Song of the Week – Trying to Stay Live, Leon Russell & Marc Benno

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

One of my favorite, obscure albums is Asylum Choir II, by Leon Russell and Marc Benno.  The duo released their first album, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, in 1968.  Russell and Benno played essentially all the instruments on the songs.  That album was released on the Smash record label that didn’t have the marketing heft to get it played or heard, despite decent reviews by rock critics.

For Asylum Choir II, Russell and Benno recruited added help from some great session musicians – Jesse Ed Davis (guitars), Carl Radle (bass) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass).  II was recorded as an immediate follow up to Look Inside but didn’t see the light of day until 1971!  This time the disc was released on Shelter Records, another bad choice (though this time Leon could only blame himself since Shelter was a company he co-founded with Denny Cordell).

My choice for SotW is “Trying to Stay Live.”

The lyrics may be a little dated; how’s a guy supposed to make a living if he wants to be a musician “and keep his sideburns too?”

Many of the other songs on the record are period pieces.  “Down on the Base” and “Ballad of a Soldier” are anti-Viet Nam war songs and “Sweet Home Chicago” refers to the riots there at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Another track, “Hello, Little Friend,” became pretty well known in a version by Joe Cocker on his second album, Joe Cocker!.  (That album also had Cocker’s outstanding take on Russell’s “Delta Lady.”)

But don’t let the time capsule aspect of Asylum Choir II steer you away from listening to the whole thing.  The music and arrangements are tremendous!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Monkey, Dave Bartholomew; Monkey to Man, Elvis Costello & The Smartest Monkeys, XYC

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

The great New Orleans R&B artist, songwriter and record producer, Dave Bartholomew, died on June 23rd.  I’m totally embarrassed that I missed it but that was right around the time that I was in Sonoma for 3 days and on the east coast for the following 10.

Even if you don’t know him by name, I’m certain that you’ve heard his work.  He wrote or co-wrote many Fats Domino hits, like “The Fat Man”, I’m Walkin’”, “Blue Monday”, and  “Ain’t That a Shame” – a pop #1 in 1955.  And there’s more — “I Hear You Knocking” (Smiley Lewis) and “My Ding-a-Ling” (Chuck Berry).

He produced Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” that was an R&B #1 in 1952, and Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.”

Today’s first SotW is Bartholomew’s own “The Monkey.”

“The Monkey” is a social commentary about the way humans have descended from “the monkey” but doesn’t always behave like the superior species.  (Unfortunately, a very apropos sentiment in today’s divisive political climate.)

Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do
Go out on a night and get all in a stew
Or use a gun or a club or a knife
And take another monkey’s life
Yes, man descended, the worthless bum
But, brothers, from us he did not come

In 2004, Elvis Costello released a song called “Monkey to Man.”

The opening lyric is “A long time ago, our point of view as broadcast by Mr. Bartholomew.”  I would venture to say the significance of that reference was missed on all but a few.  (Now you’re in the know!)  There’s a YouTube video of Costello and Bartholomew doing a live performance of “The Monkey” together with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Costello’s song picks up where Bartholomew’s left off.

And now the world is full of sorrow and pain
And it’s time for us to speak up again
You’re slack and sorry, such an arrogant brood
The only purpose you serve is to bring us our food
Sit here staring at your pomp and pout
Outside the bars we use for keeping you out
You’ve taken everything that you wanted
Broke it up and plundered it and hunted
Ever since we said it you went and took the credit
It’s been headed this way since the world began
When a vicious creature took the jump from monkey to man

XTC also recorded a track with another variation on the theme.

“The Smartest Monkeys” was on their 1992 album, Nonsuch and tackles the subject of homelessness.

Well man created the cardboard box to sleep in it
And man converted the newspaper to a blanket
Well you have to admit that he’s come a long way
Since swinging about in the trees
We’re the smartest monkeys

Thank you, Dave Bartholomew, for the legacy you left us and the inspiration you paid forward.  RIP.

Enjoy… until next week.

David Berman is dead.

