Tag Archives: Little Richard

And Maybe Rock’n’Roll Began When…

Jackie Brenston recorded “Rocket 88“?

Sixty years  ago todayaccording to Al Gore’s Internet – the first rock’n’roll single was recorded. Cars? Yep. Girls? Yep. Booze? Yep. Hmmm…maybe so.

I dunno, I can’t help but point back at people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard as the true architects, but there are some who will point at this song as the genesis of rock’n’roll. Sam Phillips was able to tout it to such an extent that it financed the beginning of Sun Records, and we know where that went.

Of course, sixty years turns a lot of fable into truth, but I’m more concerned about the survival of the art form that it’s zygote moment. Brenston was dead by age forty-nine, and for a guy serving a tenure with Ike Turner, that’s probably a long life. Maybe he was the guy. Maybe not.

But considering the historic occasion, why not give a listen?

And if you want to start an argument in a bar, research this page first!

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #3

You’ve heard the phrase actions speak louder than words? Well, before I say any more I implore you to watch this video clip and tell me it isn’t the most ass-shaking, head-knocking rock and roll track of 2010…

Video: “High Horse

The Jim Jones Revue can lay claim to being the fiercest rock’n’roll band on tha planet right now, and while that might not prove absolute, I guarantee you  they’d be in the final rounds. Slam some Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis down your throat and follow it with a chaser of Ziggy-era David Bowie and The Stooges and you’re only scratching the surface.

Video: “Shoot First

The band exploded (probably literally) on the English scene in 2008 and issued a hastily recorded self-titled album; last year a compilation of singles and b-sides called Here To Save Your Soul followed. Jones (formerly of Thee Hypnotics) fronts a powerhouse band featuring guitarist Rupert Orton, bassist Gavin Jay,  drummer Nick Jones and keyboard player Elliot Mortimer. Everyone is great – obviously – but it’s piano man Mortimer whose raucous boogie-woogie attack gives the band its hybrid punk/rockabilly energy. It’s scary how good this band has gotten in less than two years; I cannot wait to see them live.

Video: Live at the Dirty Water Club

Burning Your House Down is not only one of 2010’s most aptly named albums, it’s one of the loudest records you will ever own.

And it is absolutely one of the best.

Melt your ears at Amazon

Jim Jones website

Jim Jones Revue on MySpace

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T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Happy Birthday, Billy Preston

Murray The K wanted to be the Fifth Beatle, but I think Billy Preston earned the title. Considering the legacy of the band and the state of society in those days, adding Billy Preston as a member of The Beatles might have ended racism in 1970.

Back in the 60’s, it wasn’t unusual for musicians to be all over a band’s album and get no credit whatsoever. Motown, Stax and other labels had crack house bands that made everyone sound great. Most pop acts were noted for their vocal performances while a session band did most of the work in anonymity. Highly paid work, mind you, but still behind the pop culture curtain.

Consider that most people were shocked when The Monkees admitted that other musicians played on their albums, and at the time they were just four actors pretending to be a band! Glen Campbell and Jimmy Page played on countless sessions before becoming famous under their own name, much like many of the classic songwriters (Neil Diamond, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, etc.) figured out that you could make a ton of money behind the scenes but a ton more out front.

Ringo says he can join!

Billy Preston – has he ever not been smiling? – added a great vibe to the Beatles sound. His solo in “Get Back” makes the song what it is, and the track is actually credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston” – the only time in the band’s career outside of the Tony Sheridan era where another artist shares billing with them. Nice resume, Mr. Preston!

Sadly, we lost him in 2006, three months shy of his 60th birthday. So whether you know him from his long list of guest stints (everyone from Little Richard and Ray Charles to Johnny Cash and The Rolling Stones – the list is almost endless) or his own chart topping hits “Nothing from Nothing” and “Will it Go Round In Circles“, celebrate the memory of Billy Preston today.

Billy Preston on Wikipedia.

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It’s Not Easy Being Yellow

Sesame Street

Would...you be...my neighbor? (Oops, wrong show...)

If you think it’s not easy being green, imagine how hard it is to be yellow! Carol Spinney has been playing the part of Big Bird since Sesame Street debuted on television forty years ago today. You may not realize that Spinney started playing the character while in his mid-30s, so the guy lifting that five-pound head with his arm is still doing it in his 70s (and no doubt he could whip you at arm-wrestling as well). Just one of the thousands of tidbits that will no doubt flood the Internet today as we celebrate and appreciate the program.

