Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happy Birthday Bob Lind

Born in Ohio on the 25th of November 1942; singer songwriter Bob is best known in the as the writer of The Elusive Butterfly. Remembering that song Bob said:

“A lot of drugs were involved. Most of my songs of my songs from that period of time came from the line between sleep and wakefulness. That’s where Elusive Butterfly was written.”

Strange then that in the UK, at least, it became best known in a version by becardiganed stalwart of 70’s Sunday night TV, the squeaky clean Val Doonican:

“There were people who were outraged at that. They thought he was stealing food out of my children’s mouths…About a dozen pop stars of the-Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Eric Burdon-took out a full page add in one of the trades saying that mine was the real and best version. I thought that was a kind gesture, but really unnecessary; because people can make up there own minds. As it happens, Val Doonican and I both ended up in the charts. The British press built up a rivalry but I had no beef with Val. I never did get to talk to him, but I contacted his managers. His version was different from mine, but I kinda liked that.”

Growing up in Denver with his mother and step father, Bob Lind had been a fan of Hollywood singing cowboys like Tex Ritter and Gene Autry before discovering R&B in seventh grade.

“My first paying gig was in Denver at a used car lot. My friend Jerry and I formed a duo. I played guitar and we sang R&B. Now they call it doo wop but nobody it called it that then. It was rhythm and blues – dark and dangerous.”

On graduating Lind briefly studied theatre at western State College in Gunnison Colorado before dropping out to pursue music in the coffee houses of first Denver then, in 1964 in San Francisco before taking a tape of five songs recorded live at Al Chapman’s coffee house to Los Angeles.

Once there Lind contacted Liberty Records:”I just went to Liberty because it was the first on my list. I gave them the tape and they said ‘Yeah we’d like to sign you’. I was amazed. It was that easy.”

Liberty had also signed Lind to there music publishing company, Metric Music which is how Lind came to meet Jack Nitzsche who was looking for material. Nitzsche liked what he heard:

“He turned to Lenny (Waronker – head of Metric Music) and said: ‘you finally got yourself an honest writer’…So I played a few more and he said ‘Boy, this guys really good’.”

As a result of this meeting Lind and Nitzsche became housemates, friends and collaborators:

“It was an Odd Couple kind of a deal. Jack and I both loved to drink and to get high. We had a beautiful friendship.” recalls Lind.

The two albums they made together are the sound of a coffee house folkie honeymooning with pop nouse on the west coast.

Not so difficult for Lind to take on board anyway, for as he said : "If you wanted to work coffee houses , you had to call yourself a folk singer, but I enjoyed doing pop songs in a folk style"

The first recording session in 1965 yielded four tracks; You Should Have Seen It, my favourite Truly Julies Blues (I’ll Be There), Cheryl’s Goin’ Home and Elusive Butterfly.

In November 1965 Cheryl’s Goin’ Home was issued as a single with Elusive Butterfly on the flipside.

It went nowhere. A Florida DJ started to play Elusive Butterfly and it caught on.

Lind returned to the studio to record the further eight tracks that would make up his classic first album: Don’t Be Concerned:

“I think the Don’t Be Concerned album took about three sessions. The songs were ones I already had for the most part. I knew nothing about writing music, but I had this post- adolescent gush – all this sap and passion.” says Lind.

In May 1966 Verve Folkways released an album, cobbled together from an acetate Lind had recorded as a seventeen year old for Denver based Bandbox label, called The Elusive Bob Lind.

Speaking of it now Lind says: “I should be flattered that some people like the album, but it’s a terrible piece of shit.”

In spring 66 Nitzsche and Lind returned to the studio to record their second album together: Photographs Of Feeling .It was to be the last they collaborated:

“Jack had his demons,” explained Lind, “And he had a hard, cynical side. Just when you’d think he and I would be closest, rifts started forming.”

Without Nitzsche, Lind began to drift:

“I was a drunk, I was an abuser of drugs…I just wanted to go to the desert and get my head straight, but Santa Fe ended up being the place where I did my worst drinking and using so go figure.”

It was during this time that he wrote the songs for his 1971 Capitol released album Since There Were Circles which features Gene Clark on harmonica, Doug Dillard on banjo and Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar. It was reissued by RPM in 2006.

Sober since 1977 Lind concentrated on writing. This included writing five novels and an award winning screenplay, and features for the now defunct wacky US supermarket magazine Weekly World News:

"I wrote, made up stories and had a wonderful time. There were days when I'd leave that newsroom and my face hurt and my stomach would hurt because I was around funny people." Lind told ABC News recalling his time on the staff of Weekly World News.

In 1998 he purchased a saxophone and was once again bitten by the music bug:

“I learned how to read music and I learned how to make chord charts.” He says “My melodic scope started to open and I started to write more jazz orientated stuff songs. I thought people had to hear these things so I started gigging again.”

Pulp’s 2001 album We Love Life featured a track called Bob Lind (The Only Way Is Down) which has helped to lead to something of a career revival.

Last year Lind released Bob Lind Live at the Luna Star Café available through his website:

“The music business is different now – its not so company controlled. This new CD of mine, Live at the Luna Star Café, there’s no label involved. I just put it out myself. It was never that simple before.” explains Lind.

In June this year Lind played his first UK gigs since 1966 partly in support of Elusive Butterfly - The Jack Nitzsche Sessions, the sleeve notes of which provided most of the quotes here.

I saw him at that most wonderful of venues, The Luminaire, were he played some old stuff and some new stuff including Perspective ,written in January of 2006, a new song every bit the equal of his earlier stuff.

The picture accompanying this piece shows, on the right, Bob Lind whose birthday it is today, and me, and by happy coincidence I am also celebrating my birthday today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

10 Records That Changed The World Part 2

Just to recap:

The June 2007 issue of Mojo magazine featured a list of 100 Records That Changed The World.

Inspired by this Testify eventually presents, in two parts, 10 records NOT included in the Mojo list that, nontheless, changed the world (The first part is here).

Various Artists- Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis

Masterminded by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil 1968’s Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis is a collaborative effort embracing the talents of Rogerio Duprat (who arranged it), rock band Os Mutantes, Tom Ze, Gal Costa, Nara Leao (who appears on the album cover in a photograph held by Veloso) and poets such as Torquato Neto, who contributed lyrics.

It is a wildly experimental album devouring influences from both Brazilian culture, (second track Coracao Materno, for example, belongs to an older Brazilian tradition) and western culture (the hauntingly beautiful Baby closes with Veloso audible in the background singing “Please ,please stay by me Diana”in a deliberate echo of Paul Anka’s Diana).

Its soundscape embraces everything from bicycle bells and a factory siren to snatch’s of Bach.

