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!

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival : Bad Moon Rising

‘Creedence were never the hippest Band in the world – but they were the best!’ (Bruce Springsteen).

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‘I know that buried deep inside me are all these little bits and pieces of Americana. It’s deep in my heart, deep in my soul.’ (John Fogerty)

 

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Gutta cavat lapidem non vi sed saepe cadendo.

A water drop hollows a stone – not by force but by falling often.

Or, if you want to really master a craft you need to put in the hours.

Consider The Beatles in Hamburg forgoing sleep and comfort to play set after set until they were a band that had deep trust in each other and their abilitiy to hold and move an audience.

Consider, today, Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In 1969/1970/1971 there was no doubt who the top singles Band in the World were; how’s this for a sequence of classics:

Proud Mary/Born on the Bayou,

Bad Moon Rising/Lodi,

Green River/Commotion,

Down on the Corner/Fortunate Son,

It Came Out of the Sky/Cottonfields,

Travelin’ Band/Who’ll Stop the Rain?,

Run Through the Jungle/Up Around the Bend,

Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Long As I Can See the Light,

Have You Ever Seen the Rain/Hey Tonight.

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

Boy Howdy!

That’s a streak of inspiration and connection with your audience on a par with Chuck Berry or Lennon & McCartney at their peak.

Their omnipresence on the radio and on the charts was the result of years and years of unheralded toil.

Their emergence on the national and world stage only came after a full decade of slogging up and down the Pacific Coast, round the punishing circuit of military bases, small town clubs and dingy dance halls following their formation by Tom Fogerty in 1959 as The Blue Velvets.

Thousand of miles and thousands of hours binding Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford and John Fogerty together into a potent Rock ‘n’ Roll force.

Stu Cook and Doug Clifford forging a Zen rhythm section with Tom Fogerty.

Sometime, Somewhere along those endless highways, John Fogerty, the 14 year old kid who joined his big brother’s band transmogrified into a world class singer, songwriter and guitarist with a sound and vision of his own that resonated deeply with the society he lived in and zeroed into the heart of the Zeitgeist.

This was a young man who had been electrified by the visceral power of the 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll Masters and who wouldn’t settle for any music that couldn’t match that power – live up to that challenge.

He worked out a recipe for making sure fire great Rock ‘n’ Roll records and then with the fullest measure of inspiration and perspiration set about matching his idols.

First : You just gotta have a great title.

Think, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Great Balls of Fire!’.

So, he carried a notebook and every time a title popped up in his head that sounded like the title of a classic song, he carefully wrote it down and set his mind to writing the rest of the song.

Titles in John’s Notebook – ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Born on the Bayou’, ‘Up Around the Bend’, ‘Green River’ and, yes, oh Yes – ‘Bad Moon Rising’.

Second : The Song has to connect with the real lives of your audience.

Think, ‘Schooldays’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘Dead End Street’.

It should seem so true that once you heard it the first time you could sing it to yourself or a friend (you’d want to share it with a friend) even if the record wasn’t playing in the background.

So, John Fogerty songs are true and resonate whether you’re looking up at the stars in California, Calcutta, Carlisle or Khe Sanh.

Everyone has times when they wonder, for themselves and those around them, Who will stop the Rain?

Everyone has times when they hope, sometimes against hope, that they will be able to hold on and come through as long as they can see at least a glimmer of the light.

Everyone knows one of those Fortunate Sons who is protected by wealth and influence from the grim realities the rest of us have to endure.

Everyone, for humans are a Lunar People hungry for auguries, has at some time looked up into the night sky and said to themselves and to those around them, with dread :

I see a bad moon a-rising … I see trouble on the way … Don’t go ’round tonight
It’s bound to take your life … There’s a bad moon on the rise

 

Third : You just Gotta have a great Guitar lick.

Think, ‘Johnny B Goode’, ‘Hello Mary Lou’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Gloria’.

So, John Fogerty spent hours and hours with his, ‘Black Beauty’ Les Paul custom searching for that Lick, That Lick, the one that would come roaring out of the radio or Jukebox speakers and turn every head, set every toe tapping, get every heart leaping.

And, time after time, time after time, John Fogerty found that magic Lick – the one you can’t argue about, can’t deny.

The Lick that thrills the first time and still thrills the thousandth time.

