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.

 

 

Beach Boys, The Who, Jan and Dean (not forgetting The Regents) : Barbara Ann

Keen readers of The Jukebox will recall that in a previous Post (featuring the song, ‘Do You Want to Dance?) I revealed that my exhaustive researches in; theology,the classics, the canon of great literature, modern psychology and neuroscience had led me to the inescapable conclusion that there were only five essential questions to be asked, and answered, in Life.

I can now tell you, prior to the publication of, ‘The 5 questions every life must answer‘ that one of these is … ‘What’s your Name?’

Who am I? Who are You?

Names are very powerful signifiers.

More powerful and mysterious in their effects on our lives than we generally allow.

At some point in my mid teens I became, ‘Thom’ instead of ‘Thomas’ or, ‘Tom’ (I would never, never, allow, ‘Tommy’) to differentiate myself from all the other Toms – as well as the Dicks and Harrys.

By insisting on a particular spelling of my name I was establishing a particular identity for myself.

An identity to embrace and challenge the world with.

Of course, in the world of the creative arts changes of name are common to signal a move from the private into the public and commercial realms.

There was a particular moment in time when someone asked the young Robert Zimmerman what his name was and after a micro second of hesitation the reply came, ‘Bob Dylan’ and a legend began.

In the realm of romance the question, ‘What’s your Name?’ starts that crazy carousel spinning, spinning, spinning.

As the wonderful Don and Juan, in their Doo-Wop classic from 1962 observed the thought behind the question is frequently : ‘Do I stand a chance with you?’.

Once you’re aboard the carousel you’ll find that the name of your beloved will take on sacred properties and hearing your own name spoken by them will constitute a new christening.

So, here’s a Post about a song that celebrates a particular name with abounding Joy.

Not forgetting to mention the power of familial love and discord, car crashes, comas, the collision of music genres, fate and happenstance, huckstering marketing and genius goofing off.

Or, to put it another way as The Regents first sang (and I defy you not to sing along, I’ll hold down the bass, you take the falsetto) :

‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’

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‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann (take my hand)

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

You’ve got me rockin’ and a -rollin’

Rockin’ and a reelin’

Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’

Yowzah! Yowzah! Yowzah!

That’ll have you dancing ’til a quarter to three and then some.

I think we can agree the brothers Fassert and The Regents did Barbara Ann proud.

Mighty proud.

How The Regents came to have a top 20 hit with the song is a saga in itself.

Originally in 1957 they were The Monterays and included among their members Ernie Moresca who went on to Rock ‘n Roll immortality through writing, ‘The Wanderer’ for Dion.

Ernie dropped out and they became The Regents (they may also have been briefly known as The Desires).

They then recorded a series of unreleased demos in New York recording studios in 1958 (one of these, significantly for our story, was Regent Studios).

Core members were Guy Villari on lead (whose preferred cigarette brand was Regent), Sal Cuomo (first tenor), Tony Gravanga (baritone and Sax), Donnie Jacobucci (baritone) and Chuck Fassert (second tenor).

During one of their 1 hour demo sessions they spent 50 minutes running down a ballad, written by Guy Villari, called, ‘A Teenager’s Love’ and wondered what to do with their precious remaining 10 minutes of studio time.

What about that song written by Chuck’s kid brother Fred about their kid sister, ‘Barbara Ann’ – it was always a kick to warm up to and who knows maybe people would like it even if it was basically just the repetition of her name over and over again!

So in 10 minutes it was wrapped up and a waiting world … heard not a whisper of it as 50 or more Record Labels said, Barbara Ann – no thanks!

And, that is where the story might have ended.

But, as fate would have it, in 1961 it happened that Donnie Jacobucci’s younger brother, Eddie, joined a group called The Consorts who were looking for material to record.

Eddie remembered, ‘Barbara Ann’ and taught it to his fellow Consorts who then cut their own version.

This was brought to the attention of Lou Cichetti of the Cousins Record Shop and Label. Sharp eared Lou also listened to the Regents demo which had been brought in by the original songwriter,Fred Fassert.

Lou was in no doubt which was the superior version (Fred was a winner either way) and promptly decided to issue The Regents version in March 1961.

