The Young Rascals : Blissful Blue Eyed Summer Soul!

‘The Rascals are Coming! The Rascals are Coming!’ (Scoreboard announcement at The Beatles Shea Stadium concert)

‘My God, you guys really are white!’ (Otis Redding on encountering The Rascals in a neighbouring studio)

‘Some people may not realize it, but The Rascals were the first Rock Band in the world … okay over in England, some guys were making some noise. But in the real world, in the centre of the universe – New Jersey – The Rascals were the first band!’ (Steve Van Zandt speech for The Rascals Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction)

There’s always one.

One Summer of your youth that stays shimmering in your mind for evermore.

For me it was the long, once in a century, extraordinarily hot, Summer of 1976.

A Summer when I was not yet 21.

A Summer when my head and my entire being was aflame, aflame.

A Summer when the waters of The Cam glistened silver in the Summer sun.

A Summer when the Colleges of Cambridge never looked lovelier as I piloted (very inexpertly) down the River.

And, as always, a soundtrack in my head.

Summer Songs. Summer Songs.

And, there’s always one song that summons your shimmering Summer like no other.

For me, in the Summer of 1976, it was ‘Groovin’ a song of gossamer grace recorded by The Young Rascals in 1967.

Now, I don’t know about you but when I hear, ‘Groovin” the jazzments in my mind approach something like ecstasy!

Eddie Brigati, co-writer with Felix Cavaliere, of this miraculous song recalls that at the time they were living in a hotel right off Central Park in New York City.

Down the crowded avenue they would go on a Sunday afternoon doing anything they wanted to do!

When you’re in the prime of youth and the world is opening up for you to explore and conquer it’s indeed hard to imagine anything better than groovin’ on a sunny afternoon with the one closest to your heart.

You can just feel that life is getting better and better – endlesssly.

Let the future and responsibilities wait; for now smile, take a deep breath of fresh air and you’ll hear yourself saying, ‘Ah-ha-ha, Ah-ha-ha’ and you’ll remember those moments, those immortal moments, for the rest of your life wherever life takes you thereafter.

Groovin’ was an unstoppable Nunber One record that sat atop Billboard for four straight weeks.

Who wouldn’t be charmed by its relaxed groove? There’s a lazy Cuban feel to the recording emphasised by the presence of congas but not drums. The great Chuck Rainey on bass gives the song liquid momentum as does Michael Weinstein on harmonica.

The glory of the song though, as with all Rascals recordings, lies in the seductive beauty of their vocals.

Felix on lead with wonderful harmonic support from David Brigati (the Fifth Rascal).

Gene Cornish is there on guitar filling out the sound which is topped off with the birdsong!

Put that all together and you have, as Eddie Brigati said, ‘that simple little summer song that everybody knows’.

Amazingly, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records thought the song would not appeal as it was so different to the more boisterous R&B and Soul sounds Rascals fans had come to expect from them.

A clear case of underestimating the public taste!

Luckily, a figure seemingly ever present around the music scene in 60s New York, Disc Jockey Murray the K, bearded Jerry Wexler and argued with convincing force that Groovin’ was a sure fire Number One smash!

Now this wasn’t the first Number One The Rascals would achieve and it wouldn’t be their last.

Their debut at the summit of the charts in February 1966 was with one of the great rave-up records of all time, ‘Good Lovin’.

If you pair it with, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group featuring the teenage Steve Winwood you have one hell of a party going on!

You got the fever? Here’s the cure!

One, two, three!

Versions of the song had previously been recorded by Lemme B Good (Limmie Snell) and The Olympics (benefitting from the production smarts of Jerry Ragavoy).

However, neither of those worthy platters could match the joyous, adrenaline fuelled, ‘I may just die on the spot’ stairway to heaven rush of The Rascals version.

Tom Dowd, legendary producer and engineer at Atlantic, captured the attack of The Rascals live sound perfectly – you feel you’re in the middle of that party with them and you never want the song to end even though you can’t possibly keep dancing at this rate for more than another sixty seconds!

On drums Dino Danelli demonstrates what a wonderfully drivin’ sticksman he was while the transcendent Hammond Organ break by Felix is playing on a loop in my head since the first day I heard it.

Gene Cornish provides wonderfully scuzzy guitar licks that don’t let up throughout.

As for the let’s start in overdrive and then really put the hammer down vocals you can hear why Otis might have been surprised at their complexions!

The Rascals, 1940s Baby Boomers all, had grown up in the New York/New Jersey area and all had born again experiences when they heard the likes of Ray Charles, Little Richard and Fats Domino on the airwaves.

Also important in the development of their sound was the ethereal DooWop singing of The Harptones and The Moonglows.

