What an interesting weekend to watch the news it turned out to be! Seems like there’s a certain politician whose mother didn’t raise him very well — or maybe he just never heard this 1965 single by Roy Head and the Traits.
The Doors’ second record is an outcast’s album like no other. Successful as they may have been by the time Strange Days was released in the fall of 1967, they remained industry outsiders and almost inevitably doomed by their own internal anxieties and fears. One of the two explicitly “strange” side openers, “People Are Strange” was a successful single and is still widely assumed to reference a bad acid trip.
Drummer John Densmore (the outsider within a group of outsiders) discredited this claim in Riders on the Storm, his book published in the wake of the band’s bio-pic fueled revival. He describes the song as derived from Morrison’s depression, and inspired by a sunset over Laurel Canyon rather than LSD. The music, arranged by guitarist Robbie Krieger, encapsulates the Doors’ fascination with cabaret, a theme which was carried over onto the album’s jacket, which depicts dwarves, acrobats, musclemen and other performance artists on the periphery of society.
Where the song “I’m A Stranger Here” finds its home is, fittingly, unknown. What is certain is that it in the sixties it inspired Bob Dylan, in “She Belongs to Me,” and Taj Mahal, who derived “She Caught the Katy” from it to open his essential second album, The Natch’l Blues.
Lambchop’s recording of the song for a long out of print 10″ EP, Hank, is evocative of the band’s initial outsider status as well as the universality of this old saw. While Kurt Wagner’s Nashville collective would eventually be recognized as “arguably the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s,” they were an indie world anomaly in those early alt-country years.
One of the great, often unsung, heroes of American music is Dorothy Love Coates, whose work as the lead of the Gospel Harmonettes had an undeniable influence on the style of early rhythm and blues and rock and roll recordings. Coates never performed secular music and was outspoken in her advocacy for civil rights and opposition to war, pushing her further from mainstream recognition.
“Strange Man” was a song Coates wrote after her career had become deeply entwined with the civil rights movement. This late 60s single is truly a family affair. Her brother, Fred McGriff, produced the recording and Coates, as pianist, is joined by her daughter Carletta Coates-Criss who plays the tambourine. The song recounts Jesus’ encounter with the Sumaritan woman at the well, as recounted in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John.
In the eastern orthodox tradition, the woman at the well (there known by her baptismal name Photini) is regarded as a Saint, and held as highly as the apostles for her proselytizing of the Savior’s message. Taking the perspective of an outsider, Coates’ song is set in the subversive world of the early Christian faith, almost entirely unrecognizable today but long overdue for a revival.
The song is out of print, but we found it on this collection of classic gospel music released by Columbia Records in the 70s. The label’s longstanding ownership of Okeh Records has provided access to a variety of outsider music, and collections such as this are a valuable resource to music lovers of all stripes.
A number of artists are known for their occasional ‘comeback’ revivals: notables include Elvis Presley, whose return from service overseas in Germany was celebrated with the April 1960 LP Elvis is Back! and tenor legend Sonny Rollins, whose first of several sabbaticals ended with the release of The Bridge. The album was so named because Rollins would practice for hours at a time on the Williamsburg Bridge, which spans the East River near where Rollins was living at the time.
Another enormously influential artist who walked away from performing more than once in his career is Little Richard. In the fall of 1957, after releasing a solid dozen hits on the Specialty label — “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “”Lucille” (our favorite), “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip it Up,” etc — Little Richard surprised everyone when he announced he was going to leave rock and roll behind to study the ministry.
He described the moment of his conversion as having come during a flight across Australia, when he saw a fireball shoot through the sky and, in a separate account, believed angels were holding the plane aloft. It is believed the celestial event he witnessed was in fact the October 4th launching of Sputnik, Honestly, we’ve never entirely understood how something launched in what is now Kazakhstan could have been seen by an single airline passenger somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne without any other similar account — but this is hardly the only thing about Little Richard which is almost too amazing to be believed.
Little Richard enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, but also continued to record, shifting his repertoire to gospel music. One performance earned praise from no less an authority than Mahalia Jackson, and his Quincy Jones-produced album, The King of the Gospel Singers, is a classic within the genre.
Touring as a gospel performer, his rock and roll songs slowly slipped and slid back into his sets, and audiences roared in approval. Soon he was recording new material and in 1965 released a return to rock album, Little Richard is Back. This is the period when Jimi Hendrix (calling himself Maurice James) played in Richard’s band. Hendrix was fired by Richard’s brother in July 1965, in part because his flamboyant antics were upstaging his employer.
