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!
One of the bands you can see this Saturday at our block party who is also on our Live at Hymie’s LP out that day is Black Market Brass. They are the biggest band to ever play on the Hymie’s stage, and their song on our compilation album (“Pocket Baby”) is not found on the 45rpm single they released on Secret Stash Records.
That record has been one of the most popular local 45s we’ve had in the shop. There are only a few copies left here or in any record shop, but they’ll be releasing a full-length album later this year.
Here’s the A side of that single, “Big Muffler.”
You can catch this awesome band on the 39th Avenue stage at our block party at 4:30pm.
Irene is keeping a close watch over Charlie Parr’s new record.
Once again there are hundreds of special Record Store Day releases which will be in participating stores this coming Saturday. Hoo boy, there are so many we have a hard time keeping track of them. One thing for sure is that there are a lot of interesting things on this year’s list.
There is one we are particularly excited about — so excited that we have an entire crate of them all ready for Saturday. It’s I Ain’t Dead Yet, a new five-song 10″ EP by our friend Charlie Parr. He recorded the new songs with a great group of local musicians last fall, and the folks at Red House Records sent over a copy last week so we’ve already started enjoying it. Our only problem is the same complaint we always seem to have about EPs — we wish it were longer!
If there is another Record Store Day release you are excited about, we should have them all in late this week and can answer your questions on the phone or by email. We expect most of the titles we ordered to begin arriving early this week!
Charlie will be performing here at our Sixth Annual Record Store Day block party, opening up the stage on 39th Avenue at 11am. Also performing are some of our favorite musicians and bands in town (the whole schedule is here, or on the Facebook page here). Once again we’re teaming up with our neighbors Peppers & Fries to make the party even bigger!
We suppose we shouldn’t stream a track from Charlie’s new record before Saturday, but he’s been singing the title song for a little while now. Here’s a video of his performing “I Ain’t Dead Yet” on a gondola above Lutsen’s Moose Mountain — and yep, he’s wearing a Hymie’s hat knitted by Laura!
Some folks are embarrassed when they bring in boxes of records. Turns out that Wham! album always belongs to someone’s sister.
Truth is, there’s no judgement. Nobody should ever make fun of you for the music you enjoy, unless its your neighbors and you’ve been playing it too loud. Our own collection has all kinds of skeletons in the closet, and we don’t mean a copy of Skeletons in the Closet.
There is one record in particular which we have never played all the way to the end. We’ve never even finished a single side, and it’s a double LP. It’s Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed.
Reed’s hour-long electronic drone has no musical value whatsoever. Rolling Stone said it was as unpleasant as “a night in a bus terminal” at the time. It is commonly listed as one of the worst records of all time.
Always a contrarian, Lester Bangs praised the album, although given his tumultuous relationship with Reed its hard to tell if he is serious or not when he claims Metal Machine Music to be “the greatest album in the history of the human eardrum.”
A classical music it adds nothing to a genre that may well be depleted,” wrote Bangs. “As rock ‘n’ roll it’s interesting garage electronic rock ‘n’ roll. As a statement it’s great, as a giant FUCK YOU it shows integrity—a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity, but integrity nevertheless.”
Why have a record you’ll never play? Well, because we are Lou Reed fans, and it has to sit on the shelf in between Sally Can’t Dance and Coney Island Baby. And also because one day maybe we’ll finally “get it.”
There’s also have a book I’ve never finished: Bill Clinton’s 2004 autobiography My Life. I received it as a gift from my wife the week it was published because she knows how much I enjoy reading about the Presidents in their own words. The year before she gave me Ulysses S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs, which were originally published by Mark Twain in 1885 in part to provide for the Civil War hero’s family after his death.
My Life by Bill Clinton is the most oppressively boring book ever written. I read a review at the time which said it was like being stuck at the airport with a lonely old man, and that’s about the kindest way to describe this book. I refuse to skip ahead, so don’t ask about the scandals which began to follow him as early in the 80s, because I haven’t gotten that far into the book. See the bookmark in the picture? That’s where I am after eleven years.
Whenever I have a fever or I can’t sleep, I take Bubba’s book off the shelf. It always solve my problem better than Nyquil, and with only a slightly more unpleasant hangover.
“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.
Country music legend Merle Haggard left us yesterday on his seventy-ninth birthday. He was a hero to millions, a poet who captured the struggles and aspirations of the working class and the pains of society’s outcasts. Raised in a boxcar and finding salvation in his love of music while in prison, Haggard was an inspiration.
An enormously prolific songwriter, he wrote most of the songs on his many albums, and had a distinctive style. He could be both hard-edged and cynical, and on the flip side of the same single deeply sentimental. Today many of his songs are oft-covered standards, by rock bands as well as honky tonk bands. Last night we pulled out the healthy stack of his singles in our own collection, and these were four favorites we played.
He was country music’s true outlaw hero, spending his twenty-first birthday in solitary confinement at San Quentin. It was shortly later he saw Johnny Cash perform at the prison and was inspired to join a band, turning straight an aimless life.
With help from his brother, Haggard took up construction work after his release, and also began performing around Bakersfield, where he’d grown up. The central California city was the site of a new sound in country music, a rebellion against the lush Nashville productions which dominated the charts. “The Bakersfield sound” incorporated elements of rock and roll while also drawing on country music roots like the 1927 Bristol sessions. Hot guitar pickin’, bold pedal steel and a boomin’ kick drum were staples of the Bakersfield bands like Buck Owens and his Buckaroos and later Merle Haggard and the Strangers. It goes without saying that we love this stuff, having released Minneapolis’ own Bakersfield-style album by Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band last year on our label.
An early break was a job playing guitar in Wynn Stewart’s band. Haggard’s first single on the Bakersfield based Tally Records would be a song by his new employer, “Sing a Sad Song.” Another early single was a song by Liz Anderson called “My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers.” One of the remarkable things about Merle Haggard is that he never forgot where he came from, and stayed genuinely connected to his roots throughout his successful career, a quality which first appeared when he named his backing band for this early hit.
Although he is best known for performing his own original songs, he went on to cover several more by Anderson, who he admired. The most notable is the one which really launched his career, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” When Anderson first played the song for him, she had no idea he had been in and out of prison several times when he was younger.
“My Friends Are Gonna be Strangers” introduced Haggard’s darker side, his unique ability to cut to the bone with honesty and dignity which made him a favorite not just of country music lovers, but all music fans. His song were later covered by a variety of rock bands, certainly in part because of this unique universality.
Haggard wrote several songs about his past, including several which were hits and are still often performed today: “Mama Tried,” “Branded Man” and “Sing me Back Home” are three of the most well-loved. By the time “Workin’ Man Blues” topped the country chart, Haggard had already hit #1 six times. The song is one of his best honky tonk numbers, with a unforgettable guitar sound from James Burton. Haggard would often speak with pride directly to his fan base as he does here, and the song became a part of his concerts for decades to come.
During his best years at Capitol, Haggard wrote so many great songs that after he left the label in 1977 they threw together an entire album of outtakes (A Workin’ Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today) which is better than the records of any of his contemporaries. You wouldn’t even know it was a collection of un-released leftovers.
Our personal favorite Merle Haggard album is from that next era. Big City was released in 1981. We were pleased to hear hm perform the song “Are the Good Times Really Over?” when he was here in Minneapolis while touring with Kris Kristofferson several years ago. It was really a great evening all around, but to hear a tune from Big City was a memory we’ll hold close. Haggard always wrote sweet, sentimental love songs, and “My Favorite Memory” from this album is one of his best.
Haggard thought of the title song after asking talking to Dean Halloway, who worked as the band’s tour bus driver. “How are you?” he asked, and Halloway replied, “I’m tired of this dirty old city.” The remark inspired Haggard and he quickly wrote the song from that opening line, but being the awesome guy he is gave half the songwriting credit (and the thousands in royalties) to the #1 hit to his friend. It’s a great song and a reminder of how Merle Haggard wasn’t one of those stars just in it for the money.
“A Bar in Bakersfield” closed out Haggard’s unsuccessful 1990 album, Blue Jungle. Solid honky tonk country was hardly what sold as he entered his fourth decade as a songwriter, but the album had a few great songs. Many were frustrated by his latest political expression, “Me and Crippled Soldiers,” which decried the Supreme Court’s decision to allow flag burning. Haggard was never shy to express his views, and although we don’t agree with his take on the case, we respect the way he made it.
It reminds one of “Okie from Muskogee,” probably one of the most well-known songs from his peak years — Haggard backed away from the song years later, alternately explaining it as a lampoon, or just trying to understand how some feels. Haggard actually smoked marijuana, but he also “like[d] livin’ right and bein’ free.” In this era where Donald Trump has turned populism into a dirty word, Haggard was always the best kind of populist hero.
“A Bar in Bakersfield” captures his roots, even if some of the production for his 90s albums is a little too fancy. He loved playing the guitar with his band, and sometimes called the Strangers’ improvisations “cowboy jazz.” The band did release several albums mostly instrumental albums the seventies without him — our favorite title of these is Gettin’ to Know the Strangers.
Haggard and the Strangers have toured extensively, even in recent years. We sure enjoyed that show at the Orpheum Theater a couple years ago along with Kris Kristofferson, and the next show the two put on at the State Fair the following year. Original pedal steel player Norm Hamlet, over eighty, still certainly had his chops, even if he had to walk a little slowly onto stage. You could tell Merle and his band were always honored to have an audience. And the audience loved them.