Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Wolf Man in New York City: Reviled As a Contrarian

Foto by tgw, "Looking Down Fifth," New York City
Writing About Revolution
One post I wrote way back when has gotten a lot of comments. It was about Nina Simone's version of "Revolution," which she cowrote in 1969 with guitarist Weldon Irvine. This "Revolution" to me was a direct counter to the Fab Four's "Revolution," which came out about the same time. I mean the tune uses the same phrasings and even mocks the Beat Boys's chorus line, "Everything's gonna be...all right!" Knowing Nina Simone, she just didn't do a tune for the tune's sake; everything she did and the way she interpreted it was pure deep Black spirit in revolt--I mean, how can anybody listen to "Mississippi God-Damn" and not get Nina's drift? My comments on this tune and along with it my normal put down of the Beatles was dubbed "garbage" and "diatribe" by a commentor (rhymes with "tormentor").

Let me be blunt--and I'm being blunt as a musician, not as a writer--I despise the Fab Four, though not them personally, but rather the advantage they took of the racism here in the US--again probably not their fault. This racism reared its hydra-head when US White kids began seriously digging Black recording artists and this new approach they were bringing to American pop music. Whites began buying Black records and soon Black r&b and rock artists were zooming to the top of the charts over the old-line-legal-reserve White stars (Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, the early days of Tony Bennett, Perry Como, etc.). This "music revolution" in turn pissed off White radio station owners and their disk jockeys, to the point some actually took White and Black "rock 'n roll" records out and smashed them to smithereens in the name of the White God, all White Mothers, and apple pie. To southern White old fogies, Black music was "Devil Music"--and they didn't refer to it as "Black music" either--replace Black with the N-word and you catch my drift. The recording companies tried to sell their White acts that covered the Black hits, like Pat Boone who did a puff-pastry (droopy-drawer) rendition of Little Richard's "Tutti Fruiti." The result was an abomination, but it took old hillbilly Pat to the top of the charts, made him a millionaire, and secured for him and even one of his untalented daughters (Debbie) a good life for the rest of their lives, while Little Richard didn't have it so easy [one of the most interesting books I ever perused was Little Richard's autobiography].

Soon the recording industry put the word out they were looking for White boys who could imitate Black artists so well the White audience could be fooled into thinking they were Black while actually they were White--voila! the perfect solution to their dilemma. [Those of you who didn't live at that time can't imagine how racism determined everything from the culture, through education, through politics, and, yes, even to the economy. I mean Jim Crow was still in effect all over the Deep South, but hey, let me tell ya, folks, New York City was about as divided racially as Down Home; and this was especially true in the music scene, the nightclub scene, the promoting scene, the management scene, the recording-company scene. Tons of racism all over the USA--White privilege; Black kowtowance or else....]

In the late forties, you see, rock 'n roll started evolving in the Black world as the next step up out of swing jazz (a segregated music exemplified by White bands like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and Black bands like Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie) and the Black jump and r&b bands (i.e., Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers, Lucky Millender's Band, Roy Milton's Band, the Paul Williams Huckle-Buck Band) and, of course, the advent of the Electric Blues coming up fast and strong out of New Orleans (Clarence "The Frog Man" Henry; Huey "Piano" Smith; Ernie K. Doe; Professor Longhair; James Waynes) on up the Mississippi through Memphis (Rufus Thomas; B.B. King; Bobby "Blue" Bland; Otis Redding; Aleck "Rice" Miller), through Saint Louis (Chuck Berry; Ike Turner; St. Louis Jimmy Odom), on up the river to Chicago, Illinois, ending up on Maxwell Street and infecting Black and White musicians alike. This music even influenced Country & Western Whites as well as Western Swing Whites like Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Hank Thompson.

