Wednesday, October 03, 2007

One Spring Morning Off Spring Street #17

"Wouldn't you rather be run over by a berserk locomotive barreling downhill with a broken throttle, no brakes, and Bugs Bunny in the driver's seat?"

So day after day then after the fall of 1978 sputtered on, everyday I'd see Matty and everyday I'd ask him how the new band was coming along. "We're gettin' there. Big time's comin', baby Wolf, big time. We're even gettin' a lawyer."

Sometimes he'd be with Mitch and David. I never got too close to Mitch and David, closer to David, David Merrill, his old man was Robert Merrill the opera singer who sung the national anthem at the Yankee games for several moons until he could no longer sing. He must have had David late in life because David wasn't very old but his father was. I don't know, though, since I never bothered David about his father being an opera singer. I guess we thought that was cool.

Mitch. Well, Mitch was Joey Ramone's brother, and Mitch knew music and the music biz and he could write charts and shit, which if Matty knew how to write charts I don't know; I never talked to Matty much about his musical training, though I knew he played with symphonies and in Broadway pit bands, and like I say, he had two huge copper kettle drums for his dining room table. Dining room; hell, it was more like a closet. Tiny tight apartments. Old buildings, rather modified railroad apartments, with quaint little small foyers everywhere. I don't remember the other people that lived in Matty's building, a weird woman and a strange man, I think, yes, I know the woman was just above his domain. You know, all those years I lived there and the years I hung out at the Ear Inn, I don't ever remember even seeing the other people that lived in Matty and his roommate's building.

I knew Matty's roommate, hell, I'll call him Rick, that was his name, a little better than I knew Matty because like I said a long time ago Rick was the bass player in the first band I and Jesus Christ put together that later became the Fabulous Swilltones (we had a poster of our mascot, a pig in a tux and tophat carrying a cane and doing a pig jig across the top of the world, that we hung behind the band when we played). Through Rick I met a lot of music cats, studio cats, etc., and Rick was the engineer on a couple of cassette tapes a couple bands I was with made in the early 80s (like The Sweet Nothin's Band) and he also produced some albums for some friends of mine (like Mark Holen's first Zambomba recording, which had Bern Nix on it; Bern Nix and I one night ended up at the Canal Street Bar--but that's another tale for another night of stories, though I must say, Bern Nix was the coolest cat I ever met or hung out with--the coolest bar none). Again, I have to keep emphasizing, my musical first-choice was jazz, though I was primarily a blues piano player and I hadn't started singing yet. I wasn't into rock much at all. Like I say, I grew up out in West Texas with the likes of Buddy Holly ("Peggy Sue's" a champion rock and roll bedrock--listen to Buddy's weird little backbeat in it) and Roy Orbison (come on, folks, Roy's "Pretty Woman" is just a damn fine piece of well-thought out music--makes the Beatles seem like so much dog shit; also "Blue Bayou"--whoo boy, old Roy could write them) and Wayland Jennings and my own hometown rockers Dean Beard and his trailer house wife Little Dee-Don.

