Albert Ayler- The Psychedelic Boogaloo Years

Albert Ayler- “We’re hungry….”


Handbill for Slugs on Ave C. Lee Morgan would be murdered out front in ’72 by a jealous girlfriend. Notice Sun Ra playing every Monday. Thems was the days.
A young Albert Ayler, he’d join Little Walter’s band as a teenager.

Ayler playing at Coltrane’s funeral, 1967.


Albert Ayler (b. July 13, 1936, d. Nov. 1970) was (and is) one of the most important jazz musicians of the 2oth century and perhaps along with John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman the greatest of the “free jazz” players who came to prominence in the 1960’s. From his debut recording, a version of Gershwin’s Summertime recorded in Sweden with a clueless Swedish bebop rhythm section attempting to follow him, in which he turns the tune inside out, braying and screeching out his inner turmoil, it drags the listener to the edge of pathos and leaves you drained. For what it’s worth (in monetary value, exactly nothing) I consider Ayler’s Summertime a high point of free jazz equal to Coltrane’s Alabama and Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, through his landmark ESP Disk recordings of the mid-60’s– Spiritual Unity, The Bells, Ghosts, Spirits, New York Eye & Ear Control, et al, recorded with one of the greatest free groups ever assembled– Don Cherry (who had played in Ornette’s original quartet) on trumpet, Gary Peacock (who left perhaps the best payday available at the time in Miles Davis’ band to play with Ayler) and drummer Sonny Murray (whose name New York Eye and Ear Control was released under), Ayler made music, that to John Coltrane– “seemed to have reached a place we have not been able to get to yet”. Ayler’s mission was to update the free spirited playing of the early New Orleans jazz groups (Sydney Bechet was one of his greatest influences) to reflect the world he lived in (his fiery sound mirroring the turmoil created by the Viet Nam war, the Black Panthers facing down the police dressed in black leather and armed with shotguns, children burned to death in church in Alabama, political leaders gunned down in public, etc.) One critic wrote– “Never before has their been such naked aggression in jazz”, and he was right. Ayler’s music was full of rage, pathos, and a search for “spiritual unity” that he would reach often through sheer force of lung power. He played with a raw, full bodied sound, with a gutsy vibrato and blistering tone. Ayler and Cherry in fact seemed to have an almost telepathic way of playing together that is often baffling. Jazz, however is not our subject for today. I believe jazz writing is best left to those who can explain things like exactly what “modular” playing is, and I’m really not that guy. Today’s subject are the discs Ayler cut near the end of his short life, records that are more R&B than jazz, yet they really defy categorization, as they are so unique there are few comparisons to be found in music. The only one I can make is the guitar dominated rock’n’roll/funk fusion of Miles Davis’ records like Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, Agartha, Pangaea, parts of Get Up With It (Rated X for example) and On The Corner (and the many outtakes that have recently emerged on the Jack Johnson and On The Corner sessions box sets). I once heard that Iggy when auditioning guitar players would make them listen to Jack Johnson, a great rock’n’roll record, jazz fans disdained it when it came out.
I guess some background is in order. Albert Ayler was born and raised in Cleveland. His father played jazz in the style of Dexter Gordon and raised his sons, Albert and brother Donald (who’d join Albert’s band in the late 60’s on trumpet) to play jazz. A fast study, by his teens he had mastered the style of Charlie Parker, no mean feat, and was known around Cleveland as Little Bird.
As a teenager he toured with blues great Little Walter, although Walter’s simple music quickly bored him and he was quickly fired for experimenting on the bandstand (Ornette Coleman had a similar experience in Pee Wee Crayton’s band, they left him stranded at the side of a road). In High School he was a champion golfer, but since most country clubs banned Afro-Americans there was no future in golf for young Albert and after graduating High School he joined the Army where he was stationed mostly in France. When he joined an Army jazz band, the officer who led the band told the other musicians to “Stay away from him— he’s insane”, according to Ayler. After his discharge in 1959 he moved first to L.A. and then, in 1962, to Sweden where he briefly played in one of Cecil Taylor’s groundbreaking free jazz groups (the only recording with Taylor that has surfaced can be found on Revenant’s incredible nine CD box set Holy Ghost). He made his first recordings in Sweden, and it was a Swedish radio broadcast that the aforementioned version of Summertime was recorded, and later released on the LP My Name Is Albert Ayler on the Debut label out of Denmark in 1963.
Ayler relocated to New York City in 1964 where he put together the classic line up and was soon recording for the tiny ESP-Disk label (which sometimes printed its liner notes in Esperanto as well as English), making a name for himself and becoming one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in jazz history. One of his earliest supporters was John Coltrane, both players seemed to have influenced each other to various extents and Trane became an important patron, even lending him money to get by. Trane’s Ascension was especially influenced by Ayler’s Spiritual Unity and Ghosts which Ayler had sent to Coltrane a year earlier.
In one of the few interviews he ever gave, Ayler told Downbeat’s Nat Hentoff– “We’re in the same position as some old blues guy playing his harmonica on the corner. Where a record company guy comes up and says, here play into this microphone and I’ll give you a drink of wine”. Basically, even low paying gigs were hard to come by, and he made almost no money from his recordings for the tiny ESP-Disk label which recorded him on a shoe string budget. “We’re hungry” he told Hentoff, and he meant it literally, it’s hard enough to play jazz, try it when you haven’t eaten in a few days.
In 1966 Coltrane helped Ayler get a deal with Impulse Records, the most important and open minded jazz label of its day, they were not only releasing Coltrane’s most experimental records (A Love Supreme, Ascension, Meditations, Interstellar Space) but also issued discs by Archie Shepp (Fire Music), Sun Ra (not a free jazz player, but surely one prone to experiment), and Pharaoh Sanders (Tauhid, whose centerpiece Upper and Lower Egypt would provide the Stooges with the classic bass line for Little Doll, to get off the track yet again). But Impulse could not find a larger audience for Ayler’s music and records like Live In Greenwich Village and Love Cry with their superior recording and better distribution failed to sell any more than his low budget ESP Disk sides. When Coltrane died in ’67 (Ayler played at his funeral, the recording, found on the Holy Ghost box is one of the most distraught and beautiful waxings ever made) Ayler’s mind seemed to come slightly unhinged. Which is a very roundabout way to bring us to today’s subject– Albert Ayler’s attempt to get his music across to a larger audience, to make enough money to eat regularly, or in the colloquialism of the time, his strange and desperate attempt at “selling out”.
The LP New Grass, released in 1968 saw a radical difference in Ayler’s music. New Grass finds him backed by an R&B band, playing in a style that Bob Quine, who turned me on to Ayler’s music dubbed –“psychedelic boogaloo”. Ayler began singing (badly) and his new girlfriend and manager (and later lead vocalist) Mary Maria Parks contributed by writing lyrics aimed at hippies, acid heads and people that said “groovy” a lot. Tunes like New Generation, Heart Of Love, Everbody Movin’, Oh! Love Of Life, and Free At Last, are positively perverse. I’m not sure what is says about me, and my “taste” (or lack there of) but I find these sides fascinating. For, although the backing is fairly commercial sounding funky boogaloo, when Albert solos, he’s playing in much the same style he played on his earlier groundbreaking free jazz sides. Listen to that solo in New Generation–it’s insane! The first time I heard it I almost wet myself. Playing on these tracks are such stellar R&B sideman as Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums, Buddy Lucas on baritone sax, and Joe Newman on trumpet. Of course, Mary Maria Parks is singing back up, that’s her delivering lines like “sock it to ’em, sock it to ’em/let ’em have it let ’em have it” on New Generation.
Ayler was savaged by the critics, and New Grass never found an audience with the hippies or R&B fans, so Ayler’s next record was something of a cross between his free jazz style and his new, R&B direction. Bringing in Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine (who also played on the Gamblers surf classic- LSD-25 b/w Moondog, he was riding high on the Heat’s success) and piano player Bobby Few, Albert recorded Music Is The Healing Force of The Universe (1969) the highlight of which is by a disturbingly grim blues dirge called Drudgery, which I think is one of the greatest and most successful attempts to fuse rock’n’roll and jazz ever waxed (there’s an outtake of the same tune called Toiling, the titles seem to hint at Ayler’s disillusionment with music and the music biz in general, another tune was called The Birth Of Mirth).
Again, this disc sold naught. As a sell out, Ayler was as much a commercial failure as he was as a visionary genius. Although he was often seen sporting a snazzy, leather suit, he was still often hungry. He even took up playing bagpipes which didn’t help matters in the least.
His last year and a half, much of which was spent touring in Europe, especially France, where he had a good following, he returned to playing in his ground breaking free style, at least to the European audiences which understood his music more. On some of his last recordings Mary Marie would become lead singer (and blow a bit of soprano sax), and also write many of the tunes. The sides recorded in 1969-70 (excepting those cut in France) were probably the least inspired of his career. In 1970 his brother Donald who had been playing trumpet in his band, entered a mental hospital from which he would periodically emerge– bitter, in fact, enraged. In Kasper Collins’ 2005 documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler, Donald, when interviewed, spends most of his time bitching about the fact that someone is making a film about his brother’s life and not his own. Donald Ayler passed away in 2007. On Nov. 5, 1970, Albert Ayler vanished and twenty days (Nov. 25, 1970 for the mathematically challenged) later his body was pulled out of the East River (not chained to a jukebox as one urban legend has the story). The police assumed it was a suicide, but Mary Marie Parks, the last person to see him alive, saw no sign of depression or possibly suicidal thoughts. Of course there were and still are all kinds of conspiracy theories and rumours, most say that he was murdered, but no one has ever come forth with a reasonable motive or a suspect. His death remains as much a mystery today as it was forty years ago. Albert Ayler’s life, and musical legacy, has left more questions than it answered. It’s safe to say, he is a lot more appreciated now than when he walked this planet. Google gives 174,000 results for a search of his name, it’s unlikely that all his records combined sold that many copies when he was alive.
For essential reading on Albert Ayler’s music and life may I suggest Val Wilmer’s As Serious As Your Life: The Story Of The New Jazz (Serpent’s Tail, reprinted in 1992), Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost a hard bound book that comes with the Revenant box set, and The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 by John Litweiler (DeCao, 1984). Also, there’s always some interesting things up at this blog dedicated to Albert Ayler’s music.

