Chuck Berry RIP : Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Chuck Berry has died. May he rest in peace.

 

I will write an extensive tribute later.

He was a Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He was a Rock ‘n’ Roll Prophet and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Poet.

He was a writer with the immediate understanding of a top class journalist, the widescreen vision of an historian and the timing of a comedian on the stage.

He is one of the greatest chroniclers of American Life.

Hail, Hail, Hail Chuck Berry!

Here he is with a special favourite of mine, ‘School Days’

‘Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don’t know
How mean she looks

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

The lyric above is the best teaching aide anyone could ever have if they wanted an example of great Rock ‘n’Roll Songwriting.

Consider the rhythmic flow of the words and music.

Consider the sociological acuity of the observations.

‘The guy behind you won’t leave you alone‘. Don’t you just know that guy!

‘Gee but the teacher don’t know How mean she looks’. 

Teachers never do, never do!

‘Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot’

Now that’s writing! A whole generation and way of life captured perfectly.

‘With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been
Wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go’

All day long you been wantin’ to dance. All day long!

Rock ‘n’ Roll swept The World because it did make you feel the music from head to toe and because what in the world could possible beat the feeling of makin’ romance with the one you love!

Round and round and round you go!

Chuck Berry set The World spinning and some of us are spinning still!

‘Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

And that Baby is Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his thrilling guitar, his poetic words and his sleek charisma Chuck did indeed deliver us from the days of old.

Thank you Chuck for the feeling – body and soul.

 

Fats Domino is 89 today! Many Happy Returns Fats!

The great Fats Domino was born 89 years ago today.

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

So, I am reblogging my previous tribute.

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’.

As a birthday treat I am 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.

 

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.

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.

I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

Earl Palmer

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

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.

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.

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.

 

Phil Everly Remembered

 

Phil Everly’s physical voice was stilled three years ago.

 

Yet his voice on record and in the hearts of generations of listeners now and to come will surely never be stilled.

The keen in his and Don’s voices cuts deep. And deeper with the years.

So, its a rare week when I don’t find myself humming an Everly Brother’s song as I go about my daily life.

Phil and Don’s divine harmonies continue to strike chords in my heart.

Today, in his honour, a Reblog of one of the earliest posts on The Immortal Jukebox.

One where I felt my own voice called by Phil’s.

I hope I have done him justice.

There is a magical moment during the Everly Brothers celebrated and triumphant reunion concert at The Albert Hall in 1983 which goes some way to explaining the source of their enduring appeal.

After opening with a heart warming , ‘Bye Bye Love, a rocking Claudette, the magesterial, ‘Walk Right Back’  a forlorn, stately, ‘I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain and the knock-out punch of, ‘Cathy’s Clown’ the band, which featured England’s guitar legend Albert Lee, took a momentary breather.

The two brothers briefly smiled at each other knowing now that a decade apart had in no sense diminished their power as performers.  Reassured, they leaned their heads close together and began to sing acapella, ‘These are the words of a frontier lad who lost his love when he went bad.’

The opening lines of, ‘Take A Message to Mary’.  As their two voices entwined in a rich fraternal harmony of heartbreakingly vulnerable perfection you can feel the whole audience catch their breath as countless personal memories are evoked.

Memories of the passing years with all their freight of love, joy and loss.  Memories of friends, lovers and family happily present and memories of those now separated by distance, time and mortality.

Looking around the auditorium it was clear that few popular music figures have ever burrowed so deep into their fans emotional core or repaid that loyalty and affection with such tender grace.

Simply put the Everly Brothers were the greatest duet singers and brother act in the history of popular music.

It will remain a mystery as to why the sibling relationship and consanguinity combined to supercharge the emotional resonance of Phil and Don’s harmony vocals and how this mysterious power could survive and endure for virtually all their lifetimes as brothers – whatever the state of their personal relationship.

It was surely a mystery to them as much as to anyone else.

Phil Everly’s life began in Chicago but he was in every other sense a son of the South.  His parents were Kentuckians and musicians.  From the age of six he was singing on the radio with elder brother Don and his parents.

The songs they sang were country songs or those weird and wonderful folk songs as Dylan put it about, ‘Roses growing out of people’s heads’.

From the get-go it was clear that these two brothers, influenced by other brother acts like the Delmores and Blue Sky Boys, had a uniquely potent mystical chemistry that made their arousing and keening singing able to thrill and also to pierce the hardest heart.

As they grew older the cute boys became handsome young men, accomplished guitar players and confident performers.  They were thus in prime position in the late 1950’s to shoulder their jet black Gibson guitars ready to ride and help drive the runaway rock ‘n’ roll train as far as it could go.

Settling into their recording career at Cadence Records and supplied with a string of classic teenage angst songs by the likes of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’) the Everly’s took up residence in the hearts and memories of a generation.

Phil himself wrote one of their signature teenage classics, ‘When Will I Be Loved’.  Up until the advent of the Beatles led British invasion the Everlys were reigning rock ‘n’ roll royalty enjoying massive chart success and the esteem of their fellow artists.

They were also enormously influential – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies and The Beach Boys all freely acknowledged their admiration and desire to emulate the wonder of the brothers’ harmony singing.

Of the two brothers Phil was by all accounts the more outgoing, sensible and grounded of the two.  Though the younger brother it seemed that he was the one looking out for the more mercurial and vulnerable Don.

Don, whose voice seems able to cleave your ribs and pull your heart apart generally took the lead part while Phil intently, watchfully, with a brother’s love and care, held everything together with poignant poised harmony.

Together they made a sound that has rarely been matched for longevity of emotional impact.

Phil had some notable successes as a solo artist including recording the excellent, ‘Star Spangled Springer’ album (1973) which contains the wonderful tracks, ‘The Air That I Breathe’ and ‘Snowflake Bombadier’.

He also worked fruitfully on the soundtracks of the Clint Eastwood  movies, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and, ‘Any Which Way You Can’.

Genuine though these successes were they are minor in comparison to the luminous body of work he created with his elder brother.

They were great country singers, great rock ‘n’ roll singers and great pop singers.

Their body of work is sure to provide emotional sustenance and solace long into the forseeable future.  For people will always fall in and out of love and always carry the scars of past hurts even as they embrace new hope.

There will always be an Everly Brothers song to turn to.

On the cover of Sergeant Pepper: Dion – Runaround Sue!

You may recall that in the recent post about Captain Beefheart I mentioned selecting The Beatles, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ LP from my vinyl shelves.

That storied record is famous not only for its treasury of superb songs but also for its endlessly intriguing cover which features a gallery of contemporary and historical cultural icons.

The Beatles, typically eclectic, choices included Carl Jung, Oliver Hardy, Sonny Liston, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Karl Marx, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and Albert Stubbins (look him up!)

Surprisingly, only two contemporary American musicians made the hallowed cover.

Inevitably, one was Bob Dylan, who was an enormously influential figure in the development of The Beatles songwriting.

The other American legend they selected, proof of their unending devotion to the primal spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was none other than Dion Francis DiMucci – the King of The Bronx and one of the very greatest artists in the history of the music.

Dion for an astonishing seven decades has shown himself to be a superlative singer with the ability to make songs come thrillingly alive.

Tracing his career you will find magnificent records displaying his empathy and mastery of virtually the entire spectrum of American roots music.

So, with The Belmonts we have the exuberant Doo-Wop of, ‘I Wonder Why’ and the delirious Pop angst of, ‘ A Teenager in Love’.

As a solo act he produced electrifying Rock ‘n’ Roll in, ‘The Wanderer’  and deep insights into the Blues with, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and the scarifying, ‘Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms’).

As a singer-songwriter he was capable of a bone chilling confessional threnody like, ‘Your Own Backyard’ and the utterly charming, ‘New York City Song’.

He was quick to spot the distinctive talents of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as his must hear covers of, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and, ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ demonstrate in spades.

For insight into life on the gritty New York Streets only Lou Reed comes near Dion’s epic, ‘Midtown American Street Gang’.

You want Gospel balm? Listen up to the exquisite entreaty of Dion’s, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’.

Taken all in all Dion’s catalogue stands as the autobiography of an always questing pilgrim soul and the blazing testament of a true American Master.

And he did all this battling heroin addiction.

Notwithstanding the excellence of all the above tracks when it came to selecting a record to take its place on The Immortal Jukebox I didn’t hesitate for a micro-second.

No, it has to be, has to be, just has to be, ‘Runaround Sue’ a record I love to the point of near insanity.

Take it from Thom – no one has ever sung a Rock ‘n’ Roll song with such enthralling energy and sheer swagger as Dion does here!

Listen, people let me out you wise …

Great Gosh A Mighty!

Dion’s singing here leaves me exultant and breathless with joy filled admiration.

As he sings you are swept along on a magic carpet of delight almost sure there’s no mountain or skyscraper you couldn’t nonchalantly soar over as you follow Dion’s imperious vocal.

Listen, people what I’m telling you.

When it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll singing Dion ain’t just the King of The Bronx!

No, he’s The Guy. The Guy who knows. The Guy who knows!

Where did all this mastery come from?

Why from Prospect Avenue, Belmont, The Bronx, New York City – that’s where.

As a  young boy growing up he was surrounded by a vibrant Italian/American community where the streets were alive with song – operatic arias, Tin Pan Alley crooning.

And from the stoops and the subways groups of young kids with hope in their hearts sending harmonies soaring high into the New York night sky.

As he sat on the fire escape shooting the breeze he was glued to the radio. Through the sacred ether came the transporting, life changing, life defining, sounds of Doo- Wop, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Unforgettable, emotion charged voices, voices like those of Hank Williams and Sam Cooke seemed to summon his own voice.

So, as a young man, seeking to find his own identity, he found that he had been blessed with a gift. A gift which would win him the admiration of the local bloods and the local belles.

And soon, when that sensational voice was captured on tape, the admiration of the whole wide world!

Dion brings all his heritage and all gifts to Runaround Sue.

There is love and laughter and life in abundance in every syllable that Dion sings.

So, he can invest deep emotion into wordless swoops and delicately evoke the romance of the touch of her hair and the (still felt and much missed) warmth of her lost embrace.

As Dion sings the story is sad but true. Everyone has had their heart broken by someone who ran around.

You don’t want to cry. But you do. You do.

He sings, ‘Runaround Sue’ like a man creating a moral and a story to console himself as he walks home. And as he walks he finds that his downcast grimace turns into a wry smile before becoming a broad grin.

Then he begins to laugh.

Laugh, with love in his heart as he admits to himself just how how much of a fool he has been.

Perhaps the beginning of wisdom is the admission we are all fools.

Fools for Love. Fools for Love.

And long may it remain so.

Notes:

The superb backing vocals on Runaround Sue are provided by The Del-Satins.

Runaround Sue was co-written by Ernie Maresca.

It was, of course, a multi million selling Number One on the 1961 Billboard Charts.

I have made it a point of honour to own every Record Dion has ever made.

For those of you yet to share my obsession as well as all the tracks referred to above I recommend:

‘The Very Best Of Dion & The Belmonts’ on One Day Music

‘Yo Frankie’ on Arista

‘New Masters’ on Collectables

‘Bronx in Blue’ and ‘Son of Skip James’ on SPV

‘New York Is My Home’ on Blue Horizon

‘Bronx Blues’ and ‘The Road I’m On’ on Columbia.

Dion’s autobiography, ‘The Wanderer’ is a fascinating read.

However, to my mind the most revealing insight into his life can be found on an article he wrote about his return to Catholicism. See Link below

http://www.chnetwork.org/story/dion-dimucci-the-wanderer/

And Finally!

Please don’t forget to vote for The Immortal Jukebox in The UK Blog Awards!

Voting remains open till 18 December.

Follow the link below and select Art & Culture from the drop down menu:

http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/immortal-jukebox

 

Blue Moon (Revisited) : Elvis, Cowboy Junkies & The Marcels

‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.’

(Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice)

While The Akkadians slept the Moon shone down.

While The Hittites dreamed of an eternal empire the Moon set the tides a flowing.

While The Assyrians and The Phoenicians marched the Moon shone down.

While The Babylonians, The Persians and The Etruscans dreamed of eternal empires the Moon set the tides a flowing.

While The Greeks and The Romans rose and fell the Moon shone down.

While the empires of great Alexander and that of Chandragupta Mauraya rose and fell the Moon set the tides a flowing.

Look up! Look up!

It’s the same moon! The same moon!

And, looking up, we can’t help but feel the Moon looks down on us knowing all the secrets of our hearts.

Sometimes we shiver as we realise we know so little of what the Moon has known and seen and is yet to see.

Yet, somewhere within us we feel that the Moon is a mother and a mentor.

So we address the Moon in worship, in stone, in ritual, in story and poetry and song.

Somehow we feel the Moon understands.

So night after night, for century after century, for millennia after millennia we look up.

We look up as the Moon looks down. We look up as the Moon looks down.

And, looking up we see the Wolf Moon. Or the Snow Moon. Or perhaps the Pink Moon or the Milk Moon.

Sometimes above us we see a Strawberry Moon or a Mourning Moon. Sometimes the Thunder Moon or the Harvest Moon.

Sometimes as we look up and ponder our fates we are blessed by a Blue Moon.

The song Blue Moon came from the fabled Broadway Golden Age partnership of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. It was written in 1933/34 and went through several iterations before becoming the song we all know and love.

Initially Rodgers’ limpid melody so redolent of the moonlight was called, ‘Prayer’ and intended for Jean Harlow. Unused, it became, ‘Manhattan Melodrama’ then, ‘The Bad in Every Man’ before by the power of commerce (MGM demanded a hit!) and the alchemy of the tortured genius of Lorenz Hart it became the eternal yearning prayer of the heart that is, ‘Blue Moon’.

All Lorenz Hart’s great romantic songs are distinguished by their lyrical felicity and sophistication. But, with Hart, there is also always a melancholic core, a subliminal shadow of foreboding, a sense that isolation and the curse of loneliness can only be eluded momentarily – if at all.

Without a love of his own he sensed that his dream, his prayer for someone to care for, would almost certainly go unanswered and that the blue moon above would cruelly stay blue and never, ever, glow gold.

In his version from 1949 Billy Eckstine’s burnished tones evoke a man walking down the moonlight city streets at four o’ clock in the morning.

Amid the rapt surrounding stillness he offers up his prayer in a stately voice that suggests the rarely glimpsed gold moon is a passing dream or chimera not the harbinger of a bright future.

Still, he walks on. For, whatever else befalls, he knows he can rely on the Moon to light the world tomorrow night and every night that he can look up to see it. And, there is comfort in that.

Elvis recorded his ghostly take on Blue Moon in the summer of 1954 for Sun Records with the wind whispering percussion probably played by Buddy Cunningham. Elvis takes the song far, far, away from The Great White Way.

Elvis’ Blue Moon shines over Southern soil. I have always heard his eerie crooning here as a keen for the lost thousands of Southern men and boys who perished in the Civil War.

Elvis, normally a singer of enormous physicality, here, miraculously achieves a wraithlike weightlessness that evokes the silent smoke drifting over the battlefield after the living and the wounded have withdrawn leaving the charred earth to the care of the unnumbered dead and their departing spirits.

Lately, when the sky is clear and the moon is high, I’ve taken to heading off into the dark woods in search of clarity of mind and peace of the spirit. It’s my habit to read a passage from a beloved book to inspire and sustain my thoughts before I set off.

Last week it was James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses.

Over the course of five days I recited over and over again the following passage until I knew it by heart and could chant it out to the Moon above as it bathed me in the balm of its light:

‘Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations; her nocturnal predominance; her satellite dependence; her luminary reflection; her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect; her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation, her potency over effluent and refluent waters; her power to to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite and aid delinquency; the tranquil inscrutability of her visage, the terribility of her isolated dominant propinquity; her omens of tempest and of calm; the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence; the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence, her splendour, when visible; her attractions when invisible.’

Perhaps after such an exhalation of genius there is no more to be said about The Moon.

Yet, our imaginations cannot exist on a diet of the sublime alone. We also need more than once in a while to throw our heads back, laugh out loud, and ask the silent moon to share in our good humour.

So, on other nights, as the moon shines through crowded trees I dare to sing with all the force at my command to the distant satellite the joyful Esperanto which kick starts The Marcels 1961 worldwide No 1 hit version of Blue Moon (All together now!)

‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding Blue Moon moon blue moon dip di dip di dip
Moo Moo Moo Blue Moon dip di dip di dip Moo Moo Blue Moon dip di dip di dip
Bom ba ba boom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding …’

Now, don’t that make you feel mighty, mighty, fine!

The Marcels (named after the hairstyle) were five high school (multi-racial) friends from Pittsburgh who in 1959 bonded over their love of Doo-Wop and Rhythm & Blues music.

Richard Knauss was the baritone, Fred Johnson hit those low, low notes on bass, Ron ‘Bingo’ Mundy was first tenor with Gene Bricker second. Out front was the happily named Cornelius Harp.

A demo tape of theirs found its way to sharp eared Stu Phillips at Colpix Records. He was particularly taken by their arrangement of The Cadillacs, ‘Zoom’ with its ‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang’ intro.

When he had a little time free in Colpix studio on 15 February 1961 Stu asked them to sing, ‘Heart and Soul’ but found they didn’t have it worked up.

So instead, in a glorious example of serendipity he said let’s do, ‘Blue Moon’ using that intro to, ‘Zoom’ – and thus a classic was cut in two takes!

I recommend you listen first to the song for the sheer thrill of it then listen again to all the wonderful ensemble vocal work going on behind Cornelius Harp’s stellar lead.

I have to say that my heart is always uplifted by the hosanna in excelcis passage that starts at 1.53 and lasts for ten ecstatic seconds – providing enough joy to blast you all the way to the moon and back!

Sometimes I look up at the Moon and wonder if she ( the Moon is surely a she?) is sad and lonely in all that immensity of space – perhaps recalling her traumatic birth some 4.5 billion years ago when cruel Theia hit the Earth broadsde and brought her into independent being.

Does her ache carry across the lonely miles to Earth. Is that the ache you feel in the pit of your stomach, for no discernible reason, on certain moonlit nights?

Does her ache call forth the howling of the wolves?

Sometimes, as Shelley wrote the Moon does seem to be a dying lady lean and pale wrapped in a gauzy veil.

Now, if its ache you want I defy you to find any group to match The Cowboy Junkies.

Listen to them here taking Blue Moon with riveting gentleness into the cold dark realms of inter stellar space. The Timmins siblings assisted by Jeff Bird and Jaro Czewinec will slow down the beating of your heart and let it find a contemplative rhythm that may just open up interior worlds normally barred and shut in the hurly-burly of our everyday lives.

It seems to me that this version is an exquisite hymn to and lament for two of the greatest American artists; Lorenz Hart and Elvis Presley whose tenure on this Earth was so brief yet whose music will echo on through the centuries.

We humans have been looking up at the Moon in wonderment throughout all of our existence as a species. Contemplating the Moon has stirred us to puzzle about the meaning of becoming, birth, death and resurrection.

We come to understand that life is a series of cycles.

How many cycles and how they continue we know not.

We know not.

So we look to the Moon. And the Moon looks down on us.

We must hope that the Moon will bless us with her silver will and turn her perfect face towards us always.

And, with the Psalmist trust the righteous will flourish and peace will abound so long as the moon endures.

Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance? John Lennon, The Beach Boys, The Ramones & Bobby Freeman do!

The Sages tell us that when you really get down to it there are only seven stories in the world.

And, that these are endlessly retold and recast so that the human race can come to terms with the otherwise incomprehensible complexity of our lives.

So everyone from Homer to Tex Avery (not excluding Dante, Shakespeare and Emily Bronte) has expounded with greater or lesser wisdom on the eternal themes.

My own midnight reflections have led me to identify that what holds good for Story also holds good for Questions. After deep contemplation I have discovered that there are only five Questions underpinning all human enquiry.

For four of them you’ll have to wait for the publication of:

‘The Five Questions every life must answer’ (pre-orders accepted now).

But, exclusively, for readers of The Immortal Jukebox, I can reveal that one of the Questions is:

‘Do You Want To Dance?’

It’s a profound question.

Especially if you regard it not solely as a question you ask another but as a question you should address to your innermost self every day if you want to live a fully engaged life.

So, ‘Do you want to dance?’

Bobby Freeman a 17 year old from San Francisco, thought it was such an important question that he had no hesitation in asking it 19 times during the 164 second course of his classic recording from 1958.

Yowsa! Yowsa! Yowsa!

Now Bobby’s demo with him on piano and vocals and a friend on echoing bongos/congas seems to have been taped in a deep, dark hollow before New York musos like Billy Mure with a glittering guitar break added some semblance of professionalism so that the record could be commercially released

Of course, the circumstances of a record’s genesis don’t matter a hoot if, instantly, as it blooms from your radio or neighbourhood Jukebox you just know that it has uttered a profound truth as you obey its command to shake a tail feather.

It was thus no surprise that, ‘Do You Want To Dance’ was a top 5 hit on the Billboard Chart. There’s a hypnotic charm about the latin beat, ascending melody, false ending and the artless vocal’s increasingly insistent expression of the central question.

Resistance is useless – surrender!

Do You, Do You, Do You, Do you Want to Dance?
Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance?

The song, easy to learn and easy to extend vocally and instrumentally if the audience fell under its spell, became a fixture of many a group repertoire.

In Britain it was a notable success for Cliff Richard (1962) and in the US it attracted the attention of Del Shannon and The Four Seasons (1964) before the startling genius of Brian Wilson took into into realms undreamed of by Bobby Freeman.

The relationship between original and The Beach Boys version might be compared to that of a Lascaux cave painting and a high Renaissance masterpiece by Raphael.

Brian Wilson with his multi dimensional musical intelligence added structure and sophistication to Bobby Freeman’s sketch.

So we have three part harmony, vocal chanting, an instrumental ensemble of saxophones, timpani, massed guitars and organ seamlessly integrated into a sweeping wide screen orchestration which also features subtle key changes. On the top Dennis Wilson, with his first lead vocal for the group, provided glowing warmth and drive.

A singular aspect of Brian Wilson’s talent in his mid 60s pomp was his ability to to create complex arrangements which though capable of endless analysis by musicians and critics flowed with what seemed complete naturalness into the hearts of his listeners.

Under Brian’s baton Pop Music had a cathedral like architectural glory it has rarely ever attained. Success and sophistication went hand in hand as Brian and The Beach Boys had hit after hit.

John Lennon was another who knew a thing or two about marrying art and popularity in song. He would have heard Bobby Freeman’s version in Liverpool as a teenager. The Rocker in John, a defining aspect of his character, must have been taken by its sensual sway and swoon.

For it was this aspect of the song he chose to emphasise when he recorded it for his, ‘homage to leather jacketed youth’ album from 1975, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

It should never be forgotten that John Lennon was a great Rock ‘n’ Roll singer. I’d hazard the view that the true primal therapy for John was singing and that through singing he found balm for his own troubled soul as well as providing it for millions of others all over the globe.

The final version featuring on The Jukebox is a 1977 blitzkrieg New York City take by The Ramones. We will have to call this the spray paint on the subway wall graffiti version!

I must admit that in my college days I did some very enthusiastic ‘pogoing’ to this one propelled by my love of high octane, eyeballs out Rock ‘n’ Roll and large quantities of cheap alcohol.

There’s no messing with The Ramones.

They set out in a cloud of dust like a drag racer and don’t let up – wholly careless as to whether the parachute will deploy!

So, whichever version you prefer the eternal Question remains which we will all have to answer in our own way – ‘Do You Want to Dance?’

For my part the answer is a resounding Yes!

Notes:

Bobby Freeman could never match, ‘Do You Want to Dance’ though he did have several other hits. He was a winning singer and I’m always pleased when one of his songs comes up under random play on my music player. A comprehensive collection of his 56-61 work can be found on Jasmine Records.

Other versions you might care to investigate:

The Mamas & Papas

Jan & Dean

T Rex

Dave Edmunds

David Lindley

Bob Dylan : The Nobel Prize, One Too Many Mornings, The Albert Hall & Me!

In honour of Bob Dylan being selected as the 2016 Nobel Laureate for Literature I am Reblogging one of the very first Immortal Jukebox posts which combines a tribute to Bob with a review of his 2013 Albert Hall concert in London.

Some may argue that as a songwriter/performer Bob does not qualify for the Literature Award.

Frankly, I regard such views as unforgivably petty and deeply wrong headed.

I can think of no figure in post World War 2 global culture more worthy of a Nobel Prize!

To add to the review below which had no soundtrack here’s my all time favourite Bob Dylan song in a bravura performance from the 1966 tour soon to be immortalised in a 36 CD set!

No one in the field of popular music has ever written as well as Bob Dylan and no one has performed and sung with such inimitable power.

Congratulations Bob!

Sometimes, you just know.  There is literally something in the air. 

A sense of gathering fevered anticipation as the crowd assembles and the air becomes charged with faith and hope that this will be one of those nights.

The ones that you will relive in memory and recount proudly a thousand times to those who didn’t have the foresight, the cash, the sheer luck to be in that town on that night when everything clicked, when the energy built and built arcing from person to person, from stalls to gallery and flashing from the stage until we were all swept up and away into an ecstatic realm for those few hours on that one night that you will never forget and never be quite able to recapture.

All you can do is call for another drink, smile that distant smile and say with a regretful tone  ‘You really should,have been there.’

SW7 Revisited

‘Let us not talk falsely now – the hour is getting late’.   Bob Dylan

‘The thing about Bob is that he is and always will be Bob’. Jeff Lynne

I discovered and fell headlong into obsessive allegiance to the music and persona of Bob Dylan as a callow fourteen year old in 1969.  Up to that night, when I incredulously listened to the epiphany of Desolation Row on a French language radio station I had been largely dismissive of contemporary pop/rock music. 

Much as I liked the vitality of the Beatles and especially the Kinks I was not thrilled and transported by their records in the way that I was when reading the works of D H Lawrence or Chekhov which seemed to open up whole new worlds of sensation and understanding.

The Dylan I discovered that night was like the elder brother I never had – someone cleverer, more assured and knowing than me who yet leaned over to tell me all the secrets he had learned with a nod, a wink and a rueful grin. 

He would continue to fulfill that role throughout the following decades.dylan3

So, when I saw him in concert in November 2013 at London’s Albert Hall I was moved to reflect on all the years and miles we had travelled since he had last been there.

At the Albert Hall In 1966 when the last notes of an  epochal, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ that sounded like nothing less than an electric typhoon faded into the night air Bob Dylan walked off stage a fully realised genius.  In the previous four years he had created a body of work that would have, even if he had never recorded again, made him the single most important artist of the second half of the century.

However, he was also swaying on the precipice of a physical and emotional collapse. This was brought on by an impossible workload of recording and touring only tolerable through the fuel of a teeming headful of ideas and an increasingly dangerous reliance on ever more powerful drug cocktails.

He had once said that, ‘I accept chaos – I’m not sure if chaos accepts me’.  Now he was learning to his cost that chaos was indifferent to his acceptance – chaos swallows and destroys.

He was saved from permanent burn out and death by the happenstance of a motorbike accident that gave him the opportunity to clean up, rest, recuperate and find a new way of working allowing for some form of future and family life in the haven of Woodstock.

Over the next 47 years he would never again attain the heights of inspiration achieved through to 1966 (neither would anyone else!) but he would continue, in an unmatched way, through craft, cunning and sheer bloody mindedness to write, create and perform works that honoured the traditions of American song while being thoroughly modern, post modern and finally timeless expansions of and additions to that tradition.

bobdylan1So, when he returned to the Albert Hall as Thanksgiving approached in November 2013, as he looked around at the grand old venue he might have been excused the quizzical smile that had become his trademark expression. 

Much like Ishmael returning after an age to the Nantucket waterfront he carried with him the knowledge of how hard survival could be and how that knowledge was every bit as much a curse as a blessing.

In 2013 Bob Dylan could be more reasonably compared to an old testament prophet (Jeremiah? Isiah? Micah ?) than to any of his ‘peers’ within the entertainment industry albeit a prophet who doubled as a song and dance man.

A song and dance man, walking and gliding through a blasted landscape, who while not dismissive or disrespectful of his classic creations, primarily chose to mine the new seam of the songs collected as Tempest.

In this he was aided by a road tested band, alert to his hair tigger mercurial nature, who artfully melded blues, rockabilly and sly swing to embody and illuminate the songs.

Upfront, the man himself settled either into a seafarers stance when centre stage or bobbed like a sparring boxer when stationed behind the piano.  His voice, a bare ruined choir of its former glory, though still uniquely distinctive, adapted its tone to the demands of each song – variously knowing, bewildered, threatening, regretful, cajoling and doleful. 

Somehow his totemic harmonica playing still manages to encompass all these qualities and more and audibly thrills the warmly affectionate audience.

Bob Dylan has, not without cost, become what he set out to be all those years ago – a hard travellin’ troubadour, with a lifetimes worth of songs, something for every occasion, in his gunny sack, always on the way to another joint.  Always looking at the road ahead not the road behind. 

I can’t help but feel that up ahead the shades of Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Whitman and Rabbie Burns are waiting to welcome another to their company.

Well they can wait a little longer – this troubadour has more miles to go before he’s ready for the final roadhouse.  May god bless him and keep him always.

Thanks to Karl-Erik at Expecting Rain for posting this article on his wonderful site.