Ian Johnston brings us his latest round-up of vital releases from Ace Records, probably the best re-issue label in the world.
Various Artists – Don’t Be Bad! 60s Punk Recorded In Texas
Expertly compiled, researched and noted by Ace’s Big Beat 60s garage punk connoisseur Alex Palao, Don’t Be Bad presents numerous roughhouse bands recorded by the notorious producer / record label man Huey “Crazy Cajun” Meaux along Texas’ Gulf Coast during the mid- Sixties. Combining hefty amounts of high teen angst, British Invasion sounds (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, etc), raw power and true grit over 26 tracks, 10 of which are previously unreleased and all sourced from master tapes for incredible sound, Don’t Be Bad is an instant classic compilation.
Huey Meaux made his name in the late 50s, with acts such as Jivin’ Gene, Joe Barry (‘I’m A Fool To Care’), Rod Bernard and Big Sambo and the House Wreckers’ ‘The Rains Came’. When The Beatles hit the States, Meaux was determined to find a group with a similar sound in Texas. Meaux hit the jackpot with the Sir Douglas Quintet, all members Modernist suited and fashionably long haired, scoring a big hit early in 1965 – ‘She’s About A Mover’. This smash enabled Meaux to record many local groups at Gold Star in Houston or his own Pasadena Sounds, releasing them on his Capri, Ventural, Tear Drop, Pic 1 or Pacemaker labels.
Barry & Life’s ‘Top-Less Girl’ gets things started will some exhilarating, teenage punk vitriol (“Call me the next time you still a dime, girl. Baby, you’re a complete accident”), before driving guitars crash in, followed by an organ solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 70s Stranglers track. The recently discovered The Driven Wheels’ ‘Don’t Be Bad’ is a master class in fuzz guitar intemperance, the singer of Destiny Children anticipates Seventies punk vocal styling during ‘The Fall Of The Queen’, while within The Sands’ intense ‘I Don’t Need You’ the birth pains of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ can be detected during the chorus. It is no wonder that ‘I Don’t Need You’ remained unreleased until 2015.
The Argyles rip into the Don and Dewey garage band standard ‘Farmer John’ (famously covered by The Premiers in 1964), subversively changing the object of desire in the lyric from “daughter” to “mother”. The Loafers attack Big Joe Turner’s R&B classic ‘Honey Hush’ in the spirit of the Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio’s version, before The Pirates, in another previously unissued gem, present a demented melding of Bo Diddley’s ‘Mona’ and ‘Who Do You Love’.
Huey Meaux’s utterly deplorable sexual proclivities and drug use would eventually destroy his career (he would serve two long prison terms for sex crimes) before his death aged 82 in 2011. Yet the music that Meaux recorded abides as prime garage band rock ‘n’ roll, and Don’t Be Bad! contains the best of it.
Johnny And The Hurricanes – Hurricane Force! Rare & Unissued
Obviously a labour of love project, compiled and written by Dave Burke and Alan Taylor of the instrumental rock magazine Pipeline, Hurricane Force! Rare & Unissued is a double CD treat for hardcore Johnny And The Hurricanes devotees and early rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts in general. As the title makes clear, this isn’t just another Johnny And The Hurricanes greatest hits collection but a hefty two disc set comprised of 20 previously unreleased tracks, with a 40 page, lavishly illustrated booklet featuring a 12,000 word essay charting the turbulent history of the instrumental band, formed by saxophonist Johnny Paris in the late 1950s.
The Rare & Unissued CD opens with ‘The Psychedelic Worm’, the final instrumental single from the band, issued on Johnny Paris’ Atila label in 1967. Remarkably, The Hurricanes formula of buoyant grooving sax and organ (originally played by Paul Tesluk) had remained unchained since the group’s first run of nine US hits in 1959, beginning with ‘Crossfire’. Other treasures include an unissued, James Brown style version of Jimmy Forrest’s ‘Night Train’, the rollicking ‘You’re To Blame’ by The Fascinators (the name the Hurricanes band adopted when they left Johnny Paris in the early 60s, due to the saxophonist’s increasingly egomaniacal behaviour), another Paul Tesluk led outfit Freddie & The Parliaments playing the 1959 number ‘That Girl’ (a song that could have been covered by The Ramones) and the unreleased, piano driven bop ‘Hurricanes Boogie’. On the other hand, the highly regrettable ‘Canon Blast’, obviously recorded in the 1980s, is smothered in the then fashionable production techniques of that terrible decade. ‘Canon Blast’ should have stayed locked in a tape box.
