‘Mississippi You’re On My Mind’ a wonderful almost archaeologically rich presentation of the sights, sounds and ambience of life in the rural heartland of the real and mythological state of Mississippi.

Like all the great Jesse Winchester songs this song does not shout at you, rather it beckons you to lean forward and listen to a master storyteller. A master who is so relaxed he seems to be singing the song while rocking back and forth on his front porch with a glass of bourbon at hand.

The instrumentation is simple – plucked guitar, atmospheric shimmer piano, stirring strings and a swelling vocal chorus supporting Jesse’s sweet, molasses filled vocal. The song paints a swooning picture of an unhurried life lived in a cotton country backwater.

You are made aware both by the lyric and the melody of the humidity of the south, of the sun that blazes from the sky wrapping everyone in an angry oven heat.

This is a land that has seen times of plenty – when the price of cotton was high. It is also a land that has felt the disdainful stamp of an invading army, neglect following painful defeat and economic depression.

Jesse Winchester paints in the details which make a scene come alive – the rusted barbed wire fence, the lazy creek, the tar paper shack. This is a land where one crop was king so you see the field specked with dirty cotton lint and in the background the characteristic sound of a John Deere tractor.

Meanwhile the air is suffused with the cloying smell of the honeysuckle vine, the barks of hungry dogs and the rustle of grasshoppers.

Only the snakes coiled up in the thick weeds and the old men are asleep. ‘Mississippi You’re On My Mind’ is a loving recreation of a physical and emotional home place, a lullaby and a love letter to the past. The song is touched with greatness.

The land described in the song is at one level Mississippi – on another level it is of course the land of childhood; that Eden we all ache to recover but never can except through the alchemy of art.

It is the land of lost content which Houseman once memorialised as the blue remembered hills. In the song Jesse Winchester has brought this land to poignant shining life.

Jesse Winchester had a good heart and pursued his vocation as a songwriter and singer with all the resources at his considerable command. He leaves an enduring legacy. May he rest in peace.

Recommended listening:

‘Jesse Winchester’ his superb debut album containing stand out songs such as the wistful, ‘Yankee Lady’, the ruminative, ‘Biloxi’ and the transcendent, ‘Brand New Tennessee Waltz’

His second album, ‘Third Down 110 To Go’ (often available as a twofer with the above) has two classics in the gospel drenched, ‘Isn’t That So’ and the quiet wisdom of ‘Dangerous Fun’ which contains the immortal couplet:

‘It takes patience to walk and spirit to run
But nothing to pity yourself
But it’s dangerous fun’

The twofer of, ‘Learn To Love It’ and, ‘Let The Rough Side Drag’ in addition to the masterpiece of, ‘Mississippi You’re On My Mind” has the maturely romantic, ‘Every Word You Say’, the lazy swooning ‘Defying Gravity’, the philosophical, ‘How Far To The Horizon’ and a brilliant take on the Amazing Rhythm Aces country pop classic ‘Third Rate Romance’.

All the rest of his output has sprinklings of glorious songcraft and winning vocals. Look out in particular for the songs, ‘Bowling Green’, ‘A Showman’s Life’ and the emotionally overwhelming, ‘Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding’ which only a songwriter with a full heart and a steady head could bring off (see the YouTube clip below of his appearance on Elvis Costello’s TV show ‘Spectacles’ which demonstrates the effect he could have on his peers).

A trawl through his catalogue will find you arguing that I have missed out many of your favourites.

Leo Kottke – Jack gets up (and once in a while the wind blows)

I am writing this Post from a new home.

We have exchanged the woods and swooping Hills of Surrey for the heaths and lakes on the edge of the glorious South Downs.

New home. New School. Packing up. Moving on. Moving on up.

Actually 39 steps up.

Which seemed, when we first viewed the apartment, a good way to get the heart pumping and the blood pressure lowering each time those 39 steps were climbed.

But. But. Carrying 2200 books up those 39 steps proved a little more than a toning exercise.

Consider the equation.

2200 books times 39 steps equals one very tired hombre!

I’m not even contemplating the Vinyl issue.

I never have trouble sleeping.

But last night you’d have to measure the time between my head hitting the pillow and me lying in the arms of Morpheus in micro seconds.