I’d heard of the Silver Jews, but I never listened to them. I had no idea that Berman started his first band with Stephen Malkmus, who soon after started Pavement, one of the most successful of the 90s indie bands. I like Pavement a lot, on record. I saw them twice live and didn’t think things held up. The tension that made the records strong was lost on stage. But the records are really good. And when David Berman died this week, and I read more about him, I was sorry I hadn’t checked him out sooner. He was a satirist, a romantic of sorts (as satirists often are), and even more shambolic than Pavement. What I wasn’t prepared for when I put on American Water, his 2008 record that is generally considered his masterwork, was how much it felt like Pavement. But I’m not here to figure out where dividing lines are. Malkmus plays and sings on American Water. Pavement was never a hit, but they were selling albums and playing lots of shows at this point. It’s hard not to imagine that Malkmus was suggesting getting a little more dynamic, putting more into the mix, whatever. I don’t know.

What I know is that American Water is a pretty good record, and my favorite parts were those that Malkmus wasn’t singing, wasn’t playing. Berman’s voice is not that of a singer, but his words are those of a lyricist who comes from poetry. They’re good! And the songs aren’t always songs, but they’re useful settings for the words and some guitar solos that can capture you for a moment, and then seem to forget why they’re there. So, trying to figure it out I visited Pitchfork and found a near perfect record review/appreciation by a guy named Mike Powell. It was only written 19 years or so after the elpee came out, but that doesn’t matter. Listen to the album, read this review. I’m not sure how much there is to all of David Berman’s musical career, but this is a great place to start.

Cleveland Steamers, Dance Baby!

Digging into the Smog Veil catalog, right up top is this 2018 release. A contemporary band with a name that Moyer would love, at least once he looked it up on the Urban Dictionary, led by a bass player with a reputation for disruption named Cheese Borgers (who does shipping and social media for Smog Veil), this is a pretty good party tune made by aging rockers in Cleveland, who still know how to rock it.

New Releases: Peter Laughner Box Set

Laughner was a member of Rocket From the Tomb and Pere Ubu, influential, more heard of than heard bands from Cleveland. He said he wanted to be to Cleveland what Brian Wilson was to LA and Lou Reed was to New York, but instead died in 1977 at age 26 mission unfulfilled. A record company called Smog Veil has just released a five-LP box set of all known Laughner recordings, mostly self recorded in the late night by himself. The NY Times has a story about the release today. While you read it, here’s Ain’t It Fun! Laughner’s hit, which was later covered by Pere Ubu (if that’s a cover), the Dead Boys and Guns and Roses.

Song of the Week – Nadie Como Yo & Juan Saltarin, Los Yaki

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today’s SotW is another installment of the rare record series.  I scored this copy of the 50-year-old Muchachita (1969), by Los Yaki in a thrift store for a buck!

Los Yaki was a Mexican rock band of the mid to late 60s that recorded a mix of originals and British invasion influenced covers.  One thing that made them stand out against some of their competitors was that they sang the songs in Spanish translations.

I’m not sure what Yaki means but I’d guess it is an intentional misspelling of Yaqui – an indigenous people of Mexico.  The band was made up of:

BENITO RAUL “Benny” IBARRA (Vocalist) 
JOSE LUIS GAZCON (Guitar and 2nd Voice) 
MANUEL “Meme” GAZCON (Bass) 
LUIS ALFONSO ASCENCIO (Keys) 
MIGUEL ANGEL IBARRA (Drums)

This album has a cover of The Human Beinz “Nobody but Me,” retitled in Spanish as Nadie Como Yo.”

The disc also has a pretty cool version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – “Juan Saltarin.”

The record also has covers of Gary Puckett and The Union Gap’s two biggest hits, “Woman, Woman” (“Sylvia”) and “Young Girl” (“Muchachita” the album title song).  I can’t help but wonder if these choices were partly influenced by the San Diego based Union Gap’s proximity to the Mexican border.

My disc is only in VG condition; the cover grades even lower.  The last time I looked, two copies were for sale on Discogs.  A near mint copy demanded $155; the VG+ was going for $85.

Enjoy… until next week.

The Royal Guardsmen, Snoopy vs. The Red Baron

I just finished a 10 day challenge to name my Top 10 influential albums in 10 days, and then nominate 10 poor sods to do the same. The lesson of this exercise is you have to cut a lot of good stuff out. So from now until whenever I stop, here’s some other albums that meant a lot to me. With a song from each. The album this song came from was the first rock/pop album I ever owned. It also has a great version of The Battle of New Orleans, but I think this bit of cheese has legs. I’m not saying it’s a great song, but for a 10 year old? Killer.
This was my first pop music album. Influential? Yep.