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

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

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

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

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

Competition was fierce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phew!

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

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

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying!

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

 

 

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidado Ahora!

Cuidado Ahora!

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

This is Punk before Punk.

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

This is a voodoo Mexican Folk Ballad.

This is pure unadulterated Rock ‘n’ Roll.

96 Tears lasts less than 3 minutes playing time.

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

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

with infinite gusto long before the 3 minutes has elapsed.

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

The guitarist was founding Mysterian Bobby Balderrama.

Eddie Serrano sat on the Drum Stool.

Bass was played by Fernando Aguilar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidad Ahora!

Cuidad Ahora!

A true message always gets through.

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

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

Such is Youth (and Thank God for it!)

The message certainly got through to Brooklyn.

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

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

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

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

The Band really got their groove happening here!

 

A true message always gets through.

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

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

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

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

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying.

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on.

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

You’re Gonna cry 96 Tears.

Youre gonna cry 96 Tears.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

I’m gonna  count every one.

Every single one.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

 

 

Notes :

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

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

Other versions to look out for are by:

Big Maybelle

Thelma Houston

Suicide

David Byrne & Richard Thompson

The Stranglers

Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.

Gerry Rafferty : Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway

I believe in Ghosts.

No, not the ghouls and spectres of Halloween or graveyard apparitions.

The Ghosts I believe in lie dormant in the labyrinthine halls of the mind and the secret chambers of the heart.

And, these Ghosts, lingering traces of people and places no longer with us, can come to visit, unbidden, in afternoon reveries or in the quiet watches of the night.

A few bars of a tune from decades ago.

A once familiar fragrance floating by.

An overheard accent in an unexpected place.

And, suddenly, a Ghost appears and asks, ‘How is it with you these days?’

Do you still remember me?

Of course, sometimes, we summon up these Ghosts ourselves as we try to come to terms with the longing for and the loss of our past loves.

‘The coat she wore still lies upon the bed’.

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With , ‘Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway’ Gerry Rafferty wrote the most exquisite song I know examining the bittersweet persistence of the Ghosts of a former romantic relationship.

Now that’s a song that, once heard, will always linger in your heart.

Gerry Rafferty was a songwriter to his fingertips.

There was nothing accidental in a Gerry Rafferty record.

Consider the artistic intelligence and emotional acuity in opening a song about romantic reverie with a 40 second introduction of wispy woodwinds and muted brass accompanied by humming revealing what spoken words are not yet ready to say – mama you’ve been on my mind.

And, now the Ghost appears.

Now the memories cascade.

Cascade.

No point in pretending that these are not in many respects memories that warm as well as chill.

Memories that offer more insights when uttered than the bearer of those memories may care to consciously realise.

‘The book I gave her that she never read’.

Perhaps, that was one of those books men are so prone to giving as romantic presents – a book meant to signal the special intelligence and sophistication of the giver rather than one chosen to delight the recipient.

Gerry sings the song in a tone of melodic regretful intimacy.

Trying to make sense of it all.

Where did it go wrong?

Where did I go wrong?

What else could I have done?

Maybe it wasn’t just my fault.

These things just happen.

Her father didn’t like me anyway.

Her father didn’t like me anyway.

‘She left without a single word to say’.

Yes, at the end, there really is not a single word to say.

How many times can you say Goodbye?

Just the echoing sound of the closing door.

The closing door.

‘She always wanted more than I could give.’

Now, that’s a young man’s phrase.

You give how much you choose to give.

You can give so much more than you ever think you can give.

Time will teach you that lesson.

‘She wasn’t happy with the way we lived’

Living and loving every day is hard work.

You really have to want to do it from the depth of your being.

‘I didn’t feel like asking her to stay’.

If you don’t maintain that commitment things must fall apart.

‘To tell the truth I didn’t have the nerve’.

It’s so easy to let things drift and drift and drift until there’s no way back to harbour.