Although not overtly critical of the US backed military regime that had come to power in 1964 the album bristles with indignation and anger: the first track, Misere Nobis, by Gilberto Gil ends in cannon fire over the repeated refrain “ora pro nobis” (“pray for us”) and Veloso’s track Enquato Seu Lobo Nao Vem (While Mr Wolf Won’t Come) abounds with images of escape and military oppression:

“Vamos por debaixo das ruas (Os clarins da banda militar)
Let’s go under the streets (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo das bombas, das bandeiras, debaixo das botas (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the bombs, the flags, under the boots (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo das rosas, dos jardins, debaixo da lama (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the roses, the gardens, under the mud (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo da cama (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the bed (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo da cama (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the bed (The military band’s bugles)”

(I am indebted to this essay for all translations)

In December 1968, the year of Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis release, Veloso and Gil were arrested by military police. Two months of interrogation and imprisonment followed, after which they were told to leave the country.

Sergio Dias, founding member of Os Mutantes said of that time:

“We, all of us, the Tropicalia movement…we were the face of Brazil-and it is much easier to conquer a place that has no face. So they basically took out the culture of Brazil

Veloso and Gil arrived in England in 1969 and remained there until1972 when they were finally allowed to return to Brazil.

In 2003 Gilberto Gil became Brazil’s Minister for Culture.

The Buzzcocks – Spiral Scratch E.P.

Spiral Scratch was recorded on the 28th of December 1976 with money borrowed from guitarist Pete Shelleys dad at Manchester’s Indigo sound studio and released on The Buzzcocks own New Hormones label in early 1977. A perfect encapsulation of amphetamine fuelled punk rock joy it was, in the words of Rough Trade impresario Geoff Travis, “the first independent record that people really wanted.”

Produced by Martin Hannett Spiral Scratch contained four tracks, all penned by vocalist Howard Devoto with the aforementioned Shelley on guitar with Steve Diggle on bass and John Maher on drums.

Devoto split from the group in March 1977 to form Magazine and Pete Shelley took over vocal and song writing duties for The Buzzcocks and although both did many fine things they never again equalled the fizzing wonder and polytechnic nihilism of Spiral Scratch’s anthemic first track: Boredom.

It may seem quaint in the age of myspace but, prior to Spiral Scratch, music in the UK was made, marketed & distributed more or less solely from London. The Buzzcocks gave a voice to the regions and a flourishing independent scene followed with small labels springing up throughout the British Isles as others, following The Buzzcocks lead, clamoured to make there voices heard.

Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock

But for the fact this was written in 1964 about jazz Ralph Ellison could have been describing hip hop in general and Bambaataa in particular when he wrote:

“Each true... moment…springs from a contest in which each artist challenges all the rest; each solo flight or improvisation represents …a definition of his identity: as individual, as a member of the collectivity and as a link in the chain of a tradition.”

Though there were others, three names dominate early hip hop: DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.

In the early seventies these three DJ’s and there sound systems would set up at opposite ends of a park or community hall and battle for audience share.

Bambaataa, founder hip hops most famous and influential posse; The Zulu Nation had at one time been a member of infamous Bronx gang The Black Spades:

“You really have to understand that the Zulu Nation had originally been the Black Spades. They were the biggest most feared gang in the Bronx,” says hip hop original Fab Five Freddy, “They’d wear these denim jackets with the cut off sleeves and fur around the collars and Black Spades written across the back. This was before gangs had a lot of guns so it was all about getting beat down with sticks and knives. It was brutal.And Bambaataa had the inspiration to stop this gang banging nonsense…he turned one of the most violent street gangs into one of the most influential cultural organisations.”

Bambaataa’s great strength as a DJ was his eclectism as he recalled:

“I used to like to catch people who’d say, ‘I don’t like rock. I don’t like Latin.’ I’d throw on Mick Jagger – you’d see the blacks and Spaniards just throwing down, dancing crazy. I’d say ‘I thought you said you didn’t like rock’. They’d say ‘Get out of here’ I’d say, ‘Well you were just dancing to the Rolling Stones’ ‘You’re kidding!’

I’d throw on Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – just the drum part. One, two, three, BAM – and they’d be screaming and partying. I’d throw on the Monkees, “Mary,Mary”- just the beat part where they’d go ‘Mary, Mary were you going?’- and they’d start going crazy. I’d say, ‘You just danced to the Monkees.’ They’d say, ‘You liar. I didn’t dance to no Monkees.’ I’d like to catch people who categorize records.”

Bambaataa, at that time the undisputed Master of Records, is credited with introducing such classic ‘breaks’ as Herman Kelly’s Dance To The Drummers Beat, The Mohawks Champ, and, crucially, English prog rock band Babe Ruth’s The Mexican and Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express.

These last two together with Kraftewerks Numbers and Captain Skys Super Sperm would go in the mix to make Bambaataa’s masterpiece: Planet Rock .

Bambaataa had provided support for Malcolm McLaren’s post Sex Pistols act BowWowWow and this gave him an in at New York’s new wave clubs of the time.

It was this cross cultural fertilisation that gave birth to Planet Rock. As Fab Five Freddy said:

“From being in a room, dominated by young white new wave heads, people with weird haircuts, who were just super cool beyond belief – that inspired him to go and make a record called Planet Rock which kinda changed the whole state of the game.”

When Bambaataa, producer Arthur Baker and keyboardist John Robie came together to create a black electronic music they married New York’s two vibrant underground scenes; new wave and hip hop.

Besides being the most sampled record in hip hop, it increased the beat and opened the door for the developments in dance music that were happening in Chicago and Detroit.

Frankie Knuckles/ Jamie Principle - Baby Wants To Ride

House music. The very name is a tribute to The Warehouse, a Chicago club which DJ Frankie Knuckles presided over from 1977 to 1983. Knuckles memorably described The Warehouse as “church for people who have fallen from grace”.

On leaving The Warehouse Frankie Knuckles founded The Power Plant and it was here, in 1984, that one Byron Walton aka Jamie Principle, a Depeche Mode and Prince fan, brought him the music he had been making at home on his four track Portastudio.

In 1987 this partnership brought the feverish Baby Wants To Ride? into the world.

By that time House music had come to something of a crossroads; the success of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body, and its subsequent imitators, had threatened to see the groove become a monotone. House artists began looking back to the 70’s to try and find a way forward and as a result the Chicago house sound was getting trancier and deeper. Lyrics echoed this shift borrowing phrases and phrasing from righteous black power fuelled funk and uplifting gospel inflected disco.

Baby Wants To Ride was one of the first and, for my money, is still the finest example of this new sound: a sparse electro funk pile up of sex, submission, revolution and Revelations!

Wu Tang Clan – Enter The Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers)

This album revitalised hip-hop scene when it appeared in ’93. At a time when hip hop was stagnating into a seemingly endless round of dull laid back gangsta’s rapping about keeping it real blah, blah, blah The Wu brought the ruckus by keeping it surreal. It’s not that they weren’t thuggish enough to be gansta, Wu Tang Clan weren’t nothing to fuck with, its just The Wu were too original and, well, strange.

