Song of the Week Revisited Revisited – I’m Hip, Blossom Dearie

Jazz great Bob Dorough died Monday at the age of 94. Here is the NYT obituary:

It reminded me of the time I met him a few years ago and posted about it on this blog.

Here it is again.

Song of the Week Revisited – I’m Hip, Blossom Dearie

Song of the Week – My Girl Sloopy, The Vibrations & Hang On Sloopy, The McCoys and The Ramsey Lewis Trio

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Today’s SotW is an installment in the ongoing Evolution Series. The pick hit is “Hang on Sloopy.”

Everyone is familiar with the #1 hit version released by The McCoys, led by the 16-year-old Rick Zehringer (aka Derringer), in 1965.

But how many of you are aware that the song was first released under the title “My Girl Sloopy” by the LA based R&B group, The Vibrations, in 1964? Here it is!

Now back to The McCoys recording. The #1 hit was a 3 minute version that had two verses (“Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town” and “Sloopy let your hair down girl, let it hang down on me”). But that was an edited take. The full recording, with the third verse (“Sloopy wears a red dress, yeah, as old as the hills”) has been released on several compilations. Now you can hear it.

Although its lightweight lyric and infectious, sing-along chorus render it close to a novelty number. “… Sloopy” has been recorded by many other groups over the years, including rock, soul, jazz and indie rock artists.

One of my favorites is the lounge jazz rendition by The Ramsey Lewis Trio.

It was released on an album called Hang on Ramsey!, and the song won a Grammy in 1974 in the category Best R&B Instrumental Performance. It’s a live disc that sounds like it was recorded at a party. People sing along to the chorus. I don’t think he had any background singers, so it must be the audience that’s having all the fun.

“… Sloopy” holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of the songs I sang with the band at my wedding so many years ago. It is also in the set list for our family band – The Big Swinging Dorazios.

Enjoy… until next week.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers and Billy Cobb, So What

This is jazz, recorded live in 1960 in Sweden. So What is a classic jazz cut, the first track on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. It is the kind of music that even if you think you haven’t heard it, you’ve heard it.

This live performance from Sweden is a classic demonstration of jazz and why. Fantastic performers, all five of them, take the tune and turn it into something huger. Yeah, that’s the best word I can come up with. Huger. A better word than amazing, but that, too.

If you want to check out the original album cut, which is great, too, here it is.

Wikipedia note: The actor Dennis Hopper at some point claimed that the name of the song came from a philosophical conversation Hopper had with Davis, during which Davis would say something and Hopper would say, So what?

Song of the Week – Golden Rough, The Bamboos

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The Bamboos are a contemporary, (mostly) white, 8-piece funk band from Australia — kind of a modern day Average White Band.

I stumbled upon their 2006 debut release, Step It Up, and immediately fell in love with the James Brown inspired grooves that they lay down.

Today’s SotW is “Golden Rough” from that album.

It opens with a drum pattern. After four bars bass and a funky rhythm guitar join in; then come the horns – those glorious horns! Once the groove is fully established, the band makes room for a trumpet solo before returning to the main groove. This is a track The Meters could dig.

“Get on the good foot.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Painbirds, Sparklehorse

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In the late ‘90s/early ‘00s I often listened to a band called Sparklehorse. The “band” was the creative outlet for Mark Linkous, a southerner that wrote very beautiful and emotionally charged songs. He also died twice before he was 50. Yes, two times.

The first was when he was on tour with Radiohead in the UK. He took too much of something (no one knows if it was alcohol, drugs or both) and somehow blacked out with his legs pinned underneath the weight of his body. When the paramedics arrived and straightened him out for treatment, his heart stopped for some time – apparently from the potassium build up. Initially the doctors thought he might not come back, but if he did, he would surely lose his legs. He survived both ordeals, though he had to endure six months in hospital, confined to a wheelchair, while he completed his physical therapy.

His next Sparklehorse album, Good Morning Spider (1998), contains today’s SotW – “Painbirds.”

I’m not sure how I would classify this music. Nor am I clear about why I (we) need to try. In a 1997 interview with Joss Hutton for Bucket of Brains, Linkous says of “Painbirds”:

“I think the recording is really good – kinda getting into low-down style – like a military beat. I dunno – it’s kinda hard to describe – I think it sounds very interesting to me. I judge a lotta things like; is it gonna sound cool in five years.”

Well, twenty years later it still sounds pretty cool to me. The synths, tremolo guitar, and trumpet solo in the break render the song unclassifiable. It’s almost Tom Waitsian, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they actually collaborated at one time. (Could “Painbirds” be a play on Waits’ “Rainbirds” from Swordfishtrombones?)

All that aside, some would refer to this cut as Americana. I get that too. It may have to do with Linkous’ rural Virginian roots. His soul is steeped in ghosts of Civil War Dixie, much like The Band’s. In fact, “Painbirds” was included on cover mount CD that came with an issue of Uncut magazine called Across the Great Divide – Music Inspired by The Band.

Lyrically, I’m not sure what this song is about. But I appreciate the simple beauty of lines like “Spiral down those hateful dears / Between our skins and burning spheres” regardless of what they mean.

In 2010, Linkous died for the second and final time. He went the “tortured artist” route and took his own life with a rifle. Although his commercial impact was limited, his creative impact was widely recognized by fellow musicians including Waits, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips.

Enjoy… until next week.

Cecil Taylor Died Today.

I’m a rockist, but I have some jazz leanings. And when I heard today that Cecil Taylor died, I thought about all of his music that moves through me.

One thing I can say is that the two times I saw Cecil Taylor live I felt my life change. Both times. I would play the records and get caught up in the thoughts of what he and his combos were doing, but seeing Cecil Taylor and his band live was living a musical experience that pushed you to places you could not possibly have known about. Some of this was referential, Taylor freely sampled, he loved other music, but a lot of it was structural. He loved breaking down the usual form.

His was music that demanded great playing, and even greater creativity in the improvisation. Watching/hearing Cecil Taylor and his combo create was like becoming privvy to great minds operating at maximum capacity, and letting you see how the magic is made.

I can’t think of another musician who operated on both the sensual ground level and engaged the absolutely intellectual spheres so directly.
And maybe I should mention that these shows I saw pulsed, were full of musical exuberance and passion.

I happened to be out walking today and stumbled into a great used bookstore in Prospect Heights I rarely get to. The music playing was frenetic and sort of atonal but clearly not, and my guess was that it was Cecil Taylor. I didn’t know he had died, at that point, but I also admired the bookstore for its amazing hipness (in the good sense) and love of great writing.

This clip gets at how percussive, melodic, energetic and disciplined Cecil Taylor’s music was. As with any musician, there are many more shades. But the point is, even if you don’t know about him, he was a giant.

Song of the Week – Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo), Taj Mahal

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Today’s SotW is the fourth time Taj Mahal has been featured in this communiqué – twice before under his own name and once as a member of the Rising Sons.

The song is “Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo)” which was originally a very short instrumental that served as an intro to the album Giant Step (1969). But the version that’s today’s SotW is an extended jam from the 1971 album recorded live at the Fillmore East, The Real Thing.

Can you believe that Taj Mahal went on the road with a 9-piece band that included four tubas? Well he did. And it works!

Beside the tubas, the band also included the great Jesse Ed Davis and John Hall (Orleans) on guitars, and John Simon (producer of the first two Band albums and the first BS&T disc) on piano.

The three solos are contributed by session pro Howard Johnson (sax), Hall, and Simon. Taj Mahal adds fife, and true to the song’s title, he whistles his way through this lazy river, instrumental jam.

This is perfect music for a beautiful, Spring day.

Enjoy… until next week.