Tuesday, March 28, 2006

King Floyd - Learning To Forget You (Dial 1027)

Learning To Forget You

Hi folks. It's me again... I just wanted to share this with you.

As I'm sure you know by now, the B side digs King Floyd. We pretty much covered all the bases in our previous posts on him... or so I thought. After he died a few weeks ago, I, like everybody else in this soul blogosphere, was reading as much as I could about him on everybody else's sites.

It was in the comments on the great Get On Down With The Stepfather Of Soul blog, that I read 'Many people, including myself, rate this Dial release as his greatest moment, better artistically, if not financially, than "Groove Me."' Whoa, I sez... DIAL? I didn't know he had any records on Dial...

Well, sure enough, in all the research and stuff I did for my own King Floyd posts, I somehow missed it (even though it's right there in black & white in Jeff Hannusch's I Hear You Knockin'). Well, DUH!

SO, I did some diggin' around, and came up with a copy for us. As fate would have it, the B side of the record is, in my opinion, the better side. Once again King shows off his skills as a songwriter as well as his ability to lay his heart on the line.

What a great record.

It was released in late 1974 as the flip of Can You Dig It?.
Floyd and Malaco had gone their separate ways at this point (although the company would continue to release material they already had "in the can" well into 1978), and he approached Buddy Killen at Dial Records, with a few songs he had written. Buddy brought him into his Sound Shop Studios in Nashville and co-produced this double-sided slab of southern soul with Mike Leach (who had appeared on the classic Dusty In Memphis) providing the arrangements.

It may just be his "greatest moment" after all.

We'll focus some more on Dial and stuff in the near future, but I just wanted to get this record up here while we're all still kinda saying our goodbyes...

You learn something new everyday!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Syl Johnson - Let Them Hang High (Twinight 125)

Let Them Hang High

Sylvester Johnson was born in Mississippi, but moved to Chicago with his family by the time he was eight years old. They lived next door to blues legend Magic Sam, and grew up surrounded by music. His brother Mac became the bass player in Sam's band, and brother Jimmy would go on to become a celebrated blues guitarist in his own right.

Syl came up playing the South Side clubs behind folks like Shakey Jake, Billy Boy Arnold, and Junior Wells and would become a member of Howlin' Wolf's touring band in 1959. His first appearance on record was as a side man for Jimmy Reed on the Vee-Jay label that same year.

Johnson was signed by King Records shortly after that, and they issued a few singles on their Federal imprint (like "Teardrops" and "I've Got Love") with label-mate Freddy King backing him up on the guitar. The records didn't do much in the charts, but Syl continued to work Chicago's club circuit on a regular basis.

Syl recorded sporadically for some small outfits over the next few years, and scored a pretty big local hit with Straight Love, No Chaser for the Zachron label in 1966. He followed this with his ultra-rare northern soul crowd favorite, Do You Know what Love Is on the Special Agent label in early 1967.

This brought him to the attention of Chicago music maven Peter Wright, who was in the process of winding down his own Quill label. He was so impressed with Syl's talent that he made him the centerpiece of his new label, Twilight. The first single released by the new company, Johnson's Come On Sock It To Me, was a huge hit, reaching #12 on the R&B charts in the summer of 1967.

After just four more singles, Wright changed the name of the label to Twinight (nobody knows why...), and installed Johnson as producer and A&R man at their digs on "record row" in Chicago. The studio became somewhat of a funk incubator, with Syl lending his way cool vision of hard-edged soul to releases by The Notations and The Pieces of Peace, as well as continuing his own string of releases.

While Johnson's harmonica and guitar playing are great, it was his incredible voice that caught the ear of Memphis producer Willie Mitchell one night at a South Side club. This was during the period when Mitchell was on the lookout for singers to bring to the mostly instrumental Hi label, and he offered to record Syl if he was ever interested.

Johnson had been writing songs with Carl Smith (a local lyricist who had worked on such classics as Higher and Higher and Rescue Me), and in 1968 he brought a song they had written, Dresses Too Short, down to Mitchell in Memphis. Produced at Royal Studio with backup provided by the incendiary Hi Rhythm, the record just cooks!

Syl was big on "answer songs" in those days. Tunes like I'll Take Those Skinny Legs, I Can Take Care Of Business, and I Can Take Care Of Homework were tongue-in-cheek take-offs on what was going on in the charts.