This necessitated their urgent resurrection once the tune sped to Number One in the New York region after being heavily played on the radio.

Lou, aware that the record needed national distribution, leased it to Roulette/Gee who pushed it all the way to Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

So, the fruit of 10 minutes work paid off handsomely – though it took 3 years to do so!

The Regents would only have one more hit, ‘Runaround’ in September 1961 but, ‘Barbara Ann’ would never die!

Once a song, particularly a Doo Wop song, got wide radio play hordes of young singers thought – we could do that!

Among those tuning in to, ‘Barbara Ann’ were two California High School buddies, Jan Berry and Dean Torrence.

Jan and Dean found that their voices had a pleasing blend and that Dean had a knack for capturing multi part vocal arrangements on tape (which would later bring him to the attention of and to collaborate with another California native more than somewhat obsessed with multi part vocal arrangements – one Brian Wilson).

Their career benefited from the patronage of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler and Dean’s astute insights into song structures and song genres.

He quickly picked up how well their Doo Wop chops would fit with the burgeoning Surf Music scene.

It also didn’t hurt that they had a clean cut tanned handsomeness that looked real swell on record covers and posters ripe for the bedroom walls of teenage girls all over the nation.

Surf City, in 1963 was the first Surf song to ride all the way to the top of the Hot 100 while the succeeding, ‘Drag City’, ‘The Little Old Lady from Pasadena’ and the prophetic, ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ (Jan Berry had a terrible car crash in April 1966 sustaining serous head injuries which left him in a coma for 2 months) carved out a secure place in history for the duo.

In 1962 they had laid down their take on, ‘Barbara Ann’ which they no doubt sang when they shared stages with the Beach Boys – who were of course the High Kings of the Surf Scene.

Altogether more produced and assured than The Regents.

I’m sure this will have gone down a storm on the beach party scene.

The Drums here really drive things along and the assures layering of the vocals with the clinching sax break makes this a cert for the repeat play button.

By the summer of 1965 The Beach Boys had already issued 2 successful Albums as well as holding down a heavy touring schedule.

However, Capitol Records wanted more.

Tney didn’t really want to hear that resident genius Brian Wilson, in response to hearing The Beatles rapid development as represented on Rubber Soul, had ambitions to write, sing and produce material of an altogether more sophisticated nature.

To hold off Capitol while Pet Sounds coelesed in his mind and soul a plan was hatched to record a largely acoustic live in the studio party session where they would cut loose on a series of favourite songs – including Barbara Ann on which their old friend Dean Torrence would share lead vocals.

We should also never forget the contribution of percussion potentate Hal Blaine on ashtrays!

You want loose?

You want a party?

Ah … Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann …

 

Loose but very lovely.

And, before the personalities began to grind against each other to all their detriment an example of family and friends having a whale of a time together.

Classily Capitol’s marketing strategy for, ‘Party!’ included sending dealers a million (!) bags of Potato chips adorned with the album’s cover art for distribution to the ravening fans.

Barbara Ann was the last track on the record as originally issued and was not chosen as the single.

Instead a non album 45,’The Little Girl I Once Knew’ hit the playlists in November and was roundly disliked by DJs and Station managers as it included repeated instances of silence throughout.

So, as fate (ah fate) would have it DJs turned to the track on the Album that seemed likely to get the best response.

You’ve guessed it Barbara Ann.

Thus, it became very hard to turn on your radio  and not hear, blasting out at full volume …Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann!

All the way to Number 2 and eternally into the memsory of anyone who ever heard it.

Now, apart from the extremely hardy and commited few, Surfing as a pastime, still less  a culture was largely unknown to us Brits.

But, only those with their radios steadfastly tuned to classical stations were unaware of The Beach Boys.

And, musicians and songwriters in particular were in awe of Brian Wilson’s melodic gifts and conceptual imagInation.

No one will be surprised to learn that Paul McCartney was stunned by Brian’s talents and driven to match them in songs and arrangements of his own.

An unexpected Beach Boys devotee was none other than one of the true wild men of the era –  the iconic drummer of Tne Who Keith Moon!

