Doug Sahm, Garland Jeffreys, ? and the Mysterians : 96 Tears

‘One day Frank started playing a little organ riff and we all really liked it a lot. I kinda came up with the chord riff … then Question Mark said he had words for it … I thought he was just singing off the top of his head.’ (Bobby Balderrama)

The 1960s, as any Baby Boomer will tell you, was the decade when Rock and Pop music peaked.

A tidal wave of creative energy was unleashed which is never likely to be matched.

Pick any week from the Billboard Hot 100 chart from the 1960s and you’ll be near overwhelmed by the number of truly great records you’ll find (and the memories they’ll generate).

Competition was fierce.

So, to ascend to the coveted Number One spot was a real achievement.

Take the top 5 for the last week in October 1966.

Pure Pop for Now people from The Monkees with, ‘Last Train to Clarkesville’.

A deep Soul cry (from the Ghetto, from the battlefields of Vietnam, from a tragic Lover’s heart) roared out by The Four Tops with, ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’.

An aching morality tale from Johnny Rivers with, ‘Poor Side of Town’ (previously featured here on The Jukebox).

An unfathomably deep, nay eternal, Pop Classic from 16 year old Michael Brown and The Left Banke with, ‘Walk Away Renee’ (also featured on The Jukebox).

Phew!

What record could possibly have kept those masterworks from the very summit of the charts?

Well, a record cut by a bunch of unknown Mexican-American teenagers from Michigan, with a lead singer known only by the ? symbol (where do you think Prince got the idea!) that will thrill the soul as long as there is electricity or some other means to power a Jukebox!

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying!

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

 

 

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidado Ahora!

Cuidado Ahora!

So, you take an insanely catchy organ riff, played on a Vox Continental or a Farfisa Combo Compact depending on which authority you believe, an increasingly crazed vocal extolling the sheer delight of anticipated romantic revenge (and who hasn’t felt that in their life?) a tempo that locks your attention in and you’ve got yourself a monster Hit!

This is Punk before Punk.

This is a wonderfully grimy garage classic just reeking of the greasepit.

This is a voodoo Mexican Folk Ballad.

This is pure unadulterated Rock ‘n’ Roll.

96 Tears lasts less than 3 minutes playing time.

Yet, I guarantee that everyone who hears it is chanting out:

’You’re gonna cry 96 Tears, You’re Gonna Cry 96 Tears, You’re gonna cry, cry, cry now’

with infinite gusto long before the 3 minutes has elapsed.

The definitive organ riff came from Frank Rodriguez who was all of 13 when 96 Tears was recorded in the Spring of 1966.

The guitarist was founding Mysterian Bobby Balderrama.

Eddie Serrano sat on the Drum Stool.

Bass was played by Fernando Aguilar.

The signature vocal was by the one and only hyper imaginative Question Mark ? 

GIven his determination to be known by this name alone I’ve resolved to use only this name throughout.

The Mysterians all came from families that had followed the lure of employment and the Dollar Bill from Mexico taking in fruit picking before securing jobs in the Michigan Auto Plants.

They started out playing instrumentals in the dramatic style of Duane Eddy and Link Wray. When the British Invasion hit and as they watched Shindig and American Bandstand they realised they had to have a dynamic lead singer and that a powerful organ sound hit home every time.

Once Frank came up with the immortal riff they approached Lilly Gonzalez, a luminary of the local Mexican community, who found them a small recording studio and pressed up 500 copies of 96 Tears on her own Pa-Go-Go label.

The song was then take  up by a relay of Radio Stations until demand became so great that Cameo Parkway took over and drove the single all the way to Number One!

My favourite moment in the song is the line where Question Mark ? momentarily pauses for breath before slamming home the killer line:

’And when the sun comes up I’ll be on top – You’ll be right down there looking up’.

Take that!

Now, it is a truth universally to be acknowledged that all Jukeboxes are in want of a Record which will get everyone onto their feet to dance furiously while rattling the walls and windows shouting out the chorus.

I think we can all agree that 96 Tears absolutely fulfils this need.

Which is why 96 Tears must take its place on The Immortal Jukebox as (what else) A 96.

Now, once such a Record is issued all over this wicked world gangs of young musicians hear it and think, ‘That will suit us very nicely indeed’.

