Gene Vincent & the Bluecaps

Gene Vincent in a typically tortured pose.
With the Blue Caps and white Stratocaster, where’s that Strat today?

Clapper boys Paul Peek and Tommy Facenda in green jackets.


More pix from the same photo shoot.

Johnny Meeks, second from right replaced Cliff Gallup in early ’57.


The Blue Caps were colorful even in black and white. Cliff Gallup on the left.

From the TV show Town Hall Party, 1958.



From the movie Hot Rod Gang.

1965, already looking old.

Gene Vincent. He sure was photogenic. I thought I’d share these photos, outtakes from photo sessions of which you’ve probably seen the more common shots. Gene had a short and sad life. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Feb. 11, 1935, Vincent Eugene Craddock joined the Navy at age sixteen and was discharged after a motorcycle accident shattered his leg. While recuperating, he wrote the song Be-Bop-A-Lula which came to the attention of Sheriff Tex Davis who became Gene’s manager. After cutting a demo at a local radio station, Davis took it to Capitol Records’ A&R man/producer Ken Nelson who brought Gene and his newly assembled band– the Blue Caps to Owen Bradley’s Nashville studio to cut it with three other tunes in May of ’56. Capitol issued it in June with the incredible Woman Love on the flip side (kicking off years of debate as to if Gene is saying “huggin'” or “fuckin'” underneath all that echo). Be-Bop-A-Lula shot to #1, most people thought it was the new Elvis record (including Elvis’ mom who sent Elvis a post card to congratulate him on his latest smash). Gene never could follow up the incredible sucess of Be-Bop-A-Lula but he cut five great albums for Capitol– Bluejean Bop, Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps, Gene Vincent Rocks…and the Bluecaps Roll, A Gene Vincent Record Date and Sounds Like Gene Vincent (a sixth album Crazy Beat was issued in the UK), as well as a couple of dozen great singles, many of which aren’t on the albums. The Blue Caps were an incredible band, their first lead guitarist– Cliff Gallup a rather anti-social genius who played with a flat pick and two finger picks, quit the band in early ’57 and was replaced by Johnny Meeks who was nearly as good. The other original members- Willie Williams- guitar, Jack Neal- upright bass and Dickie Harrel (who cut a solo LP for Capitol of all drum solos)- drums stayed together until late ’57 until drifting off one by one. The ever changing line up included two “clapper boys” who basically jumped around the stage since Gene, with his bum leg, was basically immobile. One of these guys was Paul Peek who was responsible for Gene seeing Esquerita who he brought to Capitol in 1958. Peek also cut a couple of excellent singles for NRC including The Rock A-Round with Esquerita on piano. The other, Tommy Facenda is best remembered for the single High School USA which was issued in fifty different versions with local high schools named for each region. By 1958 Bobby Jones who had replaced Jack Neal was playing electric bass and the sound of the Blue Caps was never quite the same, although they still made some great records including Get It with Eddie Cochran’s voice quite audible singing back up. Here’s a few more favorite tunes that never made it to 45– Flea Brain, Cruisin’, Rollin’ Danny, Brand New Beat, and Time Will Bring You Everything (Gene really excelled at ballads).

When Gene’s raw style of rock’n’roll went out of style in the U.S. he headed for the U.K. where promoter Jack Good dressed him up in a leather sweat suit. The Teddy Boys loved Gene and he was always a good draw in England. He married Mickie Most’s sister Shelia and cut some sub-par discs over there. In the U.K. he was in a car accident that killed his best pal Eddie Cochran, and aggravated his already painful leg injury. When he parted ways with Capitol he cut some good, almost garage band style sides for Challenge (the best being Bird Doggin’) and two mediocre LP’s for Dandelion.

Gene was a bad alcoholic who blew through his money in record time, he had plenty of problems with the IRS, alimony, and his own self destructive behavior. He drank himself to death, his liver finally packing it in in October of ’71. He was only 36 when he died. He was drunk, bloated, paranoid, and broke. Gene’s final days are as sad as it gets. But these photos remind us of Gene Vincent, when he really was Gene Vincent. A photogenic little greaseball if there ever was one.

The Stooges- Raw Power for ever….

http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/x31ind
Iggy Pop & the Stooges Hari Krishna Hippie Music Fest 1970
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Goose Creek Festival, Zander’s last stand.

The Stooges upstairs at Max’s, Aug. 73 (photo by Danny Fields) copyright C Danny Fields



The Stooges 1971 (photo by Peter Hujar)

The late Ron Asheton after hearing his bass mixed out of Raw Power. (photo by Jenny Lens).