Nunc, if you get a great title that resonates with the real lives of your audience and you craft a great Guitar Lick and have a Band who will support you through every bar as you sing that Song with irresistible power you are going to make a great Rock ‘n’ Roll Record.

And,if you are John Fogerty with Creedence Clearwater Revival you will make a  Record in, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ that enters the very DNA of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

 

Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Emmylou Harris : You Never Can Tell

When you are young you think you know.

You know how the world works.

You know just how things are going to turn out.

But you find out the world is a much stranger place than you thought.

People – your parents, your friends, your one and only love, strangely decide to behave in ways you never expected.

The 16 year old school no-hoper strangely turns out to a world-beater by 25.

Volcanos erupt. Impregnable Walls are torn down.

True Love sometimes turns out to be exactly that.

You learn not to make such definite snap judgments.

When things happen you didn’t see coming you’re not outraged.

Instead you smile a wry smile and say ’C’est La Vie – it goes to show you never can tell’.

 

And, if you’re a great songwriter reflecting wryly on life and love you decide to write a song filled with acute observation, humour and wisdom.

At least, that’s what you do if you’re Chuck Berry – even if you’re in Prison when the inspiration strikes.

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Chuck was, of course, a writer of both inspiration and deliberation.

There’s immense craft in the song.

The story is told in four short verses.

‘C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell’ is an arresting and immediately memorable lyric hook neatly and beautifully rhythmically encapsulating the moral of the song.

The AAAA Rhyme scheme is used with finesse and wit building up rhyme by rhyme a complete picture of the situation.

Chuck delights in marrying his New Orleans Creole Rhythm with a French name for teenage spouse, Pierre, and playfully using both madamoiselle and Madame, in the correct order, to signify that the truly in love couple have indeed rung the chapel bell.

So, married life begins with a well stocked Collerator just crammed with those dinners they wolfed while watching their favourite shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if they mixed that ginger ale with something a little more potent!

I was delighted to discover that ‘Coolerator’ was a genuine brand name (see image below) and that the refrigerators were manufactured in Duluth – making it certain that they would have been known to Bob Dylan and very likely stocked in the family electricals store.

 

It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin’ worked out well
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz
But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They bought a souped-up jitney, ’twas a cherry red ’53
They drove it down to Orleans to celebrate the anniversary
It was there that Pierre was married to the lovely mademoiselle
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

 

Chuck always delighted in his references to US Car Culture and I have to admit that from the first moment I heard You Never Can Tell I sorely longed for a ‘Cherry Red ‘53’!

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I haven’t got mine (yet).

But, I surely did get me a fine Hi Fi Phono and boy, as all my neighbours will tell you, did I let it blast!

And, taking pride of place among my 700 or so 45s there will always be a high stack of Chuck Berry singles.

Because he was the greatest songwriter of the primal Rock ‘n’ Roll era and because nothing lifts the spirits like three minutes of prime Chuck Berry!

Consider that You Never Can Tell was preceded by, ‘No Particular Place To Go’ and succeeeded by, ‘Promised Land’ – a run of classics that would have worthily constituted a lifetime’s achievement for another songwriter/performer.

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I should draw your attention to the glorious piano playing of Johnnie Johnson for once foregrounded in this song.

Released from dramatic guitar playing duties Chuck concentrates his genius on his sly and smooth vocal.

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Of course, it was a given that once a new Chuck Berry song hit the airwaves and Jukeboxes that a flood of cover versions would appear.

So many to choose from for our Immortal Jukebox!

Let’s kick off with Emmylou Harris and her aptly named Hot Band more than kicking up their heels!

 

 

Emmylou and Co hit that shuffle rhythm from the get go don’t they.

Glenn D Hardin on piano and Hank Devito add colour with England’s own Albert Lee providing the stellar guitar.

What an apprenticeship in the big time this was for the young Rodney Crowell!

Naturellement he was in love with Emmylou  – putting him in company with all red blooded music fans of the time!

Now we let the arm come down on something really special.

You want a demonstration and distillation of the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen and Jukebox afficianados the whole world over I give you the one and only Ronnie Lane with Slim Chance!

 

 

Now that’s a New Orleans second line party!

That’s ginger ale laced with the very finest bourbon!

That makes the big toe in your boot shoot straight up to the sky!

