Cameroon Garage Funk – “a legacy of raw grooves and magnificent tunes”


YaoundĂŠ, in the 1970s, was a buzzing place. Every neighbourhood of Cameroon’s capital was filled with music spots – but surprisingly there was no infrastructure to immortalise those musical riches.

The country suffered from a serious lack of proper recording facilities, and the process of committing your song to tape could become a whole adventure unto itself.

Of course, you could always book the national broadcasting company together with a sound engineer, but this was hardly an option for underground artists with no cash. But luckily an alternative option emerged in the form of an adventist church with some good recording equipment.

Many of the artists on this compilation recorded their first few songs, secretly, in these premises thanks to Monsieur Awono, the church engineer. He knew the schedule of the priests and, in exchange for some cash, he would arrange recording sessions. The artists still had to bring in their own equipment, and since there was only one microphone, the amps and instruments had to be positioned perfectly. It was a risky business for everyone involved but since they knew they were making history, it was all worth it.

At the end of the recording, the master reel would be handed to whoever had paid for the session, usually the artist themselves. And what happened next? With no distribution nor recording companies around this was a legitimate question. More often then not it was the French label Sonafric that would offer their manufacturing and distribution structure and many Cameroonian artist used that platform to kickstart their career.

Mballa Bony & the Ndenga Boys, 1977 (Copyright: Analog Africa)

What is particularly surprising in the case of Sonafric was their willingness to take chances and judge music solely on their merit rather than their commercial viability. The sheer amount of seriously crazy music released also spoke volumes about the openness of the people behind the label.

But who exactly are these artists that recorded one or two songs before disappearing, never to be heard from again? Some of the names – like Jean-Pierre Djeukam whose song “Africa Iyo” from 1978 opens the compilation – were so obscure that even the most seasoned veterans of the Cameroonian music scene had never heard of them.

A few trips to the land of Makossa by Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb, and many more hours of interviews were necessary to get enough insight into Yaoundé’s buzzing 1970s music scene. On one crate digging trip he found sixteen 45’s (most from Sonafric) at the national radio station in Niger.

The set comes with the extensive liner notes are the result of meticulous research by Ben Redjeb and Volkan Kaya, full of personal stories and beautifully designed with plenty archive images.

Despite the myriad difficulties involved in the simple process of making and releasing a record, the musicians of Yaoundé’s underground music scene left behind an extraordinary legacy of raw grooves and magnificent tunes.

The songs may have been recorded in a church, with a single microphone in the span of only an hour or two, but the fact that we still pay attention to these great creations some 50 years later, only illustrates the timelessness of their music.

Cameroon Garage Funk is available on Analog Africa o a double LP pressed on 140g virgin vinyl with gatefold cover + full colour 12-pages booklet and on CD with a full colour 28-pages booklet (AACD092)

Posted in 45 rpm, Rare Records, Roots, World Music | Leave a comment

The Trojan Records Story – Rob Bell and Rusty Zinn Interview

Rob Bell and Rusty Zinn to talk about their contributions to Trojan’s latest release – ‘The Trojan Story’. Rob Bell was the brains behind the original release of ‘The Trojan Story’ back in 1971, exactly 50 years later he talks about his motivations behind the release and reveals life at Trojan in the 1970’s.

Watch the Full interview here.

Find out more about The Trojan Story: https://Trojan.lnk.to/thetrojanstoryFA

Posted in Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Uncategorized, Website, World Music | Leave a comment

Qobuz, UMe & Zappa Records Offer Zappa Albums in Hi-Res

Qobuz, the Hi-Res streaming and download provider, has partnered with UMe and Zappa Records to provide dozens of Frank Zappa albums for the first time in Hi-Res Audio.

UMe, the global catalogue company of Universal Music Group, and Zappa Records are launching today a Hi-Res reissue campaign on Qobuz totaling 29 albums spanning all phases of Zappa’s groundbreaking career.