Sesame Street probably did as much to promote Public Television as those channels did to promote the show, a landmark exercise in combining educational television with entertainment. I was just old enough to be above their target demographic, although later on I’d come to appreciate the many adult moments the show offered (see below). I don’t know anyone today who grew up in the era who doesn’t have fond memories of watching the program.

Big Bird reading

A couple of generations ago most kids had two parents, and one of them was usually home. Mom or Dad could read to them and teach them the alphabet and how numbers worked so when they went off to school it wasn’t as intimidating. But over time the divorce rate started skyrocketing and many households suddenly needed two earners, and time with children became a precious commodity. When Sesame Street came along, for once sitting a kid in front of a television as a babysitting exercise wasn’t a bad thing.

But watching the show with your kids had greater benefits. Eventually, along with basic math and reading skills came life lessons, presented in a way that children could understand and discuss with their parents.

The Count

What imagination went into these characters and the program. Although never the most popular, my favorite was always The Count. That probably explains why I love Greg The Bunny as much as I do. (“Don’t turn this into Abbott and Costello, kid!“)

I also grew to like the human characters who interacted with the Muppets, like Gordon and Susan and Bob, and the list of celebrities who guested is staggering. As a result, just like with Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Road Runner cartoons, Sesame Street has a lot to offer adults, too. Like…

Sesame Street cast

Today’s column was brought to you by the letters D, R and B.

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Blast From The Past: Johnny Winter And

Guitars? Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Guitars? Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

I was watching a recently released DVD titled Johnny Winter Live Through The 70s, which contains some amazing early footage of one of rock’s best and most underrated guitarists. The footage varies in quality, but from acoustic blues runs to television performances to stage madness, Winter’s blazing fretwork is astonishing. I was very pleased to see Randy Jo Hobbs accompany him in a duo setting as well as on two clips from Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert (with Richard Hughes manning the double-bass drumkit). But I was surprised and disappointed that there was no footage that included Rick Derringer, because that’s when and how I jumped on the Johnny Winter bandwagon.

Johnny Winter And was the name originally used when Winter picked up The McCoys as his backup band. The McCoys had a massive pop hit with “Hang On Sloopy” and featured brothers Rick and Randy Zehringer (Rick would later change his name to Derringer) and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs. By the time this album was recorded, Randy had been replaced by powerhouse drummer Bobby Caldwell (Captain Beyond). I was familiar with The McCoys and had a few singles (I still like “Don’t Worry Mother”!) but knew little of Winter; in fact when I was on vacation with the family in Florida and a group of kids at the hotel asked me to go with them to Pirate World, I thought we were planning to see Jonathan Winters!  What I saw that night blew my mind, rearranged my brain and changed my life. To this day I’m not certain what parts of the album were from Florida and what was from the Fillmore, but it’s among the five best live rock records ever made. Seeing that show live was like opening the door to a blast furnace and getting every hair singed off your body in a nanosecond…and loving it.

If I could boil down the appeal of this album to a couple of words I would say passion and tone. From the moment that Caldwell’s drums launch “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” into orbit until the last note of  “Johnny B Goode” bleeds out, this band is on fire. And tone? Winter’s slide guitar work in “Mean Town Blues” is a master class, and Derringer’s rhythm and second leads define the word chunky. Whether blazing through Chuck Berry songs like two runaway trains or delicately dancing a slow blues, this was Guitar Hero material long before the game was invented. Beside and behind them, Hobbs and Caldwell are like a volcano belching molten lava (in perfect time, of course). This was four guys plugged in and gone, no commercial intent, no posing – just foot-to-the-floor rock’n’roll.

Johnny Winter plays Rolling Stones songs better than they do (“Silver Train”, anyone?) and his version of “Jumping Jack Flash” is amazing, but when he lets out that otherworldly howl before ripping into “Johnny B Goode” you know that he’d also gone after Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis that night. It’s almost forty years later and the hair on the back of my neck still stands up at that moment, just like when the smoldering cauldron of “It’s My Own Fault” starts to bubble over during the second solo. I don’t think Winter or Derringer were ever better than on this album.

My God, folks – this album retails for $6.99 on Amazon. Seven dollars for a life-changing experience is a pretty sweet deal, and I suggest you get a ticket on this ride ASAP. I’ve got this masterpiece on vinyl, on CD, and living in my memory forever, singed hairs and all.

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