Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint & Willy Deville : On The Waterfront, Spanish Stroll – Immortal Moments

Another post from the first year of The Jukebox.

Of all the hundreds of Posts I have written for The Jukebox this may be my own favourite.

Sometimes it might take just a single beat of your heart.

A lightning strike seared into your memory: something really crucial has happened and whatever happens from now on it will be in the shadow of this!

Maybe it’s the first time alone together when she called you by your name and it felt like a new christening.

Or the time your toddling son folded his hand into yours without thinking as he looked for stability and security on the road ahead.

Sometimes it might take years; the slowly dawning realisation, (like a photograph emerging from the darkroom) that it was that moment, that event, which seemed so trivial at the time, where a new course was set that’s led you to your current harbour.

Moments, Moments, Moments.

Immortal Moments.

Our lives in our imaginations and memories are never a complete coherent narrative but rather a silvery chain of moments: some cherished and celebrated some sharply etched with pain and sorrow.

Some in which we have the starring role and others where we are strictly extras in the shadows at the edge of the stage.

The older we get the more we learn that some of those moments have become our own immortal moments: the moments we will return to again and again, voluntarily or necessarily as we try to make some sense of our lives.

And, when we shuffle through these moments we will find many have been supplied by our encounters with the music, films and books that have become part of the imaginative and emotional furniture of our lives.

Snatches of lyrics and melodies from favourite songs that you find yourself unexpectedly singing; scenes from films that seem to be always spooling somewhere deep in the consciousness now spotlit in front the mind’s eye, lines of poetry read decades ago that suddenly swoosh to the surface, seemingly unbidden, in response to some secret trigger.

I remember the exact moment, as a teenager, when I idly picked up a dusty book in a rundown junk shop and read these lines:

‘ Thou mastering me God!
Giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.’

The opening lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘The Wreck Of The Deutschland’.

Rooted to the spot I read the further twenty or so stanzas with my head and heart ablaze.

I was aware of taking in only a fraction of the meaning and technique of the poem but I was absolutely sure that this was poetry of the highest order and that sounding its depths would be the work of a lifetime.

I had made an emotional and spiritual connection that could never be undone and Poetry with that capital P was now a territory open for me, necessary for me, to explore.

Strangely enough this was also the moment when I also glimpsed a future in which I might write poetry myself.

Similar thrilling encounters with literature, music and film now form a personal rosary of treasure in my life.

I want to share just two more with you here.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint as Terry and Edie in a duet scene from, ‘On The Waterfront’ from 1954 in pristine monochrome with wonderful cinematography by Boris Kaufman.

This scene played with such truthfulness, tenderness and delicacy by both actors struck me very forcefully at the moment when first viewed and it has continued to bloom in my memory and imagination.

If asked to give testimony for Marlon Brando as the greatest film actor of his time I would, of course, cite his thrilling physical presence and ability to dominate and take possession of the screen with special reference to, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.

But, it is this scene that would win the argument for me.

Brando here hits a peak of American naturalistic acting using the method techniques he had learned but without being imprisoned by them.

In this scene with humour, pathos and dignity and without a shred of affectation or disrespect he incarnates Terry as a living, breathing man who wins our sympathy, as fellow human strugglers, trying stumblingly to articulate our feelings both to ourselves and to those we love and those we yearn to love us.

Watch the way his body language evolves through the scene as he realises Edie is intrigued by him and interested in him for himself.

The way he picks up, plays with and finally wears her dropped glove (seemingly improvised) should be required viewing in every drama school.

Astonishingly, this was Eva Marie Saint’s film debut.

The camera obviously loved her at first sight.

As Edie she is a luminous quiet presence whose watchful stillness, intelligence and sensitivity makes it inevitable that Terry will fall for her and fall hard.

She understatedly lets Edie’s dawning love for Terry emerge as something as natural as drawing breath.

She believably illuminates Edie as a young woman with steel in her character as well as beauty and charm.

Acting with Brando, even for someone with her accomplished background on stage, must have been an intimidating challenge but there can be no doubt that Eva Marie Saint matched and balanced him through every frame of celluloid on show here.

At some heartbreaking level we understand that these fleeting moments of intimacy shared in this scene by characters afflicted by doubt and bruised souls will be moments they will both need to recall in the painfully tempestuous times ahead.

Maybe it’s an eternal truth as Dylan wrote that, ‘Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain’.

Few scenes in cinema history bring out the truth of this statement with more clarity.

Mink Deville were led by Willy Deville a pompadoured and preening singer (finger on the eyebrow and left hand on the hip!) who showed himself throughout a roller coaster personal and professional life to be a supreme rhythm and blues and soul song stylist.

He had rasp and romance, swagger and sensitivity as well as presence and power in his vocal arsenal.

I recall the moment of seeing him for the first time on the British flagship chart music programme, ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1977 and jumping out of my chair to applaud this performance of the signature tune of his early career, ‘Spanish Stroll’.

 

Willy added sass, instrumental colour and wasted seventies urban elegance to the magic and mystery of doo-wop and Brill Building vocal group harmonies to create a wonderful record that creates its own bright shining world every time you hear it.

His wonderfully liquid self regarding, shooting cuffs vocal is all strutting Latin braggadocio anchored in his assured rhythmic poise.

