Rod Stewart, Jerry Lee Lewis : Song Stylists – What Made Milwaukee Famous

Hey Buddy!

Hey Hank!

The Usual?

Pint of Guinness?

No, today, I’m in need of a Bim, Bam, Boom!

A Bim, Bam, Boom?

Yeah, you know:

One Scotch – Bim!

One Bourbon – Bam!

One Tequila – Boom!

Ha! Coming up.

That ought to do it all right.

Sometimes you just need that Bim, Bam, Boom – or think you do.

You like to be in a place where everyone knows your name but nothing really important about you.

You like a place where the Jukebox is stuffed with drinking, fighting and cry, cry, crying songs.

The ones you sing along to under your breath without even realising that’s what you’re doing.

The ones that bring those stinging tears to your eyes.

The ones that remind you of all the things you had.

The ones that remind you of all the things you lost.

No, the things you threw away.

Threw away.

Threw away in a joint just like this.

Threw away because you thought you needed a head full of Red, a bellyful of Beer or the wild song of Whiskey in your blood before you could face another Night or find the courage to face another Day.

In the end the nights and the days bled into each other and love and happiness drifted away with the alcoholic tide.

Too late you finally see.

Too late.

Time now to call on The Killer.

He knows a thing or two about throwing things away.

Hey Hank – right now I cant read too good – what number is, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’?

‘A1’ ‘A1’

Aint that just right.

Funny, every time this song comes on the place goes quiet and the murmur of the Loser Choir drowns out the Air Con.

Take it away Jerry Lee.

Sing this one for me.

Jerry Lee Lewis! Jerry Lee Lewis!

Now, it would take the combined genius of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews to invent a character half as extraordinary as Jerry Lee.

For my part let’s just say that with Ray Charles I consider him the greatest song stylist of the modern era.

I’m not one for joining Fan Clubs.

But, at 17, I did join the Jerry Lee Lewis Fan Club and much as I looked forward to my subscription copies of The New Yorker, Southern Review and The London Review of Books coming through the letter box none of them quickened my pulse like seeing the bulky envelope with, ‘Fireball Mail’ stamped brightly in red hitting my mat!

What Made Milwaukee is from 1968 when Jerry Lee was rebranding himself as a Country Singer( having had more than a few run ins with the press, the radio, local sheriffs and the whole damn, petty, you can’t do that here!, official world which just couldn’t cope with a bona fide Wild man).

A Wild Man who also happened to be by an act of will and character a conduit for the great streams of American Music.

Jerry Lee, is of course, a Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as a Country Singer to top all except George Jones.

Goodness gracious Jerry Lee can sing the Hell out of any song that’s ever been written and make it 100% Jerry Lee.

100% Jerry Lee.

And, Glen Sutton, when he wrote, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’ sure gifted Jerry Lee one fireball of a song.

Now, as is so often the way, the song was not the product of careful deliberation and prolonged polishing.

No.

Glen was reminded by a music publisher that he was supposed to have songs for The Killer who was due to be in town tomorrow.

What had he got?

With a professional’s presence of mind (Glen also wrote ‘Almost Persuaded’ and, ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ among many other classics) he looked down at the beer mat next to the phone and said, ‘Its a drinking song – should be perfect for The Killer!’

Nw, it was simply a matter of working through the night to turn the slogan on that Schlitz beer mat, ‘The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous’ into a song that would appeal to Jerry Lee and the record buying public.

I think we can agree he succeeded!

Jerry Lee recorded the song the next day and gave it a regretful stately majesty powered by his rolling piano, glistening fiddle, and a vocal that proceeds with the awesome certainty of a Paddle Steamer navigating The Mississippi.

Follow that!

Very few could (you’ll find numerous versions of the song if you search) but there is only one other version which can stand comparison with The Killer’s.

One by another great song stylist who, when he was on his game, treated songs with a profound respect and care.

A singer who had an instantly recognisable voice – a voice which could express deep emotions with elegance and elan.

Let’s call Rod Stewart to the microphone!

On the evidence of this magnificent performance it seems to me that Rod missed a trick in his career by not recording an album of Country Songs.

Had he teamed up with a producer like Cowboy Jack Clement and launched into, ‘There Stands The Glass’, ‘Cold, Cold, Heart’ and, ‘Heartaches By The Number’ I think we would have had a record for the ages.

Still, lets look at the glass as half full given his bravura take on ‘Milwaukee’.

Of course, Rod, knew a fair bit about drinking as a member of The Faces who were Olympic Champions of partying.

At his best Rod’s let’s live it large! relish for life combined with an acute emotional intelligence when reading a lyric made him a truly great singer.

One entirely ready to share a microphone with The Killer.

I’ll leave with Jerry Lee, live at the piano, performing with his trademark insouciant charm.

‘Well it’s late and she’s waiting
And I know I should go Home.’

Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry, Dobie Gray : The In Crowd, Drift Away

We all like to think we are in the know.

We know important things.

Things that those not in the know don’t even know they don’t know.

A few code words and we know from their reaction, or lack of it, if others are in the know or not.

We soon know if they know.

We know whether or not they merit entry into the In Crowd.

If it’s square, brother we ain’t there!

In music, especially, there are communities of In Crowds.

I know some of these communities very well.

The Bluegrass buffs who can list, alphabetically, chronologically or by instrument every member of every incarnation of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.

The Jazzbos who can do the same for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

The walkin’ talkin’, don’t interrupt me, Beatles completists who tell you solemnly that if you weren’t at their Port Sunlight show on 18 August 1962 (Ringo’s debut of course) then you really don’t know much about The Beatles.

The matrix number alchemists.

The, yes but have you got the Swedish pressing with the alternate take of track 3 on the EP, show offs.

The, of course, I’ve got The Complete Basement Tapes including the song where Bob …

OK, OK, OK.

I know those communities because in many respects I’m a paid up, card carrying, got the T Shirt and the embossed programme, member of those communities.

And, of course, if you’re reading The Immortal Jukebox then you are most definitely in with The In Crowd.

Dobie Gray is an In Crowd artist par excellence.

Covered by everyone from Ray Charles to Bruce Springsteen and revered by fans of Country, Soul, R & B and Pop Music (not to mention the fanatical devotees of Northern Soul) he recorded a series of classic songs in the 60s and 70s that will always launch the argument as to whether the original is really still the greatest.

Written by Barry Page and arranged by the brilliant Gene Page, ‘In Crowd’ was top 20 in the USA and top 30 in Britain in 1965.

I’m sure it was Gene who so artfully blended the brass flourishes and The just so backing vocals.

The tempo is just right for dancers – uptempo but not frantic with crescendos allowing for those so inclined to demonstrate their athleticism by spinning and pirouetting all the way to the fade out.

Dobie’s vocal has an Olympian, above it all, quality ideally suited to the song’s theme.

The thing about great Dance songs like this is that when you’re living inside one you dance with heightened senses and you really do make every minute and second count.

Dobie, born in 1940, came from a Texas sharecropping family with a Father who was a Baptist Minister. So, as for so many, the first songs he sang were Gospel standards.

But, of course, the radio beamed in R&B, Country and Pop and Dobie liked them all and found his warm vocal tones could easily cope with the demands of the different genres.

In the dawn of the 60s in Los Angles, in pursuit of a career in acting or singing, he hooked up with Sonny Bono (always an In Crowd Hombre) who got him his first recording contract.

By 1963 he had his first minor hit ‘Look at Me’.

The name Dobie came from the popular TV show, ‘The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis’ (there is much debate about Dobie’s original name but I’m going with Lawrence Darrow Brown).

Dobie wasn’t able to find a hit follow up despite some excellent recordings. Showing his versatility he switched to acting and was a cast member in, ‘Look Homeward, Angel’, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and had a two year run in the definitive 60s Musical, ‘Hair’.

Meanwhile, over in Britain, the son of a Northumbrian Coal Miner who looked after the Pit Ponies, Bryan Ferry, became an art student and connoisseur of black dance music.

I think it’s fair to say that Bryan most definitely set out to be in with The In Crowd and that few have had such a complete sucess in achieving their goal.

Flushed with the artistic, critical and commercial success of Roxy Music in his early solo records he revisited the records that had electrified his youth.

It’s not hard to see the attraction, ‘In Crowd’ had for Bryan.

His version had a crepuscular 1970s urgency signalled by the growling aggressive guitar with Bryan’s vocal walking the razors edge between witty reflection and self satisfaction.

Bryan, by now, knew all about those other guys striving to imitate him!

The final version I’m showcasing today comes courtesy of The Ramsey Lewis Trio and Nettie Gray. Nettie Grey? Well, as In Crowders know Nettie was the Washington DC waitress who played, ‘In Crowd’ for Ramsey on her coffee shop Jukebox suggesting that it might make a rousing set closer.

Sensibly, Ramsey took her advice and the live version cut at Bohemian Caverns became his biggest ever hit (top 5 Billboard).

I’m not going to say anything about this version beyond the fact that it always has me throwing a whole series of shapes that are most definitely not recommended by any osteopath or chiropractor but which afford me an enormous sense of well being

When his time in, ‘Hair’ concluded Dobie met the songwriting Brothers Paul and Mentor Williams.

It was Mentor who wrote and produced Dobie’s greatest record, ‘Drift Away’. I’m loath to call any record perfect but I’m making an exception here to prove the rule.

The incandescent warmth of Dobie’s vocal and the shimmering production really does sweep you away into an ambrosial reverie.

A song that is played on Pop, Soul and Country Stations every day and will do so as long as humans need to get that beat and drift away (which is to say until the day we turn into Replicants).

Drift Away was recorded in Nashville at Quadrafonic Studios in early 1973.

No praise can be too high for the team of musicans who lift Drift Away into the stratosphere.

David Briggs on Keyboards, Mike Leach on Bass, Kenny Malone on Drums and Reggie Young on Guitar were very much a Nashville A Team with extraordinary musical alertness and empathy.

I must mention the lovely, pellucid guitar figures played by Reggie Young for the intro and doubled up throughout the song. Now that’s a hook!

And, what about the wonderfully right and resonant sound Kenny Malone produces on a field marching drum!

Engineer Gene Eichelberger managed to balance all the elements so perfectly that you imagine all present exhaling a sigh of complete satisfaction when the track was played back in the studio.

Perfect, perfect, perfect!

The song, of course, sold more than a million copies as it became a top 5 hit and eternal radio staple.

Now, you can say all kinds of laudatory and derogatory things about Rod Stewart’s career but one thing everyone should agree on is that Rod is one hell of a judge of a good song.

So, it was almost inevitable that Rod would pick up on Drift Away and give it the full tartan scarves waving on the terraces treatment. And that’s
meant as a compliment – its rare that someone can be simultaneously part of the crowd and step out from it to lead it as Rod did so brilliantly in the 1970s).

After Drift Away Dobie continued to record quality material without troubling the charts. He earned favour in the music business through a productive songwriting partnership with Troy Seals.

George Jones, Ray Charles and Don Williams among others queued up to record their material .

Dobie died just before Christmas in 2011.

His songs will always last because rhythm and rhyme and harmony never go out of fashion.

Because, confused though we often are we will always seek solace in melodies that move us.

No one understands all the things they do.

But, one thing we do know.

One thing we do know.

Music can carry us through.

Carry us through.

Notes :

Dobie’s ‘Greatest Hits’ should be in every collection. I would draw your attention in particular to the dance classic, ‘Out on the Floor’ and his gorgeous version of, ‘Loving Arms’.

I have a special fondness for his album, ‘Soul Days’ produced by Norbert Putnam for its wonderfully relaxed and glowing treatment of soul standards like, ‘People Get Ready’.

There are a staggering number of versions of ‘Drift Away’.

My favourites are by The Neville Brothers and Tom Rush.

Rod Stewart & The Faces – A Magnificent Racket!

Most of the posts published here on The Jukebox are (as I hope you will have judged) the result of contemplation, decades of listening history, careful planning and rigorous research. Not this one!

No, today’s post was generated through the mysteries of the algorithms that produce, ‘random’ selections on my Brennan JB7 music system. So, from the very instant that the first notes of, ‘Twisting The Night Away’ by Rod Stewart and The Faces exploded into my consciousness it was clear to me that any plans made for today’s post were null and void!

And, after I had hit the repeat button seven or eight times in a row and reached a state of exhausted elation having danced myself into a virtual stupor I was willing – if not wholly ready and able to write.

So, ‘My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen’ for your pleasure and delight let me transport you back to London in the Summer of 1973 so that you too can joyfully release your inner dolphins (so much better as a phrase for explaining the appearance of abandoned glee than the bare, ‘endorphins’ the physicians and chemists would have me use).

Dr Thom’s Jukebox prescription is that you now turn all your dials up way into the red zone and press play now! Repeat as necessary

In the early 1970s furious intoxicant fuelled arguments raged in bars all over the world when one of the company would muse – ‘Who would you say is the greatest live Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the whole wide world?’

The general view was that the crown was the property of The Rolling Stones but strong counter arguments were made for Led Zeppelin or The Who and some, with a more global perspective, would advance the case for Bob Marley and The Wailers.

Listening sagely, as is my wont, I would agree that the above bands were very fine outfits indeed but then with a glint in my eye, I would add that if I could conjure up one group to appear in a puff of dry ice before our very eyes and play their show right here, right now, none of the previously mentioned could be guaranteed to deliver the righteously raucous; let’s turn this place into the best party you’ve ever had or die in the attempt, good time that Rod Stewart and The Faces were sure to give us.

If I had added top up Tequila to my staple pints of Guinness I would clinch the argument (at least in my mind) by extravagantly miming Rod’s microphone stand gymnastics before adding – which of the other bands could really thrill you one minute, then bring a tear to your eye before making you laugh with sheer uproarious delight the next, like they could?

Now I know that this was a band whose brilliance was a matter of fits and starts dependent on their mood on the night and whether they were liquored up just enough to play freely or so overloaded that they could barely stand up.

But, but, on a good night, and there were scores and scores of those, they made a bloody, bluesy, madly magnificent racket that could lift your spirits in a way no other outfit has ever matched.

Yes, It is true to say that as instrumentalists they weren’t exactly virtuosos but there are times when I don’t want my music to be like a sip of smooth bourbon. I want it to be like a shot of illegally distilled Moonshine, from back in the hills, which you half fear will send you stone blind as you take another hit because it just tastes so damn fine. That’s the kind of music they made.

The Faces – Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane (RIP), Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan (RIP) were to my mind the most glorious gang of vagabonds, rounders and reprobates ever to have taken the stage. They lived the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle to the max and while I’ve never seen a copy of the rider they would have given to promoters of their shows I’d be very surprised if, ‘Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women’ (among other hedonistic delights) didn’t feature very prominently!

Embed from Getty Images

I love the way they often sounded like they were falling pell-mell down several flights of very steep stairs; hitting each tread with bone shaking force yet somehow, miraculously, landing pat on their feet as they finally hit bottom ready to set off again for another fantastic foray towards Nirvana!

When you hear them launch into,’Twisting The Night Away’ you hear a band surging with the magical power of true Rock ‘n’ Roll. By the end you will agree with Rod that you sure feel a whole lot better now!

And, if you are anything like me you will firmly believe that the bounds of the earth can’t hold you anymore – if you want to nothing can stop you from sailing straight up into the moonlit sky. Some band! Some band!

I’m going to write much more about Rod Stewart in future posts but I should say here that his early solo albums from 1969’s, ‘An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down’ through to 1974’s, ‘Smiler’ represent one of the most enduringly satisfying bodies of work in the history of post war music.

All his apprentice period gained busking with folk legend Wizz Jones, blues shouting with Steampacket and patrolling the big stages in front of guitar great Jeff Beck allied to his intelligent and sensitive appreciation of soul, country and R&B and the songwriting genius of Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke gave him the experience necessary for him to produce performances from that period which are a rare conjunction of immense popular success and lasting achievement.

Each member of The Faces made their own distinctive contribution to the glories of the overall sound. For me, the key member was Ronnie Lane who provided not just fine anchoring bass but also the earthing heart of the band. The louche guitar of Ronnie Wood and the never let the beat go drums of Kenney Jones synching with the tough when necessary, tender when necessary keyboards of Ian McLagan made a very potent combination.

The Faces best work was only sporadically captured on their albums. Rather, their true testament is to be found on the live sessions they recorded for the BBC; often for their greatest fan and champion the legendary DJ John Peel.

The five years or so Rod Stewart and The Faces were together made for one hell of a ride! We were lucky to have had them.

Time to hit that play button again.