A full fathom five sleep caressed by whispered dreams.

A sound spiralling and spiralling in and out of consciousness resolving at 6am into a name.

Jack. Jacques. Jack.

And, as always with me, a song.

Not take me right back to the track Jack.

Not you go back, Jack, do it again.

Not hey Jack Kerouac.

No,  the song Finnegan flowing through my dreaming mind was ‘Jack Gets Up’ by Guitar maestro Leo Kottke.

Oh, oh, oh .. you know just how I feel Leo!

‘Everyday in the morning when you get up and you crawl out of bed
And you crawl out of bed and you crawl out of bed
Everyday in the morning when you get up and you crawl out of bed
And you look at the moon where the window is
And the stars shine, and the stars shine, and the stars shine
Everyday in the morning when you get up and you crawl out of bed

You crawl out. You crawl out. But the Moon and the Stars shine.

It’s another day of your life.  Fresh white paper to leave your impression on.

Leo Kottke has been places and seen things carrying his guitar all the while.

He has developed a masters command of his instrument playing with a rare combination of finesse and feeling. Now, when you’re trying to hold an audience with self composed instrumental music it helps if you can tell a few stories too.

As shaggy dog stories go it would be hard to beat, ‘Jack Gets Up’. It exercises a hypnotic hold on your imagination as your mind knots itself trying to disentangle meaning and meanings from the lyric.

The allusions and resonances will appeal to each of us according to our different characters and histories and our capacity for daytime dreaming.

Perhaps we are all asleep in the same dream. But, whose dream? Whose dream.

I know well that feeling of seeing your Father’s face in he mirror and the thin grin … the thin grin as you ready yourself for the challenges of the day ahead.

Every life has lots of lint in the pocket. You mean to clear it out but it builds up. It builds up.

And, where, oh where, are my car keys! Probably next to my glasses!

Life resolves down to a process of finding and losing, finding and losing – on every level from the most trivial to the most cosmically important.

Tears in the bank and the credit card we all know about.

Yet, and this is the glory of life; once in a while the wind blows and the heart winds and the heart winds.

The brown ground and the worms patiently wait for us all.

So today as you crawl out of bed leaving the snort fort behind remember that the stars are shining above you and the Moon will light your night as the Sun will light your day.

And, once in a while when the wind blows and your heart winds, your heart winds grant yourself a grateful wide grin.

May the wind blow for you today.

 

Hats off to Jack and Jacques:

It happens that, after Tom, Jack is my favourite male name.

So, I take this opportunity to thank  some of the Jacks and Jacques who have inspired and illuminated my life.

Jack Kennedy (you all know about him!)

Jacques Levy – Songwriter and Seer – ‘Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child.’

Jack Nicholson – a couple of tequilas to the good I sometimes act out some of my favourite Jack Nicholson lines.  My absolute favourite, from The Last Detail, being:

‘I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! GIve this man a beer.’

Jacques Tourneur – Film Director. He directed troubling thrillers and heart stopping noirs like  I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People.

Always playing at The Immortal Drive In is his classic Out of The Past (build my gallows high baby!) starring an unmatchable Robert Mitchum and the most fatale of all femme fatales Jane Greer.

Jack Johnson – World Heavyweight Champion and iconic African American.

Jacques Prevert – Poet, Screenwriter. A very cool homme indeed. His, ‘Paroles’ travels everywhere with me (yes – up all those 39 steps)

 

 

Jack London – A writer whose hallucinatory gift for narrative grows more impressive the more I strive to tell stories.

Jacques Anquetil – He sure could ride a bike!

Jack Kellett – He plays a mean guitar.

Jack O’Toole – He sure did like a pint!

Jack Kerouac – the Beat goes on. And on. And on.

Jack Lord – Book ‘Em Danno.

Jack The Ripper (whose real identity was of course ……)

Jack Elam – as soon as you see Jack’s name in the credits you can relax. One fine Western coming up!

Father Jack – ‘Drink! Feck! Arse! Girls!’

Jacques Derrida – What was he on about?

Jack Bruce – a true musician. Check out his Sings for a Tailor immediately!

Jack Palance – Boxer, Actor – in certain lights (principally the light of my imagination) I have been mistaken for JP.

Jack Teagarden –  He played sublime Trombone and sang the Blues with deep feeling.