Special praise is due to the mellifluous backing vocalists who wonderfully evoke the steam heat of a New York night on a tenement stoop as they support Willy’s imperious lead role.

I love the ringing tones of the guitars, the Spanish flourishes, the proto rap intervention by bassist Ruben Siguenza, the tempo changes and the dreamlike woozy character of the whole song. Most of all, most of all, I love and keep returning to the moment when Willy sings the line:

‘Make a paper boat, light it and send it, send it out now.’

Especially those last three words.

Anyone who can make the heart leap with three simple words is an artist to cherish and revere.

I’ll write a full tribute to this great late lamented talent in due course but in the meantime trawl Youtube for a series of magnificent vocal performances and load up your shopping cart with his albums. You won’t regret it.

Adios Amigo, adios.

Moments, moments, Immortal moments.

Little Richard : Tutti Frutti (‘Awop Bop Aloo Bop Alop Bam Boom!’)

I see with no little surprise that after 5 years of The Jukebox the number of Views is fast approaching 500,000.

Half a Million!

Reflecting on this I thought it would be appropriate for the next few weeks to feature some Posts from the early years that many of you who have become followers more recently may never have seen.

The choice of which Posts to feature follows no scientific principle.

I have simply chosen those for which I have a particular fondness.

So, here’s a post from 2014 celebrating one of the greatest figures in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll – Little Richard!

No novelist would dare to invent a character like Richard ; suffice to say there never was anyone like him before  and there will never be anyone like him again.

Turn all your dials into the Red Zone now and prepare for unbridled joy!

‘My heart nearly burst with excitement – I had heard God’. (David Bowie on first hearing Tutti Frutti)

‘Ambition: To Join Little Richard!’ (Entry in Bob Dylan’s High School Yearbook’)

‘It was as if, in a single instant, the world changed from monochrome to technicolour’ (Keith Richards)

Before any truly catyclismic event in world history there are usually foreshadowings and auguries: precursor events that indicate something immense is on its way.

I have identified one such sequence in history and set it out below:

In the summer of 1883 in the Sunday Strait between Java and Sumatra the Island of Krakatoa was the location for a volcanic eruption of staggering power.

The explosion which destroyed the island was heard in Perth, Australia some 2000 miles away.

It was probably the loudest sound ever heard by humankind as the sky grew dark with rock, ash and pumice.

Tsunamis were generated as the shock wave reverberated seven times around the planet.

Weather patterns and temperatures were disrupted for years on a global scale. The explosion was the equivalent of 200 megatonnes of TNT. In comparison the Atom Bomb explosion over Hiroshima was a mere firecracker.

If you were looking for the epicentre of the world’s scientific ferment in 1904 it is unlikely anyone would have settled on the Patent Office in sleepy Bern, Switzerland.

Yet it was there that the 25 year old Albert Einstein had an intellectual epiphany.

He realised that mass and energy were not two separate realms but expressions of each other.

He expressed this relationship in a beautiful world changing equation (you know, E = MC squared).

This was an epochal, paradigm shifting breakthrough that has resounded through science and culture ever since.

Asteroids are rare visitors to this earth but when they do pay us a home visit the effects can be profound.

As June ended in 1908 in Tunguska in remote Siberia it seemed that the sky was split in two and covered with fire as an asteroid travelling at more than 33,000 miles per hour exploded trigerring a shock wave that devestated 800 square miles of forest.

Eighty million trees lay on their sides levelled like so much matchwood.

For days afterward the skies above Asia and Europe were eerily aglow.

In the 1940s as the Second World War proceeded the significance of Einstein’s work for military purposes was sharply appreciated in Washington, Berlin, London and Moscow as teams of dragooned scientists raced to produce a war winning weapon.

The race was won in the deserts of the American South West by an international team ironically including many refugees from Hitler’s Reich. Mankind now had the capacity to destroy itself and the Atomic Age was born.

Energy, Energy, Energy.

Energy contained and the power of energy released is the linking factor in all these events.

There is something awesome in the contemplation of the overwhelming impact such displays of energy can have upon us.

Immense outpourings of energy expressed in music, film and literature can lead to revolutions in human consciousness that can profoundly alter the landscape of our thoughts and our very dreams.

Following such events the cultural climate is forever changed and aftershocks continue to ripple on through the succeeding ages.

One such moment took place at Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio at Rampart Street New Orleans on September 14th 1955 when Little Richard exploded into a version of an outrageously sexy, raucous and filthy song that had long been a staple of his live performances.

The savvy producer of the session, Bumps Blackwell, had heard the song during a time out break the musicians had taken in a local bar, the Dew Drop Inn, and instantly realised that, furnished with cleaned up lyrics suitable for listening to on the radio, this was an unstoppable hit with a drive, attack and energy that was something new under the sun and moon in the Crescent City and for all he knew the whole world.

Richard played the frenzied piano himself with the masterful drummer Earl Palmer for once taken aback and struggling to keep up. Lee Allen plays a scintillating sax solo after being given his cue by the vocalist’s trademark screams and hollers.

Little Richard, the Little Richard who occupies a permanent treasured chair at the top table of Rock n Roll pioneers and innovators was born as an artist at the very moment he began to play Tutti Frutti.

His vocals are a delirious fusion of the gospel pulpit, the back alley dive and the tent show after hours party.

They lift the song beyond jump blues, beyond rhythm and blues into a new territory that incredulous contemporary listeners and musicians and the generations who followed them would light out for in their millions whooping all the way!

