Blue Monday – Fats Domino and the lost dawn of Rock n’ Roll – Book Review


Blue Monday – Fats Domino and the lost dawn of Rock n’ Roll – Rick Coleman

FATSI’m part of a Facebook group called ‘The Record Den’ where like-minded sad O.C.D. suffering record collectors and enthusiasts of a superior popular musical past share their likes; in this case mainly Rhythm and Blues from the 40s and 50s, Soul from the 60s and Progressive Rock Lps from the 70s (yes there’s always at least one truly sad Chemistry Teacher who clings to his Yes and Rush Lps with a sweaty desperation and requires public validation for his self-imposed disability).

A short while ago and whilst suffering from a lack of reading material I asked for suggestions for my next book and bedtime indulgence. I focussed my fellow collectors on what I felt I required. A book that would illuminate the popular 40s and 50s world of Rhythm and Blues music. And ‘Blue Monday’ was suggested to me, in amongst a few others as befitting my requirements. My fellow record junkies were flowing in their praise of Rick Coleman’s book.

I was shocked to discover that it is the ONLY biography of a man who was essential to the world of Rhythm and Blues and centrally important and present in the operating theatre at the birth of Rock n’ Roll. ‘It’s a boy, and he’s got a D.A. and a white T-Shirt on, with 20 soft pack Marlboro already tucked into the short sleeve, Mr. Domino, you must be very proud…’

The book

The book rather wonderfully features as a first step a map of New Orleans, detailing the various districts and locating for all to see important and key features of the city’s music-scape and Fats Domino’s present and historic placement in that geography. Before even beginning to read I found myself wandering the streets, and linking the locations of his various family homes with photographs in the book, shortly thereafter going on Google Earth to street view the various locations as they appear now. Sadly one or two destroyed entirely by Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans City Governments fraudulent re-claiming of unattended and un-mended land left behind by people too poor to return to it in the stringent allotted time-frame. As you can see, I was fully engaged with this book within seconds of opening it. No mean feat, as I generally don’t get past the first half chapter of books that are poorly conceived or poorly written or both, as is more normally the case.

Rick Coleman takes the reader through Fat’s history, his childhood, his background, placing it strongly and forcefully within the context of New Orleans as a city formed from the sweat and blood of the African diaspora, Catholicism and the indivisible early French settlement of Louisiana. I found the section that revolved around Congo Square, an area established as a location of Black African cultural expression from the city’s earliest days, incredibly interesting and engaging.

Rick Coleman uses the location as a cypher for the changing role and social mobility of a multi-layered Black city culture that shifts and moves with changes in the religion of the region and the political upheaval of Civil War America and ingress of Protestantism. All the time keeping the reader in touch with the music soil of the place, that same substrate that gave rise to a crop of musicians, singers, writers and producers, that included Fats Domino.

The book touches on Fat’s links with other musicians of the era, his long and fruitful if sometime difficult relationship with Dave Bartholomew his writing partner, arranger and frequent band leader. We hear about other movers and shakers of the City at the time; Smiley Lewis and Professor Longhair feature amongst fellow New Orleans musicians and the shifting line up of Fats Domino’s own touring band and the individuals mini stories are well told. We learn about his rise to fame, his signing to and early career with Imperial Records, and movement onwards to other labels, the never-ending tour schedule and the tragic loss of band members to the musicians seeming drug of choice at the time, Heroin and the tragedy of car wrecks reaped through too many miles on the road.

In short the book is well-formed and paced, tells the tales well, fills one in on just who Fats Domino was, what and where gave birth to him and in turn Rock n’ Roll. It’s a real lesson and a Rockin’ Good read. Heartily recommended. If I have one minor criticism it is that the last decades of an artist no longer truly central are skimmed over and compressed in a way that leaves the finish of the book underperforming like a damp firework. A pity as the rest of the book is an explosion of images, information, sights, smells and a vivid retelling of one of the greatest and least lauded artists of the Rhythm and Blues and Rock N’ Roll era.

DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE – Amanda Petrusich – Independant Book Review


Do not sell at any price by Amanda Petrusich – a book review

Do not sell at any price, available in lots of places..
Do not sell at any price, available in lots of places..

Let’s all get this straight from the start, I bought this book, I was not invited to give my opinion on it, but in the true tradition of peevishness, pugnacity and of irascibility I shall.. so nah!

I shall speak in perpetuum of the interminably un-ending indulgence of this writer’s fondant fancy froufrou, this lady’s lace work of metaphor and of the hyperbole of hype. The replacement of anything corporeal with the mere sweaty glaze of insignificancy.

There is something bothersome about the way in which this stripling (yes I’m downwardly ageist) seeks to engage with the very real world of the record collector. Seeking as she does to share in its glories and it’s potholed routes to discovery. Yawningly. In the terminating pages making reference to the fashionistas disposition for the veracity of the ancient and actual, as opposed to the fraudulent and counterfeit age of the binary digit, she I believe exposes herself for what, perhaps she is, a being lost in the porridge of ‘Bang on Trend’.

Simply Put

There is nothing to this book, it is smoke and mirrors, vapour lifts off it like the fog on page 192. There is no substance, no grit, no spunk (to coin a truly American use of  nomenclature). It’s all chit-chat between occasional highlights of actuality, of record rooms and real people. The distance the writer takes to travel between these moments of joy are as tedious to me as no doubt the miles she assures us she travelled in pursuit of the substance of this padded pillow of a book were, to her.

Takes One To Know One

As you get into the real thing, real collecting and you just are, simply, a real record collector, you see lots of odd shit. People think you’re cool, people aspire to be like you, you see middle-aged guys wearing T-Shirts with Record Deck representations on, but who don’t own an actual player, and who have placed their platters in the attic. In short you learn how to recognise others that really truly and honestly share your interest. Amanda Petrusich claims on a number of occasions within the book that she is thrilled by the acquisition of an item or two, and of missing out on some Charlie Patton tunes on Paramount and other … stuff. I’m sorry, I know it’s churlish, I know it’s bad of me, un-generous and I feel like a schmuck saying it, but I don’t buy it, it doesn’t ring true. She’s a dabbler, and a dabbler can’t have the kind of insight into record collecting that it requires to write something a record collector should read about record collecting.

It’s notable that all the endorsements on the rear of the dust jacket are by other writers, not one is visible from a collector of tunes.

Are there any redeeming features?

Not really. She writes well, it’s just that this was in essence a short article for a magazine of momentary dabblers, not a book for people who want a serious insight. It doesn’t give that, it just scrapes a bit of dust off the surface of the record (metaphor alert) and plays the first bar, before removing it from the turntable; instead of cleaning it thoroughly, playing it, inverting and then re-equalizing the RIAA curve to something akin to the original mastering, playing it through filters to remove as much top end hiss and low-end background as possible, reading on its history, digitizing it and finally cataloguing it by matrices.

It feels like a quick fix, a soundbite, and thusly a product of the present generation. No wonder they struggle to comprehend the depth of the ‘groove’. I can’t help but see with sadness the writer’s work as representative of this present generations’ struggle towards a clear vision of the ‘real’ and of the past as obscured by the ongoing Tsunami of phone Aps, social networking, online content and data management.

It was great reading about Bussard et al though.

Review – Singing From The Floor – J.P. Bean


singingfromthefloorOn and off I’ve been part of the U.K. ‘Folk Scene’. I have both performed as a dancer and played and sung in a number of local clubs and I was interested to get a deeper insight into the clubs and players and singers who frequented them in the past.

If you take a passing interest you are going to be informed by the book and it features everyone living you could possibly expect to be in it, talking about their experiences; Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, Martin Carthy, Ian Campbell, The Watersons, the list goes on.

It is a collection of their views, little more than a vox pops, or transcriptions of their memories and opinions, spoken directly. Unfortunately I think it suffers from this and becomes repetitive and rather pointless. The book in and of itself doesn’t interpret, it makes no assumptions, there is no larger discussion. No digest of the interviewees views. Page after page of text doesn’t really tell you anything new. You knew McColl was controlling, you knew that folk music was linked wholeheartedly with the C.N.D. and with left-wing politics, there is very little of revelation in it.

Possibly the closest I got to a joyful discovery was that Ian Campbell’s sons are the leading lights of UB40, a predominantly white U.K. Reggae ‘supergroup’.

It only confirms the frustration I have always felt with the Folk scene; where traditionalists were only ever sold a different version of the same old story, the same sell, the same hype. Yet pompously they then defended it as immoveable God blessed historically accurate tradition and refused to be swayed by those who wished to create a living breathing self-sustaining musical world. The book confirms one thing, it was folk music that killed off folk music and there is more music of the people and by the people in one Beatles melody than 50 verses of some snoring dirge from the Outer Hebrides.

And yet I feel I’m being overly harsh, for those that were there or those that have surfed dangerously on the edges of folkdom it can be a rather cozy and self satisfying read. As a participant you may have met and talked to those in the book. When they speak you are standing listening; to Martin Carthy, Liza, Martin Simpson, and Ralph Rinzler in my case.

I don’t think the book would attract a newcomer, but it would comfort a past participant and perhaps it did. Maybe I’m just a little too close to the reality of enduring Tina’s performance of her ode to marine mammals ‘seal seal, how does it feel to be a seal‘ to ever fully recover an open mind when it comes to ‘folk music’. I have great difficulty even using the term. To me it’s redolent of homespun sheep’s wool pullovers, real ale, nice people being nice to one another, dishonest suppressions of performers egos, quiet one upmanship, corn dollys and cold nights of tented sleeping next to human repositories of beery methane.

I was kind of hoping that the book might persuade me that I’ve always been a bit wrong, a bit ugly and a bit cynical about the world of Folk, but in the end..

It’s just one of those books you read to the end because you think you should rather than because you really wanted to.

Mark Professor – Oystah Card


Oystah Card – Tune.. review..

Mark Prefessor, out now, buy it..
Mark Professor, out now, buy it..

There’s a new tune getting spun at Murphy Towers, ‘Oystah Card’, a fun uplift of Jamaican Jerk Mixed U.K. pepper sauce with a dash of humour, a pinch of patois, and a suspicion of hit about it.

And top hole of all… it’s by someone I’ve seen perform on many occasions about the London Reggae revival scene, namely at Tighten Up a night that has morphed about Town for many a year. Mark Byer aka Mark Professor.

It’s got cheek, he rides the riddim like lizard pon a limb, it has a certain Britishness, it’s light, but it’s heavy (ish). It reminds me of that quirky nod and knowing wink that Kilburn and the High Roads had, that was thusly imparted to Suggs and his lot of Mad Men.

Word is Roddy loves it too..

In my role as Bigmikeydread Reggae radio supremo and self inflated fat person people send me ’nuff demo, ’nuff tune, ’nuff stuff, ’nuff already. Mark Professor didn’t, Mark Professor just put together with his crew a tune worthy of spondoolick donations from my very own personal wallet, albeit a Paypal purchase on eBay. Further word is that it’s all but sold out, not a wonder to this here one.

Hear it below..

 

Review – The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll – Preston Lauterbach


chitlin circReview – The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll – Preston Lauterbach

I’m always on the lookout for a new book to help indulge my musical interests and a friend recently recommended this to me. I’ve been in love with Black Rhythm and Blues for a number of years and that genre had its dancing feet firmly stuck in the backwoods mud of the Chitlin’ Circuit; the mildly derogatory term for the network of Black music venues littered about the (mainly) Southern states of the U.S.A.

This book seeks to tell the tale of these venues creation, a response to a virtually new phenomenon, the disposable income of a self determined Black population. It sets out to tell tall tales of the musicians and gig goers, the ingenuity of the venues creators, the shadowy background of their financing, stories of the back handers given to a white controlling force of politicking and policing. The book is littered with tales, lacework links, and histories of all those names you’ve come to know and love such as Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, Jimmy Lunceford, Amos Milburn, Dave Bartholomew, and Roy Brown.

These places, the timber frame buildings of Chicken Shack Boogie fame are where Rock n’ Roll was birthed. Louis Jordan once said that Rock N’ Roll was only a poor imitation by Whites of Black Rhythm and Blues and the more I listen and the more I learn, the more I’m agreeing with that statement. Lauterbach’s book just confirms it … yet again.

I haven’t got more than a third of the way into this, and I’m here telling you all about it, because it’s that good. It’s oozily wet, not dry,  teeming with tales and hearty history. It beats with the sort of knowledge only an insider can ever get the low-down on, and luckily for us, the reader, it has been passed on with ’nuff style. Preston Lauterbach (I don’t know nothing more about him) is obviously a fan, and has a fine twist and turn of phrase. It feels like he won’t let stuffy academic research get in the way of a good story and the telling of it. I haven’t got a problem with that, let’s slightly suspend our sceptically critical natures and just wallow in the world that was the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Recommended!

Review of Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso: Traditions in the Making


Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso: Traditions in the Making – John Cowley – 1999

carinalcanboulayI’m a big fan of Calypso and have wanted to know more about the background and development of this genre of Caribbean music for a while now. Cowley’s book goes someway to explaining the historical background to its development.

Being a study of Trinidad and it’s tradition of Carnival, Canboulay and of Calypso, it’s not entirely taken over with music but seeks to explain how Carnival came about, its roots and development from the earliest records right through to the era of sound recording. Whence it’s music became the predominant force by which it was known worldwide. In general it succeeds.

It reads like a well written and engaging thesis, a historical study, unfortunately suffering from structural repetition as the author uses mainly newspaper reports of Carnival to trace development over time. Wonderful that it begins in the days of Trinidad’s enslaved Africans and discusses the influence of that islands’ many diverse ethnic groups on Carnival and Carnival’s culture (music included), but it is a little dry and lacking in personal testimony. We are treated over and over again to reports of each year’s Carnival and of the subsequent court cases involving wayward participants, and this becomes mildly soporific.

However within these confines it is also revealing and revelatory.

Did you for example know about the tradition of stick fighting in Trinidad? Or the many riots that occurred during Carnival and the way in which Carnival became a canvas for the dispossessed to paint their complaints and to cock a Snook at the gentry and at the White and sometimes Creole classes? The book reveals the influence of North American black-face minstrelsy and of Jubilee singers on Trinidadians and on Carnival, and the influence of touring Circus on the island. It tells of the influence of the Spanish and the French and particularly of Venezuelan culture. Finally it discusses the rise of the calypsonians in the early part of the 20th century.

In short you’ve got to be a motivated reader to engage fully with this book, but if you are, then it’s a great read.

Not for the feint hearted or general reader.

Joe Higgs – Unity Is Power – Pressure Sounds Release


unityispowerJoe Higgs – Unity Is Power – Pressure Sounds Release

Joe Higgs is an unsung genius of Jamaican music. Haunting, slightly off the beaten track, inventive, controlled, emotional, intimate and the real deal in only the way a true artist can be.

Many, even the Reggae elite pass him by as the man who taught the Wailers how to Wail; but all it takes is a moment, a moment where you engage with him personally, to convince you once and for all the you have discovered something extremely special. Something to cherish.

Tunes like ‘World is Spinning Around’, or the acapella ‘There’s a Reward’ (on the film Rockers I think it is) will turn you on forever to him and his music.

Pressure Sounds record label are bringing out for the first time the Unity Is Power Lp on the Cd format. Record Labels send me their stuff all the time, for review here and publicity on my online Radio Show and it’s rare I have the time, or have the inclination to spread the word, but when the word is that there’s a new Joe Higgs release due out, be sure that I’ll let you know.

Get it, ….. simple …… as its fabulous. And after you get it, go looking for his Lp ‘Life of Contradiction’, which Pressure Sounds also put out some time ago. Then go and get all the Ska (as Higgs and Wilson) Rocksteady, Early Reggae and Roots tunes you can, you won’t ever be disappointed.

Released – 27/08/2013

p.s. it’s also released on heavyweight vinyl for all you turtablists out there!

TRACKS ARE:

Devotion
One man kutchie
Unity is power
Gold or silver
Love can’t be wrong
Vineyard
Small world
Think of the moment
Sadness is a part of my heart
Sons of Garvey
Invitation to Jamaica (bonus track)
Version (bonus track)