The RZA recalled: “When I put the first album together, I was in a real competitive state of mind with real vengeance in my heart. ’Fuck the music industry, fuck the hip hop game’. I realised that a lot of these guys was corny and they was acting like they was the best”

RZA had form, as Prince Rakeem, on Tommy Boy. His solo single, Ooh I Love You Rakeem had flopped. On his return to the industry RZA came mob handed.

Hip Hop’s stars had always had a posse, the Clan were different though. As Nelson George wrote in 1998:“ The logical conclusion of posse performance has been reached by Wu Tang Clan, whose posse, instead of hangers-on, is packed with skilled rhyme animals who stalk the stage ready to ‘catch wreck’ at a moments notice. While in most cases the posse is somebody’s cousin and the kid from down the block, Wu’s killer B’s attack is the example that proves the rule because with them the posse is the star”

Pooling there resources, and with loans from family members the RZA scraped together enough to release 500 copies of The Wu Tang Clans debut: the stone cold classic Protect Ya Neck: “I just went to a radio station and pushed through the door – ‘Play this one. It’s better than everything else out there, and if you like hip hop, you gotta like this.’”

Bobbito Garcia, the radio DJ who first played it said: “In the summer of ’92 we got a test pressing of Protect Ya Neck… I remember putting it on and being like ‘What the fuck is this karate shit?’”

This ‘karate shit’ was an early glimpse of Wu world and it had record labels salivating.

What followed is industry legend. As Rich Isaacson of Loud Records remembered: “What we did with Wu Tang was unprecedented. In almost all record contracts, when you sign a group there’s a paragraph called ‘the group provision’. Basically that says if any of the members of the group leave and start a solo career , they have to do it with the label…That’s sacred within the record industry…We told him that if you sign with Loud for a lot less money, we’ll let you take solo artists to other labels.”

For the RZA it was about control: “We got less money but we got control and that was what we wanted, so we could go out there and make other deals. We came with a plan”

When the album Enter The Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers) it was an imaginative tour de force. RZA and his cohorts cinematic vision presented there Staten Island home as a dark b-movie Gotham through which the Wu Tang’s killer B’s swarmed armed only with a multitude of aliases, a baffling homemade philosophy drawn from kung-fu flicks and, best of all, a fistful of southern soul samples.

Against a background of looped piano’s the RZA unearthed dread at the heart of Stax and Hi records. The Wu Tang’s samples enriched not only the Wu’s work but also there sources. It is impossible now to hear The Charmels’ I’ll Never Grow Old, for example, and not think of C.R.E.A.M. The RZA identified a sickness, a melancholia, in these southern soul pieces and, with his sampling, highlighted this, leaving the original song altered forever.

The Wu Tang individuals did indeed go onto produce often innovative solo albums for a variety of labels that consolidated there reputation at the forefront of hip hop but none had the impact of their initial entry into our world and ours into theirs.

The image accompanying this post shows a Helio Oiticica designed flag. It depicts the criminal Cara de Cavalo, who was the first victim of Brazils military junta's death squads, and reads Be A Criminal, Be A Hero. In October 1968 Gil and Veloso performed at Rio's Sucata nightclub in front of a backdrop that featured this image. It was to be their last live performance before being arrested.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lee Hazlewood:Rest In Peace

Lee Hazlewood had been living with cancer for three years before he eventually succumbed to the disease on Saturday 4th August 2007. He was 78 years old.

Although his official web page is very sketchy, Hazlewood has always had a healthy internet presence. The reason I have never previously blogged about him is that I didn't have much to add to excellent work such as this or this.

Now that he has died and the blogosphere is ablaze with tributes and obituaries I would like to add my own short reminiscence to the funeral pyre:

I first saw Lee Hazlewood at Nick Cave's Meltdown Festival at the Royal Festival Hall in 1999 and, although I had enjoyed the gig, I was a little disappointed at the way all of his 'hits' had been lumped into a fairly unsatisfactory medley.

When Hazlewood next returned to Europe his band was led by Jon Fell and made up of various members of The High Llamas. Before the tour started I spoke to Jon about the 1999 gig and my feelings about the medley. Although I can claim no credit for this, I was pleased to note that during the September 2002 gig Hazlewood's back catalogue was treated with rather more respect, despite the fact that Al Casey had been forced to return home as a result of ill health.

I went along to the gig with Sean O' Hagan who, though not part of Hazlewood's touring band, is of course the mastermind behind the Llamas. As a result I was invited backstage after the gig.

The mood backstage was buoyant. When I entered Hazlewood's dressing room Pete Aves was at a piano bashing out various Hazlewood standards and everyone present, including Lee and Jeane, his wife, was laughing, drinking beer, kicking back and singing along. It was a wonderful moment. I never got to speak to Lee or shake his hand and thank him for his music but I knew, even as it was happening, that I was privileged to be witnessing something rather special. It is how I will remember Lee Hazlewood.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Happy Birthday Nancy Sinatra

Born into showbiz royalty on the 8th of June 1940 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Nancy Sinatra is 67 today.

Although Nancy began making records on father’s Reprise label in 1961 it is fair to say she didn’t really hit her commercial, or creative, stride until 1965 when Reprise records producer Jimmy Bowen coaxed a reluctant Lee Hazlewood to produce her.

Jimmy Bowen had tasted some chart success himself as a member of Buddy Knox’s Rhythm Orchids in 1957 with I’m Sticking With You, originally the flipside of Buddy Knox’s big seller Party Doll.

1957 was also the year that one Tommy Sands got his break. He was cast as the lead in a television play, The Singing Idol, and of the back of that had a hit with Teenage Crush. He was subsequently signed to Capitol, where he enjoyed several smaller hits. Sands’ was enlisted into the military, and on September 11 1960, dressed in his air force uniform, married a twenty year old Nancy Sinatra.

In December 1960 Frank Sinatra announced the formation of Reprise Records with an artist roster that included pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Nancy joined the label in 1961, having previously appeared in her Dad’s 1960 show to welcome Elvis Presley home from the army.

Bowen joined Reprise in the early sixties where, never much of a singer, he enjoyed his greatest success as a producer, including in 1965, Houston a hit for Dean Martin penned by Bowen’s neighbour Lee Hazlewood.

Hazlewood had already enjoyed some success as a writer and producer first with Sandford Clark with whom he had written and recorded The Fool which sold 800,000 copies and later, as a producer, with Duane Eddy. In 1963 he had quit the music industry in disgust:

“Everything you heard on the radio was Beatles, Beatles, Beatles. Not only that, but they were hailed as innovators when they were doing things that were done four years earler by the Everly Brothers” he told a radio interviewer in 1968.

Bowen coaxed his neighbour out of premature retirement and, in 1965, Hazlewood produced the hit I’m a Fool for Hollywood brat pack Dino, Desi & Billy. Hazlewood did not enjoy his time working with Dean Martin and Desi Arnez’s spoilt sons and was not, therefore, particularly thrilled when approached to work with Nancy who he saw as just “another second generation act”.

"He was part Henry Higgins and part Sigmund Freud," recalled Nancy Sinatra, who had, by that time divorced Tommy Sands, for The New York Times in January this year. She continued "He was far from the country bumpkin people considered him at the time. I had a horrible crush on him, but he was married then."

Describing working with Nancy, Hazlewood wrote in the introduction to his clumsily titled book Lee Hazlewood’s The Pope's Daughter-His Fantasy Life with Nancy and Other Sinatra's:

“What’s it like to work with a Nancy Sinatra? It’s a visit to Disneyland, only your father owns all the rides. It’s an evening in the medicine cabinet of Edgar Allen Poe’s mother… It’s a Las Vegas stage, sitting on a two-dollar stool in front of a fifty-two-piece orchestra, next to a lady in a five thousand-dollar gown; you’re singing a little flat and wondering if the fly is open on your eight-dollar ‘jeans’. It’s Beauty and the Beast selling a ‘fix’ to the Mickey Mouse People. It’s frustrating, foolish, Falstaffian, freaky, fucked-up and fun.”

After several hitless years on Reprise Nancy was open to Hazlewood’s suggestions, some of which must have appeared a little out there to a showbiz princess:

"Sugar Town was about LSD, Some Velvet Morning is about drugs and sex, and we had a quirky thing going with that stuff. Sand is one of the sexiest songs ever made." she told The Guardian in April 2005.

Hazlewood changed Nancy’s singing style and it paid immediate dividends when So Long Babe became a modest chart hit:

“She was singing too high for one thing and for another she was trying to be Goody Two Shoes which was not her natural style.” said Lee in the sleevenotes to his solo 1966 album The Very Strange World Of Lee Hazlewood.

The following year Nancy traded those goody two shoes for boots.

Written in 1963 Hazlewood was initially reluctant to play These Boots Are Made For Walking for Nancy because in its early incarnation the song contained the word “fuck.”

“But Nancy was in love with the song. It really needed her, by the way, we changed it around and I wrote a third verse for it. Didn't have that until the day of the session because I had forgotten all about it." Hazlewood told Noel Mengel of the Courier Mail.

These Boots Are Made For Walking was an instant smash, backed by that legendary coterie of Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, Nancy reached number 1 in February 1966.

More hits followed including How Does That Grab You Darlin’? and the aforementioned Sugar Town. The former, incidentally, provided the title for Nancy’s second album which included her version of Sonny Bono’s song Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) that Quentin Tarantino used as the theme for the Kill Bill 1 opening credits.

Kill Bill was not Nancy’s first foray in to soundtracks. Tucked away on the flipside of the US single How Does That Grab You Darlin’? is The Last Of The Secret Agents. It was the title song to a spy spoof of the same name that starred comedy duo Marty Allen and Steve Rossi alongside Nancy. Produced and written by Hazlewood it is basically a reworked Boots with riffs from John Barry’s Thunderball theme welded on.

The following year Nancy had the opportunity to record a Bond theme proper when the producers of You Only Live Twice decided they didn’t like theme song as it was originally sung by one Julie Rogers so approached Frank Sinatra about the job. Sinatra Snr passed on it but suggested they use his daughter Nancy. It was not an easy gig.

"You Only Live Twice was a real stretch for Nancy," John Barry, the songs composer recalled for Eddi Fiegel's book John Barry A Sixties Theme, "as a song it's kind of all over the place, and the bridge is particularly difficult, so all in all it was a bit of a reach for her. whats now in the movie was made up of about twenty-four takes. It was a real masterpiece of editing. There was just no way we'd have got it in one take. She'd get one bit right the first time but then she'd get another bit wrong. So that was what we call 'a glue job'. She knew. She'd say 'That's a good bit there, you can cut that in, John, can't you?' She didn't have any illusions about it."

Still 1967 was a big year for Nancy, not only did she sing that years Bond theme but she conceived and produced an Emmy winning television special called Movin’ with Nancy. Besides featuring a great version of Lionel Bart's Who Will Buy? it saw the unveiling of Nancy and Lee’s undisputed masterpiece: Some Velvet Morning.

"I particularly love Some Velvet Morning. It's a beautiful song, but also melancholy and dark, because that was Lee. He was funny and clever and talented, but he also had a dark side, which added something special to the songs we did together."Nancy told New Zealand's The Sunday Star Times in April 2008

Nancy and Lee had first sang together the previous year on Summer Wine, the flipside of Sugar Town:

“We started together… out of absolute greed on my part.” Hazlewood told Richard Hawley for The Observer Monthly Music Magazine in October 2006.

Written for Movin’ with Nancy, a TV special, Hazlewood anticipated that Some Velvet Morning, a druggy reverie, would cause problems with the censor. He recalled in the sleeve notes to 2002 tribute album Total Lee- The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood:

“We did it and then you submit it to the censor at NBC and I thought, of course, they’re going to find something with this one that they don’t like, really they’re going to find something! The man questioned the line “and how she made it in”, I. N. and I said “No, it’s E.N.D”…And when I told the guy that he goes “Oh, well that’s fine then, that’s OK.” And I didn’t say what about anything . Somebody said “What is the song about?" and I said “It’s about three and a half minutes that’s about all I can tell you.” But it worked.”

Also in 1967 Frank Sinatra earned his first US gold record with the bizarro Somethin’ Stupid, a wildly inappropriate duet with Nancy produced by Bowen and Hazlewood. Nancy sounds cramped and miserable on the record, a sulky teen reluctantly singing along with dad. Perhaps, like me, she found the whole concept a bit creepy.

In 1968 Nancy appeared as Susan Jacks, a part originally intended for Petula Clark, in the movie Speedway with Elvis Presley. She had a solo number, Your Groovy Self, making her the only singer ever to have a solo song appear on an Elvis soundtrack (prior to his death).

In 1970 Hazlewood decided to up sticks and move to Sweden, shattering the partnership with Nancy.

"It was crazy," Sinatra said in The New York Times . "And he really left me in the lurch. He kept shooting himself in the foot all the time, and I never knew why. He was always his own worst enemy."

Nancy never really went away though. She recorded throughout the 70’s and 80’s including, in 1981, a country album with Mel Tillis called Mel and Nancy but she never again recaptured the brilliance of those late Sixties Reprise recordings.

"I knew this music was unique when we were making it and the proof is that 40 years on, people are still listening to it." she told The Guardian in 2005.

