Recommended: 100+ Forgotten Greats
Now, Listen to This
With music, as with books and movies, there are many “forgotten” heroes. By forgotten, I mean they don’t get the credibility among the public at large, the media, or in the history books, etc. as they should. And, let’s face it, while some artists, like The Flying Burrito Brothers (which included Graham Parsons, of course, who is not forgotten), are at least known to most hipsters. (And it’s the hipster your really care about, isn’t it?)
Below is an ever-expanding list — an omnium-gatherum, if you will — of composers, musicians, bands, and even art directors and so on(including their genre, and the basic time period in which they were most active) who I believe are very much worth your attention. Enjoy.
The Action (Rock, 1960s) — This long forgotten British Invasion band was produced in at the end of their ride by George (The Beatles) Martin. But they had been going since 1963, and were innovative in their sound. They’re tailor-made for a revival among the smart young, Sixties-sounding bands in the 21st century: a cult favorite-in-the-making. The Action’s strong suit has been stated as updating American soul music into the British/electric-guitar realm. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. In fact, they’ve got some excellent originals (considering the times in rock), and one of their guitarists, Martin Stone, went on to play in many other bands: Savoy Brown (see below) and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Stone, in the Action, had a really good, over-driven sound, very Peter Townshend. In fact, like the Who at the time, the Action were uber-Mods — high-volume dandies. Songs of theirs that still resonate include the Psychedelic “Brain,” the bluesy “Strange Roads,” rocking “Baby You’ve Got It,” and the drum-heavy, flying (like the Who) “Icarus.”
Atomic Rooster (Hard Rock, 1960s) — In the annals of Hard Rock and quasi Psychedlic bands of the 1960s and ’70s, there should be a place for Atomic Rooster. This British band, distinguished by keyboards, as well as the basic, guitar-bass-drums outfit, really did have some well-conceived and executed songs that stand the test of time. Their best album over all is In Hearing Of, with songs such as the propulsive”Your Head’s In the Sky,” raucous instrumental “A Little Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down,” and dirge-like “Black Snake.” Oh, yes, and the album cover is a hoot, too: on the front, an old lady is listening peacefully with her “earhorn,” on the back of the record cover, she’s spinning around looking shocked as all hell. That about sums up the boys’ effect on straight society — intentionally, of course.
Albert Ayler (Jazz, 1960s – 1970s) — Ayler was a legend of the avant-garde jazz movement. His legend followed him, as well, after he was found dead in the East River. The rumors (unconfirmed) are that he was tied to a jukebox and dropped to the bottom of the river. A mob hit? It’s certainly one of the more colorful music-industry death stories, like that of rocker Bobby Fuller (“I Fought the Law”), who was found dead in a car, having “swallowed” a stomach full of gasoline. The official story on Ayler is that he jumped off a ferry in the river and committed suicide. But, at any rate, the big, beautiful man was a wig when he was alive. He played a variety of muscular, aggressive, take-n0-prisoners avant-garde jazz that was impossible to ignore. He early years saw him playing R&B and blues. But after he moved to Sweden (of course, Europe) his avant-garde bluster finally found the audience that had been denied him in the States. His first U.S. album, Spiritual Unity, is a good place to dig his free-form, excoriating playing. The album Vibrations, with Don Cherry, is also great. On some of his other albums, Ayler plays in a stew of musical bags: R&B, funk, quasi-rock. I prefer his out-there jazz. Not to every taste, decidedly; but if you swing that way …
The Bailes Brothers (1940s) — Four brothers from West Virginia, the Bailes Brothers were Kyle, Johnny, Homer and Walter. Walter was, ultimately, the most famous. But the boys became popular for their brand of white, Christian gospel music with a country/bluegrass twang. They were competent musicians (guitar and fiddle), and had some swing and fire to ‘em. They were also popular on the Grand Ole Opry, until their off-stage womanizing got them canned. Then they were a hit on the famed “Louisiana Hayride” radio show. They recorded a string of popular gospel numbers, including Walter’s own classic, “The Dust on the Bible.”
Mildred Bailey (Jazz Crooner, 1930s) — Bailey’s career wasn’t that long, her hits were recorded mostly in the mid-to-late ’30s, but she is a real gem, and was rightly influential. Her recordings such as “Rocking Chair,” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” are still favorites among jazz buffs. She recorded with the greats — including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman. Bailey was also married to jazz great Red Norvo. A big lady, sadly, she died of heart failure at 44. She’s still in the Top 20 of all-time jazz singers as far as I’m concerned.
Pearl Bailey (Crooner, 1940s – 1970s) — Bailey is mostly remembered as a dancer and actress, having enjoyed a successful Broadway stage career before making the transition to Hollywood in a dozen films, most memorable of which are the musical “Carmen Jones,” and “St. Louis Blues” (the 1958 bio-pic of songwriter W.C. Handy). Bailey even had her own short-lived TV show in the 1970s. Above all, Pearl was a tremendous singer, with more than two dozen albums and many single recordings. Some of her renditions, such as “Birth of the Blues,” are definitive. There are also a couple of autobiographies of Pearl Bailey, if you’re interested.
Long John Baldry (Blues/Rock, 1960s – 1970s) — One of the great, white British blues influences of the 1960s. Baldry was a legitimately “long” (tall) blond singer with a rusty voice, who played with such future luminaries as Rod Stewart and Elton John. He was his own man, laying down the law in such great albums as It Ain’t Easy (with the seminal “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”) and Everything Stops for Tea Baldry had style, humor and impeccable taste in music. His albums were always beautifully produced, whether doing a smoking rendition of Randy Newman (“Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield”) or a hip trad song (like “Iko, Iko,” “Patiently Waiting For Jesus to Come”). He was a rocking, witty, soulful singer who went a little crazy and made a distinguished comeback. Gone now, but not forgotten.
The Beau Brummels (Pop Rock, 1960s) —A San Francisco band that was originally produced by Sly Stone (himself soon to be famous for his cool, tight funk-rock, as well as notoriously not showing up for gigs). The Brummels were, of course, named after Beau Brummel, the 18th Century British dandy polished his boots with champagne. The band had an initial hit with the gorgeous, melancholy get-even love ballad, “Laugh, Laugh”(1965) which started with a plaintive harmonica and soft acoustic guitars, and softly cutting lyrics (“Laugh, laugh/I thought I’d die/It seemed so funny to me/Laugh, laugh. You met a guy/Who taught you want it means to be… lonely, oh, so lonely.”) The band’s next hit single, “Just a Little,” was strikingly similar to the first. But, like the American short-lived band the Left Banke (who had similar, downer-ballad hits with “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”), the Brummels were soon to evaporate from the radio-play scene. In the Brummels’ case, it was illness and getting drafted into the Army that dissolved the unit. But the music is still worth listening to, for its gentle melodies, hang-dog harmonies, and glistening acoustic guitars. Although, they were routinely less than successful at covering other artists’ work: for instance with Hank Williams’ “Oh, Lonesome Me,” Sonny Bono’s “Bang, Bang,” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie.” However, other Brummels songs worth an ear include the minor hit “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” the Byrds’ like “You Tell Me Why,” and the chamber-music-like “Magic Hollow.”
Beautiful People (Alt Rock/Electronica, 1990s) — The six guys (Du Kane and Luke Baldry among them, even rumors that Hendrix’s son was involved) behind this project somehow got permission to sample any of Jimi Hendrix’s music they chose. The result was a brilliant marriage of the original Hendrix tunes, with the (then, in 1994) latest sampling technologies. The album, If ’60s Were ’90s (a joke on the Hendrix song, “If 6 Were 9″) is the best tribute, updating of Jimi Hendrix ever done; brilliantly conceived and executed, and addictive in its listen-ability. Hendrix classics that were sampled include Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), Foxy Lady, Castle Magic, etc. There’s even a sample of Mike Bloomfield talking on the mic at the Monterey Pop Festival, and Hendrix’s voice throughout, saying things like, “Really groovy….” While other mid-’90s albums are now dated, and hard to listen to, something about the river-flowing repetitiveness, and the “Rilly groovy” refrains make this work. It’s a classic sampled/new material record. Highly recommended for those who dug Jimi, or those who just want to chill.
David Blue (Singer-Songwriter, 1960s-70s) — Because he was a contemporary of Bob Dylan (whom he seemingly worshiped, like so many in New York in the early ’60s), David Blue never really got out of the shadow of the folk hero with the general public. That’s too bad. For Blue was a true artist in his own right. His solo LP, These 23 Days of September, is filled with well-written, beautifully sung and produced music. There are stand-out songs throughout, highlighted by the mystical title track, the Spanish-flavored “Ambitious Anna,” the country-fied “You Need a Change,” the somber/powerful “Grand Hotel,” and the beautiful pop ballad “You Will Come Back Again.” People familiar with the odd document that is Dylan’s road-movie, Renaldo and Clara, will remember Blue from his interviews (part of which are done while he is playing pinball. For a time, Blue went back to using his birth name, S. David Cohen, under which he cut the album Me, with some good tunes, including a fine cover of Merle Haggard’s song, “Mama Tried.” Blue’s last strong album was Stories, which includes the somber and moving song, “The House of Changing Faces,” about heroin addiction. Other Blue trivia includes that he is in (the initial art gallery scene) Wim Wenders’ excellent German color noir, “The American Friend.” Blue died of a heart attack while jogging in Central Park in the 1980s. The three albums listed above are highly recommended. I still listen to These 23 Days of September when there’s a fire going in the winter and I want to slip into reverie.
Blue Rodeo (1980s – 1990s) — Canadian alt country-rock band.
Lenny Breau (Jazz, 1970s – 1980s) — A rare “fingerstyle” jazz guitarist, Breau was the offspring of a couple of country music musicians. That may explain his affinity for guitarists Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. Nevertheless, Breau’s playing sounded completely original. Apparently, it was after the Breau family moved to Canada, traveling extensively, with Breau backing up the family on guitar, that the young guitarist decided to flee to jazz. (The story is that his father slapped him in the face for doing improvisational guitar on stage). After playing in bands in Toronto and New York, Breau eventually met his hero, Atkins, and the latter was influential in gaining the young player his first record deal. Sadly, Breau was strangled to death in the swimming pool of his L.A. apartment, and no one has ever been charged with the murder. His sensitive, harmonic guitar playing is still a pleasure to listen to. Albums to search out include, Guitar Sounds From Lenny Breau (his first); Five O’Clock Bells, and the intimate Complete Living Room Tapes.
Caspar Brötzmann (Avant Garde Noise, 1980s – 2000s) — The son of the wild, avant garde jazz saxophonist, Peter Brötzmann, Caspar is his own, loony man. He plays the electric guitar like a form of shock therapy, or at least he did when I saw him in the late 1990′s with his wall-of-noise outfit, the Caspar Brötzmann Massaker (as in, you got it, Massacre). The night I saw him, at a now defunct Portland, Oregon concrete bunker called La Luna, I was wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and a t-shirt. I was in shape those days, running and lifting weights. The band played an ear-splitting single song for about an hour — like a runaway train — so I paid tribute to them by “dancing” up front: marching, jumping up and down, and flailing my arms like Bruce Lee, non-stop for 60 minutes. At that point, Caspar smiled and hit a power chord that rang for a 30 seconds, while he leaned forward and shot me a Star Trek “Live Long and Propser” sign with his pick hand. I considered it a personal triumph. Brötzmann uses the electric guitar in the way that Hendrix, Lou Reed (Machine Metal Music), Neil Young and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) have: to test the limits, and invent new ones, of how radically “new” some pickups and metal strings may sound when pushed beyond the breaking point through an amplifier. After all, these guys are playing electronic signals as much as they are “playing the guitar.” (Even Les Paul, before them, certainly knew that, hell; he invented the technique.) It’s not surprising that Brötzmann has collaborated with other out-there musicians, such as the bands Helmet, and Einsturzende Neubauten. He also recorded an avant garde album with his Pop, warmly titled Home. And what a home it must be!
Jack Buchanan (Crooner, 1930s) — For those of us for whom there is nothing more elegant musically than shaking up a cocktail and listening to ’30s Tin Pan Alley or Music Hall recordings, Jack Buchanan is a tonic. Originally from Scotland, Buchanan was first a star on London’s West End musical stages. However, like others of his era, he successfully made his way to America, finding success on Broadway and then in Hollywood. Buchanan songs that are still a joy include, “Sweet So-In-So,” “Goodnight, Vienna,” and the absolutely essential “Everything Stops for Tea” (“Every nation in creation has it’s favorite drink/France is famous for its wine, it’s beer in Germany/Turkey has its coffee, and they serve blacker than ink/Russians go for vodka/England…loves its…tea…”). Long John Baldry covered this song brilliantly in a 1970s album. If you’re having a cocktail party, my advice: lay in a little Jack B.
Buffalo Tom (Alt Rock, 1990s – 2000s) — Thought they were college-radio darlings for a spell, I don’t think these talented songwriter-musicians are given the credit they deserve. If for no other reason than they wrote and recorded one of the great melancholy-rock songs of all time, “Anything That Way,” they should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Johnny Burnette (Rockabilly, 1950s and 1960s) — Johnny Burnette is one of those rock ‘n’ roll guys who had tons of talent — as a songwriter and a performer — but somehow just never was a big noise, national-expsourewise. Born in Memphis, he and his brother Dorsey had a swinging country band, then won a national talent show that gave them some impetus to continue in music. Johnny and Dorsey might have made the most bread in their careers writing hit songs for teen idol Ricky Nelson (after the Tennessee two moved to L.A. in the late 1950s). But today, fans of rockabilly best remember the Burnettes for super-cool songs such as “The Train Kept-A-Rollin’.” That monster of a song was written by Tiny Bradshaw, who also recorded it. After Burnette gave it his definitive treatment (including some ultra-nasty guitar work) many other bands covered the tune, including heavy hitters like Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Metallica. One of the best versions is, of course, by the Yardbirds, in the 1960s, with Jeff Beck doing an awesome job of imitating a train whistle and clickety-clack on his electric guitar. Other Burnette lovelies include the much-covered “Honey Hush” and “Tear It Up.” Burnette totally rocked (as pundits are w0nt to say today). If you haven’t heard him, do yourself a favor. He’s all shook up.
Wynona Carr (R&B and Rockabilly Singer, 1950s and 1960s) — I’ve always thought of Wynona Carr as one of the greats, though she doesn’t have the cred today of so many of the Rhythm and Blues shouters that had the big hits. She has a voice big enough to match any of her contemporaries, with the soulfulness of an Aretha Franklin (in fact, Carr, like so many black singers of the era, started singing Gospel) and the lyricism and range of a Patsy Cline. Strangely powerful indeed. On heartbreakers such as “Ding Dong Daddy,” the punchy “Act Right,” or the barrel house “Jump Jack Jump” she makes no mistake she’s can cut anybody in the business. Looked great in a tight dress, too. Sadly, after her career tanked, she died lonley and depressed, back in her hometown of Cleveland, at the age of 51.
Catherine Wheel (Alt Rock, 1990s – 2000s) — This British rock quartet produced one essential album, the heavy, dense-guitar classic, Chrome. It still stands as one of the essential documents of the 1990s. The long album effects a trance-like duration, with bombastic levels of sound and sustain, and alternately trippy, quasi-sci-fi lyrics (“Build…my canopy of steel/It fulfills my sense of real/A chrome protection”). Even better, audiences who were lucky enough to see the band playing material from the album soon realized that the record wasn’t a fluke. These were guys who were really passionate about their sound. Their power-pop-like LP is well above the standard-issue Shoegazer stuff. Stand-out cuts from the album include the title track, the radio/MTV-airplay favorite “Crank,” hook-worthy “Kill Rhythm,” and the almost raga-like drone of “Strange Fruit,” Pink Floyd-ish psychedelia of “Ursa Major Space Station” and the closing, uplifting “Show Me Mary.” Altogether a great record from the early ’90s.
Chinga Chavin (Country Humor, 1960s) — This has to be one of the weirdest records ever made. Obviously, a bunch of Nashville session men were sitting around drinking Jack Daniels and smokin’ guage about 2 a.m. one night and thought, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to make a really filthy album with hilarious lyrics and outstanding session-player musicianship?” They then birthed this terrible beauty. It’s the ultimate, blue-collar-drunk party album. No doubt considered the Beethoven’s Ninth of the trailer park. The album cover, besides having a half nekked woman on the cover, features a musician holding an electric guitar made out of a toilet seat (honesty in advertising!). I bought this second hand in a record store in some strange, Florida, two-lane-blacktop rest stop. This was the same day, while I was working as a newspaper bureau chief, that I met my journalist friend Tony Reid (who later ended up at the Washington Post). I was driving my Mother’s big, lemon yellow Ford Galaxy (my Karman Ghia was in the shop). Tony, who’d I’d known for about an hour, was reading the album lyrics (they’d had the bad taste to print them inside the cover, natch). We laughed so long and hard that I almost drove that giant Ford right into an 18-wheeler. Songs on Country Porn say all you need to know: “Asshole From El Paso,” “Sit, Sit, Sit (On My Face),” “Bennies An’ Beer,” “Head Boogie,” “Dry Humping in the Back of a Fifty-Five Ford,” and the touching ballad, and undisputed topper, “Cum Stains on the Pillow (Where Your Sweet Head Used to Be.”). Well, as the Latin’s say caveat emptor. You can get a copy from amazon, they gots everything else.
Chinese Puzzle (Experimental, Post Punk/Fusion, 2000s) — Instrumental meanderings to put you firmly into The Zone. These guys out of New York list as “sounds like” Captain Beefheart, Cream, (John) Coltrane, (John) McLaughlin, Mahavishnu (Orchestra), Pharoah Sanders, Neil Young: pretty good aspirations. In other words, it’s very “musical.” Their song, “Dem Bones,” for instance, has the intermittent angularity of “melody” that straddles hooks and the avant garde (like Beefheart), but the don’t neglect he beat. Other songs have titles such as “Roach Motel,” and “Chinese Funk.” The create instrumentals that go down like an oyster with just a touch of hot sauce. Good mind music.
Crabby Appleton (Hard Rock, 1960s) — A one-hit wonder band that was enormously talented. Named after the cartoon character from the Captain Kangaroo show, their one “hit” was the hard-driving ’60s song, “Go Back,” evidencing super-tight drumming and tasteful, fluid guitar work, in an infectious, hook-laden tune that trumped most radio-play music of its time. The also got points for their album cover when I was a young punk: look all slinky, long-haired, well dressed, with a stark brick wall on either side and a mansion (plus the trash: Captain Crunch cereal box) and they’d tagged the front step with their name in chalk. Come on!
Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (Pop, 1960s) —
Martin Denny (Exotica, 1950s – 1960s) — The putative king of the mellow, lounge-atmospheric Stereophonic record, Martin Denny continues to inspire a cadre of hardcore black-velvet-painting, Mid-Century-Modern music freaks. My pal Thomas Lauderdale tells me that on a trip to Hawaii he called Denny and was able to hang out by the pool with him, paying homage (as it were) and the wrinkled feet of the Master. Denny, who started out as a piano player, gives credit to the early years he spent gigging with an orchestra in South America for informing his clearly “Latin beat” mojo. A chance trip to play at Don the Beachcomer’s place in Hawaii cinched the deal: Denny was in Paradise. He formed a combo that held down the bandstand at the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village, with none other than Arthur Lyman (later to make his own Exotica records) on vibes. Other sounds that Denny incorporated into his music — because of his tropical surroundings — included bird calls, croaking frogs, water sounds, etc. If you really want to chill, you’ve got to dig (as people in the 1950s and ’60s did) such albums as Exotica, Forbidden Island, Hypnotique, Exotic Sounds. With some 40 regular albums and more than 20 compilation discs, your local second-hand vinyl store should be chock-a-block with the stuff. Drop a needle, shake a cocktail, and wait for Tarzan to swing by.
Enrique Dumas (Tango crooner, 1950s) — This Buenos Aires-born singer and actor was one of the great popularizers of tango music in his native country.
Esquerita! (Rock, 1950s) — This wiggy dude, with a fro’ that stands about two feet off his head, is a legitimate crooner. He’s got a big, gravelly, gusty voice, doing one better to the kind of ’50s sock-hop rock tunes that were done by a thousand others in the moments before Elvis changed the whole picture. Songs such as “Rockin’ the Joint,” and “Dew Drop In” are infectious and really lay down the law. You could do far worse. And the way he looks: he’s a panic. And don’t forget the exclamation point. That is the point.
Georgie Fame (Pop, 1960s) — Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames.
Farflung (Psychedelic/Stoner, 2000s) — This L.A. band has been working on and off under the name of Farflung since 1994. They claim they “stand for an independent freakish blend of space, kraut and stoner rock.” They churn out an authentic, long-play version of Sixties Psychedlia. Fun and trippy. Farflung started issuing singles, such as “‘The Way The Sky Is” and “‘Vision Of Infinity,”which they described as being like the cult, Space jam band, Hawkwind, with “ambient elements” mixed in. Their first album is called 25,000 Feet Per Second (which reminds me of that cool Jefferson Airplane title, “3/5 of a mile in 10 Seconds,” which, come to think of it ain’t moving nearly as fast, as Farflung would be moving over four miles a second; but I digress). They followed that one with another disc, Raven That Ate The Moon. Also interesting-sounding is the band’s The Belief Module, which they promise includes “some of the (guitar/bass/drums/synthesizer) group’s heaviest acid jam and stoner space recordings.” Farflung even, apparently did something called When Science Fails, for a proposed soundtrack to a Croatian-German avant-garde supernatural film. (I guess science wasn’t the only thing that failed.) But I really dig this band. I like Psychedelic music, Space jams, poetic titles, and the kind of cartoon-intergallactic art they put on their album covers. If you do, too, well then — blast off.
The Flesh Eaters (Punk/Hard Rock, 1970s) — Lead by the intense poet-singer Chris D. (Desjardins). Chris D. was the only member of the band that remained over the years. One iteration of this talented L.A. collection turned out a fast, volcanic album called A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (after a hilarious, low-budget Sixties horror film; of course, ALL horror films in the Sixties were hilarious and low-budget). The record was like a aural bomb. Players on the disc are a who’s who of L.A. musicians at the time John Doe, Dave Alvin, DJ Bonebreak (from X and the Blasters), and Steve Berlin (from Los Lobos). Influences seem to be Lou Reed, Iggy and the Stooges, and Captain Beefheart, all good stuff. Songs titles on the disc pretty much say it all, “Pray Til You Sweat,” “River of Fever,” “See You in the Boneyard,” “Digging My Grave.” Lyrics on “River of Fever” are typical of those throughout the album, at one point Chris D. repeats the refrain, “My family’s in the swamp, where you can’t see daylight.” On other albums they featured songs such as “Sleeping Sickness,” “Eyes Without a Face” (a truly great horror movie, and French to boot!), and so forth. A Minute to Pray… stands as one of the Top 10 Punk albums of all time for me, right along with Raw Power (Iggy and the Stooges) and Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. The album art was also classic: a corpse’s fingers burning at the fingertips like a candelabra. Pure Goth. Luckily, Slash put out a couple versions of this in the 1990s, as Rhino did on CD in the 2000s. And, finally, you can buy the whole album on iTunes for only $5.99. Occasionally, Steve Jobs does something right.
Lefty Frizzel (Country, 1940s – 1950s) — While he’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame (well, many are) and some hipsters tout him still, Lefty doesn’t get the cred he deserves, in my opinion. A real country monster. His songs such as “If You’ve Got the Money Honey (I’ve Got the Time),” “The Long Black Veil,” and “Saginaw, Michigan” are essential country. He’s as powerful as Hank Williams, if not as dark. He was a cool Texas daddy, who died before 50 (stroke), but influenced virtually every hip country and country rock star who came after him.
Carrol Gibbons (Orchestral Conductor, 1930s – 1940s) On Vocalian. Like Henry Hall.
Nick Gravenites (Blues, 1960s — 1970s) — This white Chicago blues singer is not in the ranks of the greats. But he had an interesting, authentic-sounding voice. The high-point of his career, in my opinion is in the live cuts he recorded with legendary, short-lived white blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, variously packaged on Gravenites album My Labors, and the essential Live at the Filmore East with Mike Bloomfield.
Tiny Grimes (Jazz 1930s – 1940s) Grimes is a truly refreshing jazz guitarist, who played bright, single-note style riffs. Not for him the muddy, too-bass-rich sound of many jazz guitarists of the time. Grimes swung, and his tone was clear. He played with incomparable pianist Art Tatum for years, and with his own rocking/R&B-ish band. Best among his sides are such upbeat winners as “Found a New Baby,” “Swinging Mama,” “Tiny’s Boogie Woogie,” and “Loch Lomond.”
Tim Hardin (Folk/Singer-Songwriter, 1960s – 1970s) — Hardin was a trickster character, who claimed that he was a descendant of the outlaw John Wesley Hardin (apparently not true), but also one of the finest folk singer-songwriters of the 1960s. He wrote such seminal songs as “If I Were a Carpenter” and “Black Sheep Boy,” both of which have been covered extensively.
Roy Harper (Singer-Songwriter, 1960s – 1980s) — Led Zeppelin’s “Hat’s Off to Roy Harper,” Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” (for which Harper sings the lead). Mention his phenomenal performance with an acoustic guitar in an virtually empty club with four drunk frat boys in Portland.
Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra (Pops Orchestra, 1930s) — Henry Hall was the bandleader for the BBC big band for decades, and produced a tremendous amount of perfectly orchestrated numbers. His taste was flawless. So, not surprisingly, his readings of hits of the day (the 1930s and 1940s) was tops. His versions of Cole Porter, for instance, are unsurpassed for elegance and bounce. Look for his renditions of such great tunes as “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” (the definitive version), “Night and Day,” “Radio Times,” “The Music Goes ’round and Around,” “Honey Colored Moon,” “April in Paris,” “Here’s to the Next Time,” and many more. This has to be one of the top 10 popular music albums ever recorded, from the days before they started over-producing music. Hats off to Mr. Hall.
Lee Hazelwood (Singer-songwriter/Producer, 1950s – 1970s) — Lee Hazelwood is one of those great American wildman success stories: born into a rich oil family, bagging his medical studies for music. It just so happened, though, that Hazelwood was enormously talented. He started out producing and co-writer (guitar wizard) Duane Eddy into a string of hit records that included stompdown classics such as “Boss Guitar,” “Peter Gunn,” “40 Miles of Bad Road,” “Guitar Man,” and on and on. Then, Hazelwood went on to write and produce the uber-cool/monster hit “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” for Nancy Sinatra, with whom he produced a bunch more music (when they weren’t getting horizontal together). Hazelwood even had a hit record with Nancy Sinatra on the bickering-couple, country classic, “Jackson” (which Johnny and Rosanne also knocked out of the park. There’s a hilarious YouTube video up of Hazelwood/Sinatra, with their boots made for walking, which has been viewed more than a million times. Later in his career, Hazelwood worked with country-rock innovator Graham Parsons, too. And, the ultimate sign of his cool was that, as Hazelwood was dying of cancer, his last album he called Cake and Death. The dude went down swingin’.
J.B. Hutto (Blues, 1960s — 1970s) — One of the most original and passionate of the Chicago slide guitar bluesmen. Had a great voice as well. His album Hawk Squat is essential. His song, “I Feel Good,” is legendary.
Ukulele Ike (Crooner, 1930s – 1940s) — He had a flexible, humorous voice, an terrific sense of rhythm, and made the ukulele hip, oh, about 80 years before the shoe-gazer crowd went rustic in the 21st century and believed they’d invented the genre.
It’s a Beautiful Day (Pre-World-Music Rock, 1960s) — On It’s a Beautiful Day’s and self-titled album one can find the album-play radio hit, “White Bird,” and other long, thoughtful tunes distinguished by floating melodies, electric violin and guitar. The lyrics hover somewhere between I’ve-read-Kahlil Gibran-poetry and Pop. Very listenable.
Burl Ives (Folk Singer, 1950s – 1970s) — “Rock Candy Mountain,” “Streets of Laredo.” lkasjdfkljsf
Abner Jay (Blues, 1940s – 1970s) Of all the “forgotten” musicians on my list, none is more dear to me than Abner Jay. This Georgia-born blues singer-songwriter, who was possessed of an unforgettable, plaintive voice, has virtually no precedent. He prided himself on being a “one-man band,” playing a syncopated style of electric banjo, blowing on a harmonica held fast in a neck harness, while playing bass drum and high-hat with his feet. Of course, he also had an impeccable sense of timing in accompanying himself. Jay’s original songs (such masterpieces as “I’m So Depressed” and “I’m a Hard Working Man”) are exactly that: original. Jay apparently was a member of the Silas Greens Minstrels from the ’30s to ’50s, and also worked with Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But it was during his stint as an traveling solo artist, moving across America in a trailer with a makeshift stage that defines his genius. (He billed himself as “the last Southern black minstrel show.”) I have read accounts of him playing from Atlanta (near his home) to busking at the flea market in San Francisco. As is usually the case with talented musicians, Jay never enjoyed widespread success. One of his songs is collected on a Smithsonian Institution roots music collection. The famed avant-garde jazz artist Antony Braxton also sung Jay’s praises. But his original albums (on his own label, Brandie Records, named after his daughter) are prized indeed by collectors. My introduction to Jay was when I found a used copy of his incomparable album, Swuanee Water and Cocaine Blues, in a second-hand bin the first year in Portland, Oregon. I paid 50 cents for the record. I promptly put it in a crate full of records and forgot about it, never even bothering to give it a listen. Fast forward about a dozen years. Then married, my wife and I were having breakfast in bed on a sunny Saturday morning. And I got up occasionally to put another disc on the record player in our room. “Why don’t you play that weird blues record you bought for 50 cents,” she said. We listened to the first side. And I discovered that my album was autographed by Jay, with a message to a “college kid” (who must have been at one of Jay’s traveling shows. The song “I’m So Depressed” was so moving, that both my wife and I were wiping away tears. That sums of Jay for me: he is probably the most honest singer-songwriter I’ve ever heard. Other recordings you can hunt for include: The Backbone of America Is a Mule and Cotton (live); One Man Band (a 2003 re-issue/compilation). I also obtained, some years ago, a strange compilation of Jay’s music on CD, from some cat in Sweden. Each of the songs has a humorous anecdote or joke preceding it, and some of the songs are completely different recordings that on the original Swuanee River… LP. Plus, in 2010, a guy named Jack Teague released a terrific six-song collection of Jay songs he recorded in the bluesman’s trailer back in Georgia in the early 1990′s. This excellent record, with a heartfelt booklet recounting Teague’s experiences as a friend of Abner Jay (and including a black-and-white and color photograph of the great musician) is a must have. You can get it online, probably. Or write to Teague at Mississippi Records, 4007 N. Mississippi Ave., Portland, OR 97227. Good hunting. I envy anyone’s experience of hearing an Abner Jay record for the first time.
The Jayhawks (Alt Country, 1980s – 1990s) — If for no other reason, the Jayhawks should be remembered for their fantastic “alt country” album, Hollywood Town Hall.
The Jesus and Mary Chain (Alt Rock, 1970s – 1980s)
Lord Kitchner (Calypso Crooner/Songwriter, 1940s – 1950s) — The Trinidadian Calypso legend, not well known in the West.
Otto Klemperer (Classical Music Conductor/Composer, 1885-1973) — Otto Klemperer is one of my favorite classical music conductors of all time. Plus, he has the extreme benefit of being one of those classical music figures who had an absolutely tempestuous, insane life. Born in Breslau, Germany (now part of Poland), Klemperer befriended the famed composer Gustav Mahler, of whom he had been a devotee early in his career, but Klemperer would have been famous nonetheless. Having held the baton at many prestigious podiums in Germany, Kelmperer also was a great promoter of then-avant-garde works (some of my favorites) by such composers as Schonberg (Erwartung), Janacek (From the House of the Dead) and Stravinski (Oedipus Rex). As a Jew, he wasn’t welcomed in Hitler’s Germany, so, luckily, he fled to the U.S., where he ended up holding down the fort with the L.A. Phil. It was in the U.S. that Klemperer’s life really got crazy. Some doctor misdiagnosed him with a brain tumor. The doctors operated on and paralyzed him. He went bonkers, got put in a lunatic asylum, escaped, and ended up in jail one night. That pretty much scotched Klemperer’s career in the U.S. (shame on the U.S.). See, if the Cohn Brothers really were cool, instead of making remakes of John Wayne movies, and botching lesser Carmack McCarthy books, they’d make a biopic of Otto Klemperer! Anyway, “Klep” returned to Europe, where he re-ignited his career. But speaking of igniting things, after a strange fall which left him partially handicapped, he had a bizarre smoking-in-bed blaze that scarred him terribly. Still, Klemperer (whose son was Werner Klemperer, ironically the Nazi commandant on the U.S. TV program, Hogan’s Heroes) continued to conduct at various venues, including in Israel. Klemperer is beloved for many famous recordings, including Beethoven, Wagner and Bruckner (another forgotten favorite). But, for me, the signature recording of Klemperer’s is his magnificent reading of Mozart’s wind serenades. When I was a 19-year-old, recently inducted into the United States Navy, I would go every Friday during one frozen winter in Virginia to the Norfolk Public Library downtown and check out the vinyl LP Mozart Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, with Klemperer conducting the London Wind Quintet & Ensemble. It didn’t hurt that the album cover (shown here, since I’ve worn out a couple of vinyl copies in the decades since) featured an uber-cool design layout of clarinets, basoon, French horn, etc. (for, even at 19, I was transfixed by elegan art direction). Neither did it hurt that the woman (probably about 25, who seemed very much “the older woman”) who checked the record out to me every Friday around dusk was an breathtaking beauty, a cross between Elizabeth Taylor (in A Place in the Sun) and Jennifer O’Neal (in The Summer of ’42). I was in love with the lady at the library almost as much as I was with Klemperer’s recording. Every Friday, when the record was over, I would furtively turn it back into the lovely librarian, too nervous to say anything to her. Then I would sup solo at an Italian restaurant across the street, having one glass of red wine with dinner, and schlep back in ankle deep snow to where the ship was suspended in the drydocks . With the sound of the slow Serenade No. 10 in B Major playing in my memory, and visions of kissing “Her” in the stacks, I was warm enough the whole way back to my cold gray ship.
Eric Kloss (Jazz, 1970s) — Kloss is one of those super-talented sax players who doesn’t get the kudos today that he should His really fruitful period, as a recording artist was in the 1970s and 1980s. I hipped to him by finding a great (1983, Muse) album of his, called The Doors, in a used rack in a record store. The album starts with the haunting title track, a chilling execution which starts with a moody, modern-urban bass riff (by Gene Taylor) and electric piano touches (in 9/8 time, no less!), then complimented by Kloss doubling himself on alto, with a chilling riff motiff. Then he just … wails free form, while the bass and piano keep that slow, rolling, film noir thing going on. And that’s only the first (if best) tune on the album. Other fine tunes on the album include the smoky, tenor ballad “Waves.” Kloss is also seen on the back of the album cover with a hip, white ’70s jacket with epilets, and his moustache, long sideburns and sunglassses (he’s blind). Hailing from Philly, I’ve heard that Kloss is teach sax around there at some university or other. The cat can blow, man. I saw a copy of The Doors on the web on CD for like $90, from Japan. And while I wouldn’t pay that, I definitely think it’s a must have record. Get the to the second-hand record stores, then, eh?
Sleepy LaBeef (Rockabilly, 1950s – 2000s) — Sleepy is a one-of-a-kind performer. He’s in a solid Rockabilly bag, but with tons of Texas country mixed in. A giant man, always seen in a 10-gallon hat, he plays a mean Gibson ES-335 (the choice of Chuck Berry, and, well, me, as luck would have it), and sings in a deep, rafter-shakin’ baritone. He knocks the hell out of songs such as “Waltz Around Texas,” “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” and “Strange Things.” I first saw Sleepy quite by accident one cold winter’s night (November, 1981) in New York City when I was on assignment as a film critic. Dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, I called an old punk friend of mine, Randi, to see if she wanted to go out and see music. She said, “Yeah.” She first recommended we go to the Ritz to see some Irish band that she’d heard of. The band was called U2. I’d never heard of them, of course, but we went. It wasn’t an overly large crowd. The band started, played one and a half songs. I could tell Randi was as bored as I was. I said, “Do you like this?” She said, “No.” We went on to the next bar, and the next gig. I didn’t really tumble to the fact that U2 was a big band until a French exchange student who spent a couple of weeks at my house in Florida (in 1985) said his favorite band was U2. Then I remembered I’d seen them. But I was never much into ’80s music anyway. However, I digress. That cold night in November 1981, Randi and I had been to about four places, and we’re walking down some narrow street in the Village, freezing our asses off, and we come up on a big, greenhouse looking building about 1:30 a.m., which is full of people dancing, and a wonderful, loud Rockabilly band playing. We went inside, and it was Sleepy LaBeef. He danced ourselves into a sweaty mess with a packed crowd. I saw Sleepy one other time at a small bar in Portland, Oregon with a girlfriend who was all tattoos and noserings and love martinis. We danced the night away, and he knocked me out again. During the Portland bar show, he said, “Well, I only know about 500 songs.” And he proceeded to play about 20, back-to-back with fluid grace, never stopping. He also signed my CD I bought from him. You gotta give it up for the man!
Valentina Levko (Opera/Traditional 1940s – 1960s) — Levko was a contralto opera singer, who also recorded a stunningly simple and beautiful long-playing record of Russian folk songs, called A Russian Folk Recital (on Capitol Records, 1967). The album (my copy of which Pink Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale borrowed six or eight years ago, never to return: ( ) is brilliant. Songs on the album include “Elegy” and “The Green Grove,” upbeat numbers like “The Bell” and “Over the Clear Fields, and the refreshing “Reflections at the Campfire.” I have no idea what the titles of these things actually are in Russia. But the tune that won my heart is the beautifully poetic, “Lost Amidst the Tall Grain.” Lost indeed.
Big Jay McNeely (Rhythm & Blues, 1940s – 1960s) —
Moby Grape (1960) —
Frank Morgan (Jazz, 1950s – 1970s) Saxophonist. Listen to the Dawn, and…
Fred Neil (Singer-Songwriter, 1960s – 1970s) — Though he was a great influence on so many folk-rock artists (including Jefferson Airplane, Loving Spoonful, The Animals, Tim Hardin, etc.), and he wrote the classic “Everybody’s Talking At Me,” which Nilsson had a hit with (and was featured in the movie “Midnight Cowboy”) Neil is still woefully underrated today. Other tunes of his, such as “That’s the Bag I’m In,” (the traditional) “Cocaine,” “The Other Side of This Life,” and “I’ve Got a Secret” are some of the best folk-pop songs of their time (or any other). All these songs are sung with great feeling by Neil in a deep baritone. I love the album cover for Neil’s “Bleeker and MacDougal,” where Neil is seen standing in the middle of that important (or folk music) intersection of NYC, holding his guitar, braving the winter vehicular traffic. That photo sums up Neil’s early career, as a later album cover (which shows him shirtless on a sailboat) sums up his time in Miami. By that time, Neil had abandoned the music business, critical of it’s hit-maker, money-first attitude. He then rarely played public, unless it was to help raise money for a dolphin institute. The intelligent sea creatures were a passion of his. And his song, “Dolphins,” is a chilling personal and global peon for peace (later covered well by Hardin). Any Fred Neil album is absolutely essential listening (and learning). There’s a fine tw0-disc CD collection, as well, called Another Side of Fred Neil.
Willie Nile (Rock Singer-Songwriter, 1970s – 1980s) — New York singer songwriter of rock. Kind of a New Wave version of The Byrds and Dylan. But he’s got some really cool songs. And his self-titled album is distinguished by some fine songs, including “Vagabond Moon,” “It’s All Over,” “She’s So Cold,” and the ripping guitar fest “Sing Me a Song,” a real barn-burner.
Charlie Palloy (Orchestra Leader/Musician, 1930s – 1940s) Charlie Palloy was a talented bandleader, singer and guitarist who is virtually unknown today. And not a lot is known about Palloy. However, I’ve found some of Palloy’s sides on CD and they are terrific stuff. Palloy conducts a swinging band. And he knows when (and how) to be wistful, in the way that the best 1930′s music is. Palloy was also an innovative, single-note guitarist, before that style exploded on the jazz scene. Songs that stand out include “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” (which is, of course, one of the fabulous-heartbreak songs of the Great Depression), and such classics as “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Stormy Weather,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” and “Forty-Second Street.”
Harry Partch (Composer, Instrument Creator, 1940s – 1970s) — Harry Partch is that absolute rarest of birds in the arts: a completely unique individual. It may have been considered “cool” in the 1960s to be a total outsider, doing exactly what you wanted in music and lifestyle, and flaunting your rebellion with acerbic disregard for the keepers of apple pie values. But in the 1940s, you were simply considered a borderline institution bound lunatic. Yet, Partch, who stated down the path of rightiousness with the beginning of a “conventional” education in music (since he had musical talent from an early age). However, Partch quickly became bored with what he considered the limitations of Western music. He began experimenting with making instruments that would more fairly parrot the intonation of the human voice. On a grant to study in Europe, he met and became friendly with the great poet William Butler Yeats. In that association, Partch began to create an opera on one of Yeats’ works (with the poet’s encouragement). But running out of money and returning to the U.S. during the Depression helped forge what became one of the great stories of an American iconoclastic art careers. Over the course of the next three decades, Partch created dozens of sculptural instruments that served as both musical instruments and stage props/structures for live performance. In some cases he took conventional instruments and rebuilt them. In other cases, he built from from scratch, as in his “Cloud Chamber Bowls,” which were truncated giant glass carboys from the nascent nuclear power industry. Other Partch instruments have names such as Diamond Marimba, Zymo-Xyl, and Kitharas. Partch developed a 43-tone scale of “just intonation,” must be heard to be fathomed. Only Partch’s instruments can accurately play Partch’s music. The stage performances, which still occur rarely (Partch is long gone), are pageants in which the musicians, dressed in elaborate, vaguely Far Eastern colorful clothing, are as much theater as they are musical performance. Among Partch’s greatest works, all available on recordings are the phenomenal opera, “The Delusion of the Fury,” “Barstow, California” (which uses “poetry” by hobos that Partch captured while traveling America by illegally riding the rails as a homeless man in the 1930s), “Revelation in the Courthouse Park.” Partch’s marvelous instruments are now collected at a university in New Jersey, if you’re that curious. In the meantime, his music is an essential landmark in the history of the American avant-garde.
Dave Pike (1960s – 1980s) Dave Pike is one of the more interesting chameleons of jazz music. Having started in a traditional bag playing drums, and finally vibraphone, Pike worked with jazz greats such Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson. But Pike didn’t stop there. He got into Latin jazz, avant garde, and really deep soul-funk (with his own outfit. It’s his work with his own Dave Pike Set, playing everything from really cool, swinging easy-listening “jazz,” to slapdown funk in the James Brown vein (in fact, even covering some of the Godfather of Soul’s material). The album Jazz For the Jet Set is textbook cool, of the variety that later became popular by 1990′s groovers trying to emulate 60′s lounge music like that made by Martin Denny and his imitators, and those great, semi-tongue-in-cheek 70′s Italian movie soundtracks. On tunes such as his cover of “Sunny,” and “Jet Set,” Pike and his outstanding guitarist, Voker Kriegel, set the pace for music that goes down like an oyster. Also noteworthy on Dave Pike Set work is their use of sitar (that’s Kriegel again) in a Western, swinging, psychedelic context (another unexpected genre for Pike to explore): wholly successful for what it is. (What it IS.) (Also recommended highly is the compilation, released in 2011, of Psychedelic Sitar Rock, which Pike is collected on with 36 other artists). Anyway, this guy is worth a listen. I first learned about Pike in a wonderful double-vinyl-lp set called Good God! heavy funk covers of James Brown from all over the world 1968-1974 (A must, if you can run it down.) The funk/soul stuff that Pike and his set lay down is a perfect example of his interesting space the man fills: it’s soulful, right-there-upfront, dreamy and cosmic at the same time. This push-pull element makes the Pike experience something really special.
Alan Price (Rock, 1960 – 1970s) — Best known as the organist for the British Invasion band The Animals, Price actually had a more interesting solo career after the band dissolved. His album for the Malcolm (post-A Clockwork Orange) McDowell, O’ Lucky Man (by director Lindsay Anderson), is a beautifully realized study of existential loss and courage in a pop context. Price has a pleasant voice, of course supplies the keyboard work, and turns in a small collection of memorably catchy and well-reasoned tunes.
Procol Harum (1960s – 1970s) — While they continue to enjoy a loyal, if small cult following worldwide, and they are best remembered by the average music listener for their biggest radio hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procol Harum were at the very top of talented musicians and songwriters in the 1960s and 1970s. They are also remembered as the proving-ground for cult, Hard Rock/Psychedelic guitarist Robin Trower. What originally distinguished the band, musically, was their ability to write thoughtful (thanks to poet-lyricist Keith Reid) and the fact that the group featured (as well as bass, drums and guitar) both an electric organist as well as a piano keyboardist. This lineup produced large-sounding music that freely mixed classical music influences with soulful, blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll. The band, spurred on by Reid’s colorful, image-rich lyrics, played well and with passion. At the time, the music sounded unique, which could have only been said at the time of a few groups, including, of course, the Bealtes, Stones, Byrds and a few others in the pop-rock bag. In fact, the group’s first, self-titled album hit the industry as something completely different in 1967. But for the fact that “A Whiter Shade of Pale” became an uncommon hit record, Procol Harum might have receded into history quickly. But that first album contained many outstanding songs, including the ominous “A Christmas Camel,” the bluesy ballad “Something Following Me,” catchy tunes such as “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” and “Kaleidoscope,” the stormy instrumental “Repent Walpurgis,” and the guitar-freakout “Cerdes (Outside the Gates of).” Also on the landmark album is the song “Conquistador,” later reprised as a radio hit in a live recording with a symphony orchestra. Other albums of Procol Harum which are essential documents of their times include Shine On Brightly (1968) and A Salty Dog (1969). Noteworthy other songs of the band include the “Whiter Shade”-lite, but still addictive “Homburg” and Trower’s guitar-hooky”Whiskey Train.”
Ike Quebec (Jazz, 1940s – 1960s) Saxophonist.
The Raybeats (Nuevo-Surf, 1970s) — These hipsters were among the first to take Surf Music (Ventures, Dick Dale, et al) and update it for the college-art-rock crowd. In fact, a friend of mine who went to the Rhode Island School of Design remembers them playing in the cafeteria at school once. Very cool, eh? I met Jody Harris (nice guy), one of the guitarists in New York in the early 1980s through my friend Tyson Palmer, who was married New York Times music writer Robert Palmer (Deep Blues, which, no doubt, Tyson helped with, since she was a Southern aristocrat with a vast musical knowledge). Tyson told me Jody’s mother had been William S. Burrough’s secretary for a spell, and Jody had lived at one of Burrough’s places (that one that as an ex-YMCA or something?). Anyway, the band really nailed that cool, “wet” guitar sound of surf, updated for the urban sophisticates. Now, of course, there are a ga-zillion Nuevo Surf units. But these guys were some of the first. Their EP, Roping Wild Bears, as a cult favorite, and their Guitar Beat LP was considered really hip, if a visitor to your crash pad perchanced to see it among your albums in the 1980s. You can probably find MP3′s on the web somewhere, or bit torrent. The boys were collected on one of those Nuggets collections on CD somewhere, but I ain’t got it.
The Remains (Rock, 1960s) —
Rhinoceros (or, if you prefer French, Rinôçérôse) (Fusion-Soul/Noise Instrumentals, 2000s) — Fairly obscure French (mostly) instrumental group. The word is that the duo is comprised of a pair of psychologists, which (as someone who lived in Paris for several years) I would call “typical French.” They are from Montpellier, in the south, where I lived in a honest-to-god chateau for six months. They weren’t around doing their thing way back then. Or if they were I never heard of them. But they lay down some cool atmospheric music that, word has it, some people even find danceable. Well, I guess you could dance to it. Porquoi pas?. Available from iTunes, too.
Nelson Riddle (Composer, 1950s and 1960s) — If Cole Porter owned the 1930s, and Johnny Mercer owned the 1940s and 1950s, one could make a pretty good that Nelson Riddle owned the 1960s when it came to lounge-cool and TV theme music. Riddle, who believe it or not had the middle name “Smock,” which is about as cool as Theonius Monk’s (“Sphere”), was born in New Jersey before the Depression. Things were all up hill from there. Riddle played the trombone with the famed Charlie Spivak Orchestra earlier in his career, and even Tommy Dorsey during World War II. But it was as an arranger and composer that Riddle really shone. One of his first assignments was arranging the monumental version of “Mona Lisa,” recorded by Nat King Cole. Shortly thereafter, Riddle was credited with breathing new life into the on-again/off-again career of Frank Sinatra, by arranging the Chairman’s album Only the Lonely (a must-have for any serious vocalist-recordings lover). In his career as an arranger, first for Capitol, then for MGM, Riddle worked with many of the greats: Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and more. But it’s his compositions that I really appreciate. He penned such unforgettable pop classics as the cool-piano ditty theme song for TV’s Route 66, and the tough theme for The Untouchables. He also wrote great film music for Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, and (as one of the few things to like about the movie) the re-make of The Great Gatsby, with Robert Redford. One of his last accomplishments was arranging some pop standards for ex-rock singer Linda Rondstadt, which won Riddle some more Grammys. Check him out.
Howard Roberts (Jazz, 1950s – 1970s) — Roberts was one of those prodigy players, starting on the guitar in elementary school, playing professionally by 15. He had a super tasteful, minimalist style (not like those bozos who play an endless stream of notes). While in Los Angeles, Roberts played with jazz greats, such as Barney Kessel and Bobby Troup. But as a session man, he also backed an array of stars that included Dean Martin and fellow guitarist Chet Atkins, as well as rockers The Electric Prunes and TV’s the Monkees. And speaking of TV, he is rumored to have recorded guitar on the TV themes of classic ’60s shows such as “The Twilight Zone” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” In the movies, he played on cool soundtracks such as Cool Hand Luke, and the jazzy Bullitt (with Steve McQueen). My favorite among Roberts’ records is one of his first ones with Capitol, Howard Roberts is a Dirty Guitar Player (my vinyl copy of this is a prized possession, I love the innocent cover of a young punk straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, tagging a wooden fence). It swings and is the height of good taste, there isn’t a false note, or one out of place. The man had style. (Shown in the picture at left is a special disc that teamed Roberts’ first to LP’s on one CD: Color Him Funky and Howard Roberts Is a Dirty Guitar Player. Guitar players know that Roberts was one of the founder of the wildly successfulHollywood-based Guitar Institute of Technology, which is still helping to crank out outstanding young guitarists today.
Ed Sanders (Singer-Songwriter, 1960s and ’70s) — One of the original members of the poets-artists trickster band, The Fugs (who did songs such as “Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side”), Sanders is an American original. (He also edited a magazine in the Village in the ’60s, with the provocative title of “Fuck You: A Journal of the Arts.” And he wrote an excellent book, The Family, on the Charles Manson killings.). One of the real highlights of a distinguished career in letters is Sanders’ absolutely unprecedented “country” album, Sanders’ Truckstop. The original (vinyl) LP started with the excoriating social commentary (if you call putting down Southern rednecks social commentary), the ironically titled masterpiece, The Illiad.” It starts with a string of pig-Latin gibberish and launches into a country-fied, bouncy ditty that announces, “Well, I went into the trance I usually go into after I watched the Budweiser clock spin around for about two hours…” The song details the exploits of a drunken asshole who beats up a homosexual. It is simultaneously sad, and black-comedic, and pulls no punches in condemning the tiny mindedness of people who discriminate against others based on their lifestyles (or the color of their skin, etc.). In this way, the album has the power of satire and laugh-to-keep-from-crying edge of, say, Randy Newman’s album Rednecks. But that’s just the first cut on the album. Sanders goes on to deal with the anti-Vietnam-War issue (“The ABM Machine”), redneck disdain of flower power (“Jimmy Joe, the Hippybilly Boy”), rock groupies (hilariously transferred to the country music scene, a la the excellent movie, Payday, with Rip Torn, in the tune “The Plaster Casting Song”) and true country melancholy, and just plain weirdness (in the lovely ballads “Pindar’s Revenge,” and “Breadtray Mountain.”). I remember that the album, which I literally have tucked away in a closet some where) also had perfectly poised liner notes by Sanders’ wife. It’s a masterpiece. I interviewed Sanders once on the telephone, after I got back from France, in the late 1980s. I asked him why Sanders’ Truckstop was so hard to find (obviously it was long out-of-print). He said, in true Sanders form, “The record company melted it down to make Kiss records.” There you have it. And you CAN have it on iTunes; please do yourself a big favor!
