Friday, April 25, 2008

Chris Kenner - I Like It Like That, Part 2 (Instant 3229)

I Like It Like That, Part 2


As you know, I'm a huge Allen Toussaint fan. Like Professor Longhair before him, his creative genius has taken New Orleans music to the next level again and again over the course of the last fifty years. He was the subject of my very first post, and I've gone so far as to call him the patron saint of The B Side, as I don't believe there's anybody out there who's produced more incredible 'flips' than he has. Yes, his name pops up all the time on these pages (just try entering it in the red kelly search thing), as he does on those of my compadres Dan Phillips and Larry Grogan, who share my passion for the man's music.

We've talked about how he was hired by a record distributor named Joe Banashak after he auditioned along with his partner Allen Orange in January of 1960. Banashak and his partner, WYLD dee-jay Larry McKinley, had started up their own Minit label and Toussaint became their in-house composer and producer. From Jessie Hill to Ernie K.Doe, Benny Spellman, Aaron Neville and Irma Thomas, the timeless records he cut for the company will live on forever.

As will much of the the later work he did with his new partner Marshall Sehorn both on Amy and their own legendary Sansu and Deesu labels. A lot of that music is just beginning to be fully appreciated, thanks to Sundazed re-issues like Get Low Down! and Looking For My Baby, and is just absolutely top shelf stuff. Rather than try and summarize Allen's long and varied career, I want to focus on one area of it that has, for the most part, been overlooked.

In 1961, Joe Banashak helped New Orleans record store owner Irving Smith open up another label called 'Valiant'. Larry McKinley was again brought in as a partner, but their first couple of releases didn't do much. Smith and McKinley (who was soon forced out of the record business as a result of the federal 'payola' investigations) both agreed to let Banashak 'run things', and he in turn gave full artistic license to Toussaint. He was forced to change the name of the label after a west coast outfit named Valiant threatened to sue, and it became 'Instant'.

By the time you read this, I'll be on my way to New Orleans, and so (as always) I wanted to leave you with a little 'lagniappe' to hold you over till I get back. I've put together a new episode of the podcast that is a selective chronological look at this early formative period at Instant, from its inception in 1961 until Toussaint was drafted into the army in 1963. I call it AN INSTANT OF TOUSSAINT. Now, let's take a closer look...

The first release on the label (which was initially pressed on Valiant) was by the one and only Chris Kenner. Kenner (nicknamed 'Bear') was a hard-drinking longshoreman who pretty much kept to himself. He also happened to be a brilliant songwriter. In 1957 he came to Dave Bartholomew at Imperial with a song he had written that was so good he signed him on the spot. Sick And Tired climbed to #13 R&B that summer, and to #14 when Fats Domino covered it the following year (not to mention the great Elton Anderson version of a few years later). Notoriously drunk and unable to remember the words he had written, he soon ran afoul of Lew Chudd, Bartholomew's boss, and he was let go after the follow-up single failed to chart.

Chudd was also the national distributor for Minit, and so when Chris came knocking on Banashak's door he had to turn him away. That is until Smith came up with the proposal for the new label. Kenner brought his latest song idea to Toussaint, and together they worked it up into the phenomenal I Like It Like That, Part 1. Much to Chudd's dismay, the record took off, and would spend over 4 months on the charts in 1961, making it to #2 both R&B and Pop (topped only by Mother In Law, which Ernie K-Doe took all the way to #1 for Minit during the same time frame). In addition to Toussaint's amazing piano, this cool instrumental workout we have here on Part 2 features James Rivers on the saxophone and shows how adept Allen was as an arranger, and why he's featured as a co-writer here on the flip. Great stuff.

Kenner was apparently kind of intimidated by Toussaint, who was pretty much his exact opposite. He showed up for his sessions clean and sober, and was willing to work with Allen until they got it right. After the follow-up record didn't sell, Banashak was scratching his head over the fact that he couldn't keep copies of Something You Got on the shelves. It was Ernie K. Doe and Benny Spellman who told him that all the kids in the Ninth Ward were buying it because they could dance the Popeye to it. There is still (and probably always will be) some debate as to who had the first 'Popeye Record', but this one sure is a contender, and Allen Toussaint deserves more credit as the man who nurtured that sailor man beat. Although you hear Alvin Robinson's 1964 version a lot more often, Kenner's original is still worth checking out (we'll talk more about The Popeye when I return).

