Monthly Archives: December 2011


        James Ramey was born August 17, 1944 in Richmond, Indiana and later moved to Chicago at the age of nineteen. Adopting the stage name “Baby Huey” after the gigantic duckling cartoon character Martin Taras created for Paramount Pictures in the ’50s, he formed The Babysitters with guitarist Johnny Ross and organ player/trumpeter Melvin “Deacon” Jones.

The song “Running” is a Curtis Mayfield number, and Mayfield actually produced the sessions that would be used to create the posthumous and only album by Baby Huey and The Babysitters—The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend. It was assembled and released in 1971, after Baby Huey died in a South Side motel room on October 28, 1970 at the age of 26. The death has been attributed to both a heart attack and a drug overdose. Despite weighing in at roughly 400 pounds, Baby Huey was in fact a heroin addict.

His mighty mighty voice and singular delivery impressed Curtom Records arranger Donny Hathaway and got the band signed to Mayfield’s record label, located in Chicago’s old RCA studio. For their rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” alone The Baby Huey Story is a must have album; and I’ll certainly be posting that track at some later date. They were not merely a soul group but inhabited that territory where soul meets bombastic psychedelic rock. After some pedal shifting and tone tweaking into echoes, “Running” comes on with Sly Stone style good-times menace of horns, bass, drums, and guitar. I particularly dig the way the keyboards seem to flit about the melody, but periodically step on it to keep it in shape, and the horns just jump right up and punch you in the face. As for the vocals, it’s not often that someone who sounds so desperate comes across so sweet. Enjoy!

Baby Huey and The Babysitters live April 24, 1970 at the Sound Storm festival [photo by Robert Pulling

Running by Baby Huey and The Babysitters (1970)———(Click To Listen)

Like it? Buy it.

James “Baby Huey” Ramey: lead vocals

Melvyn “Deacon” Jones: keyboards

Othello Anderson: flute

Rene Smith: percussion

Byron Watkins: tenor saxophone

Rick Marcotte: trumpet

Alton Littles: trumpet

Danny O’Neil: guitar

Dave Cook: organ

Dan Alfano: bass guitar

Plato Jones: bongos

—Bobby Calero


Mayfield, C. Running [recorded by Baby Huey and The Babysitters] On The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend. [CD] Curtom. (1971) Water. (2006)


 Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Horoscope for December 2011

By Susan Miller

It can be maddening when the planets send mixed messages. This has been going on since last month, so it is no wonder you may feel anxious and on the horns of a dilemma, unable to see the road ahead clearly. On one hand the eclipse season is upon us, and eclipses push us hard to step with the times and to fix any weaknesses that these lunar and solar events uncover. They certainly make us attend to things with a sense of urgency. On the other hand, Mercury is retrograde, and will remain retrograde until December 13, making the first half of December a very bad time to make big decisions. Push-pull, on off, stop and go. No wonder you are feeling caught in a maze without an idea of what to do next.

As a Cancer, the moon rules your sign, so when the eclipses come by every six months, you feel the full moon eclipses very dramatically and much more than a solar eclipse. Last month we had a new moon solar eclipse in Sagittarius on November 25, and it was friendly. You don’t feel those as strongly, so the big one is coming this month. The sixth house, where that eclipse fell, rules the things you do on a day-to-day basis. Here’s a special surprise Santa has cooked up for you before the year is out! Jupiter has been retrograde since August 30, but on December 25 will turn direct speed. In every way, your life is getting better and better!


The man pictured above—looking like a still from an Alejandro Jodorowsky film—is Ralph Lundsten. Born in 1936, Lundsten is one of Sweden’s most famous composers of electronic music. “For me, I invented electronic music. There were certainly other people who did this at the same time, other places of the earth, but I invented it for myself” (Tidningen Sex, 2004).

The track I bring you today is off of Lundsten’s 1979 album Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, which gets its title from a 1961 story by science fiction author Cordwainer Smith. The story concerns “the opening days of a sudden radical shift from a controlling, benevolent, but sterile society, to one with individuality, danger and excitement” (Wikipedia, n.d.) and the Abba-Dingo, a computer that has reached the status of a God, which can only be reached by a forbidden highway leading into the clouds: Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.

