Featuring memories of the Summer of 1975 & an all you can eat ‘Hey Baby’ Buffet with :
Bruce Channel, Delbert McClinton, Arthur Alexander, NRBQ, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Holmes Brothers, Juice Newton and Jimmy Vaughan.
(As always if corporate czars block any of the clips appearing here you will be able to find them by a trawl of YouTube).
Last week I had to visit our local civic centre to fill out some official forms.
This involved, as encounters with officialdom almost always do, a lot of waiting about in uncomfortable chairs while my details were checked and double checked before eventually my application was approved.
Normally, I would plug in my earphones and pass the time listening to a fine selection of expertly curated Immortal Jukebox tunes.
However, it turned out that I had left home without either my phone or iPad so I became a captive of the building’s playlist.
But, wouldn’t you just know it – the very first song played was, ‘Hey Baby!’ by Bruce Channel, a favourite of mine for many a decade.
Indeed, as soon as the distinctive harmonica riff (played by Delbert McClinton) announced itself I was transported back to a summer job in 1975.
My Dad was a long term employee of a civil engineering firm so he was able to secure me a job on a site not too far from home.
Through his good offices I also got a lift each morning at 6.30 from Dave, a trainee Quantity Surveyor, in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citroën 2CV, a car which made up for in charm what it lacked in speed and power.
Its been more than 4 decades since I travelled with Dave so I must confess that i have forgotten his surname.
But, I remember the important things.
To whit – he had ginger hair and proudly sported a, ‘Zapata’ moustache.
He was witty when commenting on world events and kind when commenting on people he knew directly.
And, most importantly for our friendship he was a self proclaimed music fanatic with particular interests in Motown and American Pop Hits of the early 1960s before the British Invasion.
Dave had made a series of cassettes showcasing his enthusiasms and we enthusiastically sang along to these on our half hour journey to work.
To establish my bona tides as a true lover of music rather than a passive listener Dave casually asked what was the common thread linking the last three songs we had harmonised to : ‘Jimmy Mack’, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ and, ‘My Guy’ ?
He was quick to say I would get no points for saying they all featured the same crew of musicians; the legendary Funk Brothers.
Fair enough I said and won his approval by saying the other link was the backing vocalists: those barely known and critically unsung heroines of Hitsville USA, ‘The Andantes’ (Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, and Louvain Demps).
Next as he cued up the tape labelled, ‘Hits 1962’ he asked as the once heard never forgotten harmonica intro to, ‘Hey Baby’ blasted out into the West London fume filled streets – Who’s playing that harmonica?
Not only did I know that it was Delbert McClinton I said I had just bought his new Album, ‘Victim of Life’s Circumstances’ and would lend it to him to tape.
From that day on as I got into the 2CV it was always, ‘Hey Baby’ at maximum volume that greeted me.
Thus was our friendship cemented.
At the end of that Summer he moved to Scotland and I never saw him again.
But I will never forget those 2CV/Motown/Hey Baby days so wherever you are Dave this one’s for you.
I hope you still thrill to the sound of Young America and sing with all your might whenever you hear Bruce Channel’s vocal and Delbert’s harmonica light up the airwaves :
I want to know if you’ll be my girl
I want to know if you’ll be my girl
Now, as Major Bill Smith, who recorded, ‘Hey Baby’ was heard to remark :
’Cotton Picker, that’s sure one Cotton Pickin’ Hit!’
And he was perfectly cotton pickin’ right.
Sales of more than a million with 3 weeks atop the Billboard Chart and Number 2 in the UK.
And, permanently lodged in the memories of several generations of musicians across many genres.
Hey Baby is endlessly adaptable (as we shall see and hear) whether you are approaching it as Rock ‘n’ Roll, Blues, Country, Cajun/Zydeco or pure Pop!
The original benefits from Bruce’s relaxed vocal set to an addictive shuffle beat provided by Jim Rogers and Ray Torres on Drums and Bass.
Bob Jones and Billy Sanders Guitars fill out the sound.
But, the undoubted signature sound of the song is provided by Delbert McClinton’s Harmonica.
One of those was none other than John Lennon who met Delbert in person when The Beatles supported Bruce Channel at The Tower Ballroom New Brighton on the 21st of June 1962.
John certainly remembered that lick when The Fab Four got into Abbey Road to record, ‘Love Me Do’.
And, he never forgot, ‘Hey Baby!’ as is clear from its presence on his own Jukebox.
That Jukebox also contained work by our next artist – Arthur Alexander.
John recognised that Arthur was a great singer who could add a shadowy blue tone to any song.
Sing it Arthur!
Next up an utterly charming version by the NRBQ from their dazzlingly diverse 1969 debut LP.
The NRBQ, then Terry Adams (keyboards), Steve Ferguson (guitar), Joey Spampinato (bass), Frank Gadler (vocals) and Tom Staley (drums), obviously had a riotously good time recording, ‘Hey Baby’ and that shows in every groove.
Set yourself down on your porch swing and uncork something smooth and sweet!
OK, time to paddle our pirogue down to Louisiana.
