Soul Zone '65 (Shhh Pt 4)

Googie Rene Combo Soul Zone '65 b/w Wild Bird 45 (Class, 1965)

When I decided to post this one I had no idea that Ace had issued a CD of Googie Rene's stuff. That is not going to stop me from posting these two. Soul Zone is comped on the CD (Wham! Bam!), but Wild Bird, my favorite of the two, isn't.

Googie Rene was a keyboardist out of Los Angeles. He has a number of singles on his father's record label, Class, but no major hits. His "combo" included Johnny Guitar Watson, Jimmy Nolan, Earl Palmer and others. And his sound is pretty consistent - an odd mix of jazz, exotica, & R&B. I pick Googie 45s up whenever I find them and might just take a looksee at that CD.

Have a happy new year!


Ritual Blues / Skid Row (Shhh Pt 3)

Reg Owens & His Orchestra Ritual Blues 45 (Pallette, 1959)
Tommy "Deanie Boy" Dean Skid Row 45 (Vee-Jay, 1955)

Don't have a hell of a lot to say about these two. Maybe it is because I just spent 10 hours lugging around boxes of books. Too damn sore to think about anything else than a hot bath that I won't be getting because I have a shower. Oh well. This music is nice though. Not difficult at all which is probably why this stuff gets lumped in with Easy Listening.

Reg Owens does a great exotica flavored version of Toots Thielemans' Ritual Blues. Now I am not sure if this Reg Owens is the same Reg Owens as is on this record but check out some of the MP3s there, especially Saucers that Fly, Black Cat, and Cyberspace.

Tommy "Deanie Boy" Dean has a long musical history and I am not going to even try to sum it up. No need to when you have others doing it for you. The man made a lot of records and this one is as good of a cool noir jazz instro as you are gonna hear. I love it when organs back horns, in that note for note drone. Skid Row will grow on you so give it a few listens.


James Brown 1933 - 2006: An American Genius

James Brown 1933 - 2006

Back when I was a wee punker, it was pretty much a rule that you had to have a James Brown Greatest Hits or Best Of... in your record collection. Punks considered him THEE Black Man (THEE Black Woman singer? Billie Holiday because of the sadness in her voice and the junkie mystique). Of course, I followed custom and got a greatest hits collection, as well as Live at the Apollo and Sex Machine. Those were the first albums by a Black person that I actually went out and bought. Sounds stupid but I grew up in an all White suburb and, even though this is the "Left Coast" and my parents had raised me and my brother to be accepting of all races, the vibe in my neighborhood was very racist.

Sure, I listened to Jimi Hendrix and Thin Lizzy, but those artists weren't thought of as Black or playing "Black music." They played rock & roll, which, in our twisted minds, was White. Today I shake my head at the mindboggling absurdity of such thoughts. Back then, rock & roll = White music was conventional wisdom. And how were we to know any better? The music that was presented to us as rock & roll was Ted Nugent, Styx, Led Zeppelin, and Lynnard Skynnard. Rock & roll "was started" by Bill Haley with Rock Around the Clock and the King of Rock & Roll was Elvis. We learned about rock & roll from Happy Days and Sha-Na-Na, two television programs in which rock & roll was a centerpiece, yet where Blacks were nowhere to be seen. Earlier still, American Bandstand was all about Whiteness, so much so that Blacks had their own show, Soul Train. Take all those inputs and stir them up with the racist undertones of the anti-disco movement of the late 70s and you had a 14 year old Scott Soriano thinking about music in racial terms: White music = rock & roll = good and Black music = nigger music = bad. Yup, that is about as deep as my racial analysis of music went.

I've written here before about how much punk rock was my personal music savior. Like many other "weird" kids trapped in the suburbs, punk made me cherish my individualism while at the same time giving me a sense of belonging. It gave me pride that many of my innerthoughts were not those held by those around me or, better still, that the act of thinking about something, anything with a bit of depth wasn't freakish. And it gave me people to be around who were also excited about thinking. With the freedom to explore my own thoughts came the shattering of received wisdom - such as rock & roll is White and that you are a nigger lover if you own a record made by a Black person (other than Jimi Hendrix and Phil Lynott). Restrictions gone, freedom acted upon, and, ironically, the punk "rule" to own some records by the Black originators and pioneers of rock & roll, I went out and bought Can Your Heart Stand It, a best of collection that I had seen in the record collections of older punks (always leaning next to the stereo, beat to shit from constant party play).