Today's B side is one such record, written by Smith and Johnson as an answer to their own hit from the year before. This is pure all around good-time music, man... woo-hoo! Willie Mitchell is credited as the "arranger" on the label, and I guess that means it was recorded at Royal with Hi Rhythm. Check out that guitar work, huh? I can't tell if it's Syl or Teenie Hodges, but it's just killer stuff, yo!

This is one of those great records that had like no chance of being heard because the A side was just too big. I'm talking about Is It Because I'm Black, the tellin' it like it is soul searcher that was way ahead of its time in 1969. His next release was another great 'ghetto' song, Concrete Reservation in 1970.

A few more singles on Twinight would follow, like the great One Way Ticket (which was written by Johnny Moore and would become a big hit for Tyrone Davis the following year), but Peter Wright had apparently lost interest in the label in much the same way as he had done a few years earlier with Quill.

In 1971, Syl signed on with Hi Records, teaming up with Mitchell full time. The records Johnson made for Hi during this period are such unreal stuff, man. Songs like Any Way The Wind Blows and Please Don't Give Up On Me still hold up as absolute soul classics.

This was, of course, all happening during Al Green's reign as the king of southern soul, and his string of big hits with that Willie Mitchell 'sound' tended to overshadow Johnson's own releases at the time. He would, however, take a song Green had written with Teenie Hodges and make it his own. Take Me To The River had (incredibly) only been released by Al as an album track (on 1974's Al Green Explores Your Mind), and when Hi released Johnson's absolutely smokin' version of it as a single in 1975, it just took off, climbing to #7 R&B.

As we've mentioned before, Hi was sort of collapsing under its own weight at this point, and when Cream Records took over in 1977, Syl was on his way out the door. He would release a few things on his own Shama label, and had a moderate disco-tinged hit with Ms. Fine Brown Frame, which was picked up by Boardwalk records in 1982.

Johnson walked away from the music business in the mid-eighties, opening a string of seafood joints in his home town of Chicago. When he began to hear his work sampled by people like the Wu Tang Clan in the early nineties, he figured it was time to jump back in.

His aptly titled 1993 album, Back In The Game, reunited him with Hi Rhythm and holds its own with the best of his earlier material. He was joined on the album by his daughter Syleena, who would go on to become quite the R&B singer herself, earning a grammy nomination last year for her work with Kanye West.

Her father continues to make great records. Albums like Bridge To A Legacy, and Talkin' About Chicago are too often categorized as "blues", and so don't get the consideration they deserve as the cool soul records they really are. As Syl maintains to this day; "I'm a soul man, I ain't no blues man!". He teamed up with his brother Jimmy (who IS a blues man) for the first time to record the great Two Johnsons Are Better Than One in 2002.

Syl Johnson is still going strong today, and performed a show with fellow Chicago soul legend Jackie Ross in the UK just this past weekend.

He is scheduled to appear at the Ponderosa Stomp in Memphis on May 8th, the same night Hi Rhythm is going to be there...

I'm gonna be there too.

Monday, March 20, 2006

O.V. Wright - This Hurt Is Real (Back Beat 604)

This Hurt Is Real

Overton Wright grew up in Leno, Tennessee, a small town just outside of Memphis. He was somewhat of a child prodigy, performing solos in Church by the time he was six years old. He and his brother joined local Memphis Gospel group The Five Harmonaires, but it wasn't long before O.V. was asked to join the nationally known Sunset Travelers.

The Travelers recorded for Don Robey's Peacock label in Houston, and O.V. made a few sides with them before returning home to Memphis. He got a job with the Sanitation Department, and sang with both The Jubilee Hummingbirds and The Harmony Echoes every weekend.

Roosevelt Jamison was a hard working lab tech who ran a walk-in Blood Bank in downtown Memphis for the University Hospital. His first love was music, however, and he worked as a manager and promoter of local Gospel acts on the side. The door of the Blood Bank was always open, and singers would drop by to rehearse in the relative quiet of the back room. O.V.'s group, The Harmony Echoes, did so often, and before long the two men hit it off. They began writing songs together, sharing their dream of "crossing over" and making it big as so many others were doing at the time.

