Van Morrison : Brand New Day

Mid October.

The Sun rises at about 7 O’clock in this part of the South Downs.

It is my habit, ingrained from youth, to start my day at about 5 O’ Clock.

So, I have two hours of the mourning veil of night for reflection and contemplation before Day stirs the sleeping world.

Safely settled in our new Home (many thanks for all your good wishes) I lace up my boots, zip up my flying jacket, reach for my staff and head out in the dark to climb to the top of the ridge to await the Dawn.

Climbing steadily upward, aware that a new chapter in Life has begun, I recall roads taken and roads not taken in the past.

I recall friends and relations who have vanished like the melting snow.

I am grateful for the twists and turns in the road that have led me to this place now.

Reaching the summit I stand silently embracing the dark all around.

Tuning in I hear the wind blow where it listeth and the skitterings of nocturnal nature.

Slowly, slowly, as the world turns, the light returns.

There is always one moment when it seems as if all of nature is holding its breath, rapt, and all is silent with the light alone in motion.

And then a prophetic bird announces in song, ‘It’s day! It’s Day!’

Yes, yes, it seems like (seems like) feels like (feels like) A Brand New Day.

A Brand New Day.

This is the song I hear in my Soul each time I greet A Brand New day.

Van Morrison from his 1970 masterwork, ‘Moondance’.

Brand New Day is a song of steadfast Hope.

A song that admits no Life escapes trial and tribulation.

A song that takes us on a journey, at contemplative pace, through those dark valleys to the sunlit uplands of A Brand New Day.

A Brand New day filed with mystery and possibilities.

Van’s prayerful vocal inspires the musicians accompanying him to transcendent heights.

Jeff Labes’ piano shines like streams of daylight stars.

John Platania’s guitar has a tear-glistening tender beauty.

Jack Schrorer’s saxophone blows a corona of balm all around.

Gary Mallaber’s drums drive us forward on a pilgrimage to the Light.

John Klingberg’s bass holds us all in Faith. Faith in the journey to the Light.

Judy Clay, Cissy Houston and Jackie Verdell on backing vocals lift us up in celestial acclamation.

A Brand New Day.

A Brand New Day has dawned and the world will never be the same again.

Never the same.

I’ll leave you with a Miracle.

A demo of Brand New Day featuring a vocal by Van that takes us way, way, way, out beyond the Stars.

Into flooded fields of light beyond all measurement.

In memory of Jack Schrorer and John Klingberg.

Graham Parker & The Rumour – Fool’s Gold! Fool’s Gold!

I been doing my homework now for a long, long time’

One thing the world has never been short of.

Naysayers.

Naysayers.

Can’t be done.

Impossible.

Not for the likes of you!

A lanky, odd looking, uneducated nobody from backwoods Kentucky ain’t never getting anywhere near The Whitehouse!

Hey Wilbur! You don’t really think you and Orville will ever get that thing off the ground do you?

Albert, how many times do I have to tell you – you work in a Patent Office and you think you can show us all the things about the Universe Newton wasn’t smart enough to find out!

No way.

No way a working class boy, a child of immigrants, is going to win a scholarship to Cambridge.

Fool’s Gold. Fool’s Gold.

Well, I’m here to tell you some of us will never stop searching for that Gold.

And, you know what?

We’re going to hit paydirt and dazzle you with all that Gold’s glitter.

Graham Parker and The Rumour with, ‘Fool’s Gold’ from their 1976 sophomore Album, ‘Heat Treatment’.

The follow up to their magnificent debut disc, ‘Howling Wind’ also issued in 1976.

From the Summer of 1975 I’d been squeezing into pubs and clubs in Islington, Kensington and Camden to catch every GP & The Rumour show I could.

Simply, they were a Band on fire.

Burning with passion and commitment.

Graham Parker was no kid.

He was 25.

He had been a teenage Soul and Ska fan who had hit the Hippy Trails to Morocco and returned with an expanded mind and a deep desire to write and sing songs of his own.

The soul sway of Van Morrison’s ‘Tupelo Honey’ and the visceral venom of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on The Tracks’ offered inspiration and a bar to reach for.