It would be lie to claim that teenage me knew of James Brown's huge importance culturally or of the genius that he brought to music. However, I did know that James Brown was an icon and that I loved what I heard on record. Can Your Heart Stand it lead me to acquire Live at the Apollo and Sex Machine. Over the years, I picked up all of his pre-1980s albums and most of his 45s. I read about James Brown, the fascinating life, and how he invented funk. I came to realize that he was the first person in the history music to take the African notion of everything is a percussion instrument and adopt it to popular music, the result of that experiment is what we now call funk. The more I listened to his music and how each instrument has its own beat, one that did not sap the importance or intensity of the other instruments/beats but instead creates a much stronger, much more intoxicating rhythm, the more I realized that James Brown was more than the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, more than the Godfather of Soul: He was a musical genius.

Since JB died, one of the clips that has been aired a lot is the one of LL Cool J saying that the Three B's of music are Bach, Beethoven, and Brown. LL isn't stretching things. The invention of funk revolutionized music. It gave musicians more freedom to experiment not only with rhythm but with the application of their instrument. Guitars could be as important as drums in establishing a beat. Horns could hold down a rhythm. Keyboards could be used once again as percussion instruments not just as melodic ones. Sure, Western musicians and composers had stretched the use of instruments before, having guitars, horns, etc. accent and created the beat; but never with the intensity, purpose, or success that James Brown did. And the way that James Brown pushed the boundaries of polyrhythm did more than add flavor to music, it crushed walls and created a new foundation for people to build on. Bach, Beethoven, and Brown, sure; but there is one thing James Brown has over Johann and Ludwig and that is you can't but help but move your ass when James Brown is on the turntable.

For a few years in the early '00s, I played junior dejay to Larry "The Flower Vato" Rodriguez at his weekly Dance Party. I had dejayed on the radio, played music between bands at shows, and spun records at a few parties but, until then, I had never club dejayed. You might know everything in the world about music, you might have the best record collection around, and you might think you can make a crowd dance their asses off, but you really do not know the limitations of your knowledge and all the vinyl that you own until you stand behind two turntables and watch a dance floor empty. For a music freak, clearing a dance floor is as crushing a defeat as there is. When it happens you have only two recourses: Turn the tables over to Larry or very quickly find James Brown's Release the Pressure and spin it. James Brown is the dejay's lifesaver. His records are what Larry and I call "cheaters" - that is, when you have James Brown records you don't need to do any work to make people dance. You can slap James Brown after James Brown (or Maceo & the Mack, Fred Wesley, JBs, Lynn Collins, Marva Whitney, Dee Felice Trio, Last Word, or any of the many James Brown productions) on the turntable and people will dance. It doesn't matter if the crowd is young, old, Black, White, Latino, hip, square, etc.: Everyone dances to James Brown.

One night, a couple years ago, Larry and I did an all JB Dance Party. We held it on the week of the day that Papa's Got a Brand New Bag was released and called it "The 40th Birthday of Funk." A notice about it appeared in the local weekly. Though the Dance Party's starting time was advertised as 9 pm, most nights we start spinning (to the bar staff and a few barflies) at about 9:30 or 10. The crowd arrives at 11 pm and peaks at 1 am. Not that night. We got there at 8:30 to set things up and there were people waiting outside for us to start. At 9:30, the place was packed. The dance floor was stuffed. The crowd was as diverse as you can imagine. Black couples in their 50s and 60s, dressed to the T, were mingling with White hipsters in their early 20s. Lowriders partied with state workers. Two Black ladies in their 50s came to the dejay booth in tears, to tell Larry and I that they hadn't had this much fun since they were in their 20s. They spent all night on the dance floor and were among the last to leave. For six solid hours the dance floor was full. It was the easiest night of dejaying I ever did. The "work" was having the idea of doing an all JB night, putting up some flyers, and dropping needle on JB records. It was James Brown who did the heavy lifting.

My brain loves James Brown's music. I can think about how it is structured and the impact it has had both musically and culturally (another essay could be written on James Brown and Black pride). My body love James Brown's music. It makes me move and gets me excited. James Brown's music is nourishing as well as exciting. It is as important of a legacy as any man has created. James Brown's music is the kind of thing that makes America great. It is the flipside of our wars, ignorance, arrogance, and greed. It is our country's Good Foot. Thank you, James Brown for a lifetime of genius.


Hot Potato / Red Pepper (Shhh Pt 2)

Rinkydinks Hot Potato (Part 1) 45 (Enjoy, 1963)
Roosevelt Fountain & the Pens of Rhythm Red Pepper I 45 (Prince-Adams, 1962)

Two more instrumentals, this time from the Dawn of Funk. Both of these cuts show the just where instrumental R&B was before James Brown was to the break the shit open with his string of seminal funk 45s.

First off we have the Rinkydinks. Rumored to be King Curtis's group under a different name, the Rinkydinks might also be the Ramrods, whose first single on Rampage, Soul Train Pt 1 & 2, is pretty much the same song as Hot Potato. Later Ramrod singles sound way more funky than this but that doesn't mean the above isn't by the same band. Because musicians were paid so little for recording, they often did records under different names both for the label that they were signed to and for other labels. In the later case, they kept their name a secret in order to avoid breaking the contract with the label they were signed to. Labels also turned out the same song under different band names and song titles, often creating new label names for old songs. One of the most notorious examples of the recycled song is Cliff Nobles hit, Boogaloo Down Broadway, which was put out at under at least 5 different titles or artists, a couple on which the vocals were wiped clean, and most of them on the great Phil LA of Soul label.

The most excellently named Roosevelt Fountain & the Pens of Rhythm were from Detroit and rather than retell the story, I will be lazy and refer you to here. As with the case of the Rinkydinks, Roosevelt Fountain was a name created by the label and the band's members were always in flux. On a personal note, Red Pepper is one of my favorite R&B instrumentals for a couple of reasons. First is that it is great. No need to explain why as you can listen yourself. Second, is that it was the first obscure R&B record I ever found and thus ignited in me a fierce 45 digging bug. If you like this blog, Roosevelt Fountain is partially to blame.


Groovy Grubworm / Flapjacks (Shhh Pt 1)

Harlow Wilcox & the Oakies
Groovy Grubworm 45 (Plantation, 1969)
Custer & the Survivors Flapjacks 45 (Golden State, 1964)

Okay, you guitar instrumental creeps can get off my ass. Here are a couple of great instros for you. First up we have Groovy Grubworm by Harlow Wilcox & the Oakies. This was Harlow Wilcox's signature tune and a big hit for Plantation records. Though it is pretty much forgotten today, it charted on both the Billboard pop and Country Western charts. Wilcox did a handful of other songs and a couple albums. Groovy Grubworm was also nominated for a Grammy.

If Groovy Grubworm was lost to history, Custer & the Survivors's Flapjacks is a near unknown. The two songs on this single are credited to a one JB Paysenl and are on a San Francisco label. The record was produced by Arvey Andrews, of whom I have learned a bit about. Andrews was a Lt Colonel in the Army. In 1963, Andrews discovered a group of singing servicemen called the Emotions. He liked them so much, without any prior experience, he brought them into the studio and produced a couple of their songs and made a great soul singlee, released on Vardan. The group changed their name to the Lovers and had several hits. What this has to do with Custer & the Survivors, I don't know, other than apparently once Andrews got the music bug, he took more groups under his wing and I assume Custer and pals were one of them. Good thing, too, because Flapjacks is a killer R&B jam with some tasty playing. And that is about all I know about that.


