Christmas Alphabet : H for Emmylou Harris & Francoise Hardy

Christmas is a time when memories cascade – especially for those of us steeped in age.

Christmas, if we surrender to its spell, opens the door for the Child within to breathe again.

Music, in the form of songs we learned in our youth, when we had no sense we were learning them, invites us to be once more, once more, the wide eyed Child of days long past as counted by the turning of the Calendar’s pages.

So, let’s call upon a Jukebox favourite, Emmylou Harris, to stir that Sense of Wonder once again.

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Oh, play it please.

Play it please, Emmylou.

 

Now, when I was a teenager, I became, in the way that a certain sort of teenager does, a deep dyed Francophile.

If you had asked me why I would have said, with proper teenage pomposity, it was naturellement, because of the visionary poetry of Rimbaud, the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the mind of Blaise Pascal and the mystical beauty of the films of Robert Bresson.

I would have said less about the allure of the Disque Bleu Cigarette Packet and the taste of Pastis 51.

But to tell the truth, the heart of my devotion to French Culture was to be found in my prized collection of records by the Yé-yé girls of the 1960s – France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and above all, far above all, the divine Francoise Hardy!

I could definitely hear her calling me across La Manche.

And, when she sang, in her uniquely seductive plangent tones, about the falling snow and the north wind blowing, the cool of the evening sky and the falling star, I had my own Christmas Anthem, whether anyone else recognised it as a Christmas Song or not!

It may be, after the two selections above, that some Jukebox Readers, will think the criteria for an appearance on The Alphabet Series is having a melancholy voice combined with being extremely photogenic.

Long time Readers will know that my taste is somewhat broader than that!

And, to prove it, here’s the wonderful Stanley Holloway, with one of his inimitably great recitations – masterpieces of comic character and timing.

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At the same time as I was assiduously practicing the Yé-Yé Twist I was learning by heart party pieces like, ‘The Lion and Albert’, ‘Sam, Sam, Pick oop thy Musket’, ‘One Each Apiece All Round’ and ‘It’ll All be the Same (A Hundred Years from Now).

Of course, when Christmas rolled around, with a hat cocked on the side of my head and fortified by some fine fortified wine, I would launch, unstoppably into, ‘Sam’s Christmas Pudding’ in homage to the great Stanley.

I might well do it again this year!

Come on! Join In!

It was Christmas Day in the trenches
In Spain in Penninsular War,
And Sam Small were cleaning his musket
A thing as he’d ne’re done before …

 

Now, weren’t that reet grand, Reet Grand.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood, Amos Milburn : One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer

These days my alcohol take is very modest.

On celebratory occasions (my birthday, the birth of my Granddaughter) a decent measure of Malt Whiskey (no water, no ice).

Nothing to touch the Lagavulin 16 Year Old.

When Ireland recently magnificently beat The All Blacks at Rugby only a healthy slug of Bourbon seemed appropriate.

Given this was only the second victory over them in 111 years I felt justified in removing the racehorse stopper from my prized bottle of Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Kentucky Straight.

 

Blantons

There’s also my tradition of sipping a fine Pale Ale immediately I hit the WordPress Publish Button and launch a new Immortal Jukebox Post towards the waiting World!

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Bishop’s Farewell always hits the spot as I wait for the Likes and Comments to flow in.

So, if you ask me what I drink these days I answer – not much but when I do : One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

Now, back in the days when I was to be found at my favourite Honkytonks three or four times a week it was often the case that as I approached the bar its custodian would say, ‘A Rudy T as usual Thom?’

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and I would sing out, ‘Of course, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer’.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer in honour of Rudy Toombs who wrote the greatest drinking song of all time.

I don’t want no soda nor bubble gum.

You got what I want just serve me some.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

 

Now didn’t that go down smoothly!

Amos Milburn, of course, a master of the relaxed groove at the piano and a singer who invites you to lean in and listen to a story you’re gonna want to retell more than a time or two – especially when you’ve had a drink or three.

‘Please Mister Bartender, listen here … I ain’t here for trouble so have no fear.’

This high proof beauty came out as a 78 in August 1953 and was credited to Amos and His Aladdin Chickenshackers (must get that T Shirt made up for Christmas!).

The name of the backing band was, of course, a nod to Amos’ immortal Number One Record, ‘Chicken Shack Boogie’ from 1948.

That, ‘I ain’t drunk, I’m just real loose, real loose’ guitar comes via the magic fingers of Mickey Baker.

The public took shot after shot taking the record to Number 2 in the R&B Charts during a 14 week residency on the listings.

If you want another nip of this song, as you surely do, I think we should up the proof level considerably and make it strong, real strong.

And, as we all can surely agree, when it comes to Electric Blues no one, no one, packs more punch than The Solid Sender – Mr John Lee Hooker!

John Lee is your go to guy if you want to be sure to get high, be sure to get mellow, be sure to find yourself feelin’ good, be sure to emphatically, absolutely, categorically Knocked Out!

On his high octane take John Lee benefits from the support of Lafayette Leake on the rippling piano, Fred Below on the pounding drums and Eddie Burns on the slashing guitar.

John Lee gives the song drive and spirit with his patented combination of voice, guitar and foot.

John Lee bent every song he ever played to his own will and the unique metre and tempo of his profound musical imagination.

He had a personal and musical presence that was genuinely awesome.

No use in trying to play like John Lee – you had to BE John Lee to play that way.

When it comes to shaking the floor and rattling the walls John Lee reigns supreme.

Supreme.

 

 

I only got to see John Lee four or five times and I treasure the memory of every one.

But, this next take comes from someone who I’ve seen on at least a score of stages, the unforgettable, irrepressible, unstoppable, Delaware Destroyer, George Thorogood.

You’re gonna need to drink a fair few pints when you go to see George just to replace the sweat you’ll exude as he puts the pedal to the metal.

George just loves The Blues and he brings every ounce of energy at his command to bringing his beloved music to life night after night all over the world.

This is a man who did 50 gigs in 50 States in 50 days and never missed a beat!

He’s on a kick and he sure as hell ain’t ever gonna get off until they screw down the casket.

Maybe your baby’s gone and it seems everything is lost.

They been out all night.

Never came back at the break of day.

What can you do?

What can you do?

Well, I don’t like to give advice to the love-lorn but if ol’ George was in town I’d down One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer and station myself right in front of the stage and let the music work its magic.

 

That Jersey audience struck lucky to see George on such fine form with the added bonus of a special appearance by none other than Elvin Bishop.

Wow, that’s some twin carburetor guitar power!

As I said at the outset I don’t really drink now like I did in the old days.

But, I have to admit, blasting Amos, John Lee and George out time after time as I wrote this Post made me work up one hell of a thirst.

Nothing for it but to line up The Lagavulin, The Blanton’s and The Bishop’s and join the party.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

Slainte!

 

Notes :

Rudy Toombs – was a Louisiana native who became one the most able and prolific songwriters of the 1950s.

His songbook includes such classics as:

‘Teardrops from My Eyes’. ‘One Mint Julep’, ‘5-10-15 Hours’, ‘I’m Shakin” and, ‘Lonesome Whistle Blues’.

Amos Milburn – from Houston made a magnificent series of records for the Aladdin Label in the 40s and 50s.

My favourite tracks include – ‘ Down the Road a Piece’, ‘Rooming House Boogie’, ‘Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby’ and’Bad, Bad, Whiskey’.

Being the completest I am I have the Mosaic Label Box Set but there are many fine compilations of Amos available for those who want only the hits.

Willy Deville : Rebirth in New Orleans – Beating Like a Tom Tom

If you can’t find your way follow The River.

The River.

The Mississippi River.

More than two thousand miles all the way.

Well it winds through Bemidji, St Cloud and Anoka.

St Paul, Redwing and Pepin.

On through Minneiska, La Crosse and Potosi.

Lansing, Prarie Du Chien and Galena (hats off to U S Grant)

Sabula, Moline and Oquawka.

Right by Keokuk, Kaskaskia and Hannibal (hats off to Sam Clemens)

Thebes, Cairo and Osceola.

Memphis, Greenville and Helena (hats off to Levon)

Vicksburg, Natchez and Baton Rouge.

That’s how you find your way to the Crescent City.

As it flows The River is always picking up freight.

Flotsam and Jetsom.

Ramblers, Rebels and Gamblers.

No account Losers and Aces up the sleeve sure fire Winners.

As it flows it gathers up and gathers in tall tales and stories, myths and legends, bawdy jokes, rhymes and half rhymes, drunken vows and whispered poems.

As  it flows it gathers up and gathers in melodies and rhythms and lyrics and binds them into Songs.

In a small studio in the Crescent City musicians meet and greet each other.

No ones a stranger.

They all been breathing the same air for years and years.

They know who’s good and just how good they are.

Everyone knows Fats and Dave and ‘Fess.

Mac and Earl and Plas.

Alan and Cyril and Zigaboo

The Studio don’t give them a whole lot of time but they don’t need it.

Count off … let’s roll!

We respect a real song.

More we revere them.

Let the years decide which ones get remembered.

Somewhere out there – maybe thousands of miles Up River someone will respect and revere these songs like we do.

The music gets caught on tape and they press up the vinyl.

The guys on the radio play it when they alloŵed.

In the Roadhouses and Honky Tonks the button is pressed on The Jukebox and the song blooms in the night air.

We got another one to cut now.

A true message always gets through.

Decades later a Singer sweats through another night with the monkey on his back.

The Dreams take him back to sweet days of youth but they don’t linger there.

No, there’s jeering Demons in the hours before the Dawn and they don’t always fade away in the light.

Always. Always The Songs.

He’s made a lot of mistakes in his life.

A lot.

But, he’s always respected and revered the true songs.

The ones with heart and soul.

The ones that keep turning up in your dreams.

The ones heard on the radio and played on the Jukebox when he was starting out.

The ones you know it ain’t so easy to sing unless you can really sing.

Songs that play in your head sometimes at 33rpm, sometimes at 45, sometimes at 78- depending on what and how much medicine has been taken.

In the roaring traffics boom.

In the silence of a lonely room.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

Big blue diamonds instead of a band of gold.

Oh, I’ve been a fool my dear – a fool by heart.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

I’m loaded out of my mind.

Loaded out of my mind.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

I’ve played the game of love and lost.

Lost.

All through the night all I do is weep.

Tossing and Turning.

Tossing and Turning.

You on my mind.

You hold me and won’t let go.

Hold me and won’t let go.

The beating of my heart.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

Beating like a Tom Tom.

Beating like a Tom Tom.

Now, I know, I know, I’m so defiled in this world I’ve made.

Maybe my own Mother and Father would abandon me.

Maybe they’d be right.

Yet, maybe there’s still a power that could gather me up.

A power that would gather me up.

But, I gonna have to move to find it.

Kind of a pilgrimage.

The River – I’ll follow The River all the way.

All the way.

Got to find my way Down River.

Down River where the Songs come from.

All the way Down to the Crescent City.

Find me those guys who can really play.

They all know each other.

I need the place and their time.

The time and the place.

I need to believe again.

To believe.

Theyll know straight away if I can really Sing.

Gonna ask ‘em to play, ‘Beating Like A Tom Tom’

My heart been beating to that for a long time.

A long time.

Let’s see what kind of Mojo I can show them.

Count it off…

Freddie … make that guitar real pretty ….

‘ … Tossin’ and I’m turnin’ all in my sleep ….’

 

All Right!

Now do you believe?

Got some storefront gospel in there too by God.

I think we did right by old Ernie there guys!

Now Ernie K Doe is one thing but Little Willie John is sure another.

Ain’t a singer alive who heard Willie who didn’t get The Fever.

Willie lived inside the song.

Held it up to the light so it glowed in your mind.

Lodged deeper than a bullet in your heart.

Remember, ‘Big Blue Diamond’?

‘Blue diamonds, big blue diamonds on her finger
Instead of a little band of gold
Big diamonds, big blue diamonds tell the story
Of the love that no one man could hold’.

You got to feel that ache.

The ache for the love behind that band of gold.

The ache.

Count it off ….

 

Yeh … that’ll do it.

Lonesome in the moonlight.

Lonesome in the moonlight.

We all been there.

Looking up with a broken heart.

I was trying to sing it for Willie John in prison looking up at the moon.

Hey Mac what about that one of Alan’s about being a fool by heart?

Ah … Hello My Lover – that’s it.

‘I’ve been a fool, my dear, a fool by heart
But I’m done up in my mind

Oh … I’m gonna try my best to do what is right
I’m gonna be with you, yes I will, both day and night …’

Let’s see if we can get a second line feel here  – raise everybody up.

Gonna dance my way through this one Mac.

When this one comes on everybody gonna dance.

Count it off …

 

Ain’t no hiding why I come down here.

Don’t need to tell you guys what that Junk will do to you.

If I ain’t got as right to sing that Junker Blues – who has?

Here’s one for you Champion Jack!

We all craving for something to make the dawn easier to face.

No messing ..gonna sing this one straight … tell the story.

It’s all about the tempo.

Count it off …

‘Some people call me a Junker ….’

 

Well, ain’t that the best damn feeling!

Got to take these songs out on the road guys.

Take it to the people and show them a new side of me.

Get that Tom Tom Beating.

Get that Tom Tom Beating.

‘ … Tossin’ and I’m turnin’ all in my sleep ….’

 

 

Notes :

Willy Deville in search of musical and spiritual nourishment and respite from being, ‘Willy Deville’ in New York moved to New Orleans in 1989.

Hooking up with Carlo Ditta who owned Orleans Records they conceived the idea of a, ‘Little Record’ that would celebrate Crescent City classics whether they were hits outside New Orleans or not.

A stellar Band was assembled and the resulting record, ‘Victory Mixture’ shows a great singer mining depth after depth from these songs.

The success of the enterprise led to live shows captured on, ‘Big Easy Fantasy’.

Willy Deville could really sing and singing these songs brought out the very best in him.

Listening to him here it’s hard to imagine anyone ever singing these songs better.

P.S. Special thanks to Harvey G Cohen for reminding me of Willy’s New Orleans recordings.

I highly recommend Harvey’s book on Duke Ellington.

He can be found on Twitter @CultrHack.

P.P.S.

bienvenido a la máquina de discos a todos mis lectores en México

 

 

Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins & The Chordettes : Mr Sandman

Lately, it seems that whenever I open a Newspaper or Magazine there’s a sober article warning that there is a, ‘Sleep Crisis’ which is increasingly manifested in physical and mental ill health.

People, working all hours and glued to glowing digital devices into the wee hours just aren’t getting enough shuteye!

I read such Jeremiads with much personal puzzlement.

I have never had any problem in sleeping 8 hours or more every night.

Some people have asked me how do I manage this?

Well, my infallible technique is to lie down on a reasonably flat surface and close my eyes!

Sleep follows within a minute – so long as there isn’t prolonged gunfire or searchlights trained directly at me I’m off in a trice.

Drinking alcohol or coffee doesn’t make any difference either.

When it’s time to sleep – I sleep.

Learning of how unusual this appears to be I am grateful for my good fortune.

I tip my hat to The Sandman.

 

Of course, on The Jukebox, I’ll do far more than that.

I’ll serenade him in jubilant song.

Let’s start with the charming, chiming, circle of fifths, Chordettes from 1954.

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Pat Ballard wrote the song and a scramble started to get the hit.

Vaughan Monroe was first out of the blocks closely followed by The Four Aces.

But the clear winner was the zing go the strings of my heart version by The Chordettes.

Jinny Osborn, Janet Ertel, Carol Buschman and Lynn Evans had a collective spellbinding magic that took Mr Sandman to the top of the Charts.

In late ’54 the record flew off the shelves and was an ever present on the airwaves and the jukeboxes.

The Chordettes magic beam gave everyone a peachy dream.

 

They came out of Sheboygan Wisconsin (like E E Smith and Jackie Mason).

National prominence arrived in 1949 when they were winners on the hugely popular Radio Show, hosted by Arthur Godfrey, – ‘Talent Scouts’.

The Musical Director for the show was Archie Bleyer who was struck by their winning sound.

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He also fell in love with and married Janet Ertel.

Archie was a canny cove who had been a professional musician/arranger/Bandleader since tne early 1930s.

To capitalise on his musical and business smarts he founded Cadence Records in 1952. His biggest sellers on the label were Rock ‘n Roll Immortals The Everly Brothers.

Archie became Phil Everley’s father in law when Phil married Janet Ertel’s daughter from her first marriage.

The  Cadence cash registers were also kept busy counting up the hits from Johnny Tillotson and Lenny Welch.

Mr Sandman benefit from an airy menthol cool production featuring percussion by Archie    Rhythmically slapping his knees!

It’s one of those records that instantly calls to mind the I Like Ike American 1950s.

I suspect the, ‘You Never Can Tell ‘ couple from a recent Jukebox post sashayed to this one in their two room appartment.

The great guitar stylist Chet Atkins cut a distinctive, characteristically fluid,  instrumental version in November 1954 which gave him his first solo hit on the Country Music Charts.

Here’s Chet fleet fingers playing the song live.

 

 

Now, loyal Jukeboxers will have guessed by now that I have more than a penchant for the divine Emmylou Harris.

In addition to her beauty and glorious musicality she is a Jukebox Star because she has exquisite taste across myriad genres.

Emmylou knows a good song when she hears one and she has the knack of making familiar tunes fresh through the purity of her vocals and the carefully chosen musicians she plays with.

Here she is magic beaming all our hearts away.

Roses and Clover. Roses and Clover.

Well there can’t be any doubt about who I’m choosing for Prom Queen!

Emmylou had a multi tracked vocal version solo hit with Mr Sandman but she first recorded it with her sisters in music Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton for their wonderful ‘Trio’ project.

Unfortunately the Corporate Dudes at Warner Chappel aren’t keen on any of their versions of Mr Sandman escaping their clutches so I’ll leave you to search out that ambrosial version for yourselves.

I’ll leave you with a perfectly peach instrumental version from yet another Wizard from New Orleans – Snooks Eaglin.

May you all get a good night’s nurturing sleep filled with inspiring dreams.

Turn on that Magic Beam!

 

 

 

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?

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 

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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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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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!

 

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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)

 

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.