Monday, June 30, 2008

Lattimore Brown - I Wish I Felt This Way At Home (Renegade 101)

I Wish I Felt This Way At Home

"This ain't nothin' but God!"

Here's what it says about Lattimore Brown at the 'All' Music Guide:

...and in the liner notes to The Rich Records Story:

...and in the booklet included with those The!!!!Beat DVDs:

Well, Lattimore Brown has something to tell you:

"I Ain't Dead!"

That's right, folks, I've just returned from an epic journey with Sir Lattimore Brown. A journey that took us from the still ravaged Gulf Coast, up Highway 61, through the Mississippi Delta where he was born, and on up into Memphis. It was a profound experience, and one I know I won't soon forget. After many months spent planning and plotting (with a few unexpected twists and turns), I was fortunate enough to join together this past week with producer Bob Wilson and film maker Chase Thompson, and attempt to document Mister Brown's return to the land of the living.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we're going to take a look at how all this came to be, and spend some time with this unheralded legend of R&B. His is truly an amazing story:

Last October, my friend and compadre Jason Stone (the man who runs the supremely excellent Stepfather of Soul) got an email from a nurse at a hospital down in Biloxi, Mississipi:

Yes, despite the fact that she had mis-spelled his first name, this wonderful young lady (who wishes, for obvious reasons, to remain anonymous) was kind enough to take the time to 'google' Lattimore, and found Jason's site. The Stepfather, in turn, knew that we were focusing on the Sound Stage 7 label over on Soul Detective, and forwarded the email to me. I then contacted my friend Bob Wilson, who had worked with Brown, both in the studio and on the road, beginning way back in 1966. "This is destiny," Lattimore told him once Bob finally got him on the phone, "what else could it be?"

What else, indeed.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast back in August of 2005, it was Biloxi that took the direct hit... Biloxi that sustained more damage than anywhere else. While New Orleans got the press, most of the devastation there took place due to the subsequent failure of the levees. Biloxi was, quite literally, leveled by the storm itself.

Situated at the point of a barrier beach that extends eastward from Gulfport, the city was inundated by what residents described to me as a '40 foot tidal wave' that connected the Gulf with the body of water known as the 'Back Bay' behind it, laying waste to everything in its path. The entire town was flooded with 12 to 15 feet of surging sea water, backed by 100 mile an hour winds. It is truly amazing that anyone survived... here's how Sir Lattimore did:

He had been living in Biloxi since 1997, and had an apartment in the building pictured behind him at left. After they had evacuated all the tenants from the building (which was completely devastated, and still remains an empty, hulking shell), he went to the house he shared with his wife, up across the tracks. Lattimore took her to be with her family, and was able to put them on a bus to, what he surely thought, would be safety. He returned to the house to wait out the storm.

The water, he said, came up through the concrete floor of the house like it was a 'paper sack', and within a few minutes was up to his knees. By the time he was able to get outside, it had risen up to his armpits. He grabbed a piece of wood, and began trying to swim, but before long the current had twisted his clothing down around his ankles, and he was desperately fighting to stay afloat. He couldn't see any people or houses anywhere. All around him was the swirling, rushing water.

Lattimore heard a voice, he told me, of a man he had never seen before. A man that was sent to him 'like an angel'. "You better grab onto one of those trees," he told him, "or you're gonna get swept out into the Back Bay..." A branch was hanging down in the water, and Brown was able to grab it... a wild cat came floating by on a piece of wood and scrambled up the branch, howling and scratching as it perched there on top of Lattimore's head. The voice (which belonged to a sweetheart of a man we were privileged to meet while we were down there named Atlas 'Big Al' Brown - pictured with Lattimore above), told him he had found a wooden pallet and said "I'm gonna push this out to you... either you or that cat are comin' out of that tree!" "Hell, it's gonna be me," Lattimore answered, and he grabbed a hold of the makeshift raft. A Jamaican family in a two story house saw what was going on, and was able to throw out an extension cord to him like a lifeline, and pull him in. He had survived.

