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.

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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

See You Next Year

I’ve had a busy and productive year finishing the countdown with seven detailed essays, and then added none shorter profiles of “new” artists with ten or more songs. I have Buck Owens & The Buckaroos ready for a couple short paragraphs and list of songs, but I will probably take a break for the rest of the year. In the meantime, I’m busy adding songs, mostly jazz right now, and reviewing the song lists for a few of the artists. Next year I hope to write about ten to twenty more profiles, then begin a second and final countdown.

See you next year. Thanks so much for reading the blog.

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.

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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

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 ★★★★

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

Tom Jones (Thomas Jones Woodward)

Sir Thomas Jones Woodward, aka “Tom Jones”, is a singer from Pontypridd, Wales, just twelve miles north of Cardiff, the Welsh capital.  Blessed with a powerful baritone voice, Jones’ singing style is reminiscent of the great American soul singers of the fifties and sixties.  Married with a child before his 17th birthday, Woodward worked by day and honed his musical skills by night.  In 1964, as lead singer for Tommy Scott & The Senators, he attracted the attention of producer Joe Meek, but efforts to land a recording contract were unsuccessful. However, later that year, Gordon Mills, a songwriter and fellow Welshmen, signed Woodward to a management contract, changed his name to Tom Jones, and brought him to London. Once signed with Decca Records, his second single, Mills’s own “It’s Not Unusual”, was a breakthrough hit in both Great Britain and the United States, and the catalyst for Jones’s lifetime, worldwide success as a professional singer and entertainer. In appreciation for his contribution to British society, Jones was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his “services to music” in 2006.

Tom Jones (b. 1940), singer
The Official Tom Jones Website

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The Aging Sex Symbol

Tom Jones was always a mainstream performer, and never considered a rock musician. He was renowned for his sex appeal, which he and his management used to great benefit. In this wonderful early video, It is apparent that Mr. Jones is a powerfully built man. He actually looks a lot like a college roommate of mine who played football.

As his initial success waned, Jones transformed himself in a middle of the road crooner, singing popular songs from many genres. Here he sings the American country hit, “Green, Green Grass Of Home”:

For the next few years, Jones was a consistent presence on popular and easy listening radio programs. From 1969 to 1971, he even hosted a successful TV variety show. He performed regularly in Las Vegas, where he was an object of intense adulation. Women threw undergarments and hotel keys onto the stage, and Jones played to his desirous audience by dancing suggestively, or wiping sweat from his brow and gifting the soiled handkerchiefs to his admirers. A few videos online capture this nonsense, which I find rather vulgar.

Though his star faded in middle age, Jones stayed hip by interpreting new songs using contemporary instrumentation, but he would never have earned a spot in my countdown without a late career renaissance. I was surprised how effectively Jones sang the blues in Martin Scorcese’s 2003 documentary “The Blues”. When an authority like Van Morrison suggests that Tom Jones is one of his favorite singers, further research is merited, and finds that Jones has crafted a fitting culmination to his career. Two recent albums, Praise And Blame and Spirit In The Room, are gentle and thoughtful, with spare, traditional instrumentation. Jones interprets songs of a spiritual nature, that contemplate life’s great mysteries — life and death, and Heaven and Hell.

Avant-Garde

Over the past century, popular music of the English speaking world has come full circle. The formalization of peasant music into jazz and blues, and the major music forms that followed — be-bop and free jazz, rhythm and blues into guitar-based rock, electronics and computerized sounds, the incorporation of Latin and African rhythms, and the spoken word set to a beat — these innovations have exhausted the possibilities for further exploration. Like classical music before it, popular music is a finite art, and has already enjoyed its peak period of innovation.

Wikipedia states, “the Avant-garde are people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics”. In this recent blog posting, Charles Hugh Smith argues that disruptive avant-garde movements in the arts have reached a point of diminishing returns, and that the avant-garde movement’s true concern is social innovation.

“It’s art that’s irrelevant, not the avant-garde. This is a boring age for art, mainly because of how boring the collectors are. These days collectors actually want to buy contemporary art. How boring can you get? It’s like they are buying fantastically expensive bespoke IKEA furniture for their homes. Now, art is not a bad day job if you can pull it off. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a living at it, like any other day job. But as day jobs go, it has no more glamour or dignity than doing public relations or corporate law. Not to mention academia! We’re all servants of the most boring and clueless ruling class in a century.

Avant-gardes, on the other hand, are always interesting, but they are not really about art, whatever some silly art school textbooks might say. Avant-gardes are about media, about social relations, about property-forms, but they are only ever incidentally or tactically concerned with art. The most interesting ones around at the moment might be about pharmacology or horticulture or even ‘business models’.”

— McKenzie Wark

What’s Avant-Garde Now? Social Innovation, by Charles Hugh Smith
“McKenzie Wark, Information/Commodification”, DisMagazine.com

To most music fans, Tom Jones will be remembered as a sexy pop singer, but these modern updates of folk songs deserve to be a significant part of his legacy. These big picture songs, with clearly sung lyrics and impeccable musicianship, are the logical conclusion to the popular music era. They are the only innovation in modern music worth preserving for posterity. In the coming century, pop music will endure in its current unimaginative form, at least for a while. The only music worth remembering will be the masters of the various instruments, the occasional jazz composition, and the rare songwriter who eloquently captures the misery of the dying Industrial Age.

Tom Jones Songs:

It’s Not Unusual, Tom Jones ★★★★

What Good Am I?, Tom Jones ★★
Burning Hell, Tom Jones ★★
Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Tom Jones ★★
Help Yourself, Tom Jones ★★
If He Should Ever Leave You, Tom Jones ★★
Hard Times, Tom Jones & Jeff Beck ★★
Sometimes We Cry, Tom Jones & Van Morrison ★★
Tower Of Song, Tom Jones ★★

If I Only Knew, Tom Jones
Hit Or Miss, Tom Jones
She’s A Lady, Tom Jones
In Style And Rhythm, Tom Jones
Goin’ Down Slow (Live), Tom Jones & Jeff Beck

Related Songs:

It’s Not Unusual, Willie Bobo ★★★
It’s Not Unusual (Instrumental), Willie Bobo

Hard Times, Ray Charles ★★★
Hard Times, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Hard Times (Live), The Crusaders ★★

Goin’ Down Slow, Duane Allman
Goin’ Down Slow (Alt), Howlin’ Wolf ★★

The Coasters

The Coasters are a rhythm and blues vocal group from New York, New York. Originally based in Los Angeles, California, the group’s career is linked to their primary songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Early in their career, Leiber and Stoller wrote and produced a series of popular songs for the Robins. After their initial success, they signed a contract to work for Atlantic Records in New York City. Leiber and Stoller encouraged the Robins to follow; two members of the group, Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner, joined them. Adding two singers and a guitarist, the band’s new name reflected the move from the west coast to the east coast. The Coasters experienced great success in the late fifties, with lively, amusing stories of American teenage life. The Coasters were the first band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.

Coasters

Wikipedia Biography of The Coasters
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Biography of the Coasters

The Group Roster During Their Prime:

Carl Gardner (1928-2011), vocals
Cornell Gunter (1936-1990), vocals
Wil “Dub” Jones (1928-2000), vocals
Billy Guy (1936-2002), vocals
Adolph Jacobs (b. 1939), guitar

Two Other Important Members:

Ulysses B. “Bobby” Nunn (1925-1986), vocals
Leon Hughes (b. 1929), vocals

Leiber, Stoller and Curtis

Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) and Mike Stoller (b. 1933), songwriters, producers
King Curtis (1934-1971), saxophone

Yakety Yak, Don’t Talk Back

Take out the papers and the trash,
Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash,
If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor,
You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)

“Just put on your coat and hat,
And walk yourself to the laundromat,
And when you finish doin’ that,
Bring in the dog and put out the cat.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)”

— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

“Yakety Yak” is a sub-two minute blast of shuffling rock and roll, punctuated by King Curtis’s saxophone iconic solo, which became known as “yakety sax”. The message is clear: finish your chores, or you don’t get to hang out with your friends tonight.

Three Cool Cats

My favorite Coasters song is “Three Cool Cats”, originally released as the flip side to the hit song “Charlie Brown” (Billboard #2, 1958). I learned about “Three Cool Cats” from The Beatles, who covered the song during their first major audition with Decca Records.

“Three cool cats, three cool cats.
Parked on the corner in a beat-up car,
Dividing up a nickel candy bar,
Talking all about how sharp they are, these
Three cool cats.

Three cool chicks, three cool chicks.
Walkin’ down the street, swingin’ their hips,
Splitting up a bag of potato chips,
And three cool cats did three big flips, for
Three cool chicks.

— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Through the course of this exercise it’s becoming apparent I place a high value on song lyrics like these. Simple words, laced with a hint of common slang, that paint complex images of modern America. I can taste my favorite candy bar, and I can feel those swingin’ hips walking in my direction. “Three Cool Cats” is easy enough for a child to sing, and the subject matter is funny, and important.

Complex, poetic lyrics can be deeply moving, but simple words that evoke powerful imagery are just as impressive.

Coasters Song Notes:

1. A longer version of “Three Cool Cats” has surfaced in recent years, and can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo. I discovered it a few years ago as “Take 11-12″ on an album called Charlie Brown, which no longer appears to be available.

2. Several alternate takes of “Yakety Yak” can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo.

3. I just learned that “Poison Ivy” is a sly ode to sexually transmitted disease. How did I not figure that out?

Coasters Songs:

Three Cool Cats (Take 11-12), The Coasters ★★★★

Three Cool Cats, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak (Take 5), The Coasters ★★★
Down In Mexico, The Coasters ★★★
Poison Ivy, The Coasters ★★★

Shoppin’ For Clothes, The Coasters ★★
Charlie Brown, The Coasters ★★

Young Blood, The Coasters
Searchin’ The Coasters
Along Came Jones, The Coasters

Riot In Cell Block #9, The Robins
Smokey Joe’s Cafe, The Robins
Framed, The Robins

Related Songs:

Three Cool Cats, The Beatles

Double Crossing Blues, Johnny Otis (with Little Esther and The Robins)