Mr Jelly

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Jelly Roll Morton – Volumes 1-5 (JSP)

The old Bluebird/BMG “Centennial” five-disc set was one of the first purchases I made when I was first really started getting into early jazz.

More than 20 years ago …

I hammered it for years, but then – as I amassed a pretty tidy collection of old-school, pre-war jazz, it fell into non-use.

Over the years, there’s been criticism of that set’s use of the “NoNOISE” technology, which allegedly makes it wildly inferior to the sound of the JSP set.

But that’s not why I stopped playing it – or why I played it only occasionally.

That had more to do with the track sequencing, with the alternate takes grouped together with their masters.

That makes a certain kind of sense – but there are so many alternates, that it makes the Bluebird set far from user-friendly.

And while some experts – of which I am certainly not one – may disagree, there’s not a lot of difference, to my ears, between different takes of the same tune.

Now, a long time later, I’ve finally gotten around to getting the JSP.

And it’s a joy.

The alternates are nicely tucked away on discs four and five, leaving the meat of the matter on the three discs at the front end.

It’s all incredible brilliance and genius, Morton and his tunes abetted by the likes of Kid Ory, Omer Simoen, Johnny St Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds and many more.

Listening to this music anew, what strikes me most is the overwhelming completeness of the Morton vision brought to glorious treatment by full bands.

All of these classic tunes were, AFAIK, written and originally performed on piano.

Before the earliest of these cuts, recorded in 1926, Morton had done some band recording – many of those tracks can be heard on the CD Jelly Roll Morton rarities on the JazzOracle label.

But the ebullient majesty and verve of the Bluebird recordings are on another, higher plane.

A religious experience

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(This was published in Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun in 2000, kicking off a series called “Religious Experiences – The Gig That Changed My Life”. The column ran for a few years and featured many fans, musicians and music scene heroes. My thanks to Kevin Hill for the use of his very fine photograph of Muddy with Mojo Buford!)

***

Muddy Waters, Christchurch Town Hall, New Zealand, 1973

The great gigs, those mind-shredding live music events, are moving experiences. KENNY WEIR, introducing a new column, testifies they can also be profoundly spiritual and revealing occasions

PERHAPS it was the blunt audacity that let me get away with it.

After all, I was meant to be knuckling down for serious study and “cramming” for exams that were not only to prepare me for working life, but also ascertain what kind of shape that life might take.

Small wonder, then, my parents expressed dismay when I calmly revealed I not only had booked a ticket for a blues show in Christchurch, hundreds of kilometres north of our Dunedin home, but also a return bus fare.

Worse, from their point of view, this outrageous excursion would entail taking two days off school.

So embroiled was I in the excitement of adventure, it was only years later that I came to understand just how muted my folks’ objections had been.

Little did any of us know that what I was to witness, hear and experience at that show was to have everlasting and monumental repercussions that made my subsequent dismal academic record appear of no consequence whatsoever.

By 1973, I was already a crazed music fan, ears glued to the radio at every opportunity.

But I had grown tired of the poppery of the Beatles and such like and was on the prowl for tougher and more soulful sounds.

That meant the wild guitar of Jimi Hendrix and the gritty R&B of such outfits as the Animals.

However, as I set forth for Christchurch, the blues remained an enigma.

It was a few years before I subscribed to the British magazine, Blues Unlimited, and my blues collection comprised one album apiece by John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Muddy Waters then was no more than a name – but I knew, beyond doubt, that he was very, very cool.

But even that certainty in no way prepared me for music so amazing, so swinging, so full of heart and soul. So, well, in the groove.

And that was even before “The Man” swept on to the stage – the band of guitarists Sammy Lawhorn and Pee Wee Madison, harmonica man “Mojo” Buford, pianist “Pinetop” Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eye” Smith and bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Jones were hipness incarnate.

As for Muddy, in 1973 it was only a handful of years earlier that he was the reigning king of the Chicago blues clubs – the Hoochie Coochie Man lauded for marrying the gutbucket blues of the Delta with the grit and electricity of the urban north.

At the top of his game, he had a princely grace and dignity.

His slide guitar was full of bite and menace, with a sense of style and taste of which hysterical, bombastic latter-day practitioners of that particular style can only dream.

Had I been able to articulate my thoughts amid that all-consuming blues fire, they might have run thus: “Right – this is what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life.”

And – as writer, broadcaster, proselytiser and zealot – that is how it’s been.

What a trip.

Honorable mentions
Grateful Dead, Winterland, San Francisco, 1977
Flamin’ Groovies, Roundhouse, London, 1978
Solomon Burke, New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, 1994

Latin dynamite on Soul Jazz

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Various – Nu Yorica Roots! The Rise of Latin Music in NY City in the 1960s (Soul Jazz Records)
Various – New York Latin Hustle! (Soul Jazz Records)
Various – Nu Yorica! Culture Clash in NY City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77 (Soul Jazz Records)

LIke, I suspect, many music fans of a certain age, my earliest are memories are becoming vague – more impressions than anything specific or precise.

No such problem with my discovery and deep, deep near-simultaneous plunge into the blessed waters of blues, old-time country and bluegrass, and soon thereafter all the various offshoots and related genres.

All that remains extremely vivid in my mind – though just how accurate or real those memories are is open to question.

How and when Latin music came to be part of my musical landscape is, however, a mystery to me – though it’s always seemed to be thereabouts.

Never as my main thing, but never far away.

From Jelly Roll Morton through to Dizzy Gillespie and even Blue Note, the Latin thing is a big thing in jazz – but my jazz jones is relatively young: maybe 25 years and counting.

So that doesn’t explain it.

In any case, my Latin leanings have become more pronounced in recent years as I have hoovered up Latin or related grooves from the US, Brazil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia and more.

But nothing has had the same momentous wall-to-wall impact on me as these mind-shredding compilations from Soul Jazz Records, the first a single disc, the other two doubles.

Here’s the thing about Soul Jazz anthologies – they cover a lot of history.

But they don’t profess to be comprehensive.

But what they deliver is impeccably chosen line-ups of tunes, each one a giant.

No filler, all killer, as the saying goes.

Whew!

Smokin’!

The three albums overlap and there’s many famous names involved – Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Machito, Eddie Palmieri and many more .

But they are individually themed as well.

On the first album – Roots – there’s a bunch of more poppish stuff that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Richie Valens, Los Lobos or the Young Rascals.

The second – Hustle – finds a heap of stuff that has a disco throb.

Much to my surprise, I find the disco beat combined with very human hands on drums utterly enthralling.

The 10 minutes of La Charanga 76’s “No Nos Pararan” is by no means taxing!

As per its subtitle, the third in the trilogy – Culture Clash – is the most far out.

It has heaps of wah-wah guitar and synth, many rock, funk and jazz influences, and longer track times.

A good argument could be made that these three releases constitute a perfect ready-made Latin collection.

A yodel for Bear Family

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(This rant was originally written for organissimo jazz forums several years ago when I was an active member. This piece was subsequently discovered by L-P Anderson of Bear Family. It was used in the label’s 35th anniversary box set, of which I was presented with a complementary copy. But that was nothing compared to the thrill of having my writing taking up space in a classic, hardcover Bear Family book! I also got the hank Snow Thesaurus Transciptions box set out of the deal. L-P has become a Facebook friend and through that contact I have hooked up with a number of music types around the world. My Bear Family collection has grown since this was first published in 2010.)

***

Not for the first time in my life Bear Family is taking a big whack of my time in terms of listening, money, online browsing, researching and pulling of triggers.

The outfit is so broad and diverse that there’s no way I could claim to be holus bolus in love with all of it, as opposed to maybe Mosaic or Jazz Oracle.

Nope, not interested in Doris Day or Bonanza box sets, or even Nat King Cole.

There’s a few rockabilly releases I’d like get familiar with again – Johnny Brunette Trio, Sid King maybe – but by and large I find straight-out rockabilly near unlistenable these days.

But for my areas of interest – honky tonk, western wing, hillbilly boogie and so on, with a nod to old-timey and bluegrass – it sometimes seems that there’s not a Bear Family release out there that will not provide at the very least some interest and at best jump-for-joy delirium.

And unlike, say, Ace (who have also been getting a fair whack of my custom), BF always has full recording/personnel details.

And with BF there’s always the thrill of knowing the next revelation is just around the corner!

Here’s what I picked up in the run-up to Christmas …

The Texas Troubadours – Almost To Tulsa: The Instrumentals
Simply incredible! Backin’ the boss, Ernest Tubb, these guys were kept on a pretty tight – if very tasty – leash. Here they sizzle. Smokin’ pedal steel and lead guitar, particularly from Buddy Charleton and Leon Rhodes. There’s a whole CD at the rear end of the third final Hag BF box of the Strangers doing the same sort of stuff – but nowhere near as compellingly as this. IMO. On a couple of tracks the Troubadours veer towards bachelor pad/lounge territory, but that’s cool with me, too. Unreservedly recommended to diggers of Hank Garland, Speedy West/Jimmy Bryant and so on, but also fans of Hank Roberts and Tal Farlow, and anyone interested in checking out the roots of Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry.

Ernest Tubb – Thirty Days
Picked this up at the same time after a year or so of prevarication. The Bear Family Tubb boxes stretch to five, comprising 30 discs. So it was time get real and admit I was never going to go that far, even had I the money! There’s a Proper box, but that would’ve restricted me the early stuff only. Thus it seems clear this is the best single-disc available – and it sounds great. Like all in the BF Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight series, it puts the emphasis on uptempos, rockers and groovers. But not exclusively.

(Arguing the toss on country music at the weekend with a buddy, he admitted that when it comes to country he prefers, erm, Gillian Welch, John Prine and even Neil Young, and that what he called that “catch” or “cry” in the voice of Hag and his ilk was always going to be a deal-breaker for him. My response was that if you don’t dig that kind of voice – God knows what he’d have thought if I’d spun some Tubb for him – and if you have a problem with novelty tunes, drinking songs, cowboy tunes, Bible-thumping gospel outings, sickly sweet sentimentality as found on Wayne Raney’s The Child’s Side Of Life or Fuzzy-Wuzzy Teddy Bear by Hal “Lone” Pine/Betty Cody (see below), wailing steel guitars (pedal and otherwise), endless tributes to southern culture, well … you may be loving some fine artists, but you sure as hell ain’t digging country. IMO. Take all that stuff away and it’s no longer country.)
(In some ways I feel lucky to be free of all the baggage that seems to accompany country for many people, including it seems many Americans … Another mutual friend of ours once confessed that the sound of bluegrass made her feel ill.)

But back to specifics …

Leon McAuliffe – Tulsa Straight Ahead (Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight series)
Wow, wow, wow! This has blown me away. Capitol ’50s recordings from Bob Wills’ steel man. Nothing all that original here, but it all swings and rocks. More slick than the Wills recordings on which Leon performed – and more in line with the R&B-tinged cuts available by Billy Jack Wills. Great and hot fiddle, steel guitar and vocals.

Leon Payne – I Love You Because
This one had been calling to me for a while, so it’s sad to report I’ve been a little underwhelmed. A hugely successful songwriter (viz the title track right through to Jim Reeves), Payne turns in a mixed bag of honky tonk and related stuff. One for the true believers (which is me), but not essential.

Other goodies in my Bear Family collection …

Hank Snow – The Goldrush Is Over (Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight series)
Ah, yes, bliss, another blind spot eradicated. I don’t know why I spent four decades of country fandom without ever really checking out Snow – maybe (shamefully) because in my mind’s eye there was some sort of connection between Snow and the likes of the aforementioned Jim Reeves. Silly! Anyways, this does the job – rocking, wailing brilliance from beginning to end. Especially surprising are Snow’s own acoustic guitar breaks. He ain’t no virtuoso, but perfection doesn’t always require that level of genius. Which is no doubt genius of a kind, too. Like Tubb, Snow is covered by multiple box sets – a whole lot too much for me, although the set showcasing the Thesaurus transcriptions of Snow doing his own material and covers with his own band has profound appeal. I’m more likely to spring for one or two of the recent releases that are thematically presented – railroad tunes, cowboy songs, Hawaian stuff.

Hal Lone Pine/Betty Cody – On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine
More from Canada. Straight-up mixed bag but almost always with a twist that contrats it from the mainstream US product of the times. Lovely!

Montana Slim/Wilf Carter – The Dynamite Trail
Another Canadian! My country adventures of recent years could well be sub-titled “How Kenny Learned To Chill Out And Love The Yodel”. But that might be going a bit too far. More like “Kenny Learns To Live With The Yodel”. In any case, there’s wall-to-wall yodelling here, a single disc I chose to get to grips with this particular artist. I dunno – maybe some earlier stuff might be more my go, but this is too slick/formulaic for me, yodelling aside.

Frankie Miller – Blackland Farmer (The Complete Starday Recordings and More …)
Whooeeee – three discs of unrepentant honky tonk brilliance. Many of these sides are, I’m guessing, among the last with Nashville fire before countrypolitan doused the flames. Like fellow Starday artist George Jones, Miller writes little but has a genius for making other’s lyrics his own and so believable one simply falls into the song. A prime example: Baby Rocked Her Dolly – in which an old codger in a rest home looks back on his life – is pure dynamite. There’s a single BF release of Miller’s earlier recs for Columbia, more in the Hank mould.
(Hey, hey – the magic of subliminal listening! As I’m bashing this out, Leon Payne is sounding better by the minute! Similarly, I find that when doing such a banal time-wasting thing as playing computer solitaire, I often pick up details in the music that have previously passed me by.)

Benny Barnes – Poor Man’s Riches (The Complete 1950s Recordings)
More Texas honky tonk schtick a la Miller/Jones. Some great, some good, some pretty awful really. Not essential.

Jess Willard – Honk Tonk Hardwood Floor
One of those BF releases on which I simply took a punt, with spectacularly enjoyable results. Lisping former sidekick of Jack Guthrie doing one-of-a-kind west coast honk tonk/hillbilly. Weird, surreal, essential. And absolutely one of THOSE voices seemingly calculated to give the screaming shits to those who dig, say, the likes of Shania “Ball Of Twine”.

Gene O’Quin – Boogie Woogie Fever
Ah, re-acquainted with another old friend. And another one of THOSE voices. Irresistibly enjoyable west coast jive with beaucoup Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant, Merle Travis and so on. The musical equivalent of a shit-eating grin.

Jimmy Swan – Honky Tonkin’ In Mississippi
The liners notes make quite a bit of Swan’s campaign for the Miss. Governorship on a segregationist platform. So what? Heaven forbid we stop listening to music for such reasons. Real, real hardcore honky tonk in the Hank Williams mould.

Jack Guthrie – Milk Cow Blues
One of three BF Guthrie releases, this features him and his band doing covers such as Muleskinner Blues, San Antonio Rose, Peach Picking Time In Georgia and so on. Really fine, but the Oklahoma Hills CD is probably the better pick in terms of Guthrie’s individual talent/voice. That’s on my wishlist.

Jimmy Murphy – Electricity
Brilliant beyond words. Right up there with the likes of Monk, Longhair, Howlin’ Wolf, Roger Miller in terms of one-off American genius.

Roger Miller – Kings Of The Road
Speaking of which … quite an old release by now (1990), but still the best single disc comp as far as I know.

Skeets McDonald – Heart Breakin’ Mama
Jimmie Skinner – One Dead Man Ago
As with the Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb single-disc comps, these gonna Shake This Shack releases cherry pick in sublime fashion multi-disc box sets. These’ll do me for these two fine artists. More essential stuff. Jimmie Skinner has the laudable knack of doing a relatively modern honky tonk style with a real old-timey feel. A fair bet, too, he’s an influence on Bob Dylan. Skeets is simply classic and about as hard as country gets – mostly a mix of Nashville cats and pre-Hag Bakersfield.

Hawkshaw Hawkins – Car Hoppin’ Mama
Eddie Hill – The Hot Guitar

Two more Gonna Shake This Shack release. The Hawkins is genial, rocking and pure ambrosia, with the vocals more in the Merle Travis/Johnny Mercer vein. The Eddie Hill is good fun along the Hot Rod Lincoln lines, but not essential.

Harry Choates – Devil In The Bayou (The Gold Star Recordings) 2 cds
Link Davis – Big Mamou

Two more American heroes, sort-of Cajuns both. Essential, both of ’em – heaps of wailing fiddles, swing, cajun, rockabilly and much more.

And, of course, Kenny has boxes …

Merle Travis – Guitars Rags And A Too Fast Past
His Capitol classics – couldn’t live without it. Genius/loon/jiver all in one.

Bob Wills – San Antonio Rose
Ditto.

Various – A Shot In The Dark/Tennessee Jive
Heavyweight comp of early Nashville labels. Fabulous.

The Blue Sky Boys – The Sunny Side Of Life
Far and away my fave sibling harmony outfit. And, yes, couldn’t live without it. But … there is an undeniable sameness about the tempos, keys, lyric content and so on. Would make me hesitant about picking the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Macon and Louvin Bros sets, even if I could afford them.

Merle Haggard – Untamed Hawk/Hag
Another blind spot joyfully banished. I’m a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to Hag, but with these two boxes I’ve become a zealot. Why are Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons, just for example, so revered in rock circles when Hag’s associated with Okie From Muskogee and not much else?

Merle Haggard – Hag: Concepts, Live & The Strangers
Not nearly as compelling as the Capitol studio tracks covered in the first two boxes, but has its moments. But not the gospel stuff, which is frankly bloody awful.

Floyd Tillman – I Love You So Much It Hurts
Founding father of honky tonk along with Tubb and Williams. Unsung giant/genius. And another one-of-a-kind a la Longhair and Monk and so on.

Jimmie Davis – Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine
Louisiana Governor-to-be does much country smut and hard-grinding blues with Oscar Woods on steel.

Cliff Bruner And His Texas Wanderers
This was pretty much the beginning of my born-again interest in this area. But despite having large amounts of Bob Dunn and Moon Mullican, I find there is something ho-hum about this as a whole. Geez, that sound sacreligious even to me!

Bill Monroe – Blue Moon Of Kentucky

Has the duets with Charlie, the tremendous proto-bluegrass with accordian and classic early cuts with Flatt & Scruggs. As well as two discs of alternate takes. But it is the earlier four-disc box of the ’50s Decca stuff with Jimmy Martin that I really covet.

Maddox Brothers & Rose – The Most Colourful Hillbilly Band In America
Slightly silly impulse buy, as it has plenty of the band’s whacko rocking stuff, but also unfortunately also plenty of Rose’s routine but still enjoyable Nashville cuts.

I even have non-country boxes …

Duke Ellington – Live From The Cotton Club

Smiley Lewis – Shame Shame Shame
I got this 2nd hand here in Melbourne. As I walked to the counter, a smartass quipped: “I always wanted to see what someone who wanted four discs by Smiley Lewis looked like.” Idiot! Four discs, sure, but larded with not just one of great blues singers but also plenty of other Crescent City greats such as Tuts Washington and many more. Basically replaces the stuff I used to own on vinyl in another time, if not another place.

Kenny’s wishlist …

Gonna Shake This Shack tonight series: Johnny Horton, Faron Young, Cowboy Copas and many more.
Multi-disc boxes: Marty Robbins western/cowboy set, Speedy West Jimmy Bryant, Darby & Tarlton.
Plenty curious about: Tex Ritter, Gene Autry and literally dozens more.

Bear Family – the fun way to poverty.

Brown acid – US bogan rock

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Various artists – Brown Acid, The First Trip (Riding Easy Records)
Various artists – Brown Acid, The Second Trip (Riding Easy Records)

For much of my life, so in thrall have I been to US culture, music, food, books, music, people and music that I wanted nothing more fervently than a green card.

That’s no longer the case, and I’m not even certain I want to revisit – for a variety of reasons: Personal (I’m no longer sure, at 60+, that I’m up for economy class and all the extra security hassle), political (obvious, really).

Plus, in the western suburbs of Melbourne I’ve found a home that truly fits – unexpectedly and in a way Dunedin, London, Wellington and New Orleans didn’t.

But in so many ways I remain an Americanophile at heart, especially when it comes to music. (These days, I’d also rave about the soul food – especially Somalian – that I eat in the west, over and beyond the often ersatz versions of the US style that are going around.)

So … the artists described as influences on this motley lot of ’70s US nobodies (LZ, Hendrix, Sabbath, Deep Purple, as well as Grand Funk) have close to zero interest for me.

But long lost and utterly forgotten ‘Merican outfits reaching for the same sort of sound?

Oh, yes – that turns me on. The same way I’d prefer to hear Shadows of Knight doing Gloria instead of Them.

Nuggets for the next decade?

Yep.

Or even stoner rock before there was, um, stoner rock.

I like it that these two CDs cost me just $9 each.

Documentation is minimal, though the first volume does give home-base locations of those involved – LA, NJ, Hollywood, Detroit, Wisconsin, NYC, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Houston.

Across the 21 tracks, there is just one non-US outfit – Aussie group Ash – and just one of which I’d previously heard (Josephus).

Supposedly just about everything here was originally released on very small labels and/or by the bands themselves, and in numbers mostly in the hundreds. Collector wet dreams, each and every one of ’em.

All tracks are originals, though some of riffs sound suspiciously Kinky.

The drumming is uniformly of the Lunar School.

Every now and then I can hear touches of, say, Seger or the Stooges or the MC5. And every now and then I hear a reminder that this is the milieu from which Lynyrd Skynyrd and Cheap Trick (and many others!) sprang.

I suspect these tunes probably constituted the entirety of these bands’ originals when it came to live shows, but I can make a guess at what comprised the rest of their sets: Black Night, Toke On The Water, Born To Be Wild, maybe some Stones, and reaching back to the likes of Wild Thing, You Really Got Me and even Johnny B Goode.

So what’s it all like?

I find it thrilling!

Snotty, with ambitions mostly way beyond the talent at hand, but there are no duds, even if some of the lyrics are cheesy.

The passion is there, mostly based on power trio format, with some organ on some cuts.

No doubt these were local heroes adored to various degrees by their fans. Maybe some of them even snagged support spots when their heroes hit town!

This is music made by and for ’70s American muscle car bogans – and I love it.

Of course, this stuff only makes if played really fucking loud.

And it sounds great in my own muscle car (’08 Corolla).

There’s a third volume out.

Will I buy it?

Nope.

These’ll do for now!