The five-week campaign will span a series of drops between now and May 7th, with classic and influential albums released for download and streaming in Hi-Res audio quality for the first time.

Beginning April 2nd, fans will be able to stream and download nine albums exclusively on Qobuz. The albums will be available in native 24-bit Hi-Res FLAC format. Each will include an extensive PDF digital booklet, a feature only available on Qobuz’s streaming apps. The assortment includes the second album from the original Mothers of Invention, ‘Absolutely Free’, first released in 1967, and ‘Halloween 81’, documenting Zappa’s famed holiday residency at New York City’s Palladium, in both full box set and edited ‘highlights’ versions.

Hi-Res Frank Zappa albums to be released so far include Absolutely Free; Burnt Weeny Sandwich; Bongo Fury; Chicago ’78; Zappa In New York (40th Anniversary Deluxe); Orchestral Favorites (40th Anniversary); Halloween 81; Halloween 81 Highlights; The Mothers 1970 Box Set

Posted in Rock, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Revolution In Sound: Pop Culture & The Classical Avant-Garde, 4CD Set

‘A Revolution In Sound’ looks at the influence of modern classical music, the avant-garde and free jazz on pop and pop culture, during the second half of the twentieth century.

In the mid-1960s, as pop music acquired a greater sophistication and maturity, artists began to make more ambitious musical and conceptual statements. In the search for new ideas, pop began to find inspiration along the spectrum of classical music – from Stockhausen to Sibelius – and from artists who inhabited the outer reaches of jazz, drawing even on the classical music of Northern India with its roots in the antique past.

The albums produced by The Beatles at their creative peak; ‘Rubber Soul’, ‘Revolver’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper’; almost everything by The Mothers of Invention; The Byrds’ ‘Fifth Dimension’; The Pink Floyd’s debut, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’; The Grateful Dead’s ”Anthem of the Sun; the early works of Can, Jefferson Airplane and Soft Machine; all were enriched by the assimilation of techniques and procedures appropriated from the pioneers of art music.

Frank Zappa did more than anyone to open the door to the modernist world; his expansive music informed by Stravinsky, Webern, Schoenberg, Messiaen, Pierre Boulez and most notably Edgard Varèse, whose work Zappa encountered in his youth, and spent his life championing.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon increased their creative palettes by borrowing from the strange new musical universes of Stockhausen, Berio and Cage while George Harrison’s life was changed by Ravi Shankar, to whose music he and the other Beatles were feverishly introduced by David Crosby and Roger McGuinn at a Benedict Canyon LSD party in 1965.

For the “Fifth Beatle”, producer George Martin, the passions were the French Impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel, from whom he claimed to have learned to “Paint in Sound”; for Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead it would be the music of Charles Ives (“It sounds like the inside of your head when you’re daydreaming”). Brian Eno directly answered Erik Satie’s call for “music that would be a part of the surrounding noises” with his ambient Music for Airports, while Captain Beefheart, Robert Wyatt and Lou Reed would all surrender to the liberating spirit of Ornette Coleman.

In the realm of electronics and musique concrète, the tireless experiments in tape-manipulation by Daphne Oram and Pierre Henry found expression in radio, television and on stage. In cinema, Stanley Kubrick’s masterful use of Bartok and Liszt vindicated his stated preference for the use of pre-existing music over original score; while in ‘Altered States’, Ken Russell blew our minds by taking the relationship between music and image to a new sensory level; aided by a wild electronic score that included Pierre Henry’s Veil of Orpheus.

The box set includes full 27 minute version of Henry’s Orpheus, the first major work of symphonic concrète music is but one of the historic features to be found in this presentation. A Revolution In Sound also includes the premiere recording of Stockhausen’s monumental Gruppen for Three Orchestras, with Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna and Stockhausen himself conducting; Beecham’s beautiful 1955 account of Sibelius’ ‘Incidental music from The Tempest’; an exhilarating recording of Stravinsky’s ballet ‘Agon’ by Hans Rosbaud with the SWGR, a hugely influential piece, a triumph for the composer; and from before the creation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the “Radiophonic poem”, Private Dreams and Public Nightmares, a quite unprecedented collage of manipulated voices and sound effects assembled by Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe: a challenge for radio listeners in 1957. As the producer, Donald McWhinnie stated in his introduction, ‘You may detest this programme, but I hope you won’t dismiss it. Certainly nothing like this has ever come out of your loudspeaker before’

Posted in Rare Records, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zappa’s Final U.S. Concert in 1988 Gets First-Ever Legit Release

Frank Zappa’s final U.S. concert from a March 25th, 1988 gig at New York’s Nassau Coliseum is the next archival release from the Zappa Trust and UMe.

Due out June 18th, marks the first-ever posthumous release of a live album from the 1988 touring band and boasts 29 unreleased recordings from the concert, plus a pair of tracks culled from the same tour: Covers of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” from the March 16th show in Providence, Rhode Island, and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” from the March 23rd Towson, Maryland, show.

The live album (long available on bootlegs) also sees the first-ever release of Zappa’s “The Beatles Medley,” including “Norwegian Wood,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and is embedded with lyrics inspired by a sex scandal involving televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.

The concert took place months before the 1988 presidential election, with Zappa setting up voter registration drives at his concerts. The Synclavier piece “One Man, One Vote” that Zappa performed at the show also nodded toward the voter registration efforts, as did the performance’s final song, a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

The Last U.S. Show will be released digitally, on two CDs, or as a four-LP 180-gram vinyl box — available on both black vinyl or as a limited-edition 180-gram purple vinyl variant, exclusively through the official Frank Zappa online store or uDiscover — and is up for preorder now.

The album — newly mixed from long-vaulted 48-track digital master tapes — features liner notes penned by Travers and 1988 touring drummer Chad Wackerman, who celebrated his 28th birthday onstage with the band during what ultimately became Zappa’s final U.S. concert.

The live album follows the most recent Zappa Trust archival release, a five-LP deep-dive into Zappa’s vaults for the soundtrack of the Alex Winter-directed 2020 documentary Zappa.

Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show Track List
:

DISC 1
1. “We Are Doing Voter Registration Here”
2. The Black Page (New Age Version)
3. I Ain’t Got No Heart
4. Love of My Life
5. Inca Roads
6. Sharleena
7. Who Needs the Peace Corps?
8. I Left My Heart in San Francisco
9. Dickie’s Such an Asshole
10. When the Lie’s So Big
11. Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk
12. Sofa #1
13. One Man, One Vote
14. Happy Birthday, Chad!
15. Packard Goose Pt. 1
16. Royal March From “L’Histoire Du Soldat”
17. Theme From the Bartok Piano Concerto #3
18. Packard Goose Pt. II
19. The Torture Never Stops Pt. I
20. Theme From “Bonanza”
DISC 2
1. Lonesome Cowboy Burt
2. The Torture Never Stops Pt. II
3. City of Tiny Lites
4. Pound for a Brown
5. The Beatles Medley
6. Peaches En Regalia
7. Stairway to Heaven
8. I Am the Walrus
9. Whipping Post
10. Bolero
11. America the Beautifu

Posted in Compact Disc, Rock, Uncategorized, Vinyl | Leave a comment

Great article on Charlie Gillett – Doyen Of World Music & UK Radio

Posted in 45 rpm, 78rpm, Americana, Blues, Books, Cassette, Compact Disc, Country/Hillbilly, Gospel, Jazz, Magazine, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Rock & Roll, Roots, Soul, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Website, World Music | Leave a comment

Death Might Be Your Santa Claus: Early Christmas Blues Jazz, Sermons & Gospel Recordings

By Gillian Atkinson

A Christmas music playlist is a feature of modern life and we have 
thousands of festive tracks to choose from. It seems it is in our blood to enjoy music connected to a winter festival.

We can trace the 
development of ‘Christmas music“’ back to the 4th Century when St.
Hilary of Poitiers composed the Latin carol ‘Jesus refulsit
omnium’ (‘Jesus illuminates all’).

Christmas sheet music has been with us for centuries too. One of the
earliest collections ‘Piae Cantiones’, a songbook from Finland was 
first published in 1582. It contains a number of songs that have
 survived today, as well-known Christmas carols.

By the late 1700s, the festival of Christmas was so popular that it
 produced the secular favourite ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’. By
1865, Santa Claus was making an appearance in two popular tunes by
Benjamin Russell Hanby ‘Up On The House Top’ and ‘Jolly Old
Saint Nicholas’.

He composed ‘Up On The Housetop’ as a Christmas
sing-along, originally entitled ‘Santa Claus’.

 Interestingly, this was also the year that Harper’s Magazine sought to 
forge a link between spending money on gifts and Christmas: “Love is
 the moral of Christmas…What are gifts but the proof and signs of
 love !”

What with buying trees, gift giving, drinks and oodles of
 food, Christmas was becoming a costly business, enshrining the modern
 festivities, as a festival of idealised family life and perfect homes.

There was a nod to the less fortunate but it would take another sixty
 years until blues singers began to expose the reality of life for
many, over the yuletide, with their songs of abandonment, poverty,
domestic chaos and hard times, in a seeming world of plenty. 

By 1900, sound recordings had become a growing, new, international 
industry, with the most popular titles selling millions of units.

However, the recording companies themselves had not really thought of
the potential that Christmas records could offer, though that was soon
 to change.

The first Christmas record


On 30th October, 1889 banjo player Will Lyle was invited into the Edison
 studios and unwittingly made history by recording ‘Jingle Bells’,
which is now generally agreed to be the very first Christmas record.
 It was and remains, one of the most sung Christmas songs in the world,
though its composer did not have Christmas in mind when he wrote it.

Written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) in the autumn of 1857, it
 was published under the title ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’ and was
first performed by blackface minstrel Johnny Pell in Ordway Hall on
September 16th of the same year. Initially, the song had no connection
to Christmas and would not become associated with the holiday season
until decades later.

The Roaring Twenties -The Jazz Age

The majority of the Christmas record output of the early 1900s were
 carols or novelty songs but this was to change radically when those
early blues singers stepped up to the recording horn!

The question often arises as to which is the first Christmas blues 
record. As blues and jazz were somewhat interchangeable in the early
 1920s, it is hard to say, though it is generally presumed to be ‘At
the Christmas Ball’ performed by the “Empress of the Blues“,
Bessie Smith, but I beg to differ.

I am tempted to go with ‘Crazy
Blues’ written by Perry Bradford and performed by Mamie Smith. This 
landmark recording is also the first blues record made by a popular
 black singer.

The song was recorded in August 1920 but it was not actually released 
by OKeh Records until October or November that year. It was pushed and
promoted all over the Christmas period and must have stuck in the mind
of many as being associated with Christmas.

The next real contender
must be ‘Santa Claus Blues’ as performed by the Red Onion Jazz
Babies, recorded in New York City on 26thNovember 1924. The
 recording’s stellar line up was Louis Armstrong, cornet; Aaron
Thompson, trombone; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Lil Hardin-Armstrong,
piano and Buddy Christian, banjo.

Maybe we can discount it because it
is an instrumental but what about the remake, recorded on the 8th
October 1925 by Clarence Williams’ Blue Five with Eva Taylor,
 vocalis; Clarence Williams, leader; Louis Armstrong, cornet; Buster
Bailey, saxophone; Buddy Christian, banjo; Charlie Irvis, trombone;
Don Redman, clarinet.

The merry bells are ringing today,

But they don’t mean nothing to me.

I hear the children singing today,

But I’m as blue as I can be.

Ol’ Santa Claus forgot my address,

That’s one thing I can plainly see.

It may be Christmas to some folks,

It’s just December 25th to me!

There was another more sentimental and slower version cut by the
 Clarence Williams Trio on the 16th October and this is really bluesy.
 Interestingly, it was written by Charley Straight and Gus Kahn, two
 white songwriters but it was published by Clarence Williams. After
 Bessie’s hit with ‘At the Christmas Ball’, which, incidentally, is one
 of her very few ‘cheerful blues’, at least in terms of lyrics, the
stage was set for the many hundreds and hundreds of Christmas and New
Year Blues, Gospels and Sermons (and Jazz and Soul) records that 
followed.

Anything that might sell to a black (and white) audience was fair game
 for the early record labels. Consequently, Christmas sermons jostled
 with raunchy or humorous recordings. Recorded Sermons by fiery
 preachers, like the Rev J.M Gates, Rev Nix, Rev Claybourne and Rev
Dickinson were very popular and sold in droves during the mid-1920s
 through to the early 1930s.

The titles of many of these recordings would
astonish us now, such as ‘Death Might Be Your Santa Claus’, ‘The Wrong Way To Celebrate Christmas’, ‘Death Might Be Your Christmas 
Gift’, ‘Will the Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?’, ‘Will Hell Be 
Your Santa Claus?’, ‘That Little Thing May Kill You Yet (Christmas
Sermon)’, ‘Did You Spend Christmas in Jail?’.

The counter point 
to these, were the best selling records: ‘Christmas in Jail (Ain’t
that a Pain)’ by Leroy Carr, with Scrapper Blackwell, and the 
amusing innuendo filled ‘Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus (Mama Ain’t
no Christmas Tree)’ from the pen of Andy Razaf and performed by the 
popular comedic duet of Butterbeans and Suzie.

By now, the term
 ‘Santa Claus became interchangeable with the jolly old man 
himself and an actual Xmas gift.

 In 1927, whilst middle America was listening to Vaughn De Leath (The
Radio Girl) crooning ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and ‘Christmas
 Songs For Children’, Harlemites and Chicagoans were rocking to
 Lonnie Johnson’s guitar and sympathising with Victoria Spivey’s
words:

My man’s so deep in trouble the white folks couldn’t get him free

He stole a hog the charge was murder in the first degree

I never had a Christmas with trouble like this before

I Ain’t never had a Christmas with trouble like this before

Sleigh bells is my death bells, and hard luck’s knocking at my door

Back in 1928, a year before his untimely death, Blind Lemon 
Jefferson, one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and  
”Father of the Texas Blues”, waxed a double-sided, festive hit,
‘Christmas Eve Blues’ / ‘Happy New Year Blues’, which may be 
the first New Year Blues Record .
In 1929 Frankie “Half Pint“ Jackson, the wildly popular African
American vaudeville singer, stage designer and comedian, and erstwhile
female impersonator led The Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers and
 choir, with the noted musician Ernest “Punch” Miller, in a jazzy 
stomping romping version of the spiritual ‘Christ Was Born On Christmas
 Morn’.

In 1921 the Harlem situated, black owned and operated, Black Swan
record Label had thought there might be a market in Christmas records
and they placed an ad in the New York Age on Christmas Eve of that
 year: “Black Swan X’mas Records”.

The December list features 
numbers for the Christmas Season “ Sacred Songs”, which featured a
mixture of Carols, Classics, Jazz and Blues by their artists.

The 1920s did not produce much in the way of black festive
 gospel/carol singing, though there were some artists who recorded some
carols, notably the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers with their rendition
 of ‘Silent Night’, back in 1926.

The early blues recordings of the 1920s were dominated by the women n
 known as “The Classic Blues Singers“, so it is no surprise to find
the standard blues laments of “Santa bring my man back” by the
likes of Bertha Chippie Hill, Ozie Ware and Elzadie Robinson, on 
record.

By 1930, recording techniques had improved markedly. Drums and other
 powerful instruments could be used on records and singers did not have
 to bawl to make themselves heard.

The Christmas / New Year blues
 market was well established and the themes of love, loss, death and
 sexual innuendo were well established and becoming increasingly
 sophisticated to meet an expanding black and white market. Therefore,
it is surprising and interesting to find the 1930, Lil McClintock 
recording, entitled ‘You Must Think I’m Santa Claus’. McClintock
 was an older man, who had been in the medicine and tent shows and this
recording mirrors a “minstrel and medicine show routine” made up
 of four separate songs but containing the lines.

Please don’t think that I’m Santa Claus,

’Cause Christmas comes every day,

You can hear dem sleigh bells a-ringin’ now,

Every time you turn around this-a-way,

You need not think that I’m a human bein’,

It’s nothin’ but a fraud,

’Cause I bring you present ever’

Once in a while,
Don’t think I’m Santa Claus. “

The original (comic) song had been written by Irving Jones, with music
by Maxwell Silver and was released both on an Edison cylinder and
Columbia 78 back in 1904/5.

The late 1930s saw the increasing use of electrification and the
electric guitar would come to dominate later blues recordings but the
themes remained the same although one notable exception is the
joyously infectious ‘Swinging Them Jingle Bells’ by Fats Waller 
and his Rhythm waxed in 1938.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there were still plenty of blues and jazz
 Christmas platters to be spun but musical tastes were changing and
there were Big Bands, Swing Bands, Gospel Singers, Doo Wop and Rock 
and Rollers on the Christmas Record scene, which only added to the
 festive mix.

The late 1950s and 1960s brought a whole host of R&B, Tamla and Soul 
offerings.
 As the century came to an end, there were more musical genres than you
could shake a stick at and they all produced festive offerings for
 discerning aficionados of Christmas music. It was hard to keep track
 of what was available. This century saw technology keep up and even
out strip musical trends enabling us to have a diverse Christmas 
playlist on our phone or PC that is longer than our arms.

Something’s never change though and if we have a song that speaks of
the difficulties of life at Christmas, the loss of a lover or the 
threat of homelessness, we have (most probably) a blues song or a song
that can and should look back to the Blues as its ancestor.

Of course,
the very best of these blues songs can actually lift our spirits,
rather than drag us down. They can elevate our mood, or make us want 
to dance.

This was always the purpose of the blues; to ease one’s 
mind, when the vicissitudes of life got you down. The Blues is as
important to modern life for its observational and healing qualities
as it ever was and this Christmas, with its uncertainties, might be
the very time to revisit some of the earliest offerings to put our
lives, hopes and dreams into context.

The blues tells us that there is
nothing new under the sun and that might be our best comfort and joy 
this Yuletide.

You can hear the above selections and almost 200 more tracks from the
 years 1922-1963 on our 5 Double CD, Series ‘Blues Blues 
Christmas’, with illustrations and notes by Blues Historian and DJ
Jeff Harris from Jazz90.1 c/o ‘Big Road Blues’, Rochester, New
York.

Gillian Atkinson is Director of Document Records

Posted in 78rpm, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rare Records, Rock & Roll | Leave a comment

Peter Guralnick Is ‘Looking To Get Lost’ In The Stories Of American Music Icons

NASHVILLE, TN – AUGUST 29: Peter Guralnick Moderator/Music Historian/Author attends ‘Go, Cat Go! Sam Phillips In The Studio’ Discussion Panel at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on August 29, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

In his decades-long career, Peter Guralnick has written about some of the biggest icons in American music. He wrote what may be the definitive books on Elvis Presley, as well as biographies of singer Sam Cooke and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.

His latest work, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing, is a collection of essays, based on his interviews with many legends of early rock and roll, blues and country. At the center of it is Guralnick himself — because, in some ways, the book is about his own journey in music journalism.

Guralnick is the son of an oral surgeon. He grew up in Massachusetts with big dreams of being a novelist, but as a teenager in the late 1950s, he got bitten by the blues. He writes, “I lived it, breathed it, absorbed it by osmosis, fantasized it. Don’t ask me why.” Even now, he says he can’t quite explain why he was so instantly compelled.

“At 15 or 16, the brother of a friend of mine went to the Newport Folk Festival, and he brought back these blues records,” Guralnick says. “My friend and I started listening, and we were just totally captivated and carried away. And I never looked back.”

Peter Guralnick spoke with NPR’s Rachel Martin about music writing and research as a journey toward the discovery of his own voice. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rachel Martin: People like Eric Clapton or Keith Richards, they heard the blues and then picked up a guitar. You heard the blues and wanted to learn how to write about it.

Peter Guralnick: Well, kind of. There was no way to write about the blues when I first started listening — there was no outlet for it. And then, all of a sudden, this sort of underground press came along. Anybody who knew me was gonna know about my mania, and so a few people asked me if I wanted to write something. But what I wrote was never criticism — it was really advocacy. If James Brown was coming to town, I would just try to persuade people: “Go out and see this. This is the greatest thing you’ll ever see in your life.”

Did people accept your stuff at first? I mean, you weren’t a musician yourself, right?

No, no, not a musician in any way. That was never part of my makeup. At the beginning, I really didn’t meet the musicians for the most part. But I started writing profiles — I found that to be the best way I had of communicating my passion. And it allowed me to use my own language to describe what they were trying to do: in the language of the artist, to find themselves.

In your essay on Ray Charles, you focus on the song “I Got a Woman,” which you learned was based on a song by the gospel group The Southern Tones called “It Must Be Jesus.” Recount that story for us: He’s in a car with his buddies, he hears this song and they start riffing?

Yeah, he’s in the car with his musical director, Renald Richard. And Ray Charles was such a fan of gospel. Ray and Renald are driving along, listening to the car radio; the song comes on, and Ray starts singing secular lyrics to it. The two of them got such a kick out of it, and they kept going on it from there, sort of amusing themselves. But Ray immediately recognized this was something that he wanted to do. This was an adaptation, or a turn, he wanted to take.

That was what led me to write a story which I could fill in in such telling details about a moment that was so significant, a song that really was one of the great, most influential songs of the 20th century. It was the first R&B song that had been explicitly based on a gospel song.

Did Ray Charles ever tell you personally what that song meant for him?

It meant two things. It gave him his voice, once and for all, without any doubt. At the same time, by its success, it gave him what he absolutely needed: the ability to put together and hold together a band of his own that would enable him to express himself in the way that he wanted to. With the success of “I Got a Woman,” he put together a band and he never looked back. He was able from then on to express himself in whatever manner he chose to, whether it was “Georgia on My Mind” or “What’d I Say.”

If we look at your body of work as an exploration of creativity, what did you take away from all this?

Every single person I wrote about looked back upon the moment that they discovered their voice, in one way or another. It represents, for me, something very personal, in the sense that I was searching for my own voice. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I discovered in my writing about these musicians a way to express myself in a way that I never quite imagined — to be able to write in this fashion about music and about people that I cared so much about.

Posted in 45 rpm, 78rpm, Americana, Blues, Country/Hillbilly, Gospel, Jazz, Magazine, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Rock & Roll, Roots, Vinyl, Website | Leave a comment

Bluesman Smokey Hogg Biography Out Soon

Out before the holiday season Guido van Rijn’s biography of Smokey Hogg praises to be a blues fans Xmas treat.

Texas bluesman Andrew ‘Smokey’ Hogg was a singer, guitarist and pianist who moved to the West Coast after World War 2.

Andrew Hogg was born in Rusk County, Texas in 1914. He learned to play guitar and piano, and in the mid 1930s, he played around Texas juke-joints and bars with slide guitarist Black Ace (B.K. Turner). In February 1937, he was in Dallas where he recorded for the Decca label, and at the same session he played guitar on four tracks by pianist ‘Whistlin’ Alex Moore.

He served in the Army the war and when he returned to Dallas he recorded a series of songs that were leased to the Bihari Brothers‘ Modern label in Los Angeles. He also recorded for the Bullet label, singing and playing piano over the guitar of Frankie Lee Sims.

