Archive for the ‘Columbia’ Category

Larry Williams

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

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

Listen: Short Fat Fannie / Larry Williams
Short

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.

Big Maybelle

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Listen: I’m Getting ‘long Alright / Big Maybelle
BigMaybelleGettingLong.mp3

I can not lie. I get weak around any Okeh single, particularly in it’s matching stock sleeve. This certainly must have something to do with purple foil and paper wrapped chocolate bars from that first trip to Ireland when only in my single digits. We spent the summer with my aunt and grandmother in the house where my Mom grew up. Ballymoney, County Antrim. I don’t recall much, except for getting caught dipping my hand into a neighbor’s purse. The result was most unpleasant, but I needed a Cadbury marzipan bar, a flavor long since discontinued. The experience dented my brain permanently.

This Big Maybelle single from 1954 still glistens as a true visual artifact of color and design, and it’s a frequent choice when flipping through the wall shelves looking for something to play.

As with Bessie Smith, I became smitten by Big Maybelle soon after discovering both Janis Joplin and Tracy Nelson. Big Brother & The Holding Company were just releasing their first singles on Mainstream Records then, with Mother Earth, Tracy Nelson’s band also based out of San Fransisco, doing the same on Mercury shortly thereafter. Given they repeatedly name checked Bessie Smith and Big Maybelle as inspirational influences, my curiosity ran high.

Big Maybelle singles were easy and inexpensive finds for years. Album culture was fully prevalent during the late 60′s so singles simply became passé to most music aficionados of the day. This presented me with great joy as the pickings were euphoric. Marked down 7″ records being commonplace meant you could acquire the most amazing titles for a nickel or a dime. This single was one such find.

Her voice, great. The sound quality of these recordings, great. The subject matter, wow. So many Big Maybelle singles just reeked of sex. And comically presented. Surprisingly, Janis Joplin never nicked the idea, or more likely, conservative Columbia Records wouldn’t allow it.

I have to believe a sausage lyric version exists somewhere, with this cleaned up chicken take recorded specifically for the single, given ‘I’m Getting ‘long Alright’ was it’s A side.

Listen: My Big Mistake / Big Maybelle
My

‘My Big Mistake’, being formula bar room blues, allowed her to stomp and bully through the song in presumably very few takes. I recall hearing Fred Perry and Harry Fagenbaum play this straight into Mother Earth’s ‘Down So Low’ on their overnight college radio show, when underground album rock began overtaking the FM dial. WAER, Syracuse University’s student station gave all night shifts to nocturnal speed freak students who thankfully proceeded to pollute our ears with the wildest and most eclectic records around.

I bought Mother Earth’s LIVING WITH THE ANIMALS album the very next afternoon, a Sunday. We made our weekly trip to the SU campus, hanging around Discount Records or Record Runner on Marshall Street for hours, juggling what to buy. It became my purchase choice that weekend. Once home I discovered Mother Earth had modeled the majority of the album after Big Maybelle’s delivery style on records like ‘My Big Mistake’. maybe even that very song.

The Chambers Brothers

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Listen: I Can’t Turn You Loose / The Chambers Brothers
I

Right at their commercial peak, when ‘Time Has Come Today’ was pretty big even at Top 40, The Chambers Brothers swung through Syracuse for a concert. I had some of their early gospel singles, was already excited to be hearing them on the radio so frequently and therefore anticipated the live show for weeks. Damn if I can remember why, but I went along with my parents to the airport earlier that afternoon to collect a relative, I’m guessing.

In the 60′s, airports were not full fledged shopping malls with restaurants and bars that would compete for one’s plans on a Saturday evening out. Instead, and especially in the case of the Hancock Airport in Syracuse, it was a lonely, empty building with uncomfortable seating on a good day. But on this particular afternoon, The Chambers Brothers flew in. From afar, I spotted a flock of floppy hippie hats and put two plus two together fast. So I barreled down toward their gate, and walked along with them back toward the outdoor pickup area, enthralled to be talking to these guys who made such raw soul records. I had a ton of questions.

Well the looks on my parent’s faces were priceless. Here their young son had in one moment dashed off toward an arrival gate, and in the next was walking back toward them surrounded by half a dozen black guys twice his height, all dressed in loud prints and colors. My Dad pretty quickly lit up though, figuring it out. He being a longtime jazz fan was forever telling me stories of seeing Billie Holiday and Miles Davis during his Air Force years, and now was familiar with bands like The Chambers Brothers from the music overflow that poured nonstop out of my bedroom. Plus, he was dropping the gang and I off at the show later that night. He held a particularly great conversation with Willie Chambers, this I remember well.

