At the age of eighteen Claude Debussy had an affair with the wife of a lawyer while living in Paris, and although he ended the secret trysts when he won the Prix de Rome (a scholarship for arts students) it was but the first of several illicit relationships the composer had throughout his life. His most prominent indiscretion ended his first marriage as well as a great many of his friendships and his public reputation – for although Debussy would convince Lilly Texier to marry him by threatening suicide in 1899, it was she who would attempt to take her own life after he revealed his affair with the wife of a Parisian banker. Texier survived with a bullet in her spine, but Debussy’s reputation was destroyed.
It was under this scandalous cloud that Debussy debuted one of his most enduring compositions, La Mer. Initially panned – “I neither hear, nor see, nor feel the sea,” wrote music critic Pierre Lalo – the orchestral piece has become one of the more influential impressionistic works. While Lalo’s criticism may be apt in that the composer was not known to hold any particular affection for the sea, or to have spent much time upon it, the symphonic piece clearly influenced the film music of sea-faring and sea-diving films of the twentieth century. Echoes of La Mer’s rhythmic use of strings and haunting employment of harps and woodwinds, reverberate in scores spanning decades, from Bernard Herrmann’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad to John Barry’s Thunderball to John Williams’ Jaws.
Although Debussy was said to have not appreciated the application of the term “impressionism” to his symphonic works, with La Mer he surely advanced the form further than any contemporary except perhaps his countryman Maurice Ravel. The influence of his work has surely been long felt, and it remains a delightful experience for modern ears, although the copy of Pierre Boulez’s 1985 recording has a lot of surface noise.
In his laudatory notes, the conductor in particular praises Debussy’s singularity. We quote here from the conclusion to those notes:
Debussy remains one of the most isolated composers of all time: if his epoch sometimes compelled him to find fleeting, feline solutions because of his incommunicable experiment and his sumtuous reserve, he is the only French composer who is universal, at least in the nineteenth and twenties centuries. He retains a power of seduction that is mysterious and spellbinding; his situation at the beginning of the contemporary movement is that of a spearhead, but solitary … We cannot forget that the time of Debussy is also that of Cezanne and Mallarme: a triple conjunction, at the root, perhaps, of all modernity. There is no doubt that Debussy would have wished it to be understood that he had to dream his revolution no less than build it.
De l’aube a midi sur la mer
Jeux de vagues
Dialogue du vent et de la mer
Bookhouse, a local jazz trio that includes members of the Painted Saints and the Poor Nobodys, is releasing a new double LP this weekend. What’s especially unique about this – beyond the fact that its a jazz record actually getting pressed on vinyl, something rare these days – is that the songs all come from Angelo Badalamenti’s score for the 90s TV series Twin Peaks. I interviewed all three of them (Paul Fonfara, Josh Granowski and Chris Hepola) for the City Pages’ Gimme Noise blog – you can read that interview and hear a track from the album here.
One of the things I asked the fellas from Bookhouse about was if they thought their album would turn some people onto jazz, people who would otherwise not likely be interested in the sort of records labels like ECM were putting out in the seventies and eighties. I thought it would be interesting to present tracks from some of the awesome local jazz LPs that have passed through the shop (a collection of recordings we’ve been compiling for quite a while) as a tribute to the Bookhouse boys. Minnesota is best known for it’s garage rock legacy (which we celebrated in a post here) but we also have a history of creating unique jazz records. We are, according to one of the A&R guys at Numero Group, the private press capitol of the country, and a lot of those unique independent records from the 60s and 70s were wild jazz outings. Here’s a few we’ve seen:
“Men from Mars”
The Solstice album is a soul-jazz gem. Several tracks feature vocals but the highlight of the album is this bass-heavy jam with a spacy title.
“Just the Studio” by the Whole Earth Rainbow Band
This exciting performance isn’t even the best thing on this album! The first track on either side of our copy of the LP are unplayable because it has a mean warp. The portion of their “1 2 3 4 Free” recorded at the Cafe Extempore that we can play is awesome!
