Monday, December 5, 2011

Song of the Week: Howlin' Wolf (featuring Hubert Sumlin) - Smokestack Lightning

Hubert Sumlin died yesterday. He was 80. I would like to think that most everyone knows and appreciates what he did for blues music, but that just isn't the case. Hubert Sumlin was the quiet, diminutive and happy-go-lucky sideman to blues giant, Howlin' Wolf.

Howlin' Wolf first started working with Hubert Sumlin when Sumlin was still a teen, and not terribly confident on guitar. Sumlin played second guitar to Willie Johnson. Where Willie Johnson was aggressive in his playing and his life and would musically go toe to toe with the massive Howlin' WolfSumlin sat back and remained quiet.
When Willie Johnson parted ways with Howlin' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin was moved to first chair. His style had not taken shape and Howlin' Wolf pushed him hard, perhaps too hard. In a wonderful Howlin' Wolf documentary film, Sumlin recounts how Wolf would badger and bully him to be better. As they worked on an important recording, Howlin' Wolf grew impatient at what he felt was Sumlin's lack of originality. As he often did, Wolf sent Sumlin packing. As Sumlin packed up his gear and began to leave the studio, Howlin' Wolf yelled after him something along the lines of "put your guitar pick away. Learn how to play with your fingers and come back with something that will stand out. If you don't trust yourself to play something great then how I can trust you to play something great? You can come back tomorrow and have one more try at it. If I don't like what you have, then I will let (studio musician and Wolf's second guitarist on the session) Buddy Guy take it over." With that, Sumlin recounted, the wallflower that was Hubert Sumlin went home, cried and began on the task Howlin' Wolf had given him: A finger picking guitar riff that would compliment the song. The next morning, fingers raw from a sleepless night of playing his new riff, Hubert Sumlin came back to Chess Studios where Wolf and his band, including Buddy Guy were ready to record. Wolf tersely told Sumlin he better impress and that he only had one chance to do so. Hubert Sumlin sat down and began to play his finger-picking riff in the key of E. After a few seconds Howlin' Wolf interrupted Sumlin's audition and turned to producer Leonard Chess and said, "you ready to record?". With that the band took off on Howlin' Wolf's biographical song, Smokestack Lightning. The guitar riff was unique and catchy and fit perfectly with the song and Wolf's pain stricken tale. The guitar riff would soon be pilfered by Dale Hawkin's own teenage guitarist, James Burton, to create the iconic Suzie Q. Bands like The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Creedence Clearwater Revival and a host of others would also mine the guitar riff with great success.
The relationship between Hubert Sumlin and Howlin' Wolf was very similar to father and son. As detailed in James Segrest's book, Moanin at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf, the two did not always get along, but they always respected each other, looked out for each other and, in the end, were always inseparable. An illustrative tale from the book stands out. While touring thru the South shortly after Wolf had "made it", Howlin' Wolf drove the tour bus late one night to a spot not on the route. Wolf was quiet and tense and the whole band had fallen asleep in the back. Sumlin, sensing something was up, sat with his mentor in the front row and said nothing. Wolf stopped the bus in front of a run-down house and walked tentatively to the front door before eventually knocking on the door. An elderly woman came to the door and and the powerful Howlin' Wolf began to shake and said "Mama, it's me, Chester. How ya doing?". His mother had rejected him years before for a violent incident that happened when a teenage Chester Burnett, now The Wolf, had laid out a man he found on his mother's property. She told him to leave and he had not seen her in the 30 or so years since. That incident, by the way, is the major theme of the song, Smokestack Lightnin' as it is in another of his songs, Back Door Man.  Howlin' Wolf handed the elderly lady a $100 bill, a fortune in the mid-50's. The mother ripped up the money and threw the pieces on the ground proclaiming she wouldn't take money earned by singing the devil's music. With that she turned and went back into the house. The mighty Wolf fell to his knees and wept. Hubert stepped out of the car and walked his friend to the passenger seat and then took over the driving duties. Sumlin only said, "I'm sorry Wolf" and the two never spoke of the incident again. And the rest of the band never woke and never knew of the moment of vulnerability.
Another interesting tale, this time from Robert Gordon's book, Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, is when, in one of the common instances of Sumlin and Wolf parting ways, Sumlin quickly got snatched up by arch-rival Muddy Waters. Wolf had more than able musicians filling in, but they weren't Hubert. One night Howlin' Wolf burst into a club on Maxwell street and pushed his way to front and center of the stage and began heckling Muddy Waters for stealing his guitarist. Muddy could give as good as Wolf and began taunting Wolf. After a few rounds, Howlin' Wolf pointed to Sumlin and said something along the lines of "get off that damn stage with these fools, you're my guitarist." At this point the band stopped playing and one of Waters' musicians pulled out a gun (the two books talk incessantly about how many guns and knives were stored in blues musicians' guitar cases). Wolf moved onto the stage and headed right at the man pointing a gun at him and said something akin to "you better put that away before I pull it out of your hands." With that Muddy Waters signaled to the sideman to stand down and Howlin' Wolf unplugged Hubert's amp and walked off.  Hubert packed up his guitar and followed Howlin' Wolf out of the club.
Hubert Sumlin remained Howlin' Wolf's sideman until Wolf died in 1976. Hubert's unique, bouncing and warbling guitar riffs often spoke in retort to Wolf's guttural howls. Any musician knows how important Hubert was to Wolf. Wolf knew it and he would stand up to defend it.

