The Beatles & The Isley Brothers : Twist and Shout!

The War is over.

The Good War.

The Korean War.

That’s enough for any generation to cope with.

Time to settle down.

Go to College or back to the job that’s been waiting for you.

Get Married.

Have a bunch of kids.

Paint the fence.

Mow the lawn.

Wash and polish the car.

Watch Television.

Breathe easy and when the dreams come open the window and stare at the Moon.

It’s good to be alive when so many lie dead in foreign ground.

What more could you want?

Well it seems Junior wants something more.

Something more.

Now, he can’t really put a name to it.

Except it ain’t hearing stories about how grateful he should be.

Grateful he doesn’t have to fight in a war.

Grateful he lives in a land of the free.

Grateful for these fine, fine, times.

He wants a new story to tell.

He doesn’t want, won’t have, can’t have, the story that’s planned out for him.

The one he’s supposed to be so grateful for.

The one where he gets born. Learns to dance (properly).

Strives to be a success. Bows his head to get blessed.

Makes his Mother and Father proud.

Keeps his head down and his nose clean.

Gets a good girl and a good job.

No. No. No. No!

He wants a story. A technicolor story, where he’s at the centre.

He wants Excitement.

He wants Danger.

Then. Then.

One day he switches on the radio and Boom!

This is it!

Whether you call it Rock ‘n’ Roll or Rhythm & Blues …

THIS IS IT!

The world will never be the same again.

Elvis. Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard.

Your head’s just about ready to explode.

Explode.

You stand out in the yard under the moon.

Under the Moon.

And you shout as loud as you can.

And you dance. You dance. You dance.

You Twist and Shout.

Twist and Shout!

Well, shake it up, baby, now (Shake it up, baby)
Twist and shout (Twist and shout)
C’mon C’mon, C’mon, C’mon, baby, now (Come on baby)
Come on and work it on out (Work it on out)

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Well, like The Brothers Isley say – Work it on out! Work it on out!

Now, if that don’t get you going I’m gonna have to send out an SOS for a defibrillator to get your heart started again!

The song was written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley and was originally recorded in early 1961 by The Top Notes for Atlantic Records.

Production was by the 21 year old Phil Spector.

And, he made a right royal mess of it!

So much so that Bert Berns, a very savvy dude indeed, was near apoplectic when he heard what Spector had done to his song; which he knew was a sure fire hit.

With the bit between his teeth Bert got the Isley Brothers into the studio in 1962 and crafted a classic record that has Gospel fervour, Rhythm and Blues drive and Rock ‘n’ Roll shazam.

That’s how you do it Phil!

Of course, Bert brilliant songwriter, arranger and producer that he was, didn’t do this all by himslelf.

First he needed singers with explosive energy who could take his song and wring every last drop of excitement from it.

Singers who could put on a dramatic performance which would demand that the listener put the needle back on the groove the instant it faded out.

Enter Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley who were originally from Cincinnati.

With voices blending Gospel, R&B and Doo-Wop and a dynamite stage act The Isleys were bound to attract the attention of someone like Bert Berns who wrote songs crying out for impassioned vocals (think ‘Piece of My Heart’, ‘Cry to Me’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk).

The Isleys already had a million selling single to their name with their own cataclysmic, ‘Shout’ which had set Richter Scale dials aquiver all all over the record buying world.

To set the Earth shaking with Twist and Shout Bert called up King Curtis on Sax, Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on Guitar, Chuck Rainey on Bass, Gary Chester on Drums and Paul Griffin on Piano.

Those guys knew what they were doing!

The public loved, ‘Twist and Shout’ and it became a substantial hit on both the R&B and Pop Charts.

The Isleys would go on to have a storied career featuring strings of hits and superb albums for the next four decades.

And, Bert, before his untimely death at the age of 38 in 1967, would prove himself one of the very greatest songwriter/producers of the 1960s.

The Jukebox will have much more to say about The Isleys and Bert Berns later!

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean in Liverpool a bunch of leery, leather clad Rock ‘n’ Rollers with ambition and swagger listened to ‘Twist and Shout’ and thought – we could really tear up the place if we can get this one right.

