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?

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!’

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.’

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!

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.

Opening for The Beatles Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry : Ain’t Got No Home!

In New Orleans, America’s greatest music city, they sure know how to throw a party.

Mardi Gras might just be the greatest and most joyous greatest civic celebration on the entire planet.

Mardi Gras rolls around every year.

But, on September 16 1964 New Orleans was en fete for a very different occassion. The Beatles were coming to City Park as part of their very first American tour.

The Beatles! A year earlier few had heard of them.

Now, following their historic appearances on Ed Sullivan and their subsequent colonisation of the Hot 100 they were famous at a level only previously approached by Elvis himself.

The whole city virtually levitated with anticipation and not just the crazed teenage Beatles fans.

No, even the Crescent City’s Mayor, Victor H Schiro, thought it only mete and proper to declare Wednesday September 16 1964 to be officialy, ‘Beatles Day In New Orleans’.

He welcomed the arriving, ‘English Storm’ in the Hurricane Month and, correctly, noted that what The Beatles did and sang was based on a cousin ship with Jazz – the jumping, danceable historic art form which was New Orleans inestimable gift to World Culture.

And, wonder of wonders, as the lights went down, who should be first on the Bill at this epochal show?

Why, none other than one of New Orleans most favoured sons, Clarence Frogman Henry, who could make a dead man rise out of his grave to dance and shout with Joy.

You want Joy? Joy, raining down in torrents?

Ecouter le cri de la grenouille! Ecouter! Ecouter!

Now, in my book, one of the primary purposes of music is to provide good cheer – to lift the burdensome cares of the day and remind you that to be alive is a glorious gift.

And, I can think of few records that fulfill that purpose to better effect than, ‘Aint Got No Home’.

It was a substantial R&B and Pop hit in 1956 as all over the nation people fell in love with the voice that could sound like a lonely boy, a lonely girl, a treetop bird and, best of all – A Frog!

What’s not to like!

There’s the trademark rolling on the river rhythm New Orleans sound that carries you securely along with the drums, bass and sax meshing perfectly together.

Clarence brings all his patent piano and vocal charm, honed in clubs like The Chicken Shack, to produce a record that is both a novelty and a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic.

Clarence, born and raised in the Crescent City, had clearly been listening to Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Shirley and Lee. The delightful Frog impression was his own boyhood invention.

Ooo .. ooooo …. ooooo … ooooo … ooooo .. oooooo!

Yes indeed. Yes Indeed.

I’m here to tell you that there’s no Jukebox in the whole wide World that wouldn’t be improved by having a copy of, ‘Aint Got No Home’ in its racks!

The success of Aint Got No Home brought appearances at the premier Black Theatres of the day – The Apollo in New York, The Howard in D.C and The Royal in Baltimore sharing the stage with luminaries like Clyde McPhatter and Chuck Berry.

But, there was no immediate hit follow up so Clarence went back home to the Boubon Street clubs where he always drew a loyal and enthusiastic hometown crowd.

Clarence’s next smash came courtesy of two fellow Louisianians Paul Gayten and Bobby Charles.

Paul Gayten, a prodigiously talented musician, arranger and Bandleader, acting as a talent scout for Chess Records had spotted the potential of Clarence and hustled him into Cosimo Matassa’s Studio to record his initial hit.

Paul had recorded Bobby Charles immortal, ‘See You Later Alligator’ later popularised by Bill Haley, and the two combined their talents to write, ‘(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do’ which gave Clarence a big, fat, International hit in 1961.

Bobby Charles, a secret hero of Rock ‘n Roll, will feature here later. He had the priceless gift of writing songs which sounded as if you’ve always known them yet which never lose their playability through the years.

I chose to feature the live version above for the thrill of seeing and listening to a gold plated N’Awlins Band (with back up Dancers!) and the oratorical tones of legendary WLAC DJ Bill ‘Hoss’ Allen.