In 1948, Smokey moved to the West-coast and went into Modern Records’ studio with pianist Hadda Brooks, and his second single ‘Long Tall Mama’ was a national R&B hit. A stream of singles followed, including a cover of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson‘s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, which again made the national charts in 1950.

Switching to Art Rupe‘s Specialty label, Smokey released singles for them, and a couple more for Exclusive, while Modern were still releasing material from those 1947 Dallas sessions.

Smokey then recorded for a number of other labels: Independant, Sittin’ In With, Jax, Jade, Macy’s, the Bihari’s Modern, RPM and Meteor imprints, as well as Lew Chudd‘s Imperial, Mercury, Combo, Top Hat and Colony, while further sides were leased to Fidelity, Federal and Showtime.

He had a couple of singles released by Ray’s Records of Pasadena in 1957, and made his final sides for the Ebb label later that year.

In total Smokey released almost 70 records in just over 10 years. Smokey returned to Texas and continued to play around the Dallas area until he passed away in McKinney at the age of 46, just before the US blues revival made his style of down home and country Blues popular again.

Posted in 45 rpm, 78rpm, Blues, Books, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues | Leave a comment

Alabama Black Belt Blues – great new documentary film

This is a new, one-hour documentary digs down deep into Alabama’s African American inspired blues tradition, one less well-known than its Mississippi counterpart, but equally rich.

The film is produced and directed by Alabama filmmaker Robert Clem. It is his eighth feature documentary about Alabama, its history and culture.

His latest details the state’s African American blues tradition, from the days of slavery to the 1930s and 1940s, when John and Alan Lomax recorded hundreds of songs for the Library of Congress with the aid of Sumter County folklorist Ruby Pickens Tartt; and on to the present day.

Alabama’s blues tradition is centered in the state’s Black Belt region, which was the heart of the antebellum cotton-growing industry – fueled by the labor of enslaved Blacks. According to a description provided by APT, the music “is more rural than the well-known Mississippi Delta blues and, in some sense, closer to the original source.”

The film deploys slave narratives, archival blues recordings and the recorded music of contemporary Black blues artists to explore the role the music has played in the region from slavery until current times.

Among the musicians heard in the film are Vera Hall, Dock Reed, Willie King and “Birmingham” George Conner, who was born and raised in the Black Belt. Other featured musicians include Jock Webb, B.J. Reed, Michael Carpenter, Little Lee and the Midnight Band, B.J. Miller, teenage blues phenomenon Nigel Speights, and Alabama Blues Hall of Famers Clarence “Bluesman” Davis, Sam Frazier and Earl “Guitar” Williams.

The film includes archival recordings, and live performances filmed at Black Belt juke joints in Boligee, Panola and Union, and at the famed Red Wolf Lounge in Birmingham. The film also pays a visit to Gip’s Place, the juke joint founded in Bessemer by the late Black Belt native Henry “Gip” Gipson.

Among those discussing the state’s blues culture in the film are Tina Naremore Jones, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama; folklorist Kern Jackson, head of African American studies at the University of South Alabama; and singer B.J. Reed of the Alabama Blues Project. Others talking about the blues in the documentary are Jock Webb, Clarence Davis, Little Lee, B.J. Miller, Roger Stephenson of the Magic City Blues Society and the late Willie King.

The documentary includes archival film of Black Belt Alabama from the 1920s into the early 2000s and a collection of photos taken in Alabama’s Black Belt in the 1950s by writer, historian and jazz expert Fred Ramsey. Some of the photos appeared in Ramsey’s book, “Been Here and Gone,” but have never appeared in a film until now.

Funding for Alabama Black Belt Blues comes from the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Chapman Foundation, Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Paul & Alma Fischer Education Endowment and the Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Posted in Americana, Blues, Film -TV, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, Roots, Uncategorized, World Music, You Tube | Leave a comment