Friday, October 31, 2014

Elektra Records: People are Strange

Happy Halloween! As with the last several years, I like to find a fitting song to feature on this auspicious holiday of ghosts, goons, and goblins. Since I’m also in the midst of our Fourth Week feature on Elektra Records, the pickings are slim. After much searching for an Elektra recording that fits the mood of All Hallows Eve, I’ve settled upon The Doors’ “People are Strange.”

This 1967 hit has a perfect sound. It starts out with just Robby Krieger’s guitar and Jim Morrison’s vocals. Ray Manzarek adds two keyboard parts. One of these is a tack piano, which is where thumbtacks are applied to a piano’s hammers to give it a clickity (if that’s a word) and old fashioned honky-tonk sound. In the case of this song, it almost has a harpsichord feel. That may be the result of the use of reverb on the piano.  Manzarek also plays accents on his Vox Continental combo organ.

As always, John Densmore is on drums. Since the band didn’t have a bass player and Manzarek typically played a Rhodes’ keyboard bass during their live dates, Douglass Lubahn was brought in as a sideman on bass – a duty he filled quite frequently on The Doors’ recordings. Backing vocals were supplied by Manzarek, Krieger, Densmore, producer Paul Rothchild, and engineer Bruce Botnick. By the way, Krieger’s guitar parts are fantastic and his use of the tremolo bar to raise the pitch of the last chord is a fitting end to this strange tune.

Although actually composed by Morrison and Kreiger, the entire band received songwriting credit. From their second album “Strange Days,” “People are Strange” peaked at #12. This is such a great tune. So tonight, be careful with the “faces [that] come out of the rain.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Elektra Records: My Best Friend's Girl

Since I missed last night’s post, I promise that I’ll make it up with an extra Elektra release on Sunday. For tonight, we travel back to October 1978 when the second single by The Cars, “My Best Friend’s Girl,” was released by Elektra.

Elektra and Arista had been vying for the attention of The Cars and Elektra was the winner – and the band reaped the benefits, Arista was somewhat New Wave heavy at the time. The Cars would become Elektra’s primary New Wave act.

I was living in the Huntington (WV)/Ashland (KY)/Ironton (OH) market at the time, and while their first single, “Just What I Needed,” was shunned by the stations in the market, “My Best Friend’s Girl” got some airplay. I remember playing it on WAMX when I joined their staff later that year. Although I never heard their first single in the market, I got to know the band from visiting Columbus, Ohio that previous summer where “Just What I Needed” was a staple of the town’s AOR stations.

Unlike the first single that featured the vocals by Benjamin Orr, “My Best Friends Girl” features the voice that became part of the iconic sound of the band – Ric Ocasek. Interestingly enough, the band recorded the song in the key of “E,” but the master tape was sped up and this increased the pitch to the key of “F.”

“My Best Friend’s Girl” only charted at #35 – so it also fits our Thirty Something Thursday category as well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Elektra Records: Down to Louisiana

Unknown today except to audiophiles, roots music aficionados, and the enlightened; Koerner, Ray, and Glover’s “Blues, Rags, and Hollers” was probably one of the most influential blues albums to be birthed during the folk revival of the 1960s. During the spring of 1963, three students of the University of Minnesota drove all night to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a date with destiny. The 300 mile jaunt on pre-Interstate highways was even more harrowing due to the foggy conditions that plagued the trio. Later that Sunday morning, ‘Spider” John Koerner, Dave “Snaker” Ray, and Tony “Little Sun” Glover embarked on an all day recording session that produced this monumental.

With only 300 copies pressed on the Audiophile label, the record caught the attention of Jac Holzman at Elektra and it was released by this up-and-coming independent label during the summer of 1963. Some differences exist between the two versions of the album as Koerner, Ray, and Glover overfilled both sides with music, as the album contained 20 songs.

Since the tracks went as close to the label as mechanically possible, many turntables in 1963 couldn’t play the final tracks from each side as the tone arm automatically lifted before the song finished. The album also contained nearly 51 minutes of music, and anything over 42 minutes tended to increase fidelity problems. To fix these issues, Elektra eliminated four of the cuts. In addition, Holzman didn’t like the original stereo mix and the reissue was released monaurally.