Despite Lundsten’s assertion that “rock and pop is a widespread disease,” (Tidningen Sex, 2004) to my ears the track “Horrorscope” is reminiscent of the intricate funk created by Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson for Off The Wall, but as opposed to being designed to inspire us to dance it has been constructed in order to give one the heebie-jeebies.

Horrorscope” by Ralph Lundsten And The Andromeda All Stars

Composer, Producer, Synthesizer, Piano By – Ralph Lundsten

Bass – Georg Wadenius

Drums – Peter Sundell

Guitar – Georg Wadenius, Jan Schaffer

Keyboards – Georg Wadenius, Wlodek Gulgowski

Sitar – Jan Schaffer


Lundsten, R. (1979). Horrorscope [recorded by Ralph Lundsten And The Andromeda All Stars] On Alpha Ralpha Boulevard [Vinyl] EMI. (1979)

Miller, S. (2011). Cancer Horoscope for December 2011. Astrology Zone. Retrieved December 27th from

Tidningen Sex. (2005). Pop is a national disease- interview with Ralph Lundsten.  Tidningen Sex # 5. Retrieved December 27th from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Alpha Ralpha Boulevard. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 27th from


Formed in the mid ’60’s by a group of friends that often performed at the same cafes in L.A. (or as the above poster states, “Eight high-octane musicians who met and jammed in the great peanut butter octopus that is Los Angeles”), Sweetwater serves as a perfect icon for the word Hippie. Integrated musically as well as racially, over the course of three albums they created a potpourri of sound that if it were released today would most likely fall under the rubric of “freak folk.” Sweetwater toured with The Doors for much of ’68 and ’69 and were the second act to perform at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, coming on after Richie Havens.

In December of ’69, while recording their sophomore album for Reprise Records—Just For You—twenty-year-old lead singer Nancy (Nansi) Nevins was in a serious car accident. As a result she suffered severe brain trauma and damaged her vocal cords, putting her in a coma for weeks and necessitating physical therapy for years (Howitt, n.d.). Although she had participated in much of the recording process she was unable to perform in support of the album, and the band simply lost momentum.

Compared To What” ——–———Click To Listen

Albert Moore (flute/vocals)

Nancy Nevins (vocals/guitar)

August Burns (cello)

Alan Malarowitz (drums)

Elpidio Cobian (conga drums)

Alex Del Zoppo (keyboards)

Fred Herrera (bass)

Like It? Buy It.

The track I bring you today is “Compared To What” off of 1970’s Just For You, with lead vocals handled by flute player Albert Moore (The one depicted in an authentic Amish hat). Sweetwater’s Baroque-folk-jazz fusion works perfectly for Gene McDaniels’ anti-war anthem; McDaniels being a little remembered soul singer who passed away earlier this year on July 29, 2011. Disenchanted with the United States, particularly the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the state of race relations in the late 1960s, McDaniels took a brief sojourn from the Nation. During this period, in 1967, Mcdaniels wrote “Compared to What.” This “scathing critique of social realities in the United States” (Neal, 2011) was initially recorded and released as the opening track on Roberta Flack’s 1969 debut album, First Take. More recently John Legend and The Roots recorded the song for their 2010 album of cover songs, “Wake Up!”

However, I prefer Sweetwater’s more frenetic interpretation. The song begins by dragging the groove along as the flute and cello weave in and out seamlessly, before it all bursts into a souladelic freak-out of a man in pursuit of authenticity. Despite how busy the music may seem at times, and the number of chefs in this kitchen, each ingredient comes across as perfectly measured. Sweetwater have altered Mcdaniels’ lyrics somewhat, which I have reproduced below:

Compared to What

Well, I love this life, this life I love

A-Hangin’ on, with push and shove

Possession it is my motivation

And it’s hangin’ up the God-damn nation

And it Looks like I always end up in a rut

You know I’m Tryin’ to make it real

— compared to what? baby!

The President, well he’s got his war

Folks don’t know what it’s for

No one gives us rhyme or reason

If you have one doubt, they call it treason

And it looks like I always end up in a rut

I’m tryin’ to make it real —Try!

I’m tryin’ to make it real —Try!

compared to what? baby!

The President, he’s got his war

Folks don’t know what it’s for

No one gives us rhyme or reason

Have one doubt, they call it treason

I say we’re chicken fat, all without one gut.

We keep Tryin’—Try!

We keep Tryin’—Try!

Tryin’ Tryin’ Try!

