Nina Simone, The Animals : Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

All of us want to be loved.

All of us want to be known for who we really are.

All of us want to be understood.

We want to stretch out our hand to someone who says, with feeling, ‘I know, I know, I know exactly what you mean’.

Yet, so  often, we feel, far from being truly understood, we are instead misunderstood.

Living day to day can be so hard.

We make mistakes.

We let ourselves down.

No one alive can always be an angel.

Sometimes it seems all we have to do is worry, worry, worry.

We regret those foolish words so carelessly spoken.

Oh, but at heart, in our soul, to get through another day, to live companionably, we must believe our intentions are good.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

 

Nina Simone.

An artist of the first degree.

A musician, singer and performer sharing the stature of Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday and Aretha Franklin.

Not that you can compare her artistry to anyone else.

There has never been anyone like Nina Simone.

A naturally gifted pianist and a singer who made every song she ever sang her own.

She grew up in in pre War South Carolina where strict limits were imposed on the ambitions of young black girls – however talented.

Her originality, her sensitivity and her intuition which were integral to her greatness as an artist made her acutely, painfully, aware of the savage injustice she was heir to as a proud Black Woman and artist in the land of her birth.

So, when Nina Simone sang there was always wounded pain informing the beauty she created.

She brought fierce attention to a song melding the personal and the political with irresistible force.

‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is in her reading a plea for personal and political justice and respect from a casualty of wilful misunderstanding – including her misunderstanding of herself.

Listening, you feel suspended in time, swaying in tempo, as Nina Simone with her poised piano and bruised vocal excavates layer after layer of meaning and emotion.

Listening, you hear a blues, you hear a spiritual, you hear echoes of No More Auction Block, you hear echoes of All My Trials, you hear a cry from the heart.

Listening to the way she bites into and stretches the words misunderstood, good and joy for maximum effect.

There is a gravity in her performance of this song which I find emotionally overwhelming.

Nina Simone cuts deep and listening to her is both immensely rewarding and profoundly disturbing for there can be no ignoring the dark truths about humanity and society she so often revealed.

Nina Simone paid a high price in personal terms for the truths she told.

We are all in her debt for the courage and fortitude with which she pursued her vocation and for the many treasures she bequeathed through her records.

I estimate that there are over 400 versions of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ in the catalogue.

I have listened to twenty or so before writing this Post.

I found merit in the versions by Joe Cocker, Julie Tippets & Brian Auger, Mary J Blige and especially in that of Meshell Ndegeocello.

But, it seemed to me there was only one version that I could, in all conscience, present in the same Post as that of Nina Simone.

The Animals.

The pride of Newcastle.

They were specialists in sourcing songs from the blues tradition and turbo charging them through the lacerating power of Eric Burdon’s vocals and intensity of the arrangements led by Alan Price’s entrancing Organ and Hilton Valentine’s down these mean streets Noir Guitar.

I have read that Bob Dylan jumped out of his car and shouted with amazed delight when he first heard The Animals take on, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ which they had found on his debut LP.

I would not venture to guess what Nina Simone made of their version of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ yet we can say that it is an intensely driven, masculine, version that can never be forgotten once heard.

Certainly, Bruce Springsteen, a major Animals devotee, must have had this version in his head as he wrote, ‘Badlands’.

While no one could attempt to match the Nina Simone original The Animals version, a classic in its own right, became the essential template for almost all versions that followed.

We will always be in search of understanding.

We will always be edgy, have regrets and be filled with worry.

While wanting desperately to be understood we will misunderstand others and ourselves.

That’s what it is to be human rather than an angel.

Ah  but, if we could, if we just would pay proper attention to each other and the world around us we might in our journey come to understand that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

We might come to live in the land of spices.

We might hear church bells beyond the stars.

We might find something understood.

Sing it Nina.

Notes :

Nina Simone’s original version can be found on her 1964 Album, ‘Broadway, Blues, Ballads’.

The Animals version was released in January 1965 – it was a substantial world wide hit.

The writers of the song were Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott (who arranged and conducted the Nina Simone version) and Sol Marcus.

 

Christmas Alphabet ; A for Amos Milburn & Ahmad Jamal

After the last Post’s deep dive into mysticism it’s time to relax and indulge in a little Christmas cheer.