Inventing Punk Rock, part 1 of 5,235

The Imperial Dogs, Don Waller out front.

The Imperial Dogs- inventing punk rock, 1974.

Richard Lloyd of Rocket From The Tombs, plugs their new brand new single.

Nick Kent today, plugging his new book.


For about a month I had been attempting to write a posting about the bands in the years 1972-4 that were the precursors to the punk explosion, the idea was to do a round up of band around the country who were blazing the trail, spreading the lore of the Stooges, Velvets, etc., but I finally have to admit, it’s too big a subject for one posting, and it’s just too hard to figure out who to include and exclude. I mean where to draw the line in the sand? Do I include the Flamin’ Groovies who had been together since 1966? Were the Dictators the first NY punk group to record or do I go back to the Velvet Underground, or Suicide, or the New York Dolls? Where does a group like the Runaways fit in? Or Big Star? Where to put Distorted Levels who probably never even played a gig? Does everything have to be classified and put in its own specimen jar? It’s a subject that really deserves a book. Anyway, after much blathering and trying to sum up entire scenes and/or careers in one or two sentences I gave up. I thought I would just discuss three groups and one book, and leave the rest for possible future blogeration or better yet, let somebody else do it (anyone but Clinton Van Heylin who can’t find CBGB on the map, I stopped reading his book when he put it on “the corner of Bowery and 2nd Ave”, two avenues that run parallel and never meet, although I had a feeling I wasn’t going to finish it when he called Raw Power — mellow, I think was the term). If you want to investigate the subject of the pre-punk underground I suggest you order back issues of Black To Comm fanzine which covered the ground in great detail for over a decade (it’s now a blog, but I think some back issues are still available if you e-mail ’em).
The first group I’d like to mention since they’re never given credit and seemed to be one of the first, is an L.A. group called the Droogs. They were the first (using terms like this make me want to saw my own toes off, but I can’t think of a better one) garage revival band, having released their own debut single– He’s Waitin’ b/w Light Bulb Blues (Plug’n Socket) in 1972, a mere six years after the peak year for the original American garage bands. Of course, the a-side is the Sonics tune, the flip originated with the Shadows Of Night. This was released the same year as Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets (Elektra) compilation and Mark Shipper’s first Sonics re-issue Explosive (Buck Shot) opened people’s eyes that these groups all had something in common (Dave Marsh had dubbed the sound “punk rock” a year or two earlier in his Looney Tunes column in Creem). The Droogs second 45, their first original tune– Set My Love On You b/w the Kinks’ I’m Not Like Everybody Else (Plug n’Socket) is my favorite. They stayed together for decades, led by singer Ric Albin and guitarist Roger Clay, they cut many fine LP’s, I think the final one was in ’97. There is an excellent anthology of all their early singles released in ’98 on the German Music Maniac label called, oddly enough– Droogs Anthology. Of course, they only found a following in Europe, where I believe they toured. While working a one day job helping out the Dream Syndicate, I became friends with their bass player Dave Prevost (who was also in the Dream Syndicate for a time, he’d also been in Al Green’s band), and in 1984 while on their first (only?) visit to New York City, he dragged them into an after hours joint I was helping to run (No Se No on Rivington Street) and they played an incredible 5 AM set. I wish I could find the tape. They were fantastic.
Another trail blazing L.A. band of the era, who had a much shorter life span, were the Imperial Dogs seen in the above clips playing to a mostly bewildered audience in 1974 at a college in Long Beach, California. The clips are from a DVD–The Imperial DogsLive In Long Beach, Oct. 30 1974 which is available from the band’s own website. The Imperial Dogs represent those scattered (chosen) few who were spreading the gospel of the the Stooges (which is what the snazzy swastika flag draped over the amp refers to, not any type of racist/fascist political mentality, it was a much more innocent time, who thought real Nazis would make a comeback?), the Velvet Underground (one of the three covers on the DVD is burning version of Waitin’ For The Man), 60’s garage bands, the best 60’s British groups like the Kinks (Til The End Of The Day is another roar through) and the Yardbirds, and the spirit of real rock’n’roll– hard, mean with attitude to spare, and a sense of humor to boot. The Imperial Dogs had their own very original sound, wrote great songs and were excellent musicians. Of course they totally baffled everyone who saw them at the time except Kim Fowley and Iggy Pop who both gave ’em the thumbs up. The only gigs they could get were at Rodney’s English Disco where they played twice, and a few odd shows they set up themselves like the one seen on the DVD. By the time L.A. had a punk scene (I guess ’77 would be LA’s ground zero), the Imperial Dogs were long gone, but a posthumous 45 was issued on Back Door Man Records –This Ain’t The Summer Of Love (which was re-written by the Blue Oyster Cult and is the opening track on their biggest selling album Agents Of Fortune) b/w Midnight Dog, later followed by an LP– Unchained Maladies- Live 1974-5 issued in ’89 on the Australian Dog Meat label. Both are difficult to find today, so the DVD is the only way to hear ’em, but you also get to see ’em, and the liner notes and booklet alone are worth the twenty bucks the thing cost. Lead singer Don Waller would go on to co-found the great Back Door Man fanzine and become a respected music writer, too bad he never made anymore music, he was certainly on the right track. Had the Imperial Dogs stayed together for another year or two they might have changed the course of L.A. punk for the better. But then again, they might have been totally rejected for not having the right hair cuts. Hard to tell, and who knows? A movie got made about Darby Crash (I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting where that one was pitched), and the real visionaries are nearly forgotten. The only mention they get in Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s We’ve Got The Neutron Bomb (Three Rivers Press, 2001) is in a quote from Waller concerning Back Door Man and Ron Asheton’s band The New Order (the Droogs don’t get mentioned at all). An old story, no?
Rocket From The Tombs were Cleveland’s great white light/white heat hope from the era, again they referenced the Velvet Underground and the Stooges at a time both names were virtually unknown or despised by most of the world (even covering Foggy Notion, a tune that wouldn’t see vinyl release until the 1976 Evil Mothers (Skydog) EP. Much has been written about RFTT and their guiding light Peter Laughner, once again I refer you to Black To Comm for the best (and first) things I’ve read about them (except for Lester Bangs’ obituary for Peter Laughner which can be found in the collection Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung). Rocket From The Tombs are best remembered these days as the band that split into two factions– one formed Pere Ubu, the other the Dead Boys (whose best songs were from the RFTT repertoire– Sonic Reducer, Ain’t It Fun, Down In Flames). Some excellent live material has surfaced over the years and a re-recorded version of their 1975 set list also appeared early in this decade. I mention them today because they have newly recorded 45 out– I Sell Soul b/w Romeo & Juliet (Hearthan) and it sounds, well, just like their old stuff. I love it. There’s also a new live set of vintage RFTT material from Ann Arbor’s Second Chance club set for release some time soon on Smog Veil. If in 1976 when I sent away for the first Pere Ubu single from Hearthan, if you’d told me Rocket From The Tombs would have reformed and be releasing discs on the same label in 2010, well, I would not have believed you.
Then again, I wouldn’t believe the Stooges and William Burroughs would be on TV commercials and Andre Williams would be my good friend either.
Anybody who was looking for signs of life in rock’n’roll in the years 1972-5 read the New Musical Express, the best of Britain’s three weekly music rags, and for one reason–Nick Kent. While most Brit papers were worshipping at the alter of prog rock (especially Melody Maker), Kent was writing about the Stooges, uncovering the then forgotten stories of Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson. He was to the 70’s what Nic Cohn was to the 60’s, London’s guy in the know, and his new book– Apathy For The Devil: A 1970s Memoir (Faber, UK, 2010) is a moving, dirt filled, masterpiece. When punk erupted in the UK in ’76, like an exploding white head on a pimple, Malcom McClaren had Sid Vicious attack Kent with a chain at a Sex Pistols show, certainly as a way of covering his own tracks since it was Kent who turned the (pre-Johnny Rotten) Pistols onto the Stooges and the Modern Lovers, and McClaren would like to have the world believe that everything the Pistols did originated in his small mind. McClaren is truly a cretinous excuse for a human being. This set off a wave of attacks on poor Nick Kent. Any moron wanting immediate “punk cred” would attack the poor guy with chains, knives, steel toed boots, etc. as way of attempting to bond with their heroes the Sex Pistols. Kent, who unknown to us fans of his in the states, was living the hard scrabble life of a homeless junkie for much of the period takes it all in stride. In fact, there are parts of this book where he’s harder on himself than Sid was on him. He knew everyone worth knowing at the time and for insider looks at pre-fame Chrissie Hynde, down and out Iggy Pop and James Williamson in L.A. post Raw Power, Lester Bangs in his days at Creem in Michigan, the inner politics of the NME, not to mention setting his withering glare on the Stones, Led Zep, the Faces, Bowie, Bolan, Roxy, Eno, and others, make this book a juicy read. It nearly made me cry, and definitely made me laugh. If you never read The Dark Stuff (Farber, UK, 1996), a collection of many of his best pieces from 1972-1993 including the aforementioned groundbreaking Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson portraits, that might be the place to start (although personally, I think The Dark Stuff should have been twice as long, so many of his best pieces are missing, and I sold my NME collection years ago). To this day, I skim the Guardian and other UK newspapers and mags looking for his byline, I’ll read anything he writes. Even when I disagree, he’s one of the few music writers that I have any respect for, I believe that is because he’s honest even when his subject matter forces the ugliest aspects of rock’n’roll and the idiots who love it right in your face. Let’s face it, rock’n’roll too often brings out the worst in people, and it attracts many of the worst people, and Kent is the only writer I’ve ever read who doesn’t shy away from that white elephant in the room. Still, he comes off as more than fair, doling out the most jaundice critique for himself (for letting himself be duped by the allure of it all). For that reason alone Apathy For The Devil is an important book. Make your kids read it.
Addendum: I just ordered my copy of the first Stooges album, Collector’s Edition from Rhino Handmade. For two cds (with booklet and bonus 45), I do feel $50 + $5 shipping is a bit pricey. Of course I ordered the thing, how can I not? Basically, I feel like I can’t live without owning the two takes of Asthma Attack (which I’ve never heard before), but I feel kinda like a sucker. I only hope the Stooges didn’t give ’em a break on the publishing, but since the “ten song cap” (i.e. a record company will only pay the publishing royalties on ten songs no matter how many tunes are on the record, despite what federal law says about payment of publishing aka “mechanicals”) is usually a non-negotiable part of any record contract (and the Stooges signed theirs in 1969, their original contract actually has the words 78 RPM records in it), it’s rather unlikely the high price is due to a higher royalty/publishing rate for the band. But I’d feel better about shelling out fifty bucks for the thing if it did. WTF, it’s only money. I’m still glad I bought three copies of the Funhouse Sessions box, even if I did give two of them away as presents. Since most of my friends are dead, at least I have twenty eight takes of Loose to keep me company.

