"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Music

Put the Needle to the Groove


Peter Guralnick’s new biography, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, looks promising.

From Dwight Garner’s review in the Times:

Phillips was ahead of his time. So-called race records were selling in the early 1950s, but not widely. The singles he recorded in Memphis weren’t moving. He was in danger of going out of business. When the mystery train that was Presley came around the bend, he was not too stupid to climb aboard.

It’s worth pausing, for a moment, to consider how lucky it was that Presley walked into Phillips’s studio and not someone else’s. Another producer (that term had not yet come into use in the record industry) might have put him to work singing country-pop ditties with string sections. He might have been another Eddy Arnold.

Phillips already had an aesthetic ethos. In some ways, he had prepared his whole life for Elvis’s arrival. Part of Phillips’s ethos, Mr. Guralnick writes, was his “sense that there were all these people of little education and even less social standing, both black and white, who had so much to say but were prohibited from saying it.”

And here’s Louis Menand in the New Yorker:

“We Record Anything—Anywhere—Anytime” was the slogan. This meant a lot of church services, weddings, and funerals, but Phillips’s dream, the reason that he set up the studio, was to have a place where any aspiring musician could come in and try out, no questions asked. Phillips would listen and offer suggestions and encouragement. If he liked what he heard, he would record it. For a fee, the performer could cut his or her own record.

Phillips was extremely good at this. He was patient with the musicians; he was adept with the technology; above all, he was supportive. He hated formulas. He thought that music was about self-expression, and he liked songs that were different. The pop sound in 1950 was smooth and harmonic. Phillips preferred imperfection. It made the music sound alive and authentic. Word got around, and musicians no one else would record started turning up at the Memphis Recording Service. Phillips got them to believe in him by getting them to believe in themselves.

New York Minute


I know you got soul. 

I waited on Rosie once. She had a little dog with her. Nice, good tip. It was worth it just to hear her voice.

I Want a Name When I Lose


They called Alabama the Crimson Tide. 

Put it Through the S-950 then Stretch It


Never had a basement, never had an attic, only an apartment where I forever had static.

Check out this terrific 2-part NPR interview with Extra P.

[Photo Via: Mass Appeal]

Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?


Thanks to the essential weekly newsletter, The Sunday Long Read (compiled with taste and care by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob Feldman), I found Alex Bilmes’ excellent British Esquire  interview with Paul McCartney:

ESQ: Was fame all it was cracked up to be, when you found it?

PM: It sort of was really, yeah. Because part of what it’s cracked up to be is difficult as well as great. They’d warned that. I remember making a very conscious choice: “OK, we’re getting really famous now, you’ve got to decide, whether or not to go for it.” For some reason Marilyn Monroe came into my mind. Like: this could be horrible. It was actually after a trip to Greece. We weren’t famous in Greece, and I’d hung out with the hotel band and was chatting to them: “I’m in a band, too, you know? We’re called The Beatles.” And I got a glazed look from them. I thought, “This is OK, if the fame gets too much we can always come to Greece.” Then, of course, the next year it was like, “Oh, no, you’re famous in Greece, too. Oh, God.” And I remember thinking, “Do you want to do this or don’t you?” And it was, “I like it too much to stop.”

ESQ: Some people struggle greatly with being famous. It screws them up. You seem to have taken to fame with a certain amount of ease. You embraced it.

PM: I think to some degree that’s true. What happens is, if your life goes wrong, like with the breakup of The Beatles, then fame is a nightmare because you can’t escape it, and you’ve created it. That’s when the difficulty kicks in. But what you’re saying is, some people it kicks in anyway, even if they’re doing all right.

ESQ: They can’t handle the attention.

PM: I don’t mind that. I have a joke with my daughter Mary: sometimes I won’t be in a great mood and we’ll go somewhere and the people will be all over me and she’ll turn to Nancy and say, “He likes a bit of adulation. It cheers him up,” and the thing is, yep, that is true. All my life I’ve been trying to win a school prize or trying to do OK in an exam or trying to get a good job. I’ve always been trying to do something where people go: you’re good. When you get it, it seems a shame to me to go, oh, shit. To me it’s like, this is what I wanted. I do like it, I must say. The attention’s never really bothered me. I’ve always thought, “OK, you’re famous, you’ve chosen that path. You can’t blame anyone else.” As long as you’re enjoying it that’s good. And when it goes wrong you’re just going to have to deal with it.

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[Photo Credit: Linda McCartney via Everyday I Show]

BGS: King Louis

Louis-460x276 (1)

My latest reprint for The Daily Beast gives Nat Hentoff on Louis Armstrong:

Louis Armstrong, summoned by King Oliver, came up to Chicago in the summer of 1922, Buster Bailey reports that “Louis upset Chicago. All the musicians came to hear Louis. What made Louis upset Chicago so? His execution, for one thing, and his ideas, his drive. Well, they didn’t call it drive, they called it ‘attack’ at the time. Yes, that’s what it was, man. They got crazy for his feeling.”

His feeling. Even toward the end of his life, when many of the same tunes would be played night after night, month after month, Louis could still, as trombonist Trummy Young remembers, make a sideman cry.

His feeling. Billie Holiday, a young girl in Baltimore, listening to Louis’s recordings: “He didn’t say any words, but somehow it just moved me so. It sounded so sad and sweet, all at the same time. It sounded like he was making love to me. That’s how I wanted to sing.”

There has been no jazz musician so widely, deeply, durably influential as Louis. And no trumpet player who could do all he could do on the horn. Once, Louis told journalist Gilbert Millstein, “I’m playin’ a date in Florida, livin’ in the colored section and I’m playin’ my horn for myself one afternoon. A knock come on the door and there’s an old, gray-haired flute player from the Philadelphia Orchestra, down there for his health. Walking through that neighborhood, he heard this horn, playing Cavalleria Rusticana, which he said he never heard phrased like that before. To him it was as if an orchestra was behind it. 

Collage by Louis Armstrong. 

What Becomes a Legend Most?


R.I.P. Ornette Coleman.

“I was out at [anthropologist] Margaret Mead’s school and was teaching some little kids how to play instantly. I asked the question, ‘How many kids would like to play music and have fun?’ And all the little kids raised up their hands. And I asked, ‘Well, how do you do that?’ And one little girl said, ‘You just apply your feelings to sound.’ And I said, ‘Come and show me.’ When she went to the piano to do it, she tried to show me, but she had forgotten about what she said. So I tried to show her why all of a sudden all her attention span had to go to another level, and after that she went ahead and did it. But she was right: If you apply your feelings to sound, regardless of what instrument you have, you’ll probably make good music.”–Ornette Coleman.

For more, dig thisthis, this and then Go here for a listen. 

[Photo Credit: Roberto Polillo via Jazz in Photo]

Would You Believe?


Found in the $1.00 cutout bin at a record store in Jersey.


[Photo Via: Wikipedia]

The Art of Storytelling


The GZA drops science:

I’m sure there are great lyricists out there today, but when you look at mainstream hip-hop, lyricism is gone. There are some artists out there that think they’re great storytellers, but they’re not. Nowadays there are certain things I don’t hear anymore from rappers: I haven’t heard the word “MC” in so long; I haven’t heard the word “lyrical.” A lot of rappers think they’re hardcore or say they’re from the streets and there’s that thing where they always say, “I live what I rhyme about, I rhyme about what I live.” But you don’t always have to do that. Because for me it’s not about telling the story — it’s about weaving the tale.

[Photo Credit: Frank Hoensch/Getty Images

What Becomes a Legend Most?


Rest in Peace, Mr. King.

[Photo Credit: Danny Clinch]

New York Minute


Set it off. The Golden Age of Hip Hop on the Radio. 

[Photo Credit: Eve Arnold via Snowce]

Video Killed The Radio Star


This is cool: “Rockit” Revisited. 

[Photo Credit: Sophie Bramly]

Keeping Out of Mischief Now


From Whitney Balliett’s book American Musicians: Fifty-Six Portraits in Jazz:

The Cape Cod pianist Marie Marcus came to New York from Boston to do a radio show in 1932, when she was eighteen. Her experience had been limited to Boston radio shows and to playing for a week at a Chinese restaurant called the Mahjong. “Tillie’s Kitchen, in Harlem, was a fried-chicken place,” she has said, “and Bob Howard, who sounded just like Fats Waller, was on piano. We went up there quite often, and one night Fats himself came in. I remember the whole room lighted up. He played, and then listened, and when I’d finished, he pointed to his heart, and said, ‘For a white gal, you sure got it there.’ We got to talking, and I told him that I would like to further my education in jazz, and did he know a good teacher? He looked at me and said, ‘How about me?’ I thought he was putting me on, but he wasn’t. He had a small office, with two pianos, in the Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway, and during the next year or so, when he wasn’t on the road or making records, he’d call me up and say, ‘Come on down and let’s play some paino.’ You couldn’t exactly call them lessons. We’d play duets, and then he’d play, and have me listen carefully to the things he did. He was very serious when we were working together, and I was grateful for every minute. He’d tell me, ‘When you’re playing jazz, remember the rhythm, remember the rhythm. Make the number of notes count. Tell a story, and get that feeling across to the people. Please the people by making it come from here.”

[Photo Credit: Time Life Pictures/Getty]

But Beautiful


Duncan Schiedt’s history lesson. 

Mystery Train


Dig this excerpt from Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train:

At his best Elvis not only embodies but personalizes so much of what is good about this place: a delight in sex that is sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but always open; a love of roots and a respect for the past; a rejection of the past and a demand for novelty; the kind of racial harmony that for Elvis, a white man, means a profound affinity with the most subtle nuances of black culture combined with an equally profound understanding of his own whiteness; a burning desire to get rich, and to have fun; a natural affection for big cars, flashy clothes, for the symbols of status that give pleasure both as symbols, and on their own terms. Elvis has long since become one of those symbols himself.

Elvis has survived the contradictions of his career, perhaps because there is so much room and so much mystery in Herman Melville’s most telling comment on this country: “The Declaration of Independence makes a difference.” Elvis takes his strength from the liberating arrogance, pride, and the claim to be unique that grow out of a rich and commonplace understanding of what “democracy” and “equality” are all about: No man is better than I am. He takes his strength as well from the humility, the piety, and the open, self-effacing good humor that spring from the same source: I am better than no man. And so Elvis Presley’s career defines success in a democracy that can perhaps recognize itself best in its popular culture: no limits, success so grand and complete it is nearly impossible for him to perceive anything more worth striving for. But there is a horror to this utopia—and one might think that the great moments Elvis still finds are his refusal of all that he can have without struggling. Elvis proves then that the myth of supremacy for which his audience will settle cannot contain him; he is, these moments show, far greater than that.

So perhaps that old rhythm of the Sun records does play itself out, even now. Along with Robert Johnson, Elvis is the grandest figure in the story I have tried to tell, because he has gone to the greatest extremes: he has given us an America that is dead, and an unmatched version of an America that is full of life.

New York Minute


Ad Rock’s high school daze.

TRUE YORKERS: ALL MY CHILDREN with AD-ROCK from BTG Movement on Vimeo.

Picture by Bags. 

BGS: Redneck Rock


Here’s a fun one for you–Robert Ward on Redneck Rock circa 1976 for New Times Magazine:

The bus floated through the Nashville streets and stopped at the James Thompson Motor Inn. I got out and walked with Tommy (the Outlaw) and Coe’s old friend, Bobby.

“It’s on the fourth floor.”

We climbed the steps and walked down a long motel corridor. Looking over, I noticed it was a good 75 feet to the parking lot. At the door, Tommy waited for me.

“Come on in, writer.”


I felt frightened by his tone—soft, but mocking. I had assumed that there would be women, other musicians, and whiskey. But there was none of that. Instead, there were Outlaws, about 15 of them, sprawled around the room. I looked at their eyes, which were all trained right on my own. In the exact center of the group, like some ancient fertility god, David Allan Coe sprawled on a bed. On his lap was an ugly, trashed-out looking woman, who was laughing insanely.

Behind me the door snapped shut. “This here is the writer,” someone said in a steel-wire voice.

Everyone was totally silent.

“The writer who wrote that shit about David Allan not being an outlaw!” someone else said.

I felt my breath leaving me and tried to laugh it off. “Hey, c’mon, you guys. I didn’t write that stuff.”

A short, squat, powerful man, the same Outlaw I’d seen screaming at the Exit Inn, came toward me. “You wrote that shit, did you?”

He reached in his back pocket and pulled out a five-inch hunting knife.

“Hey, wait now,” I said.

[Photo Credit: George Tice, 1974]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver