Tony Joe White: That on the Road Look “Live”

January 6th, 2020

Outstanding, yet long neglected, 1971 live set

Though originally planned for commercial release, this 1971 multitrack recording sat in Warner Brothers’ vaults for nearly forty years. Rhino Handmade released a limited edition CD in 2010, but it’s taken nearly another decade for these tapes to find a full retail release. Opening for Creedence Clearwater Revival, White is in great voice, his “whomper stomper” wah-wah pedal sets his electric guitar deep in the swamp, and he’s backed by a tight band that includes White’s longtime drummer Sammy Creason and organist Mike Utley, alongside MG’s bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Together they work through more than an hour of material that mixes selections from White’s earlier tenure on Monument and his then-current run for Warners, including “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Willie and Laura Mae,” and a ten-minute version of “Polk Salad Annie.” White connects deeply with the folk side of his material in this small group setting, often setting down his electric guitar for an acoustic that leaves more room for the gritty, intimate soulfulness of his voice. This is an outstanding set that catches a unique artist on the rise, and a must-have for all of White’s fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Tony Joe White’s Home Page

Various Artists: Land of 1,000 Dances – The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection

January 3rd, 2020

Landmark catalog of the West Coast Eastside Sound

Like many regional music scenes, the West Coast Eastside Sound was a one-of-a-kind confluence of artists, managers, record labels, entrepreneurs, nightclubs, radio DJs, and commercial and social circumstances. As detailed in this set’s introductory liner notes and  label history, a key  sociological spark that informed the Eastside’s musical development was race restrictions in Los Angeles clubs that led African-American artists to gig on the Eastside. This seeded the area’s Mexican and Chicano musicians with an R&B foundation to which they added flavors of Rancheras, Nortenos, and Salsas, and jacked up with the energy of doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. Local labels, including Del-Fi, Chattahoochie, Whittier, Faro, Linda, Boomerang, Prospect, Valhalla, Gordo and Rampart built a recording scene, and it’s the latter’s catalog of singles that is featured here.

Eddie Davis, Rampart’s founder, first entered the music industry as a child member of the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, appearing in a 1941 documentary (Forty Boys and a Song) and backing Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way. He joined the Navy in World War II, studied music at the College of the Pacific, owned a succession of restaurants, and returned to a quickly aborted singing career before founding his first label, Faro, in 1958. Faro led to the founding of Rampart in 1961 with the debut of Phil & Harv’s romantic ballad “Darling (Please Bring Your Love)” and its joyous New Orleans-tinged flipside cover of Cole Porter’s  “Friendship.”

Davis initially employed the mixed-race, Oxnard-based Mixtures as a backing band, but also pulled in A-listers from Los Angeles. A third label, Linda, was established in 1962, the same year that Davis branched into the promotion of teen dances. As with the Los Angeles club laws that incentivized bands to book shows on the Eastside, the city’s prohibition of for-profit teen dances led Davis to promote shows in Pomona’s Rainbow Gardens, outside the reach of the big city’s restrictions. And as with the club shows, the teen dances exposed the Eastside’s Mexican-American audiences, and more importantly,  its local musicians, to the cream of Los Angeles’ R&B acts.

Rampart’s early years included a Ray Charles-styled cover of “Home on the Range,” hot guitar and sax-led instrumentals, and with the Atlantics’ B-side “Beaver Shot,” the introduction of a horn section. The label hit its commercial apex with Cannibal & The Headhunters’ 1965 cover of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” memorably built on the incantory “Na, Na Na Na Na” improvisation, and on its original, uncut version, a revival-styled intro. Both the original and edited-for-radio single are included here. The single’s success led Cannibal and the Headhunters to television appearances and an opening slot on the Beatles 1965 U.S. tour – including shows at Shea Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl – yet the group was unable to extend their commercial breakthrough. Three follow-up singles, including the “1000 Dances” knockoff “Nau Ninny,” and the sunny, King Curtis-backed “Follow the Music,” failed to click, and the band moved on from Rampart to Date.

Rampart continued its releases  the 1960s with singles by the Atlantics, Souljers, Summits, and Four Tempos. There were Sam & Dave-styled duets, boogaloo workouts, uptempo soul, beseeching ballads, and even the socially-conscious philosophy of Pvt. Randy Thomas’ “The Great Crusade.” In 1968 the Village Callers released the oft-sampled (and recently “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” soundtrack featured) “Hector” with a sophisticated soul organ lead backed by a powerful rhythm track and horn chart. The soul turned swampier on the B-side “Mississippi Delta,” and the East Bay Soul Brass worked out with sax, trumpet and organ on “The Cat Walk.” The label continued to imaginatively mix 50s-styled  throwback ballads, airier mid-tempo late ‘60s soul, and foreground Latin flavors, pulling in both original and cover material for an evolving slate of artists.

A four year break from 1972 to 1976 found the label returning with the Eastside Connection’s update on the traditional “La Cucaracha,” and kicked off a short string of disco singles. The label’s sporadic subsequent releases included rock, new wave, uptempo Spanish-language synth dance numbers, but without the earthy soul of the earlier years essayed on the set’s first three discs. In addition to the introductory notes from Luis Luis J. Rodriquez and label history from Don Waller, the 102-page book includes a photo essay of Cannibal and the Headhunters on the road in shows promoted by Murray the K, Dick Clark and Motown, opening for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles in 1965, and performing on television’s Hullabaloo and It’s What’s Happening.

This is a rich document of a label born at the confluence of social circumstances, musical influences and commercial opportunity. Having the B-sides is particularly gratifying, as the label rarely shortchanged the flips – the Atlantics’ novelty “Sonny & Cher” B-side notwithstanding. To gain a full picture of the Eastside Sound, listeners will need to track down material from sister labels Faro and Donna, and key releases from Thee Midniters, The Romancers and other Eastside icons, but you could hardly find a better place to start enjoying and appreciating this unique moment in musical history than with this incredible set. Issued in a limited run of 1000, pick this one up before it becomes a collectors item alongside the original vinyl singles! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Essential Reissues of 2019

January 2nd, 2020

Some of the best reissues of 2019. Click the titles to find full reviews and music samples.

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

A towering achievement in musical archaeology, even when measured against Bear Family’s stratospherically high standard. Reissue producer Scott B. Bomar digs deeply into Bakersfield’s musical soil to explore the migrant roots that coalesced into the history, connections, influences and circumstances that forged the Bakersfield Sound. Ten discs, nearly three-hundred tracks, and a 224-page hardcover book essay the scenes development, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars blossomed from their roots. Reissue of the year.

Various Artists: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records – The Definitive Collection

Triple-disc set cataloging the riches of Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon’s Chicago-based labels, including Bea & Baby, Key, Keyhole, Ronald and Miss. Competing with Chess, Vee-Jay, Brunswick and Delmark in the early ‘60s, the entrepreneurial Eatmon sourced acts through his Show Lounge nightclub, and built a small, but artistically important catalog that includes blues, soul, R&B doo-wop and Latin-tinged numbers. The accompanying 128-page hardbound book includes a lengthy interview with Eatmon, alongside producer’s notes, liners, and artist profiles.

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be Motown’s most widely heard unsung singer. She recorded dozens of sides for the Detroit powerhouse, but only a few ever made it to market. At the same time, she was heard weekly by millions of television viewers as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. Her many fans have lobbied for years to “free Blinky from the vaults,” and with Real Gone’s two-CD set, their wish has finally been granted.

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles 1971-1975

The third of three double-disc sets cataloging Buck Owens’ singles on Capitol. Though he didn’t have the same level of commercial success in the early 1970s that he’d had throughout the 1960s, his artistry was undimmed, and his omnivorous musical appetite was still unsated. Recording primarily in his own Bakersfield studio, he covered material from outside the country realm, and stretched out from his classic Telecaster-and-steel sound to incorporate pop, bluegrass and gospel. A strong and fulfilling chapter of the Buck Owens legacy.

Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings

Third try is the charm. Williams’ 1949 radio transcriptions for patent medicine sponsor Hadacol have slowly been resuscitated and restored over a series of releases, culminating in this best-yet edition. In a year that saw Williams transition from the Hayride to the Opry, and evolve his material from a cover of “Love Sick Blues” to the iconic original “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” these eight shows capture Williams on a fast-moving train to stardom. This new restoration attends to both the physical issues of the source transcriptions and the aural issues of earlier remasters.

Van Duren: Waiting – The Van Duren Story

Following Big Star by a few years, Van Duren suffered the same lack of renown as his fellow Memphians. Though Big Star’s public renown grew over the decades, Duren has remained obscure. A limited edition Japanese reissue of his 1977 debut failed to spread the word, and his follow-up album remained vaulted for decades. But with this documentary soundtrack sampling the rich Badfinger/Rundgren sounds of his late-70s power-pop, Duren’s music may finally reach the sympathetic ears it deserves.

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

This springboard for Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball was well-known in their adopted Austin, and among in-the-know music fans; but their instrumental finesse and joyous mix of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing was too sophisticated for reduction to a commercial concern. Omnivore’s reissue of the group’s 1974 debut polishes the brilliant gem by doubling the original track count with eleven bonus demos and live recordings.

Yum Yum: Dan Loves Patti

The conflagration of criticism and meta-criticism that burned this release to a crisp two years after its release is one of the stranger chapters in pop critic history. Yum Yum’s Chris Holmes was, according to his former roommate Thomas Frank, a prankster faking out his record company in a quixotic bid to supplant corporate Alternative Rock with finely crafted orchestral pop. Absurd on its face, Frank’s critique caught fire in an escalating war of meta-criticism. More than twenty years later, Holmes’ creation remains sweetly satisfying to those with a taste for candy.

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters: Many Years Ago

Triple-disc set pulling together the great Boston band’s entire first-run catalog, including pre-signing demos and an indie single, two albums and a live EP for Warner Brothers, a post-Warner EP, demos, session tracks, and live material. The music rings with the passion of its author and the intensity of the band’s playing.

The Strangeloves: I Want Candy

Three Australian sheep-farming brothers turned out to be a trio of New York songwriter-producers coping with the British Invasion. The authors of the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back” turned themselves into a beat group with the earworms “I Want Candy,” “Cara-Lin” and “Night Time,” and waxed a full album of catchy Bo Diddley beats. Reissued on red vinyl, the original mono mix delivers an AM radio gut punch and an object lesson in the power of mid-60s mono vs. stereo.

Various Artists: That’ll Flat Git It! Vol. 32
Twenty-eight years and thirty-two volumes in, there is still life in Bear Family’s rockabilly anthology series. This latest edition takes a fourth trip into the vaults of Decca, Brunswick and Coral, and turns up a surprising number of worthy sides. The label’s typical attention to detail fills out a 39-page booklet with period photos, label reproductions, and knowledgeable liner notes by Bill Dahl.

In Memoriam: 2019

December 31st, 2019

Dr. John, 1941-2019

Some of the musicians, songwriters, producers, engineers, managers, agents, broadcasters, journalists, industry executives, and studio and club owners who passed away in 2019.

Listen to a selection of these artists on Spotify.

Pegi Young, singer-songwriter, and former wife of Neil Young
Daryl Dragon, keyboard player and producer (Captain & Tennille, Beach Boys)
Steve Ripley, singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer (The Tractors)
Alvin Fielder, jazz drummer
Eric Haydock, British bassist and founding member of The Hollies
Phil Thomas, country songwriter (“Me and the I.R.S.”)
Alan R. Pearlman, audio engineer and founder of ARP Instruments
Jimmy Hannan, Australian singer and television host
Clydie King, session and solo singer (Ray Charles, Bob Dylan)
Dave Laing, English writer, editor and broadcaster (Let It Rock)
Joseph Jarman, jazz musician (Art Ensemble of Chicago) and Buddhist priest
Larry Cunningham, R&B singer (The Floaters)
Bonnie Guitar, country singer and guitarist (“Dark Moon“) and label owner
Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer, country songwriter (“All My Ex’s Live in Texas”)
Willie Murphy, blues musician, singer, songwriter and producer
Carol Channing, Tony winning actress, singer and dancer
Lorna Doom, punk rock bassist (Germs)
Rita Vidaurri, ranchera singer
Chris Wilson, Australian blues musician
Debi Martini, punk rock bassist and singer (Red Aunts)
Reggie Young, guitarist (Bill Black’s Combo, American Sound Studio)
Ted McKenna, Scottish drummer (Alex Harvey, Rory Gallagher)
Marcel Azzola, French accordionist (Jacques Brel, Edith PIaf)
Kaye Ballard, actress (The Mothers-in-Law) and singer
Edwin Birdsong, funk keyboardist
Maxine Brown, country singer and songwriter (The Browns)
Mike Ledbetter, blues singer and guitarist
Bruce Corbitt, speed metal singer (Rigor Mortis, Warbeast)
Terry Jennings, manager, publisher, author and son of Waylon Jennings
Andy Anderson, drummer (The Cure, Steve Hillage)
Michel Legrand, Oscar-winning French composer, conductor and jazz pianist
Paul Whaley, rock drummer (The Oxford Circle, Blue Cheer)needed]
James Ingram, R&B singer and songwriter
Harold Bradley, Nashville first call session guitarist