Add in chippy blue collar English wit and sarcasm with a pinch of Jaggeresque swagger and you’ve got quite the front man!

A front man who can perform his own compositions with audience rousing dramatic intensity.

Especially when in partnership with a Band, The Rumour, that combined instrumental brilliance with eyeballs out attack and drive.

To see them live, setting stages on fire, in their 70s pomp was to share with them the times of our lives.

Everything that I look for I know I will one day find’

It’s said that Bruce Springsteen said GP & The Rumour were the only Band he ever thought could give the E Streeters a run for their money.

And, having seen GP and Co dozens of times in the 70s I can tell you Bruce was spot on.

Guitarists Brinsley Schwartz and Martin Belmont brought thunder and lightning and swapped the rapier and the bludgeon to turbo charge the songs.

Steve Goulding on drums and Andrew Bodnar on bass always seemed to have power in reserve as they drove the sound forward or laid back before engaging cruise control.

Bob Andrews on keyboards was the magic ingredient dispensing a dizzying anarchic energy that gave the songs a distinctive aura.

Out front Graham Parker sang his heart out.

Every night.

You really should have been there!

I’m a fool so I’m told .. I get left in the cold
‘Cause I will search the world for that fool’s gold’

Now, just because you’re a world class outfit and darlings of the critics and fellow musicians it sadly doesn’t follow that the greenbacks and the Grammys will inevitably follow!

As the 1980s dawned GP and The Rumour went their separate ways before a strange fate involving a Hollywood Film brought them back together again (for the detail of this unlikely tale see my previous Post celebrating their reunion http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1E).

I have to say it really did bring tears to my eyes to see them perform with such fire and assurance on their comeback tour.

Class is, as they say, permanent!

People say heaven knows .. see what comes I suppose
But I will search the world for that fool’s gold’

From the first time I heard Fool’s Gold it became one of those songs you can never get enough of.

I always shout out for it every time I see GP in concert.

And, I always will.

Fool’s Gold in every version I’ve heard Solo, duo or full Band simply sweeps you away.

The dynamics of the arrangement build and build lifting the heart and thrilling the spirit.

Keep on searching.

Keep on searching.

For that Fool’s Gold.

In the mountains.

In the valleys.

In the deep blue sea.

And, don’t you dare let anyone tell you there’s no Gold out there.

Jukebox Jive

I am delighted to announce that The Immortal Jukebox has now had more than a Quarter of a Million Views!

Enormous thanks to all my readers, supporters and commenters.

On to the Half Million!

I was also surprised and gratified to find that my Fred Neil post from last May has had over 400 views in the last week!

If you haven’t read it yet here’s the link:

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-qo

Keep sharing!

Dwight Yoakam, The Amazing Rhythm Aces & Alan Jackson : Third Rate Romance

The ‘Moving House’ saga continues.

Now, everything down to the teacups and the toothbrushes is labelled, wrapped and ready for our new Home.

How did we accumulate so much stuff!

A major winnowing exercise lies ahead (honest!).

Soon, we will finally move into our Home in the Hills.

Everyone hearing where we are moving to says ‘It’s nice up there before adding with a shake of the head – of course you can be snowed in there for weeks, weeks!.

But, before we cross the threshold of our Shangri-La we are going to check in to a Hotel for a week.

Hotel living will be a blessed relief after all the clearing, packing and cleaning.

Room Service! (Talk me through your list of Malt Whiskies).

Now, you wouldn’t expect me to take up residence in a Hotel without sending the Jukebox Research Department (AKA my memory) off in search of songs featuring Hotels would you?

One fine day I’ll give you 5,000 words on, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and somewhat fewer on Chris Isaak’s, ‘Blue Hotel’ and They Might Be Giants’ ‘Hotel Detective’.

Despite the many merits of the above works the song that agitated the neurons most intently was the Carveresque ‘Third Rate Romance’ performed below by The Amazing Rhythm Aces.

A short story in song filed with dry wit and hard lived wisdom featuring a laconic vocal, a lovely guitar break and adept ensemble harmony – that’ll do for me!

The Aces came out of Knoxville originally before hitting their stride in Memphis.