The Stooges in San Francisco, 1970 (the Flamin’ Groovies were on the same bill). Photographer unknown.

I’ve been living with and playing Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power since I was thirteen, thirty eight years ago. Every nuance is seared onto my hardrive. I’ve heard every outtake, alternate mix, live tape, and rehearal that’s ever made it to tape, wax or cd. At age fourteen I ran away from home and hitchhiked over six hundred miles to see them play at Richard’s in Atlanta. I still get excited when I hear it, even if it’s on a TV commercial.
So here I sit, with an advanced copy of Sony’s latest attempt to pry every last buck out of the mighty Stooges moniker, a three CD + one “The Making Of Raw Power” DVD (which isn’t in my package as it’s not done yet) Raw Power: Deluxe Edition. It has no cover or artwork yet, just three CD’s with the track listings on stickers on the back and a bunch of press releases.
I have no idea what Sony plans to charge for such an item, but here’s what you get. One disc of the original “David Bowie”mix of Raw Power. On live disc recorded at Richard’s in Atlanta in the fall of ’73, probably the best sounding live Stooges recordings to surface. A slew of “bonus studio tracks”, some of which have been out before, and a few that will be new to everyone. The three tunes never heard before are– Doojiman, I’m Hungry, and Hey Peter. There’s also an alternate take of I Got A Right, different from the old Siamese 45, I’m Sick Of You (same as the Bomp EP), alternate mixes of Shake Appeal and Death trip (from “recently discovered alternate mix reels”), and the Japanese 45 mixes of Raw Power and Search & Destroy, oh yeah, there’s two tracks from Iggy’s godawful 1997 re-mix. Shall I go into more detail? Either you could care less and have already stopped reading this, or you need to know exactly what this stuff is, so here goes.
A few things I should get out of the way first. I’m not one to argue Funhouse versus Raw Power, Ron Asheton versus James Williamson. I love ’em both, they’re very different records, and they were very different guitar players. Anyone who has made it through the entire Funhouse Sessions box (which means mentally you’re as far gone as me, perhaps you should seek professional help) has to admit, that on Funhouse, the Stooges picked the best of what they had, the takes they used were pretty much the peak of their abilities at the time. It’s fun to hear all the outtakes and variations, but they knew when they had nailed a tune. Oddly enough, on the box you never get to hear the final versions that were on the LP with Ron’s rhythm guitar overdubs.
Raw Power has always been problematic as a production since half the band– drummer Scott Asheton and bass player (who had been the guitarist on the Stooges first album and Funhhouse, do I have to explain all this?) Ron Asheton were basically mixed off the record, they’re barely audible. Either they were mixed off, or their parts never made it to tape. Accusations have flown for years as to who is to blame. One version says that they recorded on a sixteen track machine and left thirteen tracks empty, I find this hard to believe, no engineer would make such a bonehead error.
When it came time to re-mix the thing in 1996, Iggy Pop simply made his vocals louder, took the effects off the guitar parts and pushed the nobs into the red creating an ugly digital distortion, very different from analog distortion, since digital doesn’t decay when the signal returns. Personally, I think the vocals and guitars were fine on the original Bowie mix, all that it needed was for the drums and bass to re-appear. I hated Iggy’s re-mix, and when I spoke to Ron Asheton about it in 2001 he agreed it was awful and the Bowie mix sounded brilliant in comparison. Is anyone still reading?
I’m resigned to the fact that we’ll never hear the bass and drums on Raw Power. I’ve given up hope. I have pledged to simply enjoy it for what it is, one of the greatest rock’n’roll albums ever made. So as far as the three cd’s worth of music here’s what you get for your money:
One CD of the Bowie mix of Raw Power, re-mastered, it sounds as good as it’s going to sound. The belch before the song Raw Power which was edited out of the first CD version has been restored. Gotta have the belch. One live CD recorded at Richard’s in Atlanta, the fall of ’73. It’s the best sounding live document of the (pre-reformation) Stooges I’ve heard and captures them on a white hot night. I was there. The set list from ’73 was four tunes from Raw Power— Raw Power, Gimme Danger, Search & Destroy, and I Need Somebody, along with newer tunes– Head On, Heavy Liquid, Cock In My Pocket, and Open Up and Bleed. If you’re a fan you’ve heard these tunes on various bootlegs. There’s plenty of Iggy’s bizarre between song patter, some of it confrontational, but the audience this time is on Iggy’s side, unlike the other (sort of) official released live album Metallic K.O. where the audience is there for a fight. Keep in mind this post-Raw Power tour was the begining of Iggy’s season in hell. He’d end up a year or so later, homeless, wandering the streets of Hollywood, strung out and near total collapse before checking himself into a mental hospital, the first step in an amazing story of survival and eventually triumph.
Now what about those outtakes on disc three? None of them sound like finished tunes. Doojiman is a wordless jam, Iggy making jungle noises while James Williamson and Scott Asheton jam on simple riff. I’m Hungry is an early version of Penetration, different lyrics, it’s obvious the song has yet to jell, but the Stooges hammer out the riff for nearly four minutes as Iggy improvises over it. Hey Peter is another loose jam, a riff and some off the cuff banter suffice as lyrics, it’s unlike anything else they recorded at this period. In fact, it’s the closest they come to sounding like a “normal” rock band. Nitebob who worked for the Stooges during that time said it reminded him of early Aerosmith, I have to agree. The Japanese 45 rpm versions of Raw Power and Search and Destroy, which are on the CD’s I have but will only appear on a bonus 45 on the final package are cool to have, but I don’t hear a whole lot of difference. In fact, the Japanese 45 sounds pretty much just like the American 45 (the b-side of which was an edited version of Penetration, not included here*). Which doesn’t sound all that different from the album. Maybe it’s my tinnitus, but the differences are fairly negligible. There’s two songs from Iggy’s re-mix– Gimme Danger and You’re Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, I’m not sure why they’re here. As mentioned earlier, I Got A Right is an earlier sounding version that the old Siamese 45, and a great, primitive version at that. I’m Sick Of You is the same take used on the old Bomp EP. Shake Appeal and Death Trip are “alternate mix versions from recently discovered alternate mix reels”. Yet more mixes and still not much bass guitar or drums, but still fun to hear. Since these advanced CD’s are digitally watermarked I can’t post any tunes for you without getting somebody in trouble, sorry, you’ll just have to wait to hear ’em. The final package will also have the documentary DVD, I can’t tell you much about it, but there’s not a lot of footage of the Stooges, I hope they use as much as they can find.
So there you go, you either love the Stooges and are going to buy this sucker (I know I will, even though I have the advanced promo package), or you don’t care and have stopped reading in the first paragraph. As Easter approaches, the thought in my mind is that Jesus loves the Stooges, and all they stand for. RIP: Ron Asheton, Dave Alexander, Tommy “Zeke” Zettner, and
Bill Cheetam.
Addendum: The Stooges will be playing at this year’s Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Seymour Stein and Jaan Wenner’s Buttplugs where they will also receive their bowling trophies. The other inductees include Genesis (and I don’t mean P Orridge) and Abba. What do you think Rock Action has to say to Phil Collins? Well, now they’re officially as “important” as Art Garfunkel and Stephen Stills. Anyway, the line up will be Iggy, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Mike Watt, Scotty Mackay and Scott Thurston, or so the rumor mill has it. Six Stooges onstage–that’ll be a first.
* Sundazed has re-issued the 45 versions of Search & Destroy b/w Penetration, as well as a high quality pressing of the Bowie mix of Raw Power on nice, thick vinyl. The 45 is virtually the same as my stock copy of the American 45, with a nice picture sleeve. Sundazed does really quality work. A totally class label.

