Tex Ritter, Frankie Laine, Duane Eddy : High Noon

The Way Out West Series 4

Image result for high noon film poster images

‘High Noon is a magical formula of elements. In two or three bars, the feeling of the song is telling you exactly what went on before, what’s happening now and what’s going to happen later’ (Ry Cooder)

The Ballad of High Noon (Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington)

Do not, forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

The noon train will bring Frank Miller
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn twixt love and duty
S’posin’, I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but, oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise when we wed
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, I can’t be leavin’
Until I shoot Frank Miller dead

Wait along, wait along
(Wait along)
Wait along, wait along
(Wait along, wait along, wait along, wait along)

Ry Cooder knows a thing or two about composing music for Film and about music for Westerns in particular.

So when he says the theme song for High Noon is magical I listen closely.

I advise you to do the same!

 

Now isn’t that a masterclass in how to ensnare an audience and prepare them for the tension and drama ahead!

As High Noon’s sweeping opening sequence proceeds we know that this will be an elemental drama played out in frontier country.

The frontier – where upholding the law is no simple matter of enforcing statutes in dusty volumes but a constant battle between order and peace and bloody chaos.

Our hero will need to stand tall with all his courage if civilisation is to prevail.

Such immense impact with so little instrumentation.

Musically everything is invitation and subdued suggestion.

Lyrically in a few short verses with the title only mentioned once the entire arc of the narrative is elegantly and tantalisingly laid out for us.

Tex Ritter sings like an oracle of the gods who knows the resolution of all stories.

Mere men and women have to attend, wait and falteringly live them out.

There is a wedding. But a wedding marred by dread that one party may be forsaken on what should be such a day of Joy.

A bad man with a gun, a deadly killer, bent on revenge, has left prison.

He will arrive on the Noon train.

So little time.

So little time.

A man, a western man, has to, must, face down his enemy and his fears.

Oh, oh, Love would say what does this matter today of all days?

But though the call of Love is loud the call of Duty is louder.

Louder.

Death is nothing but life as a craven coward always looking over your shoulder?

No. No. No.

Though you may lose your fair haired beauty you can’t, won’t, leave before that train arrives.

No man wants to die a coward.

No man wants to live forsaken.

The big Hand moves along.

Towards High Noon.

High Noon it is.

His life or mine.

High Noon.

Look at that big hand move along.

High Noon.

Settle down in your cinema seat, exchange smiles with your companion, this High Noon is sure to be one hell of a ride!

Who wrote the Music?

Embed from Getty Images

Dimitri Tiomkin who was born 1894 in Kremenchuk Russia – far, far, away from The American Frontier.

He had training with distinguished teachers in St Petersburg, Berlin and Paris and before he badly broke his arm he harboured dreams of stardom as a concert pianist.

After moving to America in 1925 he followed the golden trail West to Hollywood hoping to make a career as a Film Composer.

HIs big break came through writing and performing the score for Frank Capra’s ‘Lost Horizon’ in 1937.

He would go on to work on a series of Films with Capra including ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.

He had already produced two wonderful Western scores for ‘Duel in the Sun’ in 1946 and ‘Red River’ in 1949 before the commission came for High Noon.

Tiomkin had a genius for embedding stirring, highly memorable, folk like melodies into his scores and for weaving them as charged motifs throughout the course of a film.

Melodies that aroused the emotions and subtly augmented the voices of the actors and the drama playing out on the screen.

As for composing music for Westerns when he had to evoke the majesty of the landscape and the iconic role of the Cowboy Tiomkin only had to recollect the endless steppe of Ukraine and the folkloric Cossack of Russian myth to find the melodies pouring out.

Who wrote the Lyric – Ned Washington 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Now I’ll wager there’s more than a few of you who’ll be exclaiming Ned Who?

Yet, Ned has written a glorious gallery of Songs that pretty near everybody has heard and loved.

How about, ‘My Foolish Heart’, ‘Stella by Starlight’ and, ‘The Nearness of You’ for Golden Age classics.

