Polish State Folk Ballet Slask LP (Monitor, 196-)
As much as I tout my Italian roots, half of my blood is Polish. The Italian accounts for me being a cocky son-of-a-bitch; the Polish marks me with melancholy. Both run me into romanticism. So I brood and fight and brood some more. Then I get up and do a dance. Ha!
I plopped this record on the turntable not expecting much. Monitor Records is a fine label, they were off documenting international music before anyone else was, but unlike Folkways or Nonesuch, their stuff tends to be a bit more "slick". It tends toward professional music groups and state orchestras. I still pick them up when I find a Monitor record cheap, but it usually winds up in a stack, waiting for weeks, months, even years to hit the turntable. Slask got early platter time, pretty much because I wanted to hear what the Pole part of me had lurking in my musical genes...or something like that.
While most of the record is just okay, there are three songs that make me jump around. All three have a dour joy to them and are dance tunes. State orchestra, sure, but still good stuff.
Jose de Molina Manifiesto LP (Nueva Voz Latino Americana, 1983)
A bit more than a month ago, I emailed my friend and Z Gun comrade Ryan Wells and asked if he wanted to go record hunting in Tijuana. I found really cheap flights from San Francisco to San Diego and from SD it is a five dollar trolley ride to the border and back. He gives the OK and I book the flight. A few weeks later, we are on a plane heading south, in a cab taking us to downtown San Diego, and on the trolley to Tijuana.
We got off the trolley at San Ysidro and walk through the maze that is the border crossing. Over the "Big Ditch", we head toward the arch at the base of Revolucion. The wind makes the cables stretched across the arch sing. I regret not having something to capture the sound (but someone else did). Since Ryan had never been, we walked down Revolucion. Revolucion is usually crowded with tourists, US Navy seamen & Marines, and high school/college students from San Diego. The drinking age in Mexico is 18, though unofficially it is "kinda look eighteen." Because beer and margaritas are cheap, Revolucion has a "spring break on the skids" atmosphere. Multi-story buildings that were built and added on with no mind to building codes or safety line the street. These are the discos. Most of them have balconies hoovering over the sidewalks, where young men can yell "Woooooo" as young women flash their tits to the passer-by. On the ground are hundreds of trinket sellers, dudes hawking Lucha Libre masks and cheap sombreros with Tijuana emblazoned on them, and tequila shops. There are at least three farmacias on every block, selling cut-rate (and often phony) viagra, xanex, etc. And let's not forget the poor Tijuana zebras, donkeys spray-painted with stripes and used as a prop for tourists and their cameras (for a price). Everything was there as usual, except the partiers, military men, and the tourists.
When we got off the trolley, I noticed that we were the only Anglos headed toward the border. Walking into town, we were alone in our lack of Latino blood. And on Revolucion, we were the only marks. Thus, every huckster was after us: "Hey guy, tequila shot, one dollar!" "Hey guy, new pair of boots, cheap!" "Hey guy, need a taxi to Zona Roja." "Hey guy, best food, cheap." "Hey guy, pretty girls" ""Hey guy, one dollar Corona!" I am pretty sure we could have countered with 25 cents and settled on a half-buck a beer. We get to the street with the record shop and round the corner. A squat guy follows us "Guy, guy. Pretty girl for you. Massage. Forty dollar. All legal. Very pretty."
The record store is great. It is about the size of a small living room. While there are only two small bins of vinyl, the stock is concentrated. The store specializes in Latin American psych, prog and hard rock - a few originals but mostly semi-legit reissues and bootlegs. We both find some good stuff and head off to Constitution.
Constitution is not like Revolucion. It is geared toward the locals. Unless they work on the street, Tijuanans stay off Revolucion, however they crowd Constitution. No one is on the sidewalk pitching their goods. No offers of cheap beer or whores. Though a couple young girls grab our shirt sleeves as we walk by, "Guy, guy..." Business must be bad.
We hit a store on the short list of "record stores" that I've compiled from tips and past visits. This one is from a tip and it turns out to be a CD store full of Rancheros, which is what 99% of Tijuana record stores are like. I remember a store from my last visit about 5 years ago. It is off a small passageway or so I recall. I tell Ryan about it and that I know I will find it. Ten minutes later we are looking through a pathetic couple of racks of records. On another wall are a bunch of dusty cassettes. Some tattered revolutionary posters are on the wall. The owner (?) is behind a desk teaching another guy how to play a song on the guitar. While the store has crap for records, the last time I was there I found three great disks. This time I score big time (though I don't know it at the time). I pay for my records and the owner tells us that he has another store. "Lots more records," he says. He tells us where it is and we are on our way.