In 1995 Nancy relaunched herself with the One More Time album and, at 54 years of age, a Playboy photoshoot which according to her website “demonstrated once again that sexuality and feminism are not mutually exclusive”.

In 2004 Nancy’s career underwent something of a revival as she was discovered by a new generation of fans, including Morrissey who invited her to take part in Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall that year. It was Nancy’s debut live performance in London.

I saw Nancy that night and well remember the hysteria that greeted Sugar Town. You can view some of it here courtesy of Richard Gibson.

In May last year Nancy's Sinatra’s star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and next month Nancy will be presented with the President’s Award For Excellence In The Arts by National President John Rowan.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

10 Records That Changed The World Part 1

The June issue of Mojo magazine featured a list of 100 Records That Changed The World.

Inspired by this Testify presents, in two parts, 10 records NOT included in the Mojo list that, nontheless, changed the world.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys – Ida Red

No list of influential records is complete without reference to Bob Wills. Together with Milton Brown, Wills was a founding member of the Fort Worth Doughboys and their sole recording, Sunbonnet Sue/ Nancy Jane in February 1932, provided the blueprint for a hybrid form of dance music that became known as Western Swing.

Incorporating elements of Big Band music, old time fiddle music and the blues Western Swing was a raucous sound that caught the ear of, amongst others, Chuck Berry.

Berry’s audition tape for the Chess brothers featured his take on an old traditional number called Ida Red.

As Berry recalled in his 1987 autobiography: “I’d heard it (Ida Red) sung long before when I was a teenager and thought it was rhythmic and amusing to hear. I’d sung it in the yard gatherings and parties around home when I was first learning to strum the guitar in my high-school days.”

Probably the earliest recording of this song was by Fiddlin' Powers & Family on August 19, 1924 (issued December 1924). Bob Wills' first recording of Ida Red, and the one which provided the inspiration for Berry, was in November 29, 1938 in Dallas, although it wasn’t issued until October the following year. Wills cut another, souped up, version in 1950 called Ida Red Likes The Boogie.

Leonard Chess suggested Berry write new lyrics for Ida Red and speed it up a bit and thus the rock ‘n’ roll staple Maybellene was born.

Also listening to Bob Wills was Elvis Presley whose 1954 Sun recording of Milk Cow Blues grafted verses from Wills’ 1946 recording Brain Cloudy Blues onto Kokomo Arnold’s original.

Bill Haley and his Comets - Rock Around The Clock

Prior to 1951 Haley had recorded Western Swing inflected country songs.

Then, in 1951, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen cut a version of Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats kickin’ R&B track Rocket 88.

The following year he changed the band personnel and christened them the Comets and, in 1953, with Crazy Man Crazy, recorded the first white rock hit.

On the strength of this they were signed to Decca in 1954 and (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock was released in May of that year. It was a flop.

Until, that is, the movie Blackboard Jungle was released in 1955. Intended as an examination of delinquency in America’s city schools Blackboard Jungle was the first film to use a rock ‘n’ roll song as part of its soundtrack.

It pitted solid decent English teacher Rick Dadier (Glen Ford) against North Manual High Schools teenage rabble,as the opening credits faded (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock blared out over images of general juvenile delinquency. By the time the movies chief juvenile delinquent, Artie West (Vic Morrow), was seen trashing the beloved jazz records of a liberal maths teacher the link between rock ‘n’ roll and a kind of violent nihilism had been forged. By the end of 1955 (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock had sold six million copies.

Johnny Ace – Pledging My Love

Recorded with the Johnny Otis Orchestra Pledging My Love was Johnny Ace’s seventh record and was released in the first week of 1955. It reached number 1 in the R&B charts immediately and hit the pop top twenty in February.

It was also rock ’n’ roll’s first posthumous hit. On December 24th 1954 backstage at the Houston City Auditorium Johnny Ace became the founding member of what Kurt Cobain’s mother called “that stupid club”, apparently whilst playing Russian roulette. He was only 25 years of age.

Hound Dog chanteuse Big Mama Thornton, who witnessed the event, recalled: “that kinky hair of his shot straight out like porcupine quills”. (whilst Johnny Otis noted: “He was used to playing a kind of controlled Russian roulette, but this time he made a fatal mistake because the hammer fell on a loaded chamber” Well, duh!).

Elvis Presley was a fan and had Johnny Ace’s 1955 single in his record collection.

In June 1977 when RCA issued the single Way Down, as a taster for the Moody Blue album nobody could have known it would be the last single released during Elvis Presley’s lifetime. On its flipside was Elvis’ cover of Pledging My Love.

Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes

Carl Perkins was an aspiring musician playing a tough Hank Williams inspired brand of honky tonk in the bars of Jackson, Tennessee in 1954, when his wife first heard Presley’s recording That’s All Right (Mama). She was moved to comment “Carl, that sounds just like y’all”

When Perkins found out that it was recorded in Memphis, a short drive away from Jackson, he went to Sun studios and waited and waited until Sam Phillips, the labels founder and Elvis’ first mentor, agreed to see him.

Perkins classic was inspired by a real incident. As Perkins recalled on the 706 ReUnion album:
“I heard a boy tell a girl, he said ‘Uh- Uh don’t step on my suede’s, I was playing a little club in Jackson, Tennessee.”

The song was recorded on December 19th 1955 and was issued in January the following year with Honey Don’t on the flip side.

Blue Suede Shoes went to number 1 in the Country charts, number 2 in the Pop charts and then on March 17th 1956 Carl Perkins made history, and sold over a million records in the process, when he became the first country artist to reach the national Rhythm and Blues chart.

Wanda Jackson – Honey Bop

Following the success of (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock and Blue Suede Shoes the floodgates opened.

Former country singer Jackson became the first girl singer, inspired by Presley’s example, to cut an out and out rock ’n’ roll record.

Having already dabbled with rock ‘n’ roll with I Gotta Know, a song which featured as much country as it did rock ‘n’ roll, Wanda went the whole hog in September 1956 with Honey Bop which, incidentally, was co-written by Mae Axton, who had also co- written Heartbreak Hotel. Although by no means Jackson’s finest work and not particularly commercially successful it nevertheless blazed the trail that other women would follow.

It is a disgrace that the Rock ‘n ‘ Roll Hall Of Fame is yet to recognise Jackson’s pioneering contribution to the music it purports to support.

Regular readers of Testify (ho-ho) already know what a fan of Wanda Jackson I am and it only remains for me to remind you of Wanda Weekend at The Luminaire next month.
You can read the rest of this list here.