Gillian’s Found Photo #39

This week the Fang’s phound foto comes with no information as to where and when it was taken, but judging by the hair do’s and clothes I’d put it around ’66. My guess is the two brunettes are in a band together, the two blondes their fans and/or groupies. There were plenty of girl groups back then– the Liverbirds, Goldie & the Gingerbreads, the Belles, etc. who played their own instruments. Check out this website for the Lady Birds who played topless!

Of course, these could just be college students who sang folk songs on the Quad between classes, but somehow I don’t think so. What do you think?

Ike Turner- Talent Scout 1951-52

An early Ike Turner production.



Ike recorded this Elmore James disc in an empty nightclub in Canton, Mississippi.

Me and Ike, 1991 with the Crown LP and a bad hangover (worst photo of me ever).


Ike’s response to Tina in autograph form, notice the spelling error.

Ike Turner, 1974, dressed to audition for The Band?



Howlin’ Wolf, Ike produced some of his best sides.

Elmore James and friend, Ike recorded him in a club in Canton, Mississippi.


Blues singers waiting to audition for Ike Turner, Mississippi, 1951.

In the years 1951-52 Ike Turner was employed by the Bihari brothers– Joe, Jules and Saul who owned the Modern/RPM/Blues & Rhythm/Kent family of labels in Hollywood, California.
The Bihari’s seen their sales in the “race” market skyrocket when they acquired the services of such downhome blues singers as John Lee Hooker (whose Boogie Chillen went to #1 R&B), Lightnin’ Hopkins and Smokey Hogg. These artists had all been with smaller labels and the Bihari’s bought out their contracts. They had set up a deal to buy blues masters recorded in Memphis from Sam C. Phillips who had just opened his own recording studio. Phillips began sending them masters of Joe Hill Louis, Rosco Gordon, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King before they had a falling out over Phillips’ similar arrangement with the Chess brothers in Chicago. When Phillips sent Chess top ten hits by Howlin’ Wolf (Moanin’ At Midnight) and Jackie Breston (Rocket 88), the Bihari’s stopped dealing with him, and started suing the Chess brothers (they would win the services of Rosco Gordon, Chess got Howlin’ Wolf).
Ike had been recording for Sam Phillips and was pissed off at him when Rocket 88 came out credited not to Ike Turner & his Kings of Rhythm but under the name of saxophonist/vocalist Jackie Breston & his Delta Cats. Breston immediately quit Turner’s band and hit the road to capitalize on his hit. He’d be back in a few years, but meanwhile Turner had worked out a deal with the Bihari’s where he’d record his own band as well as producing sessions for other artists.
The complete Ike Turner output for the Bihari’s can be found on the Japanese P-Vine double CD Ike Rocks The Blues (with the same goofy Fazio painting on the cover as the old Crown album seen above). Ike took to producing sessions around Memphis and when he sent the Bihari’s a hit by B.B. King they put him on salary as a talent scout and soon Turner, sometimes with Jules Bihari in tow, was driving around the south accumulating masters. He recorded some fine sides with Howlin’ Wolf (including one of my all time favorites House Rockin’ Boogie) and Elmore James (whom the Bihari’s had lured away from Lillian McMurray’s Trumpet label and gave to their older brother Lester for his Flair/Meteor imprint), whom Ike tracked down and recorded at an empty nightclub in Canton, Mississippi. Among the highlights are Hawaiian Boogie where Ike can be heard playing second guitar and Canton, Mississippi Breakdown with Ike at the piano. One, however doesn’t find a Howlin’ Wolf or an Elmore James everyday, even back then when the pickings were far more fertile, and on these road trips Ike recorded many second string bluesman, and made some excellent sides with them.
At a session held in Greenville, Mississippi in January of ’52 Ike recorded guitarist Boyd Gilmore at the empty Club Casablanca with himself playing the piano.
Gilmore was said to be a cousin of Elmore James’, and recorded Ramblin’ On My Mind b/w Just An Army Boy (Modern) and All In My Dreams b/w Take A Little Walk With Me (Modern)–crude, juke joint blues sides in a solid Elmore James mold. In fact, to spice up All In My Dreams, back in Hollywood, the Bihari’s had an engineer take a piece of tape from an Elmore James session with Elmore playing his signature riff, and spliced it into the Gilmore master!
Charley Booker, who himself had recorded for Sam Phillips (the great, but not issued for four decades I Walked All Night), also recorded that day and his sides– Rabbit Blues b/w No Ridin’ Blues (Blues & Rhythm) and Moonrise Blues b/w Charley’s Boogie Woogie (Modern), are more of the same, the sound of a Mississippi juke joint on any Saturday night. Primitive, distorted, loose, and wild. Nothing sounds like this anymore.
In the spring of ’52 Ike Turner and Jules Bihari hit Little Rock, Arkansas with their portable recording machine and set up shop in a music store, recording a bunch of musicians that revolved around Sonny Boy Williamson influenced drummer/harmonica player Drifting Slim (Elmore Mickle) and killer guitarist Baby Face Turner, who would be murdered in the mid 60’s. Among the highlights of those sides cut that day are Drifting Slim’s Down South Blues b/w My Little Machine (Modern), as well as Baby Face Turner’s fantastic Blue Serenade b/w Gonna Let You Go (Modern). They also cut harmonica player Sunny Blair’s rocker Step Back Baby (issued on brother Lester’s Meteor label) and 5 Foot Three Blues b/w Glad To Be Back Home (RPM).
Not an Ike Turner recording, but worth posting for sure is this live recording that sat in the Modern/RPM vaults for fifty years before it was issued, probably recorded by one of the Bihari’s live in a club in Detroit in 1955, Washboard Willie and Calvin Frazier’s Rock House
captures the late night feel of a juke joint so well you practically smell the pig snouts.
Ike Turner left Memphis for St. Louis in 1954 (although not after cutting one last un-issued session for Sam Phillips) where he’d be based out of until the mid-sixties. He also left the Bihari brothers, although he did sell them a live Ike & Tina Turner LP issued on Kent in ’69. The Bihari’s re-issued most of these sides (and their outtakes) on a series of very cheesy budget LP’s on their Kent label in the seventies, so cheap they didn’t even have inner sleeves, these LP’s- Blues From Mississippi, Blues From The Deep South, Blues From Arkansas, etc. introduced me and an entire generation to some great music for a mere .89 cents a pop. Today these sides can be heard in incredible sound quality on Ace’s Downhome Blues Sessions series
and also The Travelling Record Man CD. I think of these as sort of Nuggets albums for the blues. If Sunny Blair and Charley Booker are not “where the soul of a man never dies” as Sam Phillips once said of Howlin’ Wolf, they are surely where the soul of a man gets shit faced drunk, plugs in an electric guitar and has a great time on a Saturday night. He might’ve even gotten some pussy or made five bucks in the deal. And that’s good enough for me.

