Del Shannon – Ramblin Man


A perfect combination…

Hank Williams’ lonely song & Del Shannon’s lonely voice…


The HoundBlog: Albert Ayler- The Psychedelic Boogaloo Years…

Albert Ayler- The Psychedelic Boogaloo Years

Albert Ayler- “We’re hungry….”

 Handbill for Slugs on Ave C. Lee Morgan would be murdered out front in ’72 by a jealous girlfriend. Notice Sun Ra playing every Monday. Thems was the days. A young Albert Ayler, he’d join Little Walter’s band as a teenager.


Ayler playing at Coltrane’s funeral, 1967.
 Albert Ayler (b. July 13, 1936, d. Nov. 1970) was (and is) one of the most important jazz musicians of the 2oth century and perhaps along with John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman the greatest of the “free jazz” players who came to prominence in the 1960’s. From his debut recording, a version of Gershwin’s Summertime recorded in Sweden with a clueless Swedish bebop rhythm section attempting to follow him, in which he turns the tune inside out, braying and screeching out his inner turmoil, it drags the listener to the edge of pathos and leaves you drained. For what it’s worth (in monetary value, exactly nothing) I consider Ayler’s Summertime a high point of free jazz equal to Coltrane’s Alabama and Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Lady, through his landmark ESP Disk recordings of the mid-60’s– Spiritual UnityThe BellsGhostsSpiritsNew York Eye & Ear Control, et al, recorded with one of the greatest free groups ever assembled– Don Cherry (who had played in Ornette’s original quartet) on trumpet, Gary Peacock (who left perhaps the best payday available at the time in Miles Davis’ band to play with Ayler) and drummer Sonny Murray (whose name New York Eye and Ear Control was released under), Ayler made music, that to John Coltrane– “seemed to have reached a place we have not been able to get to yet”. Ayler’s mission was to update the free spirited playing of the early New Orleans jazz groups (Sydney Bechet was one of his greatest influences) to reflect the world he lived in (his fiery sound mirroring the turmoil created by the Viet Nam war, the Black Panthers facing down the police dressed in black leather and armed with shotguns, children burned to death in church in Alabama, political leaders gunned down in public, etc.) One critic wrote– “Never before has their been such naked aggression in jazz”, and he was right. Ayler’s music was full of rage, pathos, and a search for “spiritual unity” that he would reach often through sheer force of lung power. He played with a raw, full bodied sound, with a gutsy vibrato and blistering tone. Ayler and Cherry in fact seemed to have an almost telepathic way of playing together that is often baffling. Jazz, however is not our subject for today. I believe jazz writing is best left to those who can explain things like exactly what “modular” playing is, and I’m really not that guy. Today’s subject are the discs Ayler cut near the end of his short life, records that are more R&B than jazz, yet they really defy categorization, as they are so unique there are few comparisons to be found in music. The only one I can make is the guitar dominated rock’n’roll/funk fusion of Miles Davis’ records like Jack JohnsonLive-EvilAgarthaPangaea, parts of Get Up With It (Rated X for example) and On The Corner (and the many outtakes the have recently emerged on the Jack Johnson and On The Corner sessions box sets). I once heard that Iggy when auditioning guitar players would make them listen to Jack Johnson, a great rock’n’roll record, jazz fans disdained it when it came out.
I guess some background is in order. Albert Ayler was born and raised in Cleveland. His father played jazz in the style of Dexter Gordon and raised his sons, Albert and brother Donald (who’d join Albert’s band in the late 60’s on trumpet) to play jazz. A fast study, by his teens he had mastered the style of Charlie Parker, no mean feat, and was known around Cleveland as Little Bird.