Tryin’ to make it real

Don’t care if we die

Tryin’ to make it real

Just  keep on tryin

John he’s dead and gone and

Martin he didn’t have long and

Old folks putting us on and

I have got to be me

I have got to be myself

I cant be no one else

I gotta be for real

I just gotta try to be real

Make me real

I gotta be for real

Tryin’ to make it real

Gotta make it real

So real

And here’s a video of John Legend and The Roots soulful, yet more restrained rendition:


Neal, M. A. (2003). Real, Compared to What: Anti-War Soul. Popmatters. Retrieved on

December 26th from

Getting Out Our Dreams and Sony Music Entertainment  (Creators). johnlegendVEVO

(Poster) (2010, Sep. 13). John Legend & The Roots – Compared To What (Live In

Studio) [Video] Retrieved from

Howitt, B. (n.d.) Sweet Water. Bernie’s Musical Views. Retrieved on December 26th


McDaniels, G. (1967). Compared to What [recorded by Sweetwater] On Just For You.

[CD] Reprise. (1970)/Collector’s Choice. (2005)

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS JEWS (or to be Jewish, rather).

Don’t get me wrong, I love Xmas as much as much as the next guy, but there’s certain elements to this season that seem to heighten anxiety, and the days seem to pass in rapid succession. At moments, it can leave you feeling as awkward as a child walking in on Santa Claus making it with mom. Sometimes it just looks like it might be easier if it wasn’t one of “my” days.

So, here are two tracks that (along with Rum from my cousin Paul) help ease me into the Christmas Spirit:

Like it? Buy it.

Huey and his crew, “The Clowns,” hammered out this holiday record in their distinctive New Orleans style R&B in 1962. In fact, it was so distinct that it was soon withdrawn due to outraged reactions, which called the rocking treatment of these sacred tunes sacrilegious (Heer, n.d.).

Christmas Party (feat. Nicole Sheahan)————-Click To Listen

In 2004, NYC’s (although I believe now they live in Philly) The Walkmen dropped their special Christmas Party 7″, EP. Here you’ve got guest Nicole Sheahan helping out on vocals. This one just makes me laugh, in a sentimental way.

Well, Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Goodnight!

Peace On Earth,



Heer, D. (n.d.). Huey “Piano” Smith. Blackcat Rockabilly Europe. Retrieved on December 24th at

Martin, W. (2004). The Christmas Party [recorded by The Walkmen] On The Christmas Party. [7” Vinyl]. Record Collection. (2004)

Mohr & Gruber. Silent Night [recorded by Huey ‘Piano’ Smith & The Clowns] On ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. [CD] Westside. (1962/1998)


“It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now? Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

John Lennon


Allowing my last post to bleed into this one, here’s a quote by Howlin’ Wolf given in 1968, shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Somebody has been cashing checks and they’ve been bouncing back on us, and these people, the poor class of Negroes and the poor class of white people, they’re getting tired of it. And sooner or     later it’s going to bring on a disease on this country, a disease that’s going to spring from midair and it’s going to be bad. It’s like a spirit from some dark valley, something that sprung up from the ocean…Like Lucifer is on the earth” (Gates, 2004).


At first I was not quite sure how I felt about the whole “Occupy Wall Street” movement and could certainly understand the frequent critique that they did not express a clear “message” nor provided direct, and comprehensive “solutions” to their myriad grievances. However, as I was discussing the topic recently with a good friend of mine, I realized that the message might truly be a simple “Shit is fucked up!” It might not be eloquent—or serve well as a slogan for a Shepard Fairey poster—but I believe that this is what it all boils down to…somewhere back there we made a wrong turn, and we all need to register that fact first before we carry on with finding the right way forward.

Sometimes, “solving problems is not good enough or even the point, when the hardest task is not to denounce evil, but to see it” (Marcus, 1975).

Some suck their teeth and deign to say, “Get a job!” Sure, but then what? Particularly when in the grand scheme of the here & now, regardless of what you might think of your position and the comforts it affords you, we are all essentially shoveling shit in some debtors’ prison to please some plantation warden whose name we never even caught, nor knew we were indentured to. We are on the cusp of 2012 and still we live in a world where there are divergent rules and regulations for a particular set of privileged individuals, while the remaining masses are relegated to a servant-class status at best; at worst are horrors too innumerable to begin to list here.

Several months ago, a Polish émigré who abandoned a career in L.A. and now lives as a masseuse/farmer in Costa Rica said to me (after divulging her admiration for Alex Jones) “C’mon guys, we are living in the future; we should be building cathedrals of music, not fighting stupid little wars all for somebody else’s wallet.” Next she advised me to “throw out your television,” something that I admittedly am not quite ready for, but I do believe she has a point; shouldn’t we be somewhere else by now, somewhere other than here?

V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

      Alan Moore, the man (along with David Lloyd) behind the mask that has been co-opted as a symbol for much of what these movements represent, recently gave an interesting interview to Honest Publishing (2011) in which he discusses the Occupy movement, and the fascinating idea of ideological change. I have posted some excerpts below:

Alan Moore [photo by Mitch Jenkins, 2010].

“As far as I can see, the Occupy movement is just ordinary people reclaiming rights which should always have been theirs. I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it; they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re ‘too big to fail.’ I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way […].

“What do you think needs to change in our political system?

“Everything. I believe that what’s needed is a radical solution, by which I mean from the roots upwards. Our entire political thinking seems to me to be based upon medieval precepts. These things, they didn’t work particularly well five or six hundred years ago. Their slightly modified forms are not adequate at all for the rapidly changing territory of the 21st Century.

“We need to overhaul the way that we think about money, we need to overhaul the way that we think about who’s running the show. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people, to the people whose lives this is actually affecting. It’s no longer good enough to have a group of people who are controlling our destinies. The only reason they have the power is because they control the currency. They have no moral authority and, indeed, they show the opposite of moral authority.

“With politics at the moment seemingly determined to keep ploughing on their same destructive course because they can’t think of anything other to do, when we’re facing the possibility of an economic apocalypse, of potentially an environmental apocalypse, we don’t necessarily have an infinite amount of time. I think that since our leaders are not going to address any of these problems then we really have no choice than to attempt to wrest the steering wheel from them. If they’re aiming at the precipice with the accelerator pedal flat to the floor, then we don’t have any other choices left. Do it now, in this generation, because we don’t how many more there’s going to be.

“So something has to be done […]. I would suggest beheading the bankers, but while it would be very satisfying and would cheer us up, it probably wouldn’t do anything practical to alter the situation. Behead the currency. Change the currency, why not? It would disempower all the people who had bought into that currency but it would pretty much empower the rest of us, the other ninety-nine percent” (Honest Publishing, 2011).

I think at this point in time it is quite obvious that we need something new, something other. In an attempt to be clear as to where I position my ass in relation to the fence, I am not opposed to civil disobedience, and I am certainly not advocating that we find recourse in performing pagan rituals with menstrual blood and hallucinogens “on the endless expanse of a Nevada prehistoric lake bed” (Grigoriadis, 2006, p.90), but perhaps we need to occupy our heads with new ideas about what it is we think we are doing here, and just why we are doing it?

There is a tendency in society to firmly believe that what there is, is all there is, forever, and ever, amen; close the book, grit your teeth, and shrug your shoulders. However, a mere glance over those shoulders back into history reveals countless worlds firmly fixed within the confines of their supposed reality: realities that today we either reject wholesale, or vivisect for whatever bits we wish to cling to…and sometimes those realities only linger because they’re making someone money.

Our current financial system, now seemingly entrenched into even every little spasm of our synapses, appears to work exceptionally well.  Unfortunately, it does so only for those who were designated heirs-apparent during the design phase of this system’s architecture. Whether this lineage is through actual bloodlines or more of an inheritance through mutual ethics (or lack thereof), for the rest of us it’s a mug’s game. We’ll never get ahead this way. If the game has been bought, sold, and won a long time ago, perhaps it is time we invented a new game? It’s either that or one day we’re going to kick the whole board over in a fit, and if that day comes you better take shelter.

                                      Gimme Shelter By Cal Tjader—————Click To Listen

Like it? buy it.

Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. a.k.a. Cal Tjader (July 16, 1925–May 5, 1982) was a vibes player who played with Dave Brubeck and in George Shearing’s quintet in the early fifties before forming his own group and going on to gain an international reputation for his distinctive musical style that encompassed Latin, jazz, and soul music (McClellan, 2004). Signing to Fantasy Records in 1971, Cal Tjader released Agua Dulce with its hypnotic rendition of The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter.”

Arranged by Ed Bogas the song features: Cal Tjader, vibes; Rita Dowling, Moog Synthesizer; Micheal Smithe & Pete Escovedo, Congas; Coke Escovedo’ Timbales; and either Richard Berk or Lee Charlton, Drums.


To stay within the theme, here’s “Mr Guy Fawkes” performed by the Australian psychedelic rock group, The Dave Miller Set. Originally written by guitarist Mick Cox of the Irish group Eire Apparent (who opened for Jimi Hendrix’s America tour of ’68), Dave Miller remodeled the song to be his group’s single in 1969 (Kimbal). I love Dave Miller’s proto-Layne Staley vocals atop this orchestrated ballad with a boot-stomping backbeat.

“Mr Guy Fawkes”

by The Dave Miller Set: Dave Miller (vocals), John Robinson (guitar), Leith Corbett (bass), Mike McCormack (drums). Produced by Pat Aulton.

Although I’ve by no means reached a terminus to my thought processes on these matters, I remain firm in my belief that there is much more than just all this.


Cox, M. (1968). Mr. Guy Fawkes [recorded by The Dave Miller Set]. On Mr.Guy Fawkes (single). Spin Records. (1969)

Gates, D. (2004). Delta Force. The New York Times. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2011 from

Grigoriadis, V. (2006, September 7). Daniel Pinchbeck and the new psychedelic elite. Rolling Stone, 1008, 89-90, 114-117.

Honest Publishing. (2011). The Honest Alan Moore Interview. Honest Publishing. Retrieved Dec. 23rd, 2011 from

Jagger/Richards. (1969). Gimme Shelter [recorded by Cal Tjader]. On Agua Dulce [CD] Fantasy. (1971) BGP. (2011)

Kimbal, D. (n.d.) The Dave Miller Set, Sydney, 1967-1970, 1973. MILESAGO: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964-1975. Retrieved Dec. 23rd, 2011 from

Lawrence, K. (2005). John Lennon: In His Own Words. Andrews McMeel Publishing.

McClellan, Jr., L. (2004). Tjader, Callen “Cal” (1925–1982). The Later Swing Era, 1942 to 1955. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 2004. 303. Retrieved Dec. 23rd, 2011 from Gale Virtual Reference Library at

Marcus, G. (1975). Mystery train (4TH ed.). New York: Penguin.


Hubert Sumlin photographed at the Union Chapel, London in 2003. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Hubert Sumlin (November 16, 1931 – December 4, 2011)

Today I bring you two Howlin’ Wolf tracks featuring the dynamic guitar work of the recently deceased Hubert Sumlin. Born near Greenwood, Mississippi on November 16, 1931, Sumlin grew up in Hughes, Arkansas. Besides having one of the most pleasant faces I’ve ever seen on a man, he was one of the most sensitive guitarists I’ve ever heard.

Sumlin should be celebrated as a true American artist. As The Wolf would moan like a man gone insane with lust and too much whiskey, Sumlin’s guitar could pierce through the trance with a sudden and ascending ribbon of sweet, angular notes, suspend it on the edge, before it all plunged down to a percussive, hip-shaking scratch rhythm with the precision of a metronome. The contact point between flesh and steel strings, being a finger-picking guitarist, created much of his distinct sound. He had used a pick until Howlin’ Wolf fired him one day, telling him to go home and practice without one. Returning to work (he always returned) he decided to settle in with the new tone this direct contact afforded him (Redley, 2011).

Hubert Sumlin & Howlin' Wolf at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, England (1964)

Alongside Howlin’ Wolf and his fellow musicians, Sumlin was inventing the future while simultaneously granting the listener a glimpse into something ancient and strange. With a flick of the wrist he could raise horror to joy, or intimate just what a man would drag himself through for a taste of a woman; and Howlin’ Wolf’s music was all about that lascivious hunt. Although technically his boss (and Wolf was certainly a “boss,” taking money out of each man’s pay for social security) their relationship was more complex than your typical paradigm of employer/employee: “It was ‘The Wolf’ who knocked my front teeth out when I told him I was going to tour with Muddy Waters” (Redley, 2011). “We were like Father and son, although we had some tremendous fights. He knocked my teeth out, and I knocked his out. None of it mattered; we always got right back together” (Friskics-Warren, 2011). Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, Sumlin played guitar for Howlin’ Wolf’s band from 1954 to 1976, when Wolf’s died from complications of kidney disease at the age of 65.

As for Chester Arthur “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett himself, not enough could be said about the man, so for the sake of brevity I’ll quote Sam Phillips (the first to record him, and who later went on to “discover” Elvis Presley) who said in regards to Howlin’ Wolf’s music: “This is where the soul of man never dies” (Gates, 2004).

Hubert Sumlin performs with Howlin' Wolf in 1971. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

First up is perhaps one of Sumlin’s finest recorded performances: The Willie Dixon penned “Hidden Charms.” Recorded August 14, 1963 in Chicago, the track features Howlin’ Wolf on vocals; J.T. Brown on tenor sax; Donald Hankins on bass; Lafayette Leake on piano; Hubert Sumlin on guitar; Jerome Arnold or Buddy Guy on bass; and Sam Lay on drums.

Like it? Buy it.

On another note, after I graduate my wife would like to move upstate to pursue a more rural life; this song pretty sums up all my sentiments on that matter:

Like it? Buy it.

Another Willie Dixon number (although, and not to take anything away from the man, I believe Dixon was considered more of a lyricist, and perhaps Wolf deserves more of a composition credit) this riot of affection is titled “Little Baby” and was recorded May, 1961 in Chicago, featuring Howlin’ Wolf on vocals; Johnny Jones on piano; Jimmy Rogers & Hubert Sumlin on guitars; Willie Dixon on bass; and Sam Lay on drums.

And lastly, to truly begin understanding where this music is supposed to tickle you, watch the whole sweaty, money waving show below from 1966, featuring Howlin’ Wolf on harmonica &vocals; Hubert Sumlin on guitar; Andrew McMahon on bass; Sam Jones on sax, S.P. Leary on drums; and an inebriated Son House “conducting.”


Dixon, W. Little Baby [recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, 5/61]. On Howlin’ Wolf  (“The Rockin’ Chair album”) [CD] Chess. (1962/1990)

Dixon, W. Hidden Charms [recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, 8/14/63]. On Howlin’ Wolf: The Real Folk Blues [CD] Chess. (1965/2002)

Friskics-Warren, B. (2011). Hubert Sumlin, Master of Blues Guitar, Dies at 80. The New York Times. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2011 from master-of-blues-guitar-dies-at-80.html?_r=1

Gates, D. (2004). Delta Force. The New York Times. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2011 from

Redley, S. (2011). Hubert Sumlin R.I.P November 16, 1931. Blues & Soul. 1049 Retrieved Dec. 22, 2011 from

Yumgui (Poster) (2009, Dec.23). Howlin’ Wolf – 1966 – How Many More Years – The Newport Folk Festival [Video] Retrieved Dec. 22, 2011 from


August 7, 1970 rehearsal

Elvis was a hero to most

But he never meant shit to me you see

Straight up racist that sucker was

Simple and plain

Mother fuck him and John Wayne

(“Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, on 1990’s Fear Of A Black Planet).

Not only are the above lyric revisionist malarkey (albeit malarkey within an incredibly well-constructed song—with The Bomb Squad’s dense, intricate layers of loops upon loops, and Chuck D’s relentless delivery) but also they stem from the resentment that lies in a false belief that Elvis Presley owes something to somebody.

Perhaps it is difficult, looking back from here on our modern perch, to realize that Elvis did not emerge from the factory floor, fully equipped with “Karate Chop! Power Action” and packaged with a set of poor colored-folks songs that were market-tested to go over like hot cakes with the sterile white youth.

Elvis was some strange, new strain of American; he was something that America had been searching for. He was a creature of self-invention as well, who had the imagination to view himself as something other than white trash on welfare, and had the ambition to see his delusions come true. That is what I feel is the essential element to Elvis Presley’s best work: the Fantastic.

Without imagination mankind would be a hollow thing—robbed of its aspirations and the confidence with which to pursue them. There must always remain a tinge of the fantastic in our minds in order for mankind to rise above its self-perceived dull life. Without this fundamental component where would Herman Melville be, other than just another sailor looking for work?

Besides all the metaphysics and philosophy: Elvis could sing these songs better than anyone else—wet with wisdom and amusement from the guts—and to the ears’ of America’s children it felt just like sex.

