rooster music: the first 2000 years (part 4)
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Welcome back to this work in progress. If you missed the earlier installments,
our mission was to come up with 101 examples of what we like to call
Rooster Music ÷ songs drawn from the most soulful circles of
blues, R&B, gospel, jazz, zydeco. Somewhere along the line we discovered
that each column fit neatly onto one CD, and now weāve started conceiving
of them that way. (No, we still donāt know if theyāll ever be commercially
available.) Itās looking like weāve got two more columns left, so you
can expect a few bonus tunes to fill out the set.
Welcome back to this work in progress. If you missed the earlier installments, our mission was to come up with 101 examples of what we like to call Rooster Music ÷ songs drawn from the most soulful circles of blues, R&B, gospel, jazz, zydeco. Somewhere along the line we discovered that each column fit neatly onto one CD, and now weāve started conceiving of them that way. (No, we still donāt know if theyāll ever be commercially available.) Itās looking like weāve got two more columns left, so you can expect a few bonus tunes to fill out the set.
58. "Harlem Nocturne," The Tempo
It was written by Earl Hagen, of "The Beverly Hillbillies Theme" fame, and Johnny Otis had his first big hit with it in 1945 (with Rene Bloch playing the delicious alto sax line). Itās been covered countless times, from King Curtis to Johnny Reno & the Sax Maniacs to the Fleet Starbuck Band, and with various lead instrumentation, like Danny Gattonās guitar version and even a smoking pedal steel rendition by Jim Campilongo and the 10 Gallon Cats. People who have no idea of the songās name or history still remember it as the theme music for that old Mike Hammer TV show.
Johnny Otis once told me that he and some of his band members were fooling around with it when they were playing at some Los Angeles. strip joint, and the girls kept requesting it. The arrangement they came up with was a whole lot "blacker" than the earliest recordings by, respectively, the Ray Noble and Randy Brooks orchestras.
Iāve chosen this obscure waxing featuring Dan Walker on saxophone mainly because itās the version thatās opened my Blues From the Red Rooster Lounge radio show for the last several years ÷ and because Dan and the Tempo Times really dig into the meat of the tune. (Incidentally, in response to many requests, you can buy this otherwise impossible-to-find disc at www.saxwalker.com.)
59. "Walk Away," Ann Peebles
The diminutive vocalist from St. Louis was the leading female artist in producer Willie Mitchellās legendary stable of artists at Hi Records in Memphis. She never achieved the status of label-mate Al Green, but sheās shown plenty of staying power and still performs today.
On this slow burner Peebles displays the kind of bluesy, gospel-infused whisper-to-a-scream singing, complete with churchy piano and Amen Corner backing singers, that marks the most Roostericious soul music,. Peeblesā influence is felt in the work of Tracy Nelson, who did her own stellar version of "Walk Away" on her In the Here and Now CD (1993).
60. "Piece of My Heart," Erma Franklin
Before there was Janis, believe it or not, there was Erma Franklin, sister of Aretha. While Ms. Joplin unquestionably put her own high-energy stamp on the song, the original holds its own.
Done in classic late-ā60s soul style, Franklinās treatment is the creation of Bert Berns, the songwriter and producer who was instrumental in the careers of Solomon Burke, Van Morrison and Neil Diamond. Berns was the consummate artist-and-repertoire man whose songwriting credits include "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" (Burke), "Here Comes the Night" (Morrison), "Are You Lonely for Me Baby" (Freddie Scott), "Cry Baby" (Garnett Mims) and "Twist and Shout" (Isley Brothers), to name but a few. After Berns died of heart failure in 1967 at the age of 38, itās probably not total coincidence that the demise of the golden age of soul music was soon to follow.
61. "Let Me Go Back to the Country,"
Bobby King & Terry Evans
Evans makes his second appearance on this list with a tune he composed on which album-mate King sits out. What begins as a light acoustic guitar piece about moving from the country to the big city is abruptly kicked in the ass by the rhythm section of Jim Keltner (drums), Spooner Oldham (piano) and Darryl Johnson (bass), and even more so by the smeary guitar work of one Ry Cooder.
Originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, Evansā deep voice embodies the full range of Southern roots music: country blues, R&B and gospel. He and King, both in their long stint with Cooderās band and later as a touring and recording duo, turned out a delicious mix of original and cover material that fully expressed and melded those roots.
62. "Loan Me a Dime," Boz Scaggs
Itās a rare reversal of field for me to choose a cover version over an original, but then Fenton Robinson didnāt record his "Somebody Loan Me a Dime" at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at the zenith of that studioās hit-making arc. Fentonās 1967 recording for little Palos Records made lots of noise in Chicago ÷ but not much anywhere else ÷ and he would eventually get to remake it for Alligator in 1974 on his album of the same name. But the fateful confluence of Scaggs (in his pre-crooner days), the brilliant Muscle Shoals musicians and a young guitarist named Duane Allman produced one of those rare recordings where everything just clicked ÷ and for nearly 13 minutes, at that.
63. "The Lost Ones," Ted Hawkins
Ted Hawkins was an abused and damaged person who did stretches in various prisons and mental institutions. Consequently, his intense singing reflected the pain of his life, yet it was never painful to listen to. Despite his personal problems and travails, there was a light that shone from Ted through his music. By the time of his sudden death on New Yearās Day 1995, he had gone from singing for spare change on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, to cult status in the U.K., to a highly successful tour of the U.S. in late 1994.
With its opening refrain of "Mama is dyinā and daddy is gone," whether or not it is strictly biographical, "The Lost Ones" is the voice of the child-Ted, abandoned and impoverished. Done in an acoustic-soul style with his strummed guitar the only accompaniment, it manages somehow to be a catchy tune about a kind of blues as deep as any Delta singer ever had.
64. "Texas Flood," Larry Davis
Give Stevie Ray Vaughan credit for knowing a good song when he heard one. The title track of his first album is one he would undoubtedly have heard on the radio and juke boxes growing up in Dallas.
Davis must have had something on the ball, because Duke Records owner Don Robey let him have writing credit for the song ÷ well, half-credit anyway, split with Robeyās arranger/producer Joe Scott. The Arkansas bluesman was primarily a bass player at this time (Fenton Robinson handled the guitar chores, and thatās James Booker in the background on piano), but he later went on to record several fine albums as a lead guitarist.
65. "Burninā in L.A.," Lightninā
From flood to fire. Thereās only about a million Lightninā records to choose from, but I think Iāll take this one. Bruce Iglauer pretty much started a record label so he could record Hound Dog Taylor, and the carrot that lured Chris Strachwitz to stick with the record business was Lightninā Hopkins.
Strachwitz captured this particular gem on tape at a 1961 session in Berkeley, California. Itās indeed about a big fire in Los Angeles that left hundreds homeless, and Hopkins vocally lights into every chorus. In the opening stanza, perhaps as some kind of cryptic metaphor, a 16-year-old girl offers Poā Lightninā to "let me be your souvenir." Then again ·
The same CD also contains "Ice Storm Blues" as well as "Hurricanes Carla & Esther," in case you havenāt had enough of natural disasters.
66. "Okie Dokie Stomp," Clarence
Back to Don Robeyās music factory in Houston, where Brown was the rock on which Robey built his musical empire. This one has all the ingredients of a great Gatemouth Brown record except for the vocals: It swings like crazy, with a tight horn section (including Fred Ford on baritone), and has Gateās country-fried, chicken-pickinā guitar rockinā in a bluesward direction. Which means he could play it virtually anywhere: at hoe-downs, jook joints, and even respectable dances.
67. "This Is the End," Buddy Guy
This was in Buddyās young and hungry days ÷ and quite literally, too, since legend has it that almost as soon as Buddy arrived in Chicago from his Louisiana home in 1957, he was introduced to Muddy Waters. Muddy took one look at the scraggly young country boy and immediately handed him a sandwich. Thereās no jiving here, no "make it so funky they can smell it," just an impassioned B.B. King-style delivery of a classic break-up song.
Consider the possibilities: Buddy Guy produced by Willie Dixon and backed by Ike Turnerās Kings of Rhythm. In fact, thatās supposedly Ikeās guitar out front on a song he wrote for the occasion. Whoever is playing what, the overall effect is a jittering intensity.
Since this time, of course, Buddyās career has had its ups and downs, and finally a long up since he connected with the Silvertone label in the early 1990s. Heās gained a deserved reputation for his showmanship, but heās also been criticized for clowning around onstage and jumping from song to song without ever finishing one. Catch him in the right place and time, though, and you just may hear the young kid whose playing could make your hair stand on end.
68. "Iām Gonna Wind Up Ending Up or Iām
Gonna End Up Winding Up With You," Duster Bennett
In 1970 I went to the Fillmore West to see John Mayall and his "Room to Move" band. The opening act was a decidedly not-flashy British one-man band by the name of Anthony "Duster" Bennett. As excellent as Mayall and Co. were that night, I came away thinking about Duster.
Not long afterwards I located a copy of his 1969 LP Justa Duster (Blue Horizon, produced by Mike Vernon), with "Wind Up" as the lead track, and pretty much wore that sucker out before I located another copy in 1989. Iāve never been able to find that album on CD, but in 1998 Vernonās latest label put out this set of rare and unreleased recordings containing an early version of the song.
Bennett was an able songwriter, a devoted student of the blues and a member of the British blues scene that included Mayall and the original members of Fleetwood Mac (who recorded his "Jumpinā at Shadows" on one of their early efforts and backed him up on his 1968 debut album). As a slide guitarist, he could evoke Blind Willie Johnson, and he was a lot more than a novelty act when he played guitar, harmonica and drum simultaneously. Sadly, he died in a car wreck in 1976 at the age of 36.
69. "The Supernatural," John Mayallās
Mayall is as much regarded for the stellar musicians he surrounded himself with in the ā60s and ā70s as he is for his considerable talent as a player and songwriter. Most bands might consider it at least a mild speed bump if they had to replace an Eric Clapton, as the Bluesbreakers did in 1966. No problem for Mayall, though, as he just reached into the free-floating pool of young Brit blues talent and plucked out Peter Green.
Mayall handed Greenie the reins on "Supernatural" and Peter did the rest. As Richie Unterberger points out in the All-Music Guide to the Blues, for three minutes Green used a masterās touch to lay on the thick sustain that would become a trademark in his early hits with Fleetwood Mac. Not only did this technique pave the way for his "Black Magic Woman" and "Albatross," but it would be a stepping stone for what was soon to follow from Carlos Santana.
After his Fleetwood Mac days, Green recorded several quite interesting jazz-rock LPs before disappearing for many years into his own inner realm. Apparently a sad casualty of ā60s excess, he made a dramatic return in the late ā90s to tour and perform with Nigel Watsonās Splinter Group.
70. "Down on My Knees," Eddie Kirkland
Prestige Records, parent company of Tru-Sound, had a habit of pairing hard-edged blues artists with slick New York studio players which resulted in a number of lackluster records. This was one time the formula worked, matching the vociferous Detroit guitarist (and erstwhile accompanist to John Lee Hooker) with a version of the King Curtis Band that included Oliver Nelson on tenor sax and Billy Butler on guitar.
Itās a stripped-down, hornless version of the group that deftly enhances Kirklandās propulsive rhythms on this shouter. Eddie doesnāt need any warm-up time to reach high-level gospel intensity as he drives this ride home in under two-and-a-half minutes.
71. "Mother Earth," Memphis Slim
Described by Ray Flerlage as a "sophisticated, understanding and hip guy," Slim had no time for stuffed shirts. No wonder, then, that Chess got Studs Terkel to do the original liner notes for this album ÷ and no wonder, either, that when heād had his fill of disrespect in this country, Slim (born Peter Chatman) took his act to France, where he remained until his passing in 1988.
He doesnāt hesitate to tell it like it is in the song that seemed to summarize his philosophy of life:
Tracy Nelson was so impressed by this song that she named her band after it in 1968.
72. "Trouble Blues," Charles Brown
Referred to in the ā40s as the "Black Bing Crosby," Charles Brown was one of the nicest people youād ever want to meet. He recorded two of the most enduring R&B Christmas songs ("Merry Christmas, Baby" and "Please Come Home for Christmas), and between 1945ās "Driftinā Blues" and "Hard Times" in 1952, he had a string of 11 hits that made the R&B Top Ten.
Although born in Texas, as a vocalist he came to epitomize the smooth, sophisticated sound of the West Coast, serving as a musical bridge between Nat "King" Cole and Ray Charles. But his massive talent as a pianist was sometimes overshadowed by his celebrated singing prowess.
"Trouble Blues" is about as hard-edged as Charles Brown gets, but itās enough to have this one make the cut. People who remember his other big hits often overlook this one, but it spent 27 long weeks on the charts, 15 of them at #1.
Brown drifted out of the limelight in the ā60s, but he made an impressive comeback in the late ā80s ÷ thanks in large part to Bonnie Raitt, who helped refocus public attention on him ÷ and released a series of strong CDs for Alligator, Bullseye Blues and Verve.
73. "Lah Tee Tah," James Booker
In a city with a history of wild piano geniuses, James Carroll Booker III just might have been the wildest. Todayās reigning piano professors like his contemporaries Allen Toussaint and Dr. John regard him with awe.
Care for a little Chopin, "Gitanarias," "Malaguena"? He got that covered. Pop tunes, some jazz, a little blues? No prob, cuz. But man oh man, you should hear this cat rockānāroll. And thatās mostly what he does on this session that features an All-Pro team of New Orleans players transplanted to the Hollywood hills.
Given his choice of a roomful of grand pianos to choose from, Booker went for a funky little spinet tack piano, and itās obvious he made the right choice. "Lah Tee Tah" is a loping instrumental that fits that rinky-tinky sound so perfectly, with but a hint of David Lastieās tenor saxophone to add the essential spice right at the end, just like a good Creole dish.
74. "Crying," John Mayall
It may say "John Mayall" on the wrapper, but itās Don "Sugarcane" Harris on the inside, playing the kind of violin that wants to tear your heart out but take its time doing it. Actually, Mayallās minimalist vocal is quite effective against the sheer exquisiteness of Harrisā broken-hearted trance music. In 30 years its spell has still not worn off.
A classically-trained violinist, Harris sang and played guitar as half of the outrageous ā50s rockānāroll duo, Don and Dewey. He enjoyed extensive stints with Little Richard and Johnny Otis and later went on to form Pure Food & Drug Act with his guitar cohort from this album, Harvey Mandel. Don passed away last November.