Especially epiphanic for Felix would be discovering Jazzman Jimmy Smith and the awesome power of The Hammond Organ (the same lightning bolt would strike Steve Winwood, Georgie Fame and Ian McLagan over in England).

After serving apprenticeships in local bar bands they came together as members of Joey Dee and the Starliters (David Brigati bringing them in). Touring Europe playing, ‘Peppermint Twist’ for all they were worth they found themselves on a bill with The, then unknown in America, Beatles.

The dime dropped that they should be front men not side men!

Soon they were tearing up venues like Manhattan’s The Phone Booth and coming to the attention of Promoter Extraordinaire Sid Bernstein who got them signed to Atlantic (their first white act!).

The Rascals catalogue in their glory days, 1965 to 1968, gleams with musical treasure.

There was something about The Rascals that chimed with the times. This is reflected in their third and final Number One record from 1968, ‘People Got To Be Free’ which was a fervent and frank civil rights anthem.

Undeniably preachy and of its time. Yet, yet – wrapped in glorious vocals and a swirling magic carpet of guitars, percussion and horns. I’m always in favour of anthems you can really shake a tail feather to!

And, you know, looking around this mean old world, who can disagree that the train of freedom, for so many, is long, long overdue.

As with so many 60s Groups ‘Personal Differences’ and the relentless grind of searching for the next hit took their toll on The Rascals and it would not be until well into the 21st Century that all the original members got together (for a theatrical celebration of their career devised by über fan Steve Van Zandt).

Most of all I love The Rascals for the youthful Joie de Vivre of their sound.

There’s something enormously affecting in the blend of their voices and the reaching for the stars arrangements of their songs.

I’m going to leave you with a personal favourite that has a yearning and tremulous charm that never palls.

And, that’s surely something to celebrate in world that’s constantly changing.

Notes:

There’s an invaluable compilation of The Rascals work on Rhino Records. Tracks I return to over and over include, ‘I’ve Been Lonely Too Long’ ‘A Beautiful Morning’ ‘A Girl Like You’ and ‘Mustang Sally’.

Fans of the French Ye-Ye sound should check out Nicoletta’s version of ‘How Can I Be Sure’ which went out under the title, ‘Je Ne Pense Qu’a T’aimer’.

Carol King, James Taylor, Laura Nyro and The Drifters : Up on the Roof

 

Brooklyn 1962

Rooftop Thoughts: 

Billy Snr

When I get home I’m tired and beat. That’s why I come up here.

Up here, up on the roof where the air is fresh and sweet.

Up here it’s as quiet as Brooklyn gets.

A man can drop his shoulders and take a deep breath and let his mind roam free.

Last week I was forty four years old. Forty Four!

My folks married in ’17. A War wedding.

Dad said to Mom, ‘I won’t wait. The world won’t wait. Let’s get married now!’

I hop they had a sweet time in the short time they had together.

Dad never made it home from France. Never made it home.

Two things in life I’d like to do.

Take Kathleen and Mom with me to lay some flowers and say a prayer at Dad’s grave.

And see Billy Boy and Maureen go to College and make something of themselves.

Oh, and if I could turn back the hands of time I’d love to see The Dodgers play one more time at Ebbets Field.

One more Lucky and I’ll go back down.

Maureen (16)

Up here, up on the roof, the stars put on a show for free.

Which is just as well ’cause Mom and Dad ain’t exactly giving me a free pass to see any of the shows I’d like to see at The Fox or The Paramount.

They’d keep me out too late and I might meet the ‘wrong sort of boy’.

Of course anyone outside an apostle is the wrong sort of boy.

And, Jimmy would definitely be the wrong sort of boy.

Strike One – He ain’t Catholic.

Strike Two – He’s 21 and that according to them is way too old for me.

Strike Three – He’s a College Boy with too much money and not enough sense.

But, oh but, but, but Jimmy dances like a dream, he makes me laugh and he makes me feel like no one ever knew me before he met me.

I won’t be able to see him for two whole days.

So I come up here on the roof and turn the dial on the radio to WINS and when ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’ comes on I know that he will be singing along too just a few blocks away.

And the stars above are our stars and it’s our show.

Billy Boy (14)

Up here, Up on the roof you’re immune from all that rat race noise down in the street.

Two places in the world where I can be myself and let my thoughts roam free.

This rooftop and The Central Library.

You go in through those Bronze doors and you feel you are somebody and they got a million books.

A million books!

You read a book like ‘Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ or ‘The Invisible Man’ and pretty soon you know that there’s a whole lot more to the world than a Brooklyn tenement.

I never had any interest in Baseball even when Dad took me to see The Dodgers play at Ebbets Field.

