Big Mama Thorton, Budddy Guy, Hound Dog

Posted in Big Mama Thorton, Buddy Guy on October 25th, 2012 by Willie

“Hound Dog” is one of the greatest blues rock songs of all time, so it should come as no surprise that this is the third instance of me posting a version of it. The other two occasions involved the King Elvis Presley, but for this time, I have the superior version. Its Big Mama Thorton and Buddy Guy teaming up to play the song that Mama made a hit 4 years before Elvis. Her version just roasts with perfection. The way Big Mama just growls and bites into the verses, singing like no one else could sing it, even the King of Rock and Roll. This performance is almost too hip for this galaxy, proof of human artistic perfection, and America couldn’t help but agree as Willie Mae Thorton sold 2 million copies of it in 1952 and 1953, spending 7 weeks at #1; an ultra smash for the early era of rock and roll. I’ve played this video about eight times this week and I can’t get enough, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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The Unparelled Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Posted in Sister Rosetta Tharpe on September 23rd, 2012 by Willie

For those who have never heard of, or seen Sister Rosetta Tharpe, welcome to your baptism by fire. Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the first superstar of gospel, known as “the original soul sister,” and ever since her life was tragically cut short at the too young age of 58, her feats and persona have never been topped, let alone repeated. Rosetta was a landmark figure in the history of gospel, blues, and popular music, as she was the first person to dare and combine secular music styles of rhythm and blues with gospel music and lyrics. She was a mean guitar player too, one of the most overlooked pioneers of rock guitar, peeling off dozens of incredible Chuck Berry like licks before there was a Chuck Berry. Her influence was powerful, extending to legends like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. For Little Richard, who is often referred to as the Father of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta was a childhood favorite. He saw her perform at the Macon City Auditorium in 1945, and the 15 year old Little Richard was lucky enough to be invited on stage to sing with her. According to legend, she paid him after the show. Johnny Cash also identified Rosetta as his favorite singer, and made a point of mentioning her as a childhood favorite in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction speech. For all her acclaim an notoriety, she died in obscurity, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia. Her lost reputation was later rectified by people who never forgot her thunderous ability and unforgettable stage presence. Below I have a video of Rosetta performing “Didn’t it Rain,” and “Joshua.” I first heard “Didn’t it Rain” off the Bob Dylan radio show. The recorded version is a spectacular thing featuring dueling Rosetta vocal takes harmonizing and flying all over the place and just incredible guitar overdubs. The live version is understandably more raw, but just as good. I’ll let you judge for yourself.

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56th Anniversary of Elvis Presley's Immortal Apperance on the Milton Berle Show

Posted in Elvis Presley on June 5th, 2012 by Willie

On June 5th 1956, a 21 year old Elvis Presley strutted onto the set of the Milton Berle show.  When Milty introduced Elvis, the future King of Rock and Roll exploded into “Hound Dog.”  Its a performance that changed America.  It helped usher in the sexual revolution, the rock and roll revolution, and launched Elvis as an immortal icon of cool.  The clip, 56 years old on this day, features the aforementioned “Hound Dog,” a funny interview where Elvis gets some digs into Berle, as well as insight into what hair gel Elvis used on his jet black hair.  Its really an amazing slice of history, especially getting a prolonged glimpse at Elvis’s hypnotic stare that practically brainwashed the entire youth the Western World over.  Elvis plays up his role as the coolest, hippest, and coolest king of teenagers, alternating between fits of nervousness, confidence, and uncontrollable sexual desire in the presence of a beautiful woman.  This clip is still incredible to this day and is must watch for anybody with a pulse for rock and roll perfection.

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Stu Sutcliffe, Love Me Tender

