I can still remember the day Paul Johnson played this early Swan Silvertones record for me. I could not even believe what I was hearing . . . this was way beyond what gospel quartet singing I’d heard up to that point, groups like the Sam Cooke edition of the Soul Stirrers and the Dixie Hummingbirds, even the ’60s Vee-Jay recordings of the Swans. But this! That slammin’ rhythm with Claude Jeter and the Swans all over it as rubber-voiced Rev. Robert Crenshaw breaks in and wrestles it to the ground. I read years later that Crenshaw was asked to leave the group because of his tendency to take over territories claimed and unclaimed. . . .
(Claude Jeter, Rev. Robert Crenshaw, John Manson (tenors); Paul Owens, John Myles (baritones); Henry Bossard (bass); unknown drums.)
Trouble In My Way – The Swan Silvertone Singers – 1953
Photo: The Swan Silvertones in 1965. Top row, left to right: Louis Johnson, William Connor, Paul Owens. Bottom row, left to right: Linwood Hargrove, Claude Jeter, John Myles. From The Gospel Sound by Tony Heilbut, Simon and Schuster, 1971.
Here’s the theme “melody” for the 1955 prison drama Unchained, shot on location at Chino and starring football great Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch and Barbara Hale (Della Street of Perry Mason fame). The version heard here by Les Baxter charted highest of many competing versions at the time; through the years there have been hundreds of cover versions of “Unchained Melody,” notably by Al Hibbler in 1955 and ten years later by the Righteous Brothers. The playlist below includes five of our favorites, including the Wailers’ cover of the Righteous Brothers’ cover.
This Holy Week saeta, recorded on the streets of Seville in 1950, was heard by Miles Davis and his arranger Gil Evans on the Spain volume of The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music and adapted by them while they were working on Miles’ 1960 album Sketches of Spain.
“The saete, in flamencan music, is ‘the arrow song.’ One of the oldest religious types of music in Andalusia, it is usually sung without accompaniment during the Holy Week procession in Seville. It tells of the Passion of Christ and is usually addressed to the image of the crucified Christ that is carried in the march or to the Virgin Mary. As described by Gilbert Chase, ‘The singer, usually a woman, stands on a balcony overlooking the procession, grasping the iron railing firmly in both hands (the grip tightens as the emotion grows). The procession stops so that the image which is being addressed remains stationary while the saeta is being sung. A fanfare of trumpets gives the signal for the procession, to move on.’” (from Nat Hentoff’s liner notes to Sketches of Spain.)
During the sixties folky revival there were certain songs you’d hear a lot . . . . “Hesitation Blues” and “Blues in the Bottle” were a couple of them. Both went way back, “Hesitation Blues” to W. C. Handy but probably heard by most in a version by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers. “Blues in the Bottle” begins (on record at least) with fiddler Prince Albert Hunt (the Alfalfa/Alfred E. Neuman-looking character pictured below right). Here’s his 1928 original followed by the Holy Modal Rounders’ 1964 take replete with new lyrics befitting the times. Both versions feature non-standard pronunciations of “Chattanooga.” Prince Albert Hunt made it to 1931 and the age of 30 before being murdered by a jealous husband. Pete Stampfel and Steve Weber of the Rounders are still with us and surface from time to time.