Little Richard went through a succession of labels and producers, all of whom he felt did not give him due respect as one of the architects of rock and roll. He felt each were pressuring him to fit his music into Motown’s mold. Adding to his frustration, he was ostracized in the south by conservative religious leaders, who resented his return to secular music, and in much of the country for his insistence that his performances be integrated. So once again he hung up his rock and roll shoes (to borrow a lyric from Chuck Willis).
Little Richard’s second comeback began in 1970 when he signed a contract with Warner Brothers to release his next album on its Reprise imprint. He was granted complete control over the material he would record and over the production of the album, The Rill Thing. The result is the Georgia native’s swampiest album to date, a return to form which featured several new originals written with his long-time manager and collaborator “Bumps” Blackwell (a co-author of many of those 50s Specialty hits).
Our own copy is a radio relic with what appears to be a deliberate scratch through the opening track, “Freedom Blues,” which was also its first single. Even a lousy copy of this album is worth it for the title track, a ten minute instrumental, and some of the other new songs.
Although 1970 was also the year Richard Penniman was finally ordained a minister, it is also around the time his lifestyle began to catch up with him, particular his drug use. His tour to support The Rill Thing was successful, but the performances were inconsistent. He hit it hard the next seven years, and although there were some highlights — especially his performance in Let the Good Times Roll (which makes up an absolutely stunning side of the soundtrack LP) — he couldn’t keep up the pace and left rock and roll for his longest break which began in 1977.
Manic as they were, we love those Little Richard records from the 70s. Recently, our friend DJ Truckstashe loaned us a paperback of Rolling Stone interviews published in 1971 because Little Richard was a “must read.” Here are a few passages from David Dalton’s interview shortly after the release of The Rill Thing:
How did you come to write ‘Tutti Frutti’?
Oh my God, my God, let me tell you the good news! I was working at the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia, my Lord, back in 1955.
How old were you then?
O my Lord, that’s the only secret I’ve got. I’m only 24, folks. I was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station at the time. I couldn’t talk back to my boss man. He would bring all these pots back for me to wash, and one day I said, ‘I’ve got to do something to stop this man bringing back all these pots to me to wash,’ and I said, ‘Awap bop a hip hop a wop bam boom, take ’em out!’ And that’s what I meant at the time. And so I wrote ‘Good Golly Miss Molly” in the kitchen. I wrote “Long Tall Sally” in that kitchen.
How did you get them onto record?
I met a singer, Lloyd Price who had a big hit, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” So he came to my home town, I was selling drinks in a little bucket at his dance, and he saw me and I stopped by the stage and I said, ‘I could do that,’ but they wouldn’t let me, so I went back in the dressing room, they had a piano in the dressing room, so I played ‘Tutti Frutti,’ on the piano for Lloyd. Lloyd said, ‘Man, say I believe that could be a hit. I want you to send a tape to Specialty Records.’ So I sent a tape to Specialty and they waited one year before they wrote back to me. I just kept washing dishes.
Like I don’t like the word ‘hippie.’ I call it the ‘real people.’ Because they are saying ‘hippie.’ I was the first one, ’cause I’ve been wearing the long hair and the fancy clothes, I’ve been doing it all my life, so I was the first hippie, yeah, in Macon, Georgia. And everyone would call me silly and stupid, and my father would put me outdoors, he said, ‘The man has gone crazy.’ So I like to say the ‘real people,’ they are willing, they’ve got the guts to admit they’re doing their thing, what they want to do and expressing their rights and don’t care about what society thinks, because what is society? I’ve been called everything but a child of God. Because society is a bunch of old people with money, that stays cloaked up to themselves and stays away from the world’ they want everyone to do as they have done through the years.
Why are people suddenly getting back into the fifties sound?
The reason is music works in a cycle. Where else can it go? It’s just this tall building but it has a foundation; if you take the foundation out the top is gonna fall. This music is the true foundation of the music, what they’re doing today all stems from this. So the kids are going back to it, they heard their mothers talking and they want to get a chance to see what their mothers really enjoyed, and they’re gonna enjoy what their mothers didn’t get a chance to enjoy.