I got a chance to see Hubert Sumlin perform when he was but a spry 75 years old. His skills had diminished, that's for sure. Guitarist GE Smith performed with him and brilliantly would fill a missing part as soon as Sumlin would stumble. But still, at 75, he was a better guitarist with far more style than the vast majority of the strat-n-a-hat SRV clones that fill every blues jam around the globe. I got to shake his hand and see him smile and hear him play. How damn cool is that?

Enjoy this great live performance of Howlin' Wolf with Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, Clifton James and, of course, Hubert Sumlin off on the right of our screen. Dig that crazy guitar work.

Thank you Hubert Sumlin!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane (alternate version)

Many years ago a friend and bandmate of mine, who occasionally haunts this board under the name Coyote, asked me a simple question. "Are you a fan of The Velvet Underground?" "Well, yeah, of course I am", came the answer. Then he started talking about Rhino Records' reissue and expansion of the final Velvet Underground album, Loaded. Other than the two college radio friendly songs, Rock & Roll and Sweet Jane, I really did not know that album. On his suggestion I ran out and bought the double disc. I have to say, it is one of the best purchases I have ever made and can tell you that of the 4 records the Velvet Underground ever made, Loaded is without question my favorite. And, to be honest, it is the expanded version that makes it so great. The demos, discarded tracks, and alternate takes put the final selected tracks into perspective and make this album irresistible.

It is one of those demo or alternate takes that we focus on today. It is the song with the chord progression that could do no wrong,  Sweet Jane. The version I was familiar with appeared on the 1970 vinyl release of Loaded. That version was short, succinct and upbeat. Then when I got the expanded addition of Loaded, called Fully Loaded, I noticed immediately that that version now had a bridge included in it that I had never heard before. Blow my fricken' mind. "Heavenly wine and roses seem to whisper to her, yeah, when she smiles." How did that get cut out of the original release?

The lyrics to the song have always mesmerized me.
Some people, they like to go out dancing, And other peoples, they have to work, just watch me now!
And there's even some evil mothers, well they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt.
You know that women never really faint, and the villains always blink their eyes, woo!
And that, you know, children are the only ones who blush and that life is just to die.
And everyone who ever had a heart. They wouldn't turn around and break it.
And anyone who ever played a part, oh wouldn't turn around and hate it.

But then there is the slower demo version. It's missing that super-cool, but pasted on trippy intro. It still has that bridge in it and it builds to a beautifully sloppy crescendo in the end. The lyrics are slightly different -- our "protest kids" reference is gone for example. Drummer Maureen "Mo" Tucker wails away in, um, well, we'll call it "harmony". This demo version is probably not as good as the final, full-length version, but it is awfully cool.

The Cowboy Junkies did a version of Sweet Jane, and included the bridge, in 1988. It is truly sublime and one of the best covers I have ever heard of any song. Below is a video of them doing their super slow version with rearranged lyrics that track more closely to a 3rd, live version of Sweet Jane that the Velvet Underground did in 1969.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Busker Days: Jesse Morris "True Red Blood"

News reached me this morning that Jesse Morris passed on earlier this month. Seeing him regularly down in the BART station several years ago got me doing this whole Busker blog to begin with. This is the last recording I did of him, an original composition entitled True Red Blood. I hope you enjoy.

An article about him can be read here.

The first Jesse post can be seen here and the second one here.

The lyrics to True Red Blood can be seen in the comments section. They're really good.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Song of the Week: Louis Prima - Jump, Jive An' Wail

Our Song of the Week probably isn't new to anyone who knows their music. The song is Jump, Jive, An' Wail. It was written and recorded by veteran New Orleans band leader, Louis Prima. It is just flat out one of the all time great songs ever recorded. A perfect song. So perfect, it was always hard for me to imagine anyone actually writing it. My reasoning has been that it must "just have been" because it was too great to be written by an actual person. But it was. And that person is the aforementioned Louis Prima.

Mr. Prima grew up in the storied New Orleans neighborhood called Storyville. There he learned his art at the feet of his fellow Storyville local, Louis Armstrong. (click here to listen to Dave Alvin perform Armstrong's Perdido Street Blues). Sometime around '34, Louis Prima began fronting his own jazz bands and making a name for himself in the competitive world of New Orleans jazz. Prima's larger than life personality, solid trumpet playing and gregarious vocals would form a new, hyped up form of jazz that would become known alternately as Jump Blues and Swing, a direct ancestor, many would argue, to Rock-N-Roll.

By the time Louis Prima wrote and recorded his original composition, Jump, Jive, An' Wail in the Spring of '56, Rock-N-Roll had already taken a foothold in Memphis (see previous two videos). Jump, Jive, An' Wail was a huge crossover hit for Prima where his number struck a responsive chord with Rock-n-Roll crazed white teenagers, the pop music fans of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and be-bop Jazz fans alike.
Papa's in the ice box looking for a can of ale/Momma's in the backyard learning how to jive and wail. You gotta jump and jivin', and then you wail away. 
Prima calls out "Willy the Wailer" and a rollin' piano, subdued for most of the song, deftly propels the song along with a rapid rag. One more verse and a beautiful call and response with the dueling horn section takes the song to a crazed finale. Just a damn perfect song.

P.S. See our Los Straitjackets post to hear a surf version of Louis Prima's original composition -- made famous by Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa-- Sing, Sing, Sing.

P.S.S. Brian Setzer scored a hit with his version of Jump, Jive, An' Wail back in the Swing craze of the early 90's. Don't believe me? Look below.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Song of the Week: The Violent Femmes - Gimme The Car

Listen - The Violent Femmes perform Gimme The Car

I was listening to the archive of Flip-Side posts the other day and really honed in on some of the busker posts Jack Hayden has been putting up recently. The Human Condition and the three posts featuring The Brough Brothers really grabbed my attention the most. That led me to think of my favorite buskers/turn pro band. I am of course talking about the Violent Femmes who, while busking on the streets of their native Milwaukee, were discovered by The Pretenders' Chrissy Hynde and were soon swooped into micro-stardom.

We've already written about The Violent Femmes and their brilliant but unsettling homage to insanity in rural America, Country Death Song. But today, we spin the flip-side of their debut single which dates back to 1983. The song is Gimme The Car and it is just as unsettling as Country Death Song, but with a different disturbing theme. A theme of teenage angst and sexual frustration. A boy being driven by rage and hormones but unable to explain his base feelings. Moral values are thrown out the window when our frustrated protagonist is driven by personal pain and a driving urge.

The ominous lyrics in Gimme The Car remind us of a more cynical play on kid frustration as illustrated in this song of pubescent (pre-pubescent?) need to break free.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Song of the Week: Big Bill Broonzy - Looking For My Baby

Listen - Big Bill Broonzy performs Looking For My Baby

Big Bill Broonzy was born in the late 1800s in Mississippi. He started recording in 1928 and didn't stop until his death (which usually stops most recordings by an artist) thirty years later. Big Bill Broonzy recorded such staples as I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town, CC Rider and, of course, his most famous song, Key To The Highway, but somehow he is not considered a luminary like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf or Robert Johnson. It's not for lack of musicianship as his guitar skills were magnificent.

We listen today to his 1941 recording of his original song,  Looking For My Baby. Cool guitar refrains and menacing lyrics mark this warbly recording for Okeh Records. Enjoy. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Video Diary: Sierra Hull - Chasin' Skies

Signed to a recording deal at 11 and performed at the Ryman at age 12 (or something like that). Now 18, Sierra Hull is a master of the mando. Sadly this video doesn't showcase her excellent voice, but I love her mandolin work on this. We saw her perform at the stalwart Station Inn, a place as diminutive as the headliner at the show.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Video Diary: Jessica Lea Mayfield - Kiss Me Again

More from Nashville's Americana Music Fest. Jessica Lea Mayfield performs Kiss Me Again. We loved the languid music, the sleepy eyed singer and the low-fi guitar that reminded us of the better works of bands like TV Personalities, Syd Barret and some Neko Case work. We were lucky enough to catch Jessica performing at the very excellent Mercy Lounge.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Video Diary: Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

This Flipster is just back from Nashville, TN where we took in three nights of the Americana Music Fest. Seven clubs in three days. Not bad. We're going to post a few vids from our favorite performers. We'll start today with Justin Townes Earle whom we saw perform at the legendary Ryman AuditoriumThe lanky baritone really caught us off guard. We've heard him, even liked him, but his performance was so confident and so powerful that we sat dumbfounded. His voice never hit an off-note as I couldn't quite believe that such a powerful voice was actually coming from such a skinny guy.

