Tommy Wills Night Train b/w Honky Tonk II 45 (Air Town, 1966)
Though not a terribly difficult record to find, Tommy Will's Night Train is great little dance hall smoker. Existing in the very fertile valley that lives between jazz and R&B (see Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces, etc.), both songs on this 45 have a strong groove and a really warm low end that propels the songs. Top that with Tommy Wills ("Man with a Horn") scattering notes and a bunch of cats making party sounds (says "Recorded Live Discotheque Go Go Sound" on the label), and this is a winner of a single. Not much is known about Tommy Wills, though the label, Air Town, proudly proclaims that "The New Soul Sound" comes from Dayton, Ohio.
Horace Heller Hello World b/w Ed's Place 45 (Dollie, 1959)
Though Ed' Place, this single's fantastic B side, has been comped several time, I was not familiar with this single. So when I picked it up out of a box of dusty vinyl, I bought it based on a short spin of the A side Hello World. What I heard was a fantastic rockabilly novelty song about smoking dope and going out of one's mind. So great a song, the rockabilly trumps the novelty aspect. So I play Hello World a few times and figure I owe it to myself to hear the flipside. Wow! Ed's Place is a singular cut, one which I'll let you listen to yourself. No need for me to rattle on about it. You will hear what makes it special before the first body hits the floor. This is the kind of record that makes a vinyl scrounge's week. Hope you enjoy it.
Jerry & Mel Cannibal Stew 45 (Boss-Sound, 1961)
Here is a killer side from San Francisco, California by the writing due of Jerry Marcellino and Mel Larson. While Jarry & Mel wrote a long string of hits for Bobby Darin and various Motown Artists (mostly the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson), they only produced one record under their own name and this is it. Cannibal Stew is actually the B-side and is certainly the better of the two songs (the A is Once Upon a Time, an uneventful teen rock & roll ballad) and a good example of a rock & roll cannibal song, of which there are plenty good ones. I'm too tired to rattle on more so I'll leave you with the song.
Come On Let's Do the Twist
Ray Gunn & His Blasters Come On Let's Do the Twist LP (Parade, 195?)
...and now we come to the novelty that is rock & roll. At least that is how rock & roll was viewed by many in the 1950s. The "Ah it will never last" reaction to rock & roll by the music biz establishment is pretty much folk history by now so I won't bore you with it. But I will note that the dismissal of rock & roll gave it a lot more leeway than had it been immediately adopted by the status quo. Listen to pre-pop rock & roll and you notice a few things. First it is raw and wild. One of my favorite examples of pre- and post - pop rock & roll is the contrast between Elvis's Louisiana Hayride airshot and the RCA Victor singles. Like many of you, by the time I was a teen, I'd had enough Elvis worship (Beatles, too). It was quite apparent to my ears that early Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard were all better than Elvis. Kicks magazine and the wealth of rockabilly bootleg comps that came out in the Seventies & Eighties reinforced my anti-Elvis attitude. Then one day, about ten years ago, I got a collection of records that had Elvis's Louisiana Hayride radio session on it. Put it on the turntable and was blown away by it. One listen to that record and I understood why the big deal over Elvis. Here he sounds dangerous and wild. While it didn't make me like him more than say Jerry Lee Lewis or Bo Diddley, the record was a revelation. Important to this essay is that it was recorded while rock & roll was still considered a fad, a fringe market, and thus the rough edges were allowed to exist. A few years later, when Elvis was turning out stuff for RCA, that energy not only was drained from the "King" but being buried by the pop approximation of rock & roll.
Another thing you notice with pre-pop rock & roll is that it has an ethnic tinge. You can hear Blackness in the music. You also can hear hillbilly. And in some songs you can hear both. Under the radar, early rock & roll was a moment that White meet Black, unsupervised and without mediation. No need to break this meeting down, as it, too, is part of pop culture history, most recently retold in the musical Hairspray. Still I must note that the reason for this covert race mixing was because people thought that rock & roll was so insignificant that it wasn't worth paying attention to. When rock & roll proved to be a commercial success, a sustainable cash cow, then significant economic players became involved and set out to strip rock & roll of all that made it attractive.