Anyone who knows me knows I give Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Reed credit as the founders of true Rock 'n Roll. It started down in Greenville, Mississippi, on Ike Turner's radio program, his in-house band making a record called "Rocket 88," a song about an automobile, an Olds 88 that had a rocket for a hood ornament and was sleek and slick, which led to the cultural switch from songs based on train travel (like Swing jazz was: "Chattanooga Choo-Choo"; "Take the A Train") to songs based on automobiles and road traveling--the coming of the big long Cadillacs into American music--Chuck Berry's "Maybelene"; WynonieHarris's "Up Jumped the Devil in a Brand New Cadillac" and later Aretha's ridin' on the Freeway in her "Pink Cadillac") and Jack Kerouac wrote about it in his early novels, On the Road; The Subterraneans, two books that made quite an impact on me and my desires and even on the way I now write. I loved the legend that Jack wrote On the Road like a Charles Parker, Jr., solo, putting a roll of butcher paper in his typewriter and goin', man, goin', blowin' his blues away by writing improvisationally in the be-bop meter, be-bop, be-bop, be-bop, the perfect poetic beat. The BEAT. The Bopper's Beatitudes, starting with "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and swinging means rockin' back and forth, rockin', like when you're lovin', in the saddle, being a jockey like your daddy taught you how to ride, with the girl singers singing the satisfaction back at you with their enticing love Lorelei songs, swinging love songs, rockin' love songs, and their alluring seductions (or Millie Jackson telling men the way it was with women). And I'm sorry, the younger generations don't know the roots of the most valuable aspects of our mixed-bag culture, the one that was ripe with all kinds of wonderful music, musics of the Americas swarming here to come under the umbrella of the American roots musics that had evolved out of the 19th Century, blossoming forth from the cotton and tobacco fields of the South where music based on the rhythm of the work you were doing made that work time pass easier, the music satisfying the aching wanting-to-stop-working muscles and relaxing the brain that controls all the operations and keeping time in the form of notes and measures and time signatures..."Take this hammer...WHOP...and carry-it-to the captain...WHOP...Take this hammer...WHOP...and carry-it-to the captain...WHOP...Take this hammer...WHOP...and carry-it-to the captain...WHOP...and tell him I'm gone...WHOP...tell I'm gone...WHOP." There was even music coming from the mule team and the ox team drivers in the fields; there was music coming from the chain-gang prisoners working on the highways and byways; there was music coming from the whorehouses; there was music coming from the dance halls; there was music coming from the parade bands; there was music coming from the churches; there was music being played in the parlors, in the music rooms, on the upright pianos in those rooms, or on the cheap guitars you could buy at Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward, or the horns you could pick up at pawn shops and carry around in paper sacks; music coming from the cowboys as they rode along playing their guitars and singing to the dogies--singin' them cattle calls, throwing some yodeling in to echo it off the canyon walls...and I'm now floating off into an American Dream that never materialized, a dream that was exploded by what is now proudly known of in White Rock & Roll history as "the British Invasion." Alas, some White Boys who sang N-worder music purified through White forms, White forms with less energy, less fancy dancing, less unholy rhythms--like the Beatles covered Larry Williams's great speedball masterpiece "Slow Down" on their first album where they covered and copycatted American rock hits, including Chuck Berry's great "Roll Over Beethoven." Chuck Berry, by the way, not only was a great unequaled guitar player at his prime but he was also one of the best and brightest lyrics writers ever. All Chuck's lyrics tell little funny ironic stories. I just recently have decided to record a CD devoted to the music of Chuck Berry. The first one of his songs I recorded is "Havana Moon." It's a long song, but what a fascinating song it is, the story of an islander (Caribbean) who met an American girl while she was visiting his island and they fell in love and she had to sail away for a while but then she told him she was sailing back, this time coming by boat back to him at which time they would marry and then sail off to New York City and live high up in the sky. While waiting on the dock for this American girl's boat to arrive--and the boat is late--he brings along with him a jug of rum--and the boat is still late--and our man opens the rum and starts sipping on it--and the boat is still late--and our man the more he drinks the more he imagines the American girl was bullshitting him, saying she was coming to him when actually she was leaving him (a big dilemma for bluesmen in a lot of their songs--their woman away for some reason and the bluesman trying to get her back home ("Come on back home to me")("You been away so long")("I just got your letter, baby, too bad you can't come home"))--and the boat is still late--and our man is beginning to get sleepy on the rum--and then he passes out. In the last verse of the song, our man wakes up and sees its already daylight--the boat!--but the rum it was good, he manages to tell you--and then still groggy, he hears the boat's whistle. He grabs his shoes, jumps up, and runs out on the dock just in time to see the boat sailing off over the horizon--and yes the American girl's boat did arrive and the American girl waited for him to show up but he was passed out from drinking the rum, so she assumed he'd jived her, so she got back on the boat and travelled on off over the horizon. Oh what a wonderful diddy--only Chuck could write 'em like "Havana Moon." Or the anthem of Rock 'n Roll, another story song, "Reelin' and'a Rockin'"--"We were reelin'/Reelin' and'a rockin'/We were reelin' and rockin' and rollin' till the break of dawn." One of the happiest moments in my life came one time when I left college in my 1953 Chevrolet Power Glide on a hot spring Friday evening after class headed back out to Abilene, Texas, to bring a bottle of champagne home to my high-school-age girlfriend, my intentions being that on our date that next night, when her parents went out to party and left us to babysit my girl's little sister, we'd break open the champagne, get giddy and flirty and daring, and end up wrapped around each other on the floor working up those young passions into almost-on-fire states, and anticipating this made me happy as a Heinz 57 variety mutt saved from the dog pound gas chamber at the last minute--and soon I had the radio on searching the dial for some juiced up music of my delight and suddenly there it was, the perfect music, Chuck Berry doing "Reelin' and Rockin'"--and it's a long song, too; a long story about a guy and his gal at a rock 'n roll dance--and reelin' and'a rockin' is the true rock 'n roll that I grew up hopeful for and which I saw evolving so coolly from Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" on and on through "That's Alright, Mama" with Elvis or Rufus Thomas "Walkin' the Dog" or B.B. singing "Peace of Mind" or Percy Mayfield singing "Dirty Work at the Crossroads" or John Lee Hooker doing "Boom, Boom, Boom" or Willie Mabon doing "I Don't Know" ("What My Baby's Puttin' Down") or Billy Riley doing "My Girl Is Red Hot" ("Your girl ain't doodly squat")...I could go on and on and on, reelin' and rockin' and rollin' and writin' till the break of dawn.

