Posts Tagged ‘Bluegrass’

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

Friday, 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]

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Legendary acoustic harmony band’s 1974 debut, with 11 bonus tracks

The fusion of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing this trio developed in the late ‘70s isn’t without near-term antecedents (e.g., Dan Licks and His Hot Licks) or parallels (e.g., David Grisman), but the joy with which these three talented musicians – Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball – meshed their influences and voices is in many ways without equal. Although there was fine solo work to follow – and commercial success for Ball in Nashville – there was something greater than the parts in their collaboration. With three star-quality singers blending their voices in harmony, their talents as instrumentalists might have receded into the background, had their gifts not been so substantial. Their acoustic playing is gentle, but substantial, and provides perfect backing and decoration to their singing.

Omnivore began the digital restoration of the group’s catalog with the 2018 anthology Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing, and now digs deeper with this reissue of the group’s debut. Recorded in North Carolina (in a single day, in mono, and with no overdubs!) and originally released in 1974 as Blame it on the Bossa Nova, the album was reordered and reissued eponymously in 1978, as the group was settling into Austin. Their run would last five more years and turn out another studio album (An American in Texas), a live set (Recorded Live) and a cassette collection of studio material (6-26-79). Reissues have come and gone, including the numerous versions of this debut that are documented in the liner notes, but the band’s impression on its fans has never faded.

The trio’s harmonies take in the sounds of country music’s early family acts, close harmony pop of the ‘40s, and the jazz vocal groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their repertoire includes superb original material that mingles easily with lovingly arranged covers of the Delta Rhythm Boys’ jivey “Give Me Some Skin,” Robert Johnson’s “From Four Until Late,” Professor Longhair’s “In the Night,” the late ‘30s blues “Undecided,” the folk staple “Little Sadie,” and a wonderfully crooned take on the film theme “Ruby.” The trio’s harmonizing on “High Hill” is unbelievably lush, Ball’s falsetto is striking throughout the album (as are Hood’s acoustic guitar leads), and Hyatt’s “Aloha,” which opened the original LP, now closes out the album’s eleven track lineup.

Omnivore’s reissue doubles the track count with eleven previously unreleased bonuses that mix period demos and live recordings, including covers of Turner Layton’s early twentieth century “After You’ve Gone,” an a cappella version of “Rock Island Line,” and a wealth of original material. The group’s vocal arrangements and instrumental prowess shine brightly on the demos, a few of which were covered by others, including Lyle Lovett’s 1998 rendering of “Lonely in Love.” The live recordings show that the fraternity the trio achieved in the studio was just as potent on stage, and that their lighthearted stage banter and effortless musicality instantly drew the audience into their groove. The twenty-page booklet includes photos, remembrances by the band’s musical associates and famous fans, and new liner notes by Mark Michael and Heidi Wyatt. This is an all-time classic, reissued in great style. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan: Carter Stanley’s Eyes

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Peter Rowan returns to his bluegrass roots

Folk musicians gain a part of their artistic lineage through the literary tradition of the songs they learn and the generational artists with whom they play; and bluegrassers often trace their roots more formally through the apprenticeships they serve. Like many, Peter Rowan can document his lineage all the way back to Bill Monroe, who hired him as a Blue Grass Boy in the early 1960s. In addition to employment and teaching, Monroe introduced Rowan to Carter Stanley, whose voice and songs provided Rowan a second foundational stone. That 1965 meeting is the subject of this album’s title song, and from the awakening essayed in the song’s spoken verses, it’s clear that that personal connection informed everything Rowan has done ever since.

In that “ever since,” Rowan’s branched out from traditional bluegrass with folk, rock, Tex-Mex and even an album of Hawaiiana, but here he assembles a classic lineup of guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and bass, adding snare drum and other percussion only sparingly. He offers three originals (including “Wild Geese Cry Again,” as retitled “Drumbeats on the Watchtower” by Ralph Stanley), but the bulk of the set list is crafted as an homage to his influences, drawing on songs written by Charlie and Ira Louvin, Carter and Ralph Stanley, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and A.P. Carter.

The material spans a wide variety of misfortune, sorrow and redemption, including children’s tears, fateful train rides, broken hearts, lonesome nights, last chances, dark endings, hopeful hereafters and enduring spirits. Rowan sings both solo and in tight harmony with his bandmates, evoking the mystic longing of Carter Stanley. The pickers include fiddler Blaine Sprouse, guitarist Jack Lawrence, banjoist Patrick Sauber, and mandolinists Don Rigsby and Chris Henry. The picking is clean and lively, without being overly flashy, and one can only hope that Rowan takes this material and some of his bandmates on the summer bluegrass circuit! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

6 String Drag: High Hat

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Long-lost 1997 Americana swan song finally back in print

By the time 6 String Drag caught the attention of Steve Earle and his producing partner Ray Kennedy, the band’s initial run was nearly over. Although they’d pioneered their sound in the middle of the Americana movement, this 1997 sophomore release on Earle and Kennedy’s E-Squared label would be their last album of new material until 2015’s reunion, Roots Rock & Roll, and the recent follow-up, Top of the World. With the band back in action, the time was right for a remaster and reissue of this classic, on CD, digital download, and for the first time ever, vinyl. The album finds vocalist Kenny Roby and the band stretching out across a variety of American sounds, including country, rock, southern boogie, rockabilly, bluegrass, trad jazz, soul and gospel, exploring the rootsy polyglot ground tilled by NRBQ, Rockpile and others. “Driven Man” has the meter and wordiness of an Elvis Costello song, and the addition of horns on several tracks gives the album a fuller sound than the group’s self-titled debut. The group’s abbreviated first life temporarily cut short a talented musical collective, but more lastingly seems to have consigned this shining moment to undeserved obscurity. Hopefully this 2018 reissue, augmented with a previously unreleased cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “Lorene,” will restore the album to its rightful place in the Americana canon, and point new listeners to the group’s renewed lineup. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

6 String Drag’s Home Page

In Memoriam: 2016

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Listen to a selection of these artists on Spotify

January
Tony Lane, art director (Rolling Stone) and album cover designer
Brad Fuller, composer and music director (Atari)
Paul Bley, jazz pianist
Jason Mackenroth, rock drummer (Mother Superior, Rollins Band)
Long John Hunter, blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter
Georgette Twain Seiff, hall-of-fame banjo player
Robert Stigwood, manager and film producer
Nicholas Caldwell, R&B vocalist (The Whispers) and songwriter (“Lady”)
Elizabeth Swados, writer, composer and theater director (“Runaways”)
Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, jazz and salsa trumpeter
Pat Harrington Jr., actor and comedy recording artist (Some Like it Hip!)
Kitty Kallen, vocalist (“It’s Been a Long, Long Time”)
Troy Shondell, pop vocalist (“This Time (We’re Really Breaking Up)”)
Otis Clay, soul vocalist (“Trying to Live My Life Without You”)
Red Simpson, country vocalist and songwriter
Brett Smiley, glam rock vocalist (“Va Va Va Voom”)
Ed Stewart, radio broadcaster and television presenter (Top of the Pops)
David Bowie, vocalist and songwriter
Joe Moscheo, gospel vocalist (The Imperials) and industry executive
Giorgio Gomelsky, club owner, manager, producer and label owner
Hoyt Scoggins, country and rockabilly vocalist and songwriter
René Angélil, impresario and manager (Celine Dion)
Noreen Corcoran, actress (Bachelor Father) and vocalist (“Love Kitten”)
Pete Huttlinger, guitar virtuoso
Gary Loizzo, pop vocalist and guitarist (The American Breed)
Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, musician, songwriter and producer
Mic Gillette, brass player (Tower of Power)
Dale Griffin, rock drummer (Mott the Hoople)
Ramblin’ Lou Schriver, radio broadcaster, musician and concert promoter
Glenn Frey, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist (The Eagles)
Andrew Johnson, album cover artist (The The)
Jimmy Bain, rock bassist (Dio, Rainbow)
Joe Esposito, road manager (Elvis Presley) and Memphis Mafia member
Colin “Black” Vearncombe, vocalist and songwriter (“Wonderful Life”)
William E. Martin, songwriter (Monkees), screenwriter and voice actor
Signe Toly Anderson, vocalist (Jefferson Airplane)
Paul Kantner, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist (Jefferson Airplane)
Billy Faier, banjo player

February
Maurice White, vocalist, songwriter and producer (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Leslie Bassett, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer
Bobby Caldwell, keyboardist (Terry Knight and the Pack)
Joe Dowell, pop vocalist (“Wooden Heart”)
Jimmy Haskell, arranger, composer, producer and bandleader
Ray Colcord, film and television composer, producer and musician
Dan Hicks, vocalist and songwriter
Sam Spence, composer (NFL Films)
Obrey Wilson, soul vocalist (“Hey There Mountain”)
Rick Wright, country guitarist (Connie Smith)
Roy Harris, British folk vocalist
Kim Williams, country songwriter (“Three Wooden Crosses”)
L.C. Ulmer, blues musician
Denise “Vanity” Matthews, vocalist (Vanity 6), actress and evangelist
Joyce Paul, country vocalist (“Phone Call to Mama”)
Ray West, Emmy and Oscar-winning sound engineer (Star Wars)
Paul Gordon, keyboardist and composer
Brendan Healy, actor and musician (Goldie, Lindesfarne)
Vi Subversa, vocalist and guitarist (Poison Girls)
Charlie Tuna, radio broadcaster (KHJ, KROQ, KIIS, KBIG)
Buck Rambo, gospel vocalist
Sonny James, country vocalist and songwriter
Lennie Baker, vocalist and saxophonist (Danny & The Juniors, Sha Na Na)
John Chilton, jazz trumpeter and music historian
Craig Windham, radio broadcaster (NPR)

March
Gayle McCormick, vocalist (Smith ”Baby It’s You”)
Martha Wright, vocalist and actress (South Pacific, The Sound of Music)
Gavin Christopher, R&B vocalist and songwriter
Joey Feek, country vocalist (Joey + Rory)
Chip Hooper, agent (Phish, Dave Matthews Band)
Ireng Maulana, jazz guitarist
Joe Cabot, jazz trumpeter
Bruce Geduldig, synthesist and filmmaker (Tuxedomoon)
Timothy Makaya, jazz guitarist
Ross Hannaford, rock guitarist (Daddy Cool)
Ron Jacobs, radio broadcaster (Boss Radio KHJ, American Top 40)
Sir George Martin, producer
Jon English, musician and actor
Ray Griff, country vocalist
John Morthland, music journalist
Naná Vasconcelos, Latin jazz percussionist
Ernestine Anderson, jazz vocalist
Keith Emerson, progressive rock keyboardist
Gogi Grant, pop vocalist
Ben Bagdikian, educator, journalist and media critic
Ben Edmonds, music journalist
Louis Meyers, promoter (co-founder of SXSW) and manager
Tommy Brown, R&B vocalist (The Griffin Brothers)
Lee Andrews, doo-wop vocalist and father of Questlove
Frank Sinatra Jr., vocalist and actor, son of Frank Sinatra
Steve Young, country vocalist and songwriter (“Seven Bridges Road”)
David Egan, songwriter and pianist
Ned Miller, country vocalist and songwriter
Terry James Johnson, drummer (Bar-Kays) and clinical psychologist
Phife Dawg, rapper (A Tribe Called Quest)
James Jamerson Jr., R&B bassist (Chanson)
Jimmy Riley, reggae musician (The Sensations and the Uniques)
David Baker, symphonic jazz composer, musician and educator
Wally Crouter, Canadian radio legend (CFRB)
Patty Duke, actress and vocalist
Andy Newman, pianist (Thunderclap Newman)
Larry Payton, drummer (Brass Construction)