The first things the majors did was do away with Blackness. The first strike was eliminating the Black face. Look at rock & roll albums made in the late Fifties by Blacks and you will find very, very few pictures of the people who made the records. You won't even find pictures of Black people - no Black couple holding hands, no Black girl and boy dancing, no Black teen looking at a record jacket. Instead there is record jacket apartheid. (Two exceptions are Bo Diddley, who fought to have his image on his record covers, though with the assent of the Chess brothers, and Miles Davis, though not rock & roll was the first major Black music artist to insist that his record cover models be Black.)
After the Black face was disappeared, then came the Black voice. Early Black rock & rollers like Gary Bonds and Bo Diddley found their songs off pop charts and on the "race" charts (later named R&B or Urban, all euphemisms for Black). Jim Crow now had its way with the music that was rock & roll. By 1960, the music was White - Black rock & roll was a novelty. Sure there were a few tokens - Fats Domino & Chubby Checker - but if you were Black and you wanted to keep making a living playing rock & roll, you called it Rhythm & Blues.
So come 1963, rock & roll is White and safe. Not only is Blackness gone, but so is the hillbilly influence. R&B no longer doubles as Black rock & roll. It is now pretty much an Black form of music, rooted in the Blues, influenced by Black gospel, and with little or no tinge of hillbilly, or White working class, sound in it. Then came the Rolling Stones and others to remind Americans that rock & roll has something to do with Black people and the sound changed a bit, though the ethnic make up pretty much remained White, something which has changed little to this day.
Enter Ray Gunn & His Blasters. Ray Gunn is obviously Black. Not only can you tell by his voice, but the record cover is a dead giveaway. Had Ray Gunn been White we would see him on the album jacket. His absence is proof enough of his Blackness. Ray Gunn also plays rock & roll, great rock & roll. It is not full of fire like Esquerita or Little Richard. Instead it has a coolness to it not unlike Nathaniel Mayer. The record was marketed as a "twist" album , following the massive success of Chubby Checker. For years, I passed up twist records, until I learned that for a few years, plenty of non twist records were called "twist" in order to sell them. However aside from Checker records, few "twist" albums are full of twist songs. A good portion of them are great rock & roll records.
Who Ray Gunn is, I have no idea. The liner notes state that his band backed Benny King, Rosemarie & Bo, and Pete & Ernest, but there is no indication whether that was on record or if the band was the house band at a club. The record label is from New York City, but plenty of labels were, so there is no lead there. There is a good chance that Ray Gunn could be an established singer, recording under a different name in order to ditch the label he was signed to or for the label to milk his voice for more money. Unfortunately, I found no information to tell me anything about him or the band. I do know that the record is pretty common and can be had for $5.
Tahitian Rhythms and Jungle Drums
Thurston Knudson - Augie Goupil & Their Jungle Rhythmists
Tahitian Rhythms and Jungle Drums LP (Decca, 1956)
There is International music and then there is the major label approximation of it: Exotica. In the last 20 years, plenty has been written about exotica, so I will be brief. For the few of you who don't know what it is: Exotica is an easy listening style which attempts to give the listener an "exotic" experience by mixing tropical/jungle sound effects, "tribal" drumming, and musical cliche that invokes a "foreign" sound with small group cool jazz. Sometimes the music has a dark or noir feeling to it, something that evokes the mysterious - in this case distant lands and unknown people. There is often a back "history" to music, such as story of the "Inca princess" Yma Sumac. The image is also important - the sexy, slightly foreign looking yet mysterious cover models of Martin Denny records or the undeniably exotic looking Korla Pandit and his mesmerizing stare. Those with surface knowledge of exotica think that the music must have tropical sound effects in it and hears the sounds as kitsch. Exotica does not need sound effects, what it needs is a mood. In fact, while exotica might come off as kitsch, what it really is is a con. That the sleight of hand (or in this case ears) sounds kitsch, just shows that the con is dated. But at the time (1950s & early 60s), many people bought the exotica story because they were looking for something outside their 9 - 5 suburban existence. Kids had rock & roll, but what of the adults who had spent some time overseas in WWII and wanted something that reminded them of adventure and discovery? Exotica fulfilled that need. (And for others their restlessness was soothed by bebop. Think of exotica as the Holy Ghost in the trinity of American, post War musical escapism.)
The knock against exotica is that it is "fake," that it is sold on a false notion of what International music really is. But the argument against exotica's lack of authenticity can be made of Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban jazz, for Dizzy took bits from Latin music and incorporated them into a jazz medium? And what about soundtrack music? Does that not attempt to manipulate the listener by creating a mood in nontraditional ways? Or Aaron Copeland's Billy the Kid? Copeland mixes "traditional" cowboy music and "classical" in order to invoke a feeling of the Wild West. Is that authentic? Is the objection due to the jungle sounds? Are they any more inauthentic than Erik Satie's use of sound effects in his work? Again, others have argued about this elsewhere so I won't waste too much more space with this, other than to write that it is best to listen to exotica as a musical form and try to forget the tribal masks, the tiki torches, and the record covers and listen to the music as music.
I ask that you approach these recording with the above in mind, because if you are looking at Tahitian Rhythms & Jungle Drums as a close approximation of Island music, I am going to fail you. Thoug one of the artists, Augie Goupil was born in Tahiti, he was, from the age eight, raised in Berkeley, California. Thurston Knudson also spent some time in Berkeley (and Oakland and San Francisco) as a student and teacher, as well as a drummer. In the Bay Area, he came up with some crackpot theories about slavery and music, and sought to find the origin of "jazz rhythm patterns." Where better place to crack the jazz code than Tahiti? I'm not sure if it was in Berkeley or Tahiti where Goupil and Knudson met, but their meeting was fruitful. Together they made some records of "authentic" Tahitian music and worked on soundtracks of movies set in the South Pacific. Goupil also made some "Tahitian jazz" records, while Knudson made a few more "jungle drum" records. This is one of their makings.
Finding real traditional music from Oceania takes a little bit of work, especially if you are taking the used record route. Much of what was made under the tag of Polynesian, Tahitian, or Fijan is really slightly traditional music watered down for the consumption of tourists. You are more likely to hear an island flavored version of Norwegian Wood than you are authentic folk from Fiji. There are also hundreds of volumes of "traditional" drum records (this one included) that propose to give the listener insight into the primal rhythms of the Island Nations. While some are real traditional songs done by real Islanders on real island instruments, too many are either a bunch of guys pounding on shit in some Los Angeles studio or dudes like Goupil & Knudson knowing just enough to pull a con but also being in the thralls of show biz. My advise for those wanting a real Island listening experience is to check out the Ethnic Folkways and Nonesuch Explorer series.
That Goupil and Knudson are not doing traditional Tahitian music is pretty obvious to anyone with a bit of knowledge about both geography and International music. While the liner notes claim that G & K are the real deal, how does one explain a song like Rhumba Uganda or Samba Tembo being on a Tahitian record, other than Knudson's interests in African music (and even so, here he is approximating a Latin American bastardization of African music). And what of Goupil's vocal effects? Scat singing? The Oceanianic origins of freestyle? Or more show biz? Think about this as what it claims to be, as the conmen would like you to, and the music fails. So, as I advise with all exotica, look at it as exotica and forget the con. The con is dead and has been for at least 40 years. Take in the music as music and be entertained.
Music from Hungary
Various Artists Music from Hungary LP (Argo, 1971)
While, I supposed that someone among Crud Crud's readers is a big enough a freak that he's written down every one of my rules about record buying, it is doubtful that such a compilation exists other than in a hundred different posts. I certainly don't remember my dictates and I am not going to comb through my words to create a list of them. I might be known to close friends as "The Littlest Dictator", but by tyranny is tempered by a lazy streak. What that means is that not only is my throne an easy chair but I'd much rather create new rules than remember what law I laid down yesterday. One thing I do recall is that many of my record buying rules have to do with judging a record by it's cover. I know that we are told that beauty is what lies under the skin, covers, or dust jacket, but forget that. There are record covers you simply cannot pass up, such as one of a bare backed woman standing between two reclining Filipino men or one that pictures an elephant wearing bell bottoms, floating in space, playing a guitar and singing to a love struck ant. So here is Soriano's Rule of Record Grubbing No. 2312: Do not pass up a record cover on which a man is playing a flute to a couple of pigs.
I'd be a liar if I claimed that the sow serenade was the sole reason I was taken by Music from Hungary. A few months prior to picking this one up, I had found and fell for Music From Turkey. Both are part of Argo Records' The Living Tradition series, a run of records probably common to the British vinyl hound, as these pups were made on Monkey Island. Since finding Music from Hungary, I've added Music from Romania and Music from Yugoslavia to my collection and am happy to report that both are fine records.
One thing that knits all these records together is that they are from the "Other Europe", that of the Eastern Europeans and Turkey, you know, where the low-brow and slack-jaw live - or at least that was once the thinking. The East and Turkey might have pretended to be Euros but to the Northern and Western European, they were primitive people bound by peasant culture and their "Living Traditions". I am laying on the cynicism a bit thick, but not among this series are songs of Northern England or a volume dedicated to clogging . And now that I've condemned pre-multiculturalist ethnomusicology, let me state that Thank God It Exists. I very much prefer the way International Music are presented, as opposed to how World Music laid out for us. International Music records, say those documenting music of cultures other than Anglo/Western European, tend to look at the world as a collection of different sounds made by different people, people "not like you and I". While some have a chauvinistic take (usually the cheapo labels like Olympus or Everest), outfits like Folkways and Nonesuch (and I'd include Argo) made some fantastic records, documents that stand as examples of What Records Should Be. The World Music approach is seemingly more sensitive to cultures, in that it doesn't treat them as "the other", but it does so with an embrace that we are all brothers & sisters and really not that much different. The hopeful side of me says, Sure, I can dig that. Then I look around me and see people retreating to tribes. Maybe what makes us similar is that we are all "the other". I dunno and I didn't mean to stumble into the sociological or philosophic, or to riff on some half assed rant, so I'll just state for the record that International Music rules and World Music sucks.
Ditching all the What Makes a Culture Sound a Certain Way gab, I'd like to remind us why we are all here today and that is because we dig cool and unusual sounds. Thus Music from Hungary, because this could be the most important record of Martian music ever made but if it sounded like Kenny Chesney, who would give a fuck? Nothing on this collection of late Sixties music from the villages and cities of Hungary blows and, while dude on the cover is playing music for pigs, these are real oink oink kind of pigs, not the kind that are jammin' to The Chez in their SUV on the way to the Mall.
No need to tell you what is great about this record - the songs can tell you that - however I will give you a little rundown on what you are gonna hear: First off is a love song by Toth Janos recorded in the village of Szebeny in 1965. Janos is follow by the Csaba Palfi group of musicians and dancers. Their two mildly fucked up sounding instrumentals were recorded in Budapest 1967.
A group of anonymous gypsy musicians do a very cool instrumental to an audience at the Szeged Restaurant in Budapest. This recorded in 1967. Gusa Pal from Egyhazaskozar then plays a terrific short tune on a pair of green pear leaves! Also from Eghazaskozar (and recorded in '67) is Gyurka Mihalyne. She does a lullaby, complete with a bit of "mouth music". And what a crime would it be to pimp a record with a guy playing a flute for some hogs and not include a flute song? Not a crime I would commit! Gusa Pal is back playing a Goat Dance with a furulya, a notched flute.
La Marche des Canards
Roland Bocquet La Marche des Canards 45 (Cobra, 1977)
It has been a while since I updated this thing, but then again it has been in the hundreds here in Sacramento and that tends to slow me down. Got to run around the house fanning the records so they don't melt.
Today we have an oddball 7" that I found thrifting one day about fifteen years ago. It was on one of those thrift runs that you search all day and come up with a Martin Denny record, a beat up soul album, a high school jazz band record that winds up sucking, and one odd duck of a record. In this case the odd duck is La Marche des Canards.
Look at the sleeve and it is easy to see why I picked this up. No one in their right mind passes on a drawing of a robot duck wired to a studio rack which is then ran into an amp. That they drawing is also by the musician Roland Bocquet is a plus. Of Mssr. Bocquet I can't tell you much other than he seemed to have a short run doing synth records in the mid to late Seventies and in the Eighties did a few soundtracks. Perhaps one of my French readers can fill us in on Bocquet, though I fear that he was just a footnote in his home country, especially since, at the time, France was littered with synth players.