Monthly Archives: August 2013

78: “Under a Texas Moon” w/ “I’m Following You” by Carolina Club Orchestra. Okeh 41360. Recorded in New York City, December 27, 1929.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

The Carolina Club Orchestra was the creation of Hal Kemp, who was actually born in Marion, Alabama. A gifted musician, he played piano at Marion’s Bonita Theater while still a child. His family eventually moved to Charlottte, North Carolina, where he attended Central High School. It was there that he formed his first band, a five piece group known as The Merrymakers.

Kemp attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1922. It was there that he formed the Carolina Club Orchestra, which became successful enough to tour Europe during summer vacations. Kemp never graduated, opting instead to take the band to New York City, where they would record with Brunswick, Melotone, and Okeh Records. A good example of their kind of jazz can be found in the sophisticated swing of “She’s a Great, Great Girl.”

Nice, right? Catchy, pleasing melodies on top with some nice back and forth between the horns underneath, making it a song that is smarter than it at first seems.

“Under a Texas Moon” is a more placid affair, but still a lovely listen.

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45: “Memories” w/ “From the End Till the Beginning” by Earth and Fire. Polydor 2050 179. German edition. Recorded in 1972.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Earth and Fire were formed in 1968 by brothers Chris (guitar) and Gerard (keyboards) Koerts. Vocalist Jerney Kaagman joined in 1969, and drummer Ton van der Kleij joined in 1970. Once this lineup was established, the hits began.

At least, they did in Europe. A number of the 45s that I’m surveying at the archive right now seem to be German Polydor discs from the early 1970’s. Which is not to say that they are all from German artists—they’re German editions of artists from all over Europe, and occasionally the States. Earth and Fire were Dutch. “Seasons” gives a good example of the their early sound.

As does “Ruby Is the One.”

Lip syncing fails are always embarrassing, but in my opinion, drum syncing fails (2:27) are even worse.  Of course, that’s probably because I’m a drummer.

Their sound at this point is often referred to as Progressive Rock, but it sounds more like the Psychedelic rock of Jefferson Airplane than anything by King Crimson or Supersister. It’s just good, solid, post-Woodstock rock music. As is “Invitation,” from 1971’s Song of the Marching Children.

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78: “Bullfrog Moan” b/w “A Handful of Riffs” by Lonnie Johnson and Blind Willie Dunn. Okeh 8695. Recorded in New York City, 5/15/29 & 5/08/29.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Blind Willie Dunn was actually Eddie Lang, who adopted the name because it sounded “bluesier,” or more “urban,” or, uh, “black.” Eddie was white and was making a good name for himself playing with old schoolmate Joe Venuti when this was recorded. Whether the name change was his idea or that of someone behind the scenes at Okeh Records is unclear, but what is clear is that the record-buying public, in the 1920’s, was unfamiliar—and would be uncomfortable— with black and white performers recording together. Indeed, the songs Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson recorded were arguably the very first.

Lang’s genius has been discussed here before, so let’s focus on Lonnie Johnson. Born into a musical family in 1899, Lonnie Johnson was adept at piano, violin, and mandolin, but early on decided to focus on the guitar. In 1919, Lonnie returned from touring England with Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra to find that his family—all but one brother—had been taken by the influenza epidemic of the previous year. Lonnie and his Brother James started over in St. Louis 1920. By 1925, Lonnie was married to blues singer Mary Johnson. Not only that, he also won a musical contest with a doozy of a prize: a recording contract with Okeh records

As these songs will attest, Lonnie was not a typical blues player. He didn’t think so either; Johnson entered the contest to have a chance to record, even though he thought of himself as more of a jazz player at the time. But the blues label stuck. Fortunately for all of us, Johnson apparently treated that categorical box like a playpen and did whatever he liked within it. On “Bullfrog Moan,” the structure and descending scale of the blues is sweetened with an adept use of the 12 string guitar, its low notes ably suggesting the titular amphibian.

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45: “Fire” b/w “If This Is Wrong” by Robert Gordon w/ Link Wray. Private Stock 45203. Recorded in New York City, 1978.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in 1947, Robert Gordon spent his Bethesda, Maryland childhood devoted to Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and other rock and roll pioneers. The sixties were spent ignoring the British Invasion bands and focusing on soul singers like James Brown and Otis Redding. After his stint in the National Guard, Robert moved to New York City.

By the mid-70’s, Robert was singing in the Tuff Darts, a punk band that, like the Ramones and Johnny Thunders, had a deep love for 50’s rock. Here’s “All For the Love of Rock and Roll.”

Producer Richard Gotterher was impressed with Robert’s voice and invited him to do a solo recording, suggesting that he work with Link Wray. Robert was probably thrilled at the idea of working with an early rock hero like Link.