Sand Rubies (1990s) — This is one of those tragic stories of a band that had loads of talent that got hung up in the music business legal-bullshit arena. Hailing from Arizona, riding the crest of the wave in the ’90s that brought in such bands as the Gin Blossoms (who recorded, thanks to the luckless, soon-to-die-by-his-own-hand songwriter member of the band, the excellent, unfairly panned New Miserable Experience), the Sand Rubies were originally called the Sidewinders (like the snake). I bought the well-produced CD, labeled Sand Rubies, in the 1990s, and it was in constant rotation on my player. These guys really have the hooks, melodies, and almost-too-much-but-effective lyrics, in songs such as “Goodbye” (which kicks off the disc with shrieking guitar and crisp propulsion, and contains the goose-bumpy put-down, “For all the men who took off your clothes/For all my money you put up your nose”), “Guns in the Churchyard,” “Hangman in the Noose,” and the keenly observed, melancholy ballad about a run-down area of Tempe, “Santa Maria Street” (“They took their past and sold it back/On restaurant menus and baseball caps”). The duo, Rich Hopkins and David Slutes, are fine at that “drenched,” over-driven guitar sound, and play some good extended riffs and solos. They even do a decent job of updating Neil Young’s song “Interstate.” This is one that got away: well worth hunting down. Turn it up.
Leo Sayer (1960s – 1970s) — An outstanding singer-songwriter who had a radio hit with “Long Tall Glasses,” really one of the least of his accomplishments. His excellent songs such as “One Man Band,” “Just a Boy,” “Bells of St. Mary’s,” etc. were so fine, that Sayer inspired Who-frontman Roger Daltry to record his own solo versions of the songwriter’s tunes (though I still prefer Leo’s versions).
Savoy Brown (1960s – 1970s) — Their “Street Corner Talkin’” album. klsajlkasjf
Adolphe Sax (Inventor, 1800s) — Besides loving the saxophone (tenor) more than any other instrument in jazz, I feel in love with Adolphe Sax the day I discovered a book on him in a store on the Champs Elysee. I was standing at a book table in Drugstore, a weird store in Paris, waiting for my French girlfriend so we could go get a cafe leigoie, and there’s this book on one of the nuttiest guys in music. Saxwas born in Belgium in 1814. His father was an instrument maker, and not just wind instruments, but pianos, guitars, etc. The younger sax got the idea for what would be the saxophone by monkeying around trying to find a sound that would be unlike anything in symphonic music. Yes, that’s right. Sax saw the saxophone as being a symphonic instrument, which in fact it was for many years after he birthed it. After all, Adolphe invented the saxophone; he didn’t invent jazz. Starting with a “bass” saxophone, Adolphe then went on to invent many other varieties, on a portion of which still exist today. Stories about Sax abound: that the whistle outside his factory had, essentially, a large saxophone attached to it, ringing the news to end the work day with a sax blast. He also reportedly played his early saxophone’s in public displays while standing behind a curtain, because he didn’t want his instrument ripped off by other manufacturers. Sadly, the Belgian genius spent the rest of his life defending his patents. And he died broke at the age of 80. It’s just one of those lovely, “life isn’t fair” stories meant to cheer up all music lovers! But let’s, as they say at white-guy blues concerts, “give it up” for Adolphe Sax. Without that wiggy Belegian we never would have had Bird, John Coltrane, and hundreds of other cool cats. We might not even have single-note, lead-guitar playing as we know it, since that technique was pretty much ripped of from sax players. So it goes.
Scotty (Rastafarian) — “Draw Your Brakes.” klaslfjsdklfsd
Seatrain (1960s) — “Waiting For Elijah,” “13 Questions.”
Sidestreet Reny (Blues/Rap 2000′s) — I first heard and hung out with Sidestreet Reny in Portland, Oregon in the early 2000′s. I had gone to a bar/restaurant called the Radio Room to say goodbye to a friend who was moving to Germany. There was a French dude who soon became a friend there as well (he knew the woman who was moving to Germany, too). As we spoke in French, I noticed an outrageously interesting sound coming from the next room — a concrete-floored space about 15 feet by 25. At the far end of the room, Reny was playing a 1932 National Triolian resonator guitar and singing, while his wife played drums. The sound was remarkable. I had already spent a couple of decades listening to authentic blues recordings, and searching out prime movers — known and unknown — in the field of acoustic blues. But Reny is something, well, unique. He’s a beautiful guitar player, really squeezing every drop of soul out of that tinny, wild-sounding instrument with the metal pie-plate top. But he’s a helluva a singer and songwriter, too. And he comes at it from his beginnings as a white rap artist, so his songs tend to have a modern-zeitgeist, social-protest bent (lyrically), coming at you through that gut-bucket, gut-wrenching ’30s resonator guitar sound that feels dirt-poor, mad and about 100 years old. It’s an odd mix. When Reny really gets going, he stomps his foot in a frightening, raise-twist-slap-down manner that makes you fearful he’ll break something (like his ankle). Reny’s wife, Lil’ Bell, really is lil’ (about 4 foot 8, and all of maybe 80 pounds). But she can play the drums like a ring in a bell, the perfect accompaniment to Reny’s spare, brimstone performances. It was a blast hearing Reny and Lil’ play two juicy sets, and to hang out talking to them for about two hours afterwords. They are the real deal. Check them out online (they’ve got some cool videos on YouTube, and a website). Buy their CDs and MP3s.
Paul Siebel (singer-songwriter, 1960s-70s) — Siebel is completely forgotten today, and wasn’t that well known in the 1970s. But his 1971 album jack-knife gypsy (on Elektra) had a handful of wistful, melodic, well played songs that are classics of the ’70s singer-songwriter genre. His one claim to fame was that one of the songs off his first album (Woodsmoke and Oranges, the song was “Louise”) was covered by a couple of popular female artists (Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt). I prefer Siebel’s second album, jack-knife gypsy. With a strong sense of folk, country and blues, a well-turned phrase and compelling storytelling, Siebel really deserves much more attention. He has a whiny voice, none of which stopped Bob Dylan. Actually, Siebel’s voice makes his songs, such as the classic, pokey and dreamlike “Pinto Pony,” perfect pastiche. Other great songs on jack-knife gypsy include “Legend of the Captain’s Daughter,” “Jasper and the Miners,” and “Chips Are Down.” That latter, monumental ennui-fest, with its plantive fiddle and steel guitar is in the top 100 of ’70s singer-songwriter gifts, in my opinion. The lyrics are to die-for: To be a man when the chips are down/be a clown, when you fight/Hiding your face in a brass parade/Masquerade through the night/Ah, you’re only half-grown but you’re sleeping/So, neatly at four, matador/You’re completely alone/Nothing is worth too much sacrifice/Life is nice/Put me on/Read all the books upon the shelf/Know myself/What a bore/Poets were made for the guillotine/Philistines know much more/Ah, you can work for your board and your room, boy/And soon with his broom, can afford all your own/Everyone’s preaching participate/While love and hate shoot the dice/Beautiful people make me sick/It’s a trick/They’re a drag/Razors they carry between the teeth/Should you meet, raise the flag/Ah, the maidens are perfect to lay with/So, if it’s you, Baby Blue/Come play with me/Trouble with love you must give it all/Ah, so best to call it a loan. Why aren’t people covering this guy today? Think I will!
Sonny Sharrock (1960s – 1980s) — This innovative, avant-garde jazz guitarist started his career singing. He really wanted to play saxophone, like Coltrane, but because he had asthma had to switch to the guitar. That said, like a lot of great players, from T-Bone Walker on, Sharrock played single-note guitar lines as if he were playing the sax. In his early jazz guitar career, he played with some luminaries such as Miles, Pharoh Sanders, Herbie Mann. He also did some solo albums, and played with the stone-crazy German saxophonist Peter Brontzman (see entry on his son, Kaspar in this list). My favorite Sharrock albums are the ones he didin the latter part of his career, working with the bassist/record producer Bill Laswell. Among these are Material’s Memory Serves, and Sharrock’s own Guitar, Seize the Rainbow, and Ask the Ages (may favorite, with the haunting tune “Who Does She Hope To Be?”). Sharrock died of a heart attack in 1994.
Spirit (1960s) — Randy California. The Family That Plays Together Stays Together. “All the Same.” “I Gotta Line On You.”
Spooky Tooth (1960s — 1970s) — The Last Puff. With a bitchin’ cover of “I Am the Walrus.”
SubArachnoid Space — Instrumental, dreamcore band.
Sugarloaf (1960) — This Sixties band that had a hit with their horribly truncated version of their long-album ride, “Green Eyed Woman” were actually surprisingly powerful blue-eyed soul outfit. Their nominal album debut featured some smoking numbers, including “Chest Fever.”
Swamp Dogg (Jerry Williams, Jr.) (Soul Singer, 1970s) — Jerry Williams (Swamp Dogg) is both a talented arranger, excellent (tenor) soul singer, and writer of wild songs, with lyrics that skirt and then jump with both feet into the absurd. There’s not a lot to compare him to. His funk album Total Destruction to Your Mind rocks like a hurricane, then does Otis-worthy heartbreak with the oddly titled “Synthetic World,” and gets down and smelly with songs like “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe.” One of his better songs sums up his genius, “Did I Come Back Too Soon (Or Stay Away To Long)?,” as does the clever, but admittedly tragic lyric, “She made sure I didn’t see him alone/I’d have to kill two marriages with one little stone.” As well as being a gifted song writer, Dogg did an admirable job of covering the most unlikely songs. For instance, you should check out his very heartfelt and soulful version of John Prine’s melancholy ballad “Sam Stone.” This dude’s one of a kind!
The Swimming-Pool Q’s (1980s – 2000s) — It sounds like a back-handed compliment to say that Atlanta’s Swimming Pool Q’s are the finest college-radio band to ever come out of Atlanta, Georgia. But it’s not meant to be. This was, legitimately, one of the most progressive, clever, and rocking bands of the early ’80s in the U.S. — in any region. Bandleader Jeff Calder, a helluva lyricist and songwriter, singer Anne Richmond Boston, and the rest of the band took no prisoners in the New Wave days. Their first album, “Deep End,” is textbook smart rock. And it burns, too. There are so many highlights on this disc, the infectious “Little Misfit,” jagged-edged “Big Fat Tractor,” edgier “The A-Bomb Woke Me Up,” menacing “Rat Bait,” rollicking “Restless Youth” and “Stock Car Hell,” and slinky, sexy “Overheated.” In the 2000s, Calder had some CDs mastered from that great vinyl record. Ten years later, “new” copies of the CD were going on the Web for $75. You might call it a cult favorite. In their day, the band was asked to tour with The Police in the South, on the band’s first U.S. visit. And a big-label contract with A&M promised much, and produced the excellent records Swimming Pool Q’s (distinguished by the plangent “Bells Ring,” and majestic tunes such as “Purple Rivers,” “Some New Highway,” “Just Property,” “Silver Slippers,” “Celestion,” and “Sacrificial Altar.” Blue Tomorrows, the band’s second A&M record, kept the bar high, and Rolling Stone called it, not unwisely “Abbey Road wrapped in kudzu.” But who knows why bands don’t ever ascend to the heights that they ought to. It’s the breaks, one guesses. However, Calder and Company remain hometown heroes in Georgia, and in knowing households everywhere. I knew the band well in the ’80s, in the days I was a newspaper reporter. And Calder and I are still friends. If I’m ever in Atlanta I even hook up with him. He never seems to get to Portland. He’s so “Southern” that way. Get your hands on any of their music. I particularly like the first three albums (mentioned above).
Ed Thrasher (Art Director/Photogrpaher, 1960s and ’70s) — As a teenager who loved not just music, but art and photography, I was a sucker for album art. Nobody was hipper, in my book, than Ed Thrasher. To be sure, I had admired the old Blue Note jazz album covers (with their moody black & white photography), and things like that B.B. King Indianola Mississippi Seeds album by graphic artist Robert Lockhart), where a watermelon had a guitar neck, pickups and plug in it, next to a ripped up old amp). Later, I really liked the LP’s that the British group Hypnosis did for Pink Floyd. But time after time, as I checked out an album covers that I dug in high school and college, I’d flip it over and read: “Art Director, Ed Thrasher.” He started at Capitol Records as an assistant art director in 1958. He moved to Warner Brothers as art director in 1964. Thrasher was an outstanding photographer, but also had the true art director’s skill of integrating typography, and illustration, dealing with composition, balance, color, white space, etc. Check out some of the covers that Thrasher did: Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland (Jimi Hendrix Experience); Astral Weeks (Van Morrison); Clouds (Joni Mitchell); Anthem of the Sun (Grateful Dead); Lick My Decals Off (Captain Beefheart); 12 Songs (Randy Newman); Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo Guthrie); The Underground (Electric Prunes); Sweet Baby James (James Taylor); and even some of the ones that are in my Forgotten Greats list here: including Ed Sanders’ Truckstop; Triangles (Beau Brummels), and God Bless Tiny Tim (Tiny Tim), and I think even the David Blue album above. Thrasher, who was married to the actress Linda Gray (from “Dallas”), was also credited with helping design the Warner Brothers Records building in Los Angeles, and supposedly came up with the phrase, “Old Blue Eyes Is Back,” for the return of Frank Sinatra. With his own company (post Warner Brothers), Thrasher created movie posters such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (the poser was better than the movie!), and Prince’s Purple Rain. Thrasher died in 2006, at the age of 74.
Tiny Tim (Singer, 1950s – 1970s) — Born Herbert Khaury, in New York, in 1932, Tiny Tim was an American original. People who have been around long enough may remember his ukulele-strumming, falsetto rendition of the old 1930′s song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” a novelty song that did not help audiences understand how truly versatile Tim was. Though he enjoyed national recognition, was a regular on U.S. television’s Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), and made numerous albums, Tim’s rise to fame was long in coming. He (like David Bowie after him, and many others) worked under different names on his way to stardom. (The Tim alternate name I like best is Larry Love.) In 1962, he adopted the name Tiny Tim, but was still relegated to playing strip clubs, and busking on the streets (singing Tin Pan Alley standards) around Harvard University. However, through dint of his obsession with performing, Tiny persisted long enough to land his first a gig on a U.S. TV comedy hour called Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and a record contract with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records. It is that initial recording, God Bless Tiny Tim (a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) that is the best evidence that Tiny Tim was a true artist. In fact, the album still stands today as one of the most skillfully executed “concept” albums of the 1960s (along with more noted examples, such as The Who’s Tommy, the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). Tiny’s album starts with a mystical invitation, “Welcome to My Dream,” and proceeds to move from the already famous “Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me,” to a wonderful call to live life fully in “Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight,” a showcase for Tiny’s baritone-to -alsetto range (“On the Old Front Porch”), a scathing version of Irving Berlin’s forgotten World War I protest song, “Stay Down Here Where You Belong” (Tiny had the sense to be against the then-current Vietnam Conflict), a touching “Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life” (again showing his magnificent deeper-register voice), the whimsical “Strawberry Tea,” and even a Biff Rose (see above) song “Fill Your Heart.” The 15-cut album ends with touching rendition of “This Is All I Ask.” In all, it’s a monumental debut album, and one of the 50 best albums of the Sixties, period. Tiny had many other shining moments. At a time in America (the ’60s, when rock prevailed) when most people had forgotten about the charms of Tin Pan Alley, Tiny almost single-handedly resurrected for mainstream radio and TV acknowledgment that the era had created some of the best music in modern times. And, now that the ukulele is back in vogue, we can only hope that Tiny Tim will (posthumously) enjoy a resurgence of interest as well. God bless ‘im.
Alexander Nikolayevich Vertinsky (1889-1957) —Vertinsky was one of the great cabaret singers of Russia around the period of World War I, performing as a notorious Pierrot figure, a decadent cabaret singer, and a silent film star. Losing favor in his homeland, he headed out on the road and became a hit throughout Europe, including in Paris. He later traveled successfully as an artist throughout Asia and the United States. To hear his music today is to experience the mystery, decadence and world-weary sorrow of the greatest cabaret music. I was first exposed to Vertinksy through a terrific, obscure (recorded in the U.S.) record, Yula Sings Vertinsky, in one of those dollar-bin junk store finds that you comb the stacks for in the first place. On that particular record, a woman who looks like a Russian housewife who married an American banker in New Jersey does a very capable job of singing works from the great man’s canon. (No doubt she admired the original when she was a young girl in Russia.) Vertinsky also made a famous Russian recording of the song “Dorogoi dlinnoyu” (“Дорогой длинною,” or “Endless Road”), which later received English lyrics, and was recorded by Paul McCartney’s first find, Mary Hopkin, for Apple Records, as the 1960s hit, “Those Were The Days.” It’s a charming, melancholy song that sums up Vertinksky’s wonderful work. Search him out. He’s well worth your time. Heck, there’s even some Vertinsky stuff on iTunes. : )
Ian Whitcolmb (Pop, 1960s – Revived in the 2000s) — Talk about “You Turn Me On,” his book, his ukulele standards, etc.
The Young Gods (French) —
Yula (Singer, 1950s – 1960s) See the Vertinsky entry (above). I know her from a couple of ’60s vinyl albums, the best of which is Yula Sings Vertinsky.