“Right Triangle Exploration” by the Whole Earth Rainbow Band
This album is a favorite in our Minnesota jazz collection, and this track captures why we enjoy it so much. There’s not much to be found out about the WERB online, but several of the performers appear on other local jazz records from time to time.
While we don’t know much about the band, we do know the names of their dogs – Cruiser, Collette, Kinder McDoogle and Barney.
Percussionist Steve Kimmel of the WERB lent a little of his magic to the Natural Life album. You have probably seen this one before, as its one of the more common 70s Minnesota jazz albums. We’re guessing that’s because it sold well, and no surprise because it’s very good. Also very good is Robert Rockwell III’s solo album, Androids, and we’ve chosen to add the title track from that great record.
We recently posted a tribute to Dick Ramberg, a traditional jazz clarinetist who passed away this spring. He was an exceptional soloist and you can hear a great performance on the Hymie’s blog here.
We also posted an awesome pair of singles by a local exotica band from the 60s, the Ron Hamar Trio. You can hear those here. Ron Hamar’s son came into the shop some time later and told us more about his father, and that he was still alive. We hope to some day interview him and learn how a man from the Pacific Islands came to be leading a band in the Twin Cities. We’d also love to find and hear the third Ron Hamar Trio single!
This Morris Wilson album was probably the awesome-est crate diggin’ find of our pre-record store guru days. Just look at that price tag! This was probably the best dollar ever spent, not because we could sell this record on eBay for a fortune but because it’s one of the best Minnesota jazz LPs of all! “Saxophone Disco” and “Rusty McDusty” have already been featured on the Secret Stash compilation of local soul/funk from the 60s and 70s and so we chose a different track today. Here’s “Flute-t-Booty” which captures Wilson’s Rahsaan Roland Kirk-inspired flute playing.
Bookhouse is playing a release show for their album, Ghostwood, tonight at the Ritz Theater up in Northeast. Brute Heart is playing an opening set. Laura and Dave from Hymie’s will be there spinning wild jazz records, including some of those heard here today. Twin Peaks super fan and album producer Jamey Erickson will host a costume contest, so dress as you’re favorite Twin Peaks character if you’re planning to go. Doors at 7pm, $10, 21+.
When I was a kid our mother drove us around town in a blue Chevrolet Malibu which would later be our first car. Before it was ours the radio was always dialed to WLTE (because that’s how you tuned a radio in those days, you actually dialed it). They’re the “Lite FM” station that went off the air in December 2011 to become some kind of bullshit pop country. If you grew up in the Twin Cities around the same time there’s a good chance you rode around in the back of a similar car hearing the same blend of mellow country and soft rock on the way to the Red Owl (hey, maybe we passed each other on one of those errands!).
And those good folks at WLTE (who were pretty callously dismissed by the fuckers from the CBS Corporation, if you ask me) shaped a lot of my musical interests by the time I started bringing home record players from the Goodwill in our neighborhood. Take away that radio station (and while we’re at it KLXK) that neighborhood thrift store and my mother’s patience with my penchants for bringing home albums and these words wouldn’t be here today. Hard to say where Hymie’s Records would be, but I know I’d have a real job somewhere and you’d probably be reading some stupid shit from the people at BUZN 102.
I never outgrew the 70s pop I grew up hearing on my mother’s radio, and I’m finding myself not alone in recent years. Whether its fun cover bands (think E.L.nO.) or soft rock retro bands like Gayngs and Night Moves, we’ve seen a lot of stuff here at Hymie’s that suggests a revival. We’re also selling a few more Brewer & Shipley records than we had before.
Enter Light Lunch, the first release by Heavy Deeds, a collaborative side-project band that insists it’s not a side-project band. Their five song EP is out now on vinyl (and as a download on the bandcamp page here). Recorded and released by Neil Weir’s Old Blackberry Way, it handily blends the reverb-rich, slightly psych-y shoegaze aesthetic we’ve come to expect from the veteran studio/new label with the rich nostalgia I’ve just shared. Give it a listen: Light Lunch is as rejuvenating as a sunny afternoon in your garden.
