Archive for the ‘Rockabilly Archaeology’ Category

Rockabilly Redux.

May 10, 2013

I’m presently enjoying a sabbatical in the big city, but still can’t get this song out of my head, so am scratching the itch and getting it on record, especially since youtube is introducing some sort of pay wall in the near future.

Country music pioneers the Delmore Brothers wrote Blues Stay Away from Me in 1949.

The Delmore Brothers
Their original version – which has a very traditional country slant – with some great biographical notes from various commenters.

Blues stay away from me
Blues why don’t you let me be
Don’t know why
You keep on haunting me

Love was never meant for me
True love was never meant for me
Seems somehow
We never can agree

Life is full of misery
Dreams are like a memory
Bringing back
Your love that used to be

Tears so many I can’t see
Years don’t mean a thing to me
Time goes by
And I still can’t be free

Blues/jazz great Lonnie Johnson also did a version, but it’s not available on youtube, so here is his version of Broken Levee Blues where Johnson’s vocals could easily be mistaken for Blind Willie McTell, while backed by Black American string quartet instrumentation so popular on the medicine show circuit from an earlier epoch. That was a time when rural rubes could watch dancing chickens, jeer at the geek and then purchase a patent medicine which, at a minimum, provided a jolly good alcohol/narcotic habit.

Anyway, back to our main theme.
There are just so many versions of Blues Stay Away from Me.
Sleepy La Beef giving it a blues reading and, not surprising, given his baritone vocal range.

Johnny Burnette with a version which combines country, blues and rockabilly elements.

Gene Vincent’s version where he nails the lyrics in perfect rockabilly mode, and with just the right amount of added studio echo.

Finally, The Band’s version with some tasty organ by Garth.

Obviously, like any holiday, this post is well and truly on the slippery path to self-indulgence and excess.

Chains of Love written by Big Joe Turner.
Chains of love
Has tied my heart to you
Chains of love
Have made me feel so blue
Well, now I’m your prisoner
Tell me what you’re gonna do

Are you gonna leave me
Are you gonna make me cry
Are you gonna love me
Are you gonna make me cry
These chains of blues gonna haunt me
Until the day I die

Well, if you’re gonna leave me
Please won’t you set me free
Well, if you’re gonna leave me
Please won’t you set me free
I can’t stay here with these chains
Less’n you stay on here with me

Well, three ‘o clock in the morning
Baby the moon is shining bright
Yeah, three ‘o clock in the morning
The moon is shining bright
I’m just sitting here wondering
Where can you be tonight

Blues/deep soul version by Bobby Bland.

Johnny Burnette (like his confrere Gene Vincent) was equally at home in the blues idiom.

Finally, everyone needs a country sweetheart.

What can I say. Holiday lite!

Rockabilly Archaeology: Part Three.

April 4, 2013

To pilfer from an earlier post:

Train lyrics encompass all the most endearing themes central to great songs – rootlessness and Manifest Destiny, love, lust and romance, significant meetings and departures, outlaws and ladies (loosely termed), hobos and travel lust, fast trains, slow trains, last trains and every variant inbetween.
opening one
Trains play a metaphoric role in a mythic US landscape, and probably have bugger all connection to reality. But do they provide grist for the art of great song writing.
opening two
Wicki provides a list of song referencing trains HERE, and if you can’t add another dozen, you obviously grew up on diet of Queen, Oasis and rap and are therefore doomed to a future of self-harm and deserved suicide.
Now there are a lot of really dark songs, Long Black Veil and The Dark End of the Street being at the top of my list.

James Carr’s version with truly subline backing by the Muscle Shoals studio musicians.
We also have Hank Williams Travelling Man, which is surely an essay on his short and troubled life. And despite some negative reviews, I thoroughly recommend Chet Flippo’s semi-fictional biography Your Cheating Heart.

God, I fucking hate youtubes pre-song advertising.
Its time to finish this post: rain, birdsong and other distractions outside notwithstanding.
Recall that in a previous part of this series, I mentioned that musicians didn’t regard themselves as genre specific artists, and they hopped musical boundaries without considering the matter. Rock and roll, rockabilly, country, pop and gospel comfortably co-existed in most Southern musicians play lists.
Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio were perfect examples, and this link is by far the best available on the net.

