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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Nearby was St Johns Wood Library.

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

Such were the coordinates of my early life.

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

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

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

Photo:Church Street Market

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

Photo:A Gathering

Remember what those clever Jesuits said :

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

In my case almost certainly true.

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

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

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

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

Runaround Sue’ by Dion,

Walking Back to Happiness’ by Helen Shapiro, 

‘Right Said Fred’ by Bernard Cribbins and, 

’Stranger on The Shore’ by Acker Bilk.

Where did we buy our records?

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

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

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

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

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

And, my favourite clarion call :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘That would be The Soul Stirrers Sid!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, dig those Vibes!

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

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

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

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

Each new disc became a sacred object for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravo Victor and Bravo Bostic!

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

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

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

Favourite Colour – Purple

Favourite Food – Fish and Chips

Favourite Football Team – Spurs

Favourite Book – Treasure Island

Favourite Music – Earl Bostic Flamingo!

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

Take it away Earl.

Blow, Mr Bostic, Blow!

Notes :

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

Four CDs, 106 tracks of sheer joy.

Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens : The Streets of Bakersfield

‘I came here looking for something I couldn’t find anywhere else’.

Note – The YouTube clips below all play in the UK. If corporate powers block them where you are i am sure you can find alternative clips for the songs.

Where you headed?

The answer is sometimes geographical, sometimes metaphorical and sometimes aspirational.

Down the road a piece.

Over the hills and far away.

Off these corkscrew hillbilly highways to the broad Freeway.

I might need two pair of shoes but I’m walking to New Orleans.

Kansas City – they got some pretty little women there and I’m gonna get me one.

High over Albuquerque on a jet to the Promised Land.

New York, New York – if I can make it there I can make it anywhere!

Sometimes you move for the most basic of reasons – to find a job that pays well.

Especially if you’ve grown up somewhere where the jobs are few and everyone treats you like a nobody.

Get yourself a good job that pays real folding green and you get a chance to be yourself.

Write your own story.

So, pack your grip (who did you ever know who had a trunk) and head off for the desert heat and the oilfields of the San Joaquin Valley.

Head out for the Streets of Bakersfield!

Image result for bakersfield images 1960s

Bakersfield.

Now, if you’ve got a broad back and two strong arms and plenty of nerve there’s work a plenty in the Oil Fields.

Work a plenty.

Guys here from Oklahoma, Arkansas and The Appalachians.

Guess it’s a new migration.

And, when your days work is done, with a bulging wallet, you can take those sore muscles down to a Bar or Roadhouse where the beer flows freely and dive into that Whisky River any time you feel like it.

Image result for bakersfield images 1960s

Now, you’ve come to drink and dance and it won’t be you who starts a fight .. but if it starts you ain’t gonna be hugging the wall.

Mister, I don’t care if you don’t like me.

Yea, I’ve spent a night or two in the can and I ain’t proud of everything I’ve done.

But, better not think that you can judge me – not unless you’ve walked these streets of Bakersfield.

No, turn the music up good and loud and let’s have ourselves a real fine time!

Drop a coin into The Jukebox and clear the floor.

Don’t want any of that weepy, air conditioned Nashville Sound.

No, something that’s got drive and bite.

Telecasters and Drums, Fiddle and Steel, enough to really shake a hard wood floor.

Songs that move and tell a story you know is true.

Don’t worry about tomorrow’s hangover – it’ll be worth it for the time we’ve had.

The Bakersfield Sound and no one is more Bakersfield than Buck Owens.

Buck and The Buckeroos – now that’s a blazin’ Band!

 

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Hell, you could fill a Jukebox just with Buck Hits and dance without stoppin’ until the Sun comes up again.

‘Act Naturally’, ‘My Heart Skips a Beat’, ‘Tiger by the Tail’, ‘Together Again’, ‘Buckaroo’, ‘Waitin’ in the Welfare Line’, ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass’.

Jimmy, the Bar Keep, who knows everything about Buck says he’s racked up 20 Number One Country Hits and he ain’t done yet.

Funny enough the Buck song that I punched more than any other on The Jukebox barely made it to the Charts under his own name.

Maybe by ’73 the caravan had passed Buck by.

Still, if I’ve got to pick one Buck song it’s always gonna be, ‘The Streets Of Bakersfield’.

That’s a true Workin’ Man’s Song!

I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’

I’ve worn blisters on my heels

Trying to find me something better on the streets of Bakersfield

You don’t know me but you don’t like me – you care less how I feel

But how many of you who sit and judge me ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

The Streets of Bakersfield?

Sing it Buck.

Sing it good and loud!

Now, there’s quite a story about how the song came to be recorded.

It was written by Homer Joy in November 1972 when he came to Buck’s Bakersfield Studio hoping to record some of the songs he had written after he had churned out a Hank Williams tribute disc.

Image result for homer joy songwriter images

Except, after the Hank record was done he found that the Studio was blocked booked by Buck himself rehearsing for a tour.

Though Homer turned up every day at 8am ready to record he was told, day after day, ”Come back tomorrow’ and there was nothing for it but to grow even more blisters walking the streets of Bakersfield!

Eventually Homer’s patience snapped and the taken aback Studio Manager said:

‘OK, OK, play me one of these songs you think are so great and I’ll see what I can do’.

Fired up, Homer launched into a new song, written in sheer frustration at his current situation, ‘The Streets of Bakersfield’.

Now, some songs just hit you right between the eyes and this was one.

That very night Homer played the song to Buck and before you know it Buck had recorded it – featuring it on his 1973 Album, ‘Is Not It Amazing Gracie’.

But, though everyone recognised this was one damn fine song it didn’t make the wide world stand up and applaud.

So, it seemed Homer wouldn’t get the fat payday every struggling songwriter hopes is just around the corner if only a big star would record one of your songs.

Yet, as The Jukebox will never tire of saying:

 ‘A true message always gets through – sometime it just takes a while’.

And, this message, got through some 15 years later through the intervention of Jukebox favourite, Dwight Yoakam.

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Dwight, as a proper classicist, had always been a big fan of Buck’s music and had derived much inspiration from the straight to the heart and gut twang of the Bakersfield Sound.

He was therefore immensely pleased to learn that Buck approved of his sound and was keeping a watchful eye on his fledgling career.

Buck, by the late 80’s was seemingly more or less retired never having fully recovered from the tragic death of his right hand man, Don Rich.

The lightning and thunder that they had created together was gone.

But, talking with Dwight and listening to his sound convinced Buck that maybe, just maybe, there might be one more rumble and bolt yet.

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So, get in the Studio, crank up the voltage, have Pete Anderson pick that Tele fast and sweet,  have those drums really kickin’, add some norteno accordion (no one better than Flaco Jimenez), swop charismatic vocals and I do believe we got ourselves a monster Hit!

That’ll be the 21st Number One for Buck and the very first for Dwight!

Alright Dwight! Thank You Buck!

Jukebox devotees will know I love my Boots and I gotta say my Dan Post Okeechobee Westerns got to do some serious stompin’ there!

Image result for Dan Post 13 okeechobee boots images

The respect and admiration Dwight and Buck had for each other was real and enduring giving a fillip to both their careers.

Looking at the live clip below you can’t not be swept away by the sheer joy of music making.

Both of them being themselves and having a real fine time.

I came here looking for something …..

In memory of Buck Owens 1929-2006 and Homer Joy 1945-2012.

Buck Owens :

Buck was a great singles artist so I always have the 3 Volumes of his Capitol Singles covering the period 1957 to 1975 close at hand.

Satisfaction absolutely guaranteed!

Thank You Buck – always.

Note :

Check out Youtube for a fabulous live version featuring Dwight and Ry Cooder.

 

Tom Waits : (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night

They say there is nobility in work.

Well, I can tell you none of them guys ever got up in the blue black cold to work at the breakers yard for Mr Conte.

Pop says keep your head down and your lip buttoned and in 10 years you’ll be a manager.

Ten years!

Ten years of Yes Sir/No Sir and hands raw and shredded.

Ten Years and I’ll be nearly 30 – an old man!

I tell you if it wasn’t for the music and Saturday Nights I’m not sure I’d make it through this year let alone 10.

You switch on, turn the dial and Boom!

Elvis. Little Richard, Don and Phil, Dion.

Some girls say I look just like Ricky Nelson.

I guess when I shave close and comb my hair that ain’t so far from the truth.

With my Saturday Night clothes on when I look in the mirror can’t see a trace of that guy at the breakers yard.

Out the door, keys swinging, start her up.

Tank full of gas. The Oldsmobile and me.

Looking for the heart of Saturday Night.

On our way to pick up my sweet one for tonight.

Looking for the heart of Saturday Night.

Heading downtown to the bright lights.

I bet this’ll be like no night I’ve ever seen.

Cash a plenty and a six pack.

What more could you want?

C’mon let’s barrel down the avenue – show these folks what a really sharp couple look like.

Let ‘em stare when we stop on the red.

Wave ‘em bye bye when we go on the green.

Guess they’re looking for the heart of Saturday Night too.