Here is Justin Townes Earle performing his song Americana Music Fest Song of the Year, Harlem River Blues. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Original Song Project: Morgan Young - This Song For Sale

As I mowed the lawn one day while listening to my iPod, I was struck by commonality of lyrical themes in much of the music to which I was listening. Particularly in the older country songs by Mel TillisJohnny Cash and Willie Nelson. That got me thinking about the world of professional song writers (to point, not performers, just the composers) and their inevitable approach to music not as a passion play, perhaps not even as an art, but most definitely as a commodity to be traded.

The spew of that thought is this song, This Song for Sale. It was one of those spontaneous compositions that took me less than 10 minutes to write. I didn't do much with it for over a year and finally rediscovered it myself. Upon rediscovering it in my dusty memory, I decided I actually liked it. A quick recording of the song and here I am sharing it with you.

I hope you like.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Busker Days: Brough Brothers "Michigan Wind"

Just like any other part of my life the music I listen to is always changing. The same is true with my busker experience - no more Jessie 'Cash', haven't seen Gospel Earl in too long and, dang, where's The Human Condition? It could be the result of my new patterns, coming into work later as a result of the new kindergarten schedule, and thus leaving a little later too. I don't know. I have seen a few old faces from time to time, including Eric of my original post that I had to take down due to his personal concerns. Don't get me wrong I do see plenty of new stuff around. Just last week I saw a trio electrified and rockin' it on Market, the highlight being the drummer's bass drum comprising of an old hardshell suitcase with a kick drum attached. I also recorded TT Fingers on Market recently doing Elmore James. He's missing a hand and several fingers on the other hand and playing a homemade lap steel. Stick around for that one later.

For now, it's the Brough Brothers doing a song written by guitarist, harpist and vocalist Brian called Michigan Wind. Yes, this is Flip-Side favorites Zack Brough and Brian Byrnes (minus the other member of the Brough Brothers, Zack's brother Josh) - you can listen to previous busker posts featuring these guys here and here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Song of the Week: The Standells - "Medication"

Listen - The Standells perform Medication

We're building off our last post. The same label, the same producer, the same year and probably the same studio (and maybe even musicians) as our Chocolate Watchband post just below.

Most people know The Standells for their out of the garage hit, Dirty Water. That song, written by producer Ed Cobb, has led most people to believe the band is from Boston. Cobb was, but not the Standells. The members of The Standells all hail from LA and even had a long history in the film scene in LA. One of them was even a Mousekateer. Like the San Jose based Chocolate Watchband, The Standells were a real band and had been kicking around the LA scene in one form or another since the late 50's.

When Mouskateer escapee, Dick Dodd, left the surf combo, The Bel-Aires (known for their regional hit, Mr. Moto), the band began to take a more modern shape. Dodd took over singing duties and the band, like all others around them, became hugely influenced by the British Invasion. The band released a few forgettable singles on Liberty Records and VeeJay Records. They even performed a number on the TV show, The Munsters. Here is where Ed Cobb enters the picture. Cobb was looking for a group to market on his Tower Records label and The Standells fit the suit. They immediately hit it big with Cobb's homage to his hometown of Boston, Dirty Water. An inconsistent album of the same name followed. The first song off of that album is our SoTW.

The song is Medication, and, to tie it back into our last post, The Chocolate Watchband also did a version of the song. It's a beautifully produced, well restrained song that keeps our fingers snapping every time. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Song of the Week: "Tell Me How", Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Seventy five years ago today, Charles Holly Hardin was born. We know him better, of course, as Buddy Holly. The singer, guitarist, songwriter died at the stunningly young age of 22. In that glimmer of time the bespectacled young man from the dusty ranch town of Lubbock, Texas, wrote and recorded one of the most impressive libraries of music of any composer, regardless of age.

Try as I may, my words would of course fail to honor the man appropriately, so I will let his music stand on its own merits. Here is his own composition from 1957, Tell Me How. He wrote and recorded this at the age of 20.

Happy Birthday, Buddy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Song of the Week: "Shake It Baby", Sunnyland Slim

Sometimes one runs across a record so darn weird that they just need to stop and say "what the hell were they thinking?" This is one of those. The first time I ran across this 78rpm record I was digging on the very low-fi recording for the first 45 seconds of the song. It has a good little rumba beat and a nasty, fuzzed out vocals from a mic that seems to have been buried under the sheets with Sunnyland Slim who sounds as if he recorded his vocals after a very long night. Then, right around 45 seconds, a woman's voice pops in. But unlike Sunnyland's voice, her voice is recorded with a mic that captures the woman's voice crystal clear. The voice is one Anna Lee। Then, very quickly, one realizes what she, and Sunnyland, are singing. Or should I say, negotiating.

I'm shaking it, daddy. Like this daddy? Is this what you want, daddy? Mama's shaking it. Mama's trying to please you this morning, daddy. Want this diamond ring, daddy. How am I doing? Is this the way you want it?
WTF?! And that is only the beginning. Anna Lee continues her call-girl and response with Sunnyland as they negotiate the required duties for the promised Cadillac. This song feels like a little peek behind the scenes of those late night clubs on Maxwell Street in Chicago in the early 50's. Booze, broads, blues, knives and guns.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Song of the Week: "I Wish You Would", Billy Boy Arnold

Listen - Billy Boy Arnold performs I Wish You Would

"Early in the morning, about the break of day." Most know that opening line from The Yardbirds' stellar debut single from 1964, I Wish You Would. But nine years before Eric Clapton's heavily fuzzed Telecaster spit out the two note riff, Billy Boy Arnold recorded his original for Vee Jay Records in Chicago. Billy Boy Arnold had served as Bo Diddley's harp man on the Chess Recording of Diddley Daddy and took the spirit of that song to create his own debut single. It's a gem. Hope you like it.

Below is a nice vid from 1964 of The Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton, performing the same number. This live version tracks much closer to the original than did the Epic Records release.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Song of the Week: The Chesterfield Kings - I've Gotta Way With Girls

I admit, I am always a little shocked when I put this single on my turntable and it still plays. That's because when I first picked it up in 1984, I played this thing about 69 times a day and I was sure I was going to wear the grooves out. But it still works!

The band is none other than The Chesterfield Kings, whom hailed from the music mecca of America, Rochester, New York. The quintet all met at the legendary House of Guitars (best music store I have ever visited) sometime around the year 1979. They all loved 60's garage, had access to some of the best instruments from the 60's, and the singer, Greg Prevost, was, and still is, a very impressive record collector who helped the band flesh out their set-list. The band started off with a bevy of covers, but, over time, they weaved in more and more of their own compositions.

Our SoTW, I've Gotta Way With Girls, is an original composition from the band a cover from a Texas band that I was previously unaware of, The Lavender Hour. Don't know how I've missed them. The Flip-Side of I've Got A Way With Girls is an equally good original song, She Told Me Lies, which utilizes the all important Hand Saw as an instrument. Back in '84 I was more enamored with the Vox Organ heavy A-Side to the point that my mommy told me I might go blind if I spun it as hard as I liked to do in those younger days. But these days, it's the Flip-Side that grabs my attention and turns my palms all black and hairy. And specifically Richard Cona's awesome guitar work that, unlike most garage band revivalists, shows great restraint in tone and attack. I just love me that classic Rickenbacker sound.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Song of the Week: K.C. Douglas - Make Your Coffee

I was driving around in California's central valley some ten years ago listening to a KDVS blues show when a hard chargin' two chord song came on that stopped me in my tracks. I didn't get the name of the artist but I recognized some of the lyrics and was able to track it down. The song was K.C. Douglas's rendition of Tommy Johnson's Catfish Blues. I went out and picked up Arhoolie's 1998 release, K.C. Douglas - Mercury Blues.
It turns out K.C. Douglas, born in rural Mississippi in 1913, had relocated in 1945 to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the naval shipyards, probably the yards in Richmond where he lived for awhile. Having earned his blues chops in Mississippi, including alongside the likes of Tommy Johnson, he continued playing after settling into his new locality. So it would only make sense that he would come under the radar of Chris Strachwitz, the founder of Arhoolie Records. The album, all of which was recorded by Strachwitz on a portable recorder between 1960 and 1974, is about half electric with backup band, such as on Catfish Blues and his now familiar Mercury Blues, with the rest acoustic, just K.C. and guitar. Not surprisingly (if you know me), I gravitated to the acoustic set, and in particular to the mellow fingerstyle blues of today's song of the week, Make Your Coffee, a previously unreleased track. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Busker Days: Richard Brandenburg: "This Love We've Been Living Through"

A couple weeks ago I surfaced to some new sounds around North Berkeley BART. That's the beauty of busker music - it is not tacked down to any particular place or time and you never know what you're gonna hear. And sometimes the tempo, melodies and words conspire to make a stressed out world-weary working stiff pause and think about things and look around a bit. This conspiratorial trio - tempo, melody, words - as found in old-time country music always seems to do the trick, hand delivering a heaping of heartache on the sweetest plate of music around.