In the early sixties in Memphis, the town was gripped by "record fever". People looked at the success of small labels like Sun, Stax, and Hi and thought "Hey, why not me?". Anybody with a few hundred bucks, it seemed, could start a record company and, with any kind of luck, find the next Elvis or Otis. One such dreamer was Quinton Claunch, who had been one of the original investors at Hi wth Joe Cuoghi in 1956. He had chickened out, however, and sold his interest just before Smokie (Part 2) hit big in 1959. He saw his second chance when a local pharmacist named Doc Russell approached him with the idea of starting a label. Claunch was friends with Rick Hall who had his Fame Studios up and running across the river in Muscle Shoals, and he recorded a local group called The Lyrics there in early 1964. The song, Darlin', became the first release on their new Goldwax label and made some minor local noise.

Jamison, meanwhile, had made a demo tape of some of the songs he had written, with O.V. Wright and another member of The Harmony Echoes, one James Carr, handling the vocals. He had taken the tape to Jim Stewart over at Stax, but he didn't show much interest, claiming it was "too Gospel". As legend has it, Jamison's next move was to show up on Quinton Claunch's doorstep in the middle of the night with the tape in his hand. Claunch was blown away by what he heard.

They brought O.V. into the studio, and released There Goes My Used To Be as Goldwax 106 within a week. It was the B side of the record that took off, however, and before long That's How Strong My Love Is became the label's first legitimate hit. Not one to be outdone, Jim Stewart had Otis Redding cover the song as well, and Volt 107 hit big in December of '64, breaking into the R&B top 20.

Don Robey watched all this with interest, then promptly threatened to sue Goldwax, claiming that Wright was still under contract to him from his days as a member of The Sunset Travelers. The owners of the fledgling company capitulated, and Robey assigned O.V. to his Back Beat label, which he envisioned as the soul subsidiary of his Duke/Peacock empire. If nothing else, Robey knew talent when he heard it, and hired Willie Mitchell to produce Wright's records at Hi's Royal Studio in Memphis. The singles they would release over the next few years on him are, in my opinion, some of the greatest deep soul recordings ever made.

His second Back Beat record, You're Gonna Make Me Cry, was a huge hit, cracking the R&B top ten in 1965. Eight Men, Four Women, his excellent dream sequence about the "jury of love" climbed to #4 in early 1967.

Today's B side was released as the flip of the rockin' Missing You, which was penned by Luther Ingram in 1969. It's positively scary how good this record is, man. How about those spine-tingling background vocals, that gutbucket guitar, the primal PAIN in O.V.'s voice... low-down dirty stuff, y'all! (The V. Morrison listed as co-writer of our current tune, along with the ever-present D. Malone, is not Van, but Vernon, who would go on to write the incredible A Nickel and A Nail a few years later.) As far as I can tell, neither side of this 45 is available on CD...

Back Beat released ten more singles on Wright (most notably Ace Of Spades in 1970, and the previouly mentioned A Nickel and A Nail in 1971) before Robey sold his labels to ABC in 1973.

Wright spent some time in jail on drug possession charges shortly after this. When he got out he signed with Hi Records where he continued to work with Willie Mitchell. They would release some great stuff, like 1977's Into Something (Can't Shake Loose), but he would never recapture the sheer intensity of his early work.

O.V. had open heart surgery in 1979, and the doctors advised him to take it easy. He died of a massive heart attack in the back of an ambulance the following year.

His hurt was so real.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

King Floyd - Why Did She Leave Me (Original Sound 100)

Why Did She Leave Me

I just got the news...

This past Monday, March 6th, King Floyd died in a California hospital of a massive stroke and complications from ongoing diabetes. He was 61 years old.

If you've been around the B side for awhile, you know that we just loved this man. One of our earliest posts, Handle With Care, picked up his story at the tail end of his California period in 1969. Let's dig a little deeper...

King Floyd III was born in New Orleans in 1945, the son of King Floyd, Sr. and Lillie Pearl Dawkins. Like many other young singers of his day, he would sing on the street corners as a teenager, just hoping to get noticed. Noticed he was, by the likes of people like Earl King, Willie Tee, and one Joe August, aka Mr. Google Eyes (pictured at right). It was Joe that got him his first real job, singing at a Bourbon Street club called the Sho-Bar in 1961. Uncle Sam had other ideas, however, and King was soon drafted into the Army.

Upon his discharge in 1963, Floyd moved to NYC and signed with giant R&B management firm Shaw Artists. They got him regular work around town, and before long he got to know people like J. J. Jackson and Don Covay, who convinced him of the importance of writing his own material.