Well, listen to that neon buzzin’ and the crack of the pool balls.

You know, this just might be the Saturday I’m hitting my peak.

But, sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I don’t see Ricky Nelson.

I see a working stiff out looking for the heart of Saturday Night like he looked a hundred times before.

The sweet one with me tonight – will I want to have my arm around her next Saturday Night?

Will she want to climb into The Oldsmobile with me?

Maybe it’s the booze that’s got me thinking this way.

The Irish in me maybe.

Thats what my second cousin Vinnie says.

You know, sometimes, thinking of all those Saturdays past and all those Saturdays to come it’s hard not to find there’s a melancholy tear in your eye.

The barmaid seen plenty of me with plenty of different girls and she gives a smile from the corner of her eye.

Let’s have one more game of pool and one more round of drinks.

I’ll drink to the magic of the melancholy.

Soon enough, on past experience, I won’t be dancin’ so much as stumblin’.

You know thinkin’ of all this you can quiver right down to your core.

But what else you gonna do?

Still, I’m gonna gas her up next week.

Can’t lose that tingle.

I know, just know, that one of these weeks, after I make it through Monday to Friday, I’ll be barrelling down the avenue with my arm around my sweet one in my Oldsmobile and find I’m right in the heart of Saturday Night.

Right in the heart.

Tom Waits.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Kerouac.

Finding the mythic in the everyday.

Writing songs that dramatise experiences we have all had.

Looking for the heart of Saturday Night.

We walk towards the light and tingle even though we know Saturday Nights have come and gone before without us ever landing, bullseye, right in the heart.

There’s tremendous art in the way Tom chooses a loping tempo for this song.

For me, this is the tempo of dream.

In a dream you can in slow motion view the scenes simultaneously from the air for the grand perspective and from the street for the emotional close ups.

The neon buzzin’ and the crack of the pool balls.

The quiver right down in your core.

A song that will have meaning however long your life lasts and however old you were when you first heard it.

Everyone has looked or is looking for the heart of Saturday Night.

The patina of meaning will grow more burnished year by year as you revisit the song.

The one heading out , keys swinging, tingling as they head off into the lights may not be you anymore but your Son, your Grand Daughter.

Looking for the heart of Saturday Night.

Tom Waits.

A pretty good scout if you’re looking for the heart of Saturday Night.

P. S.

If this Is your first visit to The Jukebox – where ya been!

Seriously if it is your debut here do take a look around.

There’s 300 or more Posts to choose from.

I’ll be surprised if you don’t find some old favourites and make some discoveries.

Sign up for Email alerts or follow me on Twitter @thomhickey55 and never miss a Post!

Gretchen Peters : On A Bus to St Cloud

We are all Pilgrims.

And, each of us has to make the pilgrimage in our own way loaded with our own unique blessings and burdens.

Though we may walk with no visible companions no one truly walks alone.

For shadowing your footsteps are shades and ghosts.

The shade of the wide eyed child you were staring up at the infinitely promising night sky.

The shade of the teenager who would never be so foolish as to take the wrong turns made by those who thought themselves wiser because they were older.

The ghost of the daredevil seven year old, always out in front of you, who went too far ahead one day, laughing as he ran into the road – never making it to the other side.

The ghosts of your father and mother smiling awkwardly for the wedding photographer with faith in the unknown future bright in their eyes.

The ghosts of friends and lovers who are lost to you now for reasons you can only guess at or can’t face.

The shade of the person you were yesterday and the shade of the person you are in the process of becoming.

The ghost of the one you just couldn’t save though you tried with all your might.

And, cresting a hill, drawing breath to look at the view, you might for a fleeting moment catch a glimpse of one of those shades or ghosts and find the tears, of joy or deep regret, falling unbidden.

Or lulled by the rhythm of the wheels of a Bus to St Cloud with the snow falling around like a silent prayer you might be almost sure that face in the crowd is the face that slipped out of view so long ago that’s been haunting your dreams for so many years.

A face you’d almost, almost, given up hope of ever seeing again.

Oh,I was sure it was you.

Sure it was you.

Oh, it’s strange but it’s true.

And, I hate you so.

And, I love you so.

But I miss you most.

With the snow falling all around like a silent prayer.

Standing, blinking, as the snow falls you wonder about the shades and the ghosts.

Could you have done more?

How did you let them just slip away?

We think of those who disappeared from our lives as lost but maybe they found what they were seeking and it is us who are lost.

We all live and breathe and hope in Mystery.

We all make choices we wish we could travel back in time to change.