So in retort to Chuck D—in reality, how many peoples’ heroes have appeared on stamps? Furthermore, how many people even have heroes to be commemorated anymore? But Chuck D does tend to make a good argument, and at the very least makes a man think. As he once said, “Words are your artillery” (Edwards, 2010). Public Enemy is certainly a phenomenal group that should be required listening in public schools, particularly in an age where the content of most hip hop has more corporate endorsements than a racecar’s hood. Anyway, more on Public Enemy come January 16th.

Now, to return to the miasma of race, authenticity, the fantastic, and Elvis (and at this point in my life I have grown so bored by race discussions that I wouldn’t even bother unless I thought there was a good story in it) I’d like to post something written by Greil Marcus. Marcus (1975) writes in Mystery Train (probably the last time I’ll be quoting from this book for awhile as I had to return it to the library):

“—but for Elvis, the blues was a style of freedom, something he couldn’t get in his own home, full of roles to play and rules to break. In the beginning the blues was more than anything else a fantasy, an epic of struggle and pleasure, that he lived out as he sang. Not a fantasy that went beneath the surface of his life, but one that soared right over it.

Singing in the fifties, before blacks began to guard their culture with the jealousy it deserved, Elvis had no guilty dues to pay. Arthur Crudup complained his songs made a white man famous, and he had a right to complain, but mostly because he never got his royalties. Elvis sang “That’s All Right” and “My Baby Left Me” (one of his first sides for RCA, and the only one in the Sun rockabilly style) with more power, verve, and skill than Crudup did; his early records were more than popular with blacks; but still the implication, always there when Crudup or Willie Mae Thornton (who made the first version of “Hound Dog”) looked out at the white world that gave them only obscurity in exchange for their music and penned them off from getting anything for themselves, is that Elvis would have been nothing without them, that he climbed to fame on their backs. It is probably time to say that this is nonsense; the mysteries of black and white in American music are just not that simple. Consider the tale of “Hound Dog.”

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were Jewish boys from the East Coast who fell in love with black music. Hustling in Los Angeles in the early fifties, they wrote “Hound Dog,” and promoted the song to Johnny Otis, a ruling R&B bandleader who was actually a dark-skinned white man from Berkeley who many thought was black. Otis gave the song to Thornton, who made it a number one R&B hit in 1953; Otis also took part of the compser’s credit, which Leiber and Stoller had to fight to get back. Elvis heard the record, changed the song completely, from the tempo to the words, and cut Thornton’s version to shreds.

Whites wrote it; a white made it a hit. And yet there is no denying that “Hound Dog” is a “black” song, unthinkable outside of the impulses of black music, and probably a rewrite of an old piece of juke joint fury that dated far beyond the birth of any of these people. Can you pull justice out of that maze? What does Huck owe Jim, especially when Jim is really Huck in blackface and everyone smells loot? All you can say is this was Elvis’s music because he made it his own” (p. 154-55).

Stranger In My Own Home Town – Elvis Presley (Demo July 24, ’70)   — — — Click to Listen

The track I bring you today is Elvis Presley’s run-through of Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” Percy Mayfield was the remarkably gifted songwriter behind “Hit the Road Jack,” which Ray Charles made a hit in October of 1961.

Here is Elvis at RCA Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, on July 24, 1970, rehearsing for his upcoming Las Vegas concerts at the International Hotel. Elvis really drags his vocal through the mud of America on this one. Contained in the same breath there’s a languid playfulness and straightforward emotional anguish, each in equal measure. This is what it sounds like when the Lord of Mischief resigns himself to being a truck driver. You can see how the sentiments for this song might’ve been particularly relevant for him, as he truly could never return home again without being seen as some Freak Show King. This demo features Ronnie Tutt keeping rhythm and some great guitar licks & freak-outs from James Burton that border on Phil Upchurch’s psychedelic-funk style in certain places.

Despite what one can say about his descending into B-movie parody in the mid-sixties, or ending as a swollen song-and-dance-man swaddled in rhinestones and Lycra, this hillbilly from a two-room shotgun house loved music. To some extent, you must see that the goose that lays the golden eggs must be maintained complacent with prescription pills and antibiotics if you want to continue to sell product; and that is in a sense what I believe happened to the man in the end.

Here’s how Elvis put this song down on tape more than a year prior on February 17, 1969 at American Sound Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, while recording the album From Elvis in Memphis. This up-tempo, orchestrated stage version features some sick electric sitar by Reggie Young.


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