So it was for The Beatles.

‘Twist and Shout’ became a fixture of their live show and walls, drenched in sweat, in Liverpool and Hamburg shook as John, Paul, George and Ringo proved what a fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll Band they were.

Embed from Getty Images

But, driving themselves and a complicit crowd into a Dionysian frenzy at a concert is one thing.

To reproduce that order of feeling in a recording studio is quite another.

Cut to the 11th of February 1963, one of the most significant dates in the history of popular music, popular culture and indeed history.

For that was the date The Beatles recorded their debut LP, ‘Please, Please Me’.

In one day – One Day! Over some 13 hours they recorded 10 songs and launched a career the reverberations of which are still shaking the world to this day.

Twist and Shout was the very last song they cut on that historic Abbey Road session.

And, they knew that.

John’s voice was almost shot and Paul, George and Ringo – despite the rivers of adrenaline that must have coursed through their veins that day – must also have been close to exhaustion.

In such circumstances there is only one thing to do.

Attack! Attack! Attack!

And, that, gloriously is what they did.

Every last ounce of energy went into this performance which still stands as a Rock ‘n’ Roll moment to match anything laid down by their legendary predecessors and inspirations – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard.

All those thousands of hours of performing in dingy dives were pressed into the service of making ‘Twist and Shout’ a record which came at you with the force of a tidal wave.

John Lennon’s vocal has a crazed commitment that is shocking in its elemental power and his fellow Beatles match him every step of the way.

Every step of the way.

As they packed away their instruments they must have looked around and thought – is this all true?

Did we really do that?

Where are we going now?

I like to think John, voice ravaged, turned to his friends and said:

“Well, well, where are we going now fellas?’

And Paul, George and Ringo would have replied:

‘To the top, Johnny to the very toppermost of the poppermost!’

And, I think we can all agree that’s exactly where they went and that they took us all along for the ride.

Fats Domino RIP 1928 – 2017

There are some sentences you know you will have to write one day.

Still you hope it wont be this year or next.

So, reluctantly and with regret, I write the following sentence.

Fats Domino, Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefather has died in his 90th year.

Thinking of all the immense pleasure his music has given me and millions of others I could not let such an event pass without a full salute from The Immortal Jukebox.

I also want to pay homage to the magnificent saxophonist Herb Hardesty who died just before Christmas last year.

That’s Herb you can hear soloing on, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ and, ‘I’m Walking’ and that’s him too playing one of the most perfect parts in all Rock ‘n’ Roll on, ‘Blue Monday’.

I am also adding what may be my all time favourite Fats track – ‘Be My Guest’.

A record which beautifully illustrated the sheer joy woven into every bar of a Fats Domino record.

A record which demonstrated the glorious camaraderie of the Fats Domino Band.

A record which, especially in the wildly addictive horn breaks, virtually provides the corner stone sound for Ska to develop in Jamaica in the 1960s.

God bless you Fats!

 

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

Embed from Getty Images

On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

Embed from Getty Images

I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

Embed from Getty Images

I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo.

I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

Embed from Getty Images

I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

Embed from Getty Images

I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.

 

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?

Embed from Getty Images

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’

On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox : Save the Last Dance for Me

‘The Jukebox. I lived beside Jukeboxes all through the Fifties … You want to hear a guy’s story, and if the guy’s really seen a few things, the story is quite interesting’ (Leonard Cohen)

‘Oh I know that the music’s fine,
Like sparkling wine go and have your fun,
Laugh and sing, but while we’re apart,
Don’t give your heart to anyone.’

(Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’)

Once in a very Blue Moon you turn on the radio and a song comes on that you know, know, from the first instant you hear it, is a song you will love for the rest of your life – however long that may be.

It’s a song you’ve never heard before yet at once you feel familiar with it.

Somehow, it seems you’ve been waiting for this song.

A song that you know, know, is true.

You know, know, this guy is telling you a story ripped from his heart.

You know, know, that this song really mattered to this guy and now it really matters to you.

This is a song that speaks to you.

A song that speaks to some essential human yearning.