No way back.

‘So now she’s taken leave of me today’.

So, one of you comes to realise the spark has been extinguished and it’s past time.

It’s always past time when you finally decide to go.

And, there’s release in decision and action.

Even for the one left behind.

‘I know I only got what I deserved’.

How well the masochistic coat can fit!

Dim lights, strong drink, remember again.

Remember again and again and again.

Narrators can be very unreliable.

You know, we all know, it wasn’t really Daddy’s fault.

Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway.

Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway.

What a rich and resonant song!

‘Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway’ takes its honoured place as A25 on The Immortal Jukebox.

Notes:

Her Father was written and recorded by Gerry Rafferty when he was a member of The Humblebums with Billy Connolly who, of course, went on to be a major star as a comedian.

Long before the world wide success of ‘Baker Street’ Gerry Rafferty had recorded a series of superb songs distinguished by their melodic grace, their sardonic lyrical deftness and the care and attention with which they were sung.

Songs like, ‘Mary Skeffington’ (after his Mother), ‘Patrick’, ‘Steamboat Row’ and ‘Shoeshine Boy’ match Paul McCartney all the way for melodic flow and memorability.

There will be much more to say about Gerry Rafferty on The Jukebox later.

For now I urge you to purchase a Humblebums compilation and the solo records, ‘Can I Have My Money Back?’, ‘City to City’ and, ‘Night Owl’.

These records, the work of a major songwriter, will endure.

Jukebox Jive :

Recently several loyal Jukebox afficianados have written in to ask what music I’m listening to apart from that featured in the weekly Post.

Your wish is my command!

Top of the Music mountain this week:

Van Morrison ‘The Lions Share Shows’ – astounding live performances from 1971 (available on YouTube)

Tom Russell ‘Play One More – The Songs of Ian & Sylvia’ – characterful takes on folk standards.

Curtis Mayfield – ‘No Place Like America Today’ – A mature masterwork by one of the greatest figures in modern music.

From The Archive

Another faithful Jukebox fan wrote in to say he had just discovered the Post on Maura O’Connell and said, ‘How did I miss this one!’

Well, there’s over 200 Posts here now so there’s treasure aplenty to be mined!

So, each week I’ll provide links to 3 previous Posts so you can make a discovery or reminisce.

Here’s that Post on the tenderly wonderful Maura

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-mT

Now here’s a rarity! One of my poems ‘Static’ – something of a meditation on exile and Father’s and Sons

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-2U

Finally the death of Chuck Berry reminded me of how world changing the original Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefathers were.

Here’s a tribute to the inimitable Little Richard.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3J

Van Morrison : GLORIA! GLORIA! GLORIA! GLORIA!

Let’s remind ourselves what’s A1 on The Immortal Jukebox and why!

Some songs have a brutally simple primal perfection.

Usually these songs are recorded at the very beginning of an artists career before they start to look into the rear view mirror and become conscious that they do indeed have a career, a legacy and a reputation to protect.

These are records that come at you full bore and demand you listen now!

Think of the primitive perfection of the last song recorded on the day the Beatles recorded their first LP.

You want to know what The Beatles sounded like in Hamburg? Listen to the raw bleeding magnificence of John Lennon’s vocal on, ‘Twist and Shout’ and the eyeballs out commitment of Paul, George and Ringo.

There was no way a second take could top that!

Think of the stupid beauty of the Undertones debut single, ‘Teenage Kicks’ – a record that captured as few others have the thrilling intoxication of young love and lust.

Feargal Sharkey’s impassioned vocal (All right!) and the unrepeatable delirium of Damian O’ Neill’s guitar solo combine to create a miracle that comes up fresh every time and is endlessly replayable – which seems a pretty good definition of what I want from a jukebox single.