Having Fun In The Studio With Little Walter

Playing Maxwell Street with Supro guitar.


Put your right leg up, I don’t think he’s doing the hokey-pokey.

If you sit on a guitar long enough, another one will hatch.
Wailin’.
A big smile for the crowd.
As seen from a landing flying saucer.
Color outtake from first album cover.
This one shrunk when I put it in the dryer.
I love Little Walter. I have listened to his records constantly since buying that old All Platinum/Chess double LP for $1.99 when I was fourteen. His records still sound almost futuristic to me. Little Walter’s blues was not that of the cotton patch, but an urbane, yet still raw sound. There’s little I can tell you about Marion Walter Jacobs (born May 1, 1930, died Feb. 15 1968) that you won’t find in the definitive biography of the man– Blues With A Feeling: The Little Walter Story by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines (Routledge, 2002), a must read for any blues fan.
However, since a friend sent these incredible images ( the top five by Ray Flerlage, the next two down were taken by the late Don Bronstein who did all the Chess album covers and many Playboy Playmates as well as the book Chicago, I Will, the tiny one by Sam Charters), I thought I’d run them along with some funny in-session outtakes. As any reader of this blog knows I love profanity, and these are lots of fun to listen to thanks to the foul mouths of Little Walter and Leonard Chess (that’s Chess introducing “Blue and Lonesome by Little Motherfuckin’ Walter”). I’m pretty sure these are all out of print, most of them appeared on a series of bootlegs that appeared in the late 70’s on the Leroi De Blues label and later some showed up on a Japanese P-Vine double album, those LP’s are all long out of print.
Here’s an alternate take of Walter’s first hit Juke, two alternate takes of Temperature (take 30 takes 35-36), an alternate of Rock Bottom, Everthing’s Going To Be Alright take 1, and another alternate, Mean Old Frisco (take 1), Blue and Lonesome (take 1), and just for fun I thought I’d throw in Roller Coaster, not an alternate, but if you haven’t heard Little Walter with Bo Diddley on guitar, you really need to.
BTW: On my post concerning Little Walter’s pre-Checker sides (here), the links are down for the moment, you should probably just go out and buy Delmark‘s The Blues World Of Little Walter which contains all of the Little Walter and Baby Face Leroy recordings, as Barry Stoltz said in the comments section the Parkway waxing of Rollin’ & Tumblin’ pts.1 & 2 is easily one of the ten best blues records of the 20th Century.

Gillian’s Found Photo #38

C Gillian McCain Archives

The Fang’s dug into her vast archive of found photos and pulled out another classic image. This week’s found photo brings us back to Brighton Beach, England, summer of ’64, although the only information on the back of the snapshot reads: “Our Gang They’re The Greatest We Love’m All Scrufty or What?”, this gang of mods, all hopped up on Dexedrine, are surely ready to mix it up with the a pack of rockers, and then head out to the discotheque

to dance all night to Stax/Volt and Blue Beat 45’s. I’m sure they arrived by Vespa. The U.S. never really had much of a mod movement (although we’ve always had plenty of bikers as we call ’em, still do). In fact the mod movement in the U.S. probably peaked around 1999. But the clothes and the haircuts in this photo say it all, these kids had real style (style, as opposed to fashion cannot be bought, it must come from within). Can anyone identify any of these lads?
BTW: an excellent site for Mod musical ephemera is Anorak Thing, last time I looked they had some excellent footage of the Action posted.