My best friend back home was Slim Willett's son. Slim made millions of bucks off his tune "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" and he lived out in Hollywood for a while and then he moved back to my hometown after he was rich and his tune had been done by Perry Como and hit number one on the Top Ten charts--the Top Forty didn't come along until the late fifties when the Old Scotchman, Gordon McLendon, over at KLIF in Dallas started doing Top Forty programming; Gordon McLendon was a total phony m-f-er but he did program Jimmy Reed's music on his Top Forty shows so I grew up with Jimmy Reed as our local Top Forty music man and by God we loved Jimmy Reed; in fact, where I went to college they invented the "North Texas Push" based on dancing to Jimmy Reed's music. That was the beat that I was weaned on and it became the basis of my time, my rhythm and my swinging. Jazz, yes, I was into jazz, but I hadn't developed my chops past the blues yet; I tried to get in the jazz music program at my college but I failed the audition when this chick I was madly in love with threw a Stan Kenton chart in front of me and told me to play the piano part. I calmly, with my hat in my hand, and cowardly backed out of that rehearsal room; I couldn't read that chart--fuck, nobody I knew could read a Stan Kenton chart, except Dee Barton, who later became Kenton's drummer, so I bowed out of the jazz department and started playing blues piano in coffee houses. My auditioner said, "You've got a great presence at the piano and you played "Blues in the Closet" with skill but you have to be able to read a score like this if you ever hope to compete in the complicated jazz world." So I steered clear of jazz until I came to New York City and went down to the Top of the Gate one night and heard Charles Mingus and watched him and kept going back and hearing him again and again and through Mingus I met Jaki Byard who has to be one of the most innovative and creative fun pianists that ever was--I mean Jaki Byard could play all kinds of piano--in fact, he taught that way, "You gotta know how to play every style before you can play your own style." Jaki's albums Jaki Byard Live at Lennie's on the Turnpike Vols. 1 & 2 are two of the greatest jazz recordings ever made--HOLY Beelzebub, Jaki Byard takes my breath away--and I first met Jaki when he was playing with Mingus. I always sat at the table right by the piano at the Top of the Gate and besides Jaki I met some truly great pianists at that table in that great old upstairs room now long gone from the scene--I saw and met Mose Allison sittin' by that piano; I met and had some drinks and talked women with Les McCann up there one night; I shook hands with Junior Mance up there; and one night sat and dug Bill Evans through three long sets, just sittin' and gazin' at old hunched-over Bill. These guys started influencing me to get deeper into jazz than I'd ever been, to the point of buying John Mehegan's jazz study series and getting some Bud Powell transcriptions (by Hank Edmonds another piano player I saw around New York in those days) and then finding a book of scales by my true all time favorite Oscar Peterson. I held Oscar up as the epitome of jazz piano playing. If you could tickle the ivories like Oscar, you could blow anyone away on a jazz stage.

What jazz meant to me was "coolness." I mean there were no cooler people on earth than jazz musicians, even the ones you couldn't stand (I hated the Brecker Brothers) were cool. The best clothes, man. I saw Bobby Hutcherson playing one night with Reggie Workman and they must have been wearing between them 2,000 bucks worth of the coolest slacks, shirts, shoes. And jewelry, wow, cool jewelry, and great wristwatches. Jazz was just a cool music, and I mean even hard bop was cool; funk was cool; though West Coast jazz was the home of the cool, The Birth of the Cool involved Miles with the cream of the West Coast cool cats, the coolest of which were Gerry Mulligan and a cat named Gil Evans. Some critics of these West Coasters said they were basically white cats who'd come to jazz out of their time in the US Army, like Shorty Rogers (God, his Martian recordings made me happy; on one Shelly Manne simply ends the tune by spinning a 50-cent piece on his snare and the 50-cent piece simply whirls down to finally plop flat to end the piece. Now that's cool, folks), Bob Cooper, Bud Shank, the Mitchell Brothers, and one of the coolest of the West Coast pianists Russ Freeman--I saw Russ Freeman playing with the weirdo Frank Rossolini, one of the super trombonists of that era, one night in L.A. a goat's age ago. Frank sang a little song during that set about how a woman had to shape up or ship out if she was to get along with him. Then one day it was reported that Frank had come home one night and taken a shotgun and had blown away his wife and kids (2 kids I think) and then turned the gun on himself and that was it for Frank Rossolino. Jack Sheldon was out there too then; I always dug Jack's playing. There's a really cool recording called Tangents in Jazz that Jack Sheldon blows you away on; it's a Jimmy Guiffre-led recording; Jimmy was a truly cool cat; Jimmy had gone to college where I went to college before me and it was through his influence that my college got Stan Kenton to head the jazz department--remember, the lady put a Kenton score in front of me at my audition? That's why. Stan was the man in that jazz department and if you couldn't impress him, then F you--and Stan was a hard cat to please. He was serious. He demanded no bullshit. If you blew a clunker he'd catch it and he'd warn you and if you kept blowin' clunkers you'd soon find yourself in the B Band. I gotta admit, I went to college for 4 years hearing the best jazz going on in those days on an almost daily basis. The Woody Herman band came through twice a year; the Kenton Band was always there; Ray Charles always came there to get musicians and he got David "Fathead" Newman and James Clay from there; and some of my friends during that time went on to fame and fortune in jazz, one became a jazz album cover artist and one wrote a tune that was used by US Royal tires on television for years.

So I came to New York City with some musical background.

I mentioned old Slim Willett earlier. Slim built a full-rigged recording studio in his backyard. I believe Slim had an interest in 4-Star Records (he was one of the stars) and he made demos all the time of his new tunes with his band out there. He bought a radio station in my hometown and he was on the air most of the afternoons and when he wasn't using the studio, he'd let his son and I go out there and play--his son played drums and Slim had a great piano out there that I played. Slim even let us use one of his big reel-to-reel tape decks to record our shit, and it was shit. We were a couple of teenagers thinking we were far above common music, like the tons of 45s Slim got in the mail every day of the week, and he'd let us go through these piles of 45s and pick out the ones we wanted. We got to where we took them all and the ones we hated we'd drive around my hometown and shower certain homes with 45 records--we especially hit snooty girls's homes--we'd bombard them by sailing these 45s out the car window and all over those houses and lawns; we especially hated Elvis Presley the most in those days and we especially loved sailing his hits into those homes--why we probably sailed very rare Elvis records all over my hometown--this was before I figured out Elvis was just a silly white boy like me who'd fallin' head over heels for black music, especially the blues, and just really all he wanted to be was a blues singer and accepted by blacks--I never knew any black person who ever liked Elvis, though most of Elvis's best tunes were written by blacks, "Hound Dog" Big Mama Thornton; "Don't Be Cruel" by Otis Blackwell; "CC Rider" he was always doing, and Jimmy Reed things, "Let It Roll," "Big Boss Man," but Sam Phillips and Colonel Parker made him stay white and turned him minstrelsy and then after he went Hollywood his music went flying down the toilet as far as I was concerned. Why did Elvis need all those pills to get through those corny shows of his? You figure it out.

I was sitting doodling on the piano one afternoon in Slim's studio when Slim himself came in. We were all scared to death of Slim. He was a one-track kind of guy, a big guy, a heavy drinker, and he got mean sometimes and sarcastic and his son hated him with a red-headed passion though me, I wasn't afraid of nobody since I was in another world from everybody so though I didn't want to provoke Slim's wrath, I thought I was cute enough to get by with him. And he came in that afternoon and I just kept doodlin' and he said, "You think you want to play the piano one day?" "Boy, I'd like to." "Well, you better damn sure get better than me something." Shit, I hadn't expected this. So I played him something--probably "Got My Mojo Workin'"--I was really into Muddy Waters then. "Not bad, but it's the blues. You can't make no money playing the blues," Slim said, "though keep practicing; you've got to really be good to make it in this F-ing business. I run off 3 or 4 piano players a day trying to impress me. None of 'em impress me." I don't know why I said it, but I said, "And I've heard you are hard to impressed." Damn, if old Slim didn't like that. He actually smiled at me. God-damn, Slim never smiled, at least not when he wasn't doing his cornball country act--Slim's third biggest sellers after "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" were "Hadicol Corners" (Hadicol was the predecessor to what became marketed as Geritol; it was the invention of a coonass from Shreveport, Lawsbanana, named Dudley LeBlanc, who wrote and performed the famous "Hadicol Boogie"--"If your radiator leaks and your motor stands still, give her Hadicol and watch her boogie up the hill...."--the most active ingredient in Hadicol was alcohol--seems like taking Hadicol was like drinking Everclear (the 180-proof pure shit we used to mix with grape juice and make Purple Passion--oh the poor young naive chicks we've gotten smashed and vulnerable at Purple Passion parties); "I'm Just a Tool Pusher From Snyder" (at one time Snyder was the central city in one of the largest producing oil fields ever discovered--where the term West Texas crude comes from--now those fields lie dormant; all the wells capped; the oilmen said, it was too expensive to drill in West Texas anymore because the wells had to go over 4,000 feet down to find any oil and it was too expensive not only to drill that deep but to pump it out from those depths. What really happened was, oil in the ground is kept under pressure by a layer of natural gas over it. To get a gusher, see, you punch a hole in that natural gas layer and then, BOOM, the oil gushes forth, thus a "gusher." What the speedy drillers did was they started flaming all that natural gas off the oil wells--therefore over the years there was less and less pressure on the oil and finally, it just wouldn't gush anymore--so they capped all the wells and took their business elsewhere. A lot of my school friends in West Texas were oilmen's sons and daughters; a lot of them had lived in Iraq and Iran and there their dads were getting rich working for American oil companies in the Middle East); and Slim's last big hit that I recall was called "Via Acuna," an instrumental, made famous among hillbilly circles by Shorty Underwood and His Brushcutters (Via Acuna, Coahuila, Mexico, was where a lot of Texas boys went to get their cherries busted; on any trip to Via Acuna's Boys Town you'd always see someone you knew; Via Acuna also was home to a 100,000-watt (they were illegal in the US) radio station called XELO, Equis-eh-le-o, a piece of which was owned by Slim Willett (in cahoots with the infamous Paul Kellinger, the king of the Border radio station owners).