But, I liked it being just me and him together and I liked the names – Campanella, Snider, Reece, Robinson, Koufax.

Up here, up on the roof looking up at the stars I feel like I’m going to write my own stories one day.

Kathleen (35)

Up here, up on the roof it can seem as if my cares just drift right into space.

Thinking of Bill, Maureen and Billy Boy if only I could just wish and make their worlds trouble free.

I was only 16 when I met Bill. And he was all of 21.

He said I made him laugh and that when I danced with him for the first time he felt more alive than ever before.

And, he ain’t been anything but sweet to me since the day we met.

He misses the Dad he never knew.

Maybe I can persuade him to take that trip to France – what else are savings for?

Kathleen has grown up so fast. She’s almost as mature as she thinks she is.

Bill wants to shield her from the wicked world. I guess that’s Dad’s and Daughters.

Maybe it’s time we invited that boy round. You never know Bill might take to him.

Maureen says he’s a lifelong Dodgers fan.

And, Billy Boy. He’s so quiet. His nose never out of a book.

Other Moms got to worry about their boys and gangs.

All I got to worry about is how much time he spends at The Central Library!

Maybe I should encourage him to write stories of his own.

Somehow up here, up on the roof I feel everything is going to turn out all right.

Up here. Up on the roof.

 

 

In 1962 Carol King and Gerry Goffin, one of the greatest partnerships in songwriting history wrote, ‘Up on the Roof’ a song which, to this day, seems to whisper enchantments in the New York night air.

The recording by The Drifters with Rudy Lewis’ magical lead vocal is the very definition of romantic uptown Rhythm and Blues.

Such a song will always be sung.

For Carol’s enticing melody and for Gerry’s heartfelt, heart stirring lyric.

Carol and James Taylor provide contrasting meditations on a theme before the inimitable Laura Nyro lifts our hearts and souls into the empyrean beyond.

Right into space where it’s peaceful as can be.

 

John Lennon loved ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie Hamlin (RIP) – here’s why!

‘[Angel Baby] … This is by a 15 year old girl from National City California named Rosie. This is going to be a hit Guys and Gals’ – DJ Alan Freed on K-Day Radio, November 1960.

‘This here is one of my all time favourite songs. Send my love to Rosie – wherever she may be’ (John Lennon)

I was saddened today to learn of the death of Rosie Hamlin at the age of 71.

In tribute I am reblogging my post on her classic song, ‘Angel Baby’.

Sometimes when the stars and tides are in perfect alignment and the Muses are indulgent a moment of inspiration can visit an artist who may never be granted such a blessing again.

So it was with Rosie.

Yet, we cannot live on Bach, Bob Dylan and The Beatles alone!

Rosie’s moment of glory will live forever because it captures an eternal yearning in all of us.

A yearning that stays within you no matter your age.

Nine or Ninety your heart your heart still yearns to skip a beat.

No one wants to be blue and alone.

Some part of us always believes in Angels.

Especially if they sing like Rosie Hamlin …. ooooh … oooh …oooh …

Angel Baby will always have pride of place on my Jukebox.

May she rest in peace.

1960 was a momentous year. In Greensboro, North Carolina four black students are refused service at a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s. They begin a sit in protest that is repeated throughout Southern States that summer as Civil Rights protests become a powerful political, social and cultural movement.

High over the vast territory of the Soviet Union a U2 spy plane piloted by Gary Powers is shot down triggering a rapid rise in the temperature of the Cold War.

In November John Fitzgerald Kennedy becomes the 35th President of The United States seeming to symbolise a new era of optimism – Camelot on the Potomac.

Meanwhile in a former aircraft hanger in San Marcos California, on 2 track machine, a 15 year old Mexican-American girl called Rosalie (Rosie) Hamlin lays down a song she had written a year earlier to celebrate her first love.

A song that John Lennon then an unreconstructed leather clad Rock ‘n’ Roller with a scarifying, scabrous, Scouse wit will remember, with love, to the end of his days.

That song, ‘Angel Baby’ features an ethereal vocal by Rosie that will never be forgotten by anyone who hears it. It’s the sound of a true, innocent heart filled, full to bursting, with delirious youthful passion.

It’s the sound of the children of Neverland wheeling in the heavens as they fly straight on to another rosy morning.

And, if in your venerable age and wisdom you shake your head at such simple feeling I’m here to tell you that you are too old brother, too old sister.

Every time I hear, ‘Angel Baby’ I’m teleported back to my 14 year old self when there were as many possibilities of love and longing for love as there were stars in the night sky.

Sing it Rosie, sing it for the 14 year still living somewhere inside us all.

I love the Sputnik guitar intro to Angel Baby. I love the sense that there is no artifice at all here – nothing getting in the way of a distillation of a pure oceanic feeling.

It doesn’t matter a hoot that the bass player, Tony Gomez, had to play an untutored plodding sax solo because the regular saxman Al Barrett had to stay home because his mother wouldn’t let him out until he’d mowed the lawn (!)

What matters is that Rosie with David Ponci, Noah Tafolla and Carl Von Goodat made a record that hummed and crackled with the music of the spheres.

At first Rosie couldn’t get anyone in the music business to be interested in her record. Then she had the bright idea of getting Kresge’s department store in San Diego to play the record in their listening booths (remember listening booths?) and lo and behold the kids of San Diego found that they knew exactly, exactly, what Rosie was singing about.

They began clamouring to buy Angel Baby so that they could call up it’s magic anytime they wanted. In the event, ‘Angel Baby’ was issued by Highland Records in November 1960 and went on to hit the top 5 in the Billboard charts.

In a tale too tawdry for the telling Rosie was denied composer credit and royalties for decades. She went on to record an early 60s LP for Brunswick Records before slipping out of the limelight into family life with only brief, subsequent forays into the nostalgia circuit.

Yet, every time she steps up to a microphone or is heard on the radio crooning, ‘Its just like heaven being here with you, You’re like an angel, too good to be true’ she conjures up a miracle.

In late 1973 John Lennon was in a bad way. It seemed everything was broken. He sought oblivion in drug and alcohol fuelled binges that became the stuff of legend. Groping towards a way out he decided to record an album of songs from his youth, songs that had been favourites of his before the fame and the madness took over.

Songs from the days when John Lennon was above all else a man who loved songs and singers. A man who longed to write, perform and record songs of his own which could be set alongside the original mother lode of Rock ‘n’ Roll classics.

It’s no surprise that the album features songs by Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richardand Fats Domino – these were the songs the Hamburg Beatles had played and played untilthey were second nature.

Yet, Lennon the leather throated rocker always had a softer aspect reflected in his love for the stoic, broken hearted ballads of Arthur Alexander.

And, in his, ‘lost weekend’ amid the too many musicians, too many producers and engineers chaos of the, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ sessions he reached back for an artless song that expressed something beyond the ability of words to fully express.

He reached back for the sound of:’Ooh, ooh, I love you, oh ooh I do, No one could love you like I do, Oooh, ooh, Oooh, Oooh, ooh, ooh , ooh, ooh, ooh …………. ‘

He reached back for, ‘Angel Baby’. And he sang it with all his heart.

Thanks to Rosie for the lightning strike that set a match to many a heart.

This post written on December 8 2015 – the 35th Anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Thanks to John for the meteor shower of genius that lit up the entire world. Roll on John, Roll on John, Roll on John. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam

 

Gerry & The Pacemakers : Anthems from Liverpool

British Beat – Some Other Guys 4

‘People they rush everywhere

Each with their own secret care’

(Gerry Marsden – Ferry Cross The Mersey)

Liverpool in the 1950s was a city filled with youthful dreamers.

Of course, the quartet of dreamers who would go on to launch millions of dreams across the entire globe were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – The Beatles.

But, dreaming alongside them and in their wake were thousands of other young men from the port city.

Dreamers who had, like The Beatles, been electrified by the records brought home to Liverpool by sailors returning from America (for a more detailed introduction on this topic and the City of Liverpool see the opening paragraphs of : The Swinging Blue Jeans : Merseybeat Kings – The Hippy Hippy Shake, You’re No Good)

Prominent among these dreamers were two brothers from Dingle in Liverpool; Freddie (born 23 October 1940) and Gerry (born 24 September 1942).

Their father, also Fred, played the Ukulele and encouraged his sons to take up music.

Fred chose the drums (initially playing percussion on a chocolate box tin!).

Gerry took up the guitar and encouraged by family reactions to his spirited rendition of, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ elected himself lead singer.

Skiffle sessions at local halls led to performances at larger venues. Les Chadwick joined on bass and later another Les, Les Maguire, joined on keyboards to complete the classic line up of Gerry and the Pacemakers.

From 1960 onwards they built up a devoted following in their home town with many shows at The Cavern – often alternating with The Beatles.

They had the great good fortune to be added at the last minute to a Liverpool show by the great Gene Vincent.

Like The Beatles they honed their playing chops and their stamina by playing extended sets at Hamburg’s Top Ten Club. They became a tight Beat Group able to hold a crowd as they lashed into R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll classics.

Gerry was a natural front man with boundless energy and bonhomie.

He was the epitome of what is known in Britain as a, ‘Cheeky Chappie’ – the kind of man who always sees the glass half-full not half-empty and who anticipates the rainbow following the rain.

These qualities and the unity of the group was spotted by Brian Epstein.

 

He signed them to a management deal (his second after The Beatles) and persuaded Producer George Martin to bring them on to EMI’s Columbia label.

This proved to be a very astute move for all parties.

For, incredibly, the first three Gerry and the Pacemakers singles all went to Number One in the UK Charts!

They began in March and May 1963 with two (to my mind cheesy) Mitch Miller songs ‘How Do You Do It’ and ‘I Like It’.

Then in October 1963 they issued a record which has become a part of the very fabric of life in Liverpool, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

The group had been performing the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein Show Tune for several years and it had always proved a Show Stopper.

George Martin, drawing on his classical training, provided a melting string arrangement to frame Gerry’s fervent vocal.

Listening to Gerry sing here it becomes apparent that while his appearance and manner exuded sunny optimism his greatest gift as a singer was to embody shadow and melancholy.

Indeed, taking the three records featured on The Jukebox today into account I have no hesitation in crowning Gerry as the Monarch of Mersey Melancholy!

Gerry has the musical and emotional intelligence to trust in the craft of the melody and lyric and present them powerfully but not hysterically.

So he is walking on – not running.

There is a mature determination to outface the dark in this performance. Though he may have to button his coat and turn up his collar against a biting wind he has faith that every dark night gives way to the dawn.

Gerry’s vocal makes you believe in the sweet silver song of the lark and the promise of the golden sky.

‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ almost immediately on issue became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club. The players run out to the song and to hear it sung by the massed ranks of The Kop is one of the greatest sports experiences.

It has taken on added depth and poignancy for Liverpool fans following the appalling tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

Every rendition of the song is in a sense a memorial to the 96.

Gerry and the Pacemakers had become big stars in the UK and in April 1964 they issued the record which, aided by appearances on Ed Sullivan and the overwhelming impact of The Beatles, would become their breakthrough in the American market, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying’ which made the top 5 in Billboard.

This is my favourite of all their records and a gold plated 60s classic.

Again George Martin was a key figure with a lovely arrangement expertly balancing strings, woodwinds and vocals to hugely winning effect.

Gerry’s regal melancholy is in full flow here on a song credited to all four members of the group.

Listening I imagine a shattered heart which has spent a long night without the balm of sleep. Yet, sometimes those white sleepless nights lead to moments of sudden, undeniable, clarity.

It’s Over. Over.

Looking out a window, almost too tired for tears, you can only wait for the Moon to cede to the Sun in the heavens and believe in the latter’s restorative warmth.

‘But don’t forget that love’s a game,

And it can always come again,

Oh don’t let the sun catch you cryin’,

Don’t let the sun catch you cryin’, oh no, 

Oh, oh, oh …. ‘

The last record I’m featuring here today is from late 1964/early 1965. It’s another record deeply redolent of life in the group’s native Liverpool, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’.

 

 

 

There’s something about the tidal sway of a Ferry trip that encourages reverie and contemplation.

This is beautifully captured in this Gerry Marsden song.

The record begins with the quiet assurance of a Ferry slipping away from the shore. Gerry’s plangent tones take us on a journey reminding us all of the consolations of the familiar:

‘We don’t care what your name is boy – we’ll never turn you away’.

We all need such a place for life does go on day after day and beating hearts can’t help but be torn in so many ways.

Gerry and the Pacemakers broke up a group in late 1966 but the above trio of records will surely always earn them a secure place in the affections of those who need a reminder to not be afraid of the dark and to hold their head up high.

Dedicated to the memory of Freddie Marsden (died December 9 2006)

Wishing Gerry Marsden a speedy recovery from his recent ill health.

Make sure you check out the three other Posts in the ‘Some Other Guys’ series featuring The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans & Billy Fury.

Christmas Cornucopia 2016 : Seventh Day

Seventh Day :

A Painting by Tintoretto (1518 to 1594)

A Poem by Richard Middleton (1882 to 1911)

Music by Gluck sung by Janet Baker, Chris Isaak and John Prine

 

tinteretto-nativity

Tintoretto’s wondrous Nativity shows how, ‘The Light Of The World’ once confined to a manger within a rude stable began to bestow grace on all the surrounding world.

This a dynamic painting which foreshadows the mission of redemption the tiny babe was born to accomplish.

 

 

Janet Baker is an artist of the highest order.

Her utter technical command and her ability to unerringly find emotional truth resulted in a legendary career garlanded with landmark recordings and never to be forgotten stage performances.

Her performance of, ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ will live with me always as I make my journey through the dark wood.

Onward!

Well our Sleigh has travelled more than halfway now on our journey to celebrate ChristmasTide.

Yesterday’s choices put me in something of a wistful contemplative mood and led to today’s selections by Chris Isaak and John Prine.

Christmas is a time when we often turn our minds to reflection on the health of our relationships. Relationships with our parents, our siblings, our children and our spouses or partners.

And, we remember bitterly or with rueful affection the relationships of old which are now part of our history – part of the person staring back at us in the mirror.

Christmas can be a healing and nurturing time for relationships it can also be the occasion for exhausting, tearful sunderings which will sully the season for years or decades to come.

As in all things some will say you get the Christmas your life through the preceding year has mapped out for you.

I now present a ballad of loss and longing from the golden boy out of Stockton, California – Chris Isaak. It’s not his fault that he looks like a matinee idol and that the microphone loves him almost as much as the camera.

‘Christmas On TV’ tells the sorry tale which Isaak sings without over emoting of a bereft husband with his nose pressed to the window glass watching the Christmas celebrations of his ex-wife and her well heeled new beau.

Though he’s only across the street from the happy pair (or so they seem to him) he might as well be a million miles away. It’s so easy to be all alone in the midst of the crowd as the carols play and the lights twinkle.

Sometimes only fortitude, a good whiskey and a ballad in blue will get you through.

Merry Christmas to the lost and the lonely, the abandoned, the abused and the outcasts.

 

Next John Prine who sits at the top table of American songwriters leaning back in his chair with either a rueful smile or a goofy grin depending on the circumstances of the day.

Prine has a glorious gift for examining the human heart and it’s myriad joys and travails with a the precision of a tender surgeon. It seems as if he has watched carefully and listened closely as he has moved through life – building up a store of experiences he can hone into humorous shaggy dog stories, touching love songs or heartbreaking tales of misspent or misshapen lives.

 

 

John Prine has wisdom which he wears lightly – we can all learn a lot from leaning in when he speaks.

Very few songwriters could match the songwriting carpentry Prine demonstrates in, Christmas In Prison’. I remember my intake of appreciative breath when I first heard the lines:

‘I dream of her always even when I don’t dream – her name’s on my tongue and her blood’s in my stream’.

The Big House searchlight spotlights the snowflakes like dust in the sun and the prisoners aching for those they love outside the walls make do with Turkey and pistols carved out of wood.

They’re all homesick waiting for eternity to release them. In the meantime nothing to do but sing up and hope the homesick blues fade away for one night at least.

John Prine has a heart as big as any goddamn jail and if I’m ever in Prison it’s his songs I would sing as the doors clanged shut each night.

Today’s poem, ‘The Carol Of The Poor Children’ is by Richard Middleton.

‘Are we naked, mother, and are we starving-poor
Oh, see what gifts the kings have brought outside the stable door
Are we cold, mother, the ass will give his hay
To make the manger warm and keep the cruel winds away
We are the poor children, but not so poor who sing Our Carols with our voiceless hearts to greet the new-born king
On this night of all nights, when in the frosty sky A new star, a kind star is shining on high!’.

 

On the cover of Sergeant Pepper: Dion – Runaround Sue!

You may recall that in the recent post about Captain Beefheart I mentioned selecting The Beatles, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ LP from my vinyl shelves.

That storied record is famous not only for its treasury of superb songs but also for its endlessly intriguing cover which features a gallery of contemporary and historical cultural icons.

The Beatles, typically eclectic, choices included Carl Jung, Oliver Hardy, Sonny Liston, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Karl Marx, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and Albert Stubbins (look him up!)

Surprisingly, only two contemporary American musicians made the hallowed cover.

Inevitably, one was Bob Dylan, who was an enormously influential figure in the development of The Beatles songwriting.

The other American legend they selected, proof of their unending devotion to the primal spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was none other than Dion Francis DiMucci – the King of The Bronx and one of the very greatest artists in the history of the music.

Dion for an astonishing seven decades has shown himself to be a superlative singer with the ability to make songs come thrillingly alive.

Tracing his career you will find magnificent records displaying his empathy and mastery of virtually the entire spectrum of American roots music.

So, with The Belmonts we have the exuberant Doo-Wop of, ‘I Wonder Why’ and the delirious Pop angst of, ‘ A Teenager in Love’.

As a solo act he produced electrifying Rock ‘n’ Roll in, ‘The Wanderer’  and deep insights into the Blues with, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and the scarifying, ‘Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms’).

As a singer-songwriter he was capable of a bone chilling confessional threnody like, ‘Your Own Backyard’ and the utterly charming, ‘New York City Song’.

He was quick to spot the distinctive talents of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as his must hear covers of, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and, ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ demonstrate in spades.

For insight into life on the gritty New York Streets only Lou Reed comes near Dion’s epic, ‘Midtown American Street Gang’.