Barry ‘Byrd’ Burton provides the liquid guitar line.

Jeff Davis and Butch McDade keep the rhythm flowing on bass and drums.

BIlly Earhart and James Hooker add keyboard colour.

Lead vocalist and principal songwriter Russell Smith has a keen eye for the way frail selves behave, especially when away from home, when it might appear identities and loyalties can be checked in at the front desk (for an hour or a night).

There’s some acute observation in the lyric:

‘She was starin’ at her coffee cup
He was tryin’ to keep his courage up …

‘… talk was small when they talked at all

She said, “You don’t look like my type
But I guess you’ll do …

He said, “I’ll even tell you that I love you
If you want me to …

Call me an old romantic but I like to think the above two lines were internal mental conversation rather than spoken out loud!

Undoubtedly though many a Hotel has been the venue for just such a Third Rate Romance.

Just such a low rent rendezvous.

Half truths .. evasions.. the devalued currency of adultery:

‘ I’ve never really done this kind of thing before, have you?

‘ Yes I have but only a time or two ….

Third rate romance.

Low rent redezvous.

Third rate romance.

Low rent rendezvous.

Now let’s see what chiselled retro Honky Tonk hero Dwight Yoakum can make of the song!

Well, that’s surely rugged, rowdy and more than right!

Dwight has a Voice.

Sure, Dwight looks like a Country Star precision fashioned by Hollywood central casting but it turns out he has a voice like the high desert wind and a real feel for classic hardwood floor Country.

I like the way this live performance uses Tex – Mex accents to suggest that the low rent Hotel is maybe whichever side of the border the participants are least likely to be recognised.

Now, if you and your sweetheart fancy a twirl or two around that sprung hardwood floor you can always rely on Alan Jackson to set those dancing shoes in motion.

Like the man says he put a little flavour on that one!

Have to admit I did more than a little high stepping as that disc was playing.

Time for me to check out for this week.

I got a first class Hotel waiting for my family and me.

Notes :

I strongly recommend The Amazing Rhythm Aces debut Record, ‘Stacked Deck’.

Happy Birthday Helen Shapiro! Walking Back To Happiness!

Some songs stay with you all of your life.

Some conjunction of their innate merit and the circumstances of your life when first heard sears that song into your memory for evermore.

Helen Shapiro’s ‘Walking Back to Happiness’ is such a song for me.

Every time I hear the song I get the same euphoric rush of delight.

Few things have proved so reliable for more than half a Century!

So, in honour of Helen’s 71st Birthday this week I am reblogging my tribute to her and taking the opportunity to wish her health and happiness for many years ahead.

Sometimes cultural earthquakes and revolutions, like their political equivalents, can turn the world upside down with staggering rapidity.

Looking around after the initial shock new figures, previously hidden, become prominent and established seemingly impregnable careers and reputations may lie buried or broken in the settling dust.

The emergence of The Beatles, in 1963 in Britain and the following year in America, as joyous rock ‘n’ roll revolutionaries, signalled that the times really were a changin’ and that all our maps would need to be hastily and radically redrawn to reflect a new reality (if you want to be fancy a new paradigm).

Today’s tale on The Immortal Jukebox concerns a British early 1960s pop phenomenon, Helen Shapiro, now largely forgotten- except by faithful greybeards like me.

Yet, this is an artist with a thrilling and wholly distinctive voice who began recording at the age of 14 and whose first four records included two British number 1 smashes and two further top 3 hits (as well as once grazing the Billboard Hot 100 following two Ed Sullivan Show appearances).

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Additionally Helen’s first pre-teenage group included the future glam rock star Marc Bolan (T Rex) and she headlined The Beatles first British nationwide tour in January/February 1963 (they were fourth on the bill!).

Lennon and MacCartney were inspired to write, ‘Misery’ for her and she recorded, ‘It’s My Party’ in Nashville before Leslie Gore had ever heard the song.

Despite all this Helen Shapiro was overtaken by a cultural tsunami and was effectively spent as a pop star before she was old enough to drive a car or vote!

Perhaps, she was also a victim of, ‘Shirley Temple Syndrome’ whereby the public’s fickle support is withdrawn from a child star when they inevitably grow up and are no longer the incarnation of ‘cute’.