It’s fair to say that Keith’s gifts as a singer are dwarfed by his gifts at the drum kit yet there is something immensely touching listening to him assay, ‘Barbara Ann’in his unique falsetto.

 

Lordy, Lordy.

Of course, once Daltrey, Townshend and Entwhistle cut loose in support of their sticksman there can be no getting out of the landslide that was The Who at full throttle.

Rockin’ and a rollin’ Rockin’ and a rellin’ indeed!

Slight though Barbara Ann is in the glorious Beach Boys treasure trove it recurred in their live shows  simply because everybody can sing along and it’s just flat out FUN.

When they toured on 2012 to celebrate a staggering 50 years as a Group tney invariably encored with Barbara Ann and duly brought the house down.

It seemed that tour was the last time Brian and Mike Love were on speaking terms.

So for the good times ….

To conclude as we started with the power of names : we know how pretty, pretty, Peggy Sue was and we are always happy to hear from BIllie Jean and indeed from Bobby Jean and  the party is always guaranteed to go with a swing when Fannie Mae calls round.

Still and all nothing gets me stirred like :

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann.

Jukebox Jive with Garland Jeffreys : Getting The Story Through

 

I’m delighted today to launch a new Feature, ‘Jukebox Jive with …’.

The aim is to provide an insight into the social and musical roots of artists close to the heart of The Jukebox.

It is a special pleasure that we begin with Garland Jeffreys for I have been an avid fan of his work for over 40 years!

Garland generously spared an hour of his time for a telephone interview with me to discuss his influences, his mentors and contemporaries and the records he most cherishes from his own catalogue.

Delightfully he also frequently broke into song down the line from New York to illustrate his answers.

 

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Garland is a singer, songwriter and performer of immense talent.

Someone who was best friends with Lou Reed and regularly called up on stage by Bruce Springsteen.

People, ‘In the Know’ know what a great artist Garland is!

He has written dozens of haunting songs which provide searching insights into what it is to live an engaged modern life.

Drawing on the traditions of Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Doo-Wop, Reggae and Soul his work shines a forensic light onto the issues of The Working Life, Race and Class, Love and Sex in post World War 2 America as refelected in the Nation’s premier City – New York.

Garland was born in June 1943 and grew up in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. His heritage was a mixture of Black, White and Puerto Rican – not forgetting a trace of Cherokee!

It’s undoubtedly the case that such a complex heritage gave Garland an outsider status – too black to be white, too white to be black.

While this provided a series of challenging scenarios in his youth it had the artistic advantage of making him a sharp and subtle observer of the world around him.

His parents were hard working people who instilled in him a love of music and pride in doing a job well.

Perhaps it’s better at this point to allow Garland to tell you himself; through his wonderfully warm and affectionate memoir song, ‘14 Steps To Harlem’ what it was like growing up in the 50s and 60s in such a household.

 

 

IJ – Who was the Artist who called your own voice (as Bob Dylan’s was called by Woody Guthrie)?

GJ :

Well, I grew up in a house filled with music.

My Mother loved Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra.

I loved those and discovered for myself someone as great as Nina Simone who I used to see perform at The Village Gate.

All this stood me in very good stead later when I shared a stage with Jazz Giants like Sonny Rollins and Carmen McRae – you should have heard our duet on, ‘Teach Me Tonight’ (Garland croons … should the teacher stand so near, my love)

There’s a depth in Jazz I’m mining to this day.

I always could sing so naturally I sang along to the radio – those fabulous R&B, Doo-Wop and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs saturated the New York air.

If I have to pick one I’ll go for Frankie Lymon – he was a hell of a singer and he was my size!

Frankie could really sing and not just the uptemp hits everyone remembers but also heart rending ballads like, ‘Share’.

Frankie sang songs filled with energy and sweetness and you knew he was talking about the real life lived out on the New York Streets.

A record I just couldn’t stop playing?,,,

Well I’d have to say Frankie Lymon (don’t forget The Teenagers) with, ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’.

 

 

IJ – Was there a Radio Station/Radio Show that was important in introducing you to the Music you love?

GJ :

We all listened to WINS and especially to Alan Freed’s Moondog Show.

I loved the Sports coverage on WINS too.

I was a true Brooklyn Dodgers fan – proud to say I was there in 1947 when Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field!

Later on I used to go to see broadcasting legend Bob Fass at the WBAI Studios

I went there a few times with the great Bass Player, Richard Davis, who played on my own records as well as being the instrumental star of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Richard was a great musician but a humble man.

He was something of a mentor for me as was Paul Griffin (who played Piano on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone among many other classic recordings).

Of course, I was close with Lou Reed from our days at Syracuse University – boy were we the odd couple!

IJ : What was the first record made by one of your contemporaries that made you think – Wow they’ve really got it!

GJ :

Oh, Yeh … Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’.

I’m a couple of years younger than Bob Dylan.

I used to go to and play at New York Folk Clubs like The Gaslight and Gerde’s.

I saw him then. He has always been a fascinating character.

Managing to be a fantastic self promoter without obviously being one.

He had a unique style and his songs just made sense of the times we were living in.

He wasn’t afraid to be challenging politically and in personal relationships.

 

 

IJ : Which of your own Records was the first to turn out exactly how you wanted it to?

GJ :

I’d have to say that would be, ‘Ghost Writer’ from 1977.

That was an inspired record – the whole album where everything came together. The songs, my singing and the musicians I played with all playing at a peak.

Songs like, ‘Cool Down Boy’, ‘Why – O’ and, ‘Spanish Town’ said something then and they still do.

Dr John’s on there and David Spinoza.

Hugh McCracken who played Guitar and Harmonica deserves a lot of credit.

Sadly he died 5 years ago now – that’s the way when you’ve been in the music world as long as I have.

Ghost Writer as an individual song tells my story.

A New York City Son trying to make my way while having fun.

Someone who knows about tradition in Literature – Shakespeare, Spencer and Sydney and who knows that there’s a poetry in the streets that demands to be expressed.

I agree with you that Ghost Writer is a, ‘Blue Hour’ song – a vision that comes from the ghosts whispering in that hour that’s the last of the night or the first of the morning.

I also love that Dub Reggae feel we got down.

 

 

IJ – What other albums make up your top 3?

GJ :

‘Escape Artist’ from 1981 and, ‘The King of In Between’ from 2011.

As to individual songs I would have to go for, ‘Wild in the Streets’ which was a breakthrough song for me and something of a New York City Anthem.

It’s a Song every audience expects me to play and I make sure not to disappoint them.

I still love it – I make sure to play it straight just like I recorded it.

From more recent times I’m proud of  ‘Coney Island Winter’ which says a lot about modern America and stands up for people who need to be stood up for.

Garland started that menacing whispered intro…

This is a classic.

A Song alive, vibrating, with the energy of the Streets.

An energy that can be exhilarating  but which can also be threatening and at times even fatal.

It’s a song that has the beat, beat, beat of the summer sun and of hot young blood.

A song to be sung on the stoops and the fire escapes and on the baking roofs.

 

Garland was nearly 70 when he made one of his very best albums, ‘The King of In Between’.

What’s almost miraculous about this record is that it has the energy and rage of youth combined with the craft and wisdom of maturity.

‘Coney Island WInter’ has the unstoppable power of a Locomotive yet has a profound tenderness towards those left behind by a cruel and heedless system.

It’s a story that happens every day that only a rare storyteller could make come so thrilling alive.

 

IJ – What was your greatest ever Live Show?

GJ :

A show that really stands out for me was one from The Ritz in NYC with The Rumour backing me up.

Those English guys can really play! (the partnership is brilliantly captured on the Rock ‘n ‘Roll Adult CD)

IJ – What Song by another Artist do you wish you had written?

GJ :

For it’s simplicity, its power and its endless playability I would have to say, ‘Gloria’ by Van Morrison in his days with Them.

A Million Garage Bands can’t be wrong!

IJ – Who’s an under rated Artist we ought to look out for?

GJ :

Garland Jeffreys ! (Seconded! The Immortal Jukebox)

IJ – Nominate a Song – one of your own or by someone else to take up the A100 slot on The Immortal Jukebox.