The title is apt – at twenty-four minutes Light Lunch is likely to leave some at the table unsatisfied, even if the small portion served delivers. We were disappointed with the disc’s brevity but enchanted by what it accomplishes in so short a span. Ironic, we suppose, considering how long in making this tiny treat has been.
The nice folks that make up this band you may just be hearing of for the first time hardly come from nowhere. Collectively they’ve contributed to Polica, Pony Trash, Robust Worlds, Vampire Hands, Web of Sunsets and a smattering of other local mainstays and favorites. Each has brought the insight of experience and confidence of accomplishment to this hardly-new but just released recording. You can hear nearly all of this in the first track, where a slow-building confessional along the lines of Chris Rose’s Robust Worlds takes on an ensemble cast. Drummer Alex Rose holds this expansion together with the confidence of a straight-up pro (a pattern that repeats itself throughout Light Lunch) and as the song grows the group joins together in the most satisfying harmony vocal performance we’ve heard on a new local release in a while. In solo appearances throughout Sara Bischoff’s performance as a singer is distinctive and moving.
And it gets better from there.
If you can’t hear these folks easing into “One Toke Over the Line” after hearing the title track you’re too cynical to enjoy the record anyway. Maybe playing the third track, “Islands,” will help to cure you. It’s a ear-catching blend of sounds from several eras – A refreshing reminder of Seals & Croft’s “Sudan Village” as much as of mid-90s pop along the lines of Lambchop or the Silver Jews or the shoegazing records familiar to Old Blackberry Way’s walls. It’s that first feeling that sticks with you, though, and that’s a courageous choice for a band these days. After all, seventies soft rock is hardly on the vanguard.
But look, a record like Year of Sundays is super common these days because they sold millions of them in the seventies. And that’s because listening to them made people feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with that even if it isn’t as cool as it was in 1971.
And in its brightest moments, Light Lunch is a far more satisfying seventies update than the lauded Gayngs record, which always felt sardonic to those of us who still listened to the light stuff. It’s also less rooted in the past, airier than the labored-upon and lush Night Moves album, Colored Emotions, but closer in feeling. We think it ought to be as successful as those two because it has something missing from most of the pop music we find people bringing to into the shop these days. Talking with the City Pages‘ Natallie Gallagher (in a story you can read here) Sara Bischoff said Heavy Deeds always joked they were a “family band.” That’s not lost on listeners like ourselves, exhausted with posturing and cynicism and, quite frankly, shoegazing. It’s about goddamn time the pop records we brought home stopped telling us what was wrong and started encouraging us to “be the grand believer in everything that [we] are.” Here is a record for the world around us, ideal perhaps for driving through it or walking in it or just having a picnic with friends.
Those of us who haven’t given up on that easy edge we got from our parent’s records can tell. Heavy Deeds reminds us a lot of some of the awesome folk groups who have played here at Hymie’s (Aldine or Mages, for instance). Listening to a song like “The Great Believers” makes you feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You can hear Heavy Deeds perform songs from Light Lunch and more here in person at Hymie’s Vintage Records this evening at 7pm. Like all performances here in the record shop it is free and all ages. You can also buy for youself a copy of Light Lunch directly from the band!
“No Tonic Pres” by the Roland Kirk Quartet, featuring Jaki Byard
Like many listeners, we first heard pianist Jaki Byard through the handful of recordings he made with Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He is perhaps the only pianist who can match Rahsaan, measure for measure, in vibrant re-workings of classic jazz idioms. Their most distinguished collaboration, the 1965 album Rip, Rig and Panic, features the duo (in fine company with Richard Davis and Elvin Jones keeping time) roaring through the history of jazz with a stunning ferocity outpaced only by the rich references that lace Kirk’s originals. The opener, “No Tonic Pres,” is based on a riff Rahsaan remembered hearing Lester Young perform. The title refers to the composition’s lack of a melodic focus, and the song’s frantic energy challenges the notion that modal jazz must be mellow.
It’s worth noting that neither Byard nor Kirk could accurately be described as avant garde, “new thing jazz” or free jazz. Both were veterans of the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop and were relentlessly experimental performers, but each were also unique traditionalists at the most awkward possible time. Byard’s stop time stride solo in “No Tonic Pres” is one of the compelling moments in our entire collection of jazz albums. In 1965 it took courage to be a traditionalist, let alone to play like James P. Johnson so convincingly.
James Arthur “Jaki” Byard served in World War II. When he returned he played in Earl Bostic’s successful band for a short while before settling in Boston, where he made his recording debut with Herb Pomeroy’s band. He moved to New York in 1960 and began performing and recording as a leader, as well as with Charles Mingus’ band. His contributions to Mingus’ work in that period (especially The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady) brought out his unique ability to find correlations between traditional jazz and more experimental works – they also led to collaborations with other Workshop veterans like Booker Ervin and Eric Dolphy. He also performed on Sam Rivers’ landmark Blue Note album, Fuchsia Swing Song.
His albums for Prestige capture his interest in integrating classic and modern jazz, especially his last for the label, a solo piano album. Here he delves into New Orleans jazz with a series of originals, including a lively reference to Jelly Roll Morton in “Spanish Tinge #2″ and a more epic approach in “New Orleans Stomp.”
“New Orleans Stomp” by Jaki Byard
Rahsaan, in his pre-Rahsaan days, appears on one of Byard’s Prestige albums. The Jaki Byard Experience is pure fun. It’s a jazz listner’s dream. Byard and his regular rhythm section (Richard Davis and Alan Dawson) allow Rahsaan the lead on a raucous renditions of Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” but otherwise rein in his explosive solos to create a concise and exciting renditions of originals and standards. Here is the quartet’s take on a simple gospel tune.
“Shine on Me” by the Jaki Byard Quartet, featuring Roland Kirk
Byard recorded more sporadically as he grew older, preferring to provide private lessons and teach at institutions such as the New England Conservatory. He contributed some of his best work of the 70s into an under-rated album by Phil Woods, Musique du Bois. A sealed original copy sat here in the shop, priced only eight bucks, for nearly a year! Byard led a classic big band called the Apollo Stompers for a period in the 80s.
Byard also made an album that has been near the top of our jazz “wish list” for ages. In 1972 he and Earl Hines recorded a record called Duet! in which the two perform a series of mostly obscure numbers together on two pianos. It is one of many duet recordings Byard made with like-minded jazz artists, and probably a super fun record to hear.
Sadly, this jazz legend was murdered in his home in 1999. The case has never been solved. He spent his entire life preserving jazz and most of his last two decades teaching a new generation. Although he is not as well-known as many contemporaries he is one of our most favorite pianists to listen to for his ability to bring together the sounds and sensibilities of different eras.
Since we will soon be opening the new door between the record shop and the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe next door, we thought we’d re-visit this 2010 post about the song “Blue Moon,” which has always been a favorite of ours.
Today’s post is a tribute to our neighbors, the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe. There is a link to their website just to the left and down a little bit, and today we’re going to present a variety of recordings of the famous Rodgers & Hart song “Blue Moon”.
The melody for this beloved ballad was originally written while Rodgers & Hart were working for MGM, and first copyrighted as an unpublished work in 1933. Its lyrics were revised a few years later and the song was included in Manhattan Melodrama as “The Bad In Every Man”. A click here will take you to that scene, where it is sung by Shirley Ross.
Lorenz Hart was asked by MGM to rewrite the song a third time and the result was “Blue Moon” as we know it today. The first artist to score a hit with the song was Connie Boswell but the song took on new life after the Marcels 1961 recording. MGM featured the song in a variety of its films during the 30s and 40s, and three versions of it can be found on the very funny soundtrack to An American Werewolf in London.
There are far too many recordings of “Blue Moon” to present them all, and we are of course limited by what’s in the record shop right now.
So far as I’ve been able to tell, the first record of “Blue Moon” was on the Brunswick label performed by Ted Rio Fito and his Orchestra (Brunswick LA231, if you’re going to try to find it). The following year Connie Boswell released her more well-known version.
Here are recordings by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Julie London and Mel Torme:
Mel Torme’s album Swingin’ on the Moon is an overlooked classic – It was reissued by Metro as I Wished on the Moon without the sweet jacket. We only have the Metro reissue in the shop otherwise I’d have a picture of this record for you.
For those of you who clicked on the link to see the Mel Torme record, welcome back. You didn’t miss much. Also, disregard the dismissive review of Mel’s album you read. While some 60s theme albums haven’t aged well, Swingin’ on the Moon is great stuff – The perfect soundtrack for your next dinner party and highly recommended. The people at allmusic.com really need to lighten up.
“Blue Moon” was one of the 20 songs Elvis Presley recorded for Sun Records and it has always been my favorite of them. Elvis’ Sun recordings explore rhythm and blues, bluegrass and country music, gospel, and (in the case of “Blue Moon”) the standard jazz repertoire. Many collections purport to present the “complete Sun recordings” yet all are incomplete – Regardless, any is an essential addition to a healthy record collection as the Sun recordings are most rewarding to a listener heard together.
Elvis’ version was never actually issued by Sun (Who only issued five singles by Elvis!) and first came out as a single on RCA/Victor, and on his first album, Elvis Presley. The smaller image at the right of your screen is the EP on which RCA issued the song. Although it was prominently featured in a successful art film (More about that below) its largely an overlooked Elvis recording, and certainly not a song usually associated with the King.
It was not long after Elvis’ recording that a doo wop version by the Marcels reinvented the song. One account has the Marcels rehearsing a song with the same chord changes and settling on “Blue Moon” instead, borrowing the now-famous introduction from an original song in their repertoire.
The B-Side to a classic? Its “Goodbye to Love” but not the often played and also classic Carpenters song. There was also a Colpix picture sleeve for the Marcels “Blue Moon” 45 but we don’t have one to photograph for you. If I finish this epic post in the next couple days, you can search eBay and see a beautiful Marcels EP that may be the same as the “Blue Moon” picture sleeve.
The Marcels version of “Blue Moon” sold more than a million copies, far eclipsing any recording before or since. In many ways, after 1961 the song began to disappear as a jazz standard and took up residence as a rhythm and blues and rock and roll standard, and most recordings of it in the decades since have been by rock or rhythm and blues artists. Here are a couple examples:
The first version you heard above is by ace instrumentalists The Ventures. The second is from The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart, one of the most unique classic Motown albums. The last album before they became Diana Ross and the Supremes, their take on the Rodgers and Hart songbook doesn’t use familiar Motown devices, and is probably the least radio-friendly album the album put out at the time. Nonetheless, it was a success, and “Blue Moon” one of its highlights.
I said I was going to include every version of “Blue Moon” in the shop, and so I suppose I can’t rightly leave out this recording by Sha Na Na. You’ll be impressed by their entirely unique interpretation, that doesn’t at all borrow from the Marcels’ hit.
I guess I’ll always be one of those people who thinks of Sha Na Na as the band Grandpa Simpson wanted to see at Woodstock.
A book collecting the worst records of all time lists Dylan’s notorious double LP third, bested only by bad-record-list titans Metal Machine Music and Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. We can only assume this is before Souixsie met the Banshees.
The love affair jazz had with “Blue Moon” produced some beautiful results, including interpretations by some of the best. Dave Brubeck recorded it with Paul Desmond during their tenure at Fantasy, which is the first track heard above. The track was even issued as a single on stunning green vinyl.
Years ago I heard a radio program about Roy Eldridge and caught most of it on a cassette, including a version of the great trumpeter playing “Blue Moon” with a quartet. Unfortunately, its long lost. He did record the song again with Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson’s trio, as heard here. With talent like that its guaranteed to be a gem, but the quartet recording was really interesting because it featured Roy Eldridge’s unique take on the melody.
Diz had also recorded “Blue Moon” before his 1954 session with Eldridge – His recording is characteristically playful.
The photograph below was taken while recording Gillespie’s version of “Blue Moon” – Also, in the process of preparing this post I’ve found that there is an accounting firm in New Hampshire called Gillespie and Eldridge. That’s pretty cool.
“Blue Moon” is such an insidiously lovable melody that it seems to get weaved into all kinds of different things – You can hear it in Grease, and a record of Elvis Presley singing “Blue Moon” is the thing that links together the three vignettes in Jim Jarmusch’s feature film, Mystery Train. The Vaughn Monroe recording above features an extended “Blue Moon” interlude, and Eric Clapton quoted from the song in “Sunshine of your Love”.
So what does the future hold for this intrepid American melody? We sat down with “Blue Moon” and asked it just that question.
“Blue Moon”: I’d like to be sampled more, I can’t lie. DJs have totally ignored Rodgers and Hart and focused on Gershwin, even Oscar [Hammerstein]. And, Lord how those DJs love Bacharach. All this stuff with their break beats and samples, I don’t understand any of it. Its frustrating.
Hymie’s: Anything else?
“Blue Moon”: I suppose after that I’d like a feature film. Yes, I know I already had An American Werewolf in London, but that I shared with all those other ‘moon’ songs. I mean, Creedence Clearwater Revival? What the hell are these people? I have a lot more range than that. You know I was in 8 1/2? I’d like a table full of people to sing me at the end of a movie, like how the people in My Best Friend’s Wedding sang “I Say a Little Prayer”.
Hymie’s: Is there any advice you can give to some of the up-and-coming songs out there?
“Blue Moon”: You’ve got to roll with it, you know. I mean, I wasn’t very happy with what Dean Martin did to me, but I wasn’t going to complain about it. He’s got some pretty powerful friends. [Winks] I know it ain’t fair, me being sung by Mel Torme and played by Roy Eldridge, and you’re going to be stuck with Lady Gaga, but the times just ain’t fair. At least you’re not out there looking for a job.
Hymie’s: Do you feel like you’re a part of the “great American song book” even though you’re not part of a Broadway production? Are you a jazz standard?
“Blue Moon”: I’m proud of what I am. A song like me really only comes along once…I don’t know. Just only once in a while I guess.
Should have the door between Hymie’s and the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe in use within a week or so. Installation went very well, but the glass has to be installed and we have to put trim on each side. Once we’ve got all that done we’ll finish the booths on the Hymie’s side so your sweetie can get a cup of coffee and sit at a table while you shop for records!
When we first posted our copy of Dave Major and the Minors’ first album here on the Hymie’s blog, we heard from people all over the midwest who remembered them. They were a touring show band who played mostly pop covers and worked a circuit of hotel lounges from Minnesota to Ohio. Fan recollected residencies in places as varied as the Blue Moon Ballroom in Elgin, IL and the New Inn in Okoboji, IA. From another fan we learned the tragic story of Dave Major’s death in 2000. He was shot in a gunfight with police in Dekalb, IL after attempting to kill his ex-wife and killing two others in the process (this, of course, the same Dekalb we talked with local musician Dan Newton about just a few months ago in an interview here). Its a heartbreaking story, but its nice to know that the memories of Dave Major and the Minors still bring joy to people who saw them perform in the 70s.
Here are our original posts of the two Dave Major and the Minors albums we have found. There is a third we hope to one day share here on the blog, too:
Albums by bands like Dave Major and the Minors are fairly rare, considering that they were privately-pressed and released, but not often particularly valuable. They’re sometimes called “souvenir albums.” And with that in mind, here is a favorite souvenir album that we recently found. Get ready to put yourself in Jon David’s Mood…
This classic souvenir album doesn’t have an address anywhere. There’s no record label. The photograph on the back is credited to “Dave Schuessler Photography Chicago.” The album turned up here in a record collection somebody brought into the shop, but it could have come from Chicago or Milwaukee or any other upper midwest city.