It's about 2:30 pm and the sun is starting to burn. Trees do not exist in downtown Tijuana and the buildings are too squat to provide shade. We trudge down the street, every step brings dehydration. The buildings become shorter, smaller, and more spread out. Though we are still downtown, it has the feel of a semi-deserted suburban retail corridor. We find the record store. It is a middle-aged woman sitting at a table, a few shelves of drinking glasses, and a small rack of 25 records. Ryan half-heartedly picks up a Turtles album and asks how much. The woman walks to a room, pulls back a sheet, and mumbles a few words. A shirtless teen comes out and tells Ryan five dollars. Ryan puts the record back and we leave. As we are walking out the door, I tell Ryan that we've just experienced the world's most pathetic record chain.
We'd been in Tijuana for over three hours and had yet to run into another set of Anglos, It isn't until we stop to get something to eat that we see a family of three Euro/Asian American. On our way back to the border, through an outside mall (half abandoned, lined with farmacias, taco/booze stands and trinket shops), we pass our first Euro-Americans on the street. Two college-aged guys are walking into Tijuana as we are going out. I've been to Tijuana several times and this is the first time I've seen it so devoid of Americans. I know college is out, but there are usually still college aged and high-schoolers crowding Revolucion, not to mention dudes in their US Navy and Marines uniforms, as well as the tick-shaped tourists. This time nothing. Even the weak peso can't squelch American fears of drug violence and swine flu, as if the United States doesn't have its own problem with crime and illness (five people shot dead that weekend in the Bay Area, while none dead in Tijuana).
Now, as much as I know about music, the more I dig for records, the more I realize that there is a hell of a lot out there I am completely ignorant of. Take Jose de Molina. In Mexico, he is well known as an anarchist singer-songwriter and a pain in the government's ass. He came up through the student movement in the 1960s, surviving two student massacres in Mexico City 1968. Releasing records and playing concerts during the Seventies, he was routinely persecuted by authorities, often jailed and beaten. The oppression got so bad that he stopped playing regular concerts in the 1990s, only occasionally appearing at protests and labor actions. In 1997, he was kidnapped and tortured by the police. His injuries were so bad that he required hospitalization and resulted in peritonitis, which was pretty much a death warrant. He was sent back home, where he was soon found dead, the back of his head blown away via a gun in mouth. I am not sure whether this was suicide or assassination. Whatever the case - torture by the police or cops gunning him down - the government killed him for his rebel music.
These songs come from an early 80s LP called Manifiesto. I had no idea what I was getting into when I bought it. There was a drawing of Che Guevara playing a guitar on it and I knew it would be cheap so it had to be mine. Most of it is traditional Mexican music, often preceded by a minute or two of political invective. One song, La Rueda de la Historia, kind of has a punk/new wave sound that reminds me of several things (John Cooper Clarke, The Clash) without really sounding like anything I can peg right now. But it is a great song and worth a listen (there is about a minute and a half spoken intro so be patient). The other two songs are more representative of the album and other stuff I've heard of his. If anyone knows of more Molina like La Rueda... contact me.
Wayne Barnhill & the Rhythm Aces Sing the Blues to Daddy 45 (Illini)
Great rockin' country song that sounds like it was mixed to be heard on a transistor radio or out of a dashboard speaker. Probably made in the late 60s. The flip isn't any good and my copy skips midway through. No matter: the plug side is the winner.
The Velvet Crest Look Homeward Angel b/w Song of the Rain 45 (Harbour)
Sappy sunshine pop. "Look Homeward Angel" sucks. "Song of the Rain" should have been the A side, but is only as good as an average B. Acceptable but not essential.
Tony Bellus Valentine Girl b/w Robbin' the Cradle 45 (NRC)
"Valentine Girl" is a good popabilly song with a great dumb single sting lead guitar. "Robbin' the Cradle" tips more country than rock & roll but it is a great song and not just because of the lyric. Think backwoods Everley Bros.
Billy Budd Sweet Lorraine b/w Boom Diddy Boom 45 (Page One)
The plug is Kinks/BeeGees whimsey filtered through bubblegum. Take away the strong backbeat and B. Budd could take this to the theater. "Boom Diddy Boom" sounds like a Neil Diamond rocker or the Tijuana Brass doing bubblegum. The vocal are more teen idol/actor singer than singer singer.
The Ides of March Vehicle b/w Lead Me Home, Gently 45 (Warner Bros.)
An oldies radio staple BUT if you haven't heard it, imagine the sound of White dudes with afros, hairy chests partially covered by buckskin vests, tight pants, and big dark shades. "Vehicle" is Isaac Hayes-style rock funk, stuff that neither rocks out or is that funky but has the kind of sound that makes you think you've heard the song in a Tarantino film. It is pure cheese, but I listen to this thing about once a month. It could be AM radio childhood memories that makes me do it. The flip is a B side for a reason: A sappy, piano lead howler.