Every time Ronnie Lane strapped on his bass and stepped to the microphone he put his whole heart and soul into his performances exuding sheer glee in the music he was making.

The same holds true for Bruce Springsteen.

I love this version of You Never Can Tell from Leipzig in 2013.

Bruce takes the crowd request and coaches the initially sceptical Band until they produce a wonderfully ragged celebration of Chuck Berry’s anthem.

Chuck Berry will always be the heartbeat of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Thank God apostles like Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Lane and Emmylou Harris ensured that the message still resounds.

 

 

And, even today, somewhere in Chicago or Cairo someone is saying – you know we could really do a killer version of that Chuck Berry ‘C’est La Vie’ song.

It goes to show you never can tell where a great song will end up except that it will surely keep traveling on.

Bob Seger, Dave Edmunds (& for one night only Bob Dylan!) : Get Out Of Denver

Well, I think it’s fair to we have been in the fast lane for the last two Jukebox Posts.

So, it would probably be sensible to pull over, take a breath, and relax with a dreamy ballad I could wax all lyrical about.

That would be sensible.

But, Brothers and Sisters, I’m here to tell you I’m going to do no such thing.

No such thing.

Instead while the fires are blazing and our hearts are burnin’ burnin’ let’s get those wheels really spinning!

Time to get the motor running.

Head out on the highway.

Adventure is bound to come our way.

Let’s drive all night under the Moon until the Sun comes up.

Let’s roar through Nebraska whinin’.

Let’s head out for the mountains.

Let’s drive so fast the fields will feel like they’re bending over.

Let’s worry about absolutely nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Not even if the rear view mirror picks up flashing red lights and the air resounds with sirens screaming.

Because all the red lights and screaming sirens in the world don’t make no difference when you’re driving a Ferrari Enzo.

 

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Oh Boy are we gonna get out of Denver.

The speed dial is gonna cruise past 200 miles an hour.

We’ll have to pinch each other just to see if we was dreaming.

Bye, Bye, Bye, flashing lights and sirens screaming.

Bye, Bye, Bye.

We’re getting straight outta Denver.

Straight outta Denver.

Fire her up Bob!

Fire her up!

 

 

Bob Seger is the real deal.

He did all the hard yards in his native Detroit.

Learning how to lead a band that could drive an audience stone crazy.

Writing songs that spoke plain truth about the real lives people led and the lives they wanted to lead.

Bob Seger – an honest working man speaking directly from that experience and illuminating it with melody and lyric and colossal drive.

A Home Town hero in Detroit for years and years before the rest of the world woke up to his extraordinary talent.

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One of those who knew a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic when he heard it was Dave Edmunds.

Dave is plugged into the very DNA of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He is entirely capable of playing every instrument himself as with I Hear You Knocking.

But, get him onstage with sparring partner Nick Lowe and a dynamite drummer like Terry Williams and you can guarantee your wheels will be spinnin’ spinnin’ shootin’ sparks all around.

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From 1977’s ‘Get It’ Dave’s riotous take on Get Out Of Denver.

Go! Go! Go!

 

 

From time to time I’m asked – what’s the greatest double live album of all time?

Now, that’s easy – Van Morrison’s, ‘Too Late To Stop Now’ for the genius of his singing across multiple musical genres and the empathetic brilliance of The Caledonia Soul Orchestra.

But, when I want the pure adrenaline rush of listening to a great Band setting the woods and ballroom on fire I always turn to Bob Seger’s ‘Live Bullet’ recorded in 1975 at The Cobo in Detroit.

When I perfect the time travel machine one of my first stops is going to be Detroit September 1975 so that I can go absolutely nuts the moment I hear Bob sing:

’I still remember it was autumn and the moon was shinin’ ….’

 

 

Fast forward to March 16 2004 Detroit’s State Theatre.

Bob Dylan, a mere 15 years into the, ‘Never Ending Tour’ has seemingly completed his encore with the incomparable one-two punch of, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and, ‘All Along The Watchtower’.

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But, there’s a surprise in store even for fanatical Bob Cats who know every song Bob has ever played and who compile lists of songs he just might do one day (guilty).

