Monthly Archives: February 2014

78: “Black and Tan Fantasy” b/w “What Can a Poor Fellow Do?” by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra. Okeh 40955. Recorded 11/03/27 in New York City.

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

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

Anyone out there expecting a comprehensive, biographical take on Duke Ellington from me can forget it. I’d have no time to listen to music or make music if I were to attempt to do the man justice, and it’s hard enough getting people to read a 1,000 word blogpost, let alone a 1,000 page blogpost. Big fans of Ellington’s who happen to read this will, understandably, be disappointed by the glaring omissions—both canonical and those subject to personal taste. Righteous anger at the seemingly inaccurate way another person describes a favorite musician or songwriter is, of course, a sign of love for the person being described.

With that in mind, a brief biography: Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in Washington, D.C. in 1899. His parents were both pianists, and he started taking lessons at the age of seven, though baseball was of greater interest at the time. Apparently, President Teddy Roosevelt used to pass by on his horse and watch Duke and his friends play. He took music more seriously in his teens and was leading bands in D.C. and Virginia by his early twenties, playing to both black and white audiences, which was pretty unusual at that time. He soon moved to New York City and took the coveted Cotton Club house band engagement when King Oliver turned it down, and the exposure from the club’s radio show helped introduce him to the rest of America. He was a master at making three minute songs—that’s as much as a 78 side would generally allow—as tonally and structurally sophisticated as possible. That knowledge would pay off years later when LPs allowed for more ambitious pieces.

Ellington continued to make music into the 1970’s, just before his death. Over the course of over 50 years of recordings and performances he stretched the boundaries of popular music and blurred the lines between swing, bop, and even classical music. He rightly believed that jazz was a limiting descriptor, and he preferred that his work simply be referred to as American music. Fair enough.

So. The disc in question was released in 1928, hot on the heels of Duke’s first big hit, “Creole Love Call.” That one proved to be a big hit for collaborator Adelaide Hall, as well.

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45: “Orphans” b/w “Less of Me” by Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Migraine Records~Lust/Unlust CC-333. Recorded February, 1978 in New York City.

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

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

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

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

Folks from Rochester take a lot of pride in our ability to deal with winter weather. This has been an unusually harsh winter here in New York City, but compared to storms in which two feet of snow fall over the course of a day, it hasn’t been that bad. Something else that defines Rochestarians is a desire to get the hell out, which is what Lydia Lunch did at the age of sixteen, in 1976. She moved to New York City in part because she was a big fan of The New York Dolls: “I felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body, and here were men trapped in women’s clothing.” Her confrontational attitude served her well in her new home of late-70’s downtown Manhattan. She fell in with some like-minded creative types—like Alan Vega and Martin Rev of Suicide—and it didn’t take long for her to start making music. This recording of “My Eyes” is from 1977, though it wasn’t released until 1980:

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“You Belong to Me” b/w “I Feel So Right Tonight” by Annie Laurie. Okeh 6915. Recorded in New Orleans, 11/01/1951.

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

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

I first noticed this disc because of the rhyme in the title. As someone who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, I heard rockers rhyme “tonight” with “feels so right” way, way too often. Very lazy rhyming, like rhyming “love” with “angels up above.” But maybe this was the first time anyone had rhymed the offending words? I didn’t know, and I still don’t.

But that doesn’t matter, because documenting this disc piqued my curiosity about Annie Laurie, and I’m very glad that I did. And no, this is not regarding the Scottish poem about a lass named Annie Laurie that was set to music. James Dunn’s rendition from the film adaptation of  A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is pretty great, though.

No, this is about Annie Laurie the Jump Blues/R&B singer, a.k.a Dinah Washington’s favorite singer. She was born in Atlanta but moved to New Orleans in the mid-40’s, where she met bandleader/songwriter Paul Gayten, who helped get her early songs off the ground. Her highest-charting song, “Since I Fell For You,” was a Gayten production from 1947. It went to #3 on the R&B charts and #20 on the Pop, and yet an online clip of the tune doesn’t seem to exist. Why? Multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement, most likely from a company that bought the rights to the song decades ago and has no plans of re-releasing it. Thanks a lot, guys.

Fortunately, some of the other songs that she recorded for the Regal label still exist on the internet, including this slow and sultry duet with Paul Gayten from 1950: “I’ll Never Be Free.”

 

That one made it up to #4 on the R&B charts. Unfortunately, Regal folded in 1951, so Annie moved on to Okeh in 1952. Over the course of three years, they released six of her singles. All of them are good and some of them are great. None of them managed to chart, unfortunately. I’m not sure why, though it could have been a problem in with how the songs were promoted. The A side (the side radio stations were encouraged to play) of the disc in question, for example, is good but not great. Here’s “You Belong to Me.”

 

The B side, though, is fantastic. The exuberance and raw energy just pops right through the speakers. This is “I Feel So Right Tonight.”

 

Of course, lyrics like “You don’t have to tell me what you’re gonna do/’ll leave it up to you/Close  all the windows, stop all the doors/Take me daddy and make me yours” might have something to do with this song’s relegation to B side status.

And  if that man starts closing windows and stopping doors in the homes of other women? 1953’s “Stop Talkin’ and Start Walkin’” is the swinging answer, with a killer saxophone solo halfway through.

 

1954’s “I’m In the Mood For You” is a sign of things to come. The sound is a little cleaner, Annie’s vocal is less rowdy—more Sarah Vaughn than Big Maybelle—and the saxophone is replaced by electric guitar. Still a lot better than 90% of what was on the radio at the time.

 

By 1957, Annie had moved on from Okeh to DeLuxe, and scored a #3 on the R&B charts with “It Hurts To Be In Love.” It’s a decent song, but it’s hard not to wonder what it would have sounded like if Annie had recorded it five or six years earlier. The corny backing harmonies wouldn’t have been included, that’s for sure.

 

Annie’s last hit came in 1960, with “If You’re Lonely,” a lovely slow burn of a number that makes good use of reverb on her vocals. And that high note at 2:06 seems to come out of nowhere, yet it also makes perfect sense. This song, no doubt, reunited many a  squabbling teen couple when it was played at the school dance.

 

A few years later, Annie said goodbye to Rhythm and Blues and devoted herself to Gospel music and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to hear more from her, and that the success she deserved was sporadic at best. But I’m glad to have discovered what there is to be found, even if I still don’t know if she was the first singer to rhyme “tonight” with “feels so right.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“Bed of Lies” b/w “Chains of Freedom” by Cruzados. Arista 109 488. German release. Recorded in 1987 in Los Angeles.

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

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

I’ve made it to a new set of shelves in the archive that provides the jumping-off points of all of this musical goodness. For the first time, I’‘m starting to see singles from bands from the 1980‘s, and we’ll probably be going over a lot of those in the weeks and months to come. Let’s begin with Cruzados.

The story of Cruzados can not begin without telling the story of The Plugz. The Plugs were a Chicano punk band from Los Angeles that formed in 1977 and disbanded in 1984. Tito Lavarria (vocals/guitar), Charlie Quintana (drums) and Barry McBride (bass/backing vocals) came together and, in the manner of punk rockers, took pride in their musical heritage while mocking it at the same time. The reverence/irreverence ratio is in the ear of the listener. To wit—their cover of “La Bamba:”

 

By 1983, The Plugz had a more polished and eclectic sound—their second album, 1981’s Better Luck, even featured a horn section. They contributed a number of songs to the Repo Man soundtrack, including this cover of the Johnny Rivers hit “Secret Agent Man.” Here’s “Hombre Secreto.”

 

Charlie and new bassist Tony Marsico became friends with Bob Dylan, sometimes having loose sessions at his house in L.A. A year after they’d started playing together, Dylan  called them up to join him on his Late Night with David Letterman appearance, in which he played three songs. Here they are, along with guitarist J.J. Holiday, performing  “License to Kill.”

 

A few months after that broadcast, The Plugz became Cruzados and embraced a more commercial sound. But commercial was a pretty relative term in the mid-eighties. While the songs had a fair amount of studio sheen, they still felt more human than what could be typically found in the Top 40. Their sound—hitting a sweet spot between bar rock, blues and country— was right in time for the creation of VH1, once a home for Adult Contemporary music videos, believe it or not. From their self-titled debut, here’s “Motorcycle Girl.”

 

New guitarist Steven Hufsteter had a few writing credits on the album, including this look at artistic ennui called “Hanging Out In California.”

 

 

Hufsteter had left the band when it was time to record the second album, After Dark. Marshal Roehner took his place, and quite ably, if this song is any indication. Here’s the single I found in the archive, sharing shelf space with so many other forgotten 80’s bands: “Bed of Lies.”

 

 

There was no third Cruzados album, unfortunately. They had contributed three songs to the soundtrack to cult favorite Road House, but none of them made it onto the album. You can still see them play at the beginning of the movie, and the song was later released on a collection of their unreleased rarities. Here’s “Don’t Throw Stones.”

 

That song sounds like a band hitting its stride, but just it wasn’t in the cards. As main songwriter and singer Tito Lavirra put it,

“The Cruzados started at the tail end of the punk scene, the way I see it, we were punk rockers at heart and in true punk rock fashion we said fuck you to the punk establishment because for us it was over. We changed our name from Plugz to the Cruzados and went in a totally different musical direction. I felt we were on to something but like most bands in the mid 80’s, coke and too much fun cut the ride short”

 Tito would go on to form Tito & Tarantula, who were prominently featured in the Robert Rodriguez films Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn. Tony Marsico would go on to play bass for Matthew Sweet, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many others. Charlie Quintana played with Izzy Stradlin and the JuJu Hounds and then later Social Distortion.  Marshall Rohner went on to play guitar for T.S.O.L. but, unfortunately, died in 2005 of AIDS-related causes.

Let’s close with Tito & Tarantula’s version of a song from the first Cruzados album. This is “La Flor de Mal.”

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