And, who better to provide such cheer than our old Friend and carousing companion, Amos Milburn!

In our house the Christmas wreath adorns the front door.

The tree is decorated and the lights are twinkling.

Underneath the carefully chosen presents are mounting.

The invitations to family and friends have been sent.

We won’t worry about those pesky January bills.

No, we are getting good and ready (I’m practicing my charades mimes!).

We’re gonna dance in the hall and the kitchen and the living room.

We’re gonna finger pop ’til New Years Day.

Because, when all is said and done, Christmas comes but once a year.

Once a year.

Let the good times roll.

Enjoy!

 

And, there will come a moment when all the preparations are complete.

A moment when stillness is all around.

The children are, finally!, asleep.

Somewhere, from a moonlit sky, the snow is falling, hushing the world.

Let it snow.

Ahmad Jamal, a favourite of Miles Davis (and any favourite of Miles’ …), conjures up the scene with his Trio.

Let it snow.

The last Post in the Series will be on the 21st – Don’t Miss It!

Christmas Alphabet S for Santa Claus Is Back in Town : Elvis Presley

It is a moot point as to when the Christmas Season begins.

December 1st?

First Sunday of Advent?

Well, in my house, it begins the day I walk along the shelves of vinyl and with due reverence slide out, ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ which has been for 61 years now the best Christmas Album ever made.

If you want proof of that just cue up your stylus and play track 1 Side 1 – ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ and marvel again at the sheer majestic glory that was the voice and persona of the young Elvis Presley!

The sensuous power of his singing here leaves the pretenders to his throne suffocating in dust!

Elvis don’t need no reindeer nor no sack on his back.

No, when he rolls up in his big black Cadillac – Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Here’s a Santa that will always be welcome back in town by every pretty baby the town can hold.

His magnetism, vocal assurance and sheer delight in his prowess shines through every bar.

There will always and forever only be one King.

 

The Alphabet Series continues on 15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t Miss One!

 

John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood, Amos Milburn : One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer

These days my alcohol take is very modest.

On celebratory occasions (my birthday, the birth of my Granddaughter) a decent measure of Malt Whiskey (no water, no ice).

Nothing to touch the Lagavulin 16 Year Old.

When Ireland recently magnificently beat The All Blacks at Rugby only a healthy slug of Bourbon seemed appropriate.

Given this was only the second victory over them in 111 years I felt justified in removing the racehorse stopper from my prized bottle of Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Kentucky Straight.

 

Blantons

There’s also my tradition of sipping a fine Pale Ale immediately I hit the WordPress Publish Button and launch a new Immortal Jukebox Post towards the waiting World!

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Bishop’s Farewell always hits the spot as I wait for the Likes and Comments to flow in.

So, if you ask me what I drink these days I answer – not much but when I do : One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

Now, back in the days when I was to be found at my favourite Honkytonks three or four times a week it was often the case that as I approached the bar its custodian would say, ‘A Rudy T as usual Thom?’

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and I would sing out, ‘Of course, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer’.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer in honour of Rudy Toombs who wrote the greatest drinking song of all time.

I don’t want no soda nor bubble gum.

You got what I want just serve me some.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

 

Now didn’t that go down smoothly!

Amos Milburn, of course, a master of the relaxed groove at the piano and a singer who invites you to lean in and listen to a story you’re gonna want to retell more than a time or two – especially when you’ve had a drink or three.

‘Please Mister Bartender, listen here … I ain’t here for trouble so have no fear.’

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This high proof beauty came out as a 78 in August 1953 and was credited to Amos and His Aladdin Chickenshackers (must get that T Shirt made up for Christmas!).

The name of the backing band was, of course, a nod to Amos’ immortal Number One Record, ‘Chicken Shack Boogie’ from 1948.

That, ‘I ain’t drunk, I’m just real loose, real loose’ guitar comes via the magic fingers of Mickey Baker.

The public took shot after shot taking the record to Number 2 in the R&B Charts during a 14 week residency on the listings.

If you want another nip of this song, as you surely do, I think we should up the proof level considerably and make it strong, real strong.

And, as we all can surely agree, when it comes to Electric Blues no one, no one, packs more punch than The Solid Sender – Mr John Lee Hooker!

