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.

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!

Thoughts on Rockabilly and Sun Records.. 5 points to ponder upon?


I’ve been getting into Rockabilly for a short while..

And I have some thoughts about what I’m hearing.

Now, I’ve been into music in a big way all my life and I’m getting good at recognizing the next listening and collecting sensation as it approaches. I still love my Reggae, but for a while 40s and 50s Rhythm and Blues and then late 50s Rockabilly has been featuring heavily on my Mp3 player, cd player and more infrequently on the turntable/s here at Murphy Towers.

Just recently having listened to Warren Smith’s Ubangi Stomp and Miss Froggie I purchased Essential Rockabilly – The Sun Story on the cheaper than cheap One Day Music label. It strikes me that you can hear some interesting stuff on it. I have listed five of them below in order of interest to me.

1. Elvis Presley was trying to cover the bases with his first release ‘That’s All Right Mama’  b/w  ‘Blue Moon’ (of Kentucky). Interestingly he seems most comfortable singing the Crudup classic, rather than the country number Blue Moon.
On the country/bluegrass tune he sings in a lower register superimposing a character on the song that isn’t like anything you’ll ever hear again. He’s playing, pretending he’s country, giving it some, hamming it up just a touch. Listen to it, check it out and you’ll see what I mean. In the first few bars you’ll not even be sure it’s him if you listen with open ears.

Of course this isn’t anything that isn’t already know. But you can really hear it on the shellac, it’s there audibly, history in the recording. Elvis on his first attempt and record release was trying to find his feet. Sam Phillips was trying to cover the angles by putting out a two sider, one R&B tune and one Country; in the hope that if the Black crowd or God help 50s ‘ society’ the teenagers didn’t like the Bluesy number their white and parental counterparts might prefer the 4/4 re-working of Monroe’s classic ode to Lunar tint.

2. It’s a good thing that Roy Orbison developed that lonesome high sound of his, because frankly at this stage of his career he was on a wrong ‘un. Orbison sounds like all the rest, there is not a great deal to distinguish him from the crowd of singers. In fact he sounds pretty weak at times. Orbison you sucked big time, but you did Okay in the end, for a speccy four eyes.

3. Charlie Feathers is good and needs more listening to, write that one down in the notebook. He’s quite obviously a full on redneck.

4. Johnny Cash is about the most mature temporally transcendant sounding artiste that Sun had. There is a developed confident, ‘I’ve made it already’ sound to Johnny’s output that impresses heavily. Listening to him, even more so than Elvis you are certain that out of all the artists you are listening to, he was the one who was going to make it big.

5. A lot of Rockabilly is badly played and amateurish at best (but great for it), and many of those lauded as great guitarists of the Rockabilly age wouldn’t have been fit to tune Jimi or Jeff’s Strat.

 

Oh… and 6. just for fun.. Jerry Lee Lewis has the fullest and most hypnotizing energy of all of those I’ve listened to so far, and yet, he’ll worry you on record, let alone up close and personal. Christ I’d be scared to rub him up the wrong way. He sounds like a man who’d shoot first and wouldn’t ask any questions whatsoever.  Dangerous.

J.D McPherson Camden 2012 with Jimmy Smith and Alex Hall


One of the best Gig’s I’ve ever been to…

And I’ve been to a few!

A while back you may know, I reviewed a cd called ‘Signs and Signifiers’, largely written by J.D. McPherson, with Bass and drums by Jimmy Sutton and Alex Hall respectively. Well finally I got to go and see them play at a pub in Camden London. Made for 300 people it was holding 500 as they took to stage, a fabulous night had by all, and thanks to Corkey the Cool Cat and Dicky for taking me to see them play… it was fantastic.

Here are two films made that night, more to come…

..

J.D McPherson – Signs and Signifiers + HiStyle Records Chicago


J.D McPherson – Signs and Signifiers

Rarely do I get the chance to listen to any music that isn’t in some way related to my main love, the music of Jamaica and the Caribbean, however, recently I have mostly been listening to this release. I all too infrequently spend my moolah on anything but the sweet sounds of Jamdown and yet I’d buy another copy of this cd if I had a good enough reason.

Read the Epilogue at the base of this page…!

Read on, to find out why…

Corkey is a Cat! – A short while ago a customer in the building supplies depot where I work, one Andy Corke, of Corke and Bellchamber general builders in the area of Crowborough, East Sussex, England and I engaged in another musical conversation. He, Corkey that is, what had recently been to Spain for a Rockabilly festival suggested that I check out one Bass player Jimmy Sutton, and one J.D. McPherson, Vocalist, Song Writer and Guitarist. The resultant You Tube session started early in the evening and lasted until a very late night. By the end of it I certainly knew who Jimmy Sutton was, had enjoyed the vocal stylings of J.D McPherson and I jess couldn’t get enough., yassuh, I wuz hooked!

How to honour the past, while creating newness of freshness like a blossom on the breeze….?

Histyle records, the label that produced this supreme long player prides itself in recording and releasing ‘exceptional roots music’. And with Jimmy Sutton at the helm, they will. No doubt about it.

He has equipped his Chicago based Histyle studio in state of the art Equipment. Equipment that was state of the art in the late 1950s and early 1960s that is. The studio is designed no doubt to give his recordings a sound unlikely to be equalled now, and perhaps even then. A pity for him in a way that his Long Players and other exquisite recordings have to be tuned into binary digits and pressed into little disgusting plastic coasters called cds (Yuk!). Though I understand one or two have made it to 45rpm records.

Indulgence,… no way jay

All this might to some seem like staring at your navel on a Saturday night with a bottle of weak beer and a bad show on the TV . . . but, what these guys have managed to do is create music that doesn’t suffer from an over indulgence in the past, but instead offers, not necessarily a new twist to 50s Rock n’ Roll, but something, an unknown something, something forward-looking, fresh, knowingly unheard and yet… as if you could have heard these tunes, countless times, as classics of an era long gone.

J.D.

He can sing this boy, variously sounding like an Eddie Cochran on tunes like ‘Dimes For Nickels’; and then riffing like Chuck Berry, or sounding on ‘Your love’ (All That I am Missing’) as if he might have been displaced from the 5 Royales for the crime of over exuberance, and with the merest hint of Jackie Wilson creeping in to his vocal ‘stylings’, he is multi gifted. Classic lines include from the now famous ‘North Side Girl’ – ‘I’ve got some good talk, but not enough game’ and from ‘I Can’t Complain’ – ‘I can’t complain, I stay pretty dry in the rain’. Going on to treat us to a guitar solo in the aforesaid ‘I Can’t Complain’ that he surely took a bottle of vintage 1950s drugstore pep pills in order to create? Ripping good stuff . . .

No amount of explanation can do what your ears can.

Just go get it Houndog, I’m listening to it while writing this, thinking, hell I could tell my readers who this might sound like, that it has a fine mix of rockin’ stormers, creepy ballads, and a strong hint of Tom Waits on a tune like ‘Country Boy’. There are Blues honourings, fabulously sensitive mixing, everything where it should be at the size it was always meant to be. A little distortion on the high end of the dry vocal, mixed down the middle to give the overall production that Mono ‘feel’ while at the same time keeping the spacewidth of the Stereo we associate later audio output with … and…. such sweetly recorded Brass, and Strings and what supreme arranging on the ‘extras’ and, and, and the list does and could go on.

Cosmic Daddy-O

And at the centre of it, circling around the gravitational pull of the black hole you thought was full up with enough Rockin’ good tunes to last us all another lifetime of listening, a whole heap of tunes that sound like they’ve been here forever, songs born with the universe, and every one of them, well almost every single one, a ‘Killer Diller’.

Web sites to check are:

http://www.histylerecords.com/

http://www.jdmcpherson.com/

Epilogue

So about a week after writing this blog article and sending a link to Jimmy Sutton, I get a record in the post, at first I think it’s just some eBay thing I’ve bought from the States turning up and then, I realise that Jimmy’s sent me the Lp (on vinyl) probably having read my comments here about recording to vinyl etc, as a lovely gift… what a great addition it is to not only be listening to some truly great music, but that the people behind it are so nice and friendly….. I’m still listening to the Lp a month after getting it, on frequent rotation. I can only say, you really need a copy, go and get one!

Jimmy Sutton – Rockabilly Rock n’ Roll Superguy


Sometimes you pick up on something you really should have know about for a long long time, this is one such convert speaking, to the Charms of Jimmy Sutton that is, rarely do you hear a reival sound that will have you gettin’ some of that good olde time musical religion, but this is one such super sound…

SWEET SOUL MUSIC – Peter Guralnick


Within the first hundred pages, you’ll know stuff you won’t have heard elsewhere…

I’m not going to witter on, this will  be a pithy review, terse, to the point, direct, an easy read; much like this wonderful book that has been around since the 1980s and tells the story of Southern Soul Music.

Beggining with the R&B roots of ‘Soul’ (though, really it don’t take a genius, to work out they is the same damn thang), he takes us through a fairly linear exploration of the major figures, Sam Cooke’s gospel beginnings and secular sexuality, the usurping of Black music and it’s repackage as Rock ‘n Roll, Ray Charles and the genius that he was… and the story of Solomon Burke; telling an amazing tale of how he once played to a giant crowd of Klu Klux Klan members by ‘accident’, which will have you heaving, in laughter and relief as the Sheriff escorts him to the county line!

He leads you through the story of Stax, the Muscle Shoals phenomenon, the growth of the South as exporter of Soul music in general, James Brown’s career, the incredible rise of Otis Redding, Jerry Wexler and Atlantic’s dominance of the R&B market, the crossover of Soul to the ‘White’ audience, and with all tell tale of those names never heard of before who were pivotal in the development of Black music in the United States in the 50s, and 60s.

If you knew (like me) bugger all about ‘Soul’ music before reading it, you might consider yourself more than a little illuminated by the time you get to the end of the tale.

Read it and love it.