The lead singer gets ready to hyperventilate and the organist thinks – they think they know how the organ goes on this one but they haven’t heard my version yet!

If they’re not in possession of an organ, Vox or Farfisa, the guitarist thinks – I’m gonna tear this one up so completely that no one will even remember there was an organ on the original.

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidad Ahora!

Cuidad Ahora!

A true message always gets through.

So, in 1976, frequenting London’s The Nashville and 100 Club venues I encountered a testosterone topped up the max outfit called Eddie and the Hot Rods who went full pelt at songs like, ‘Gloria’ and, ‘Get Out of Denver’ before thrashing the life out of 96 Tears.

Here’s their, ‘Live at The Marquee’ version from 1976 – I think I may have lost a few pounds while this one played and needed to sink a fair few pints to restore balance.

Such is Youth (and Thank God for it!)

The message certainly got through to Brooklyn.

That’s where Garland Jeffreys grew up listening to every style of music with a keen ear and  the determination to meld these styles together in his own songwriting and performances.

Garland Jeffreys is one of those secret heroes of music whose prominent influence and regard among musicians is in stark contrast to his stature among the general record buying public.

Be assured The Jukebox will feature a  considered tribute to him later.

For now let’s enjoy his distinctive take on 96 Tears.

The Band really got their groove happening here!

 

A true message always gets through.

And there was no more true hearted custodian of American Music than Doug Sahm – who is always warmly welcomed at The Jukebox.

Whenever Doug got together with Freddie Fender,  Augie Myers and Flaco Jimenez the music flowed and everybody got to have a glorious party.

Let’s take 96 Tears down South to Texas with Doug and his faithful compadres.

They sure shake the flavour all over every one of those 96 Tears!

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying.

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on.

Oh, oh, oh, believe me, when the sun comes up …

You’re Gonna cry 96 Tears.

Youre gonna cry 96 Tears.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

I’m gonna  count every one.

Every single one.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

 

 

Notes :

? and The Mysterains predictably fell foul of Music Biz moguls which resulted in long drawn out litigation, inadequate financial reward and a very messy discography.

However, there is a now a substantial collection of their Cameo Parkway material which amply demonstrates they were far more than one hit wonders.

Other versions to look out for are by:

Big Maybelle

Thelma Houston

Suicide

David Byrne & Richard Thompson

The Stranglers

Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.

Jimmy Cliff : Many Rivers To Cross

The Immortal Jukebox A 30

‘I never get tired of singing Many Rivers to Cross, and you know why? .. ‘cause I still have many rivers to cross. They’re just different rivers.’ (Jimmy Cliff)

Many rivers to cross.

Many rivers to cross.

Just can’t seem to find our way over.

We are haunted by Waters.

Rivers flow through our imaginations.

As Rivers thirst for the Sea so we thirst for the sound of running water.

There is balm and there is healing in the sound of a flowing River.

The sound and the sight of The River invites movement towards the future.

Which surely lie somewhere downriver.

Downriver.

When you’re lost as you travel along if you can find The River you know you can find your way home or to your new destination.

When only your will keeps you alive stand by The River and resolve to carry on – to cross over and be born again in cool water.

Cross The Rubicon.

Cross The Delaware

Cross The Euphrates.

Cross The Volga.

Cross The Murray.

Cross The Nile, The Niger and The Congo.

Cross The Mackenzie, The Mekong, The Missouri and The Mississippi.

Cross The Lena and The Laune.

Cross The Brahmaputra, The Besós and The Brazos.

Cross The Thames, The Tiber and The Tyne.

Cross The Rhine and The Rhône.

Cross The Rappahannock, The Rio Grande and The Red.

Cross The Acheron, The Lethe and The Styx.

Wade across The Jordan.

Each River has its own song.

And, each of us hears different songs as we listen to The River.

We are all travelling from the Source to The Sea.

Oh, we really don’t know why.

We don’t know why.

But, I guess we have to try.

Have to try.

To cross over.

To Cross Over.

 

 

Jimmy Cliff has A Voice.

A Voice.

In the way that Sam Cooke has A Voice.

In the way that Nina Simone has A Voice.

In the way Ray Charles has A Voice.

In the way Van Morrison had A Voice.

It’s A Voice that once heard never leaves you.

A Voice that seems immediately familiar to you yet always capable of making you catch your breathe in surprise at its glory.

A Voice that has the authority of a River in full flow.

A Voice that you find yourself harmonising with in your head as the years and tears flow by.

A Voice that speaks truth about the trials of Life.

A Voice you’ll find yourself turning to when it seems Life has got you licked.

A Voice you’ll cling to when all around, including yourself, call you washed up.

A Voice that will whisper to you in the friendless Night.

A Voice that the lonely know knows loneliness too.

A Voice that will be a guiding Star in the heavens when you’re lost and wandering far from The River.

A Voice that will help you hold on, survive, until you’re ready to stand by The River again.

A Voice that will help you cross the many Rivers you’ll have to cross in Life.

So many Rivers to cross.

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Jimmy Cliff was a teenage star of the Jamaican Ska and Rocksteady scenes.

In addition to his obvious talents as a singer he soon showed himself to be a songwriter who had the rare ability to create songs that had the mysterious power and longevity of fables.

Songs like The Harder They Come and You Can Get It If You Really Want are instantly memorable while having a core of wisdom that comes from folk memory that chimes with our immediate lived experience.

Yet, Many Rivers To Cross has an extra dimension.

It’s a song written by a young man with an old Soul.

It speaks to our many defeats yet holds out Hope that these defeats are not final or eternal.

We are born by a River in our little tents and of course we’ve been running ever since.

Ever since.

Running towards Rivet after River after River.

We all have to cross so many Rivers.

It can be a long, long journey from the Source to the Sea.

So many Rivers to cross.

There is redemption and blessing in crossing over The River.

Keep your eyes on the farther ashore and trust that you’ll cross over.

Cross Over.

 

 

Notes :

Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Greatest Hits’ should have an honoured place in every collection.

These days I often find myself reaching for his  glorious collection from 2012 ‘Rebirth’ which has deeply affecting songs of dignity and grace.

Bobby Charles, Doug Sahm and Mark Knopfler : Tennessee Blues

A true message always gets through.

Songs that speak truthfully to the ebbing and flowing tides of our lives take on a life of their own cutting distinctive channels in our hearts.

Such songs as Bob Dylan says ‘get up and walk’ away from their composers and become community treasures.

Treasures cherished by what I still think of as the ‘record buying public’ and perhaps even more so by fellow songwriters who recognise a classic song with such lyrical and melodic grace that it seems to demand new interpretations.

The song taking pride of place on The Immmortal Jukebox today is an absolute Peach – ‘Tennessee Blues’ written and first performed by the late, great, Bobby Charles.

I can imagine brows being furrowed at the name – Bobby Charles?

Now, you may not be a fully paid up, got the T Shirt and the Box Set, fan like me but believe me you know and can croon along to several Bobby Charles songs.

How about, ‘See You Later Alligator’ or ‘Walking To New Orleans’ not to mention ‘Before I Grow Too Old’ or ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ for starters.

Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Frogman Henry had the Chart hits but they all came from the pen and piano of Abbeville La native Robert Charles Guidry – Bobby Charles.

Bobby’s own versions of his songs are uniformally lovely with, ‘Tennessee Blues’ from his glowing 1972 album produced by The Band’s Rick Danko winning the garland for the most lovely of all.

 

From the ‘Trust us, we’ll take our own sweet time with this one’ opening bars you just know Tennessee Blues is gonna be a Keeper!

There’s a free flowing lazy certainty to the way the song proceeds.

Everything feels natural, unhurried, ripe and right.

Listening you feel like you’re gently rocking to and fro, deliciously half asleep, in a summer hammock.

By now, having lived with this song for decades, as soon as the song starts I can feel the tears welling up and my Boot Heels get ready to go wandering once again round the dance floor with my Darling.

And as we twirl, lost in the Music, we find a place where we don’t have to worry.

A place where we feel loose.

A place alive with the sound of running water and the trills of birds in the trees.

A place to forget all those regrets.

A place where we can settle and stay.

A place to be at peace.

To be at peace.

Oh, a place where you lose all those blues.

All those Blues.

Those Tennessee Blues.

Here, Bobby Charles has written and sung a Song that enchants.

A Song that’s balm for the bruised heart, the weary mind and the thirsty soul.

I’m not 100% certain of the musician credits but that’s surely Amos Garrett (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) playing the tender guitar licks and The Band’s instrumental maestro Garth Hudson playing the heartbreaking Accordion.

N. D. Smart on Drums and Jim Colegrove on Bass.

Violin courtesy of Harry Lookofsky (the Father of ‘Walk Away Renee’ writer Michael Brown.

The sense of ancient sway they create together is truly magical.

A magic that was recognised by one of the most good hearted of all musicians San Antonio’s own favourite Son – Doug Sahm.

Doug cuts deep, imbuing Tennessee Blues with tender Texas Soul.

 

 

Doug’s vocal takes us up to the Mountain Tops and down to the lapping lake side waters where we might bathe and be born again.

Born again.

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean Mark Knopfler, taking time out from his leadership responsibilities with Dire Straits, found peace and nourishment returning to the Americana sounds that had first inspired him to take up the Guitar and search out the chords for the songs he would write himself.

His companions, collectively The Notting Hillbillies, were Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker.

In their hands Tennessee Blues takes on the character of aching night prayer – a compline service for lost saloon souls.

We are all searching for that place.

That place of shaded valleys and cool reviving streams.

That place where our regrets and worries dissolve in the warm breeze.

That place of peace.

Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues takes us there and gives us the strength to carry that peace within us as we travel on.

 

Notes :

Tennessee Blues can be found on the Rhino Encore CD ‘Bobby Charles’ – unreservedly recommended!

I also love:

The Bear Family compilation, ‘See You Later Alligator’

‘Last Train To Memphis’ from Rice and Gravy

‘Home Made Songs’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’

Bobby Charles died in 2010

His songs will endure.

Roxy Music : Love Is The Drug

It’s almost Saturday Night.

Almost.

Almost.

Just a few more hours here at Bainbridge’s adding up rows and rows and rows of accounts.

A few more hours staring out the window watching the sky darken.

Waiting for The Moon to light up the Dark.

Waiting for The Stars to dazzle my eyes.

This Saturday Night is going to be My Night.

My Night.

Make sure I get dressed to impress.

Fred Perry. Sta Press. Barracuta G9. Chelsea Boots.

Haute Rouge fragrance.

Time to establish the Mood.

Light up a Disque Bleu and contemplate the posters of Francoise Hardy, Monica Vitti and Steve McQueen.

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Leaf through the latest ‘Salut les copains’

Now for some Sounds!

Start out with Miles Davis, ‘Kind Of Blue’.

Now that is Cool, Cool, Cool.

Gonna Dance Tonight.

Dance, Dance, Dance.

Betty Everett, ‘Getting Mighty Crowded’.

Major Lance, ‘The Monkey Time’.

Maxine Brown, ‘Oh No Not My Baby’.

Roy Head, ‘Treat Her Right’.

Jimmy Radcliffe, ‘Long After Tonight Is Over’.

I can feel the Glow.

One last look in the mirror – Perfect!

Fire up the Super Sprint 90.

Saturday Night.

The Town will be throbbing.

Throbbing.

Where are am I headed tonight?

Where will the Faces be?

La Dolce Vita? The Downbeat?

The Oxford? or The Cavendish?

First off, I’m going to ride the Super Sprint right up to the door of Club A ‘Gogo and announce my arrival on the scene!

Here I am! Here I am!

Young, Free and Single.

Time IS on my side.

It ain’t no big thing the toll of the bell.

Look Out Girls!

Oh, Oh, Oh, catch that Buzz.

Catch that Buzz.

Love is the drug I’m thinking of.

Love is the drug and I need to score!

Love is the drug for me.

 

 

Now that is a record that would get anyone well and truly hooked!

Roxy Music In Ecelsis!

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From the very first moment with the footstep and car door opening sound effects you just know you’re about to set off on a thrilling trip.

Jon Gustafson comes in with that heart jolting, adrenaline laced, bass line and you will barely draw breathe again until the fade out – swept along by the instrumental brilliance of the ensemble, the crisp, crystal clear production of Chris Thomas and the knowing seductive vocal Bryan Ferry gives to his superbly sketched narrative.

Gustafson was a veteran of the British Beat scene having been a member of The Big Three who were lions of the Cavern in Liverpool with everybody including The Beatles grooving along to their cover of Richard Barrett’s ‘Some Other Guy’.

He went on to play with The Merseybeats and The Pirates as well as numerous studio gigs.

However, his lasting glory will surely be the three albums he played on with Roxy Music and in particular the fantastic propulsive drive his bass line gives to Love Is The Drug (I’m sure Nile Rodgers of Chic felt it in his boots!).

The ‘secret hero’ of all Roxy Music Records is, of course, Paul Thompson, a Drummer whose complete mastery of tempo gave the Band a rock solid foundation that allowed Roxy’s ‘Exotics’ – Bryan Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera, Saxman Andy Mackay and Keyboard wizard Eddie Jobson the freedom to be theatrically inventive.

Phil Manzanera’s highly accomplished guitar playing draws on his love of Latin American rhythms and the angularity of English Art Rock. Add to this his technical command of his instrument and his musical intelligence and you have the ideal guitarist for a Band performing musically and emotionally complex songs.

Eddie Jobson was the boy wonder Keyboard player whose musical felicity gave him the smarts to add shade, colour and dramatic sophistication to the kaleidoscopic gallery of moods conjured up by Bryan Ferry’s lyrics.

Andy Mackay was always a key figure in Roxy Music giving them a depth and breadth of sound marking them out from their contemporaries.

In this song you can feel the red lights, the bated breath and the heat of nocturnal anticipation in his playing.

His saxophone and woodwind contributions were always integral to the overall conception of the unique Roxy Music sonic palette.

In fact, Love Is The Drug began as a Mackay instrumental. It was worked up in Air Studios with each additional player’s contributions making the track more and more irresistible with Chris Thomas at the desk insisting on take after take until it was practically perfect.

Only one further element was needed for a sure fire hit!

Namely, a winning lyric and vocal.

Enter, Bryan Ferry.

Bryan was known to try the patience of his colleagues by obsessively working on his lyrics – drafts after draft after draft being reworked until the seam of pure gold was revealed.

Andy Mackay recalls that he sometimes appeared like a Conjuror keeping the audience breathless until, magically, he pulled the veritable rabbit out of his silk Top Hat!

When he settled himself at the microphone to sing, ‘Love Is The Drug’ for the first time his weary Bandmates were amazed and thrilled.

To a man they knew this would be a massive, unstoppable hit which would take their career to another level.

Bryan tells his story with economy and wit.

It’s a story we’ve all surely been part of in our youth so we can recognise the accuracy of the tale and smile at our own recollections of when we were the key dramatis personae.

Boy meets girl where the beat goes on.

Face to face, Toe to toe.

Hearts pounding as heart to heart they hit the floor.

The stumble round, the hoped for locked embrace.

Catch that Buzz.

One says Go … the other says Yes.

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh ….

Well, dim the lights and you can guess the rest!

Bryan Ferry’s lyric is a model of economy and wit deftly deploying alliteration, assonance and rhyme to beguile our senses.

Love Is The Drug has remained a fixture at Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry shows from 1975 to this day.

Simply put it’s a classic that will never fail.

I’ll leave you with a scorching live version from  2001.

I guarantee this song will still sound great on the bases of The Moon and Mars in 3001.

Can’t you see.

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Love Is The Drug.

Love Is The Drug.

 

Madeleine Peyroux sings Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen & Hank Williams

Charisma is hard to define but easy to recognise.

It’s nothing to do with how loud you shout or how sharp you dress.

No. If present it surrounds the possessor like a solar corona that exerts invisible influence on distant objects.

Madeleine Peyroux has a charisma that is insistently present in her recordings and in performance.

When Madeleine sings she doesn’t come at you like a full force gale. Rather, standing still and singing softly she invites you to still yourself, lean in and listen closely.

She selects songs that have emotional depth; songs that resonate with our lived experience and our dreamscapes, songs that never let us go, songs that no matter how many times heard always retain a core of unfathomable mystery.

Songs a true singer can sing over and over again because they continue to engage the person and the performer.

Madeleine had a peripatetic bohemian childhood and adolescence taking in Canada, France, England and the USA.

Her parents were radical academics who had a record collection which exposed her to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

As she was beginningto play guitar she was struck by the self possessed quiet authority of Tracy Chapman.

While living and busking in Paris as a teenager she encountered the Chanson tradition through the works of Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf.

All very good preparation for taking on songs by the greatest songwriters of the 20th  century!

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Let’s start with her languorously hypnotic take on Leonard Cohen’s, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’.