As a teenager he toured with blues great Little Walter, although Walter’s simple music quickly bored him and he was quickly fired for experimenting on the bandstand (Ornette Coleman had a similar experience in Pee Wee Crayton’s band, they left him stranded at the side of a road). In High School he was a champion golfer, but since most country clubs banned Afro-Americans there was no future in golf for young Albert and after graduating High School he joined the Army where he was stationed mostly in France. When he joined an Army jazz band, the officer who led the band told the other musicians to “Stay away from him— he’s insane”, according to Ayler. After his discharge in 1959 he moved first to L.A. and then, in 1962, to Sweden where he briefly played in one of Cecil Taylor’s groundbreaking free jazz groups (the only recording with Taylor that has surfaced can be found on Revenant’s incredible nine CD box set Holy Ghost). He made his first recordings in Sweden, and it was a Swedish radio broadcast that the aforementioned version of Summertime was recorded, and later released as the LP My Name Is Albert Ayler on the Debut label out of Denmark in 1963.
Ayler relocated to New York City in 1964 where he put together the classic line up and was soon recording for the tiny ESP-Disk label (which sometimes printed its liner notes in Esperanto as well as English), making a name for himself and becoming one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in jazz history. One of his earliest supporters was John Coltrane, both players seemed to have influenced each other to various extents and Trane became an important patron, even lending him money to get by. Trane’s Ascension was especially influenced by Ayler’s Spiritual Unity and Ghosts which Ayler had sent to Coltrane a year earlier.
In one of the few interviews he ever gave, Ayler told Downbeat’s Nat Hentoff– “We’re in the same position as some old blues guy playing his harmonica on the corner. Where a record company guy comes up and says, here play into this microphone and I’ll give you a drink of wine”. Basically, even low paying gigs were hard to come by, and he made almost no money from his recordings for the tiny ESP-Disk label which recorded him on a shoe string budget. “We’re hungry” he told Hentoff, and he meant it literally, it’s hard enough to play jazz, try it when you haven’t eaten in a few days.
In 1966 Coltrane helped Ayler get a deal with Impulse Records, the most important and open minded jazz label of its day, they were not only releasing Coltrane’s most experimental records (A Love SupremeAscension,Meditations, Interstellar Space) but also issued discs by Archie Shepp (Fire Music), Sun Ra (not a free jazz player, but surely one prone to experiment), and Pharaoh Sanders (Tauhid, whose centerpiece Upper and Lower Egypt would provide the Stooges with the classic bass line for Little Doll, to get off the track yet again). But Impulse could not find a larger audience for Ayler’s music and records like Live In Greenwich Village and Love Cry with their superior recording and better distribution failed to sell any more than his low budget ESP Disk sides. When Coltrane died in ’67 (Ayler played at his funeral, the recording, found on the Holy Ghost box is one of the most distraught and beautiful waxings ever made) Ayler’s mind seemed to come slightly unhinged. Which is a very roundabout way to bring us to today’s subject– Albert Ayler’s attempt to get his music across to a larger audience, to make enough money to eat regularly, or in the colloquialism of the time, his strange and desperate attempt at “selling out”.