He headed out to Los Angeles the following year, and hooked up with the great Jimmy Holiday, who was riding high on the success of his top ten R&B hit How Can I Forget on the Everest Label. They wrote a song together called Walkin' and Thinkin', and Floyd began shopping it around. He was picked up by tiny Motown subsidiary Uptown, who released the tune as the B side of something called "You Don't Have To Have It".

The record didn't chart.

(Holiday would go on to wax some great sides for what was by then L.A. based Minit records, as well as writing a little number called Put A Little Love In Your Heart.)

Floyd reconnected with New Orleans expariate Harold Battiste around this time, and he intoduced him to local disk jockey Buddy Keleen. Buddy used his radio connections to land King a contract with renowned (Oldies but Goodies) DJ Art LaBoe's Original Sound label (the home of funk legends Dyke & the Blazers). Art released a new recording of Walkin' and Thinkin' as the A side of a single in 1965, with our current Floyd & Holiday composition as the flip. The record was produced by King and Jimmy as well, and has this kinda Ric and Ron meets AFO feel to it. Although I'm not sure if Battiste or his fellow exile Mac Rebennack were involved, it sure does have that cottony Crescent City sound, no?

It didn't chart either.

Battiste, who had made a name for himself on the west coast running "Soul Stations" for Sam Cooke's SAR label, was then doing production work for ATCO and Mercury subsidiary Pulsar. Floyd signed with the label in 1966 and released three more singles that went nowhere. Pulsar would issue his debut album, A Man In Love, in 1967.

He continued writing, and was contributing material for other Pulsar artists (like Al Robinson) as well, but his career was at a standstill. After a final single died in 1968, Floyd decided to call it quits, and head home to New Orleans...

(...for the rest of the story please visit our Handle With Care post from last November.)

King Floyd will be missed. He had released an album on Malaco in 2000, and was touring again. His high energy performances were legendary, as seen here in his 2002 Jazz Fest romp.

He leaves behind a wife and three children, six grandkids, and an extended New Orleans based family that can't believe he's gone.

Funeral Services will be held at the First Zion Baptist Church in Jefferson, LA this Saturday, March 18th at 10am.

God rest his soul.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ann Peebles - You Got To Feed The Fire (Hi 2284)

You Got To Feed The Fire

Hi Records was founded in 1956 by record store owner Joe Cuoghi and his friends in an attempt to cash in on some of the success Sam Phillips was having over at Sun.

Their first legitimate hit was an instrumental by former Elvis bass player Bill Black and his Combo called Smokie (Part 2), which made it into the top 20 in 1959. This would become the focus of the fledgling label, and they continued to crank out instrumental hits by artists like honker Ace Cannon, and trumpet player Willie Mitchell.

Willie had learned his chops working in the big bands of Tuff Green and Al Jackson Sr., and had come up through the ranks of serious Memphis musicians. He had a few minor hits in the early sixties on Hi, and Joe Cuoghi soon hired him as producer and A&R man for the label. His band became a fixture on the local club scene. They were tight... holding down a regular gig at The Manhattan Club that would become a proving ground for many young musicians.

His drummer, Al Jackson Jr., the son of Willie's old bandleader (who had actually played in his father's ensemble by age 5...), was considered the best stick man in Memphis. He would go on, of course, to anchor Booker T & the MGs and lay down his billiant lazy shuffle behind scores of Stax hits. He would keep his prestigious gig with Willie's band throughout his early years at Stax, and basically wasn't getting much sleep.

The drummer Al replaced at Stax, Howard Grimes, started filling in for Al on some of Mitchell's performances and began playing with three young brothers Willie was working with at the time - Mabon ("Teenie"), Leroy, and Charles Hodges. They would become known simply as Hi Rhythm, and developed a unique laid back approach to Hammond organ driven soul that would soon define Hi Records as the new sound of Memphis.

Willie was doing some work for Don Robey, producing O.V. Wright for his Backbeat label, and saw the need to bring some vocalists over to the Hi stable. One of the first was Don Bryant (pictured at right), leader of local doo-wop group The Four Kings that Mitchell had worked with in the clubs. He had some minor success with a few singles in the mid-sixties, but would prove his value as the "house songwriter" by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, Ann Peebles was growing up as the seventh of eleven children upriver in St. Louis. Her father was a minister in the First Baptist Church, and she was singing in The Peebles Choir, a family Gospel group founded by her grandfather, by age 9. She dreamed of becoming a famous R&B singer as her idols Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin had done, and her father was all for it. He introduced her to legendary St. Louis bandleader Oliver Sain, and she began singing with his revue in local clubs under dad's watchful eye.