Wonderful to hear the exchange between ‘Frog’ and ‘Hoss’, to briefly glimpse Robert ‘Barefootin” Parker and to realise that Frog’s accent is so thick you could near cut slices off it!

Clarence’s final appearance on the Charts also in ’61 was with a revival of the standard, ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ written by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher.

There are countless versions by everyone from The Mills Brothers to Peggy Lee and on to Ringo Starr.

Still, for my money, if you have a few drinks taken and fancy a whirl around a hardwood floor you can’t do better than call up the Frog!

Clarence has recorded extensively, toured Europe and played with many of the greats besides The Beatles but he has always returned home to the bosom of Bourbon Street.

If you’re lucky, even though he’s now in his ninth decade, you might see him there still.

Be assured you’re guaranteed a real find time and without doubt you’ll find yourself crooning along to his classic tunes.

As The Mayor of Jukeboxville I’m issuing my own Proclamation:

Whereas, in order to increase the wellbeing and mirth of all it devolves upon myself to officially proclaim today, June 5 2017, to be officially Clarence Frogman Henry Day.

Encore, ecouter le cri de la grenouille!

Van Morrison, Elvis and Berry Gordy all revered Jackie Wilson : Mr Excitement!

‘Jackie Wilson was the greatest singer I’ve ever heard. The epitome of natural greatness .. he set the standard I’d be looking for in singers forever’ (Berry Gordy, Founder of Motown).

‘I guess that makes me the white Jackie Wilson’ (Elvis Presley when hearing some called Jackie Wilson the black Elvis).

‘Jackie Wilson was the most dynamic singer and performer I think I’ve ever seen’ (Smokey Robinson).

Just in case you thought these luminaries were exaggerating take a listen to Jackie’s debut solo single from 1957, ‘Reet Petite’ and you’ll hear that there’s no hyperbole involved.

Jackie Wilson was born to sing.

Jackie could sing with the elegant power that Ted Williams brought to Baseball.

Jackie could sing with the ‘don’t you know I’m better than you in every way’ confidence that Muhammad Ali brought to Boxing.

Jackie could sing with the ‘wow, that’s brilliant’ style of a Scott Fitzgerald Sentence.

Jackie Wilson could sing and take the breath away from the band behind him, the audience in front of him and every singer who imagined, before they heard him, that they were a pretty good singer.

Sing it Jackie! Sing it!

January 20th 1984 Memorial Hospital Mount Holly New Jersey

You know it’s more than 8 years now since I sang, ‘Lonely Teardrops’ that last time at a Dick Clark gig in New Jersey.

One minute I’m knee sliding while hitting all the high notes and the next it seemed like a madman with a hammer is bashing me in the chest.

Last time I was able to sing. Last time I was really able to walk and talk.

Last time I was Jackie Wilson – Mr Excitement!

I been in Hospitals ever since that night. Ever since.

Sometimes the lights are bright and sometimes it’s all shades and shadows. Machines bleeping nearly all the time. Nurses coming and going about their business. I got to know a few of them really well – though they wouldn’t know that.

Coma. Conscious but incapacitated is what they say.

Actually, in some ways I hear more now than I ever did.

When someone comes to the bedside I can feel them before they speak and it ain’t just the living who come to see me. Course, I don’t know who gone and died since I been banged up in here.

So, I don’t know, for sure, who is alive, who is dead and which are ghosts or dreams in my head.

But, they been comin’ to see me more and more these last few weeks. Almost as if they comin’ to say Goodbye.

Well, some I’m glad they came. And, some I wished they’d stayed in Hell.

A few shed those lonely teardrops when they whispered my name and theirs in my ear.

Maybe, like me they sing that one in their mind as the teardrops fall.

Mama came. She about cried a river. Told me, no matter what I done on life, ain’t no sin The Lord can’t forgive. If you ask him. Well, I know I got plenty to ask forgiveness for – especially the way I treated my wives and the mothers of my kids I never married. Here’s hopin’ Mama’s right.