I took the photo of this place in Louisiana in 2012.
You might find a mojo hand there.

During The Beatles’ tour of America, the album caught the attention of John Lennon who considered it one of his favorites. Future Elektra recording artist Jim Morrison of The Doors believed it to be one of the best albums released during the period. Although all three musicians are credited as trio, that wasn’t the set-up for the album. Only one track of the reissue had the participation of all three. On today’s cut, “Down to Louisiana,” which was written by Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters, Dave Ray sings and plays guitar while accompanied by Tony “Little Sun” Glover on the harmonica.

It needs to be noted that many who learned to play harmonica in the late 1960s and ‘70s studied under the tutelage of Tony Glover. His Oak Publications manual Blues Harp is by far one of the best guides to play harmonica. I picked up my copy in 1974 and still have it as a prized possession. I owe this blues harp master a debt of gratitude.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Elektra Records: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

The inspiration for using Elektra Records as this month’s feature was inspired by today’s song by They Might Be Giants. In early September I was making my weekly trek to my current position when I heard a National Public Radio’s Morning Edition story on a new crime novel set in old Byzantium. The author and the reporter briefly discussed the various names of what is now Istanbul. The story closed with They Might Be Giants’ rendition of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

Although known as Constantinople (and Byzantium before that), the name Istanbul is not a recent fabrication. Istanbul has been used for centuries as it is a corruption of the Greek phrase “εις την πόλιν (eis ten polin)” meaning “into the city.” The song, however, commemorates Turkey’s 1930 request that global postal authorities only use the name “Istanbul” and cease using “Constantinople.”

Written 23 years after the fact in 1953 by Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon, the song was a hit for The Four Lads. The original charted at #10 and was certified gold. Keeping the swing arrangement, They Might Be Giants’ 1990 remake is a little more raucous than the original and its faster tempo makes it a perfect vehicle for They Might Be Giants’ unusual style. The fiddle also adds to the overall flavor of this version.

They Might Be Giants took their name from the title of a 1971 quixotic film starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward. The title was a reference to Cervantes’ character Don Quixote’s belief that the windmills he was fighting were actually giants.

Unlike the original, the remake of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople) only charted at #61; however, it is better known as album cut from TMBG’s third LP, “Flood.” Of their 16 albums, “Flood” was the only one to be certified as platinum in the US.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Elektra Records: The Circle Game

Originally focusing on folk music, Elektra Records’ first issue was released in 1951. Started in the previous year by Jac Holzman and Paul Rickolt’s who were students at Maryland’s St. John’s College, they used an altered version of name of the Greek mythological character Electra.

In 1970, the label became part of Kinney’s holdings which at the time included Warner Brothers and Atlantic Records. In 1971, Kinney changed its name to Warner Communications, Inc. With the purchase of the independent Asylum Records in 1972, Ekektra and Asylum were joined into one division of Warner Communication; however, Asylum appeared to become a subsidiary to the Elektra imprint.

In 2004, Time-Warner merged Elektra into Atlantic and was decommissioned as an active label until resurrected in 2009. Much of the golden years of Elektra were during the years 1965 to 1985 and the bulk of this week’s feature of the label will come from those years.

Our first selection is the title cut from Tom Rush’s 1968 album “The Circle Game.” I bought my copy of this LP in a used record store in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1986,  Although not released as a single from the album as was Rush’s composition “No Regrets,” “The Circle Game” is fairly well known as one of his recordings. Written by Joni Mitchell for Rush, Mitchell did not record the song until her 1970 third album, “Ladies of the Canyon.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slade: My Oh My

Known for their raucous songs, Slade’s performance of a ballad was an unlikely proposition, but “My Oh My” was the band’s first bona fide American hit. Although the power ballad charted at #2 in the UK, it only scratched the Top 40 surface in the US. “My Oh My” peaked in the US at #37 and I remember playing this tune on my morning show at WOAY-FM in Oak Hill, WV during 1984.

The tune was composed by lead singer Noddy Holder and multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea. Lea’s piano provides the only instrumentation at the beginning of the cut. Although the single was more successful in the UK, the video recorded to support the tune was only originally released in the US.

Swing Version

By 1985, the band was getting requests from night club acts that wanted to record the song but in a different style. It is rumored that Frank Sinatra suggested that the tune be done swing style. While the band wasn’t keen on recording it themselves, they enlisted a friend Monty Babson and his band to record the demo that could be sent to these artists.

After hearing Babson’s treatment, Noddy Holder decided to record the tune with the backing of Babson’s jazz band. The song was released as a “B” side to the 12-inch single of “Keep Your Hands off my Power Supply.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Castles Made of Sand

I was trying to find a final song with tenor guitar to finish out this week’s special and I stumbled upon Reggie Witty’s interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand.” Not only does Witty sing and play rhythm tenor guitar, but he plays lead tenor and upright bass. The cut was recorded at Austin’s Sotogrande Sound Lab.

Witty plays a Martin O-18T tenor guitar for both the rhythm and the lead parts. I can’t tell what he has in his right hand while he is playing the lead, but it looks like an E-Bow. Unfortunately, I’m not sure, as I believe an E-Bow needs a magnetic pickup to add its violin bow effect to a guitar lead. Having never used one, I really couldn’t say for sure.

As for the tuning, it took me a while to figure it out and I nearly drove my oldest daughter crazy in my attempt. It appears that he has tuned his tenor a fifth lower than standard tuning as F-C-G-D and a step below Chicago tuning (G-D-A-E). I hadn’t heard this particular tuning before, but it really gives the guitar a different sound. Very nice.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Behind the House

It was during the Thanksgiving break of 2005 that I decided that I’d restring my tenor guitar and fool with it some. I hadn’t had it out of the case in years and it was time to get interested once again in this four-stringed marvel. I had been tuning the guitar like a tenor ukulele (G-C-E-A), as I thought this was not only the popular but proper tuning of the instrument.

During some of my free time that weekend, I started searching the web for information regarding the instrument and found as well as the tenor guitar list. I joined it that weekend and am still a member. I also learned that since the tenor guitar was originally devised for tenor banjoists, that the original tuning (but certainly not the only tuning) was C-G-D-A).

Since I played mandolin, also tuned in fifths, the transition to this tuning was easy; however, I tend to think that I am playing the mandolin chords by name rather than the actual chord names. For instance, when I played what I knew as a G chord it really was fifth lower as a C on the tenor guitar.

This still messes with my mind and I suppose I could tune it like an octave mandolin and be done with it – but I have a bouzouki and an octave mandolin – so I need something with a slightly different sound – and I really like how the C-G-D-A tuning rings.

During that weekend, I immersed myself in tenor guitar logic, lore, and the legends of the instrument. One of those modern day TG legends is Neko Case. Unfortunately, I had never heard her music before that fateful weekend, and I really missed an opportunity to fully experience this redheaded Siren.

Her hypnotic voice would lure the most experienced mariners to her island of song. Although influenced by many genres of music, Neko’s penchant for folk and country shines brightly like a searchlight across the dark murky waters of oblivion.

Today’s feature, “Behind the House,” has Case playing her 1960s folk-era vintage Gibson TG-0 – which was her first tenor. She was drawn to the instrument because she has small hands and the tenor was easier for her to play than a standard six string guitar – but she plays it as well. As for tuning preference, it appears from this recording that Neko tunes it like a baritone ukulele/guitar as D-G-B-E.

Besides the TG-0, she has a plethora of tenor guitars that include a Martin, a Gretsch, Nationals, and several Gibson electrics in a variety of configurations. Back in 2005, there was a photo online with her tenor and vintage amp collection at that time. I wish I could find it, so I could post it here. “Behind the House” was performed live in Austin, Texas in 2006.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Did it in a Minute

During the 70s and 80s, Daryl Hall and John Oates were hitting it big on the national charts with a plethora of hits. The early 80s were especially good for the “blue-eyed soul” duo. The 1981 album “Private Eyes” produced a number of hits including two number one singles: “Private Eyes” and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).”

These two chart topping singles were followed by “Did it in a Minute” at #9 and finally “Your Imagination” which peaked at #33. While “Did it in a Minute” wasn’t the biggest song from the album, this 1982 Top 10 hit utilized our feature instrument – the tenor guitar.

From listening to the studio version, you might not realize that a tenor guitar is present on the recording, but if you saw the video or saw Hall & Oates live, you would have seen Daryl Hall playing a Gibson ES-345T (I believe) tenor guitar. From a distance it is difficult to determine the model, as the ES-335 and ES-345 guitars have much in common. While I know Gibson had a 345 tenor in production, I am not sure about a 335; but, it could have been a custom model. I haven’t seen any documentation on this particular guitar.

Daryl Hall, John Oates, & Ray Harrah
the author & Will Shumate

As you can tell from the video, the guitar is a thin line semi-acoustic electric with two Humbucking pickups and a cherry red finish. If I remember correctly, Hall (or maybe Oates or both) had a Les Paul TV Special tenor from the 1950s as well. When I met the band in 1982, I asked Hall about his tenor guitars; however, after 32 years it escapes me what he said about these elusive instruments.

As far as tuning is concerned, I would venture to say that he is using standard guitar tuning on the four strings as (D-G-B-E). I have no way of confirming this. Hall uses a six-string on this number these days.

Although it charted at the same position as Rick Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou,” I would consider that “Did it in a Minute” is the second most popular tune to utilize a tenor guitar. I surmise this because “Hello Mary Lou” was backed with a number one song – making the single more accessible to a wider audience. In Hall & Oates defense, they did it in a minute; how marvelous is that?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Delivery Man

Day Four of our look at the tenor guitar features a song by Elvis Costello: the title cut of his “Delivery Man” album from 2004. The song is about three women: Vivian, Geraldine, and Ivy and their encounter with a certain delivery man named Abel.

To get the full effect of Costello’s electric tenor guitar, I have decided to use a live version that was recorded in 2004 in Memphis. I guess Elvis made it to the home of Elvis singing about a man who in a certain light looks a lot like Elvis.

The guitar that Costello is using is an orange Gretsch Chet Atkins tenor guitar. On the several live versions available on YouTube, his guitar with the MegaTron pickups really screams. I cannot be certain, but I think the tenor is tuned like a guitar/baritone ukulele (D-G-B-E).

Studio Version

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Blacksmith's Prayer

When Seth Lakeman began performing his song “Blacksmith’s Prayer,” he used a small bodied Martin tenor guitar that appears to be a model 5-15T. It is the same guitar that appears on the cover of his 2011 album “Tales from the Barrel House.” It’s not my favorite tenor guitar, as it looks like a baritone ukulele; but be that as it may, it still sounds great – like many Martin guitars do and always have.

I am not sure if he used the Martin on the studio track, as later live performances of “Blacksmith’s Prayer” and the song’s video show Seth playing an Irish bouzouki. In fact, whether he is playing the tenor or the Irish bouzouki, Seth tunes both instruments to the modal bouzouki tuning of G-D-A-D.

However, you will notice that it appears higher in pitch than either instrument’s typical open string range. Sounding slightly lower than a mandolin, this was accomplished by Seth using a capo on both instruments at the ninth fret. In essence, the “Blacksmith Prayer’s” tuning became E-B-F#-E.

This particular cut was captured live at St. Pancras International Railway Station in London in 2011 and is part of The Station Sessions series of recordings. It gives the full effect of Seth and his Martin tenor guitar as well as his great stage presence.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tenor Guitar: For You Blue

For our second installment regarding the tenor guitar we turn to George Harrison’s son Dhani and his rendition of his father’s composition from The Beatles’ “Let it Be” album. The Gap utilized this 12-bar blues for one of its 2013 commercials.

Dhani plays a Gibson EST-150 electric archtop tenor guitar on this cut. From the pickup and the headstock decal, it appears that this particular guitar was manufactured in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Dhani uses an open “D” tuning (D-F#-A-D) on this cut and it lends itself quite well to the feeling on this song.

Additionally, there is a slide guitar on this tune playing similar to the lap guitar that John Lennon played on the original. Aaron Embry, who also plays tenor guitar and piano, plays on this cut but I am not sure which instrument(s) he is playing. I would venture that he is emulating Paul McCartney’s piano track. McCartney put paper in the strings to get the honky-tonk sound.

Dhani doesn’t typically play his father’s tunes because of the automatic comparison. The unmistakable resemblance in looks and sound to his dad makes you wonder if he inherited any DNA from his mother.

Gap Commercial

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Hello Mary Lou

It’s the second week of the month and for the next seven days I’ll be featuring music that uses the tenor guitar. A four string instrument that was devised probably in the 1920s, the tenor guitar was introduced so that tenor banjo players could have a second instrument on which to double. Its height of popularity was probably in the 1930s and this somewhat waned over the following decades until the 2000s when more manufacturers began to offer tenors again.

There are acoustic tenors, electric tenors, 8-string tenors, and resonator tenor guitars. Most major manufacturers at one time or another have had tenor guitars as production models. It is a neat little instrument that I got acquainted with as a child, as my dad had a Domino tenor guitar. It later became my brother’s first instrument equipped with an Olson Electronics’ pickup.

I got my first tenor guitar in 1986 when I got a call from the late Alan Martin who said a couple was driving through town and had a Gibson tenor for sale for $80. He wondered if I would be interested in the instrument, so I drove quickly to the mall, made a cash withdrawal, and bought it on the spot. It is a 1931 Gibson TG-1 and I play it every so often. It needs a little work – with a neck resetting job being the primary repair that would make it play even better.

The author and his Gibson Tenor, 1987
How do you tune a tenor guitar? Well according to the Tenor Guitar list, that can be hotly contested topic. Since tenor guitars were made as a second instrument for tenor banjo players, the logical tuning might be C-G-D-A; however, not every tenor player uses that tuning. Other tunings mimic an octave mandolin (G-D-A-E), an Irish bouzouki (G-D-A-D), a guitar/baritone ukulele (D-G-B-E), tenor ukulele (G-C-E-A), Greek bouzouki (C-F-A-D), open G (D-G-B-D), and open D (D-F#-A-D) to name a few. I think I’ve used most of these, but I personally prefer C-G-D-A.

For our first look at the tenor guitar, we feature the biggest hit to my knowledge that used the instrument. Gunnar Nelson tells the story of how the tenor guitar became the rhythm instrument for one of Rick Nelson’s biggest hits: “Hello Mary Lou.”

“Did you know that our dad's iconic #1 song 'Hello Mary Lou' has no drums on it? Guess what's the only thing keeping that great rhythm throughout the song? You guessed it. Ozzie Nelson on his tenor guitar!

The legend has it that they were in the studio one night listening to demos, and they happened upon Hello Mary Lou. In the studio was our father, James Burton [lead guitarist], Joe Osborne [bassist], the engineer, and Ozzie. Our grandfather was always busting our dad’s chops- because Ozzie was a band leader from decades earlier . . . And our dad just through a ribbing said ‘too bad you don't have your tenor guitar here Pop . . . You could play on this one.’

The conversation continued in the studio. No one really noticing that Ozzie had disappeared. Ten minutes later, he shows up at the studio, tenor guitar in hand, having gone back to the house to get it. The recording session commenced without the drummer present . . . And the rest is rock and roll history.”

Well if you listen to the song, it appears that there are drums and a cowbell on this tune, but it is obvious that the rhythm is being carried by the tenor guitar. Other sources list Richie Frost on drums and Ray Johnson on piano in addition to Burton and Osborne. Written by Gene Pitney, “Hello Mary Lou” is a perfect start to our Second Week series on the tenor guitar. Although a B-Side, “Hello Mary Lou” charted at #9 in 1961. Its A-Side was the #1 hit “Travelin’ Man.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Damnation of Adam Blessing: Back to the River

few weeks ago, Greg Rector reminded me of a Cleveland area band that I had completely forgotten. Taking their name from the 1961 crime novel by Vin Packer (Marijane Meaker’s pseudonym), the Damnation of Adam Blessing had limited national success, but was popular in various Rust Belt towns. I remember them being played in Pittsburgh at certain outlets.

Although possibly a candidate for trademark litigation, Meaker was flattered by the band’s choice of names. The band was a merger of two previous Cleveland acts – the Society and Dust. Lead singer Bill Constable, who saw an advertisement for crime novel on the back cover of a Ray Bradbury science fiction book he was reading, wanted to reinvent his persona and latched onto the name.

For their second and third albums, the name was shortened on the covers to simply “Damnation,” but "The Second Damnation" album’s label and its associated singles utilized the band’s full name – that would change with their third LP, “Which is Justice, Which is the Thief,” where the rebranding was complete.

The Damnation of Adam Blessing had conquered nearly every hurdle to become stars: they had a loyal following, a great sound, a record deal with a major label (United Artists), and a plethora of publicity. But they didn’t have a hit single – much to the chagrin of UA and its parent company Transamerica. Perhaps radio was not yet ready to announce a band whose name included the word “damnation.”

When the third album failed to yield a hit in 1971, they were released from their contract with UA. But that was not the end of the story. In 1973, they were approached by Grand Funk’s manager Terry Knight who offered the band a deal with the fledgling Avalanche Records label. The kicker was Avalanche was distributed by United Artists and Knight believed that a deal that involved their former label might be disastrous if they continued with their current name. Hence the band was rechristened and the band went to the other side of the spectrum with the name “Glory.”

Today’s track, “Back to the River” from “The Second Damnation” album did quite well in the smaller markets where the band was well known. Some stations reported “Back to the River” as a #1 record; however, nationally, the single flopped. It only peaked at #107 in Billboard and did significantly better on Cashbox’s charts, as the recorded stalled for two weeks at #85 in December 1970. The production on this recording is fantastic, but it probably was their branding that kept them off the airwaves elsewhere in the US.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

INXS: The One Thing

It was the summer of 1982 and a band from Australia was primed for their first American hit. INXS’ third album “Shabooh Shoobah” was ready to be released by ATCO Records and its initial single, “The One Thing,” was already climbing the charts. Although the single only peaked at 30, it became an Album Oriented Rock classic and charted at #2. Ah the 80s, I remember playing this cut oh so well.

“The One Thing” was the perfect record to gain the attention of the American public. It was a catchy tune, had a moderately successful run on Top 40 radio, and MTV was playing this very strange video by this band with a unique spelling of “In Excess.” While it served as an introduction to the band, they would not repeat their Top 40 success in the US until 1985’s “What You Need.” More hits would follow in the late 80s and early 90s.

Composed by keyboardist Andrew Farriss and lead singer Michael Hutchence, “The One Thing” set the stage for INXS’ frontal attack on American audiences.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Crimson Jazz Trio: I Talk to the Wind

A number of years ago, a question had traveled the circuit on Facebook that asked folks to list ten albums that they would take to a deserted island. One of those on my list was King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.” I became aware of this album with a Christmas present in 1972. I’ve loved it ever since.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled onto the music of the Crimson Jazz Trio and their jazz interpretation of the music of King Crimson. The group was the brainchild of Ian Wallace who served as King Crimson’s third drummer during 1971-1972. Wallace also was the second drummer for the King Crimson alumni group – the 21st Century Schizoid Band, which was named after the lead track (“21st Century Schizoid Man”) from King Crimson’s debut album.

Wanting to interpret a number of King Crimson tunes as jazz pieces, Wallace enlisted pianist Jody Nardone and fretless bassist Tim Landers in 2005. The band recorded two albums prior to Wallace’s death in 2007. The first of these, “King Crimson Songbook Volume One,” was issued in 2005 and featured one of my favorite King Crimson songs, “I Talk to the Wind.”

The best known version of the tune features Greg Lake and Ian McDonald on vocals; however, two recordings of the song were recorded by the King Crimson prequel band, Giles, Giles, and Fripp. The Crimson Jazz Trio does a unique arrangement of the song – sans vocals. Very nice indeed.