Local singer songwriter Richard Brandenburg follows in this tradition with his composition This Love We've Been Living Through. Enjoy!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Song of the Week: "The Man You'll Be Looking For", The Tages

Gosh darn it. I'm sorry for missing our regular Monday installment of Song of the Week. And I'm almost as sorry to tell you that I don't have much time to get to it today. I am posting a lovely song, but no pithy comments. Boo Hoo.

So, our SOTW this week comes from Stockholm, Sweden. Sometime around 1966, these cats who called themselves The Tages recorded a groovy bass heavy song called The Man You'll Be Looking For. Anyone who knows me knows that I love me the sound of an aggressive bass. Mmmmm! And this one has a bottom so big that it would make Sir Mix-A-Lot fall in love.

Also linked is a wonderful little radio interview with some unga Svenska flicka who gushes over her love of the song, saying, and I quote: "de gummistövlar göra mina bröstvårtor rött". I couldn't agree with her more.

So, please have an enjoyable listen to The Tages' Man You'll Be Looking For and then click on the Swedish radio interview on the left. Or do it in the opposite fashion. I don't care.

Yorgada torgada bungada!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Song of the Week: "Chicago", The Phantom Brothers

Nope, that's not the forefather of the Ramones in the front of the picture. It's the singer for The Phantom Brothers, a Hamburg Germany area band from the mid-60's. Here they perform their "hit", ba-ba-ba-ba...Chicago.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Song of the Week: "Cry In The Night", Q65

What we have here is a prime example of why we call this blog, On The Flip-Side. This song is the flip-side of the Q65's second single. But unlike most singles, whose flip-side we praise, this one actually had a great A-Side too. The A-side is called The Life I Live. But today we celebrate, what else, the flip-side, which is the raver, Cry In The Night. Q65 hailed from Holland and gained a hard earned reputation as a rough and tumble band willing to fight it out on stage and off. We wrote about them before when we featured their quirky song, I Got Nightmares. If you want to know more about them, check out that article which can be Until then, enjoy day 2 of our look at mainland Europe garage bands from the 60s.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Song of the Week: "Back Home", Cuby + The Blizzards

We'll take a look at mainland Europe garage bands all this week. Here is our all time favorite song out of Holland. It is the original composition, Back Home, by Cuby + The Blizzards who make a second showing on these pages (the first was their earlier single, Your Body, Not Your Soul).

I said a ton about the band in the previous post so I'll stay quiet here other than to say that Eelco Gelling's guitar work on this song is inspirational.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Song of the Week: "Mr. Pharmacist", The Other Half

Los Angeles 1966. I would have loved to been there at that time. Love, Byrds, Doors, Chocolate Watchband, Standells, Sons of Adam all playing the strip. Add to that, The Other Half. Here they are doing their original, Mr. Pharmacist. Jeff Nolan, the singer, wrote the song, Randy Holden doing the great guitar work.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Song of the Week: "Hey Little Bird", The Barbarians

From Cape Cod, Massachusetts, come The Barbarians. They are probably best known for their two later songs, Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl and the novelty song, Moulty, an auto-biography of their one-armed drummer (waaaaay before Def Lepperd thought it would be cool to have a one-armed drummer!). But this is their first, excellent foray into record making. The song is Hey Little Bird and it dates to 1964. The boys cut it for Joy Records. And it was a massive flop. But believe it or not, the boys actually performed the song live on TV. It's not as good as the record, but cool to see. The clip is below.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Song of the Week: "No Friend of Mine", The Sparkles

Lubbock is, of course, home to one of the all time greats, Buddy Holly. But the west-Texas town produced another great band that actually started playing the same time as Holly and his Crickets, The Sparkles.

The Sparkles changed line-ups a bazillion times. It was the 1967 line-up that drove to the same Clovis, New Mexico studio that Buddy Holly recorded his stuff at to record their original song (written by their manager), No Friend of Mine. The song was released on the eclectic Hickory Records label. No Friend of Mine is one crazy, snarly song with classic "don't dare me" styled lyrics. Many of which are, shall we say, hard to decipher. But whatever they are, they are telling the listener that they are not going to stand around and pull their hair out, because, woman, you ain't no friend of theirs.

