It’s always fun to listen to a stack of 45s you’ve never heard before, especially if there’s a mixture of genres and some new names. Sometimes what seems to be a familiar name isn’t so at all — we’ve always called these records “mistaken identities.” It could be a group’s name, as in the case of this band called Starship we posted last summer, or it could be an individual as in the case of today’s single.
This goofy 1975 single on a German label is credited to Jack White’s Crazy Gang. Coincidentally, the famous musician Jack White was born the same year this record was released — although he wasn’t Jack White just yet. His name was John Anthony Gillis, and he took his wife Meg’s last name when they were married. He was pictured with a “crazy gang” of his own on a Third Man Records single after he appeared on the most recent (and “sadly temporary”) Muppets show.
We’re fans of Juan Garcia Esquivel, the Mexican composer and bandleader who was sort of like the Sun Ra of lounge music. His inventive, idiosyncractic arrangements of pop standards defined “space age bachelor pad” music decades before hipsters invented the term, and his unusual instrumentation is instantly recognizable. Few other arrangers employed exotic percussion like Chinese bells, triangles and maracas so extensively, or shared Esquivel’s enthusiasm for glassando runs on the slide guitar — this latter providing the distinctive Boing! heard in so many of his recordings. Vocal arrangements were often nonsensical, if meticulous, sometimes seeming as though they were simply reading the text from a fight scene from Batman.
In the sixties Esquivel often performed with his orchestra and chorus in Las Vegas, accompanied by a light show which pre-dated Pink Floyd by years, sometimes opening for Frank Sinatra. Check out this section from a 2000 Mexican documentary about him. His albums were hardly best-sellers in the United States so its hard to build up a collection — more recently they have provided plenty of revenue for RCA in the form of lounge music compilations.
Esquivel never had the opportunity to make his own Christmas album, but he did contribute six tracks to this compilation put out by RCA/Victor in 1959. The other songs are provided by Ray Martin, a stuffy Austrian bandleader. On two of Esquivel’s songs, his orchestra is accompanied by the Skip-Jacks, a group who are best known for providing the vocals to the theme from The Flintstones. The remaining four feature his own chorus, which like his orchestra was highly disciplined by their perfectionist employer. Esquivel offers a fun new look at some familiar holiday standards.
Looking back at 2017, things really slowed down for our in-house label, which released just one 45rpm single this year. That single was good enough to make up for the otherwise quiet year — after a hectic year in 2016, which saw the release of three LPs, a DVD and a 45, it was nice to focus on one favorite project.
Fletcher Magellan, who released that single back in February, was just here with his band last weekend. He also posted a live recording from a “farewell” show here at Hymie’s 2014. Of course, nobody ever really leaves Minnesota, but it was, as he wrote in the notes on his Bandcamp page last week, the beginning of a journey.
We recently read Carole King’s memoirs, and as with many recollections of the golden age of rock and roll, she recounts her early experience discovering music through 45rpm singles. People often describe hearing these songs as tiny little symphonies.
In the liner notes to REM’s b-side compilation, Dead Letter Office, Peter Buck describes writes about why he preferred 45s to albums, concluding that “the things I like best about singles is their ultimate shoddiness. No matter how lavish that package, no matter what attention to detail, a 45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers.”
Some five year’s later Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan offered a warmer view of the single. “What can you do in three and a half minutes that will make us get up and put the needle in the grove time and again?” he asked. “The single must be a distillation of one’s powers, the most exciting slice of noise a person an cram between the lip of the disc and the edge of the label.”
We’ve mused about these different views of the 45rpm single before. Dead Letter Office turned thirty this year, but it collection of oddities is still evidence of the treasures to be found on the flip side of forgotten 45s, and Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds, presents the sea change due to overturn rock and roll a few years after its release in 1991. Both bands were exception purveyors of the magic potential of the sounds to be found in the inch or so of grooves on those seven-inch discs.
Here is a single from 1964 which has so many of these qualities — the tiny symphony grandeur and the shoddiness, and ultimately three and a half minutes (nearly) of magic. The label, Tuff Records, was commandeered by Abner Spector, a songwriter who had been earlier recorded by the likes of Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and Sammy Davis Jr. After briefly working at Chess Records in Chicago, Spector — who is of no relation to famed producer turned murderer Phil Spector — moved to New York to launch is own label, landing a hit with “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” recorded by the Jaynetts.
Vernell Hill was a member of the Jaynetts, who are remembered as a one-hit-wonder for the song, although they did record a couple additional singles as well as some songs to fill out an LP in the hodgepodge fashion of the day. Hill was credited on that LP as Ethel Davis and appeared on the cover, but the additional Jaynetts recordings were sung by a revolving lineup.
Hill’s only single, “Long Haired Daddy,” was released in 1964. It was reissued by Roulette Records, and remains largely a lesser-known relic of the era ready to be rediscovered.
Depending who you ask, the American Recording Society was the first non-profit record label. Discogs considers it to be so, but sussing out the truth of such a claim lands a listener into the murky territory of Obi Wan Kenobi’s “certain point of view” pretty quickly. What is certain is that the ARS was historically significant to music lovers, even if the sort of record collectors who are only looking for things to sell on Discogs are unimpressed by the albums.
The label was launched in 1951 under the ‘book club’ model and with a specific goal of supporting American composers (think Copland, Ives and company). Its subscription service added a jazz series in 1956 under an arrangement with Norman Granz, familiar to collectors as the founder of Verve, Clef, Norgran and Pablo Records — all pretty essential jazz labels. ARS gave him the opportunity to move some of his stock of unissued recordings as well as promote artists under his umbrella.
When you’re digging through a box of albums, they don’t look like much — especially since they’re in these plastic sleeves. Audiophiles have discovered that the engineering of these records was of the highest quality. They came in soft plastic sleeves with fairly extensive liner notes included on an insert. The jazz highlighted in the short-lived series (about fifty records produced over a two year period) trends towards what you’d expect given Granz’s economic interests: there are sessions by Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Count Basie for instance. All were prominent artists recording for Verve Records at the time. One of the catalog’s standout releases was a “Modern Jazz” record with the Cecil Taylor Quartet on one side and the Gigi Gryce/Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory on the other. Both sets were recorded at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.
This was one of Taylor’s first appearances on LP, and almost certainly a surprising listen for the subscription label’s customers, who received the album in the mail in 1958. Taylor’s incredible approach was just forming at the time of this performance.
Our copy is not in especially great shape so we apologize for the so-so sound quality of these recordings. Somebody must have loved this album and played it a lot! Here, for those interested in early free jazz, is the Cecil Taylor side of the album:
This classic compilation of late 40s jazz singles contains several gems. The album’s liner notes remark that “the most important big band of the period … was that of Dizzy Gillespie,” and the record includes five tracks from the truly amazing large group led by Diz. Few records so successfully straddled the line between swing and bop, and Gillespie’s big band earned its place in jazz history.
The reason we love this compilation is that it is the only LP (that we know of) which contains “Rat Race,” a 1950 small group single by Count Basie. The tune is a tenor battle between Georgie Auld and Gene Ammons, and it also features guitarist Freddie Green — none of these jazz musicians are prominent figures in bop or modern jazz but each were enormously influential on the performers who were. “Rat Race” is a quintessentially swinging Basie side on the cusp of modern jazz.
An adapted version of the tune was arranged by Quincy Jones on the album One More Time in 1958.