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Album Flashback: ‘Wooly Bully’ – Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs

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Wooly-BullySeems like every time I go grocery shopping, classic rock tunes segue down the aisles from above. Everything from Elvis to Nirvana as well as last week’s Lady Gaga. Songs we shoppers are way too familiar with. There I was perusing the locally grown organic broccoli when “Wooly Bully” lit up the vegetable department and my cart started a rock’n and rollin’.

Huge Smash

Written and performed by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Wooly Bully” was a worldwide smash in 1965. Recorded by Sun Studios founder, Sam Phillips in Memphis, the song spent 14 weeks on the US top 40 charts despite overall domination by what was then called the “British music invasion”.”Wooly Bully” was named “Single of the Year” by Billboard Magazine and was the title of the Pharaoh’s first full-length record and the opening track.  So… what about the rest of it album? Listen to my audio piece at the top of this article and find out.

Sam the Sham is Memphis R&B singer Domingo Samudio. He was one of the first musicians to incorporate pop rock with Tex-Mex rhythms. Samudio also had a penchant for humorous novelty tunes that gave him

What a Sham!

Samudio supposedly came up with the name “Sam the Sham” after somebody joked he couldn’t sing. Sham had a hipster beard and always sported a turban and a shiny dinner jacket and played organ. He dressed his band in Middle Eastern outfits and, if the tour warranted it, employed a trio of backup singers dressed like Aladdin princesses.  The singer also owned a 1950’s hearse and used it to lug his organ and the band’s equipment to gigs.  Despite the shtick and novelty hits, this Wooly Bully version of Sham and the originals Pharaohs were a solid Tex-Mex R&B band that mixed Memphis blues with soul punctuated by Butch Gibson’s wailing saxophone.  By second album, the Pharaohs were gone, Sam the Sham having replaced them all.

Learn to Dance

What the heck is a “Wooly Bully” anyway? As Hattie tells Mattie in the lyrics, it’s the latest dance craze. Word had it that Samudio wanted to knock off the then popular “Hully Gully” twist dance with a dance of his own and just needed something to call it.  He’s always claimed it was the name of his cat. Whatever a “Wooly Bully” is, those two words are a permanent part of classic rock lexicon. Just ask Ry Cooder. - Eric Berg

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Album Review: Rhiannon Gidden’s Solo Debut ‘Tomorrow Is My Turn’

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giddens-tomorrow-is-my-turn-450x409Rhiannon Giddens, lead singer and a founding member of the Grammy winning string band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, has just released her first solo album called “Tomorrow Is My Turn”.  It’s an impressive vocal tour de force that shows off Gidden’s superlative voice and extensive range.

Her rendition of  “Waterboy  floored the audience with in 2013 at the “Another Day, Another Time” folk concert honoring the Cohen Bros movie “Inside Lewyn Davis”.  Giddens caught the ear of T-Bone Burnett who asked to record with her and produced “Tomorrow Is My Turn” which features her percussive but strikingly updated version of “Waterboy”, a song most famously associated with Odetta.

Operatic background

Giddens , a classically trained opera singer seems quite at ease covering all genres of music. For this album, she purposely chose tracks that didn’t fit the Chocolate Drops’ M.O. picking out songs written or at least interpreted by women singer who inspired her like Elizabeth Cotton, Nina Simone, Patsy Cline. Her version of Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” is absolutely stunning and so is her gospel prowess on Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head”.

The group of musicians Burnett picked to back Giddens on “Tomorrow Is My Turn” are also outstanding, notably fiddle player Gabe Witcher from the Punch Brothers. Chocolate Drop bandmates Hubby Jenkins and Adam Matta are also present.  The only fully composed song  is the self revealing “Angel City” penned by Giddens that gives closes the album.

Future bodes well

Rhiannon Giddens debut “Tomorrow Is My Turn” shows she has a voice to be reckoned with and the potential to become a legendary singer in her own right.  Can’t wait to see what Giddens does next. – Eric Berg

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Album Review: All Killer, No Filler: ‘This Is The Sonics’

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the-sonics-this-is-the-sonicsIt’s been 50 plus years since a young teenage guitarist Larry Parypa and brother Andy started Tacoma’s legendary proto-garage band, the Sonics, in the family living room. And they have inspired endless punk and garage bands ever since. Now it’s 2015 and the group is back in action going full throttle with all amps cranked to 11 on their new album, called “This Is the Sonics”. Recorded in gorgeous mono that demands to be played loud, the Sonics blast through 12 tracks of high energy, hard edged rock n roll in a quick 34 minutes.