Their version of Otis Redding’s ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ was the highly anticipated followup to ‘Time Has Come Today’. Appropriately housed in a full color sleeve, as all confident followup singles were over at Columbia, it’s shocking to accept the single’s soft landing at #37. The vocal performance so powerful it must have scared off pop programmers. In one way, I’m surprised Columbia didn’t insist on polishing it up for airplay, thereby possibly prolonging their ascent. In hindsight though, I’m glad it was left to rip, despite still being bitter about the band’s commercial profile gradually sagging thereafter.

Laurent Garnier

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Listen: Crispy Bacon / Laurent Garnier
Crispy

In New York, a tropical rain soaked day during May is perfect excuse to draw the blinds, switch on the a/c and unbox some singles that need filing.

During the late 90′s, many of us in the Columbia A&R department got weekly shipments from the UK office containing all the latest releases. Unlike everyone else, my preferred configuration was vinyl. So like clockwork, as soon as a couple of twenty five count 7″ boxes were full, I’d UPS them home. Just as routinely, upon arrival, into the black hole of storage they went. On special occasions, like today, out come several and the surprises begin.

The things I find are wild. Where the hell did this or that come from usually being my reaction.

I hadn’t ever recalled getting ‘Crispy Bacon’ on a 7″ or that one existed. I’m surprised it didn’t come home day-of as most real favorites did. And man, did I love this record. Even if you only visited the UK or Europe during the single’s Fall ’97 heyday, you couldn’t miss it. Seems this was played everywhere. A record so simple and stripped back, I found it impossible to tire of. Earlier today, having not heard ‘Crispy Bacon’ for ages, we slapped it onto my trusty Dual with it’s automatic repeat function and barely noticed the song’s five minute length had passed, playing it over and over, a good twenty times.

Laurent Garnier triple billed with Ken Ishii and LTJ Bukem in Belgium at the time. Columbia sent me over to have a look, as Ken Ishii was a Sony Japan act looking for a US label. What a fantastic night that was.

The Mose Allison Trio

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Listen: Baby, Please Don’t Go / The Mose Allison Trio
Baby,

There are times when we don’t even realize what’s right in front of our eyes. Certainly, that’s the case with me. I must admit, more than once, well more than one hundred times, while riding the London subway system, I kind of scour the car and think, I may be standing next to one of fellows from The Action or John’s Children, or, or, or…..Seriously, this often crosses my mind.

Just prior to Christmas 2011, Lindsay Hutton was over from Scotland for a week’s vacation, and on his final night, we went to the Limerick House down the street from my office. The place shouldn’t exist. It’s a working class pub from the 70′s in the thick of the gentrified, self proclaimed wonderfulness known as Chelsea, yet still with reasonably priced beers and untouched, original down at heel decor.

Amy, a longtime friend of his from here in New York and I were talking when Lindsay inquired about her new album. The conversation turned to various details surrounding plans for it’s release, bits of setbacks during recording etc. Speaking primarily to Lindsay about these fine points, she mentions her Dad played on a track or two, how he hadn’t done much recording for a while, and that he was rather cranky about it or some such thing. Out of polite curiosity, I inquire about his history, only to discover her Dad is indeed Mose Allison.

“What! Say that again! Mose Allison? Are you serious?”

It was true, and oddly enough, in the deep dark dungeons of my mind, I was aware Lindsay knew her, Duane too, but never ever remembered to bring it up.

Out of my wallet came the blank jukebox tab, and into Amy’s it went. Shock over, conversation continued.

Guess what turned up yesterday in the mail. The completed artifact pictured below. Thank you Amy Allison.

Above: Jukebox Tab signed by Mose Allison

Janis Joplin

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Listen: Little Girl Blue / Janis Joplin
Little

When Janis passed away, I played only this song, this very single, for a solid week straight. ‘Little Girl Blue’ always felt autobiographical. Both song and situation were as sad as I was, and thousands of other kids across the world, during that period. Intentionally self disciplined, I didn’t want to be happy. I guess I was kind of in love with her. But big deal, I was far from alone.

There have been more than a few oddly coincidental ways she impacted my life and still does. Nowadays, I realize that I actually saw a living legend perform in both her and my lifetime. Very few have come along since, who’ve been regarded in such a way during their active careers. Famous artists and regular people alike, just about everybody needs to die before being totally appreciated. But when Janis was alive, journalists, other musicians, personalities from all walks proclaimed her blinding uniqueness.

Brought up Catholic meant when a family member passed on, we were all dragged through three long days of wakes, body viewings, spontaneous melt downs and every kind of prayer ceremony you can freaking imagine. After a first such ordeal at my grandfather’s showing, on the morning of that third day, when we all schlepped back to the funeral parlor to sit through one last batch of tearjerking prayers prior to finally wrapping it up at the cemetery, my aunt taps me on the shoulder from behind, “Have you heard the news on the radio this morning?”

“No, what?”

“Janis Joplin is dead”

Sometimes I feel like I’m still frozen in that very spot, with absolutely no way to get more information. I couldn’t leave, there were no cell phones, nor could I switch on the radio in the car ride to the burial site. I remained paralyzed with shock for hours. Now, if I visit my hometown, it’s exactly what comes thundering back every flipping time I drive past the place. Nice way to get that news, right, while staring at your deceased grandfather about ten feet away. A proper crash course in death.

Like my Mom, Janis would have been celebrating her birthday today, had she lived. January 19. Yet another Janis Joplin coincidence. And there were more, being saved for possible future posts.

Below, one of the few bits of television footage that captures her at 100% capacity:

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Friday, December 9th, 2011

I Put A Spell On You ('66) / Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Listen: I Put A Spell On You (’66 Version) / Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
I

“Let me tell you one thing, a leopard don’t change it’s spots.”

That’s what Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had to say about Little Richard’s then recent denouncement of drugs and sex. This was ’85, and he’d just done his first New York show in a long, long time at some short lived venue near Chinatown. He was at a career low. After the performance, he and his wife came out to the front bar for a drink with Eric and Mel, and Corinne and I. The four of us were about the only folks who showed up. We’d looked forward to it for weeks. How could this public indifference be possible?

Didn’t matter to him, his show was full on. Came out of the coffin, the whole ten yards. We sat for a good hour, Eric and I just pouring questions on him, learning that he kept all his stage props at his son’s place in New Jersey when not in use and that included the coffin. I was enthralled with Little Richard since seeing him on The Dick Cavett Show in the late 60′s at which time he was making a bit of a comeback, having just signed to Reprise and was more flamboyant than ever. Just hysterical, really camp and out of control, most likely cocaine fueled. By ’85, Little Richard’s whole drill was about finding God and denouncing his old ways. So I asked Screamin Jay if he knew him, and had he really given up all those fun things. And that was his response.

Having been ripped off royally for publishing and record royalties when ‘I Put A Spell On You’ was originally released in ’58 (it’s rumored to have sold 1M copies for which Screamin’ Jay Hawkins saw zilch), he decided to re-record it for US Decca in ’66, giving it an Otis Redding/Bar Kays soul review rave-up. Not a widely known version, it’s here for a listen.

Voodoo / Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Listen: Voodoo / Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Voodoo

Around ’74, he did a one-off for RCA, ‘Voodoo’. No info on this or if any other tracks were recorded. Who at RCA would have signed him, and why? But thanks still to that brave, unknown A&R executive.

Heart Attack And Vine / Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Listen: Heart Attack And Vine / Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Heart

In ’93, his version of ‘Heart Attack And Vine’, from a UK album BLACK MUSIC FOR WHITE PEOPLE, was used in a Levi’s campaign and charted at #42 in the UK. It was his only ever chart entry there or anywhere. At least he got to experience some justice prior to getting into that coffin one last time.

Primal Scream

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Listen: Swastika Eyes / Primal Scream
Swastika

Yesterday’s Super Furry Animals post had me recollecting those last few years of Creation Records’ partnership with Sony. During summer ’99, Alan McGee was shopping for one of the US outlets to release the upcoming XTRMNTR album by Primal Scream. So he brought Bobby Gillespie into the New York office to play me a few tracks. As often as Primal Scream had changed direction, so too did I change my interest in them. Given their most recent sound at that point was directly influenced by Rolling Stones style blues rock and despite the resulting single ‘Rocks’ achieving by far Primal Scream’s biggest US radio breakthrough yet, this Southern boogie woogie couldn’t have been further from my musical palate in ’99. So I was rather uncomfortable about wasting Bobby’s time. Alan insisted otherwise, that instead I would love where XTRMNTR was heading, being well aware of my insatiable taste for dance, techno and the like.

Was he ever right. This album wiped the floor with all their previous material including SCREAMADELICA. Most critics still attach to that one, and in the bigger picture, I suppose I agree. But for Primal Scream specifically, nothing touches XTRMNTR. Alan suggested I visit Bobby and Andrew Innes at their Primrose Hill studio to hear the finished version. The place was jammed tight, and jamming out. Besides listening to the album, we found plenty to agree on in general: The Cramps, Suicide, and a bottomless pit of records. Easy conversation when it came to musical history, plus any reason to go to London.

‘Swastika Eyes’, the single and album version produced by the band and Jagz Kooner, actually takes my preference over The Chemical Brothers’ mix, also included on XTRMNTR. In fact, my belief was this track could perform as well as ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ or ‘Setting Sun’ had for The Chemical Brothers at radio in the States, with Primal Scream coming off the back of their biggest US airplay record as well. Suspiciously, senior management at Columbia agreed after a quick conversation of presenting said theory. The green light was on.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, ‘Swastika Eyes’, by then at #22 in the UK Pop chart, was too controversial, too insulting, to issue here. Huh, this from the company that changed music with Bob Dylan? This from the company that was having platinum success with Nas? Honestly guys, was spineless suddenly part of the label’s character description? Now in hindsight, having dropped 50 Cent around then too, it clearly was play it safe.

Turns out the whole idea was moving forward based on the Southern boogie style of ‘Rocks’, and when so and so finally got round to listening to the music, it was easier to stubbornly remain rooted in the musical past than embrace tomorrow. Indeed, a policy good for Our Lady Peace, but not Primal Scream.

Keith Wood over at Astralwerks, who released the album in America, didn’t have any such corporate trappings.

Super Furry Animals

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Listen: (Drawing) Rings Around The World / Super Furry Animals
(Drawing)

Do not adjust your sets. ‘(Drawing) Rings Around The World’ sounds distorted and sonically noisy. Don’t fret, it was meant to. Despite that minor issue, the song is so good, and as their show opener, so memorable, it’s pretty hard not to love it.

Back during summer 2001, Rob Stringer at Sony UK asked if I’d stay in London an extra day for Super Furry Animals’ record release party. It was a small do, a bunch of regional sales reps from across Britain were brought into London, food and drink offered up. The limited access, and a Friday dinnertime event meant most of the crowd were boringly annoyed at the interruption known as the band’s set, as opposed to excited fans thrilled at the privilege. For me, it was indeed a perfect opportunity to stand front and center, like being treated to a private rehearsal. As with the record, this live show opener haphazardly found it’s footing by transforming an initial tune up like chaos into a powerful groove and swing, dare I call it an unleashing. Yes, that’s what it was. Superb stuff.

RINGS AROUND THE WORLD was the band’s first album on Sony imprint Epic UK. The previous five years, parent company Sony had distributed Super Furry Animals’ releases through a deal with Creation Records. When Creation founder Alan McGee had had enough of running the label, most of the bands moved onto the corporation’s various imprints.

Rob was logically looking for a US partner, and as much as I loved that album, Columbia was just a poisonous place populated by clueless leadership when it came to music with such culture and class. It would have ended in tears. So I passed, and I suppose Rob never forgave me.

Never mind, got what bordered on an audience with the Queen, and a limited 7″.

Joan Armatrading

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Listen: Down To Zero (Mono) / Joan Armatrading
Down

Me, I never tire of Joan Armatrading, and never will. She’s gone through a lot of musical twists and turns, by her own choice, during the last decade. Some of it, quite frankly, is tough for me to tolerate. But like all true greats, meaning seminally true greats, every album contains, minimum, a couple of jems.

During the span of her career, beginning in the early 70′s, I never missed any of her upstate appearances, where she played on a regular basis. After relocating to New York in ’84, I went to every, and I mean every one of her shows. Three nights at The Beacon Theater, I was there for them all. In fact, I’d gladly drive out to Long Island or New Jersey to catch neighboring appearances. There are no plans to end that pattern by the way.

‘Down To Zero’ still slays every female singer/songwriter in sight.

When doing A&R for Columbia in the 90′s, Jewel had her meteoric rise into mainstream ubiquity. Every label, especially Columbia, was looking for their own version of Jewel. So an endless parade of young nursing student types would schlep through the department, many times with an acoustic guitar in tow, or their parents, or worse yet, both. As soon as the sight of this entered my office, I got straight to the point.

“Are you as good as Joan Armatrading?”

To their credit, every last aspiring hopeful knew her, and would always answer, “Well…..no.”

With utmost politeness, I’d ask them not to unpack or even bother playing me their demo, because I couldn’t tell good from slightly better than good, given that greatness had just been established as outside the realm of possibility. Basically, there was no point. Out of courtesy, I’d shuffle them down the hall to others more qualified in the genre.

A few even got signed. None succeeded.

Laura Nyro

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Listen: Stoned Soul Picnic / Laura Nyro
Stoned Soul Picnic / Laura Nyro

It was hard not to notice the writer credit of Nyro in brackets below some of the most hybrid of song styles in the late 60′s and early 70′s. Always choosing to shy from the spotlight, which included endless TV appearance requests, gave Laura Nyro a mystique as attractive as her obvious grasp of everything from gospel to show tunes. Despite delivering her recordings in a brash neo-operatic vocal style, she was still full of soul.

Being the seldom mentioned, unsung performer at ’67′s infamous Monterey Festival is what really caught my attention. Why was everyone focused on all the other acts? Why was she never included in the footage? Every one of her early Verve Forecast releases and this, her debut Columbia single, became secret treasures. I badly wanted to see her the one weekend she played The Fillmore East, but it wasn’t to be.

In later years, Laura Nyro dedicated much of her time and money to the animal rights movement. Don DeVito at Columbia was very close to her, and spoke often of her kind and tender heart.

Moby Grape

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Listen: Bitter Wind / Moby Grape
Bitter Wind / Moby Grape

Somewhere during the making of their second album, Moby Grape recorded a previously unreleased, very noisy rock version of ‘Bitter Wind’. That, along with said album and this single version, were included on the short lived double cd VINTAGE: THE VERY BEST OF MOBY GRAPE Columbia released about ten years back. Litigation or some such problem required it be withdrawn. Not sure exactly why, but seems this band is forever haunted by their questionable early business dealings.

Boy am I happy this original album track made it to the 7″ instead of that alternate version. It’s by far my preferred choice.

When they released that second album, WOW, the one with the free second studio jam disc, their sound and the recordings seemed to thin out compared to the first album’s messy collision of guitars. There was more space, and the stark emptiness, I guess you could say, really appealed to me. ‘Bitter Wind’ was the standout, I’d listen to Side One, from which it came, repeatedly.

Couldn’t have been more pleased to find it on the B side of ‘Can’t Be So Bad’, and in the originally released version. Despite the vocals pushing my tolerance ever so slightly, ‘Bitter Wind’ exemplifies the remnants of San Francisco’s summer of love exactly as I recall it.

Propellerheads / Les Rythmes Digitales

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Listen: Take California / Propellerheads
Take California / Propellerheads

In ’96, Wall Of Sound released Propellerheads ‘Take California’. The label had been set up by Mark Jones and Marc Lessner not long before, and had quickly become dependable.

‘Take California’ was one of many singles Gary Crowley played me at his Maida Vale apartment on that London trip. His place was a favorite stop as he gave the best crash course when it came to anything new and worthwhile.

Located literally across the street from the studios used by the BBC to record their live sessions ever since the 50′s, I’d stand in his front bay windows and in my head flip through the almost endless list of acts that walked through those very doorways ahead, as he’d spin his favorite recent releases, always a bit mesmerized by both.

Mind you, it was a pretty good time for dance and electronic music 1996. Much like punk in it’s heyday, there were loads of fun singles coming out weekly. On that visit, Gary played me ‘Take California’ really loud, and it was a jolt. Bless him, I hardly finished asking, before he promptly rang and set me up. Seriously, about an hour later, I was in a cab making my way toward South London to meet Mark Jones at Wall Of Sound’s Farm Lane office. The next night, Gary and I were at Ministry Of Sound to meet Marc Lessner, and see the Propellerheads live. It all happened that fast.

Jonesy, as he likes to be called and we all like to call him, hoisted a stack of records my way, talked for a good two hours and made plans to try working Wall Of Sound into a deal through Columbia for America. I couldn’t wait to take “Take California’ back home and play it for everyone, including Donnie Ienner, our chairman.

His response: “There’s no vocal.”

“Well, that’s the point.” But in fairness, Donnie wanted to explore the idea of representing the label in the US, and we proceeded to try.

Never did succeed, and Jonesy never did find a US partner.

Listen: Kontakte / Les Rythmes Digitales
Kontakte / Les Rythmes Digitales

One of those early Wall Of Sound acts were Les Rythmes Digitales. In essence, it was one guy, Stuart Price. Nice kid, great writer, great producer, great head of spiked out bright red dyed hair. Known professionally at the time as Jacques Lu Cont, as with Les Rythmes Digitales, both names were initially an attempt at attaching to the then current vogue for French house. Stuart went on to great success.

‘Kontakte’ traded on the darker side of dance, similar to Dr. Octagon, and the track would have probably suited 4hero’s ‘Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare’ better as it’s musical bed.

A very nicely packaged, and scarce, 7″ this.

Big Brother & The Holding Company / Janis Joplin

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Down On Me / Big Brother & The Holding Company

Listen: Down On Me / Big Brother & The Holding Company
Down On Me / Big Brother & The Holding Company

There are two things about Janis Joplin that annoy me. Neither are her fault.

Firstly, there is so little footage that really captures her power and that the media uses. The clips on a short lived US pop music show, MUSIC SCENE, are the best ones. That was with her Kozmic Blues Band lineup. Then to be fair, the Ed Sullivan and Dick Cavett shows were great as well. But the media always use that shit footage from the Monterey Pop Festival, when she hadn’t yet exploded vocally or visually. By the time she left the Bay area and was playing nationally, her voice was rasp and tortured; and she was visually a ball of color and fire. So heads up: seek out some of the aforementioned performances.

The second is Clive Davis. Why people line up to credit him with her success sickens me. Yes, he signed Big Brother & The Holding Company. And yes, he’s done a lot of things. His resume looks way better than mine. For instance, he let Ray Davies make two awesome Kinks albums, SLEEPWALKER and MISFITS, when most felt he and the band were washed up, signed The Patti Smith Group and let her make two great ones initially as well, plus gave both Lou Reed and Iggy Pop shots on Arista.

But masterminding the break up of Big Brother & The Holding Company with Albert Grossman is not a creative stroke of genius and is definitely unforgivable. How fucking dumb can you be? Their CHEAP THRILLS album soared to #1 in the Billboard charts being a blisteringly perfect document of her and the band’s magnetism.

Big Brother & The Holding Company were the ultimate acid rock group, probably of all time. They were raw and ragged but had swing, a lethally positive combination. Listen to James Gurley’s solo on the version of ‘Down On Me’ I’ve posted. By the time this was released, after her death, Columbia didn’t even have the courtesy to credit the band on the label. I assume the plan was to polish her for mainstream acceptance. Please. The whole point was her wild abandon.

Big Brother & The Holding Company live were an experience I’ll never forget. Friday October 11, 1968. Syracuse University presented the band at The War Memorial, but you had to be a student to get in. I wasn’t an SU student, in fact I was a little boy; no way could I even pass for a college kid. My friend Denny and I begged a security guy to let us in, bless him cause he did! Changed my life.

Big Brother & The Holding Company / Syracuse War Memorial / October 11, 1968

Above and below: Big Brother & The Holding Company / Syracuse War Memorial / October 11, 1968

Janis, October 11, 1968

These two pictures are from that night, snapped with my crap camera. I wish I had the negatives as the prints are fading. Check out how little equipment is up on stage. Still it was loud and out of control. Fantastic. Luckily, Janis played my area many times. I got to see all her line ups through the years. She was amazing. It’s not because I was young and impressionable. Janis Joplin was truly a living legend. And the lasting effect she has over everyone, not just me, proves it.

Journey

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Listen: Just The Same Way / Journey
Just The Same Way / Journey

Yesterday’s post about historic, often unsung producer Owen Bradley had me locked into a historic, often unsung producer funk. Somewhere in my Top 5, Roy Thomas Baker sits.

Well I suppose he’s had various moments in the sun, but not lately. If the great minds decide to ponder the character responsible for inventing corporate rock, then by all means, RTB should get the crown. Seriously, who can touch a production like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?

Weened at the Decca Studios in London as an engineer (check your record sleeves from the 60′s) meant learning how to mic and record accurately was his required foundation. So for RTB to build a skyscraper – piece of cake.

When he ran the west coast office of Elektra in ’85, he’d welcome us junior New York A&R guys every time we made our way to Los Angeles. And the action never, not ever, slowed. Honestly, there was no stopping and certainly no sleeping. It was that simple.

When I pull out Journey singles, there are four or five that eat up the next half hour or so of my life, each getting a couple of spins minimum. Tonight, ‘Just The Same Way’ won hands down. Is there anything that isn’t absolutely perfect about this single?

Steve Perry’s call and answer bits push the bar, one classic inflection after the other. Then there’s the guitar solo, and the tones. It’s an AOR radio masterpiece.

Yellowman

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Listen: Strong Me Strong / Yellowman
Strong Me Strong / Yellowman

By the 80′s, reggae seemed to race forward technologically a little too fast, like Jamaica suddenly discovered electricity or something. The deep analog records from the mid 70′s got very syndrum and synth heavy by the end of the decade. Just about every followup to classic albums by Max Romeo, Justin Hines, Aswad or anything involving Sly & Robbie reeked with a shimmer that now is horribly dated.

‘Strong Me Strong’ was indeed so strong, those occasional sonic trappings couldn’t begin to destroy it’s greatness. A pretty brave record for 1984, given that slamming reggae wasn’t exactly in the pocket, or maybe it’s just what was needed. Good signing Howard.

Yellowman’s one off with CBS/Columbia meant white, alternative kids could take notice and rub shoulders with roots music all over again, like in ’77. Yellowman toured the US, playing the exact same venues as the college radio hot indie bands. Not a jaw was left shut once he finished mopping those stages.

Listen: Dub Me Strong / Yellowman
Dub Me Strong / Yellowman

This dub version B side is lightweight but fun, a difficult one to find anywhere but on the original vinyl (I think). Bill Laswell and Material do many things well, but obviously not dubbing. Worth having as a period snapshot though, and still pretty great loud.

Leftfield

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Listen: Afrika Shox (7″ Edit) / Leftfield featuring Afrika Bambaataa LeftfieldAfrikaShox.mp3

Paul Daly and Neil Barnes were, in hindsight, very sharp. Forget that they created Leftfield and made two classic albums. Forget that their musical instincts were always pretty spot on. A lot to forget, agreed.

The sharpness refers to how they read senior management at US Columbia with such clarity. You’d swear there was twenty five years of music business experience under their belts, or some such credit.

A poison had set in to the major label/radio monopoly long before Leftfield tested the waters of their UK label’s sister company, Columbia in ’99. Corruption prevented many great records from US airplay, eventually dummy-ing down music as being a big part of culture in America. Sounds heavy and political but look at what happened: endless worthy songs never got heard by the masses. Not until now, given radio’s monopoly has crumbled and their power base fizzled. Funniest bit is these programming gatekeepers and major labels think they’re still in cahoots, controlling what consumers get to hear. I honestly believe many of them don’t realize the internet and synchs have rendered their game over. Double whammy: radio drove their listeners away with stubborn musical policies, fueled mySpace, Hype Machine, Pandora…you name it, plus the rise of acts that don’t need radio at all. You’ve got to love it.

Well, back to Leftfield. They were having no part of the hollow intensions Columbia US dangled their way in an effort to keep happy the UK execs. After all, our team had to patronize the English office somewhat given their US superstars needed proper commitments in Britain to succeed. It was a typical horse and pony dance. In the end, most UK artists who bought in would get burned. Ultimately, they’d owe a lot of money in recoupable tour support, arriving here to find there was no real commitment at radio and hence….clunck. They should have stayed home. Sadly, it happened almost every last time.

Well word got back. Leftfield didn’t bite. Potential fans got cheated out of seeing them play the US, but the guys protected their business model and futures. It was a hard call.

Still, every act needed a US A&R rep, and about the only one on staff with an interest in English bands was me. Perfect. Meant I got to spend time in the UK and get involved in the recording process.

By the time Leftfield’s second album, RHYTHM AND STEALTH was being prepared, Paul invited me to his place in Camden for a playback of the roughs. Both he and Neil were totally down to earth, friendly and inclusive guys. Made it even more awkward to sit there in total awe of what was playing while trying to act casual. You ever get the feeling you’re in the best place the solar system has to offer when at a show or rehearsal or a session? Well, this was one of those times – like how the fuck did I get so lucky? Every track was, well, listen to the album.

‘Afrika Shox’ felt like a first single straight off. I think we played it three times in a row. At five-ish minutes long, how’s it possible to feel no time is passing, then the song’s suddenly over? That’s a dependable sign of greatness. Sure enough, ‘Afrika Shox’ landed at #7 in the UK singles chart and Leftfield were back.

Listen: Phat Planet / Leftfield LeftfieldPhatPlanet.mp3

Yet another entry to the double A sided lifetime achievement list results by coupling ‘Afrika Shox’ with ‘Phat Planet’. I admit, once Annie Nightingale gave this a spin on her BBC Radio 1 late night break beat show, ‘Phat Planet’ never sounded the same. It was a wake up slap in the face to it’s greatness, not the first time Annie has done that to me.

Dr. Feelgood

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Listen: Another Man / Dr. Feelgood DrFeelgoodAnotherMan.mp3

There’s a load of theories about where punk started. I suppose you can slice and dice it back to anywhere you want, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or The Pretty Things, or endless garage bands from the mid 60′s. Most self appointed, gatekeeping journalists will flatter each other with either The Stooges or The New York Dolls. My vote goes to Suicide in the US and the Canvey Island bands in the UK, of which Dr. Feelgood were the first superstars.

Their live show stoked Eddie & The Hot Rods and together they lit up London fast and raw. It was indeed the speed of sound and the sound of speed all at once. New bands that clutched to the past and stood in their way were mowed down flat. Hustler and Nutz for example. It was a fun time for house cleaning. Labels like Chrysalis had their rosters fossilized overnight. Seemed like the world turned from black and white to color. Every single released was a new high.

Dr. Feelgood: Lee Brilleaux had a vocal style and stage presense not unlike Roger Chapman, and Wilko Johnson religiously perfected Mick Green’s jagged guitar style into his own. Their second album, MALPRACTICE, is a clean, articulate blueprint of the band’s attack and technique. But when Dr. Feelggod unleashed live, it was unstoppable.