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John Lee is your go to guy if you want to be sure to get high, be sure to get mellow, be sure to find yourself feelin’ good, be sure to emphatically, absolutely, categorically Knocked Out!

On his high octane take John Lee benefits from the support of Lafayette Leake on the rippling piano, Fred Below on the pounding drums and Eddie Burns on the slashing guitar.

John Lee gives the song drive and spirit with his patented combination of voice, guitar and foot.

John Lee bent every song he ever played to his own will and the unique metre and tempo of his profound musical imagination.

He had a personal and musical presence that was genuinely awesome.

No use in trying to play like John Lee – you had to BE John Lee to play that way.

When it comes to shaking the floor and rattling the walls John Lee reigns supreme.

Supreme.

 

 

I only got to see John Lee four or five times and I treasure the memory of every one.

But, this next take comes from someone who I’ve seen on at least a score of stages, the unforgettable, irrepressible, unstoppable, Delaware Destroyer, George Thorogood.

You’re gonna need to drink a fair few pints when you go to see George just to replace the sweat you’ll exude as he puts the pedal to the metal.

George just loves The Blues and he brings every ounce of energy at his command to bringing his beloved music to life night after night all over the world.

This is a man who did 50 gigs in 50 States in 50 days and never missed a beat!

He’s on a kick and he sure as hell ain’t ever gonna get off until they screw down the casket.

Maybe your baby’s gone and it seems everything is lost.

They been out all night.

Never came back at the break of day.

What can you do?

What can you do?

Well, I don’t like to give advice to the love-lorn but if ol’ George was in town I’d down One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer and station myself right in front of the stage and let the music work its magic.

 

That Jersey audience struck lucky to see George on such fine form with the added bonus of a special appearance by none other than Elvin Bishop.

Wow, that’s some twin carburetor guitar power!

As I said at the outset I don’t really drink now like I did in the old days.

But, I have to admit, blasting Amos, John Lee and George out time after time as I wrote this Post made me work up one hell of a thirst.

Nothing for it but to line up The Lagavulin, The Blanton’s and The Bishop’s and join the party.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

Slainte!

 

Notes :

Rudy Toombs – was a Louisiana native who became one the most able and prolific songwriters of the 1950s.

His songbook includes such classics as:

‘Teardrops from My Eyes’. ‘One Mint Julep’, ‘5-10-15 Hours’, ‘I’m Shakin” and, ‘Lonesome Whistle Blues’.

Amos Milburn – from Houston made a magnificent series of records for the Aladdin Label in the 40s and 50s.

My favourite tracks include – ‘ Down the Road a Piece’, ‘Rooming House Boogie’, ‘Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby’ and’Bad, Bad, Whiskey’.

Being the completest I am I have the Mosaic Label Box Set but there are many fine compilations of Amos available for those who want only the hits.

Pete Townshend, Willie Mitchell, Robert Parker : Barefootin’

My Uncle Joe was, in the hierarchy of his own mind, first a Kerryman, next a Gaelic Football fanatic, then an Irishman and finally a Farmer.

He was at once; very strong and gentle, full of strong opinions and quietly spoken.

He was not much given to offering advice – least of all to his bookish, non stop talking, citified nephew over from London for the Summer Holidays.

So, on the very rare ocassions when he did offer advice I listened closely.

As we were companionably going to The Creamery one August morning, our conversation proceeding at the steady pace of the donkey pulling the cart we rode, I told Joe I wanted a new pair of shoes, nay Beatle Boots!, for my 9th Birthday.

Joe was not a devotee of the four lads from Liverpool but it turned out to my surprise that he was very interested in the subject of Boots and the necessity, nay the duty, to purchase the very best Boots you could afford (and maybe those that were more expensive than you could truly afford) as a ‘Proper pair of Boots was an investment, an Investment, that would repay you many times over as the years passed by’.

He went further, ‘If you’re not going to wear a proper pair of Boots you might as well go barefoot. Barefoot!’

Accepting his argument a fine strong pair of countryman’s Boots we’re wrapped up before the week was out and once opened I barely took them off for the next year.

Joe died tragically young when he was not yet fifty.