Dale Hawkins

Dale Hawkins (born, Delmar Allen Hawkins, Aug. 22, 1936) died yesterday, he had been suffering from colon cancer for the past few years. He cut some of the greatest rock’n’roll records of all time for the Checker label between 1956-61 (a full discography can be found here).
Since all these sides and their outtakes have been re-issued by Ace, Bear Family and Norton
I’m not going to post any tunes, you can buy ’em. If those labels go out of business, there won’t be anymore rock’n’roll.
After leaving Checker he cut some singles for Tilt, a mediocre twist album for Roulette, produced hits for the 5 Americans and Mouse & the Traps amongst others, made a good country album for Bell in the 70’s and generally kept busy on the other side of the glass. He returned to performing in the 90’s and at the first Ponderosa Stomp, Dr. Ike re-united Dale with James Burton who as a fifteen year old had played on Suzi Q, his first and greatest hit. It was the highlight of an incredible night of music, too bad so many people missed it since they went onat 7 PM.
I’ve been meaning to post about Dale Hawkins, whose band was the training ground for so many great guitar plays (Burton, Roy Buchanan, three fingered Carl Adams, Kenny Paulson about whom nobody seems to know anything other than he died of a heroin overdoes in ’73,
and many others). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to find the right words to express just how great Dale Hawkins was, and I still can’t. So do yourself a favor, you’ll appreciate it more if you actually have to work for it, dig out those records, or go find ’em. They’re as good as it gets.
RIP Dale Hawkins.

Charlie Feathers

Signed photo.

Charlie Feathers, 1980 with son Bubba on guitar.

If there was ever a case of one man being the living embodiment of one style or genre of music, surely the most perfect example of such a creature is Charlie Feathers, who, although he was perhaps one of the greatest country singers of all time, pretty much personified that character we know and love as ‘the rockabilly’. Born Arthur Lyndbergh Feathers in the country side between Slayden and Holly Springs, Mississippi on June 12, 1932 (a Gemini, like me), to sharecropper Leonard and his wife Lucy, he was one of seven children. In no style of rock’n’roll, or any other music for that matter have so many persons of Native American (or partial N.A.) heritage made their mark (Billy Lee Riley, Andy Starr, Jackie Lee Cochran, Marvin Rainwater, Jackie Morningstar, Link Wray, et al), and like so many other rockabillies, Feathers had much Cherokee blood running through his veins. He got his first guitar at age ten and an aunt showed him a few chords, but it was a black field hand named Junior Kimbrough who really gave him his first musical instruction. Kimbrough wouldn’t find musical fame until the 1990’s when he did quite well with a series of albums on the Fat Possum label, toured with Iggy Pop (whom he called Lollypop), and ran his own juke joint near Holly Springs. I’m already off the track. Charlie quit school in the third grade and went through life pretty much illiterate (yes, that photograph above is autographed, I have quite a collection of illierate’s autographs including the Chenier brothers Clifton and Cleveland, whom when I asked to sign a disc “to James” replied– “you lucky you gettin’ this…”).