Seeing them between late ’75 through mid ’77 really was life changing. If you did, you’ll know how hearing their records now will still sound different to us, as opposed to those who weren’t as lucky. Over three decades later, that hasn’t changed.

Not one for European pressings, I tell you honestly, my collection has less than a hundred. I make exception for singles like this, when not one but two 7″ worthy songs are issued on a 45. Both ‘Going Back Home’ and ‘Another Man’ (like ‘I Can Tell’, all from MALPRACTICE) were never released as singles in the UK or US. This Dutch pressing being the only exception to my knowledge. In fact, ‘I Can Tell’ has never come out on 7″ anywhere. How did the otherwise faultless Andrew Lauder mess this one up?

Wait. Come to think of it, there were a few numbers from Brinsley Schwarz NERVOUS ON THE ROAD that deserved single status. Andrew Lauder you have some answering to do.

Being an archivist and collector can also mean you’re a pack-rat, depending upon whom you listen to. Ask Corinne for instance and she’ll pick door number three.

Fine, I’m all of them and glad of it, having saved pretty much everything I’ve ever owned, starting with a rock that flew into my hand off my tricycle’s front wheel at about five years old. That’s how extreme, and far back, I can claim the obsession. Good thing, because the records began at age seven. Damn, if only I started at birth.

In the case of this flyer, saving every last item allowed me to pinpoint the exact date and hour when a whole new musical world was revealed behind that invisible curtain. There had been a few jolting revelations before and several after, but that moment when rock as it had been known and loved immediately became the past occured on February 29, 1976. Dr. Feelgood were a blistering no holds barred introduction to pub and punk. Gone was the polish and self indulgence, the bloat and tired outfits. What the music world changed into we all know.

It was a fantastic time to be young and insatiable. And here’s the flyer to stake that very date in my life. Corinne and I, with our dearest friend Karen Kasiner, braved a winter storm to see Dr. Feelgood. I wouldn’t trade that night for anything.

John Hammond

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Listen: Mellow Down Easy / John Hammond JohnHammondMellow.mp3

Never got to hear or see John Hammond in his introductory years, despite a few chances at The Fillmore. The sleeve of his Atlantic album, I CAN TELL, made me way curious. He looked like a cross between Mick Jagger and Arthur Lee. But it wasn’t until this single, a few years later, that I finally got the chance.

One of John Hammond’s consistently strong points was his ace ability to interpret classic blues tracks, using what turned into a signature style: minimal unprocessed guitar and harmonica.

His version of ‘Mellow Down Easy’ not only gave the song possibly it’s best white rendition ever, but spilled into Dr. John’s space. Like electric blues in the late 60′s, New Orleans music was brand new. Seems there were so many singles that introduced me to yet more genres and styles in a short period, and I became insatiable for them all.

Listen: As The Years Go Passing By / John Hammond JohnHammondYears.mp3

‘As The Years Go Passing By’ slotted right in with then current versions from Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown, pretty much equaling if not topping them. With no small contribution being a fantastic voice.

Both tracks on this double sider ignited a John Hammond 7″ catalog completion process on my part that took years. Basically I wanted his every single and the two on Atlantic preceding this were oddly not easy finds. All great records as it turns out and worth the effort. Don’t pass any of them up.

Paul Young & The Family

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Listen: Love Of The Common People / Paul Young & The Family PaulYoungCommon.mp3

Howard posted this off with a batch of new releases back in ’82. He worked at Columbia then, having transferred from CBS London to New York. Old habits die hard: he still looked after the UK roster Stateside. I think this was one of the British acts he picked up via an inter-company option, thereby releasing Paul Young & The Family in the US.

As in their homeland, this first version of ‘Love Of The Common People’ didn’t make much noise, and remained a non-chart single. It was of some interest due to Rico finding a seemingly new home as the group’s trombonist. Anything Rico touches just works perfectly. His first solo album, ’76′s MAN FROM WAREIKA is a must have.

Questionable pictures can be harmful. Despite the contemporary ska image of the band, Paul Young’s shirt on the single sleeve really put me off. He looked like a bad stylist’s mistake. I did like the record, but felt a little unhip admitting so.

Listen: Love Of The Common People / Paul Young PaulYoungCommonRemix.mp3

Bottom line is a great voice and equally great song are hard to keep down, despite all the sonic tricks of the moment being applied. That’s how I’d describe the remix, which revived the original single and thankfully kicked it into the charts. Well deserved.

Sounding a bit too glossy in hindsight, it’s down to The Belle Stars African background vocal style and ever dependable Rico saving the day. And of course, Paul Young’s (now sans The Family in typical major label Columbia Records ruthless style) voice.