The same as if someone asks me, ‘Little Richard, have you ever seen God? How do you know there is a God?’ I say, ‘Did you ever have a pain?’ They say, ‘yes,’ and I say, ‘Did you ever see it?’ I don’t condemn anyone, there are a lot of drugs and things I don’t know anything about it, but I don’t condemn it. I want to know why, I think we should know why they’re doing it, they could be disheartened, it could be the only way they know out. Who am I to say — I’m not a criteria — that this man is evil because he smokes marijuana. I smoke Kool cigarettes and I believe that marijuana is not as harmful as the Kool cigarettes. I’m not down on the man because he smokes marijuana; to me he’s just as great as President Nixon or Lady Bird or Mrs. Eisenhower or Mr. Eisenhower.
Don’t you play the piano anymore?
The reason I don’t play that one was it was way out of tune, and when I played I put the band out of tune. In Vegas I played the piano on every number. I stand and play with my toes, you should see me with my toes. You’ve never seen toes like Little Richard’s. The livin’ toe, yes Lord.
Are you conscious of being very vocal when you perform, or is it intuition?
The beautiful thing is I just like to say it, and the way I say it they know I don’t mean no harm — shut up, I’d rather do it myself. I just love to talk to the young people. I don’t like to talk to all the old people. They’re old and I’m young and out of place.
Do you get much chance to talk to young people?
Yes, everywhere I go I talk to the young people. In fact, in my personal help, I don’t have nothing but young people. My whole staff is young. I don’t want no old people; I want young ideas so if I don’t think right, they can help me. All those old people thinking about engines, things that happened back in 1900. My Lord, we weren’t even making records then.
Why did you give up music in the fifties?
It was at the time they sent the satellite up, and I was in Sydney, Australia, on a tour with Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and it was a fantastic, monstrous tour. And I had a dream, and I saw some terrible things in this dream. And then I was on the airplane, and I just prayed, I felt like I was holding the plane up. I just had that feeling that God was holding the plane up because I was on the plane; I just felt that so strongly. So I came out of show business and went back to school to study theology, but eventually I decided to come back in this business and teach goodness in this business, not that I’m a minister — but to teach love, because music is the universal language, and to teach love to all people, all me, all women, not separatism, but to teach that we are all one, we are God’s bouquet, and teach it through music, through joy, through happiness.
Music lovers around the world are mourning the passing of Neville Marriner, who with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields was the most extensively recorded conductor on record. Marriner founded the chamber group in 1958 and on its earliest recordings played violin as well as conducting the twelve-member group.
Marriner spent seven years as the musical director of our Minnesota Orchestra, which happens to include our first childhood visits to Orchestra Hall. While this period was remembered by a former Orchestra president as a “golden era” in this morning’s Star Tribune, it is hardly as widely recorded as Marriner’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, who have sold more than 30 million discs over the years.
In fact, there are sadly few commercial recordings of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979-86. Those you can find on LPs or CD reissues are worth a little looking around, like this performance of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 8 in G Major. Pressed by Philips Records but produced by the Minnesota Orchestra Association, the album was intended in part to showcase 3M’s new digital recording system. This is just a couple years after the three Sound 80 recordings (two of which by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) which were revolutionary in their use of the technology. We posted one of these, the Grammy-winning recording of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, here.
While working as the Minnesota Orchestra’s musical director, Marriner recorded the best-selling record of his career with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in 1984. The soundtrack to Amadeus is in fact one of the best-selling classical recordings by anyone. In agreeing to take on the project, Marriner insisted that no changes be made to Mozart’s scores to accommodate fitting them into the film, and held to his principle on the matter. The album peaked at #56 on the Billboard chart, a remarkable accomplishment for a classical record in the 80s. Marriner must have introduced hundreds of thousands of people to Mozart’s music.
Other records in Marriner’s limited catalog with the Minnesota Orchestra include recordings of Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a collection of incidental music by Wagner, and an album of violin concertos by Haydn and Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps. All are fairly easily found here in Minnesota, and there should even be copies here in your friendly neighborhood record shop this week.
The idea is certainly much older, having appeared in an altarpiece in the apse of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica in the 14th century. Italian painter Giotto included in his Stefaneschi Tryptic the eponymous Cardinal holding a smaller image of the work. The work was preserved through the destruction of the Old Basilica and remains in a Vatican art museum.
The technique is best known to record collectors for its appearance on Best of Friends, the groundbreaking psychedelic rock album by the Smurfs released on the progressive Starland Music label in 1982.
Its awesome cover only hints and the mind-expanding masterpiece contained within illusive copies of Best of Friends, which of course was named the #1 most important album of all time by Rolling Stone upon its initial release.