And, for those who are lost, not least ourselves, sometimes there is nothing else but to fall on your knees and weep and hope that some stronger arm might lift you up.

Lift you up.

For the snow is sure to fall.

Sure to fall,

Sometimes bringing a gleaming light to the surrounding darkness.

Sometimes a shining manna from heaven.

Sometimes a shroud falling softly all around.

Falling softly on the dark waves.

Falling softly on the lonely churchyards.

Falling softly on the crooked crosses and headstones.

Falling softly on the barren thorns.

Falling upon all the living and the dead.

Just a face in the crowd.

And its strange but it’s true.

Strange but it’s true.

And I hate you so.

And I love you so.

But I miss you most.

I was sure, sure, it was you.

With the snow falling all around.

Notes :

Gretchen Peters writes songs distinguished by their emotional intelligence.

Her songs seem like glimpses into lives we all might have led or encountered.

She has a particular gift for writing songs featuring telling but not overloaded details so that the listener inevitably fleshes out the narratives in line with their own stories making the experience all the richer.

All her Albums have songs which will live with you.

The first version above is to be found on her 1996 debut Record, ‘The Secret of Life’.

The second version, a mature reconsideration of her signature song, is from 2011 and features Barry Walsh on Keyboards.

The third version comes from 2016 at the Celtic Connections Music Festival. Jerry Douglas, the Dobro King, provides the falling snow.

 

The Immortal Jukebox’s Greatest Hit : Mary Gauthier (I Drink), Iris Dement (Easy Getting Harder) Ordinary/Extraordinary Stories

I was downing a couple of bottles of Mr Whitehead’s excellent cider at the, ‘Pub With No Name’ the other evening and fell into conversation with one of the hostelry’s regulars who commented (approvingly) on my most recent post on, ‘The Third Man’.

He told me that he’d been following The Jukebox since 2017 and must have by now read more than a hundred posts.

I asked him did he have any favourites and he replied :

‘Well, I’m a major Van Morrison fan and can see he is your specialist subject so I always look out for those. And, I always think there’s never enough written about The Blues so I especially enjoyed your Post on Little Walter.

Still, I would also have to say some of the Posts I’ve found most intriguing have been about artists I had never heard of previously like Arthur Alexander, Toussaint McCall and Paul Brady’.

He added, ‘How many Posts have you written since you started?’

I quickly looked up my Stats and said to my own astonishment, ‘I can hardly believe it but it seems I’ve published more than 320 Posts since March 2014’.

As he ordered up another round of drinks Declan mused, ‘I suppose your most popular Post must be one about one of the classic Baby Boomer artists like Van or Dylan or Carole King?’

‘Actually, you’d be surprised’ I said.

‘The most popular Post ever, by a significant margin, is the Post I wrote on Mary Gauthier and Iris Dement – who are not exactly household names!’

‘And, its a Post that every week, in countries all over the globe is being discovered by new readers’.

He immediately looked it up on his iPad (other tablets are available) and when he had finished reading said:

‘Well, those are two great songs and I like the way you’ve introduced the theme of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of all our lives. How many followers did you have when you wrote this?’

‘ A couple of hundred then and more than 10,000 now’ I replied.

‘That’s a lot of people who probably haven’t read your most popular post – you ought to ReBlog it!’.

So for Declan and all of you who haven’t yet read it here’s my Greatest Hit!

‘It’s just an ordinary story about the way things go … Round and round nobody knows but the highway goes on forever’ (Rodney Crowell)

‘It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.’ (Raymond Carver)

I live an ordinary life.

So do you.

Yet, I guarantee that if we sat down and talked honestly about the lives we have led, the people we have met, the narrative arc of our lives; including the successes, the mis-steps, the fulfilled and broken dreams, the regrets and the wonders, that we would each think the other has led a truly extraordinary life.

All our lives contain experiences we struggle to understand and come to terms with: unresolved longings, fault lines, tender wounds, hidden scars. In a very real sense we will always remain mysteries to ourselves.

I believe that our attraction to art – to stories and songs – is because the best of them resonate with and go some way to help explain the eternal mystery of why we exist and why we have turned out the way we have.

A great song can be our pilgrim’s companion and staff as we navigate through life’s slalom ride of fate and happenstance while attempting to fashion a connected, meaningful life.

The singer-songwriters featured on the Jukebox today; Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier, share the ability to look compassionately, honestly and unflinchingly at ‘everyday lives’ illuminating them with sharp eyed, flinty, observations and heart rending detail.

These are songs about the dignity and indignities of real lives not adverts for ‘lifestyles’. Popular culture, as these artists demonstrate, can offer far more than mere consumer branding: it can offer us the insights and balm of art we yearn for as we struggle to make it through, or knock off, another ordinary day.

Iris Dement’s early childhood was spent, as the youngest of fourteen children on a tiny island in rural north eastern Arkansas before her father moved the family to California, as millions had done before, in search of work and a better future.

Crucially, she was also raised in the bosom of the Pentecostal Church with a mother who daily sang its sweet consoling hymns as she went about her domestic tasks – a process Iris recreates with tender love in her song, ‘Mama’s Opry’.

The influence of those hymns pervades all of Iris’ songs though her own relationship with faith has been troubled.

Her songs seem to me always to be charged with a sense of the sublime, a conviction that every life, however small, burdened and disregarded, carries a light that shines through the darkest hours.

Above all, the gospel influence is felt by the listener through her voice: a gloriously cracked country voice that throbs with yearning passion. It’s a voice made to embody intense emotions, a voice that cannot and will not be denied.

At the end of an Iris Dement song I always feel both uplifted and exhausted no matter what the subject of the song because her vocals are freighted with a humanity of heart, flesh, blood, bone and spirit that hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

A punch that takes away the breath while reawakening you to the miracle of every breath you take.

‘Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day’ is Iris Dement’s finest song and one of the best songs ever written about the passions, dreads and torments involved in living a seemingly ‘everyday’ life’.

The song steadily, plainly and without hysteria or pity presents us with a portrait of a mature, self aware woman struggling to come to terms with the sense of strangled entrapment she feels in her marriage, her job and her community.

The beauty and art of the song lies in the dry eyed simplicity with which the weight of accumulating straws on the back of the protagonist are evoked: the rain, the buzzing alarm clock, the marital conversations and lovemaking reduced to mechanical routine.

The radio mast lights blink on simultaneously highlighting and mocking her dreams of another life with a different name in another town. She knows she will never make it to Couer d’Alene. And yet, though Easy’s getting harder every day she carries on.

She carries on.

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Mary Gauthier writes songs of bright boned shocking intensity.

Before she took up songwriting in her thirties she had lived a life filled with more drama and incident than Dickens himself would have dared invented in a multi volume novel.

She has been; an orphaned foundling, a teenage runaway and a street and college student of philosophy. She has known the degredation of addiction and the unremitting daily struggles of recovery. She has been arrested and jailed and also triumphed as a highly successful Cajun Cook and Restaurateur.

All the while with her keen intelligence and moral rigour she was storing away these experiences so that when she came to write her own songs she could have no truck with dishonesty or glib sentimentality.

There is an almost brutal matter-of-factness in many of her songs.

She is able to honestly describe desperate lives lived the gutter because she has been there. There is respect but no romance in her descriptions of such lives.

It is the test of a true artist to be able to present recognisable living characters but not to idly judge them.

The reader or listener can do that if they feel comfortable casting a stone.

‘I Drink’ was played by Bob Dylan on one of his Theme Time Radio Hour radio programmes – an accolade given to very few contemporary songwriters.

Bob, the Keeper of American Song, would have recognised the spare elegance of the song and the craft involved in creating a wholly believable genealogy of alcoholism.

This is not the testament of someone who has won through.

It is the confession of someone anchored in addiction unblinkingly reporting on the history and daily realities of that condition.

The slowly dropping hours and self absorption of the habitual drinker are superbly evoked as the narrator relates the banal details of how he cooks his TV dinner and the flatly acknowledged realisation that the face in the mirror is the same as that of the father silhouetted in the lighter flame a generation earlier.

Mary Gauthier’s words, sung carefully with a court reporters calm and measured clarity, move beyond prose into the realm of folk poetry especially in the nursery rhyme chorus which hits home with the keening knell of pure truth.

As the silence descends at the end of the song you are left bereft and sadly aware of the terrible imprisoning and yet alluring power, for the prisoner, of such cycles of defeat and pain.

Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier with immense skill show us lives that but for fortune any one of us might have led or might be on the way to leading.

Their visions are not comfortable to confront but to avoid such visions is to impoverish our humanity and our moral imaginations.

So Pilgrim, as you listen remember that everyone you meet today and tomorrow is almost certainly in the middle of a much harder battle than you can see.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure that, wherever it comes from, I need a little mercy now.

Further Listening:

You can’t go wrong with these artists. All their CDs will repay your time with compound interest.

With Iris Dement I would start with, ‘My Life’ before moving on to, ‘Infamous Angel’, ‘Lifeline’ (a deeply moving gospel set), ‘The Way I Should’ and her comeback classic, ‘Sings The Delta’.

I was both impressed and moved by her CD, ‘The Trackless Woods’ from 2015 which Takes the Poems of the great Anna Akhamatova as the foundation for a  series of engrossing Songs.

With Mary Gauthier I would start with, ‘Drag Queens in Limousines’ and then move on to, ‘Mercy Now’, ‘The Foundling’, ‘Filth and Fire’ and ‘Trouble and Love’.

Mary’s latest project from 2018 is the very powerful, ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ which she wrote in collaboration with US Veterans and their families.

They are both well represented on YouTube and other sharing sites.

 

Carole King, Dusty Springfield, The Byrds, Nils Lofgren & Richard Thompson : Goin’ Back

A babe in arms.

A babe in your mother’s warm embracing arms.

Lifted up in the chill night air surrounded by heady scent of white blooms all the moon long.

Blanketed in sulphurous Fog you walk hand in hand with Dad and though you can’t see road or pavement and don’t know where you are going you do know you are safe and will arrive – because you are hand in hand with Dad.

The Walnut of the radiogram gleams to reflect your face.

And, when the knob is turned a lovely green light blushes the room.

You know you’re not allowed to switch it on.

But .. and  from the speakers emerges something wonderful, miraculous :

Don’t want your love anymore
Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown.

Now, the room is filled and your heart is filled and your soul is filled and you will never forget this moment.

Happy Highways.

Blue remembered hills.

Shining plain forever in the memory.

When you are small you are told and might believe you know nothing worth knowing.

Ah! but to be the prince of apple town.

To be green and carefree, huntsman and herdsman, in the Sun that is young once only.

First knowing.

First morning song.

Young and easy, oblivious of the mercy.

Angel infancy.

Shadows of eternity.

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

Oh, to travel back and tread again on that ancient track to the land of lost content.

The slender tops of fir trees close against the sky.

Now there’s more to do than watch my sailboat glide.

No more games to only pass the time.

Living life instead of counting years.

I’d rather see the world the way it used to be.

So catch me if you can I’m going back.

Going back.

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In 1966 Carole King and Gerry Goffin gave us a magic carpet ride song that looked poignantly back to the childhood land of lost content and tremulously forward to a world where thinking young and growing older is no sin.

A world where the game of life can be played to win.

Catch me if you can.

Streaming, filled with light, through the eye of a needle.

Going back.

Sing it for me Dusty.

Take me back.

Dusty Springfield.

Unquestionably thev finest pop/soul singer ever to come from the British Iles.

A singer of both power and delicacy.

Dusty finds the deep melancholy and the fragile hope in Goin’ Back.

Dusty knew that great songs were rare and precious things.

Time after time Dusty found depths of meaning within songs few had even guessed at.

Time after time singing these songs Dusty found something within them that brought out aspects of herself she had barely guessed at.

Beauty emerging out of Hide and seek with her fears and ours.

Catch me if you can ….

Now let’s fly high, eight miles high, with The Byrds for a panoramic take on Goin’ Back.

I think I’m goin’ back to the things I learned so well in my youth.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

 

Carole King left an indelible mark on the 1960s threading veins of pure gold through the decade with the songs she wrote with Gerry Goffin.

Come the 1970s she was ready to move to the centre of the stage and put her own stamp on the songs she had gifted to other singers and groups.

Listening to her version of Goin’ Back it occurs to me that she has rarely received due praise for the singer element in the Singer/Songwriter appellation so often ascribed to describe her solo records.

There is aching truth and no little heartbreak in the way she tells herself and us that she could recall a time when she wasn’t afraid to reach out to a friend.

Hide and seek.

Hide and seek.

Carole King’s songs reach out in faith and friendship.

Thinking young and growing older is no sin.

Plaing the game of life to win.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

Goin’ Back.

 

Nils Lofgren – Guitar Slinger for the greats.

Neil Young. Bruce Springsteen.

Yet, too often forgotten a very fine artist in his own right.

From his early years with Grin and throughout his solo albums you hear the sound of an extravagantly gifted musician whose greatest gift was the depth of heart he brought to every performance whether on record or on stage.

With Nils Goin’ Back really does become a magic carpet ride.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

Goin’ Back.

Happy Highways.

Blue remembered hills.

Shining plain Forever.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

I’m Goin’ Back.

Streaming, filled with life through the eye of a needle.

Goin’ Back.

Now, here’s that hidden track you sometimes find when you think the CD/LP has no more gifts to give.

Guitar Gurus Roger McGuinn and Richard Thompson with a 6 string colloquy.

Starry eyed and laughing.

Bright shoots of everlasting ness.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

Goin’ Back.