Gillian’s Found Photo #43

This one looks like it could be a casting call for Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958), the one where Sydney Poitier and Tony Curtis escape from jail chained together, on the run from a sheriff played by Theodore Bikel. Actually, you can’t tell by this photo, but judging from the other photos in the batch it came from, it’s turns out they are G.I.’s and this photo was taken in Viet Nam. Their unit seems to be doing some earth moving judging by the dump trucks in the rear of the shot. Possibly building an airstrip in some remote jungle spot. They also appear to be sharing, what back then would have been called “a reefer”. Of course the Ray Ban Wayfarers are a dead give away that the “first termer” on the left is one hep ofay.

Doug Sahm/Sir Douglas Quintet

On Playboy After Dark, check out Barbi Benton’s dress.

Trini Lopez introduces SDQ. With human statues as props.

Has it really been eleven years since Doug Sahm died? Man, do I miss seeing him play. He’d come through NYC nearly every year, or at least every other year, sometimes with a version of the Sir Douglas Quintet, whom I saw several times at the old Lone Star Cafe, and once in Central Park (at their last Sir Douglas Quintet appearence in NYC, a friend of mine who I shall not name, beaned Paul Schaffer, who shoved Augie Meyer off the organ to jam, in the head with a peanut). One of the best Doug Sahm shows I ever saw was at the Lone Star with a band called the Masked Marvels who all wore wrestling masks (except Doug), it was Doug, Mike Buck on drums, Rocky Morales on sax, Augie Meyer on organ, Speedy Sparks on bass and John Reed (who plays the amazing solo on Roky Erickson’s Don’t Slander Me) on guitar, and maybe fiddler Alvin Crow, I can’t quite remember if he was there or not. They did everything from Bacon Fat to You’re Gonna Miss Me to Wooly Bully. In fact, I never saw Doug Sahm play a bad show, or even a mediocre one. He may have been taken for granted in his adopted hometown of Austin, but here in New York he always found an enthusiastic audience. I just finished reading Texas Tornado: The Times & Music of Doug Sahm by Jan Reid with Shawn Sahm (University Of Texas Press, 2010), and despite a few factual errors (all fairly minor, for one thing Roky Erickson is singing “I’m workin’ in the Kremlin” in Two Headed Dog), and questionable critical judgements (personally, I don’t think the lyrics to Mendicino are trite, I think the line “Fast talkin’ guys/with strange red eyes/put things in your head and get your mind to wanderin'” is kinda genius. I mean we’re talking rock & roll lyrics). All things considered, it’s a good read. And since it’s rather unlikely anyone else writes a biography of Doug Sahm (although given the amount of music he made, he deserves several more volumes dedicated to him), if you’re a fan you’re gonna buy this thing. There really was nobody else like Sahm, a guy who could do country, R&B, blues, garage rock, all sorts of Mexican styles (sometimes all in the same set) and do it all well. Anyway, I thought you’d enjoy the above clips, the color one is from Playboy After Dark and the B&W is from Hullabaloo where they’re introduced by Trini Lopez. The last time I looked the entire Mercury Recordings of Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet (all five CD’s worth) were posted here. Including an alternate take of At The Crossroads that I’d never heard before. I’d move fast, stuff like that doesn’t stay up for long. If you have no idea who Doug Sahm was, you missed one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians, and I feel sorry for you, a good introduction to him and his music can be found here.

Le Petomane (Joseph Pujol)

La Petomane introducing his act at the Moulin Rouge, 1892: “Preparez vous a etre etonne”!

Le Petomane blowing out a candle, part of his stage act.

Joseph Pujol aka Le Petomane at the height of his powers.



Le Petomane never recorded, here however is a disc by an imitator of his Mr Lefires, issued in 1904.


Joseph Pujol was born on June 1, 1857 in Marseilles, France to Francois Pujol and Rose Demaury, both of whom were of Catalan origin and brought to France as children. Francois was a stone mason and sculptor (the twisted columns on the Museum Of Fine Arts or Parlais Longchamp in Marseilles, are his and can still be seen holding the place up). Joseph, the eldest of five children was schooled until age thirteen then took on an apprenticeship as a baker. His father soon set him up in a little shop in a building that he had built with his own hands in the Quarter St Charles Chuttes-Lavie, on the corner of the street which today bears his name–Rue Pujol. At age 26 he married Elizabeth Henriette Oliver (b. 1863), the daughter of a butcher, and together they would have ten children.
It was while swimming one summer, while still in his teens that young Joseph discovered his unique talent, the reason why he is still remembered to this day. He found he was able to ingest any amount of liquid he desired, through his anus, and expel said liquid in such a way as to hit any target at a good distance. He used this talent to entertain his friends, and went back to the bakery. He again put his talent to use to entertain his friends when he was drafted into the Army, and in secret began practicing, not with liquid but with air. Now Pujol discovered he could control his intake and outtake of air in such a way as to imitate sounds found in nature (bird calls, beasts howling, etc.), blow out candles, and eventually play simple melodies on a flute he had built to his own specifications. He decided to go into showbiz and gave his first performance in Marseilles in a small theater he rented himself for the occasion. His debut was such a success he soon approached the an agent for a local music hall and there is evidence that he gave a short tour in the year 1991 performing in Toulon, Bordeaux (where he was examined by curious doctors) and at Clerment-Ferrand, a show which was favorably reviewed in a local newspaper.
In 1892 he was ready for the big time and headed for Paris where he presented himself to the director of the famous theater the Moulin Rouge who gave him an audition. He was put on the bill that same evening and gave his first performance, in elegant costume– red coat with silk collar, black satin breeches, stockings, patent leather knee pumps, white butterfly tie and white gloves. He was an immediate hit and was given a contract the next day. This contract allowed him to tour and perform outside of Paris, but in Paris the Moulin Rouge had an exclusive contract. He appeared all over Europe, he was a hit all over. He also gave private “men’s only” performances in which he would re-create the liquid part of the show which he had deemed inappropriate for the music hall. At one of these private shows King Leopold II of Belgium tipped him with a 20 franc gold piece. In his act he would start out doing re-creations of persons passing gas in various situations, such as a bride on her wedding night, followed by the same bride the next morning, building up to animals, bird calls, blowing out candles, playing the flute, the sound of a canon, and of course, a version of “Au claire de la lune”. He would then blow out several of the gas jets on the stage and invite the audience to sing the chorus with him.
Probably because of his habit of taking daily enemas, he could do his act without creating any offensive odors, this is something remarked on by nearly all who came in close contact with him.
Despite his success, eventually he attempted to break his contract with the Moulin Rouge and set out on his own. He was sued and lost, the court fining him 3,000 francs. Still, he was a man of great humor and well liked by all, and his show continued to pack them in. His family lived well at the time, with a large house full of servants and an elegant coach in which he drove himself to work every night.
In 1914 the Great War broke out and all four of his beloved sons were mobilized. One became a prisoner of war and two were invalided. After the 1918 armistice, Joseph Pujol was a shattered man, he no longer had the heart for his comic act. He would move the family back to Marseilles, and then in 1922, to Toulon, where he resumed his original trade as a baker, eventually opening up a biscuit factory. He died in 1945 at the age of 88, shortly after the allied landing in Normandy.
His act was never filmed nor does any audio recording of it exists, yet he is still remembered and talked about to this day. Pujol’s body was willed to science, the doctors who studied it were perplexed by how unremarkable it seemed.
In the years Joseph Pujol lived, Paris was the center of the art world, and created many important movements including the decadents, the symbolists, surrealism, dadaism, cubism, etc. but none any stranger than the music hall act presented by Le Petomane, the man who turned the fart into an art form.

Roy Head & the Traits

Legendary first album on TNT, one of my favorite LP covers ever.

Roy Head bustin’ some moves.

Roy Head with stick pin and hankie.

Looking for a lost contact lens, 1964.

The Traits (left to right): Gene Kurtz, Tommy May, Ronnie Barton, John Clark, Jerry Gibson, Frank Miller, Roy Head in the front.

Who needs a microphone? Shindig, ’65.

2008, still bustin’ moves (oddly enough, nine months later, the stage gave birth to an oak floor board that bears a strange resemblance to Roy Head.


Roy Head is crazy, and as anyone who has ever seen him perform can attest, he may be the greatest white soul man of all time. One of the many, strange ironies in American music, is that what we know of as deep Soul music, the sound of Stax and Muscle Shoals, the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement, is in great part the invention of white musicians and producers who cut their teeth in rockabilly. Even many of the best known soul labels, the obvious example being Stax started life issuing rockabilly discs (as Satellite Records, one of their first discs was Don Willis’ Boppin’ Highschool Baby, as echo drenched slice of hot boppin’ vinyl as you’ll ever hear). Which brings us back to Roy Head, best known for the chart topping 1965 classic Treat Her Right (Back Beat), who also began his career as sort of frat party rockabilly, if I may use the term as a noun. Roy Head was birthed on September 1, 1941 in Three Rivers, Texas, south of San Antonio, to George Head, a transplanted Chicagoan and Ellen, a full blooded Indian from Oklahoma. From there the family headed to Crystal City, Texas, the spinach capital of the world (there’s a statue of Popeye in the center of town), where he first came into contact with music– black and white. His childhood friends were all black kids who turned him onto Elmore James, Bobby Bland and Little Junior Parker, his mother loved the Louisiana Hayride, the country music live radio broadcast where Elvis got his start but where one was more likely to hear Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. A third family move brought the Heads to San Marcos, Texas and this is where he formed his first band– The Traits, originally numbering up to twenty four members, all resplendent in spangled shirts with their logo on the back (paid for by the parents of member Bill Pennington whose folks owned a funeral home). Eventually they brought the unwieldy band down to a more manageable line up that included future Sly & the Family Stone drummer Jerry Gibson. The Traits played their take on black rock’n’roll, Roy himself taking his cues from Little Richard and Little Willie John. Sometime around 1958 a local disc jockey caught their act and cut a demo tape which he took to Bob Tanner’s TNT Records, the San Antonio label that was then issuing amazing records by bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins, R&B stompers Big Walter Price & the Thunderbirds, and white rocker Jimmy Dee (of “Henrietta” immortality). There they started cutting sides, TNT would issue six singles, and the above pictured LP, none of which sold much to speak of. The Traits would also make discs for labels like Renner, Suave, and Big Beat. Their sound, on wax anyway, is reminiscent of such bands as the Nitecaps (Wine Wine Wine), and the Rivieras (California Sun). Highlights among these early recordings are One More Time (which they’d cut three times in a decade, this being the best version), Live It Up, My Baby’s Fine, Walking All Day, Don’t Be Blue, Yes I Do and the instrumental Night Time Blues (my copy of which ends with a gigantic scratch, sorry, I’ve had it so long I almost like scratch). Quite credible early blues- garage rockers, which of course refute the ridiculous line they always give us in the rock history books that American teenagers needed to be fed back our own black musical heritage by the ignoble limey. That’s utter bullshit, every town in the U.S. had a group of white kids playing their version of black rock’n’roll in the years 1958-63, groups like the Jesters (Memphis), Tony Joe & the Mojos (East Texas), the Wailers (Tacoma, Washington), Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders (Miami), etc.
Anyway, while these sides didn’t sell squat, the Traits kept working, building up a sizable local reputation, mostly based on the antics of front man Roy Head who would do back flips, splits, handstands and all manner of stage acrobatics. A wild man offstage as well as on– “Every weekend we’d wind up in jail” he remembered.* After a short hitch in the Army Reserve (1963), local promoter Charlie Booth brought him together with record man/hustler Huey Meaux, the Crazy Cajun (currently doing time in p.c. aka protective custody or punk city, for among other crimes, homemade kiddie porn), and together they came up with the classic soul shouter–Treat Her Right.
The song took the riff from (Do The) Mashed Potato, the instrumental soul workout hit that James Brown and his band released on Henry Stones’ Miami based Dade label as Nat Kendrick & the Swans and matched it to some x-rated lyrics known locally as Talking ‘Bout A Cow (“if you don’t treat her right/you’ll get no milk and cream tonight”). Bass player Gene Kurtz takes credit for cleaning up the lyrics, and the tune was cut at Houston’s Gold Star studio where Lightnin’ Hopkins had made his best sides. Meaux and Booth brought the song to Don Robey, the black-Jewish gangster who ran a club called the Bronze Peacock as well as the R&B/gospel labels Peacock and Duke. Robey was known for playing rough. One urban legend has him crushing Little Richard’s testicles while administering a beating when Richard questioned his royalty statement. Released in 1965 on the Back Beat subsidiary, Treat Her Right rose to #2 on the pop charts, kept out of the top slot only by the Beatles’ Yesterday. Treat Her Right changed Roy Head’s life considerably– “the biggest event in my life (up to that time) was when I screwed the town whore and the whole football team got the clap from her”. Robey bought Head a Cadillac and he hit the road– “I worked my butt off and they went wild….I took advantage of it. I blew it”.
Soon lawsuits were flying left and right. The six members of the Traits sued Roy, who had to give them 6/7th’s of the tune. To make matters worse, they refused to give up their day jobs and would only gig on weekends. Meanwhile, Henry Stone, publisher of (Do The) Mashed Potato initiated a plagiarism suit, which he would eventually lose when “expert witness” Huey Meaux managed to pry a $40,000 pay off out of Robey after a meeting in which each man kept a gun within reach. Roy Head would later lose his small share in the song in a divorce settlement. A considerable loss when the tune showed up in the film The Commitments, not to mention cover versions by Otis Redding, Roy Buchanan, Jerry lee Lewis, George Thorogood, Lee “Hellhound On My Trail” Atwater (!), even Bob Dylan who recorded the song in the eighties but never released his version.
To cash in on the hit, Back Beat issued an LP, which included a version of James Brown’s arrangement of Night Train obviously learned from the one Brown cut Live At The Apollo as well as R&B standards like Little Walter’s My Babe (done as an instrumental) and Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Workin’. It’s a pretty good album as far as these things go, most of it was culled from rehearsals that Huey Meaux secretly recorded. But Head and Back Beat couldn’t follow up Treat Her Right and in ’67 he signed with another mob infiltrated label– Mercury out of Chicago, where he cut a few good sides, but his offstage behavior caused many doors slam in his face– “I beat up club owners, choked disc jockeys, and did a lot of things I wish I hadn’t done. Just just screwed up”. In the early 70’s had a few minor country hits on Dot, by that time a subsidiary of ABC-Dunhill. He was thrown off the label when he phoned up president Jay Lasker one night, drunk and disorderly, demanding to know why his discs weren’t stocked at a record store in Cut and Shoot, Texas. From there he signed to Elektra where he made two unspectacular country LP’s, and then the tiny Texas Crude label where his Break Out The Good Stuff inched up to #93 on the country charts. The entire time he kept up a regular gig schedule, and given his wild performances, he could still pack clubs all over Texas. I mean, how many lead singers can do the Camel Walk while standing on their hands? He’s managed to making a living, no mean feat in the world of music, especially since the early 80’s when the morons in Washington tied a national 21 year old drinking age into Federal highway building money (if you didn’t raise the drinking age, you don’t get any highway money), a move that basically destroyed the middle class in the music business. And rock’n’roll in the process. You can get a credit card and run up a six figure debt at 29% interest a month, or join the Army and get your balls blown off in the middle east, but God forbid you want a beer. No wonder kids take drugs, they can’t get booze. In recent years Roy Head has performed at the Ponderosa Stomp, SXSW, and a better level of shit hole than he started out in (the first clubs he played in had chicken wire in front of the bandstand to keep the musicians safe from flying glass). Reflecting on his life in music and general philosophy there of to Colin Escott, Roy Head is quoted– “Hell, I’ve screwed up. I’ve got thrown off tours because I was having a little more fun than some of the other acts. I bit Elvis Presley on the leg when I was drunk one night and his bodyguards leaped on me, man, I had to go to the chiropractor for three weeks to get straightened out. I’m still not through. If there’s one son of a bitch in the room that’s paid to hear me, I’ll work my butt off for them”. To which I can only add, in a day and age when many so called musicians think that entertaining an audience somehow involves singing about their “feelings”, amen brother, a-fucking-men.

* All quotes come from Colin Escott’s Tattooed On Their Tongues– A Journey Through The Backrooms Of American Music (Schirmer Books, 1996), as fine a book as you’ll ever find on the subject of biting Elvis leg.

The Stooges- Triumph Of The Will

Ron Asheton takes aim, 1995 (photo by Gillian McCain)


Iggy Pop– “We Won!”


Stooges: Alive & Dead: Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Zeke Zettner, Bill Cheetam, 1971. (Photo by Peter Hujar).
We went over to Danny Fields’ apartment to watch the Stooges get inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Blowhards, a few thoughts on the subject:
* It was nice that Iggy gave a shout out to Danny Fields (the cheap pricks who run the thing wouldn’t give Danny a free invite). Danny had to tell Iggy before hand not to mention his last name as whenever he gets mentioned in full, his name gets beeped out. I guess somebody up there doesn’t like him.
Proof positive he’s the coolest guy in the world.
*It was great to see Kathy Asheton in the audience, I hope she got a free ticket!
* It was very cool that all four dead Stooges were mentioned– Ron Asheton, Dave Alexander, Tommy “Zeke” Zettner and Bill Cheetam.
* It was also nice to that the little twerp doing the inducting gave a shout out to Please Kill Me (Gillian McCain & Legs McNeil, Grove Press, 1996), still the book with the best Stooges stories.
* They sounded fantastic! It was a first for that particular line-up– Scott Thurston was back in the piano slot for the night, I don’t think he’s ever been onstage with Steve McKay and Mike Watt before. I’ve never heard Williamson play I Wanna Be Your Dog before, and he did a fantastic job, a real tribute to Ron Asheton’s style.
* There was one short piece of film footage in the introductory montage I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I hope it’s included in its entirety on the “Making Of Raw Power” DVD that comes with the Raw Power Deluxe box (release date: April 15th). You can read my thoughts on the Raw Power box from last months entry here.
* More Stooges rarities on the way. Rhino Handmade has the first Stooges LP with more alternate takes and the never heard before tune Asthma Attack on its release schedule. Twenty six tracks in all! Can’t wait!
* Write to Rhino Handmade and demand they release the Stooges Live at Ugano’s tape that they purchased last year!
* I loved Iggy’s comments to the audience! What a dead assed, lame crowd that was.
* The first half hour of the show was taken up by a band called Phish, whom I’ve never heard before. They are without a doubt the worst and ugliest excuse for a rock band I’ve ever seen.
I wanted Rock Action to push that singer’s smarmy, chinless, face through a glass door!
* If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the 4 CD set You Want My Action, which consists of four live sets of the late ’71 Stooges line up (Iggy, the Asheton brothers, James Williamson and Jimmy Recca) is a must have, even though the sound quality isn’t so great. It’s still a great package done by a class label, and the music is fantastic, including many tunes never heard before in any form. My posting on the subject from last October can be found here.
* Iggy should run for president.
ADDENDUM: More death. Here’s Richard Williams obit for Charlie Gillett from today’s Guardian, author of The Sound Of The City (The Rise Of Rock’n’Roll) the first really great book on the subject and host of many BBC radio shows. He will be missed. As will Alex Chilton about whom I don’t have much to say, I didn’t know him really well but we always got along, and had some fun together, until small town politics forced us into opposing corners of New Orleans small social world. I’ve always loved Big Star’s Sister Lovers and parts of Flies On Sherbert. The last conversation I had with him he was raving about how great Avril Levine is.
I think he enjoyed being perverse.
Here’s Alex’s obituary from the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Alex was paid tribute from the floor of the House Of Representatives today, you can watch the C-Span tape of it here.

Gillian’s Found Photo #42

It seems that Mac and Max Sweet (left and right) have found themselves a mark, in fact their victim (identified on the rear of the snapshot only as “me”) is certainly co-operative enough, even to the point of keeping himself covered, while the Sweet brothers rob him.

Given that he has the firepower over them, perhaps he’s simply practicing Christianity as laid out in the New Testament (as in “turn the other cheek”). No matter, he’s unlikely to escape.
Check out the look in Mac’s eyes, this guy’s done some time! Date and place unknown. I bet at least one of these guys has a junkie’s cross tattooed somewhere on their body.

Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller)

Rare Checker 33 1/3rd seven inch EP, that’s not Sonny Boy on the cover.


Sonny Boy, back from England in a bowler hat and tailored suit, 1965.


Wearing the famed two tone suit.



Onstage in the U.K., 1964.

Your Funeral, My Trial, from some European TV Show, mid-60’s


with Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon and Bill Stepney, 1963.

Playing for the squares, nice set….


Born Alec Ford on December 5th, 1899 (according to him), or 1912 (according to census records uncovered by researcher David Evans), or March 11, 1908 (according to his headstone), today’s subject soon took on the last name of his stepfather– Miller and for reasons no one has ever explained the first name Rice. So begins our story of this fellow named Rice Miller who popped out from between his mama’s legs on the Sara Jones Plantation in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, and would later find fame under the name Sonny Boy Williamson, often given the suffix II, to distinguish him from John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, whose name he found it gainful to adopt for his own purposes. Confused yet? Let’s see if I can’t further complicate the story.
It seems young Rice hung around the Plantation, working the fields with his stepfather Jim Ford and mother Millie, learned to play harmonica, and by the early 30’s had set off to earn his keep as a musician. In these lean years of the first great Depression he would cross paths with, travel with, and often play music with bluesmen like Robert Johnson, Robert Junior Lockwood, Elmore James, Houston Stackhouse, Robert Lee McCoy aka Robert Nighthawk, as well as acquiring a soon to be famous brother in law– Chester Arthur Burnett aka the Howlin’ Wolf, whom he taught to play the harmonica. He played on the street, in juke joints and country frolics, developing a huge repertoire of tunes and great talents as an entertainer, including the ability to play two harmonicas simultaneously, one in his mouth and the other in his nose. Don’t try that one at home kids, you’ll only hurt yourself.
In 1941 he was approached by a the King Biscuit Flour Company to promote their product via a morning radio show on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. To add celebrity value to their partnership,
Miller took on the moniker of Sonny Boy Williamson, the same as aforementioned John Lee Williamson, then living in Chicago and recording for Bluebird Records under the tutelage of Lester Melrose. John Lee (now called Sonny Boy Williamson I, or #1 to distinguish him from his pretender) was one of the biggest blues stars of the era, whom often in tandem with Big Joe Williams and/or Yank Rachell had scored many “race” hits starting in 1937 with Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Bring Me Another Half Pint, Bluebird Blues, Sloppy Drunk, et. al. When he found about the character in Arkansas using his name, John Lee took legal action, which went nowhere, since Rice Miller’s defense was that he was calling himself “Sonny Boy Williams”, of course, most blue fans at the time pronounced Williamson as Williams, and the case was thrown out of court. John Lee Williamson would take minor revenge later by recording his own version of Rice Miller’s King Biscuit Stomp, a move that would further complicate matters in everyone’s mind, and most especially in this blog entry. Miller’s radio show was a hit, and soon the King Biscuit folks named their cornmeal after Sonny Boy, with a drawing of Rice Miller on every bag. You can still get it, it makes nice corn muffins. Here’s a recording, not an aircheck, but a behind the scenes at the radio show recording of Rice Miller on KFFA, recorded sometime in the sixties. In 1951 Miller signed to Lillian McMurray’s Trumpet Records of Jackson, Mississippi, and backed by Willie Love (piano), Elmore James and Joe Willie Wilkins (guitars) and Joe Dyson (drums) cut his first session in January of that year. One 78 RPM was issued– Eyesight To The Blind b/w Crazy ‘Bout You Baby, but few people have heard this disc. This is because, after the initial pressing, a fire destroyed the tapes and the metal stampers, and Ms. McMurray had Miller recut the the tune, re-issuing it in version without Elmore James. Several years ago George Paulus of Barrelhouse Records fame wrote a short review of the original pressing for Blues & Rhythm:The Gospel Truth magazine. According to Paulus the first recorded versions of these tunes are far superior to the second pressings, and can be distinguished by a deep, red label and the matrix #’s DR1-15/16 in the grooves. At the time few collectors even knew of the existence of this original version. The more common second pressing have the familiar purple label and the DRC 15/16-2 carved into the run off grooves. As far as I can figure the first pressing has never been re-issued (if I’m wrong please correct me), but the more common disc is still a fine recording (the Who would cover Eyesight To The Blind on their mindbogglingly over rated “rock opera” Tommy). Crazy ‘Bout You Baby is an uptempo, rocker, which showcases Miller’s instantly identifiable percussive harmonica style over Willie Love’s pounding piano. Anyone out there with an original pressing willing to sell or trade please contact me through this webpage. In July of the same year another session was cut in Jackson, Mississippi, but none of these tunes were released, and McMurray called Miller and his band back in August for a session that would be mined for their next four Trumpet releases.
Issued under the name Sonny Boy Williamson, his Harmonica and House Rockers (in this case the House Rockers being Willie Love or David Cambell on piano, the guitars of Elmore James and Joe Willie Wilkins, bass player Leonard Ware and an unknown drummer) and released in quick succession were Cool Cool Blues b/w Do It If You Wanta (Trumpet 139), Stop Crying b/w Come On Back Home (Trumpet 140), West Memphis Blues b/w I Cross My Heart (Trumpet 144) and in time for the holiday season Sonny Boy’s Christmas Blues b/w Pontiac Blues, the flip being the hardest rockin’ disc of his career (except maybe the first version of Crazy ‘Bout You Baby, which, since I have never heard it, cannot make a comparison). I love these records, mint copies of the 78’s were quite common and reasonably priced right up until the early 1990’s, and they sure sound good. I think Trumpet and Ace must’ve used the same pressing plant for their 78’s, because both companies issued shellac 10 inchers that were twice as loud as their competitor’s product, and sound like their sound is jumping out of the speakers. They sound even better on old jukeboxes. Musically, they are equally as dynmaic, over the rollicking, shuffle groove, Sonny Boy sings, jive talks, pops his fingers into the mike, and uses his harmonica as both a lead and rhythm instrument, often synchronously. His records are instantly identifiable, they’re what we can safely refer to as “the good shit”.