The LP New Grass, released in 1968 saw a radical difference in Ayler’s music. New Grass finds him backed by an R&B band, playing in a style that Bob Quine, who turned me on to Ayler’s music dubbed –“psychedelic boogaloo”. Ayler began singing (badly) and his new girlfriend and manager (and later lead vocalist) Mary Maria Parks contributed by writing lyrics aimed at hippies, acid heads and people that said “groovy” a lot. Tunes likeNew GenerationHeart Of LoveEverbody Movin’Oh! Love Of Life, and Free At Last, are positively perverse. I’m not sure what is says about me, and my “taste” (or lack there of) but I find these sides fascinating. For, although the backing is fairly commercial sounding funky boogaloo, when Albert solos, he’s playing in much the same style he played on his earlier groundbreaking free jazz sides. Listen to that solo in New Generation–it’s insane! The first time I heard it I almost wet myself. Playing on these tracks are such stellar R&B sideman as Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums, Buddy Lucas on baritone sax, and Joe Newman on trumpet. Of course, Mary Maria Parks is singing back up, that’s her delivering lines like “sock it to ’em, sock it to ’em/let ’em have it let ’em have it” on New Generation.
Ayler was savaged by the critics, and New Grass never found an audience with the hippies or R&B fans, so Ayler’s next record was something of a cross between his free jazz style and his new, R&B direction. Bringing in Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine (who also played on the Gamblers surf classic- LSD-25 b/w Moondog, he was riding high on the Heat’s success) and piano player Bobby Few, Albert recorded Music Is The Healing Force of The Universe (1969the highlight of which is by a disturbingly grim blues dirge called Drudgery, which I think is one of the greatest and most successful attempts to fuse rock’n’roll and jazz ever waxed (there’s an outtake of the same tune called Toiling, the titles seem to hint at Ayler’s disillusionment with music and the music biz in general, another tune was called The Birth Of Mirth).
Again, this disc sold naught. As a sell out, Ayler was as much a commercial failure as he was as a visionary genius. Although he was often seen sporting a snazzy, leather suit, he was still often hungry. He even took up playing bagpipes which didn’t help matters in the least.
His last year and a half, much of which was spent touring in Europe, especially France, where he had a good following, he returned to playing in his ground breaking free style, at least to the European audiences which understood his music more. On some of his last recordings Mary Marie would become lead singer (and blow a bit of soprano sax), and also write many of the tunes. The sides recorded in 1969-70 (excepting those cut in France) were probably the least inspired of his career. In 1970 his brother Donald who had been playing trumpet in his band, entered a mental hospital from which he would periodically emerge– bitter, in fact, enraged. In Kasper Collins 2005 documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler, Donald, when interviewed, spends most of his time bitching about the fact that someone is making a film about his brother’s life and not his own. On Nov. 5 1970, Albert Ayler vanished and twenty days (Nov. 25, 1970 for the mathematically challenged) later his body was pulled out of the East River (not chained to a jukebox as one urban legend has the story). The police assumed it was a suicide, but Mary Marie Parks, the last person to see him alive, saw no sign of depression or possibly suicidal thoughts. Of course there were and still are all kinds of conspiracy theories and rumours, most say that he was murdered, but no one has ever come forth with a reasonable motive or a suspect. His death remains as much a mystery today as it was forty years ago. Albert Ayler’s life, and musical legacy, has left more questions than it answered. It’s safe to say, he is a lot more appreciated now than when he walked this planet. Google gives 174,000 results for a search of his name, it’s unlikely that all his records combined sold that many copies when he was alive.
For essential reading on Albert Ayler’s music and life may I suggest Val Wilmer’s As Serious As Your Life: The Story Of The New Jazz (Serpent’s Tail, reprinted in 1992), Albert AylerHoly Ghost a hard bound book that comes with the Revenant box set, and The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 by John Litweiler (DeCao, 1984). Also, there’s always some interesting things up at this blog dedicated to Albert Ayler’s music.


Live Forever

If I haven’t killed you already, you’ll live forever!

Oh I tried.

I put him on the railroad tracks

Late on night when he was asleep
After I put sleeping pills in his warm milk.

Broke every bone in his body
But he lived.

Oh I tried again.

I put a black widow
Under his pillow

It bit him
His leg swelled up like a fatted leper calf
But he lived.

Oh I tried harder.

I put Drano in his saltshaker and served him French fries.
I wouldn’t give him water.
It burned his esophagus
His voice is now a hollow screech that screams my name
Like a ghost that kills
But he lived.

I try every day now
To think of ways how
Yet I am weary and cry
If I haven’t killed you already
You’ll live forever!

©Donna Lethal
For Larry Fisher

Vinyl Cave: A tribute to the music of Alex Chilton, 1950-2010 – Isthmus | The Daily Page

Alex Chilton survived the disappointments and dissolute living of the 1970s, and Hurricane Katrina in the last decade, but he won’t be with us through the end of this year. The celebrated musician died at a hospital in New Orleans on Wednesday, March 17. He was scheduled to play last night at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin with the current version of legendary Memphis band Big Star — the show was held as a tribute to his life instead.

Chilton’s passing stills a truly unique voice in American music, one that was at times stubbornly contradictory. He wasn’t afraid to walk away from the Box Tops, due to the controlling aspects that were a part of what brought them commercial success. The initial commercial indifference to Big Star sent him on a journey to create sometimes cacophonous and messy music that matches the tales about his personal life at the time.

By the time Big Star’s posthumous lionization as power pop forebears really began to move into the mainstream in the ’80s, Chilton had returned to a more accessible sound — at least on his own solo projects — that had little in common with the growing legend of his former band. During the past couple decades Chilton has continued to occasionally release iconoclastic solo records, and one with the re-formed Big Star, while playing shows either solo, with Big Star or with the Box Tops.

Chilton may be gone, but his music will live on. Here’s a spin through a good portion of his back catalog — excepting the three original Big Star albums: #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers. I can’t say anything about them that hasn’t already been said and, frankly, don’t know that I could listen to them right now without getting irrationally upset.

Since there’s never been a definitive overview of Chilton’s work, the Big Star discs are probably the best place to start for the uninitiated. If you’re a Big Star fan and haven’t explored much further, read on!

Box Tops: The Letter/Neon Rainbow (Bell, 1967)
The Box Tops were essentially a renamed incarnation of an earlier Memphis group, The Devilles/Ronnie and the Devilles, who had recorded a few singles prior to teenage vocalist Alex Chilton’s involvement with the group. The first outing with the new name and lineup was “The Letter,” which took Chilton and company to the top of the pop charts in 1967 — quite a debut for a 16-year old. “The Letter” was also arguably the record that really put Memphis’ American Recording Studios on the map in a major way.

Literally hundreds more pop, soul and country hits would flow out of Chips Moman’s outfit over the next few years, with and without songwriter Dan Penn, who produced the first three Box Tops LPs. For the band, being involved with American turned out to be a double-edged sword, giving them huge success but also usually relegating them to only playing for live performances (though the group members did play on “The Letter”).

Their debut album establishes the pattern of new songs by AGP-associated writers mixed with a few pop and soul covers given the Memphis treatment, and the combination of classy songwriting, top-notch playing and Chilton’s older-than-his-years growly vocals equals heaven for fans of blue-eyed soul. Others may be somewhat bored past the singles tracks … a situation which becomes more acute on the next pair of albums.

Box Tops: Cry Like a Baby (Bell, 1968)
The title track is a brilliant piece of hook-laden songwriting and was another huge hit, making it to No. 2 in Billboard. The accompanying album also includes among the Penn-Oldham songs the “Letter” follow-up “727,” plus a pair of Mickey Newbury numbers providing some slower tempo contrast. There’s also a Vanilla Fudge-style take on “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” which references The Doors and sounds like it’s probably the real band rather than the studio guys. Tellingly, the only band member mentioned on the cover is Chilton, and most of the liner notes discuss the studio and producers. Uh-oh.

Box Tops: Nonstop (Bell, 1968)
The group’s third album in less than a year, and last produced by Penn, shows the formula stretching a bit thin, but with sometimes interesting results. Covers of “Rock Me Baby” and “I’m Movin’ On” develop into an odd sort of proto-Flying Burrito Brothers sound due to some crazy steel guitar playing. Everything’s incredibly tightly played, as always, but sometimes leans a bit too far into MOR territory, and on those songs Chilton sounds a bit bored.

However, when it all comes together on songs like “I Can Dig It” or “I Met Her in Church,” the formula still works. On some songs, Chilton’s singing is beginning to sound more like his adult style, though his grizzled bluesman voice is taken to its extreme on “Yesterday Where’s My Mind.” The band finally gets named in the liner notes, and by this time included a couple replacement members.

Box Tops: Dimensions (Bell, 1969)
The band’s final album, produced by studio head Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill, aims the group in more of a contemporary rock direction than the middle-of-the-road leanings of Nonstop. It earned them one more big hit, “Soul Deep,” and they’d hit the charts twice more with a pair of non-LP tracks after this album was released.

A lot of this album sounds as if it could be the band playing rather than the studio cats, and Alex Chilton finally got to include three of his own songs. His blues number “I Must Be the Devil” is a song that would have worked during any of his various incarnations, and “(The) Happy Song” is a preview of his soon-to-be-recorded — and forgotten — first solo album. More involvement wasn’t enough to keep the group going though, and they called it quits shortly after a trip to London for a tour reportedly so poorly organized by the promoters the band canceled it rather than attempting to play the shows. Singles would continue to appear credited to the Box Tops through the mid ’70s, including records on legendary Memphis labels Hi and Stax, though Chilton and most of the original group weren’t involved after early 1970.

Alex Chilton: 1970 (Ardent, 1996)
I’m going to cheat a bit under the circumstances and include a few albums that so far have only been released on CD. This is one of them, and it was the first issue (and only, as far as I know) of Chilton’s legendary and nearly-lost first attempt at a solo album.

It’s a doozy, as he proves that no matter how good much of the music created under the Box Tops name was, the producers might have been better off leaving the band to their own devices. In their defense it’s also possible to see how the album went unreleased, as this effortless mix of pop, country and soul would have been challenging to find a marketing niche for at the time. Atlantic was interested at one point before Chilton decided to hold out and continue pitching it to the Beach Boys for release on their label, but before that happened, Big Star did.

Chilton tries out various vocal styles throughout and sounds like he’s having a blast. Like much of the great music that’s emanated from Memphis during the rock ‘n roll era, it’s not easy to immediately categorize where Chilton’s coming from — which is why there should just be a genre called “Memphis.” Despite taking an extra 25 years to finally see the light of day, it’s one of the most immediately satisfying albums in Chilton’s catalog. If you see it, grab it, because it’s now been out of print for quite a while.

Alex Chilton: Bach’s Bottom (Line, 1980)
This is another lost album of sorts, cobbled together years after being recorded following the also unsaleable-for-a-few-years Third/Sister Lovers sessions. It makes perfect sense as a bridge between the organized chaos of the final Big Star recordings and the disorganized-on-purpose chaos of Chilton’s first released solo album yet to come, Like Flies on Sherbert. At times, Chilton sounds as hammered as the legend goes, and actually doesn’t play guitar on these recordings at all. However, there are a couple essential tracks among the studio goofing, including the relatively finished versions of “Take Me Home and Make Me Like It” (with the unforgettable line “called me a slut in front of your family!”) and the nice pop of “Every Time I Close My Eyes.” Some of these tracks had previously showed up on the rare “Singer Not the Song” EP on Ork in 1976. If picking this up on CD, be sure to hold out for the import version; the ’90s Razor & Tie CD is reportedly re-recorded/remixed versions by producer Jon Tiven.

Alex Chilton: Like Flies on Sherbert (Peabody, 1979/Aura UK, 1980; reissued on Munster Spain with bonus tracks, 1997)
This is the album where Chilton’s solo reputation generally resides. Working again with producer Jim Dickinson, who kept an eye on the final Big Star sessions, this album has always sounded to me like Chilton was going for that echoed-out Sun sound. In fact some of it was recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio — but it would qualify for the weirdest Sun record ever made. The album is chaotic but sounds exactly like it’s supposed to be that way.

Sherbert set a basic pattern for much of the rest of Chilton’s solo career, albeit in a far more shambolic way than what followed: a few good new originals and lots of covers, sometimes relatively straight (the Dickinson-sung “I’ve Had It”) and sometimes near-unrecognizable (“Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band likely never recovered). By all reports Chilton was in a bad place during the sessions, but the album that resulted manages to make walking on the edge sound nearly as fun as horrific, at least until the album closing title track. Originally only a few hundred copies were released by local Memphis label Peabody, with a slightly more available version appearing the next year in the UK. After this Chilton would decamp for New Orleans and abandon his solo career for awhile.

