Ry Cooder : Maria Elena, Secret Love (lazy, hazy, days of Summer)

We drove West.

We drove past the sacred mysteries of Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury.

We circled the Standing Stones.

We crossed the forbidding Moors.

We drove as far as we could go only stopping at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was late when we arrived.

The Moon was silvering the waters.

Dazzled and drowsy we settled into familiar surroundings and breathed the salt tanged air as deeply as we could before sleep beckoned.

I woke, as always, at 6am and joined the joggers and dog walkers patrolling the golden sands.

The surfers in their camper vans were already readying themselves for the fabulous waves the tides would surely provide today.

Later on the whole family including our grand daughter, now almost 1 and an enthusiastic paddler, established camp on our own stretch of the beach.

That lucky old sun rolled around heaven all day as we intermittently swam and sprawled under its reviving rays.

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The picnic basket was looted of every treasure and urgent patrols were sent out for relief supplies of fruit and ice creams.

As the Sun set we meandered back to our cottage with the adults fortified by just the right number of Gin & Tonics.

Perhaps it was the power of the Sun amplified by the G&Ts that led me to start humming a tune that seemed to have the, ‘Spanish Tinge’

What was that song?

I set my music library numbskulls to work as I watched the waves crash on the rocks outside our windows.

Then, praise be, I began to sing in my (very) halting Spanish :

Era la medianoche, when oimos the scream
“Se requieren cien taxis en el almeria de Chavez Ravine.

As soon as the words Chavez Ravine formed in my mind I knew the source of the sun dappled melody that held me enthralled – ‘Onda Callejera’ from Ry Cooder’s wonderful album from 2005, ‘Chavez Ravine’.

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Now I was able to hit the button and luxuriate in the masterly musicianship of Ry and Joachim Cooder, Mike Elizondo, Joe Rotondi, Gil Bernal, Mike Bolger, and Ledward Kaapana.

Now, I could provide the harmonies for the true vocals of Little Willie G and sisters Juliette and Carla Commagere.

I doubt the Cornish Coast has ever heard such a midnight choir before!

Estupendo!

The interplay between the musicians here is very special.

Listening it’s as if you’ve slipped into a dream state where all your senses flow together and your imagination is released to free float into the welcoming ether.

This is not a sound you can achieve by mere practice or calculation rather it is the result of inspiration grounded on vocation and spiritual immersion leading to musical bliss in the moment.

Catching such bliss on record is very rare so I lift my Sombrero high into the sky to salute Ry and his compadres!

This is the kind of performance which permanently changes the weather inside your head.

And, that’s a feat Ry Cooder has serially achieved throughout his career as he has searched the world seeking out new rhythms and textures to delight his own musical appetite and in consequence ours too.

Ry has since his boyhood has responded to the music, in all genres, that has attracted him by determining to meet the musicians who were masters of that sound and through playing with them inhabit the mystery too.

His whole career is essentially a musical pilgrimage with each record or collaboration a way station where he draws strength, nurture and inspiration for the road ahead.

From his third solo record, ‘Boomer’s Story’ here’s a song from 1932, ‘Maria Elena’ that in the care of Ry’s all star band continues to cast a tender spell.

Now was that 6 minutes or 6 Hours?

Musicianship of this quality makes a mockery of old Father Time’s supposed regularity.

When the above performance was recorded Ry’s Band was dubbed, ‘The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces’.

And, Aces they were everyone.

Attend to the gorgeous sway of Flaco Jimenez on the Accordion.

Attend to George Bohanon’s warm breeze in the night air Trombone.

Attend to the joyful elegance of Van Dyke Park’s Piano.

Marvel at the supernaturally supple rhythm section of Drum maestro Jim Keltner, Miguel Cruz on Percussion and Jorge Calderon on Bass.

Surrender and swoon as Ry orchestrates the whole magnificent ensemble as they lead us to musical nirvana.

Now, a simple miracle.

A collaboration between Ry and the great Cuban Guitarist Manuel Galbán.

There are no words of mine that can capture the glory of this take on, ‘Secret Love’.

Close your eyes, sit still and let the magic begin.

This is collaboration becoming communion.