Jon David’s Mood starts out a little funkier than the two Dave Major and the Minors records we have posted, but takes a left turn in the first track when it turns into a loveable polka standard, “In Heaven there is no Beer.” From there the album takes a number of unexpected turns, and if it weren’t for the band’s irrepressible sincerity the album wouldn’t survive the bumpy trip. Each performer on the record is credited with more than one instrument – Bob D’Innocenzo performs on eight instruments and sings – and there is no Jon David! John Farrell is listed as “leader, arranger…” Why are these guys called Jon David’s Mood? Who names a band that?!
“Foot Stompin’ Music / In Heaven there is no Beer”
“The Lonely Bull”
The album features a more adult-contemporary set list than the Dave Major and the Minors albums, which tended towards jazz and rhythm and blues. Jon David’s Mood includes a fun arrangement of “The Lonely Bull” (which recalls the Ventures version on Telstar) alongside a theatrical arrangement of “Mr. Bojangles.” At the end of the first side they perform “If I Were a Rich Man” in a way that walks the line between lampoon and genuine appreciation, and then a hilariously sincere version of the theme from Shaft. These two tracks contain a few moments of brilliance, and several of brilliant awkwardness.
“If I Were a Rich Man”
I grew up loving albums like Jon David’s Mood simply because they introduced me to standards like “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Shaft.” Growing up near a suburban Goodwill store I spent a lot of time and a fairly small amount of money on albums like this, never once considering the fact that they may have been rare and valuable (as a kid I owned and gave away more than one copy of the Lewis Connection because it was, for a time, a fairly common local thrift store find). Are they great records? I guess not. But are they a lot of fun to listen to? I guess that’s subjective. I think so.
There’s sort of boundaries to what collectors can find when they devote themselves to a single format. 8-Track collectors know what we’re talking about. We have always had a great interest in 45s, which is of course reflected in our large selection here in the shop, not to mention in the records we often play when we’re DJing at the Turf Club or other favorite venues around town. On his favorite regular gig, the third Monday every month, Dave plays exclusively 45s between sets by the Cactus Blossoms at the Turf Club – the music is mostly rockabilly, country and blues, and mostly from the mid 50s to the early 60s. Kind of a brief period of time, when you think about it.
The 45s really hit its peak as a format in the 60s and 70s, when millions upon millions of them were made. Fairly inexpensive to produce and market, the 45 made releasing your music accessible to most musicians through small, regional labels. Those singles that didn’t sell well, and really didn’t until the internet age leave the region where they were recorded and released, and or course now among the most collectable records of all. The idea that a band’s single represents the best thing they could fit into a one-inch band of grooves is extraordinarily exciting to us. That excitement is what keeps us digging for new singles – not just because they are rare and thereby valuable, but because we want to hear something we’ve never heard.
But the title of this post is “instrumental music” and that’s because the peak era of the 45 was also the apogee of instrumental rock. Today it is rare that an instrumental tune would become a hit, but in the 50s and 60s many did – many of these songs, like “Green Onions” or King Curtis’ “Soul Serenade” are songs you still hear on the radio from time to time. And many others, like this Link Wray single, have been very influential as well as popular.
Many 60s instrumental tracks capture a novelty, like a sound effect or an animal sound. Others invoke a mood, like “The Gallop” by the Chevelles, a really fun track that captures the feeling of a running horse.
The best instrumental rock tracks were singles – albums by many of these artists were ultimately appealing primarily for the tracks found on their singles. The slow demise of instrumental rock might be something we could blame on disco, but the decline began earlier. We imagine it was partially driven by the rise of the singer-songwriter. When artists like Carole King or Joni Mitchell began spellbinding audiences with compelling narratives, the instrumental bands may have seemed anachronistic.
There are some good instrumentals by more recent bands, but few bands that specialize in instrumental music. You can see Man or Astroman? on their first visit to the Twin Cities in a decade next month (at the fabulous Turf Club!) – they took an innovative approach to surf instrumentals, embellishing their tracks with hilarious sound bites from B movies. We’ll certainly be there!