The Perfect Stone Little Girl Purple b/w Lovin You Comes So Easy 45 (Certron)
Oh my. You'd think that "Little Girl Purple" would be a cool psych jam or at least bubble-psych. Instead it is like the Fifth Dimension pretending to be Jefferson Airplane. The flip is the flip.
The Lewis & Clark Expedition The Ballad of Bevo 45 (Bevo)
Damn great obscurity: A banjo tune about the stealing of University of Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo. And that is about it. Future Crud candidate.
Andy Kim So Good Together b/w I Got to Know 45 (Steed)
As far as Andy Kim A sides, "So Good..." is pretty weak. No drive, lame hook. I can understand why "I Got to Know" is the flip - the instrumentation is a bit odd for a potential hit - but it is a great song with a good hook.
The Will-O-Bees It's Not Easy b/w Looking Glass 45 (Date)
Another record in which the B side rules over the flip. "Looking Glass" is psych pop with Jefferson Airplane style vocals and some very nice drum riffs. "It's Not Easy" is boring 60s pop.
Bennie Hess Trucker's Blues b/w Tonight & Every Night 45 (Musicode)
An "Orange Blosom Special" country yodeller with slide guitar, so goes "Trucker's Blues." The flip is a slow one with eerie backing vocals and a haunting slide, but what makes it is the vocals, which sound near demented. To be Crudded.
Here I Am, Send Me
Bells of Zion Here I Am, Send Me b/w Like a Ship Tossed 45 (Nashboro, 1974)
Here are a couple by the noted Chicago gospel group Bells of Zion and what a great pair of songs they are! One of the great things about Black Gospel is that even though the song styles haven't changed a whole lot over the years, if the group is recorded right, the performances sound fresh and vibrant. The great enemy of Black Gospel isn't the Devil, but state-of-the-art recording studios and commercial aspirations. Slick the music up and it loses its soul. That should be no surprise. Any music that is about energy - funk, rockabilly, garage, punk, flamenco, salsa, etc. - loses something when the recording becomes something more than documenting the sound as is. That is not to say that all music needs to have crap recording. Listen to this record. Aside from the wear of the record itself, the sound is great. No fidelity problems, no technical issues. It sounds like the group would probably sound if they were playing right in front of you and that is the way it should be.
Dynamics Baby b/w Aces Up 45 (Guaranteed, 1959)
It was 105 today and at 9 pm it just dipped below 90: Perfect weather for some R&B shufflin'. I can't really tell you anything about the band. Because there were probably a hundred groups using the name "Dynamics" at the time, researching this record is a bit more work than I have time to do right now. The label was from New York City so let's assume that the group was, too, and leave it at that. I wanna talk about that shufflin' sound: It is pretty damn great, isn't it? It sounds more instinctive than charted out, something a band would slide into because it felt right. I've got a nice stack of songs that incorporate this sound and, aside from a half dozen of them, I couldn't tell you who did them or what the song was called, at least not off the top of my head. But those things are trivia; put a shufflin' record on and I am as happy as a dog in the shade.
Eddie Hodges New Orleans b/w Hard Times for Young Lovers 45 (Aurora, 1965)
From the 1950s on, seems like one of the "natural" trajectories of the child actor is from the movie/TV set to the music stage. From Sean Cassidy to Leif Garrett to Britney Spears to Annette Funicello and so it swirls downward. How many of these kid actor's were successful in their musical transition? And by successful, I do not mean that they sold a lot of records, for if that was the case any of those mentioned above would count and I wouldn't really have anything to rant about. By successful, I mean made some damn good records. Okay, for kitsch factor, Annette, but not as far as memorable and exciting. I can think of only two: Ricky Nelson and if you don't believe me pick up his version of "Milk Cow Blues" - it is nearly as rippin' as the Kinks take on it - and then move on to his other singles on Imperial. It is hit and miss, but the keepers are soooooo good. The other child actor turn rocker that is worth checking out is Eddie Hodges. "Eddie who?" Yeah, I didn't know about him until I started researching this single.
Eddie Hodges had brief film career. In 1959, he made is movie debut in A Hole in the Head, a Frank Capra film starring Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson. He then played the lead role in the 1960 version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a movie I've seen probably a half dozen times but recall nothing of. He appeared in six more films, including C'mon. Let's Live a Little, notable because it also starred the great girl group singer Jackie DeShannon, Bobby Vee, and - drum roll - Kim Carnes! He did some TV work as well, mostly guest spots on I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, and the Dick Van Dyke Show. In the midst of all this he cut three singles on Cadence (one produced by Phil Everly) and this one on Aurora. Two of the singles charted in the teens, two in the forties. This one peaked at #44.
Initially I was taken by the song "New Orleans," a great R&B style rocker ( you can see him sync it on Hollywood A Go-Go). I spun it about a half dozen times before I flipped it and got knocked out by a really great pop rocker "Hard Times for Young Lovers". That slapback on the snare is genius! Hope these bowl you over, too.