Once in a very Blue Moon you hear a song like, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’.

The Drifters glorious original recording from 1960, indelibly sung by Ben E King, shimmered then in the New York night skies and now it shimmers all over the globe.

Embed from Getty Images

Shimmers anywhere a lover burns; oh Baby don’t you know I love you so – Can’t you feel it when we touch?

With every baion beat of your heart you vow I will never never let you go.

But, what if she lets you go?

For the one who caught your eye will surely be given the eye by other guys.

What if she is so intoxicated by the pale moonlight and the sparkling wine that she forgets who’s taking her home and in whose arms she should be when the night ends?

What if when he asks if she’s all alone and can he take her home she says Yes instead of No!

Ah, ah, there’s the rub!

For, however agonising it may be, Love only thrives in freedom.

You make a prisoner of Love and it sickens and dies.

So, sometimes, you have to paste on a smile as your Love enjoys the pale moonlight and the sparkling wine with another right before your very eyes.

You have to have Faith.

You have to have Trust.

The Drifters, led by Ben E King, with Dock Green (baritone), Elsbeary Hobbs (bass) and Charlie Thomas (tenor) soar as they bring all these emotional tensions to quick, quivering life scoring a permanent mark on your heart.

Ben E King had a wonderful gift for balancing strength and vulnerability in his vocals.

Embed from Getty Images

There’s a special poignancy in a strong man confiding the intimate terrors and the torments hidden under the confident, life and soul of the party, smile.

It’s one of the reasons ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ is immortal.

Before you have a record you need the song.

And, for the song you need songwriters.

Save the Last Dance for Me was written by one of the greatest songwriting teams of the 20th Century – Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Think of, ‘A Teenager in Love’, ‘This Magic Moment’, ‘Little Sister’, ‘(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame’, and, ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ just for starters!

Embed from Getty Images

Now, if there was ever a guy who had really seen a few things and knew how to tell a story that guy was Jerome Solon Felder, known to the world as Doc Pomus.

Doc Pomus, born in 1925, grew up in Brooklyn, a fiercely intelligent bookish boy who became obsessed by the sounds of Jazz, Blues and Rhythm and Blues you could listen to 24 hours a day on New York radio stations.

Doc was not the kind of guy who had casual interests.

No, when Doc took something up he dove in – head, neck and feet.

So it was with Doc and the Blues.

And, certainly his intimate understanding of the Blues grew in depth when in his youth he was stricken by Polio.

It didn’t stop him writing and singing the Blues.

It didn’t stop him heaving himself on crutches up on to the stages of Jazz and Blues clubs throughout the 1940s.

But, but, it did stop him from triumphantly sweeping his new bride round the dance floor at his wedding.

Instead, he had to smile as other men held her tight waiting for the night to end when, finally, they would share a last dance of their own.

Doc remembered those conflicting emotions when he wrote, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ on the back of one of the invitations to their wedding.

Doc’s lyric throbs with love and longing. With yearning and anxiety.

It’s a mixture that cuts deep into the listeners soul.

Doc’s writing partner, the urbane Mort Shuman, read the lyric and, inspired, devised a melody that has the glittering sheen of tears in the eyes.

So, now you have an emotionally complex and true lyric and a ‘you’ll never forget this once you’ve heard it the first time’ melody and a vocal group with a dynamite lead singer.

You’ve got the song. You’ve got the singers.

What more do you need?

Well, what you need is savvy Record Producers, songwriters themselves, who know from bitter experience, that a great song does not guarantee a great record.

What you need in New York in 1960 is Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Embed from Getty Images

They will bring in superb musicians like Bucky Pizzarelli, Allen Hanlon, Gary Chester and Lloyd Trotman and frame their expertise in an arrangement that will ensure the great song and the great singers make a great Record.

They’ll make the record start like a beating heart.

They’ll have subtle latin rhythms seducing the ear throughout.

They’ll not shy away from bringing in the sweeping strings when they’re demanded.

They’ll balance the urgent lead vocal with tender echoes from the rest of the vocal group.

They’ll listen and listen again and polish and polish and polish until they’ve made a Record that nothing less than a masterpiece of American Popular Music.