But very few of them would be able to combine, like Little Richard could, the rapturous, glossolalial soar and swoop with the low down and dirty guttural rasp.

For that you maybe needed to be the twelfth child of a family that included both preachers and bootleggers and grow up listening to testifying choirs in the morning and gut bucket blues men late at night.

It would also help if you had lived by the train tracks and woken up repeatedly to the sound of the whistle screaming through your town.

Primary among those attempting to reproduce the Little Richard scream was the teenage Paul McCartney who used it extensively when covering Richard’s songs (his vocal party piece was Long Tall Sally, which was one of the two songs he played atop a desk on his last day at school in Liverpool) and he also incorporated it into his own rockers to give them a wildness that would drive the girls crazy.

I’m sure you know that I’m no physicist or mathematician but according to my calculations the energy released in the first thirty seconds of Tutti Frutti as Little Richard leaves Earth’s orbit for the celestial beyond is exactly equal to and more lasting in impact and influence than the Krakatoa explosion!

Perhaps the incantation, ‘Awop Bop Aloo Bop Alop Bam Boom!’ was the unlocking alchemical phrase the Universe had been waiting to hear for many millennia.

Who would have thought that such mystic power would have emerged from an omnisexual, mascara wearing son of Macon Georgia!

You can christen Little Richard the Meteor, the Comet, the Quasar or the Architect of Rock n Roll – he deserves all those accolades and all the honours heaped upon him in his mature years.

But it is the dionysiac outpouring of energy in Tutti Frutti that will prove his lasting legacy.

The universe shook the day he recorded it and it’s still shaking now.

Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans : Smile

Exploring the genius of Charlie Chaplin featuring :

Chaplin himself, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans.

Genius is an extremely overworked term when applied to popular artists of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, without any hesitation I can assert that Charlie Chaplin was a genius.

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He was a master of every aspect of film making – writing, acting, producing and directing.

And, he did something only the very rarest artists do – he created an iconic character (the Tramp) who has become part of the very fabric of popular consciousness.

He was a Poet of  the Cinema with a deep tragi-comic vision.

A vision whose beauty and truth was recognised and welcomed whatever the age, language and culture of those who encountered his films.

The best definition of genius I know comes from Arthur Schopenhauer :

‘The genius … lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.

Accordingly, he cannot go hand in hand with the regular course of the culture of the times as found; on the contrary, he casts his works far out on to the path in front …

Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.’

Charlie Chaplin fully meets that definition.

Oh, and in addition to the honour board of talents listed above he was also a talented composer who wrote the music for one of the most affecting songs of his and any other era – ‘Smile’.

Chaplin, of course, thought in cinematic terms so let’s kick off this tribute to his genius with ‘Smile’ in its first incarnation as part of his score to his masterpiece from 1936, ‘Modern Times’.

Every element of this scene reflects the enormous pains Chaplin took to achieve the exact effects he was seeking.

Chaplin knew all about the Fear and Sorrow that beset so many lives.

He knew that a smile was often your best disguise and perhaps your only defence against the sadness that might otherwise overwhelm you.

The Tramp always keeps alive a spark of Hope, of determination to survive – to be present for what, who knows, may, just may, turn out to be a better tomorrow.

Chaplin’s whole cinematic persona – in the delicacy of his facial gestures and the gamut of his physical pantomime amounts in a sense to an alertness to the promise of Life – no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his mastery of mime and the balletic grace of his movement he was able to convey more nuances of emotion than a hundred lines of dialogue could convey.

His genius was both to acknowledge the Fear and Sorrow but not to surrender to it – to grandly and magnificently literally laugh in the face of it.

And, if Charlie can survive so might we.

As cinema goers, a spring anew in their step, left a Chaplin film they were reassured that light and laughter could outshine the darkness.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you ….

The lyric and a title for Chaplin’s melody came from John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons in 1954.

The Premier recording was by a peerless balladeer of Golden Age American Song – Nat King Cole.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile.

There is no grandiloquence in Nat’s performance.

Knowing that he had a rare treasure here he simply presents the song allowing the beauty of the melody and the poignancy of the words to travel into the hearts and minds of the audience.

‘Simple’ for Nat King Cole because of the burnished gold of his voice which makes us all gladly share any emotion he is evoking.

If I imagine an exhausted couple slow dancing to Nat’s version in the sanctuary of their home I can only imagine the next take as a solo dance underneath a waning Moon.

Judy Garland.

If ever an artist was born to sing a song it was Judy to sing, ‘Smile’.

Fear and Sorrow and Heartbreak surrounded her all her days.

And, those circumstances were fully incarnated in her voice when she sang – especially when she sang, ‘Smile’.

Her Version is filled with tears and sadness – the gladness and the smile is in the going on, the going on.

I am going to repeat something I wrote about Garland before because I don’t think I can say what I mean to say any better.

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.

There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of Smile but not a single one sounds anything like the depths that Judy Garland does.

And now for something completely different!

Jimmy Durante brought his own very real magic to Smile.

A straight from the shoulder, Hey Bud, have one on me, growl that’s surprisingly affecting.

Lyle Lovett knows songs having written many fine ones himself.

There is always consideration and deliberation involved in the way he approaches a song.

So, his Smile is ruminative, baffled and melancholic.

 

To conclude here’s something really special.

The great Jazz Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans, at 90, bringing a lifetime of craft and experience to bear on Chaplin’s insights into the changeable weather of the human heart.

In a previous feature on, ‘The Third Man’ I noted that it had one of the great endings in the Film Canon.

Well, Charlie Chaplin was a supreme master of ending a Film in a highly memorable and emotionally satisfying way.

The melody plays, the camera rolls and our hearts are uplifted.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile

If you just Smile.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Richard Thompson &The Move (never forgetting Cowboy Jack Clement) : It’ll Be Me!

In the mid 1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll smashed apart the ice bound cultural climate of America and Britain.

A new generation born in the 1940s had epiphanies in the 50s listening to the icebreakers in chief : Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In Minnesota, Bob Dylan.

In Liverpool, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

And, their ecstatic immersion into a new world was repeated in hamlets and villages and towns and cities all over the world.

Later, when those Baby Boomers became artists and legends in their own right they always carried within treasured memories of the sparks that had lit their own flames.

That’s why, time after time, when it comes to encores you’ll find the titans of the 60s and 70s returning to the original source to pay homage and rock out for all they are worth!

Now, if you want a mentor, an exemplar, for barn burning, earth shattering, Rock ‘n’ Roll you can’t possibly beat The Killer – Ferriday Louisiana’s very own Jerry Lee Lewis!

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If there was ever a man/myth you might chance upon a-peeping from a crawdad hole or grinnin’ down on you from the top of a telephone pole it would have to be Jerry Lee!

In February 1957 Jerry was in Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios for his second session as a recording artist with Cowboy Jack Clement at the desk.

Everyone with a pulse from Mercury to Pluto knows the second track they recorded that day, ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On’ as it became one of the defining records of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era (which is of course still extant).

But, today The Jukebox is celebrating the B Side of that epochal 45, ‘It’ll Be Me’ a masterpiece in its own right and, as we shall see, an inspiration for decades to come.

Well, you can climb to the top of Everest or descend in a diving bell to the deepest darkest depths of the oceans but you still wouldn’t be able to find a truer Rock ‘n’ Roller than Jerry Lee.

I love the leer that’s always in his voice tempered by a sly wink to the audience :

Come on you’ve got to admit it you just can’t get enough of Jerry Lee can you’.

And, there’s always that slippin’ and a slidin’ perpetually pumpin’ Piano to keep your heart rate up and out a broad smile on your face.

‘It’ll Be Me’ was written by a popular music renaissance man – Cowboy Jack Clement.

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Among the roles Jack assumed were : songwriter, singer, producer, studio owner, talent spotter and world class raconteur!

Of course, as The Jukebox never tires of saying you only have to make one great record to be sure of immortality and with, ‘It’ll Be Me’ Jack most assuredly did that.

Janis Martin was a contemporary of Jerry Lee’s and a rip roaring rocker.

She took a long spell away from the music business yet when lured back by the estimable Rosie Flores for the album, ‘The Blanco Sessions’ in 1995 she showed that she could still set those sparks flying upward.

The Move were one of the least classifiable outfits in the firmament of British Beat Groups of the 1960s.

They were Rock ‘n’ Roll, they were Pop, they were Psychedelic, they were progressive and Retro all at the same time.

In Roy Wood they had a songwriter/performer who overflowed with talent turbo charging the efforts of Bev Bevan (Drums), Carl Wayne (Vocals & Guitar), Trevor Burton (Guitar & Vocals) and Ace Kefford (Bass & Vocals).

Live, they brewed up quite a storm.

Here they are giving, ‘It’ll Be Me’ a no holds barred, eyeballs out, performance for the good old BBC.

Now we turn to a regular on The Jukebox, Richard Thompson, here performing live with his then wife Linda.

Richard Thompson, in contrast to almost all the stellar guitarists of his time, was not a devotee of B. B King, Elmore James or Chuck Berry.

Rather he had a unique set of influences which included traditional Pipers and Fiddle Players alongside Guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Les Paul.

Which is why he sounds only ever like himself.

And, he can play in almost any emotional register.

He can play with the still tenderness of a mother singing a lullaby to her sick child in the dead of night.

He can play with the ferocity of William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops as they slashed and burned their was from Atlanta to Savannah.

You want someone who can make the line :

‘If you see a rocket ship on its way to Mars’ come alive well look no further than Richard Thompson when he’s in the mood!

Better fasten your seat belt real tight! – you’ll be pulling some serious Gs!

Remember what I said about Encores?

Well, here’s a short, sharp and satisfying one from a Group, Lindisfarne, whom I often saw in their 70s heyday.

Lindisfarne, as their name suggests, were from England’s North East.

Their take on ‘It’ll Be Me’ suggests they may have been tuned in to Chuck Berry rather more closely than they were to Bede!

Pretty sure Bede never played the Harmonica like that!

Look who’s knocking on our door now!

None other than Tom Jones, happily never recovered from his first ecstatic exposure to Jerry Lee.

Sometimes you want music to be pure Fun and that’s exactly what Tom serves up here aided and ably abetted by Jools Holland.

What’s that line about funny faces and comic books?

Let’s conclude with Cowboy Jack himself bringing it all back home.

Well, if you see a new face on your totem pole or if you find a new lump in your sugar bowl, Baby, I have to tell you It’ll Be Me …….

 

Manu Chao, Mongo Santamaria & Bongo Joe : Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

A Bongo Bonanza featuring :

Preston Epps, Manu Chao, Mongo Santamaria, Jack Constanzo & Bongo Joe with a bonus of a Disney bear who’s not Ballou and 2 Nobel Prize Winners (and a tip of the hat to a third for my really savvy readers).

Sometimes you just feel unsettled.

Windows shakin’ all night in your dreams.

You can feel like you are a prisoner in a world of mystery.

No one can push that ticking clock back.

You start from here.

Maybe time to take a walk and clear the cobwebs from your head.

Far from the Towns in the rolling South Downs.

The hounds are out for their morning exercise.

The air’s so fresh you feel your heart expand.

Twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow.

What’s the thing that will snap you out of lethargy?

Maybe a trip to Tibet?

Maybe a full-length leather coat?

Or, Or, maybe those tunes rattlin’ the windows these last few nights weren’t dark forces tryin’ to get in but drums, Bongos indeed!

Bongos telling you to get up and dance.

Dance, dance, dance!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Now you think of it there’s a particular tune that always starts the windows shakin’.

What was the guy’s name?

Sharp dressed dude with a hat.

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Preston Epps – how could I forget a name like that!

And, how could I ever forget, ‘Bongo Rock’!

Take it away Preston.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

That’ll flat get it!

Preston, who died in May this year, appeared on many fine records as a side man but his immortality as a musician was guaranteed once he recorded Bongo Rock in 1959.

Some things you can get tired of but Bongo Rock – Never!

OK, as Ballou the Bear from The Jungle Book would say :

‘I’m gone man, solid gone!’

So, we are going to keep those Bongos going.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Now your mama might not have been queen of the mambo and your papa may not have been monarch of the Congo but as soon as Manu Chao hits his stride here you and your monkey will most assuredly know that you are the King of Bongo, baby!

The King of Bongo.

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Bongo, Bongo! Bongo!

Manu Chao.

He gets Rhythm.

He gets the Bongos.

And, his style crosses all linguistic and stylistic boundaries.

Don’t matter where you come from or where you’re goin’ everybody is partial to the Bongos.

C’mon let’s all bang on the Bongos.

Let’s go crazy bangin’ on the Bongos.

And, who better to blast us straight into outer and inner space than supreme Bongo master – Mongo Santamaria.

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Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Jazz classic Afro Blue given a magisterial reading on a Bongotastic night at New York’s Village in 1967.

Hubert Laws on Flute, Trumpet and Alto Sax by Ray Maldinado and Bobby Porcelli.

10 minutes of Bongo Heaven which never lets up.

Once Mongo gets his groove we are all gone, solid Gone!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Our next Bongo King, Jack Costanzo was dubbed, ‘Mr Bongo’ by the esteemed Jazz critic Leonard Feather.

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Jack played with almost everyone in the Who’s Who of 20th century Jazz and Showbiz – from Frank Sinatra to Charlie Parker to The Supremes!

Have Bongos – ready to Party was Jack’s mantra.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

There must be something in those Bongos because Jack almost made it to 99 before he went to play Bongos in the afterlife.

Going to finish up here with Bongo Joe.

Now, strictly speaking he doesn’t play the Bongos per se.

He actually plays the 55 Gallon Oil Drum.

But, I have to say there was no way I was going to write a post titled Bongo! Bongo! Bongo! and leave out my man Bongo Joe.

Joe started out as a ‘regular’ musician even playing piano for Sammy Davis Jr but he found his true calling when he found the sounds he could conjure from 55 gallon Oil Drums.

His birth name was George Coleman but he became and will always be remembered as Bongo Joe.

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As Bongo Joe he became a legendary figure on the streets of Galveston and San Antonio over three decades.

In 1968 the ever perspicacious Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie Records captured Joe in scorching form on his only recording, ‘George Coleman : Bongo Joe’.

Just before I moved down to the South Downs nearly three years ago I gave almost all my Vinyl to Oxfam but I kept my copy of Bongo Joe – some things are too precious to give away!

Now tell me that didn’t dispel any residual cobwebs!

Dig that whistling!

Ain’t nothin’ like the Bongos to cheer a body up.

I am just about to apply for a new Passport.

I was going to put ‘Writer’ for my Occupation but maybe in some countries that may not grant you so warm a welcome.

So, I am now resolved to write, ‘Bongocero’.

Everybody, everywhere, when you get right down to it loves the Bongos.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

More Bongo Lore :

My favourite Disney character is Bongo the Bear from the excellent, ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ from 1947.

I never tire of Dinah Shore telling the story of how escaped circus bear Bongo wins the heart of Lulubelle and defeats the dangerous wild bear Lockjaw.

The story comes from Sinclair Lewis ‘book, ‘Little Bear Bongo’.

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Sinclair Lewis was a Nobel Prize winner as was a very enthusiastic Bongo Player – Maverick Physicist Richard Fenyman.

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Maybe getting his Bongo groove on agitated the grey cells and released those genius insights!

In 1959 then teen heartthrob Cliff Richard appeared as a character called Bongo Herbert in a, ‘Satire’ called, ‘Expresso Bongo’.

I was never a fan of Cliff’s and when I see him on TV I usually mutter  – oh look there’s Bongo Herbert!

Look out for Bongo Blues on the soundtrack performed by Hank Marvin and The Shadows.

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Bongoland in Tanzania means a place where people have to be smart and savvy to get ahead.

There are two fine films called Bongoland and Bongo is apparently a generic term for the Tanzanian film industry.

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A favourite childhood memory of mine is watching Magicians on TV.

My particular favourite was Ali Bongo who was something of a magician’s magician twice being granted the accolade of the presidency of The Magic Circle.

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Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

 

Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters & Aaron Neville : Money Honey

Featuring :

Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, Wanda Jackson, Aaron Neville & a Mystery Guest.

I spend a lot of time in Book Shops.

And it’s clear from the groaning shelves that Recipe Books are very popular indeed.

So, here’s my pitch for a new title :

The Record Company Recipe Book : 4 Ingredients for guaranteed success!’ 

1. Perspective :

Most people can’t see and hear the significance and potential of what’s right in front of them.

That’s because they’ve accepted, usually unconsciously, the assumptions and prejudices of the culture they grew up in.

So it’s a great boon if you encounter a native culture through the perspective of a stranger.

Someone who can see the veins of gold where others see only bare stones.

2. Intellectual and Emotional Intelligence : 

It’s one thing to see potential it’s another to imagine how that potential could be realised in the form of artistic achievement and monetary reward.

So, you’re going to need a sharp and innovative mind and honed emotional antennae because you’re in a business where you have to consistently please and win the loyalty of both loose cannon creatives and the great record buying public.

3. Build a Team of All the Talents :

OK. You’ve found some artists who have real talent but that represents only the above the water part of the Iceberg whole.

You won’t get Hits regularly and generate tons of greenbacks unless you have a talented and committed team driving every aspect of the process that results in the bonanza of a big fat Hit.

So – find songwriters who know music, who know artists and who can write songs that play to the strengths of those artists and the tastes of the men and women gathered around the Jukebox and the Record Shop counter.

So – find a group of flexible musicians who will definitely turn up for the session and who can play brilliantly in a wide variety of styles so that whoever’s in front of them sounds like the leader of a superb band.

Add in a Whiz Kid Engineer/Producer who makes the resulting record sound fantastic on tne radio, in the bars and juke joints and on the home Hi-Fi (even it’s actually very Low-Fi).

So – find business managers and marketing staff who are hard headed professionals completely wedded to the cause.

4. Keep the Recipe to yourself and add a magic ingredient :

So, Keep the team motivated and loyal.

You’re a band of brothers not a corporate clique!

And, you know that when it comes to Singers in particular there’s a deep mystery as to why some voices turn on all the coloured lights and have people begging for more.

So, if you find one of those Singers – move heaven and earth to sign them up and get that whole team on the case so that those coloured lights burn bright all over the nation.

I know this Recipe works because it’s exactly the one followed by Ahmet Ertegun the founder and presiding power behind the enormous success story that was and is Atlantic Records.

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He had the Perspective as the teenage son of the first Turkish Ambassador to the US who fell instantly head over heels in love with Black Music – Rhythm and Blues and Jazz on first encountering them.

With brother Nesuhi he found deep veins of gold in Milt Gabler’s Commodore Music Shop to the extent that they amassed a collection of over 15,000 78s and became acquainted with musicians such as Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton.

They promoted concerts and traveled to the sacred music sites in New Orleans and Harlem to listen first hand to the music and so develop a keen awareness of contemporary musical tastes.

There’s no doubt he had the intellectual and emotional intelligence.

When his father was recalled Ahmet knew his future lay in the US and that he could found a record company that would prospect for and discover black singers and musicians who could reach way beyond the, ‘Race Records Market’ if their work was professionally recorded and marketed.

Surely, that cat Ray Charles should stop trying to imitate Charles Brown and cut loose in the studio like he does at his shows?

The man’s a genius and I’m going to tell him so and together we’re going to revolutionise the music world!

People are going to know a Rhythm and Blues (so glad I brought Jerry Wexler who coined that term into the fold) record on Atlantic is guaranteed to get your heart thumping and your hips loosening and once they do they’ll be queueing up for each new release.

Team of Talents?

Well how about songwriters like Jesse Stone and Leiber & Stoller.

Musicians like ace Guitarist MIckey Baker and Sax Sensation Sam The Man Taylor.

How about that Kid Tom Dowd who Is an absolute wizard in the Studio! He keeps asking for new equipment and I keep saying yes because he makes our discs just sound better and better.

How about Miriam Abramson and Francine Wakschal in publishing and accounts. They know how every dime is spent and nobody gets to rip them or us off!

Magic Ingredient you say?

Well how about the time I want to see Billy Ward & The Dominos at Birdlland (mainly to hear Clyde McPhatter) and found Billy had just fired Clyde!

Now, though Clyde was the reason those Dominos’ records sold so well he didn’t get the credit as most people assumed Billy himself was the lead vocalist.

Not me!

Clyde has captured true Gospel fervour and combined it with down and dirty R&B so that you gotta say, ‘OOOH – WEEE’ right along with him.

Lets sign him up and get him in the studio as fast as possible with some great singers behind him.

Jesse says he’s got a sure fire hit with a song called, ‘Money Honey’ (great title Jesse).

Sex and Money – top of pretty near everybody in the world’s wish list!

Can’t wait to hear Clyde light that one up.

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Going to call the group, ‘The Drifters’.

Clyde knows the singers whose talents will perfectly frame his own.

Bill Pinkney has a smooth baritone, Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher have such sweet tenor voices while Willie Ferbie holds down the bottom end.

Got a feeling this ain’t gonna be no one off Hit.

Landlord ain’t gonna be ringing our Bell.

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Lord, but this is going to sound great.

I’ll bet we sell a million and that years from now people will still be recording Money Honey – one thing I can tell you nobody will ever out sing Clyde!

No Siree.

No one ever topped Clyde for roller coaster, thrill a minute, I may just have to scream I’m so excited vocal drama!

There’s a wonderful confidence and certainty oozing from every second of the song as if everyone knows they’ve sure hit pay dirt this time.

Money Honey was recorded on 8 August 1953 as The Drifters debut 45.

Straight to the top of the R&B charts and taking up residence on the list for almost 6 Months.

And, straight into the affections of generations of singers and musicians.

Here’s Jukebox Hero Ry Cooder really getting into a groove before a live audience.

Ain’t no doubt about it Ry can really make that Guitar talk!

It’s the mark of a great musician to put their own stamp on a well known song and make you listen to it with a new sense of its depths and joys.

Ry is always welcome here and soon he will feature in an extended Post solely dedicated to his storied career.

Remember I talked about Clyde McPhatter’s roller coaster, thrill a minute, I may just have to scream I’m so excited vocal brilliance?

Well here’s the stupendous fireball Wanda Jackson proving that she can set your heart ablaze just as thrillingly with her own vocal pyrotechnics!

How can you not fall deeply in Love with Wanda!

And, Now, The Jukebox introduces the promised Mystery Guest.

Duffy Power is something of a secret hero of the 1960s British Blues and Rock’n’Roll scene.

He had plenty of talent but somehow the alignment of the fates and his own troubles meant he became a marginal cult figure whose sales never matched his achievements.

Listen to his take here and see if you agree.

Jerry Garcia was a true music afficianado.

With The Dead and with his various side projects he payed loving homage to the music that had inspired him in his youth.

He obviously got a great buzz out of playing Money Honey – returning to it decade after decade.

Well wasn’t that a Kick!

Now to conclude, sadly in the week that brother Art Neville died, a glorious version from the one and only Aaron Neville.

I think Clyde will be singing along with this one on the celestial choir.

Old school relaxed brilliance.

Owing more than a little to the presence of Keith Richards on Guitar.

Got to admit that one had me resurrecting my cartwheeling skills!

The sun may shine and the wind may blow.

Lovers come and Lovers will surely Go.

But today’s lesson is that a song like Money Honey is here to stay.

Charlie Watts & The Jukebox agree : Earl Bostic is Boss – Flamingo!

 

A 7 year old gets introduced to Jazz (and is never the same again).

’Before I wanted to play the drums I wanted to play the Alto Sax. Earl Bostic’s Flamingo was the record that turned me on to Jazz’ (Charlie Watts)

 

Up until the age of 7 I lived in Church Street, Paddington, just over a mile from Marble Arch the landmark that stands as the official centre of London.

Also a mile or so away was Abbey Road Studios where just before my 7th Birthday The Beatles began their epochal recording career.

Nearby was St Johns Wood Library.

Less than half a mile away from home was my parish church and the school where I began my academic studies.

Such were the coordinates of my early life.

Right at the centre, of course, was the home I shared with my parents and my younger brother.

Three rooms above a Betting Shop –  a bedroom partitioned in two, a small living room and a tiny kitchen.

Outside torrents of sound from Church Street Market where you could buy anything from a hair piece to a hula hoop to a handsaw (and I dare say if you knew the right man to ask you could buy a Hawk too).

Photo:Church Street Market

Now, I can’t swear the boy in the picture below is me (though his look and aura matches mine) but I do remember standing in some awe listening to the Salvation Army Sisters preach and sing uplifting hymns with the aim of saving souls.

Photo:A Gathering

Remember what those clever Jesuits said :

Give me a child for his first 7 years and I will give you the man.’ 

In my case almost certainly true.

The 7 year old Tom was;  an obsessive reader, a hundred mile an hour talker and questioner and someone who always wanted to know the who, what, when, where and why about every topic that flashed across the mind.

Both my parents worked long hours in demanding jobs – looking back I must have exhausted them with my relentless enquiries yet they rarely showed any impatience with their effervescent son.

One, nigh infallible, way to staunch my chatter was to play music on the radio or even better to let me cue up a 45 on our Ferguson Radiogram (the pride of our Living Room).

You’ll know some of these as I’ve written about them here :

Runaround Sue’ by Dion,

Walking Back to Happiness’ by Helen Shapiro, 

‘Right Said Fred’ by Bernard Cribbins and, 

’Stranger on The Shore’ by Acker Bilk.

Where did we buy our records?

Why, where else but from a stall just yards from our door – in Church Street Market.

Listening to the stall holders was my introduction to spiel and patter and the art of the dramatic soliloquy :

Now, listen here, gather round, I’ve got juicy tomatoes and melons as big as Sophia Loren’s’

’If you want your whites whiter than white you’ve got no right to go anywhere but John White’s right here!’

’I got cockles and I’ve got mussels, I’ve got eels all the way from the Sargasso Sea – have these every day and your brain will grow as big as Einstein’s’

And, my favourite clarion call :

’If its in the top 10 I’ve got it. If Elvis sang it, I’ve got it.

If its been on the bloomin’ BBC or Luxembourg I’ve got it.

If you can’t remember the name but you can hum it I’ll bet i’ve got it!’

That last peroration from Sid (Symphony Sid of course) who became my favourite stall holder and my most important teacher.

I took to hanging around Sid’s stall when he was closing up for the evening (don’t bother me when I’ve got customers queueing up boy!).

When he was packing up the vinyl treasure it was my chance to ask questions :

‘ I love Twisting The Night Away – tell me about Sam Cooke?

’well boy there ain’t no one alive or dead who sings as naturally as Sam. ‘Course you oughta know that his very best singing, his very best ain’t any of the pop stuff. No! If you want that you’ve got to listen to his gospel stuff with The Soul Stirrers – those records would make a believer out of the deepest atheist I’m telling you!’

’Some people say Elvis is no good since he went in the army but I think, ‘His Latest Flame’ is fantastic – how about you?

’Now Boy, you don’t want to be giving the time of day to those kind of people. I’m telling you 50 years from now the people who really know (and you might be one of ‘em) will tell you that (Marie’s the name) His Latest Flame backed with Little Sister might just be the greatest 45 that anyone, anyone, ever recorded!’

Weeks later he would test me to see if I’d been listening (if you don’t listen close Boy you ain’t ever gonna learn nothin’) :

’What was the gospel group Sam Cooke started out with?’

‘That would be The Soul Stirrers Sid!’

’Good Boy – Look I’ve got a copy here of Del Shannon’s Runaway with just a tiny scratch, fantastic sound that’ll put a your head in a swirl .. take that home now and let me pack up the van in peace.’

’Boy, what was on the other side of ‘His Latest Flame’?

’Easy, Sid, easy that would be Little Sister’.

’Spot on Boy – now I’ve got something special for you here been untouched on the back of this stall for many a year now but I’m telling you this one will outlast all your pop palaver … Earl Bostic playing the Alto Sax on ‘Flamingo’ .. got this off the Jukebox in an American Base .. listen to this Boy, it’ll put hairs on your chest and give you a whole new kind of dreams!’

And, that was how at 7 I got introduced to Jazz, the Alto Saxophone, Earl Bostic and Flamingo!

Now, it took another 7 years before those hairs sprouted on my chest but he was absolutely right about the dreams.

From the moment I first heard Earl’s fruity tone on the Alto Sax I was gone, solid gone.

I had never heard music with such blood and guts life force.

And, dig those Vibes!

Listening to Flamingo I was transported to a shadowy, black and white world where knives flashed and dames smiled dangerously from the doorways of clubs no one like me should ever be allowed to imagine let alone enter.

But that’s the great thing about imagination – once it’s released it’s released and there ain’t t no going back.

Earl became my idol and I drove Sid three quarters mad asking him to find me more Bostic.

Over the next few months along more Bostic beauties : ‘Temptation’, ‘Cherokee’, ‘You Go to My Head’, ‘Sleep’ and, ‘UpThere in Orbit’.

Each new disc became a sacred object for me.

Compared to the full bodied vigour of Earl Bostic most everything else seemed parched and anaemic.

But, like they say, you never forget your first and Flamingo was my first foray into Jazz.

Since then of course I’ve found out that Earl was a legendary saxophone technician with complete mastery of his horn.

I discovered that stellar Jazzers like Benny Carter, Teddy Edwards, Tony Scott, Stanley Turrentine and the blessed John Coltrane himself all played with and were influenced by Earl.

I learned that Earl believed Jazz should never lose sight of The Blues.

Blues had a character that got under the skin and a canny musician could extemporise around that character and have people smile and dance and spend their hard earned money freely.

Earl was very successful because you knew an Earl Bostic Record was going to be an unalloyed pleasure and that you would never, ever, grow tired of listening to Earl’s imperious sound.

Many years later, he became even more of a favourite when I came across a record called, ‘Brooklyn Boogie’ featuring the great Louis Prima and members of my favourite Baseball outfit The Brooklyn Dodgers and reading the credits realised it was written by none other than Earl Bostic!

There’s a legendary figure on the British Jazz scene called Victor Schonfield and I take my hat off to him for this summation of Earl Bostic’s career :

’.. his greatest gift was the way he communicated through his horn a triumphant joy in playing and being, much like Louis Armstrong and only a few others have done’

Bravo Victor and Bravo Bostic!

I’ll leave you with a little more personal history.

One of the many discoveries of our series of house moves over the last few years was a clutch of faded yellow exercise books from my primary school days.

Digging out the book from Spring Term 1962 I see that in very careful script I had answered a series of questions posed by the saintly Sister Mildred as follows :

Favourite Colour – Purple

Favourite Food – Fish and Chips

Favourite Football Team – Spurs

Favourite Book – Treasure Island

Favourite Music – Earl Bostic Flamingo!

Fifty Seven years have rolled around since then but I have to say I’m not minded to change  a single answer.

Take it away Earl.

Blow, Mr Bostic, Blow!

Notes :

I unreservedly recommend, ‘The Earl Bostic Story’ on the Proper Label.

Four CDs, 106 tracks of sheer joy.