For tonight, for one night only (or more circumspectly we might say for at least the next 14 years) Bob and the band – Larry Campbell, Freddie Koella (much missed by me), Richie Hayward, George Recile and on Bass that night – Tony Garnier launch to the roaring delight of the assembled Detroiters full tilt into, ‘Get Out Of Denver’

 

Bob must have learned that the day before had been officially declared Bob Seger Day by The Governor and decided to tip his hat in the best way possible from one songwriter and bandleader to another.

Bob, as we should know by now, is pretty much familiar with every great song that’s been written over the last two hundred years or so.

That’s why I have dubbed him The Keeper Of American Song.

It’s also worth noting that Bob Seger has said that the first artist who really got to him was Little Richard.

And, legendarily, Bob Dylan’s High School Yearbook records his ambition was to, ‘Join Little Richard’.

Hearing the two Bobs burnin’ burnin’ through Get Out Of Denver we can be sure both of them have joined Little Richard in the highest halls of Rock ‘n’ Roll’

‘Get out of Denver better go go, Get out of Denver go ….

The Clash, The Stray Cats, Bobby Fuller : I Fought The Law

‘I wrote it in my living room in West Texas ones sandstormy afternoon. It took me about 20 minutes’ (Sonny Curtis)

West Texas is wide open.

When the wind blows, and it blows a lot, sand storms swirl.

After February 3rd 1959 there was another sound in the swirling sandy wind.

The sound of a Ghost – the Ghost of Buddy Holly.

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Buddy Holly’s music woke deep passions and ambitions in a Minnesota kid who locked eyes with him in one of the last concerts he ever played.

Buddy Holly’s music woke deep passions and ambitions in two Liverpool teenagers who wanted to write and play their own songs and have a group just like The Crickets.

Buddy was the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roller ever to come out of Texas and though his sound echoes all over the world it’s in Texas that his Ghost speaks loudest.

Speaking in the song of the hot sun and the West Texas Wind.

Sonny Curtis knew Buddy well.

He had played with him and recorded with him.

So, when the plane went down that tragic day it seemed natural for The Crickets to turn to Sonny as a new Cricket and songwriter.

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The first post Buddy Crickets album, ‘In Style’ was recorded in New York in 1959 and issued the following year.

Driving up to the Big Apple Jerry Mauldin and Jerry Allison asked Sonny if he had any songs for the new record.

Well .. I got this song, ‘I Fought the Law’ – I wrote last year, ain’t even written it down, kind of a country song, goes like this:

A-breaking rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I miss my baby and a good fun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I left my baby and I feel so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
A-robbin’ people with the zip gun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I needed money ’cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I left my baby and I feel so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

 

Wow! They could all tell this was some song.

A bad boy who ain’t so bad.

The best girl he he ever had.

An armed robbery that goes wrong.

The inexorable reach of the law.

But, not as a country ballad.

No, this needed some of that Buddy bounce.

Bright guitars, rock ‘n’ roll drums, a bright clear vocal (Earl Sinks would take care of that) and a killer chorus.

Put all that together and you’ve got a hell of a record.

 

 

And, it was a hell of a record.

It’s just that in 1960 the great record buying public in all its wisdom wasn’t listening closely to The Crickets anymore and neither were the radio programmers.

So, no hit for The Crickets and no royalties for Sonny Curtis.

Yet, as Jukeboxers know, a true message always gets through – it’s just a matter of how long it takes.

There is, of course, another audience for Songs.

An audience that hears things the public don’t always cotton onto straight away.

The audience of other songwriters and performers who hear a song and think – I know just how to do this one and really make it come alive.

So in 1962 Milwaukee’s Paul Stefan with The Royal Lancers issued a charming, if underpowered, version on Citation Records which won local approval.

A couple of years later Sammy Masters on Kapp recorded it Western recitation style.

Sonny still didn’t really have any royalties to bank but the message was rising above a whisper now.

And, the message was heard loudest and clearest of all by Bobby Fuller under the hot sun back in El Paso Texas.

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Bobby was a natural rocker who loved the sheer sound of guitars turned up high supported by a driving beat and vocals that grabbed your attention from the get go and never let up.

And, Bobby likes to experiment in his basement – layering the instrumental and vocal sound until it rang out like lightning.

Bobby’s sharp ears heard, ‘I Fought the Law’ and he got to work.

He produced a demo, in 1964, that would lay the template for his monster hit of 1966 (the subsequent 1964 45 put out on his own Exeter label was a hit in the El Paso area but to my mind it is flatter, less resonant than the wonderful demo below).

it’s obvious that Bobby has been listening to the likes of The Ventures and Dick Dale as well as good old Buddy.

Now El Paso knew just how great a song this was.

All the elements of a classic were now in place.

What Bobby and the song needed now was a more punchy recording in a better studio along with national distribution and publicity.

Enter Bob Keane of Del Fi and Mustang Records who had lost his brightest star, Ritchie Valens, in the same crash that took away Buddy.

Setting up in Los Angeles Bobby, brother Randy (bass) Jim Reese (guitar) and DeWayne Quirico on drums laid down an all time rock ‘n’ roll classic that has the drive of the 50s forefathers with added 60s colour and brightness.

This one takes off like a dragster and smashes through the winning tape still accelerating.

Once this one got heard on the radio there was no stopping it and by mid March 1966 it was a top 10 hit.

 

 

I make that 132 seconds of Rock ‘n Roll bliss!

Sheer Bliss.

Of course, I can’t think of a occasion I’ve put this on my turntable and played it only once!

Eight years after that sandstormy day, at last, the royalties began to flow for Sonny Curtis.

A true message always gets through.

Always.

Now, you would think such a triumph would presage a stellar future for Bobby – especially as he was such a clued up musician, strong vocalist and a brilliant live performer.

However, those dreams died, in very dubious circumstances indeed, when in July 1966 Bobby was found, asphyxiated and doused in petrol in his car.

The official verdict was suicide.

It seems highly likely that it was malign forces, outside the Law, who took Bobby’s life away and shattered a very promising career.

Time moved on and music went through many phases.

British Beat. Folk Rock. Pyschedelia, Country Rock, Prog Rock, Glam Rock.

By the mid 70s in London a new generation of musicians and incendiary would be musicians intuited that it was time to get back to basics and hit the stage at a hundred miles and hour and let the audience catch up if they could.

Punk Rock was a two fingered salute to the worthy, corporate, Rock establishment.

Get out of the way!

Move it on over!

A new Gang’s in Town.

And, pogoing furiously in clubs all over London, it seemed to me that the coolest Gang and the one which truly understood the essence of real Rock ‘n Roll was The Clash.

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Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon.

Joe and Mick took a trip to San Francisco in mid 78 to work on the second Clash album, ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’.

The Automatt Studio was furnished with vintage Jukeboxes and the record the needle dropped on the most for Joe and Mick was none other than Bobby Fuller’s I Fought The Law.

A true message always gets through.

I Fought the Law, in July 1979, would be the first Clash single issued in America and their first track to gain significant radio AirPlay.

This is truly a magnificent racket!

This one uses premium rocket fuel.

Best to strap yourself in before hitting the play button here!

 

I imagine it never occurred to Sonny that a bunch of West London Bad Boys would really whip up a Wild West Texas Typhoon on that song he wrote 21 years before!

Nor, that a bunch of American Rebels, The Stray Cats, would find their feet in London perfecting a raunchy Rockabilly attack that could ensure any song they took on would leave earth’s gravity in a single bound.

Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom palyed with such sheer Joy in their live shows.

Whenever they played near me I was at the head of the queue and ready to elbow my way to my preferred front row centre stage spot!

The message still gets through.

 

 

Oh yes.

The message still gets through.

Crosing Continents and Oceans.

Vaulting Mountains.

Wherever there’s a bunch of musicians who need to ride the whirlwind the message gets through.

It came through on a clear channel to Mano Negra who fell on it like ravenous wolves howling at The Moon.

Ojo! Ojo! Ojo!

This Train ain’t gonna stop – stand well clear or you’ll get your head blown clean off!

 

 

And, if you’ve got your head blown off the least you can do is dance until the rest of your body runs out of blood to pump.

So, to conclude lets rock the joint with two scorching live takes on I Fought the Law.

First off The Clash flash flooding the senses.

Now, the man who put his stamp all over this song for all eternity – Bobby Fuller (dig those groovy dancers all you hep cats and kittens!).

 

One last word of advice to all you Bad Boys and Bad Girls out there – forget going robbing with a Zip Gun, a Six Gun or a Shotgun.

If you fight the law you’ll find the law wins.

No, get yourself a six string and crank it up to 11 and sing with all your heart for Sonny Curtis and Bobby Fuller:

I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

Notes :

Other versions of I Fought the Law I approve of you might care to check out :

Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Nanci Griffith with The Crickets, John Mellancamp, Mike Ness, The Grateful Dead.

Bobby Fuller – His tragic death was a great loss to music.

In many ways he’s the musical bridge between Buddy Holly and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I have two Box Sets ‘Never To Be Forgotten’ from Del Fi and ‘Texas Tapes Revisited’ – both crammed with rocking gems.

Sonny Curtis – Though I Fought the Law is his most valuable copyrighted Song Sonny has penned several other significant Songs including, ‘Walk Right Back’ for The Everly Brothers.

 

 

Doug Sahm, Garland Jeffreys, ? and the Mysterians : 96 Tears

‘One day Frank started playing a little organ riff and we all really liked it a lot. I kinda came up with the chord riff … then Question Mark said he had words for it … I thought he was just singing off the top of his head.’ (Bobby Balderrama)

The 1960s, as any Baby Boomer will tell you, was the decade when Rock and Pop music peaked.

A tidal wave of creative energy was unleashed which is never likely to be matched.

Pick any week from the Billboard Hot 100 chart from the 1960s and you’ll be near overwhelmed by the number of truly great records you’ll find (and the memories they’ll generate).

Competition was fierce.

So, to ascend to the coveted Number One spot was a real achievement.

Take the top 5 for the last week in October 1966.

Pure Pop for Now people from The Monkees with, ‘Last Train to Clarkesville’.

A deep Soul cry (from the Ghetto, from the battlefields of Vietnam, from a tragic Lover’s heart) roared out by The Four Tops with, ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’.

An aching morality tale from Johnny Rivers with, ‘Poor Side of Town’ (previously featured here on The Jukebox).

An unfathomably deep, nay eternal, Pop Classic from 16 year old Michael Brown and The Left Banke with, ‘Walk Away Renee’ (also featured on The Jukebox).

Phew!

What record could possibly have kept those masterworks from the very summit of the charts?

Well, a record cut by a bunch of unknown Mexican-American teenagers from Michigan, with a lead singer known only by the ? symbol (where do you think Prince got the idea!) that will thrill the soul as long as there is electricity or some other means to power a Jukebox!

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying!

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

 

 

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidado Ahora!

Cuidado Ahora!

So, you take an insanely catchy organ riff, played on a Vox Continental or a Farfisa Combo Compact depending on which authority you believe, an increasingly crazed vocal extolling the sheer delight of anticipated romantic revenge (and who hasn’t felt that in their life?) a tempo that locks your attention in and you’ve got yourself a monster Hit!

This is Punk before Punk.

This is a wonderfully grimy garage classic just reeking of the greasepit.

This is a voodoo Mexican Folk Ballad.

This is pure unadulterated Rock ‘n’ Roll.

96 Tears lasts less than 3 minutes playing time.

Yet, I guarantee that everyone who hears it is chanting out:

’You’re gonna cry 96 Tears, You’re Gonna Cry 96 Tears, You’re gonna cry, cry, cry now’

with infinite gusto long before the 3 minutes has elapsed.

The definitive organ riff came from Frank Rodriguez who was all of 13 when 96 Tears was recorded in the Spring of 1966.

The guitarist was founding Mysterian Bobby Balderrama.

Eddie Serrano sat on the Drum Stool.

Bass was played by Fernando Aguilar.

The signature vocal was by the one and only hyper imaginative Question Mark ? 

GIven his determination to be known by this name alone I’ve resolved to use only this name throughout.

The Mysterians all came from families that had followed the lure of employment and the Dollar Bill from Mexico taking in fruit picking before securing jobs in the Michigan Auto Plants.

They started out playing instrumentals in the dramatic style of Duane Eddy and Link Wray. When the British Invasion hit and as they watched Shindig and American Bandstand they realised they had to have a dynamic lead singer and that a powerful organ sound hit home every time.

Once Frank came up with the immortal riff they approached Lilly Gonzalez, a luminary of the local Mexican community, who found them a small recording studio and pressed up 500 copies of 96 Tears on her own Pa-Go-Go label.

The song was then take  up by a relay of Radio Stations until demand became so great that Cameo Parkway took over and drove the single all the way to Number One!

My favourite moment in the song is the line where Question Mark ? momentarily pauses for breath before slamming home the killer line:

’And when the sun comes up I’ll be on top – You’ll be right down there looking up’.

Take that!

Now, it is a truth universally to be acknowledged that all Jukeboxes are in want of a Record which will get everyone onto their feet to dance furiously while rattling the walls and windows shouting out the chorus.

I think we can all agree that 96 Tears absolutely fulfils this need.

Which is why 96 Tears must take its place on The Immortal Jukebox as (what else) A 96.

Now, once such a Record is issued all over this wicked world gangs of young musicians hear it and think, ‘That will suit us very nicely indeed’.

The lead singer gets ready to hyperventilate and the organist thinks – they think they know how the organ goes on this one but they haven’t heard my version yet!

If they’re not in possession of an organ, Vox or Farfisa, the guitarist thinks – I’m gonna tear this one up so completely that no one will even remember there was an organ on the original.

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidad Ahora!

Cuidad Ahora!

A true message always gets through.

So, in 1976, frequenting London’s The Nashville and 100 Club venues I encountered a testosterone topped up the max outfit called Eddie and the Hot Rods who went full pelt at songs like, ‘Gloria’ and, ‘Get Out of Denver’ before thrashing the life out of 96 Tears.

Here’s their, ‘Live at The Marquee’ version from 1976 – I think I may have lost a few pounds while this one played and needed to sink a fair few pints to restore balance.

Such is Youth (and Thank God for it!)

The message certainly got through to Brooklyn.

That’s where Garland Jeffreys grew up listening to every style of music with a keen ear and  the determination to meld these styles together in his own songwriting and performances.

Garland Jeffreys is one of those secret heroes of music whose prominent influence and regard among musicians is in stark contrast to his stature among the general record buying public.

Be assured The Jukebox will feature a  considered tribute to him later.

For now let’s enjoy his distinctive take on 96 Tears.

The Band really got their groove happening here!

 

A true message always gets through.

And there was no more true hearted custodian of American Music than Doug Sahm – who is always warmly welcomed at The Jukebox.

Whenever Doug got together with Freddie Fender,  Augie Myers and Flaco Jimenez the music flowed and everybody got to have a glorious party.

Let’s take 96 Tears down South to Texas with Doug and his faithful compadres.

They sure shake the flavour all over every one of those 96 Tears!

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying.

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on.

Oh, oh, oh, believe me, when the sun comes up …

You’re Gonna cry 96 Tears.

Youre gonna cry 96 Tears.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

I’m gonna  count every one.

Every single one.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

 

 

Notes :

? and The Mysterains predictably fell foul of Music Biz moguls which resulted in long drawn out litigation, inadequate financial reward and a very messy discography.

However, there is a now a substantial collection of their Cameo Parkway material which amply demonstrates they were far more than one hit wonders.

Other versions to look out for are by:

Big Maybelle

Thelma Houston

Suicide

David Byrne & Richard Thompson

The Stranglers

Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.

Smiley Lewis, Dave Edmunds & The Strypes : I Hear You Knocking

A Commander of an intergalactic Starship looking at the map of our Solar System would probable observe that there was one major Planet – Jupiter – accompanied by 7 minor ones.

Jupiter is immense.

The Earth would fit into Jupiter some three hundred times.

And, while we delight in a single Moon to light our nights Jupiter holds over 60 Moons in thrall.

Now some of the Moons of Jupiter, though small in comparison to their parent Planet, are fascinating  worlds in their own right.

Galileo discovered the four major Moons of Jupiter in 1610 and ever since we have yearned to know more about Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

The satellites of a Planet as important as Jupiter merit close attention and analysis.

As in Astronomy so in Musicology!

In New Orleans in the 1950s there was one giant presence dominating the musical universe – Antoine Fats Domino!

Fats was universally loved.

While he was the Pharoah of his Hometown scene he was also musical royalty from Alaska to Albuquerque from Lima to Liverpool.

In his 1950s heyday he sold records not just in the millions but in the tens of millions.