I think of him every time I buy a new pair of Boots ; mentally composing a letter :

’Joe, I spent the money I got for my college scholarship on a pair of Tricker’s Boots – a pure investment!’

’Joe, you’ll never believe it! I found a pair of Redwing Boots  (the ones from Minnesota) in a  charity shop for £15!’

‘Joe, there’s twenty guys in this office and I’m the only one who had invested in a decent pair of Boots – sure they might as well be barefoot!’

‘Joe, if I get that pay rise I’m going to invest in a pair of New and Lingwood Chukka Boots (actually I’ve bought them already – bound to get that rise!)

Of course, in the right circumstances, being barefoot is just the thing.

If you ask people to supply an image of being carefree I’ll guarantee you a healthy percentage will paint a picture of walking barefoot along a sun kissed sandy beach.

Sure works for me.

I’m also reminded of a lovely (though possibly apocryphal) about two Irish athletes lining up at the start of the 1960 Rome Olympics Marathon.

Looking around at the assembled greats of the long distance running world they were startled to see a rail thin African runner who seemingly had neglected to bring his running shoes with him.

They agreed that whoever else they had to worry about they would surely have no trouble in outpacing this competitor!

As it turned out the mystery runner was none other than Abebe Bikele from Ethiopia who would run barefoot every step of the 26 miles through the glorious rubble of Rome before cruising to the Gold Medal!

Sometimes barefoot is just the thing.

Come on … Everybody get on your feet … you make me nervous when you in your seat … take off your shoes!

Barefootin’ … Barefootin’ …. Barefootin’

Doin’ a dance that cant be beat!

Barefootin’!

No word of a lie – can’t be beat, can’t be beat!

Robert Parker from 1966 with yet another classic from New Orleans which became a huge R&B and Pop Chart Hit.

Brilliantly arranged by the great Wardell Quezergue, ‘Barefootin” showcases the superb rhythmic sense of Crescent City musicians.

Robert’s vocal is graced by ambrosial guitar and a horn section that demands you dance and keep dancing as long as your feet hold out!

Take off your shoes and Dance Now!

Take off your Shoes!

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Robert Parker was already a veteran of the New Orleans music scene in 1966 when his name briefly hit the headlines.

Growing up with Huey Smith and Sugar Boy Crawford he haunted the Caldonia Inn to watch the legendary Professor Longhair strut his stuff,

By 1949 Robert was playing with The Shuffling Hungarians (got to get that T Shirt!) and recording Mardi Gras in New Orleans with the great man.

He moved on to lead his own band at The Tijuana where he backed up Bobby Marchan, Guitar Slim and Little Richard.

Taking his band, The Royals, on the road he laid down the groove for R&B stars like Roy Brown, Big Joe Turner and Solomon Burke – what I wouldn’t give to time travel back to those days to catch them burning the house down in a club in Florida or Texas!

Robert’s recording highlights before ‘Barefootin;’ include appearing in 1959 on the wonderful, ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo’ with Huey Smith  and on Irma Thomas’ characteristically smouldering, ‘Don’t Mess with My Man’.

The same year he also made his solo record debut with, ‘All Night Long’.

All this time Robert was primarily a Sax Man and Bandleader who could handle a vocal when required.

Though Robert was well known around New Orleans and on the southern touring circuit I doubt anyone was expecting him to write and record an R&B classic that would sell a million copies and have a continuing afterlife in cover versions both in America and the UK.

Strange things happening everyday!

One day Robert fetched up at Tuskegee University in Alabama and he noted that as he began to play the college girls all took off their shoes in front of the bandstand.

This incident was filed away and when about to start a show in Miami he heard the Comic/MC announce – everybody get on your feet; you make me nervous when you’re in your seat’ the creative tumblers turned and clicked and Voila! a song was born.

Now when Robert took the song to Wardell at NOLA Records it was swiftly recorded … but.. but .. the other powers at NOLA didn’t hear a Hit so it languished in the tape vaults for a year until sharp earned local DJ Hank Sample heard it and persuaded NOLA to issue some copies to his Record Store.

They promptly sold like hot cakes and Robert had a great big fat Hit on his hands!

The crowd at New York’s Apollo Theatre went wild when Robert kicked off his shoes and kickstarted the band into, Barefootin’’.