Mama was the one took me to hear the Billups Chapel Choir and that’s when I knew I was born to be a singer. Sometimes, when it’s 3 in the morning and this place is quiet as a Monday Morning Chapel I think I hear that choir again singing, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’.

Papa came. Now, I know he’s dead. Death ain’t changed him though. He came with a bottle in a brown bag and he done nothing but cuss me out all the time he sat here. Maybe I’m more like him than I ought to be but I ain’t dead yet. Not yet.

And maybe, just maybe, The Boatman still not absolutely sure I’m bound for hell. Leastwise that’s what I’m hopin’.

Berry and Gwen Gordy came with Billy Davis.

Now when I first met Berry, in the 50s, he wasn’t an Emperor of the music business. No way. He was an ex boxer like me and a song hustler trying to make his way in this mean ol’ world.

Give him his due though. Him, Gwen and Billy came up with a string of hit songs when I went solo after leavin’ Billy Ward and The Dominoes. They knew that when it came to selling a song that there wasn’t anyone to touch me.

Berry said I was even better than Clyde McPhatter – and anyone who’s knows anything about singing knows that Clyde was as good as anyone’s ever been.

Always did like Gwen.

Billy was a gentleman and you don’t get many of them in the business I can tell you!

As they sat here they started singing, ‘That is Why (I Love You So).

Sounded real good even for a bunch of oldies.

But, nothing like what I could do with the song. Nothing like.

Elvis comes now and again when he can escape Colonel Tom. He just likes to sit and croon a little. Tells me how many of my moves found their way into his act. Actually, he came yesterday and sang, ‘All My Trials’. There’s no doubt he can sing. Really sing.

One thing Elvis said was that he loved it when I sang a big slow ballad holding the audience in the palm of my hand.

Yeh! I could sing them at any tempo. I remember, ‘Doggin’ Around’ always cast a spell. A true spell.

My cousin Levi came by and talked like we did when we was kids. He’s a hell of a singer. Imagine the lead singer of The Four Tops and Jackie Wilson in the same group! Shame our version of The Falcons never got to record.

Tell you one guy who wouldn’t dare turn up. Nat Tarponol. He must owe me a million dollars! To think that I near carried his label Brunswick on my back while he was piling my greenbacks head high into his account.

I get a kick when Carl Davis drops by. When everyone thought I was finished it was Carl who kept the faith. He hooked me up with those Detroit Funk Brothers and Lord didn’t we cook!

Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and I Get The Sweetest Feeling put me right back where I belonged – right on top.

One time Carl came in and told this Irsih guy, Van Morrison, had made a tribute record, ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ and that he could out sing near any R&B, Blues and Soul singer who ever lived. I would have laughed but then he played me the record.

Who would believe it! The guy has the Rhythm in his soul. No doubt about it. Then I got to thinking.

Sure, an Irish guy with a dynamite voice (though they tell me he don’t move too much!) but what about a Black Jewish guy from Detroit who can bring a tear to every eye from Dublin to Detroit with his version of, ‘Danny Boy’!

Beat that Mr Morrison!

Anyway, I’m real tired now. Never been so tired. I can still feel that bullet near my spine and it feels like that one kidney of mine is about to call it a day.

I don’t know for sure but I think I hear those pipes calling louder and louder and somewhere over the river a choir calling me.

Guess they could use a star Tenor.

Goodnight.

Notes:

Jackie Wilson died on 21 January 1984. He was 49 years old. He never recovered from the heart attack he had on 29 September 1975 while performing, ‘Lonely Teardrops’.

In his career Jackie scored more than 50 hit singles. He had 6 R&B Number Ones and 6 Top Ten Pop Chart hits.

‘Reet Petite’ ‘Lonely Teardrops’ and ‘That’s Why (I Love You So)’ were all products of the Gordy/Davis/Gordy songwriting partnership.

‘Doggin’ Around’ was written by Lena Agree.

‘Reet Petite’ shows someone in complete control of glorious gifts. You want to shout with joy with Jackie as he pulls off miracle after miracle with a broad wink to the audience – ‘Ain’t I something!’ You sure were Jackie, you sure were.

