Now that just about everything is being re-issued on CD or LP, we’d like to know when they’re going to get around to Walter “Junie” Morrison’s three solo albums from the seventies on Westbound Records. They fall in between his time with the Ohio Players and his short but essential tenure at the P-Funk mothership, which includes One Nation Under A Groove and Motor Booty Affair. While with the Ohio Players he’d written some of their early 70s hits — he was only eighteen when joined the group for their breakthrough albums Pain, Pleasure and Ecstasy.
On each of these, Morrison does the same one-man-band thing Stevie Wonder was doing, and Prince would do just a few years later. While he plays all the instruments on some tracks, others feature a full band. From his second album, Suzie Super Groupie, here are one of each.
Morrison always has the funk sense of Sly Stone, but the smoother approach of Stevie Wonder, and a good sense of humor to boot. While there’s a CD which collects highlights from the three Westbound albums, we’d love to see one of these reissue labels put them out individually.
But first, this: the editors of The Star Tribune should be ashamed of today’s front page story about Prince. Their speculation that Prince’s sudden death was due to drug use is based on “unnamed sources” which are clearly the half-brother who sued the rock star several times, and a downright greedy lawyer.
Where the Carver County Sheriff’s office has reminded people that Prince was “a very good neighbor” and declared they will respect his privacy, The Star Tribune has sunk to a new low by placing their unfounded speculations on the front page. Even their own local music writer called the article out as “pitiful.”
Let’s hope that’s the last word on our hometown newspaper, which once again proves to be an embarrassment.
Here’s something from the lighter side of music news:
The Louis Armstrong House Museum has shared with the world rare footage of the legend himself in the recording studio. It was discovered in a warehouse in 2012, and released through the help of his daughter Andrea Bass. One would think there would be more film of Armstrong recording, considering his long and prolific recording career, but there isn’t — making this glimpse into his work all the more valuable to fans.
This was followed by a second discovery which delighted jazz enthusiasts all over the world. In a storage facility in Germany, three metal mothers featuring Armstrong and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra were found. They had been sent by Okeh Records for pressing by Odeon, but for some unknown reason were never used.
The result is magnificently clear sound for the recordings, made in 1928.
The metal mother falls in the middle of the process of 78rpm record production. It is cast from the lacquer first cut, called the master, on a lathe by a skilled engineer as the recording is in progress. These are very delicate and ideally cast as quickly as possible into a form called the matrix, through a process called electrotyping. In brief, the lacquer is dipped in a bath derived from metals, commonly copper or nickel, while an electrical current is passed through.
Thus far we have created one ‘positive’ image of the recording, and one ‘negative’ image. The difference is that the first, the master, could be played back on a phonograph (this would, of course, destroy the soft and delicate lacquer). The matrix, a reverse image of the master, could not be played back on a phonograph.
The third stage is the production of the metal mother, such as the three from 1928 recently discovered in Germany. These are likewise produced by the electrotyping process, but the results are once again a ‘positive’ image of the recording. For 78rpm records, the sound on a metal mother is stunningly clear. There will be none of the familiar frying pan. Engineer Nick Dellow transferred the three recent discovers, and kindly has shared them on Youtube for all the world to enjoy.
If you are curious about the remaining two stages of the process of production, here they are: the metal mother is used to create a new ‘negative’ image of the recording called the stamper. This is the piece used to finally press the records. Several may be made, depending on how many records the label intends to press.
These parts may all be stored, although after some use the stampers must be changed so they are often discarded. Discovering long-lost metal parts may provide an improved recording of recordings from the era. This is what inspires, for instance, the folks who have been scuba diving in the Milwaukee River for years, in hopes of finding metal parts from Paramount Records, the legendary blues label which shut down production in 1935. It has long been thought employees tossed hundreds or more metal mother and other parts into the river. There is a chapter devoted to this in Amanda Petrusich’s great book, Do Not Sell at Any Price.
Fortunately, these newly discovered recordings of Armstrong and Ellington are available for all to enjoy!
Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis will turn eighty-one next month. He has released more albums that we care or count or dare to collect — but we always enjoy playing them. Especially when we come across one we’ve never seen before. One of the great things about his epic discography is that there’s always something awesome to discover.
For nearly a decade he led the Ramsey Lewis Trio, rounded out by the rhythm section of “Red” Holt and Eldee Young. The early albums lean on jazz standards, but they had their pop breakthrough with a cover of “The In Crowd” in 1965. His backing band left, forming Young-Holt Unlimited (whose sound is characterized by this super swingin’ hit). Holt’s replacement, Maurice White later became a founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Lewis never held on to a backing rhythm section as long as he had with his first group, but his albums always feature top performers. Young’s replacement, Cleveland Eaton, stayed with Lewis well into his funkiest years.
Ramsey Lewis had three million-selling mid-sixties hits, pretty unprecedented for a jazz artist. “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water” all came from Lps which included jazz standards and sweet arrangements of pop hits. Wade in the Water augments his regular trio with a brass section and is one of our favorite Ramsey Lewis albums.
Ramsey started playing on a fender rhodes and other electric pianos while he was still recording for the Chess Records jazz-leaning subsidiary Cadet, but he really took on electric keyboards after he started recording for Columbia
When Ramsey left the Chess labels to record for Columbia, he started working with larger groups. Some even included a second pianist.
We came across a copy of his 1973 album Funky Serenity for the first time recently. Ramsey and Eaton (joined by blues drummer Morris Jennings) are in top form on this cover of Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right)”. Funky Serenity has quickly become one of our favorite Ramsey Lewis albums.