Side note, Pittsburgh's king of snarl, The Swamp Rats, actually covered this song and released it as a single the same year. It's also a great version.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Busker Days: Bryan MacPherson, "OFD"

Do you recall those times in your youth when you were finally done with your town? Or perhaps you feel that way now. Your hometown was all that was holding you back, and finally the time comes and you leave. After some time that feeling subsides and for some people you begin to look a bit at your history. Maybe it was a bit rough out in the world, or maybe it was you realized how full a picture you and your friends had created in your youth. Some time passes and you just might take some pride in your hometown. After all, it made you what you are.

This week's busker recording speaks to this. OFD, Originally From Dorchester. Here's Bryan MacPherson doing OFD outside Montgomery BART a couple weeks ago.

Bryan plays locally and can be seen at the Uptown in Oakland on the 29th. He's working on his second CD. And his myspace page for your listening pleasure.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Song of the Week: "Police On My Back", The Clash

Few groups are in my fave list more than The Clash. In fact, we love them so much, we have written about them no less than three times already. The first time we featured Safe European Home. Then we compared their cover of Brand New Cadillac to the original. Then we talked about the brilliant Spanish Bombs from the perfect album, London Calling. Wowza. That said, I'm not a huge fan of their 1980 triple album, Sandanista! In general, I think the bulk of the 36 tracks The Clash laid out for this album feel unfinished and, at times, trying too hard to encompass too many musical styles. It lacks focus and edge.

But one of my favorite Clash songs is on this album. And it's not even written by members of the Clash. It's a cover of a song written by Eddy Grant -- who would go on to have a massive hit in the US in the mid-80s. But this is a Grant song from when he was a member of The Equals, a ground breaking multi-racial band that mixed British Psychedelia with Reggae during a brief run in the late 60s. The song is Police On My Back and The Clash's version is sung by Mick Jones and promotes the "British Siren" guitar riff, inherent to the original version, to the front and center of the revved up Clash cover. It's a fast-paced romp that gives The Clash version an urgency that the original doesn't quite have.

As a bonus, here is a You Tube link to the Equals original. Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Song of The Week: "Friend Is A Four Letter Word," Cake

I once read somewhere that there are two types of people in this world. People who get Cake, and people who don't get Cake. I think that is pretty damn true. Count me as one who gets Cake. I absolutely love the stripped down approach the band takes to their music. Raw, reverb-free guitar and vocals that are spoken as much as sung. Trumpet, surprisingly funky drum work, deft bass work and tasteful keyboard all add up to an eclectic mix. To me, they are like a Wes Anderson film. Let's say...The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou. Not for everyone, but quite rewarding for those whose humor and tastes happen to match up with the art nicely.

The Sacramento band broke nationally with their excellent 1996 album, Fashion Nugget. That nearly flawless album featured the excellent break-out hit, The Distance. It was the song that got them out of the KDVS play rotation and onto MTV. Right after that song, comes a very different song on the album: Friend Is A Four Letter Word. It's our SoTW. The song was written by singer John McCrea. What grabs me most about this song are the spartan lyrics. Quite frankly, they never fail to get my attention with their twist of word play and restraint. it says so much with so little.
To me, coming from you.
Friend is a four letter word.
End is the only part of the word, that I heard.
Call me morbid, or absurd,
But to me, coming from you
Friend is a four letter word.
There isn't much more. But one doesn't need more. I think it speaks volumes on it's own. Former guitarist Greg Brown (who, incidentally, wrote The Distance) plays extremely tasteful guitar work with a tone that quickly identifies the band as Cake. It's a tone born from a 1960s Guild Starfire III (think The Kinks) run thru a distortion pedal run through a 1960s Sears Silvertone amp. It's a great, distinctive sound, and Brown gets all the props in the world from me for going a very different direction from most other guitarists. Vincent di Fiore's trumpet work adds a wonderful latin tone to the song.

On a side note, someone once informed me that Cake opened for my band, The Lionhearted. It was back in 1991 at a house party for a cool gal named Michelle Piniera. I honestly do not remember that. I was even told by someone else that Greg Brown paid special attention to the use of our Silvertone Aristocrat guitar and Vox amps. Again, I don't recall this and have only the vaguest memory of the show at all. If anyone on this blog recalls this or can confirm it, please do so.