The technique also appeared on a far more conventional album by Pink Floyd ten years earlier. The first copies of this album included a copy of the soundtrack to Gigi, which had to be withdrawn for copyright complaints, leaving only a blank album jacket in subsequent pressings like the one seen here. The best thing about the Ummagumma‘s jacket is that they have fun with the Droste effect by changing the position of the Pink Floyders in each reproduction of the image, suggesting an infinite cycle, or perhaps endless overlapping realities.
Our in-house design team (ie our friend Paul) used the Droste effect on the jacket for Live at Hymie’s, an LP+DVD we released this past Record Store Day. He placed the album in one of the shelves in the shop, originally because we asked him to cover up a Mylon LeFevre album because, well ugh, Mylon.
We’re pretty proud of this compilation, but it’s no Best of Friends.
Monday’s post about prison records included several poems read by Pat Parker at the Women’s Jail in San Bruno, California. One of these makes reference to George Jackson, who also appeared in songs by Gil Scott-Heron, Bob Dylan, Archie Shepp, and others. His writings were enormous influential during the movement to advance prisoners’ rights.
Jackson was eighteen years old when he was accused of stealing seventy dollars from a gas station. Although the case was not strong, his court appointed attorney convinced him to plead guilty because he had a record of petty crimes. He was given an indefinite imprisonment sentence of one year to life, meaning that the State of California would determine the duration of his sentence based on his conduct while incarcerated. This is a real thing that exists in the country where we live.
He spent more than a decade in prison, first at San Quentin. Due to disciplinary infractions he was not eligible for release, and instead spent much of his time in solitary confinement. Jackson studied radical political theory, once writing, “I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me.” His became less of a disciplinary problems and more of a theorist. He wrote to friends and supporters detailed descriptions of the conditions inside San Quentin, and later Soledad, and also eloquent descriptions of daily survival in the face of oppressive racism. His letters to friends and supporters were collected and published in 1970 as Soledad Brother, selling four hundred thousand copies.
Most of today’s black convicts have come to understand that they are the most abused victims of an unrighteous order. — George Jackson
Jackson and two other prisoners were accused of killing a white guard at Soledad on January 17, 1970. The details of the case are murky at best, and when it finally came to trial the state of California was unable to prove its case. An effort was made to bring the three suspects before secret hearings in Salinas County, but before the third such hearing one of the other inmates was able to get a note to his mother, who secured the help of a state senator and an attorney. This attorney argued the reason the three were accused was not due to the presence of any evidence, but because they had been identified by the correctional authorities as militants.
Their case became a cause célèbre, but before it could come to trial there was a hostage situation and shootout at a Marin County courthouse created by Jackson’s seventeen year old brother, Jonathan. Three prisoners and a Judge were killed in the escape attempt.
Just over a year later, Jackson himself was killed in an escape attempt at Soledad, under circumstances which have long been the subject of question and speculation. The late, eminent James Baldwin put it best when he wrote, “No black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they told us he died.”
The most famous event in the aftermath of Jackson’s death was the Attica Prison uprising, which began two weeks later. The subsequent hostage negotiations and violent conclusion, in which ten guards and thirty-eight prisoners were killed in a siege of the prison approved by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, put the brakes on the prisoners’ rights movement.
“So what is to be done after a revolution has failed? After our enemies have created a conservative mass society based on meaningless electoral politics, spectator sports, and a 3 percent annual rise in purchasing power strictly regulated to negate itself with a corresponding rise in the cost of living. …What can we do with a people who have gone through he authoritarian process and come out sick to the core!!!” — George Jackson
Still, prisoners and their advocates had established, most often through the courts, the defense of their basic human rights, as well as the opportunity to improve themselves through means which were unimaginable even a decade earlier. While many advancements remained — and still remains — to be done, the American correctional system moved away from the ‘hands off’ 19th century model which saw prisoners as little more than potential labor.
The largest setback for the prisoners’ rights movement in the years since was a 1996 law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. The only law of its kind in the western world, the Prison Litigation Reform Act severely limits the access prisoners have to the legal system, including those detained and awaiting trial who are presumed to be innocent. The result has a been a precipitous decline in civil rights cases brought by prisoners, and alarming changes to the conditions inside prisons. Through the PLRA, prisoners who have been sexually assaulted have had their cases thrown out because they did not adequately exhaust all available administrative means prior to filing a suit. Other prisoners whose religious liberties have been restricted have had their cases thrown out because they were not physically injured.
If George Jackson were alive and seated at his typewriter today, he would certainly continue to write about the institutional racism which led to inevitably destroyed lives such as his own, but he would also decry the Prison Litigation Reform Act.