It was on a chance trip to Memphis in 1968 that she got up on stage and sang Jimmy Hughes' Steal Away with Gene "Bowlegs" Miller's band at the Club Rosewood. Gene was blown away, and took her down to see Willie Mitchell (who was riding high with his biggest instrumental hit yet, Soul Serenade) at the Hi Studio. He was "overwhelmed", and ready to sign her right then and there, but they had to wait for her father to come down from St. Louis to sign the contract because she was still under 21!

Hi's Royal Studio was, just like Stax up the street, located in an old movie theater that helped to produce that big bottomed Memphis sound. It was also equipped with the original low technology sound board Hi had been using since the late fifties. Willie actually "worked" the board for the first time on Ann's first single (Hi 2157), Walk Away, in 1969. The record shot to #22 on the R&B charts, and paved the way for Willie's distinctive brand of southern soul that would soon go on to dominate the airwaves (Al Green's first single for the label was Hi 2159).

People were knocking on Hi's door trying to hire Willie away from them, so in 1970 Joe Cuoghi made him vice-president of the label. Joe died shortly after that of a massive heart-attack, which left Mitchell in charge of the whole shooting match.

Later that year, Ann's reworking of Little Johnny Taylor's Part Time Love broke into the R&B top ten... she had arrived! She continued to chart regularly, and in 1972, the absolutely amazing Breaking Up Somebody's Home was written for her by Al Jackson Jr., who was still being used by Willie on his "A-side" material. Another "cheating" song, the great I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down would crack the top 40 in early 1973.

Mitchell had "assigned" Don Bryant to work with Ann in developing her R&B phrasing when he first inked her to the label, an arrangement he originally resented. He got over it and wrote the classic 99 Pounds for her in 1971, and before long they were dating.

A song they wrote together in 1973, I Can't Stand The Rain, would become Ann's biggest hit. The album of the same name, released the following year, still stands as one of the greatest soul records of all time. Today's B side (released as the flip of Beware in 1975) was co-written by them as well and was originally a track on the album. The strings, the fat bass, the incredible drums way up in the mix, the organ, the guitar, the horn arrangements, the background vocals (provided by Nashville's Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes) - all of Mitchell's production elements that are somehow greater than the sum of their parts - are just cookin' along here on this one... it just doesn't get much better than this, folks.

Ann and Don were married by the end of the year.

Although Ann would continue to issue quality material for the label (highlighted by 1977's If This Is Heaven), things began to unravel at Hi in the mid-seventies. Al Jackson Jr. had been shot dead in the fall of '75... Al Green would leave to pursue his own vision by early '77... and the label was bought outright by Cream Records, some west-coast outfit that didn't have a clue when it came to soul music, that same year. Hi Rhythm and Willie soon went their separate ways (Mitchell would begin producing for Albert Grossman's Bearsville label), but Mr & Mrs Bryant hung in there until the end. The last Hi single ever released was a duet by the couple called Mon Belle Amour in 1981.

Ann took some years off, concentrating on her family life. She and Don started a Gospel label, "By Faith", and became involved in the community.

In 1989 she reunited with Willie Mitchell to produce Call Me, a dissapointing "comeback" album on his short-lived Waylo label, that, in spite of touring with the "Waylo Records Family", sank without a trace.

In 1992, Ann signed with Rounder subsidiary Bullseye Blues and released Full Time Love, a great album that showed the world she was still a force to be reckoned with. She followed this with Fill This World With Love, a record that would pair her with fellow soul legend Mavis Staples on the title track, a song she and Don had written with her in mind 20 years before...

She began touring again, playing to sold out houses in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Her inclusion in D.A. Pennebaker's Only The Strong Survive in 2002 kept her out there in the public eye.

In April of 2005, Ann embarked on her Acoustic Soul Tour, playing three dates in the UK that month, and airing some performances from the tour on XM Radio in May. Her new band, The Dream Team, sounded great, and things were looking good. Ten US dates were scheduled for the summer.