And, as for Film Songs few can match him – ‘When You Wish upon a Star’ and, ‘Baby Mine’ for Disney.

Any good at Western Ballads?

Not bad at all if, ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’, ‘3.10 to Yuma’ and the theme for ‘Rawhide’ are anything to go by!

Combining their immense talents and understanding of the role of music and song in Film Tiomkin and  Washington composed a Song which is endlessly alluring.

Like a great Western it feels familiar and mysterious simultaneously.

It feels like a song, a melody and a a lyric, that has emerged into the daylight from the hazy depths of your dreams.

You can’t help singing along in whatever register of voice you have (I like to affect a basso profundo in my own version).

Amazingly, in view of its eventual immense success, initial previews of High Noon did not have those audiences cheering.

United Artists got cold feet and held off releasing the Movie.

Dimitri Tiomkin was certain however that the theme song was something special.

So while United Artists hesitated he bought the rights to the Song and arranged for it to be recorded by Frankie Laine who gave it his full throated turbo drama best – and the rest as they say is history!

 

 

There have been countless versions of tne song since (four other versions came at tne time of the Film’s release).

I’m going to leave you with a version that’s sure to please Jukebox aficionados as it’s by the twangtastic Duane Eddy (maybe my basso profundo version is my own tribute to Duane!)

 

Notes:

At the 1953 Oscars High Noon won for Best Song and Tiomkin won for Best Music.

Tex Ritter performed the Song at the Ceremony.

There’s a CD from Bear Family (who else!) with 27 versions of the song – I fully intend to hear them all.

Now, The Immortal Jukebox isn’t a Film Blog but while I don’t propose to go all Pauline Kael on you I couldn’t close without tipping my hat to some of those involved in the Film whose work has brought me immense delight.

Gary Cooper & Grace Kelly

Embed from Getty Images

Gary Cooper managed to carry off the trick of being both diffident and heroic and a regular guy who just happened to be fabulously handsome.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen, ‘Wings’, ‘The Virginian’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘The Lives of a Bengal Lancer’, ‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’, ‘Beau Geste’, ‘Sergeant York’, ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ and, ‘Ball of Fire’.

Of course he won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon.

When they say they don’t make Film Stars like they used to it is always Coop I think of first.

Grace Kelly was only 21 in High Noon.

Her glowing youth made a marked and poignant contrast to Coop’s leathered maturity.

She really was ‘breathtakingly beautiful’ and her career as a whole demonstrated she was a fine actress who could be archly comic as well as the thriller heroine who would make any film hero (and every regular Joe in the cinema aisles) blithely risk life and limb to win her.

Fred Zinnemann – Director

Embed from Getty Images

Fred Zinnemann was a consummate professional who understood every aspect of Film Making.

His work is distinguished by an intense humanity and acute insight into the revelation of character under pressure.

He was able to coax extraordinary performances from Actors as demonstrated by Montgomery Clift in, ‘The Search’, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh in, ‘Act of Violence’ and Marlon Brando in, ‘The Men’.

Beyond, ‘High Noon’ I often reach for, ‘From Here to Eternity’, ‘The Nun’s Story’ (with Audrey Hepburn even more luminous than ever), ‘The Sundowners’ and, ‘Day of the Jackal’ when I want meaty entertainment.

The’ High Noon’ theme of the man alone – abandoned by all who might be expected to come to his aid – is often taken to be an allegory for America in the grip of McCarthyism. I am more inclined to think Zinnemann (if not screenwriter Carl Foreman) was thinking of the situation of his parents who perished in The Holocaust.

Jack Elam

Embed from Getty Images

Regular readers will Know from the Post on ‘Jack Gets Up’ by Leo Kottke that Jack Elam is high in my pantheon of Jacks.

He doesn’t actually get a screen credit in High Noon but all of us who cherish Western Character Actors will have no trouble in spotting his distinctive visage.

