Tag Archives: 1955

Still with us: Little Richard

Our premise, revisited: We are not even two months into 2016, and David Bowie is gone. So are Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson. So are Maurice White, Vanity and Otis Clay, as are Glenn Frey, Gary Loizzo and Dan Hicks.

Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different. We started with the eldest, Chuck Berry. We continue with …

The legend: Little Richard.

Age: 83.

Still performing? Apparently not. My friend Jeff Giles reported in September 2013 that Little Richard had retired. He now lives in Nashville but doesn’t get out much, according to “Prayers For Richard,” a fine piece by David Ramsey in December’s Oxford American.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: All those folks who got down on Richard Penniman over his style, his sexuality, his sensuality and/or his spirituality. Basically everything that made him great.

Where I came in: Hm. Not really sure. Seems like I’ve known about Little Richard since forever, but I never bought one of his records until I picked up a Specialty Records greatest-hits compilation sometime in the ’80s. It might have been after his career was revived after his memorable film appearance in “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” in 1986. It’s still the only Little Richard record I own.

Don’t take my word for it: As a suburban London kid in the ’50s, David Bowie sent away for two pictures of Little Richard. He eventually received one, “dog-eared and torn and, adding insult to injury, sized at 6-by-8 instead of the expected whopper.” Years later, that old picture of Little Richard sat on Bowie’s piano “in the original Woolworths frame I bought for it over 4o years ago, a small piece of yellowed Sellotape holding its ripped edges together.”

My evening with Little Richard: I’ve had two, actually, and was thrilled to have them both. He twice played our local casino. The first time was at least a decade ago. I got one of the little prayer books his people handed out after that show, but I’m not sure I still have it. The second and last time was in May 2007. What I wrote then:

I’ve seen and heard so much music over the years, yet I can honestly say it’s exciting to see Little Richard, and to see him for a second time.

The man is 74, yet still pounding the piano, belting out rock ‘n’ roll and the blues and doing a little preaching. He was in fine form, feisty as always and in fine voice. He’s backed by a scorching 10-piece show band — three saxes, trumpet, two guitars, bass, two drummers and a second keyboard player.

Little Richard was looking pretty, even if a bout with sciatica forced him to walk onto the stage on crutches. He wore a lemon-colored suit, its jacket covered with rhinestones, and a lime-colored shirt.

Perhaps my favorite moment: His cover of the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It).” No, no, no, it was the giddy, thrilled reaction of a Japanese woman, one of several attractive ladies invited up on stage to dance, as she scooted off stage after shaking Little Richard’s hand.

To be honest, words fail to convey the essence of Little Richard’s greatness.

So, we’ll heed Little Richard and do as he says … shut up!

Appreciate the greatness:

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“Tutti Frutti,” 1955. A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom, indeed!

“Lucille,” 1957. My mom was Lucille. This song was not about my mom.

“Good Golly Miss Molly,” 1958. No less than the great Tom Jones calls this his favorite Saturday night record. “It’s tremendous,” he tells Mojo magazine in the March issue. “I thought he was a girl at first, covering Billy Haley and the Comets, but he did it first. The lyrics were more risque!” Sir Tom and Little Richard duetted on this one on his variety show in November 1969.

All by Little Richard, all from “Little Richard’s Grooviest 17 Original Hits,” 1968. My only Little Richard record. It’s out of print, but all these tunes are available digitally.

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“Bama Lama Bama Loo,” Little Richard, 1964, from “Shag On Down By The Union Hall,” a 1996 compilation of his classic Specialty Records sessions from the ’50s and ’60s.

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Filed under February 2016, Sounds

Intimate Christmas music for lovers

Or is this Christmas music for young lovers?

The album jacket and the record label can’t agree, but it probably doesn’t make much difference.

This is a record that comes all the way from 1956. I’m not sure which is more remarkable — that I paid just $1 for it this spring, or that after 55 years, its vinyl grooves are still crisp and clean.

My copy is “a special D.J. album of ‘Merry Christmas Baby!'” from the Starday-King Radio Station Service. It is marked “not for resale,” but I trust the statute of limitations expired long ago.

Hollywood Records was an R&B label founded in Los Angeles by Don Pierce in October 1953.

A year later, it bought the masters of several R&B Christmas songs from the bankrupt Swing Time Records, some of which Swing Time had bought from the defunct Exclusive Records. The latter included “Merry Christmas Baby” (widely credited to Charles Brown but more likely done by Johnny Moore’s Blazers with Brown singing lead) and Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” two of the biggest hits in the genre in the late ’40s.

In early 1955, Hollywood bought more Swing Time masters, including songs by Lowell Fulson (“Lonesome Christmas, Parts 1 and 2”), Lloyd Glenn (“Sleighride”). and Jimmy Witherspoon (“How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around,” renamed “Christmas Blues” here).

All those now-familiar hits make up half of this compilation LP.

In late 1955, Hollywood released Christmas 45s by Johnny Moore’s Blazers (for whom Brown had starred until leaving the group in 1948) and the Jackson Trio (also known as the Ebonaires). Both sides of those singles are here, too. Add two more by Johnny Moore’s Blazers and you have the LP.

None of the six Hollywood releases did as well as the six songs bought from Swing Time. Truth be told, Hollywood had trouble selling much of anything, at any time of the year, and went out of business in 1959.

Having unraveled all that, it’s clear that the latter-day Hollywood releases were being pitched as that intimate Christmas music for lovers … or as Christmas music for young lovers. The cuts from those older masters (which got top billing on the album cover) were a little more gritty.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” credited as Charles Brown but more likely Johnny Moore’s Blazers with Brown singing lead, 1947.

“Christmas Eve Baby,” Johnny Moore’s Blazers, 1955. A shameless remake of “Merry Christmas Baby” with Frankie Irvin singing lead.

“Love For Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Hop,” Jackson Trio, 1955. This group remains a mystery.

All from “Merry Christmas Baby,” 1956. It’s long out of print.

Also worth noting: DJs must have been exasperated with Hollywood Records once they took a closer look at this Christmas release. The order of the songs on the big promo sticker on the front of the LP doesn’t match the order on the record.

Much of the time line in this post is drawn from J.C. Marion’s fine and rather detailed study of the Swing Time and Hollywood labels.

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Filed under December 2011, Sounds

You’re going out tonight?

Christmas night once was an excellent time to hit the bars.

By the time all the gifts are unwrapped and dinner is eaten, many young people have had their legal limit of their family for one day. That’s the way it was back in the late ’70s, and I doubt it’s changed much.

At that time, Wisconsin’s drinking age was 18, so the bars were full of college students fleeing their homes.

We gathered — of all places — in a tiny restaurant lounge. It seems an unlikely place for that, but if you went to the bar at Nino’s Steak Round-up, you ran into someone you knew almost every night during Christmas break.

The lounge at Nino’s seemed a vaguely sophisticated place. It had exactly one beer on tap. Special Export, brewed in Wisconsin, was a bit of a premium brand. It came from the same brewery as the more popular, less expensive Old Style. (It was as Michelob is to Budweiser.)

There you were — 18, 19, 20 — and drinking a beer that wasn’t something you drank in high school. If not Special Ex, then mixed drinks. Save for a brief and still inexplicable flirtation with the Vodka Collins, my mixed drink of choice was the whiskey sour. I couldn’t begin to tell you what brands of liquor went into them. Some sophisticate.

I spent many nights at Nino’s, but it wasn’t a place for music. It was a place you went to chill out, to shoot the breeze. Lots of people went there for a quiet drink. There was a stereo behind the bar, and I vaguely recall albums being played. It was the time of late-night free-form FM radio, so maybe they played that.

Truth be told, Nino’s was a place to go to escape the dreadful music played in central Wisconsin — and lots of other places — in the late ’70s. It was enough to drive anyone to drink, even on Christmas night.

One look at the WLS charts for the week of Christmas 1977, when I was home from school during my junior year in college, and I know why drinks were in order. Shaun Cassidy has two singles and two LPs in the charts. Two LPs titled “You Light Up My Life” are in the charts, one by Debby Boone and one the movie soundtrack.

So there will be no music from the week of Christmas 1977. There will, however, be music in the spirit of those Christmas night gatherings.

“Christmas Night In Harlem,” Louis Armstrong with the Benny Carter Orchestra, 1955, from “Santa Claus Blues,” 1993. It’s out of print.

Harlem is nothing like central Wisconsin, but this vibe is much the same.

“Oh, everyone is gonna sit up until after 3. Everyone will be all lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it went after you fled the house on Christmas.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2009, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 51

Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure and human jukebox, has covered thousands of songs.

Though many are obscure, others are familiar. It’s always interesting to hear Sleepy interpret a song you’ve heard many times by other artists. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve had both here.

Today, it’s a blues tune done first by Muddy Waters in May 1955. “Mannish Boy” has its roots in the Bo Diddley blues number, “I’m a Man.” It’s a rewrite, a reworking of that tune, which came out in March 1955.

Sleepy isn’t the only one to cover “Mannish Boy,” as you well know. Among the others: Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, the Band, the Rolling Stones and Hank Williams Jr.

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“Mannish Boy,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Rockabilly Blues,” 2001.

Sleepy recorded this version at Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, in 1981. His backing band is Scott Billington on harmonica, Bobby Keyes on guitar, Harry Duncan on piano, Russell Keyes on bass and Rick Nelson on drums.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Another visit to Ray’s Corner

It’s been a while since we stopped by Ray’s Corner and checked out something from my dad’s collection.

Dad is 81. He has the apartment with the loud music.

Here at Ray’s Corner, the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

So cool it, man, and enjoy …

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“Sway,” Dean Martin, 1954, from “Dino: The Essential Dean Martin,” a 2004 release.

If you dig this rumba-flavored tune, be sure to stop by ilovedinomartin, the blog faithfully maintained by our pallie Dino Martin Peters.

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“Gene’s Blues,” featuring Gene Krupa on drums, 1955, from “Krupa and Rich,” reissued in 1994.

Playing along with Krupa and Buddy Rich on this album are some of the biggest jazz stars of the day: Oscar Peterson on the piano, Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge on the horns, Illinois Jacquet on the sax, Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass. Oh, yeah, it swings.

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Filed under May 2007, Sounds