Goin’ Back.

Notes :

Thanks due to Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Hood, A E Houseman and Henry Vaughan for their wisdom and inspiration.

Look out for the annual St Patrick’s Parade series of posts starting on Sunday – this year celebrating Mná na hÉireann – The Women of Ireland.

The Penguins : Earth Angel (Street Corner Symphonies & Subway Psalms)

Street Corner Symphonies.

Subway Psalms.

Fountain flows of secular prayers unceasingly ascending to very Heaven.

Yearning, yearning, yearning.

A feeling in the heart igniting the spine.

Somewhere out there beyond the block there must, must, be someone waiting, yearning, believing, just like you.

The air is charged, vibrant.

Through the Ether you can hear the harmonies.

Through the Ether you can hear the echoes.

Listen!

Listen to The Harptones, The Orioles and The Five Satins.

Listen to The Cadillacs, The Charms and The Capris.

Listen to The Danleers, The Dubs and The Duprees.

Can’t you hear them singing just for you?

Listen to The Penguins.

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Oh, oh, the vision of your loveliness.

I hope and I pray.

I pray.

Oh, someday, someday, I’ll be the vision of your happiness.

Happiness. Happiness. Happiness.

Please be mine.

Darling dear.

Darling dear.

One Moonbeam.

Two Moonbeam.

A street corner symphony indeed.

A subway psalm for sure.

Oh to be just such a Fool.

A Fool in Love.

In Love.

Today, another ordinary/extraordinary Jukebox story surrounding a Doo Wop classic from 1954.

An ordinary/extraordinary story featuring:-

  • Two sets of high school friends recording a demo in a Los Angeles garage that goes on to sell at least 10 Million copies and feature in a succession of Hollywood movies.
  • A court case, with singing from the witness box, to determine who wrote the song and hence who gets the royalties (for it is a music business truth that where there’s a Hit it won’t be long before there’s a writ).
  • The near bankruptcy of the first independent record label to achieve a national smash hit.
  • One definite murder and one highly suspicious death.
  • A guest appearances by Frank Zappa.

So, let’s begin with The Penguins.

They took their name from ‘Willie’ the iconic mascot for the Kool Cigarette brand.

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The members who recorded, ‘Earth Angel’ were Cleve Duncan (lead vocal), Curtis Williams (bass), Dexter Tisby (tenor) and Bruce Tate (baritone).

Curtis and Bruce were alumni of Jefferson High while Cleve and Dexter met at Fremont High.

The piano on the recording was played by Gaynel Hodge (who had previously been in The Hollywood Flames with Curtis Williams and who would go on to be a founder member of The Platters).

No one is sure who played the drums though some speculate that Bongo King Preston Epps was in the garage on that fateful October day.

It seems that Earth Angel emerged out of the collective consciousness and unconscious of Curtis Williams, Gaynel Hodge and Jesse Belvin (a prolific songwriter and melting vocalist who had been their mentor in The Hollywood Flames).

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Jesse’s song from 1952, ‘Dream Girl’ is an obvious influence on ‘Angel’ as is The Swallows’, ‘Will You be Mine’.

Close listening to Patti Page’s, ‘I Went to Your Wedding’ (which The Hollywood Flames had demoed) and The Flames own, ‘I Know’  will reveal pre echoes of Earth Angel.

And. there’s a definite sonic signature traceable back to Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘Blue Moon’ which occupied some part of everybody’s musical memory.

When the royalties battle came to court Jesse Belvin’s virtuoso vocals convinced the Judge that he deserved his share of the greenback bonanza along with Curtis and Gaynel.

The Penguins were in the 2190 West 30th Street Garage because that was where Dootone Label owner, Dootsie Williams, liked to record.

The Garage Studio was owned by Ted Brinson, a relative of Dootsie’s, who had been a Bass player for the Jimmy Lunceford and Andy Kirk swing bands.

Dootsie is the beaming bespectacled gent below next to Johnny Otis a legendary black music mover and shaker who wearing his Disc Jockey hat (Johnny wore a lot of hats) gave, ‘Earth Angel’ many a spin to push it to the top of the LA Charts.

Dootsie heard something winning in The Penguins sound and, as a music publisher, thought that their songs might set the cash registers chiming.

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Thinking of those cash registers and Juke Box Nickels it wasn’t, ‘Earth Angel’ that Dootsie heard as the Hit.

No, he preferred, ‘Hey Senorita’ and that was the official ‘A’ side when the record was issued (the choice perhaps not unconnected with Dootie’s name having a writing credit on Senorita!).