JBalbun Burnette hailed from Memphis and was a contemporary of young Presley: they attended different high schools. A truly tremendous voice which covers a wide register. Not a velvety or as playful as Presleys or as thin as Chris Isaaks. And no slouch in the yelp and hiccuping department either. They might look like rubes in their early photos, but were cutting edge musicians in their day.

Its time to crank up the Stereo, although I’ve been sampling from a brilliant collection off the pc.
Train Kept a Rolling all Night Long covered by millions and written by Kay, Bradshaw and Mann in 1951.

High velocity rockabilly.

Well, we made a stop in Albuquerque
She musta thought
I was a real cool jerk
Got off the train, and put her hands up
Lookin’ so good, I couldn’t let her go
But I just couldn’t tell her so

I’m in heat, I’m in love
But I just couldn’t tell her

Honey Hush written by Joe Turner.

The killer sound of the bass line was due to a loose valve in the amplifier, a fact which befuddled numerous wannabe guitarists including Clapton. (See first link.)
Equally at home singing blues. Chains of Love every bit as good as Bobby Bland’s version.

And I leave you with Midnight Train which begins as a ballad before segueing into a rockabilly conclusion. At first I though his vocal delivery was rather naïve but after a lot of listens, decided he really nailed this narrative of pure despair.

I left my gal sad and lonely, left her standing in the rain
I went down to the railroad, I caught myself a midnight train
I beat my way into Texas, landed in a gambling town
I got myself into trouble, I shot the county sheriff down
Oh Lord, I shot the county sheriff down
They put the handcuffs on me, tied me with a ball and chain
They took me to El Paso, they tied me with a ball and chain
These prisonbars all around me, no-one to call my bail
My heart’s sad and so lonely, I want to get out of this jail
Oh Lord, I want to get out of this jail
The jury read the verdict, murder in the first degree
The judge said, take this prisoner to the penitentiary
They put the handcuffs on me, tied me with a ball and chain
I’d left my home forever and I’ll never see my gal again
Oh Lord, I’ll never see my gal again

Touch Me. Totally killer vocals. Also covered by The Cramps.

I was going to finish with a brief account of rockabilly’s transmigration to Japan and Finland, but that will have to await another day.

Rockabilly Archaeology: Part Two.

March 26, 2013

The conventional wisdom is that when Elvis released Heartbreak Hotel on 27 January 1956 the world surrendered to this new phenomena. And as you would expect, those perps from Rolling Stone are aiding and abetting this fabrication:

In 2004 it was ranked number forty-five on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”,[44] the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included it in its unranked list 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll[45] and in 2005, Uncut magazine ranked the first performance of “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 by Presley as the second greatest and most important cultural event of the rock and roll era.

This is hogswash of the first order. Rock and Roll, rockabilly, call it what you like, was well and truly percolating in the major cities in the South prior to this date and via numerous musicians who are now mostly footnotes. The whole idea of placing the first dot on a musical timeline is an idiot’s exercise. Musicians of that period simply didn’t think of themselves as genre artists: that was a retrospective exercise undertaken by both the musicians themselves (at least those that survived) and rock journalists.

Insipid pop, pure country, rock and roll or blues: The South was one massive melting pot of sounds and musicians turned their efforts to song types where they (or more exactly their managers/record companies) thought they could make a buck. Royalties from the sale of vinyl were non-existent: the only way to pay the bills and buy that mandatory pink cadillac and/or bus was really exhaustive touring – bars, roadhouses and high school hops, whitey’s version of the Black America’s chitlin circuit. And Black and White sounds of the day routinely intersected as bands ground out a living on the road. Songs were routinely pilfered, rewritten and sanitised, with Black musicians opting for the more visceral versions.

This abbreviated rant out of the way, let’s turn up the speakers and listen to some major and minor footnotes. Charlie Feathers HERE and HERE always enjoyed pointing out that he held a musicians union ticket well before Elvis.

Prior to his death in 1998, Charlie downsized and turned his family into his backing band. Just think that years later Tarantino (or more correctly longtime associate Robert Rodriguez) included the following in the Kill Bill double bill. (Rodriguez is unquestionably the most interesting sound track creator in decades.)

Interview with Charlie. You’ll need a linguist.

Sorting thru Gene Vincent’s catalogue for song gems is a bit like ploughing thru Rockally Rarities Vols.1 -4: it’s not worth the time or effort. There is just too much dross. Vincent led a pained life (naval injury) which was not helped by his love of bourbon and flick knives. And like Jerry Lee, he had to vacate the US to avoid the demands of the Inland Revenue. However Be Bop-a-Lula is a shining example of all the rockabilly mannerisms.

I think this was the clip used early on in Scorsese’s No Direction Home.
And here’s the same, but with superior sound values.

Vincent’s guitarist Cliff Gallup seriously inspired Beck, Page and others and the guy never left his day job. He was the Director of Maintenance and Transportation for the Chesapeake, Virginia city school system, where he worked for almost 30 years. Wicki
Update. Just realised that I forgot this piece Catman by Gene Vincent, where Gallup’s breaks the mold with guitar playing which precursed The Cramps, The Gun Club etc by decades. And since this is a family friendly site, I leave the Catman signifier to you lecherous imagination.

For the full road house opera, there is little to surpass Lonnie Mack’s Why. Mack, a reverb twang, country and blues sojourner displays his Otis Rush skills here – brass riffs to die for, strong lyrics and incandescent guitar.

Finally, we come to Sleepy La Beef, The Human Jukebox, capable of doing three hour concerts without a break and covering a massive sweep of songs in a variety of genres including gospel. Saw him on two occassions and had my musical parameters seriously extended.

Readers who are interested in guitar porn will have noted the Danelectro on the right, and there are some of you since the The Luthiers Art….post has been read around 2,500 times, which is sort of gratifying.
The final in this series will focus on Train Mythology.

Rockabilly Archaeology: Part One.

March 25, 2013

Been having quite a love affair with rockabilly of late. This is a bit of a scatter shot post as I’m adopting the Eugen Duhring approach (Frederick Engels. Anti-Duhring Translated by Emile Burns from 1894 edition) and discussing everything under the sun and a few things beside. Okay, so I fudged the quote.

Now, before we discuss the means of production utilised in this now-mostly-ignored genre of white boy musical expression, I feel impelled to warn the class against any short cuts to rockabilly knowledge ie hitting up rockabilly on wicki. The wicki entry is undiluted crap, shorn of all socio-cultural context and probably cobbled together by some hacks from Rolling Stone. And if ever there was a case for a fully-fledged Cultural Revolution in the world of music journalism (sic), those bastards would be for the high jump or an extended dip in the village outhouse. They function somewhat like the Vatican continually restating canonical ‘truths”. 100 best LPs, 100 best guitarists, etc. Fucking sickening self-referential problematic****.

Now that that itch has been scratched, lets look at rockabilly’s basic means of production.
Hit the images link below for the Gretsch Chet Atkins in all their sunburst glory.…0.0…1ac.1.7.img.hZHkNsOz8kw
More specifically, the Gretsch G6120 Double Cutaway which will kill your bank account.
Next on the shopping list is a valve-driven Fender Tweed Bassman.
Finally, a very elemental drum kit and a double bass.

Kimchibilly: Trust the Koreans to go genre excessive. Died laughing with one.

Kimchibilly: Trust the Koreans to go genre excessive. Died laughing with this one.

You have spent a fortune so far, but the mandatory sneer and greasy pompadour are gratis.

The concept of problematic coined by Louis Althusser to describe the regularities in the way problems are formulated and the types of answers consequently sought. Althusser tpoints out that ” …. a word or concept cannot be considered in isolation; it only exists in the theoretical or ideological framework in which it is used”. Equally importantly, ” …it is centred on the absence or problems and concepts within the problematic as much as their presence;…”. Furthermore, it is not the vision or recognitional capacities of subject (musical) historians who establish the framework of questions, answers, modes of proof: the field of vision of the problematic establishes this explanatory framework. @ KT