Clifton Chenier : Squeezebox Boogie
Vann “Piano Man” Walls : In the
Muddy Waters : Hoochie Coochie Man
John Lee Hooker : Black Night Is Falling
Lightnin’ Hopkins : Lightnin’s Boogie
Taj Mahal : Sugar Mama Blues
Nina Simone : Let It Be Me
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, with Louisiana
Red and Lightnin’ Hopkins : Walk On
Big Mama Thornton : Sassy Mama
In late August 1978, the bus of Clifton Chenier and the Louisiana Red Hot Band pulled in to Montreal to play a weeklong gig at the Rising Sun, a funky upstairs temple of black music situated downtown on Ste. Catherine Street. It was their first visit and from opening night the club was packed. By the last set Sunday night, the faithful had been rewarded for their devotion and the curious were enlightened about zydeco.
For Clifton Chenier was the undisputed King of Zydeco, Louisiana music made by French-speaking blacks of the Gulf Coast area between New Orleans and Houston, Texas. The word zydeco is derived from the first two words of a dance tune called "Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés" (the snapbeans aren’t salted). Zydeco refers both to the music-a mix of Cajun, Afro-American, and Afro-Caribbean traditions-and the rural parties where it is enjoyed.
Chenier was born in Opelousas, Louisiana in 1925. In the farming communities around the swamplands, his father played the small button accordion and was a popular draw at dances, earning a wide reputation for his waltzes, two-steps, polkas, and traditional Acadian melodies. He did not play the blues. Clifton took up the instrument at the age of 15 and soon was playing house parties. Along the way he added blues and rhythm & blues to the mix. After forming his own band, he made his first recordings in the early 1950s and got a hit from a 1955 session for the Specialty label. Chenier and his band toured relentlessly playing R&B in package shows of black hitmakers.
In 1958 he moved to Houston and performed for workers from Louisiana. In 1964, Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records heard him there and set about recording him extensively, encouraging him to return to his roots in zydeco. Album titles promoted the Louisiana and French components and the singles became jukebox hits. Exposure at a 1966 festival in Berkeley, California (home of Arhoolie) led to further bookings and before long the band was playing clubs, dances, and festivals across North America and in Europe. They also recorded for many other labels.
By the time they came to Montreal, they were hailed as heroes. Handsome, well dressed, and authoritative in speech, Clifton Chenier was obviously proud of his heritage and confident of his musicianship. As King, he wore a showy, velvety crown on stage, playing piano accordion and singing in English and patois French. The other swampland spice in the band’s gumbo of traditional roots, blues, R&B, and rock and roll was the rubboard, a corrugated metal vest which Clifton’s older brother Cleveland scrubbed with bottle openers. Rounding out the band was guitarist Paul Senegal, tenor sax player Blind John Hart, bassist Joe Brouchet, and drummer Robert Peters. This lineup had been together for several years and was part of Clifton Chenier’s most celebrated recordings.
With Clifton’s permission, the Rising Sun’s owner and booker Rouè Doudou Boicel recorded the band on a two-track reel to reel tape recorder. Doudou later said : "I was very impressed by his personality. He was a good man, very positive. During his performances, he would forget the passage of time, and one show could last for two or three hours non-stop."
After Doudou’s spoken introduction over a vamp by the band, we hear "Rock Me, Baby," a blues classic credited to Muddy Waters, whose early versions were "All Night Long" of 1951 and "Rock Me" of 1956. Later B.B. King made this song a big hit, but it traces back before Muddy to Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup’s "Rock Me, Mama" of 1944 through Lil’ Son Jackson’s "Rockin’ and Rollin’" of 1950. The Chenier band hits an easy, flowing groove that suits the song’s invitation for emotion in motion (as Mae West calls it).
The title "Bon Temps Rouler" is the Cajun translation of "Let the Good Times Roll," virtually zydeco’s slogan. Louis Jordan did the original in 1946. The translation was made on a 1950 R&B hit by Clarence Garlow, a Texas-Louisiana guitarist who, at one point, employed both Clifton and Cleveland Chenier. In this slow blues, Clifton exhorts the listeners to spend some cash and have a good time, no matter what their age.
"Tu m’as Promis L’amour" is a fine example of the rolling Louisiana sound that helped artists like Fats Domino to sell millions of records in the 1950s. Glenn Miller’s 1939 big band hit "In the Mood" makes a nice vehicle for some fine tenor soloing. A request for "I’m a Hog for You Baby," one of Clifton’s classic slow blues, gets him joking with the audience, talking about how his recording allowed him to buy a brand new Cadillac. Except for the title, it is unrelated to the Coasters song of 1959.
The waltz "Jolie Blonde" is practically the Cajun national anthem. Here Chenier pays tribute to an early influence, for the song was made famous by accordionist Amadé Ardoin, perhaps the first black French-speaking Louisiana folk musician to record commercially, back in the 1930s.
"Diggy Diggy Do" is a fascinating, hypnotic trip down South, reminiscent of backwoods frolics. From its opening flourish, "Whole Lotta Lovin’" charges along in blues territory, more punchy than the Fats Domino song to which it is related. The set, and the night, concludes with a slow but intense instrumental.
"At this time [when these recordings were made] Clifton Chenier was in good physical condition, but his health quickly deteriorated," said Doudou. "His [female] friend and manager ran off with his best friend and his life savings. He lost a leg because of diabetes. Kidney problems had him going to the hospital twice a week for dialysis. Clifton, not wanting to leave the stage, started playing the harmonica. Later, he had an electric accordion made just for him. After his second appearance at the Rising Sun in 1982, he had to suffer the amputation of his second leg, forcing him to leave the stage for a time. As soon as he regained his strength, his self-confidence mastered his physical forces. Clifton Chenier returned to the circuit, touring Texas and California where his reputation had been long established." He won a Grammy award in 1984.
Though he died in 1987 at the age of 62, with these recordings Clifton Chenier’s joyous music lives on. The good times keep rolling !
This album is by one of the greatest blues and rhythm & blues pianists. Born Harry Eugene Vann on August 24, 1918, in Middlesboro,
Kentucky, he grew up in Lynch, Kentucky, and Charleston, West Virginia. A year after he was born, his mother married her second husband, named Walls. Listed on his old records as Harry Van Walls, or Van "Piano Man" Walls, he is also Known as Cap’n Vann. Most people just call him Vann.
From age six, his mother, a piano teacher who played in the Baptist church, taught him to read and write music. Vann also played in the Baptist church. He left home in his late teens and toured the South in medicine shows, minstrel shows, carnivals, and circuses. Influenced by Art Tatum, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Count Basie, and especially Jay McShann, Vann developed an instantly recognizable blues piano style. He calls it bluegrass blues, saying : "I don’t play like nobody else."
According to Vann’s own handwritten account, he first joined the Musician’s Union in Charleston in 1942, where he played solo in clubs like the Alhambra, the Silver Slipper, and the Gypsy Tea Room. Saturday afternoons he did a thirty-minute spot, sponsored by Buttercrust Bread, on WCHS radio. Bandleader Cal Greer heard him on the radio and brought him along for six or seven months of gigs on the mining town circuit in the coal belt of West Virginia, Virginia, and Ohio. When Greer took sick, the band broke up and Vann returned to Columbus, Ohio, where they had played earlier.
For the next four years or so, Vann led his own band at a regular gig at the American Legion Hall. They backed dancers, comedians, and singers, and played in the style of Count Basie and Jimmy Lunceford ("I eased my blues in on top of it" said Vann). In 1947, sax player Frank "Floorshow" Culley spotted him. Vann recalls : "He said his friend Ahmet [Ertegun] had a record company...he was looking for a blues pianist and I would fit the bill." The company was Atlantic Records, and Culley eventually persuaded Vann and his musicians to come to New York City for a session in early 1949. They backed Culley on several tunes, including "Cole Slaw," and went on tour.
Vann returned to New York (the rest of his band didn’t) and became a staff pianist and arranger at Atlantic until 1955, working with the cream of rhythm and blues artists. Many recordings he played on were big hits, notably Big Joe Turner’s "Chains of Love" (co-written by Vann though he didn’t receive his royalties for it until recently), the Clovers’ "One Mint Julep," Ruth Brown’s "5-10-15 Hours" and "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean," and the Drifters’ "Such A Night," featuring Clyde McPhatter. In Big Joe Turner’s "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" you can hear him call out "Swing it Vann !" Vann also worked with hit songwriter Doc Pomus, blues greats Brownie McGhee, Sticks McGhee, and Sonny Terry, bandleaders Freddie Mitchell and Joe Morris, and trumpeter Hot Lips Page.
Atlantic issued several records by Vann as a leader, including "After Midnight" and "Blue Sender" from 1952, still in print today. Besides Atlantic, Vann’s session work has been issued on literally hundreds of singles for labels big and small : London, Grand, Apollo, Teen, Sound, MGM, Swan, Sue, Chime, Cherry, Smash, Courtesy, Capitol, Savoy, Memo, Derby, King, and Columbia.
On a visit to Atlantic City to spend some money on the Boardwalk, Vann met members of the Nite Riders, a band based in Philadelphia. While still living and working in New York, Vann began hanging around Philadelphia playing sessions and doing gigs. In 1954 he joined the Nite Riders. The next year they came to Canada to play Montreal’s famed Esquire Showbar. Booked for two weeks, the Nite Riders were so popular they stayed for nineteen. They toured extensively in the northeastern U.S. By 1960, the group was based in Hartford, Connecticut, where they opened their own recording studio. The band lasted nine years and made many highly sought after recordings, including a pair of instrumentals on the Capitol label : "The Vacation Train" and "Night Ridin’" (issued under the name Doc Starkes and the Night Riders).
On that first trip to Montreal, Vann met a young woman named Ruth. Her friends encouraged her to go see a terrific band, and she says : "I walked in and I forgot to walk out !" They married in 1963 and are still together. Vann settled in Montreal, working for a few years with his group, Cap’n Vann and the Pirates, dressed in full regalia. He is also known for dressing up as Sherlock Holmes, with a cape, deerstalker cap, and calabash pipe.
While on tour with Frank "Floorshow" Culley, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Vann had given a young Dr. John some piano tips. Dr. John returned the favor in 1990 when he and Doc Pomus initiated Vann’s appearance at the Piano Blues Who’s Who festival in New York City, his first show there in 40 years. The festival included Johnnie Johnson, famous for his work with Chuck Berry, and Memphis blues legend Booker T. Laury. That summer, when Dr. John played the Montreal Jazz Festival, he brought Vann up for a guest spot. These events started a chain that led to him playing the blues festival circuit, becoming the subject of a documentary film (still in progress), and eventually to this recording.
In performance, Vann puts his audience in a spell. In a sequined top hat, fingers racing and dancing on the keyboard, he is a real Entertainer. His playing proves why Vann is a legend : because he is the real thing and he delivers the goods ! He calls his singing and playing style "banging and barking"—yes it’s vigorous, but do not be fooled, there is a lot of finesse there too.
In February 1997, Vann "Piano Man" Walls received a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award at their eighth annual gala celebration held in New York City. Introduced by Aretha Franklin and Ruth Brown, he went straight to the piano, got a standing ovation for his performance, and then walked over to receive the award for his artistry and his lasting contribution to the development of popular music. Other honorees that night included the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
On this album Vann "bangs and barks" in his charming, inimitable way, accompanied by Montreal’s best blues band, the Stephen Barry Band, featuring Michael Jerome Browne’s vocals. Their long career includes several fine albums, and they give Vann sympathetic backing on a nicely varied repertoire. Vann reprises some of his earlier songs, including "Chains of Love" (from 1951) and "After Hours Session" (done with Frank Culley in 1949 and based on Avery Parrish’s "After Hours"), plus some of his recent, often humorous, compositions from his gig repertoire.
By covering their songs, Vann pays tribute to some other great keyboard players. "In the Evening" comes from blues star Leroy Carr’s last session in 1935 (where it was called "When the Sun Goes Down"). Bill Doggett had a huge hit in 1956 with the instrumental "Honky Tonk." "Misty" is Erroll Garner’s enduring jazz standard, written in 1954, and Herbie Hancock’s "Watermelon Man" is from his first Blue Note album in 1962. It was a top ten hit the next year for Mongo Santamaria.
In the evening of a long and successful career, Vann "Piano Man" Walls has produced a wonderful album for your listening enjoyment.
Muddy Waters is one of the most important figures in the history of the blues, marking the transition from rural to urban, acoustic to electric, downhome and individual to uptown and collective. Many younger musicians looked up to him, and those who knew him describe him as a dignified and loving individual whose encouragement had a powerful and inspiring effect.
As the chief architect and major practitioner of Chicago blues-which became the dominant strain of the whole genre-Waters is one of the 20th century’s seminal musicians. His stature is comparable to others who overshadowed their peers : Hank Williams in honky tonk, Bill Monroe in bluegrass, Mahalia Jackson in gospel, Clifton Chenier in zydeco, Elvis Presley in rockabilly, Bob Wills in western swing, or Louis Armstrong in dixieland. What these figures have in common is transcendent artistry and a lasting affect as builders and propagators of their respective styles.
Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Forks, Mississippi, on April 4, 1915, and raised in Clarksdale, about a hundred miles away. His nickname came from his childhood habit of playing in the creek behind the family’s two-room shack. Muddy’s father was an amateur guitarist but had virtually no musical influence on his son, for Muddy was raised by his grandmother and had little contact with his father. At the age of seven Muddy received his Christmas wish, a harmonica, and around the age of 17 he fashioned a homemade guitar for himself. He soon replaced it with a store bought one. As a young musician playing at suppers and frolics he could make as much as four times what he could for a day’s work in the cotton fields. He did both, as well as a little fishing and running a juke joint (tavern) on the plantation where he lived.
With local musicians, including fiddler Son Sims who recorded in 1929 with Charlie Patton, Muddy played in a band modeled on the Mississippi Sheiks. Their hit "Sitting On Top of the World" (1930) was one of the earliest songs he learnt. He saw many performers in action-the Sheiks, Patton, Big Joe Williams, Robert Johnson, and particularly Son House, who coached him, showed him open tunings, and inspired him to play bottleneck style. Muddy studied their records and ones by the likes of Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Little Brother Montgomery.
Muddy was first recorded in 1941 on the plantation, inside his cabin-the same one that has been sent on tour in the 1990s-by renowned folklorist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. When he heard the recording, Muddy was thrilled and all his dreams of becoming a great man, a known musician were reignited. Waters soon moved to Chicago where his records there helped the now legendary Chess label get off the ground. He recorded for Chess from 1947 to 1967. After a magnificent career he died in Chicago, April 30, 1983.
This recording does not present Muddy Waters’ crafted and selected studio waxings, nor do we hear the grand gestures required by a big European festival. There are no Eric Clapton’s, Johnny Winter’s, or Mick Jagger’s here to enlarge audiences and inflate their expectations. This CD shows Waters and his regular band of longtime and loyal sidemen in the relaxed setting of a weeklong gig in a small Montreal club, the now-defunct Rising Sun. The recording was made by Doudou Boicel, the club owner, who recorded just about all of the shows there (see also the James Cotton, Clifton Chenier, and other CDs in the Rising Sun collection).
Supporting Muddy’s vocals and inimitable slide playing are guitarists Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson and Bob Margolin, plus Jerry Portnoy (harmonica), Pinetop Perkins (piano), Calvin Jones (bass), and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (drums). Nobody paid any attention to the tape recorder, so what we get is Muddy Waters at his casual, professional self, singing a cross-section of his repertoire : hits, early songs, and some seldom heard items.
1. Baby Please Don’t Go. A true blues standard composed (or arranged from older themes) by Big Joe Williams who cut it in 1935. Muddy had teamed up for a time with Williams and learned the song directly from him. From its downhome blues origins it has been often reworked. In the 1960s it was a staple in rock and R&B bands ; one notable version was by Them, Van Morrison’s early band. Muddy Waters first recorded it in 1954, and his rendition from the album Live At Newport (the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival) appears on some greatest hits packages. Listen for the mention of his birthplace.
2. Howling Wolf (Morganfield). The lyrics are in a tradition of claiming an animalistic persona. In this case, perhaps it is a veiled response to the stage name of Waters’ only serious rival in Chicago : Chester Burnett, known as Howlin’ Wolf. Originally recorded in 1951, the Montreal version features a strong dose of Muddy’s unmistakable slide guitar.
3. I Want You to Love Me (Morganfield). Also known as Mad Love, this brooding and passionate plea was a jukebox hit following its recording in 1953. That was the Waters’ session that brought in pianist Otis Spann. By the addition of the piano, the ensemble’s classic instrumentation was finalized. The song introduced the start-stop riff widely adopted by other musicians particularly because of its use in "Hoochie Coochie Man."
4. Can’t Get No Grinding (Morganfield). From the hokum phase of blues history, where party songs were rife with sexual innuendoes, this song-credited to Muddy but not actually his composition-was originally titled "What’s the Matter With the Mill." The Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy version is the first, recorded in Chicago in 1930. In 1936, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys covered it. Muddy’s studio recording was the title track of an album that won him a Grammy award in 1973.
5. (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (Dixon). One of Muddy’s biggest hits, from 1954 and, along with "Got My Mojo Workin’," one of his signature songs. Willie Dixon, bass player, vocalist, and a backbone of the Chess operations composed it for him.
6. Nine Below Zero (Williamson). Alex "Rice" Miller, known as Sonny Boy Williamson II, recorded this classic of blues repertory in 1961. Muddy had known him since the early ’40s from Miller’s "King Biscuit Time" radio show out of Helena, Arkansas.
7. The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock and Roll (McGhee). Brownie McGhee’s celebrated history lesson appeared on Muddy’s Hard Again album in 1977, produced by Johnny Winter, which garnered him his fourth Grammy award. Here Muddy prepares blues students with the names they need for the final exam.
8. They Call It Stormy Monday (Walker). A pioneer of the electric guitar sound in blues, Texas bluesman T.Bone Walker came into the limelight with his 1947 waxing of this song. Right after Muddy sings "but Tuesday is just as bad," he says "we’ll be here tomorrow night, I gon’ be wearing shorts cause it’s too hot outside, are you kiddin’ ?" Muddy’s ironic comment about the Canadian winter is not considered funny by one of the band members who replies.
9. Highway 41 (Morganfield). This highway is not celebrated in song like Route 66, or highways 49, 51, and 61, but this road drops down from Chicago and snakes through Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia and points further south. "Highway 41" appeared on the London Revisited album from 1972.
10. Kansas City (Leiber/Stoller). Written by the same team that wrote "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Stand By Me," and dozens of other rock classics, this song was not a hit when first recorded as "K.C. Lovin’" by Little Willie Littlefield in 1952. Wilbert Harrison, however took it to #1 on the pop charts in 1959 and it has been a staple of nearly all bar bands ever since. Pinetop Perkins does the vocal here.
Muddy Waters’ obituary in the Boston Globe quoted him from a 1971 interview : "I think what we did was tell a good story expressing ourselves to other people and when it came out alright, I guess you could say that’s all I ever wanted." Muddy got what he wanted and in doing so enriched the rest of us.
For her authority, musical vision, and ability to connect the essence of her repertoire to appreciative audiences, Penny Lang is the first lady of Montreal folk music. Since the 1960s, she has been performing her unique style at shows and festivals from California to Denmark. This is her fifth album. In order, the others are Yes, Live at the Yellow Door, Ain’t Life Sweet, and Carry on Children. Before that she made a 45 and some recordings for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
Penny dedicates this album to her parents, from whom she received her first musical inspiration and experience. They had a repertoire of tunes they sung in harmony. Her mom loved to sing the hits from the radio and her dad knew most of the songs of Jimmie Rodgers, country music’s first superstar. To this day, Penny is enamored of music in general and vocal group singing in particular.
Penny’s dad played the guitar and the dobro (a resonator guitar positioned flat and played with a metal bar to slide notes). After he taught her a few basic chords on the guitar, she began her career in music. “I became my dad’s rhythm guitarist. He played Hawaiian-style guitar at some of the legions around town in the 1950s and people would dance.”
Penny says "music was something we did before we had a TV in the house," and many of the songs on this album come from those
early days. The recordings were made at two shows, years apart. True to the spirit of home music making, the players backing her are part of her large musical family. The idea was to bring together a bunch of musician friends in an informal setting where everybody had fun playing the standards. The recordings communicate that fun and, yes, their interaction is informal, even impromptu at times, yet it honours the emotions and situations presented in the lyrics and the musical movement of these venerable songs.
Along with her guitarist son Jason, Penny’s musical friends include the Whitely brothers, Chris and Ken, of Toronto. Mainstays of the Canadian music scene, the Whitelys have made many recordings, together and alone. Michael Browne, John McColgan, Martin Boodman, and Jody Gollick are members of the Stephen Barry Band, Montreal’s finest blues unit, and are featured on that band’s albums.
Bassist Bill Gossage, when not accompanying Penny, plays in the celtic group Orealis, and with Connie Kaldor. Keyboard wizard Bob Stagg has played gigs and done sessions with a long list of artists, including Kevin Parent, Steve Hill, Charlie Major, Ray Bonneville, and Laurence Jalbert. Michael Ball records and tours with Daniele Martineau. Linda Morrison, who created the arrangements for the background singing on this recording, has her own CD. She is widely known for her years of leading the Yellow Door Tabernacle Choir.
1. I’ve Been Living With the Blues (Brownie McGhee). Penny usually calls this rousing song “Rocks,” from the opening line : “rocks have been my pillow, cold ground my bed.” She added it to her repertoire not long after hearing it on an Odetta album in the early 1960s. Later, she heard guitarist Brownie McGhee, the song’s author, sing it many times in Montreal coffeehouses with his partner Sonny Terry on harmonica. On this recording, Martin Boodman carries on the tradition with his own rousing harmonica solo. On Penny’s return to public performance in the 1980s after a hiatus, people often requested it, so she put it back in the repertoire.
2. Jailer, Bring Me Water (traditional). Penny got this one from Jackie DeShannon’s In the Wind album of 1965. One year earlier, while DeShannon was an opening act for the Beatles on their North American tour, Trini Lopez put this song on the charts. Lopez got it from Bobby Darin, on the flip side of his top 5 hit of 1962, “Things.” The gospel flavor in Penny’s version aptly suits the theme of carrying on despite hardships.
3. Bouquet of Roses (Steve Nelson/Bob Hilliard). Written in 1948, this was a big hit for Eddy Arnold, country’s first crossover act, and between 1945 and 1970, probably its most successful. Though she loves a lot of the old country tunes, Penny rarely performs any. This one "always stuck in the back of my head somewhere" because her mom sang it a lot in the kitchen. The sensitivity of the ensemble playing heightens the mood of sadness, symbolized by the roses.
4. Up a Lazy River (Hoagy Carmichael/Sidney Arodin). This is another song Penny learned at home. Her parents sang it, and her dad also sang it with his brothers, following the lead of the Mills Brothers who made it a hit in the 1950s. The Ink Spots did it too, and their patented intro figure is used here. In addition to this 1931 gem, songwriter Hoagy Carmichael has "Stardust" and "Georgia On My Mind" to his credit.
5. Twelve Gates to the City (traditional). As a teenager at summer camp, Penny first heard this song about Jerusalem as done by the Weavers. The song is closely associated with Reverend Gary Davis. "He was a sweet old guy who loved playing so much. He always had his guitar slung over his shoulder," Penny says. "I got to spend three days in his company when he came to Montreal to play at the Yellow Door." Davis stayed with Don Audet, who as a young man in the 1960s played harmonica and toured with Penny for a few years. As they hung out in Audet’s backyard, the Reverend tried to con his hosts out of some alcohol or introductions to young, hopefully loose, women.
6. I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes (A.P.Carter). Now this is a popular melody ! The verses Penny knew first were from Kitty Wells’ "It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," the answer song to Hank Thompson’s "Wild Side of Life." Both were both #1 country hits in 1952. Not long ago at a party, the elderly father of a friend sang the words heard here. Penny copied them down from a recording by Les Paul and Mary Ford. "I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" was recorded by the Carter Family in 1929. It was a reworking of "The Prisoner’s Song," Vernon Dalhart’s 1924 hit (the first country song to sell a million copies). The tune was also used in the 1930s for "The Great Speckled Bird," made famous by Roy Acuff.
7. Frankie and Johnny (traditional). Folklorist D.K.Wilgus tells us this traditional American folk ballad commemorates the murder of Allen Britt by Frankie Baker in St. Louis on October 15, 1899. Originally written as "Frankie and Albert," as such it was recorded by bluesmen in the 1920s, for example, Mississippi John Hurt. It picked up its better-known title in 1912 in a vaudeville version. As "Frankie and Johnny" it has been sung by Jimmie Rodgers and countless other voices, with many variations in lyrics. Penny heard it in the kitchen at home. She says, "I’m proud of my work on that song. I think it has my best singing, ever, because I haven’t sung it straight. There are a lot of different kinds of vocal expressions and it gets really
interesting at times. On some of the early verses I hear a little bit of Sophie Tucker influence, which was not my intention, but she used to be a real favorite of mine. I really like the old doll, the way she sounded and her wicked sense of humour."
8. Song for B’s Film (Penny Lang). A woman in Boston named Brigitte was making a film as an educational tool for the college where she teaches. She asked Penny to write a song for it. After watching a rough copy, in which four or five women speak about their lives with their boyfriends or husbands, she created this song of understated, gritty realism. "It’s an interesting tune, a little bit unusual the way the verses pop out and what they say. Several people have said there ought to be more verses, but whatever I wrote is what I saw on the film."
9. Bye Bye Blues (Fred Hamm/ Dave Bennett/ Bert Lown/ Chauncey Gray). "Bye Bye Blues" was the theme song of the orchestra led by Bert Lown, one of the song’s composers. It became a top hit in 1930 and has been a standard ever since. "My mother’s sister was crazy about this song and used to sing it as a teenager and kept singing it. I heard it at parties at my parents’ house." On this recording Penny sings the one verse that she knew and the rest she made up on the spot. "The improvisation came out really well that night. My two favorites on this CD for having a lot of heat are this one and ’Frankie and Johnny.’"
10. We Shall Not be Moved (tradtional). This old Southern hymn has been recorded by many, including delta bluesman Charlie Patton in 1929 (as "I Shall Not Be Moved"). Penny had heard it before, but when her brother Patrick picked up the recent Pop Staples CD, "he just went crazy for this song. He’d get singing it, and then I’d get singing it with him and then I started working with it." She has discovered that the song is known in distant places. "I just did it in Denmark and the audience there picked it up on the second word ! I didn’t even say what I was going to sing. I’ve never heard an audience sing like that before, it was incredible !" In the 1930s, union singers adopted "We Shall Not Be Moved." In the folk song revival of the 1950s and early ’60s, it was regularly sung as protest by freedom riders, Greenwich Village folksingers, and demonstraters rallying to ban the bomb and for other causes. When sung at camps, churches and schools it usually carries no political message.
11. Penny’s Blues (Penny Lang). Penny made this one up spontaneously. About her technique of improvising lyrics, she says "everything I sing starts out with a truth and goes from there. I never know quite where I’m going to end up." This one ends up our program. Farewell, until next time.
Collector’s Classics series, Just A Memory label, 2005
Chet Baker : trumpet and voice
Phil Markowitz : piano
Roger Rosenberg : soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophone
Jon Burr : bass
Jeff Brillinger : drums
recorded March 7, 1978 at the Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club, Montreal
Chet Baker is a romantic and tragic cult figure in jazz. A charismatic person with movie star looks and an air of vulnerability, he had an individual yet undeniable talent, surviving into middle age despite rough times and heroin addiction, to die mysteriously while on tour in Holland. Once seen as a “great white hope” of jazz, Baker had a terrific sense of time and was capable of superb improvisations. Though the range of his trumpet playing and his singing voice was circumscribed, his music was refined and precise. A master of nuance, his art could be hauntingly beautiful.
He was born Chesney Henry Baker in Yale, Oklahoma, on December 23, 1929. As a teenager, he learned to play trumpet in the Army band, though was never much of a note reader. Baker played intuitively, by ear. In San Francisco, starting in 1950, he frequented jam sessions at jazz clubs where he met Paul Desmond, of Dave Brubeck’s band, and Charlie Parker. Following Baker’s army discharge and move to Los Angeles in 1952, Parker hired him for a short tour.
Working with Charlie Parker brought him notice, but the year he was in baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s band-the first in jazz not to have a chording instrument (piano or guitar)-brought him fame. Like Mulligan and Brubeck, Baker represented West Coast cool jazz, a detached way of playing in contrast to the frenetic bebop coming out of New York City.
When Mulligan was jailed for narcotics in 1953, Baker started his own group. They toured extensively in Europe. While in Paris, the group’s pianist died of a drug overdose. Beginning in 1954, Chet Baker won several prestigious polls in the music magazines, for both his singing and his playing, but was having his own problems with drugs, getting arrested and getting hospitalized, all the while gaining notoriety.
A major setback occurred in the mid-1960s, after he moved to San Francisco with his wife (they had met in Italy). In a drug-related incident, Baker was severely beaten and his teeth were destroyed. He stopped playing for two years, but slowly and painstakingly learned how to play again with dentures, regaining his chops and confidence by sitting in with local bands. In 1973, through the help of Dizzy Gillespie, he obtained a comeback booking in New York City. The next year, a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall with Gerry Mulligan solidified his return.
Baker returned to nomadic life, following the work (usually to Europe), keeping up his drug habit, and caring little for worldly responsibilities. He could be erratic, manipulative, and deceitful, but most of his fans and supporters were at least somewhat forgiving. His mature work was impressive, and he seemed, miraculously, not to have deteriorated musically but to have grown.
In 1989, Chet Baker was inducted into Downbeat magazine’s Hall of Fame, but that was a posthumous award. Baker died in Amsterdam the previous year at the age of 58 from a fall from his hotel window.
It has never been established whether his death was an accident, murder, or suicide. Bill Moody, a jazz drummer and music critic who writes novels featuring a jazz pianist who is also a detective, wrote about it in Looking For Chet Baker : An Evan Horne Mystery, published in 2002. Baker has been the subject of much other attention, including a documentary called Let’s Get Lost, and his music remains very popular.
The musicians who back Baker on this CD played with him for about four years. In an interview, pianist Phil Markowitz said of the group : "We were a good match. We became a working band." Baker called Markowitz, who backed the trumpeter on almost every gig he did from 1978 to 1983, “one of the most sensitive, lyrical and inventive piano players of all time.” [Markowitz subsequently played for almost four years with the Mel Lewis Orchestra, and a host of other jazz greats.] The music captured on this CD comprises two songs in the three to five minute range, and three in the 16 to 18 minute range. They reveal Baker and his musicians to be in excellent form.
1. Milestones (Lewis). Chet Baker was greatly inspired by Miles Davis-like most jazz trumpeters-and he often did tunes from Davis’s repertoire. There are two pieces in that repertoire named “Milestones.” The best known is the second, a modal piece that became the title of a 1958 Miles Davis album. Seemingly incorrectly titled, it was later issued as just “Miles.” The first one is the one heard on this CD : an angular bebop composition by pianist John Lewis, best known as the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis, along with Charlie Parker, participated in the 1947 session that was Davis’s first as a leader, and he brought in “Milestones.”
