July 14th, 2015


Above/below: front/back of the ‘Cheree’ UK picture sleeve.

Listen: Cheree / Suicide

Occasionally some courageous soul challenges Suicide as pioneers, claiming Silver Apples or Beaver & Krause soldiered through the unexplored industrial wild, wild west before them. Not to take anything away from either, but seriously folks. No one has ever combined menace and grace like Alan Vega and Marty Rev. Not then, not now.

Upon release in ’77, two copies of Suicide’s debut album came into the record shop I worked for. Needing nothing more than one look at the sleeve while checking in that distributor’s shipment, I decided then and there neither were finding their way to the racks. Instead, both came home with me that night, and immediately the second copy went into Howard Thompson’s pile, readying it for mailing off to London as part of our ongoing record exchange pact. Eventually signing Suicide to Bronze UK, Howard also had the guts to issue ‘Cheree’ as a 7″ A side.

Turns out the band were completely accepting of the hostility which awaited them at every stop of their first British tour, supporting both Elvis Costello & The Attractions then The Clash on that initial visit. Much attention has been focused through the years on the violent reactions Suicide successfully provoked, having everything, including an axe, hurdled at them during their sets.

Howard and Bronze, as undeterred as the band, pressed up the now very rare promo only live album, loosely known as 23 MINUTES IN BRUSSELS from two of those nights, complete with the cold blooded hatred the unsuspecting audience spewed, almost as powerfully relentless as Suicide themselves. Almost, being the key word.

Simply one of the greatest live albums ever recorded, additionally, it’s a glaring artifact of how transparent and mainstream media driven many punk audiences really were in ’78 and therein lay the proof.

No surprise that, other than John Peel, BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t touch ‘Cheree’. Bless them. Probably the last thing Suicide needed then or ever, was a hit single. Instead, they’ve graduated to higher forms of life just fine without one.

Above: Jukebox Tab signed by Alan Vega

July 5th, 2015

The Flirtations

Listen: Nothing But A Heartache / The Flirtations

This is simply the greatest Motown single that was never on Motown. Even though the UK Deram label really didn’t specialize in releases for the soul or RnB market, ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ suddenly appeared in mid ’68. Re-released a few months later, with a different B side, the record started to get play in the US, eventually peaking on the Billboard charts at #34. It was overseen by Wayne Bickerton, who had produced the lavish, for it’s day, album by UK band, World Of Oz. Their single, ‘The Muffin Man’, was almost a hit, garnering pretty solid airplay in a lot of US markets during summer ’68, for about two weeks. Literally, every local chart I’ve ever seen it on was for a two week run. I guess the checks didn’t clear and onto the payola victim scrap heap that fantastic single went.

Years later, this Flirtations track became a Northern Soul success. Northern Soul records, in simple terms, are non hit, copy versions of the Tamla/Motown sound. Many were still being recorded into the early ’70′s, after that original era had long past. The clubs in the North of England were insatiable for anything resembling it and hence the tag Northern Soul.

Proof of the song’s validity comes in the fact that, despite being a UK act and UK made record, like most of the Motown singles from the 60′s, ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ was only a hit in America.

June 27th, 2015

Alvin Robinson

Listen: Down Home Girl / Alvin Robinson
Down Home Girl / Alvin Robinson

I saw The Rolling Stones for the first time on October 30, 1965 at the Syracuse War Memorial. I had forged a press pass, a typed note actually, on letterhead from a weekly paper in my little hometown. My Dad had set me up with the pompous owner of it, as I wanted to interview the band for a feature.

Looking back it was quite a good idea on my part, but this self celebrating fellow was nasty and dismissive. Even though I ended up meeting the band, I still loathe him for his attitude, not towards me, but towards my Father. He was so busy being busy, running in and out of his pathetic office, that I just reached over and grabbed a few pages of letterhead when he wasn’t looking. I shook with fear at what I’d done. I was still a good Catholic boy, but too late, I’d done it. So he tells me, “We don’t need a piece on this dirty English combo”, and that was that, or so he thought. Indeed, they didn’t need a a kid in his late single digits writing a review.

To be exact, this was the Canastota Bee Journal, as close as you can get to Mayberry. He and the paper, I’m guessing, are long gone. Still, I composed this laughable letter, claiming to be a writer on assignment and needing to interview them for a feature.

In those days, arenas were filled with hysterical, screaming kids, so how I managed to slide backstage so easily still baffles. An usher fell for that forged letter, and brought me back, where Bill Wyman was wrapping up his cords. Bill reads it, stares me straight in the eye and says in hindsight with a knowing smirk, “Come on and we’ll meet the rest”.

Holy shit. Is this really happening? It was the first time I nearly blacked out. I seriously remember that vividly. We are suddenly walking up the steps to the dressing room, knees weak, where in years to follow, I would meet, more like pester, (here goes, I know this is all a bit name droppy, but it really, really happened. I met all these bands and I’m proud of it): The Mindbenders, Them, The Moody Blues, The Nashville Teens, The Ikettes, The Who, The Pretty Things, Manfred Mann, The Kinks, Humble Pie, Heads Hands & Feet, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat, Caravan, Toe Fat, Derek & The Dominoes, Jethro Tull, Grand Funk Railroad, Frampton’s Camel, Traffic, Wild Turkey, The Faces, Badfinger, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Mother Earth, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Chambers Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Savoy Brown, Iron Butterfly, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, even Vivian Green, who I worked with decades later, was in that very room when on tour with Maxwell. Talk about coming full circle.

The management knew me and my friends well early on, they must’ve gotten a kick out of these crazy little kids, who’s Mom’s & Dad’s would wait patiently for until the shows ended. Our parents befriended the office staff, and in turn, those nice ladies always let us backstage.

The Rolling Stones were great, so nice. No one was in their dressing room except the band, and one other guy, I’m guess Ian Stewart, the tour manager. No food, nothing but bottles of Coca Cola. They signed my copy of 12 X 5, it probably lasted all of a minute but I still can relive it to this day. Here I was, with this exotic band from England that changed my life, which prior I could only see on TV every three to four months tops. I thought at that very moment, “This is the life for me”. I’m completely convinced it led to my career in music. No question.

Their current album at the time, THE ROLLING STONES NOW, was not a real album at all. In those days, the English labels released singles and EPs, in addition to albums. Not only were the EP tracks not on the LPs, but the singles weren’t either. So the US companies were always dropping off intended LP tracks to make room for the singles and sometimes strong ones from those EPs. For this particular release, London Records basically cobbled together some singles and EP songs, as well as unused UK LP tracks. Remember, the UK LPs were 14 songs compared to our 10-12, thereby creating even more choices.

Probably by coincidence more than design, THE ROLLING STONES NOW actually works as a proper LP. It was certainly a big success, slowly but very solidly scaling the US LP charts and staying Top 10 for ages, as it deserved to. The record’s filled with dark, minor key classics like ‘Heart Of Stone’, ‘Little Red Rooster’ and ‘Pain In My Heart’ which they played on that night, Brian sitting at a huge B3 organ, wailing away.

It’s ok if you’re getting tingles. Take your time. You’ll need it. They were back, nine months later, during the AFTERMATH tour, and that’s whole ‘nother post waiting to be written.

This all leads us to ‘Down Home Girl’, a song on THE ROLLING STONES NOW. Little did I know then that it was a cover. I don’t even think I knew what that meant. They were all Rolling Stones songs to us. Years and years later I wised up, seeked out the original, and became a dangerous Alvin Robinson fanatic.

Here’s his version. Get any of his other releases. all of them actually.

May 14th, 2015

Doris Willingham

Listen: You Can’t Do That / Doris Willingham
You Can't Do That / Doris Willingham

The future Doris Duke, best known for many Swamp Dogg associations, started her recording career as Doris Willingham. Signing to the newly formed Jay Boy, ‘You Can’t Do That’ became her second single in two years, released early ’68. It’s a cherished record for both London, who distributed this first Jay Boy release, and Northern collectors, like myself for starters.

Produced by Richard Tee in his early days. Despite finding his professional footing in jazz by the mid 70′s, back in ’68, he was running with the likes Shirley Scott, Esther Phillips, King Curtis and drummer Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie, whose production company this single was made for.

March 29th, 2015

Tir Na Nog

tirnanogstronguk, Tir Na Nog, Chrysalis, Matthew Fisher, John Martyn, Nick Drake

Listen: Strong In The Sun / Tir Na Nog
Strong In The Sun / Tir Na Nog

I was desperate to see Tir Na Nog when they toured the US in ’72. It never happened.

Although being the college concert chairman at the time, having pushed through Rory Gallagher, Chicken Shack, Savoy Brown, Colosseum, Atomic Rooster, The Electric Light Orchestra, The Pretty Things and The Incredible String Band against everyone’s “who the fuck are these people” stances in one school year mind you, it didn’t really allow me any more puts. By then, the budget was spent anyways. Otherwise, they’d have been there.

Tir Na Nog’s second and third albums were released in the States, and I particularly loved that third one, STRONG IN THE SUN. It was, well still is, a seminal recording, right up there with the best from Tyrannosaurus Rex, John Martyn and Nick Drake. Indeed the album includes a cover of his ‘Free Ride’, itself worthy of 7″ status. Tracks like ‘Cinema’ rivaled some of Pink Floyd’s tracks from MEDDLE for being…cinematic, funny enough. If you’d told me Norman Smith, Denny Cordell or Peter Asher had produced some of this stuff, I’d have believed you. The album is that good.

Indeed, Matthew Fisher from Procol Harum was in charge of production, and as with similar duties on Robin Trower’s BRIDGE OF SIGHS, did an A+ job.

When I up and headed for London during summer ’73, I took a night off from The Marquee to see them play a small, sit-down-cross-legged room, God knows the name of it now. But the show remains a vivid memory.

There was a time, around ’85, and Howard Thompson was looking at cover songs for 10000 Maniacs. I guess as a potential single, possibly a one-off film submission or something. I recommended ‘Strong In The Sun’. I thought Natalie Merchant would have done it some beautiful justice and Tir Na Nog could have gotten some well deserved recognition. Didn’t happen. ‘Peace Train’ was chosen instead, against the band’s wishes. Years later, turns out Natalie insisted it be removed from that album. Elektra complied..

There has to be someone out there in need of a great song to revive their sagging career: Nelly Furtado, Jewel, Anna Nalick, Five For Fighting, Vanessa Carlton, Paula Cole or wait, Natalie Merchant.

March 18th, 2015

The Sir Douglas Quintet

The Tracker / Sir Douglas Quintet - US

Listen: The Tracker / The Sir Douglas Quintet
The Tracker / The Sir Douglas Quintet

Like so many bands popping up around the country circa ’64 – ’65, all imitating Britain’s Invasion, The Sir Douglas Quintet appeared. Unlike those others, they had a recognizable sound (perfectly part Bo Diddley, part Pretty Things) and could both write and find great songs, and had the production advantage of Huey P. Meaux guiding them. The band never released a bad single on London Records’ imprint Tribe. They eventually moved to Smash/Philips where their greatness, and the occasional hit single, continued.

‘The Tracker’, followup to their debut smash ‘She’s About A Mover’, was a real favorite despite it’s national stall at #105 in July ’65 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart.

I recall seeing them on SHINDIG, Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas) doing a mean Phil May imitation vocal on ‘The Tracker’ while holding an oversized magnifying glass, kind of roaming around the stage as though following footsteps visible when enlarged, Sherlock Holmes style. Not only did they have the sound down, but the look as well.

Blue Norther / Sir Douglas Quintet - US

Listen: Blue Norther / The Sir Douglas Quintet
Blue Norther / The Sir Douglas Quintet

‘Blue Norther’, the B side, with it’s rather haunting patent Sir Douglas Quintet formula (not to be taken as a bad thing), I like to think is about the train line and totally conjured up nighttime images of a freight winding it’s way through some dark mountain woods or the Texas desert, assuming there is one there.

Listen: In Time / The Sir Douglas Quintet
In Time / The Sir Douglas Quintet

Quickly released that September, no doubt in hopes of refuelling interest after their huge debut, ‘In Time’ stiffed completely. Shame, just listen to it’s perfection. No other US band quite captured their flawless mixture of Texas and England, a recipe that should’ve easily worked. To my knowledge, only KNAC in Salt Lake City charted it for a week in October at #63. Otherwise, klunk

Listen: The Story Of John Hardy / The Sir Douglas Quintet
The Story Of John Hardy / The Sir Douglas Quintet

For the flipside of ‘In Time’, as with Manfred Mann’s rendition of the Lomax/Lomax written ‘John Hardy’ (it too a B side of ‘Sha La La’), the ever present influence of The Pretty Things, marraccas particularly, prevailed. The band’s more folk blues ‘version’, retitled ‘The Story Of John Hardy’, songwriting mischievously credited to Doug Sahm, succeeded in establishing yet again that sound so unique to this band.

Many years later, Doug Sahm formed The Texas Tornadoes and signed to Warner Brothers. I saw him in the office one day (my company, The Medicine Label, was a WB label) and he graciously filled out a jukebox tab for me. It was a chance meeting, so I wasn’t prepared with B side info. I couldn’t remember it, neither could he.

Sir Douglas Quintet - Juke Box Tab

Above: Jukebox Tab filled out by Doug Sahm.

February 1st, 2015

The Graham Bond Organization

Listen: St. James Infirmary / The Graham Bond Organization
St. James Infirmary / The Graham Bond Organization

Around ’65/’66, The Graham Bond Organization were a most evil sounding jazz/blues mixture, not only as a band, but compared to any other group during the period. Their two albums, including the Jack Bruce / Ginger Baker / Dick Heckstall-Smith lineup, were released by Columbia UK but remained unissued in the US. In fact the only American release ever from this line-up and The Graham Bond Organization in general was this lone 7″ on Ascot, both sides from that Columbia UK period. The much covered ‘St. James Infirmary’, a single only A side in the UK from early ’66, likewise took on the A side position in the US.

This American folk song of anonymous origin dates back to early 1900 and has taken on many interpretations, one of which claims the song to be written about St. James Hospital in London, which was used to treat leprosy.

Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Big Mama Thornton, Billie Holiday, Bobby Hackett, Stan Kenton, Lou Rawls, Bobby Blue Bland, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Doc Watson, Janis Joplin and The White Stripes are amongst those who have recorded the track. Yet it’s this one that competes neck in neck with the Cops ‘N Robbers version as my personal favorite.

The soon-to-be direction John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Dick Heckstall-Smith would assume on BAREWIRES can be heard here.

Listen: Wade In The Water / The Graham Bond Organization
Wade In The Water / The Graham Bond Organization

‘Wade In The Water’, the band’s first A side single for Columbia UK was also included on their debut album, THE SOUND OF ’65. Here in the US, it was coupled, to complete this lone US single, as B side. I’m guessing Ascot Records had released it, with an option for an album, should they get any traction.

At the time, the label was having great success via Manfred Mann, during their initial RnB influenced period with Paul Jones as lead vocalist. They were also a Columbia UK act, and Ascot was releasing other singles from that label’s catalog, including those by Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men, The Force Five and Madeline Bell.

The smooth mod rendition of ‘Wade In The Water’ from The Ramsey Lewis Trio stole all the airplay that same year, but this jazz leaning, late night version clearly counter balanced a then ubiquitous song that seemed insatiable to just about everyone in some form or another.

January 22nd, 2015

Georgie Fame

Daylight / Georgie Fame

Listen: Daylight / Georgie Fame

I think this song may qualify as a bit of a guilty pleasure, as it is a touch schmaltzy, although my pal Phil, who has super taste in music, loves it. Then again, it was written by Bobby Womack and now a sought after hit on the Northern Soul circuit. Plus Georgie has such a great voice, and the whole idea that he perfected his sound doing all-nighters at the Flamingo Club on Wardour Street in London during the swinging 60′s alongside Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, is, well, all I really need. Basically he always emulated Mose Allison and conventiently helped invent mod-jazz in the process.

As with some of his early hits like ‘Get Away’, this was produced by the great Denny Cordell. When I worked at Island in the early 90′s, Chris Blackwell brought Denny in to oversee A&R. Most everybody got their noses out of joint by his arrival but not me. I mean this was the guy who had produced The Move. He did the whistle sound, fingers to mouth, on ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’, helped start Deram and Regal Zonophone, and then Shelter. So we hit it off immediately, and I often think of the many great times and meals we had together. He was a serious cook. Plus he introduced me to so many people from the UK, all of whom would stop by to see him when passing through town. I remember when he brought Tony Colton into my office. He was the vocalist for Heads Hands & Feet who I became an instant fan of when seeing them open for Humble Pie. Tony had also produced a then obscure, now kind of appreciated gem: ON THE BOARDS by Taste. So this was a big deal to me.

Yeah, Denny was a great great pal….he produced this track as part of the 2nd album Georgie made for Island that the company then proceeded not to issue, still. Seriously, what hasn’t been released at this point? Island was a great place in many ways, but they had a very bad habit of making albums and not releasing them. I know of a few still in the vaults from Marianne Faithfull, and unfortunately countless others from The Smoke to Don Covay.

So this track, ‘Daylight’, and it’s B side, ‘Three Legged Mule’ came out in ’77 as 7″ & 12″ singles, and has finally been reissued as part of the ISLAND YEARS ’74 – ’76 anthology.

December 28th, 2014

Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

DDDBMTZabadakUSA, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich, Imperial

Zabadak / Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

Listen: Zabadak / Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

In honor of yet another year owning ‘Zabadak’, one of my all time favorite singles by an all time favorite band, I’m continuing my annual tradition of reposting that original entry about the single’s history from December 28, 2008 at SO MANY RECORDS SO LITTLE TIME.

December 25th, 2014

Perry & The Harmonics

Listen: Do The Monkey With Mr. James / Perry & The Harmonics

If you haven’t heard or heard of Perry & The Harmonics, then get to steppin’. For years, I too slept on this single and the sole album from which it came, INTRIGUE WITH SOUL.

Seemingly led by saxophonist Clarence Perry, the ’65 studio-only Perry & The Harmonics attempted to cash in on the extremely successful and then current craze of James Bond / 007. The bulk of the album being soul interpretations of the film’s various theme songs, plus a few originals like ‘James Goes To Soulville’ and then, this spectacular single ‘Do The Monkey With James’.

The album is scarce, and this single even more so. That’s Ed Townsend, possibly most known as co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’, doing the voice overs, which double as lead vocals, and I doubt a better delivery could have been conjured by anyone. His credits as a songwriter and producer are fairly deep, particularly in the Mercury catalogs, where he was a house producer working closely with Dee Dee Warwick. His label ties included Vee Jay, Capitol and Scepter. As well, as an unsung hero, his writing and producing credits covered Etta James, Big Maybelle and The Shirelles. He was particularly good with the female voice.

December 7th, 2014

Seleno Clarke / The Rolling Stones

SelenoSoulfulUSA,  Seleno Clarke, Hi, M.O.C.

Listen: Soulful Drop / Seleno Clarke SelenoSoulful.mp3

SelenoMemphisUSB, Seleno Clarke, Hi, M.O.C.

Listen: Memphis Boogaloo / Seleno Clarke SelenoMemphis.mp3

I almost didn’t go to an annual rummage sale this afternoon, one that I haven’t missed in about ten years. It was probably in ’04, during a nasty and freak blizzard, that the empty synagogue basement was bursting with hundreds of unplayed promo singles from the 60′s, all in their original sleeves. I went into sweat and panic mode, worried someone would come along to challenge part of my find. Record junkies get very perverted very quickly. I can’t begin to tell you about the scores on that beautiful winter day, besides it would be cruel.

Today’s piece count was nowhere near as vast, but the scores were eye poppers. Top of my list: Seleno Clarke ‘Soulful Drop’ / ‘Memphis Boogaloo’ on Hi Records’ subsidiary M.O.C., pick up anything on either label as you can’t go wrong. I’d always wanted this single, and bowed out of bidding at around $30 a year or two back. Worth the wait given today’s $.50 price tag. Turns out Seleno Clarke plays every Sunday in Harlem, with genuine ‘home cooking’ as part of admission. I can give him the money rather than some dealer. Tomorrow is now planned.

RollingStonesHeartPS, The Rolling Stones, London, Andrew Loog Oldham

If I didn’t already have a copy, this would have barreled in as today’s top find and in many ways, it probably was, given it’s habit of clocking in between $400 – $800 on ebay. What a sleeve.

November 28th, 2014

Burning Spear

Listen: Lion / Burning Spear
Listen: Lion / Burning Spear

Most consider MARCUS GARVEY and the accompanying dub version, GARVEY’S GHOST, both from ’76, to be the ultimate introduction to Burning Spear. Not me. The ’77 followup, MAN IN THE HILLS, takes the prize hands down.

Blame it on the compilation THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3). Howard Thompson sent a copy with a bunch of Island punk and reggae releases in his very first mailing that began our friendship. It was known as a care package in those days, the kind you’d load a new pal up with when you worked at a record company. Just go over to the cupboard and pull one of anything remotely good, then ship it off. And the cupboards at Island were bursting with good stuff back then.

I dare call it life changing. Sure, that sounds way over dramatic. But no, it’s actually not. The records in that big box did just that, not only to me, but to my closest friends and Corinne as well. She for one, dove head first into a reggae addiction from the get go. Took her years to shake, to find a normal balance between it and everyday life, but not before up and going to London to see Burning Spear and Aswad at the Rainbow, with Karen. I think they had some unfinished Eddie & The Hot Rods business on that particular journey as well.

The box. Yes. I can still recall every record in it:

Various Artists THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3)
The Upsetters SUPER APE
Toots & The Maytals REGGAE GOT SOUL
The Heptones NIGHT FOOD
Derek & Clive LIVE
Max Romeo & The Upsetters WAR INA BABYLON

Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Writing On The Wall’
Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Wooly Bully’
Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Teenage Depression’
Lee Perry ‘Roast Fish & Cornbread’
Dillinger ‘Cokane In My Brain’
Aswad ‘Back To Africa’
Aswad ‘Three Babylon’
Junior Murvin ‘Police & Thieves’
The Heptones & The Upsetters ‘ Sufferer’s Time’
The Heptones ‘Book Of Rules’
Justin Hines & The Dominoes ‘Fire’
Justin Hines & The Dominoes ‘Carry Go Bring Come’
Kevin Ayers ‘Falling In Love Again’
Sparks ‘Big Boy’
Sparks ‘I Like Girls’
Ultravox ‘Dangerous Rhythm’
Max Romeo & The Upsetters ‘One Step Forward’
Max Romeo & The Upsetters ‘Chase The Devil’
Trevor White ‘Crazy Kids’
The Dwight Twilley Band ‘I’m On Fire’
Fay Bennett ‘Big Cockey Wally’
Leroy Smart ‘Ballistic Affair’
J.J. Cale ‘Travelin’ Light’
The Jess Roden Band ‘Stay In Bed’
Rico ‘Dial Africa’
Agusutus Pablo ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’
Burning Spear ‘Lion’

Might as well get this over with now: the 7′s were all promo copies. Sorry.

Yeah, go ahead. Take a breather. I tell you what. There was no preparing for that package in real life either. I wasn’t expecting a box, maybe a few records, but not a box. Howard had rung me from his office shortly after receiving a letter I’d sent off to Island, written on WITR stationary. We talked for a bit, he filled me in on Eddie & The Hot Rods, who were my original reason for writing, suggested we trade some records and that we should stay in touch. Little did I know both his package and that phone call would change my life forever.

A week or so later, I just found this large box from Island Records UK in my apartment building’s lobby. Cost something like £40 to ship, a fortune in ’76. Hoisted it upstairs and into our place, could not open it fast enough. Fuck me, a shock to the system indeed, like my heart froze. Yet somehow I’ve lived to tell.

We poured over these records, the bunch of us, for weeks. You couldn’t wait for whatever was playing to end, so you could begin another. Corinne worked nights back then, and I vividly recall staying up until dawn, those first two days in a row, eating white crosses and just playing them, waiting for her to come home. Wow, what a fantastic flashback.

Every track on THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC became anthems to us, every one a badge of honor, knowing we’d found some of the best music of our lives, suddenly a whole new world opened up, and that album did it.

Burning Spear was little known to me at that point. Saw the US copies of those first two albums occasionally, but hadn’t heard either, or even tried to. Reggae had not entered my life. Once this compilation arrived, I became insatiable for it though.

‘Man In The Hills’, the title track, opened Side 2 of the comp. It was instant. Immediately tore through that pile of 7′s, sure I’d seen a Burning Spear single amongst them. The whole day was a blur, it was hard to process this all at once. Yes, there it was. ‘Lion’ / ‘Door Peep’ by Burning Spear

‘Lion’ defines my very favorite style of reggae, where the chorus keeps getting sung over and over and over. Just a lazy, hypnotic swirl that’s hard to fight. The genre has many a unique voice, but Winston Rodney’s, well it’s one of the greatest.

November 22nd, 2014

Doc Alimantado & The Rebels

Reason / Doc Alimantado & The Rebels

Listen: Reason For Living / Doc Alimantado & The Rebels
Reason For Living / Doc Alimantado & The Rebels

One of the first records Howard Thompson played Corinne and I on our initial visit to his place in Agate Road was by Doc Alimantado & The Rebels. The memory is vivid, and the record probably larger than life because of the moment. This was March ’77, I had waited four years to get back to London. It seemed like an eternity. Corinne had never been.

‘Born For A Purpose’ and it’s flip, ‘Reason For Living’, instantly became her songs. We had a small cassette machine with us, so she recorded the dub B side, ‘Reason For Living’, repeatedly over both sides of a tape at Howard’s that next evening, bringing it back to the hotel room which was literally one foot wider than the mattress on each side. The place was a crammed, uncomfortable but typical bed and breakfast in King’s Cross, very down at heel, as they’d all say. Perfect. A better setting you couldn’t have invented. We loved it.

As I’ve written prior, this ’77 visit was non-stop. London was in orbit, punk was everywhere, but still underground and shocking the mainstream. Howard took us all around, to the Island offices where he worked at the time, to buy clothes in Shepherd’s Bush Market, records in Ladbroke Grove, well everywhere actually; to the Marquee, Red Cow, Dingwalls, Hope & Anchor and Roxy. It was at The Roxy that Don Letts played mostly reggae to the punk crowd. It’s been well chronicled and he was indeed there on those nights, doing then what he does now on 6Music, presenting some of the best records in the solar system to anyone who’s bright enough to listen. Check out a recent show.

I remember hearing the Dr. Alimantado 12″ there several times. Me, I wanted the 7″, and sure enough, it was available. The A side ‘Born For A Purpose’ is pretty trippy, but the flip is total psychedelic dub, a sonic LSD trip one could say. I woke up and fell asleep to that cassette over the next two weeks. There was no escaping her playing it after a night out, where you’d hear it constantly as well. Lots of memories, but all good, so this record’s indeed a true time traveler back to then.

November 9th, 2014

Jon Gunn

I Just Made Up My Mind / Jon Gunn

Listen: I Just Made Up My Mind / Jon Gunn

No idea how this didn’t become a hit when issued in ’67, or even later given it’s popularity in Northern Soul clubs during the 70′s. As with Ann Mason, I never did find out much about him, except he’s from Lancashire, that’s literally all I know.

Quite frankly, I just figured it was Andy Fairweather-Low under an assumed name at the time. The Decca/Deram label was pulling that on occasion, remember Whistling Jack Smith, actually a roadie for Decca’s Unit 4 + 2.

July 18th, 2014


CaravanLoveToLove, Caravan, London, Decca, Deram

Listen: Love To Love You / Caravan

Talk about being smitten after one play. I had seen a few Caravan albums in the stores, but never managed to own one, not until IN THE LAND OF GREY AND PINK that is. I’d already decided to spring for a UK copy via mail order that coming April, based entirely on it’s title. Without warning, this US single, coupling ‘Love To Love You’ and ‘Golf Girl’, landed in my weekly stack from WMCR, the local adult radio station that miraculously gave me their ‘unplayable’ rock singles all through my high school years. My eyes bugged out seemingly an inch. I couldn’t get home fast enough, tearing through the traffic and risking my life on a bike one very slippery, slushy, cold Friday in February ’71.

Once home, I must have played ‘Love To Love You’ a dozen times, completely anxious for it to end so I could play it all over again. Why had I kept myself in the dark about this band, sounding more British than the British themselves might tolerate. Nothing like that excited high from realizing there’s a whole new back catalog to acquire, something I began plotting on the spot.

In the days before THE RECORD COLLECTOR PRICE GUIDE and Wikipedia, research needed to be done by hand. Consequently, homework was put aside and out came the back issues of MELODY MAKER and DISC & MUSIC ECHO. I needed every Caravan record. Now.

CaravanGolf, Caravan, London, Decca, Deram

Listen: Golf Girl / Caravan

Seriously, this next bit is still vivid, like waking up in the middle of the night remembering you forgot to do something and jumping straight out of bed. I’m digging through the magazines looking for Caravan titles and catalog numbers, with the single on repeat. My Dual 1229 turntable came complete with a 45 stacking spindle and was repeat-play capable. A beauty.

Suddenly, boing, it hits me. In all my glee, I haven’t even noticed. Was the single a double A promo, or one with a B side. So midway through, off comes the tonearm and…yes! There’s a B side!

‘Golf Girl’ was just as fantastic, beginning with the “selling cups of tea” lyric. It was almost too good to be true. Another song to check off the Caravan catalog completion list.

LandOfGrayAndPink, Caravan

Saturday morning, straight to the post office, buy the international money order and airmail my advance payment for the full album that day. Come early April, I owned a first pressing of IN THE LAND OF GREY AND PINK. Everything about that album was magical: the laminated cover, beautiful artwork, pristine deep groove vinyl, inner sleeve, lyrics, production. It even smelled good.

Adding to the magic, Decca moved the band to it’s progressive subsidiary, Deram, and deemed the album an initial release in a new deluxe series, assigning the catalog number SDL – R1 as a reward.

Instantly official, Caravan was now my new favorite band. Next, I had to see them live…but that would be a few years off. 1975 to be exact, when their first US commenced in support of CUNNING STUNTS. Luckily it swung through upstate New York and luckily, they were more British than ever.

CaravanJukebox, Caravan, Pye Hastings

Above: Jukebox Tab signed by Pye Hastings

July 14th, 2014

The Ramones

Listen: Baby Sitter / The Ramones

Tom became a great pal as the years went by. Either with Monte, or often on his own, we’d meet near my place for an Indian buffet. Originally well under the trendy radar, all types of homestyle Northern and Southern Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Korean and Malaysian restaurants super served a massive but unhip clientele in my neck. Good food cheap basically.

Despite gentrification and Yelp, the choice and quality still holds. And so on the occasions when we’d do an impromptu mid-week lunch together, more often than not, all the air would be gasped out of the room as a nearby newbie or hipster table would suddenly realize Tommy Ramone was in the house. Without fail, a nervous approach would result. And Tom would be Tom: humble, shy, friendly, always accommodating to autographs and pictures alike.

One memorable exchange:

Shocked person, “Wow, what are you doing in Queens?”

Tom, “I live here.”

Above: Jukebox Tab signed by Tommy Ramone

May 14th, 2014

Larry Williams

larrywilliamsshortfat, Larry Williams, Johnny Guitar Watson, London American, Northern Soul

Listen: Short Fat Fannie / Larry Williams

Larry Williams is seldom respected as an original bad boy of RnR, but he should be. Legend has his underworld activities stretching back prior to these initial recordings. He eventually bit the bullet, literally, a victim of a suicide, although street legend claims otherwise. Having served time in the early 60′s for drug dealing, he hooked up with Johnny Guitar Watson upon release to sleaze out in late night Hollywood, which admittedly may be my self fulfilling fantasy, and also make some of the most authentic Northern Soul tracks known to mankind for Okeh.

I was excited when The Mooney Suzuki, who I looked after while at Columbia, recorded in the same studio on Santa Monica Boulevard that he and Johnny had. I literally thought about it constantly while there. I was pissing in the same toilet as the dynamic duo. No one else seemed to apprciate my excitement.

Prior to all that, he wrote ‘Bonie Maronie’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, ‘Slow Down’ and ‘She Said Yeah’, my favorite, as recorded and performed by The Rolling Stones on HULLABALOO:

‘Short Fat Fannie’ goes back to pre Northern, pre Johnny Guitar Watson and pre jail time. It was actually one of his hits (#31 RnB / #35 Pop) in ’57 and comes courtesy of the Tony King Collection.

Original post: August 19, 2009.

April 25th, 2014

The Birds

Listen: No Good Without You Baby / The Birds

The Birds, like their leader Ronnie Wood, seemed forever destined to second tier, always in supporting roles. Yet years later, their lack of first division ideas wonderfully tarnished them with a rather perfect time period sound, ideally suited for the musical backdrop of some British beat boom documentary. But after all, they were on Decca, which in hindsight is regarded as one of the holy grail UK labels for the genre.

To many, Decca has forever been saddled as the company that passed on The Beatles. I however say that’s only one of their greatest achievements. Signing The Rolling Stones being the other. Whether by design or accident, it certainly led them down a path that attracted Them, The Moody Blues, The Graham Bond Organization, The Zombies, The Beazers, The Artwoods, The Small Faces, The Nashville Teens, Zoot Money, The Move and other such hard up heroes, of which The Birds were included.