You want Gospel balm? Listen up to the exquisite entreaty of Dion’s, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’.

Taken all in all Dion’s catalogue stands as the autobiography of an always questing pilgrim soul and the blazing testament of a true American Master.

And he did all this battling heroin addiction.

Notwithstanding the excellence of all the above tracks when it came to selecting a record to take its place on The Immortal Jukebox I didn’t hesitate for a micro-second.

No, it has to be, has to be, just has to be, ‘Runaround Sue’ a record I love to the point of near insanity.

Take it from Thom – no one has ever sung a Rock ‘n’ Roll song with such enthralling energy and sheer swagger as Dion does here!

Listen, people let me out you wise …

Great Gosh A Mighty!

Dion’s singing here leaves me exultant and breathless with joy filled admiration.

As he sings you are swept along on a magic carpet of delight almost sure there’s no mountain or skyscraper you couldn’t nonchalantly soar over as you follow Dion’s imperious vocal.

Listen, people what I’m telling you.

When it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll singing Dion ain’t just the King of The Bronx!

No, he’s The Guy. The Guy who knows. The Guy who knows!

Where did all this mastery come from?

Why from Prospect Avenue, Belmont, The Bronx, New York City – that’s where.

As a  young boy growing up he was surrounded by a vibrant Italian/American community where the streets were alive with song – operatic arias, Tin Pan Alley crooning.

And from the stoops and the subways groups of young kids with hope in their hearts sending harmonies soaring high into the New York night sky.

As he sat on the fire escape shooting the breeze he was glued to the radio. Through the sacred ether came the transporting, life changing, life defining, sounds of Doo- Wop, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Unforgettable, emotion charged voices, voices like those of Hank Williams and Sam Cooke seemed to summon his own voice.

So, as a young man, seeking to find his own identity, he found that he had been blessed with a gift. A gift which would win him the admiration of the local bloods and the local belles.

And soon, when that sensational voice was captured on tape, the admiration of the whole wide world!

Dion brings all his heritage and all gifts to Runaround Sue.

There is love and laughter and life in abundance in every syllable that Dion sings.

So, he can invest deep emotion into wordless swoops and delicately evoke the romance of the touch of her hair and the (still felt and much missed) warmth of her lost embrace.

As Dion sings the story is sad but true. Everyone has had their heart broken by someone who ran around.

You don’t want to cry. But you do. You do.

He sings, ‘Runaround Sue’ like a man creating a moral and a story to console himself as he walks home. And as he walks he finds that his downcast grimace turns into a wry smile before becoming a broad grin.

Then he begins to laugh.

Laugh, with love in his heart as he admits to himself just how how much of a fool he has been.

Perhaps the beginning of wisdom is the admission we are all fools.

Fools for Love. Fools for Love.

And long may it remain so.

Notes:

The superb backing vocals on Runaround Sue are provided by The Del-Satins.

Runaround Sue was co-written by Ernie Maresca.

It was, of course, a multi million selling Number One on the 1961 Billboard Charts.

I have made it a point of honour to own every Record Dion has ever made.

For those of you yet to share my obsession as well as all the tracks referred to above I recommend:

‘The Very Best Of Dion & The Belmonts’ on One Day Music

‘Yo Frankie’ on Arista

‘New Masters’ on Collectables

‘Bronx in Blue’ and ‘Son of Skip James’ on SPV

‘New York Is My Home’ on Blue Horizon

‘Bronx Blues’ and ‘The Road I’m On’ on Columbia.

Dion’s autobiography, ‘The Wanderer’ is a fascinating read.

However, to my mind the most revealing insight into his life can be found on an article he wrote about his return to Catholicism. See Link below

http://www.chnetwork.org/story/dion-dimucci-the-wanderer/

And Finally!

Please don’t forget to vote for The Immortal Jukebox in The UK Blog Awards!

Voting remains open till 18 December.

Follow the link below and select Art & Culture from the drop down menu:

http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/immortal-jukebox

 

Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs : Wooly Bully! Wooly Bully!

You gotta warm up. You gotta warm up.

Before you hit the stage and face your public.

Before you pace out those morning miles on your run.

So, before you walk out onto the stage you’ll need to prepare back stage and get those vocal chords ready for those tongue twisting soliloquies.

Kick off with breath relaxation then release that tense jaw!

Next move on to a brisk series of tongue and lip trills.

Then it’s time for the two octave scales followed by the kazoo buzz and some serious humming.

A final cool down and you’re ready to face your audience.

Similarly, before you set off to on your daily run you need to do some dynamic stretches.

Come on now! Hip Flexor stretch, Leg Flexor stretch, Leg Extensor stretch followed by a Plantar Flexor stretch before we finish up with a Hip Extensor stretch.