David ‘Jack’ Hayes – Father and Son, fine men both!

Jacques Tati – if you ever need cheering up …

Jack Nicklaus – If you wanted one Golfer to play a round for your life …

Oh and as we all know … ‘There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts.’

 

By Public Demand more Jacks, Jacques, oh and while we’re at it 3 Jakes!

Many of my faithful readers have demanded favourite Jacks & Jacques to be added to the Jukebox Rollcall of Honour. So:

Thanks to Cincinnati Babyhead for ‘Jack’ the Dog from The Band’s classic The Weight.

Thanks to Beetley Pete for Jacques Brel, the great Chanson writer and famous Belgian (more on him later)

Thanks to Elmer Gantry for Jack Doyle fabled Irish Boxer.

While we’re on Boxers how could I have left out Jack Dempsey!

Jacques Cousteau dove pretty deep!

Jacques Rousseau knew a thing or too!

Jack Benny played the Violin (though not on Desolation Row)

Jack Reacher’s out there somewhere waiting for trouble to clear up.

Jake Thackray had wit and style and wrote songs like nobody else.

Jake LaMotta – boy could he take a punch!

And to wrap it all up – ‘Forget it, Jake.  It’s Chinatown.

John Lennon loved ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie Hamlin (RIP) – here’s why!

‘[Angel Baby] … This is by a 15 year old girl from National City California named Rosie. This is going to be a hit Guys and Gals’ – DJ Alan Freed on K-Day Radio, November 1960.

‘This here is one of my all time favourite songs. Send my love to Rosie – wherever she may be’ (John Lennon)

I was saddened today to learn of the death of Rosie Hamlin at the age of 71.

In tribute I am reblogging my post on her classic song, ‘Angel Baby’.

Sometimes when the stars and tides are in perfect alignment and the Muses are indulgent a moment of inspiration can visit an artist who may never be granted such a blessing again.

So it was with Rosie.

Yet, we cannot live on Bach, Bob Dylan and The Beatles alone!

Rosie’s moment of glory will live forever because it captures an eternal yearning in all of us.

A yearning that stays within you no matter your age.

Nine or Ninety your heart your heart still yearns to skip a beat.

No one wants to be blue and alone.

Some part of us always believes in Angels.

Especially if they sing like Rosie Hamlin …. ooooh … oooh …oooh …

Angel Baby will always have pride of place on my Jukebox.

May she rest in peace.

1960 was a momentous year. In Greensboro, North Carolina four black students are refused service at a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s. They begin a sit in protest that is repeated throughout Southern States that summer as Civil Rights protests become a powerful political, social and cultural movement.

High over the vast territory of the Soviet Union a U2 spy plane piloted by Gary Powers is shot down triggering a rapid rise in the temperature of the Cold War.

In November John Fitzgerald Kennedy becomes the 35th President of The United States seeming to symbolise a new era of optimism – Camelot on the Potomac.

Meanwhile in a former aircraft hanger in San Marcos California, on 2 track machine, a 15 year old Mexican-American girl called Rosalie (Rosie) Hamlin lays down a song she had written a year earlier to celebrate her first love.

A song that John Lennon then an unreconstructed leather clad Rock ‘n’ Roller with a scarifying, scabrous, Scouse wit will remember, with love, to the end of his days.

That song, ‘Angel Baby’ features an ethereal vocal by Rosie that will never be forgotten by anyone who hears it. It’s the sound of a true, innocent heart filled, full to bursting, with delirious youthful passion.

It’s the sound of the children of Neverland wheeling in the heavens as they fly straight on to another rosy morning.

And, if in your venerable age and wisdom you shake your head at such simple feeling I’m here to tell you that you are too old brother, too old sister.

Every time I hear, ‘Angel Baby’ I’m teleported back to my 14 year old self when there were as many possibilities of love and longing for love as there were stars in the night sky.

Sing it Rosie, sing it for the 14 year still living somewhere inside us all.

I love the Sputnik guitar intro to Angel Baby. I love the sense that there is no artifice at all here – nothing getting in the way of a distillation of a pure oceanic feeling.