And along came the Beatles and changed the whole thing. Compare the Beatles to the original Larry Williams band. Compare the Beatles to B.B. King's bands at their best. Compare the Beatles to James Brown at his worst. Nor could the Beatles hold a candle to the Jimmy Reed band when it was in that easy-ridin' southern-grace-swing like on "Hush Hush" or "Oh John" or "Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth" or "Goin' to New York" or "Take Out Some Insurance." Compare the Rolling Stones to Johnny "Guitar" Watson's bad on "Lookin' Back to See If She Was Lookin' Back at Me." Or compare the Rolling Stones to Little James Waynes or Professor Longhair doing "Junco Partner."

When I say I despise the Beatles, the reaction I get most times is, "Oh, come on now, surely you have to admit they wrote some good songs." That's not my point. Burt Bacharach wrote some good songs but they ain't that good in my point of view and don't compare with Chuck Berry's best as do none of the Beatles bluesless tunes--the Beatles don't swing. They jump up and down pogo-stick style or like the old dots used to bounce over the song lyrics at the old drive-in movies when they had the sing along shorts on the screen...but then, I suppose those kids who learned their lovin' in the passion pits at drive-in movies had no idea what the hell I'm writing about. It's all garbage and diatribe to most, I assume.

And Now Here's a "Musician" Story
Here's a short little story about my experience doing the original rock classic "Rocket 88." In the 1980s, I was called one night by this harmonica player who said he'd been given the privilege of putting together the house band at a very popular nightclub located on Irving Place in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan and he was wondering if I'd like the piano chair in the band. The other members of the band were going to be a couple of very close musician friends of mine, the bass player and the drummer and a guitar player who I knew quite well, though he wasn't a friend and I'd never worked with him before. That settled, then he told me the money I was going to make, and then I said, hell yes, I'd love to be his piano player.

