Amoeblog

The Good, the Bad and the Great One

Posted by Whitmore, July 14, 2009 01:11pm | Post a Comment
Dear 45 Records room,
 
How’s it going? Up until a couple of days ago the weather had been pretty damn nice; mid 70’s, sunny, slight sea breeze ... but a cold front came in, shelving plenty of weekend barbeques. From the edge of this five acre property you can see the whitecaps out on the waves getting ornery. Damned cantankerous Northwest climate!
 
At the local thrift store I found a goldmine -- and I use that term loosely -- of used Jackie Gleason records in mint condition. Jackie Gleason, AKA the Great One, back in the mid 1950’s when his The Honeymooners television show was at the top of its game, was contracted by Capitol Records to arrange and conduct or compose a series of records with a relaxing-romantic-late night vibe. I suspect he simply just sold his name to Capitol and hung out at the studio sessions tippling with the musicians. The best part of this “Music For” series was the packaging. The art work always stood out. One cover in particular, Lonesome Echo, was created by Salvador Dali. But this thrift store’s stash of LP’s are the more “desirable” covers, pun intended. Anyway, I found about eight Gleason albums, minty jackets all, but minus the vinyl! These album jackets are perfect, lust filled portraits of silky and laced up vixens -- femme fatales draped over sofas and beds and floors with their come hither mouths and eyes whispering “another martini, lover boy?” What I found includes Music Martinis and Memories, Music for Lovers Only, Aphrodesia, Love Embers and Flame and of course Music to Make you Misty; all the albums ready for framing and decking out your mad bachelor pad dad!
 
Well, 45’s Record Room, I’ll talk to you later. Tuck in all the Northern Soul records for me, give the R&B section a kiss goodnight and tell the Ska records that I haven’t forgotten about them, I have a little gift to give them when I get back.

The Late Great Johnny Ace

Posted by Whitmore, June 9, 2009 10:16am | Post a Comment
Rock and roll has a long and ridiculous history of tragedy. And it probably all started with the accidental shooting death of R&B star Johnny Ace who would have, should have, been 80 years old today.
 
Born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee in 1929, Ace was a pianist and balladeer and the first postwar solo black male rhythm and blues star signed to an independent label, Duke Records, to attract a white audience. His first of many hits, "My Song," was released in 1952; other hits followed including "Cross My Heart," "Please Forgive Me," "The Clock," "Yes, Baby" and the classic "Pledging My Love," which was on its way to the top of the R&B charts when he died. Johnny Ace's career lasted barely eighteen months. He only recorded 21 songs.
 
On Christmas Eve in 1954, Ace was performing at the City Auditorium in Houston. Also on the bill was Big Mama Thornton. They had been on a long, grueling promotional concert tour for most of a year. Ace had put on a lot of weight and was exhausted by the schedule of performing more than 300 shows, playing successive one-night stands sometimes hundreds of miles apart. Ace had become fond of playing with his .22 caliber revolver. Members of his band said he often would point or even unload the gun in their direction or at roadside signs from their car.
 
In Houston during a break between sets, Ace was, as usual, playing with his gun. First he pointed the gun at his girlfriend and then at another woman who was sitting nearby. He then pointed the gun toward himself, said, "I'll show you how it works." The gun went off into the side of his head.
 
According to legend Johnny Ace was playing Russian roulette. But witnesses gave a different account. Big Mama Thornton's bass player Curtis Tillman was there: “I will tell you exactly what happened! Johnny Ace had been drinking and he had this little pistol he was waving around the table and someone said ‘Be careful with that thing…’ and he said ‘It’s o.k.! Gun’s not loaded…see?’ and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face and ‘Bang!’; sad, sad thing. Big Mama ran out of that dressing room yelling ‘Johnny Ace just killed his self; Johnny Ace just killed his self!”
 
Johnny Ace died several hours later on Christmas Day. He was 25 years old.



Happy 75th Birthday John D Loudermilk!

Posted by Whitmore, March 31, 2009 09:57pm | Post a Comment

Today is the 75th birthday of a legendary songwriter most people have never heard of, but as the story so often goes, you may not know the name but you know the song. The songs of John D. Loudermilk have been recorded by hundreds and hundreds artists over the last fifty plus years. From Rockabilly greats like Arnie Derksen, Marvin Rainwater, Jimmy Newman, and Billy Lee Riley to Country Music Hall of Famers like Webb Pierce, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Brenda Lee and Hank Williams Jr. to soul, jazz and funk artists like Nina Simone, Ramsey Lewis, Brother Jack McDuff, William Bell, Solomon Burke and even James Brown. In the rock world Loudermilk’s songs have been recorded by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Jefferson Airplane to Jimi Hendrix and The Jayhawks.
 
John D. Loudermilk was born in Durham, North Carolina March 31, 1934. He wasn’t the only family member with some musical chops; his cousins are Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, better known to country music fans as the Louvin Brothers.  
 
In the mid 1950’s Loudermilk got his start recording some of his own material on the Colonial Record label based in North Carolina under the stage name Johnny Dee. After signing with Columbia Records, he began using his own name and had a Top 20 hit in the UK with "Language of Love" in 1962. Though he continually recorded many solo albums and singles into the 1980’s, his lasting mark on music history is that of a solid first class tunesmith. Loudermilk not only could write some serious songs for serious people but he had an unusually successful career on the novelty side of things.
 
Starting in late 1956, Loudermilk’s songwriting career took off with "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" -- a top 10 country hit in 1956 for "George Hamilton and the Country Gentlemen." (Later to be covered by, of all people, John Fahey!) Later that same year Eddie Cochran recorded Loudermilk’s "Sittin' in the Balcony," becoming Cochran’s first top 20 single, which has since become something of a rockabilly standard. In 1959 Loudermilk scored his first huge international hit with the song “Waterloo” as recorded by Stonewall Jackson, which hit the top of the US Country charts but also saw chart action around the world.
 
But no doubt, Loudermilk's signature song is “Tobacco Road.” He likes to say it’s partly autobiographical, but I suspect that’s just good old fashion bullshit. Tobacco Road is a section in East Durham near to where Loudermilk grew up. There, bails of tobacco are rolled down the way to the warehouse, hence the name. According to almost everything I’ve ever read about it, Tobacco Road did have something of a bad ass reputation, and was known as quite the unsavory neighborhood and a part of town where after dark even the police department avoided entering. This song was a huge hit during the first British invasion, sung by the Nashville Teens in the summer of 1964. What works so perfectly in their version is the harsh, desperate spin they put to the lyrics and melody. It still sounds raw today. “Tobacco Road” has since been covered dozens of times from a wide variety of artists like Richard 'Groove' Holmes, the Blues Magoos, Jimi Hendrix and even David Lee Roth recorded a Spanish version, “La Calle Del Tabaco,” in 1986. Actually, any garage band worth its beans has rocked this classic tale of woe … I believe it's required playing.
 
Another top 40 pop-rock classic, "Indian Reservation," was originally written by John Loudermilk in 1959 and recorded by Marvin Rainwater, as "Pale Faced Indian." Later on Loudermilk reshaped some of the lyrics and released it in the mid 1960s as "The Lament of The Cherokee Reservation Indian." In 1969 Don Fardon shortened the title to "Indian Reservation" and scored a mammoth worldwide hit everywhere except here in the states, which was very fortunate for The Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay. Two years later their version mimicked Fardon’s interpretation almost note for note and scored a huge hit in the US. According to lore, Loudermilk was once asked by Casey Kasem of American Top 40 Radio about the back story of “Indian Reservation.” Loudermilk concocted a tall tale about being rescued by Cherokee Indians after crashing his car in a blinding blizzard only to be held captive by his rescuers. He was finally released once he promised he would write a song telling of their plight. The story appeared several times on the show; Kasem is quoted as saying, "one of the most incredible stories we've ever told on AT40." I bet!
 
One of my favorite John D. Loudermilk songs is “Torture.” Originally a top 20 hit for Kris Jensen in 1962, there is a slightly obscure 1980 version released as a single by the French cult artist Hermine Demoriane. I love her version! She sounds a bit like Nico, but pulls out a bit more drama in the delivery. I know very little about Hermine except she was supposed to be married to the English poet Hugo Williams and performed in the film Jubilee (1977). And though I don’t believe much of anything I read on the internet -- actually very little, and that includes my own blog -- Hermione supposedly studied and practiced tightrope walking and wrote a book about it called Tightrope Walker.
 
In 1969 Loudermilk temporarily tripped out, got hip and underground, and released the soon to be classic, neo-psych album The Open Mind of John D Loudermilk. Finally in recent years it has been re-released on CD. I recommend it, though it is ever so slightly peculiar, but in just … I don’t know … that peculiar, peculiar way.
 
John D. Loudermilk was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976.
 
Here is a small list of some of his other classic songs:
 
Angela Jones” -- Johnny Ferguson version peaked at #27 in Billboard's but the version to hear is by Milk and their bubble gum version from 1969
 
Break My Mind” -- covered by both Linda Rondstadt and Gram Parsons
 
Ebony Eyes” -- the Everly Brothers' perfect version was a huge tear-drop rock hit in 1961, reaching #8
 
Google Eye” -- kind of a ridiculous novelty song, though it was a big hit in France, sung in French by the neo Ye-Ye group Les Lionceaux
 
Norman” – Sue Thompson’s biggest hit peaked at #3
 
Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” -- another big hit for Sue Thompson, this one reached #5 on the Billboard charts. This song was also a hit in France, this time for Sylvie Vartan in the French version: "Quand le film est triste." During her career, the Ye-Ye singer Vartan recorded several Loudermilk songs.
 
Talk Back Trembling Lips” -- A #1 hit by country singer Ernest Ashworth. This song has probably been covered a least a hundred times, and almost always by Country music artists.
 
Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” -- an absolutely great and beautiful song, probably the most recorded tune of John Loudermilk. There may be as many as 200 versions floating around; the most successful version was by The Casinos in 1967.
 
This Little Bird” -- was once recorded by Marianne Faithfull in the mid sixties. Her version reached # 5 in the UK, but only #32 in the US. Later it was recorded by Nancy Sinatra and by Jewel.
 
Thou Shalt Not Steal” -- from 1964, a classic track, became one of Dick & Dee Dee’s biggest sellers
 
Turn Me On” -- Nina Simone did a great early version of this song, so incredibly laid back. Just a few years back, Norah Jones re-did it in a similar manner
 
Anyway, Happy 75th Birthday John D. Loudermilk!




Eartha Kitt 1927 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, December 26, 2008 07:47am | Post a Comment

Orson Welles
once called her "most exciting woman in the world;" Eartha Kitt, the singer, actress, sex kitten and cultural icon has died in Connecticut on Christmas Day of colon cancer. She was 81. Her flirty, sexy rendition of “Santa Baby” from 1953 has become a holiday standard, but that was just one part of a career that spanned more than six decades.

Her success extended far beyond the music world into stage, television and film. Just last year Kitt won two Emmys for her role in The Emperor's New School; previously she had been nominated for several Tony and Grammy Awards. In 1966, she made a guest appearance on an episode of I Spy which brought Kitt her first Emmy nomination. But her most famous role is probably that of the sexy villain the Catwoman in the 1960’s hit television series Batman. Kitt had replaced Julie Newmar who originated the role.

She is probably equally as famous for her anti-war comments on the Viet Nam conflict, especially since the most notorious words were spoken at the White House as she attended a luncheon held by Lady Bird Johnson. She adamantly stated, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed, they rebel in the street, they don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."

Needless to say, she spent several years being investigated by the FBI and CIA, and for most of a decade she seldom performed in the U.S. That is, until 1978 when Kitt was invited back to the White House by President Jimmy Carter.

Irving Gertz 1915 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, November 23, 2008 11:43am | Post a Comment

I am a big 1950’s sci-fi film fan and aficionado of the scores of these classic and occasionally not so classic B-movies. The fact is, more often then not, the music will be oddly brilliant. Another inevitable universal truth is the lower the budget, the better the soundtrack. Some of the very best ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ scores were composed by Irving Gertz. He died on November 14th in Los Angeles at the age of 93.  

The youngest of eight children, Gertz was born in 1915, in Providence, Rhode Island, where he learned to play the piano, clarinet, upright bass and tuba as a kid. He studied composition at Providence College of Music and privately with composer Walter Piston. In 1938 Gertz was hired by the music department of Columbia Pictures, but left to serve during the Second World War. After his tour of duty, he studied with legendary composers Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Ernst Toch before returning to the industry.

Throughout the 1950’s and until his retirement in 1968, Gertz contributed music to more than 200 films, often without screen credit. One of his most recognized early works is the music for the 1955 western Top Gun, but his most notable musical efforts are in the Sci-fi world. Some of his soundtrack work includes The Alligator People, The Leech Woman, The Curse of The Undead, and The Creature Walks Among Us. Gertz also worked extensively with Jack Arnold, the first certified genius of the low budget 1950’s sci- fi genre, scoring films like It Came from Outer Space, The Monolith Monsters and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Gertz also worked extensively in television, composing for Land of the Giants, The Invaders and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

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