His wife wasn't so lucky. She died of an apparent heart attack in the midst of the evacuation and, in the ensuing chaos, Lattimore didn't even find out about it until five months later. May God rest her soul.

Now living in one of those FEMA trailers, Brown was attempting to put his life back together. In addition to his wife, he had lost everything he had ever owned. A 'service-connected' Veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, he receives a hard-earned monthly benefit from the VA. On one of those 'pay-dates' last year, he was ambushed by three men, who knew he had just cashed his check. Two of them held him down, while a third drove a rusty screwdriver through his side with a brick. Can you imagine?

Although that horrific violence didn't kill him, the ensuing infection and internal bleeding almost did. In his delirium, Lattimore was convinced that the thugs had kidnapped him, and that everyone in the hospital was conspiring to keep him against his will. After we first made contact last November, he left his room and went missing for several days before they found him wandering around aimlessly. After a transfer to a larger, better-equpped Hospital, his life was saved by a series of operations that removed two of his ribs and drained the infection from his body. Upon his release, he was supposed to enter a 'convalescent facility' (also known as a nursing home) but he never showed up, electing instead to go back to the trailers.

We had lost him again.

After a couple of months, he called Bob Wilson's cell phone, and we began hatching our plans for the road trip. Everything looked good. That is until that whole formaldehyde thing happened this spring, and the federal government towed away over 35,000 of those trailers in Biloxi alone - one of which was Lattimore's!

We had lost him again.

The news said that many people had been re-located to hotels in the area. I contacted FEMA, and told them our story. Jim Foster, the 'Lead Public Affairs Officer', told me that he'd see what he could do, but I wasn't holding my breath. I went to a Google Maps page, and printed out a list of all the hotels in the Biloxi-Gulfport area. Lattimore Brown was registered at the very first one I called... spooky stuff, folks. When Mr. Foster called me back about a week later, he told me that he had been following protocol, and that FEMA was unable to release any information about a person's whereabouts without written consent. He and his staff there in Biloxi had gone out of their way to get that for us, and I'd like to say thank you to him for that... but we had already found our man.

Destiny? Fate? You tell me...

As folks told us down there in Mississippi again and again: "This ain't nothin' but God!". You know what? They were right.

Long Live Sir Lattimore Brown!

This fantastic record we have here today illustrates just what a major talent this man is. Recorded at FAME in Muscle Shoals, his two Renegade singles (another of which is now up on The A Side), are simply top shelf, and are, in my opinion, real soul music of the highest order. We'll talk more about them over on the other side...

continue on to PART TWO

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bo Diddley - I Am Looking For A Woman (Checker 832)

I Am Looking For A Woman


He called himself The Originator.

Born in the Mississippi Delta, his family became involved in the first wave of the Great Migration, and came to Chicago in 1934. As folks like McKinley Morganfield and Chester Burnett made their way to the Windy City, Ellas McDaniel was already there. Raised by his aunt on the South Side, his first musical training came through the Ebenezer Baptist Church, who bought him a violin. When he was 12 years old, he got a guitar for Christmas, and began teaching himself how to play. As a student at the Foster Vocational High School, he learned how to build his own instruments and, by the time he was 16 years old, had made a violin, a stand-up bass, and a guitar. He has said that he used to sneak into places to watch Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker play, and try to replicate what they were doing, but that his 'hands were too big' to play the blues.

Forced to develop his own wild percussive style, he formed a trio called The Hipsters, and left school to try and make a living. Changing their name to The Langley Avenue Jive Cats, they began playing for change out on the streets, in addition to holding down various 'day jobs'. They became quite popular in the neighborhood, and won the amateur contest at the Indiana Theater so many times, that they weren't allowed to compete anymore. By 1951, the band included Jerome Green on the maracas and Billy Boy Arnold (pictured at right) on harmonica. They began getting some real work, and settled into a regular gig at the fabled 708 Club on 47th Street.

They cut a couple of primitive demos in 1954, and shopped them around to a few record companies without much success. When they brought them to Phil Chess in early 1955, he liked what he heard, and told them to come back the next day, so his brother Leonard could hear them. According to Nadine Cohodas in Spinning Blues Into Gold, Leonard was impressed, reportedly saying "Turn that up a little bit, let me hear some more of this stuff..." He objected to the lyrics of one of the songs, however; "Uncle John got corn ain't never been shucked, Uncle John got daughters ain't never been...   to school", which was just the type of ribald material that they played every night in the clubs, but, Leonard knew, was also the kind that would never get played on the radio.

Chess sent them back to write some new lyrics, and arranged to re-record the tunes at Universal Recording Studio in early March. This, according to Billy Boy Arnold, was when they came up with the name Bo Diddley. McDaniel himself disputed that over the years, saying at various times that he'd been called that since grammar school, or high school, or that it was his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxer... in any event, once they assured Leonard Chess that it wasn't south side slang for something off color, Uncle John became Bo Diddley, and 'the beat' was born. On the original session tapes you can hear Chess (who always prided himself on goading his artists into giving it everything they had) saying things like "Motherf*#ker, sing like a man!" and "The beat has got to move at all times!" When they recorded the B side, the fundamental I'm A Man (with Willie Dixon on bass), it was supposedly Chess who came up with the idea of spelling things out, demanding take after take, and finally pissing McDaniel off enough to get that timeless 'M-A-N' just the way he wanted it.

Chess knew Diddley was onto something. When he released Checker 814 in May of 1955, he went out of his way to grease the right wheels and, not surprisingly, Alan Freed jumped all over the record, playing it to death on WINS in New York. Other dee-jays around the country soon followed suit, and the 'double A sided' single went straight to the top, spending over six months on the Billboard charts. Bo had arrived, headlining at both the Apollo and Carnegie Hall that summer. While he was out there promoting the single, he was booked to appear on Ed Sullivan's Toast Of The Town TV show. Ed told him to play Sixteen Tons (about as black as he was willing to go back then, I suppose), and Diddley agreed... then went ahead and played Bo Diddley anyway. In those days of live television there was nothing Sullivan could do at that point, but he swore he'd never have him back, and he didn't. This kind of set the tone for McDaniel's dealings with the establishment (read: white) media from then on. He was viewed as a rebel and an outlaw... and he was.

All Chess cared about was that he was selling records and, with I'm A Man still high on the charts, he had his biggest seller up to that point, Muddy Waters, release a cover retitled Manish Boy. Although the most well known version of the song today (with that whole 'live in the studio' thang goin' on), it was released two months after Diddley had paved the way for the man he used to sneak peeks at in the clubs only a few years before. Waters' version went to #5 that August, surpassed by another new Chess signee, Chuck Berry, who took his own Maybellene all the way to #1 (with a little help from Alan Freed) during the same time frame. Bo's follow-up single, Diddley Daddy (which featured Bobby Hebb as a young member of The Moonglows on background vocals), just missed the top ten that summer.

Bo was right back at it in early 1956, when he took Pretty Thing, (which prominently featured Billy Boy on the harmonica) to #4 R&B. His long time maraca man, Jerome Green, wrote the flip, Bring It To Jerome, which is definitely one of the coolest Diddley sides, with Bo's hypnotic background vocals and Arnold's wailing harp bringing it on home. The great Diddy Wah Diddy (written by Willie Dixon) would follow but, inexplicably, failed to make the charts. Today's wild selection was the B side of that record. Talk about the big beat! You gotta love Green's maracas... and check out that guitar! Very cool indeed.

In March, Diddley cut what will go down in history as one of the truly great rock & roll records, Who Do You Love:

"Tombstone hand and a graveyard mind, Just 22 and I don't mind dying...."

McDaniel's stark lyrics said it all, man. The focus of so much that you read about him is, understandably, on 'the beat', but his genius as a composer goes much deeper than that.

Using his wife's maiden name (as he was fed up with Arc, Chess's publishing company), Diddley wrote one of the biggest hits of 1957, Love Is Strange. He gave it to his friend Mickey Baker, who was working with a young guitar protegé named Sylvia Robinson. RCA's R&B subsidiary, Groove, was headed up by a former Billboard writer named Bob Rolontz (hey, it worked for Atlantic, right?). Rolontz built the song in the studio, layering all of those guitar parts, and creating the eternal Mickey & Sylvia classic. Few people realize, though, that it was our man Bo who came up with that whole "How Do You Call Your Lover Boy?" thing. Amazing.

It was right around this time that Diddley decided to work with a female guitar protegé of his own, Peggy Jones, who would become known as Lady Bo. She would appear on most of his records from 1957 until 1961, until The Duchess (aka Norma-Jean Wofford, who is pictured with Bo at right) took her place. Chart success, meanwhile, remained elusive for Bo, with nine Checker releases going nowhere between 1956 and early 1959. The great Say Man, which featured Bo and Jerome playing the dozens off of each other, put him right back in the top five in the fall of 1959, with the follow-up, Say Man, Back Again climbing to #23 in early 1960. He would take Willie Dixon's You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover to #21 in 1962, and released some twenty albums on Chess before it went out of business for good in the early seventies.

As a suburban kid growing up listening to AM radio in the early sixties, I didn't know anything about any of this... I didn't know who Bo Diddley was.

As I've told you before, when I was about eleven years old, I traded my Beach Boys' Party album for a copy of Rolling Stones Now. This pretty much changed my life. I didn't know it (and The Stones sure didn't tell me), but I was being introduced to the music of Solomon Burke, Alvin Robinson, Otis Redding, Barbara Lynn, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf and, yes, Bo Diddley. A liner note man even then, I pored over that album cover like it was the Rosetta Stone... names like 'W. Dixon' and 'E. McDaniels' stuck in my brain.

I didn't know it (and The Stones sure didn't tell me), but I was being exposed to some more of Bo Diddley's music when I bought my single of 19th Nervous Breakdown the following year. That whole underlying low guitar riff had been lifted directly from Bo's 1955 single Diddley Daddy, but I didn't know that. I bought Magic Bus when it came out too, and I loved it... there was no mention of ol' Bo Diddley from Townsend and the boys on that one either...

When I bought Quicksilver's Happy Trails, which was to become one of my big high school records, there was that name again, 'Ellis McDaniels'. An ambitious live album, the whole thing was built around Who Do You Love and Mona... but, once again, nobody told me who 'McDaniels' was. There was no mention of Bo in the liner notes. I thought I was cool... I was hanging out and going to concerts and stuff, but I still didn't know Diddley.

When I went to my first Dead Show at the Manhattan Center in 1971, the New Riders opened (like they did in those days), and played Willie & The Hand Jive. Nobody mentioned Johnny Otis, or Bo Diddley. When The Dead played Not Fade Away (which would end up being the version included on the Skull & Roses LP), somebody told me that it was a Buddy Holly song but, once again, nobody mentioned Bo Diddley... I was on that bus for a long time, and I never heard his name.

What I'm getting at here is that Bo Diddley is truly one of the cornerstones of this whole thing they call 'Rock Music', only nobody seems to want to admit it. When MCA began issuing their wonderful 'Original Chess Masters' series in the mid-eighties, I was all over it, buying up albums by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and, yes, Bo Diddley. It was like the scales fell from my eyes... here in black & white was that name 'E. Mc Daniel'. Here, at long last, was The Originator. It blew my mind, man. I had no idea that music like this really existed. It made all that other stuff look like the pale imitation that it was...

I got to see him soon after that at the John Lee Hooker tribute thing at Madison Square Garden in like 1990, and the energy was still there. Bo rocked the house. Although he's in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he wasn't inducted until the second round in 1987 (imagine?). He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1996 and from The Grammys in '98. Still, Bo worried about his legacy. He didn't think he received enough credit, and he remained outspoken about the fact that it was because he was Black.

He was right.