Together, Songwriters, Singers and Producers will make a Record which will never fade for true stories are always true and always recognised as such by open hearts.

An open heart like that of Leonard Cohen.

Embed from Getty Images

Leonard will likely have heard, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ on a Jukebox in a cafe in Montreal habituated by fellow Poets and Writers searching for inspiration, recognition and the redemptive fires of love.

Leonard, a Ladies Man if there ever was one, confided that in those days he was no student of music – though he was certainly a student of cafes and waitresses.

But, once he heard a song that really told a guy’s story in a way that he could believe he remembered the number of that song on The Jukebox and punched it in again and again.

And, when he came to have a Jukebox of his own he filled it with Records that told interesting stories.

Records like, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

Leonard was a Gentleman and a Scholar of the dance of Love and the dance of Life and knew as a Poet how emotionally powerful precisely chosen words, of the right weight and rhythm, were once set to music.

So, embarking on a career as a Songwriter and performer in the late 1960s he brought all his considerable gifts to his new vocation.

Over the next half century he created a body of work that stands with any in the history of Popular Music.

Deep currents run through Leonard Cohen songs.

Songs about every aspect of the love between men and women and between human kind and God.

Beautiful Songs that illuminate our search for Love without disguising the frequent ugly betrayals we are heir to all our lives.

Leonard knew that Life was so serious that often the only proper response was laughter – sometimes ironic sometimes wholehearted.

Leonard understood the steps and missteps in the Dance of Life.

He knew that we all want someone to dance with very tenderly and long.

He knew that we all want someone to dance with through the panic till we’re safely gathered in.

We all want someone to dance with to the end of love.

As the end of his life approached Leonard reached back to those Jukebox days and began to sing, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ in concert.

It was, in fact, the last song he ever sang in public (though the version featured here is from Ghent some years earlier).

Leonard knew, as Doc Pomus knew, that in dance we stretch out our hands and our bodies and make a connection which can sustain us through the panics and perils of life.

Leonard Cohen and Doc Pomus, each in their own way, danced, danced, danced to the end of love.

Listen to The Drifters and canny old Leonard and make a promise that you’ll save the last dance for the one you love.

For there is one Dance we all do alone as we journey through life to death.

Until that day stretch out your hand.

Take your partner in your arms and dance!

Have Faith.

Trust.

Save the last dance.

The very last dance.

Notes:

There’s a fine biography of Doc Pomus by Alex Halberstadt ‘Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus’

The film documentary ‘AKA Doc Pomus’ by Peter Miller and William Hechter is a must watch.

I highly recommend Allan Showalter’s Blog cohencentric.com for all things related to Leonard Cohen.

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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!

Embed from Getty Images

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!

The Monkey Speaks His Mind!


An Immortal Jukebox Production Starring:

Guy The Gorilla!

King Kong!

J. Fred Muggs!

Ham The Astronaut!

And a special appearance by Washoe!

Music by:

Dave Bartholomew

Dr John

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Denzil Thorpe

Now we all know One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.

Even if it’s Mickey’s Monkey.

And, of course, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey.

Trust me. I’m a Monkey Man. A Monkey Man.

Time for The Monkey To Speak His Mind!

The great Guy The Gorilla, Lord of London Zoo, for more than three decades, kept this thoughts to himself.

Yet, none could doubt that Guy cast a quizzical eye on the rubbernecking crowds who passed by his domain.

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s get this Coconut Tree swinging with the man who translated The Monkey’s thoughts – New Orleans and American Music Master, Dave Bartholomew.

Yeah The Monkey Speaks His Mind .. discussing things as they are said to be

Now, when it comes to making great records there was no chink in the armoury of Dave Bartholomew. He could write a street smart lyric and invent winning melodies.

He could hand pick musicians and lead them from the bandstand or the Producer’s desk. He could craft arrangements to add colour and tone to his original conception.

Dave Bartholomew was the whole package. The Real Deal.

He is unquestionably a Roots Music All Star and season after season an obvious MVP pick.

This is the organising mind behind a string of classic records for Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price.