Probably the most well known of Kenner's compositions, though, is the fabled Land Of 1000 Dances. Based loosely on a Gospel song Chris used to sing in his early days (Children Go Where I Send Thee), it didn't do much when it was first released in 1962, but Atlantic got behind it a year later and it cruised to #77 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1963. Probably one of the most covered songs of all time, they just don't come much better than this, y'all. Toussaint did a couple more singles on him before he got drafted, and Kenner would return to the label off and on to be produced by Sax Kari and Eddie Bo, but his charting days were over. They say that he drank up or gave away his considerable royalty checks as fast as they arrived, and he sadly pulled a three year stretch in Angola starting in 1968. After that, things were never the same. He died of a heart attack in 1976.

James Rivers, who's playing that wailing sax on today's selection, had the next release on the label, a sweet rendition of another Gospel tune, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, which would be his only release on Instant. The subject of the Second Annual Soul Detective Mystery Contest, he went on to make a bunch of other great records on small local labels like Eight-Ball, Kon-Ti, and JB's. He is still active as a jazz musician, and performs at Jazz Fest every year.

Another character in the mold of Jessie Hill or Chris Kenner was a guy who Jeff Hannusch describes as a "street hustler", Raymond Lewis. He started out as a member of Earl King's bar band The Swans, and later on became the bass player for Huey Smith's Clowns. The three singles he cut for Instant are all great, but probably the most memorable is his politically incorrect original version of I'm Gonna Put Some Hurt On You, another song Shine Robinson would cover a few years later. Lewis recorded his own 'answer record', Coppin' A Plea, for Earl King on Warm, and re-united with Toussaint for one more single on Sansu in 1967. According to Earl, "Raymond's a kicks character, he's a humdinger, man. He's a Deacon in the Church now."

I think my favorite Instant singles, though, are the pair Toussaint produced on Chick Carbo (one of which became the second B side post way back when). As I said then: "Leonard "Chick" Carbo was, along with his brother Chuck, a founding member of the great New Orleans vocal group the Spiders... Unlike Chuck, however (who went on to create proto-funk grooves like "Can I Be Your Squeeze" alongside classic Mardi Gras "Second-Lines" well into the 90s), Chick's recorded output apparently ended here. Despite years of searching, I've been unable to unearth much more information about this golden-throated baritone, except for the fact that he died in 1998." The four sides that Toussaint composed for Chick (during his 'Naomi Neville' period) are, in my opinion, right up there with anything else he ever wrote.

Art Neville, of course, needs no introduction. A big favorite of yours truly, one of his early Instant sides was also featured here way back in the day. Skeet Scat, the A side of that single is one of those good time nonsense songs in the fashion of Art's earlier Specialty stuff like Zing-Zing and Cha-Dooky-Doo. Toussaint's biggest success with Neville came, of course, with All These Things (Instant 3246) which is, quite simply, one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

One of the most under-appreciated of these Instant singles, the great Undivided Love by Eskew Reeder is positively da bomb, man. Reeder, of course, is none other than the flamboyant, unsinkable Esquerita, the man who taught Little Richard how to play the piano (among other things). He had come up as a Gospel singer out of Greenville, South Carolina, and cut an album's worth of rock & roll sides for Capitol in the late fifties. Banashak had signed him to Minit in 1962, and issued two singles that didn't do much before bringing him over to Instant the following year for two more. Check out Toussaint's back-up vocals on this one... unreal! Esquerita went on to record for a variety of labels without much success, and died broke in New York in 1986. His legend lives on.

Speaking of legends, what more can I say about Emperor Of The World Ernie K-Doe? After Minit was sold off to Lew Chudd, Ernie made the switch to Instant for two more singles, before moving on to Don Robey's Duke label in 1964. Baby Since I Met You is an excellent Toussaint production of a song K-Doe wrote himself, that's got it goin' on. Nowadays, it's a later collaboration between these two men that's getting all the press, 1970's Here Come The Girls... Burn, K-Doe, Burn!