This club had been the launching pad for the second career of an ex-New York Doll who coming out of the dissolving of the Dolls started billing himself as a bluesman and formed a band of local rocker-blues types to back him up. This guy was very successful in his new career; very successful; so successful, he saved this club from extinction, though soon this phase of his career began boring him and he had moved on to get involved in a Broadway show, thus getting out of the blues business and thus making it possible for this harmonica player to form this new house band at this now famous r&b and blues venue. One of the spotlite moments of this ex-Doll's blues show at this club had been when he did his version of "Rocket 88."

The first night I joined the band, we had a great first set. Just us blowing our asses off. It was fun, but then the second set began badly when a raggedy-ass guy in a loud royal blue sparkle-plenty blues zoot suit with a blue sparkle-plenty guitar demanded we let him sit in--and we did--and he was obnoxiously bad. Plus, as usual with these birds, he decided to take over the band and after he finished his first atrocity, he kept playing on his guitar and started shoutin' over the mic, "Hey, baby, now we rockin', right people? Can I hear you say, 'Yeah!,' ah come on, you'all can do better than that, come on, now, boys, let's knock their socks of with 'Candy Man' in E...ah, one, two, three...." Nothing happened. We didn't play. The bandleader said into his mic, "We're gonna take a little break, folks, for just a second...." The bass player, a man of large capacity and the band leader hustled this stardom-seeking intrusion off the stage--with him jiving and saying things like, "Hey, guys, come on, we were kicking ass." Finally we were able to finish the set smoothly and take an official break.

During this break, a big limo pulled up outside the joint. There was then a big commotion at the door when this ex-Doll, now a big Broadway star, and former bluesman who saved this club's ass, came blasting into the room, holding a magnum champagne bottle in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, and accompanied by four dazzling chicks from his Broadway show's chorus line. On entering, all eyes and posh catering attitudes were on his superstar ass. He did his little parade through the club with it finally ending at a table in the back of the joint. The club owner came over to the harmonica player and told him to start our third set while the big star was still in the house. So, up we got and began our third and final set (and "final" turned out to be the right word for it, too).

We got through a couple of tunes with vigor and vim and in spite of the fact the harmonica player/band leader was a terrible singer, singing most of the tunes very flat and way off key. The first two tunes were instrumentals, and the harmonica player was a very good harmonicaist so we rocked the joint to a max heaviness--you know, had 'em up dancing--but then the cat called James Moore's (Slim Harpo) "Scratch My Back" and started singing. I immediately could tell my pal the bass player was getting a bad attitude. He was making faces behind the harmonica player's back, grimacing every time the cat caterwauled out a tom-cat-like yowling while butchering up Slim Harpo's great old hit (Slim Harpo was James Moore's stage name), though when it got to his harmonica soloing, the tune bubbled up and became a pleasure--but then, we knew the next vocal was we dreaded the big finale where the cat's blood vessels on his forehead would be bulging out as he went into his terrifying finale. By the end of the tune, the bass player was in a mean-sort-of jovial mood, a mood I recognized from past playing with this dear old friend, a mood that signaled he was no longer taking the gig seriously and was primed and ready for a jokey approach to the rest of the it.

About that time, suddenly up with a roar and a wad of cheers came the ex-Doll, with a drink in hand, this time a hi-ball of some kind, a big shit-eating star grin on his face, his eyes sparkling with stardom and excess alcohol, straight for the bandstand. Next I know he's grabbed the mic out of the harmonica player's hand and was calling out, "OK, brothers, 'Rocket 88' in E." Call it professional jealousy if you wish, and I don't deny it probably was, but anyway, myself and the bass player openly hated this guy--we'd despised him even back when he was a Doll, but we especially got snooty and cynically critical of him when he ventured into our area of love and expertise, the Blues. And he was a despicable White bluesman--mocking the Blues rather than truly appreciating it through the wonder it evoked in those of us who took it serious. Just before the ex-Doll counted off the tune, the bass player looked over at me and said, "Play in D! Play in D!"