No Doctors Needed.

To prove they mean business, the five Sonics blast off starting with the first track, a kick ass cover of “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, a clever start to the band’s first new record in 4 decades. These senior citizen thrash rockers, who are now in their late 60’s-early 70’s, certainly sound like they don’t need one.

It wasn’t until lead singer and keyboardist Jerry Roslie joined the popular Pacific Northwest band in 1964 that the Sonics burst upon the scene with their first album  “Here are the Sonics’’  that featured fired up teen-age hits like “Psycho”, “The Witch”, “Boss Hog” and “Strychnine”.

Current Lineup

Many players have come and gone in the Sonics over the last 50 years but three original members of the are still in the current incarnation of the band’s five man lineup. Rob Lind, the Sonics’ wildman on bleating sax and harmonica, is up front and present on every track. Larry Parypa’s lightning bolt guitar sounds better than ever thanks to the great mix, and singer Jerry Roslie bellows out vocals like it was 1964 all over again. They absolutely shred on the old Kink’s tune, “The Hard Way”.  Never thought I’d consider asking a bunch of senior citizens to turn it down a notch.

Since 2008, the three Sonics have been joined by drummer Dusty Hill, who’s played with Agent Orange, Dick Dale, The Supersuckers just to mention a few, and Freddie Dennis on bass and vocals.

Relentless Rock n Roll

“This Is the Sonics” is welcome, relentless rock n roll, loud from beginning to end. That’s what makes album so much fun. Today’s Sonics play with so much urgency and vitality, it’s astonishing as well as invigorating.  A lot of today’s young bands could learn a thing or two from these guys, if they haven’t already. Good to have them back. – Eric Berg

VIDEO PROOF:

The Sonics today, April 2015

The Sonics then.  Although this vid does not actually show them, it’s still killer and no filler.

 

Tom Paxton’s 62nd Album, ‘Redemption Road’

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Legendary folksinger, Tom Paxton, is retiring from touring in 2015 although he still plans on making records. Paxton and fellow folksinger, Janis Ian, drop by Santa Cruz for one last time on Wednesday, April 22 at the Rio Theatre.

RedemptionLast summer my 30 yr old niece mentioned that she had a great time singing with this really famous old folk singer from the 60’s at an after hours jam at the Kate Wolf Festival. Some guy she said named Tom Paxton. Had I heard of him?

“The Last Thing on My Mind” is probably one of Paxton’s most popular songs that can be found on his classic first album “Ramblin’ Boy” released in 1964.  The prolific Paxton was one of the first folksingers to write his own songs pre-Bob Dylan and performed frequently at the legendary Gaslight Café in New York’s Greenwich Village during the era that Dave Van Ronk coined The Great Folk Scare of the early 60’s. His vast catalog of songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists and he’s inspired generations of  new folk singers since.

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New Album: Pokey LaFarge Says There’s “Something in the Water”

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pokeyFifteen years into this millennium, everything old continues to be seemly new.  Like Pokey LaFarge.

Tracks like “Wanna Be Your Man” sound like they were recorded 75 years ago with lyrics to match but believe it or not, most of the tunes here on “Something in the Water” were penned by LaFarge last year. On the cover, this 32 yr old St. Louis singer -songwriter is a dead ringer for the Clash’s Mick Jones circa ’77,  but inside, the music is a total throwback to the early jazz, ragtime and country blues of the 20’s and 30’s. Not that we haven’t heard any of this musical nostalgia before re-imagined by a host of other performers. LaFarge is a bit different because, he writes his own slightly humorous lyrics and sets them to the familiar tones and melodies made popular by Mid-West bands, pre WWII.  He’s clearly influenced by the likes of Milton Brown and his Brownies, The Mississippi Shieks , the original Skillet Lickers and Bob Wills.

He’s not Normal

32 yr old Pokey LaFarge  – Andrew Heissler is his real name- grew up Normal, Illinois – yes that town does exist – but this guy’s far from it!  Thanks to Jack White who produced the singer’s early records on his Third Man label, LaFarge has garnered considerable hipster buzz in the last couple of years. His music has been featured on “Boardwalk Empire”.  The question is whether LaFarge is the real deal or just another tiresome retro poser born under a pile of Leon Redbone albums?