Although the Instant label continued on after Allen Toussaint's stint in the service, things were different. Sax Kari took over as the producer for a while, and did some cool things with Chris Kenner like Wind The Clock and Fumigate Funky Broadway, before moving on and being replaced by Eddie Bo. Those 'higher numbered' 45s have become quite collectible as a result of Bo's involvement, as have later singles by guys like Lee Bates (who was Kenner's designated driver), but I think this early period is every bit as interesting, and deserves more attention.

Allen Toussaint turned seventy years old this past January. Make no mistake about it, he is every bit as important to the evolution of New Orleans music as Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Dave Bartholomew, Wardell Quezergue, Eddie Bo or anyone else you might care to mention. In the wake of Katrina he has, fortunately for us, been more active than he's been in years. Don't pass up the chance to go see him. He is living history, my friends.

So listen... I'll be thinking about you while I'm down there in The Town That Care Forgot (unless, of course, I forget...), and we'll do it all again soon.

Thanks for stoppin' by!

- red

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Professor Longhair - No Buts, No Maybes (Specialty 549)

No Buts, No Maybes

Goin' Back To New Orleans


Yes, it's that time of year again, folks. As we gear up here for the annual pilgrimage to the Crescent City, I figured we'd check in with the man behind the curtain, the progenitor... the guy Allen Toussaint refers to as "The Bach of Rock" - the one and only Professor Longhair.

'Roy' Byrd came up on the streets of New Orleans in the twenties and thirties. Nicknamed 'Whirlwind' as a kid, his incredible tap-dancing moves helped him pick up the nickels on the streets. It was the time of the 'barrelhouse' piano players, and Roy was fascinated by the sounds he heard coming from the cat-houses and second-story joints that were all around him. Before long, he was smuggling himself inside, and watching the likes of Sullivan Rock, Kid Stormy Weather and Tuts Washington work their popular 'stride' style of boogie-woogie. Byrd would develop his own unique left-hand 'roll', and was soon playing for tips himself at any place that would have him.

According to Jeff Hannusch, Byrd landed his first real gig at the Cotton Club on Rampart Street working with Champion Jack Dupree. He goes on to say that "the relationship of Dupree and Longhair has for the most part been overlooked. Dupree, though eight years older, learned to play from Longhair in exchange for singing lessons..." Although I can't imagine anybody actually teaching Fess to sing like that, it must have been something to watch! Times were hard, and Byrd joined up with the Civilian Conservation Corps for a while to try and make ends meet, then was drafted into the Army in 1942. After being sidelined by health issues, he ended up back on Rampart Street, where he and a friend opened up a restaurant called 'Jimmy Hicks Barbecue Pit'. When he wasn't busy in the kitchen, Roy kept up his chops on the beat-up piano in the front room.

When the post-war R&B explosion started to hit big there in New Orleans, he was ready. Dave Bartholomew's band was holding down a regular gig at the Caldonia Inn, and when his piano man Salvatore Doucette took a break one night, Byrd asked if he could 'sit in'. As legend has it, no-one had ever heard anything quite like what he was doing before, and people started pouring in off the streets. Mike Tessitore, the owner of the club, liked that idea and supposedly fired Bartholomew so he could install Byrd as the leader of the new house band. It was Tessitore that came up with the name 'Professor Longhair', and his 'Four-Hairs Combo' at that point included Walter 'Papoose' Nelson, the guitarist who would later join Fats Domino's outfit. It was at the Caldonia that he first met Robert Parker, who would become his regular sax player after joining him on a few gigs across the river.

It was at places like Kohlmen's Tavern in Algiers and The Pepper Pot in Gretna that he started to put together the repertoire that he worked for the rest of his life. Byrd started getting noticed, and signed with the Texas based Star Talent label in 1949. Credited to 'Professor Longhair and the Shuffling Hungarians', the two 78s they released on him contained seminal versions of Mardi Gras In New Orleans and She Ain't Got No Hair, but were soon withdrawn when the company went under. Mercury was next in line, and signed him to a contract. In the meantime, Byrd was also moonlighting with the rollicking George Miller & His Mid-Driffs, alternating piano duties with Alex 'Duke' Burrell.