GJ :

Garland Jeffreys – ‘Ghost Writer’.

IJ – Anything you’d like to add?

GJ :

Sure – I’d like to say that I’m forever grateful to all my fans and supoorters. I’ve spent my life trying to make the very best music I can and that’s what I’m always going to do.

Oh ..and if you’re starting out as a musician I’d advise you to protect your copyrights!

Start  your own record company. Of course the main thing you’ve got to do is love the music, the writing and the performing.

Wise words. Wise words.

New York has had many great chroniclers.

For my money Garland deserves his place among them.

His songs have an urban strength and urgency tempered by empathy for the outsiders and also-rans so often unblinkingly passed by.

Songs can be so many things.

For me Garland’s songs have been lifeboats when the tempest raged, lamps to light the way to a safer shore and ladders to climb up to the Stars.

What moves me most is the sense that I am witnessing a unique voice and vision telling me hard won truths.

Jackie Robinson said that the most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anyone can have is their dignity.

Garland has assuredly joined Jackie in that All Star Dugout.

Today, June 29, is Garland’s Birthday.

Happy Birthday Garland – may your Songs always be sung.

 

Notes :

Many thanks to Claire Jeffreys for setting up the Interview.

Thanks too to Mick Tarrant for the introduction.

A Garland Jeffrey’s Playlist :

In addition to the tracks above I regularly play

‘I May Not Be Your Kind’

‘One-Eyed Jack’

‘Matador’

‘Jump Jump’

‘Miami Beach’

‘Don’t Call Me Buckwheat’

‘Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll’

‘I Was Afraid of Malcolm’

”Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me’

‘Roller Coaster Town’

That would make a hell of a mix CD!

 

The Five Satins : In The Still Of The Night

 

‘There is nothing to save, now all is lost, but a tiny core of stillness in the heart like the eye of a Violet.’ (D H Lawrence)

‘They Dance by the Light Of The Moon to:

The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles and

The Five Satins …’

(Paul Simon from ‘Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War’)

 

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Ninety-Seven Channels – and nothing on.

Nothing on.

Noise. Chatter. Static.

Noise. Chatter. Static.

A tidal wave of Noise assaulting your senses – all day, every day.

If only you could find a lagoon of peace to shelter in.

A moment in time when you can see things clear.

Clear.

Think straight.

Straight.

Listen for the message hidden in your heart.

The message in your heart.

Round about three in the morning there’s a moment when the whole world seems to shiver and then fall silent and still.

A moment when the beating of your heart is not lost in the background anymore.

A moment when that beat, beat, beat, is fully present and fills your whole being.

A being Singing for the joy of being alive.

Singing for the miracle of being in Love

Alive and in Love in the still of the night.

In The Still Of The Night

.

Didn’t that enchant?

In The Still Of The Night you hold someone tight and promise to never to let them go.

And, it’s a blithe promise of youth you mean to keep.

You want them to hold you again with all their might before the light dissolves the magic of The Still Of The Night.

And, should you part, for all the reasons Lovers part, that moment in The Still Of The Night will always remain in your heart.

Always remain.

You’ll carry it with you in the secret chambers of your heart as the seasons turn and the years and decades accumulate.

And, sometimes, out of the blue, you’ll find that moment white and bright before you and you will be young and present again in The Still Of The Night.

And, depending on the paths you’ve trod in the intervening years – the promises you’ve made and the promises you’ve broken you’ll find your eyes wet with tears of gratitude or tears of regret.

In The Still Of The Night.

The starlit lead vocal is by Fred Parris who also wrote the song.

Fred’s wordless croon as the song’s last twenty seconds play out has an ethereal beauty that always blows the heart open.

Harmony vocals by Ed Martin, Jim Freeman and Nat Mosley.

So, you will see that The Five Satins had only four members when recording their immortal Doo-Wop standard!

Vinny Mazzetta plays the seductive saxophone. Doug Murray holds down the bass (or was it a Cello?) Bobby Mapp was behind the drum kit while Curlee Glover played the piano.

Marty Kugell produced and issued the record on his own  Standard label in 1956.

It was then taken up by Ember Records and became a substantial Pop and  R&B hit.