April
Gato Barbieri, jazz saxophonist
Don Francks, jazz musician and actor
Bill Henderson, jazz vocalist and actor
Carlo Mastrangelo, doo-wop and progressive rock vocalist
Dorothy Schwartz, pop vocalist (The Chordettes)
Leon Haywood, soul and funk vocalist
Dennis Davis, rock drummer (David Bowie)
Merle Haggard, country vocalist, guitarist and songwriter
Jimmie Van Zant, southern rock musician, cousin of Ronnie Van Zant
Earl Solomon Burroughs, musician and songwriter (“Great Balls of Fire”)
Jim Ridley, editor, critic and journalist (Nashville Scene)
Tony Conrad, experimental musician
Doug Banks, radio broadcaster (KDAY, KFI, KDIA)
Emile Ford, pop musician and sound engineer
David Gest, producer and former husband of Liza Minnelli
Gib Guilbeau, country-rock musician (Nashville West)
Filthy McNasty, nightclub owner
Mariano Mores, Argentine tango composer, pianist and conductor
Phil Sayer, British voice artist (“Mind the Gap”)
Vandy Anderson, radio broadcaster (KULF, KGBC)
Elliot Spitzer, radio executive (WLIR-FM)
Lord Tanamo, ska and mento musician
Richard Lyons, culture jammer (Negativland)
Pete Zorn, multi-instrumentalist (Richard Thompson Band)
Victoria Wood, actress, vocalist and songwriter
Lonnie Mack, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter (“Wham”)
Prince, vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist
Billy Paul, R&B vocalist (“Me & Mrs. Jones”)
Remo Belli, jazz drummer and inventor of the synthetic drumhead
Harrison Calloway, musician and bandleader (Muscle Shoals Horns)

May
Candye Kane, blues and swing vocalist and songwriter
John Stabb, punk rock vocalist (Government Issue)
Peter Behrens, drummer (Trio)
Tony Gable, percussionist and graphic designer
Julius La Rosa, pop vocalist
Buster Cooper, jazz trombonist
Bill Backer, jingle writer (“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”)
Tony Barrow, press officer (The Beatles)
Johnny Sea, country vocalist (“Day For Decision”)
Emilio Navaira, tejano and country vocalist, guitarist and songwriter
Guy Clark, singer and songwriter
John Berry, punk rock guitarist (Beastie Boys)
James King, bluegrass musician
Nick Menza, rock drummer (Megadeth)
Marshall Jones, bassist (Ohio Players)
Floyd Robinson, country vocalist and songwriter (“Makin’ Love”)
Rick Vanaugh, country drummer (The Time Jumpers)

June
Alan Wise, promoter and manager (Factory Records)
Muhammed Ali, boxer and spoken word artist (“I Am the Greatest”)
Mac Cocker, radio broadcaster (Australia’s Double J)
Mark Parenteau, radio broadcaster (WBCN)
Dave Swarbrick, violinist, vocalist and songwriter (Fairport Convention)
Bobby Curtola, Canadian teen idol (“Hand in Hand With You”)
Dan Sorkin, radio broadcaster (WCFL, KFRC, KSFO)
Brian Rading, rock bassist (Five Man Electrical Band)
Christina Grimmie, vocalist and songwriter (The Voice)
Chips Moman, songwriter and producer
Henry McCullough, rock guitarist (Grease Band, Spooky Tooth, Wings)
Charles Thompson, jazz pianist and organist
Attrell Cordes, hip-hop, soul and R&B artist (P.M. Dawn)
Tenor Fly, rapper and ragga vocliast
Bill Ham, manager, producer and songwriter (ZZ Top)
”Dandy” Dan Daniel, radio broadcaster (WMCA, WYNY, WCBS)
Wayne Jackson, R&B trumpeter (Mar-Keys, Memphis Horns)
Freddy Powers, country songwriter and producer
Leo Brennan, Irish musical patriarch
Harry Rabinowitz, conductor (Chariots of Fire) and composer (I, Claudius)
Dr. Ralph Stanley, mountain music banjoist, vocalist and songwriter
Bernie Worrell, keyboardist and composer (Parliament-Funkadelic)
Mack Rice, songwriter (“Mustang Sally” “Respect Yourself”)
Scotty Moore, rock ‘n’ roll guitarist
Rob Wasserman, bassist
Don Friedman, jazz pianist

July
Teddy Rooney, actor, musician and son of Mickey Rooney
Bob Goldstone, music industry executive (Thirty Tigers)
William Hawkins, poet and songwriter
Danny Smythe, rock drummer (The Box Tops)
Vaughn Harper, radio broadcaster (WBLS “The Quiet Storm”)
Carole Switala, vocalist and puppeteer (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)
Steve Young, musician (Colourbox, MARRS) and songwriter
Johnny Craviotto, rock drummer and drum maker
Charles Davis, jazz saxophonist
Bonnie Brown, country vocalist (The Browns)
Alan Vega, vocalist, songwriter (Suicide) and visual artist
Claude Williamson, jazz pianist
Gary S. Paxton, vocalist, songwriter and producer
Fred Tomlinson, vocalist and songwriter (“The Lumberjack Song”)
John Pidgeon, rock music writer and BBC radio executive
Lewie Steinberg, R&B bassist (Booker T. & the M.G.’s)
George Reznik, jazz pianist
Marni Nixon, playback vocalist (West Side Story, My Fair Lady) and actress
Roye Albrighton, vocalist and guitarist (Nektar)
Allan Barnes, jazz saxophonist (The Blackbyrds)
Sandy Pearlman, writer, producer and manager (Blue Oyster Cult)
Lucille Dumont, vocalist, songwriter and television star
Nigel Gray, record producer (The Police, Siouxsie and the Banshees)
Penny Lang, folk musician

August
Ricci Martin, musician, entertainer and son of Dean Martin
Patrice Munsel, coloratura soprano
Richard Fagan, songwriter (“Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)”)
Pete Fountain, jazz clarinetist
B.E. Taylor, pop vocalist and songwriter (“Vitamin L”)
Ruby Winters, soul vocalist (“Make Love to Me” “I Don’t Want to Cry”)
Padraig Duggan, folk musician (Clannad, The Duggans)
Glenn Yarbrough, vocalist and songwriter
David Enthoven, manager and record label executive
Ruby Wilson, blues vocalist
Connie Crothers, jazz pianist
Bobby Hutcherson, jazz vibraphonist
Preston Hubbard, bassist (Roomful of Blues, Fabulous Thunderbirds)
Lou Pearlman, producer and manager (Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC)
Irving Fields, pianist, composer and bandleader (Bagles and Bongos)
Matt Roberts, rock guitarist (3 Doors Down)
Tom Searle, guitarist (The Architects)
Louis Stewart, jazz guitarist
Headley Bennett, reggae saxophonist
Derek Smith, jazz pianist
Gilli Smythe, vocalist (Gong)
Toots Thielemans, harmonica player, guitarist and whistler
Rudy Van Gelder, recording engineer (Bluenote)
Monty Lee Wilkes, sound engineer (The Replacements, Nirvana)
Hubert Dwane “Hoot” Hester, country and bluegrass fiddler

September
Fred Hellerman, folk singer, songwriter and guitarist (The Weavers)
Kacey Jones, singer, songwriter and humorist
Jerry Heller, agent, promoter and manager (N.W.A.)
Bud Isaacs, steel guitarist
Lewis Merenstein, producer (Van Morrison, Gladys Knight, John Cale)
Clifford Curry, R&B vocalist (“She Shot a Hole in My Soul”)
Prince Buster, ska singer-songwriter and producer (“One Step Beyond”)
”Crazy” Eddie Antar, electronics retailer
Chris Stone, studio owner (The Record Plant)
Leonard Haze, rock drummer (Y&T)
Don Buchla, pioneering synthesizer designer
Jerry Corbetta, vocalist, keyboardist and songwriter (Sugarloaf)
Trisco Pearson, R&B vocalist (Force M.D.’s)
Charmian Carr, actress and vocalist (The Sound of Music)
Micki Marlo, vocalist (“What You’ve Done To Me” “Little By Little”)
John D. Loudermilk, songwriter and vocalist (“Tobacco Road”)
Richard D. Trentlage, jingle writer (Oscar Mayer, McDonald’s)
Rob Meurer, vocalist and songwriter (Christopher Cross)
Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural Jr, zydeco accordionist
Kashif, R&B vocalist, instrumentalist, producer and songwriter
Jean Shepard, country vocalist and songwriter
Joe Clay, rockabilly vocalist and guitarist
Royal Torrence, soul vocalist (Little Royal and the Swingmasters)
Nora Dean, reggae and gospel vocalist (“Barbwire”)
Oscar Brand, folk vocalist and songwriter, radio host (WNYC)
Michael Casswell, session guitarist (Brian May)

October
Joan Marie Johnson, pop vocalist (The Dixie Cups)
Caroline Crawley, vocalist (Shelleyan Orphan, This Mortal Coil)
Rod Temperton, keyboardist and songwriter (“Thriller” “Off the Wall”)
Peter Allen, radio broadcaster (Metropolitan Opera)
Don Ciccone, pop vocalist (The Critters) and songwriter
Leo Beranek, acoustic engineer and co-founder of BB&N
Robert Bateman, songwriter (“Please Mr. Postman”), vocalist (Satintones)
Sonny Sanders, songwriter, arranger and vocalist (Satintones)
Robert Edwards, R&B vocalist (The Intruders)
Ted V. Mikels, filmmaker and record label owner
Phil Chess, producer and record company executive
Chris Porter, americana vocalist, songwriter and guitarist
Mitchell Vandenburg, americana bassist and songwriter
Dave Cash, radio broadcaster (Radio London, BBC Radio 1)
Herb “The Cool Gent” Kent, radio broadcaster (WVON, WJJD and V103)
Pete Burns, vocalist and songwriter (Dead or Alive)
Bobby Vee, pop vocalist
Hazel Shermet, actress and singer (New Zoo Revue’s Henrietta Hippo)
John Zacherle, TV host, recording artist and radio broadcaster
Ron Grant, film and television composer (Knot’s Landing)
Tammy Grimes, actress and vocalist (The Unsinkable Molly Brown)
Curly Putman, country songwriter (“Green, Green Grass of Home”)

November
Bap Kennedy, vocalist and songwriter
Bob Cranshaw, jazz bassist
Kay Starr, pop and jazz vocalist
Jean-Jacques Perrey, electronic music producer
Laurent Pardo, bassist (Elliott Murphy’s Normandy All-Stars)
Sir Jimmy Young, radio host (BBC Radio 1 and 2) and vocalist
Al Caiola, guitarist, composer and arranger
Leonard Cohen, vocalist, songwriter, poet and novelist
Raynoma Gordy Singleton, songwriter and second wife of Barry Gordy Jr.
Billy Miller, magazine publisher (Kicks) and record label owner (Norton)
Leon Russell, vocalist, pianist and songwriter
Holly Dunn, country vocalist and songwriter
David Mancuso, disc jockey and private party host (The Loft)
Mose Allison, jazz pianist, vocalist and songwriter
Cliff Barrows, musical director (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
Milt Okun, producer, arranger, conductor and publisher
Don Waller, music journalist and vocalist
Mentor Williams, songwriter (“Drift Away”), producer and engineer
Sharon Jones, soul vocalist (The Dap Kings)
Al Batten, bluegrass banjo player and band leader
Hod O’Brien, jazz pianist
Craig Gill, rock drummer (Inspiral Carpets)
Al Broadax, television and film producer (The Beatles, Yellow Submarine)
Florence Henderson, actress and vocalist
Pauline Oliveros, composer, educator and accordionist
Tony Martell, record industry executive (CBS Records) and philanthropist
Ray Columbus, vocalist, songwriter, manager and television host
Carlton Kitto, jazz guitarist

December
Mickey Fitz, punk rock vocalist (The Business)
Mark Gray, country vocalist and songwriter (“Take Me Down”)
Herbert Hardesty, saxophonist (Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew)
Wayne Duncan, bassist and vocalist (Daddy Cool)
Mohamed Tahar Fergani, Algerian vocalist, violinist and composer
Greg Lake, vocalist, bassist and songwriter (King Crimson, EL&P)
Palani Vaughan, Hawaiian vocalist and songwriter
George Mantalis, pop vocalist (The Four Coins)
Valerie Gell, rock ‘n’ roll vocalist and guitarist (The Liverbirds)
Bob Krasnow, record executive and co-founder of the R’n’R Hall of Fame
Joe Ligon, gospel vocalist (Mighty Clouds of Joy)
Barrelhouse Chuck, blues vocalist, songwriter and pianist
Jim Lowe, songwriter (“The Green Door”) and radio broadcaster
Ahuva Ozeri, Israeli singer-songwriter
Betsy Pecanins, blues singer and songwriter
Päivi Paunu, vocalist and Eurovision contestant (“Muistathan”)
Bunny Walters, Maori pop vocalist (“Brandy” “Take the Money and Run”)
Fran Jeffries, vocalist, dancer and actress (The Pink Panther)
John Chelew, producer and concert promoter (McCabe’s Guitar Shop)
Bob Coburn, radio broadcaster (“Rockline,” KLOS)
Léo Marjane, French vocalist (“Seule ce soir”)
Gustavo Quintero, Columbian singer-songwriter
Gordie Tapp, radio broadcaster and television performer (Hee Haw)
Andrew Dorff, country songwriter (“My Eyes” “Somebody’s Heartbreak”)
Dick Latessa, actor and Tony winner (Hairspray)
Sam Leach, concert promoter (The Beatles)
Betty Loo Taylor, jazz pianist
Frank Murray, manager (The Pogues) and tour manager
Mick Zane, rock guitarist (Malice)
Rick Parfitt, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist (Status Quo)
George Michael, pop vocalist and songwriter
George S. Irving, musical theater and voice actor
Alphonse Mouzan, jazz drummer
Pierre Barouh, lyricist (A Man and a Woman), composer and actor
Debbie Reynolds, actress and vocalist
Billie Joe Burnette, country vocalist and songwriter (“Teddy Bear”)
Rich Conaty, radio broadcaster (WFUV’s The Big Broadcast)
Allan Williams, booking agent and manager (The Beatles)
Johnny Canton, radio broadcaster (WDGY, WCCO)
David Meltzer, poet and jazz guitarist

Dwight Yoakam: Swimmin’ Pool, Movie Stars

Friday, October 21st, 2016

dwightyoakamswimminpoolsmoviestarsSwaggering bluegrass reinterpretations of Yoakam highlights

Commercial country music has become so commoditized by its formulas that it’s often difficult to recognize who you’re listening to. Not so with Dwight Yoakam. Not ever with Dwight Yoakam. Not only is his voice a singular instrument, but so is his taste as an artist. Not that he’s ever sat still in a pigeonhole; he’s maintained a throughline of artistic integrity and fidelity to country music’s emotional foundation even as he stretched the boundaries of country with former partner Pete Anderson, lured Buck Owens back to work, and stripped down to solo guitar for the reassessment of 2000’s dwightyoakamacoustic.net. The outline of this latter solo acoustic jaunt is reprised here, but with a twist of bluegrass applied to catalog selections that favor deserving album tracks over hits.

Yoakam’s interest in bluegrass isn’t new – he was born in Kentucky (though raised in Ohio), and he’s recorded with both Ralph Stanley (“Down Where the River Bends” on Stanley’s Saturday Night & Sunday Morning and “Miner’s Prayer” on Dwight’s Used Records) and Earl Scruggs (“Borrowed Love” on Scruggs’ Earl Scruggs and Friends). He’s had his songs reimagined in bluegrass arrangements, having been paid tribute on 2004’s Pickin’ on Dwight Yoakam, and he’s featured bluegrass arrangements in his live show for several years. But this is the first time he’s settled down in the studio with a bluegrass band for his own album, and buoyed by the first class backing of Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Barry Bales, Adam Steffey and Scott Vestal, he finds new layers in eleven of his own compositions and a compelling cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

The opening “What I Don’t Know” turns the original’s simmering accusation into an angry holler, and the lead vocal and harmonies of “These Arms” are sorrowful in a different way than the hard honky-tonk of the original. “Two Doors Down” is sung high and lonesome, without the tenderness and redemptive organ of the original or the stark introspection of the earlier acoustic take. As in his collaborations with Pete Anderson, Yoakam leans on his partners for both tradition and invention. His take on bluegrass is similar to his take on Bakersfield (and Bakersfield’s own take on country): knowledgeable, perhaps even reverent, but never slavish. Everyone clearly had a lot of fun reinterpreting these songs, and their spontaneity is infectious; you won’t put away the originals, but neither will you skip these remakes. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Dwight Yoakam’s Home Page

Marley’s Ghost: The Woodstock Sessions

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

marleysghost_thewoodstocksessionsVeteran roots group records in Woodstock with Larry Campbell

Thirty years into their career, Marley’s Ghost is like a well-worn leather jacket. You can admire their tenure intellectually, but up-close, with your ears, you can’t help but be moved by the effortless music their tenure has produced. The band’s breadth, interpersonal chemistry and instrumental skills create performance from the seemingly simpler act of music making. “Seemingly,” because it’s anything but simple for skills to be so completely second nature. With Larry Campbell as producer and recording in Levon Helm’s Woodstock studio, the group leaned heavily on a connoisseur’s selection of traditional material that includes titles written by the Delmores (“Field Hand Man”) and made famous by the Stanleys (“Stone Walls and Steel Bars”), Bill Monroe (“In the Pines”) and Carter Family (“The Storms Are on the Ocean”). The harmonies flow easily from blues to bluegrass to country to Cajun, and in “Run on for a Long Time,” to gospel. The album closes with the fiddle tune “Uncle Joe,” leaving listeners dancing to this journey through American roots music. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Marley’s Ghost’s Home Page

Dwight Yoakam: Guitars, Cadillacs

Friday, September 9th, 2016

The first single from Dwight Yoakam’s upcoming bluegrass LP Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… is a fine acoustic take on his second hit single.

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys: The Complete Jessup Recordings Plus!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

RalphStanleyAndTheClinchMountainBoys_TheCompleteJessupRecordingsPlusRare Ralph Stanley albums, plus a third from Whitley and Skaggs

By the time Ralph Stanley released Michigan Bluegrass on the independent Jessup label in 1971, he was well into establishing the second phase of his career. A twenty year run as half the Stanley Brothers had ended with the passing of his older brother Carter in 1966, but barely missing a beat, he reincarnated the Clinch Mountain Boys, continued to release records for King, and added releases on Rebel, Jalyn and Jessup. His connection with the latter was brief, comprising just two albums recorded in five weeks in 1971, and released in ‘71 and ‘73. The albums were previously reissued as Echoes of the Stanley Brothers, but are augmented here by ten additional tracks drawn from Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs’ contemporaneous Tribute to the Stanley Brothers.

Whitley and Skaggs were backed by the Clinch Mountain Boys for their album, and after being invited to join the group, the album was reissued under Ralph Stanley’s name. This 2-CD set opens with ten of the tribute album’s twelve tracks (omitting “White Dove” and “The Angels Are Singing Tonight”), with, according to the Colin Escott’s well-researched liner notes, Stanley leaving the banjo parts to Roy Lee Centers. Whitley and Skaggs delved deep into the Stanley Brothers catalog, showing off the encyclopedic knowledge that had originally caught Ralph Stanley’s ear. The songs of loss, longing and loneliness are highlighted by an unusual murder-suicide in “Little Glass of Wine.” The stereo production is clean and spacious, with the fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass crisply arrayed around the tight, sorrowful lead harmonies.

In the summer of 1971, after a live outing and a pair of albums for Rebel, Stanley took his band into Jessup’s Jackson, Michigan studio. The first of his two Jessup albums features a trove of then-new material, including a pair of socially conscious songs by Gene Duty. “Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving” is straightforwardly prideful, but the opening “Are You Proud of America” digs deeper with its questioning of those who question America. Wendy Smith contributed “River Underground,” a murder ballad in which the protagonist ends up haunted by guilt rather than jailed or dead. Joyce Morris’ “Another Song, Another Drink” gains an extra shade of sadness in the retrospective light of lead vocalist Keith Whitley’s untimely death, and the album’s instrumentals, “Hulla Gull” and “Buckwheat,” highlight the band’s musical talent.

Five weeks later, the group was back in Jessup’s studio to record an album of gospel material drawn from the Stanley Brothers catalog. In addition to traditional material given the Stanley treatment, the songs include Ruby Rakes’ “Wings of Angels” and J.L. Frank and Pee Wee King’s “My Main Trail is Yet to Come.” The former looks forward to heavenly salvation, while the latter finds a condemned man awaiting his eternal sentence. The vocals are at turns forlorn and praiseful as they essay family, faith, loss and sorrow, mourning those who’ve passed and anticipating reunion in the hereafter. Stanley said that vocalist Roy Lee Centers “had the gift,” and it’s in full evidence here amid the revitalized group. Real Gone’s 2-CD set is a real treat for fans of bluegrass, gospel and the Stanley Brothers. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Dr. Ralph Stanley’s Home Page

Hypercast #5: The Fool Anthology

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

“The Fool” was written by Lee Hazlewood (though credited to his nom de spouse, Naomi Ford, and with a guitar riff borrowed from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’“), and first waxed by Sanford Clark in 1956. Since then, the song’s been recorded dozens of times across a surprising range of genres. Here, for your irritainment*, are twenty-eight different recordings, clocking it at over ninety-six oddly hypnotic minutes.

* Thanks to artist Gordon Monahan and his Exotic Trilogy series for inspiration.