This version opens with the head (melody) played in octave unison by Roger Rosenberg’s baritone sax and Baker’s trumpet. The order of solos is trumpet, baritone, piano, and bass. Around the 15-minute mark, Baker initiates a sequence of 8-bar solos in the same order, but with each followed by a drum solo of the same length. It concludes in typical fashion with a repeat of the head.
2. Oh, You Crazy Moon (Burke/ Van Heuson). Though they both did notable work with others, the team of James Burke (lyrics) and James Van Heuson (music) was a winner. They came up with dozens of songs for the movies, particularly for Bing Crosby, writing for 16 of his films. This song was a hit in 1939 for Wendy Clare and covered that year by Glenn Miller ; both Mel Tormé and Frank Sinatra reprised it in the 1960s. James Burke also wrote the lyrics for “Misty” and “What’s New.” Chet Baker sings this ballad, scat singing briefly to lead into the bass solo. The sax lays out until the ending.
3. There Will Never Be Another You (Warren/ Gordon). Baker sings again, this one an uptempo piece with walking bass. After delivering the lyrics, he takes a long scat solo, making the same kind of note choices in his trumpet solos. Actually, the timbre of his voice and trumpet are remarkably similar. Scatting, the improvised, rhythmic singing of nonsense syllables, was popularized, if not invented, by another trumpeter, Louis Armstrong, on “Heebie Jeebies” from 1926.
Also to be heard here is an extensive baritone solo and one by piano. A brief interlude by trumpet and bari leads to a solo by the bass using the bow. Subsequently the solos are shorter : trumpet, drums, baritone again, drums, piano, drums for the third time, and the ending with a return to the voice.
“There Will Never Be Another You” is one of the most popular of all jazz standards (the well-crafted songs from the 1920s to 1940s composed by Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood songwriters which became vehicles for jazz singers and soloists). It was written for a 1942 movie called Iceland by Mack Gordon (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music). The team also wrote “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Serenade in Blue,” both hits for Glenn Miller. Warren, Hollywood’s most successful songwriter, wrote music for dozens of other songs that became standards, such as “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Jeepers Creepers, and “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby.”
4. Snowbound (Faith/ Kehner). “Snowbound” was written by Clarence Kehner and his partner, Russell Faith, a Philadelphia guitarist. They had success writing for singers from Frankie Avalon to Frank Sinatra. Faith went on to write songs and scores for films, and become a highly respected educator. “Snowbound” first appeared as the title song of a 1962 Sarah Vaughn album ; it was reprised in 2001 on Barbra Streisand’s Christmas Memories album.
Baker leads off this 18-minute version, then harmonizes with Rosenberg on soprano sax on the head. The soprano solos first, then trumpet, leading to a syncopated Latin-inflected rhythm during a piano solo that really cooks. The intensity drops at the start of the bass solo but the temperature rises again moving to the head, and both sax and trumpet solo contrapuntally, the way Baker sometimes played with Gerry Mulligan.
5. Love For Sale (Porter). It opens with an unusual funky intro with bari sax and trumpet intensely soloing off each other’s ideas, but apart from a distinctive upward turning melodic phrase about 15 seconds into the piece, this is unrecognizable as “Love For Sale.” When the song came out, lyrics like “appetizing young love for sale” and “if you want to buy my wares, follow me and climb the stairs” caused it
to be banned on radio in England and America. Nonetheless, “Love For Sale” was a hit in its day and widely covered over the years, notably by Ella Fitzgerald. Its first recording, in 1930 by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians with the Three Waring Girls, was an original cast recording, for they performed on Broadway in the musical comedy The New Yorkers, for which Cole Porter wrote the song. Porter’s contribution to American songwriting is enormous, and many of his songs became standards, including “What Is This Thing Called Love ?,” “Night And Day,” “Anything Goes,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” and “Begin The Beguine.”
Besides the Clifton Chenier, Muddy Waters, and Chet Baker CDs, whose liner notes are reproduced higher up on this page, Craig Morrison wrote the CD booklets for the six additional CDs shown here. They are all in the Collector’s Classics series put out by Just A Memory, part of the Justin Time label of Montreal.
These are all live albums from Montreal. Most were recorded at the Rising Sun nightclub in 1977 and 1978 ; others were at Place Des Arts in 1980. For more information, including track listings and sound samples, or to order, click on the links below.
Nina Simone : Let It Be Me