 

Now, it’s immediately obvious that Madeleine swings.

She feels where the beat is and chooses when and how to engage with it.

She’s both above and within the song slyly pausing and eliding notes to emphasise the ritual cadences of Leonard’s lyric.

She’s barefoot dancing through the song, her voice burning incandescently as like the homeward dove she leads us safely through the suppressed panic till we’re safely gathered in.

Safely gathered in.

In a sense every song Madeleine sings becomes a tent of shelter against the cruelties of the world both for herself and through her singing for her audience.

For the duration of the spell cast no matter how threadbare our spiritual and emotional raiment we are given glimpses of wholeness and redemptive hope.

You can bet that Leonard laboured long and hard to write, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ juts as you can safely assume that Bob Dylan received, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ as a more or less direct transmission from his extravagant Muses.

The miraculous flow of the song is Bob at his Olympian best entrancing us with his sensuous mastery of language.

The song is a tapestry of images strartling in their freshness, beauty and tenderness.

It would be idle to pick out individual lines in a song which has such imaginative, lyrical and musical unity.

Madeleine gives the song  a highly attentive reading so that time seems to meander and eddy as we listen.

 

Perhaps the gretest Songwriting Forefather for both Bob and Leonard was the one and only Hank WIlliams.

Hank is dead for 60 years now.

But, of course though Hank is dead he will never be gone.

For Hank wrote songs that speak with shocking intimacy to the bare forked animal inside every one of us.

The snow falls round the window and dream worlds fall apart.

Fall apart.

Oh God forgive us if we cry.

Forgive us if we cry.

Madeleine knows that with a Hank Williams song only minimal ornamentation is required. Hank has put so much feeling in the song that to sing it truly is to become a Medium channeling his spirit.

 

 

I’m going to leave you with a grand cadeu for the New Year.

Madeleine paying homage to Josephine Baker and the Chanson tradition with a song from 1930 written by Vincent Scotto, Henri Varna and Geo Koger.

Now wasn’t that pure pleasure!

Madeleine has had an erratic recording career. It’s clear from my choices above that I have  a particular fondness for her, ‘Careless Love’ album.

Yet, every record she has made will surely repay your interest as she illuminates a treasury of great songs within Jazz, Blues, Country, Folk and Chanson.

Load up your Jukeboxes!

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

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

Jupiter is immense.

The Earth would fit into Jupiter some three hundred times.

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

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

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

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

As in Astronomy so in Musicology!

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

Fats was universally loved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smiley made a lot of records everyone should know.

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

But, he made only one record that Everyone Knows.

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

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

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

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

The one and only Smiley Lewis!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Do It!

 

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

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

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

Don’t just take my word for it.

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

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

John Knew.

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

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

I hear you knocking … I hear you knocking ….

 

 

Notes :

There are numerous compilations of Smiley Lewis’ hits.

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

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

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

Immortal Jukebox on the Radio!

Just before Christmas I was contacted, out of the blue, by Nessy Mon (Vanessa Monaghan) who hosts a radio show for the Irish National Broadcaster RTE.

Nessy’s show is on RTE2XM and is called, ‘The London Ear’.

It’s core audience is the large London Irish community.

Nessy told me that she was a long time fan of The Immortal Jukebox and generously invited me onto her show to talk about my background and the history of The Immortal Jukebox.

I was delighted to accept her invitation and was very pleased that I was given so much time on the show.

In addition to our discussion the show also features Jukebox favourites Van Morrison singing, ‘Brand New Day’ and Roy Orbison crooning, ‘Pretty Paper’

I thought my core audience would like to listen in!

The link below should take you to the show – my section starts from 24 minutes and runs for about 25 minutes.

 

http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=18_10814122_7879_16-12-2017

 

Should the link not work for you try this alternative method :

Download the free RTE Player App from your App Store

From the Home Page select change Station

Then select RTE2XM

Then select listen back and scroll to 16 December

Then scroll down and select The London Ear at 13.00

Then scroll to 24 Minutes in and Voila! My dulcet tones should soon appear.

Thanks again to Nessy for hosting The Jukebox.

Please feel free to comment and share!

 

Notes:

Nessy Mon on Twitter :

@nessymon

@TheLondonEar

Website :

nessymon.com

RTE2XM on Twitter @RTE2XM

Website : 2XM.rte.ie