George Klein, disc jockey and friend of Elvis Presley
Lonnie Simmons, songwriter and producer (The Gap Band)
Harvey Scales, soul singer and songwriter (“Love-Itis” “Disco Lady”)
Joe Hardy, producer and engineer (ZZ Top, Replacements, Steve Earle)
Connie Jones, jazz trumpeter
Willy Lambregt, Belgian rock musician (The Scabs)
Kofi Burbridge, multi-instrumentalist (Tedeschi Trucks Band)
Ken Nordine, voice-over announcer, recording artist and radio host
Ethel Ennis, jazz singer
Skip Groff, record store and label owner, producer and DJ
Artie Wayne, songwriter, record producer, and industry executive
Fred Foster, producer (Roy Orbison) and label founder (Monument)
Gerard Koerts, Dutch keyboard player, songwriter and producer
Peter Rüchel, German co-founder of Rockpalast
Gus Backus, doo-wop (The Del-Vikings) and schlager singer
Jackie Shane, transgender soul singer (“Any Other Way” “Walking the Dog”)
Peter Tork, bassist, banjo player and singer (The Monkees)
Ira Gitler, jazz historian and critic
Mac Wiseman, bluegrass singer and guitarist
Mark Hollis, English singer and songwriter (Talk Talk)
Andy Anderson, 68, English rock drummer (The Cure, The Glove)
Doug Sandom, English drummer (The Detours, The Who)
Stephan Ellis, rock bassist (Survivor)
André Previn, Oscar-winning composer, pianist and conductor

Paul Williams, British singer (John Mayall, Juicy Lucy)
Al Hazan, pianist (B. Bumble and the Stingers)
Leo de Castro, New Zealand funk and soul singer
Keith Flint, English singer and dancer (The Prodigy)
Sara Romweber, rock drummer (Let’s Active)
James Dapogny, jazz musicologist and pianist
Mike Grose, British bassist (Queen)
Asa Brebner, guitarist, singer and songwriter (Modern Lovers, Chartbusters)
Charlie Karp, guitarist, songwriter, jingle writer and documentarian
Dave Aron, recording engineer and producer
Hal Blaine, session drummer (The Wrecking Crew)
Danny Kustow, English rock guitarist (Tom Robinson Band)
John Kilzer, singer, songwriter and minister
Shelly Liebowitz, record executive, promoter, producer and manager
Justin Carter, country singer
Dick Dale, surf rock guitarist (“Let’s Go Trippin’” “Miserlou“)
Dave White, rock ‘n’ roll singer and songwriter (Danny & the Juniors)
Bernie Tormé, Irish guitarist, singer and songwriter (Ozzy Osbourne)
Andre Williams, R&B singer and songwriter (“Shake a Tail Feather“)
Scott Walker, American-born British singer-songwriter (The Walker Brothers)
Ranking Roger, British singer (The Beat, General Public)
Stephen Fitzpatrick, British pop/rock musician (Her’s)
Audun Laading, Norwegian pop/rock musician (Her’s)
Joe Flannery, early booking manager for the Beatles
Bob Stewart, British radio broadcaster (Radio Luxembourg)
Margaret Lewis Warwick, country and rockabilly singer-songwriter
Billy Adams, rockabilly singer and songwriter (“Rock, Pretty Mama”)
Geoff Harvey, Australian composer and music director (Midday)
Nipsey Hussle, rapper (“Feelin’ Myself“, “FDT”)

Rick Elias, CCM musician (A Ragamuffin Band)
Kim English, house and gospel singer-songwriter
Shawn Smith, singer, songwriter and musician (Brad, Pigeonhed)
Tiger Merritt, singer and guitarist (Morning Teleportation)
Samuel Pilafian, classical, jazz, pop and rock tuba player
Jim Glaser, country singer and songwriter (Tompall & the Glaser Brothers)
Earl Thomas Conley, country singer-songwriter
Gary Stewart, music executive and archivist (Rhino Records, Apple)
Bobby Gale, Canadian radio DJ, record industry executive, promoter
Johnny Hutchinson, English rock and roll drummer (The Big Three)
Paul Raymond, English guitarist and keyboardist (UFO)
Les Reed, English songwriter (“It’s Not Unusual”), pianist and producer
Joe Terry, rock and roll singer (Danny & the Juniors)
Kent Harris, R&B songwriter (“Shoppin’ for Clothes”) and producer
Eddie Tigner, blues pianist, singer and songwriter
Jim Dunbar, radio broadcaster (WXYZ, WLS, KGO)
Dave Samuels, percussionist (Spyro Gyra)
David Winters, actor (West Side Story), dancer, choreographer (Hullabaloo)
Dick Rivers, French rock and roll singer (Les Chats Sauvages)
Michiro Endo, Japanese punk rock musician (The Stalin)
Phil McCormack, rock singer (Molly Hatchet)
Jah Stitch, Jamaican reggae singer
Russ Gibb, radio DJ, concert impresario (Grande Ballroom) and teacher
Boon Gould, English guitarist (Level 42)

John Starling, bluegrass vocalist, guitarist and songwriter
R. Cobb, guitarist (Classics IV, Atlanta Rhythm Section) and songwriter
Luther Jennings, gospel singer (Jackson Southernaires)
Preston Epps, percussionist (“Bongo Rock”)
Lee Hale, musical director and producer (The Golddiggers)
Peggy Lipton, actress, model, and singer
Glenn Martin, country songwriter (“Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone”)
Doris Day, actress, singer and animal welfare activist
Leon Rausch, western-swing singer (Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys)
Mike Wilhelm, rock guitarist, singer and songwriter (The Charlatans)
Chuck Barksdale, 84, R&B singer (The Dells)
Eric Moore, rock singer and bassist (The Godz)
Melvin Edmonds, R&B singer (After 7) and brother of Kenny Edmonds
Jake Black, Scottish singer-songwriter (Alabama 3)
Dan Mitchell, songwriter (“If You’re Gonna Play in Texas”)
Willie Ford, soul singer (The Dramatics)
Ralph Murphy, Canadian country songwriter
John Gary Williams, R&B singer (The Mad Lads)
Tony Glover, blues harmonicist (Koerner, Ray & Glover), writer and radio DJ
Jeff Walls, rock guitarist (Guadalcanal Diary)
Leon Redbone, singer, guitarist and songwriter
Roky Erickson, rock singer, guitarist and songwriter (13th Floor Elevators)