And we wish one of our favorite local bands could have a chance to open for them – Wizards Are Real is an instrumental rock group whose own description of their music captures what we love about it: “Concise, hooky songs challenge the notion that instrumental music needs to be melodramatic, bombastic and apocalyptic.”
Here is their latest EP, released a little over a year ago. It’s a 10″ record at 45 rpm, and whenever we play it we think about how we’d like to see a couple of the Wizards’ new songs released as singles.
They were the closing act for our Record Store Day block party this year, and as we were running around cleaning things up, we could hear their set. With each song, we’d think “damn, they’re playing all the hits!” But in fact, our favorite songs by Wizards Are Real aren’t really classic hits. We just think of them that way.
George Barnes is credited with the first recorded performance on the electric guitar, playing the new instrument on two tracks by Big Bill Broonzy. His performance predated Eddie Durham’s recording with Count Basie’s Kansas City Five by fifteen days – a stupid distinction because Durham’s recording is so much more interesting. In fact, the very best of the early innovators in the history of the electric guitar were jazz musicians, most of all Charlie Christian who was first recorded six years later.
(“Wholly Cats” by the Benny Goodman Sextet)
Amplification shifted the guitarist from the rhythm section to the forefront of the jazz ensemble, but Charlie Christian’s few recordings are remarkable because he was already ahead of the new fold, preforming a primordial bebop on the guitar before the horns had even imagined it.
Charlie Christian, taken by tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five, finally got his due in the early 70s when Columbia compiled his best solos into a double disc set called Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie Christian. The set exemplified all the best of 70s archival LP releases – great sound, great selections, great notes. It also highlighted a previously overlooked innovator in the short-lived Christian, who was taken by tuberculosis at the age of 25 in 1941.
Representing Christian’s contribution to the development of the electric guitar are “Wholly Cats” from a 1940 Benny Goodman session that also featured Count Basie on piano (up above) and a roarin’ take on “I Got Rhythm”, which Charlie Christian recorded with a quintet here in Minneapolis in 1940:
(“I Got Rhythm” by the Charlie Christian Quintet)
Dozens of bands – from Yes and Genesis to the Clash and Van Halen – have used an electric sitar for color and effect. The instrument is actually closer to a guitar than a sitar, being built and fretted in a way familiar to guitarists. Most still have a “buzz bridge” to help recreate the sitar’s distinctive sound, and many also retain the sitar’s “sympathetic strings” although the electric sitar does not generate enough resonance to create the rich sound “sympathetic strings” add to a traditional sitar’s tableau.
(“Don’t You Try to be my Baby” by Moonquake)
Joe South played an electric sitar on “Games People Play”. He is one of the most underrated innovators of his era, and we’ve already written about his awesome-ness before (click here to read it) – so I chose a track by the short-lived prog group Moonquake instead. The electric sitar is played by Havaness Hagopian,
(“Listen Here” by Eddie Harris)
Eddie Harris is heard here performing on the Veritone, an electronically amplified saxophone introduced by Selmer in 1965. Controls put a variety of effects at the performers fingertips, including an echo, tone control and – significant in this recording – an octave divider.
Harris reworked “Listen Here” several times in the several years that followed the success of The Electrifying Eddie Harris – My favorite record by Eddie Harris, The Reason I’m Talking Shit, features some great work on the instrument (sampled by De La Soul in “I Be Blowin’” years later – although most of the album is actually Eddie Harris talking shit).
The Twin Cities own Aaron Kerr (the Sleeper Pins, the Swallows, JazZen) performs as often on the electric cello as on acoustic instruments, and often in unique settings.
His instrumental collaboration with the Swallows, Dissonant Creatures, captures the surprisingly big sound that comes from the small instrument.
(“Doctor Phibes” by Aaron Kerr and Swallows)
It’s not really fair to everyone else to end with a track from this album – Violinski’s first album was distinguished on the cover for it’s inclusion of ELO’s Mik Kaminski, but it’s not really as awesome as an ELO album. Here is the title track, “No Cause for Alarm” – Kaminski is featured on the Barcus-Berry electric violin, which I think was actually blue.