Thursday, 11 December 2008

Rockin' Song of the Week No's 11-20

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 11
George Thorogood - Madison Blues (demo) (Rounder Records)
This demo was recorded at Music Designers Inc, Boston in September 1974. It's three and a half minutes of pure blues. George sounded so young and raw, much rawer than his sound today. I know that happens with virtually every band, where they smooth out the rough edges as the years go by and the band get tighter. I just think this uncut roughness works really well with hard driving blues like this. His slide playing shows that he was already there, and his voice hasn't really changed over the years. I know I've written about Crazy Cavan a lot lately but I make no apologies for mentioning him here - I George Thorogood and the Destroyers are to the blues what CC and the Rhythm Rockers are to rockabilly. It's got a heavy backbeat that plods along hypnotically and a singer that gives it from the soul. It's rough, tough and ready, and that's what these GT demos proved to any label that heard them.
Recommended downloads: Bad To the Bone, Get A Haircut, I Drink Alone, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, Gear Jammer and for some reason I love Ballad of Maverick.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 12
Vince Everett - Box of Candy(ABC Paramount (unissued)
I love Ral Donner but to me Vince Everett is the greatest Elvisette ever. Born Marvin Benefield, he took his stage name from the character Elvis played in Jailhouse Rock, and dedicated his career to singing in the Elvis Presley style. The beauty is that he never sounds like he's forcing it, it appears to come naturally and it's pure ear candy. If it's a replica you're after, take a listen his stunning version of Such A Night or the bopping Baby Let's Play House. From the pen of Elvis scribes Fred Wise and Ben Weisman, Box of Candy sounds like a castoff from the Elvis Is Back album. Instead it comes from the relatively late vintage of 1964, a time when the crappy Beatles were starting to make waves. This could be the only reason ABC Paramount chose to leave this and the equally great Sweet Flavours in the can. Box of Candy is mid tempo rock 'n' roll with Jordanaires ooh-ahs, hand claps and above all, fabulous vocals. It's upturned collar time, and it's one of those songs that it's impossible to listen to without curling your lip and leaning into an imaginary mic as your treat the bathroom mirror to your finest Elvis impression. Surely it's not just me!
Recommended downloads: Such a Night, I Ain't Gonna Be Your Low Down Dog No More, Livin' High, Sweet Flavours and Baby Let's Play House.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 13
Wild Wax Combo - Hot Rod Racer(Enviken Records)
Another in a long line of Scandinavian rockabilly bands, the Wild Wax Combo have been going since 1996, releasing 4 albums to date, all of them on the Swedish Enviken label. The trio write most of their own songs, including Hot Rod Racer, a rockabilly stomper that has set my heart racing this week. There's blood thirsty guitar solos, primitive backing vocals and above all, pounding drums which make this the highlight of their 2006 release, Rumble In The Jungle. This is rockabilly music for the present day, great energy, full sound and a heart on your sleeve delivery. With songs like this still being written, rockabilly will never die. The theme might be old with hot rods being part of the rockabilly fabric since it's earliest days, but the freshness of the sound and the lifestyle of a lot of rockers keep it relevant.
Recommended downloads: Mad Dog Mama, a great Betty Page tribute Miss Betty and a strolling take on Billy Fury's Phone Call - a great choice.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 14
Hawkshaw Hawkins - Car Hoppin' Mama - RCA 6211 (1955)
Hawkshaw Hawkins is best remembered these days as one of the guys that died in the 1963 plane crash with Patsy Cline. There's so much more to this long streak of sunshine (6' 6" in his stocking feet) than that though. He was one of the finest country singers of the 50s who enjoyed eight top twenty singles, six of which went top 10. All but one were on the King label, and it took the morbidity of the plane crash for him to hit his only number one with Lonesome 7-7203. He enjoyed great success between 1948 and 1951, but hit a dry spell before hitting the charts for Columbia with Soldier's Joy. It was during this barren period that he joined RCA and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He cut Car Hoppin' Mama for RCA at their studios on McGavock Street in Nashville on 27th May 1955 under the production of Chet Atkins. With a crack band that included Atkins on guitar, Bob Moore on bass, Walter Haynes on steel guitar and the twin fiddles of Tommy Jackson and Grady Martin, the session produced three numbers, Oh How I Cried, The Love You Steal and my fave, Car Hoppin' Mama. Written by Hank Thompson, the highlights of the song are many. Haynes kicks the whole shebang off in fine style, followed by the lovely soft deep tones of Hawkins. Underpinning it throughout is the fluent guitar of Chet, playing in the Atkins-style he'd perfected. Jackson and Martin saw away to great effect. A mid tempo number, the combination of pure country accompaniment and Hawkins' mellow baritone, make this one of my favourite country songs. Why it never became a hit (The Love You Steal was on the b-side) is anyone's guess. Whether it was thought the mama was some sort of hooker or just a honky tonk queen is never quite clear, but surely that couldn't have kept the public at bay. Whatever, it's a slab of honky tonk that should be in everybody's collection.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 15
Lonesome Long John Roller - Long John's Flagpole Rock - Flagpole 301
Whereas today's big stars record their songs over a 30 day period full of re-mixing and adding untold layers of extra guitar, the songs of the '50s were often recorded in half an hour during off-the-cuff recording sessions. The stories behind some of these sessions makes for fascinating reading but nothing can quite compare with this little beauty. Phoenix Arizona DJ, Lonesome Long John Roller spent 211 days and 23 hours in his 1958 Ford Fairlane 40 feet above the ground setting the world's flagpole sitting record! He had on board his cat for company and continued to broadcast live on the air. One day the legendary guitarist Al Casey and his wife Corky were lifted into the Fairlane together with instruments and a tape recorder and they proceeded to cut Long John's Flagpole Rock. It's a jaunty rural rockabilly with Casey hitting the heights (sorry about that) on his solo. Customers who wanted to buy a copy had to put their money in a bucket which Roller hoisted up to the car and then lowered back down with a copy of the record inside. Totally unique, and another reason to love our music.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 16