It doesn’t matter a hoot that the bass player, Tony Gomez, had to play an untutored plodding sax solo because the regular saxman Al Barrett had to stay home because his mother wouldn’t let him out until he’d mowed the lawn (!)

What matters is that Rosie with David Ponci, Noah Tafolla and Carl Von Goodat made a record that hummed and crackled with the music of the spheres.

At first Rosie couldn’t get anyone in the music business to be interested in her record. Then she had the bright idea of getting Kresge’s department store in San Diego to play the record in their listening booths (remember listening booths?) and lo and behold the kids of San Diego found that they knew exactly, exactly, what Rosie was singing about.

They began clamouring to buy Angel Baby so that they could call up it’s magic anytime they wanted. In the event, ‘Angel Baby’ was issued by Highland Records in November 1960 and went on to hit the top 5 in the Billboard charts.

In a tale too tawdry for the telling Rosie was denied composer credit and royalties for decades. She went on to record an early 60s LP for Brunswick Records before slipping out of the limelight into family life with only brief, subsequent forays into the nostalgia circuit.

Yet, every time she steps up to a microphone or is heard on the radio crooning, ‘Its just like heaven being here with you, You’re like an angel, too good to be true’ she conjures up a miracle.

In late 1973 John Lennon was in a bad way. It seemed everything was broken. He sought oblivion in drug and alcohol fuelled binges that became the stuff of legend. Groping towards a way out he decided to record an album of songs from his youth, songs that had been favourites of his before the fame and the madness took over.

Songs from the days when John Lennon was above all else a man who loved songs and singers. A man who longed to write, perform and record songs of his own which could be set alongside the original mother lode of Rock ‘n’ Roll classics.

It’s no surprise that the album features songs by Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richardand Fats Domino – these were the songs the Hamburg Beatles had played and played untilthey were second nature.

Yet, Lennon the leather throated rocker always had a softer aspect reflected in his love for the stoic, broken hearted ballads of Arthur Alexander.

And, in his, ‘lost weekend’ amid the too many musicians, too many producers and engineers chaos of the, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ sessions he reached back for an artless song that expressed something beyond the ability of words to fully express.

He reached back for the sound of:’Ooh, ooh, I love you, oh ooh I do, No one could love you like I do, Oooh, ooh, Oooh, Oooh, ooh, ooh , ooh, ooh, ooh …………. ‘

He reached back for, ‘Angel Baby’. And he sang it with all his heart.

Thanks to Rosie for the lightning strike that set a match to many a heart.

This post written on December 8 2015 – the 35th Anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Thanks to John for the meteor shower of genius that lit up the entire world. Roll on John, Roll on John, Roll on John. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam

 

Van Morrison : ‘Buona Sera Signorina’ – La primavera e qui!

Spring is here.

Is erraigh anseo.

As dawn breaks I set off for my morning run through the woods.

No more the sharp sting of winter winds.

No. Now the daffodils and bluebells are in bloom and through the echoing timber the melodies of the lark and thrush sweeten the air.

Nothing is so beautiful as spring.

Bud and bloom and blossom.

A time of promise and an echo of the sweet beginning of being in Eden.

La primavera e qui. La primavera e qui.

Time for La bella figura.

Time for me to carefully roll the Roadster out of its winter quarters.

Time to turn up the collar on the leather jacket, set the Donegal tweed cap at a jaunty angle and put some va va voom into the blue highways of the Surrey Hills.

Of course, there’s a Jukebox playlist for the occasion.

The Beach Boys, ‘I Get Around’, Thin Lizzy, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, Junior Parker, ‘Feelin Good’ set the wheels a rollin’ very nicely.

But, there’s ten versions of one song I always play as I swoop up and down the Hills to announce, top down and volume way, way up, that Spring has sprung!

Spring brings out the Italian in me – something about the brightness of the sun and the promise of golden days ahead.

Maybe, this year, I’ll see once more that old moon above the Mediterranean Sea.

And be woken by the sun over the mountains.

Il tempo per un festival.

La primavera e qui.

Buona Sera Signorina!

First, a version by the artist who will always remain first and foremost in my affections.

You can be sure that Van has spent many an hour listening to the original by Louis Prima (see earlier Jukebox tribute to Louis).

Perhaps he first played it on Sax when he was a member of the Monarchs Showband at the very dawn of his professional life in music.