The Recorded Live 1962-1990 disc sports a series of live cuts from down the years of The Hurricanes existence. The majority of the 26 tracks are from a hardly inspiring 1980-81 incarnation of the band on tour in Germany and Belgium. However, the remaining six numbers are worth the price of the set. Fats Domino favourite ‘Sheik Of Araby’ and the Phil Upchurch Combo’s ‘You Can’t Sit Down’ were recorded during an obviously jumping 1962 New Year’s Eve at the famous Star Club in Hamburg, where Jerry Lee Lewis recorded his epochal 1964 live album, Live At The Star Club. The frantic ‘Beatnik Fly’ and ‘Down Yonder’, taped in Flint, Michigan during 1966, prove that even before the onset of the psychedelic era there was still life in the Johnny & The Hurricanes.
Often dismissed as a lightweight outfit, a bridge between two eras of rock ‘n’ roll, Burke and Taylor’s compilation accords Johnny & The Hurricanes the respect they deserve. Hurricane Force! Rare & Unissued is definitely not the first port of call for the Hurricanes novice, but for those who love their distinctive instrumental sound, it’s a blast.
Gil-Scott Heron – Small Talk at 125th and Lenox
The late, great Gil-Scott Heron (1949-2011) was one of the most incisive, sophisticated, intelligent and passionate commentators upon the Afro-American experience of the late 20th century. The singer / author / poet produced some of the most vital songs ever created in black US music. Heron’s songs and words encompassed the personal and the political, not in a crude, didactic fashion, but as truly poetic and witty satirical observations upon the numerous indignities, inequality, oppression, blind prejudice and naked violence that he and millions of other African Americans had to endure.
Taped for Bob Thiele’s (the visionary former head of the jazz label Impulse, which had recorded many of the great John Coltrane albums that Heron admired) Flying Dutchman, Gil-Scott Heron’s first 1970 live album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (also the title of Heron’s initial poetry compendium), is a landmark recording consisting of three songs and eleven poems. Featuring Charlie Saunders and Eddie Knowles from Black & Blues on congas, with David Barnes on additional percussion, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (produced by Thiele) is stripped down, hard hitting, droll Heron at his best.
Small Talk at 125th and Lenox opens with the first, acoustic version of one of Heron’s greatest compositions – ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. This stark rendition still carries a thrilling and penetrating sardonic humour, all too relevant today, 45 years on from this recording. To opine that subsequent ‘revolutions’ have been televised since 1970 is to entirely miss the point of Heron’s now iconic composition. “We wrote it as a piece of satire,” Heron would reflect years later. “Watching television would not achieve anything. The change we were looking for would take place in the mind not on a TV set.”
In the poem ‘Whitey On The Moon’ Heron contrasts the grinding poverty in the housing projects with the vast expenditure of the ‘Space Race’. The great final line, “I think I’ll send these doctor bills airmail to Whitey on the Moon”, was given to Heron by his mother. On the tile track, Heron gracefully encapsulates the contemporary accent of street life chatter. ‘Plastic Pattern People’ praises and reflects upon the great jazz of the era, while ‘Enough’, ‘Evolution (and Flashback)’ and the urgent and angry ‘Paint It Black’ examine the repercussions of slavery and the violence still dealt out to blacks across the US. The only time Heron puts a foot wrong artistically is on the unpalatable ‘The Subject Was Faggots’. Though jovial rather than encouraging homophobic hatred, this poem echoes the macho male perspective of much radical politics of the period.
Heron’s songs on Small Talk at 125th and Lenox are as potent as his poems. ‘The Vulture’ is a poignant blues, the title of which comes from Heron’s 1970 debut murder mystery/ social/political comment novel that covers similar territory. ‘Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul?’ and ‘Everyday’ stand worthy of comparisons with any great soul numbers of the period, particularly Donny Hathaway’s ‘The Ghetto (Part 1 &2)’.
Based upon the original master tapes, these timeless compositions and poems sound better than ever and just as relevant, 40 years on.