And then there’s the Daddy of all primal utterances on 45 – Gloria by Van Morrison during his days with Them.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout the 1960s that wherever and whenever a group of would be rock and roll stars gathered – in the family garage, in the basement or at a flea bitten church or municipal hall – very soon after they had plugged in they would launch, with wildly varying degrees of competence, into their own version of, ‘Gloria’.

Puzzled passers-by must have wondered why such a simple name needed to be spelled out with such repetitive intensity.

‘And her name is G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.

They must also have shuddered at the threat:

‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A! G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.

It is likely that many of the groups who attacked the song made a fair fist of the instrumental ground of the song – three chords don’t take long to master.

A few of the lead guitar players will have matched Jimmy Pages fluency and prowess as demonstrated on the recording.

However, No-one, No-one, will have come anywhere near reproducing the frenzied intensity of Van Morrison’s pyrotechnic vocal.

This Van Morrison was not the superlative song stylist or the Celtic soul and blues master he would later become.

This was a snarling, desperate, bewildered teenager who was reluctantly coming to terms with life and lust. The whole painful mess of it all.

A youth who looked down more than he looked up but who was nevertheless able to surprise himself with the ability to express vocally the gamut of emotions and frustrations he faced every day and every night.

But, from the very get-go in his career there was no doubt about who was leading and commanding the band.

Van Morrison on the bandstand or in the studio acts as an emperor, a ruler by right of his eminent majesty as a singer and as a band leader. In this, as so much else, he took his cue from the high priest of soul – Ray Charles.

Gloria is a work of explosive youth, of wanting and yearning, of overwhelming mind and body dominating lust.

Gloria may be the most purely male, testosterone fueled record ever made.

Gloria, five feet four from her head to the ground, is the eternal lust object. Van Morrison might say that she knocks upon his door and even more thrillingly comes to his room but the thrust of the song seems to me to be the solitary, devoutly told repetition of an oft returned to fantasy.

There may well have been a real Gloria but it is the dream of Gloria who knocks on Van’s door with such insistent force. Surely, if he could only chant her name with enough power she would indeed knock upon his door and make all his fevered dreams come true:

G – L – O – R – I A !! G- L- O- R – I – A

The musical drive of Gloria is the relentless beat, beat, beat of male desire in all it’s sullen and obsessive purity. Gloria is the incarnation on vinyl of the desperate teenage male imperative to be adultly carnal – its a boy desperately wanting, needing, to be a man.

Gloria has more tension than release – much like all young lives. This is no doubt why it appealed so powerfully to beat group boys all over the world.

Van snarls his way through the lyric with his uniquely salty Belfast tones alternately pressing and holding back – he already had a grasp of dynamics within song arrangement born of years of listening to Ray, John Lee and Leadbelly on the street where he was born.

Gloria is also as every listener who’s ever heard it knows one hell of a rush!

It comes roaring out of the speakers and before you have time to catch your breath you are carried along on its tidal wave of rhythmic power.

Two minutes and thirty-eight seconds later you will be nearly as elatedly exhausted as Van Morrison himself.

Take a breath or two and maybe down a shot of Bushmills – then press A1 again – you know you want to.

Notes & Comments:

Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th.

Them members Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson RIP (bass), Ronnie MIllings (drums) and Patrick McCauley (keyboards) were present in the studio when Gloria was recorded and all probably contributed to the single.

Also present were key members of London’s top session musicians of the time. Jimmy Page surely played the lead guitar and Bobby Graham (who would later play the on the equally epochal ‘You really got me’, must have played the drums).

Arthur Greenslade probably played the organ.

There have been numerous cover versions. The most commercially successful being that by The Shadows of Knight which made No 10 in the US charts at the end of 1966.

The most artistically successful is Patti Smith’s reinvention of the song on her amazing debut LP ‘Horses’ in 1975.

Big Joe Turner : Moving The Earth – Shake Rattle and Roll !

“Rock and roll would have never happened without him” – Doc Pomus

Auguries. Signs. Portents.

Beneath the stillness something is stirring.