Two more singles were cut in December of ’51 with the same band– Nine Below Zero b/w Mighty Long Time (Trumpet 166) and Stop Now Baby b/w Mr. Downchild (Trumpet 168) as well as two tunes that would be issued with flip sides from later sessions– Too Close Together (released on the flip of the instrumental Cat Hop as Trumpet 212) and She Brought Life Back To The Dead used as the b-side to Gettin’ Out Of Town (Trumpet 215), a horn riff driven R&B styled bopper.
Trumpet kept recording Rice Miller, who, using his morning radio show to publicize his live appearances was becoming a well known draw all over the Mississippi delta, Arkansas, Memphis and beyond. The musicians on these later Trumpet discs were not the same as his original band, and the discs suffered from the loss of Elmore James, whose 1951 Trumpet recording of Dust My Broom (Trumpet 146) had made him into a good size star in his own right, and the others. The best of the rest of his Trumpet recordings was an instrumental leased to Trumpet’s cross town rival Ace, Boppin’ With Sonny Boy (aka Clowning With The World) b/w No Nights By Myself (Ace 511). Just cuz I feel like it, I present an alternate take of said disc for your listening pleasure.
By 1955 Trumpet was in receivership, poor distribution and an expensive lawsuit over the services of Elmore James with the Bihari brothers of RPM/Modern/Flair/Kent label fame had left Lillian McMurray in bad financial shape, and the creditors who ended up with Rice Miller’s contract sold it to the Chess brothers in Chicago who brought Rice/Sonny Boy north to record for their Checker subsidiary. For his first session, held in August of ’55, the brothers Chess brought together an all star band with Muddy Waters and a teenage Jody Williams on guitars, Otis Spann on piano, Willie Dixon thumping an upright bass and the propulsive Fred Below on drums.
From this session came Don’t Start Me Talkin‘ b/w All My Love In Vain (Checker 824), a mighty fine rockin’ disc, which would be covered by everyone from Bob Dylan who preformed it on the David Letterman Show standing in front of a Marshall half stack and three bewildered punk rockers (the Plugz?) to the New York Dolls who got lipstick all over the harmonica. The Chess brothers took to recording Rice Miller once or twice a year for the next nine years, usually with his old pal Robert Junior Lockwood on guitar along with Luther Tucker (guitar), and the Dixon/Below rhythm section heard on his Checker debut. They issued five LP’s (Down and Out Blues, The Real Folk Blues, More Real Folk Blues, Bummer Road and One Way Out), the classic Down & Out Blues was resplendent with Don Bronstein’s portrait of a filthy, street bum on the cover which most white folk at the time took to be Sonny Boy himself. Some of my favorites from the Checker years are Checkin’ Up On My Baby (only issued on the LP Real Folk Blues, Checker 1503), The Goat (Checker 943), The Hunt (Checker 975), and his final session from ’65 with Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy in support– Bye Bye Bird (Checker 1036) Also there is this classic bit of studio patter between Leonard “Mother” Chess and Rice/Sonny Boy, issued in it’s entirety on the LP Bummer RoadLittle Village, it is great entertainment.
In the early 60s Rice Miller, now the only Sonny Boy Williamson in the business, since John Lee Williamson had been murdered on his way home from gig in Chicago (back in ’48), began touring the UK and Europe where he cut LP’s backed by the Animals, the Yardbirds, Memphis Slim and others. They’re all sub-par, as Sonny Boy said– “These English kids want to play the blues so bad… and they play the blues so bad”. Eric Clapton, “gentleman bluesman” and all around cheapskate, still bitter about Sonny Boy’s refusal to kiss his ass, managed to take time out to bad mouth him in his 2009 autobiography. I bet he wouldn’t have said any of it to Sonny Boy’s face. In Europe, Rice Miller appeared on TV, and took to wearing a bowler hat and custom made two toned suit, affecting the style of a regal hobo. But he knew his time was short, and after his last European tour in ’65 he returned to the south, taking his job back at KFFA plugging King Biscuit Flour and Sonny Boy Corn Meal, and on May 25th of that year he died, insisting to the end that he “was the original, the only Sonny Boy Williamson”. His Trumpet and Chess sides are readily available (try the Captain Crawl link to the right), including all the un-issued material, it’s been re-issued by Arhoolie, Charley, Audio Archives, and other labels (avoid anything he cut overseas unless you’re a completest). These recordings are must haves. The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson double CD of Chess material is a good place to start. Or a mint, black label copy of Down & Out Blues on Checker, which might run you $200 on Ebay if you’re rich. His Checker 45’s and Trumpet 78’s aren’t that hard to find (although the Trumpet 45’s are getting pretty scarce). Rice Miller aka Sonny Boy Williamson #2, an American original.

Re-Post: Jimmy Reed for Gypsy Rose Wine

Jimmy Reed in a very shiny suit.

One sided radio spot.


Jimmy Reed, before the toupee.


And a cool Supro Airline model guitar.

Notice the finger pick.
Since the link for this one came down back in October, I thought I’d repost it, along with some snazzy photos I’ve just uncovered. The radio spot is from the early 70’s, Jimmy Reed doing an ad for Gypsy Rose Wine. The Gypsy Rose Wine (a fortified wine like MD 20/20, Night Train and Thunderbird) folks really understood their market. I remember hearing it at night on Butterball’s show on WMBM out of Miami (where I first heard Slim Harpo, and just about every great R&B record of the era with a transistor radio pressed to my ear under the covers), and also on WLAC out of Nashville when the weather was really bad and the signal traveled all the way down the coast to Florida where I grew up. Jimmy gets some help from his son Jimmy Reed Jr. aka Boonie. For my money, Jimmy Reed was just about the greatest thing there ever was. He was more of a rock’n’roll, or in his own words–a pop singer than a bluesman, but what ever you call his music, he was as close to a genius as a moron can get. If you don’t have all of Jimmy Reed’s Vee Jay recordings, you really need to reassess your priorities in life.