Ry has a wonderful generosity in his musical life.

Foregrounding the talents of his collaborators through the acuity of his arrangements he creates the space for the magic to enter and bloom.

I wish Ry well on his continuing Pilgrimage for following in his footsteps has been an education and a blessing.

Notes :

As always if a particular clip won’t play for you in this Post you will certainly be able to find a playable clip via YouTube in your own region.

The Albums, ‘Chavez Ravine’ and ‘Mambo Sinuendo’ (where Secret Love features) are unreservedly recommended.

Manuel Galbán is a legendary figure in Cuba.

His work with Los Zafiros is imbued with deep joy in music making.

Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans : Smile

Exploring the genius of Charlie Chaplin featuring :

Chaplin himself, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans.

Genius is an extremely overworked term when applied to popular artists of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, without any hesitation I can assert that Charlie Chaplin was a genius.

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He was a master of every aspect of film making – writing, acting, producing and directing.

And, he did something only the very rarest artists do – he created an iconic character (the Tramp) who has become part of the very fabric of popular consciousness.

He was a Poet of  the Cinema with a deep tragi-comic vision.

A vision whose beauty and truth was recognised and welcomed whatever the age, language and culture of those who encountered his films.

The best definition of genius I know comes from Arthur Schopenhauer :

‘The genius … lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.

Accordingly, he cannot go hand in hand with the regular course of the culture of the times as found; on the contrary, he casts his works far out on to the path in front …

Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.’

Charlie Chaplin fully meets that definition.

Oh, and in addition to the honour board of talents listed above he was also a talented composer who wrote the music for one of the most affecting songs of his and any other era – ‘Smile’.

Chaplin, of course, thought in cinematic terms so let’s kick off this tribute to his genius with ‘Smile’ in its first incarnation as part of his score to his masterpiece from 1936, ‘Modern Times’.

Every element of this scene reflects the enormous pains Chaplin took to achieve the exact effects he was seeking.

Chaplin knew all about the Fear and Sorrow that beset so many lives.

He knew that a smile was often your best disguise and perhaps your only defence against the sadness that might otherwise overwhelm you.

The Tramp always keeps alive a spark of Hope, of determination to survive – to be present for what, who knows, may, just may, turn out to be a better tomorrow.

Chaplin’s whole cinematic persona – in the delicacy of his facial gestures and the gamut of his physical pantomime amounts in a sense to an alertness to the promise of Life – no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his mastery of mime and the balletic grace of his movement he was able to convey more nuances of emotion than a hundred lines of dialogue could convey.

His genius was both to acknowledge the Fear and Sorrow but not to surrender to it – to grandly and magnificently literally laugh in the face of it.

And, if Charlie can survive so might we.

As cinema goers, a spring anew in their step, left a Chaplin film they were reassured that light and laughter could outshine the darkness.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you ….

The lyric and a title for Chaplin’s melody came from John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons in 1954.

The Premier recording was by a peerless balladeer of Golden Age American Song – Nat King Cole.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile.

There is no grandiloquence in Nat’s performance.

Knowing that he had a rare treasure here he simply presents the song allowing the beauty of the melody and the poignancy of the words to travel into the hearts and minds of the audience.

‘Simple’ for Nat King Cole because of the burnished gold of his voice which makes us all gladly share any emotion he is evoking.

If I imagine an exhausted couple slow dancing to Nat’s version in the sanctuary of their home I can only imagine the next take as a solo dance underneath a waning Moon.

Judy Garland.

If ever an artist was born to sing a song it was Judy to sing, ‘Smile’.

Fear and Sorrow and Heartbreak surrounded her all her days.

And, those circumstances were fully incarnated in her voice when she sang – especially when she sang, ‘Smile’.

Her Version is filled with tears and sadness – the gladness and the smile is in the going on, the going on.

I am going to repeat something I wrote about Garland before because I don’t think I can say what I mean to say any better.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of Smile but not a single one sounds anything like the depths that Judy Garland does.

And now for something completely different!

Jimmy Durante brought his own very real magic to Smile.

A straight from the shoulder, Hey Bud, have one on me, growl that’s surprisingly affecting.