Here in 1971 he careens through the song like a Cresta Run bobsleigher going for the record.

You can hear his obvious love and affection for Swing and Jump Blues in every note.

‘Buena Sera’ was written by Carl Sigman and Peter deRose – songwriters from the golden age of Tin Pan Alley whose hits would take a page or more to list (think, ‘All In The Game’ and ‘Deep Purple’ for starters).

In composing the song they must have imagined an audience including significant numbers of WW2 GIs who had indeed found love under the moon and stars of Naples.

Some who brought brides home must have smiled at the memory of those Mediterranean nights and some who decided to return to the sweetheart waiting at home must have smiled more ruefully as they remembered the girl they left beside the beautiful Bay of Naples.

Some signorinas you can never forget!

In 1961 as Van Morrison was setting out on his career in the clubs of Northern Ireland and Hamburg Ray Gelato was born in London.

Ray, the son of an American Serviceman, grew up, like Van, imbibing the music of Louis Jordan and Louis Prima in the home.

He was especially fond of the Sax playing of Sam Butera and determined to follow his ‘Everybody up on the Dance Floor now!’ grandstanding Tenor style.

He has succeeded completely in that ambition.

Il tempo per un festival!

There’s a lovely sultry sway to Ray’s version and there’s no good resisting you just gonna have to cut a rug to this one!

Ray is famed for the sheer brio and energy he brings to every live performance – something I can vouch for having seen him many times myself (Paul McCartney booked him as his wedding band and I would have too if finances had allowed).

I am going to sign off Signori, Signorinas and Signoras with a version by a great favourite of The Jukebox – Mr Acker Bilk.

Acker’s version must surely paint a smile on every face, lift every heart and buoy every spirit!

I have been known to play this one on repeat all the way from Surrey to Cornwall when the Sun has taken up its proper place in the heavens.

La primavera e qui. La primavera e qui.

 

Notes:

I heartily recommend Ray Gelato’s ‘Wonderful’ CD which has him romping through a dozen classics of Italian Song.

If you ever see he’s playing somewhere near you don’t hesitate – go!

Of course, as you will know by now, you can never have too many Van Morrison records while Acker Bilk’s 50s and eary 60s recordings are bottled joy which ought to be medically prescribed to raise the global index of well being.

 

Rufus Thomas : Celebrating the Centenary of a Sun & Stax Records pioneer!

A lot can happen in a 100 years.

Within 60 years of a few minutes of wavering powered flight a man can land on the Moon!

The War to end all Wars can be followed by the Jazz Age, The Great Depression and an even more deadly second World War.

Mankind can find cures for scourging diseases while developing ever more ingenious ways to destroy more and more lives with ever more deadly Bombs.

Radio, Records, and Television bring vibrant local cultures to global prominence.

From the 1920s onwards an immense treasury of music is captured on 78s or 45s or LPs.

Ragtime. Jazz. The Blues. Boogie-Woogie. Gospel. Country (and Western). Jump Blues. Rhythm and Blues. Hillbilly Boogie. Rockabilly. Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The Immortal Jukebox exists to celebrate this treasury and to salute the man and women who have made significant contributions to it.

So, today on the 100th anniversary of  his birth I am doffing my cap to the one and only Rufus Thomas by reblogging my post on him and his daughter Carla from three years ago.

Celebrate with me.

All families contains the history of multitudes through the cultures they are heir to and which they live within. At the same time each family can be an agent for cultural change and development through their actions and works. We stand on the shoulders of giants but we can see a destination ahead they could never reach.

This is particularly the case in families whose work lies within the popular arts. If you grow up with music and talk about music is all around.

If you watch shows from the side of the stage and know the drudgery as well as the glamour of, ‘show business’ you will either run a mile and seek, sensibly, to become a lawyer or farmer or you will think there is no other life worth living than that of writing, singing and performing songs and bathing in the approval of an audience.

The careers of Rufus and Carla Thomas, father and daughter, take us on a fascinating journey through twentieth century American popular culture.

We will encounter: travelling minstrel shows, the development of Afro-American radio and the birth and growth of two of the nations fountainhead records companies (Sun and Stax) which produced many of the greatest rock n roll, soul and rhythm and blues records ever made.

