Awesome-ness!

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pajaro ciego

Mixed into a musty box of the usual suspects (Ken Griffin, Frankie Carle, etc) this week were a few Argentine 78s on Odeon. We don’t sell many 78s these days, and find even fewer this fun. We refer collections of them to our old friends at Vintage Music Company, who specialize in 78s, cylinder recordings, and vintage machines. Their motto — Explore the past and preserve it for the future — says it all. Any collector of vintage recordings will have a wonderful time visiting their shop.

Our small selection of 78s include mostly swing and pop records which have been mixed into collections of LPs. Sadly, for most post-war 78s, the supply out there seems to far exceed the demand. Every box is still fun to flip through, and we often enjoy playing those dime-a-dozen pop records — these songs were such a delight we thought we’d share them.

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“Pajaro Ciego” by Rodolpho A. Biagi

There’s an enchanting magic to the music of pianist Rodolpho Biago — no surprise fans called him Manos Brujas (“Spellbinding hands”). His late 30s tenure with Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra contribute to the band’s enormous influence on tango, which shifted from slower, more romantic pieces to the dynamic style more familiar to listeners beyond Argentina. Biagi began his career in his early teens, accompanying silent films in theaters.

His sense of rhythm could be deceptively simple, almost monotonous, yet entirely enchanting. D’Arienzo’s first hit with Biagi at the keyboard, “La Puñalada” (“The Stab”), was a national sensation and also a revival of the early century 2/4 tango. Biagi left the D’Arienzo to form his own orchestra in 1938, which toured Latin America extensively for decades, popularizing the pianist’s unique rhythmic take on tango and later milonga. Biagi’s orchestra was the first to appear on Argentine television.

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“Brasil Moreno – 1st Parte”

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“Brasil Moreno – 2nd Parte”

Baritone Candido Botelho is known as one of finest contemporary interpreters of the songs of composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. He was also very successful as a singer of romantic pop songs — his most famous hit was a 1941 recording of Ary Barroso’s “Canta Maria.” The lively song on the 78 we found is from the soundtrack of Joujoux et Balangandans (“Knick Knacks and Trinkets”), and Betelho’s arrangement sounds almost as suited for Felix the Cat or Bugs Bunny as for a dance band.

 

It’s George Benson’s birthday and we thought it would be fun to celebrate with some of our favorite songs from his albums. You don’t need a special occasion to enjoy his music, however — pretty much any day is the right day for some George Benson jams.

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George Benson cut his first single at ten years old, but fell into his familiar style a few years later working for organist Brother Jack McDuff, who served as a mentor to the promising guitarist. His first LP as a leader, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, was recorded for Prestige Records with McDuff’s band in 1964, and most of the songs were originals he’d written. As a frequent side-man on McDuff’s records Benson’s bold, downstroke-driven style shone, but he also showed the sensitivity of Wes Montgomery’s more subtle, layered approach.

From this 70s Prestige two-fer, which includes Benson’s debut as well as McDuff’s Hot Barbeque, we picked this lovely version of the standard “Easy Living” because it shows how much Montgomery influenced Benson’s style from the beginning.

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“Easy Living”

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With a quartet featuring organist Lonnie Smith, Benson made his heaviest bop recordings in the mid-sixties for Columbia. In addition to his two awesome albums, Its Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook, the group recorded Finger Lickin’ Good with Smith as the leader, and Melvin Sparks as a second guitarist. Ronnie Cuber plays a baritone sax with the group, giving them a grittier, swampier feel than other organ/guitar combos which usually employed a tenor.

Columbia capitalized on the success of Benson’s soul jazz hits in the seventies by collecting tracks from these albums, plus some unissued material, on Benson’s Burner in 1976. Its hard to say what fans of his mellow style made of these tracks, but we think of his bop recordings as some of his very best. “The Cooker” was the opening tune on The George Benson Cookbook.

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“The Cooker”

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Lonnie Smith took the band to record for Blue Note, replacing Benson with Larry McGhee, ending their successful five year collaboration and also effectively ending Benson’s bop phase. During those years he had continued to work with Jack McDuff, and also appeared on albums by Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan.

From the late 60s on, his own albums started trending towards the style of Wes Montgomery, and away from contemporaries like Grant Green and Melvin Sparks. Its a shame his own quartet was not recorded more by Columbia, because the handful of records they did make are fantastic.

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“Benson’s Rider”

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While at Columbia Benson also made an appearance on Miles Davis’ transitional album, Miles in the Sky. So far as we can recall, his was the first appearance of an electric guitarist on one of Miles’ Columbia albums, presaging the fusion phase which began in earnest with In a Silent Way (with Brit John MacLaughlin playing guitar) and providing a bridge of sorts between Benson’s soulful Columbia quartet and his own fusion-leaning albums for CTI to follow. Benson’s solo, starting shortly after the 7:00 mark, is surprisingly restrained compared to either.

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“Paraphernalia”

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Benson opened his first album for Creed Taylor’s CTI label with a Miles Davis tune (“So What”) but by the time he hit his stride there the music was far removed from the heavy fusion vamps Davis was recording at the same time. Still, Benson’s bandmates over the half-dozen albums he made for the label included, at times, three members of Davis’ second great quintet, in addition to soul jazz mainstays like Phil Upchurch, Joe Farrell and the Brecker brothers. His driven take on Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” has always been a favorite of ours.