The picture accompanying this post shows Wanda Jackson and Bob Wills at the Showboat in Las Vegas in 1959, some show eh?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy Birthday Pee Wee King

When Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes became the first ever record to appear simultaneously in the country, pop and R&B charts a slew of cover versions quickly followed. Elvis Presley’s is probably the best known of these but accordion player Pee Wee King with his Western swing outfit The Golden West Cowboys, were there first. King had something of a headstart on rival s having been given a prerelease acetate of the song by Perkins himself when they played the same bill in Memphis. The Golden West Cowboys' version was recorded on February 7th 1956 and featured Walter Hayes, the band's fiddle player, on vocals. It is, in truth, a workmanlike and unconvincing reading of Perkins’ classic.

King made an altogether better stab at rock ‘n’ roll later that same year with vocalist Dick Glasser. Ballroom Baby and Catty Town, both of which Glasser had a hand in writing, are very pleasing examples of early rock ‘n’ roll. Pee Wee King recalled: “(Dick Glasser) was a very good rock ‘n’ roll singer …he fit into our group like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The first two recordings we did with him were a smash. The people at RCA Victor thought I was going nuts with our new sound. I said ‘No. I’m an entertainer and we have to change with the times. Rock ‘n’ roll is changing American music, and that includes country music.’”(from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall)

King was not altogether the rockin’ virgin that this would suggest though. Nearly a decade before the Glasser recordings King had, with the band's regular singer Redd Stewart, written and recorded Ten Gallon Boogie which features the rockin’est accordion solo ever. It was the Golden West Cowboys contribution to the hillbilly boogie craze that swept country music in the late forties and early fifties, and which helped to lay the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed King’s friend, Bill Haley, had recorded a number of hillbilly boogies before he discovered rock ‘n’ roll. Jolly Joyce, Haley’s booking agent, tried to persuade King to change the name of his act so that he could book him overseas as a rock ‘n’ roll act: “ I said, ‘Nothing doing! I’ve worked hard to make our name mean something and I’m not about to change it. Anyway, why should I want to become a rock ‘n’ roll band? I can play rock ‘n’ roll any time I want and still call our band the Golden West Cowboys” (from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall).

However it is not as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer that King is best remembered, nor as the man whose band introduced the electric guitar to the Grand Ole Opry, nor yet as a pioneer of television, although in November 1948 Pee Wee King’s was the first show on the state of Kentucky’s first television station, but rather as the composer of one of the biggest hits in music history: The Tennessee Waltz.

Pee Wee King was an unlikely candidate for country stardom. Born on February 18th 1914 in Milwaukie of Polish stock he was christened Frank Julius Anthony Kuczynski and his favoured instrument, the accordion, was not regarded as a ‘proper’ country instrument at that time.

In 1929 the 15 year old Kuczynski formed his first band and in 1930 he met saxophonist and band leader Wayne King, who was himself from a Polish background, who gave him this advice: “You need a catchy name…Now remember: K-I-N-G. Nobody can misspell it. Nobody can mispronounce it. That’s your hook. You say your name is Frank. Call yourself Frankie. It has a better ring. Frankie King that’s a name nobody will forget” (from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall). Thus Frankie King and the Kings Jesters were born.

In 1934 a stroke of good fortune brought Gene Autry into King's life. Frankie King and the Kings Jesters were playing the Polish–American Hour on WJRN in Racine. Gene Autry together with his band, The Range Riders and their agent were touring southern Wisconsin when they were forced to pull up at a garage in Racine to have a fender straightened on their car. Whilst they were waiting for the repair to be completed they heard Frankie King’s band on the service stations radio. Autry’s agent, Joe.L. Frank, was impressed enough to ask King to join The Range Riders, for the remainder of the tour.

“I wasn’t with the group long before I got my nickname. There were too many Franks in the band so Mr Frank said we had to have nicknames to tell us apart. He first wanted to call me Shorty, but I didn’t like that one, so we settled on Pee Wee” (from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall).

Autry left for Hollywood shortly after the tour ended and the Range Riders disbanded. Joe Frank invited Pee Wee King to join a new band he had put together, the Log Cabin Boys, who performd on WNOX in Knoxville. The steady income it provided enabled King to marry Joe Frank's stepdaughter Lydia Frank in December 1936.

In January the following year King and his new wife moved to Louisville. Joe Frank was already there and organising a new band for King to lead. Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys , as the band were known, auditioned successfully for The Grand Ole Opry in 1937 and were regulars for the next ten years.

Throughout the band's thirty year lifespan, The Golden West Cowboys underwent several line up changes and at one time or another featured such luminaries as Cowboy Copas and Eddy Arnold.

Redd Stewart first joined The Golden West Cowboys in 1940 before being drafted into the Army and Stewart's return from the armed services ushered in what Pee Wee King thought of as the golden age of The Golden West Cowboys.

It was whilst driving back to Nashville from a show in Texarkana, Texas in December1946 that King and Stewart wrote The Tennessee Waltz

“We were getting close to Memphis and had the radio playing…when we heard the disk jockey say ‘I want you folks to hear Bill Monroe’s new song dedicated to his home state of Kentucky. It’s called The Kentucky Waltz’. While the record was playing Redd said ‘Pee Wee, I’ve got an idea for a song. Trade places with me and drive and I’ll get that kitchen matchbox that I light my cigars from out of the glove compartment and we’ll write a song about Tennessee. After all I was born in Ashland City, Tennessee and we both live there now. We can write a Tennessee waltz” (from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall).

The melody already existed, King having devised it as the Cowboys theme song though at that time it was known only as No Name Waltz:

“Redd sat there writing the words on the matchbox as we both hummed the melody we knew so well. We’d hum along and Redd would write a word down. Every once in a while he’d say ‘How does this sound?’ and he’d sing the words to the melody. Finally we had the words pretty much the way everybody knows them today”(from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall).

It was recorded in 1948 in Chicago and proved a hit for the Golden West Cowboys selling half a million copies. Despite a verbal agreement to the contrary, Cowboy Copas - a former Golden West Cowboy - cheekily released his version on King Records just ahead of Pee Wee King's and had a sizable hit with it too. It seemed almost from the start that Tennessee Waltz was a country music standard.

When Ernest Tubb recorded The Tennessee Waltz and published a sheet music edition, he did so without the permission of either of the song's composers. Not only that but the songwriter's credits on both the record and sheet music went to the Short Brothers (presumably referring to James Erwin Short and Melvin Leon Short - members of Tubb's band in the '40s) .

King recalled: "It was all a big stink and I didn't like it at all...we remained friends with Ernest throughout the lawsuit... We didn't get any damages but we put an end to their pirated record and sheet music. Most important we didn't make enemies out of our friends. I didn't hold a grudge against Ernest even though his company recorded and published the song illegally. Ernest and the Short Brothers made a mistake but I don't think it was an honest one. I believe they knew that they were doing something morally wrong and illegal. They were putting us to the test to see if they could get away with it. I've never heard the Short Brothers recording. I don't know how it sounded and I don't want to know" (from Hell-Bent for Music Wade Hall).

Other covers followed. On hearing Cowboy Copas' version, Tuxedo Junction composer and jazz trumpeter Erskine Hawkins was inspired to record his own version in 1950 . It was this version that caught the ear of a young Billboard columnist and jazz buff Jerry Wexler.

So when in October that year Jack Rael, pop singer Patti Page’s manager, was looking for a flip side for her Boogie Woogie Santa Claus Wexler suggested The Tennessee Waltz.

“‘Patti knew the song’ said Jack. ‘I didn’t. She said ‘That’s my daddy’s favourite song.’ We did it with five pieces. The baritone player from Ellington’s band was on the date. We copied the arrangement from Erskine Hawkins. Joe Reisman wrote it out for us” (from Road Kill on the Three Chord Highway Colin Escott).

Page used an overdubbing technique that she had previously employed succesfully on a her 1948 hit Confess.

"You recorded onto an acetate , then played it back into one microphone while overdubbing into another microphone. The engineer would mix the overdub with the original (itself no mean feat), then cut the results onto another acetate. If the singer flubbed just one note or the engineer messed up the balance they'd have to start over"(from Road Kill on the Three Chord Highway Colin Escott).

Described by James Miller, in his book Almost Grown, as "a tricked up, technologically evolved sort of pseudo folk song", Page's version was a phenomona selling in excess of six million copies. The song had transcended its roots, it was no longer simply a country song, indeed for the twenty six weeks Page's version spent on the charts, it became the country's song. In other words simply a great American song.

Everybody from Jo Stafford to James Brown has recorded The Tennessee Waltz.

On February 17th 1965 it was adopted as the official song of the state of Tennessee.

Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart were elected to the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1970 and Johhny Cash was on hand to present the award when King was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974.

King died of a heart attack aged 86 on March 6th 2000.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Greatest Cheatin' Song. Ever.

This story, which happened forty years ago next month, tells how a tiny upstart record label, a couple of white poker-playing pill-popping hipsters and a black vocalist steeped in the traditions of the Baptist church created a masterpiece: The Dark End of the Street.

It is set in Memphis, where that kind of thing used to happen regularly.

Quinton Claunch, founder of Goldwax, the aforementioned tiny label, had been something of a fixture on the Memphis music scene since 1952. Sam Phillips had hired him and Bill Cantrell as session musicians and talent scouts for his then fledgling Sun label. Guitarist Claunch and fiddle player Cantrell had been in the hillbilly band the Blue Seal Pals together in the Forties. At Sun they played on and co-wrote tracks for Carl Perkins, The Miller Sisters and Charlie Feathers.
“I got to love R&B because Sam would follow a country session with an R&B session and it was impossible not to hear it.” Claunch recalled in Barney Hoskyns' book Say it One Time for the Broken Hearted.

In 1956, together with sometime rockabilly singer Ray Harris and record shop owner Joe Cuoghi, Cantrell and Claunch founded Hi Records. Destined to become another of Memphis’ legendary labels, Hi’s first release was the Claunch/Cantrell composition Tootsie performed by Carl McVoy, a piano playing cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis. Although this initial release was a small success Hi only really limped along until 1959 when the label finally enjoyed its first big hit: Smokie- Part 2 an instrumental by the Bill Black Combo. Black had quit his job as slap bass player for Elvis Presley the year before and was a long time friend of Ray Harris. After the success of Smokie-Part 2 Harris assumed more and more of the production duties at Hi, much to Claunch’s chagrin who quit the label and sold his share in it to Carl McVoy in 1960.

Claunch founded Goldwax with $600 from Rudolph ‘Doc’ Russell, a Memphis pharmacist in 1964. The labels first release, Darlin’ by the Lyrics, was recorded at the FAME studios in Muscle Shoals and, despite being Claunch’s first real attempt at R&B, was a large enough hit to attract the attention of London Records:
“So one day I get a call from a guy at London Records about distributing the record, and then he came into town and picked up the master. It took them about two or three weeks to get it all processed and to put it out, and by that time the record was dead, and we were back in debt. I always thought Joe Cuoghi killed it, though I couldn’t ever prove anything, but Hi was distributed by London, of course, and it just made sense.” remembered Claunch (from Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick)

However Claunch’s luck picked up one night when medical technologist and aspiring music impressario Roosevelt Jamison showed up on his doorstep:

"I heard a knock on my door about midnight," recalls Claunch. "So I got up,went to the door and there stood O. V. Wright, James Carr and Roosevelt Jamison."They told me (Stax head) Jim Stewart had sent them by and they'd like for me to listen to a tape. We sat down in the middle of the living room floor and the voices just knocked me out. I asked them what they had in mind and they said, `Man, we want to cut a record.' "(from James Carr’s obituary in The Commercial Appeal by Bill Ellis)

And that’s exactly what they did.

O.V. Wright recorded Jamison’s composition That’s How Strong My Love Is for Goldwax sixth release in 1964. Jamison had taken the song to Stax but had believed them uninterested when O.V. Wright cut the track. Claunch could be forgiven cursing his luck when Otis Redding released his version shortly after the Goldwax release.

Worse than that, Peacock Records owner Don Robey had the Sunset Travellers, a gospel group that Wright sang with, under contract and he put out an injunction to prevent the solo release. Claunch and Russell came to an agreement with Robey whereby they gave up their claim to the artist but maintained the rights to the single. Wright never recorded for Goldwax again.

Speaking to Tim Perlich for Soul Survivor magazine in 1988 Roosevelt Jamison said:
“Y'know, personally, I doubt that any such contract between O.V. and Don Robey ever existed. If there was, I never saw it. That was only part of the reason why O.V. left Goldwax though. O.V. had an engagement to do a show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for some local D.J. named Dickie Doo, but Quinton Claunch refused to give us the money for gas to get there. Ricky Sanders, Earl Forrest and I went with O.V. and did the show anyway, but after that incident O.V. went straight to Texas.”

With Wright’s depature the label concentrated their efforts on the other singer that had arrived that night: James Carr.

Carr’s father was a Baptist preacher and Carr had been singing in church since he was six years old. At nine he had joined the gospel quartet the Harmony Echoes.
Carr remembered: “Me and Roosevelt were involved with two gospel groups, the Harmony Echoes and the Sunset Travellers. When my mother and father died, I stopped singing gospel.” (from Tim Perlich’s interview in Soul Survivor Number 9, Summer 1988)

Carr’s first Goldwax release also came in 1964 and was another Jamison composition, You Don't Want Me; it was largely overlooked on release. It wasn’t until 1966 that Carr hit with the O.B. McClinton composition You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up which reached number seven in the Billboard R&B charts and stayed there for two months.

