Monthly Archives: December 2013

45: “The Ballad of Jimi” b/w “Gloomy Monday” by Curtis Knight and Jimi Hendrix. EMI/Stateside C006-91963. Recorded 8/8/67 and 1970 in New York City.

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

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


Curtis Knight’s Wikipedia page claims that he was born in 1945, but one has to wonder if he gave a later birthdate at some point in his life to seem younger. He was part of a late 1950’s Harlem Doo Wop group called The Titans—that act was featured in the 1957 Hollywood Rock and Roll cash-in Bob Girl Goes Calypso. Here’s “So Hard to Love, So Easy to Cry.”

Very, very solid work. That was Charles Wright singing lead, with Curtis Knight as second tenor. Now, it was a common thing for Doo Wop groups to have teenaged members, but it’s hard to believe that anyone in this group is twelve years old. Whatever his age, Curtis wasn’t about to let the eventual decline of Doo Wop’s popularity hold him back. Here he is as a solo artist in 1961, with the moody “Voodoo Woman.”

A little more sophisticated than the typical Top 40 number, what with the additions of the glockenspiel and the gong. Things got interesting for Knight by the end of 1964, when he saw a young guitarist playing in Greenwich Village and was blown away. He’ was young, but had already toured  with the likes of Wilson Picket and Little Richard. Here he is backing up Buddy and Stacey, who had opened for Little Richard on that particular tour.

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78: “No Wine, No Women” b/w “Rough and Rocky Road” by Mr. Google-Eyes. Okeh 6820. Recorded in New Orleans, 11/21/49.

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

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


Joe “Mr. Google Eyes” August was born on September 13, 1931, in New Orleans. He cut his musical teeth as a member of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church choir, but it was the blues that really called to him. As a teenager, Joe worked as a delivery boy for Dooky Chase’s restaurant.  According to Dr. John’s autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of The Night Tripper, “…he loved to eye the ladies; one night a waiter called him “the googlest-eyed motherfucker” he’d ever seen, and the name stuck.” Mr. Google Eyes it was.

Joe would sometimes sit in with bands that played at Dooky Chase’s, and he used the money he earned to buy his own P.A. system, which proved to be a great way to get seasoned vets to give him a shot.  He soon got a steady gig at the Downbeat Club, playing with Roy Brown, who proved to be an influence on his vocal style. August made his debut for the black-owned Coleman Records with 1946’s “Poppa Stoppa’s Be-Bop Blues,” a song paying homage to New Orleans DJ Poppa Stoppa, aka Vernon Winslow. Louisiana wouldn’t allow black DJ’s on the air at that time, so it was Vernon’s job to teach the white DJ’s how to sound more hip; it must have worked, because three different white DJ’s at the same station would use the name Poppa Stoppa over the years. Also: apparently, Poppa Stoppa was a slang term for condoms. Makes sense to me.

He sounds a lot older than fifteen years old here, doesn’t he? Coleman capitalized on the novelty of Joe’s youth by proclaiming him “Mr. Google Eyes — the world’s youngest blues singer.”  Continue reading

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78: “Are You Hep to the Jive?” b/w “Sunset” by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra. Okeh 5804. Recorded in New York City, 08/05/40

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

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


Cab Calloway was born in 1907, in my hometown of Rochester, NY. We also gave the world Lou Gramm, Wendy O. Williams and Lydia Lunch. You’re welcome, world.

Cab’s mother was a teacher and his father a lawyer. They relocated to Baltimore in 1918, and it was there that Cab’s interest in music began. His parents encouraged this interest, though they weren’t thrilled with the idea of their son playing jazz. Blanche, Cab’s older sister, was also musically inclined and was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra. She was a big influence on her little brother, and even got him his first break with the show Plantation Days, in 1925. While attending college, Cab went out to hear and perform music as much as he could. Supposedly Louis Armstrong taught him how to scat at one of those early shows.

By 1930, Cab had put together an orchestra and was gaining such prominence in New York City that his group became one of two house bands at The Cotton Club. The other group? Duke Ellington’s band. Calloway’s reputation for putting on dazzling, flamboyant shows might have been seen as a commercially viable way to balance Duke’s more ambitious sophistication. When one group was on tour, the other stayed home; apparently Cab adopted Duke’s plan to get past racist Jim Crow laws when traveling: just buy a railroad car for the whole band.

Calloway’s biggest hit was also his first: 1931’s “Minnie the Moocher.” The song told the  comically grandiose tale of a good-time girl doing what she could to keep living the high life. And I do mean high—the song made reference to “kick(ing) the gong around,” slang for smoking opium. Most listeners had no idea.

Minnie is being saved for the big finish. In the meantime, here is one of three Betty Boop cartoons Cab made with the Fleischer brothers. This one features three songs, and like the other two cartoons, has a character whose motion is provided by Cab himself, via the magic of rotoscoping. Here he is, as “The Old Man of the Mountain.”

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45: “Gloomy Sunday,” “Am I Blue” b/w “Body and Soul,” “Long Gone Blues” by Billie Holiday and her Orchestra. Columbia B-2534. Recorded 08/07/41, 05/09/41, 02/29/40, and 03/21/39 in New York City.

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

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

When I find a 45 from an obscure Dutch progressive rock band, it isn’t that difficult to pick five or six songs that give a good sense of that band’s career arc. For other artists, that simply can’t be done—their influence is too strong, their lives too compelling, or their catalog simply runs too deep to attempt such an abbreviated presentation of their work. All of those conditions are met by Billie Holiday. So I’m going to include the songs on this 45 EP, and a couple of others of note, but as any fan of Billie’s will tell you, I’ll only be scratching the surface.

A little background. Billie was born Eleanora Fagan, in 1915, and raised by distant relatives in Philadelphia while her mother worked as a server on passenger trains. Her absent father was most likely Clarence Holiday, a musician who played with Fletcher Henderson’s band—Billie and Clarence would reconnect later in her life. She was in reform school for truancy at the age of 10, raped by a neighbor at the age of 11, and, after moving with her mother to Harlem, forced to join her as a prostitute at the age of 14. A childhood spent listening to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver gave her the confidence to develop a singing style that allowed for non-traditional phrasing and intonation, as if her voice was a cornet. She recorded songs for 26 years and sold out Carnegie Hall multiple times, but was hampered by addiction, racism and bad management. Her rendition of “Strange Fruit” is a stark cry against lynching and was one of the very first popular protest songs. She died in New York City in 1959 of cirrhosis of the liver, with police guarding her room in hopes of trying her for narcotics possession if she got better. She was an early example of the romantic doomed-addict-musician-whose-light-burned-too-bright-to-last notion, an idea which, ultimately, gets in the way of appreciating exactly how good she was as a singer and how painful her life must have actually been.

Here’s her very first single, “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law.” It was recorded with Benny Goodman and his orchestra for Columbia on November 27, 1933. Note how she had yet to settle into the higher register that would later become her trademark.

Fun, jaunty stuff. Continue reading

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