First class musicianship

To be sure the arrangements and the caliber of the musicianship sound spot on authentic and first class thanks to Chicago producer Jimmy Sutton,  a sidekick of JD McPherson.  The bottom line is, Pokey LaFarge’s “Something in The Water”, teeters dangerously close at times to sounding… dare I say it… hokey.  – Eric Berg

Where:  Pokey LaFarge and band plays Don Quixote’s in Felton, on Thursday, July 23, 2015.

Video: This is the album’s goofy title track – “Something in the Water”.

Remembering Lesley Gore (1946-2015)

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leslie_gore2To the boomers who grew up in the early 60’s with their teenage ears glued to transistor radios and watched the Ed Sullivan Show in black and white – To all you present day millennials who shop in stores that pipe classic rock down  aisles all day long, and to anyone else who has ever heard a radio jock shout “Here’s a golden oldie…”,  Leslie Gore is an essential part of our American pop culture DNA.  All because of one song that Gore so famously performed live on the T.A.M.I. Show in Santa Monica, October 1964.

Sweet sixteen

Lesley Gore was just sixteen years old when she recorded “It’s My Party” in the Spring of  ‘63. That song became an overnight sensation and a number one summer hit that hung in there for weeks. Gore rocketed to teen queen stardom and quickly recorded another smash – the revenge sequel…“Judy’s Turn to Cry”… followed by a steady stream of hits over the next two or three years. There were times when Gore’s singles went neck to neck with the Beatles for the top two chart positions.  Quincy Jones produced most of Gore’s big ones for Mercury Records and hired professional song writers like Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka and Carol King to pen romantic pop songs that would appeal to all American white heterosexual teenagers.  One pair of songwriters actually penned a throw-away tune, “Sometimes  I Wish I Was a Boy”  that Gore recorded with Jones at the helm in ’64.

As the girl group thing began to wane as the Summer of Love rolled around at at the end of the 60’s. Gore also evolved and attempted to keep up with the times and Mercury assigned her a new producer Bob Crewe. (Remember “The Bob Crew Generation?”) Girl pop was out. Folk was in. She began focusing on her own songwriting skills, often composing with her musician brother, Michael who had a band in New York City and was well connected.

Academy Award nominee

Gore's "Ever Since" released in 2005, her first album in over 30 years.

Gore’s “Ever Since” released in 2005, her first album in over 30 years.

By 1969, Gore’s pop hits ceased to chart but she toured for years on the “Oldies” circuit including a stop right here at the Santa Cruz Civic as part of a packaged tour.  Gore  moved on to acting and songwriting in New York where she worked with Michael composing several songs for the late 70’s Broadway Musical “FAME” that were included on the Academy Award winning soundtrack of the 1980 movie version.  Gore was nominated for a song she co-wrote, “Out Here on My Own”.

Lesley Gore was also an activist in the lesbian and bisexual community.  Gore announced ten years ago that she had been living with her longtime partner, jewelry designer, Lois Sasson, since 1982. The singer was involved with the long running PBS show, In The Life, an award winning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tv news magazine that ran for 18 years.

Her definitive song

Gore recorded her last album called “Ever Since” in 2005, – and it’s one of her best. It’s highlighted by a new if not definitive version of a particular song that Gore didn’t write and had previously recorded it some 40 years prior.  For Lesley Gore, who died in February at age 68, her updated remake of  “You Don’t Own Me” is proof of the legacy she left behind, long after the party was over. – Eric Berg

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CD Review: JD McPherson’s “Let The Good Times Roll”

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This is the JD’s second album for Rounder Records. Produced by Mark Neil and JD McPherson. Released February 10th, 2015. Audio review and text produced and written by KUSP’s Eric Berg.

Rjd-mcpherson-let-the-good-times-roll-846x8451etro – yes, he’s a – modern rocker  J.D. McPherson’s highly anticipated second album is finally out. It’s called “Let The Good Times Roll” and although it’s not quite as red hot as his 2012 debut, “Signs & Signifiers”, this sophomoric follow up smokes!