We will also meet music icons of the stature of Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley, B B King and Otis Redding and realise why the city of Memphis can justifiably lay claim to have been the capital city of American music.

Rufus Thomas was a magnetic figure with personality and character to burn. He had that most attractive and winning of human qualities – vitality.

There were no downcast faces when Rufus was around! He was a one man party who lit up every room he ever entered with his ebullience and appetite for creating and sharing enjoyment.

He was born in rural Mississippi in1917 moving to Memphis as a toddler. It was in that bustling metropolis that he grew up and learned to become an entertainer who combined the talents of a dancer/hoofer, comedian, singer, talent show host and radio disc jockey.

I think that’s what you call an all rounder!

Leaving Booker T Washington High School in 1936 with the depression suffocating the nation he took his talents on the road throughout the South with the legendary F S Walcott Rabbit Foot Minstrels (commemorated in a lovely rowdy song by The Band).

‘The Foots’ were a glorious travelling tent show troupe which operated between 1900 and the late 1950s bringing comedy sketches and salty song and dance routines to any town, large or small, where the tent could be pitched and an audience drummed up.

Arriving in town the brass band would parade with comedians like Rufus announcing the wonders of the show to come. The stage, boards on a folding frame, would be set up with gasoline lamps acting as footlights.

While the liquored up audience waited for Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey or Louis Jordan to come on Rufus would whip up the crowd with comic dancing and jive jokes tailored to the local audience and introduce the dancing girls who invariably managed to increase the show’s temperature by several degrees centigrade.

After the War Rufus was back in Memphis working for a textile company and married with three children; Carla, Marvell and Vaneese. He hooked up again with his high school mentor, Nat D Williams, who was a key figure in Memphis Afro-American culture as teacher, journalist, talent spotter and pioneering radio host.

Nat D recognised that Rufus’ energy, affability and show business smarts gave him all the necessary qualities to be a successful talent show host. So, Rufus began to regularly host the shows at the Palace Theatre on Beale Street once announcing the youthful Riley (B. B.) King as the winner in the late 40s. Rufus was still hoping to make it as a singer though singles on labels like Star, Chess and Meteor shifted few units.

The next stage in Rufus career was again given impetus in 1951 through the good offices of Nat D who brought him on to be a disc jockey for WDIA – a Memphis radio station which, uniquely at the time, used black DJs to broadcast to the considerable black audience in Memphis and anywhere else 50,000 watts of power could reach!

Radio was king in the first post war decade reaching into almost every home in the country and providing the soundtrack to millions of lives through immensely popular shows that gathered whole families round the set.

Rufus, with his easy charm was a radio natural and his, ‘Hoot and Holler’ show became essential listening not just for his own community but also for young white hipsters like Elvis Presley or Steve Cropper who just knew that they could play those rhythm and blues too if they were only given the chance.

As it happened in Memphis there was a man, one of the true heroes of American music, Sam Phillips who was able to make those dreams come true. Rufus, in the early 1950s was often at Sun studios at 706 Union Avenue working with Phillips as he recorded brilliant blues sides by artists like Howling Wolf.

It was Rufus who provided Sun with its first breakout single in 1953 with, ‘Bear Cat’ an answer record to Mama Thornton’s,’Hound Dog’ which reached No 3 in the R&B chart (this launched a series of legal actions but that’s another story).

Rufus let rip with the full force of his personality matching Big Mama all the way while adding a sly spin of his own to the story of mismatched lovers. The featured stinging guitar is by Joe Hill Louis.

Turn this one up as loud as you can!

Rufus, like all the other black artists at Sun then faded into the background as Sam Phillips realised that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow could only be found by recording white artists, preferably young handsome guys, who could combine blues, rhythm and blues and country influences to create a new sound on the face of the earth – rock ‘n’ roll.

Enter Elvis Presley! Elvis was aware of Rufus through listening to WDIA and he always retained a fondness for ‘Tiger Man’ which Rufus had recorded at Sun.

Rufus continued to combine full time work at the textile plant with his entertainment career throughout the 1950s. Meanwhile, Carla who had been born in 1942 was soon displaying the family relish for singing and performing.

At the tender age of 10 she joined the WDIA sponsored Teen Town Singers and was combining her school duties with twice weekly rehearsals and a radio show every Saturday. Rufus could hear that his daughter had an attractive voice and unusual poise for such a young artist.