Robert never had another Smash but he remained a much loved figure in The Crescent City and he was properly inducted into the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Regular readers will know that I would take some persuading that any other city can truly rival New Orleans for the accolade of being dubbed the premier Music City.

However, one of the few cities that might be considered a genuine rival is Nashville.

And, from there comes the next version of, ‘Barefootin’’ featured today courtesy of some of the finest players ever to record there – Barefoot Jerry.

Key members Wayne Moss and Charlie McCoy had been part of an A Team that gathered around Bob Dylan when he brought his kaleidoscopic imagination to Nashville in yet another of his artistic rebirths.

Take off your Shoes!

We got ourselves a Hootenany and a Hoedown!

 

 

Next we move downriver to Memphis which cedes to no City in musical eminence.

So many great singers, songwriters, musicians and producers!

And, right at the very top of that tree undoubtedly one Willie Mitchell who is one of the all time great exponents of finding the secret alchemy for making classic records.

Find a great band of musicians and find the songs and the arrangements and groove!

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It worked countless times with Al Green and Ann Peebles in particular.

Less well known are the addictive sides Willie made under his own name.

Once the band locks into the groove here even Zombies would be getting Barefoot with some despatch!

Take off your shoes and throw them away!

 

I was born far, far away from the fabled Music CIties above yet it turns out that London, the home of some of the most knowledgeable and fanatical music devotes on the entire globe, was just the place to imbibe the sounds of all those great American conurbations.

Whatever kind of music you groove to someone in London knows all about it in exhaustive detail.

Growing up in London, one Pete Townhend fed the creative muse that would make him one of the most gifted and celebrated songwriters of his age through deep immersion in the traditions of R&B, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Soul Music.

And, that love of the drive of those 40s and 50s sounds fed into the astounding attack of his records and live shows.

Wonderful to see him celebrating his musical heritage in the  joyous performance below.

Surely Pete has been Barefootin’ ever since he was Two!

Anyone sitting in their seat as this one plays must have a serious back problem!

Doesn’t he cut a mean rug!

I like to Mambo.

I like to Samba.

Never go too long without Twisting the Night Away.

Always ready for The Locomotion.

I’m partial to a Polka and never weary of The Waltz.

But, today ain’t no other Dance will do.

Everybody get on your feet!

Let’s do a Dance that can’t be beat!

Come on!

We Barefootin ‘

Barefootin’

Barefootin’!

 

Note :

This Post written wearing Redwing Boots.

Playback dancing strictly Barefoot!

Rolling Stones, Bob and Earl : The Harlem Shuffle

There is Presence in Place Names.

There is Romance in Place Names.

There is Poetry in Place Names.

Ulan Bator. Medicine Hat. Yekaterinburg.

Valparaiso. Terra Del Fuego. Finisterre.

Spoon River. Brigadoon. Elsinore.

Kathmandu. Coeur D’Alene. Cahirciveen.

Firenze. Maratea. Vigata.

New York City. New York City. New York City.

Manhattan. Queens. The Bronx. Staten Island. Brooklyn.

Harlem. Harlem. Harlem.

Black and white image of a street scene in Harlem in the 1930s.

Now for profound reasons of History Harlem has felt compelled to Shout!

Now for profound reasons of History Harlem has felt compelled to Scream!

But in all ages and conditions Harlem has lived and breathed through Song.

Harlem Sings! Harlem Sings! Harlem Sings!

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Harlem sings in the photographs of Aaron Siskind.

Harlem sings in the poetry of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Georgia Douglas Johnson.

Harlem sings in the melodies captured by a Harlem Airshaft.

Harlem sings in the writing of James Baldwin, Countee Cullen and W.E.B. DuBois.

Harlem sings in the polemics of Hubert Harrison and Marcus Garvey.

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Harlem sings at Olympic Field as the Lincoln Giants win again.

Harlem sings in the words and melodies of George and Ira Gershwin.

Harlem sings in the escapades of Harry Houdini.

Harlem sings in the crazed cavorting of Groucho, Chico and Harpo.

Harlem sings through Count Basie and Coleman Hawkins.

Harlem sings in the Knockout majesty of Joe Louis.

Harlem sings in the fleet feet of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.

Harlem sings through the inescapable Joy flowing from Fats Waller.

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Harlem sings through Frankie Lymon and Garland Jeffreys.

Harlem sings through Ralph Ellison and Johnny Hartman.

Harlem sings as another winner pings off the racket of Althea Gibson.

Harlem sings in the firm Gavel of Thurgood Marshall.

Harlem sings at Club Harlem.

Harlem sings at The Alhambra Ballroom.

Harlem sings at Havana San Juan.

Harlem sings at The Lennox Lounge.

Harlem sings at Minton’s Playhouse.

Harlem sings at Monroe’s Uptown House.

Harlem sings at Small’s Paradise and The Sugar Cane Club.

Harlem sings at The Park Palace and The Park Plaza.

Harlem sings and sings and everybody, everybody, wants to sing, sing, sing at The Apollo Theatre.

You move it to the left – you go for yourself.

You move it to the right – if it takes all night.

Take it kinda slow  with a whole lot of Soul

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

The Harlem Shuffle.

 

Harlem sings through through the raise the dead glory of Bob Relf and Earl Nelson’s, ‘Harlem Shuffle’ from 1963.

Don’t move it too fast – just make it last.

How low can you go?

Yup, even Lazarus himself, when he was laying down, would have got up off the bed and on to the floor once that brass fanfare kicked in!

Barry White (yes .. that Barry White) played Piano and did the arrangement (with Gene Page?) while Fred Smith produced.

Bob and Earl sing their hearts out through every line.

Now come on – don’t fall down on me now.

Just move it right here to The Harlem Shuffle.

The Harlem Shuffle.

Ride. Ride. Ride.

And that’s what Bob and Earl do.

They ride, ride, ride, slide and swoop so that we ain’t got no choice but to shake a tail feather for all we’re worth.

The combination of the urgent vocals and the insistent rhythms intoxicatingly surrounds you ’til you feel you can’t stand it no more.

That last for about a nanosecond before you want to be out on the floor again – head spinningly lost for another lifetime encapsulated in 162 seconds.

Yeah, yeah, yeah to the Harlem Shuffle.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

Take All Night.

Make it last.

Meanwhile ….

Far across the Atlantic Ocean in England in an unremarkable place named Dartford two young men found that they shared a passion for The Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were and are true aficionados of Black Music.

Maybe they heard Harlem Shuffle on the radio or through hipper than hip Guy Stevens DJ-ing at London’s New Scene Club.

It was Stevens running the UK arm of Sue Records who first issued the record in Britain in 1965.

Keith, in particular, was taken by the horn heavy blast of Harlem Shuffle and he knew that Mick could really shake a tail feather to this one on stage.

He also knew that he had in Charlie Watts the coolest drummer in the whole wide world at his back so the song would hit the groove and stay hit throughout allowing him to dig deep.

Being the wily old bird he is Keith kept putting Harlem Shuffle on tapes of songs he gave to Mick until one fine day Mick just sang along as Keith and Ronnie Wood ran the song down in a rehearsal studio.

And, when they hit the stage – all brass and backing singers blazing there can be no resistance.

You scratch just like a monkey.

Yeah you do real cool.

Real Cool.

Real Cool.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

The Harlem Shuffle.

Tail Feather well and truly shaken!

Notes :

Bobby Relf died in November 2007.

Hailing from Los Angeles (born 1937) he was in The Upfronts with Barry White.

Harlem Shuffle owes a lot to a West Coast tune, ‘Slausson Shuffletime’ by Round Robin.

Bobby kept in touch with Barry White and provided lucrative material for his fabulously successful Love Unlimited.

Earl Nelson died in July 2008.

He had an earlier brush with fame when he sang lead on The Hollywood Flames’ hit, ‘Buzz, Buzz, Buzz’.

Jukebox Jive with Garland Jeffreys : Getting The Story Through

 

I’m delighted today to launch a new Feature, ‘Jukebox Jive with …’.

The aim is to provide an insight into the social and musical roots of artists close to the heart of The Jukebox.

It is a special pleasure that we begin with Garland Jeffreys for I have been an avid fan of his work for over 40 years!

Garland generously spared an hour of his time for a telephone interview with me to discuss his influences, his mentors and contemporaries and the records he most cherishes from his own catalogue.

Delightfully he also frequently broke into song down the line from New York to illustrate his answers.

 

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Garland is a singer, songwriter and performer of immense talent.

Someone who was best friends with Lou Reed and regularly called up on stage by Bruce Springsteen.

People, ‘In the Know’ know what a great artist Garland is!

He has written dozens of haunting songs which provide searching insights into what it is to live an engaged modern life.

Drawing on the traditions of Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Doo-Wop, Reggae and Soul his work shines a forensic light onto the issues of The Working Life, Race and Class, Love and Sex in post World War 2 America as refelected in the Nation’s premier City – New York.

Garland was born in June 1943 and grew up in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. His heritage was a mixture of Black, White and Puerto Rican – not forgetting a trace of Cherokee!

It’s undoubtedly the case that such a complex heritage gave Garland an outsider status – too black to be white, too white to be black.

While this provided a series of challenging scenarios in his youth it had the artistic advantage of making him a sharp and subtle observer of the world around him.

His parents were hard working people who instilled in him a love of music and pride in doing a job well.

Perhaps it’s better at this point to allow Garland to tell you himself; through his wonderfully warm and affectionate memoir song, ‘14 Steps To Harlem’ what it was like growing up in the 50s and 60s in such a household.

 

 

IJ – Who was the Artist who called your own voice (as Bob Dylan’s was called by Woody Guthrie)?

GJ :

Well, I grew up in a house filled with music.

My Mother loved Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra.

I loved those and discovered for myself someone as great as Nina Simone who I used to see perform at The Village Gate.

All this stood me in very good stead later when I shared a stage with Jazz Giants like Sonny Rollins and Carmen McRae – you should have heard our duet on, ‘Teach Me Tonight’ (Garland croons … should the teacher stand so near, my love)

There’s a depth in Jazz I’m mining to this day.

I always could sing so naturally I sang along to the radio – those fabulous R&B, Doo-Wop and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs saturated the New York air.

If I have to pick one I’ll go for Frankie Lymon – he was a hell of a singer and he was my size!

Frankie could really sing and not just the uptemp hits everyone remembers but also heart rending ballads like, ‘Share’.

Frankie sang songs filled with energy and sweetness and you knew he was talking about the real life lived out on the New York Streets.

A record I just couldn’t stop playing?,,,

Well I’d have to say Frankie Lymon (don’t forget The Teenagers) with, ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’.

 

 

IJ – Was there a Radio Station/Radio Show that was important in introducing you to the Music you love?

GJ :

We all listened to WINS and especially to Alan Freed’s Moondog Show.

I loved the Sports coverage on WINS too.

I was a true Brooklyn Dodgers fan – proud to say I was there in 1947 when Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field!

Later on I used to go to see broadcasting legend Bob Fass at the WBAI Studios

I went there a few times with the great Bass Player, Richard Davis, who played on my own records as well as being the instrumental star of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Richard was a great musician but a humble man.

He was something of a mentor for me as was Paul Griffin (who played Piano on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone among many other classic recordings).

Of course, I was close with Lou Reed from our days at Syracuse University – boy were we the odd couple!

IJ : What was the first record made by one of your contemporaries that made you think – Wow they’ve really got it!

GJ :

Oh, Yeh … Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’.

I’m a couple of years younger than Bob Dylan.

I used to go to and play at New York Folk Clubs like The Gaslight and Gerde’s.

I saw him then. He has always been a fascinating character.

Managing to be a fantastic self promoter without obviously being one.

He had a unique style and his songs just made sense of the times we were living in.

He wasn’t afraid to be challenging politically and in personal relationships.

 

 

IJ : Which of your own Records was the first to turn out exactly how you wanted it to?

GJ :

I’d have to say that would be, ‘Ghost Writer’ from 1977.

That was an inspired record – the whole album where everything came together. The songs, my singing and the musicians I played with all playing at a peak.

Songs like, ‘Cool Down Boy’, ‘Why – O’ and, ‘Spanish Town’ said something then and they still do.

Dr John’s on there and David Spinoza.

Hugh McCracken who played Guitar and Harmonica deserves a lot of credit.

Sadly he died 5 years ago now – that’s the way when you’ve been in the music world as long as I have.

Ghost Writer as an individual song tells my story.

A New York City Son trying to make my way while having fun.

Someone who knows about tradition in Literature – Shakespeare, Spencer and Sydney and who knows that there’s a poetry in the streets that demands to be expressed.

I agree with you that Ghost Writer is a, ‘Blue Hour’ song – a vision that comes from the ghosts whispering in that hour that’s the last of the night or the first of the morning.

I also love that Dub Reggae feel we got down.

 

 

IJ – What other albums make up your top 3?

GJ :

‘Escape Artist’ from 1981 and, ‘The King of In Between’ from 2011.

As to individual songs I would have to go for, ‘Wild in the Streets’ which was a breakthrough song for me and something of a New York City Anthem.

It’s a Song every audience expects me to play and I make sure not to disappoint them.

I still love it – I make sure to play it straight just like I recorded it.

From more recent times I’m proud of  ‘Coney Island Winter’ which says a lot about modern America and stands up for people who need to be stood up for.

Garland started that menacing whispered intro…

This is a classic.

A Song alive, vibrating, with the energy of the Streets.

An energy that can be exhilarating  but which can also be threatening and at times even fatal.

It’s a song that has the beat, beat, beat of the summer sun and of hot young blood.

A song to be sung on the stoops and the fire escapes and on the baking roofs.

 

Garland was nearly 70 when he made one of his very best albums, ‘The King of In Between’.

What’s almost miraculous about this record is that it has the energy and rage of youth combined with the craft and wisdom of maturity.

‘Coney Island WInter’ has the unstoppable power of a Locomotive yet has a profound tenderness towards those left behind by a cruel and heedless system.

It’s a story that happens every day that only a rare storyteller could make come so thrilling alive.

 

IJ – What was your greatest ever Live Show?

GJ :

A show that really stands out for me was one from The Ritz in NYC with The Rumour backing me up.

Those English guys can really play! (the partnership is brilliantly captured on the Rock ‘n ‘Roll Adult CD)

IJ – What Song by another Artist do you wish you had written?

GJ :

For it’s simplicity, its power and its endless playability I would have to say, ‘Gloria’ by Van Morrison in his days with Them.

A Million Garage Bands can’t be wrong!

IJ – Who’s an under rated Artist we ought to look out for?

GJ :

Garland Jeffreys ! (Seconded! The Immortal Jukebox)

IJ – Nominate a Song – one of your own or by someone else to take up the A100 slot on The Immortal Jukebox.

GJ :

Garland Jeffreys – ‘Ghost Writer’.

IJ – Anything you’d like to add?

GJ :

Sure – I’d like to say that I’m forever grateful to all my fans and supoorters. I’ve spent my life trying to make the very best music I can and that’s what I’m always going to do.

Oh ..and if you’re starting out as a musician I’d advise you to protect your copyrights!

Start  your own record company. Of course the main thing you’ve got to do is love the music, the writing and the performing.

Wise words. Wise words.

New York has had many great chroniclers.

For my money Garland deserves his place among them.

His songs have an urban strength and urgency tempered by empathy for the outsiders and also-rans so often unblinkingly passed by.

Songs can be so many things.

For me Garland’s songs have been lifeboats when the tempest raged, lamps to light the way to a safer shore and ladders to climb up to the Stars.

What moves me most is the sense that I am witnessing a unique voice and vision telling me hard won truths.

Jackie Robinson said that the most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anyone can have is their dignity.

Garland has assuredly joined Jackie in that All Star Dugout.

Today, June 29, is Garland’s Birthday.

Happy Birthday Garland – may your Songs always be sung.

 

Notes :

Many thanks to Claire Jeffreys for setting up the Interview.

Thanks too to Mick Tarrant for the introduction.

A Garland Jeffrey’s Playlist :

In addition to the tracks above I regularly play

‘I May Not Be Your Kind’

‘One-Eyed Jack’

‘Matador’

‘Jump Jump’

‘Miami Beach’

‘Don’t Call Me Buckwheat’

‘Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll’

‘I Was Afraid of Malcolm’

”Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me’

‘Roller Coaster Town’

That would make a hell of a mix CD!