What's all this got to do with punk, glam rock, and eventually hard rock, and noise rock? I'm just trying to show what kind of music background I had before I learned about punk, before I met Matty Quick and got awakened to a new music by Bobby Fuller's "I Fought the Law and the Law Won" being drilled through my wall and drilled deeply into my ears that spring morning off Spring Street back in the spring of '79--and god that sounds so long ago--and it was, wasn't it.

Slim Willett was found dead in his brand new Cadillac one summer day which had left the road they said doing about 100 mph after Slim had a massive coronary while driving so he never knew what hit him and drove the steering wheel deep into his big chest, crushing his ribs--but Slim was already in Hillbilly Heaven by then.

Stan Kenton's long dead and, what, mostly forgotten? The woman who auditioned me with the Stan Kenton chart died right after that and she was only 30 something years old.

Woody Herman died a horrible death out in California years later; Woody was bedridden and I think Alzheimered out by then and the god-damn IRS and the State of California were foreclosing on Woody's house and property--what to do with poor old immovable Woody? The authorities didn't give a shit--they'd a thrown Woody out of his house on his ass except some California jazz lovers bailed him out and kept him living in his house 'til he died.

Gerry Mulligan went into a Connecticut hospital a few years ago for a routine operation and never came out alive. The same operation that killed Andy Warhol. There is an Artie Shaw album cover by the way that was done by Andy Warhol--it has his AW worked into it and it sells for a lot of money if you have one. They come up on eBay all the time. Also, the other day while I was cruisin' through the eBay records up for auction I came across a 45 rpm record of The Rattlers--it's called On the Beach, I think--Anne Bonney did the art on the little sleeve that went with it--The Rattlers were Mitch Leigh, David Merrill, and Matty Quick.

for The Daily Growler

PS: We want to bring to your attention a comment on yesterday's post from recent commenter Marybeth. We were surprised when she first left a comment--I mean we had no idea someone who knew what Wolfie was writing about would find us--but she did and, man, she's a hip chick, knows the score, and is superhip when it comes to commenting.

We usually don't get many comments unless we mention
The Daily Growler spiritual advisor and supersex symbol Pastor Melissa Scott. It's nice to get comments on this episodic rendering the Wolf Man has gotten himself involved in.
He's up to #17--how many more will there be? We should run a contest--naw, we ain't got no prizes, unless you want an autographed picture of Jesus we have leftover from our Mexican radio days.
Here's old Slim Willett at the height of his heyday. Winston Moore was his real name.
And here's the cover of one of the greatest jazz recordings ever made. Jaki Byard, Alan Dawson (he taught Tony Williams how to play drums), Joe Farrell, George Tucker--the tune "Twelve" is the swingingest god-damn tune ever recorded--but then we are prejudiced; we think Jaki Byard hung the damn moon.
Here's Bern Nix--the coolest cat I ever met.


Marybeth said...

Thank you for the beautiful footnote. I've become an addict to the Morning Growl, as I call it. I love your writing. It is rich and dense and I find myself thinking about it during the day. And don't you dare de-archive the old stuff. I came in in the middle and want to read all the back issues.

The Daily Growler said...

Awwwhhh, we're blushing...
And don't worry, we're too soiled and lazy to take anything down and certainly not anything as cumbersome as our read away with joy and fervor--enjoy the flavor...
Back issues is our muddled name...

Ur Fiends,

thegrowlingwolf et al