Alex Chilton: Live in London (Aura UK, 1982)
Documenting a 1980 performance, the music on this album is accompanied by the rhythm section of the Soft Boys and second guitarist “Knox.” Sort of the live equivalent of Sherbert, but in this case, it’s more due to the relatively impromptu nature of the band than by design. That being said, I like this album quite a bit. It’s a mess in places, but an honest mess. The cover of Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” is great, and along with Sherbert material there are Big Star and Box Tops songs.

Alex Chilton: Feudalist Tarts (Big Time, 1985)
This six-song EP, half originals, offers a mostly relaxed New Orleans vibe. “Lost My Job” is a highlight of this somewhat tentative-sounding return to recording.

Alex Chilton: No Sex (Big Time, 1986)
No covers this time, so there are only three songs on this EP, but the title track is my favorite Chilton from the ’80s, a gleefully un-PC response to the AIDS epidemic. I can’t imagine anyone but Chilton pulling this off. The other two songs are pretty good, too.

Alex Chilton: High Priest (Big Time, 1987)
His only full-length album of new material in the ’80s is a relaxed rock/soul outing with a few new originals, including his sorta silly tribute to the “Dalai Lama” and “Forbidden Love.” There’s nothing earth-shattering going on, but it’s fun all around.

Alex Chilton: 19 Years: A Collection (Rhino 1991)
A very scattershot comp, but this is the easiest place to find the “Bangkok”/”Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” single. At the time, it was also the first commercial release of any tracks from the aborted first solo album (“Free Again” is included here). Otherwise, it includes a few Third/Sister Lovers tracks, and some seemingly random tracks from his ’80s comeback discs. If this was ever released on vinyl, I’ve never seen it. A less easy to find but more coherent version of this compilation appeared as Stuff on the French New Rose label.

Alex Chilton: Cliches (Ardent, 1994)
Chilton tackles mostly pre-rock standards. This is not the usual overblown, orchestrated standards album, though, rather it’s just Chilton and his guitar. Sparse and beautiful, it’s not a place to start for non-fans.

Alex Chilton: A Man Called Destruction (Ardent, 1995)
I listened to this one a ton when it came out, and it still sounds like a career high point to me today. It’s in the usual laid-back, soul-inflected groove, but the new songs are better and cover choices spot-on. Of the new songs, “Devil Girl” and “Don’t Know Anymore” are standouts; among the covers are great takes on the New Orleans standard “Sick and Tired,” Jan and Dean’s “The New Girl in School” and “What’s Your Sign Girl.”

Big Star: In Space (DBK Works LP, Rykodisc CD, 2005)
Not a compilation or recycling of old tracks, this is a new studio album recorded by the reformed lineup that began playing shows off and on in the 1990s, featuring Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens alongside Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, no power pop slouches in their own right. It’s a solid album, if occasionally a bit schizophrenic when it slips into the soul groove of Chilton’s last couple decades (though “Makeover” is pretty entertaining). The ten originals are credited to the full band with occasional extra writers, including Box Tops bassist Bill Cunningham. For covers, there’s a great hopped-up take on “Mine Exclusively” by The Olympics. Sure, it may not measure up to the three other Big Star albums, but that’s not a fair comparison anyway.

Further listening
In addition to the original Big Star albums and the excellent Keep an Eye on the Sky box set released last year, there’s quite a bit more Chiltoniana out there. He produced classic albums by The Cramps and The Gories, and also played off and on in Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. There’s the Black List EP, Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy album (released as Set in the U.S.) and Live in Anvers disc, which I’ve never heard. Also, the original Box Tops reunited in the ’90s, touring off and on and releasing the new album Tear Off in 1998.

I saw the band in 2005 at the Waukesha County Fairgrounds, as part of a short-lived summer music festival (that also featured a shockingly great set by The Raspberries). Chilton was having fun and the band sounded great, mixing some of their hits with rock and soul covers — probably about what they would have done in clubs in the 1960s.

I never figured that would be the last time I’d see Alex Chilton on stage, and after listening to all this music over the past few days, I can’t believe he’s gone.