Lyle Lovett knows songs having written many fine ones himself.

There is always consideration and deliberation involved in the way he approaches a song.

So, his Smile is ruminative, baffled and melancholic.

 

To conclude here’s something really special.

The great Jazz Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans, at 90, bringing a lifetime of craft and experience to bear on Chaplin’s insights into the changeable weather of the human heart.

In a previous feature on, ‘The Third Man’ I noted that it had one of the great endings in the Film Canon.

Well, Charlie Chaplin was a supreme master of ending a Film in a highly memorable and emotionally satisfying way.

The melody plays, the camera rolls and our hearts are uplifted.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile

If you just Smile.

Manu Chao, Mongo Santamaria & Bongo Joe : Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

A Bongo Bonanza featuring :

Preston Epps, Manu Chao, Mongo Santamaria, Jack Constanzo & Bongo Joe with a bonus of a Disney bear who’s not Ballou and 2 Nobel Prize Winners (and a tip of the hat to a third for my really savvy readers).

Sometimes you just feel unsettled.

Windows shakin’ all night in your dreams.

You can feel like you are a prisoner in a world of mystery.

No one can push that ticking clock back.

You start from here.

Maybe time to take a walk and clear the cobwebs from your head.

Far from the Towns in the rolling South Downs.

The hounds are out for their morning exercise.

The air’s so fresh you feel your heart expand.

Twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow.

What’s the thing that will snap you out of lethargy?

Maybe a trip to Tibet?

Maybe a full-length leather coat?

Or, Or, maybe those tunes rattlin’ the windows these last few nights weren’t dark forces tryin’ to get in but drums, Bongos indeed!

Bongos telling you to get up and dance.

Dance, dance, dance!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Now you think of it there’s a particular tune that always starts the windows shakin’.

What was the guy’s name?

Sharp dressed dude with a hat.

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Preston Epps – how could I forget a name like that!

And, how could I ever forget, ‘Bongo Rock’!

Take it away Preston.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

That’ll flat get it!

Preston, who died in May this year, appeared on many fine records as a side man but his immortality as a musician was guaranteed once he recorded Bongo Rock in 1959.

Some things you can get tired of but Bongo Rock – Never!

OK, as Ballou the Bear from The Jungle Book would say :

‘I’m gone man, solid gone!’

So, we are going to keep those Bongos going.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Now your mama might not have been queen of the mambo and your papa may not have been monarch of the Congo but as soon as Manu Chao hits his stride here you and your monkey will most assuredly know that you are the King of Bongo, baby!

The King of Bongo.

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Bongo, Bongo! Bongo!

Manu Chao.

He gets Rhythm.

He gets the Bongos.

And, his style crosses all linguistic and stylistic boundaries.

Don’t matter where you come from or where you’re goin’ everybody is partial to the Bongos.

C’mon let’s all bang on the Bongos.

Let’s go crazy bangin’ on the Bongos.

And, who better to blast us straight into outer and inner space than supreme Bongo master – Mongo Santamaria.

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Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Jazz classic Afro Blue given a magisterial reading on a Bongotastic night at New York’s Village in 1967.

Hubert Laws on Flute, Trumpet and Alto Sax by Ray Maldinado and Bobby Porcelli.

10 minutes of Bongo Heaven which never lets up.

Once Mongo gets his groove we are all gone, solid Gone!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Our next Bongo King, Jack Costanzo was dubbed, ‘Mr Bongo’ by the esteemed Jazz critic Leonard Feather.

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Jack played with almost everyone in the Who’s Who of 20th century Jazz and Showbiz – from Frank Sinatra to Charlie Parker to The Supremes!

Have Bongos – ready to Party was Jack’s mantra.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

There must be something in those Bongos because Jack almost made it to 99 before he went to play Bongos in the afterlife.

Going to finish up here with Bongo Joe.

Now, strictly speaking he doesn’t play the Bongos per se.

He actually plays the 55 Gallon Oil Drum.

But, I have to say there was no way I was going to write a post titled Bongo! Bongo! Bongo! and leave out my man Bongo Joe.

Joe started out as a ‘regular’ musician even playing piano for Sammy Davis Jr but he found his true calling when he found the sounds he could conjure from 55 gallon Oil Drums.

His birth name was George Coleman but he became and will always be remembered as Bongo Joe.

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As Bongo Joe he became a legendary figure on the streets of Galveston and San Antonio over three decades.

In 1968 the ever perspicacious Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie Records captured Joe in scorching form on his only recording, ‘George Coleman : Bongo Joe’.

Just before I moved down to the South Downs nearly three years ago I gave almost all my Vinyl to Oxfam but I kept my copy of Bongo Joe – some things are too precious to give away!

Now tell me that didn’t dispel any residual cobwebs!

Dig that whistling!

Ain’t nothin’ like the Bongos to cheer a body up.

I am just about to apply for a new Passport.

I was going to put ‘Writer’ for my Occupation but maybe in some countries that may not grant you so warm a welcome.

So, I am now resolved to write, ‘Bongocero’.

Everybody, everywhere, when you get right down to it loves the Bongos.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

More Bongo Lore :

My favourite Disney character is Bongo the Bear from the excellent, ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ from 1947.

I never tire of Dinah Shore telling the story of how escaped circus bear Bongo wins the heart of Lulubelle and defeats the dangerous wild bear Lockjaw.

The story comes from Sinclair Lewis ‘book, ‘Little Bear Bongo’.

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Sinclair Lewis was a Nobel Prize winner as was a very enthusiastic Bongo Player – Maverick Physicist Richard Fenyman.

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Maybe getting his Bongo groove on agitated the grey cells and released those genius insights!

In 1959 then teen heartthrob Cliff Richard appeared as a character called Bongo Herbert in a, ‘Satire’ called, ‘Expresso Bongo’.

I was never a fan of Cliff’s and when I see him on TV I usually mutter  – oh look there’s Bongo Herbert!

Look out for Bongo Blues on the soundtrack performed by Hank Marvin and The Shadows.

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Bongoland in Tanzania means a place where people have to be smart and savvy to get ahead.

There are two fine films called Bongoland and Bongo is apparently a generic term for the Tanzanian film industry.

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A favourite childhood memory of mine is watching Magicians on TV.

My particular favourite was Ali Bongo who was something of a magician’s magician twice being granted the accolade of the presidency of The Magic Circle.

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Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

 

Emmylou Harris, Roy Buchanan, Tommy McLain & Patsy Cline : Sweet Dreams

Somewhere East of Eden Dawn breaks.

You open your eyes to greet The Sun.

That lucky old Sun, He got nothing to do but roll around Heaven all day.

All Day.

Now, you have lots to do.

You have goals and tasks and targets.

You have reflections and reviews to consider.

You have outcomes and KPIs to attain.

You have stratagems.

Things to do. Places to be.

Youre on the case. You’re in charge.

All day. Every Day.

Until, eventually, that lucky old Sun has rolled all around Heaven to set in The West.

Now, The Moon has dominion.

Now, you need your sleep before you can face another busy, busy Day.

And, with Sleep, unbidden, unstoppable, come The Dreams.

Everybody has them Dreams.

Dreamers find their way by Moonlight.

The Captain of the Watch and his Guards are no longer at attention – in fact they are carousing in the Town – AWOL.

And, if they should glance up from their cups all they will say is:

He is a dreamer; let us leave him : Pass.

Unfettered you slip the bonds of time and are free to wander the echoing halls of memory.

Free to peer into the open doors and to ascend/descend the Escher stairs to secret rooms.

Who knows who you will meet?

Perchance all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

Perchance dreams are all you will truly ever own.

Poor as you are you have your dreams.

You have your dreams.

And, you have to dream if you are to live.

Though you are nothing you have in you all the dreams of the world.

Life without dreams is a broken winged bird.

Some dreams will not survive the fluttering of your opening eyelids.

Some dreams will stay with you for ever after and permanently alter the colour of your mind.

Some dreams, though you are yet to know it, will be the last, the very last, dream of your soul.

Some dreams are nought but the gleanings of an empty heart.

An empty heart.

Why can’t I forget my past and live my life anew …

Instead, instead, instead.

Instead I’m having Sweet Dreams about you.

Sweet Dreams about you.

 

Don Gibson, the Nashville Laureate of Heartbreak, wrote, ‘Sweet Dreams’ in 1955 and singers have been launching it into the ether ever since.

Don put it out first but it was Faron Young who had the first Hit.

Don had another go in 1960 and emerged with a nice morose version that got even more people listening.

But, in 1963 Patsy Cline, who sang supremely in the Key of Heartbreak took the song to another dimension of feeling.

Patsy Cline had a voice that seemed to possess ancient knowing about the human heart.

Every Patsy Cline vocal is an intense drama that commands you to listen with deep attention.

Her bruised and anguished tones tell you; this is how it is and you know it too don’t you?

You might not want to admit it but Patsy makes it plain.

No good pretending.

Troublous dreams this night doth make me sad.

I should hate you the whole night through.

The whole night through.

Instead I’m having Sweet Dreams about you.

Once you’ve fallen asleep none can know what dreams may come.

Should you be grieved in the spirit visions in your head may trouble you all your live long days.

Jacob and Daniel and Joseph.

And in 1966 from Jonesville Louisiana Tommy McLain.

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Tommy’s version of Sweet Dreams will play forever in your dreams from the moment you first hear it.

Surely this version was recorded direct from the soundboard of your dreaming soul.

Why cant I forget my past and live my life anew?

Why, Why, Why!

Tommy’s time banishing, heart stopping, ethereal vocal seems to surround your senses with the vibraphone adding further levels of sensual derangement.

Floyd Soileau recorded Tommy in his Ville Platte Studio but was not convinced this version would sell.

He changed his mind when it was reported to him by the owner of a local bordello that the song was No 1 on their Jukebox – a favourite of the working women and customers alike!

Later on as the song got picked up by national distributors and major radio stations three Million record buyers came to agree with the folks back in Ville Platte.

 

 

Emmylou Harris (a firm Jukebox favourite) has always found the sweet heart of any song she chooses to sing.

There’s an ache in her voice that it is even more emotionally affecting now that her hair has turned to silver and her knowledge of the trials of the world has deepened.

Here, live with The Nash Ramblers she sings like the angel always out of sight in your dreams.

The one you hope will return to those dreams again.

The one you could listen to the whole night through.

The whole night through.

 

 

Some dreams don’t need words.

Some yearnings cry out beyond syllables.

Roy Buchanan made his Guitar sound your deepest dreams.

Now some will tell you this is because he played a 53 Fender Telecaster and some will wax lyrical about overtones and pinched harmonics.

Maybe. Maybe.

Yet, there is something in Roy’s playing that’s undreamt of in philosophy or guitar manuals.

When he plays like this the valleys are exalted and the hills and mountains made low.

When he plays like this the hills and mountains are made low.

When he plays like this the rough places are made plain.

When he plays like this the crooked places are made straight.

 

 

I call that a Sweet Dream.

A Sweet Dream.

You can be in my dream if I can be in yours.

 

Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins & The Chordettes : Mr Sandman

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

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

I read such Jeremiads with much personal puzzlement.

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

Some people have asked me how do I manage this?

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

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

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

When it’s time to sleep – I sleep.

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

I tip my hat to The Sandman.

 

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

I’ll serenade him in jubilant song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chordettes magic beam gave everyone a peachy dream.

 

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

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

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

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He also fell in love with and married Janet Ertel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Chet fleet fingers playing the song live.

 

 

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

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

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

Here she is magic beaming all our hearts away.

Roses and Clover. Roses and Clover.

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

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

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

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

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

Turn on that Magic Beam!

 

 

 

Little Walter : 50 Years Dead but he will never be gone! The King of the Blues Harmonica

Little Walter died 50 years ago in tragic circumstances.

The term irreplaceable is too often used – in the case of Little Walter no other term will do.

Since his untimely death many fine musicians have been inspired by the majesty of his Sound and in consequence produced superb records.

None have matched Walter’s. No one ever will.

In his honour I present again The Immortal Jukebox tribute to the greatest Blues Harmonica Player of all time.

You gotta say Little Walter invented the blues harmonica .. No one had that sound before him. No one could make the thing cry like a baby and moan like a woman.

No one could put pain into the harp and have it come out so pretty. No one understood that the harmonica – just as much as a trumpet, a trombone or a saxophone – could have have a sound that would drop you in your tracks!’. (Buddy Guy)

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Some people have just got it.

And, by it, I mean IT – the mojo that definitively separates the great from the very good and the merely good.

From the sidelines or from the stalls we can often recognise, without expert knowledge ourselves, some invisible aura that marks out the special one, the summiteer, from those still scrambling up Mount Parnuss’ lesser slopes.

It’s not necessary to have been a Major League Baseball player to have recognised, on first sight, that Ted Williams was a great hitter or that Sandy Koufax was the pitcher you’d want pitching for you if your life was at stake.

Intensive years of conservatoire schooling are not needed to know, for certain, that Maria Callas had a gift for dramatic singing that is beyond compare or that Glenn Gould as he hunched over the keyboard and played Bach’s divine music was some kind of angel himself.

Anyone, after watching even one round of Muhammad Ali boxing in his peerless prime would in head shaking wonder have had to exclaim, ‘There’s never been anyone like him!’.

Little Walter (Jacobs) a bluesman and instrumentalist of undoubted genius and the subject of today’s Immortal Jukebox post is assuredly one of that elect company.

With the certainty that advancing age brings, I confidently declare that there never will be a harmonica player to equal, let alone out do, Little Walter for drive, flair, command, show-stopping technical skill and outrageously imaginative musical daring.

Listen to the brilliance of his playing on, ‘Juke’ his first solo 45 from 1952, recorded with his colleagues in Chicago blues finest ever outfit – The Muddy Waters band.

I believe the proper expression after bearing that is, ‘Lord, Have Mercy!’.

This is Little Walter stepping up the stage, front and centre, to announce to his fellow musicians and the wider world that he was the new royal ruler of the blues harmonica.

Sure, on his way up he had been influenced by the two blues harpists named Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Walter Horton. He had arrived in Chicago as WW2 ended by way of his birthplace, Marksville Louisiana, New Orleans, Helena Arkansas, Memphis and St Louis – all the while soaking up music and developing his awesome technique.

It is clear that he had also been listening intently to thrusting saxophonists like Big Jay McNeely in addition to harp masters. But, then Walter took everything he had learned and at the warp speed of his imagination, moved into interstellar overdrive, taking the humble harmonica into uncharted territory. The territory all subsequent blues harmonica players live in.

Juke, recorded at the end of a Muddy Waters session for Chess subsidiary, Checker Records, became an enormous hit. It was biggest seller the label had up to that point and the first (and still only) harmonica led instrumental to top the R&B charts.

Walter and the commercially savvy Chess Brothers realised that while Walter should remain an essential part of the Muddy Waters sound he now needed to have his own band, The Jukes, for recording and touring purposes.

Walter was obviously the star of the show but he was fortunate to have such alert and sympathetic sidemen as guitarists, Louis and David Myers and drummer Fred Below.

Together in the period 1952 to 1958 they had 14 top ten R&B chart successes – records that are rightly regarded as blues classics. The general pattern was for each 45 to feature an instrumental allowing Walter to swoop and soar wherever his seemingly unlimited imagination took him coupled with a tough, street wise vocal side.

Walter was not a great singer but he could give a lyric a dramatic authority that lodged a song deep into your memory. It’s hard to believe that any set of sides were ever more perfectly engineered to blast out of South Side Chicago Jukeboxes!

On, ‘the threatening ‘You Better Watch Yourself’ below his harmonica doubles as a switchblade slicing the air powered by intoxicant fouled male bravado.

Or perhaps that should be doubles as a, ‘Saturday Night Special’ handgun waved to all and sundry in the joint as a signal – a declaration, that, ‘look out brothers and sisters! I’m a mean, mean dude and you had best not get in my way or mess with MY woman’.

More evidence here of Walter’s ability not simply to plug in to use the power of electricity to add volume to his harmonica but his understanding that testing the limits of the amplifiers could produce feedback and other distorting effects which he could harness to produce ever more individual and wondrous sounds.

There was something of the sorcerer about Walter – casting mysterious musical spells from a book unreadable to all but him.

Walter was a genius. He was also mean, moody and unreliable though he could be charming when he wanted to. Easily slighted, especially when drunk (and he was rarely without a bottle to hand) he was always one step, one sideways look, away from a fight.

His hungry indulgence in booze and drugs inevitably wore down his body and though his talent was immense it could not survive in its true glory beyond the late 1950s given the sustained onslaught of self abuse he visited upon it.

But when he was in his prime there was no one in Chicago or the whole wide world to touch him!

Walter, certain in his mastery of his instrument could play at the fastest tempos to whip an audience into a frenzy. But, like all the great musicians, he could exercise a mesmeric hold on his listeners playing at very slow tempo.

Listen to him on, ‘Quarter To Twelve’ sounding like some orchestral nocturnal spectre briefly visiting this material world to pass on some vital message.

I hear many things in the harmonica sounds of Little Walter.

I hear the cry and moan Buddy Guy heard.

I hear air renting sobs of pain, sly seduction, bitter rage – sometimes suppressed sometimes inescapably aimed right between our eyes and ears.

I hear terror and exultation, anxiety and ambition, lust, longing, and oceans of loss. Oceans of loss.

I hear a proud and angry grown man and a bewildered, bereft child.

I hear all the swirling sea of human emotions we are heir to drawn from the very air and brought to shining dramatic life through Walter’s miraculous sound.

A last treat – here he is, courtesy of the pen of blues godfather WIllie Dixon, with what has become a blues standard, ‘My Babe’.

What a huge sound! No fooling, this is Chicago blues at its best – this is the stuff of life.

Goodnight Walter.

May your story be heard and your tears dried.

You gave us treasure from your magnificent gifts.

Your Sound will never die.

Notes

The Chess catalogue has zig zagged through many incarnations for reissue purposes with complications appearing and disappearing with frustrating frequency.

The compilation I listen to most is the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. You could also investigate the sets from the Proper and Jasmine labels.

A record not to miss is, ‘The Blues World of Little Walter’ on blues specialist label Delmark. This is a quartet outing with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Leroy Foster. Their 1950 version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin” will send shivers through your whole being.

Neil Young, Dire Straits, The Ventures : Walk On!

‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’ (Friedrich Nietzsche)

‘Walking is man’s best medicine’ (Hippocrates)

‘Well I know you heard of the old mambo
and I know you heard of the old Congo
but when you walk you’re starting to get close
and don’t step on your partners toes!
You just Walk, yea you Walk! .. Walk! Walk!’ (Jimmy McCracklin)

I’ve written previously about my Dad and me watching our favourite TV Shows on our tiny Black and White picture television with the images sometimes looking like they were beamed in from a distant planet.

A show that always held us breathless was, ‘The Fugitive’.

Would on the run Richard Kimble ever clear his name?

Was there really a ‘One armed man’?

Would Inspector Gerard ever forgo his relentless pursuit of Richard Kimble?

Pondering these questions drinking cups of strong tea and meditatively chewing on Fry’s Chocolate Cream Bars we marvelled at Kimble’s coolness under pressure.

Almost discovered, the prison gates metaphorically swinging open to lead him to the electric chair, he remained calm.

He did not Run! Running gets you noticed. Running gets you caught.

No, he did not run. He simply walked smartly away.

Walked smartly away readying himself for the next town where, still free, he might find a clue to the whereabouts of the one armed man.

Perhaps he had been listening to the sage advice of The Ventures.

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Perhaps, breath and heart rate under control, he paced himself by playing and replaying in his head their immortal 1960 instrumental smash, ‘Walk, Don’t Run’.

That’s Bob Bogle on lead guitar, Nokie Edward on bass, Don Wilson on rhythm guitar and Skip Moore on drums (the latter made a poor decision when he said no to waiting for royalties opting instead for the immediate gratification of $25 cash!).

The tune was the 1954 invention of Jazz master guitarist Johnny Smith though The Ventures picked it up from Country maestro Chet Atkins 1957 take.

The Ventures were out of Tacoma and something in the Washington air gave them a clean, pure sound that cut deep into the imaginations of radio and Jukebox listeners all over the world.

The sound cut especially deep with neophyte guitarists like John Fogerty, Joe Walsh, Stephen Stills and Jeff Baxter – who vowed to stay locked in their bedrooms til they had that tune good and down!

It sure didn’t do any harm to the sales of Fender Jazzmasters, Stratocasters or Precision Bass Guitars either!

The precision and punch of The Ventures sound and their eagerness to adopt technology and effects in service of their sound made for addictive listening.

So, The Ventures, adding and losing members – though always with Don Wilson at the helm – continue to play and record to this very day.

And, across the vast expanse of The Pacific Ocean, they are big, no, they were and are massive, in Japan where it seems every would be Guitarist starts out listening to their forebears treasured Ventures records!

Let’s move from walking smartly to more of a lazy stroll through the good offices of Helena, Arkansas bluesman, pianist and very fine songwriter Jimmy McCracklin.

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Jimmy was a stalwart of the West Coast Blues scene from the 1940s hooking up with ace saxman and arranger Maxwell Davis and on point guitarists like Lafayette Thomas.

The Walk, from 1958, was his only national hit benefitting from the vogue for songs celebrating particular dance crazes and its promotion on Dick Clare’s American Bsndstand TV Show.

Who could resist, ‘The Walk’!

Well, well, well. Yea! You just walk indeed.

Even the denizens of the two left feet club felt that, at last, here was a dance that they could assay with some confidence!

Next up, someone with a very distinctive stride indeed.

Neil Young.

Now, it seems to me that Neil has spent his whole glorious, one moment the broad Highway, one moment the Ditch, career determined to walk smartly away from any expectation of what he might do next.

He just sets off walking and sends a report back when he gets to where he ends up.!

Oh, and he makes sure he travels light.

All he really needs for the road is an open heart and, ‘Old Black’ his Gibson Les Paul.

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Neil knows, knows in his very bones that the one thing that singles out true artists is that they walk their own path.

Good luck to the others with the path they have chosen but Neil is going to go his own sweet way however stony and steep the path ahead may be.

Walk On! Walk On! Walk On!

Walk On is from Neil’s utterly magnificent LP, ‘On Tne Beach’ which has the psycho dramatic grip of a fevered dream.

Oh yes, some get stoned and some sure get strange. Some get very strange.

But, whoever you are, wherever you are, often when you least expect it, you will find, one dewy dawn or one descending dusk, that sooner or later, sooner or later, it really all does get real.

And then, then, you can choose to lie down and wait for the wolves to arrive or you can summon up your courage, look to the horizon and Walk On!

Walk On!

As you hit your stride you can have no more fitting companion than ornery ol Neil.

Walk On!

Hang on a minute.

Here comes Johnny .. he got the action, he got the motion, yeah the boy can play. Oh yeah, he do the song about the knife. He do. He do.

He do the Walk of Life. He do the Walk of Life!

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Mark Knopler, tells stories, some profound, some wonderfully ephemeral, through his trusty Stratocaster (though below it’s a Telecaster storm).

I like it most of all when he cranks it up and recalls the sounds of Rock ‘n’ Roll that inspired a young man to take up the Guitar.

Now, Boy Howdy, ain’t that fun. Ain’t that fun!

Oh, yeah, the Boy can play. Really play.

Oldies, goldies.

Be-Bop-A-Lula, What I Say.

Power and glory.

Hand me down my Walkin’ Shoes.

My Walkin’ Shoes.

You want to live?

Put on your Walking Shoes. Put on your Walkin’ Shoes.

Do the Walk of Life.

Do the Walk of Life.

As I set out, each morning to circumnavigate our local lake, I carry within me all those songs and, always, the words of Thomas Traherne:

‘To walk is by a thought to go,
To move in spirit to and fro,
To mind the good we see,
To taste the sweet,
Observing all the things we meet,
How choice and rich they be’.

Yes, if you would save your life – Walk!

Don’t miss the good and the sweet.

Walk, walk, every day and observe how choice and rich life can be.

Oh, and how far is walking distance?

As far as your mind can conceive and your will alllow.

Nowhere is beyond walking distance if you make the time.

Walk On!

Walk On!