What happened next was one of the late Ahmet Ertegun's favorite stories. He had heard about Longhair and, along with his partner Herb Abramson, made a 1949 journey to New Orleans to find him. After the white taxi driver refused to take them any further, they were let off in an empty field across the river in Algiers. Ertegun: "Far away we could see some lights... as we approached the village, we saw this house, which was bulging in and out... from far away it looked, actually, as if people were falling out the windows. The music was blaring, we thought 'My God, there's a fantastic band in there'... What I thought had been an R&B band turned out to be Professor Longhair by himself. He was sitting there with a microphone between his legs... he had a drum head attached to the piano. He would hit it with his right foot while he was playing... and he was playing the piano and singing full blast, and it really was the most incredible sounding thing I ever heard... and I said 'My God, no white person has ever seen this, man'" Imagine? Although he had signed with Mercury, they hadn't recorded him as yet, and Ertegun arranged a session at Cosimo Matassa's J&M studio on Rampart Street the next day, with members of the Mid-Driffs. Those first Atlantic sides were released in 1950 under three different names (apparently to avoid problems with Mercury) but didn't sell much.

Mercury finally got around to cutting Longhair in February of 1950, when they sent their A&R man Murray Nash down to Sugar Town to hold a marathon seven artist, two day session at National Recorders, where they apparently got a better deal than Cosimo was willing to give them. The band, once again, consisted of George Miller and his Mid-Driffs which now included a young sax sensation named Lee Allen. A reworking of his second Star Talent record, Mercury released Bald Head by 'Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers' that August. No doubt helped by Irv Green's connections with the guys on the jukebox routes, it just took off, climbing into the top 5 on Billboard's new 'Rhythm & Blues' chart. When the follow-up record, Hadacol Bounce, was withdrawn in the wake of an FTC crackdown on the 'patent medicine' market, Mercury replaced it with the rocking Oh Well. After some kind of disagreement with Byrd about royalties, Mercury apparently lost interest.

Longhair next signed with Federal, who would release two singles on him in 1951 under the moniker Roy "Bald Head" Byrd, in an attempt to cash in on his earlier success. It didn't work, and despite the quality of songs like Curly Haired Baby, nothing much was shaking, and they let him go. In 1952, he was part of a package tour that also featured Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino, and he was recorded in St. Louis by the tiny Wasco label which released an abysmal single they credited to 'Roy Boyd'.

In November of 1953, Atlantic was back on the scene, and new partner Jerry Wexler brought Byrd back to J&M to record with the crack studio band that Cosimo had put together. At that point it consisted of Lee Allen, Red Tyler, Edgar Blanchard and Earl Palmer and the sides they cut at that session are among his absolute best. Tipitina b/w In The Night was released as a single in March of 1954, and although it did well locally, it didn't make the national charts. I'm not sure what happened at that point, but that would be his last single for Atlantic, who was about to hit it big with another artist they had recorded on that same trip, Ray Charles.

By most accounts, Byrd suffered a mild stroke in 1955, which affected his playing. Mac Rebennack, who met him right around this time hanging around J&M and Joe Assunto's 'One-Stop' record shop, tells it differently; "Fess had just gotten busted on a reefer charge during Mardi Gras. Fess, who loved reefer, gave a deck to this character named Beatnick who turned out to be a narc. The upshot of this piece of law 'n' order was that Fess couldn't work clubs in New Orleans for a while, because the club owners caught too much heat from narcotics agents... he turned to making a living at card games... He'd go play Piddy-Pat and Coon-Cane all night, and in the afternoon he'd work the One-Stop Record Shop, filling out the cards for the jukeboxes..." What a trip.

Like Papa Dip before him, Fess 'loved reefer', and I think it's important to understand the role marijuana played in the music. Rebennack: "Fess and his partners were into reefer, and not just for kicks, but as a sacred thing, part of their roots... He didn't smoke herb to get high. He said that he smoked herb to 'frolic' with the band... and when he wanted to frolic, he'd tear up a piece of a paper bag and roll a joint about ten inches long... When he came back into a joint after smoking one of those bomolatchees, you'd better watch out; He'd go into his 'over and unders', elaborate playing action with his hands. People ate it up... and that wasn't his only unorthodox maneuver. The club owner had to put a board up under the piano, because Fess kept time with his foot. If you didn't put the board up under one of those old uprights, Fess would kick a hole in it..." Wild, man.

