Friday, August 27, 2010


In the mid-80's there was a badass garage scene in San Diego, with more than a few bands that, years later, have well stood the test of time. Like scenes everywhere, there were pecking orders, and different levels of genuineness; and there were different levels of savoriness (or the lack thereof). You know, how some bands seem to be the ladies men, and some just seem to be a little more scuzzy? Back then, I saw quite a few of the bands and my general impression was always that the Gravedigger V, and later the Morlocks, were the really scuzzy ones. They just seemed to have a snottier profile, due in no small part to the lead singer of both bands, Leighton Koizumi. While some singers do a bang-up job of replicating the nuances of a garage-type attitude driven vocal, few are those who seem to be born with that type of voice. It's hard to imagine Koizumi singing anything else. So, far as it may be for me to deem any singer in a band playing music of a bygone era as the real deal, Koizumi comes damn close. And, who's to say it's a bygone era, when the Morlocks have survived, in some incarnation, roughly twenty five years?

The Morlocks have a new LP out, it's all covers of Chess artists (Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, etc), and it's a kick. It seemed like reason enough to throw up a bunch of Morlocks and Gravedigger V related links. Dig in scuzzballs.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010


It's just one of those songs; Bill Withers' "Use Me," that is. When you listen to it intently, it can seem to improve with repeated plays. And, once you start dissecting it and picking away the different parts going on, it becomes hard not to hear them from then on. It's really worth it, to listen to the breaks, the clavinet, the seemingly effortless vocals. That there's only four instruments on a song that sounds this full, and no electric guitar (save the bass), is really testament to the arrangement and the production as much as it is to the singer and the song. And, as in reggae, part of the experience is filling in the gaps. It really pulls you in. It's almost impossible to think of a way to improve on Withers' laid-back-yet-funky tour de force. So, why would you try?

Surprisingly, a whole lot of people have. The Giant Panther has posted three of the attempts, along with the original on their well rounded blog. First, you have to get the original. That's a given. Then, you might try Grace Jone's reggae version, recorded with help from Sly & Robbie (two session players who know a thing or two about reinterpretations.) She plays it smart, avoiding the breaks and concentrating on the song itself. Then there's another version by a band called Coolbone, that's kinda interesting; if for no other reason than because it's got some neat horns on it (though I could do without the mid-song rapping). And then, then we come to Mick Jagger, whose effort is a laughable self-caricature. It's awful. No matter how small the mp3 is, and how little hard drive space it takes up (even if it gave you more disc space), it's not worth infecting your music collection. I tried to listen to it, I really did. He gets to the end of the first line, yelping "dooo-taaay," and I just lost it. It's possibly the most misguided cover I've ever heard.

Bill Withers - Use Me mp3 (right click title to save) at The Giant Panther
Grace Jones - Use Me mp3 (right click title to save) at The Giant Panther
Coolbone - Use Me mp3 (right click title to save) at The Giant Panther
Mick Jagger - Use Me mp3 (right click to save) at The Giant Panther

Sunday, August 22, 2010


After the last post about the origin of U Roy's "Chalice in the Palace", I thought I'd add a quick post, with the origin of the bass line to Dillinger's "Cocaine In My Brain." (I posted "Cocaine" several months ago, but I think this is the original version.) Before recording "Cocaine In My Brain," Dillinger used to toast over Peoples' Choice's "Do It Any Way You Wanna" at sound systems, hence the lifted bass line. So, there you have it.

Dillinger - Cocaine In My Brain mp3 (right click to save) at Giant Panther
Peoples' Choice - Do It Any Way You Wanna mp3 (right click to save) at

Monday, August 9, 2010


This mixed bag all started with a post on Funky 16 Colors, with Junior Murvin's original version of "Police and Thieves." Near the end of the post is a quote from Max Romeo, on the loose Lee "Scratch" Perry A&R process, using "Police and Thieves" as a reference. According to Romeo, Junior Murvin was one of many who lurked outside of Lee Perry's studio, strumming guitars and singing their songs, hoping to get noticed. It was not unusual for Perry to wander out of his studio, hear an unknown singer, and drag them immediately into the studio to cut their song, which is just what happened with Murvin. Now, that all sounds pretty cool, but when you consider that an incidental discovery became a reggae classic, it's pretty amazing. Then, following the songs lineage, you might remember that the same song, once played unassumingly outside of Perry's studio by a complete unknown, was covered by the Clash , ultimately exposing millions of rock and punk fans to it. The whole thing becomes kind of mind blowing. Even if you, like myself, have heard both versions dozens of times, it's still hard not to appreciate them more in a different context.

Doing a little more digging, I ran across a few reggae mp3s on a blog called "Streetkiss," (it's written in French, so I'm assuming it's from France). Stuck between reggae cuts was the Impressions' "Minstrels and Queens," followed by a reggae version of the same, by the Techniques, retitled "Queen Majesty." It's a great reworking, but the song really got the treatment a few years later by DJ toaster U Roy. Using the same rhythm and backing vocals used by the Techniques (though rerecorded), his version is renamed "Chalice in the Palace," (from his 1975 LP, "Dread In a Babylon"). But U Roy takes radical liberties with the song, altering the storyline to include bringing a chalice (slang for bong) to the queen. So, today I learned something. I've been listening to the U Roy version for thirty years, and never knew the origins. This would probably explain why I spend an inordinate amount of time trolling music blogs.

I decided to hunt down the Heptones' "Book of Rules,", because it's a personal favorite, one of those rare songs that would be incredibly tough to improve on. It has everything that makes the golden era of reggae so enduring; multiple layers of rhythm, a simple bass line, super smooth vocals, trodding tempo, and the textbook chunka-chunk guitar. If the true test of a good song is listening to it with your eyes closed to give it your full attention, then "Book of Rules" has passed mine, many times. Continuing a Heptones hunt, I found myself back on Streetkiss, for the Heptone's cover of Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen," on a post that included a bunch of other great early reggae tracks, including an unreal cover of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang" by Tomorrow's Children.

Though most of us cannot read French, the three part series on Street Kiss is highly recommended. It's easy enough to figure out where the author is coming from, particularly in Part One, where he seems to be writing about early sound systems, posting some early R & B that influenced the tempo and rhythms of early bluebeat and ska, with Professor Longhair (yip, yip!), Lloyd Price, Wynonie Harris and others.

Part Two, has Prince Buster, the Skatalites, the early Wailers, and the Starlites. Part Three has a great bunch, including cuts mentioned above, Alton Ellis' cover of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale," Peter Tosh's cover of the Box Tops "The Letter" (retitled "Give Me a Ticket"), and cuts by the Sensations, more Price Buster, the Melodians and Derrick Morgan (among others). I just wish I knew French, because it looks like the guy put a lot of work into the series of posts.

Junior Murvin - Police and Thieves mp3 at Funky 16 Corners
The Clash - Police and Thieves mp3 at Audio Muffin
The Impressions - Minstrels and Queens mp3 at Street Kiss
The Techniques - Queen Majesty mp3 at Street Kiss
U Roy - Chalice in the Palace mp3 at Flea Market Funk
Heptones - Book of Rules mp3 at Town Full of Losers
Sam Cooke - Only Sixteen mp3 at Street Kiss
The Heptones - Only Sixteen mp3 at Street Kiss
Nancy Sinatra - Bang Bang mp3 at One Sweet Song
Tomorrows Children - Bang Bang mp3 at Street Kiss
Alton Ellis - Whiter Shade of Pale mp3 at Street Kiss
Peter Tosh - Give Me a Ticket [The Letter] mp3 at Street Kiss

Reggae Culture 1: The Voice of the People at Street Kiss
Reggae Culture 2: Out of Many, One People at Street Kiss
Reggae Culture 3: People get Ready at Street Kiss

Saturday, August 7, 2010


When I was growing up, we had to pay a penance to get to the beach. That meant that the weekends usually found my brothers and I out in the yard, mowing the lawn, clipping hedges, picking up snails (for a bounty of a penny each), and, every couple years, painting the house. My sisters would be assigned chores in the house (these were pre-women's lib days), my mom would be grocery shopping, and my dad would be working on something in the garage. My dad's radio would usually be tuned to a ball game, or a pop station (typically light pop). So, my aural associations of those days are of Jerry Coleman (Padres play-by-play), Vin Scully (likewise, Dodgers), and an amalgamation of cheesy pop. The music could be anything from Bacharach, to the Fifth Dimension, with some Herp Albert, Glen Campbell and Sergio Mendez thrown in. It took me a long time to appreciate the context of light pop, and when I finally did, I was roughly the same age as my dad during those years. (Though, I didn't fall prey to the flat top.) I don't remember if the radio in the garage ever played Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood's duets, but they were certainly the type of music that might have been played, so I'd lump them with the rest of Lawnmower Gold.

Now, as an full blown (well, maybe half-blown) adult, I have no children, no lawn, and no chores that I can't ignore. But I still have Jerry Coleman, Vin Scully and light pop. And when I hear any of the three, I can practically smell cut grass.

Nancy and Lee - Summer Wine mp3 (right click to save) at For the Sake of the Song
Nancy & Lee - Some Velvet Morning mp3 (right click to save) at Everybody Taste
Who is Lee Hazlewood? (right click to save) at Probe is Turning on the People

Sunday, August 1, 2010


If you're going to get drunk and do something irrational, you couldn't do it much better than Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1976, at the age of 41, he was arrested for public drunkenness and gun possession, ordinarily a pair of offenses that would mark someone forever as an asshole. But not if you're Jerry Lee, and not if you get arrested on the grounds of Graceland. Apparently he was demanding to see Elvis. Just the thought of that makes me chuckle. Imagining Elvis peeking through the blinds, mumbling "Oohh, Priscilla, it's Jerry Lee again. This time he's got a gun... better get Red out there. Baby, why is he always acting like a nut? Priscilla, listening to me?" But, that's Jerry Lee. Any normal person would get locked up.

Jerry Lee Lewis is a flawed human being. That much has been established. So let's just get past the storied events of his life that make him less than perfect. More intriguing is the unapologetic, knowingly imperfect, swagger he has. He's just kept plowing through it, year after year. A few years ago, he released an album called "Last Man Standing." The title itself was like a "fuck you" to his contemporaries who had already passed (namely Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins). His new album is called "Mean Old Man," a title that seems pretty appropriate, and, again, unapologetic. When he decides to hang it up (like that's ever going to happen), he may have reached the point where he titles his swan song, "The Asshole." But, you know what? I love Jerry Lee Lewis, the whole package, glaring warts and all.

The first three cuts below are vintage Killer, from his early years at Sun Records. The quality of the mp3s are less than great, but that's a moot point. You really need to get a Sun collection of his. A major online retailer has a two-fer with his first album,and his first "Greatest Hits" (from his Sun years), for twelve bucks. The last track below, "Over the Rainbow" from 1980, is Jerry Lee at his absolute softest. From his mid-career, it's a beautiful "Georgia"-class track. His voice (cracking in parts), his drawl, the phrasing of his vocals, his understated solos, hell, even the slick production; everything is near perfect. It's touching, like the resignation of his fiery youth.

Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire mp3 (right click to save) at Bousculade
Jerry Lee Lewis - Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On mp3 (right click to save) at On the Spur of the Moment
Jerry Lee Lewis - High School Confidential mp3 at Metal Bastard Goes Soft
Jerry Lee Lewis - Over the Rainbow mp3 (right click to save) at La Caja de Pandora
Jerry Lee Lewis' Official site
Jerry Lee Lewis at Wikipedia