Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Only Love Me

Only Love Me – Timi Yuro – 1962

Photo: “Bill McCune and the Mellow Tones, with Timi Yuro, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, circa 1972.” Bill McCune/Living Blues (November/December 1994)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Oh, she’s bald head!

She Ain’t Got No Hair
Professor Longhair & His Shuffling Hungarians – 1949

Saturday, December 03, 2011


1965. Summer’s just about over. I’m driving around in my little 1960 blue Falcon, “radio tuned to rock’n’roll.” This country song keeps coming on and I immediately switch stations. What are they doing playing this kind of stuff on my station? One day I tune in just as the song ends and the DJ says, “That was ‘Act Naturally’ by The Beatles.” Whaaat?!? Well, after that, I started listening to it and, eating my prejudice for lunch, started to really like it. I mean, it was the Beatles. Sometime later, one of my friends played me a song he was learning on his guitar, “Buckaroo,” by some guy called Buck Owens. That was pretty fine too. Little by little. . . . Well, at some point along the way I heard Buck Owens’ original of “Act Naturally,” and though the Beatles’ version is still a favorite, there’s really no comparison. Conversion complete.

The Beatles • Act Naturally • 1965

Buck Owens • Act Naturally • 1963

Sunday, November 20, 2011


This seems to be Staples week around some of the music blogs I follow. Cussin’ and Carryin’ On has an interesting piece tracing the evolution of the Staple Singers from being primarily straight gospel singers to having a more all encompassing vision of the power of their music to effect change after Pop Staples heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. Then over at The Singing Bones, Ana B discusses the Staples’ first two Vee-Jay LPs, and offers a listen to their 1959 single “So Soon,” with a lead by Mavis Staples, “. . . whose voice qualifies as a force of nature. . . .”

I’ve also posted a few Staple Singers tunes here this past week (and previously), and today I’d like to add a couple more early favorites, the B-sides to their first two Vee-Jay singles. The first is probably my favorite Mavis lead, 1955’s “God’s Wonderful Love”—I haven’t any words to describe how powerful and moving her singing is on this stark side. Next up is the Roebuck-led “I Know I Got Religion,” with his high vocal and shimmering guitar anchored by the responsive “certainly, Lord”s of Mavis, Cleo, and Pervis. 

The Staple Singers • God’s Wonderful Love • 1955

The Staple Singers • I Know I Got Religion • 1956

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Buck Owens • Release Me • 1963

click on song title to play

Jay McDonald, pedal steel guitar; Buck Owens, guitar; Don Rich, fiddle; Jelly Sanders, guitar; Kenny Pierce, electric bass; Ken Presley, drums. Recorded in Hollywood, California, 14 Feb 1963.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Lawrence Walker

Lawrence Walker is another of the Cajun accordion greats, a great player and a soulful singer, with a sense of sadness that permeates even his uptempo songs. He had a band with his brother Elton that recorded several sessions during the Depression, but seems to have hit his stride as a bandleader in the Fifties and Sixties with many great sides recorded for Khoury, La Louisianne, and Swallow. All the songs in the playlist below are originally from singles made for La Louisianne around 1961 and later reissued on the LP pictured. They feature Walker’s beautiful singing and playing, a fine band, and Dick Richard’s standout steel playing.

All but one of the songs here are available on The Essential Collection of Lawrence Walker (Swallow SW6221, 2010), along with the best of his Swallow and Khoury recordings.
For more information on Lawrence Walker, see Ann Savoy’s book Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, 
Volume 1, Bluebird Press, Inc., 1984.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Moon moons Jolie Blonde

New Pretty Blonde (New Jole Blon) 
Moon Mullican & The Showboys – 1946

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Never let it be said you could hear a disco tune on the Magic Jukebox, but, uh, this is Shirley Goodman of Shirley & Lee fame, and, well, um, it is really good. . . .
And . . . and Tricky Dick’s on the cover, shamed cuz he can’t dance too.

Shirley & Company • Shame, Shame, Shame • 1975

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Dion • The Twist • 1962

click on song title to play

Top illustration: Thomas Hart Benton, The Twist, 1964

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday morning blues

“Seven days on the water
but Lord I hate to go. . . .”

Offshore Blues – Nathan Abshire & His Pine Grove Boys
(Thomas Langley, vocal) – 1966

Photo of Thomas Langley courtesy Lyle Ferbrache

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Current events

“I don’t care how great you are
And I don’t care what you’re worth,
Because when it all end up
You got to go back to Mother Earth”

Mother Earth – Memphis Slim – 1963

Friday, October 21, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More hillbilly R&B

Goodnight, It’s Time To Go – Johnnie & Jack – 1959

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Here’s Nathan Abshire and his Pine Grove Boys again, this time with steel player Darius LeBlanc taking the vocal on the old Joe Werner tune, “Wondering.”

Nathan Abshire & The Pine Grove Boys
Wondering • c. late 1950s

Rear photo: (left to right) Darius LeBlanc, Cleveland “Cat” Deshotel, Thomas Langley, Nathan Abshire, Junior Benoit. c.late 1950s. Front photo: Thomas Langley, “Cat” Deshotel, Darius LeBlanc. c.late 1950s. Photos and label shot courtesy of Lyle Ferbrache.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Henry Thomas

Henry Thomas, nicknamed “Ragtime Texas,” was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas by most accounts, a town that lies roughly between Dallas and Shreveport. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record. “Flailing his guitar,” Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpipes, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 and 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him by a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.” Speaking of [Thomas’] famous “Railroadin’ Some,” William Barlow calls it the most “vivid and intense recollection of railroading” in all the early blues recorded in the 1920s. As for his guitar, Stephen Calt ranked his work “with the finest dance blues ever recorded . . . its intricate simultaneous treble picking and drone bass would have posed a challenge to any blues guitarist of any era.” The panpipes also linked him to an earlier era and are most evocative in perhaps his best-known composition, “Bull-Doze Blues,” a song reworked by Canned Heat as “Going Up The Country” some 40 years after the original. After making his final recordings in Chicago in 1929, Henry Thomas disappeared completely from sight. As befits his near-mythic stature some reports claim to have seen him perform as late as the mid-1950s on Texas street corners. It is believed that he most likely passed away sometime during this period. All of Thomas’ recordings can be found on Texas Worried Blues on Yazoo and Henry Thomas (“Ragtime Texas”) 1927–1929 on Document with little difference in sound quality, although the Yazoo features detailed notes by Stephen Calt. —Jeff Harris

Following are several Henry Thomas tunes, including my all-time favorite, “Don’t Ease Me In,” along with his justly famous “Bull-Doze Blues” and the great travelogue “Railroadin’ Some.” We also hear from Al Wilson and Canned Heat with their revamp of “Bull-Doze,” a goofy homage to “my dear Henry” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, and a cover of Canned Heat’s cover by the teenage family trio Kitty, Daisy & Lewis bringing the music of Henry Thomas full circle and into the twenty-first century.

Jeff Harris presides over the excellent Big Road Blues blog and radio show of the same name. The show airs on Sundays from 5 to 7 pm (EST) on WGMC Jazz90.1. Check him out. . . . (The above Henry Thomas bio is from Jeff’s notes to the Big Road Blues Show 8/14/11: Texas Worried Blues – Early Texas Masters.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

What did Jackie say. . . ?

In 1983 at the age of 50 James Brown reemerged from one of the many doldrums he’d begun to increasingly occupy after his peak days were beginning to flatten out and turn into long lulls with a six song LP called Bring It On. The last track was an homage to himself (natch) and a number of his comrades, both standing and fallen. The tune was “For Your Precious Love” originally recorded by The Impressions, a Top 5 R&B hit in 1958, just about the time James himself was beginning his ascension. James’ version begins with an in-tempo monologue: 

“I’d like to dedicate this song to lovers and the people who got themselves somewhere along the way. I want to remind them that a man has to go back to the crossroads before he finds himself. I want them to know that hurt goes deeper than the skin, it goes to the heart. I just want to thank God for the energy, ’cause I’d like to say to everyone right here. . . .”

and launches into a slow, burning, soulful rendition of “For Your Precious Love” that sounds like it could have been recorded twenty years earlier. Midway through the song he picks up the monologue again, recounting all the big auditoriums he and the Famous Flames performed in in his rise-to-fame days, “the Apollo Theatre, the Regal, the Royal, and the Howard in Washington,” playing to the crowd, seeking that connection that makes it all happen, and he tells us, “I used to look in the front row and I’d see a smiling face down there . . . and maybe somebody in the back would say, “What did Jackie say?” Here James begins his tribute to the great Jackie Wilson, at that moment in a coma and nearing death,

“I’d say, I’d say Jackie said, Jackie said one day, he said, ‘Lawwwwoooooohhhhhh-
ohohoh. . . .’ May God bless you Jackie, you gave us so, so many, so many joyful and beautiful days. . . .”

For Your Precious Love – James Brown – 1983

Text excerpted from The Surfer’s Journal, Vol. 20, No. 2, April-May 2011, p. 65.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pine Grove Blues

Nathan Abshire is, along with Iry LeJeune and Lawrence Walker, one of the greatest Cajun singers and accordion players of all time. Though Nathan Abshire made a small handful of records in the prewar era, it was beginning in 1949 with his recording of “Pine Grove Blues” that he rose to fame, if not fortune, in South Louisiana. You can read all about his life and music in the excellent journal Louisiana Music (see link below). I’ve put together a playlist of some of my favorite Abshire recordings, from the early 50s through 1973. He made a number of recordings of his big hit “Pine Grove Blues” over the years, all truly fine, but I have chosen one he recorded in later years with the Balfa Brothers for the LP market. Nathan plays accordion on all songs, sings on “Pine Grove Blues,” “Petite, Jolie Juliette” (kind of a drunken take on “Jolie Blonde”), “La Valse de Jolie Fille,” and “Cannon Ball Special.” Dewey Balfa sings on the clip-clopping “Mardi Gras Song” and that’s Lazy Lester playing harmonica behind La La Laverne’s vocal on the hypnotic “La-La Blues.” There’s lots of great Cajun steel playing as well, by the likes of Atlas Frugé, Jake Miere, Darius LeBlanc, and J. W. Pelsia.

Photo of Nathan Abshire courtesy of Lyle Ferbrache and Louisiana Music. You can order a copy of Louisiana Music, Volume 1, Number 1 at Pine Grove Press.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lonesome Cabin

Lou Curtiss of Folk Arts emailed this morning with a link to a YouTube video of Sonny Boy Williamson, one of my long-time favorites. It turned out to be a solo version of “Lonesome Cabin,” filmed in a Copenhagen club in 1964. Just Sonny Boy and his harp, it’s totally captivating, with plenty of nice upper and lower register harmonica runs between verses. Check it out below. Then have a listen to the studio version from five years earlier with the Chess house band. I’m kinda leaning toward the solo version. . . . How about you?

Lonesome Cabin – Sonny Boy Williamson – 1960

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Hastings Street Saga, Pt. 1

The saga begins . . . Fall 1948. . . John Lee Hooker . . . Detroit, Michigan . . . Bernie Besman’s Pan American Record Company. . . . “Johnny Lee’s Original Boogie” begets “Henry’s Swing Club” begets “Boogie Chillen’”. . . . Stay tuned.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sometimes I really miss the Cold War

Russian Band Stand – Spencer & Spencer
with the Sonia Pryor Choir – 1959

Image: panel from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, September 22, 1963.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

White girls

Amazingly, Gail Harris was only about 15 when she so soulfully covered Etta James’s “All I Could Do Was Cry” at a dance at the Spanish Castle in Seattle. Down in Austin, Joyce Harris (no relation) was all of 21 when she screamed out her version of “I Got My Mojo Working;” hard to believe it wasn’t issued at the time. And Margaret Lewis was somewhere around 20 when she made this demo of her song “Reconsider Me” which later was a hit for both Narvel Felts and Johnny Adams.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Glorious falsetto from Norman Isaacs and Gabby Pahinui on a lovely version of “Kaena” recorded around 1960. I think that’s Alvin “Barney” Isaacs on steel. Album cover features Gabby Pahinui, “Hawaii's Folk Singer.”

Norman Isaacs & Gabby Pahinui • Kaena • 1960

Thursday, July 14, 2011


. . . on a summer day in 1957. The first half dozen tunes posted here are a quick sketch of the Magic Jukebox’s early years and development. Funny R&B songs, jazz disguised as surf music, the British hordes, Bob Dylan, Chicago blues, and 50s gospel quartets all found their way inside, traveling from ear to brain to belly to heart, swirling around and expanding back outward. Um, well, anyway here’s the first installment. Hope you like it. It’s primarily just old school music that’s fun to listen to, or jump around to, or whatever. Hopefully not too pretentious and without a whole lot of commentary on my part. Feel free, however. And who knows what’ll be queued up next. Might even play A-11.

The Coasters • Searchin’ • 1957

Dave Brubeck Quartet • Take Five • 1961

The Beatles • I Saw Her Standing There • 1963

Bob Dylan • Subterranean Homesick Blues • 1965

Muddy Waters • Louisiana Blues • 1965

Sam Cooke with The Soul Stirrers
Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone • 1956