So, OK, the ex-Doll gave us a jive-fast count and we started off in the "Rocket 88" going "around the block" the first time. The Doll had called the tune in E, which was the key it was written in, but I went along with the bass player and played it in D...a full step under E. It took awhile for the ex-Doll to figure this slight difference in keys, but after he'd gotten through almost to the end of the second verse, it dawned on him: something was wrong--AHA, the band is playing in the wrong key--the band is flat. You should have seen this guy! He went wild. He turned toward the band and cussed us out--called us every filthy name in the book to then hurl his drink down on the floor where the glass broke and splashed glass and ice and drink all over the place. The last I saw him, he was headed up the stairs to the club's office.

We went into another number, but by then the joint was ajitter with yackity-yack and hi-voiced questions and rumors flying and where had the star disappeared to? It was no use playing anymore, so we called it quits and went to the bar to get some drinks and wait for the band leader to get us our money.

I was sitting there drinking a Heineken when the club owner, he knew me from way back, plus I knew his mistress really well, and we had the same first name, came up to me and personally handed me my cut of the band's earnings. "Wolfie, what the fuck happened up there? You know you guys pissed Dolly off...and, Wolfie, you know what I owe that guy." I tried to defend us by saying it was a matter of us thinking he called "D" instead of "E." "Come on, Wolfie, you guys are pros; you know that tune's written in E, give me a break." I had no retort. "He wants me to fire all of you guys and ban you from playing here ever again." "Well?" "Yeah, I have to. Buddy, I hate to, I like you, you're a damn good piano player, but, hey..." "Yeah, I know, that's the law of the jungle and the high sheriff--he's Tarzan and I'm Boy--fuck him...I quit, Mr. Wolf, you don't have to fire me." And I walked out of the joint without another word. Later his mistress told me he told her he wasn't serious about not letting any of us work there again, but as long as the ex-Doll wanted it to be the way it turned out, yep, that was just the way the cookie crumbled.
The Economy and Our Political Numbskulls
The current French farce going on in the District of Corruption right now over this debt ceiling nonsense is laughable it's so tragic. None of these clowns know a damn thing about what the hell they're doing. They know nothing about Economics--NOTHING! Not even that Harvard-trained fool Larry Summers. All these fools know is Capitalism. That's all they teach at Harvard or Yale or whatever other school you wanna go to to study Economics. They can't figure out why American Capitalism is dissolving right before their greedy eyes. I've recently, thanks to Amy Goodman, come across this Economist who I think tells it like it is better than any other contemporary Economist. That he's a Wolff is even more alluring to me. He's Professor Richard Wolff. I've added his Website in our "My Blog List," so check him out--WARNING--HE'S A MARXIST ECONOMIST!!! And like Brother Wolff says, and I can vouch for him on this, at none of the institutions of higher learning he attended (Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) was he instructed in or told to read one lick of Marxist Economics. Marxist Economics has predicted all the Capitalist failures in our history since the 1870s--recessions, depressions--its predictions based on real wages, what a person earns per hour after all expenses have been deducted. Capitalism in the USA worked because we had a small workforce after the Civil War. At that time of this country's greatest development, their were more jobs than we had workers. So what was the best way to get workers to work for you? Why offer them high wages with good annual raises! As a result people came from all over the world to make it here in America, where as long as wages were going up, the more the workingclass grew and blossomed and bloomed and boomed the US into the greatest ever of Capitalist experiments. So what happened to this American-style Capitalism? According to Rick Wolff, it all ended in the 1970s with the advent of computers and suddenly too large a workingclass--there suddenly weren't enough jobs for the number of workers looking for work. What happened? Wages stagnated. Workers started not getting raises. Wages were frozen or lowered. And then jobs began to leave the US; outsourced to India and China; actually moving whole factories out of the US and to foreign countries where there is cheap rents and cheap labor--even if it's child labor. We need a new system; that's the solution.
I'm rushing this--on my way to Allentown, P.A., for a big paper show--a Capitalist experience.

for The Daily Growler

No comments: