Finishing The Blog Taking A Long Time!

It’s been two months since the last new post. I am busy with warm weather activities, but still spending some mornings editing old artist profiles — adding pictures, updating video links and song lists, and improving the writing. Some of the old posts are pretty good, and some are a mess. In some cases, I’m adding a few biographical details; in others I’m eliminating thoughts that no longer seem relevant or important. Every now and then I’ll add a new personal connection.

In the new “Artist Rankings” section, if the artist’s name has an active link, I’ve reviewed and edited the profile, and am satisfied with it. Eighty-eight profiles have been reviewed (or were deemed OK), so I have seventy-four more profiles to edit, and fifteen new profiles to write (see previous post for the list of new profiles). I’ll probably edit the existing profiles first. Currently I’m editing about three profiles per week, so it’s easy to see how this process might take six to eight months, plus another three or four months to write the new ones.

I wish it was more exciting right now. The blog evolved over the years, until I found a formulaic approach I like. So I’m making the various profiles into an interactive picture book, reminiscent of the picture books I enjoyed as a child. As always, thanks for checking in.

Finishing Up The Blog

The Perfect iPod Collection blog is nearing its logical conclusion. I began the project almost seven years ago, and started the “big countdown” of my favorite artists a year later. Over the next six years the profiles became more elaborate, as I refined the typical artist template with pictures, videos, and a list of significant contributors. I am deeply indebted to YouTube and Wikipedia; without them, the blog would be woefully inadequate.

Though much time was spent creating the profiles, the majority of time was devoted to research, and the effort to create an integrated, small library of mostly 20th Century music. I’ve spent far too much time with it lately; there should a greater sense of pride when I study and listen to it, but there are many days when the mind is tired of acquiring and evaluating music. I’ll never stop the process of perfecting the little library, still only about 50 GB in size, but I need to pick a stopping point for writing about it. Over the next few months, here is what I hope to accomplish:

1. I recently ranked the artists a second time, with their updated ranking dependent on both number and quality of songs. The artists are ranked by number of stars awarded. In the case of a tie, the greater number of songs prevails. The updated rankings can be found on a new page called Artist Rankings, which will provide a link to each artist profile. The first fifty profiles are edited and linked; once an existing profile is upgraded and edited a final time, I will provide the link on this page. Some of the old profiles are quite brief. They will never be very informative, but I can add a few links, a picture and, if available, update the video links and song lists.

2. The Wish List page is no longer relevant. I will replace it with a Links page, with a few relevant links.

3. I will eliminate most early posts, most are which talk about recently added songs, or are early attempts at artist profiles. I’ll keep a few favorites. If you have a favorite old post, please let me know. I’ve cleaned up the Index page to reflect the change.

4. There are fifteen artists remaining, with ten or more songs that merits an artist profile:

Chet Baker
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Stanley Turrentine
Nick Lowe
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mark Knopfler
Wes Montgomery
Jeff Beck
Dizzy Gillespie
Charles Mingus
The Guess Who
The Smiths
Albert King
Sam & Dave
The B-52s

I will eventually complete these, though I may prioritize other interests and writing projects.

5. Finally, I need to finish off the project with a significant analysis and general discussion of the results, which will also be completed in due time.

6. It would be nice to figure out how to get some recognition, and perhaps a little money with this project. There are 177 artists with ten or more songs, and their music comprises 55% of the total collection. Perhaps there is a market for the song list, either alphabetically or by artist. It’s impossible to compete with the All Music guide and Rolling Stone magazine, and their teams of expert analysts; perhaps there’s a place in the world for a charming, individually created list. I’m not convinced that knowledge of music theory is a prerequisite for this exercise, nor do I feel great writing is essential. This exercise also belongs in the realm of collectors and categorizers. It’s vital to value the opinions of other experts, especially the musicians who cover their favorite songs, and follow the lineage of the great songs to their origin. Ultimately, the ratings became somewhat unimportant; either a song is either in the collection, or not. At least that’s how I do it.

Ratings Breakdown, April 14th, 2015:

5 Star Songs: 76 (0.8%)
4 Star Songs: 641 (6.4%)
3 Star Songs: 1959 (19.6%)
2 Star Songs: 4002 (40.1%)
1 Star Songs: 3287 (32.9%)
0 Star Songs: 17 (0.1%)

Songs Currently Under Review: 42

Average Song Rating: 2.01

34. Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan)

Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, was a jazz singer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holiday had a very difficult childhood; her mother Sadie did not maintain steady relationships, and often left home to find work. Young Eleanora dropped out of school after the fifth grade, and was working in a Baltimore brothel when she heard Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five’s recording of “West End Blues”, sparking a lifelong passion for music, and an aspiration to sing, and be known as Billie Holiday. By 1930, she and Sadie had moved to New York City, and when Sadie took a job at a Harlem speakeasy popular with the local jazz musicians, Billie seized the opportunity to sing from table to table for tips. Soon the young Holiday was performing in uptown Manhattan clubs.

Holiday’s big break came when jazz enthusiast John Hammond attended one of her club performances. Twenty-two years old at that time, and hailing from a prominent New York family, Hammond was a correspondent for Melody Maker magazine, a local disk jockey, and a generous benefactor to jazz musicians, offering them the opportunity to record music during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Hammond was enamored with Holiday, and arranged her first recording session with Columbia Records in November, 1933. John Hammond’s role in the development of popular music is hard to overestimate. Not only did he serve as the catalyst for the integration of black and white musicians, he was also the greatest talent scout in pop music history.

Holiday’s first two songs generated modest interest, and earned her a second recording session in 1935, which yielded the hit song “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. Over the following seven years, Holiday, regularly paired with New York City’s finest jazz musicians, produced a dazzling body of work considered a pinnacle of popular song interpretation.

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Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) (1915-1959), singer

A Short List of Important Contributors

Lester Young (1909-1959), tenor saxophone
Teddy Wilson (1912-1986), piano, arranger

William “Count” Basie (1904-1984), piano, arranger
Benny Goodman (1909-1986), clarinet
Buck Clayton (1911-1991), trumpet
Freddie Green (1911-1987), guitar
Walter Page (1900-1957), double bass
Jo Jones (1911-1985), drums
John Kirby (1908-1952), string bass
William “Cozy” Cole (1909-1981), drums
Cootie Williams (1911-1985), trumpet
William “Buster” Bailey (1902-1967), clarinet
Johnny Hodges (1906-1970), alto saxophone

Billie Holiday Songs – Excellent Website/Discography
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday”, by Johann Hari, Politico Magazine, January 17, 2015

Singing With Style

Most music historians consider Billie Holiday the greatest female jazz singer, though she possessed an ordinary instrument in terms of range and volume. She fits nicely within my criteria for singing prowess; I prefer plain sounding voices who subtly augment a song, and shun vocal histrionics. Billie Holiday also advanced the art of jazz singing beyond women like Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker, by mastering the use of the microphone to bring out these subtleties.

“Billie Holiday sang blues only incidentally. But through her phrasing and conception, much that she sang seemed to become blues. She made more than one thousand records — among them about seventy with Teddy Wilson. She made her most beautiful recordings with Wilson and Lester Young. In the intertwining of the lines sung by Holiday and the lines played by Young, the question of which is lead and which is accompaniment, which line is vocal and which instrumental, becomes secondary.

Charm and urbane elegance, suppleness and sophistication are the chief elements in the understatement of Billie Holiday.

When Billie opened her mouth to sing, the truth emerged. Her voice expressed the damage and vulnerability of her soul with an almost masochistic honesty, from desire and lust, to joy and optimism, to doubt, sadness, and pain. Her mouth was like an open wound, she wore her heart on her tongue. And when she sang about loneliness, she drew the listener into her loneliness.

Billie Holiday didn’t just sing sad or happy songs. That’s what women singers in popular music normally do: sing sad and happy songs. In Billie Holiday’s singing, on the other hand, contradictory emotions and feelings exist simultaneously, blending with each other while contradicting each other. Or, as rock singer Bryan Ferry remarked, “Her style sings of hope…her message is despair.”

— Excerpts from “The Jazz Book”, Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann

Amazon.com Link to “The Jazz Book”, by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann
Amazon.com Link to “The Oxford Companion to Jazz”, by Bill Kirchner

In this 1935 film short featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Holiday makes a brief appearance at the 4:45 mark:

Ascendance

Billie Holiday is an important omission from the original artist countdown list created in August, 2009. Back then I wasn’t hip to Holiday’s contributions, and only had eight songs in the collection. I suspected it was an oversight, and would require some research to rectify. Back in the early nineties I remember marveling at the Rolling Stone Album Guide’s Third Edition, 1992) five star ratings for all nine volumes of Columbia Records’ “The Quintessential Billie Holiday” collection, a level of consistent respect given to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and perhaps one or two other artists. Over the years I picked up a couple of the Quintessential collections, plus a Commodore Records retrospective to acquire a copy of the protest song “Strange Fruit”. It was only last year that I started the process of creating a representative collection of her music.

My appreciation for her music grows. My interest started with the six to eight-piece jazz bands, and her famous collaborators. I love small band swing jazz, a modernized form of dixieland music; though rhythmically less complex than the Latin and rock syncopation that evolved, the swing rhythm lends itself well to fluid improvisation and clear storytelling. Holiday sings clean and crisp, and adds subtle accents. Her voice does not attempt to dominate or overwhelm. Music analysts often liken Holiday’s style to one of the horn players in the group. Her all-star counterparts do the same, and one gets the sense that the group behaves as a single team, marching forward in step, each voice important to the whole. Classy, restrained and powerful, Billie Holiday interpretations of Golden Age songs created a template for future developments in popular music.

Demise

That an abused or neglected person often makes bad decisions about the company they keep is well known. Billie Holiday had a weakness for handsome and abusive men, particularly those who trafficked in heroin. She started using around 1940 or 1941, and struggled with alcoholism and heroin addiction for the rest of her life. She was arrested in 1947 for heroin addiction, and as a result, lost her New York City cabaret card, her primary means of income and support. She was persecuted her whole life one way or another: for being black, for being female, and for being an addict. Her tragic downfall is well documented; through the fifties her health deteriorated, though she continued to perform and record beautifully, albeit with diminishing power. She developed cirrhosis of the liver in 1959, and was arrested for drug possession while on her death bed. Holiday died on July 17th, 1959, just forty-four years old.

Although I devoted more than a hundred hours this past year listening and researching her music, it feels like more investigation is required for the best complement of songs. To close, here’s my favorite Billie Holiday song. In order, the soloists are Benny Morton (trombone), Billie Holiday (vocal), Teddy Wilson (piano), Lester Young (tenor saxophone), and Buck Clayton (trumpet).

When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.
When you’re laughing, oh when you’re laughing,
The sun comes shinin’ through.

But when you’re crying, you bring on the rain,
So stop your sighin’, be happy again.
Keep on smiling, ’cause when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.

— “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)” by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin

Billie Holiday Song Notes:

1. Most of the recommended songs can be found on the Columbia Records compilation called Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles.

2. “Strange Fruit”, “Billie’s Blues” and “On The Sunny Side Of the Street” can be found on Commodore Records compilations.

3. “Lover Man” can be found on Decca Records compilations.

4. “Body And Soul”, “Fine And Mellow”, “What’s New?” and “I Loves You Porgy” can be found on Verve Records compilations.

Billie Holiday Songs:

When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You), Billie Holiday ★★★★★

Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Must Have That Man, Billie Holiday ★★★
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Billie Holiday ★★★
The Very Thought of You, Billie Holiday ★★★
Gloomy Sunday, Billie Holiday ★★★
God Bless The Child, Billie Holiday ★★★
These Foolish Things, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★★

Loveless Love, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
St. Louis Blues, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
Body And Soul, Billie Holiday ★★
Body And Soul (Alt), Billie Holiday ★★
Billie’s Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Billie Holiday ★★
Lover Man, Billie Holiday ★★
More Than You Know, Billie Holiday ★★
Long Gone Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy To Love, Billie Holiday ★★
My Last Affair, Billie Holiday ★★
Me Myself And I, Billie Holiday ★★
Mean To Me, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy Living, Billie Holiday ★★
My Man, Billie Holiday ★★
I Cover The Waterfront, Billie Holiday ★★
Trav’lin’ Light, Billie Holiday & Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra ★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
Pennies From Heaven, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
I’ll Never Be The Same, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Billie Holiday
What’s New?, Billie Holiday
Fine And Mellow, Billie Holiday
I Wished On The Moon, Billie Holiday
Miss Brown To You, Billie Holiday
I Cried For You, Billie Holiday
This Year’s Kisses, Billie Holiday
Moanin’ Low, Billie Holiday
A Sailboat In The Moonlight, Billie Holiday
Sun Showers, Billie Holiday
He’s Funny That Way, Billie Holiday
You Go To My Head, Billie Holiday
I Can’t Get Started, Billie Holiday
Ghost Of Yesterday, Billie Holiday
Swing! Brother, Swing!, Billie Holiday
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Billie Holiday
Solitude, Billie Holiday

Related Songs:

Body And Soul, Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra ★★★
Body And Soul, Louis Armstrong ★★★
Body And Soul, Benny Goodman Trio ★★

Careless Love Blues, Josh White Trio
Careless Love, Ray Charles ★★★
Careless Love, Ottilie Patterson & Chris Barber’s Jazz Band ★★

Easy Living, Wardell Gray ★★
Easy Living, Bill Evans ★★

God Bless The Child, Blood, Sweat & Tears ★★★
God Bless The Child, Stanley Turrentine ★★★

I Can’t Get Started, Bunny Berigan ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Lester Young Trio ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Dizzy Gillespie

I Cover The Waterfront, The Inkspots

I Cried For You (Take 1), Benny Goodman ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Bill Evans ★★

Lover Man, Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra ★★
Lover Man, Sarah Vaughan ★★

Mean To Me, Nat Adderley

On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Lionel Hampton ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt & Sonny Rollins
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Louis Armstrong

Pennies From Heaven, Count Basie ★★
Pennies From Heaven, J. J. Johnson ★★

Sailboat In The Moonlight, Ruby Braff ★★

Solitude, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra ★★

St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith ★★★
St. Louis Blues, W. C. Handy

Swing! Brother, Swing! (Live), Count Basie ★★

These Foolish Things, Benny Goodman Sextet ★★★
These Foolish Things, Nat King Cole Trio ★★

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Ella Fitzgerald
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Frank Sinatra ★★

The Very Thought Of You, Al Bowlly ★★★
The Very Thought Of You, Dodo Marmarosa & Gene Ammons

The Way You Look Tonight, Frank Sinatra ★★★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Fred Astaire ★★

When You’re Smiling / The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

You Go To My Head, Lee Konitz ★★
You Go To My Head, Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson

101. Buck Owens & His Buckaroos

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos are a country and western band from Bakersfield, California. Alvis “Buck” Owens, Jr. is a guitarist and singer from Sherman, Texas. In 1937, the Owens family moved to Arizona after sustained droughts and high winds forced a move away from the family farm. Owens married and moved west to Bakersfield, California in 1951. For the next several years, Owens performed in local clubs, and worked as a session guitarist for Capitol Records in Los Angeles. After years of trying, his singing and songwriting career languished, and Owens moved to Tacoma, Washington, taking a job at radio station KAYE in Tacoma, Washington. During a live on-air program, he met guitarist and fiddler Don Rich, and began a fruitful partnership that lasted until Rich’s untimely death in 1974.

The characteristic sound of the Buckaroos slowly evolved. While in Tacoma, Owens made his first appearance on the Billboard country charts with “Second Fiddle”, notable for the use of fiddle and steel guitar, and without the saccharine orchestration typical of many country hit songs. Owens and Rich eventually switched to electric guitar, and assembled a quintet with drums, bass and steel guitar to complete the classic Buckaroos lineup. Beginning in 1959, Buck Owens enjoyed a remarkable string of country hit songs; in 1963 “Act Naturally” became his first of fifteen consecutive #1 hit songs during the sixties. He became a household name during the seventies while hosting the corny variety show Hee Haw with banjo/guitar player Roy Clark. By 1980, he essentially retired from recording, focusing on his many business ventures. Buck Owens was inducted to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1996.

buck-owens-carnegie-hall

Buck Owens (1929-2006), rhythm guitar, vocals

Don Rich (1941-1974), lead guitar, vocals
Doyle Holly (1946-2007), bass guitar, rhythm guitar
Tom Brumley (1935-2009), steel guitar
Willie Cantu (b. 1946), drums

buckowensfan.com — Fan Website

Amazon.com Link to “Buck Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens”, by Randy Poe
Amazon.com Link to “Buck Owens – The Biography”, by Eileen Sisk (an unauthorized tell-all biography)

Although Hee Haw made Owens a household name, the lesser known “Buck Owens Ranch Show” from 1966-1968 best represents the band in its prime. Here are three episodes currently showing on YouTube:

Old television programs are much more natural and unpolished. In a word, better.

Bakersfield, California

Buck Owens is considered a founder of the Bakersfield sound, an antidote to the lush “countrypolitan” Nashville sound of the fifties and sixties. His influence within country music can be traced directly to Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam, among many others. The contemporary Nashville sound is a hybrid music, featuring some aspects of the Bakersfield sound, with extensive production techniques.

Buck Owens’ impact on country music is clear. Less discussed is Owens’ influence on rock music, and how he fits in the history of California popular music. In this passage, my friend Corry Arnold discusses the Buckaroos impact on the Grateful Dead:

“Buck Owens influence on Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead is no less fundamental. Owens and his Buckaroos played clean, rocking music that was the blueprint for Workingman’s Dead, and Garcia specifically mentioned Owens’s inspiration many times. The biggest success of the Bakersfield musicians was Merle Haggard, and some of Haggard’s songs (“Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home”) also made it into the Grateful Dead repertoire. People interested in some of the roots of Garcia’s twangy Fender sound of the early 70s would do well to listen to Buckaroo guitarist Don Rich.

Owens’s influence on Garcia doesn’t stop with Merle Haggard and Don Rich. Old Garcia pal Pete Grant recalls driving somewhere with Jerry Garcia in mid-60s and hearing Owens’s 1964 song “Together Again.” The pedal steel guitar solo by Tom Brumley was so beautiful that Grant and Garcia agreed on the spot that they had to learn pedal steel. Grant learned before Garcia, as it happened, but the Buckaroos music was one of the signposts for the future Garcia, even if it lay dormant for a few years (and I should add that the New Riders occasionally played “Together Again”).”

— Corry Arnold

“Buck Owens And The Buckaroos, March 9, 1968”, by Corry Arnold, Lost Live Dead Blog

The anecdote gives insight to the young Garcia, who played both banjo and guitar, and was a devotee of both bluegrass and country music. The joys of “Together Again” are subtle at first glance, but a closer listen hears Brumley soloing throughout the song. To me, steel guitar ballads sound like a cat rubbing against your ankles, looking you in the eye and braying for her dinner. “Together Again” is first class kitty music.

One can imagine the two young musicians marveling at the Buckaroos’ precision as something to emulate. Ironic, considering The Grateful Dead, and other San Francisco rock bands of the late sixties, were considered anything but tight or precise, but during the late sixties and early seventies the Dead played a complement of country songs in the Buck Owens style, clean and swinging.

Other California rock bands profiled in this blog are direct descendants of the Buckaroos. Creedence Clearwater Revival, who would be considered a country band today, spent their formative years touring the San Joaquin Valley and have that Central Valley sound. Chris Isaak grew up in Stockton, four hours north of Bakersfield, also shares the California sound: smaller bands with sharp, twanging guitars, well enunciated singing of songs with simple themes, and a basic, swinging beat. California music tends to be unsentimental, with minimal displays of melisma and overwrought emotion.

Buck Owens and Don Rich’s voices overlap one another beautifully. Several Buckaroos songs are punctuated with stop time passages, and possess a brightness matched only perhaps by early Beatles songs. Songs like “Hello Trouble” and “Love’s Gonna Live Here” shine with cheer and lightness that bely the song’s subjects. A little research into Mr. Owens suggests he may have courted and welcomed that aspect of life’s excitement.

The argument for Owens’ influence extends to the surf guitar music of southern California that succeeds him, and even Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who spent the bulk of their career in Los Angeles, after migrating from Florida. Included for your consideration are a list of twenty fine Buck Owens songs.

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos Song Notes:

1. Most of these songs can be found on either 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection or Buck Em! The Music Of Buck Owens (1955-1967), The exceptions are:

“Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)” can be found on Buck Owens.
“Crying Time (Live)” can be found on The Best of Austin City Limits – Legends of Country Music.
“Love’s Gonna Live Here (Live)” can be found on Carnegie Hall Concert.
“Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” can be found on Sings Harlan Howard.
“If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin'” and “High On A Hilltop” can be found on Sings Tommy Collins.

2. The Owens family had a donkey named Buck. One day, at the age of 4, young Alvis Jr. walked into the house and announced that from now on, he would also be known as “Buck”.

3. Reportedly, The Buckaroos never rehearsed.

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos Songs:

Act Naturally, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★★
Above And Beyond (Alt), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★★

Love’s Gonna Live Here, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★
Together Again, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★

Second Fiddle, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Hello Trouble, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Foolin’ Around, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Pray Every Day, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Together Again (Live), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Cryin’ Time, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
High On A Hilltop, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Buckaroo, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★

Cryin’ Time (Live), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Under Your Spell Again, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Made In Japan, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Pick Me Up On Your Way Down, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos

Related Songs:

Streets Of Bakersfield, Dwight Yoakam

Act Naturally, The Beatles ★★

Foolin’ Round, Patsy Cline

155. The Drifters

The Drifters are a vocal group from New York, New York. Originally assembled in 1953 as a supporting group for singer Clyde McPhatter, the Drifters brand has one of the more complex histories in pop music history. After McPhatter’s brief tenure as lead singer, the group persevered with modest success until 1958, when manager George Treadwell replaced the entire group. Still recording with Atlantic Records, the second generation Drifters enjoyed a brief peak of popularity, which produced a memorable series of pop standards. By the mid-sixties, their star had faded, but the strength of the original material allowed The Drifters to become a perpetual nostalgia act, often with more than one version of the group in business.

Drifters2-500x371

Wikipedia Biography of The Drifters
Soulwalking.co.uk Biography of The Drifters

Notable Lead Singers For The Drifters

Clyde McPhatter (1932-1972), vocals
Johnny Moore (1934-1998), vocals
Ben E. King (b. 1938), vocals
Rudy Lewis (1936-1964), vocals

Only In America

The Drifters have a few great songs that define their legacy. My favorite song may be the one they never released until over forty years later. The Drifters version of “Only In America” was shelved by Atlantic Records, while a cover version of the song by Jay & The Americans, was sold to United Artists and reached #25 on the pop charts in 1963.

Here Comes The Night, Joel Selvin’s book about the life of record producer Bert Berns, also serves as a comprehensive history of the New York pop music industry of the fifties and sixties. Selvin tells the story of “Only In America” as follows:

With “Up On The Roof” and “On Broadway”, Leiber and Stoller once again reprieved the Drifters from slipping off the charts entirely. It had two long years since “Save The Last Dance For Me”. In April 1963, they returned to the studio with the Drifters and another Mann-Weil song they had remodeled. Originally “Only In America” was more an angry, straightforward protest song (“Only in America, land of opportunity, do they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me”). The civil rights movement was reaching crisis proportions. New harrowing headlines came daily from the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and placed in solitary confinement on the day of the session a thousand miles away in Birmingham, Alabama. Leiber and Stoller, from their rarified, socially advanced perspective, as only two smart-ass, New York Jews could, recast the song as a coolly ironic send up (having black people sing lines like “Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be president”).

(Jerry) Wexler was predictably blunt in his assessment. “Are you guys nuts?” he said. “They’ll lynch us.”

The world was not ready to hear black people sing “Only in America, land of opportunity.” Leiber was way too hip for the room. Leiber and Stoller still liked the track immensely. They took off the Drifters vocals and replaced them with Jay and the Americans. White people singing the same song eliminated all irony, turning the record into the kind of cornball sentimentality that Leiber and Stoller previously assiduously avoided. Wexler hated the record so much, he was happy to sell the track to United Artists for something he was never going to release and didn’t even mind as the thing scooted up the charts. Not much anyway.

— Joel Selvin

Also discussed in the Coasters profile, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had a knack for distilling the realities and dreams of young Americans into simple, uplifting songs. The brilliant “Only In America” was forty-five years ahead of its time. I recently shared this on Facebook, and one of my friends shared that his father played this song (the Jay & the Americans version) in the mornings as encouragement for his sons to pursue their dreams.

Amazon.com Link to “Here Comes The Night”, by Joel Selvin

“50 Years Later, A Drifters Song Has Its Day”, by Ryan Zummallen, Long Beach Post, November 2008

Save The Last Dance For Me

My father’s parents emigrated from Scotland around 1920, and never returned. My father had only met a couple of his Scottish relatives until he arranged a visit to Scotland in 1998, where they “rolled out the red carpet”, and cousins Ruby and Dick hosted a family get-together at their lawn bowling club in Clydebank. Dad also used the vacation as an opportunity to play golf, and brought me along with my then brother-in-law John. We traveled around Scotland for a few days before working our way back into town for family gatherings.

At the time, I was actively drinking, an on-or-off practice I never mastered, and eventually quit doing. My father was a teetotaler, and generally disapproved of my drinking habit. So we stayed away from night life for the most part, but John and I sneaked out twice during the vacation for drinks and laughs. Both times were memorable experiences, though the second one was a bit scary, with the potential for real danger. But the first night out was happy and fun, and maybe a little strange, too.

Our first destination was Inverness, the northernmost city in the United Kingdom. Golfers generally travel there to play the famous golf courses in nearby Nairn and Dornoch. We stayed at a bed and breakfast inn in downtown Inverness for three nights, while driving each day to play golf. On one of those nights I dragged John out for beer, cigarettes and a little local flavor.

We found a pub nearby with live music and settled in. The band performed on a stage about ten feet above the pub floor, and were quite loud, making small talk a bit cumbersome, especially for west coast Americans trying to decipher the Scottish brogue. Nevertheless, we soon struck up a conversation with four Scots, two unattached men and a married couple. They were friendly and talkative, and in the case of the married husband, very drunk. We learned he had been on a bender for over twenty-four hours, but to begin with, he was still pretty lucid when we started to chat. He was a successful businessman, and helped manage a significant local establishment. He was a nice fellow, but in bad shape. Early in the evening, we talked about golf, where he admitted that though he was not an accomplished player, he felt he could “putt for Scotland”.

His wife was charming, and quite attractive. As her husband’s energy started to fade, she stayed close by, but seemed rather unconcerned, as if this was a common occurrence. He was really drunk, and starting to list, but was hanging in there as best he could for the conversation with the visiting Americans.

I had given up worrying about the fading husband, and was chatting with the others when over the din of the music, I heard him sneeze with a mighty “Whoosh!”. Looking over, as he pulled himself back upright, I noticed his nose now featured the longest snot string I had ever seen in my life. And neither he nor his friends seemed to notice. I expected that his wife or friends would notice, but they were enjoying themselves, and had kind of tuned him out. And for two or three minutes that seemed to last an eternity, this poor man stood there drunk and unaware that he had snot hanging from his nose down below his waist. I casually turned to my brother-in-law and whispered “I think that might be the grossest thing I’ve ever seen”, and we shared a private laugh between ourselves. I can’t remember whether he fixed the problem, or it just dropped eventually.

Although he managed to stay upright, at that point of the evening he was politely coexisting while the others yelled at one another over the music. By then the center of attention was the man’s lovely wife, who was holding court while everybody stood around her in a circle. At some point, it occurred to me that their friends were perhaps a bit too friendly and attentive, and inspired by the spirits of the night, I did something I rarely do — I broke into song:

“So don’t forget who’s taking you home,
And in whose arms you’re gonna be,
So darlin’, save the last dance for me.”

I must have done well, because afterwards all three of them applauded enthusiastically, and urged me to keep singing. I demurred, as I was overcome by shyness, plus I didn’t know the words and melody well enough to sing the whole thing. By midnight, we left our friends for the evening, and walked back to the inn, but I’ll never forget the night I serenaded the beautiful woman with the great song that came to mind and means so much.

The Drifters Songs:

On Broadway, The Drifters ★★★★
Up On The Roof, The Drifters ★★★★
Only In America, The Drifters ★★★★

Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters ★★★
White Christmas, The Drifters ★★★

Under The Boardwalk, The Drifters ★★
This Magic Moment, The Drifters ★★
Ruby Baby, The Drifters ★★

Money Honey, The Drifters
The Bells Of St. Mary’s, The Drifters
There Goes My Baby, The Drifters
Whatcha Gonna Do, Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters

Related Songs:

A Lover’s Question, Clyde McPhatter ★★
Lover Please, Clyde McPhatter ★★

Stand By Me, Ben E. King ★★★
Spanish Harlem, Ben E. King ★★★
I (Who Have Nothing), Ben E. King ★★
Don’t Play That Song (You Lied), Ben E. King
Amor, Ben E. King

On Broadway, Neil Young

Only In America, Jay & the Americans ★★

White Christmas, Bing Crosby ★★
White Christmas, Darlene Love

This Magic Moment, Jay & the Americans ★★

Ruby Baby, Dion ★★★

Money Honey, Elvis Presley

145. Elmore James

Elmore James was a guitarist and a singer/songwriter from Holmes County in western Mississippi. Although he started early, and was performing at local dances as a teenager, James was not recorded until he was thirty-three years old. By then he had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and returned to Mississippi, where he worked at his brother’s electrical shop. It was there he modified an acoustic guitar for electric amplification, and together with the use of a slide, Elmore James created his distinctive guitar sound. Beginning in 1951 with “Dust My Broom”, James recorded a series of minor rhythm and blues hit songs. Diagnosed with heart problems early in life, James died of a heart attack at the age of forty-five.

Elmore James’s raw electric sound influenced a generation of American and English rock musicians. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac were enamored with his music. In their prime, the Allman Brothers Band regularly played two Elmore James songs (“Done Somebody Wrong” and “One Way Out”) in concert appearances. And Stevie Ray Vaughan is famous for his interpretation of “The Sky Is Crying”. James has been described as a loud and raucous performer, with a rough voice that crackled with emotion, halfway between yelling and screaming the words. Rock and roll legend Little Richard considered him one of the few authentic rockers. His greatest legacy may be as a songwriter; several of his compositions are now considered blues standards, recognizable to all aficianados of the blues genre.

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Elmore James (1918-1963), slide guitar player, vocals, songwriter

The Broomdusters – Noteworthy Support Musicians

Little Johnny Jones (1924-1964), piano
Odie Payne (1926-1989), drums

Primary Influences:

Robert Johnson (1911-1938), singer, guitarist, songwriter
Tampa Red (1904-1981), singer, guitarist, songwriter

John Peel Wikia Page for Elmore James

Frank Zappa on Elmore James

“Elmore James – even though Elmore tended to play the same famous lick on every record, I got the feeling that he meant it.”

— Frank Zappa, “Good Guitar Stuff or Stereotypifications?”, Guitar Player Magazine, January, 1977

“Well, Elmore James is an acquired taste, and I happen to really like Elmore James, and I like all blues-type guitar players and all that sort of stuff. I happen to think that what they play really means something, as opposed to most of what happens on most rock and roll records – it’s very calculated sound effects that fit the song. But to say that a person has to start with Elmore James before he graduates up to fire-breathing guitar playing status is stupid, because you really don’t need to. If you don’t have any feeling for that type of music, why involve yourself with it? I would rather see a guitar player totally ignore that realm of music in an honest way – saying, “That’s just not my stuff” – than get a cursory glance of it and say, “Now I understand it,” because they’ll just do a parody of it. You’ve really got to love that stuff. I really hope that one of these days that sort of blues comes back. Everything else comes back. And I think that kind of music is great.”

— Frank Zappa, “I’m Different”, by Tom Mulhern, Guitar Player Magazine, February 1983

A Late Addition To My Collection

It appears no videos exist of Elmore James performing. He died shortly before he was scheduled to participate in the American Folk Blues Festival, a yearly European tour of blues musicians, much of which was recorded for posterity.

Elmore James played a variety of blues styles. This one is called “Shake Your Moneymaker”.

Here is one of his most faithful disciples, Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac, channeling his inner Elmore James. Spencer’s contribution to Fleetwood Mac relies heavily on his devotion to James.

Elmore James music is a late addition to my music knowledge. Five years ago, there were only four Elmore James songs in the collection. Since then I added Elmore James’s original versions of songs I already knew, and my recent investigations prompted me to add several more. There are now eighteen worthy choices, and I imagine a few more of these simple, lively songs will be added to the list as time goes by.

Elmore James Song Notes:

1. There are two versions of “Standing At The Crossroads”.

Elmore James Songs:

Shake Your Moneymaker, Elmore James ★★★
Dust My Broom, Elmore James ★★★

Done Somebody Wrong, Elmore James ★★
The Sky Is Crying, Elmore James ★★
Standing At The Crossroads, Elmore James ★★
Dust My Blues, Elmore James ★★
Look On Yonder Wall, Elmore James ★★
Stranger Blues, Elmore James ★★
It Hurts Me Too, Elmore James ★★

Got To Move, Elmore James
Madison Blues, Elmore James
Standing At The Crossroads (Alt), Elmore James
Whose Muddy Shoes, Elmore James
Sunny Land, Elmore James
I Can’t Hold Out, Elmore James
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Elmore James
Happy Home, Elmore James
My Bleeding Heart, Elmore James

Related Songs:

Crossroads Blues, Robert Johnson ★★★
Crossroads (Live), Cream ★★★★

Done Somebody Wrong (Live), Allman Brothers Band

For You Blue, The Beatles

Got To Move, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Got To Move (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★

I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom, Robert Johnson

I Can’t Hold Out, Eric Clapton ★★

Madison Blues (Live), Fleetwood Mac

New Strangers Blues, Tampa Red

One Way Out, Sonny Boy Williamson II ★★★
One Way Out (Live), The Allman Brothers Band ★★★★

Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Muddy Waters ★★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Cream ★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Bob Dylan ★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, The Seldom Scene

Shake Your Moneymaker, Fleetwood Mac ★★★

The Sky Is Crying (Live), Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble ★★

TV Mama, Big Joe Turner ★★★★

132. Mose Allison

Mose Allison is a singer and piano player from Tippo, a small community in northwestern Mississippi. As a schoolboy Mose worked on the family farm, while learning to play piano and trumpet. After a two year stint in the U.S. Army, Allison graduated from college, and in 1956 he moved to New York City to pursue a career as a jazz musician. By 1957, he issued his first album of songs, and Allison enjoyed a successful career that lasted until his retirement in 2012. As a lyricist, he is revered for his wry humor and his sharp observations of modern society. His influence on other musicians, especially younger British Invasion musicians of the sixties, exceeds his popularity.

Mose Allison (b. 1927), piano, vocals, songwriter

In Depth: Mose Allison, by Ken Smith, PropergandaOnline.com
“An Interview with Jazz and Blues Singer Mose Allison”, by Thomas Brewer, December 2010

MoseAllison

Men Of A Certain Age

I like this picture. It reminds me of dear old Dad; I have a couple pictures where Dad looks like this, with a neatly trimmed beard and a peaceful, pleasant demeanor. I have this theory that men of that era wore beards because they admired the great basketball star Bill Russell, but the more likely connection is to Beat Generation culture. Both Mose Allison and my father, who died in 2003, were born in 1927. They followed a similar path in early life. Both enlisted in the military in 1945, and once their military obligation was served, received a college education paid by the G.I. Bill. And it seems fair to suggest they had similar beliefs about society.

“For the benefit of critical listeners, Mose has shared his view about the state of the world: the domination of money over everything, the growing lack of empathy on the part of the powers-that-be for the population, wars and more wars, and an underlying hypocrisy in society.”

— Thomas Brewer, December 2010

Young Man Blues

In the old days,
When a young man was a strong man.
All the people,
Stand back when a young man walked by.

But nowadays,
The old man got all the money.
And a young man ain’t nothin’ in the world these days.”

– Mose Allison

I first experienced a Mose Allison song when I heard The Who’s wild version of “Young Man Blues” from Live At Leeds. It’s hard not to notice; The Who’s version is incredibly rambunctious and belligerent. At one minute and twenty-seven seconds, Allison’s more sedate and succinct version holds the distinction as being the shortest four star song in the collection. Another example of simple phrases with a powerful, timeless message, my favorite kind of lyrics. Over the years, more clever Mose Allison songs trickled into the collection until there were enough to merit a blog profile. The older I get, the better his economical vocal and piano style sounds. Allison separates himself from other post-World War II pianists with his thinking man’s social commentary.

“Straight ahead,
Knock ’em dead.
Pack your kit,
Choose your hypocrite.

Well you don’t have to go to off-Broadway,
To see something plain absurd.
Everybody’s crying mercy,
When they don’t know the meaning of the word.

— Mose Allison

Mose Allison Song Notes:

1. In all cases, the earliest version of any given song is recommended. For instance, try the 1962 version of “Your Mind Is On Vacation”.

Mose Allison Songs:

Young Man Blues, Mose Allison ★★★★

Parchman Farm, Mose Allison ★★★
If You Live, Mose Allison ★★★
I’m Not Talking, Mose Allison ★★★

I Don’t Worry About A Thing, Mose Allison ★★
I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out!, Mose Allison ★★
Your Mind Is On Vacation, Mose Allison ★★
Fool’s Paradise, Mose Allison ★★
Everybody Cryin’ Mercy, Mose Allison ★★
The Seventh Son, Mose Allison ★★

Trouble In Mind, Mose Allison
Gimcracks And Geegaws, Mose Allison
It Didn’t Turn Out That Way, Mose Allison
Your Molecular Structure, Mose Allison
Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Mose Allison
Don’t Forget To Smile, Mose Allison

Related Songs:

Young Man Blues (Live), The Who ★★★

Parchman Farm, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ★★
Parchman Farm Blues, Bukka White ★★

I’m Not Talking, The Yardbirds ★★
I’m Not Talking (Live), The Yardbirds ★★

The Seventh Son, Willie Mabon ★★
The Seventh Son, Johnny Rivers ★★

Trouble In Mind, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry ★★
Trouble In Mind, Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers ★★
Trouble In Mind, Dinah Washington & Ben Webster ★★

Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Ray Charles