Yet, every time I thinks of Dave my musical memory lights first upon, ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’ for its wit, its wisdom and its one chord drive which lodges the song deep in the cortex.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

There’s a certain rumour that just can’t be true. That Man descended from our noble race. Why, the very idea is a big disgrace!’

Embed from Getty Images

Perhaps such thoughts tormented the mind of King Kong as he swayed atop The Empire State Building preparing for his doom.

King Kong is one of the great tragic heroes of Popular Culture and you can be sure his dignity and nobility will always win him a revered place in the affections of humans with functioning hearts.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

No Monkey ever deserted his wife, starved her baby and ruined her life.’

Let’s now call upon a man loaded with N’Awlins Mojo – Dr John.

In this live version his steam heat band soak us in jungle humidity and push up the ambient temperature of the Club.

Good job there were cooling libations to hand!

The guitarist and drummer exercise Zen mastery while the trombone solo sails acrobatically through the room.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

‘And you’ve never known a mother Monk to leave her babies with others to bunk and passed them from one to another ‘Til they scarcely knew who was their mother.’

Embed from Getty Images

Such thoughts must surely have crossed the mind of J Fred Muggs as he surveyed the passing parade of human folly.

To emphasise the point I call upon one of the finest bands ever to emerge from Texas – The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

One thing you can rely on in this unpredicatable world. If you go to a Fabulous Thunderbirds show you are gonna get good and sweaty and have the time of your life.

I speak as as someone who has seen them in all the incarnations that have toured the U.K.

The blacktop blast of Kim Wilson’s harmonica and the perfect economy of Jimmie Vaughan’s Guitar with Keith Ferguson and Fran Christian anchoring the sound makes for an over proof combination that’s guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping and the heart rejoicing.

Adrenaline would surely have been coursing through Ham The Chimpanzee when he blasted into space on 31 January 1961.

The success of Ham’s mission gave the green light for manned space flights to follow.

As he climbed to unimagined heights viewing the world below from a new perspective perhaps Ham reflected that:

‘You will never see a Monkey build a fence around a Coconut Tree and let all the coconuts go to waste forbidding other monkeys to come and taste’.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind!

Embed from Getty Images

To conclude our meditations on the theme here’s a lovely lurching version from Jamaica, where the rhythms of New Orleans were readily appreciated and appropriated.

At the controls was Coxsone Dodd, founder of the legendary Studio 1 recording Mecca and label.

The vocal is by Denzil Thorpe having his brief moment of glory (Any information on Denzil’s subsequent career much welcomed here!)

Washoe learned to communicate fluently in sign language. In quiet moments I wonder if she signed to herself:

‘Here’s another thing a Monkey won’t do – go out on a night and get all in a stew. Or use a gun or club or knife to take another Monkey’s life!’

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind!

And, when The Monkey Speaks His Mind we would would do well to listen!

This Post dedicated to the great Dave Bartholomew. A Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll still going strong at 98! Wishing him health and happiness and looking forward to celebrating his Centenary.

Notes:

Guy The Gorilla (Gorilla,gorilla,gorilla) was one of the most distinguished residents of London between 1947 and 1978. He is properly commemorated in a statue at London Zoo and in portrait paintings.

I saw him often when I was a child and clearly remember being affected by his immense physicality and his somber aura.

King Kong – there were many profoundly important events in 1933. Not least Kong’s appearance in the 1933 film bearing his name. Film technology is now immensely sophisticated yet it is the original King Kong who haunts the dreams.

J. Fred Muggs was one of the premier stars of American TV in the 1950s. As ‘Co-Host’ of the NBC Today Show he became a household name and reassuring presence.

Ham passed out top of his group of would be Space Monkeys and happily survived his voyage into space. He spent his remaining years in Washington D.C and North Carolina.

He was buried with appropriate honours, including a eulogy by Col John Stapp, in the Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.

Washoe (1965 – 2007) developed a signing vocabulary of over 300 words and was able to see a Swan and sign ‘Water Bird’

Her example led to the institution of The Great Ape Project which aims to extend moral and legal protections currently only afforded to humans to the Great Apes.