So, we will replace the harmonica with the accordion and make sure our boots are on properly because we are about to really fly around the floor dancing to this version from Buckwheat Zydeco!
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Listing the genres Hey Baby! could be adapted to I unforgivably omitted Gospel.
It is clear that The Holmes Brothers bring something of the backwoods Country Church to our party here.
Sherman and Wendell sure get an Amen from me!
Now we turn to a much overlooked talent – Judy ‘Juice’ Newton who always brings the warmth of a summer breeze to her performances.
When you are bringing out that home made lemonade for your Summer BBQ I strongly recommend you look out some of her records.
Youll find you’ll float across the lawn (even if you haven’t laced the lemonade with something a little stronger!).
Back to Texas for our concluding take.
I feel like putting my shades on as I groove to this slinky version by Jimmy Vaughan.
Let’s not pretend we went anywhere near Lemonade as that one prowled around our minds!
No, got to be something with a powerful kick and an after burn.
I don’t know what Jimmy, Mike Flanigin and Frosty Smith go for but I’m going for the Kentucky Straight!
Having done so I’m ready to dig out my harmonica and lead you all in:
I want to know if you’ll be my girl
Hey, hey baby
I want to know if you’ll be my girl
When I saw you walking down the street
I said that’s a kind of girl I’d like to meet
She’s so pretty, Lord, she’s fine
I’m gonna make her mine, all mine
Songs that speak truthfully to the ebbing and flowing tides of our lives take on a life of their own cutting distinctive channels in our hearts.
Such songs as Bob Dylan says ‘get up and walk’ away from their composers and become community treasures.
Treasures cherished by what I still think of as the ‘record buying public’ and perhaps even more so by fellow songwriters who recognise a classic song with such lyrical and melodic grace that it seems to demand new interpretations.
The song taking pride of place on The Immmortal Jukebox today is an absolute Peach – ‘Tennessee Blues’ written and first performed by the late, great, Bobby Charles.
I can imagine brows being furrowed at the name – Bobby Charles?
Now, you may not be a fully paid up, got the T Shirt and the Box Set, fan like me but believe me you know and can croon along to several Bobby Charles songs.
How about, ‘See You Later Alligator’ or ‘Walking To New Orleans’ not to mention ‘Before I Grow Too Old’ or ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ for starters.
Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Frogman Henry had the Chart hits but they all came from the pen and piano of Abbeville La native Robert Charles Guidry – Bobby Charles.
Bobby’s own versions of his songs are uniformally lovely with, ‘Tennessee Blues’ from his glowing 1972 album produced by The Band’s Rick Danko winning the garland for the most lovely of all.
From the ‘Trust us, we’ll take our own sweet time with this one’ opening bars you just know Tennessee Blues is gonna be a Keeper!
There’s a free flowing lazy certainty to the way the song proceeds.
Everything feels natural, unhurried, ripe and right.
Listening you feel like you’re gently rocking to and fro, deliciously half asleep, in a summer hammock.
By now, having lived with this song for decades, as soon as the song starts I can feel the tears welling up and my Boot Heels get ready to go wandering once again round the dance floor with my Darling.
And as we twirl, lost in the Music, we find a place where we don’t have to worry.
A place where we feel loose.
A place alive with the sound of running water and the trills of birds in the trees.
A place to forget all those regrets.
A place where we can settle and stay.
A place to be at peace.
To be at peace.
Oh, a place where you lose all those blues.
All those Blues.
Those Tennessee Blues.
Here, Bobby Charles has written and sung a Song that enchants.
A Song that’s balm for the bruised heart, the weary mind and the thirsty soul.
I’m not 100% certain of the musician credits but that’s surely Amos Garrett (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) playing the tender guitar licks and The Band’s instrumental maestro Garth Hudson playing the heartbreaking Accordion.
N. D. Smart on Drums and Jim Colegrove on Bass.
Violin courtesy of Harry Lookofsky (the Father of ‘Walk Away Renee’ writer Michael Brown.
The sense of ancient sway they create together is truly magical.
A magic that was recognised by one of the most good hearted of all musicians San Antonio’s own favourite Son – Doug Sahm.
Doug cuts deep, imbuing Tennessee Blues with tender Texas Soul.
Doug’s vocal takes us up to the Mountain Tops and down to the lapping lake side waters where we might bathe and be born again.
Across the wide Atlantic Ocean Mark Knopfler, taking time out from his leadership responsibilities with Dire Straits, found peace and nourishment returning to the Americana sounds that had first inspired him to take up the Guitar and search out the chords for the songs he would write himself.
His companions, collectively The Notting Hillbillies, were Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker.
In their hands Tennessee Blues takes on the character of aching night prayer – a compline service for lost saloon souls.
We are all searching for that place.
That place of shaded valleys and cool reviving streams.
That place where our regrets and worries dissolve in the warm breeze.
That place of peace.
Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues takes us there and gives us the strength to carry that peace within us as we travel on.
Tennessee Blues can be found on the Rhino Encore CD ‘Bobby Charles’ – unreservedly recommended!
I also love:
The Bear Family compilation, ‘See You Later Alligator’