Ronnie Hawkins - Hayride - Roulette 4249
By the summer of 1959 Ronnie Hawkins and his Hawks had displaced from their Arkansas homes to Canada where Ronnie has remained for the rest of his life. Bass player Jimmy Evans joined them up north that summer and allegedly sold Hayride to Ronnie for 50 bucks. It was recorded a couple of months later during an eight song demo session in New York. When the troupe returned to the Big Apple for a 26th October recording date at the Bell Sound Studio, Hayride was the only one of the demos to be re-cut. It was a great session that yielded classics such as Baby Jean, Southern Love and Hey Boba Lou. The band were as tight as the proverbial nun's snatch by this time with Levon Helm, Luke Paulman and Fred Carter Jnr pulling the strings. Hayride is a swinging rockabilly hoedown, with Ronnie playing with the phrasing. Ronnie Hawkins is a really underrated singer, one of the true greats of rock 'n' roll. Hayride, and the way he sings it, is for me, what Don't Be Cruel was for Elvis. Pure pop 'n' roll with both vocalists showing complete command over the artistry of singing.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 17
Frankie Allan - Just A Country Boy
He might not be the most famous of the Welsh rock 'n' rollers, but none of the others, Shaky included, have ever come closer to capturing the sound of Elvis Presley. From the South Wales valley town of Merthyr Tydfil, he fell in love with the music of the King and by the early 60s was fronting a local band called The Emeralds. It was following Elvis' death in 1977 that Frankie was invited by Kingsley Ward to record Just a Country Boy (from Memphis, Tennessee) at his renowned Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, South Wales. The song is so atmospheric and the sound defies it's vintage. Apart from the guitar solo (very Kirsty MacColl) the double bass, drums and Jordanairesque backing vocals, you'd swear it came from 1957 not 1977. "His music make me dance all night, and his sad songs made me cry, and I'll always feel the same way 'til I die". If only all tribute songs could be like this - think about Danny Mirror.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 18
Wilbert Harrison - 1960 - Fury 1028
After spending most of the '50s recording without success for the likes of Savoy and Deluxe, Wilbert Harrison finally hit the big time in 1959 when his first single on Fury, Kansas City, became a million selling smash. Frustration followed behind, a mood that was to follow him for the rest of his life. As great as Kansas City was and it really is great, my favourite Wilbert song is 1960, the flip-side of Goodbye Kansas City. An hypnotic stroller with the brilliant Big Apple session man Wild Jimmy Spruill on guitar and an unknown pianist who takes a marvellously controlled solo. Harrison sings with such vigour and with the uncontrollable enthusiasm of youth, telling everyone who'll listen "this is 1960 and today I'm only 21, you only live but once and when you're dead, you're done". It's a bit of a porky really because he was 31, but who cared.
Recommended downloads; The Horse, Da-De-Ya-Da, Pretty Little Woman, his great version of Stagger Lee and does anyone here not have Kansas City.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 19
Conway Twitty - Make Me Know You're Mine
Conway Twitty really had a fine set of vocal cords, one of the best in the business. A couple of years at Sun Records had proved more successful artistically than financially, but his new tenure at MGM had proved fruitful from the get-go with It's Only Make Believe becoming one of the biggest hits of 1958. Twitty had landed himself a sympathetic producer in Jim Vienneau, who gave Conway free license to growl and toy with the words. The sound was less rockabilly, more purified, mainstream rock 'n' roll. It suited Conway to a tee and when the song was right, the results were glorious, as is the case with this Shroeder-Hill number. Recorded in December '58 at the Bradley Studio in Music City, Conway is backed by the cream of the crop, Grady Martin and Ray Edenton on guitars, Harold Bradley on electric bass, Lightnin' Chance on slap bass, Floyd Cramer on piano and possibly Jack Nance on drums. The guitar and vocals purr together, with Conway singing like Duane Eddy plays guitar. Had the song been around 12 months later I'm sure Elvis would have cut it for the Elvis Is Back album.
Recommended listening: Apart from the obvious, try, I Vibrate, Long Black Train, Don't You Know, Give Me Some Love, Is A Bluebird Blue.

Rockin' Song of the Week - Number 20
John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillun - Modern 627
John Lee Hooker was working the juke joints in Detroit during the late '40s when he started to make a name for himself on the local record scene. Sensation owner Bernie Besman took him into the Union Sound Studio on Second Boulevard on November 3rd, 1948, together with sound engineer Joe Siracuse. They worked hard to get the right sound in the studio, even amplifying the guitar via the toilet next door, using the water in the bowl to bounce the sound around, giving it a unique echo effect. There was another mic placed under the wooden plank that Hooker stomped his foot on - not the type of drum set-up that Phil Collins would be happy with!! The first three songs on the session were simple blues, the type that could have been recorded by any Delta bluesman. It was the fourth song that hit the spot though, and it laid the foundation for virtually every up tempo number he would record for the next half decade. From the opening riff, Hooker lays down a relentless boogie. The mumbled vocals are a treasure and the only thing that lets the side down is the guitar solo, which at best could be described as pretty shitty. "One night I was laying down, I heard mama and papa talking, I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie, coz it's in him and it's got to come out". Classic.
Recommended downloads: Rock House Boogie - if only Eddie Kirkland's solo could be transposed onto Boogie Chillun.

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