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“Take Five”

DSC07247Few things had more tragic consequences in the world of jazz than the first time Nat ‘King’ Cole began singing pop standards over sugary string arrangements — the records sold so quickly that at most sessions he stopped playing the piano, leaving the world without one of the finest soloists of a generation.

The same could be said of George Benson’s string of hit singles for Warner Brothers starting with 1977’s “This Masquerade” (below). His albums became increasingly filled with smoldering rhythm and blues numbers, and his solos fewer and further between. He had, in fact, crooned a couple tunes several years earlier on his lush recreation of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. On “Golden Slumbers” he doesn’t even play the guitar he’s seen carrying across the street.

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“Golden Slumbers”

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Another pre-Breezin’ hint at Benson’s prodigious vocal prowess was an appearance on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. where he sings some backup as well as playing guitar. His supporting role is pretty minimal, overshadowed by another guest, flautist Bobbi Humphrey — still, any appearance on one of the most revered records of all time is pretty awesome. Stevie’s masterpiece beat out Benson’s Breezin’ for the album of the year Grammy, but Benson’s single “This Masquerade” won record of the year. “Another Star” was released as a single but it didn’t sell as well as “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” both of which topped the charts.

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“Another Star”

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Breezin’ set a new standard for crossover jazz, cultivating previously unrealized commercial potential. Record collectors know this as one of the most ubiquitous seventies jazz albums, taking for granted the likelihood there’s already a copy somewhere on our shelves. Although he only sang on one song, a cover of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” its success as a single became the turning point in Benson’s career. Although this was his first album for Warner Brothers, it followed the form of his CTI Records and even included some artists regularly heard on his albums there, like Phil Upchurch as keyboardist Ronnie Foster, whose solos provide some of the album’s best moments.

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“This Masquerade”

DSC07248Erotic Moods is the orphan of the George Benson catalog, having hardly been released and even less enthusiastically acknowledged. At its raunchiest the record’s loosest jams are downright dirty, especially the enthusiastic sex sounds throughout “Sweet Taste of Love” — one of two tracks featuring the sultry sounds of Willis “Gator” Jackson’s sax. This dancefloor gem has a hot lead vocal by Ann Winley, whose husband Paul ran the label which ran the range from doo wop to pioneering hip hop. Winley also produced a sweet soul jazz album by Willie “Gator” Jackson on which Benson played some of his most R&B styled guitar. Wikipedia’s Benson discography specifically omits this one, but Erotic Moods is essential Benson.

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“Smoking Cheeba Cheeba”

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The live album Weekend in LA features Benson’s regular backing group: Phil Upchurch, Ronnie Foster, Jorge Dalto, Stanley Banks and the double drumming team of Harvey Mason and Ralph MacDonald. Its four sides recorded at the Roxy in 1977 are split pretty evenly between instrumentals and vocal numbers, and the band is in great form — the set also introduces “On Broadway,” the Drifters tune which Benson would sort of adopt as a signature tune. Our favorite track is tribute to Wes Montgomery.

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“I Remember Wes”

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Give me the Night first appeared here on the Hymie’s blog when we posted our proposal for a biopic about producer Quincy Jones, and its also a regular in our “make-out music” section. This is probably Benson’s most pop-oriented album. His take on James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood,” on which he’s joined by singer Patti Austin, is particularly silly. Still, there’s something irresistibly enjoyable about this album.

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“Give me the Night”

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This two volume bootleg of Benson and a new band is a mellow affair compared to Weekend in LA. Most tunes are stretched to ten minutes or more, and the solos are subdued and thoughtful. Benson is certainly a fan of Miles Davis’ modal masterpiece Kind of Blue (who isn’t?), having recorded several of its songs. This long version of “All Blues” includes some great interplay between the quartet and a memorable, extended solo by Benson. Drummer Al Harewood, who passed away around this time last year, was a frequent side-man for Blue Note in the sixties. Here he comps Benson’s solo with the same flair he showed on albums by Stanley Turrentine and guitarist Grant Green.

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“All Blues”

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Benson sang “The Greatest Love of All” for the 1977 bio-pic The Greatest, in which Muhammad Ali played himself — lyricist Linda Creed wrote the song as she suffered through the early stages of breast cancer. When Creed passed at the tragically young age of thirty-seven, her song was a #1 hit as re-recorded by Whitney Houston. Another song Benson sang on the soundtrack, “I Always Knew I Had it in Me,” also had an inspiring message. It seems like the perfect place to end our tribute today.

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“I Always Knew I had it in Me”

A few weeks ago we posted “Jitterbug Waltz,” one of our favorite Fats Waller melodies, and wrote about his role introducing the Hammond organ to jazz. He was an accomplished keyboardist, comfortable at the Hammond, the piano, and the pipe organ as well. He formed the bridge between ragtime and stride piano and modern jazz.