On a personal note I should add that her, never to be forgotten once heard, 1961 signature hit, ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ (below) is among the first songs I ever remember begging my parents to buy for me and probably the first pop song I could enthusiastically sing, word perfect, as the vinyl spun around at 45 revolutions per minute on our treasured Dansette record player (Helen Shapiro’s parents didn’t even own a record player when her first single was issued!)

If you can screen out the dated backup chipmunky ‘Yeh Yeh Yeh’ background singers you will hear an astonishingly confident and powerful singer singing her heart out and generating emotion at power station levels.

‘Walking Back To Happiness’ is pure pop champagne – bubbling over with fizzing life every time it is played.

Listening to it since invariably rekindles the ecstasy I felt as a 6 year old hearing it for the first time.

That’s quite a gift and one I will always be grateful to Helen Shapiro for.

The material and production on many of Helen’s records too often reflected the safety first, by the music business play book, of old school pre rock ‘n’ roll professional Norrie Paramor.

It was probably deemed not sensible for Helen to risk her moment(s) of fame by recording songs by, ‘unproven’ writers and in styles not yet fully appreciated (or heard) in Britain.

So this fine voice rarely flew unfettered.

Astonishingly, Helen’s management did not take up the offer to record The Beatles, ‘Misery’ and become the first artist to cover a Lennon/MacCartney original composition.

This was compounded by the later failure to issue her take on, ‘It’s My Party’ as soon as she had recorded it!

Still, as you can hear in her number 1 hit, ‘You Don’t Know’ there was always a quality of poignancy and direct emotional heft in Helen’s voice which still reaches out across the decades.

In all her records, from every era of her career, you can detect an artist who simply loves to sing, to make songs come alive for the audience as she becomes more alive singing them.

It is important to remember that the Britain that Helen toured with The Beatles in 1963 during one of the coldest winters for many centuries was emphatically not the, ‘Swinging Sixties’ Britain that would bloom later in the decade.

Though the nation was finally, after more than a decade of post war austerity beginning to enjoy economic uplift it would be a country unrecognisable to my own children: as alien in many ways as a distant planet.

In common with many working class families of the time I lived in a monochrome world of Without! Without a telephone, without a car, without central heating, without a bathroom (I bathed in a tin bath), without a refrigerator.

Crucially we did have a radio and a tiny black and white TV with a 12 inch screen that seemed to work best when firmly disciplined by means of heavy slaps to the frame.

Through the TV and the radio I became dimly aware there was a wind of change stirring and that it was likely I was young enough to be a lucky recipient of its transformative power.

The TV and radio also introduced me to records that sketched out new vistas of emotion and identification for me. I then bought my records (more accurately had them bought for me) from a stall in the street market that literally stood outside our front door.

The riot of colour and glamour that would characterise the,’Swinging Sixties’ was still securely stoppered in the genie’s bottle as Helen, The Beatles and 9 other acts boarded the coach in early February 1963 to visit Bradford, Doncaster, Wakefield, Carlisle and Sunderland on the first leg of the fourteen date tour they shared.

The Beatles had just issued, ‘Please Please Me’ and they were yet to record first LP. That would happen on 11 February during a break on the tour.

The impact of that LP would change everything and turn a raw bunch of provincial rockers into world wreckers.

You can see something of the joshing elder brother/adoring kid sister relationship The Beatles and Helen Shapiro developed on the bus in a clip (sometimes available on Youtube) from the TV show, ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ from October 1963 when Beatlemania was an established reality.

By 1964 Helen Shapiro was effectively an ex pop star.

For many that would have been a devastating and embittering fate.

Not for Helen Shapiro.

Helen Shapiro’s truest ambition was never to be a pop star. She had a vocation as a singer so when the caravan of fame passed on she was not emotionally defeated. Rather, she carried on singing – carrying out what she came to regard as her god given vocation.

A careful comb through her record catalogue yields a number of, ‘how that did that one get away’ gems and displays her passion and versatility as a singer.

Among those the one that holds my heart is, ‘I Walked Right In’.