Ann entered the studio with producer Joe Henry (who had helped Solomon Burke finally win his Grammy in 2002 with Don't Give Up On Me) in early June to work on the I Believe To My Soul project. One of the songs they recorded, When The Candle Burns Low, was written by her and hubby Don Bryant, just like in the old days. It is the real thing, as powerful a soul song as you're likely to hear anywhere. It just gives me chills...

Ann played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's R&B festival on June 16th. She was sitting down for most of the show. She cancelled the rest of the dates on the tour later that week. The official reason given was that she had just signed with a new label, and wanted to wait until a new CD was released before continuing with the tour.

A performance scheduled for Town Hall in NYC in October, after the release of I Believe To My Soul, was cancelled as well. Nobody seems to know the real reason.

I hope she's OK...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Los Andinos - En Esos Momentos (Kubaney 5350)

En Esos Momentos

Well, I'm back. Where the hell was I? On The Island of Enchantment... Puerto Rico. I was originally supposed to stay one week but ended up extending it to two because I was, well, enchanted.

What an incredible place this is, man. I mean there is a Puerto Rico of cruise ships and fancy hotels and beach resorts, there is even a horribly Americanized one of K-Marts and Wal-Marts and Burger Kings, but the true Puerto Rico is still there just waiting for you if you're willing to poke around a little bit...

One of the first things you notice about the real Puerto Rico is it's love affair with music (the airport in Aguadilla is actually named after the great Bolero composer Rafael Hernandez...). We arrived the day after the death of percussion genius Ray Barretto, and flags were flown at half-staff all over the Island to honor him... something I couldn't even imagine here in the states.

While it is Salsa, essentially an all-inclusive term for Puerto Rico's amazing Afro-Carribean dance music, that gets all the attention, there is much more to be learned about the Island's rich musical heritage. There are several great AM radio stations that play "la musica de bohemia", the great post-war Bolero music of "Los Trios" exemplified by today's selection.

Bolero, romantic ballads sung over African rhythms, originated in Cuba in the late 19th century and soon spread to the rest of Latin America, especially to Puerto Rico. Here the music was taken up by numerous trios and given its own sound by the addition of the Cuatro, a 10 string guitar-like instrument that is unique to Puerto Rico. The Trio Los Andinos, pictured here, were among the most popular and still perform today.

This music just sets this unreal mood... like some Caribbean dream of white suits, ceiling fans, Mojitos and beautiful women... of cigars and big old Cadillacs with lots of chrome...

I love driving around getting lost down there with the AM radio (and its crackly 'lado B' sound) turning my little rental car into a gently rolling time machine...

I was transported on this trip to Tita's record shop, located in an old market stall in the city of Ponce, The Pearl of the South. Using my incredibly bad Spanish, I somehow managed to convey to her the type of music I was looking for, and she played record after record for me to see if I liked it. I was in heaven... finally settling on 25 45s (for $10) to bring back to the present day...

The City of Ponce, founded in 1692 by Ponce de Leon's great-grandson, was separated from San Juan and the rest of Spain's dominance over the Island by 50 miles of nearly impassable mountains, and so developed its own cultural identity. Slaves from West Africa were brought in to work the cane plantations, and they brought their music and traditions with them.

In much the same way as in Congo Square in New Orleans, they used music as a means of communicating with each other, using dance and rhythm to create a whole new art form that was not even remotely understood by the plantation bosses. In Ponce, this music became known as Bomba. While I am not going to begin to even try to explain its wonderful complexities to you, I can tell you that it involves dancers performing in Colonial dress, a call and response between a lead singer and the rest of the troupe, and individual dancers "challenging" the drums to ever more intense levels. I can also tell you that it is just plain great!

I can tell you that because I actually saw the Bomba performed live last Sunday on the Central Plaza in Ponce (You can view a short mpg video I took by clicking here.), for you see, like some parallel universe New Orleans, the city has also developed its own pre-lenten festival, Carnaval Ponceno, and let me tell ya, just like it's northern cousin, it knows how to rock da house!

They even have their own version (more or less) of Mardi-Gras Indians... roving bands of young Vejigantes wearing bright costumes and home-made elaborate colorful masks, brandishing an inflated cow bladder (or whatever else is handy) to smack the living sins out of you!

Let me just say that I was completely blown away by the whole incredible spectacle... especially since I happened upon it by accident. There were virtually no other tourists around. It was like living the roots of Mardi-Gras...

God, I love my time machine!

Thank You Puerto Rico... I'll be back!