Mikey Dees, punk rock singer and guitarist (Fitz of Depression)
Dr. John, pianist, singer and songwriter
Spencer Bohren, blues and folk guitarist
Bushwick Bill, rapper (Geto Boys)
Jim Pike, pop singer (The Lettermen)
Chuck Glaser, country singer (Tompall & the Glaser Brothers)
Paul “Lil’ Buck” Sinegal, zydeco and blues musician
Lew Klein, television director and producer (American Bandstand)
Philomena Lynott, Irish author and mother of Phil Lynott
Jack Renner, American recording engineer (Telarc)
Elliot Roberts, music executive and manager (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell)
Jerry Carrigan, session drummer (Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section)
Dave Bartholomew, musician, bandleader and songwriter
Jeff Austin, mandolinist and singer (Yonder Mountain String Band)
Tony Hall, British music industry executive, writer and television host
Gary Duncan, rock guitarist (Quicksilver Messenger Service)

Sid Ramin, orchestrator, arranger and composer (West Side Story)
Alan Rogan, British guitar technician (The Who)
Vivian Perlis, musicologist and founder of Yale University’s Oral History of American Music
Martin Charnin, Tony-winning lyricist (Annie, Two by Two, Hot Spot)
João Gilberto, Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist
James Henke, music journalist and museum curator (R&R HOF)
Jerry Lawson, a cappella singer (The Persuasions)
Russell Smith, singer and songwriter (Amazing Rhythm Aces)
Johnny Clegg, South African singer and musician (Juluka, Savuka)
Pat Kelly, Jamaican rocksteady and reggae singer
Bill Vitt, drummer (Jerry Garcia, Merle Saunders)
Bob Frank, singer-songwriter
Art Neville, singer, songwriter and keyboardist (The Neville Brothers)
Ras G, hip hop producer and DJ
Harold Prince, theatre director and producer (West Side Story, Cabaret)

Ian Gibbons, English keyboardist (The Kinks)
D.A. Pennebaker, documentary filmmaker (Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop)
Katreese Barnes, musical director (SNL) and songwriter (“Dick in a Box”)
Henri Belolo, French producer (The Ritchie Family, Village People)
Damien Lovelock, Australian singer and songwriter (The Celibate Rifles)
Bob Wilber, jazz clarinetist
Lizzie Grey, rock guitarist (London, Spiders & Snakes)
Danny Doyle, Irish folk singer (“The Rare Ould Times”)
David Berman, singer and songwriter (Silver Jews) and poet
Francesca Sundsten, bassist (The Beakers) and artist (King Crimson)
Freddy Bannister, English concert promoter (Knebworth)
Larry Taylor, bass guitarist (Canned Heat)
Clora Bryant, jazz trumpeter (International Sweethearts of Rhythm)
Reb Foster, radio DJ (KRLA) and band manager (The Turtles)
Mitch Podolak, Canadian folk music promoter (Winnipeg Folk Festival)
Neal Casal, guitarist, singer and songwriter (Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson)
Donnie Fritts, keyboardist (Kris Kristofferson) and songwriter

LaShawn Daniels, Grammy-winning songwriter (“Say My Name”)
Kylie Rae Harris, country singer
Dan Warner, Grammy-award winning guitarist (Julio Iglesias, Barry Gibb)
Jimmy Johnson, guitarist, producer and Muscle Shoals co-founder
Al Embry, manager and agent (Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones)
Jeff Fenholt, musician, actor (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Christian evangelist
Daniel Johnston, singer, songwriter (“Walking the Cow“) and visual artist
Eddie Money, rock singer and songwriter
Julian Piper, English blues guitarist
Ric Ocasek, rock singer, songwriter, guitarist (The Cars) and producer
John Cohen, banjo player (New Lost City Ramblers) and photographer
Harold Mabern, jazz pianist and composer
Chuck Dauphin, country music journalist (Billboard)
Larry Wallis, English guitarist, songwriter and producer (Pink Fairies)
Yonrico Scott, drummer (The Derek Trucks Band)
Robert Hunter, lyricist (Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan) and poet
Richard Wyands, jazz pianist
busbee, songwriter (“My Church,” “Try”) and producer
Larry Willis, multi-genre pianist (Jackie McLean, Hugh Masekela)

Beverly Watkins, blues guitarist
Barrie Masters, rock singer (Eddie and the Hot Rods)
Kim Shattuck, singer, guitarist and songwriter (Muffs, Pandoras, Pixies)
Vinnie Bell, guitarist and inventor (electric 12-string and sitar)
Ed Ackerson, singer, songwriter and producer (Polara, Antenna)
Glen Brown, Jamaican reggae musician and record producer
Ginger Baker, English drummer (Cream, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force)
Larry Junstrom, rock bassist (Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special)
Molly Duncan, saxophonist (Average White Band)
George Chambers, bassist and singer (The Chambers Brothers)
Dallas Harms, Canadian country singer and songwriter
Jay Frank, music industry executive (DigSin, UMG)
Steve Cash, singer, songwriter and harmonicist (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
Bob Kingsley, radio broadcaster (American Country Countdown)
Ray Santos, Latin jazz saxophonist and composer
Nick Tosches, music journalist and novelist
Ed Cherney, producer and recording engineer
Joe Sun, country singer (“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You“)
Paul Barrere, guitarist and songwriter (Little Feat)

Marie Laforêt, French-Swiss singer and actress
Timi Hansen, Danish bassist (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond)
Gilles Bertin, French punk rock singer (Camera Silens) and bank robber
Robert Freeman, English photographer (With the Beatles, Help!, Rubber Soul)
Nik Powell, 69, British film producer, co-founder of Virgin Records
Jackie Moore, R&B singer (“Precious Precious”)
Papa Don Schroeder, radio station owner (WPNN) and record producer
Browning Bryant, singer, songwriter and teen heartthrob
Doug Lubahn, rock bassist (Clear Light, The Doors, Billy Squier)
Donna Carson, folk singer (Hedge and Donna)
Eddie Duran, jazz guitarist
Iain Sutherland, Scottish singer, songwriter and guitarist
Martin Armiger, Australian musician (The Sports) and composer
Irving Burgie, songwriter (“Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”)
Billy Ray Reynolds, songwriter and guitarist (Waylon Jennings)

Stuart Fraser, Australian guitarist (Noiseworks)
Michael Lai, Hong Kong television and film composer
Jimmy Cavallo, rock ‘n’ roll singer and saxophonist
Jacques Morgantini, French blues producer and promoter
Greedy Smith, Australian singer, songwriter and keyboardist
Joe Smith, music industry executive (Capitol, Elektra, Warner Brothers)
Jerry Naylor, 80, rock ‘n’ roll singer (The Crickets)
Murray Bowles, music photographer (Green Day, Operation Ivy, Fang)
Marie Fredriksson, Swedish singer, songwriter and pianist (Roxette)
Gershon Kingsley, composer and electronic musician (“Popcorn“)
Jack Scott, Canadian rock ‘n’ roll singer and songwriter (“My True Love”)
Roy Loney, singer, songwriter and guitarist (Flamin’ Groovies)
Emil Richards, jazz, studio, film and television percussionist
Jud Phillips, music industry executive and recording engineer
Alain Barrière, French singer and Eurovision contestant (“Elle était si jolie“)
Kenny Lynch, English pop singer and actor
Arty McGlynn, Irish guitarist
Dave Riley, bassist (Big Black)
Allee Willis, songwriter (“September” “Neutron Dance”) and lyricist
Lee Mendelson, television producer and lyricist (“Christmastime is Here”)
Jerry Herman, composer and lyricist (Hello, Dolly!, Mame)
Sleepy LaBeef, rockabilly singer
Neil Innes, English Comedian musician and writer (Rutles, Bonzo Dog Band)
Norma Tanega, singer-songwriter (“Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”) and artist

OST: Harper Valley P.T.A.

December 14th, 2019

The title hit, Barbara Eden and selections from Nelson Riddle’s score

A decade after Jeannie C. Riley topped the country chart with Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the song was made into a feature film starring Barbara Eden. Eden had turned her early training as a singer, and the fame generated by I Dream of Genie, into a 1967 album for Dot and numerous appearances on television variety shows. For the soundtrack of this 1978 film she sang the Tom T. Hall songs “Mr. Harper” and “Widow Jones,” the latter released as a single. The album leads off with the stereo version of the title tune, and adds well-known songs by Jerry Lee Lewis (“High School Confidential”) and Johnny Cash (“Ballad of a Teenage Queen”) to Carol Channing’s cover of “Whatever Happened to Charlie Brown.” Of more interest to soundtrack collectors will be Nelson Riddle’s instrumental pieces, which include swing, late-night jazz and a classical pastiche. Unfortunately, though listenable, the fidelity of the Riddle tracks doesn’t match that of the rest of the album. Worth getting, but someone should take another look in the vault for better source material. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

December 14th, 2019

The most widely heard unsung singer at Motown

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be simultaneously one of the most obscure soul singers of her era, and one of the most widely heard. “Obscure,” because Motown’s hit-seeking radar somehow missed the brilliance in the dozens of tracks they recorded on Williams and then buried in their vault. “Widely heard,” because Williams was heard by millions of television viewers each week as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. The daughter of a baptist minister, Williams grew up singing, directing and playing piano in church choirs. She performed with Andraé Crouch, Billy Preston and Edna Wright in the Cogic Singers, releasing several records on the Simpson and Exodus labels, but solo contracts pulled the group apart, with Williams recording an album for Atlantic.

Williams had previously crossed into secular music with a 1963 single (and a flip) under the nom de record “Lindy Adams,” and a 1964 single for Vee Jay that backed the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” with “Heartaches.” She landed at Motown in 1968 under her high school nickname, Blinky, and debuted with the Ashford & Simpson-penned “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is.” An album of duets with Edwin Starr followed in 1969, along with three more singles  (one on Motown, and two on the label’s west coast imprint, Mowest), but despite opening for the Temptations and a spot in the Motortown Revue, the lack of a concerted promotional push left all of the releases to founder commercially.

Had this been the extent of Williams’ engagement with Motown, she might have been collected only by crate diggers, and remembered as a talent whose intersection with the label was artistically fruitful but commercially bare. What distinguishes Williams from other Motown shoulda-beens is the large number of finished, unreleased sides that were left in the vault alongside fascinating working tracks and live material. Motown rolled a lot of tape on someone they couldn’t (or more likely just didn’t) break, and the fervor of her fans (who mounted a now-successful “Free Blinky from the Vaults” campaign) reflects the riches that she recorded, rather than the limited sides that Motown actually released.

The two-disc set opens with Williams’ unreleased album Sunny & Warm, immediately provoking the question of what else Motown had going on that led them to leave this in the vault. To be fair to Motown, Williams’ album was slotted between Diana Ross’ eponymous 1970 solo debut, and the Jackson 5’s Christmas album, so Motown’s promotions staff was certainly busy. If it’s any consolation to Williams, Jimmy and David Ruffin’s I Am My Brother’s Keeper was in the same spot, though released on the subsidiary Soul label. Sunny & Warm opens with the single “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is” (which Williams can be seen performing on Chuck Johnson’s Soul Time USA), and features a new interpretation of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me,” produced by the song’s co-writer, Raynard Miner. Clay McMurray produced the gratified “This Man of Mine” and the questioning “Is There a Place,” and Ashford and Simpson’s “How Ya Gonna Keep It” (backed with a stunning, deep soul cover of Jimmy Webb’s “This Time Last Summer”) was slated to be the next single.

And then… nothing. No album, and no explanation. Williams kept plugging away, making a connection with Sammy Davis Jr., and touring with him while continuing to record for Motown. Disc one fleshes out the unreleased album with the singles Motown and Mowest released in 1972-73, live material (including a previously unreleased performance of “God Bless the Child”) from the Motortown Revue, and several tracks from anthologies and soundtracks that include a studio take of “God Bless the Child” that was released on 1971’s Rock Gospel – The Key To The Kingdom, and a commanding performance of the early blues  “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” from Lady Sings the Blues.

The set’s second disc includes twenty-two previously unreleased tracks recorded with a variety of Motown producers, including label material and covers. Among the latter is an original soul arrangement of Graham Gouldman’s “Heart Full of Soul,” and a thoughtful, extended cover of the Stylistics “People Make the World Go Round.” A few of the tracks are mastered with control room slates or musician count-ins, giving them the aura of work-in-process, but these are finished pieces that offer performances, arrangements and sound that are all up to Motown’s standards. Why were they left in the vault? Perhaps Williams’ gospel roots were too soulful for the pop-leaning Motown, but more likely she was a victim of the sheer volume of material that the well-oiled Motown machine could produce. Motown’s investment may not have yielded commercial returns, but the artistry of these sides is undeniable, and freed from the vault, they’re finally available for Williams’ longtime devotees to enjoy. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Coven: Blood on the Snow

November 23rd, 2019

Third and final album from misunderstood one-hit wonders

Though now remembered for their remake of the Original Caste’s “One Tin Soldier,” this Chicago-bred band initially gained renown for the controversy that had previously sunk their commercial opportunities. Led by vocalist Jinx Dawson, the Coven was arguably the first rock band to adopt occult symbology, inverted crosses and the hand-thrown sign of the horns, and their 1969 Mercury debut, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, included a thirteen-minute “Satanic Mass.” Ahead of their times, they were tripped up by growing public anxiety about cults, and when an Esquire magazine suggested a false connection between the band and Charles Manson, the group’s fortunes quickly collapsed; albums returned, shows cancelled, and their recording contract dropped. Had their debut (which was reissued digitally by the band in 2015, and more recently on vinyl by Real Gone) been their epitaph, they would have earned an interesting niche in rock ‘n’ roll history. But there was more.