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what did i doAlong with “Jitterbug Waltz,” Waller composed many jazz standards, the most well-known of which are “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”He and his longtime collaborator Andy Razaf also wrote “What Did I Do to be so Black and Blue?” for the Broadway show Hot Chocolates, which is distinguished as an early protest song reflecting on race relations in America. It was a hit for Ethel Waters and for Louis Armstrong (whose recording you’ll hear below), and was prominently featured in the prologue of Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man. “At first I was afraid,” begins Ellison’s unnamed narrator,

this familiar music had demanded action, the kind of which I was incapable, and yet had I lingered there beneath the surface I might have attempted to ask. Nevertheless, now I know that few really listen to the music.

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“What Did I Do to be so Black and Blue?”

Fats Wallers’ final recording session in 1943 featured a white musician, trumpeter Don Hirleman, at a time when integrated groups were rare. He died of pneumonia while traveling that December, and was remembered by more than 4,000 fans at his funeral in Harlem. It was said at the time “he always played to a packed house.”

As extraordinarily talented as Waller was as a composer and performer, he was also a consummate entertainer, known for his jokes and interjections during performances. The many sides he recorded as a singer capture his humor. These two tunes are from a single August 1934 session, included on the Bluebird collection you see up above. We are especially fond of the second one.

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“Then I’ll be Tired of You”

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“Don’t Let it Bother You”

The reason we chose to write a little about Fats Waller again today is that the Southside Aces will be performing his music, with special guest Mike Polad on the keyboard, tonight at the Minneapolis Eagles Club #34. It’s part of their ongoing second Thursday residency there, which we featured when they released their disc of the same name earlier this year. The music starts at 8pm (details, if you’re all about Facebook, here) and we highly encourage fans of classic jazz to check it out.

natchl blues

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“Good Morning Miss Brown”

Sometimes on a Monday morning we feel just like Taj Mahal at the beginning of The Natch’l Blues. The only cure is, of course, to listen to the rest of the album. Each of the following eight songs is just as good as “Good Morning Miss Brown” — the record is a perfect Monday morning reminder that its a big, beautiful world out there and the only thing between you and a good day is your attitude.

There’s no school in Minneapolis today because its too cold. Seems like a great day to stay inside as long as we can and watch Star Wars with the kids. And while we’re at it to revisit one of our favorite posts in the Hymie’s archives. By the way, did you know there are 1,500 posts on this site? It reminds us of the moment near the end of “Alice’s Restaurant” when Arlo says, “I’ve been singing this song now for twenty-five minutes. I could sing it for another twenty five minutes. I’m not proud… or tired.”

Anyway, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was…

Amateur Star Wars

This is a Buena Vista Records production of Star Wars for which the music, sound effects and images were licensed but not the actors’ voices.  The result?  Star Wars performed by a cast of understudies!  To make it even, uh, more exciting they seem to be making up some of their lines.

We would love to see an entire film starring this Han Solo instead.

Here’s three minutes of “highlights”:

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Enjoy Amateur Star Wars? There’s two more episodes here.

Music is Just a Bunch of Notes by Spider John Koerner and Willie & the Bumblebees is one of our favorite local records of all time.

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“Ramble Tamble”

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“Everybody’s Goin’ for the Money”

Its original pressing of 1000 copies was hand-stamped (pre-dating the Replacements’ Stink album by a decade) — many that we’ve seen here at Hymie’s have green marker circling the title. In the case of our own copy it’s a big wild squiggly circle. Some copies had a serial number, like the “White Album,” others have additional doodlings and marks. The photographs you see here are what we were able to find searching online — We had been photographing each unique copy that passes through the record shop, but when the Hymie’s computer suddenly pooped out on us last month we lost the files.

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We also found this unfinished or abandoned blog, where somebody had the idea of tracking down all 1000 copies.

My first copy of this album was a CD-R that Dave Ray made for me when I was working at Al’s Breakfast. At the time the album was out of print, and fairly difficult to find. Sadly, that disc didn’t survive one move or another, or the theft of a CD collection from a car or something. It would be something special to have today. Music Is Just a Bunch of Notes is in print again and now comes with DVD of Koerner’s weird 1970 movie, The Secret of Sleep.

The album includes crowd noise from a performance at Macalester College and a couple of absurdist comedy bits by Ted Olson. The remaining tracks were recorded above the Coffeehouse Extempore, as described in Dave Ray’s extensive liner notes. We first posted about the album’s stranger features in our very popular “Weird Stuff” series a couple years ago. Here is one of the tracks with Olson driving his car.

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“Waiting for go with Normal Dub”

Hearing Koerner perform “Summer of ’88” on the new Live At Patrick’s Cabaret disc reminded us (we posted it here earlier this week) reminded us how much we love his songwriting and his totally original performances. People hang onto their Spider John Koerner albums, which is why several of them are so difficult to find — it took years to build up a collection of all of them, as well as all the great records Dave Ray made. We are, of course, very excited about the new Red House Records compilation of Ray’s records. A few customers here have been disappointed it wasn’t released on LP, but we’re just glad to hear all the rarities and live recordings.

“Ghost Cop” is the first episode in what we hope will become an ongoing series about one of our favorite local punk rock bands, Braver.

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