In, ‘Lonely Teardrops’ Jackie melds Doo-Wop sweetness with Gospel dynamism effortlessly shifting up and down through his astonishing vocal range.

With Jackie there is always the sense of a flesh and blood man confronting the trials and triumphs of love – no matter how thrillingly theatrical his performance.

In, ‘That’s Why’ he slaloms through vocal twists and turns like the great French skier Jean Claude Killy. When he sings, ‘Don’t stop the music – let’s go! I always find myself shouting Go Jackie Go! Go Jackie Go!

On, ‘Doggin’ he proves that he was a master at any tempo. He conjures up the picture of the troubled lover illuminated in the sodium glare of the street corner lamp with a sea of darkness and heartbreak all around. Yet, there’s more than a touch of bravado and menace in his warning that he may just have to bring his errant lover down.

As for ‘Danny Boy’ just listen and marvel.

The Young Rascals : Blissful Blue Eyed Summer Soul!

‘The Rascals are Coming! The Rascals are Coming!’ (Scoreboard announcement at The Beatles Shea Stadium concert)

‘My God, you guys really are white!’ (Otis Redding on encountering The Rascals in a neighbouring studio)

‘Some people may not realize it, but The Rascals were the first Rock Band in the world … okay over in England, some guys were making some noise. But in the real world, in the centre of the universe – New Jersey – The Rascals were the first band!’ (Steve Van Zandt speech for The Rascals Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction)

There’s always one.

One Summer of your youth that stays shimmering in your mind for evermore.

For me it was the long, once in a century, extraordinarily hot, Summer of 1976.

A Summer when I was not yet 21.

A Summer when my head and my entire being was aflame, aflame.

A Summer when the waters of The Cam glistened silver in the Summer sun.

A Summer when the Colleges of Cambridge never looked lovelier as I piloted (very inexpertly) down the River.

And, as always, a soundtrack in my head.

Summer Songs. Summer Songs.

And, there’s always one song that summons your shimmering Summer like no other.

For me, in the Summer of 1976, it was ‘Groovin’ a song of gossamer grace recorded by The Young Rascals in 1967.

Now, I don’t know about you but when I hear, ‘Groovin” the jazzments in my mind approach something like ecstasy!

Eddie Brigati, co-writer with Felix Cavaliere, of this miraculous song recalls that at the time they were living in a hotel right off Central Park in New York City.

Down the crowded avenue they would go on a Sunday afternoon doing anything they wanted to do!

When you’re in the prime of youth and the world is opening up for you to explore and conquer it’s indeed hard to imagine anything better than groovin’ on a sunny afternoon with the one closest to your heart.

You can just feel that life is getting better and better – endlesssly.

Let the future and responsibilities wait; for now smile, take a deep breath of fresh air and you’ll hear yourself saying, ‘Ah-ha-ha, Ah-ha-ha’ and you’ll remember those moments, those immortal moments, for the rest of your life wherever life takes you thereafter.

Groovin’ was an unstoppable Nunber One record that sat atop Billboard for four straight weeks.

Who wouldn’t be charmed by its relaxed groove? There’s a lazy Cuban feel to the recording emphasised by the presence of congas but not drums. The great Chuck Rainey on bass gives the song liquid momentum as does Michael Weinstein on harmonica.

The glory of the song though, as with all Rascals recordings, lies in the seductive beauty of their vocals.

Felix on lead with wonderful harmonic support from David Brigati (the Fifth Rascal).

Gene Cornish is there on guitar filling out the sound which is topped off with the birdsong!

Put that all together and you have, as Eddie Brigati said, ‘that simple little summer song that everybody knows’.

Amazingly, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records thought the song would not appeal as it was so different to the more boisterous R&B and Soul sounds Rascals fans had come to expect from them.

A clear case of underestimating the public taste!

Luckily, a figure seemingly ever present around the music scene in 60s New York, Disc Jockey Murray the K, bearded Jerry Wexler and argued with convincing force that Groovin’ was a sure fire Number One smash!

Now this wasn’t the first Number One The Rascals would achieve and it wouldn’t be their last.

Their debut at the summit of the charts in February 1966 was with one of the great rave-up records of all time, ‘Good Lovin’.

If you pair it with, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group featuring the teenage Steve Winwood you have one hell of a party going on!

You got the fever? Here’s the cure!

One, two, three!

Versions of the song had previously been recorded by Lemme B Good (Limmie Snell) and The Olympics (benefitting from the production smarts of Jerry Ragavoy).

However, neither of those worthy platters could match the joyous, adrenaline fuelled, ‘I may just die on the spot’ stairway to heaven rush of The Rascals version.

Tom Dowd, legendary producer and engineer at Atlantic, captured the attack of The Rascals live sound perfectly – you feel you’re in the middle of that party with them and you never want the song to end even though you can’t possibly keep dancing at this rate for more than another sixty seconds!

On drums Dino Danelli demonstrates what a wonderfully drivin’ sticksman he was while the transcendent Hammond Organ break by Felix is playing on a loop in my head since the first day I heard it.

Gene Cornish provides wonderfully scuzzy guitar licks that don’t let up throughout.

As for the let’s start in overdrive and then really put the hammer down vocals you can hear why Otis might have been surprised at their complexions!

The Rascals, 1940s Baby Boomers all, had grown up in the New York/New Jersey area and all had born again experiences when they heard the likes of Ray Charles, Little Richard and Fats Domino on the airwaves.

Also important in the development of their sound was the ethereal DooWop singing of The Harptones and The Moonglows.

Especially epiphanic for Felix would be discovering Jazzman Jimmy Smith and the awesome power of The Hammond Organ (the same lightning bolt would strike Steve Winwood, Georgie Fame and Ian McLagan over in England).

After serving apprenticeships in local bar bands they came together as members of Joey Dee and the Starliters (David Brigati bringing them in). Touring Europe playing, ‘Peppermint Twist’ for all they were worth they found themselves on a bill with The, then unknown in America, Beatles.

The dime dropped that they should be front men not side men!

Soon they were tearing up venues like Manhattan’s The Phone Booth and coming to the attention of Promoter Extraordinaire Sid Bernstein who got them signed to Atlantic (their first white act!).

The Rascals catalogue in their glory days, 1965 to 1968, gleams with musical treasure.

There was something about The Rascals that chimed with the times. This is reflected in their third and final Number One record from 1968, ‘People Got To Be Free’ which was a fervent and frank civil rights anthem.

Undeniably preachy and of its time. Yet, yet – wrapped in glorious vocals and a swirling magic carpet of guitars, percussion and horns. I’m always in favour of anthems you can really shake a tail feather to!

And, you know, looking around this mean old world, who can disagree that the train of freedom, for so many, is long, long overdue.

As with so many 60s Groups ‘Personal Differences’ and the relentless grind of searching for the next hit took their toll on The Rascals and it would not be until well into the 21st Century that all the original members got together (for a theatrical celebration of their career devised by ├╝ber fan Steve Van Zandt).

Most of all I love The Rascals for the youthful Joie de Vivre of their sound.

There’s something enormously affecting in the blend of their voices and the reaching for the stars arrangements of their songs.

I’m going to leave you with a personal favourite that has a yearning and tremulous charm that never palls.

And, that’s surely something to celebrate in world that’s constantly changing.

Notes:

There’s an invaluable compilation of The Rascals work on Rhino Records. Tracks I return to over and over include, ‘I’ve Been Lonely Too Long’ ‘A Beautiful Morning’ ‘A Girl Like You’ and ‘Mustang Sally’.

Fans of the French Ye-Ye sound should check out Nicoletta’s version of ‘How Can I Be Sure’ which went out under the title, ‘Je Ne Pense Qu’a T’aimer’.