It makes you wonder what would have happened if Helen had been born in Brooklyn rather than Bethnal Green!

Helen Shapiro was always a lot more than the cute teenager with the Beehive hairdo, the gingham, the lace and the train-stopping voice.

In the half century since her 60s supernova moment Helen has continued to honour her gifts.

This has included playing the role of Nancy in the musical, ‘Oliver’ and a dozen years or so proving her jazz chops live and in recordings with the wonderfully swinging Humphrey Lyttleton Band (Humphrey, a true gentleman maintained no prejudices except one in favour of real talent for which he had an unerring eye and ear).

These days Helen’s gifts are directed through gospel outreach evenings in the service of her faith which became central to her life from 1987.

Even in this context she still sings, ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ though now as a mature reflection rather than youthful impulse.

She has certainly earned that right.

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Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart, John Handy, Hard Work!

Hard Work. Hard Work.

Never killed anyone.

Or so the sages say.

But, Lord, Lord, it sure can make you dog tired.

What brought me to these thoughts?

Moving House.

Moving up into the hills.

Farming country criss crossed with ancient footpaths.

Moving all our stuff.

All our stuff.

All the Books!

All the Vinyl!

All the DVDs and CDs.

All the accumulated treasures and trifles of a lifetime to be boxed, bagged and loaded.

Now that is hard work!

Hard Work.

So, Dear Readers, precious little time to research and ponder deeply before writing.

So, so, I set the numbskulls free to roam in my brain’s music data base with ‘Hard Work’ as the search tag.

And, look what emerged!

From the 1970s two paens to the Working Life.

First up Saxophonist John Handy.

An alumnus of the Great Charles Mingus Band.

Classic solo on, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’

Here, he digs in and you just gotta go with the groove.

Hard Work. Hard Work.

Next. From the Soundtrack of Paul Schrader’s, directorial debut, ‘Blue Collar’ the one and only Captain Beefheart in the guise of a classic Blues Singer with, ‘Hard Working Man’.

Can’t you feel the gears grinding and the metal shuddering!

A constellation of talent on show.

Written and produced by Jack Nitzsche a shadowy guiding hand and presence involved with many great records for decades.

Guitar by Ry Cooder.

Ry has impact whenever he plays.

Hard Work! Hard Work!

The Contours : Do You Love Me (Motown – The Empire lifts off!)

You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!’ (Berry Gordy)

Roma uno die non est condita.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It takes time to found a mighty Empire that will conquer all the known world.

So, from the founding of Rome (let’s say 753BC) to the final defeat of Carthage it was all of 600 years.

It is therefore somewhat remarkable it took Berry Gordy less than a decade from the founding of Motown in 1959 to establish an Empire that colonised the hearts and souls of music fans from Addis Abbaba to Zanzibar and Zagreb!

An $800 loan from his family became a multi, multi million dollar record company which would record songs that will last as long as we have Spirits that need lifting, hearts that need stirring (or consolation) and hips that just gotta move.

First, get yourself a base that you own.

Let’s show our ambition and call this base, ‘Hitsville USA’.

A Studio come Clubhouse where your singers and musicians can find competition and camaraderie 24 hours a day (acording to legend the local beat cop thought 2648 West Grand Drive Boulevard must be an all hours drinking den given the numbers of shady looking characters turning up at all hours of the day and night).

Next get yourself a live and play in the Basement group of musicians with Jazz chops who can fashion a wholly new sound – which is not jazz, not old school R&B, Blues or Rock n’ Roll.

Let’s call them The Funk Brothers and let’s have one of them, James Jamerson on Bass, be a fully fledged genius who will add grace and depth to every recording he ever plays on.

Let’s have a slogan calling that sound, ‘The Sound of Young America’ and let’s make so many great records that the slogan will became an every day reality on the airwaves and the charts.

And, we don’t mean, in still highly segregated America, the Black Music Charts .

No, no, no.

We mean the Pop Music charts.

Where the real money is to be made.

Open for Business and cast a cool appraising eye on all the would be stars who beat a path to your door.

This kid Smokey Robinson’s a Keeper – he’s got a notebook with hundreds of songs and he can sing ’em like a bird and work the Recording Desk too!