A former art teacher and visual artist, Oklahoma native singer-songwriter plus guitarist McPherson skirts the “retro” pigeonhole with his uncanny knack of successfully mixing musical genres and making it all seem…uh…modern, contemporary?  He takes just the right amount of traditional Americana – particularly country blues and knockdown rockabilly and lately, soul…and adds a few twists of alt rock.  By the way, McPherson has noted he did not grow up on roots music and listened to a lot of rock music like Hendrix, Zeppelin and David Bowie.

100% Original

All the songs on “Let the Good Times Roll” are written by McPherson including the title track which has nothing to do with Earl King’s song of the same name but obviously inspired by it with a big nod to both Chuck Berry and Arcade Fire.

JD_McPherson

JD McPherson

McPherson is joined on the album once again by the Chicago based Signifier crew – musical partner and bassist Jimmy Sutton and drummer turned recording engineer Alex Hall who mixed the entire album but doesn’t a lick on it.  Co-produced by JD himself, “Let The Good Times Roll” is at times little bit too slick as in “commercial sounding” here and there. JD does seem to be venturing in to James Hunter/Jimmie Vaughn territory with a few tracks that are more blue eyed soul than twang .  Fortunately these slowed down soul pieces are more than serviceable. At times, the smooth sailing track, “Bridgebuilder” as well as  “Precious” both sound at first an awful lot like something Jimmy Cliff might have written. And on first burst of “Everyone’s Talking ‘Bout the All American” my brain screamed “David Bowie!”, but I calmed down and got with the program.

Infectious!

Okay, I really am  being too nit picky here, because, J.D. McPherson’s “Let the Good Times Roll” does just that and in a big way. “Shy Boy” and “You Must Have Met Little Caroline?” are real stand outs.  By toning the down the wild retro-billy twang a smidgen in favor of a more contemporary, polished sound, McPherson’s second album still has more than a boatload of infectious hooks and the potential to reach a larger audience seeking a little more rock’n’soul in their retro. – Eric Berg

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Album Revisited: Joe Cocker’s 1982 Overlooked Masterpiece, ‘Sheffield Steel’

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Photo: monosnaps/flickr

Photo: monosnaps/flickr

Joe Cocker – who passed away in December 2014, was once billed on a tour poster as the “rotating rocker” because of that frenzied…disjointed air guitar thing he did with his arms back in the Woodstock era.  He also possessed a grizzled voice that not only complemented his roughshod appearance but also went down like a glass of really fine port. Cocker was not a songwriter, but an incredible interpreter of other people’s songs.  He recorded some 23 albums’ worth. One of which is the rock- reggae influenced “Sheffield Steel”, released in 1982 to a resounding thud. Too bad,because it’s one of Cocker’s finest album and my personal favorite.

Compass Point Allstars

Titled after the British industrial steel city where Cocker was born in 1944,  “Sheffield Steel” stands apart from all his other albums thanks the Island Records house studio band that backed him up – The Compass Point Allstars.  This was then, ultra hot Jamaican progressive rhythm section anchored by Sly and Robbie on drums and bass with Wally Badarou on keyboards and under the radar, English rock guitarist, Barry Reynolds. (By the way, he still tours with Marianne these days!) These are the same guys who made monumental albums for Black Uhuru, Marianne Faithful, Grace Jones back in the early 80’s.

sheffieldA new direction

“Sheffield Steel” marked a new direction for Cocker – intended to revitalize his career, which was in a bit of a lull, to say the least, in the late 70’s. Although the album failed miserably to chart the top 100,  Cocker’s 10 grit sandpaper of a voice carried the album along in top form.  Fighting his own demons at the time, Cocker delivered ten emotionally charged, perfect tracks about the ups and downs of relationships and the struggle to make it through to the other side.. songs all written by other people.  Listen to the pure pain in Cockers voice on “Shocked” and you’ll see what I mean.

His version of “Many Rivers To Cross” is beyond inspiring and stands right along side Jimmy Cliff.

It’s Bob Dylan’s “7 Days” that may be the real reason to own this album. No explanation needed. Just listen to it.

“Sheffield Steel”, is a gem of an album by the late Joe Cocker and one of his best. It’s well worth revisiting.  Long out of print, Island Records issued an expanded cd version in 2002 with a four extra bonus tracks. –Eric Berg

Video : Joe Cocker singing  a short version of “Seven Days” live, 8/20/1983 minus the Compass Point Allstars

Album Review: Bill Frisell’s ‘Guitar in the Space Age’

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FrisellBill Frisell’s new album, “Guitar in the Space Age” (Okeh Records) is a fun gravity free, instrumental spaced out walk into the future past. Except for two Frisell originals, all of these 14 tracks on “Space Age” harkens back to the early 60’s when satellites, sputniks, and purple people eaters hogged the transistor radios of the day.

“Pipeline”  and “Telstar” book end the album

After a first all the way through listen, starting with Frisell’s 7 minute space jam of the class surf hit, “Pipeline”, right down to the last tune, Joe Meek’s space age hit “Telstar”, I could imagine how fine it would be to listen to this record with set of headphones while circling the Earth in one of those old Mercury space capsules. Thing is, this album could use a bit more rocket fuel here and there. Frisell and fellow guitarist – steel pedal player Greg Leisz, seldom get pas the initial booster stage, preferring to lock everything in cruise control mode. Well, it is a space album, right?

Frisell is well known for themed albums – his John Lennon tribute was fabulous – but don’t expect any Los Straightjackets’ fireworks here.  “Space Age” slowly creeps up on you and makes for perfect on board space station listening. It’s Leisz outstanding pedal steel playing that gives this album it’s luster. In some ways, he over shadows Frisell as he does when he cuts loose on Link Wray’s “Rumble”.

Odd tracks

There are a couple of peculiar track choices on “Space Age”. A slow mo’ take of Brian Wilson’s “Surfer Girl”, Pete Seeger’s Brydsy “Turn, Turn, Turn” and, of all things, The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You”.

It may take some adjusting to the slow pace of Frisell’s “Guitar in the Space Age”, but once you get on board with his space program, it’s a relaxing 14 track journey that warrants use of the repeat mode button and achieves a perfect “Lift Off”, which just so happens to be the title of one of two tracks this chameleon of a guitarist penned. – Eric Berg

VIDEO – This is an entire performance of Frisell and group playing the album and much more.

CD Review: “Daydreamers” by Tess Dunn is Her Best Yet!

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albumart_tessdunn4_200x200Tess Dunn and band is celebrating her 20th birthday with a performance this coming Sunday night Dec 14th over at Moe’s Alley in Santa  Cruz at 7 pm. Dunn who has cystic fibrosis will be donating the evening’s proceeds to benefit Cystic Fibrosis Research and Organ Donor Awareness. Her latest recording is “Daydreamers”.

Like the college freshman she is, who just moved on from high school, Santa Cruz singer/songwriter Tess Dunn’s new 4 song EP “Daydreamers” shows just how far her budding music career has graduated with this polished third recording.  Check out the 3rd cut, “Stay” where  she’s asking “why didn’t you?” and feel the sting.

Love bites

Yes, Tess Dunn is still writing edgy songs about her love life – real and imagined – which she says in the liner notes, is way TMI according to her dad, Santa Cruz writer and historian,  Geoffrey Dunn.  Yeah, well ok… but one thing for sure, the EP is loaded with  smart power pop-punk music and mature vocals, but  a couple of the songs on the EP seem almost overly angry. I really feel sorry for the person on the receiving end of  “Say You Fell” who’s told “I hope you like it in hell”. Ouch. It’s one of Dunn’s best songs yet- tight, catchy and nasty.

T.Dunn

Tess Dunn

 “Daydreamers” was recorded in Portland, Oregon where Dunn and her band have attracted a following.This recording was made possible thanks to a very successful web fundraising campaign.  It was produced again by Ari Shine who worked on her previous cd’s and who  plays most of the instruments.  Co-producing along with Dunn, Sean Flora mixed the tunes and contributed some bass and vocals. Ms. Dunn wrote all the songs and plays piano, synthesizer and ukulele.  The title song is the one you want to play over and over. It’s got hit written all over it.

Closing out Dunn’s “Daydreamers” EP is the very romantic piece titled “Steady” that opens with her elegant piano playing followed by some goofing off way after the song ends.  With this EP, Tess Dunn has proved that she has staying power and has progressed a long ways. She’s tuff.

Can we hope for a LP and no EP next time? –Eric Berg

 VIDEO:  “Stay” by Tess Dunn