Now, I like the Latin feel of Senorita and the heart racing bongos (hello Preston!) but even in 1954 I could have told you that the treasure was on the ‘B’ side.

And, if you want to know how a record will sell ask a man who sells records and then ask a man who spins records on the radio.

They know!

Dootise took an acetate of the two sides to John Dolphin of Dolphin’s of Hollywood an all night record shop and a network centre for the black community.

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Broadcasting out of Dolphin’s front window was White Disc Jockey Dick, ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg who attracted a loyal audience across the Black and Latino communities.

That’s Huggy on the right below.

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John Dolphin and Huggy Boy told Dootise that there was there was absolutely no need for any instrumental overdubs as the ravishing beauty of, ‘Earth Angel’ lay in the impassioned foregrounded vocals.

Still, it was Senorita which went out as the A side but radio DJs and the public were in no doubt – flip that platter and give us more of, ‘Earth Angel’!

And, that’s exactly what happened.

Earth Angel tore up the charts in every territory and raced to the top of the R&B list and steadily climbed the Billboard Pop ladder.

Dootsie pressed as many sides as he could though the strain on his cash flow pushed him close to bankruptcy as the distributors took their time reimbursing him for the sales.

Eventually Dootsie made sweet dollars from Earth Angel as did Jesse, Curtis and Gaynel.

As for the rest of The Penguins the story was not so happy.

Through the smarts of Buck Ram (pictured below) they got out of their contract with Dootone and landed with major label Mercury.

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Buck’s interest in The Penguins was not perhaps as fervid as his interest in the group he insisted be part of the ‘transfer deal’ – a group called The Platters for whom he would write a series of immortal hits including, ‘The Great Pretender’!

So, while The Platters were launched into the showbiz stratosphere The Penguins languished and never really troubled the charts again.

Yet, they carried with them forever more memories of high times at the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas and their name in lights at the gala reopening of Harlem’s Small’s Paradise.

They played Alan Freed’s Labor Day show at the Brooklyn Paramount with legends such as Fats Domino, the Teenagers, the Cleftones, the Harptones and the Moonglows.

And, deep in their hearts they knew that on an October day in 1954 they had made a record that would never die.

Cleve Duncan led a version of The Penguins for decades before his death in November 2012. It was the power of the plea in his tenor lead along with Dexter Tisby’s tender stewardship of the bridge section that made, ‘Earth Angel’ so distinctive and unforgettable.

In one of those, ‘you couldn’t make it up’ happenstances a deeply knowledgeable fan of The Penguins and all the greater and lesser Doo Wop groups was none other than Frank Zappa and when he wrote a song, ‘Memories of El Monte’ in 1963 he turned to Cleve Duncan’s Penguins to bring it to charming life.

El Monte is based on the chords of Earth Angel and celebrates rock ‘n ‘roll dances at El Monte Legion Stadium where the young Frank and like minded teenagers – Black, White and Latino mixed to listen to and dance to music they all loved.

The song and Cleve’s lovely vocal hymns The Heartbeats, Marvin & Johnny and The Medallions among others.

A wonderful homage that sends you right back to the original because through The Jukebox we can travel back to the past and find a sound and a love that will always last.

Earth Angel … Earth Angel .. will you be mine?

My darling dear  .. love you all the time

I’m just a fool .. a fool in love with you

Earth Angel the one I adore

Love you forever and ever more.

And, that’s how long, ‘Earth Angel’ will be listened to and swooned over.

Forever and ever more.

In memory of Cleve Duncan 1935 – 2012, Curtis Williams 1934 – 1979 and Bruce Tate 1937 – 1973. Wishing long life and good health to the surviving Dexter Tisby.

Notes :

Those murders?

Sadly John Dolphin was sadly shot to death in 1958 in his own store. A murder that was witnessed by Bruce Johnston ( later in the Beach Boys) and sandy Nelson (of Let There Be Drums fame).

Dolphin’s death was a profound loss to his community where he had been prominent as a business man, music promoter and producer and networker.

Jesse Belvin died in a car crash with mysterious circumstances on a tour of The South at the age of 27.

Jesse’s signature song was the exquisite, ‘Goodnight My Love’ which pioneer Rock ‘n ‘ Roll DJ Alan Freed used as his show ending song.

His 2 LPs, ‘ Just Jesse Belvin’ and, ‘Mr Easy’ are wonderful records ideal for late night reverie listening.

Dick ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg 1932 – 1960 was a Rhythm & Blues and Latino music Evangelist.

The DJ persona in Dave Alvin’s great song ‘Border Radio’ (previously featured here on The Jukebox) is believed to be Huggy Boy.