Posted in Stu Sutcliffe, The Beatles on April 7th, 2012 by Willie

There is a lot of conjecture as to who the fifth Beatle is, or was.  Some think it was George Martin, their famed producer, others Brian Epstein, their cavalier manager.  Others think it was Pete Best, the drummer ousted on the precipice of the Beatles massive fame.  The real answer is the departed Stuart Sutcliffe.  Stu was John Lennon’s best friend in art college and was a massive influence on the man in their short friendship.  Stu died at 21 years old of a brain hemorrhage, also on the eve the of the massive Beatle tidal wave set to cover the planet, but his impact on the Beatles was real.  First, he collaborated on the name “Beatles” with John, probably coining it himself.  Second, he came up with the Beatle hair cut with the help of his girlfriend Astrid.  Lastly, with his skills as an abstract artist, Stu got John thinking about rock and roll as a conceptual art form, expanding John’s view of what the Beatles could really be.  Stu was the original bass player, not as terrible as it is portrayed in Beatle movies and Beatle literature; competent enough to be recruited by other local Hamburg bands during the Beatles stay in Germany.  It is true he left the band to stay in Germany and marry Astrid, but his friendship with the Beatles never ended.  Had he lived, his fame probably would have exploded in one form or another due to his Beatle association and movie star good looks.  It was also known, by those who heard him, that Stu was a more than decent singer, getting plenty of vocal time during the Beatles marathon 6 hour sets when John and Paul’s voices were fading.  Stu’s friendship with John, killer look, and burgeoning talent caused a small rivalry with Paul McCartney.  Paul was jealous of Stu’s place in the Beatles, but also rightfully critical of Stu’s full commitment to the group.  Stu was considered a brilliant artist by his teachers and his peers, and had a bright future painting.  When the pressure from Paul intensified as to where Stu’s priorities were, he resigned the group graciously without putting up much of a fight and wished his friends luck.  But still, his early tragic death created a lot of mystery and what if scenarios had he lived.  What was he really like?  Would he have ever been asked to rejoin the group?  Could he really sing?  The answer to the last question might have been solved with the release of Stu’s rendition of the great Elvis ballad, “Love Me Tender.”  Stu’s family claims that the vocalist on the record is absolutely Stu, recorded in Hamburg as a gift for Astrid, right after the Beatles left.  Critics have other theories, but no one knows for certain.  If it is Stu on this record, it leaves a spooky impression of a voice that might have had a major impact in global culture had he lived…We’ll never know, but check out this ghostly performance and ask yourself, what if…

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Greatest Rock Vocalists #3, Elvis Presley, Heart Break Hotel, Hound Dog

Posted in Elvis Presley, Greatest Rock Vocalists, Youtube Favs on October 5th, 2011 by Willie

Elvis was simply great, like a human tornado of cool, and one of the most original Americans in history.  Was he musically original?  Not exactly, but his instinct for sexing up rock and roll was brilliant.  His originality was mainly found in his person, the archetype of the post World War II teenager; rebellious, greasy black hair, lover of rock and roll, fast cars, and women.  Not only did he look the part, he invented the part.  All the stereotypes of 50s cool that birthed endless imitators and evolved into the dominant 60s style all came from Elvis, the ground zero of cool perfection.  So here you have this utterly original and perfect looking young man, knocking down buildings with his stare, and what happens when he begins to sing?  The knocked down buildings turn to dust and get blown away to sea.  His voice was somehow even more perfect than his look, at once both growling and authoritative, yet vulnerable and honey dipped.  He had all the makings of a hypnotist, mesmerizing the world with his sight and sound.  This is why he’s called the King, because if he a little more brains, and a little more ambition, he could have conquered the world.  Instead, he just settled for rock and roll and movies, the latter being nowhere near as good as the former.  Below I have “Heart Break Hotel,” the best Elvis video available on the internet, and then I have “Hound Dog” from the Milton Berle show, where his dance moves created a scandal.  Both videos display Elvis’s timelessness and magic, proving that his act works in any time, and probably on any planet.  Enjoy.

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RIP Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber

Posted in Youtube Favs on August 24th, 2011 by Willie

Two songwriting icons passed away yesterday, and ironically, both were halves of legendary songwriting teams.  Nick Ashford, legendary Motown songwriter, who was paired with his wife Valerie Simpson, died at 70 in Manhattan.  Jerry Leiber, partnered with Mike Stoller, co-wrote some of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits, died at 78 in Los Angeles.  Among Ashford’s greatest hits were “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” displaying his mastery of the word “ain’t.”  Leiber and Stoller churned out “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Stand By Me.” Both Ashford and Leiber were beloved geniuses of their craft and produced songs that are etched like concrete in the public’s minds.  It’s a sad day, but on the sunny side, the great  thing about dying a master songwriter is that your music truly lives on, leaving the perfect memorial.  My little memorial comes in the form of Ben E. King’s rendition of “Stand By Me,” and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s version of “Aint No Mountain High Enough.”  Oh, and just a reminder, click here and you can vote for me every day for CBS’s Most Valuable Blogger where I am a finalist!  Thanks!

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John Lennon Was Wrong About Bob Dylan's New Morning LP

Posted in Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Record Reviews on July 7th, 2011 by Willie

Here is an exchange between John Lennon and Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone Magazine on Bob Dylan’s 1970 release New Morning, ”

WENNER:
What do you think of Dylan’s album?
LENNON:
I thought it wasn’t much. Because I expect more–maybe I expect too much from people – but I expect more. I haven’t been a Dylan follower since he stopped rocking. I liked “Rolling Stone” and a few things he did then; I like a few things he did in the early days. The rest of it is just like Lennon-McCartney or something. It’s no different, its a myth. WENNER:

You don’t think then it’s a legitimate New Morning?
LENNON:
No, It might be a new morning for him because he stopped singing on the top of his voice. It’s all right, but it’s not him, it doesn’t mean a fucking thing. I’d sooner have “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmonds, it’s the top of England now.

Pretty damning stuff from John Beatle, but I understand.  John was in a revolutionary mood at the time, firmly believing that rock records should be altering people’s consciousnesses and  toppling governments.  It’s ironic because ten years later he’d release a similar record to Bob’s New Morning in the form of Double Fantasy.  Like John’s last release, New Morning was a record about escaping into the pleasures of domesticated life, taking it easy, and appreciating the little things.  New Morning was mostly written on Bob’s piano, the instrument he would retreat to when he wanted to ruminate on less socially and psychologically intense themes that would come out on his acoustic guitar.  I love this record.  When you play it, it just hums along with a sweeping peaceful energy.  John’s right about one thing, in this record, Bob left his high pitched country singing style behind in favor of his traditional folk rocking croon.  There is almost a Jim Morrison lounge like imitation going on here as Bob enthusiastically moans his way through a bunch of gospel tinged bluesy numbers.  The clearest example of this is “The Man in Me,” a boozy and rollicking celebration of romantic devotion.  This song was famously featured in the Coen Brothers fabulously funny classic film, “The Big Lebowski.”  The Coen’s apparently picked it because at the time the song was relatively obscure, and its the sort of song that only middle aged hippies like the Dude, (and my dad for that matter) would have on their mix tapes.

On the more playful side you get a cut like “Went to See the Gypsy,” a song where Bob seems to be mocking the hype surrounding some famous Las Vegas fortune teller.  It’s not about meeting Elvis Presley, as some have suggested. The straightforward storytelling on this track is very reminiscent of the minimalistic style Bob mastered on John Wesley Harding.  It’s a slow building song that just gets under you skin with repeat playings.  It’s a feeling the record gives you spades.

“Day of the Locusts,” my favorite song on the album, is a lot like “Went to See the Gypsy” in its clear cut storytelling style, but way more epic.  It’s a song inspired by Bob’s experience in receiving an honorary diploma from Princeton University and how the “singing” cicada’s spooked him.  Folk rocker David Crosby, who was with Bob at the time tells the story best, “Sara (Dylan’s wife) was trying to get Bob to go to Princeton University, where he was being presented with an honorary doctorate. Bob did not want to go.  I said, ‘C’mon, Bob it’s an honor!’  Sara and I both worked on him for a long time.  Finally, he agreed.  I had a car outside, a big limousine.  That was the first thing he didn’t like.  We smoked another joint on the way and I noticed Dylan getting really quite paranoid about it.  When we arrived at Princeton, they took us to a little room and Bob was asked to wear a cap and gown.  He refused outright.  They said, ‘We won’t give you the degree if you don’t wear this.’  Dylan said, ‘Fine. I didn’t ask for it in the first place.’…Finally we convinced him to wear the cap and gown.”  Priceless.

The last song I want to highlight is “If Not For You,” a song featured on my youtube countdown.  This track continues the steady mature romanticism that defines the record.  George Harrison famously covered the song with a lavish arrangement for his All Things Must Pass solo record, but I kinda prefer the low key presentation Dylan came up with.  Here is George and Bob taking a stab at it in the more mellow vein.

In conclusion, it’s probably a very good idea to listen to this whole record if you haven’t gotten into it ever, despite what John Lennon says.  Part of me suspects John was just projecting a hyper competitive spirit at the time.  As a newly emerging solo artist, Lennon was trying to grab some credibility real estate in the field of solo stars, and if that meant knocking Dylan a bit to make room, that was probably all the rationalization he needed.  In that same interview, he also did manage to knock the Stones, McCartney, Harrison, and all other rock artists in general outside of Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, leaving very little room for anyone but himself to revel in glory.  Leaving John’s caustic criticisms aside, this is just the perfect Bob Dylan album to have on your playlist this summer.  It’s a hiking record, a beach record, a meadow strolling record, a real peaceful outdoorsy sonic adventure if I ever heard one.  You’d do yourself a big favor to download it, or buy it used somewhere.  Until tomorrow, cheers everybody.
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