So, in 1959 Rufus decided to approach a new Memphis recording outfit, Satellite Records, headed up by siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton and persuaded them that they needed to move beyond the country and pop markets R&B to thrive in their home town and the rest of the nation.

Rufus and Carla recorded the duet, ‘Cause I Love You’ at Satellite’s studio and operational headquarters which was located in a former cinema/theatre on McLemore Avenue. And, voila! Satellite had its first hit (helped by the distribution deal agreed with sharp eared Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records).

Soon after Jim and Estelle would use the first two letters of their surnames and create Stax Records.

The next time Carla’s name appeared on a record it was on the Atlantic label with a song she had written as a 16 year old, ‘Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes). Gee Whizz is a heart and soul on the sleeve love ballad that could only have been written by a teenager in the delirious throes of adolescent love/infatuation.

Do you remember that oh so sweet feeling as you gazed at your love object? While no one could or should maintain that obsessive attachment to the dream of love its a poor soul that does not cherish a small remembrance of those heady days.

And, nothing can swoosh you back to those days with more efficiency than Carla’s utterly beguiling vocal here. Lean back, close your eyes and swoon!

The song became an immediate radio favourite and once Atlantic was behind it and Carla appeared on the nations premier pop TV show, ‘American Bandstand’ there was no stopping, ‘Gee’ from ascending to the top 10 of the national charts and a permanent place in the memories of a generation.

Carla then issued a string of singles on Atlantic and then Stax demonstrating that the attractively naive young girl was growing into a smart and sassy young woman who could convincingly embody a full range of adult emotions with engaging vocal style.

Listen to her here in 1963 with a song especially beloved by her European fans, ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’. You’d have to have a stony heart and leaden feet not to be up and practicing your finest twists and twirls to this one!

In that same year of 1963 Rufus showed that there was still life in the old trouper as he released a series of driving singles calling us with unflagging energy and wit to get up off our butts and out onto the dance floor.

The most potent and memorable of these, ‘ Walking The Dog’ has become something of a Soul/R&B standard (even receiving the accolade of a cover by The Rolling Stones). The video clip shows Rufus in full flow.

The mid 60s saw Carla and Stax records really hit their stride utilising teams of brilliant in house writers and the incomparable Booker T and The MGs as the house band. A perfect example of the power of such collaborations is a Carla classic from 1966: B -A – B – Y.

This pearl was authored by the great partnership of Isaac Hayes (a Teen Town alumni like Carla) and David Porter. There’s gospel testifying here as well as soul enticement in Carla’s seductive vocal backed by a steam heat rhythm section topped off with a straight into your skull chorus – a big hit guaranteed!

The canny bosses at Stax observing the success of Motown duet partnerships like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell had the inspired idea of teaming Carla with the top man at Stax and in fact the top man in soul of his era – Otis Redding.

Dubbed the King and Queen of Soul they recorded some excellent sides together including the big international hit, ‘Tramp’. However, the track I’ve chosen to spotlight the duo is a wonderful reverie, ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby ..’.

Carla wisely never tries to match the inferno intensity of Otis, rather her caressing coolness offsets him perfectly making for a seriously sexy record. I like to listen to this one with a large Gin and Tonic at hand.

Rufus and Carla were stars of the triumphant Stax/Volt tour of Europe in 1967 which has become legendary for the intensity of the artists performances and the fervour of the audience responses.

Back in Memphis Rufus continued to produce some excellent sides including, ‘Memphis Train’ and, ‘Sophisticated Sissy’ before striking gold again with a novelty dance song, ”The Funky Chicken’ which proved he had learned a lesson or two about pleasing an audience back in the Rabbit Foot days!

When it comes to selling a song Rufus has few competitors. I have never managed to play this song only once so be prepared.

The end of the 60s closed out the glory days for both Rufus and Carla though both would record some valuable material later. But, given the history above it is clear that singly and together they were a significant element of the magnificence of Memphis music in that golden era.

In an age of fluff and flummery it’s good to be reminded that some things and some people lived lives and made music that will always endure because it was grounded in everyday experience turned through talent and heightened expression into true art.

Now, Baby that is real!

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