In 1957, after Art Rupe had made a killing recording Specialty acts like Little Richard and Larry Williams at Cosimo's studio, he signed Longhair to the subsidiary label he had just created for his wife, Ebb. He brought him into Matassa's new Governor Nichols Street location to record with the studio band. This ultra-cool selection we have here today (re-issued as this Specialty B side sometime in the eighties, thank you very much) was only the second release on the label. After Earl Palmer left for the west coast earlier that year, the drummer's chair was taken by Charles 'Hungry' Williams, and I believe that's him kicking it up on here. After Fess starts things off with that familiar 'Bald Head' intro, Hungry keeps things focused, and things progress to the aforementioned frolic level. Yeah, baby! This one was a local hit around town (you can just hear it pumping out of the jukebox somewhere in the Bywater), and is one of Fess' most under-appreciated tunes. I love it, man. In any event, after Ebb released two more great singles on him that didn't sell that year, Byrd was back working at the One-Stop.

When Assunto's brother-in-law Joe Ruffino started up his own Ric and Ron labels in 1958, it was only natural that he sign Longhair along with his protegé, Rebennack. 'Max', as Roy called him, became the de-facto producer at the company, and together they came up with what may just be the ultimate New Orleans record, Go To The Mardi Gras. A remake of the song he had recorded years earlier for both Star Talent and Atlantic, this time they got it right. It still sells thousands of copies every year at Carnival Time, and is absolutely untouchable. The long arm of the law (which also notoriously has a long memory) caught up with Longhair in 1960, arresting him once more on drug possession charges during a performance on Mardi Gras day. Nice guys. In any event, when Ruffino died from a massive coronary in 1962, that was that.

Wardell Quezergue, who was beginning to come into his own as a sought after arranger, recorded him for the small Rip label later that year, but the record didn't amount to much and, once again, Fess was back at the One-Stop. When Assunto decided to start his own label with a local record distributor named Henry Hildebrand he, of course, signed Byrd. He was also astute enough to hire both Quezergue and Earl King as his producers and arrangers. Longhair recorded three singles for Watch, but the one that continues to make all the noise is the incredible Big Chief. Quezergue tells the story of how they had to tie Fess' left hand behind his back, so he wouldn't interfere with the big fat second-line bass thang they had goin' on. He apparently was also having trouble with the lyrics, and Assunto told King, "Earl, get your behind off the piano and get in the booth and sing the song, and we'll track Fess' voice later and put him on it." Only they never did, and it's King you hear on the record, both singing and whistling. Just an absolute monster of a song, it never fails to get things moving around here. Yet another Carnival classic, it probably gets more airplay now than when it was released in 1964.

Times were tough for New Orleans music in the latter part of the sixties, and many of the local labels went out of business. Fess had pretty much given up on music, and gone back to 'sweeping-out' the One-Stop and playing cards. When the organizers of the newly formed Jazz and Heritage Festival came looking for him in 1971, he was still there at the record store, waiting for them. Quint Davis said that when he played at that second ever Jazz Fest, "everything literally stopped. All the musicians and all of the people came over to the stage where Fess was playing..."

He still had it.

Professor Longhair would go on to become the very emblem of everything that was cool about New Orleans, and the central figure in the emerging Jazz Fest culture. As a partner with the "fabulous fo'teen" in Tipitina's, he laid the groundwork for the uptown music scene as it exists today in the 'sliver by the river'. Rather than go into the recordings he made during his revitalized 'second career', I'd like to leave you with these thoughts:

"When I heard Professor Longhair, good heavens... just wonderful. When I heard that, it was just a shock to my life because before that things were fairly mild. Boogie Woogie, you know, would get there and it would stay there, and everything had a different kind of order, but Professor Longhair was wild and untamed." - Allen Toussaint

"Professor Longhair was the guardian angel of the roots of New Orleans music. He was a one-of-a-kind musician and man, and he defined a certain style of rhumba-boogie funk that WAS New Orleans R&B from the late 1940s all the way through to his death in 1980. All New Orleans pianists today owe Fess. He was the guru, godfather and spiritual root doctor of all that came under him." - Mac Rebennack

No Buts, No Maybes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - It's Easier (Q-Dee 1036)

It's Easier

As you may have noticed, most of the records I put up here are antiques... scratchy relics of a bygone age that serve as some kind of window into what it was like to listen to music back in the day. It does my heart good to offer you the B side of an actual vinyl soul 45 that is brand spankin' new (well, almost).

Eli Reed is the genuine article. Emerging as one of the most authentic voices of the 'renaissance in old-school soul, blues and R&B stylings on both sides of the Atlantic', Reed does things the old-fashioned way, and it shows. Writer of his own material, leader of his band, he conveys a true sense of conviction in what he is doing. If his music sounds like soul, that's because it is.

He grew up the son of 'sociologist turned music critic' Howard Husock, and immersed himself in his father's extensive record collection. Blues, Soul, Gospel, R&B - by the time Eli was in his teens, he had developed his own ear for the music. After starting out on harmonica, he taught himself to play the guitar and the piano as well. In his senior year of high school, he took a trip to Memphis to check out the possibility of going to college down there, and was just blown away. Inspired, he quite literally 'went down to the crossroads', and moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi when he was just 18 years old.

Playing out on the local club scene, that's where they started calling him 'the paperboy', as he looked impossibly young to be doing what he was doing. He hooked up with delta legend Sam Carr, who taught him a thing or two about keeping it real, and showed him what it meant to 'leave it all out there' on stage. If nothing else, performing before those tough Mississippi crowds helped him hone his craft and, after taking Reed as his musical moniker (after Jimmy?), Eli, like so many before him, left Clarksdale for Chicago where he finally started going to college in 2003.

He began spinning the music he loved on his own University of Chicago radio show, which led to his meeting the great Mitty Collier, who actually works at the University. As it turned out, Collier was in the process of starting her own congregation, The More Like Christ Christian Fellowship Ministries, and hired our man Reed to play keyboards at their services. Blessed with another close-up look at the sincerity and soul of black American music, Eli soaked it all in.

He cut his first album while he was on spring break in 2004. Recorded in mono with a 'bunch of friends from high school', it got great reviews, and basically convinced Eli that he should pursue his musical career full time. Admittedly, he was 'all over the map' at that point, and hadn't found his true voice as yet. Back in his home town outside of Boston, he formed the True Loves and began putting in his time, working the bars and writing his own original material. It paid off, and they were selected as the best R&B band by the Boston Phoenix in 2005.

In 2006, he came to the attention of Ed Valauskas, the Q Division producer, who signed him to the Somerville, Massachusetts label. With a decent record company behind him, Eli started making some noise, and was getting noticed by the right people. His cookin' set at SXSW in 2007, coupled with a 4 song EP release, helped put him on the national map. As the True Loves developed, their reputation for hard-hitting, high energy live performances preceded them.

When John Ciba started putting together his 'Rabbit Factory Revue', he asked Eli if the band would back up the legendary Roscoe Robinson at a few dates last year. Reed jumped at the chance to work with one of his heroes, and the chemistry between the two men was an obvious success. I saw them perform in Brooklyn on that tour, and was just knocked out. I mean, I knew Robinson was gonna be great, but I wasn't prepared for The Paperboy.

Above all else, Reed is a singer, and I think that's what makes this whole thing work. To watch him lose the jacket and tie, and wind up in a puddle of sweat on his knees as he delivers his own heartfelt lyrics, is to believe once again in the power of this art form... to understand somehow the meaning of soul, and wind up (for once) feeling good about the continued existence of real music in this country.

...and beyond. After Q-Division released this cool single we have here (with The Satisfier on the flip) last summer, they sent Eli to the UK to play a few solo club dates to promote it. They were waiting for him. Both sides of the record began getting some airplay, and no less an authority than Nick Lowe wrote him up in his Siver Fox column in Mojo magazine, which really got the ball rolling (Eli will be opening a few dates for Lowe on his US tour later this month). Mojo also included Eli on the CD that came with their April issue, The New Dictionary of Blues and Soul.

His triumphant return to SXSW last month was, by all accounts, simply fantastic, and was carried live on local station KGSR (there are a few decidedly lo-fi videos of Eli and the band rattling around on YouTube, if you're interested). The initial run of singles pressed up by Q-Division sold out, but they've followed it up with another great one Take My Love With You b/w (Am I Just) Fooling Myself which is available now on totally authentic feeling heavy-ass vinyl at their website. You need to own one.

Eli & the True Loves are out there on the road right now, on a coast to coast tour highlighted by their appearance at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, and their return to NYC early next month. They're out there in support of their long awaited Q-Division album, Roll With You, which is scheduled to be released on April 29th. If you get the chance, you should go see them. You won't be disappointed.

The Paperboy, he delivers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Robert Knight - Somebody's Baby (Rising Sons 705)

Somebody's Baby

In 1956, Buzz Cason and his friends started up 'the first Rock & Roll band in Nashville', The Casuals. Immensely popular locally, they soon were traveling all over the Mid-South performing their own southern fried versions of the R&B they heard on the radio. Cason's first attempt at songwriting, My Love Song For You, was recorded by the group for the small Nu-Sound label, produced by local legend Noel Ball. It was Ball who really got things rolling, featuring the band on his popular Saturday Showcase TV show, and eventually getting the record picked up by Randy Wood for release on his Dot label. Once they had heard their song on the radio, there was no turning back for Buzz and his band, and they set out in search of the 'Rock & Roll Dream'.

Booked as part of the traveling 'package shows' of the day, the band was soon crisscrossing the country in an old station wagon, and living life out on the open road. They were approached by manager Dub Allbritten and asked to become rising star Brenda Lee's back-up band, a job which they readily accepted. Now in the spotlight even more, their gigs steadily improved, and before long they were appearing in places like the Sahara in Las Vegas, which was a far cry from their East Nashville roots, as you can well imagine.

It was around this time that Buzz met a like-minded young songwriter named Bobby Russell, and when Jan & Dean took Tennessee, a tune they had penned together about their home state, into the Billboard Hot 100, people began to take notice. The California surfer dude's record label, Liberty, signed Buzz as a member of a vocal group they put together called The Statues, and began using them as background singers behind their other artists. They would hit the Hot 100 themselves in late 1960 with a smooth version of Blue Velvet, some three years before Bobby Vinton hit big with the same song. Liberty also decided to re-name Cason 'Garry Miles' and record a version of a song called Look For A Star which had just been released on their then rival Imperial by a kid named Gary Mills (imagine?). It paid off, as the Miles version surpassed the other guy's in the charts, going #16 Pop in the summer of 1960. Buzz, in addition to performing as a member of three different acts, now had to be Garry Miles on those package shows as well. Never a dull moment.

Somewhere around in here, Cason, along with fellow Casual Tony Moon, would write one of the true classics of Soul, Soldier Of Love. When Noel Ball brought Arthur Alexander to Nashville in 1962, he apparently turned to old friends The Casuals for material. "We wrote it with Arthur in mind," Moon said in the Night Train To Nashville liner notes, "It came out with Where Have You Been on the other side. Soldier Of Love got a little bit of play, but the other song was heavily promoted by its publisher, and ended up charting in Billboard - so Soldier Of Love was a bridesmaid, not a bride." (yes, chalk up another one for the ol' B side!)

Increasingly enamored of things on the other side of the business, and tired of life on the road, Buzz was enticed to Los Angeles by Snuff Garrett, all-around character, and one of the head producers at Liberty. He got Cason on salary at the label and in addition to singing background on just about everything from Gary S. Paxton to The Chipmunks (Buzz was Alvin), he was soon producing sessions of his own, including new signees The Crickets, who were attempting to carry on after Buddy Holly's untimely demise.

After Crickets' lead singer Jerry Naylor took sick just before they were scheduled to tour the UK in 1964, they turned to Buzz for help, and he found himself fronting the band on a whirlwind swing though The British Isles. The group had been charting regularly over there, and the Cason produced version of La Bamba was all over the radio as they played to sold-out houses everywhere they went. Despite all of this acclaim, Liberty, in one of those company-wide belt tightening moves, let Buzz go. He decided to head home to Nashville.

Already well-known in the burgeoning 'music-city', recording scene, he had no problem finding work. Bill Justis, the legendary Sun sax man, had made a name for himself in Nashville as the head of his own publishing conglomerate, Tuneville Music, and gladly took Cason on. Justis had produced a record on a kid by the name of Bucky Wilkin (the son of the woman who had written Long Black Veil), and it hit big when Larry Uttal released it under the name of Ronnie and the Daytonas in 1964. There never was any Ronnie, or any Daytonas for that matter, and the list of studio musicians who supposedly played on GTO includes Bobby Rusell and our old pal Chips Moman! In any event, Utall wanted more 'product' and Cason found himself a member of this fictional ever-evolving band, even appearing live on some dates in support of the records. Sandy, a song he wrote for them, would become their second biggest hit in late 1965.

Reunited with Bobby Russell, Buzz wanted to form his own publishing company as an outlet for their music. It was Bill Justis, who was heading out to the west coast himself, that introduced Buzz to Fred Foster, the iconoclastic head of Monument Records. Fred liked the idea, and helped Cason and Russell set up the company as well as a record label that would be distributed by Monument, Rising Sons.

Another Nashville kid who had gown up in love with black music was Mac Gayden. Buzz had met him way back in the day, when he was working at Ernie's Record Mart, the coolest store in town. A musical prodigy, Mac had developed into quite the guitarist, playing in bands like Charlie McCoy's Escorts out on the fraternity circuit. He got his start as a studio musician through Columbia producer Bob Johnston, who used him on Dylan's Blonde On Blonde sessions in late 1965.

Robert Peebles, meanwhile, had come up as a member of The Paramounts, a vocal group that was produced by our man Noel Ball for Dot Records early in the decade. It was Ball who had come up with the stage name Robert Knight, and released a couple of solo singles on him. After a moderate R&B chart hit in 1961, there was some kind of contractual issue with Dot, and he never recorded for them again. Knight went on to attend Vanderbilt University, where he formed another vocal group, The Fairlanes. Gayden heard him singing with them one night, and was blown away. He brought him to Cason and Russell, who he knew were looking for talent for their new label.

Buzz was equally impressed, and began working with Gayden, writing material for Knight's upcoming sessions. Putting lyrics to a few riffs that Mac had been playing around with for years, they came up with Rising Sons' breakthrough song, Everlasting Love, which spent 11 weeks on the charts, climbing to #13 Pop in the fall of 1967. No matter what you may think of the song, it has some kind of universal appeal, and has been a hit in four different decades (as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Carl Carlton). This sweet little number we have here today, also written by Mac and Buzz, was the flip of that record. Gayden's guitar kind of puts you in mind of Curtis Mayfield, while Knight sounds like a cross between Smokey Robinson and King Floyd or something... not bad.

Knight's follow-up records on the label (for whatever reason) sank like a stone, and that seemingly was that. Only it wasn't. In 1973, a hugely influential British club called Blackpool Mecca started spinning another obscure Rising Sons B side of Knight's from five years before, Love On A Mountain Top. Viewed as 'the super definitive northern soul record', it just took off, and put Knight right back in the thick of things. He toured the UK in 1974 to great acclaim, and re-pressings of Everlasting Love and My Rainbow Valley hit the charts over there as well. Upon returning to Nashville, however, he discovered that things hadn't changed here in the States, and the few singles he cut for Private Stock in the late seventies went nowhere. He still lives in Music City...

Buzz Cason and Bobby Russell had started up another label back in 1967, one they envisioned as more R&B than pop-oriented, Elf. Buzz used his connections in the industry to his advantage, this time getting Larry Uttal (who he had known since his Daytonas days) involved as the distributor. Although rather short-lived, as Rising Sons itself had turned out to be, the label released some great music. Please come with me now to The A Side, and we'll continue this story over there.