60 years ago this week on June 21, 1948, at a press conference in the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Hotel (former home to such 20th century luminaries as Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Nikola Tesla, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cole Porter, and former President Herbert Hoover), Columbia Records unveiled their latest concept; the “LP.” This choice in dates was by no means a random selection. Columbia picked the summer solstice because it’s the longest day of the year and “LP” stands for "long playing."
The new “LP’s” played at a speed of 33⅓ rpm, and came in two sizes: 10in (25cm) and 12in (30cm) in diameter and were pressed out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or what we now simply call vinyl. This new material was more durable and much less brittle then the shellac used in the previous 78rpm format. (By the way, ‘shellac’ is a substance obtained from the secretion of a Southeast Asian beetle). The LP’s audio quality was better and the playable length of time for each side increased dramatically. This new format was revolutionary.
Although they released approximately 50 records simultaneously to help push the fledgling LP market, the first popular music catalogue number for a ten-inch LP, CL 6001, was a reissue of the Frank Sinatra 78 rpm album set from 1946, The Voice of Frank Sinatra. (Initially the 12in format was reserved for higher-priced classical recordings and Broadway shows, though that would change just a few years down the road). Not only was The Voice Sinatra’s first studio album, but many music critics claim it holds the distinction of being the first concept album … no way dude!
Music historians often site The Diablos as the originators and early archetypes to the Motown sound. Formed in Detroit in about 1950 by high school students Nolan Strong and Bob "Chico" Edwards, the Diablos derive their name from, El Nino Diablo, a book Strong was reading for a school report. From the start the group's sound centered on Nolans’s eerily ethereal, lead tenor voice. (Musical talent ran deep in his family: Nolan’s cousin, Barrett Strong, wrote "Money'' and many other R&B standards.) Other original Diablos members included Juan Guiterriez as the second tenor, Willie Hunter singing baritone, Quentin Eubanks as bass with Edwards on guitar, and later on Nolan’s brother, Jimmy, would join the group as the second tenor.
In 1954, the Diablos went into Fortune Records to cut some demos. The owners of Fortune, Jack & Devora Brown, who founded the label in 1947, immediately signed them. Their first single, "Adios My Desert Love" (Fortune 509, 1954), was written by Devora Brown. However, their second single and masterpiece, "The Wind" (Fortune 511, 1954), was written by the group. This ballad has a curiously ghostly quality and takes full advantage of the groups strongest points; a simple guitar line plays with a light vibrato, filling in behind the perfectly sculpted background harmonies singing "blow wind," as Strong's incredibly delicate, smooth as silk lead carries over the top. The atmosphere takes on a rather strange quality during the bridge when, backed by a quirky plate-reverb effect, Strong quietly recites his lines about his missing lover. All and all, and truthfully, this cut is slightly bizarre but so evocatively captivating. And, of course, it went nowhere, until some eight years later when "The Wind" was re-released in 1962-- this time it found a national audience, hitting the lower rungs of the Billboard Charts. “The Wind" is now regarded as a doo wop classic and is much sought after by collectors. The Diablos would continue to record for Fortune Records until the mid sixties, though with various lineups, perhaps the reason the last few releases were credited to only Nolan Strong.
For the second time in about 18 months, I’ve found a copy of the single by Gloria Walker and the Chevelles "Talking About My Baby" on Flaming Arrow Records. Now you might know her from "You Hit the Spot Baby", a classic, much desired funk track collectors crap their knickers for, with its heavy drum and bass groove, scratchy and dirty guitar lead that cuts in under Walker's vocals. Scratchy guitar? I mean nasty! Nasty as the sound of hell on a sinner’s holiday!
Anyway back to where I started, "Talking About My Baby" hung around the R&B Charts for 9 weeks in late 1968 and into ‘69, eventually climbing to #7. Unfortunately, as was often the case with way too many great R&B records, it barely made a dent on the Pop Charts, peaking at #60. Now, this is a truly peculiar slab o’ vinyl. For example, on the flip side, the instrumental "The Gallop," (and yes it sounds like a lot like Cliff Nobles’ "The Horse"!), the Chevelles -- who I suspect were the label's house band -- play mostly tight, funky, perhaps a little over the top, but in tune. This is not necessarily true on Gloria Walker’s side!
In “Talking About My Baby,” Miss Walker is lamenting the behavior of her man in a monologue that ends with the lyrics from Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”. At the top there’s an understated soulful bass line, some minimal guitar work with just a touch of vibrato. Mood … cool and laid back. So the saga begins with Gloria, a little sad, talking, reminiscing, about her boyfriend and what she used to think was true about her love. The story slides away for a second, then WHAM! Two second later she’s going off about what you really need to worry about is your close girl friends, because when they tell you about your man’s cheating ways, they’re just “trying to get some for themselves!" Set into motion is a deeply paranoid rant, and Gloria Walker’s monologue ends with her shouting “Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!” to her girl friends, to her ex, and to anyone else within earshot! Simply said, she becomes completely unhinged, (then again I may be over-reading this whole thing and just re-living some of my own personal shit …). The song ends with her super souled-up, desperate vocals digging into the Etta James melody, the Chevelles horns come in underneath, WHAM! In what can only be describe as an absolutely ragged and bloody mess … the band is completely out of whack and totally out of tune. But ultimately does it matter? Not really-- Gloria Walker’s performance is still unbelievable! I guess it’s just the sound you’d expect from a one-take-in-and-out-of-the-studio situation, second tier bands had to put up with because you’ve got your Ike’s or Lee’s or Slim’s waiting (and possibly packin’) in the hallway. I’m not sure what ever happened to Gloria Walker, but she is my kind of woman: an out of her freaking mind crazy, surreal, hot chick that can stop time with a song.