Tag Archives: 1958

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

Still with us: Chuck Berry

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, 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.

The legend: Chuck Berry.

Age: 89.

Still performing? It’s been almost a year and a half since he last played at the Blueberry Hill nightclub in suburban St. Louis. “Chuck Berry does not have any upcoming events,” his Facebook page says.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Chuck Berry is not necessarily a nice man, from his troubles with the law and the tax man to his reluctance to give longtime co-writer and side man Johnnie Johnson his due.

Where I came in: I’m part of the generation introduced to Chuck Berry by the naughty novelty single “My Ding-A-Ling” in 1972. Then I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” the two-record greatest-hits compilation reissued by Chess in the wake of the success of “My Ding-A-Ling.” Long one of the greatest records in my collection.

My evening with Chuck Berry: Seven years ago, I saw Chuck Berry — then 82 — play our local casino ballroom. After that show, you wondered whether he’d played for roughly an hour, or played roughly for an hour. Which was OK. With Chuck Berry, you never can tell.

Appreciate the greatness:

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“Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956. Electric Light Orchestra’s long, raucous cover of this is one of my all-time favorites.

“Too Much Monkey Business” 1956. The roots of hip hop? Dig that patter. Ahhhhhh.

“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” 1956. The flip side to “Too Much Monkey Business.” Dig that Johnnie Johnson piano.

“Johnny B. Goode,” 1958. Rock Guitar 101.

All by Chuck Berry, all from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is a 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. All of these cuts available digitally.

 

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Filed under February 2016, Sounds

A smaller Christmas, Day 5

Everyone thinks Chuck Berry wrote “Run Rudolph Run.”

He did not. He recorded it first, in 1958, but it was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie.

Marvin Brodie is a bit of a mystery, but not Johnny Marks. He was one of the greatest writers of contemporary Christmas songs. His first Christmas hit was “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949. When they created the much-loved “Rudolph” stop-action TV special in 1964, Marks wrote all the songs, including “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” He also wrote “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” both also released in 1958.

Then again, there’s speculation that Berry did indeed write it, but that Marks’ name is on it because he owned the rights to Rudolph. Perhaps Berry is Marvin Brodie. In any case, a little mystery unsolved to this day.

A Chuck Berry song came up on the iPod while I was working out this morning. It’s another reminder that Chuck Berry, for all of his considerable quirks, is an American treasure.

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“Run Rudolph Run,” Chuck Berry, from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, Vol. 2,” 1973. That LP is out of print. The song originally was released on Chess single 1714 in 1958. It’s available on “Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings,” a 4-CD set released in 2008.

Your Christmas music requests in the comments, please.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vol. 7

Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the first bands I really dug. Today, I rarely listen to them.

Part of it is having heard it all so many times. I know every note, every line of the good tunes.

Part of it was the realization one day that although Creedence introduced me to swamp rock and roots rock — and I am grateful for that introduction — there are more authentic sources for those kinds of music. Creedence was, after all, four guys from northern California. They weren’t born on the bayou. They just sounded like it.

Few bands were hotter than Creedence in the third week of February 1970. They managed a rare feat, putting both sides of the same single in the Top 10 — the downbeat “Who’ll Stop the Rain” backed with “Travelin’ Band,” a wild rave-up reminiscent of Little Richard.

Apparently a little too reminiscent of Little Richard, whose music publishing company sued Creedence in 1971 for cribbing it from “Good Golly Miss Molly,” which Creedence had covered on its “Bayou Country” LP in 1969. (They settled out of court.)

I was reminded of this not too long ago when Deadspin excerpted Greil Marcus’ story about a memorable episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” during which Little Richard interrupts a bitter sparring match between “Love Story” author Erich Segal and New York critic John Simon.

“WHY, YES, IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OF AAAART! THAT’S RIGHT! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! WHAT DO YOU KNOW, MR. CRITIC? WHY, WHEN THE CREEDENCE CLEARWATER PUT OUT WITH THEIR ‘TRAVELIN’ BAND’ EVERYBODY SAY WHEEE-OOO BUT I KNOW IT CAUSE THEY ONLY DOING ‘LONG TALL SALLY’ JUST LIKE THE BEATLES ANDTHESTONESANDTOMJONESANDELVIS!”

From “Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Greil Marcus, 1975.

WHEEE-OOO, indeed. So, did “Travelin’ Band” borrow from “Good Golly Miss Molly”? As always, you be the judge.

“Travelin’ Band,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Cosmo’s Factory,” 1970.

“Good Golly Miss Molly,” Little Richard, 1958, from “Little Richard’s Grooviest 17 Original Hits,” 1968. It’s out of print, but the tune is available digitally or on just about any greatest-hits compilation.

Also worth noting: If you are somehow new to Creedence, or simply wishing to fill the gaps in your collection, you may wish to check out “The Singles Collection,” which was released last November. It has 30 singles from 1968 to 1972. It’s a two-CD box set with a DVD. The set also is available as 15 vinyl singles — reproductions of the original 45s. Either way, they’re the original single mixes, many of them mono.

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Filed under February 2010, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 43

Christmas lurks out there, scarcely 10 days away now.

Everyone’s busy, no time to read, no time to write.

This is going to be it for Three Under the Tree. I get the feeling this series has run its course, anyway. I have something in mind for next year, something a little different.

So as we go out, three more good ones:

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk 3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print.

Gotta support your local musicians. Pat MacDonald, born right here in Green Bay and kicked out of West High School in the late ’60s over his long hair (and that’s only part of a great story), was half of Timbuk 3 with his ex-wife Barbara K. He’s living in our corner of Wisconsin these days, doing a variety of gigs and billing himself as pat mAcdonald.

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983.

Recorded live, but not otherwise a Christmas record. On which Steve struggles to remember the lyrics but comes close enough, and in so doing comes up with a delightful acoustic version. I bought this record at a Steve Goodman show in 1983. He autographed it for me: “Joe, Hello”

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Chuck Berry, 1958, from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, Vol. 2,” 1973. The LP is out of print, but this tune — and a shorter alternate take — are available on “Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings,” a 2008 compilation, and digitally.

On which Chuck demonstrates how well he does those quiet, slow blues. Listen for a snippet of “White Christmas” at about 1:40. Mostly, though, it’s just Chuck’s voice backed by Johnnie Johnson’s piano. The rest of the group is Willie Dixon on bass and Fred Below on drums.

And to think I got to see Chuck Berry this year. Christmas came early.

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Winter Dance Party

Once a year for the past decade, our town — Green Bay, Wisconsin — has stepped forward to reclaim its place in rock ‘n’ roll history. This year, that night was Friday night. The place, as always, the historic Riverside Ballroom.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Winter Dance Party. That was the early rock ‘n’ roll tour that became legend when a small plane crashed in a corn field northwest of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and their pilot, Roger Peterson.

The tour’s second-to-last stop was at the Riverside in Green Bay, on Sunday night, Feb. 1, 1959.

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For the past 10 years, they’ve revived the Winter Dance Party at the Riverside. A musician named John Mueller plays Holly. A musician named Ray Anthony plays Valens. The Big Bopper is played by his son, Jay Richardson, who was born two months after his father’s death. They’re backed by a four-piece band. It’s the best tribute show I’ve seen.

The revival plays some of the other original venues, but its stars say there is no place like Green Bay.

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The Riverside was sold out well in advance, with more than 1,000 people — many of them getting up there in years — packing the place.

Twice as many people were there in 1959, but back then, everyone was younger, and everyone stood. These days, not everyone can stand for a show that runs three hours plus. So they set up long banquet tables at the back of the big room. Only the young, and the young at heart, stood at the front of the stage.

There usually are special guests. This year, one was Bob Morales, the older half-brother of Ritchie Valens. Bob Morales is in his 70s, but he’s still a badass. He wore biker leathers and boots and was rocking a white Fu Manchu mustache. When he took off his black cowboy hat, he was rocking a wispy white Mohawk with a ponytail.

During the first intermission, they introduced some more special guests — 40 or so people who were at the Riverside for the original Winter Dance Party show 50 years ago.

A local gent, improbably named Jim Morrison, also was there 50 years ago. He was back at the Riverside on Friday night as one of the emcees. As he introduced the show, he mentioned “American Pie,” the 1971 song in which Don McLean recalled Feb. 3, 1959 — the day of the crash — as “the day the music died.”

“He was wrong,” Morrison said. “Three gentlemen died, but the music will never die.”

Not as long as Green Bay remembers its place in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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“Come On Let’s Go,” Ritchie Valens, from “Ritchie Valens,” 1959. (Re-released on Rhino Records in 1987. This is what I have.)

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“Maybe Baby,” Buddy Holly, 1958 …

“Chantilly Lace,” the Big Bopper, 1958 …

Both from the “American Graffiti” original soundtrack, 1973.

And one more …

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“Maria Elena,” the Smithereens, 1990, from “Attack of the Smithereens,” 1995. It’s out of print.

This tune is the B side to the cassette single of “Blues Before and After,” released 19 years ago today, Jan. 24, 1990.

From Pat DiNizio’s liner notes: “The full band version appears on the third album ‘Smithereens Eleven,’ but this version is how I heard the song in my head originally, just acoustic guitar, accordion and vocal. Lyrically about Buddy Holly’s widow Maria Elena Diaz.”

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Swinging over to Ray’s Corner

We are back at Ray’s Corner, but doing it a little differently tonight.

We usually dig through tunes from my dad’s collection, but tonight’s tune — one of mine — popped up on shuffle play and struck me instantly as one he probably digs.

As our regular readers know, Ray’s Corner is the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

Tonight’s loud music comes from sax great King Curtis, blasting away on a swinging instrumental of a tune done first in 1951 by Frank Sinatra and the Harry James Orchestra.

“Castle Rock” was written by Ervin Drake, Al Sears and Jimmy Shirl. Drake’s web site insists it’s the first rock ‘n’ roll song, with its lyric “I held her tight and rocked around the clock” coming three years before “Rock Around the Clock.” (Good story if true. Most lyric transcriptions say “I held her tight and danced around the clock.”)

Ain’t no lyrics on this version, though.

“Castle Rock,” King Curtis, 1958, from “Atlantic Honkers,” a 1986 compilation that’s out of print. This two-record set also features Joe Morris, Tiny Grimes, Frank Culley, Willis Jackson, Jesse Stone and Arnett Cobb. Everyone shares an LP side except for the King, who gets one to himself.

The liner notes don’t say who’s bashing those mad drums midway through the song. We know only that the King recorded this one in New York on Dec. 3, 1958.

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Filed under September 2008, Sounds