Tectonic plates are shifting.

Magma is on the move.

In the sky above the birds describe strange patterns.

Something is stirring. Something is stirring.

The restless beasts of the field call out in distress.

The Moon turns blood red and the wick of The Sun threatens to gutter and die.

Still ponds spit and steam.

Something is stirring. Something is stirring.

Rivers run dry while the dreadful Sea rises higher and higher and higher.

The wolves and the tigers prowl quietly in the night.

Babes stir anxiously in their mother’s wombs.

Something is stirring. Something is stirring.

Rock ‘n’ Roll. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Enter Stage Left : Big Joe Turner – a man no bear would dare pursue.

Well Areet Banaza! Areet Banaza! Take me home Daddy! Take me home!

‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ is one of those records that has you exclaiming in the brief moments between its end and you hitting repeat, ‘Now that’s the greatest record ever made’.

And you don’t get no fighting talk from me about that.

Which is why, ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ majestically takes its place on The Immortal Jukebox as A18

It was issued in April 1954 on Atlantic Records and took up residence in the R&B charts for the next 6 months.

It’s a landmark record that exploded in the consciousness of every audience that heard it.

You’re not so keen on the Foxtrot as soon as you’ve heard, ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’!

Big Joe had cut more than 50 singles, many of them magnificent, when he signed with Atlantic in 1951.

There he found a home where his immense ability was recognised, supported and promoted.

The hits flowed – ‘Chains of Love’, ‘Sweet Sixteen’, ‘Honey Hush’ and, ‘TV Mama’ captured his talent in full flow and turned new generations of the public and fellow artists on to the great man.

I have often heard Big Joe described as a, ‘Blues Shouter’ and up to a point Lord Copper that’s true.

At full volume it’s true that Big Joe’s voice could stop a speeding truck or leave a forest felled in its wake.

Yet, Big Joe was a lot more than just a shouter. He had immense power at his command but it was highly controlled power.

Big Joe could swing. Big Joe could stroll.

Big Joe could be seductive.

Big Joe could be salacious. Boy Howdy could he be salacious!

Big Joe could command a band and a bandstand.

Big Joe could sell a lyric.

Big Joe was a marvel who could do what the hell he pleased with a song!

Big Joe just kept getting better and better and sooner or later it was obvious that the world would catch up with him and realise that he was an American Master whose work would be inscribed in history for evermore.

Now, none of this would come as any surprise to the head honchos at Atlantic – Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Etregun.

They were savvy businessmen and deep dyed music fanatics who knew, just knew, that given the right material and surrounded by musicians of the right calibre Big Joe would make records that would be unstoppable.

Unstoppable.

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So they assembled an A Team to guarantee Big Joe the success his mighty talent deserved.

First, a songwriter, musician and arranger who is one of the secret heroes of 20th Century music – Jesse Stone.

Jesse, was born in 1901, into a highly musical family and it was soon clear that Jesse had the dedication and the smarts to make a career in the music business.

Wherever there was a thriving music scene – Kansas City, Detroit, New York City, Jesse was there learning, listening and storing away ideas for songs and arrangements.

Pretty soon he became a go to guy if you wanted a sound that swung and perked up the ears of the audiences of the day.

Benny Goodman had a hit with his,’Idaho’. Louis Jordan took, ‘Cole Slaw’ up the charts.

Oh, and he also happened to write, ‘Smack Dab in the Middle’, ‘Money Honey’, ‘Losing Hand’ and, ‘Sh-Boom’!

But Jesse never wrote a song with more visceral impact than Shake Rattle and Roll. The lyric is a no holds barred celebration of the pleasures of the flesh yoked to a dynamite arrangement that just sweeps you away.

The glorious Sax solo comes courtesy of Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor who was everybody’s first choice when recording in NYC studios in the 1950s.

On Guitar the superb Mickey Baker (featured here earlier on the ‘Love is Strange post).

On Drums Connie Kay who later showed his sensitive side when playing with The Modern Jazz Quartet and his mystical side when he formed the rhythm section with Bassist Richard Davis for Van Morrison’s epochal, ‘Astral Weeks’ sessions.

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Together with Big Joe front and centre they made a record that truly is earth shaking.

A record that you’ll believe to your very soul.

Your very soul.

How does it go?

It goes like this!

‘Shake, Rattle and Roll.’

Sing it Big Joe. Sing it!

Jonathan Richman : Roadrunner! One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six!

 

‘… He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.’ (William Blake)

‘We’d come up over a hill and he’d see the radio towers, the beacons flashing, and he would get almost teary eyed .. He’d see all this beauty in things where other people just wouldn’t see it.’ (John Felice, childhood friend of Jonathan Richman)

 

‘… Roadrunner once, Roadrunner twice, I’m in love with rock & roll

and I’ll be out all night’ (Jonathan Richman)

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It is a matter of some hilarity in our family and eyebrow raising puzzlement to visitors to our home that whenever I perform any kind of count off I don’t echo the rock roadie, ‘One, two – one, two’ or the more conventional, ‘One, two, three, four …’.

Oh no!

When I count off I always chant with a crazed grin and extreme vigour:

One, two, three, four, five, six!

And, the reason for this is simple.

One, two, three, four, five, six!‘ is the intro to what may well be the most exhilarating rock and roll song ever recorded.

A song that never, ever, fails to thrill when you hear it – no matter which of its numerous live or recorded versions you chance upon or carefully select.

I refer, of course, to Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers immortal, ‘Roadrunner’.

We should, as they say, begin at the beginning.

Jonathan Richman was born in Natick, Massachusetts 10 miles west of Boston on May 16 1951. After a conventional suburban childhood the teenage Jonathan had a Pauline epiphany which would change his life forever.

On the radio, among 1967’s kaleidoscope of folk rock, blues rock, summery pop and psychedelia something shockingly, wonderfully, NEW crashed into his consciousness.

From the dark heart of New York City strange siren songs filled with sin and secrets – The Velvet Underground.

The combination of Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison’s relentless guitar attack, Lou’s deadpan vocals, John Cale’s instrumental extremity and Mo Tucker’s zen drumming entirely redrew the map of the world for Jonathan.

From that epochal moment whenever The Velvets played Boston, invariably at the Boston Tea Party at 53 Berkeley Street, Jonathan was there – absorbing the music through every physical and spiritual pore.

A particular favourite of his was, ‘Sister Ray’ a dervish three chord cataclysm that could last for anything up to half an hour until the band and audience were transported to undreamt of dimensions of being.

And, no one listening flew further or higher on the astral plane than Jonathan. For he was a waking dreamer with dreams of his own.

Dreams of his own that would become songs like shooting stars.

Songs influenced by his beloved Velvets but glowingly imbued with the imagination of a young man who intuitively perceived the shining radiance of the everyday world all around him.

A young man who could make that radiant world burst into life through a few chords and the total immersion of his own being in the song he was singing.

A young man who could write and perform a transcendent anthem about listening to the radio as he drove round Boston’s suburbs.

A young man who could turn the, ‘Stop ‘n’ Shop’, Route 128, the suburban trees, the factories, the auto signs and the radio waves saturating the Massachusetts night into holy way-stations on an ecstatic journey to heaven!

Join Jonathan now on that journey.

 

 

Va Va Voom! Va Va Voom! Va Va Voom!

There are apocryphal tales of Disc Jockeys in the 1950s locking themselves into the studio as they played, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ over and over and over until desperate radio station bosses broke in with axes to restore sanity to the airwaves.

I know exactly how those DJs felt.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, buying in August 1976 the vinyl LP, ‘Modern Lovers’ which had, ‘Roadrunner’ as its opening track.

I believe it took me several dazed days and nights before I even attempted to play another track on the record as I obsessively wore out the Roadrunner groove.

As soon as I got back to college I announced with a prophet’s zeal to anyone who would listen that their lives would be transformed by listening to Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, ‘Roadrunner’.

Look what listening to it a couple of hundred times had done for me!

Jonathan wrote Roadrunner in 1970 and recorded it first with John Cale as producer in 1972 – though such were the vagaries of the music business that it took until 1976 for it to emerge.

You can hear the homage to The Velvet Underground and especially Cale’s organ sound all through this version of Roadrunner.

The rhapsodic keyboards are courtesy of Jerry Harrison who would later achieve fame with Talking Heads. David Robinson, later of The Cars, provides the foot to the floor and keep it there drums. Ernie Brooks anchors everything on the bass.

And Jonathan? Well, miraculously, Jonathan brings his innocent eye and his full heart to the song and conjures a lustrous landscape where the spiritual and physical realms we live and move in balletically entwine.

In this song, and to my mind particularly in this version, Jonathan Richman achieves something very rare.

He manages to create a work of art which captures the quantum quick of life.

The reach and energy of his imagination takes him to a place where is viscerally aware of the unique distinctiveness of the people and objects in the world around him.

And, surrendering his ego to that vision he accepts it as a gift and offers it to us.

If we accept it, as he did, we too will have had a glimpse of eternity’s sunrise.

 

Notes:

There are many versions of Roadrunner.

‘Roadrunner Twice’ a hit single in the UK was recorded in 1974 with Jonathan backed by The Greg Kihn Band.

‘Roadrunner Thrice’ is a wonderful live version.

Jonathan is a mesmeric performer able to fill a room with joy with a capital J.

So the best version of Roadrunner ever may be one he is yet to play.

 

Merle Haggard, Dave Alvin & Emmylou Harris – Kern River

‘I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By the worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.’

(T. S. Eliot – ‘The Dry Salvages’)

The river is a strong brown god.

In our lives we all have many rivers to cross. And, so often, we can’t seem to find our way over. Over to the land of milk and honey. Over to the land of lost content. Over to the home we are sure is there waiting, waiting.

So filled now with hope, now with faith, now firm in resolve, now lost and abandoned without hope or faith or resolve we stand silent and shivering on the river bank. Wondering will I ever cross over and what will await me when I do?

The river is a strong brown god.

Beside a river man is a paltry thing despite all the majesty of our boats and bridges. The river ran before man ever drew breath and will run and run long after our last breath.

The river is a strong brown god.

And, we are attracted to the power and mystery of rivers even as we fear their mystery and power. And, sometimes the river, in spate and flood, asserts its power and authority and reminds us brutally that beside a river man is a paltry thing.

A river, in flood and spate, can, in a moment, sweep away our idle dreams of the future and leave us chastened, bereft, beached and fearful of rivers for the rest of our lives.

The river is a strong brown god.

Merle Haggard know this. Merle has always seemed to me have the far away look of a man who knows how unfair and brutal life can be. A man who learned hard lessons in youth which he can never dismiss or deny.

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A man who does not flinch to tell uncomfortable truths. A man who honed his craft as a songwriter so that his songs seem like the folk takes or fables we use to illustrate the wisdom of the race.

And, being the great songwriter and performer he is in 1995 he recorded my favourite river song, ‘Kern River’, a song as deep and mysterious as a river. A song filled with flinty, implacable power.

A song which has eddied and swirled through my imagination since the first time I fell under the current of its spell. It still runs through my dreams.

In a few short verses of spare telling detail delivered with a measured, dry-eyed, rueful tone Merle sums up a life stalled and cauterised by sudden trauma. Sudden trauma, when a river’s swiftness swept the love of a man’s life away.

On one side of the river life on the other death. Oblivious the river, Kern River, flows on. And, when your life has been cleft in two; into before and after what can you be sure of now?

Only that a river can be mean, meaner than you ever imagined. All you can be sure of now is that you will never, never, swim Kern River again. Oh, it may be that drowning may still be your fate for a man can’t escape his fate wherever he is, wherever he escapes to.

We all have an appointment in Samarra or Lake Shasta and you can drown in still water just as you can drown in a raging torrent.

Now, he is alone, a shattered survivor, weightless like chaff in the wind to be swept up into the mountains. Now he stares ahead remembering the town he grew up in where the oil flowed though his gusher never came in.

Now, as the hours and days fall like soft sift through the hourglass he remembers his lost love, his best friend, who he must live without for all the hours and days his life has left. All the hours and days he has left.

All around him the mountains remind him that beside nature man is a paltry thing. And that the river is a strong brown god. So he may cross, with care on the highway but he will never swim Kern River again.

Merle Haggard’s, ‘Kern River’ is a masterpiece from an American master. A song whose depths can never be sounded.

It takes up its place on The Immortal Jukebox as A15

Though nothing can match the Homeric authority of Merle’s own take on, ‘Kern River’ the song has attracted fellow songwriters and singers who know that it is a song of rare power.

Listen here to Dave Alvin’s meditative live in the studio version which has a lovely flow.

Dave Alvin, a mighty songwriter in his own right, has always listened closely to the masters of American song and it is clear that he has learned how to allow the power of a true song to flow through his guitar and his voice.

Emmylou Harris has spent decades mining the songbook of American roots music. To each of these treasures she brings the tender beauty of her voice and her unerring knack of finding superb musicians to make the songs come alive in performance.

Below, with The Red Dirt Boys she brings a dreamy, revival meeting by the river, passion to the song. You might believe for an instant that the river would be lulled and stilled.

 

Yet, we know the river can never really be propitiated. It will flow and flow on no matter how lovely the song sung on its banks.

The river is a strong brown god.

Notes:

Kern River was the title track of a CD Merle issued in 1995.

Dave Alvin has recorded the song on a lovely multi artist tribute CD to Merle called, ‘Tulare Dust’ and also on his own wonderful, ‘West of the West’

Emmylou Harris’ version can be found on her, ‘All That I Intended To Be’

Ry Cooder, Elton John, Solomon Burke & Jim Reeves: ‘He’ll Have To Go’

Christmas Cracker 6

Oceans and oceans of emotion have flowed through the telephone wires buzzing above your head. Think of all the announcements.

I’ve passed my exams!

I’ll be home for Christmas!

We are going to get married!

It’s a Girl!

We did all we could but I’m sorry to tell you that …..

There was a time, centuries and centuries, when announcements like that came by letter or were delivered face to face. The invention of the telephone allowed direct personal communication at great distance bringing the disembodied voice right into your ear and mind.

And, humans being human the telephone has been used for every virtuous and nefarious purpose imaginable.

Right now someone is planning to call you with the aim of draining your bank account.

Right now someone is patiently listening to a tortured soul who thinks life isn’t worth living anymore and assuring them that there is at least one person who will answer when they call again.

Right now some poor sap is reeling as he learns that the party’s over; that love can lie, that the love still burning so bright for him is naught but cold, cold ashes for her. And, you know what? He still won’t believe it!

Slumped on his bar stool with the jukebox blaring he tries to clear the fog in his head to summon up all his persuasive powers for one last, ‘Don’t Go!’ plea.

Surely, if he can only find the right words, he can reignite those hot flames and they will be together again:

‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’

Ah, Jim Reeves, Gentleman Jim, the Prince, the peerless Potentate of three in the morning melancholia! I’ve spent many a night drinking deep with that velvet voice.

Many a night his oracular tones have echoed and reechoed in my mind and heart as I battled to accept the unacceptable, searching to find reasons, answers, and eventually a way out.

Mostly Jim taught me that there was no easy way out – some things can’t be worked round. No, they have to be got through, endured.

And if you need a companion on your exhausting, perilous progress back to sanity and some vestige of normality you won’t find one better than Jim Reeves.

You wont be surprised at Jim’s popularity in the Americas and in Europe. But, you might be a little taken aback to learn of his immense popularity in Jamaica and that in India and Sri Lanka he is enormously admired and revered by many as a, ‘Gandharva’ an earth born singer in tune with the heavens.

Jim’s, ‘I’m speaking directly to you, just you, in all your pain’ confiding vocals cut through barriers of race and culture.

No one is immune from Jim crooning, ‘Should I hang up or will you tell him he’ll have to go’ or, ‘Do you want me answer yes or no’.

And, tell me you don’t how the terrible cost of choking out the words, ‘Darling I will understand’.

Jim took Jim and Audrey Allison’s song which had done nothing in its first recording by Billy Brown and gave it a magic that endures. A magic that has won millions of listeners (14 weeks a country No 1 in 1960) and inspired hundreds of singers to seek out that magic too.

Jim Reeves life was cut short by a plane crash in 1964 but there can be doubt that as long as hearts get broken and people seek solace in music that Jim’s voice will live on.

Any Jukebox that I’ve got anything to do with will always have a copy of Jim Reeves ‘He’ll Have To Go’ ready to play for the lost and the lonely when they need it.

So, as sole proprietor of The Immortal Jukebox I’m announcing that, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ has been awarded the position of A13 on The Immortal Jukebox.

As its the season of goodwill and a time for generosity I’m donning my Santa Claus suit and bringing you several other versions of the song for you to digest with your drink of choice.

First up a rapturous, let’s turn the lights down and sway together in the cantina live version by Jukebox favourite, Ry Cooder, accompanied by Flaco Jimenez, the king of Conjunto, Norteno and Tejana accordion.

I think you’ll want a premium Tequila here.

‘He’ll Have To Go’ is always thought of a Country Pop song. However as the regal Solomon Burke definitively demonstrates below it works every bit as well as Country Soul.

Solomon has power in reserve as he cruises through his version suggesting depths of emotion by subtle shifts in tempo, accent and volume.

Solomon never lets you down.

I think a fine Tennessee sippin’ Whiskey will do the job here.

To conclude a version by one of the great rock/pop stars of the modern era, Elton John. At heart Elton has always been a huge music fan – someone who genuinely loves songs and singers.

As he says here he started out as the unregarded boy in the corner of the pub playing the piano. Since then, of course, he’s written more than a few songs himself that we all know by heart.

That’s how you become a huge star selling tens of millions of records. In addition he has been a relentlessly hard working performer and you can hear the fruits of all those hours on stage in this solo performance from 1992.

You’ll have to uncork the Champagne for this one.

Finally perhaps we should all close our eyes and sing our own a cappella version – remembering the time we all wished we could have said:

‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’

This post dedicated to George who’ll be listening in his rural retreat – no doubt with a fine bottle at hand.

Notes:

I listened to a lot of versions of, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ preparing this post. A lot.

One I would definitely have included if Youtube would have cooperated was that by Glasgow’s great son, Frankie Miller (please look it up).

Frankie’s version is deeply heartfelt. In his 70s and 80s pomp Frankie could out write and out sing almost any singer you can think of.

Peers like Rod Stewart and Alan Toussaint recognised his special qulaities. Principally his ability to wring every blood drop of emotion from a song while carrying his audience with him through his beautiful rhythmic assurance.

If you do one thing this holiday season seek out Frankie Miller’s CD, ‘Highlife’ and then work your way through his catalogue. You won’t regret it.

I recommend a peaty single malt from Islay as your accompaniment.

Other versions I think you might profitably seek out include those from: Bryan Ferry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Rivers, UB 40, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Billy Joe Royal, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Cash, Harry Dean Stanton, Jackie Edwards, Elvis Costello and Tom Jones.