Katy Jurado

Embed from Getty Images

The magnificent Katy was a Star in Mexican Cinema before Budd Boetticher cast her in, ‘The Bullfighter and the Lady’ .

That role won her the part of Helen Ramirez in High Noon.

As Helen she displays smouldering sexuality, intelligence and stoic dignity.

Lee Van Cleef

Embed from Getty Images

In High Noon Lee doesn’t speak a word but Boy Howdy doesn’t he make his presence felt!

The Camera just loves some faces and it fell in love straight off the bat with Lee who became the ‘go to’ villain for decades thereafter.

Sheb Wooley

Embed from Getty Images

You didn’t expect not to lionise the man who made ‘The Purple People Eater’ as well as appearing in ‘High Noon’, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ and, ‘Rawhide’ now did you!

Thomas Mitchell

thomas-mitchell-IMAGE

Very near to the top of my Pantheon of Toms is the great Character Actor Thomas Mitchell.

His role as Doc in john Ford’s epic , ‘Stagecoach’ alone makes him one of Hollywood’s Immortals.

And, of course, he had important roles in, ‘Lost Horizon’, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’ and, ‘Gone with the Wind’ in addition to his part in High Noon.

Thomas Mitchell made very part he ever took an important part.

Special Bonus!!

Still adrenaline surfing after my celebrations of St Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph in 6 Nations Rugby and some long price winners at Cheltenham Horse Racing I’m signing off with a gift to you all of a joyous celebration of Western themes from Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops.

Enjoy!

 

Slim Harpo : The King Bee – Swamp Blues Superstar!

Sometimes ersatz just won’t do.

No. No. No.

Today you need the pure drop.

The real thing.

Taste and texture.

Something with the Kick that ignites your senses and gets your heart pumping fit to bust right through your ribs.

Low down Swamp Blues out of Louisiana.

Today, right this very minute, you want, hell, you need, some vintage Slim Harpo.

That’ll flat out do the job!

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

Let’s Buzz a while!

 

Sting it then!

 

 

Slim Harpo. Slim Harpo.

Sleepy vocals and insistent, buzzing, stinging, right inside your mind Harmonica.

I sometimes debate which debut single might be said to be the greatest of all time and, of course,  never reach a settled decision.

But, always, always, high in contention is Slim Harpo’s ‘ epochal debut ‘King Bee/I Got Love If You Want It’ from 1957 on Excello Records.

Produced by the Sultan Of The Swamps J. D. ‘Jay’ Miller in his Crowley Lousiana Studio.

Guitar Gable on the stinging Guitar, John ‘Fats’ Perrodin on Bass and Clarence ‘Jockey’ Étienne on the Drums –  collectively the Musical Kings.

Incredibly ‘King Bee’ was the B Side .. but once heard, especially when blasting out of a Juke Joint Juke Box it is, no doubt about it, an Alpha A Side!

King Bee has the perfect combination of musical economy and impact wholly characteristic of Slim Harpo’s entire career.

In record after record he came up with winning vocals and melodies, memorable lyrics, and addictive instrumental instrumental interludes – all in under three minutes!

No wonder his records were Juke Box classics all over the South.

Slim Harpo, enormously aided by the ambience created by J D Miller, managed to cram everything essential to produce a great record into his sound and cut out everything else.

So his records cast a spell and have you coming back again and again in search of the secret of their allure.

For me, in addition to the hypnotic overall sound on King Bee it’s the moment when Slim drawls ‘Well’ before adding with a mixture of masculine menace and charm – ‘Buzz a while … sting it then’.

I’m sure it was a rare barfly who didn’t imagine himself one hell of a buzzing, stinging King Bee when this one came blasting out of the Jukebox.

Mick Jagger and all The Rolling Stones were certainly stung by the sound.

On their debut album the first track on Side 2 is none other than a faithful take on King Bee – though it would be many years before The Stones would be able, on record, to come anywhere near the relaxed authority of Slim Harpo’s sound.

