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.

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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…

Bubbles / Hot Toddy’s – The Wasp / Bopping In the Barnyard


The Bubbles – The Wasp / Bopping In the Barnyard

Hot Toddy’s – ‘Rockin’ Crickets

A tale of two singles with the same label

Melodisc's Duke Imprint, 'The Wasp' one of only three known on that label

Sound confusing?

I thought this article might help anyone who runs into this confusing mis-pressing and needs to i.d. the copy that they have.It took me a while!

Released by Melodisc records on their rare Duke imprint – The Bubbles – ‘The Wasp’ b/w ‘Bopping In the Barnyard’ was produced by Wasp records for release on Duke but in the process the single was mis-pressed and released with two different instrumentals on the A and B sides. Instead of some early Jamaican R&B/Shuffle organ instrumentals the pressing plant,  PYE records, accidentally mastered two Rockabilly tunes for the 45rpm stampers by the American band ‘The Hot Toddy’s’ and they were released and never withdrawn. The A-side tune is an instrumental called ‘Rockin’ Crickets’, which utilises a guitar effect to imitate the sound of those pesky little insects. Strangely it’s quite possible to mistake this sound for a poor imitation of another pesky insect… The Wasp. Considering that this insect is the subject of the title track and so titled on the correct release AND the name of the production company who recorded the original record, you can see where one might become slightly confused!

Duke, the Hot Toddy's Version, spot the B?

Subsequently the correct tunes were released on another Duke single, which apart from different matrices looks exactly the same as the first release. Though I have noted that both my copy of the mis-press and one shown on http://www.colorradio.com/rockinrebels.htm seem to have a dark and large B on the A-side label, perhaps some indication of the spurious nature of this ‘version’. The only other collectible single by the Hot Toddy’s that I can find is a 78rpm, on PYE, this would help to confirm the information I have found on these two releases and PYE’s involvement with Melodisc, early in that company’s history.

But…wait… you thought it was all over, and it just gets more confusing in the end!

The original Jamaican tunes were produced by WASP a production company, there was also a Jamaican and I believe a UK label of the same name, and it is they who licenced the tunes to Melodisc in the first place. I do not know if WASP were a UK based or Jamaican company, the music on the correct release certainly sounds Jamaican.

But here is where it gets strange.

There is a Jamaican 7″ single version of the release, on the unsurprisingly named ‘ The Wasp’ label. HOWEVER – this tune is also a mis-pressing of the release and has the B-side song titled as is the mis-pressed Duke release ‘Bopping In The Barnyard’. Why would this be?

Surely the single’s master tape or acetate (possible at this time, particularly if from a Jamaican studio) would have been originated in Jamaica and then have been mastered and pressed in Jamaica to 78rpm or perhaps 45rpm single. The release in question is a 45rpm so one has to pose the question – ‘when did Jamaica first have 45rpm pressing facilities on the island’? and if there were no facilities then this may explain why they could have released a mis-pressing of the single. PYE could have mastered it for them and sent either the stampers or product back to the Island. None of this explains why the single released in Jamaica with Rockabilly on it has a label that looks to the trained eye like it was definately printed in Jamaica though!!!

There is only one possible explanation for this as I see it.  PYE must have mastered the disc, and sent it back to Jamaica in the form of 45rpm stampers for a company that could press, but could not create vinyl stampers, in order to manufacture the singles at an Island pressing plant…. unless…… PYE manufactured the singles, sent them to Jamaica  and then they were labelled in Jamaica only!

One final element possibly ties all three releases together, the Catalogue number on the Jamaican release which is AB 1001 Vocal, similar I am sure you’ll agree to the UK releases DK 1001.

Here’s one of the weirdest single label scans from Jamaica you will ever see, The Hot Toddy’s version of a mis-labelled ‘Bopping In The Barnyard’ on the Jamaican ‘The WASP’ records.

It was sold on eBay in 2009 as a rare Rockabilly single and a  ‘Wild Unknown Rocker’ for $162. POPSIKE. I think we can identify it as the Hot Toddy’s tune, whose 78rpm on PYE is deemed to be worth about £5 by the Rare Record Collector. Someone possibly overpaid for a Jamaican Rockabilly tune, though frankly it might be worth it just for the true rarity value intrinsic in something quite so odd.

If you or anyone you know has information on exactly when Jamaica first pressed 45rpm singles on the Island I would be interested to have that information, as it could further help to understand what happened here.

The details of all the singles featured in this article are thus:

The first and mis-pressed release – BUBBLES, THE   Title –  ‘WASP, THE’  b/w ‘ ‘BOPPING IN THE BARNYARD’ Label – DUKE   Catalogue Number – DK 1001  Matrices in Run off Groove on A side DK 1001 A    produced by WASP / MELODISC    ORIGINAL  released in 1961

The second and ‘proper’ release -BUBBLES, THE    Title – ‘WASP, THE’  b/w – ‘BOPPING IN THE BARNYARD’ Label – DUKE    Catalogue Number – DK 1001    Matrices in run off groove on A side 45 DK 1001 A 1   Produced 1961 released in the U.K.

The third (not necessarily in date order), and the Jamaican release – BUBBLES, THE   Title – ‘BOPPING IN THE BARNYARD’ b/w ‘?’ Label – THE WASP Catalogue Number AB 1001 Vocal / Matrices – Unknown / Release Date – Unknown

I hope all that helps.