He worked on an oil pipeline in Texas, where he would play country songs in juke joints after work, and at a box factory when in 1951 he contracted spinal meningitis. A protracted stay in hospital gave him plenty of time to write songs and perfect his musical chops and kept him out of the Army. After his recovery, he and his wife Rosemary headed for Memphis where he began hanging around 706 Union Ave– Sun Studio.
Here’s where Charlie’s version of the story diverges from nearly everyone elses. According to Feathers himself, it was he who arranged Elvis’ version of Blue Moon Of Kentucky and taught him to rock, even bringing the secret of “slap back”, the immediately identifiable echo effect created by running a piece of tape through two recorders, that today is often thought of as “the Sun Sound”, to Sam C. Phillips himself. Charlie alone stuck to this version of history, and on the tape of the alternate take of Blue Moon Of Kentucky (“Hell little Vi, that’s a pop song now” says Sam) his voice is nowhere to be heard. Scotty Moore backed up Sam Phillips version and I don’t think anyone ever bothered to ask Elvis. Still, Feathers stuck to his story, often adding strange details to it over the years including one that says Elvis was permitted to hang around the studio because he stole his mom’s diet pills (Dexedrine) and dispensed them freely around the place, and another rumour in which Elvis was part black. Great stories, personally I don’t believe them. Sam C. Phillips issued two singles on Feathers, both country–
Peepin’ Eyes b/w I’ve Been Deceived (Flip 503, issued April ’55) and Defrost Your Heart b/w Wedding Gown Of White (Sun 231, issued January ’56). Found in the vaults were some rock’n’roll material, upbeat versions of Corrine, Corrine and Frankie & Johnny probably recorded in ’56.
At this point Feathers had put together his own band– Jerry Huffman (guitar), Jody Chastain (bass) and Jimmy Swords (drums) who would stay with him for the next several years.
As Elvis was topping the charts, Feathers cut his first real rock’n’roll record– Get With It b/w Tongue Tied Jill, which Phillips turned down (he thought it made fun of people with speech impediments, which it does), so it was released by Sun’s cross town rival Meteor Records, run by Lester Bihari, older brother and family black sheep to the three Bihari brothers (Saul, Joe and Jules) who ran the Modern/RPM/Kent family of labels out in Los Angeles. They even gave brother Lester a sure fire hit with blues star Elmore James whom they had enticed away from Trumpet Records and deposited with their older brother. Tongue Tied Jill was a regional hit (#1 in Memphis for a week) but Meteor didn’t have it together to produced a national hit and soon Feathers, who would rather have been at Sun, was recording for cheapskate Syd Nathan at King Records.
The first four song session held in late ’56 at King’s Cincinnati studio resulted in two of the greatest 45’s ever unleashed– One Hand Loose b/w Can’t Hardly Stand It and Bottle To The Baby b/w Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby. Feathers hated them, King studio’s reverb tank was to his ears an awful substitute for Phillips’ slap back effect. His next King session was held at RCA’s Nashville studio, where Elvis had recorded Heartbreak Hotel and others. Excello doo wop group Johnny Bragg and the Marigolds (the same Johnny Bragg who had fronted Sun’s Prisonaires, small world), were added along with studio drummer Buddy Harmon replacing Jimmy Strong. Four excellent sides came of this session– Too Much Alike b/ When You Come Around and When You Decide b/w Nobody’s Woman, although not the rockin’ craziness of his first two King discs, they were good enough to be chart toppers, but these were the years when Payola ruled and Syd Nathan was vocally opposed to shelling out cash to disc jockeys. Feathers didn’t have a chance and by late ’57 had gone his own way. He didn’t record again until 1960 by which time his style of music was dead as a viable commercial concern. Not that it mattered to Feathers who made on of his finest records– Jungle Fever, a creepy, echo filled chant, with the opening lines “Darkies…creeping through the trees” which fills the listener with a certain terror that’s hard to describe. The flip side Why Don’t You, a fine rocker and a two sided instrumental credited to Jody Chastain– Jody’s Beat b/w My My came from the same session. Desperate, he returned to Sam Phillips and waxed a folk tune for Phillips’ Holiday Inn label– Dinky John b/w South Of Chicago, followed up by a country blues disc– Nobody’s Darlin’ b/w Deep Elm Blues for the same label. The former was his worst record ever and the latter a return to form.
From here, Feathers worked at an ambulance driver, stock car racer, and kept recording, making dozens of albums for as many labels, so many they’re hard to figure out. A full discography can be found here. I’d say his best post-50’s sides were reserved for his own Feathers label, currently available on CD on Norton Records, three CD’s worth of incredible rock’n’roll and country (and even a re-union with Junior Kimbrough that was originally released in the 1980’s as a 78). Wild Side Of Life (Norton 332), Honky Tonk Kind (Norton 333) and Long Time Ago (Norton 334) are essential purchases. Another record I like was his 70’s 45 for rockabilly zionist Ronnie Weiser’s Rollin’ Rock label– She Set Me Free b/w That Certain Female. Feathers last record was his major label debut, cut with producer Ben Vaughn for Elektra in the early 90’s. It was recorded at Sun and issued on their Explorer series.
Charlie Feathers played in New York City exactly once, at the old Lone Star Cafe, it must have been around 1984-5. It was the height of the Stray Kats/RockKats/anybody with Kats in their name and a tatoo craze. Kids who last week had been dressed like the Clash all of a sudden were sculpting their hair into “quiffs” and talking about their love for Dickie”Be Bop” Harrell.
A few nights before, my pals– The Zantees (Billy Miller and Miriam Linna’s pre-A-Bones band) had opened for the Rock-Kats at some club uptown on 86th St, and the joint was packed with the aforementioned suede clod hopper wearing “kats” and girls with crinolines in the dresses.
I naturally expected with so many rockabilly fans about, the Charlie Feathers NYC debut would be a big deal and a packed house. The Zantees also opened the Charlie Feathers show. Which of course was nearly empty. The same dozen or so record collectors I saw at every gig I went to showed up, and not one “quiff” in sight. The trendoids preferred the imitation to the real thing and stayed home in mass, no doubt to work on their hair and clothes. If Charlie Feathers was disappointed in the turn out, it didn’t show in his set for he was spectacular. He had more vocal tricks than George Jones, hiccuping and sputtering his way through a 45 minute set that remains one of the purest and finest things I’ve ever witnessed. I think I even wrote about it in the Village Voice, but I can’t find the clipping. Charlie wouldn’t autograph a record for me, but he did sign a photo (see above), and was quite friendly in a taciturn sort of way. I remember his manager Billy Poore seemed very stressed out over the whole thing. He never returned to New York City, and I never saw him play again. He died of throat cancer in 1998, and these days his songs can be heard in Quentin Tarintino movies. He might not have had the popular success of Elvis, but he outlived him by 22 years, and probably made just as many great records. I wonder where all those geeks with the quiffs went? How many “Love this Kat” tattoos have been covered over, and if any of them ever bought a Charlie Feathers record? Who know? Who cares? It’s never too late to find the good stuff….that’s what I’m here for.

Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood

Wilko gives a guitar lesson, Brian May was on the same show, May stressed the wearing of loose, flowing, garments .

Dr. Feelgood at their peak– 1975. I love the drum solo.

Wilko back in Oil City: Canvey Island, Essex.

Wilko today, he looks a bit like Tor Johnson.

I noticed the Julien Temple’s Dr. Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential has hit the theaters in the U.K. and parts of Europe, I doubt it will get released here in the U.S., but hopefully it will at eventually turn up on tv, perhaps on Sundance Channel’s Doc Mondays which could really use some help, they consistently show the dullest and lamest documentaries ever made.

Chart toppers in the U.K., Dr. Feelgood never developed much of a following here in the states, by the time the word got out about them, guitarist Wilko Johnson had left the band and Johnny Rotten had pronounced all pub rock “rubbish” giving them an air of unfashionablility. The flared pants didn’t help.
I used to work for a concert promoter when I was a teen, mostly just watching the door and running errands, and I remember once Dr. Feelgood were booked to open for Kiss at the Miami Jai Lai Fronton, a 4,500 seat hall, it must have been around 1975. Unfortunately, the Feelgoods canceled and I didn’t see them until I got to New York City where they played at the Bottom Line once (with the Ramones? Rockpile? I can’t remember who the else was on the bill). They were a thousand times better live than on record. I must admit, if I want to hear Riot In Cellblock #9 I’d play the original Robins version, and if I want to hear Brits covering American R&B tunes I tend to go with the Stones/Pretty Things/Yardbirds, but Dr. Feelgood really did add something unique to a set list that 90% of which would have been familiar to any American bar band between the years 1962-70. And much of what the added came from guitarist Wilko Johnson– his chunky, “it sounds like two guitars” guitar style, his wired, robot walk stage presence, and their best original songs, Wilko was really what made Dr. Feelgood into a truly great band. After leaving Dr. Feelgood in 1977, he was replaced by John “Gypie” Mayo, a good but somewhat colorless player who added little to their sound and had almost no charisma onstage. The chemistry, or perhaps a better term would be alchemy, was gone. That X factor that makes a great rock’n’roll band. The reason why a bunch of crappy musicians can sound great together, or why a bunch of great musicians can sound as dull as dishwater, went out the window when Wilko left the band. Wilko formed a band called the Solid Senders who made a couple of decent records, then joined Ian Dury’s band for a bit, the rest of Dr. Feelgood carried on (in fact their 1978 Nick Lowe produced LP Milk and Alcohol wasn pretty good) , the original members dropping out one by one. There’s a Dr. Feelgood on the road right now, Lord knows who they are. Frontal lobe Lee Brilleaux (pronounced Brillo) from Durban, South Africa (current home to their biggest fan– Brendan O’Reilly) died of cancer in 2004. At Clement Moore Park, around the corner from my house, someone has shelled out to name a park bench in his honor. Wilko Johnson never found a group to showcase his talents as good as sympathetic to his strengths as Dr. Feelgood. For a short time he was in a terrible group called Sheena & the Rokkats, but more often then not plays solo with just a rhythm section. In a way he reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green in that he let something very special slide through his fingers.

Gillian’s Found Photo #37

copyright G. McCain Archives

Is it my imagination, or has this guy wet himself? Somebody went to work on the front of his hair with the peroxide, notice the back and his eyebrows don’t match the front. And he hasn’t washed his feet in a couple of weeks. No doubt this gal’s been keepin’ him busy. The tight, satin capris and sweater combo will get ’em every time. It looks like the Fang has stumbled into Larry Clark territory ten years before Clark himself got there. Teenage Lust indeed. I’d guess this photo was taken somewhere between 1956- 1963. What do you think their story is?