Slim Harpo’s sound and pared down songs because they effortlessly combined so many Blues, Country and Swamp Pop elements proved enormously attractive to a multi racial audience at home and to neophyte Bluesmen in Britain.

Virtually every Group you might hear in The Marquee or on Eel Pie Island had a Slim Harpo Song in their set.

The Kinks before Ray Davies emerged as one of the great original Songwriters mined Slim’s catalogue and came up with a creditable version of, ‘I Got Love If You Want It’.

Of  course, it’s not a patch on the original!

 

 

You got the rock ‘til your back ain’t go no bone rhythm.

You got the teasing vocal and the seductive Harmonica.

You got the I can’t believe it’s finished – I’ll have to cue it up again at once economy.

You got a great Slim Harpo Record.

Though King Bee had a big impact on fellow musicians and musica aficionados it didn’t set the cash registers ringing madly.

For that Slim, who was never a 7 days a week full time musician, had to wait until 1961 when he came up with a Song that just won everybody over – ‘Rainin’ In My Heart’.

Deservedly Top 20 R & B and Top 40 Pop In the Billboard Charts.

By now Slim’s Band had Rudy Richard on Guitar, James Johnson on Bass and Jesse Kinchen on Drums – and it’s hard when you hear them play to imagine you could ever find yourself a better Saturday Night Out Band to laugh and love and drink to!

All such Bands need a romantic swooner and they don’t come more romantically swooning than Rainin’ In My Heart.

I’ve seen fabulous live versions of this one by The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Van Morrison (the latter rarely outdone on swoon when he has a yen for it).

Van has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of The Blues and is no mean Harmonica player so it was no surprise that with Them he cut a dynamite version of Slim Harpo’s, ‘Don’t Start Crying Now’.

 

Now, Lordy Mama, ain’t that a blast!

From the first instant the Band lock in and you’re barrelling down the tracks until you hit the buffers less than three minutes later.

Nothing to do but get back on the train and set off again!

Slim Harpo’s biggest Hit came in 1965 with the scorching, ‘Scratch My Back’.

Get To It!

 

Seductive, Slinky, Sexy as all get out, aah Scratch My Back.

Scratch My Back.

Nothing as satisfying as an Itch that gets well and truly scratched!

Remember when I said what a great Saturday Night Band Slim Harpo had?

Well, well, well, here’s the ultimate proof.

If, ‘Shake Your Hips’ doesn’t get you up and out on the Dancefloor there’s just no hope for you.

No Hope at all.

This is pure Voodoo.

Pure Voodoo!

 

The Rolling Stones were ready to do justice to Slim’s Sound when they recorded this on their magnificent 1972 Double Album, ‘Exile On Main Street’.

Slim Harpo died, tragically young at 46, in 1970, just as he was about to tour Europe for the first time – where he would surely have been received as the Music Hero he was.

Slim Harpo Records define Swamp Blues and I will never tire of listening to The King Bee.

I’m stung every time.

I’ll leave you with a valedictory ballad that cuts like a scalpel to the heart.

Oh Slim, you sure were a Good Thing.

A very Good Thing indeed.

 

 

Notes :

I thoroughly recommend ‘Buzzin’ The Blues’ Bear Family’s encyclopaedic set of Slim Harpo’s recorded career which includes a wonderful live show from 1961.

Thanks due to Dave Emlen from kindakinks.com for pointing readers of his excellent site in this direction!

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.

The Five Satins : In The Still Of The Night

 

‘There is nothing to save, now all is lost, but a tiny core of stillness in the heart like the eye of a Violet.’ (D H Lawrence)

‘They Dance by the Light Of The Moon to:

The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles and

The Five Satins …’

(Paul Simon from ‘Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War’)

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Ninety-Seven Channels – and nothing on.

Nothing on.

Noise. Chatter. Static.

Noise. Chatter. Static.

A tidal wave of Noise assaulting your senses – all day, every day.

If only you could find a lagoon of peace to shelter in.

A moment in time when you can see things clear.

Clear.

Think straight.

Straight.

Listen for the message hidden in your heart.