Resettled in Los Angeles, Dawson was tapped to cover the Original Caste’s 1969 anti-war song as the theme for the film Billy Jack. Recorded with studio musicians and an orchestra, but credited to Coven, the single rose to #26 in 1971, and netted Jinx and a newly formed Coven a record deal with MGM. Their eponymous album included a band version of “One Tin Soldier,” which itself charted in 1973 and again in 1974, cementing the group’s popular identity as a one-hit wonder. At the same time, the group had moved from MGM to Buddah where they released this third and final album. By this point, the public connection to their occult beginnings were lost in the sands of time, and neither the controversy that had originally derailed them, nor their one-off movie hit could lift them back into the mainstream.

By the time this album was released in 1974, Coven was playing catch up with the more calculated occult references others had built into heavy metal. Produced by Shel Talmy, the album features a variety of hard rock, glam, and pop that was closer to the mainstream than the blues-rock theatricality of the group’s debut. “This Song’s For All You Children” suggests radio-friendly Todd Rundgren, “Lady-O” has strings and touches of country in the piano and vocal melody, and “Don’t Call Me” resounds with the punk energy of the Dolls. But there are also traces of the band’s early days in the blues rock “Hide Your Daughters,” the progressive “Lost Without a Trace,” and “Easy Evil,” and the closing title title track.

In 1974 Buddah was likely focused on the success of their marquee act, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and reintroducing Coven to AM (which was by then was only lightly speckled with BTO, Bad Company and Grand Funk) would have been difficult. FM had long since forgotten the controversial genesis that might have made the band interesting to the underground, and even an experimental music video couldn’t reignite interest. All of which is a shame, as Dawson remained a powerful vocal talent, and many of the songs are catchy and played with style. Pop music acclaim has always been  a fickle reward based on a supernatural alignment of circumstances, and the stars didn’t align for this third and final album. Reissued with the original album’s gatefold cover, this is a nice souvenir of a band whose momentary fame overshadowed the charms of their catalog. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Costa: Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

November 15th, 2019

Jazz impressions of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

By the time that Pittsburgh pianist Johnny Costa met Fred Rogers, he was an accomplished jazz musician who’d led albums released by Coral, Savoy and Dot, was featured on Manny Albam’s A Gallery of Gershwin (a theme Costa revisited on 1994’s A Portrait of George Gershwin) and served as music director for television’s Mike Douglas. Costa returned to Pittsburgh in the mid-60s where he met and partnered with Fred Rogers in creating the music for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Costa’s college background in both music and education matched that of Rogers, and his fluid musical style (one that Art Tatum likened to his own) and imaginative arrangements were a perfect match for the emotional insights that Rogers illuminated with his song concepts and lyrics. Costa was a charter resident of the neighborhood, joining in 1968, playing live, adding improvisational continuity, appearing on camera on occasion, and serving as Rogers’ musical director until the pianist’s passing in 1996.

This 1984 release features Costa’s piano in a trio setting with Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on drums. As an instrumental jazz outing on the short-lived Mister Rogers Neighborhood label, but not featuring Mister Rogers himself, it likely didn’t sell well to either the television show’s preschool viewership or jazz hounds, and so the original vinyl release has become quite rare. Omnivore’s reissue includes the album’s original thirteen tracks, all written by Fred Rogers. Fans of the television show will immediately recognize the warm welcome of the opening “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” but as you would expect from a talented jazz musician, Costa uses the theme as a launching point for spirited improvisation. The same is true for the closing “Tomorrow,” which is given a heavier dose of optimistic melancholy than in its television incarnations.

Costa’s playing is florid, dramatic, inquisitive, frenetic, humorous and contemplative, mirroring the themes and emotional lessons of Rogers’ lyrical compositions. The yearning for reassurance that Rogers wrote into the lyrics of “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny” is equally well expressed in Costa’s introspective soloing. “Everybody’s Fancy” includes fancy runs, “I Like to Take My Time” proceeds at a jaunty stroll, and “Something to Do While We’re Waiting” is filled with irrepressible childhood energy. Costa is fleet-fingered and lyrical as he expresses through his piano the emotional core of each song. This collection of  instrumental treatments provides a terrific complement to Fred Rogers’ originals, twenty-three of which are collected in Omnivore’s companion volume, It’s Such A Good Feeling: The Best Of Mister Rogers. Taken together, the two releases highlight the musical and emotional resonances between Rogers, Costa and their audience. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

November 15th, 2019

Awe-inspiring anthological history of the Bakersfield scene

Bear Family is well-known to collectors for the imagination and thoroughness of their box sets. Their cataloging of American country music in artist-based collections is unparalleled in its detail. But even against that high bar of quality, this set is something else, as it draws a comprehensive picture of a scene, rather than a more easily defined artist or label catalog. To assemble this set, producer Scott B. Bomar needed to develop a deep understanding of the history, connections and influences that forged the Bakersfield Sound over thirty-five years. They needed to identify artists, producers, engineers, studios, labels, clubs, radio and television stations, and records, and they needed to dig deep beneath the commercial surface, to find the rare materials that spurred and cross-pollinated artistic advances. The results are ten discs, nearly 300 tracks, and 224 pages that demonstrate how the scene developed, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars themselves grew from their roots. It’s an astounding achievement, even on the Bear Family scale.

Situated at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is a commercial hub for both the Central Valley’s agriculture and the surrounding area’s petroleum and natural gas production. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove many Texans, Oklahomans, Arkansans and Missourians west, with many migrants resettling into agricultural and oil work. The Owens family moved from Texas to Arizona in the late ‘30s, and Buck Owens eventually settled in Bakersfield in 1951. The Haggard family moved from Oklahoma to California in the mid-30s, where Merle Haggard was born (in Oildale) in 1937. Bakersfield became both a physical confluence of refugees from the Plains states, and an artistic melting pot of their musical tastes; a place and time in which influences could combine and grow into something new.

As Bomar notes in his liners, Bakersfield was really more of an aesthetic than a singular sound. The range of artists ascribed to Bakersfield (including some who never actually lived or recorded there) are as varied as the influences that shaped the city’s music. As Joe Maphis chronicled, Bakersfield’s honky-tonks – including the Blackboard, Trouts, Lucky Spot, Tex’s Barrel House, and the Clover Club – were genuine dens of dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music, and as Nashville softened its approach in the 1950s, Bakersfield hardened its own. As Nashville toned down the twang and added strings and backing choruses, Bakersfield plugged in electric guitars to complement the fiddle and steel. As Nashville sweetened the arrangements and slowed the tempos for crooners, Bakersfield picked up the beat and highlighted vocalists singing harder-edged lyrics. Bakersfield wasn’t necessarily reacting to Nashville’s changes, but acting outside its commercial forcefield.

Owens’ and Haggard’s legends are rooted in Bakersfield’s honky-tonks, where they developed and honed their particular brands of music alongside the many foundational acts documented here. Bear Family has cast a wide net to haul in field recordings, radio and television broadcasts, live sessions, vault finds, vanity recordings, alternate takes, demos, rare local singles, B-sides, album tracks, and a selection of hits, to tell the story of Bakersfield’s development, rather than recite the well-known riches at the end of the creative rainbow. The set begins with early ‘40s field recordings gathered in the Central Valley migrant work camps that were run by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The rustic vocal, guitar and banjo music of the camps’ residents was as important a cultural touchstone as were the physical wares they’d packed into the trucks and beat-up cars that carried them west, and its mix of influences the roots of the Bakersfield music scene.

The set moves to 1944 with a fiddle-heavy cover of Fred Rose’s “Home in San Antone,” and establishes radio’s role in expanding local musicians’ regional reach with transcriptions from Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and Elwin Cross & The Arizona Wranglers. The latter group, whose “Back in Dear Old Oklahoma” strikes a nostalgic, homesick note, included Bill Woods, who would soon become a pillar of the Bakersfield scene as a bandleader at the Blackboard. From these earliest days of the Bakersfield scene, the upbeat tempos of swing and boogie drove many of the original songs, with twangy steel, guitar and fiddle prominently featured throughout. Billy Mize is heard on 1949’s “Got a Chance With You” and Roy Nichols’ influential guitar playing on 1950’s “Baby Blues.”

Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson – both key elements of Bakersfield’s commercial success – enter the collection with Ferlin Husky’s 1951 single “I Want You So,” recorded under the stage name of Terry Preston. Buck Owens first turns up at Capitol as a studio picker on Tommy Collins’ “You Better Not Do That,” and Capitol’s Hollywood studio was the site of Bakersfield’s first national hit with Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky’s “A Dear John Letter.” The song had been recorded twice before on local Bakersfield labels Grande and Kord, which along with Mar-Vel and others featured early performances by Bakersfield figures Bill Woods (who was so important to building the Bakersfield scene, that Red Simpson released a tribute to him in 1973), Fuzzy Owen, Lewis Talley, Billy Mize and Bonnie Owens. Many of the records most deeply associated with Bakersfield were actually recorded in Los Angeles, including the Blackboard Club-inspired honky-tonk of Joe Maphis & Rose Lee’s 1953 “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).”

The early songs of home and homesickness quickly gave way to songs of romantic infatuation, love and recrimination, often with a forwardness that was disappearing from Nashville’s productions. The Farmer Boys’ “It Pays to Advertise” is surprisingly direct with the romantic boast, “when it comes to making love, I don’t leave girl neglected,” and Billy Mize’s “Who Will Buy the Wine” is scathing in its appraisal of a wayward spouse’s downfall. By 1956, rock ‘n’ roll was influencing Bakersfield’s players as Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know” features a tug of war between upbeat rockabilly verses and a slow country chorus, Dusty Payne & The Rhythm Rocker’s “I Want You” has a rockabilly backbeat, Sid Silver’s “Bumble Rumble” offers up countrified skiffle, the bluesy guitar of Johnny Taylor’s “Sad Sad Saturday Night” is backed by Bill Woods’ piano triplets, and Buck Owens’ jangly guitar adds flair to Bill Woods’ “Ask Me No Questions.”

Buck Owens’ first session for Capitol as a leader included the bouncy 1957 single “Come Back to Me,” and his charting single, “Second Fiddle,” is also included early in the set. Owens quickly became a monumental presence in the Bakersfield scene as he dominated the country charts throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Owens had one or more Top 10 singles every year from 1959 until 1974 (including fourteen straight #1s from 1963 to 1967), with 1974 marking the death of Don Rich, and not coincidentally the year that ends this set. Owens’ catalog is detailed elsewhere, including three Bear Family box sets [1 2 3], and so the producer has cherry-picked sides that demonstrate Owens’ evolution as a singer, songwriter, producer and live performer, including the classic Buckaroos’ lineup first session on 1964’s “Close Up the Honky Tonks.” The Buckaroos were such a prolific, powerhouse group that they had a parallel career without Owens out front, represented here by selections fronted by Don Rich and Doyle Holly, the instrumental “Chicken Pickin’,” and sides backing artists who recorded at Buck Owens’ Bakersfield studio. The latter includes a track from Arlo Guthrie’s 1973 album Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys, and Don Rich’s last session, backing Tony Booth’s “A Different Kind of Sad.”

Wynn Stewart also recorded for Capitol, but it was at Challenge and its subsidiary Jackpot that he waxed the singles most associated with the Bakersfield sound. Included here is his superb 1960 take on the Bakersfield club favorite “Playboy,” but his hits – 1958’s “Come On,” 1959’s “Wishful Thinking” and “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love),” and 1961’s “Big Big Love” – showed off an artistic range emblematic of Bakersfield’s many influences and musically adventurous spirit. Though not as commercially successful as Owens or Haggard, Stewart was highly influential, and he left behind a rich catalog (documented in full on Bear Family’s box set Wishful Thinking) that’s worth its own investment.

Haggard was in and out of juvenile detention and jail as the city’s music scene developed, but a late-50s stretch in San Quentin renewed his interest in a music career in which he’d previously dabbled, and upon his release in 1960 he began performing and subsequently recording for Tally. Like Owens, Haggard was both an artistic and commercial force. Though born in California, his autobiographical songs were rife with the hardship of Dustbowl refugees, and the struggles of outsiders. He first appears on this set as a songwriter and bassist for Johnny Barnett’s 1963 Tally single “Second Fiddle,” and he debuted on Tally’s next single with “Singin’ My Heart Out” and its flip, “Skid Row.” Haggard’s early Tally releases also included themed song, “Life in Prison,” as well as his first duet with Bonnie Owens, “Slowly But Surely.” Haggard’s transition from Tally to Capitol was meant to be heard in two versions of “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart” (one recorded for Tally, one recorded for Capitol) but the earlier unreleased Tally version ran into legal issues, and though described in the book, has been elided from the disc. A well-curated selection of his Capitol sides threads through the remainder of the set, and shows off both his commercial and artistic reach.

Owens and Haggard may have garnered the bulk of the scene’s commercial success, but the sheer volume of Bakersfield-related material that’s been collected here is astonishing. The Hollywood-based Capitol (and its Tower subsidiary) had the lion’s share of major-label Bakersfield success, but Columbia and RCA made inroads with Billy Mize, Liz Anderson, Tommy Collins, and others. Even more impressive is the wealth of local indie singles that paint a full color picture of Bakersfield’s deep pool of singers, songwriters and instrumental talent. Bakersfield essentially fielded a country version of the Wrecking Crew with a core group of musicians that formed and reformed in various aggregations to back singers in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. There are too many ace musicians in the crew to name them, but among them, only one regular female presence in Helen “Peaches” Price, a much sought-after drummer who played with Wynn Stewart, and backed Merle Haggard on several of his classic albums and singles.

Gary S. Paxton appears as an artist on 1966’s “Goin’ Through the Motions,” but makes his mark as a producer, both in Los Angeles, and for a time in 1967-68, in Bakersfield. His productions include the Gosdin Brothers country hit “Hangin’ On,” and a variety of singles that includes Leon Copeland’s cover of Merle Haggard’s “I’m Out of My Mind,” the Sandland Brothers’ tight duet “Vaccination for the Blues,” and the sly instrumental “Buckshot” by Larry Daniels and the Buckshots. Many of Paxton’s productions featured the inimitable guitar playing of Clarence White, including White’s unissued-at-the-time cover of “Buckaroo.” Paxton’s stay in Bakersfield wasn’t long, but he was productive, and cut records with Suzi Arden, Dean Sanford, Larry Daniels, Stan Farlow and others.

Each of the ten discs reveals surprises, including Barbara Mandrell’s 1966 single “Queen for a Day,” released three years before she signed with Columbia, the Marksmen’s 1961 guitar instrumental “Scratch,” recorded in Seattle by Gene Moles with the Ventures’ Nokie Edwards on bass, Roy Nichols’ virtuoso version of “Silver Bells,” songwriter Fern Foley’s original version of “Apartment #9,” Harold Cox & The Sooners’ “Pumpkin Center” offering some iffy rhymes in celebration of a local weekly dance, Herb Henson’s Trading Post TV show theme song, “You’al Come,” and songwriter Homer Joy’s original recording of “Streets of Bakersfield.”

The set’s final disc include live tracks, songwriter demos and work tapes from many of Bakersfield’s mainstays. The disc opens with hot live material from Buck Owens’ 1973 Toys for Tots show, featuring Owens, Buddy Alan, Tony Booth, Susan Raye, and the Buckaroos. There’s a treasure trove of songwriter demos and alternate takes from Bonnie Owens, Vancie Flowers & Rita Lane, Billy Mize, Red Simpson, Bill Woods, Tommy Collins, and Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how the first nine discs came to be. The disc closes with eight tracks drawn from television and radio broadcasts, giving listeners a feel for a world before records came to dominate media, and consultants came to homogenize playlists. Sadly missing from disc ten are five Merle Haggard alternate takes and a live radio broadcast that were last minute, contractual-dispute scratches.

As overwhelming as is the typical Bear Family box set, the breadth and depth of this anthology is doubly so. The panoramic view of Bakersfield’s music includes folk, bluegrass, country (and western), boogie, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, swing and more. Each disc provides a terrific program of music, and the arc from disc one to disc ten is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. The accompanying 224-page hardbound book (weighing in at nearly four pounds) is as detailed as the music program, with historical notes, artist biographies, and song notes, and hundreds of photos and record labels. With 298 songs and a running time of more than twelve hours, this is a set to live with, rather than just listen to, and one you’ll be drawn back to over and over as you gain a feel for thirty-five years of Bakersfield’s musical history. No doubt this will be on many country music fans’ holiday gift lists, and by all rights it should be on Grammy’s list too. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Fred Rogers: It’s Such a Good Feeling – The Best of Mister Rogers

October 19th, 2019

The timeless understanding and caring of Mister Rogers

Children’s entertainment is often filled with empty merchandising calories, and devoid of the thoughtful content that promotes intellectual and emotional growth. But that is not the case with the music of Fred Rogers, creator and host of the eponymous Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Educated in musical composition, divinity and child development, Rogers turned the meditations of his solitary childhood into a helping hand for preschoolers. While Sesame Street focused on helping young children get ready for the cognitive growth of schooling, Rogers prepared them for the parallel emotional development they would experience in new social situations. Rogers spoke and sang to children with insight and patience that acknowledged feelings and fears that adults had long since forgotten. He offered a helping hand through songs whose fundamental truths connected deeply with his audience.

His television show included many memorable characters and activities, but his music reached deeper. For those who grew up watching the show (or parenting children who did), the songs remain a sense memory that can instantly transport you back to an age of uncertainty and seemingly endless questions. His lyrics encompasses thoughts and lessons in friendship, optimism, attentiveness, confidence, vulnerability, perseverance, empathy, imagination, self-worth, humor, individuality and a myriad of questions, emotions and anxieties that children first encounter in their formative years. Rogers’ songs put a name to these feelings, and let children know that such feelings are both natural and shared.

Rogers recorded with a trio of musical director and pianist Johnny Costa, bassist Carl McVicker, and percussionist Bobby Rawsthorne. Their light, jazzy instrumentals typically stayed in the background, underlying the emotional lessons of the lyrics. Rogers released dozens of singles, EPs and albums, but few remain in print. Omnivore’s 21-track collection cherrypicks from four previous albums (You’re Growing, Coming and Going, Bedtime, and You Are Special), and adds five previously unreleased recordings, including the closing rendition of Rogers’ trademark show closer “Tomorrow.” The eight-page booklet includes an introductory note by film biographer Morgan Neville, and liners by Pittsburgh TV critic Robert Bianco. Rogers’ gentle manner may seem out of place in today’s belligerent times, which makes his lessons in civility all the more relevant. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood