Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Books In My Life

My friend Spike Sikes said he'd like to see my 100 Books You Need To Read list, and I don't have one, but I'd be glad to share a few things that shaped my thinking.

Working -- Studs Terkel
I grew up in a house where both parents were union people, so that this book even existed meant a lot to us.  Plus, it was the first book I ever read that had a lot of cursing.  That kinda stuck with me.

Animal Farm -- George Orwell
Read it in 8th grade, and it made me suspicious of the ruling classes.  Not long after, Reagan came to power, deregulated everything and showed me that in order for Orwell to be prophetic, all he had to do was predict the worst.

any bios I could find about Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, and Groucho
... as if this needs explaining

anything between 1977-81 in the way of punk rock fanzines, New Musical Express, Creem, Melody Maker etc
This was the great underground music period of my life, and the magazines really connected countries together, even hemispheres.  It was amazing.  There was a magazine store in Phila called Newsy, and they had all the English music magazines, and there was all kinds of great writing from London (I especially enjoyed Caroline Coon and Jon Savage).  Creem had a lot of different people, but Nick Tosches' Unsung Heroes Of Rock'n'Roll column really hit home.  It touched on a lot of music I had heard little slivers of but knew almost nothing about.  In addition to punk rock, I also collected old country and rhythm'n'blues 78's, and his columns were like a shopper's guide.

The punk fanzines often varied wildly in quality, but they brought the country to life in a way nothing else could have.  Every town -- not just LA or NY -- had an amazing band or five, at least one great club, and there was a sense of blood in the music in a way that Fleetwood Mac's or the Eagles' worlds could never have.  That idea shaped me as much as the music ever could have.

The Sound and the City -- Charlie Gillet
Art Fein calls this book a miracle, and I agree.  An English musicologist living in America in the late sixties making sense of and writing beautifully about the postwar black music indie record scene.  There were no reissues of most of the music of which he wrote.  Artists like Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown had been rendered invisible.  And yet here was this Brit -- abut a decade ahead of Tosches -- shining the flashlight on the music, communities, the fledgling labels, American music regionalism, and all the good stuff.  In a way, the same stuff that made punk so exciting.

Feel Like Going Home -- Peter Guralnick
Before anyone uttered the term "roots music", this book delved into what it was.  The chapter on Charlie Rich especially stuck with me.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men -- James Agee/Walker Evans
Factories In The Fields -- Carey McWilliams
Both books are basically about the same thing -- poor farming people in and around the Depression era, but taken from very different frames of experience.  Agee and Evans went and stayed with the folks about whom they wrote and photographed.  McWilliams gave the history of farming in the lower half of California.  But each put so much compassion into their expression.  They prepared me for when I went out into the country and met all kinds of different people with different lives and different skill sets. 

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities -- Delmore Schwartz
Day Of The Locust/Miss Lonelyhearts -- Nathaniel West

The Long Goodbye -- Raymond Chandler
Black Friday -- David Goodis
What Makes Sammy Run? -- Budd Schulberg
The Guys & Dolls of Damon Runyon
 I was not and am not now a Lawrence Of Arabia guy.  I like my fiction urban, bleak, and cynical.  I started reading this stuff in the summer between tenth and eleventh grade.  Which explains a great deal.

Life On The Mississippi -- Mark Twain
Twain in general is a big deal to me, but the first third of this book really hit me because he does such a great job of explaining the history of the river while also admonishing the reader that its exploitation will lead to environmental and economic disaster if it's not all kept in check.  One more thing he was right about.  Also, this book (coupled with John Hartford's albums) got me interested in the world of steamboats.  And that sure hasn't subsided.

The LA Musical History Tour -- Art Fein
I bought this book in Philadelphia in 1993.  I was vaguely aware of Art Fein since he'd produced a classic  comp of modern rockabilly for Rhino, managed the Blasters etc, but didn't really know about him as a writer.  I found this book at the bookstore at University of PA in 1993.  Basically, it has every site you can imagine that has something to do with non-orchestral music in LA, located, photographed, and described, all with a ton of style and incisive wit.  Although the book is not thick, it's substantial.  By the time I met Art (I think in 1997), I had the thing damn near memorized.  This and Timothy White's Beach Boys book The Nearest Faraway Place are by far my favorite Southern Calfornia rock'n'roll books, not just for their historical world view but also their great writing.  Honorable mention to Waldman and Reyes' Land Of A Thousand Dances and Steve Loza's Barrio Rhythm, both about Chicano music.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Record Geek Theater: The Capitol Tower (1958)

Living just up the street from this landmark (which is apparently about to be sandwiched between two behemoth apartments nobody but the developers seems to want) is a big deal to me.  I go running most nights north on Vine, past this building where some of my very favorite records were cut -- Merle Haggard, Les Baxter, Nat Cole, Wanda Jackson, Louis Prima, Sinatra, and you name it.

Tennessee Ernie Ford -- who was a huge star at the time -- is the voiceover.  The scenes on the roof are particularly cool for me, because I've been up there, taking in a later version of these views (still breathtaking).  The structural makeup of the famous studios is revealed as well.  Great shots of old recording and mastering gear as well.

(The girl seems to be lipsynching to a Sue Raney vocal, if my ears are hearing correctly.)

At 16:50, you can see Mickey Katz doing the cover photo session for The Most Mishigge, completely with the Exotica girl from the Martin Denny covers, Sandy Warner.

A treasure for record geeks like me.  And most of you.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Source material for Elvis geeks like me

 Those of you who saw us play the 2012 Art Fein Elvis Birthday Bash at the Echo might remember we did "I, John" (with guest bass singer Jesse Merlin and guest baritone George Wendt). Many of us best remember this one from his backstage version in Elvis On Tour, where he killed it.  Elvis was no weekend warrior as a gospel fan.  He knew the music very well, and it is a cinch that he was a fan of the Trumpeteers (a/k/a the CBS Trumpeteers), because he cut a great version of their signature 1947 hit "Milky White Way", a record that went far beyond being just a hit -- it was a stylistic cornerstone of quartet gospel.

Their lead singer, Joseph Johnson, had previously sung with the Golden Gate Quartet.  In the Trumpeteers, he brought about something a little more rhythmically aggressive.  Their "Leave That Liar Alone" is the obviously template for Ray Charles' "Leave My Woman Alone", too.  The stuff they cut for Score and King is always worth checking out.  I read someplace they made seventeen 78's for Score.  I have five, and they're all great.

This clip, taken from an (unnamed) sixties TV show gives us a glimpse into how great they were, up until Joseph Johnson died in '84.  I think -- along with Julius Cheeks of the Sensational Nightengales and Sam Cooke -- he's one of the real guys.  No wonder Elvis dug him.