Now you’re good to go and ready to chase down Mo Farah.

And, before I write a new post here on The Jukebox I have my own warm up routine.

Twenty minutes of calming meditation.

Then I read Chekhov’s incomparable short story, ‘The Lady with the Dog’ followed by a favourite passage from Russell Hoban’s masterpiece novel, ‘Riddley Walker’:

‘O yes youwl want to think on that you don’t want your mouf to walk you where your feet dont want to go.’

And then, then, I launch into my final warm up exercise – what I term, ‘The Head Clearer’ when I sing and chant excerpts from some of the finest songs ever recorded.

It often goes something like this:

‘Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do’

‘Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie’

‘Nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah, nah, nah nah …’

‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay’

Then picking up speed there are 3 exultant exclamations before I take up my seat at the keyboard.

The order is always the same:

‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang Ba ba ding a dong ding’

‘Awop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom!’

Always last and crucial to invoking my Writing Mojo is:

‘Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro,
Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully!’

‘Watch it now!’

Wow! Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully!

I should have warned you; before you listen to Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs’ slice of Tex-Mex ambrosia it is always advisable to clear an extensive dance space in your home.

Otherwise, like me, on many an occasion, you may end up with broken lamps and twisted ankles!

Wooly Bully is simply irresistible.

No wonder it sold more than three million copies and was only denied the summit of The Billboard Hot 100 by the combined might of The Beach Boys (Help me, Rhonda) and The Supremes ( Back in My Arms Again).

Still it stayed on the chart for 18 weeks and wound up being Billboard’s record of the year and permanently lodged in the brain of anyone who ever heard it!

The hypnotic, just gotta dance now, sound born in, ‘Gun and Knife’ clubs like The Congo in Leesville and The Diplomat in Memphis was brilliantly captured by Producer/Engineer Stan Kessler at the Sam C Phillips Recordings Studio at 639 Madison Avenue Memphis in late 1964 for his own, tiny, XL label. It became an enormous hit once taken up by major label MGM.

Stan was a veteran of the Sun Records scene. He played bass on many a session for Jerry Lee, The Big O and Carl Perkins as well as writing the wonderful, ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ for Elvis himself.

Working with Sam’s pavlovian organ and The Pharoahs (David A Martin on bass, Jerry Patterson on drums, Ray Stinnett on guitar and Butch Gibson on sax) Stan produced a sound that was guaranteed to get dancers to their feet all over the globe whether it was a Honkytonk in Texas, a Bierkeller in Hamburg or The Cavern in Liverpool.

If you don’t cut a rug to this one you’ll have to get the T Shirt that says, ‘ Me – I’m L7, L7’. And, you don’t want that do ya!

Domingo ‘Sam’ Samudio, born in 1937, is a native Texan with Mexican heritage.

 

After high school, where he was in a band with Trini Lopez, he had six years in the US Navy, a spell on the road with a Circus and several semesters at Arlington State College.

Whatever else Sam did music was always there.

Sam was much taken with the 1956 Hollywood Biblical Epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’ which led to him naming his band, ‘The Pharoahs’. The Band was to go through several line ups with Sam the only constant.

The ubiquity of Wooly Bully on the radio and its immense sales gained Sam and the boys opening act status for Big Leaguers like The Beach Boys and James Brown.

On such tours they probably traveled on a regular bus rather than their own 1952 Packard Hearse!

Sam was a fine in person performer and he must have got those crowds really warmed up before the headliners came on.

Sam had a few more hits, including the top 5, ‘L’il Red Riding Hood’ before his career dipped in the era of psychedelia and ‘progressive’music.

But, canny listeners like Ry Cooder knew that Sam really had something – which led to a role in the creation of the soundtrack for the movie, ‘The Border’.

When he’s in the mood Sam can show that, without a doubt, he’s still got it!

In conclusion my considered opinion is that you should, right now, clear a space, and get you someone really to pull the wool with you.

Then press play on the live version below and go crazy!

‘Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro,
Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully!’

‘Watch it now!’

 

 

Notes:

My favoured Sam compilation is, ‘Pharoahization’ on the Rhino label.

In 1971 Sam made a very worthwhile solo record, ‘Sam, Hard and Heavy’ for Atlantic which featured a stellar band including Duane Allman and Jim Dickinson.

A tribute record on Norton charmingly called, ‘Turban Renewal’  has had more than a few spins here at Jukebox Central – especially the tracks by Ben Vaughan and Roy Loney.

Wooly Bully regularly crops up in movies wanting to establish a mid 60s atmosphere. I saw it feature just the other day in one of those Baseball movies made to make you cry, ‘The Rookie’.