Many of Goldwax sides where cut at Muscle Shoals FAME studio under Rick Hall’s guidance. The Dark End of the Street’s co-writer Dan Penn was something of a fixture at Hall’s studio and recalled meeting Claunch and his partner Russell there:
“They brought Spencer Wiggins, The Ovations, James Carr, maybe O.V. Wright - seems like O.V. cut most of his stuff in Memphis. We were familiar with Doc and Quinton because they came to FAME (Rick Hall’s studio). I remember taking Doc Russell's '64 Caddy out to get hamburgers. Yeah, I remember the night when I drove that big Caddy.” (from Joss Hutton interview for Perfect Sound Forever)

It was ‘Doc’ Rusell who first mentioned The Dark End of the Street's other writer, Chips Moman, to Penn:
“Doc Russell says to me ‘Man there’s guy in Memphis that’s just like you. Looks like you, acts like you, plays like you’ I said ‘Aw, shit, well I’ll just have to meet that dude.’…When we met, we just went ‘Pssht!,’ just like that, cause, see, he had heard the same thing about me.” (from Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick)

Moman and Penn met in spring 1966 and hit it off right away. Moman and Penn shuttled between each other respective home bases: Muscle Shoals for Penn, Memphis for Moman. As Moman said “Dan’s one of the reasons I went to Muscle Shoals to start with. I wanted him so bad to write and produce and work up in my studio in Memphis that I would play down there on sessions” (from Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick)

Georgia native Lincoln Wayne ‘Chips’ Moman had arrived in Memphis in 1960 after working as a session musician in California with, amongst others, Gene Vincent and the Burnette Brothers. He had fallen in with Jim Stewart and Esttelle Axton who at that time ran the struggling Satellite label out of a garage. Moman it was who located the old movie theatre on East McLemore and helped convert it into the recording studio where so many classics were recorded for Stewart and Axton’s renamed Stax label. By ’66 however Chips had left Stax behind and was working his own studio: American Recordings.

Penn recalls: “Chips had a radio board back then and a 350 Ampex, actually he had two Ampex mixers, he didn’t hardly qualify as a studio” ( Sweet Soul Music Peter Guralnick)

Still, what Chips did have was a first rate studio band made up of guitarist Reggie Young, who as part of Bill Blacks Combo had played on Smokie - Part 2, Bobby Wood on piano, Gene Chrisham on drums, Bobby Emmons on organ and Mike Leech on bass. American Recordings had their first hit in 1965 when The Gentrys Keep on Dancing reached number four on the pop charts. Moman never liked the song and told Memphis based writer Jim Dickerson that “he hated the song so much he mixed it with the sound turned off, setting the mix by the meter alone.”(Goin’ Back to Memphis James Dickerson).

The same year as The Gentrys hit Penn finally scored a hit record with I’m Your Puppet for James and Bobby Purify:
“During the four years with Rick I realized the facts - the facts were that all these songs I'd written I thought were great weren't worth a damn and I had to make adjustments if I wanted to make a songwriting career. I had to adjust my thinking. Me and Rick would always take reels of tapes to Nashville - to Chet Atkins and Mr Owen Bradley - and we take 'em in and they had us run the tape for 'em. [Dan imitates the sounds of an old tape machine being forwarded and played numerous times] Well, I'm getting highly pissed after ten songs of that and on the way back home I'm saying to Rick "Why didn't they listen to the whole damn songs?" and he said "I don't know!”He didn't have a clue! But I finally figured it out and one day changed direction and thought "I'm gonna start putting the title right up front!" So during that era the title - Dark End of the Street it starts immediately, I'm Your Puppet is right in there - they just get 'em. Five, ten bars, that was my whole deal, the very beginning.”( from Joss Hutton interview for Perfect Sound Forever)

Penn moved to Memphis in the summer of ‘66. It was during a DJ convention that summer that The Dark End of the Street was written: “Chips and Dan Penn had come to my room,” recalled Claunch, “poppin’ pills and playin’ poker- and they sat down and started to write a song. So I said ‘boys, you can use my room on one condition, which is that you give me that song for James Carr. They said I had a deal, and they kept there word.” (Say it One Time for the Broken Hearted Barney Hoskyns)

Penn says: “We was playing poker with (Florida DJ and producer of the Purify Brothers) Don Schroeder, and me and Chips was cheating him. Anyways we took a break, wrote the song, and I told Chips, ‘Let him get his fucking money back or I’m spilling the beans’. Now Moman’s a great poker player, got real fast hands and we let him win his money back” (Sweet Soul Music Peter Guralnick)

Written in about thirty minutesThe Dark End of the Street is a tale of adultery told from the adulterer's point of view. It is an inherently dramatic song. The adulterer knows that what they are doing is wrong but (and this is the crunch) is in the grip of a passion so much greater than "ordinary" moral concerns that they are helpless in the face of it, even if the affair is not making them happy.

“We were always wanting to to come up with the best cheatin’ song. Ever.” Penn told Robert Gordon for his book It Came from Memphis.

The Dark End of the Street was tracked at Hi studios initially and then James Carr was brought to American to do vocal overdubs. Moman, who engineered the session, said of Carr: “I could have sat and listened to him all day” (Say it One Time for the Broken Hearted Barney Hoskyns) and Penn agreed “We thought James was fantastic; he had made some good records before, and we knew we had made a good record.” (from the Proper Records website)

"It's really a simple song. Just sing it the way you talk. It's just easy, and I arranged it by the way I read it, the way I read the words. Didn't really have the music to it then, I arranged it by the way the words were." Carr told Robert Gordon when he interviewed him in the early nineties for Q magazine.

Released in 1967 The Dark End of the Street failed to chart as highly as You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up stalling at number ten on the Billboard R&B charts.

It has been been covered many times since there were at least three other versions in 1967 alone including one by Oscar Toney Jr that Moman himself engineered.

Artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, The Flying Burritto Brothers and more recently Frank Black have covered it. Speaking of the version he did for his Dan Penn produced album Honeycomb, Black remembered “"(Dan Penn) went in and sang it and it was like smokin' and then he says ' Let's stop fucking around, let’s play a real version!' And then he sang the most haunting version of it! How can I follow that?" (Mojo 141 August 2005)

Although trailing James Carr's by several country miles I have a soft spot for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s 1968 version, produced by Bob Ferguson, for their Just the Two of Us album, the song works well as a male/female duet with both parties equally culpable and damned.

“I’m a James Carr fan myself”, Dan Penn told Barney Hoskyns for The Independent on Sunday's Lives Of The Great Songs series “The other versions, I’m glad they cut ‘em and God bless ‘em for it but compared to James Carr’s there are no other versions.”

When I listen to Carr’s version, especially the haunted, hunted way he howls “They’re gonna find us…”, I am reminded of the fact the men behind this song lived with the evil of segregation and that these men, these free spirits, in all of Memphis’ little recording studios, all of which are somehow implicated in the creation of this masterpiece, rejected that evil and showed, in the creation of their art, that there was another, better way.