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

Spring is here.

Is erraigh anseo.

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

No more the sharp sting of winter winds.

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

Nothing is so beautiful as spring.

Bud and bloom and blossom.

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

La primavera e qui. La primavera e qui.

Time for La bella figura.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And be woken by the sun over the mountains.

Il tempo per un festival.

La primavera e qui.

Buona Sera Signorina!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some signorinas you can never forget!

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

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

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

He has succeeded completely in that ambition.

Il tempo per un festival!

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

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

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

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

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

La primavera e qui. La primavera e qui.

 

Notes:

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

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

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

 

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

A lot can happen in a 100 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn this one up as loud as you can!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, Baby that is real!

,

Chuck Berry RIP : Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Chuck Berry has died. May he rest in peace.

 

I will write an extensive tribute later.

He was a Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He was a Rock ‘n’ Roll Prophet and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Poet.

He was a writer with the immediate understanding of a top class journalist, the widescreen vision of an historian and the timing of a comedian on the stage.

He is one of the greatest chroniclers of American Life.

Hail, Hail, Hail Chuck Berry!

Here he is with a special favourite of mine, ‘School Days’

‘Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don’t know
How mean she looks

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

The lyric above is the best teaching aide anyone could ever have if they wanted an example of great Rock ‘n’Roll Songwriting.

Consider the rhythmic flow of the words and music.

Consider the sociological acuity of the observations.

‘The guy behind you won’t leave you alone‘. Don’t you just know that guy!

‘Gee but the teacher don’t know How mean she looks’. 

Teachers never do, never do!

‘Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot’

Now that’s writing! A whole generation and way of life captured perfectly.

‘With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been
Wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go’

All day long you been wantin’ to dance. All day long!

Rock ‘n’ Roll swept The World because it did make you feel the music from head to toe and because what in the world could possible beat the feeling of makin’ romance with the one you love!

Round and round and round you go!

Chuck Berry set The World spinning and some of us are spinning still!

‘Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

And that Baby is Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his thrilling guitar, his poetic words and his sleek charisma Chuck did indeed deliver us from the days of old.

Thank you Chuck for the feeling – body and soul.

 

Ella Mae Morse – Some Broad! Boogie, Blues & Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer!

Los Angeles 1946.

A Bar.

One you’d think twice about going into.

Smoky, dimly lit. The clink of glasses.

Low conversation.

In the background the sound of a Jukebox.

Voice Over:

‘The suit don’t fit so good these days.

If you tussle with Tojo you’re apt to drop a few pounds.

Still alive.

Which is more than you can say for Kelly, Kowalski and Sanchez.

They wont ever see Memphis or Macomb or Marshall again.

One thing I can tell you I ain’t never going back to Omaha.

I’m going to sit right here and drink until they throw me out of here and come back tomorrow and do the same again.

The best thing about this bar is that they leave you alone.

No one wanting to hear your life story if it’s about anything other than booze or broads or sports.

You can tell without asking who’s seen action. It’s in the eyes.

The most athletic thing I do these days is dance. When I get the chance.

Since I got back I been doing some catching up on the music scene.

The Jukebox here is stuffed with those records made out here on the West Coast.

Capitol Records.

 

Now, some days I ain’t exactly bursting with energy.

But, I find a handful of Nickels and The Jukebox a pretty good cure for all my ills.

And, there’s this singer, Ella Mae Morse.

Now she’s everything plus.

 

She can sure shake a tail-feather. 

And she can sing just about anything.

Swing, Ballads, Blues, Country tunes and that Boogie-woogie.

Sometimes she seems to squeeze ’em all together so she’s singing like no one you’ve ever heard before.

If you were listening on the radio you’d be hard pressed to know whether she was white or black.

She gets my nickel every time.

Ain’t no fighter like Joe Louis. Ain’t no Ballplayer like Ted Williams.

Ain’t no singer like Ella Mae Morse.

I gotta tell you if she snapped the whip I would make the trip and no mistake.

I gotta feeling I’m goin’ to be listening to Ella Mae for the rest of my days.

Here, time I was hitting the mattress. Have a handful of Nickels on me.

This one here from ’42, ‘Cow- Cow Boogie’, was just about the first record out on Capitol and the first record for Ella Mae. They couldn’t press enough!

See ya down the road a piece. Down the road apiece.’

End credits play …..

 

Ah.

Ah, comma ti, ii, yi, aay, comma ti, yipply, yi, aay
Get along, get hip, little doggies indeed!

A Number One million seller!  Capitol Records well and truly launched.

Ella Mae was only 17 and this was the first take.

Johnny Mercer (who knew a thing or two about songs and recording) quashed her protests that she could do better by flatly stating – you can’t, nobody could.

That’s the great Freddie Slack on piano.

The song came courtesy of Boogie-woogie guru Don Raye and Gene De Paul.

Jazz giant Benny Carter had a hand in it too.

From the get go you can hear that Ella Mae has just got IT. Man, has she got IT.

She was born in 1924 in Mansfield Texas. Her father, an Englishman was an accomplished drummer who may have gifted her a way with rhythm – but he didn’t stick around long.

Ella Mae and her mother, a fine pianist, moved to Paris Texas in the early 30s.

Growing up she listened and sang every kind of music and from the age of 9 she was up on stage performing.

In 1939 she joined Jimmy Dorsey’s Band but as he found out though Ella Mae looked every inch a woman and though she sang with astonishing maturity she was in fact only 14 years old.

Freddie Slack, then in the Dorsey Band, remembered her when he was signed to Capitol in 1942.

And, the rest, is as they say, History.

It was hard for Capitol to know how to frame Ella Mae’s career as she straddled so many styles and genres.

Making superb sides was the easy part (checkout, ‘Buzz Me’, ‘Get On Board, Little Chillun’ and ‘Patty Cake Man’) finding a marketable hit was more problematic.

In 1946 she was reunited with Freddie Slack and together they made a record which must have set Richter dials quivering, ‘The House of Blue Lights’.

 

That’s Don Raye duetting with Ella Mae on the jive talk introduction.

From then on it’s Freddie’s fleet fingers, a solid gone rhythm section and sultry Ella Mae wailin, scattin and generally setting the world on fire!

I don’t know about you but as soon as this starts up I’m lacing up my boots and getting ready to broom on down to my local knocked out shack on the edge of town.

Hep musicians recognised a classic when they heard one and covers of, ‘Blue Lights’ must number in the hundreds (my favourites being those of Jerry lee Lewis, Asleep At The Wheel and Chuck Berry).

Some sages say you can clearly see Rock ‘n’ Roll emerging in the grooves of, ‘Blue Lights’ and they won’t find me starting a fist fight about that.

As the 40s closed out Ella Mae continued to record arresting sides for Capitol (‘Pine Top Schwartz’ and, ‘Pig Foot Pete’ demand your attention) before retreating from the music business while she married and raised three children in short order.

She was back in 1951 with another prime slice of proto Rock ‘n’ Roll – a cover of Jack Guthrie’s 1947 hit, ‘Oakie Boogie’.

The Orchestral backing was under the baton of Nelson Riddle and Speedy West played typically brilliant pedal steel.

 

Whatever the tempo with Ella Mae you know you’re in for a deluxe trip.

The musicians behind her must have thought; right guys let’s really tear it up this gal can take care of herself.

Boy howdy were they right!

In 1952 she had another million seller with, ‘Blacksmith Blues’ utilising the combined skills of Billy May and Nelson Riddle.

In 1953 she recorded a knock out, hopped up, track called, ’40 Cups of Coffee’ which has always been a winner for me.

 

Truth to tell when Ella Mae steps up to the microphone I can’t imagine needing any kind of stimulant. She made over proof records that’ll have your head and heart spinning every time you hear them.

In 1954, a dozen years into her recording career Ella Made made one of the first and, let’s not beat about the bush, one of the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll era albums of all time, ‘Barrelhouse, Boogie and the Blues’.

This is an astounding work demonstrating that Ella Mae had all the sass and style of the very best rhythm and blues singers.

It was way ahead of its time and for a white woman unprecedented and I would hazard still unequaled.

Foced to choose just one gem from this treasury I’ve selected the epochal, ‘Rock Me All Night Long’.

Who could resist such an invitation? Not me Bub!

And, that was more or less that.

Ella Mae had more children and her 15 year recording career with Capitol came to a close in 1957.

But, without doubt the music she made there will always live wherever a Jukebox is plugged in.

When Ella Mae calls the plays you’d be mad not to dig her ways!

She gets my Nickel every time.

Notes:

Bear Family and Rev-Ola have fine single CD compilations of Ella Mae’s Capitol years.

Being the besotted fan I am I couldn’t live without the magnificent 5CD 134 track set produced by Bear Family in 1997. Go on treat  yourself!

It is also well worth checking IMDb for her appearances on film as an actress and as featured singer.

 

Fats Domino is 89 today! Many Happy Returns Fats!

The great Fats Domino was born 89 years ago today.

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

So, I am reblogging my previous tribute.

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

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

As a birthday treat I am adding what may be my all time favourite Fats track – ‘Be My Guest’.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

Earl Palmer

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

I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo. I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some personal memories to conclude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rosanne Cash, Eric Bibb, John Phillips and Scott McKenzie sing Hedy West : 500 Miles

‘We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there’  (Pascal Mercier)

‘The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be a point of intersection of all the lines drawn though all the stars, to be the constellation- maker and the center of the world, that center called love.’ (Rebecca Solnit)

‘You can’t go home again.’ (Thomas Wolfe)

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’ (Hedy West)

Much meaning can be expressed in so few letters of the alphabet

Just four will do.

Good. Evil. Luck. Fate. Time. Fear. Hope. Hate. Womb. Tomb. Life. Love.

And one four letter word might contain them all.

Home. Home.

The home you were born in; the home you grew up in, the home that was your shelter and refuge.

The home you left with tears in your eyes.

The home that lives forever in your heart and your mind’s eye.

The home that was your prison.

The home you left without a backward look.

The home you’ll never go back to now you’ve made a home of your own.

Home, home, home.

Should you write a true song evoking the longing for home when the tides of time have taken you far away you’ll find singers to sing that song for evermore.

Hedy West wrote such a song, ‘500 Miles’

 

Crystal clear. Mountain dew.

Banjo, voice, Presence, centuries of the ballad tradition.

Fiddle tunes and songs called Rueben’s Train, The Railroader’s Lament and 900 Miles all swirl in the imagination of a young woman growing up in a home suffused with tunes and stories and songs.

Great Uncle Gus plays the fiddle, Gradma Lillie plays the Banjo and has a bottomless well of ballads and laments that seem to float on the breezes all around.

Dad, Don West, is a poet (‘Clods of Southern Earth’), a labor organiser, a civil rights activist, an oral historian and inspiration.

west_don_photo

Hedy has a voice. She plays the Banjo in her own style.

She has the austere gravitas of a classical bard.

When she sings the room stills. When she sings she has something to say.

She has a calling.

A calling to tell the stories of the disregarded rural poor.

A calling to tell their stories in songs that express, and more honour, the depth of their struggles and the fullness of their humanity.

In a career of more than five decades taking her from folk contests in her native Georgia to Greenwich Village, Carnegie Hall, London and venues all over the globe it’s a calling she fulfills with steadfast hope, faith and love.

In the 1950s folk world a song as true and singable as 500 Miles scorches across the continent like a raging forest fire.

It instantly becomes a folk standard with each group or artist adapting the lyric and instrumentation to suit their own style and the image of home they carry with them.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

As far as I can tell the first notable recording of the song is by The Journeymen in 1961.

Now, you’d have to be a scholar of the American Folk Revival to sagely nod once their name is mentioned. Yet, almost all of us came to know the members of the group through their later careers.

journeymen

John Phillips became the leader of prolific hit makers The Mamas & the Papas, Scott McKenzie had a whole generation singing, ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) while Dick Weissman achieved eminence as a banjo picking musicologist and folklorist.

 

Listening to this time suspending version in soft sift black and white dreams I drift through the home of my own childhood.

Streetlights glow the palest yellow as they struggle to penetrate the blanket like London Fog of the 1950s.

Spectral trolley buses are boarded by attentively following their clanging sound until they suddenly loom up before you.

Snow surrounds market stalls piled high with cheap goods sold as wondrous bargains you must not be without – ‘Buy now Mrs! When they’re gone they’re gone!’

Cocooned in a two room first floor flat a young boy, certain in his bones that he is the constellation-maker and centre of the world, learns to read, ‘Treasure Island’ and dreaming of wooden ships, wooden legs, parrots, pirates and buried plunder begins to dream stories of his own.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

As we have seen from the previous post here on The Jukebox when it comes to recognising an American standard Johnny Cash is your go to man.

Johnny took his curatorial role so seriously that he drew up, ‘The List’ – a compendium of great songs he entrusted to his daughter Rosanne.

Following her father’s death Rosanne returned over and over again to The List and the result was a luminously beautiful record featuring haunting tracks like Dylan’s , ‘Girl from the North Country’, ‘Long Black Veil’, Motherless Children’ and, ‘Miss the Mississippi and You’.

The one I come back to the most though is her devoutly heartfelt take on 500 Miles.

Johnny sure would have been proud.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

Great songs call out across the miles, across genres and cultures and across time.

The veteran Acapella group The Persuasions uncover the longing, the loss, the mourning and the journey to the farther shore that awaits us all.

Their Gospel and Spiritual version of 500 Miles makes a congregation of us all.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

500 Miles is a song that speaks from and to the bonds of familial love.

I’ll conclude with a blessed version by a father and son, Leon and Eric Bibb, which has the quality of a foot sore pilgrimage concluding in longed for peace and reconciliation.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

 

We are all pilgrims.

May we all find peace reconciliation and the home we seek.

Notes:

I love every record made by Hedy West.

Seek out her CDs on the Vanguard, Topic and Bear Family labels for a lifetime of inspirational listening.

The only CD I can find by The Journeymen is, ‘New Directions In Folk Music’ on Collectors Choice from 2010 which is a nice collection of thistledown folk.

Eric and Leon Bibb’s, ‘A Family Affair’ hard to find is a gem well worth the search.

 

Phil Everly Remembered

 

Phil Everly’s physical voice was stilled three years ago.

 

Yet his voice on record and in the hearts of generations of listeners now and to come will surely never be stilled.

The keen in his and Don’s voices cuts deep. And deeper with the years.

So, its a rare week when I don’t find myself humming an Everly Brother’s song as I go about my daily life.

Phil and Don’s divine harmonies continue to strike chords in my heart.

Today, in his honour, a Reblog of one of the earliest posts on The Immortal Jukebox.

One where I felt my own voice called by Phil’s.

I hope I have done him justice.

There is a magical moment during the Everly Brothers celebrated and triumphant reunion concert at The Albert Hall in 1983 which goes some way to explaining the source of their enduring appeal.

After opening with a heart warming , ‘Bye Bye Love, a rocking Claudette, the magesterial, ‘Walk Right Back’  a forlorn, stately, ‘I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain and the knock-out punch of, ‘Cathy’s Clown’ the band, which featured England’s guitar legend Albert Lee, took a momentary breather.

The two brothers briefly smiled at each other knowing now that a decade apart had in no sense diminished their power as performers.  Reassured, they leaned their heads close together and began to sing acapella, ‘These are the words of a frontier lad who lost his love when he went bad.’

The opening lines of, ‘Take A Message to Mary’.  As their two voices entwined in a rich fraternal harmony of heartbreakingly vulnerable perfection you can feel the whole audience catch their breath as countless personal memories are evoked.

Memories of the passing years with all their freight of love, joy and loss.  Memories of friends, lovers and family happily present and memories of those now separated by distance, time and mortality.

Looking around the auditorium it was clear that few popular music figures have ever burrowed so deep into their fans emotional core or repaid that loyalty and affection with such tender grace.

Simply put the Everly Brothers were the greatest duet singers and brother act in the history of popular music.

It will remain a mystery as to why the sibling relationship and consanguinity combined to supercharge the emotional resonance of Phil and Don’s harmony vocals and how this mysterious power could survive and endure for virtually all their lifetimes as brothers – whatever the state of their personal relationship.

It was surely a mystery to them as much as to anyone else.

Phil Everly’s life began in Chicago but he was in every other sense a son of the South.  His parents were Kentuckians and musicians.  From the age of six he was singing on the radio with elder brother Don and his parents.

The songs they sang were country songs or those weird and wonderful folk songs as Dylan put it about, ‘Roses growing out of people’s heads’.

From the get-go it was clear that these two brothers, influenced by other brother acts like the Delmores and Blue Sky Boys, had a uniquely potent mystical chemistry that made their arousing and keening singing able to thrill and also to pierce the hardest heart.

As they grew older the cute boys became handsome young men, accomplished guitar players and confident performers.  They were thus in prime position in the late 1950’s to shoulder their jet black Gibson guitars ready to ride and help drive the runaway rock ‘n’ roll train as far as it could go.

Settling into their recording career at Cadence Records and supplied with a string of classic teenage angst songs by the likes of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’) the Everly’s took up residence in the hearts and memories of a generation.

Phil himself wrote one of their signature teenage classics, ‘When Will I Be Loved’.  Up until the advent of the Beatles led British invasion the Everlys were reigning rock ‘n’ roll royalty enjoying massive chart success and the esteem of their fellow artists.

They were also enormously influential – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies and The Beach Boys all freely acknowledged their admiration and desire to emulate the wonder of the brothers’ harmony singing.

Of the two brothers Phil was by all accounts the more outgoing, sensible and grounded of the two.  Though the younger brother it seemed that he was the one looking out for the more mercurial and vulnerable Don.

Don, whose voice seems able to cleave your ribs and pull your heart apart generally took the lead part while Phil intently, watchfully, with a brother’s love and care, held everything together with poignant poised harmony.

Together they made a sound that has rarely been matched for longevity of emotional impact.

Phil had some notable successes as a solo artist including recording the excellent, ‘Star Spangled Springer’ album (1973) which contains the wonderful tracks, ‘The Air That I Breathe’ and ‘Snowflake Bombadier’.

He also worked fruitfully on the soundtracks of the Clint Eastwood  movies, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and, ‘Any Which Way You Can’.

Genuine though these successes were they are minor in comparison to the luminous body of work he created with his elder brother.

They were great country singers, great rock ‘n’ roll singers and great pop singers.

Their body of work is sure to provide emotional sustenance and solace long into the forseeable future.  For people will always fall in and out of love and always carry the scars of past hurts even as they embrace new hope.

There will always be an Everly Brothers song to turn to.