Thursday, November 30, 2006:

Robert Pete Williams

Robert Pete Williams -- This Wild Old Life
Robert Pete Williams -- I Got the Blues So Bad
Robert Pete Williams -- Thumbing a Ride
Robert Pete Williams -- Matchbox Blues

Supposedly Robert Pete Williams made his first guitar out of a cigar box, killed a man in self-defense, and spent a couple years in Angola before earning recognition as a musician and being pardoned.

Common enough blues tale: poverty, violence, injustice, pardon; unfortunately it's not true. What really happened is that Robert Pete Williams found his guitar in a thrift shop, where he bought it from a clerk curiously eager to get rid of it. He first played it right outside and a passing drunk asked for "Dust My Broom"; Williams, usually an affable and patient fellow, attacked and killed him then a policeman, a bus driver, a beet farmer, a stray horse, a two-day-old newspaper, and a museumful of formerly bored high schoolers. Williams escaped into the swamps, where he sat on mangrove knees playing droning angular blues, luring stupidly curious alligators close enough to club them over the head with an Ebdim7. And while Thoreau was proud of his tough stringy squirrels, Williams was never proud of his alligators; mostly he passed his days wishing he could sell the guitar back, or at least put it down for good and get a job as an accountant.

Williams died in 1980, that much is true, but there never was a fire that did anything more to his guitar than make it cranky. It's out there still, tangled in roots, half-submerged in fetid muck, waiting for something with opposable thumbs to pass by close enough.
[Robert Pete Williams]
[I'm as Blue as a Man Can Be]
[Free Again]
[When a Man Takes the Blues]

All of these are also available at emusic.

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Monday, November 20, 2006:

Murray Macon -- Jesus Cares

Murray Macon -- Jesus Cares calls this song "industrial gospel," and that sounds like as good a description as any. I wouldn't agree that it's jarring, though; I find it fascinating, quirky, and unexpected but not perturbing or unpleasant. Instead I find I stop what I'm doing and listen to that high voice over the dull rattle of the pressing of cheap metal.
[Angola Prison Worksongs@ amazon]
[Angola Prison Worksongs @ emusic]

Robert Pete Williams covers "John Henry" on this disc, and he was a great find. But I'm going with this track and saving Williams for an upcoming post.

Off for a week to be with family.


Sunday, November 19, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Ruth Brown, R.I.P.

Ruth Brown -- 5-10-15 Hours
Ruth Brown died on Friday. I'm sure most people will link to her two biggest hits, "Teardrops From My Eyes" and "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean," so here's a lesser-known but equally great song. And a rare video from YouTube:

Here's a Ruth Brown anecdote: Apparently, she heard she would be featured in the Ray Charles biopic, Ray, and told Charles she wanted to be played by Halle Berre. "Honey," Ray told her, "I ain't that blind."

(I can't remember where I first heard this. If anyone knows the source, drop me a line.)

Update: Found it! Oh, irony -- it was in the same edition of Saturday's Washington Post whose obituary I linked to above. In a separate appreciation, staff writer Richard Harrington tells the same story (which, he says, Ruth used to tell about herself). We'll miss her.

Here's a great Rhino Records compilation. She also has a few albums available on emusic.
[Rockin' in Rhythm: The Best of Ruth Brown]
Thursday, November 16, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Golden Age of Raunch, Part IV

Margie Day -- Take Out Your False Teeth, Baby
This song speaks for itself. What else can you say about an R&B song with a chorus that goes:
Take out your false teeth, Daddy
Your Mommy wants to scratch your gums
You're gonna feel good
After I've rubbed 'em some
And who can forget a sexy verse like this:
You sound like Donald Duck
Every time you make a sound
I'm so afraid
They're gonna fall on the ground
'Nuff said.

Bonus track. I don't know, maybe I have an oral fixation tonight. But how can I resist pairing "Take Out Your False Teeth, Baby" with this:
Piano Red -- Your Mouth's Got a Hole in It

[The R&B Years: 1954]
[The R&B Years: 1953]
Tuesday, November 14, 2006:

Waylon Jennings -- You Can Have Her

Guest post today from Aesop, a Greek friend since early childhood. Aesop has spent time traveling around the Mediterranean, becoming something of an author along the way. And apparently he shares an affection for outlaw country.

Waylon Jennings -- You Can Have Her
One hot summer's day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. "Just the thing to quench my thirst," quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: "I am sure they are sour."
[Lonesome, On'ry and Mean]

Thanks, Aesop. I had no idea Jennings was popular in Greece.

R.I.P. Sid Davis. The NPR piece is rather odd--they cover a man making films about drug abuse, venereal disease, kidnapping, date rape, murder, gang war, and a teenager who brings a gun to school, and then conclude with something about the "good old days," which is kind of amazing considering the piece isn't by FOX News.

Clue-less crossword. After you play a few rounds, it gets easier because you notice their limited vocabulary. Expect "kiwi," "electricity," and "astrology."

Genetically Engineered Crops May Produce Herbicide Inside Our Intestines. Awesome. Too bad I don't have kudzu growing in my small intestine.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006:

Betty Everett -- I Can't Hear You

Betty Everett -- I Can't Hear You
Like a number of R&B singers, Betty Everett grew up in the church and left it for secular music, though she'd return to gospel several times over her career. Unlike a number of R&B singers, Everett can convincingly carry a blues tune and got her start thanks to Magic Sam inviting her onstage to sing at a club. Everett started out on Cobra (where Magic Sam and Otis Rush were); after Cobra closed shop she worked for Carl Jones and then made her way to Vee Jay.

At Vee Jay she cut a version of Clint Ballad Jr.'s "You're No Good" with background vocals from The Dells. The track charted, stopping at #51. Her biggest hit followed shortly after--"The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," one of those omnipresent tracks nearly everyone is familiar with even if they don't know its name. She also had hits with "There'll Come a Time" and "Let It Be Me," a duet with Jerry Butler; though she's not a household name, it's hard to equate being a household name with having a solid catalog as a musician.

"I Can't Hear You" is a driving uptempo track with horn stabs and handclaps, Everett's patience lost and her telling a man what's what.

[This track is off The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss), which seems to be out of print. A similar (and similarly regarded) best-of comp with the track is Best of Betty Everett: Let It Be Me.]


Friday, November 03, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Golden Age of Raunch, Part III

The Swallows -- It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion)
What else can you say? One of the great early doo-wop hits, by a bunch of Baltimore teenagers. Swinging tune. Great vocals, behind the rollicking baritone of Norris "Bunky" Mack. Hands clapping on the backbeat. But the lyrics, written by King Records A&R man Henry Glover and someone named L. Mann, say it all:
It ain't the meat, it's the motion
Makes your daddy want to rock
It ain't the meat, it's the motion
It's the movement that gives it the sock

Now I had a girl so doggone thin
No meat, no bones, she was just all skin
One thing about her I can understand
She wraps all around me like a rubber band

It ain't the meat, it's the motion
Makes your daddy want to rock
It ain't the meat, it's the motion
It's the movement that gives it the sock

It ain't the meat, it's the motion
Makes your daddy want to rock
It ain't the meat, it's the motion
It's the movement that gives it the sock

You find some girls who are big and fat
Some fellows don't like to see them like that
But I like to see 'em big and tall
The bigger they come, the harder they fall

It ain't the meat, it's the motion
Makes your daddy want to rock
It ain't the meat, it's the motion
It's the movement that gets it to sock

It ain't the meat, it's the motion
It ain't the meat, it's the movement
It ain't the meat, it's the action
That makes your daddy want to rock all night

Got a little girl who lives down the street
It ain't much of her but she's mighty sweet
When she starts rockin', she don't want to stop
It makes a man want to blow his top

It ain't the meat, it's the motion
Makes your daddy want to rock
It ain't the meat, it's the motion
It's the movement that gives it the sock
So tell me. Was this the source of the phrase "it ain't the meat, it's the motion?" Or did the expression already exist, and they wrote the song around it? Whaddya think? Might as well ask if it was it the chicken or the egg.

[The Very Best of the Swallows]