Clarence “Frogman” Henry – Baby Ain’t That Love: Texas & Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974
The inimitable voice of legendary New Orleans R&B singer Clarence “Frogman” Henry was first introduced to the world at large with a series of smash hits on the Argo/Chess labels. The first was his 1956 composition ‘Ain’t Got No Home’, which announced that Henry could and did “sing like a girl, And sing like a frog.” Influenced by Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, Henry scored his biggest hit in 1961 with the US R&B Top 10 ballad ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You (But I Do)’, co-written by Chess label mate Bobby Charles. Another smash, ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’, followed the same year, inexorably leading to Henry obtaining a support spot on The Beatles first 1964 US and Canadian tour.
Baby Ain’t That Love, compiled and noted by Tony Rounce, takes up Henry’s story after he left Chess and the hits dried up. For nearly ten years Henry recorded for infamous Texas based producer Huey Meaux, and the results of that partnership are featured here, together with four cuts that were issued on Bubby Killen’s Memphis label Dial during 1967. Henry’s reworking of his earlier hit ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ might not quite live up to the original recording, but it is nevertheless a highly spirited performance. Far more successful are Henry’s covers of the deeply troubled but gifted New Orleans singer/songwriter Jimmy Donley’s numbers ‘Think It Over’, ‘Cajun Honey’ and ‘Baby Ain’t That Love’, together with Mac ‘Dr. John’ Rebennack’s ‘Long Lost And Worried’ and easy going versions of old American standards ‘The Glory Of Love (famously recorded in 1957 by doo-wop group The Velvetones) and ‘You Made Me Love You’.
As the 60s turned into the 70s, various attempts were made to keep Clarence “Frogman” Henry sounding like a contemporary artist. On Henry’s final Dial single, New Orleans artist Bobby Marchan rewrote two of his recent hits, ‘Get Down With It’ and ‘Shake Your Tambourine’, to fashion a funky 1968 “Frogman” number, ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’. Far less successful is a 1973 Huey Meaux produced attempt to create a reggae version of Frankie Ford’s old hit, ‘Sea Cruise’, using a backing track he had purchased from a Jamaican producer, though Henry’s 1974 double-tracked rendition of Jimmie Rogers’ country classic ‘In The Jailhouse Now’ is both stunning and bizarre.
A mixed bag then, but for fans of the “Frogman” there is plenty here to really cherish. Thankfully, Clarence “Frogman” Henry is still out there treading the boards, performing many of the numbers featured on Baby Ain’t That Love. That is definitely a good thing.
Various Artists – Nick Cave Heard Them Here First
Matchless Australian singer / songwriter / author / scriptwriter / soundtrack composer Nick Cave deservedly joins the ranks of The Ramones, Elvis, Dusty Springfield, David Bowie and The New York Dolls in Ace’s celebrated Heard Them Here First series.
In chronological order, compiled by Mick Patrick and Liz Buckley, Nick Cave Heard Them Here First charts Cave’s remarkable career, with The Birthday Party, the mighty Bad Seeds and solo projects, through his choice of cover versions.
Beginning with the blistering ‘Fun House’ by The Stooges (played live by The Birthday party in 1982) and Nina Simone’s 60s soul jazz classic version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put A Spell On You’ (recorded by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for an NME cassette in 1984), through to John Lee Hooker’s 1949 number ‘Burnin’ Hell’ (covered by Cave and The Bootleggers for the soundtrack of John Hillcoat’s 2012 Prohibition-era, rural gangster picture, Lawless), the CD reflects the many musical styles and artists that have stimulated his ever fertile creative imagination for well over thirty years.
From The Bad Seeds’ 1986 landmark covers album Kicking Against The Pricks (which included versions of Johnny Cash’s ‘Muddy Waters’, the gospel group The Pilgrim Travelers’ ‘Jesus Met The Woman At The Well’, Gene Pitney’s ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s ‘Hammer Song’), to Cave’s collaborations with friends and follow travellers‘ (Peter Cook & Dudley Moore’s ‘Bedazzled‘, covered with Anita Lane, Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, performed with Johnny Cash in 2003), the 22 tracks on Nick Cave Heard Them Here First trace the singular trail the singer took towards establishing himself as the premier rock star of the past three decades.
The CD notes are fine too, but, then again, I would say that. I wrote them and helped compile the disc.
All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.