While Fats’ sound conquered the known world back home in New Orleans a series of lesser lights, satellite talents, made their own distinctive and impressive contributions to the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Preeminent, to my mind, amongst these Moons to Fats’ Jupiter, was Overton Amos Lemons known to the wide world as Smiley Lewis.

Smiley, who got his monicker due to two missing front teeth, was born near Lake Charles Louisina in 1913.

As a teenager he hopped a freight train and made his way to the Crescent City where he knew all the action was for someone ambitious to make a career in Music.

Smiley knew he could really play the guitar and he just knew that put before a microphone he had  a voice that could seduce, serenade and stir an audience until they screamed for more!

Serving an apprenticeship with Tuts Washington he honed his performing skills in the clubs of the French Quarter.

With Tuts he played in the House Band at the Boogie Woogie Club for WW2 troops stationed at Fort Polk.

When the War ended Smiley, Tuts and drummer Herman Seals formed a trio that went down a storm in New Orleans.

Starting out with Deluxe records Smiley found his recording stride when he hooked up in 1950 with the multi talented Kingpin of New Orleans music – Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records.

From then on throughout the decade Smiley Smiley produced a series of influential, superbly sung and played Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘n Roll records.

While he never sold more than 100,00 copies on any any of these fine records he was listened to closely by Fats himself as well as Elvis Presley and the sharp eared Rock ‘n’ Roll fanatics in Britain like Paul McCartney and Dave Edmunds.

Smiley made a lot of records everyone should know.

At a minimum everyone should know his, ‘Tee-Nah-Nah’, ‘Bells Are Ringing’, ‘One Night (Of Sin)’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’.

But, he made only one record that Everyone Knows.

From 1955 The Immortal, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

File:Smiley Lewis.jpg

The terrific triplet piano comes courtesy of another Fats Domino satellite – Huey Smith.

Dave Bartholomew claimed the writing credit and supplied production smarts and the studio band.

Get ready to sing a long … ‘You went away and left me long time ago ..’

The one and only Smiley Lewis!

 

 

Confession – I’ve been known to pump fistfuls of coins into a Jukebox to ensure this plays 10 times in a row so everybody, everybody, knows how great Smiley Lewis was!

I love the stately tempo here and the supreme relaxed authority of Smiley’s vocal which seems to draw us after him like tugboats in the wake of a mighty steamer.

The Rhythm Section and the Horns mesh perfectly with Huey’s stellar piano and provide the perfect platform for Smiley to glide over.

This record sounded glorious in 1955 and it will always do so.

Fifteen years after Smiley recorded it another true Rocker, Dave Edmunds, was casting about for a classic from the 50s that he could turbo charge with his blistering guitar and scintillating production skills.

His first thought was Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together but he found himself beaten to the shellac by Canned Heat.

Then a bell rang – surely, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ had the same rhythm and making guitar the featured instrument instead of piano might make for an incendiary sound!

Once the idea hit home it was ‘just’ a matter of Dave putting in the hours playing all the instruments, piping his vocal down a telephone line and compressing the sound at his home from home Welsh studio – Rockfield –  and Voila you have an unstoppable hit.

Let’s Do It!

 

Its very common for musicians to cover the classic works of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefathers like Smiley Lewis but the electric soul thrilling wonder of those records is very rarely captured decades later.

Dave Edmunds take on ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is the exception that proves the rule.

Having made such a record with evident love and devotion Dave had every right to namecheck Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Chuck Berry and Smiley Lewis and consider himself part of their lineage.

Don’t just take my word for it.

John Lennon was a Rocker to the tips of his Bootheels.

When he heard  Dave Edmunds version he said, ‘I always liked simple Rock. There’s a great one in England now, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

John Knew.

And, Praise Be! such a great song still finds a ready audience in musicians who have had that epiphany experience of truly encountering the treasures laid down by the 50s Pioneers.

I’m closing out with Jukebox favourites, The Strypes, who seem to have a direct line to the spirit of those Pioneers.

I hear you knocking … I hear you knocking ….

 

 

Notes :

There are numerous compilations of Smiley Lewis’ hits.

As usual the best set for deep divers like myself is provided by Bear Family. Their superb, 4CD ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ is pure treasure.

Jeff Hannusch is a deeply knowledgeable writer on Smiley and the New Orleans scene. His book, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is highly recommended.

As is John Broven’s ‘Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans’.