Sales sky rocketed when it was prominently featured on ‘Oldies’ compilations and on several Movie soundtracks.

In The Still Of The Night, in the original version, has three times lodged in the Billboard Pop  Charts which may be a unique feat.

Some scholars argue that the term Doo-Wop itself emerged from the chanting surrounding Fred’s yearning lead.

I never tire of Doo-Wop because it’s essentially the sound of secular prayer.

Prayers of hope and longing for life to be transformed by the alchemy of love.

Those prayers have ascended in profusion for every hour of every day and every night since time began.

Doo-Wop will never die.

Funnily enough this secular prayer was recorded in the basement of St Bernadette’s Church in New Haven Connecticut in February 1956.

If you visit I’d advise you to light a candle for your own secret intentions and then take a trip down to the basement and see the plaque there commemorating one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most precious moments.

And, if you’re anything like me you’ll glance around and if you’re unobserved, you’ll test out the acoustic once more as you channel Fred Parris and sing with all your heart:

… So before the light hold me again with all your might

In The Still Of The night

In The Still Of The Night

In the Still Of The Night.

 

 

 

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

 

Christmas Cornucopia : Sixth Day

Sixth Day :

A Painting by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1465 to 1495)

A Poem by Christina Rossetti (1830 to 1894)

Music by Hildegard of Bingen (1098 to 1179) sung by Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices, The Unthank Sisters and The Larks.

 

night-nativity

St Bridget of Sweden had a mystic vision of The Nativity.

Today’s painting by the Flemish artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans makes that ineffable vision a reality before our eyes and in our hearts through virtuoso deployment of light and shadow.

Looking at this tender scene we remember Christ’s statement:

‘ I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’

 

Our heart stilling music today was composed by one of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages (indeed of all Ages!).

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine Abbess whose haunting compositions refelect her mystical experiences and her philosophical beliefs.

I vividly recall the first time I heard this music in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus in London. As the gorgeous vocal lines enchanted me I knew, at once, that this record would be a life time companion. And so it has proved.

The majestic soprano Emma Kirkby wonderfully complemented by The Gothic Voices under the direction of Christopher Page takes us into mystical terrain where every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

Terrain where Hildegard’s vision of herself as a feather on the breath of God makes perfect sense.

We are all feathers on the breath of God.

Now we return to our Sleigh which has been travelling for 6 days rushing towards its destination on Christmas Eve.

So, for today’s post we will apply the breaks to give ourselves and our willing reindeers a much needed rest.

Sometimes the preparations for Christmas can overwhelm us as we worry about all we have to do in such a short time. We can be in danger of falling into the trap of speeding through the season without stopping to savour its true joys and meaning.

Perhaps we should remember that at the heart of this event is a birth. A birth much awaited and anticipated by the contemporary family at the centre of the story and by the wider human family of time past, time present and time future.

At this birth time and eternity merged to create a new beginning of hope and promise for all of mankind.

Mothers have to learn to be still and patient as they wait (especially for their first birth) for the great day, the great moment, to arrive when they will no longer be a mother-to-be but a mother.

There comes a miraculous moment, a moment, when after all the waiting and worry that the baby, her child! who has been knit together in the safety of their womb emerges into the world as a unique new creation.

This is a moment for stillness and awe and for gratitude.

The next recording featured today is achingly filled with stillness and awe.

 

The Unthank Sisters from God haunted Northumberland perform Christina Rosetti’s, ‘In The Bleak ‘Midwinter’ with startling calm and grace allowing the song to breathe and bloom into something truly marvelous.

I imagine we all hold our breath throughout this performance as we are caught in the spell of the poet’s striking images and the heart piercing intensity of the siblings vocals.

Now, a recording by one of my favourite 50s vocal groups The Larks.

The sound here is hushed, seemingly suspended in time. Listening to, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ I feel as if I were a snowflake caressed by gentle drafts and surrounded by millions of other snowflakes falling slowly, slowly, slowly to the earth below.

 

It would be perverse today to showcase any other poem but Christina Rosetti’s masterpiece, ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’.

‘Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air-
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss

What can I give Him?
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him-

Give my heart’

 

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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

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