Otherwise, enjoy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Song of the week: The Runaways -- Cherry Bomb

This group and song are sooooo different than last week's SoTW. Where the last song was a nice cheese and olive plate with some prosciutto and a chardonnay, this one is more corn dog and a Coke. The song is the enduring, highly entertaining, and lyrically perfect, Cherry Bomb. The band is The Runways, perhaps best known for spawning Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Curry. Cherry Bomb, an ominous song to mommy and daddy about how your teenage girls are about to run amok and throw your values out the window, was written by Joan Jett and producer, self-promoter extraordinaire, Kim Fowley.

In the song Cherie Curry expounds about her girls gone wild attitude:
Hey street boy, what's your style?
Your dead end dreams don't make you smile
I'll give you something to live for
Have you and grab you until you're sore

Hell daddy, hello mom
I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb
Hello world, I'm your wild girld
I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
Perfect, perfect, perfect! These gals were definitely out to scare some people and titillate others. And this song must have been dead on target when it was released in early 1976.

Just this past year, a movie about The Runaways, aptly titled, The Runaways, was released. It stars Dakota Fanning as Curry and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. (trailer below). It's an okay movie with very solid performances. Kim Fowley is portrayed by Michael Shannon, who tries to get to that creepy space that seems to be Kim Fowley. I had the opportunity to meet Fowley twice. Once at a party in San Francisco and then a few years later at a show for the Tell-Tale-Hearts in Los Angeles. The first meeting was very unsettling. The second one...I stayed away from him as much as I could. After the show, a friend of mine told me stories about Fowley and The Runaways that sounded all too familiar to my first meeting with the foul mouthed producer who made lots of promises at high costs.

Play it loud.

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Song of the Week: "Kid's Allright", Bettie Serveert

The amount of information I know about this early 90's band whom hailed from the Netherlands, could fill a thimble. I know the band name, Bettie Serveert, translates, roughly, as "Service to Bettie" and was taken from the auto biography of Dutch tennis player, Bettie Stove.

I love the rag tag production and the perfectly quirky arrangement of their song (our SoTW), Kid's Allright. Carol Van Dijk's vocals are buried and fuzzed, and the guitars come out of nowhere. These cats and their DIY production remind me of Television Personalities, whom we wrote about back in October of 2009.

Enjoy Bettie Serveert.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Song of the Week: "Forever's No Time At All", Pete Townshend and Billy Nicholls

Here today is a song from Pete Townshend that is not very much from Pete Townshend. The song is Forever's No Time At All and it appeared on Townshend's debut solo album, Who Came First. The album was released on Track Records in 1972 and consisted largely of material that The Who songwriter had leftover from his work on the 1971 mega record, Who's Next. But this song isn't one of those. In fact, it wasn't written by Townshend. Nor does Pete sing on it. The songwriter and singer is Billy Nicholls, a friend of Pete's who served as the staff songwriter for Immediate Records.

Pete Townshend recorded and produced Nicholls at Townshend's home studio -- where Pete recorded the entirety of Who Came First. True, Pete plays most of the instruments on the song. But, in the end, this is a Billy Nicholls song. We hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Video Diary: Squeeze, "Tempted"

Ahhh, 80's hair and 80's dancing and 80's production....well, you get the picture. Despite the time capsule issue, I still love this nice pop and soul song from London.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Song of the Week: Love - Always See Your Face

I find myself in Hollywood this week. And as I drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, passing the legendary Troubador, on the MP3 player comes Arthur Lee and Love performing A House Is Not A Motel. Behind only the Beach Boys, Love, to me epitomized California rock in the 60s. The beauty and the tragedy of it all.

Then as I turned onto Hollywood Boulevard and headed East towards Vine, past La Cienga Boulevard. There it was. A doughnut shop. Thee doughnut shop? Two members of the band, Johnny Echols and Ken Forssi would be arrested for robbing local doughnut shops which led to the break up of the original band shortly after the recording of their seminal work, Forever Changes. Arthur Lee would form a new Love, but it was never really Love. It was more Arthur Lee and a handful of musicians that would work under the name Love. Because of that wrap, the work after Forever Changes is too often ignored. True, it is much more spotty than previous work. But much of it deserves more praise. And that's why we are here today.

Lee's next Love album was recorded in '69 and was tagged with the self aware monicker, Four Sail. It's a spotty album that shows a lot of heavy-guitar, acid rock influence from San Francisco bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, but it has some real nice gems. The last song on that album is our SoTW today. The song is the mellow Always See Your Face. Arthur Lee, just 24 at the time of the recording of the closing number of his fourth album, was showing signs of the pain and reflection that would sum up his career so sadly.
Won't somebody please, help me with my memory
Can't somebody see, yeah, what this world has done to me.
Dang, I really love Arthur Lee's voice. And that tasty little guitar solo is sweet as could be.