A few notes on various rock related things I've run across lately:
Every time I'm playing the Clash (probably my favorite band when I was 24-25) at home, I've always got an ear open for profanity, so I'll know what I need to edit or omit the next time the Clash get airplay on my show. I can't tell you how many times I've been tricked when listening to "Hate and War" from their landmark debut, The Clash (1977). Because Mick Jones' accent--not sure what type of British dialect it is--is so thick, when he sings, "I cheat if I can't win," it sounds like he's swearing.
At a bookstore recently, I ran across a new collection of reprints of picture sleeves from 45rpm records. It's Five Hundred 45s: A Graphic History of the Seven-Inch Record, by Spencer Drate & Judith Salavetz (published by Collins Design). Covering the 1950s right up to '70s punk and beyond (Olympia's Beat Happening, from the '80s, is in it). Five Hundred 45s is a blast to look at, even though the artwork is sometimes reproduced with too many dark tones--I remember that the Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" sported a lovely, colorful photo, and this one looks like garbage. Then I stumbled upon the Beatles' "Rain," of which I have a copy (the A-side was "Paperback Writer," as you probably recall). It's the first time I've ever noticed that on the "Rain" side of the sleeve, at least two images are reversed, as John and George both appear to be playing guitar left-handed. Ah, the psychedelic era.
Lots of sadness when playing James Ray on the stereo. A terrific singer in the Little Willie John mold, Ray was heavily into drugs and died not long after his big hit from 1961, "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody." He also did the original "Got My Mind Set on You." Less tragic: the bad production on most of his records, with hokey backup singers and way too many instruments.
I always have a good laugh at groups that are named after famous folks, and a lot of them are country. Among the large cluster: the Wailin' Jennys, the Dolly Ranchers, and Nora Jones' group, the Little Willies. The latest I've seen in that kind of pun zone is an east coast band named Girl Haggard--they even have a guest shot from one Hank Sinatra, Jr. on their new release Country & Eastern (75 or Less Records). For now, Girl Haggard sounds too cartoonish for my taste, but we'll just see if they're less obvious in the future.
Finally, if you've never heard Brenda Lee's take on "The Crying Game" (1965), you're missing out on some great pop. My copy for the last ten years was a scratchy version that a friend dubbed for me, so I was thrilled to find a $5 cutout recently--and the CD was in a grocery store. The tune is on the various artists compilation Have a Nice Life: More Great Breakup Songs of the '60s (Risky Business/Sony). Having (or hearing) clarity when you cry is definitely better, I think.
Dredging up the past as ornery and new in these recent releases:
Jerry Lee Lewis--Mean Old Man (Verve Forecast): Just days from turning 75, Jerry Lee
has released his first album in four years and it brings his artistry right up front, even if it doesn't always catch fire. For one of those records padded with stars (Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, etc.), it works pretty well, as most of that crew stays out of his way. They're not that hard to tune out when you want to hear the Killer by his lonesome. I dig the uptempo stuff the best--"Rockin' My Life Away" and "Roll Over Beethoven" have that groove that Lewis that fueled his Sun recordings from day one, and his vocal delivery on the slower songs (like the title cut) is authoritative, too. Not scintillating, as Jerry Lee's piano playing is mixed too low, but perhaps Mean Old Man will point the uninitiated to the rough and tumble Sun era or some of his over-the-top live recordings from the '60s. That Jerry Lee was driven, mean and extraordinary.
Gary U.S. Bonds--Let Them Talk (GLA): Bonds (Gary Anderson) still has a terrific upper vocal register that pushes this fine set, originally released in 2009, forward. How could this be as uproarious as 1960's "New Orleans"? It couldn't happen, but flirtatious humor abounds, just like the old days. "If I Live Through This"--where the singer's new love just happens to mention her (ex?) boyfriend's release from the pen--and a series of tracks built around a Chuck Berry beat really bring it home. Two covers seem to be in perfect tune with his roots, Little Willie John's "Let Them Talk" and Faye Adams' "Shake a Hand," the latter with a type of friendliness I don't hear often enough in this century.
Eilen Jewell--Butcher Holler: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (Signature Sounds): Jewell is
still young (31), but her spin on classic country has the depth of a much older vocalist. Aided by Jerry Miller (of Moby Grape fame) on guitar and several tunes that I'd simply forgotten about, this is a top drawer project. Jewell moves easily from the gorgeous "Whispering Sea" to one of those funky put-downs that Lynn is known for, "Deep As Your Pocket." Everybody remembers songwriters like Harlan Howard or Willie Nelson, but when will Lynn (or Cindy Walker from the Bob Wills era) get her due in that regard? My pal Charles is right--Loretta Lynn was ahead of her time. When you hear how deeply Jewell gets into these songs, you'll start asking questions about why Lynn isn't mentioned in the same breath as other country composers.
Eels--Tomorrow Morning (E Works): Eels is basically the work of Mark Oliver Everett, known as E. How ambitious is this: E has put out three albums within the last 18 months or so. Following Hombre Loco (2009) and the often melancholy End Times from earlier this year, Tomorrow Morning is more upbeat and fun. Even though I'm surprised I've listened to it so much, since synths and drum machines are a large part of its sonic texture, the album sports a human touch throughout. My favorite is the hilarious
"The Man," where for once, everyone and anyone makes E feel like he's conquered the world: "The old homeless guy who smells like pee/Stops talking nonsense and
says, ' 'mornin', E'."
You might have thought from today's headline that I'm claiming to be 30, or even 39,
or at least partially frisky. No, nothing like that, nor would I wish to be as dumb as I was at that time in my life. I would, however, like to return to the days of no aches and pains.
Naw, the sweet number refers to thirty years ago this week, when I finally got behind the microphone for the first time as a "professional." My radio internship through my college didn't lead to anything, and I had been sending out audition tapes rather aimlessly until KCTI-AM in Gonzales, Texas liked my demo and gave me parttime work that begin in September of 1980. Thirty years later, I love doing radio more than ever.
Gonzales is located about 70 miles east of San Antonio, and I was living in Seguin, kind of inbetween the two, and working a full-time grocery store job I detested. I was so thrilled to be learning radio at KCTI! I usually got two radio shifts a week, which meant helping with the news block at noon if I was scheduled early on a weekday, or hosting everything from Country to Polka to Gospel shows on weekends. It was block programming--a few hours of this, a few hours of that--which prepared me nicely for the variety of KAOS in Olympia when I arrived there almost 15 years later.
The most fun KCTI show, of course, was the Rock gig at 7pm (when the station wasn't carrying a Houston Astros game). I tried my damndest to get scheduled on a weeknight when the Astros were either idle or playing in a different time zone so I could kick out the jams. Although as an announcer I alternated between sounding totally unsure of myself and then suddenly acting like a hipster (which means I sucked, any way you look at it), the music was good.
Even then, I was going for balance, so if I played those exciting new (at the time) bands
like U2 and Teardrop Explodes two shows in-a-row, I made a rule to play different groovy groups the following week. Yeah, there were listener requests for lame stuff like Jefferson Starship and Eric Clapton's "Cocaine," but it was all part of the balance. Heck, I got to play what I wanted most of the time, which ranged from Tracy Nelson
and Fats Domino to the Who.
Gary Muelker and Sonny Seavers were really helpful and patient with me when I started at KCTI. Their criticism was always constructive, although Sonny gave me a pretty funny putdown once. I was the substitute host on the Saturday morning Soul program, and just to provide a contrast with what was going on at the time (Cameo, the Whispers, early Prince), I threw on an old doo wop ballad. Sonny walked in the control room and told me straight out, "You're going to put people asleep with that!"