Rickie Lee Jones, Mills Brothers : Nagasaki (Wicky-Wacky-Woo)

Featuring :

Rickie Lee Jones, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Django Reinhardt & The Impala Troubadours.

And generous measure of chewing tobaccky and wicky-wacky- woo.

The holiday season is upon us.

As we live nestled in the South Downs we have chosen this year to explore far flung coastal towns in the East, the West and the North spending a week or so in each destination.

As our delightful Granddaughter, now 10 months old, is travelling with us there is even more planning and packing to be done before we set off.

Much more kit to be found or sourced then safely stowed.

For my part the annual deeply considered decisions about which books to take.

So, essential to have a really well compiled poetry anthology – ‘The Rattle Bag’ edited by those Himalayan figures of the poetic art, Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, will do the job very well.

A Poetry collection by a living Poet – without question this will have to be, ‘Distance’ by Ron Carey. The emotional acuity and impact of this book ensures that it is always close at hand.

A couple of non fiction works examining aspects of my continuing obsessions.

So in respect of the American Civil War, ‘A Year in the South 1865’ by Stephen V Ash.

In respect of Popular Culture, ‘Pulp Culture – Hardboiled Fiction & the Cold War’ by Woody Haut.

An old faithful Novel that I never get tired of re-reading, ‘A Month in the Country’ by J. L Carr.

Finally, a big book that will in equal measure delight and challenge – time to get James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ off the high shelf and dive in!

Opening it at random I found this :

’… aign he draws for us is as flop as a plankrieg) the twinfreer types are billed to make their reupprearance as the knew kneck and knife knick knots on the deserted champ de bouteilles.’

Now by some mysterious process of neuro chemistry this immediately had me singing a song I doubt Jim ever sang himself, ‘Nagasaki’.

Such are my thought processes!

Hot gingerbread and dynamite
That’s all there is at night
Back in Nagasaki where the fellows chew tobaccky
And the women wicky-wacky-woo!

They got a way that they entertain
They wouldn’t hurry a hurricane
Back in Nagasaki where the fellows chew tobaccky
And the women wicky-wacky-woo!

Fujiama, get a mama
Then your troubles increase, boy!
It’s south dakota you want a soda
First shake me then ten cents please

They hug and kiss each night
By jingo, boys, it’s worth that price!
Back in Nagasaki where the fellows chew tobaccky
And the women wicky-wacky-woo!

Back in Nagasaki where the fellows chew tobaccky
And the women wicky-wacky-woo!

Come on you Troubadours!

Ipana for the Smile of Beauty indeed!

Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!

Now don’t that just say Holiday to you!

I plan to have Nagasaki ringing out on every coast this summer!

Can’t beat that hot gingerbread.

Eternal thanks to Harry Warren and Mort Dixon for writing in 1928 a song that unfailingly sweeps away all cares and ushers in unbridled joy.

Oh yes, I’m going to let all parts of this United Kingdom know that, whatever they do round here – Back in Nagasaki the fellows chew tobaccky and the women, Lord don’t you know, they sure wicky – wacky – woo!

By jingo I think we can all agree that Nagasaki was just perfect for the Mills Brothers.

Throughout their career they had a way to entertain that wouldn’t hurry a hurricane.

I cut quite a rug to this one i can tell you!

I have read a number of biographies of the Fats Waller so I think I can safely assert that fellows chewing tobaccy and women very well versed in the arts of the wicky-wacky- woo! were everyday experiences for the great man.

Imagine your delight as you quaffed another cocktail in your favourite speakeasy to see Fats sitting down at the piano.

Now, an all night jumpin’ jamboree is 100 per cent guaranteed!

You bring the hot gingerbread – Fats will bring the musical dynamite.

Don’t matter whether the bar is in South Dakota, Fujiyama, Hunstanton or Nagasaki, Fats is going to set the place alight!

I’m calling on each of you to supply your own vocal here ….

Funnily enough when I played back my own vocal to Fats’ incomparable piano pyrotechnics I found that ol’ Cab Calloway took exactly the same approach as me.

You want a Soda?

Fine, I’ve been drinking something far stronger and it sure does wonders for your ability to remember lyrics and the precision of your enunciation.

Time to chew more of that tobaccky and seek out that wicky-wacky-woo!

In the same way that Fats Waller could drop all jaws playing the 88 Keys no one astonished 6 string afficianados more than Django Reinhardt.

Genius is a term to be used sparingly but Django fully merits the accolade.

Freddie Taylor supplies the vocal to the guitar wizardry.

However many cents I have to shake down to get a Jukebox fired up to play this one is a pure bargain.

To conclude let’s put ourselves in the very capable hands of Rickie Lee Jones.

Rickie, an official Jukebox favourite, is as Hep as you can get and don’t she prove it with her joyful jive take on Nagasaki.

No one needs to teach Rickie anything about that old Wicky-Wacky- Woo!

That’ll do just nicely!

Just before we left for our trip I read an article which provided sage advice on how to ensure you had a happy and heartening holiday.

But you don’t want to hear those hoary homilies.

No, just follow the tried and tested recipe :

Hot gingerbread and dynamite …

Nothing like that tobaccky and wicky-wacky-woo to revive the spirit!

The Band, Martin Carthy, Anton Karas : The Third Man Theme

You listen to a piece of music; a song or a symphony and by some miracle of neuro-chemistry it is encoded into your memory.

It may lie dormant there forever more.

Or, it may be a recurring theme in your mind – a faithful companion as you navigate life’s crooked highway.

There is no predicting when a certain piece of music will leave the draughty halls of memory and voila! suddenly be right there playing at the forefront of your mind.

Sometimes the trigger is a person you suddenly think of decades after you last met.

Sometimes the trigger is a return to a place you once lived in when you were young and carefree or young and anguished.

Sometimes you have to accept that the recurrence of this piece of music in your life is like so much else – a mystery.

Why I should have woken up last night with, ‘The Third Man Theme’ dancing through my consciousness is beyond my understanding.

But, there indubitably, it was.

So, nothing for it but to patrol the shelves in my music library (adorned with a framed photograph of Bernard Herrmann) labelled, ‘Movie Soundtracks’ and seek out The Third Man and match my drowsy remembrance with the real thing.

The valves warm up, the stylus caresses the vinyl and

I think the dance listening to this tune inspired me to perform must have a long Germanic tongue twisting name but whatever it’s called it sure sets the limbs a twirl and gets the blood singing at 6 o’clock in the morning!

The Homeric Anton Karas and his magic Zither.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Now, obviously having played the record four or five times without in anyway exhausting it’s charm and effervescent brilliance there was nothing to do but to ascend the spiral staircase to the Film Library and make my way to the, ‘Film Noir’ shelves (adorned with a framed photograph of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer) and pull out my Blu Ray copy of Carol Reed’s 1949 masterpiece and settle down to breakfast in war torn Vienna with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard.

Of course, scanning the credits (and I’m the kind of person who always scans the credits) I was reminded that a very important contribution to the film’s moral complexity and fluidity of tone and character was supplied by novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Graham Greene had a cinematic imagination and a compulsion to test how real men and women wrestled agonisingly with the moral and philosophical dilemmas of living through the personal, social and cultural catastrophe of War.

Image result for vienna 1945 images

What made some people behave heroically while others plumbed depths of depravity?

Was survival the supreme value in such times?

What hope is there for love and loyalty and friendship amid the falling bombs, the machine gun fire and the starvation?

Greene had been a film critic and knew that there was only one British Film Director with the eye and the empathy to bring such a story to haunting life on the screen – Carol Reed.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Reed had been a Film Maker since the mid 1930s and he had diligently learned his trade.

The two films preceding, ‘The Third Man’ –  ‘Odd Man Out’ and, ‘The Fallen Idol’ were both highly atmospheric and technically impeccable productions.

Reed knew how to make the camera tell the story, how to frame actors and action, how to plant suggestion in the mind of the audience, how to build and release tension, how to reveal and obscure character and how to thread humour and surprise through a narrative.

He knew that music, underscoring or prefiguring image, made a film burn itself into the imagination of an audience.

Reed knew that you had to conjure up some scenes which would stay forever in the dreams of the audience and that the key to those scenes was rarely plot but lighting, dialogue, scenery and atmosphere.

Some people, and I’m in that company, will tell you that 90% of ensuring success for a film is casting.

So, your film is set in Post War Vienna where the buildings lie in ruins and where every shade of human virtue and vice is present in public or in the shadows.

You need a, larger than life ‘Villain’ who has enigmatic charm as well as a sulphurous lack of scruples.

Someone who knows exactly what he’s doing and who is always able to convince himself (and most of the audience) that whatever he chooses to do is entirely reasonable in all the circumstances.

These are not normal times – you cant expect me to be bound by those rules we followed before (if we ever did) can you?

You need an actor who has presence, who fills the screen, seducing your attention.

You need an actor who can be a Con Man who believes his own Con.

You need an actor who can deliver oracular dialogue while expertly balancing deadly seriousness with black humour.

You need Orson Welles.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Now, your, ‘Hero’ is not going to be a charismatic match for Orson Welles (who could be!).

No, you’re going to need an actor who in perilous times is more than tempted by the charms of an old friend.

An actor who struggles to know what’s the right thing to do in all the circumstances.

An actor who is weary and reluctant to act until he’s forced by events to act.

An event like falling in love.

An event like seeing, being unable not to see once seen, how terrible the results of a sulphurous lack of scruples can be for the innocent who didn’t know enough to get out of the way.

You need a Hero who is troubled and who will remain troubled whatever course of action he chooses in the end.

The sound of the bullet dies in the air but it will echo in your soul forever more.

The woman walks past you and keeps on walking and all you can do is draw on your cigarette and start your own lonely walk into the future,

You need Joseph Cotton.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Every Film Noir has to have a role for an actress who can believably drive or accompany a seemingly rational man as he commits terrible acts which will lead almost inevitably to self destruction.

The camera has to love her.

The ghost of electricity has to howl in the bones of her face.

You’d do anything for her.

Anything.

You’ll never really know her and though that drives you mad it spurs you on too.

She can lead you to the gallows or walk away from you without a backward glance but you know, you know, she’ll never leave your dreams.

Never.

This film is set in Austria after a World War so you’re going to need an enigmatic European beauty.

You’re going to need Alida Valli.

Image result for alida valli images

*

Assemble all those elements – the script, the location, the cast and the music – and all you have to do now is ensure all the elements cohere perfectly into a work which once seen can never be forgotten.

Begin at the beginning with a title sequence which introduces the mysterious theme tune and the expectant audience, breathless in the dark, is yours – Roll ‘em Carol!

*

The Third Man was an enormous box office and critical success and was immediately recognised as a haunting work of art.

And, everyone recognised that Anton Karas’ music was absolutely integral to the triumph of the film as a whole.

Carol Reed had showed astonishing perception in realising that the musician he chanced upon when out for a night carousing in Vienna had a sound that would enchant tne world.

And, it was surely this enchantment that The Band saught to invoke when they recorded their own version for their homage to the music of their youth with the Album, ‘Moondog Matinee’.

Image result for the band 1970s images

*

There’s something of the ‘There’s no one watching let’s play what we like’ sound of The Basement Tapes recreated here.

Kick your shoes off, set your rocker rockin’ and light up your biggest grin!

*

The Third Man Theme has a hypnotic quality that calls out a cross the decades.

Certainly it called out to Folk Maestro Martin Carthy who tends to not be recognised enough for his distinctively brilliant guitar playing.

Remedied right here Martin!

*

To ensure you end up with a great film you’ve got to have a great ending.

The audience leaves the cinema with the ending burned into their minds and looking at the film as a whole in the light of the ending.

Great Films have great endings.

Think of, ‘Le Quatre Cent Coups’, ‘Ikiru’ or, The Searchers’.

Think, above all of the devastating final scene of The Third Man.

*

For Ramon – a true man of Film and a true Friend.

Happy Christmas 2018 from Bob Dylan (x2), Judy Garland & Charles Dickens!

Traditions must be maintained!

An Etching by Rembrandt

A Literary extract from Charles Dickens

Music by Bob Dylan and Judy Garland .

Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.

rembrandt

There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.

The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.

So, at last it’s Christmas Eve!

I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.

I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).

But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.

First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!

Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.

The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.

Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.

It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring series of CDs where he explores the Great American Songbook).

The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!

Who could have imagined his helter-skelter, how fast can you polka punk?, take on, ‘Must Be Santa’?

Only Bob Dylan!

Only Bob.

Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.

‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?

‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’
‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’
‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’

‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’

Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?

So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.

God bless us, Every One!

 

Little Walter : 50 Years Dead but he will never be gone! The King of the Blues Harmonica

Little Walter died 50 years ago in tragic circumstances.

The term irreplaceable is too often used – in the case of Little Walter no other term will do.

Since his untimely death many fine musicians have been inspired by the majesty of his Sound and in consequence produced superb records.

None have matched Walter’s. No one ever will.

In his honour I present again The Immortal Jukebox tribute to the greatest Blues Harmonica Player of all time.

You gotta say Little Walter invented the blues harmonica .. No one had that sound before him. No one could make the thing cry like a baby and moan like a woman.

No one could put pain into the harp and have it come out so pretty. No one understood that the harmonica – just as much as a trumpet, a trombone or a saxophone – could have have a sound that would drop you in your tracks!’. (Buddy Guy)

Embed from Getty Images

 

Some people have just got it.

And, by it, I mean IT – the mojo that definitively separates the great from the very good and the merely good.

From the sidelines or from the stalls we can often recognise, without expert knowledge ourselves, some invisible aura that marks out the special one, the summiteer, from those still scrambling up Mount Parnuss’ lesser slopes.

It’s not necessary to have been a Major League Baseball player to have recognised, on first sight, that Ted Williams was a great hitter or that Sandy Koufax was the pitcher you’d want pitching for you if your life was at stake.

Intensive years of conservatoire schooling are not needed to know, for certain, that Maria Callas had a gift for dramatic singing that is beyond compare or that Glenn Gould as he hunched over the keyboard and played Bach’s divine music was some kind of angel himself.

Anyone, after watching even one round of Muhammad Ali boxing in his peerless prime would in head shaking wonder have had to exclaim, ‘There’s never been anyone like him!’.

Little Walter (Jacobs) a bluesman and instrumentalist of undoubted genius and the subject of today’s Immortal Jukebox post is assuredly one of that elect company.

With the certainty that advancing age brings, I confidently declare that there never will be a harmonica player to equal, let alone out do, Little Walter for drive, flair, command, show-stopping technical skill and outrageously imaginative musical daring.

Listen to the brilliance of his playing on, ‘Juke’ his first solo 45 from 1952, recorded with his colleagues in Chicago blues finest ever outfit – The Muddy Waters band.

I believe the proper expression after bearing that is, ‘Lord, Have Mercy!’.

This is Little Walter stepping up the stage, front and centre, to announce to his fellow musicians and the wider world that he was the new royal ruler of the blues harmonica.

Sure, on his way up he had been influenced by the two blues harpists named Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Walter Horton. He had arrived in Chicago as WW2 ended by way of his birthplace, Marksville Louisiana, New Orleans, Helena Arkansas, Memphis and St Louis – all the while soaking up music and developing his awesome technique.

It is clear that he had also been listening intently to thrusting saxophonists like Big Jay McNeely in addition to harp masters. But, then Walter took everything he had learned and at the warp speed of his imagination, moved into interstellar overdrive, taking the humble harmonica into uncharted territory. The territory all subsequent blues harmonica players live in.

Juke, recorded at the end of a Muddy Waters session for Chess subsidiary, Checker Records, became an enormous hit. It was biggest seller the label had up to that point and the first (and still only) harmonica led instrumental to top the R&B charts.

Walter and the commercially savvy Chess Brothers realised that while Walter should remain an essential part of the Muddy Waters sound he now needed to have his own band, The Jukes, for recording and touring purposes.

Walter was obviously the star of the show but he was fortunate to have such alert and sympathetic sidemen as guitarists, Louis and David Myers and drummer Fred Below.

Together in the period 1952 to 1958 they had 14 top ten R&B chart successes – records that are rightly regarded as blues classics. The general pattern was for each 45 to feature an instrumental allowing Walter to swoop and soar wherever his seemingly unlimited imagination took him coupled with a tough, street wise vocal side.

Walter was not a great singer but he could give a lyric a dramatic authority that lodged a song deep into your memory. It’s hard to believe that any set of sides were ever more perfectly engineered to blast out of South Side Chicago Jukeboxes!

On, ‘the threatening ‘You Better Watch Yourself’ below his harmonica doubles as a switchblade slicing the air powered by intoxicant fouled male bravado.

Or perhaps that should be doubles as a, ‘Saturday Night Special’ handgun waved to all and sundry in the joint as a signal – a declaration, that, ‘look out brothers and sisters! I’m a mean, mean dude and you had best not get in my way or mess with MY woman’.

More evidence here of Walter’s ability not simply to plug in to use the power of electricity to add volume to his harmonica but his understanding that testing the limits of the amplifiers could produce feedback and other distorting effects which he could harness to produce ever more individual and wondrous sounds.

There was something of the sorcerer about Walter – casting mysterious musical spells from a book unreadable to all but him.

Walter was a genius. He was also mean, moody and unreliable though he could be charming when he wanted to. Easily slighted, especially when drunk (and he was rarely without a bottle to hand) he was always one step, one sideways look, away from a fight.

His hungry indulgence in booze and drugs inevitably wore down his body and though his talent was immense it could not survive in its true glory beyond the late 1950s given the sustained onslaught of self abuse he visited upon it.

But when he was in his prime there was no one in Chicago or the whole wide world to touch him!

Walter, certain in his mastery of his instrument could play at the fastest tempos to whip an audience into a frenzy. But, like all the great musicians, he could exercise a mesmeric hold on his listeners playing at very slow tempo.

Listen to him on, ‘Quarter To Twelve’ sounding like some orchestral nocturnal spectre briefly visiting this material world to pass on some vital message.

I hear many things in the harmonica sounds of Little Walter.

I hear the cry and moan Buddy Guy heard.

I hear air renting sobs of pain, sly seduction, bitter rage – sometimes suppressed sometimes inescapably aimed right between our eyes and ears.

I hear terror and exultation, anxiety and ambition, lust, longing, and oceans of loss. Oceans of loss.

I hear a proud and angry grown man and a bewildered, bereft child.

I hear all the swirling sea of human emotions we are heir to drawn from the very air and brought to shining dramatic life through Walter’s miraculous sound.

A last treat – here he is, courtesy of the pen of blues godfather WIllie Dixon, with what has become a blues standard, ‘My Babe’.

What a huge sound! No fooling, this is Chicago blues at its best – this is the stuff of life.

Goodnight Walter.

May your story be heard and your tears dried.

You gave us treasure from your magnificent gifts.

Your Sound will never die.

Notes

The Chess catalogue has zig zagged through many incarnations for reissue purposes with complications appearing and disappearing with frustrating frequency.

The compilation I listen to most is the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. You could also investigate the sets from the Proper and Jasmine labels.

A record not to miss is, ‘The Blues World of Little Walter’ on blues specialist label Delmark. This is a quartet outing with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Leroy Foster. Their 1950 version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin” will send shivers through your whole being.

Happy Christmas 2017 from Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles Dickens & The Immortal Jukebox!

Traditions must be maintained!

An Etching by Rembrandt

A Literary extract from Charles Dickens

Music by Bob Dylan, Judy Garland & Shostakovich conducted by Rostropovich, played by Maxim Vengerov.

Our painting today is by Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.

rembrandt

There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.

The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.

Our first music selection today is one of the great works of the 20th Century.

Shostakovich lived through dark times yet, perhaps because of this, his work while never denying the darkness always returns to the light.

Maxim Vengerov is a musician to his fingertips and urged on by Rostropovich he wrings every scintilla of emotional power from the work.

Onward!

So, at last – the twelfth day of our Sleigh’s journey and it’s Christmas Eve!

I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.

I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).

But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.

First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!

Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.

The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.

Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.

It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring Sinatra covers CDs).

The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!

And, indeed he recently assumed, in a typically enigmatic way, the mantle of a Nobel Laureate.

The man never known to make a foolish move managed by not attending the investiture ceremony to harvest more publicity than all those who did!

In his nicely judged acceptance speech he managed to be both filled with humility and unblinkingly directly compare himself to Shakespeare!

Now that’s the one and only Bob Dylan!

Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from the secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.

‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?

‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’
‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’
‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’

‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’

Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?

So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.

God bless us, Every One!

 

 

Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams : Drifting Too Far From The Shore

Out on the perilous deep
Where dangers silently creep

I’m gonna die today.

29 last month.

And, I’m gonna die today.

Consider this my last letter.

About 12 hours from now I’m gonna take that slow walk.

To The Chair.

To The Chair.

I been drifting too far from the shore for a long time now.

Drifting too far.

Counting down the hours sets your mind thinking all right.

Mine goes back to the beginning.

A cabin in the Piney Woods.

Listening to the radio at night with the moon and stars shining through the windows and ol’ Bill Monroe (with Mama’s harmony) singing me to sleep.

Ain’t no one sing like Bill.

Today, the Tempest rose high,
And clouds o’ershadow the sky

There’s many a guy in here who’ll look you straight in the eye and tell you they is innocent.

Not one of them telling the truth.

Well, not me.

Not me.

I’m here because I killed a man.

Shot him twice through the heart.

Caught him carrying on with my wife.

Glad I done it.

Ain’t no reprieve from The Governor coming.

Just counting down the hours.

Counting down the hours.

Eight hours now.

Eight hours.

Drifting too far from the shore.

Drifting too far.

Can’t get that song out of my head.

Come to Jesus today,
Let Him show you the way

Padre came.

Told me all about repentance and forgiveness.

Told me all about tender mercies waiting for me.

Mama would have said the same.

Jesus name was never very far from her lips.

Just tidying up she would be singing, ‘Kneel At The Cross’ or, ‘Just A Closer Walk’.

She was a true believer.

True believer.

Never did take with me.

No, when you go.

You go.

No Sun. No Moon.

No Heaven. No Hell.

Black earth and the worms.

Four hours now.

Four hours.

Still, I sure would like to hear Mama sing Drifting Too Far one more time.

No one forgets their Mama’s voice.

No One.

One more time Mama – as I drift further and further away.

Further and further away.

Sure death is hovering nigh,
You’re drifting too far from shore

Well, I had my steak and eggs.

Everybody’s lined up.

Lined up to take me away.

Minutes not hours now.

Minutes not hours.

Drifting too far from the shore.

Drifting too far.

I’m gonna stand up straight and walk with my head up.

Ain’t gonna cry or scream.

Keep my eyes open wide when they shave my legs and head.

Can’t get that song out of my head.

This time.

This last time it’s Hank Williams I hear.

He never made it to thirty too.

If there’s one man who looked over the River of Death then it has to be Hank.

He walked with Death all his life.

Walk with me now Hank.

Walk with me.

Hold my hand Hank.

Hold my hand.

Hold …

Notes:

If you want to assess the influence and reach of Drifting Too Far From The Shore consider this statement from Bob Dylan The Keeper of American Song:

Maybe when I was about ten, I started playing the guitar. I found a guitar… in the house that my father bought, actually.

I found something else in there, it was kind of mystical overtones. There was a great big mahogany radio, that had a 78 turntable–when you opened up the top.

And I opened it up one day and there was a record on there–country record–a song called “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”

The sound of the record made me feel like I was somebody else …
that I was maybe not even born to the right parents or something.”

Bill Monroe – the Father of Bluegrass and one of the greatest figures in 20th Century music first recorded Drifting Too Far with his brother Charlie in the 1930s.

I like to think this was the mystical version that opened up Bob’s head!

The RCA/Bluebird recordings of The Monroe Brothers are eternal treasures.

Boone Creek – featured the wonderful high tenor voice of Ricky Scaggs and the Dobro King, Jerry Douglas.

Their late 70s recordings, ‘Boone Creek’ on Rounder and, ‘One Way Track’ on Sugarhill glow with passion.

Emmylou Harris – Her luminous version of Drifting Too Far is from her, ‘Angel Band’ collection of Country Gospel songs.

Hank Williams – His version was unreleased during his lifetime. One thing I can say – you can never have too many Hank Williams records.

Fats Domino RIP 1928 – 2017

There are some sentences you know you will have to write one day.

Still you hope it wont be this year or next.

So, reluctantly and with regret, I write the following sentence.

Fats Domino, Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefather has died in his 90th year.

Thinking of all the immense pleasure his music has given me and millions of others I could not let such an event pass without a full salute from The Immortal Jukebox.

I also want to pay homage to the magnificent saxophonist Herb Hardesty who died just before Christmas last year.

That’s Herb you can hear soloing on, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ and, ‘I’m Walking’ and that’s him too playing one of the most perfect parts in all Rock ‘n’ Roll on, ‘Blue Monday’.

I am also adding what may be my all time favourite Fats track – ‘Be My Guest’.

A record which beautifully illustrated the sheer joy woven into every bar of a Fats Domino record.

A record which demonstrated the glorious camaraderie of the Fats Domino Band.

A record which, especially in the wildly addictive horn breaks, virtually provides the corner stone sound for Ska to develop in Jamaica in the 1960s.

God bless you Fats!

 

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

Embed from Getty Images

On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

Embed from Getty Images

I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

Embed from Getty Images

I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo.

I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

Embed from Getty Images

I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

Embed from Getty Images

I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.