Danse de Sabres
Cazim Demir & Fahri Koc Uzun Hava (Lavik)
from Music from Turkey LP (Argo, 1961)
While it shouldn't be a surprise any more, I am always taken a bit aback when I stumble upon something that sounds so out there yet so familiar. I pick up records of international music all the time. Some of it indeed sounds foreign to my ears, some of it even sounds extreme. I am used to that. But when a zurna/dawul duo from the mountains of Turkey play something that makes me think of Albert Ayler and the ESP Disk catalog, and that something is a traditional sword dance that predates "free jazz" by at least a hundred years, well, I can do nothing more than thank the heavens for making our ears bend toward such "extremes."
Cazim Demir plays the zurna, a double reed instrument with seven holes. Fahri Koc drums on a dawul, a big, deep sounding drum that resembles a marching band bass drum. This track was recorded in the town of Erzurum in 1961 by Deben Bhattachrya. While the rest of the Music from Turkey LP is not this loud, it has plenty of gems on it and is worth seeking out.
Two in the Morning
Spooner's Crowd Two in the Morning 45 (Cadet, 1966)
My god, what is there to write about Spooner Oldham (nee Dewey Lyndon Oldham)? With Dan Penn, he was part of one of the greatest song-writing teams ever, creating classics like I'm Your Puppet, Dark End of the Street, Sweet Inspiration, and others. As part of Fame Studios band in Muscle Shoals, he played on so many important R&B recordings, listing them all is the work of a historian, not a mere record fiend - but leave it at Aretha Franklin's Do Right Man and Percy Sledge's When a Man loves a Woman and you have two of the most influential soul songs of all time. At this point, I am going to spare you the rundown and suggest you read Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music, a book that should be in every music lover's library.
Two in the Morning was recorded in 1966 at Fame Studios. It is one of the earlier records Oldham appeared on and there are so many great things about it - strange quirks that work, a nice gritty sound, a solid funky groove, his Monk-influenced keyboard jabs - that I'll just leave it to you to listen to.
The Record Robot
This is a plug for a fine MP3 blog called The Record Robot. Mike, Phil, and Tony dig up obscurities and tend toward the odd and novelty. They recently posted a Gary Paxton song called The Big "A" = The Big "M" which is utterly mind-melting. If you do nothing else today, please check it out.
And this plug is for Tape Findings, where you can find found recordings - cassettes that RJ & his cohorts have found in thrift stores, garage sales, etc. This week is a very entertaining selection of "Music Class Compositions," songs done by middle school students in the mid-90s. It is great stuff so please visit.
Cake & Polka Parade
The last plug goes to Cake & Polka Parade, a fantastic blog done by Chicago's own Fatty Jub. Fatty has collected a great variety of stuff from the obscure but noteworthy Billy Synth to Michael Clark's dance piece with The Fall to a Japanese girl named Jon and who sings about dogs to Godley & Creme. If there was an olympic event for this stuff, Fatty Jub would get the meat medal.
The Drifter & The Shadow
The Drifter & The Shadow
Sacramento can be a boring place. There is not a lot of built-in things to do here. Sure, there is pro basketball and Sutter's Fort. We can stroll down to Old Sacramento, through the tarted up streets lined with cotton candy vendors and stuffed with tourist ticks. And hanging out in front of the Capitol building hoping to catch a glimpse of Arnold is always fun. As I wrote, there is really not much to do. So unless you want to drink yourself into oblivion or engage in Sacto's drug of choice - speed - you fight the numbness by creating things yourself.
Above a bookstore in the Midtown area, there is a place called The Loft. It is a practice space that I sublet and for many years was an epicenter for a small DIY punk scene. Bands practiced at regular times, but when a band wasn't scheduled many of us would form impromptu bands, some of them lasting a week, some years. One off-the-cuff band I was in (along with Nic Offer & James Williams) was called Ben. We did nothing but come up with different style of covers of the Michael Jackson song, Ben. We actually played live a few times. Several of us had an exotica band that lasted all of two hot summer days. And for the month of April, 1994, Tristan Tozer and I had The Drifter & The Shadow.
At the time, Tristan was playing guitar in the Yah Mos & Boulevard Park Trio and bass in Los Huevos. I was making an ass out of myself in Los Huevos. One afternoon Tristan was in The Loft screwing around on guitar. I jumped on drums and The Drifter & The Shadow was born. That day we played for about two hours and came up with ten songs. A week later we recorded about eight of them on to Ed Hunter's shitty boombox at The Loft. The next weekend (on April 29, to be exact) we recorded six more on a cassette deck in the bathroom of a cottage I lived in behind a house that I was caretaker of (landlady had died on me and I stayed rent free in the cottage for over a year). We referred to the house as The Dead Lady's House. What you are about to hear is culled from those two "sessions."
Tristan is a very good guitar player. I am a very shitty drummer. In fact, to call me a drummer is just plain wrong. But I can sort of keep a beat. The length of our songs was determined by my arms tiring. When the beat shifts or snare drops out, it is often because I dropped a stick or caught myself about to fuck up. That said, as a two-piece trash rock band, it works.
My part in the creative process was providing a beat and turning on the tape machine. Tristan wrote the songs and came up with the words as we played. Some of the songs like Evil are just stupid brilliant. I Never had a Job (and Never Will) has one of my favorite rock and roll verses ever (I ain't gonna be nobody's workhorse/I ain't gonna be no mule/God created man and God created beast/And ye never shall mix the two).
Look at the Floor / Terrible Train
Brother Nigel's Proxy Party Look at the Floor 45 (Fantasy, 196?)
The U-DWI Peoples Paraphernalia Terrible Train 45 (Brunswick, 196/7?)
You know the record labels were trying to cash in on current music trends with these two bands. They both have the mark of appropriated or studio bands. The names suggest that some label boss had a PR guy try to figure out what the kids would dig. "Gimmie a name that the young people will buy. Something English or uhh druggie." Some unfortunate band is lured into a contract, they record a single, and it comes out under another name. Sorry guys. Or a bunch of studio musicians are hired and told, "Make it funky and with some of that jazz." The musicians fade away and all is left is a record and a dopey name.
All that is to say, I don't know crap about either of these bands. I suspect that Brother Nigel's Proxy Party is from the San Francisco/Berkeley area, as that is where Fantasy is based. Because Brunswick is a Chicago label, I'll gander that U-DWI is from there. I also know that both bands turn out a couple mutants. Brother Nigel has got some gypsy psych thing going and U-DWI is mating the funk to the free jazz. It all works for me. Once again, if you have an info on either record, feel free to post a comment.
Kill the deejay
This week I played songs by Standard of Living, Lovely Little Girls, Mr Luggs, The Fuck-Ups, The Millionaires, My Erotic Narcotic, Flipper, The Moronics, and others (see Radio Rebel Kind for full playlist).
Ya Salaam: the New Amer-Abic Sound of the Middle East
Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak Ya Salaam: the New Amer-Abic Sound of the Middle East LP (Mace, 196?)
During the 1950s, a belly dancing craze swept America. As with exotica, the belly dance craze came from a post-World War II middle class eagerness to shed their "innocence," and experience a little bit more of the world. And as exotica was often a way for the frigid to funnel their pent up sexuality, so was the belly dance craze. It might be a bit hard to fathom today, when so many Arabs in the media are portrayed as a terrorists or fat oil barons, but back in the 1940s & 50s, Arab men were considered suave to the point of sexy, with Spaniards, Italians, and Greeks part of the Mediterranean breed of love machines. With sex on the mind, wives took belly dance classes not to experience a new culture, but to titillate their mate and many a household owned a copy of Sonny Lester's How to Belly Dance for Your Husband.
Ahhh but belly dancing isn't simply some branch of exotica or a kitschy path to the bedroom. Belly dancing is a collection of native dances from the Middle East. Bdancednace is known as debkee with styles as diverse as the countries they originate from. To dance these dances, one needs music. We call that music belly dance music. To the rest of the world, it is Middle Eastern music and as with Middle Eastern dance, each region's music has its own sound. That is, each region had its own sound until it came to America. With the belly dance craze came the belly dance record. Some of these are rubbish, Hollywood orchestras approximating Middle Eastern music (see Sonny Lester's aforementioned volume). Other belly dance records are imports that reflect the musical style of the country of their origin. But my favorite belly dance records are those that come from Arab-Americans.
Just as drum and vocal patterns in jazz, the blues, and Black spirituals come from the mixing of different African tmusicmusics, Arab-American belly dance music is a blend of different Arab styles. The king of Arab-American belly dance music is undoubtedly Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak. Born and still living in Brooklyn, Kochak began hicareer carreer as a drummer, taking lessons from big band percussionist Henry Adler. Kochak played in clubs, for troops in WWII and eventually with fellow Arab-Americans. Taking on the dirbakee (an Arabic tom), Kochak teamed Baghdadh Bagdad-born, multi-instrumentalist Hakki Obadia and Lebanese-American, Fred Elias, an ace violinist born in New Hampshire. Together these three led a recording ensemble that turned out many excellent records of Arab-American Middle Eastern music. While nearly every record these guys made is great, Ya Salaam is unique.
What makes it different from the rest is that two songs on Ya Salaam take Middle Eastern music one more step into America.meldg melded different Middle Eastern sounds into one, Kochak and crew mate Middle Eastern music with rock and roll. Kochak calls Sahara Sue and The Belly Dancer "specialty songs" but they are more than that: They are damn good garage rockers. Sahara Sue starts off with your basic garage punk 4-chord progression, however your normal rock and roll band is not playing it. Drums and guitar are helped out by oud, violin, accordion and dribakee. The Middle Eastern instruments are not there just for effect. They are strong in the mix. The Belly Dancer is takes a bit less of a rock approach. That is, the rock 4/4 beat is substituted by a Middle Eastern rhythm. The vocal phrasing is still garage punk and there is still a verse-chorus-verse structure. The over all effect is that weird space between garage and psych. In both Sahara Sue and The Belly Dancer, the solos are taken by oud and violin, the result being a bit like sitar solos in late 60s psych songs with one big difference: Sitar solos in psych songs are usually done by some hippie who just picked the damn instrument up, The El-Mecca Ensemble know their shit. The solos are as good as they are in the group's Middle Eastern number.
There is a magic in songs like Sahara Sue and The Belly Dancer. While some folks would write them off as kitsch, I think that they represent the best things about America, that old cliche of the melting pot. These songs treat rock and roll (and America) as a template, something that can be built on. They speak to an inclusive society, not the society of tribal war that some would have us become.
Hong Kong White Sox Cholley-Oop 45 (Trans-World, 196???)
Offended? Sure, how could you not be? Consider this a history lesson about not only what you could "get away with," but what was deemed acceptable to civil society. I'm not gonna lecture you about how this record is bad and why it is wrong. You are all grown-up enough to figure those things out yourself. But do remember that not only was this stereotyping once part of the status quo of pop music, our culture still uses like images today. Think not? Pick up any gangsta rap album and the cartoon mockery drips. How much is reality and how much is some college educated, middle class MBA of whatever race churning out more stereotypes for mass consumption and much money? How many of the Italian-Americans that you know personally are in the Mafia? As many as in the movies and on TV? Listen to this and you fool yourself that we've come a long way.
I have a lot of stereotype records: Some are like this, White people playing upon popular images of "the other." Some, such as Iceberg Slim's spoken word LP, come from the community where the artist lives. In either case, I learn more about the way people view each other and themselves in these "novelties" than I do from some Pete Seeger song. Plus Pete Seeger songs never make me wince, cringe, laugh, or guffaw. In other words, Pete Seeger songs don't make me think.
So, you got the sermon, time for cookies and punch. Sorry, I'm afraid you aren't getting much. I don't know exactly when this was made, but it had to be recorded after the Hollywood Argyles' Alley-Oop, so let's say mid 1960s. I have no idea who the Hong Kong White Sox are or where they are from. Hong Kong? Chicago? Los Angeles, where the record label is from? The flip is by Brumley Prunk and is notable only for the artist's name. So if you know more about this than I do, please chime in.
Von Freeman Cheeks 45 (Markie, 1962)
What I want to know is who the fuck produced this record? What we have going on here is less of a song and more of a "damned if I know." A sax blast opens this instro up and then it gets all herky-jerky and twisted. The guitarist plays like a numbed John Lee Hooker. Von Freeman sounds like he belongs on a Danny Zella record, not like the guy who came up playing with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Roy Eldridge. An unnamed organist is in the background playing some kind of Chinese circus tune. The guitar solos, Freeman solos and as he winds down, a massive organ comes washing in. Mysterious organist honks and skronks as much as one can on keys. The last part of the song is a struggle between Freeman and the organist, the guitarist has been swept away by the sound. They are back by a drummer that sounds like Dorothy Wiggins of Shaggs did if she got a tiny bit of jazz training. The flipside of the record is a pretty tame jazz stroll.
So why does this record which has a "normal" sounding flip and is by one of Chicago's legendary musicians, a man who has played with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Al Smith, sound so strange? Yes, he sired Chico Freeman and sure he did a record with Roland Kirk (in 1972), but why does this sound like it is from some demented dimension? My theory: Sun Ra. Now, I have absolutely no proof whatsoever that the possessed organist on this record is Sun Ra BUT Von Freeman was an original member of the Arkestra, playing with Sun Ra until 1960, two years before this record was released. The two remained friends. Sun Ra mentored his son. Von Freeman's discography is a mystery between 1959 and 1972. Perhaps there is a Von Freeman or Sun Ra fan who can tell me.
Johnny Runs for Paregoric
Exploding Seagulls Johnny Runs for Paregoric 7" (Fried Egg, 1980)
I am not sure if the punkalectuals would let the Exploding Seagulls into their classroom. I don't know if they would even be allowed in the "special" class, along with those DIY nerds. The Exploding Seagulls (like the very very great Avant Gardner [post pending]) might be a little too coy, a little too tongue in cheek, hell, a little too cheeky. But I like them. This was made in 1980 in Bristol and was released on Fried Egg Records, which is not only one of my favorite label names but they have one of my favorite label art. The band is credited as the band, however Tony Orrell played drums. Since his name is mentioned separately, perhaps he is a stand in. Ken Wheeler produced. I tell you all this because that is all I know about the Exploding Seagulls.
I do, however, know a little bit about paregoric. Paregoric is a tincture made with camphor, aromatic oils, and opium. It is not quite as string as morphine, however both the camphor and the oils are said to enhance the effect of the opium. It has been called a "modern day" laudanum. Laudanum was very popular with the Romantic Poets, but is no longer being produced. Neither is paregoric. However, fifty years ago paregoric was a very popular flu remedy. Little Johnny has the sniffles? Give him a slug of paregoric and he'll be dreaming good dreams for the night. He might ask for a taste in the morning but that's all right. And if you run out, send Johnny out to get some more.
The Perfect American DIY 7"
Our Favorite Band! s/t 7" (Praxis, 1982)
Here is another one I bought blind. I'm in a thrift store for battered women, digging through the records and checking out the chicks (no no no no no give me a god damn break. It was just too horrible of a joke to pass up). I find this little thing in a tattered cover. Look at the cover and see two guys sitting in a car. Look at the back, two guys are still sitting in a car, and they have kinda long hair, and there is a little state of Louisiana circled below. Label says 1982. Record is beat to shit. Awww what the hell. At the very worst it will be a bad spend of a buck. I walk to the counter, lay my dollar down and tell the girl, "There's more where that came from..." and slither out the door.
I go home and slap this puppy on the turntable. Oh my god! Distorted guitar and stand up bass, no drums and it is a raw, smoking rockabilly tune worthy of Cramps/Hasil worship. Second song is a slow one and damn it if this couldn't be the Gibson Brothers. Look at the label again. 1982. Shit, this predates the Gibs by five or so years. Flip it over and weirdness crawls out of the groove. Some kinda reverb flooded, bell soaked creepiness about the Atlanta Child Murders oozes out of the speakers! Now I am really excited. Really really excited. And the ep ends with some kinda Modern Lovers meets the Only Ones meets Alex "Flies on Sherbert" Chilton power popper.
Baton Rouge's Our Favorite Band! made the perfect American DIY 7"! There is not a god damn thing wrong with it and the only reason it is an unknown is because of the heavy Killed By Death bias among punk collectors, which is doubly dumb because one of these guys was in Toxin III!
Movin' with the Giants
Box and Bleacher Society Movin' with the Giants 45 (Mammoth)
I have a very small collection of sports records. As they were done by fans with little musical chops or studio musicians wanting to cash in on a teams popularity, most of them blow. Every once in a while I find one that is either exceptionally good (Vida Blue) or exceptionally bad (Hakeem Olajuwan's The Dream). What you are about to hear is exceptionally good. It is certainly a song worthy of the team that it is about, probably the greatest Giants team to ever play in Frisco.
I promised that if the A's passed .500, I'd give you Giants fans something to be happy about. So here it is. Once again, Oakland proves who rules the Bay. This one goes out to RW (and you other long suffering Giants fans)!
The Work Slow Crimes LP (Woof, 1982)
Perhaps it is a bit late to slag New York's modern mutant disco scene, but, fuck that rehash. And find this album by The Work and you'll say fuck them twice again.
The Work was Tim Hodgkinson's band after he left Henry Cow and before he did a bunch of other arty stuff with other folks. They put out one LP and one 7", I Hate America. Both are great blends of art punk, no wave, post punk, and funk. The vocals are fey as hell and this borders on artfag hell BUT there are enough interesting things and rude/abrupt twists that it has held my interest for months. The guitars and noises take this to places all the rehashers can't even begin to to imagine that they imagine that they imagine. This is that far beyond such modern day nonsense.
I dragged this pup out of a great record store in Paris called Bimbo Tower, which I very much recommend you visit when in that nifty town. I bought because store co-owner (and member of the great kids music band, Dragibus) Franqo looked at me and said, "Hmmmm hmmmm, vou theenk vou know artfaag. Hmmmm hmmmm stupid American." Then he threw it on the store record player. Damned if I didn't know my artfaggotry! And damned if I didn't feel very stupid. Not wanting to be a seen as a stupid, artless, fagless American in the eyes of the French people, I bought the record.
Toussaint McCall Shimmy 45 (Ronn, 1967)
I am not the type of record freak that reads about something in a guide or on a website and then seeks it out. Rather, I find a record somewhere, flip over it and then try to find info on it. So when I bought this 45 in a weekend binge of 150 of these 7" bundles of joy (okay, so they are flat and flat ain't exactly a bundle, but stay with me here), it was just another single. In fact, I vacillated on it. The record looked beat. It was on Ronn and, though there are classics on Ronn, I've mostly found their bland blues sides. But the title was Shimmy (note: not "The Shimmy," just Shimmy) so it had to be a dance tune and I will pick up anything by anyone named Toussaint. So it went in the "to buy" pile. I came home and scrubbed the thing good, vacuumed all the gook out of the grooves, laid it on the turntable, dropped the needle, the beat picks up, an organ drives the song, and then he leans on the keys... Glorious, just fucking glorious. I read later that this is an organ funk classic. No shit?
As visitor Chris Brown notes Toussaint is from Louisiana - Monroe, to be exact, and sang his one hit, Nothing Takes the Place of You (of which this is the b-side), in John Waters' movie, Hairspray.
The Sound Salvation
Happy Birthday America, Pt 3
Muhammad Ali I'm the Greatest (Ali's Bicentennial Freedom Song)
(Crimson Dynasty, 1976)
Fresh off the Thrilla in Manilla, Muhammad Ali's classic fight against Joe Frazier, The Greatest cut this novelty tune for the American Bicentenial. So I present this to you: I'm the Greatest, by one of the greatest Americans of all time!