You don’t know Link Wray? Sure, you do. You’ve heard his music. Listen to this.

Right? One of the most famous rock instrumentals ever.  Jimmy Page is a big fan.

Private Stock Records released Robert Gordon with Link Wray in 1977. It featured some Wray originals and some well-chosen covers, like this faithful take on Billy Lee Riley’s 1958 hit “Red Hot.”

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78: “Lost” b/w “One-Armed Love” by Ace Ball. Okeh 18047. Recorded 02/08/54.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Not much could be found on Ace Ball’s early life. He was born Arthur Balch in 1920 in New Home, Texas. By 1948, he was playing guitar and recording with Hank Harral and His Palomino Cowhands. Here they are with the country artist checklist “Dream Band Boogie.”

Not bad. But by the early 1950’s, Ace was ready to strike out on his own. In 1953, he made four recordings for Okeh, none of which could be found online. The session in 1954 also produced four songs, and, fortunately, three of them could be found. Here’s “Lost.”

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45: “Local Girls” b/w “I Want You Back” by Graham Parker and The Rumour. Arista AS 0420. Recorded in 1979.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Graham Parker was born in London in 1950. By the age of 15 he was going to clubs that played the soul and ska music that he loved so dearly. He didn’t learn to play a guitar until he was 18, but by the age of 21 he had been recruited to play in a psychedelic band called Pegasus. Parker had been traveling across Europe and Northern Africa at the time, and the band had a steady gig playing in nightclubs in Tangier, Morocco. Upon his return to the UK the following year, he committed himself to improving his playing and songwriting, perhaps, in part, to have more direction over his career and not have to play with hippies who only write songs in A Minor ever again. By 1975 a few rough demos were recorded by Dave Robinson, who was about to found Stiff Records. One of those songs made it onto Stiff’s introductory compilation, A Bunch of Stiff Records. Here it is: “Back to Schooldays.”

That song would also find it’s way onto Parker’s debut album, Howling Wind, which also featured “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions.”

Parker was playing with a seasoned pub rock backing band called The Rumour. Their experience, combined with Nick Lowe’s lean production, helped make for a powerful version of Angry Young Man. It is worth noting here that Parker is often compared to Joe Jackson and, especially, Elvis Costello. Having a member of Costello’s band produce your first couple of records certainly doesn’t help. Continue reading

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78: “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” b/w “Three Night’s Experience” by Earl Johnson and his Dixie Entertainers. Okeh 45092. Recorded February 21, 1927.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born Robert Earl Johnson in Gwinnett County, Georgia in 1886, Earl Johnson learned how to play the fiddle from his father and the violin from a correspondence course. He became adept at both instruments—which was pretty unusual for the time—but found the fiddle to be better suited to creative expression. In his own words:

“Back when I was younger I got the idea that violin music might be better than fiddle music so I gave it a good try. I studied several months under a well-known teacher and the longer I worked the more I realized that the fiddle furnished the superior type of music. The violinist doesn’t play his own music he translates somebody else’s ideas. And he concentrates so hard on getting his notes, his rests and all the other details the way the composer wrote them that he (can’t) put himself into the music. But a fiddler can cut loose, if he doesn’t like the tune he can improve on it.”

By 1922, his ability to improve on an established tune lead to a number of appearances on Atlanta’s WSB, aka “The Voice of the South.” Fiddlin’ John Carson was also a regular on that station, and he asked Earl to join his group, The Virginia Reelers. Over 50 recordings for Okeh were to follow.

By 1927, Earl was ready to spread his wings and record with his own group—and even try his hand at singing. Okeh had no problem with that, so guitarist Byrd Moore and banjoist Emmett Bankston were recruited and Earl Johnson and His Dixie Entertainers was born. This particular 78 is from their very first recording date in 1927. Take a listen to this ode to the good life, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Note the mention of a lady who “…runs a weenie stand/Way down in no man’s land/Nobody’s business if I do.”

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45: “You Really Got Me” b/w “Willie the Pimp” by Stack Waddy. Dandelion/Polydor 2001 331. Recorded in London, 1972.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Stack Waddy started out as an R&B group in 1965 called New Religion. By 1969 their name had changed and the heaviness of their sound had increased significantly. When Radio 1 DJ/producer extraordinaire John Peel saw them play in their native Manchester, he knew they’d fit in on his new label, Dandelion Records, so he signed them up.

Stack Waddy came with a reputation as a wild, irreverent live band that could consistently leave pub audiences satisfied; which was good, because it sounds like being pelted with beer bottles was a not uncommon response to 70’s British pub rockers who weren’t up to snuff. Comparisons to Humble Pie, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath are as warranted as they are complimentary. Check out “Hunt the Stag,” an original from their self-titled debut album.

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