The message in your heart.

Round about three in the morning there’s a moment when the whole world seems to shiver and then fall silent and still.

A moment when the beating of your heart is not lost in the background anymore.

A moment when that beat, beat, beat, is fully present and fills your whole being.

A being Singing for the joy of being alive.

Singing for the miracle of being in Love

Alive and in Love in the still of the night.

In The Still Of The Night

.

Didn’t that enchant?

In The Still Of The Night you hold someone tight and promise to never to let them go.

And, it’s a blithe promise of youth you mean to keep.

You want them to hold you again with all their might before the light dissolves the magic of The Still Of The Night.

And, should you part, for all the reasons Lovers part, that moment in The Still Of The Night will always remain in your heart.

Always remain.

You’ll carry it with you in the secret chambers of your heart as the seasons turn and the years and decades accumulate.

And, sometimes, out of the blue, you’ll find that moment white and bright before you and you will be young and present again in The Still Of The Night.

And, depending on the paths you’ve trod in the intervening years – the promises you’ve made and the promises you’ve broken you’ll find your eyes wet with tears of gratitude or tears of regret.

In The Still Of The Night.

The starlit lead vocal is by Fred Parris who also wrote the song.

Fred’s wordless croon as the song’s last twenty seconds play out has an ethereal beauty that always blows the heart open.

Harmony vocals by Ed Martin, Jim Freeman and Nat Mosley.

So, you will see that The Five Satins had only four members when recording their immortal Doo-Wop standard!

Vinny Mazzetta plays the seductive saxophone. Doug Murray holds down the bass (or was it a Cello?) Bobby Mapp was behind the drum kit while Curlee Glover played the piano.

Marty Kugell produced and issued the record on his own  Standard label in 1956.

It was then taken up by Ember Records and became a substantial Pop and  R&B hit.

Sales sky rocketed when it was prominently featured on ‘Oldies’ compilations and on several Movie soundtracks.

In The Still Of The Night, in the original version, has three times lodged in the Billboard Pop  Charts which may be a unique feat.

Some scholars argue that the term Doo-Wop itself emerged from the chanting surrounding Fred’s yearning lead.

I never tire of Doo-Wop because it’s essentially the sound of secular prayer.

Prayers of hope and longing for life to be transformed by the alchemy of love.

Those prayers have ascended in profusion for every hour of every day and every night since time began.

Doo-Wop will never die.

Funnily enough this secular prayer was recorded in the basement of St Bernadette’s Church in New Haven Connecticut in February 1956.

If you visit I’d advise you to light a candle for your own secret intentions and then take a trip down to the basement and see the plaque there commemorating one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most precious moments.

And, if you’re anything like me you’ll glance around and if you’re unobserved, you’ll test out the acoustic once more as you channel Fred Parris and sing with all your heart:

… So before the light hold me again with all your might

In The Still Of The night

In The Still Of The Night

In the Still Of The Night.

 

 

 

Smiley Lewis, Dave Edmunds & The Strypes : I Hear You Knocking

A Commander of an intergalactic Starship looking at the map of our Solar System would probable observe that there was one major Planet – Jupiter – accompanied by 7 minor ones.

Jupiter is immense.

The Earth would fit into Jupiter some three hundred times.

And, while we delight in a single Moon to light our nights Jupiter holds over 60 Moons in thrall.

Now some of the Moons of Jupiter, though small in comparison to their parent Planet, are fascinating  worlds in their own right.

Galileo discovered the four major Moons of Jupiter in 1610 and ever since we have yearned to know more about Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

The satellites of a Planet as important as Jupiter merit close attention and analysis.

As in Astronomy so in Musicology!

In New Orleans in the 1950s there was one giant presence dominating the musical universe – Antoine Fats Domino!

Fats was universally loved.

While he was the Pharoah of his Hometown scene he was also musical royalty from Alaska to Albuquerque from Lima to Liverpool.

In his 1950s heyday he sold records not just in the millions but in the tens of millions.

While Fats’ sound conquered the known world back home in New Orleans a series of lesser lights, satellite talents, made their own distinctive and impressive contributions to the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Preeminent, to my mind, amongst these Moons to Fats’ Jupiter, was Overton Amos Lemons known to the wide world as Smiley Lewis.

Smiley, who got his monicker due to two missing front teeth, was born near Lake Charles Louisina in 1913.

As a teenager he hopped a freight train and made his way to the Crescent City where he knew all the action was for someone ambitious to make a career in Music.

Smiley knew he could really play the guitar and he just knew that put before a microphone he had  a voice that could seduce, serenade and stir an audience until they screamed for more!

Serving an apprenticeship with Tuts Washington he honed his performing skills in the clubs of the French Quarter.

With Tuts he played in the House Band at the Boogie Woogie Club for WW2 troops stationed at Fort Polk.

When the War ended Smiley, Tuts and drummer Herman Seals formed a trio that went down a storm in New Orleans.

Starting out with Deluxe records Smiley found his recording stride when he hooked up in 1950 with the multi talented Kingpin of New Orleans music – Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records.

From then on throughout the decade Smiley Smiley produced a series of influential, superbly sung and played Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘n Roll records.

While he never sold more than 100,00 copies on any any of these fine records he was listened to closely by Fats himself as well as Elvis Presley and the sharp eared Rock ‘n’ Roll fanatics in Britain like Paul McCartney and Dave Edmunds.

Smiley made a lot of records everyone should know.

At a minimum everyone should know his, ‘Tee-Nah-Nah’, ‘Bells Are Ringing’, ‘One Night (Of Sin)’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’.

But, he made only one record that Everyone Knows.

From 1955 The Immortal, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

File:Smiley Lewis.jpg

The terrific triplet piano comes courtesy of another Fats Domino satellite – Huey Smith.

Dave Bartholomew claimed the writing credit and supplied production smarts and the studio band.

Get ready to sing a long … ‘You went away and left me long time ago ..’

The one and only Smiley Lewis!

 

 

Confession – I’ve been known to pump fistfuls of coins into a Jukebox to ensure this plays 10 times in a row so everybody, everybody, knows how great Smiley Lewis was!

I love the stately tempo here and the supreme relaxed authority of Smiley’s vocal which seems to draw us after him like tugboats in the wake of a mighty steamer.

The Rhythm Section and the Horns mesh perfectly with Huey’s stellar piano and provide the perfect platform for Smiley to glide over.

This record sounded glorious in 1955 and it will always do so.

Fifteen years after Smiley recorded it another true Rocker, Dave Edmunds, was casting about for a classic from the 50s that he could turbo charge with his blistering guitar and scintillating production skills.

His first thought was Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together but he found himself beaten to the shellac by Canned Heat.

Then a bell rang – surely, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ had the same rhythm and making guitar the featured instrument instead of piano might make for an incendiary sound!

Once the idea hit home it was ‘just’ a matter of Dave putting in the hours playing all the instruments, piping his vocal down a telephone line and compressing the sound at his home from home Welsh studio – Rockfield –  and Voila you have an unstoppable hit.

Let’s Do It!

 

Its very common for musicians to cover the classic works of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefathers like Smiley Lewis but the electric soul thrilling wonder of those records is very rarely captured decades later.

Dave Edmunds take on ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is the exception that proves the rule.

Having made such a record with evident love and devotion Dave had every right to namecheck Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Chuck Berry and Smiley Lewis and consider himself part of their lineage.

Don’t just take my word for it.

John Lennon was a Rocker to the tips of his Bootheels.

When he heard  Dave Edmunds version he said, ‘I always liked simple Rock. There’s a great one in England now, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

John Knew.

And, Praise Be! such a great song still finds a ready audience in musicians who have had that epiphany experience of truly encountering the treasures laid down by the 50s Pioneers.

I’m closing out with Jukebox favourites, The Strypes, who seem to have a direct line to the spirit of those Pioneers.

I hear you knocking … I hear you knocking ….

 

 

Notes :

There are numerous compilations of Smiley Lewis’ hits.

As usual the best set for deep divers like myself is provided by Bear Family. Their superb, 4CD ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ is pure treasure.

Jeff Hannusch is a deeply knowledgeable writer on Smiley and the New Orleans scene. His book, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is highly recommended.

As is John Broven’s ‘Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans’.

Christmas Alphabet : C for Chuck Berry ( Run Rudolph Run) & The Chieftains with Rickie Lee Jones

It’s that time of year again.

And, as loyal readers will know The Immortal Jukebox has a tradition of marking Christmas Tide with special Posts.

Songs of celebration and reflection from many genres and from artists famous and obscure.

This year for all our delight it’s a ‘Christmas Alphabet’ to follow up on the ‘Christmas Cornucopia’ and ‘Christmas Cracker’ series from 2016 and 2015 (if you haven’t read those yet start as soon as you’ve finished this!)

From today you can look forward to a Post every other day.

So, let’s start with C for the great Chuck Berry who died this year.

Now, as we all Chuck was a multi MVP, All Star and indeed a by acclamation inductee Hall of Fame Songwriter.

But that’s not all!

Chuck, when he put his diamond sharp mind to it was also a gifted and sensitive interpreter of other writers’ songs.

In the first flourish of his epochal years recording for Chess Records Chuck laid down two superb Christmas singles showcasing his skills as a guitarist and singer.

Let’s get our blood pumping and senses tingling with Chuck’s definitive take on Johnny Marks’ ‘Run Rudolph Run’

I like to clear a mighty big dancing space before I put this one on and I’d advise you to do the same if you don’t want your Christmas decorations to come crashing down around you!

Yup! Yup! Yup!

Chuck cracks the whip and boy don’t those reindeer speed like a Saber Jet through the firmament!

Johnny Marks was a Christmas Song specialist and I think we can allow that he had really got the hang of it when you consider that in addition to Run Run Rudolph he also wrote, ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ and, ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’.

What Chuck and the storied Chess Studio team brought to Run Run Rudolph was an irresistible brio that grips from the get go and doesn’t let up till the son of a gun hits the run off groove.

Just so you know you’re in good company going wild to Run Run Rudolph it was this song that Keith Richard chose to record for his first solo single in 1978 (and a lovely, extra loud, extra louche, job he made of it too).

Keith, surely, was the Boy Child who wanted a Rock ‘n’ Roll Record Guitar!

Chuck, being the fond of a greenback, canny operator that he was, took the arrangement they came up with here wholesale for his own, ‘Little Queenie’ when there would be no question about whose bank account the songwriting royalties would roll into!

Chuck has a powerful case for being the inventor of Rock ‘n’ Roll songwriting and Guitar style.

Yet, neither of these gifts came out of nowhere.

Chuck loved, understood and could integrate into his own sound The Blues, Swinging Jazz, Country Music and the Latin rhythms coming from South of the Rio Grande and from Cuba and the Islands.

So, when in 1947 he heard Charles Brown singing, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ his ears must have pricked up as he thought, ‘Now that’s one I could do to show off my after midnight singing and guitar style’.

And so it proved.

You can settle back in your armchair for this one and maybe unstopper the Brandy Bottle.

Well, don’t that go down smoothly.

Chuck’s perfectly weighted vocal and hush don’t wake the baby guitar is perfectly complemented by Johnnie Johnson’s lyrical and lush piano.

One to listen to thrice before you move on!

Now a wonderful Transatlantic partnership between two maverick talents.

First, Ireland’s most successful cultural crusaders along with the manufacturers of Guinness – The Chieftains.

Joined here by the bohemian brilliance of Rickie Lee Jones.

The space they afford each other allows each to shine.

Rickie embodies the weary world and the thrill of hope even as The Chieftains evoke the bright shining stars and the glorious new Morn.

Together they make something really special and moving out of, ‘O Holy Night’

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.