A very popular album from this period is Sun Goddess, which finds Ramsey joined by his old friend Maurice White and some of his Earth, Wind and Fire bandmates. The album was another huge pop hit for Ramsey.
We really wanted to include the funky Spiderman song from Ramsey’s next album, Don’t It Feel Good, but we couldn’t find our copy (our record collection at home isn’t very organized!). You’ll have to check it out from the link.
Ramey Lewis still lives in Chicago, but if you look at his official website you’ll be surprised to find the eighty-year-old still tours extensively. He just finished a four night stand at Washington DC’s Blues Alley last weekend, and next month he’ll be in Seoul, South Korea!
“Ah, Mancini, you’re a mascot’s best friend,” said the Capitol City Goofball in an episode of The Simpsons. He and Homer were talking about using the composer’s “Baby Elephant Walk” for their routine.
“Baby Elephant Walk” came from the 1962 Howard Hawks film Hatari!, an adventure set in Africa. The music is actually for a group of baby elephants.
Henry Mancini was born in Cleveland in 1924, and his first musical experiences were playing piccolo in an Italian band with his father, Quinto. He studied at Juilliard for a year before he was drafted, serving in the infantry and the Army band. Mancini participated in the last liberation of a concentration camp by Allied forces, the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria.
He was fortunate enough to land a job writing arrangements for the re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra after the war, while he also continued to study composition. In his next job at Universal Studios he churned out music for more than a hundred movies, including things like It Came from Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. He also got to produce jazz scores for The Glenn Miller Story and The Benny Goodman Story, winning his first Academy Award nomination for the former.
He left Universal to work independently, and began recording for RCA/Victor. This is when he first worked with director Blake Edwards, writing music for his television series Peter Gunn.
The Blues and the Beat is one of the best albums from Henry Mancini’s early catalog. The moody title track, “The Blues,” reflects his television work to date, especially the gritty score to Peter Gunn, a private eye program long since eclipsed by the popularity of its soundtrack.
Mancini’s name is hardly found on Terribly Sophisticated Songs, a delightful collection of Spike Jones-like novelty numbers, but he did conduct the orchestra for this novelty album.
This copy has an amusingly altered cover, probably given to someone with a sense of humor named Murph (“A collection of Unpopular Songs for Popular People” has been changed to “A collection of Unpopular Songs for Unpopular People Like Murph“).
The songs were written by Irving Taylor, and include such goofy gems as a song about picking crabgrass and a song about having your car repossessed.
Mancini is best known today for his film scores, although many onf those were rearranged by the composer for their release on Lp. He wrote the music for more than forty movies, including a long collaboration with director Blake Edwards. For the animated opening of Edwards’ 1963 comedy The Pink Panther, Mancini provided one of his most memorable melodies.
One year before The Pink Panther, Mancini scored a thriller directed by Edwards with lightly-swinging, Benny Carter-esque jazz arrangements. His theme for the heroine of Experiment in Terror is a great big band number.
And for another Blake Edwards comedy sixteen years later, Mancini performed the opening theme on the piano himself, with only the accompaniment of subtle strings. The song at the beginning of 10 was called “Don’t Call it Love,” and so far as we can recall is one of the only times Mancini recorded a solo piano piece.
Mancini wrote the score for Me, Natalie, a 1969 movie featuring the late Patty Duke. This score has another unique feature: Mancini playing the Hammond organ on “A Groovy Mood.”
Mancini revisited his famous theme from Peter Gunn with a cast of jazz fusion stars in 1975 on Symphonic Soul. The re-vamped jam features a heavy slap bass solo by Abraham Laboriel and an organ solo by Joe Sample of the Crusaders. Mexican bassist Laboriel was just at the beginning of an extraordinarily prolific career — while he’s only recorded three albums under his own name, he has appeared on more than four thousand recordings, ranging from Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.
Henry Mancini made nearly a hundred albums. Sometimes he reworked popular songs, occasionally featuring himself as a pianist on easy listening recordings. At his best, however, he remained a jazz arranger. He also conducted several of the world’s great orchestras, including our own Minnesota Orchestra, who debuted his Thorn Birds Suite in 1983. This music was based on a television score which was not released until decades later.
Mancini made a cameo appearance at the end of a 1966 Pink Panther cartoon, applauding a performance of his theme.
Composer Gene Gutchë was born in Berlin but spent much of his life here in the Twin Cities after moving here to study at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s.
Gutchë’s Bongo Divertimento was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director Leopold Sipe. His ten year tenure is characterized by similar such ventures — in fact, the SPCO’s first program stated its intention to “devote the major portion of its programs to the wonderful literature, both classic and contemporary, that is not ordinarily played by large symphonies.”
The recording was made before an audience in 1962, and was released by the SPCO itself. It is presumably one of their rarest recordings, although it has been issued on CD by the Schubert Club. If you listen carefully, you can hear audience members laughing near the end of the short work’s third movement.
Most of Gutchë’s music harks to the romantic era, although there is a definite Stravinsky-an flair to some of his later music. Passage in Bongo Divertimento presage Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking atonal score to the science fiction classic Planet of the Apes, recorded six years later.
The piece is divided into five movements, described as such in the album’s liner notes:
Perpetuo sets a pace for solo bongos.
Pettifoggery is a type of “con game,” a moment of dishonest jazz interrupted by the sobering strains in the orchestra.
Blue Bottle Fly is a musical duel between a soloist and a pest.
Pasticco is in imitation. A Muted trumpet sounds a Neoclassical theme against which the timbales strum a bygone rhythm.
Magpie presents two birds chattering noisily in the cool of a summer morning while their neighbors in the forest protest.