Not that I can’t write and produce myself.

You ever heard, ‘Reet Petite’ or, ‘Lonely Teardrops’?

Big Hits but Berry didn’t get the money!

Not going to happen again!

So, in 1960, New Frontier!, we get our first hit.

Barrett Strong with, ‘Money’ (bunch of English guys in Hamburg called The Beatles will learn a lot playing that one!).

Then Smokey comes up with, ‘Shop Around’ and by the end of the year we got a Million Seller!

Here comes 1961 and we get ourselves our first Pop Number One!

The Marvellettes, ‘Please Mr Postman’.

I got my eyes and ears on that Brian Holland – there’s a lot more hits where that came from!

Early ’62 I figure we need to find a song like, ‘Twist and Shout’ that will have all the White Kids, all the Black Kids and everybody who ain’t tied to a chair out on the floor and running down to the record store to lay down their cash.

Let’s call it, ‘Do You Love Me’.

I thought it might suit The Temptations but maybe they just sing too well for this one (I got big plans for them later).

So, what about The Contours?

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Probably the best dancers of anyone who ever came through these doors!

Come to think of it Billy Gordon got a, ‘Wake the Dead and get ’em up Dancin” Voice if I ever heard one!

Next time they come through I’m gonna sit down at the piano and teach them the song one evening and record it the next day.

Gonna tell James to drive this one like a runaway train.

None of his fancy jazz licks – nail that backbeat to the Basement floor!

Of course, when Benny Benjamin is behind the Drums, the record is going to sound immense.

Immense.

Maybe I’ll start with a spoken intro and then let The Funk Brothers explode and tell Billy I don’t want him to be able to sing this song a second time ’cause I want him to tear his throats to shreds the first time!

Ok – let’s go!

Now, if that ain’t shaking ’em down I don’t know what is!

The Funk Brothers never let up and Billy Gordon’s lead vocal comes at you like a tidal wave.

Hubert Johnson, Billy Higgs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts make up a chorus that has an irresitble goofball charm. The trilling guitar comes from Huey Davis.

When I’ve managed to master some skill which has previously eluded me (and there’s a lot of them!) I just can’t stop myself singing, ‘I’ m back and I can really shake ’em down – Watch me now!’.

I love the corny spoken introduction, the false ending, the references to the Mashed Potato and The Twist and the bullfrog, ‘Um, Bom, Bom, Bom, brrrmm’ backing vocals.

Of course Berry got his hit!

Top 5 in every Chart and well over a Million copies sold.

They say it was the fastest selling single in the history of Motown.

Malheureusement, it was the pinnacle of The Contours career though they did make a handful of other excellent recordings.

They were simply too low down in the pecking order of Motown Vocal Groups.

And, when you consider they were up against the likes of The Four Tops and The Tempatations that is hardly to be wondered at.

There’s almost always been a version of the group out there driving a crowd crazy with, ‘Do You Love Me’.

And, by some mysterious alignment of the heavens, in 1987 the song gained a wholly unexpected new lease of life through being featured in the world wide hit film. ‘Dirty Dancing’ (even if they did, disgracefully, chop off the ending!).

One of the versions of The Contours got to go on a world tour and enjoy the big time once again.

Not so, for poor Billy Gordon.

For Billy died in poverty after spending time in prison (bizarrely with one time colleague Joe Billingslea being a Corrections Officer in the Prison!).

So it goes. So it goes.

Yet, every day someone, somewhere, has their life lit up by hearing Billy intone:

You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!

And then, if they’ve got any blood in their veins they’ll go stone crazy for the next two and a half minutes.

Watch me Now!

Dedicated to :

Billy Gordon (RIP)

Sylvester Potts (RIP)

Hubert Johnson (RIP)

Huey Davis (RIP)

James Jamerson (RIP)

Benny Benjamin (RIP)

Joe Billingslea

Billy Hoggs

Notes:

Britain’s Ace Records has two excellent complications documenting The Contours recorded legacy.

Tracks to look out for –

‘First I Look at the Purse’

‘Whole Lotta Woman’

‘Shake Sherry’

‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’