Going Places, Eating Things

Porno Sponges Going Places, Eating Things 12" (Mutha, 1986)

I can't say I am familiar enough with Rhode Island punk rock history to make my claim that the Porno Sponges were that state's finest, but the beat of what I've heard (Ashley Von Hurter, Hydrogen Terrors, Lightning Bolt, etc.) from Little Rhody. My lack of knowledge about the Ocean State's punk past, is matched by my ignorance of both the band and the state. Of the band, I know that one member spent some time in a late 90s version of the Angry Samoans, as well as the Kings of Oblivion. Of the state, I know that the state drink is coffee milk, that the Mob runs the state, that when you walk Downtown Providence you have a very good chance of seeing guys dressed like they just stepped out of Saturday Night Fever, and that parking in Providence is a bitch because the restrictions are Stalinistic.

I found this record a few weeks ago, digging through a box of dollar records in a Bay Area record store. The cover was beat up and I almost passed it by - Porno Sponges? Gross. Ah what the hell it is only a buck. Upon first listen, I thought this was one of the many great records that the Aussies pooped out in that garage revival they dominated in the early to mid 80s. Sure the hell sounds like it. Also sounds like I've heard the chorus of Going Places... before but after a few dozen listens I can place it. Anyway, enjoy.


The Now....

The Z-Gun reviews today's noise.


Cool Livin'

John Ylvisaker Cool Livin' LP (Avant Garde, 1967)

Crud fan: Prepare to have your day made. I introduce to you John Ylvisaker. I first heard of Ylvisaker via Jello Biafra in Incredibly Strange Music Volune 2. On an enthusiastic roll, Jello talks up Ylvisaker's Cool Livin' as a Christian psych classic in which none of the musicians know how to play, comparing them to the Shaggs. Christian, psych, and Shaggs are three tags that will always suck me in. Mental note taken, the name Ylvisaker fused itself into the primitive part of my brain that remembers names and titles only when I am flipping through records.

A few years later, I call up the local NPR station and ask if they need help sorting records for their annual record sale. The lady says, sure thing, and gives me a time and place to show up. I go out to the burbs and they point me towards some CD and tell me to start sorting. I am with a bunch of seniors and a crew of mentally disabled youth. The youth are given the job of unloading the boxes of donations into the racks; the oldsters and I are to sort the CDs. The blue hairs are a bit slow, not knowing their Thelonious Monk from their Thelonious Monster from the Monster Mash. That is fine. I fly through the CDs and look like a hero. So much so that the lady in charge tells me I have a half hour to look through a couple thousand moving boxes full of records. Great. In my 30 minutes I find some nice odds & ends and a copy of Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury. Five dollars she tells me. Also for my services I get into the sale a half hour before opening on the first day.

Friday evening comes and I motor it out to the burbs. I go through records and bring home a box of about 100. The lady in charge tells me to come back on Sunday after noon because the records will be a buck each. I come back Sunday and buy another 75. Before I leave, the lady in charge tells me that all the records must go. The radio station is getting new digs and they have nowhere to store the leftovers. I look around and there are at least 20,000 records still in boxes. She informs me that whatever is there at the end of the day will be given away on Wednesday. I get home and call my friend the Flower Vato. We make a date to go back to the burbs.

Wednesday roll around and I am in my truck with the Flower Vato and my handcart. We get to the records fifteen minutes before the doors open. It is us and a well dressed old man. The choice is beat down the old guy or get a cup o' joe. We opt for coffee. Doors open. It is Flower Vato, the old man, and I AND 20,000 free records. We dig for three hours. I come up with 500 records. The Flower Vato nabs 300. He hit the rock & jazz sections and did very well on odd ball soul and off label free jazz. I hit all the other genres. The spoken word and Folkways parts of my record collection got a bit bigger that day. And my avant composition shelf doubled with the addition of 75 records (all from the CRI label, a great imprint specializing in post WWII experimental composers. The NPR station was getting rid of all their classical vinyl. None of this stuff had ever been played). Among the gems the emerged on that day of gluttony was two albums by John Ylvisaker. That stored name rattling to the fore upon seeing Cool Livin'.

Bring home 700 records in three days time and it will be quite a while before you get to even sampling most of them. John Ylvisaker waited a couple weeks before needle dropped on him. I had only Biafra's description of Jesus freak meets the Shaggs to go on, so when a the sounds of a groovy folkster with garage leanings came through the speaker, I was disappointed. However, that let down lasted for about a minute. Ylvisaker's voice is just too unique, too heartfelt to not get sucked in. As the record spun, the music got better. Wildness started to creep in. Ylvisaker puts bible stories to pysch (Do You Know What I've Done?) and makes songs that are as good as any rock song around (My City). And then there are the great groofy groover in A Gay Cliche (which sounds like the Hombres, though with an amazingly unhinged vocal performance) and the garage swing of Let Loose. This stuff ain't Shaggs. It isn't "Real People." No, this is damn good!

Now I know I go on about Sky Gods and organized religion from time to time, but I really don't have much gruff with religious folks, certainly not those who aren't trying to shove it on me. Of all the Christians I've met the most interesting ones are Lutherans. I've got several records by Lutherans and all of them are odd. There is an angle that these folks come from that is a bit abstract, somewhat psychedelic, and even free form. I don't have any idea why this happens but it does. It was no surprise to me to find out that Ylvisaker is a Lutheran (and still performs. Check the church nearest you!).

As with most of the Lutheran stuff I've come across, Ylvisaker does the "soft sell." He doesn't push his faith on you. He presents it. He uses the Bible to supplement his art. He also has a sense of humor about what he is doing. He calls his music "A 'Secular' Liturgy." It is great stuff that he and his wife Amanda (on organ and flute) make. Enjoy.


The Cruncher

The Rotations
The Cruncher b/w Heavies 45 (Original Sound, 1964)

There are very few prejudices that I have when it comes to music. I got over the knee jerk reaction to Christian music when I first discovered Black Gospel and, later, freaky records like the Stoned Age or Fireblood Angel Band. I never bought into the whole Hate Accordians fade and like some polka music a lot. I have a small collection of pipe organ records. There are very few records, aside from the obvious Top 40 nonsense, that I won't listen to at least once. However, I have always loathed Frank Zappa.

Before I go on let me cop to a few things: First, I have a copy of Weasels Rip My Flesh. I bought it because it was cheap and it has one of the top ten record covers of all time. I also listened to it and enjoyed it. Second, I like a lot of the records that Zappa produced and put out - Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper, John Trubee. Hell, I even like a few GTOs songs. Third, I haven't listened to everything. I have heard Apostrophe (and didn't like it even as a very stone 14 year old), Over-Nite Sensation, Freak Out!, and parts of Hot Rats, We're Only in It For the Money, Joe's Garage, and Absolutely Free. And I saw 200 Motels, but I was 13 and it was a midnight movie and I was stoned out of my mind. Fourth, much of my reaction is due to Zappa Fan and the elitist/evangelical way they come off. My teenage years were littered with a few neighborhood Zappa heads who constantly lectured me on how great and smart Zappa was and how stupid I was for liking Black Sabbath and then punk rock. Fine let them have their club. Over the years, though, while I haven't warmed to Zappa, I do appreciate the idea of Frank Zappa and some of his work.

When I picked up this Rotations 45 little did I know that it is one of Zappa's earliest works. Record in 1962, when he was a youngster in Cucamonga, California, these two Rotations songs are among the greatest surf tunes ever made. The Cruncher is exactly that: A slow groove based on the Peter Gunn riff, it has a killer sax solo atop a great raw sound. Extra percussion and the always popular surf sound effects give it that little bit more that makes it stand out. Heavies starts with surf crashing into the shore (and continues throughout) and vamps some tasty twang. That the waves almost overwhelm the music is no big thing, and actually aids the song.

Thinking about it, I shouldn't be shocked that Zappa could make a record this great. The guy did know music and he was without a doubt a great musician. Still, I am surprised, and, yes, even pleasantly so.


Tower of Babel

Stoned Age Tower of Babel b/w God is Dead? 45 (Pax, 1972)

There was once a time when God wasn't a Right Wing Asshole. That was way back when Jesus was called the Prince of Peace and, most important, before Christians figured out how to play punk rock and started to kill rock & roll from within, rather than destroy it from the outside. I don't blame Christians for Mass Market Rock & Roll. Nah, they are like any other parasite ready to jump on something living the minute they sense decay is setting in. What else can they do? They are a fucking Death Cult, the need to feed on the living. Perhaps the failure of their latest Crusade will mellow their asses out for a while, but it won't change the fact that they are no longer entertaining. Ah but the days when they were!

My family is a bunch of lapsed Catholics. We went to church when my bother and I were weelings, but it was a half-assed effort. My parents made no effort to get me back into Sunday School after I got thrown out for general disruption and innate disestablishmentarianism. Probably didn't help that my mom, having gone back to college, got so excited about Nietzsche that she not only read Fred to me but named our wiener dog after him. Even though the Soriano's found a home in the local hippie Catholic church (the father had a secret girlfriend, the sisters were dykes, and the brothers were always in jail for protesting something or another, plus we got to sing Byrds songs), the minute I hit my teens, my church going days were through (not totally true. In my mid 20s, I started hitting Black churches in order to hear real gospel music). My "Catholic" childhood didn't lead me to hate religion: My parents were never heavy handed about God and I never got diddled by one of his servants. However, I did find religion entertaining. Many a teenaged afternoon was spent stoned on the coach watching lunatic fundamentalist preachers on the TV's UHF channels. My favorite was Peter Popoff, a faith healer who was debunked by James Randi and has been subject to many fraud investigations. After finding one at school, I started collecting Jack T Chick pamphlets and later any Christian anti-rock & roll propaganda. For the first time in my life, religion was fun!

One thing I never dove into, though, was Christian music. Once I got into punk, I'd pick up the occasional Christian record for the cover art. I was lucky enough to score the much sought after The Addicts Sing, a collection of hymns done by ex-junkies. (The record blows but the cover rules.) When I did sample the music, it was bad. I had yet to be turned on to Christian psych or to discover the amazing John Ylvisaker (soon, kids, soon). Would I have dug the twisted side of Christian rock & roll back then? I don't know. I would like to think so. Would have been nice to back to back Azitis with the Feederz' Jesus Entering From the Rear. I do know this, though: There were some cool Christian records being made back then and part of the fun was that they didn't really have a handle on rock & roll. This Stoned Age 45 is a perfect example.

I know nothing about the Stoned Age other than they were probably from New York and they did this fantastic single. Tower of Babel is a gem. An anti-war (and pro-monkey!) song that features a great spoken word part by a guy who sounds like the great New York dejay Rosko (it's coming), followed by war sound effects. God is Dead? sounds like camp. The singer's inflection and his lisp makes me think of Paul Vanase, a great gay cabaret-punk vocalist (I'll get to it). So emphatic! So heartfelt!

Please enjoy the Stoned Age.



Rene Halkett + David Jay Nothing 7" (4 AD, 1981)

One of the best lessons that I've learned is that the word "No" does not hurt. Once I learned that, I found that if I asked for something, most of the time the request would be judged on its merits. The words "Hey, I'd like to play music with you" or "I want to put out a record of your music" became much easier to say than it was to keep the desire to do such things silent. I imagine that David Jay had learned that No is just a word before he approached Rene Halkett about putting Halkett's voice & words to music. Perhaps the conversation went something like this:

Rene Halkett: Hello?

David Jay: Cheers. Is this Rene Halkett?

Rene Halkett: Yes, it is.

David Jay: Listen, Rene. I am in a band called the Bauhaus. You were one of the original Bauhaus. I make music. You write poems. Let's get together and do some music poetry thing.

Rene Halkett was born in 1900. In 1923, he hooked up with the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimer, a group of German Bauhaus artists, designers, performers, writers, and musicians. Halkett's gig was that of a painter and poet.

David Jay was born in 1957. Inspired by the mid Seventies British punk/DIY movement, Jay formed the band Bauhaus. They made a few influential records.

Jay got the idea to do a record with Halkett. Halkett recorded his words on a portable cassette recorder in his Cornwall cottage in 1980. Nearly a year later, Jay went into the studio and recorded music for it.

I, for, one am glad that Jay didn't care if Halkett said No to his idea. This is a great record.

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