Our premise, revisited: Since we last gathered here a month ago, we’ve lost even more music greats. Keith Emerson, Sir George Martin and Gayle McCormick, the lead singer of Smith, even Clare MacIntyre-Ross, the woman who inspired the Harry Chapin’s classic song “Taxi.”
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 then paid homage to Little Richard. We continue with …
The legend: Jerry Lee Lewis.
Still performing? Apparently so. There are no dates listed on his website, but his last gig was about six weeks ago in Mississippi. I’ve never seen him play live.
What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: The Killer has gone through a whole lot of unsavory business. A scandalous marriage to a cousin who likely was 13 when they were wed in December 1957. Six other wives. Allegations of domestic abuse. Substance abuse. Arrested outside Graceland in November 1976, drunk and waving a gun. Jeebus.
Where I came in: Hm. Not really sure about this, either. Perhaps when he covered “Chantilly Lace” in 1972, or perhaps when “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” crossed over from country radio in 1973. It wasn’t until 1989 that I bought my first Jerry Lee record, the “Milestones” greatest-hits comp released on Rhino Records to coincide with the release of “Great Balls of Fire,” the film in which Dennis Quaid played Jerry Lee.
Appreciate the greatness: I have always loved piano pounders, and Jerry Lee stands with Little Richard as perhaps the greatest of them all. Jerry Lee’s late ’50s hit singles are among the cornerstones of rock ‘n’ roll. That said, here are some other tunes I dig.
“Live from the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium and the WVOK Shower of Stars, the one, the only, Jerry Lee Lewis!”
They recorded this on July 18, 1964, a Saturday night. (The liner notes incorrectly say July 1.) To hear this astonishing side, Jerry Lee clearly brought the greatest live show on Earth to town that night. In a mere 15 minutes, the Killer rips through covers of tunes by Little Richard, Charlie Rich, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles.
“Well, I’d like to do one for ya now. Ah, hope you enjoy this one. Um, pretty good tune that, uh, has done quite well for a, a lot of artists. But I’m think I’m gonna give it a little treatment here that, that it deserrrrves. I’m gonna throw the old, real, true, down-to-earth, go-gettin’ rock-and-roll beat into this one now. Boy, if you can’t shake it, you better set down because this is one you can really shake it bahyyyy!”
At which point, Jerry Lee and his Memphis Beats tear into …
“Roll Over Beethoven,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “Jerry Lee Lewis: By Request,” 1966. It’s out of print. Recorded live at Panther Hall ballroom in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Shotgun Man,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “Soul My Way,” 1967. It’s out of print, but is available on this double CD with “The Return of Rock” LP from 1965.
After turning to country music with some success, Jerry Lee returned to rock with mixed success on some interesting records on the Mercury label in the early ’70s. Here are a couple more rip-roaring covers.
There once was a time when you’d find Christmas music posted here pretty much every day before Dec. 25. Those days are long gone.
My passion for Christmas music has waned. It seems like the soundtrack to all the insanity, all the hype of the Christmas retail machine.
Instead, I’m going zen, remaining open to random, inspired moments of Christmas music. The unexpected. The genuine. One such moment when our son and his fellow university chamber singers performed “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” a week ago. Enjoyed that.
“I found out about Alice McClarity’s ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ from a friend’s Christmas compilation and haven’t been able to find anything about it online. I’d love to hear some other tracks.”
There we go. Some random inspiration at Christmas.
Six years ago, we featured some cuts from “Christmas Gospelodium,” which was released on the Verve label in 1967. That Alice McClarity song was one of them. I’d found it in a thrift store in Madison, Wisconsin. Had never seen it before. Haven’t seen it since.
It’s a compilation that was co-produced, arranged and conducted by Robert Banks, a gospel singer, pianist and choral director.
Robert Banks is best known among soul fans, and Northern Soul fans particularly, for the rocking “A Mighty Good Way” on Verve. … Banks recorded an album for Verve, “The Message,” which featured Banks and other soloists doing gospel tunes with touches of soul and pop.”
That pretty much describes “Christmas Gospelodium,” too. Hear, then, five more cuts not included in our long-ago post (which has been updated with the three cuts posted back then).
When we were kids, there always were a few baseball or football cards that just never turned up. Not for you, not for your friends, seemingly not for anyone where you lived.
So it was in the spring of 1968. No one in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, had Cookie Rojas, No. 39 from the first series of that year’s Topps baseball card set.
Fast forward to the spring of 1972. We had moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, about 150 miles to the northwest. My new best friend Glick and I bonded over many things, music and baseball cards among them.
As we talked about hard-to-get cards one day, I mentioned Cookie Rojas from 1968. Glick gave me his best you-must-be-shitting-me look. Cookie Rojas? He reached for his cards and said something like “Here, how many do you want?”
Somehow, Cookie Rojas was much more widely distributed in packs sold in Wausau than in packs sold in Sheboygan. Go figure.
Which brings us back to record digging, as usually happens here.
Last month’s vacation provided my first opportunity to go digging in the South. As you’d expect, there are lots more soul records in Mississippi and Tennessee than in Wisconsin. Not quite the same as the random Cookie Rojas distribution model, but there are similarities.
While digging through the soul records at one stop, I looked up and had my own you-must-be-shitting-me moment. There, on the wall, was a copy of this record, priced at $25 or so.
The Esquires, from Milwaukee, on the Bunky Records label out of Milwaukee. As you’d imagine, this is one of the soul records we see in Wisconsin. They likely don’t see it as much in the South, even if it was distributed nationally by Scepter Records.
I’ve found two copies of this LP in Wisconsin, and I don’t think I paid more than $5 for them combined. Can’t imagine paying $25 for it. I mentioned that to my friend Larry, who runs the fine Funky 16 Corners and Iron Leg blogs.
“It’s the regional discount,” he sagely advised.
That said, this summer, I think I’m going to get on up …
… seeking records (and perhaps a regional discount) not found in Wisconsin.
(“And Get Away” was the soundalike follow-up to “Get On Up,” the Esquires’ biggest hit. It also did well on the charts, peaking at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching No. 9 on the black singles chart.)
(Three years ago, Larry told me his copy of this LP “was among the many fine albums sacrificed in the vinyl-to-CD purge in the 80s.” So, after I found a second copy, I sent one to Larry in New Jersey.)
It was late 1969, when I was 12, that I really started listening to music. That year, I got a Panasonic AM-FM radio for Christmas. This model, though this is not my radio. I still have mine. It still works, even though the antenna long ago was bent, then broken off.
I put it atop the filing cabinet where I kept my baseball, football and basketball cards and tuned it to 920 AM — WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee. WOKY was one of the big Top 40 stations of the day.
When it came to this time of year in 1970, I heard a song that blew me away. This song.
I had no idea there was that kind of Christmas music — pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. I once was passionate about that kind of Christmas music. Now, not so much.
Today’s tunes are the ones I dug first. I still dig them. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.