Several years back, while in London for work, I had conveniently scheduled my trip around The Olympia Record Fair. Getting there somewhat early, but not when doors opened, the first dealer I encountered, off to the left most side of the venue, was not surprisingly unbothered by any customers. His make shift boxes of 7′s unattractively assembled across his table, with as many sloppy boxes below, about two dozen in all. No wall hangings highlighting high end items, no colorful signs, no sizzle of any kind. Everything was either £1, £3 or £5.

Having decided to systematically cover the entire event, I began with this fellow, technically the first dealer far left, with every intention of moving right across the entire lot to the other side. Despite his unkept presentation, I reminded myself there was a plan and not to abandon it by skipping his table, before even starting.

Barely through the first box, I realized it’s entire contents were Decca or Decca distributed A Labels. Temporarily skipping to the second and discovering it to be the same, I asked him about his wares, inquiring was it coincidence they were all Decca’s. Turns out he didn’t regularly sell at the fairs, pretty obvious from the shabby boxes alone, but had stumbled on a retired Decca employee with an attic full of records from his 60′s heyday, and here they all were.

Well, I nearly blacked out. Luckily, a friend had come along with me, and immediately had the defensive sense to inform any other customers wandering up that the entire table was being sold. This gave me time to plow through and grab pretty much all of them. In hindsight, I still stress about leaving Les Reed or Ted Heath type singles behind, and wonder constantly if there was something I’d missed.

The unexpected discovery was one of life’s greatest moments, and a reminder to never judge a book by it’s cover. Amongst the many, many, many incredible purchases that day at that table: ‘No Good Without You Baby’ as well the other two Decca singles from The Birds.

The London Olympia Record Fair, which happens regularly, is in fact this weekend. Never ever pass it up.

April 23rd, 2014

The Action

Twentyfourth Hour / The Action

Listen: Twentyfourth Hour / The Action Twenty Fourth Hour.mp3

Melody Maker Top 50

It took a long while to hear The Action. Started reading about them around the time The Move debuted, mid ’66. They seemed to be from the same club scene, both were being touted for strong live shows and regulars at The Marquee. Like The Move, they had a great name and some great photos were about. I was desperate to hear ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’, which charted on the Melody Maker Top 50 during April of that year. But nothing was being released in the US. Then one Friday in May ’67, when I dropped by WMCR to blag some 45′s, there they were in my stack. This had been an agonizingly long wait. Now I was over excited. Couldn’t get home fast enough.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed, this didn’t have that edge I expected. Something seemed missing from their attack. Years later I realized the downfall: George Martin. He produced all their singles. Clean, jangly, immaculately recorded, well crafted, probably did them all wearing that fucking suit and tie. Self celebrated for his work with The Beatles, but in my opinion, George Martin also single handedly tanked The Action’s career. There was no dirt. This guy just didn’t get down. Wouldn’t be surprised if he never even saw them live.

With all his Beatles clout, you’d thought he’d have gotten US Capitol to release more than one single. Nope.

Or pushed Parlophone to release an album. Nope.

The Action only ever had one 7″ here in the US and no LP in the UK.

I actually grew to love ‘Twentyfourth Hour’, their RnB authenticity and a great Reg King vocal won through his pasty white production. If only Denny Cordell had produced.

April 1st, 2014

The Vibrations

Listen: Gonna Get Along Without You Now/ The Vibrations

According to one of my favorite books ever, THE NORTHERN SOUL PRICE GUIDE, this white label promo, in mint condition, easily goes for £50. Fun reading, but the real deal price guide these days is Popsike.com. There you get the past several years worth of final sale amounts for any record that commanded $25 or more. According to the site, a $52 May 2012 winning bid for the wlp of ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ was it’s highest in three years. That’s as far as the data goes back.

Therefore my £24 (approximately $37) win was indeed a bargain when compared to the prices set in the guide. Never mind, this single’s a bargain at £100 if truth be told.

Having tastes that always ran toward the mid chart, or better yet, flop follow-ups, likewise my parallel fondness was for the seemingly second division players. Just as Inez & Charlie Foxx sat sideline when Ike & Tina Turner were in reach, so too did The Vibrations when say, The Temptations were around. According to the mainstream that is, but in my world, I coveted any single by either.

It’s seriously hard to recollect a song attempted in more diverse styles through the years than this. Country, reggae, alternative, disco, ska, Euro-dance, rock steady and even Latin via Trini Lopez, which is version that first introduced me to the track. No idea why his was played so heavily in upstate New York at the time (’67). Trust me, it wasn’t often a #93 BILLBOARD peak meant a record got hammered by both our local Top 40′s. And it’s not like there was a Latin scene going on in subzero Syracuse that winter either.

Unfortunately, The Vibrations’ version never graced my ears while current in ’66. Years later I stumbled on it, unable to ignore any Okeh single with their Cadbury purple labels and matching sleeves. One play and boom, the amphetamine mess of an arrangement and speed pitched chorus made me a fan for life.