Thursday, December 5, 2019

James Brown - The Complete James Brown Christmas (2-disc set)


I was completely remiss regarding posting any holiday-related albums last year... so I'm making an attempt this year at getting off my lazy ass and actually providing some Christmas releases
well prior to the day in question. So my first post this month features one of the artists most closely associated with the holiday season - the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. James Brown himself...

Ha ha - just kidding! The Godfather of Soul isn't the first artist that leaps to mind for most people in regards to Christmas music. But James Brown had a love and affinity for that time of year, and believe it or not, over the course of his career he cut not only one, but THREE Christmas albums: James Brown And His Famous Flames Sing Christmas Songs in 1966, A Soulful Christmas in 1968, and Hey America It's Christmas in 1970. The 1966 disc was his most
"traditional" holiday release, per se - on it, Brown and his band cover several holiday standards, like "Please Come Home For Christmas", "Merry Christmas Baby" and "The Christmas Song" (twice) - all recorded at moderate tempos and with full string accompaniments. But the band also comes up with some inspired originals more in keeping with the funky, 'real' JB style, including the R&B workout "Signs Of Christmas", and "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year", a serious song containing a classic James Brown 'rap'. This was the only Brown record that contained any versions of holiday classics; for his follow-up Christmas records, he and the band followed their own path and sound.

This was evident in the 1968 release, A Soulful Christmas; The eleven originals herein are suffused with soul stylings, jazzy influences and funky drums and horns. And all of them are OUT-standing: standouts include "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (with its refrain echoing back to one of Brown's earliest hits "Please, Please, Please"), the instrumental "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)" - prominently featuring a vibraphone - and the amazing "Soulful Christmas". Oddly, the band included a song on this disc not overtly associated with the holiday - "Say It Loud: I'm Black And I'm Proud". This song had been previously released as a single earlier that summer; its inclusion here was its album debut. At first glance, having "Say It Loud..." on a Christmas album seems sort of weird... but somehow, someway, it FITS. And it's a great song to boot - so who are we to argue with the genius of James Brown?


Soul Brother #1's final holiday release, Hey America It's Christmas, came out at the tail end of 1970, and with only eight tracks, it's by far the shortest of the three albums. But it continues in the same vein as the 1968 album: nothing but the classic JB sound - raw, driven, bluesy, funky. Greats on this disc include "Go Power At Christmas Time", "Christmas Is Love", and another classic (and brutal) James Brown 'rap', appropriately titled "My Rapp".

By the late Seventies, all three of these albums had gone out of print. But about ten years ago, Hip-O Select released a compilation set containing every song from all of these Christmas albums, along with selected bonus tracks (singles and unreleased versions). All in all, this is non-mainstream but nonetheless essential Xmas music to own, and a perfect compliment to any holiday gathering where it is played.

So for your listening pleasure, I humbly provide to you The Complete James Brown Christmas comp, put out by Hip-O Select on October 12th, 2010. Bring the noise, bring the funk to your household over the holidays!  And as always, let me know what you think.

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Diary - "Uni" (single)


I don't usually (as in, EVER) do this... but I heard a FANTASTIC track tonight and thought I'd share it with you all.  It's a new single by a Brooklyn, New York-based band called Diary.

Diary's been around since 2016, and consists of Will Banyard on drums, Christ Croarkin on bass, Andy Brienza on lead guitar and Kevin Bendis on vocals and synthesizer keys.  This song, "Uni", was released over the summer, and is intended to be the first in a series of tunes the band is planning on releasing through the end of the year.

Here's the video:


When I first heard this song, it put me in mind of some classic shoegaze bands from the last century, like My Bloody Valentine and especially The Veldt/Apollo Heights, another Brooklyn-by-way-of-North Carolina band I've written about on this blog earlier.  Diary calls themselve a "dreamwave" band, a synth genre that draws upon the synthesizer pioneers from that earlier era, while adding in something that sounds to me like almost Cocteau Twins-esque atmosphere. Whatever it's called, and however it's categorized, it completely tickled my eardrums - so much so that I immediately went to the group's site on Bandcamp and bought it!

I've received the band's permission to repost it here... so here, for your enjoyment is "Uni" by Diary, released on July 3rd, 2019.  It appears that Diary hasn't toured since mid-summer, but I recommend keeping an eye open for any upcoming shows of theirs in your area.  This is a band to watch for in the future!

Until then, have a listen to this... and as always, let me know what you think.

Diary - "Uni" (single) (direct download link)

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Brady Bunch - It's a Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch


Looking back, 1969 was a pretty important year for me. It was the beginning of my formal schooling, with my entrance into kindergarten that fall. And it was the summer I met the best friend of my childhood, when Ricky and his family moved in just down the street. All in all, it's the first full year I can remember fairly clearly even now, not just fleeting bits and pieces from my earlier toddlerhood.

1969 was also pretty memorable for the rest of the world - one of the most pivotal years, full of significant historical and cultural events both here and abroad. As such, this current year (2019) has been chockablock with fiftieth anniversary tributes to that time and era. Over the past twelve months, there have been celebrations and memorials, movies, films, books and museum spectaculars commemorating events as various as the Stonewall riots, Chappaquiddick, the 'Miracle' Mets of baseball, the Manson Murders... and the first artificial heart implantation, 747 flight, ATM machine, and successful moon landing. Culturally,
1969 is remembered for The Beatles' final public performance as a group (the legendary Abbey Road Studios "rooftop concert"), the debut of Monty Python's Flying Circus on BBC1, Woodstock, Altamont, the rise and fall of 'supergroup' Blind Faith, and the deaths of Judy Garland and Brian Jones. It was the year of the debut of beloved children's series like Scooby Doo, The Wacky Races/Penelope Pitstop, Sesame Street and The Pink Panther, and the final seasons for programs fondly recalled to this day. like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Star Trek, and the ignominious demise of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. And as can be judged by the spate of "50th Anniversary" box sets being released this year, 1969 was also a big year for music, with the release of celebrated classics such as The Beatles' Abbey Road, The
Band's Music From Big Pink, The Doors' The Soft Parade,  Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, The Who's Tommy, The Kinks' Arthur, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and debut albums by Santana, David Bowie, The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, The Jackson Five, Elton John and Chicago.

However, there's one culturally significant golden anniversary this year which seems to me hasn't received that much attention: The Brady Bunch premiered on ABC TV fifty years ago today, on September 29th, 1969.


This show was a rite of passage during the early '70s; EVERY kid I knew - shoot, probably every kid in America - watched this show religiously. On Fridays during the summer, the streets would clear of children early on those evenings, as everyone would be inside viewing the program. The critics at the time hated it - but I and ten of millions of other kids like me didn't know about or care about TV pundits panning the show or putting it down. We all just loved seeing kids on screen, doing kid stuff in a bright Day-Glo California world, where the weather was always perfect and the problems always happily resolved in thirty minutes.

The inspiration for The Brady Bunch was a magazine article that longtime TV producer Sherwood Schwartz read in 1966, stating that a third of all U.S. families had at least one child from a previous marriage, Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan's Island and It's About Time, two comedies running on CBS-TV at the time, was searching for a new project as both of these programs were reaching the end of their network TV runs (both were cancelled in 1967). So he wrote up a 30-minute pilot episode about a blended family - a man with three boys marrying a woman with three girls, along with several other potential story ideas regarding the joys and problems this new family would face. Schwartz then shopped it around to the three major networks at the time (ABC, CBS and NBC), where all three expressed a modicum of interest but insisted on changes to the situation and story. The producer, who felt he got burned by the networks with the changes he was forced to make with Gilligan's Island, refused to compromise, and shelved the concept for the time being.

It was two years later, in the wake of the success of the Desilu/United Artists motion picture comedy Yours, Mine And Ours, that the "blended family" show pitch was revived. The movie, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, was based on the true story of the Beardsleys, a Navy officer with ten children who married a woman with eight children of her own. The film was a huge hit, one of the top grossing movies of 1968 and earning back more than ten times its production cost (my parents took my siblings and I to see it at the old drive-in near Janaf Shopping Center in Norfolk, with all of the kids dressed in pajamas seated in the back of the VW van). Of course, nothing changes a corporation's mind like the prospect for huge financial gain... so it was then that the TV networks changed their minds about Schwartz's pilot, and came calling. ABC won the bidding war for rights to the program, and production/casting efforts began immediately. [side note: The real Beardsley family ended up settling in the Monterey, California area and ran several businesses, including a donut shop near the Naval Postgraduate School that I used to regularly patronize as a high school student there.].

The producer began by casting the children; his vision was that of three blonde girls and three dark-haired boys. Over 1,200 kids auditioned, with Schwartz personally interviewing more than a third of them, looking for the right mix/fit. In the end, he cast Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen as Marcia, Jan and Cindy Brady, and Barry Williams, Christopher Knight and Michael Lookinland as Greg, Peter and Bobby Brady (this despite the fact that Lookinland had blond hair; it was dyed dark for the duration of the program).

The adult roles were more of a problem. Originally, Schwartz had his eyes on longtime radio and TV veteran Monty Margetts in the role of Alice, the housekeeper, Joyce Bulifant as mother Carol Brady, and for the role of patriarch Mike Brady... none
other than Gene Hackman. But the network balked on Hackman, who, despite his Best Supporting Actor nomination the previous year for his role in the movie Bonnie & Clyde, they considered a relative "unknown" with little TV experience. And Schwartz replaced Bulifant with Florence Henderson after Henderson gave him a phenomenal screen test for the role. With Henderson as Carol Brady, the producer determined
that the role of Alice should be more comedic, serving as the mother's foil, and replaced Margetts with award-winning TV comedy veteran Ann B. Davis. With the network balking on Hackman, Schwartz turned his attention to actor Robert Reed, a Shakespearean-trained actor who had recently completed five seasons on the courtroom drama The Defenders and who was at the time appearing on
Broadway. Reed was under contract to both Paramount Pictures and ABC, and as such was semi-obligated to accept the role of Mike Brady... a decision that Schwartz would soon regret. At any rate, with the cast in place, filming of the Brady Bunch pilot occurred during the second week of October, 1968, with the show destined for an early Friday slot for the upcoming (1969-70) season.

Most of the storylines and overall focus of the series centered around the Brady kids and their trials and tribulations, the ordeals of growing up, both serious (sibling quarrels, parental restrictions, and adolescent love) and somewhat trivial (breaking Mom's favorite vase, missing dolls and treehouse admittance) - all semi-relatable to most kids around that period, which made the show that much more popular with the preteen set. Despite the "blended family" premise of the show, during the first season this aspect was rarely mentioned, and in the following seasons, not at all. The two halves of the family integrated relatively seamlessly - for instance, the kids seemed to have no problem calling their stepparents "Mom" or "Dad".

In the first couple of seasons, there wasn't much thought regarding making the Brady children into a singing group (although an album of Christmas standards sung by the kids was released in the fall of 1970). It wasn't until halfway through the show's run, on the "Dough Re Mi" episode (#65) aired during the third season in January 1972, that the first overt moves were made to establish the Brady Kids as a legitimate pop group. Two songs are featured on this episode: "We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter" and "Time to Change" (yup - this was the one where Peter's voice was changing):


Three months later, the first album, Meet The Brady Bunch, was released, featuring those songs plus a number of covers of recent hits, including "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo", "Baby I'm-A Want You" and "American Pie". Pushed by the network and by exposure on the TV show, Meet The Brady Bunch actually charted, peaking at #108 on the Billboard 200.

Over the next year, more episodes featuring the kids singing were aired, including "Amateur Night" in January 1973 (featuring the tunes "Keep On" and "It's A Sunshine Day") and "Adios,
Johnny Bravo" in September 1973 (where the kids warble "Good Time Music"). During that time, the group released two more pop albums targeted to teens/preteens, The Kids From The Brady Bunch in December 1972 and The Brady Bunch Phonographic Album in June 1973 (in addition, there was a duet album featuring just McCormick and Knight released in late
1973) - none of these albums charted. The group (now billed as "The Brady Bunch Kids") also began a national concert tour, with their first public appearance at the National Orange Show in San Bernadino, CA in May 1972, and subsequent shows at places like Knott's Berry Farm, Atlantic City's Steel Pier and various state fairs. Producer Schwartz wasn't happy
with this latter development, as it began to impact the production schedule of the TV show and removed the kids from his constant direct influence. The Brady Bunch Kids weren't music superstars per se, but they were considered a safe and reliable concert draw for the entire family, and with more bookings nationwide, their popularity grew. As the fifth season wound down, the kids and their agents began pressuring Schwartz to include more musical episodes for the upcoming season.

The Brady Bunch was never a critical or ratings hit. The best the show ever placed in the Nielsens during its entire run was during during its third season (1971-72), when it ended the year just outside of the top 30 programs. That was the same year the
Top 5-rated show Sanford & Son began airing on rival NBC, a program The Brady Bunch was paired against for the next three seasons and regularly got stomped by, in terms of viewership. By then, in many ways, the show was set up as sort of a sacrificial lamb by ABC - I assume they figured they were going to lose that time slot anyway, so draw what viewership it could at 8:00 pm on Fridays (primarily preteen) and use it as a "loss leader" for the more popular and successful network shows that came on immediately afterwards (the top 20 programs The Partridge Family in 1971-72 and 1972-73, and The Six Million Dollar Man in 1973-74). That sufficed for a time, but by late 1973 the show's Nielsen rankings were mired into the mid-50s, with no foreseeable prospects for improvement... not that they didn't try. With the kids in the regular cast getting older, Schwartz made an attempt to goose viewership by the show's much-needed younger
audience with the introduction of a new character late in the season: the Bradys' cousin Oliver (played by Robbie Rist). But the new character was whiny and annoying, upsetting the core Brady family balance, and accelerating the program's slide (to this day, "'Cousin Oliver' Syndrome" is a much-recognized and maligned TV trope, the telltale sign of a show going downhill).

In addition, Robert Reed was increasingly becoming a problem for Sherwood Schwartz. Reed had always considered the show silly and beneath his status as a dramatic and stage actor, and held the producer in contempt over the content and premise of this and his previously-produced CBS comedies, full of what Reed saw as "gag lines" and zany scenarios that pandered to the lowest common denominator. Over the years on the program, Reed fought constantly with production staff and directors, and routinely peppered Schwartz with memos complaining about the themes and content of show scripts and detailed dissertations over character motivations. The producer generally ignored Reed's protests, but on occasion, to alleviate on-set tensions, Schwartz allowed Reed to direct some episodes [To his credit, however, Reed did not direct his disenchantment and dissatisfaction regarding the show at his cast members; He was a consummate professional in front of the camera, and got along well with all of his co-stars. He was especially beloved by the Brady Bunch kids, who saw him as a true father figure].

However, by the end of the 1973-74 season, things between the star and the producer had come to a head. The final show of that season, "The Hair-Brained Scheme", had Bobby trying to get rich by selling homemade hair tonic, with the usual "wacky hijinks" ensuing. Reed sent another memo to Schwartz, pointing out in intricate detail the myriad problems he saw in the hackneyed premise of the script, and suggesting changes. The producer, either by oversight or by choice, didn't read the memo nor make the requested script changes in time for filming, leading to Reed walking off the set. Therefore, the family patriarch does not appear at all in the final episode. That was the final straw for Schwartz, who began making plans to replace/remove the Mike Brady character for the show's upcoming sixth season [As Carol Brady's prior marital status (whether she was divorced or widowed) was never explicitly specified, the producer contemplated writing Reed out of the program and bringing Carol's ex-husband back into the family].

While Schwartz was struggling to deal with the twin problems of Reed and the kids' musical desires, ABC cancelled The Brady Bunch at the end of the season, making any such moves unnecessary. With 117 episodes in the can, the program just barely made the threshold for syndication. In hindsight, the show's cancellation was in all likelihood a blessing in disguise for Schwartz, as it prevented him from overt conflict with his show's stars, and improved his bank balance (with compounded royalties from repeated airings of the program). The Brady Bunch entered syndication a year later, in September 1975... and has never left it. Every single day for the past forty-plus years, somewhere in the world, an episode of this old, formerly critically-reviled program has aired, and it continues to charm audiences, create new fans and reconnect old fans to its uncomplicated, wholesome, nostalgic "good clean fun" premise.

By the 1990s, even with The Brady Bunch firmly established as a pop culture icon after fifteen years of reruns, almost all of The Brady Bunch Kids albums (with the exception of Merry Christmas From The Brady Bunch) had long been out of print. MCA Records, eager to cash in on Brady nostalgia, issued the compilation album It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch in 1993. This set features selections from all four Brady Bunch albums, along with a cut from the Chris Knight & Maureen McCormick album and an unreleased Barry Williams number (Williams began work on a solo album in 1974; six tracks were completed before both the show and the album were cancelled). Almost all of the fan-favorite songs are featured here, including the one that, for good or ill, The Bradys will be most remembered for - the title track, "it's A Sunshine Day":

[For some reason, what is in my opinion the best song ever done on the show was left off of this disc - perhaps because it featured another cast member other than one of the Brady Kids. It was on "The Show Must Go On?", a fourth season episode aired in November 1972. In this episode, Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and her mother Carol (Florence Henderson) perform the song "Together Wherever We Go" (from the hit 1959 Broadway stage musical "Gypsy") for Marcia's high school talent show, the "Family Night Frolics". Its a bit fondly remembered by aficionados of the program, and cited by McCormick herself as her all-time favorite moment performing on the show. A clip of this performance is located here.]
The Allmusic review of this album sort of says it all:
"If you have fond memories of watching The Brady Bunch while growing up or if you have all the episodes on tape, there's no escaping it -- It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of the Brady Bunch is indispensable. If your appreciation of The Brady Bunch is not so intense, the abundance of bad singing and playing that clutter this disc will not be charming or endearing; it will just be irritating."
I suppose I'm one in the former group; I've owned my copy of this compilation, on either cassette or CD, for decades, and still derive a guilty pleasure from listening to and reveling in these happy, goofy songs. But the attitude by which you decide to approach this album is up to you - I'm just acting as the source for you all! Here for your listening (dis)pleasure is It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch, released by MCA Records on March 2nd, 1993. In any case, as always, let me know what you think.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Various Artists - Woodstock - Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive (38 Discs)


Fifty years since Woodstock... what else can I say that hasn't already been said in the run-up to this historic anniversary? With the reams of memories, commentaries, scholarly dissertations, criticisms, accolades and contextual perspectives published and broadcast over the past couple of months, there is simply no chink of daylight left for a small-time music blogger like myself to add any fresh thoughts or new ideas regarding this seminal, semi-mythical event.

I believe it's the "semi-mythical" part about Woodstock that makes it so hard for modern-day writers to get a handle on the festival, what it was all about, and what it "meant". So much of what most people in this day and age know about Woodstock comes from fragmentary snippets (such as pictures of topless women dancing in the mud, Country Joe McDonald's infamous "Gimme an F!  Gimme a U! Gimme a..." chant, and of course Jimi Hendrix's electrified "Star Spangled Banner") displayed and broadcast constantly over the decades - images that I feel have served to morph the event from simply a gargantuan and well-attended rock festival into this shining, hippie-fied anti-war wonderland of universal hope and community, truly "three days of peace and love".

In conjunction with this, Michael Wadleigh's 1970 documentary film of the concert, while celebrated, presented only three hours of the three-day show... but it drew in contemporary audiences of the time and future audiences who hadn't been/couldn't have been in attendance at the original concert with a contrived sense that, by seeing the movie, they HAD been there, and they were feeling the same sort of glow from that time and place.  Of course, that "glow" had less to do with the overall vibe there, and a lot to do with Wadleigh's skillful film editing (it even got nominated for an Oscar in the Film Editing category, a rare distinction for a documentary). In his original four-star review of Woodstock, critic Roger Ebert (who should have known better) stated "The remarkable thing about Wadleigh's film is that it succeeds so completely in making us feel how it must have been to be there", adding in a later expanded review, "...how touching it is in this film to see the full flower of its moment, of its youth and hope."

So, there's a lot of legend and mythology surrounding Woodstock, which I feel skews the perception of the overall concert.  Music producers Brian Kehow and Andy Zax felt the same way regarding the show's legacy, apparently. Instead of presenting to the public only the parts of the festival that fit into the overarching "peace and love" narrative, Zax and Kehow decided to restore and reconstruct the ENTIRE concert, from start to finish, utilizing all available sources. The result of their decade-plus long effort is what I am presenting here today: a 38-disc, 432-track compilation of nearly every song sung, note played and word spoken from the stage in Bethel, New York from the evening of August 15th to the morning of August 18th, 1969, chronologically sequenced (the only tracks missing are two songs from Hendrix's set, "Mastermind" and "Gypsy Woman"/"Aware Of Love", which his estate requested not be included, and a song and a half ("Teenager In Love" and the first half of "Little Darlin") from Sha Na Na's performance due to a gap in the taping). In all, over 250 of the tracks present within this box set have never seen official release.

This set provides more of a "boots on the ground" perspective of the entire event; not just the highs and lows, but some of the more mundane instances and situations involved in the operation of a large rock concert. The many stage announcements included in this set really give you a sense of being there as a participant, and modifies the established view of how it was there over those three days. Pitchfork recently published an article on this set which describes this feeling and function much better than I ever could; here it is.

This is a gargantuan release, and as such was released in extremely limited quantities - only 1,969 copies (cute) of this set were produced, retailing for $800 or more. Two smaller sets containing selections from this box - the three-disc, 42-track Woodstock – Back To The Garden: 50th Anniversary Collection and the ten-disc, 162-track Woodstock – Back To The Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience - were released earlier this year and are more widely available.

But I got my hands on the source, the granddaddy, and thus I present it to you for your perusal and enjoyment (or at least for those of you without a spare $800 lying around...) - Woodstock - Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive, all thirty-eight discs, released by Rhino Records just last month, on August 2nd, 2019. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Blind Faith - London Hyde Park 1969 (video)


On this date fifty years ago, the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith played its debut concert (and as it turned out, their ONLY live appearance on English soil) on a scorching hot day in London's Hyde Park. Less than three months later, after a 30+-date worldwide tour that ended in Hawaii, the band (comprised of co-lead vocalists keyboardist Steve Winwood (ex-Spencer Davis Group and Traffic) and guiarist Eric Clapton (ex-Bluesbreakers, Yardbirds and Cream), along with drummer Ginger Baker (ex-Cream) and bassist Ric Grech (ex-Family)) called it a day, leaving behind only one
 artifact, their eponymous 1969 album release (with its controversial cover), to mark their passing.

The rapid rise and fall of Blind Faith was the result of wild hype, overblown expectations, and corporate/managerial greed destroying what started out as an informal jam session/get-together between old friends. I would usually go into the details, whys and wherefores of this story of rock 'n' roll misfortune in my own long-winded and inimitable (ha) way... but it appears I won't have to. Writer Johnny Black penned the definitive version of this chronicle for MOJO magazine back in July 1996 - a link to his article is provided here.

So, instead of my blathering on and on regarding the circumstances that led up to this historic day in rock history a half-century ago, how about if I let you all see the performance for yourself?  Here's London Hyde Park 1969, the official video album by the band at their free concert on that day, the full 45-minute show with band member interviews dispersed throughout.  Despite the brevity of the performance, this is still a classic, and worth viewing.

Enjoy London Hyde Park 1969, released on DVD in 2005 and burned to .mp4 format off of my personal copy.  And as always, let me know what you think.

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Nirvana - Into The Black (6-disc set)


Kurt Cobain died twenty-five years ago today... damn.

Hard to believe it's been THAT long, and even still harder for me to believe that there are young adults walking around nowadays who either weren't alive or old enough to be aware of what was going on in music at that time - all of the great tunes and bands that were on the scene, with Nirvana in the forefront. Gotta say, the thought that people missed out on those heady times when they were happening, the times I lived and reveled in and enjoyed... well, it makes me feel sad, and kind of old.

I've already said more than enough about Cobain's band and his suicide in a post I published five years ago on the 20th anniversary of the event (again - wow, it's been that long)... no need to elaborate or belabor that point here again. Instead, to commemorate the life and legacy of the now-immortal Kurt Cobain, I'll just shut my mouth and offer up the following Nirvana hard-to-find for your listening pleasure: the legendary Into The Black box set.

From Wikipedia:
"Into The Black is a six CD box set released by Tribute in 1994, which is often considered the preferred Nirvana bootleg box set due to it being compiled by a knowledgeable fan... Several recordings were obtained specifically for the set and it contains a large amount of material that had not yet surfaced up to the time of its release. The extensive 116-track collection includes demo recordings, two band-made compilations, the 1992 Reading Festival performance and BBC radio sessions from Maida Vale Studios. The set also contains two Seattle shows; the 1991 Halloween homecoming performance for their North American Nevermind tour, and their last ever American show in 1994."
Here's the song lineup, and a summary of the sources of these contents:

Disc 1:
* Tracks 1-9 from Reciprocal Recording, Seattle, WA on January 23, 1988, with the exception of "Beans".
* Tracks 10-12 recorded at Smart Studios, Madison, WI in April 1990 and are sourced from the 7" vinyl bootleg Total Fucking Godhead. "Sappy" and "Polly" can be found on Master Demo Recordings in better quality.
* Tracks 14 and 15 from the November 1, 1989 VPRO session recorded at Villa 65 in Hilversum, Netherlands for Nozems-a-Gogo.
* Tracks 17-20 from the November 9, 1991 BBC session at Maida Vale Studios, sourced from the 7" vinyl bootleg Smells Like Nirvana. "Something in the Way" remains unreleased, while the other songs appeared on Incesticide.
* Tracks 21-23 recorded live at MTV Studios, New York, NY on January 10, 1992.
Disc 2:
* Tracks 1-12 were a band made compilation of songs from two Reciprocal Recording sessions on January 23, 1988 and June 1988, with the exception of "Escalator to Hell". When Into the Black was released, only four of the songs were commercially available.
* Tracks 13-19 recorded at Smart Studios, Madison, WI in April 1990. They were taken from a cassette Nirvana was sending to record labels in 1990, after the original intention for release as the second Sub Pop album was scrapped.

Disc 3:
* All tracks from a near complete soundboard source recorded live on October 31, 1991 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA.
* The only tracks officially released include "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" featured on the DVD portion of With the Lights Out and "Negative Creep" included on From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.
* Other bootleg CDs to feature this show include No Place Like Home on Murphy Records, Happy Halloween on Genocide and Trick or Treat on Kiss the Stone.
Disc 4:
* Tracks 1-16 from an incomplete soundboard source recorded August 30, 1992 at the Reading Festival, taken from the second FM broadcast.
* Although many bootleg CDs feature this performance, they have become obsolete since the release of Live at Reading. However, there is still some interest with collectors because the FM broadcasts contain an alternate sound mix. In addition, the bootleg CD releases maintain better continuity as compared to the official release CD version, which is heavily edited.
Disc 5:
All tracks from a complete audience source recorded live at the Seattle Center Arena in Seattle, WA on January 8, 1994, with the six final tracks of the performance featured on Last American Show Part 2.
Disc 6:
* Tracks 1-6 from a complete audience source recorded live at the Seattle Center Arena in Seattle, WA on January 8, 1994, with the first 19 tracks of the performance featured on Last American Show Part 1.
* Tracks 7-18 from BBC sessions recorded in 1989 and 1991 at Maida Vale Studios.
* Track 19 is Courtney Love's complete eulogy for Kurt Cobain recorded at the Seattle Center Flag Pavilion on April 10, 1994.
So, in memory of Kurt Cobain, I proudly offer up the Into The Black compilation, released on the bootleg label Tribute in 1994. Enjoy, remember, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) - Hellooo Baby - You Know What I Like!


Sixty years to the day since "The Day The Music Died", the plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa in the wee hours of the morning of February 3rd, 1959 that night that killed three touring rock musicians (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, along with local pilot Roger Peterson), one of the more tragic days in rock history.  There will be tons of write ups and remembrances commemorating this day, so I suppose I'm jumping on that bandwagon...

You might not recall this, but in the first (1964-65) season of the TV show Gilligan's Island, the characters The Professor (played by Russell Johnson) and Mary Ann (played by Dawn Wells) weren't referenced by name in the song in the opening credits - it used to go: "...the millionaire, and his wife; the movie star... and the rest - are here on Gilligan's Isle!":


At the time, Johnson and Wells were considered "second-billed co-stars", and not worthy of full acknowledgement in the credits. But as their characters became more popular as the initial season wore on, the star of the series, Bob Denver (who played Gilligan) insisted they also be specifically included in the theme song for the next season. When the studio initially balked at this request, claiming that rerecording the song would be too expensive, Denver (to his credit) threatened to quit the Top 20 show unless it was done, and the studio caved to his demand.

I mention this seemingly unrelated fact regarding Gilligan because to me for many years, I regarded the third entertainment victim of this plane crash, J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), as "the rest" - a sort-of hokey, low-level, small-time comedy act and incidental passenger, whose subsequent immortality was due to his involvement in the same tragedy that snuffed out two of rock's brightest leading lights. The Bopper's "hit", "Chantilly Lace", always seemed to me to be a minor novelty song, nowhere near the level of tonality and sophistication of the tunes that Holly and Valens were putting out at that time.

Then a couple of years ago, I did a little research - "Chantilly Lace" was released on D Records in the spring of 1958, and had such early success that Mercury Records purchased the recording and re-released it under its own label that summer. The song was in the Top 40 for five months, peaking at #6 on Billboard (#4 on Cash Box charts, which measured jukebox plays), and by some measures was the third-most played song of 1958. So it wasn't a fluke or "flash in the pan" after all...

That's when I started taking The Bopper a little more seriously, and started to look a little more in-depth into his life and career.

Jiles P. Richardson (J.P., or "Jape" to his friends) was born in East Texas in 1930, and grew up in Beaumont. He originally set his sights on becoming a lawyer, and after his high school graduation in 1947, attended Lamar College (now Lamar University) there in town, majoring in prelaw. For pocket money while in college, he began working part-time at a local radio station. The station owners quickly recognized the teenager's on-air talent, and gave him a series of advancements and promotions. By 1949, Richardson had quit school and was a full-time employee of the station, supervising all of the station's announcers.

In the spring of 1955, Richardson was drafted, and spent two years in the Army as a radar instructor in El Paso. After his military discharge, he returned to the radio station in 1957. Soon after his return, he began hosting an afternoon show featuring rock and pop dance hits. He recalled seeing local college students doing a new dance called The Bop... thus, "The Big Bopper Show" was born, with Richardson assuming that moniker from then on.

In addition to being a broadcast personality, Richardson was also a guitarist, and began penning his own songs while he was in the Army. His music came to the attention of local country music producer Harold "Pappy" Daily (owner of Texas labels Starday and D Records, and
an A&R rep for Mercury Records), who signed him to Mercury in mid-1957. Richardson's first record, the country-flavored single "Beggar To A King" b/w "Crazy Blues" (credited to "Jape Richardson & The Japetts"), was released that October to little to no notice (however, the song would be rerecorded after his death by Hank Snow, making it to #5 on the Country charts in 1961).

As I noted above, Richardson's follow-up song, "Chantilly Lace", was a huge hit. As part of the promotion for that song, The Bopper arranged for a performance to be filmed at a Texas supper club in mid-1958; segments of this performance are provided in the clip below:


As primitive and rudimentary as it is, this performance is now credited as the first ever music video... and it was not a haphazard, poorly-considered action. The Bopper fully believed that video was the wave of the future for rock, and in late 1958, he was actually preparing to start production on music videos for TV and was making plans for the design of a special video jukebox to play them on. So the guy was a futurist, entrepreneur and innovator as well! What's more, he's even credited with coining the term "music video" in a 1959 interview with Disc, a British music magazine, published just days before his death.

Richardson's songwriting prowess proved its worth a couple more times in 1958 with hits for other artists, the first of which was "Treasure Of Love", a #6 Country hit that fall for up-and-coming country star George Jones. It also including "Running Bear", written for his friend Johnny Preston. Recorded in 1958 with Richardson's backing vocals, the song was not released until late 1959, but still made it to #1 on the US Hot 100 for three weeks in January 1960.

Along with his dreams of starting a video recording/production business, Richardson was increasingly interested in acquiring his own radio station there in Texas.  But despite the success of the tunes provided to his friends, and his own follow-up to "Chantilly Lace", the novelty hit "The Big Bopper's Wedding" b/w "Little Red Riding Hood" (released in November 1958), Richardson's financial resources for these plans were limited. So in December 1958, he agreed to take part in the "Winter Dance Party" rock 'n' roll package tour of towns and cities in the upper Midwest, scheduled to begin in late January 1959 (the tour headliner, Buddy Holly, also signed on for financial reasons - he had split from his previous band, The Crickets, that prior November, and the group's manager Norman Petty was withholding Holly's royalty payments; for all intents and purposes, Buddy Holly was broke by the beginning of 1959, and needed to go out on the road to earn some income).

The Winter Dance Party tour began on January 23rd, 1959 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and soon devolved into a nightmare of logistical and weather-related challenges - including a poorly mapped-out tour schedule (the distance between some daily venues would be as much as 400 miles, zig-zagging all over the region - in some cases passing through cities and towns the tour had played just a few days earlier...), subzero temperatures and waist-deep snow, inadequate transportation (unreliable, poorly heated - or in some cases unheated - school buses), and no support crew (the artists had to load, set up and break down their own equipment). By mid-tour, half of the performers, including Valens and Richardson, had come down with colds and the flu, and Buddy Holly's drummer Carl Bunch had to be hospitalized for frostbitten feet incurred on another long frigid bus journey.

By the time the tour arrived in Clear Lake, Iowa for the February 2nd gig (after a 350+ mile journey from Green Bay, Wisconsin), Holly had pretty much had it. Knowing that the next stop on the tour was Moorhead, Minnesota, another 350+ mile journey almost due north on a badly-heated bus into even colder weather, Holly decided to charter a plane that night to fly himself and his remaining backing band (Tommy Allsup on guitar and Waylon Jennings on bass) to their next destination. There, they could get some rest, wash some clothes, and wait for the rest of the tour participants to arrive. He felt they needed the break; the next gig after Moorhead was scheduled for the very next day (February 4th) in Sioux City, Iowa, another 300+ mile journey.

Hearing about the charter flight that night during the show, a deathly ill Richardson pleaded with Jennings for his plane seat, and Jennings acquiesced. Valens was intensely afraid of planes and flying due to a tragic incident two years earlier,
the January 1957 midair collision between a Douglas DC-7 and a U.S. Air Force fighter jet over Pacoima, California, with debris from the crippled planes landing in Valens' junior high playground just as recess was ending. Seventy-four people on the ground were injured and three killed, including friends of Valens (he was at his grandfather's funeral that day, and wasn't at the school). But even with his fears, he too was too ill and miserable to face another long, cold overnight bus ride. So, following The Big Bopper's lead, Valens asked Allsup for his place on the charter flight that night. Allsup wasn't as willing as Jennings to lose his place on the plane, so instead he and Valens decided to flip a coin for it - Ritchie "won".

After the show, Holly, Valens and Richardson were driven over to the nearby Mason City Municipal Airport, where they boarded the Beechcraft Bonanza piloted by Peterson and took off in overcast weather and light snow just before 1 a.m. on February 3rd. The aircraft crashed at high speed just minutes later, less than six miles from the airport. Everyone on board was killed instantly. The wreckage wasn't found until later that morning, shortly after sunrise.


After identification and autopsy, The Bopper's body was returned to Texas, where he was buried the following week at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Beaumont. J. P. Richardson was only 28 years old when he died.

But he left behind one final legacy; in the week immediately after The Big Bopper's death, his friend George Jones reentered the studio to record a song written earlier that winter and provided to him by Richardson just before he left for the Midwest. Understandably distraught due to the death of his lifelong friend, Jones arrived at the studio drunk, and continued drinking throughout the session. All in all, it took eighty takes to finally get the song on vinyl. Released later that month, the single "White Lightning" b/w "Long Time To Forget" became a smash hit, reaching #1 Country by April 1959, the first of thirteen chart-topping hits by Jones during his subsequent 60-year career in music.


The Iowa plane crash was one of a series of events and incidents in the late '50s/early '60s that, in my opinion, threw American rock 'n' roll out of whack. These include Little Richard renouncing secular music and turning to religion after a harrowing incident during a tour in Australia in late 1957; Elvis Presley getting drafted into the Army in March 1958 for a two-year hitch; the uproar in mid-1958 surrounding the revelation that Jerry Lee Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown; Chuck Berry's arrest in late 1959 and subsequent conviction and jailing over an alleged Mann Act violation; and Eddie Cochran's fatal road accident while on tour in England in early 1960 (a crash that also seriously injured rockabilly legend Gene Vincent, and possibly shortened his career). By the end of that decade, most if not all of the biggest names, pioneers and innovators in rock music had been sidelined - leaving a huge, sucking vacuum that was initially filled in the late '50s/early '60s by bland, "safe" crooners with tenuous connections to rock 'n' roll - Tommy Sands, Fabian, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Ricky Nelson and the like - the so-called "Teen Idol" era. "The Day The Music Died" was the day rock 'n' roll lost its heart, its soul... and indeed, its balls. And it wouldn't regain that spirit of independence and innovation for many years to follow, until the emergence of new rock innovators from California (The Beach Boys) and England (The Beatles and many others) in the early 1960s.

The long-term impact to the music industry stemming from this February 1959 plane crash should no longer be evaluated according to the legacies and unfulfilled potentials of only Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Far from being a one-hit wonder or comedy rocker, Jiles P. Richardson, through his music and his far-ahead-of-their-time ideas about the future presentation and promotion of rock artists, had just as much talent and unrealized potential as his two lost plane mates. I no longer consider him to be an incidental victim in a larger tragedy, but as a equal to Holly and Valens; to me, The Big Bopper is no longer "the rest", but truly one of the "three stars" lost, and fully deserving of the decades of sorrow and heartfelt tribute associated with his loss on that terrible day.

Compared to Ritchie Valens and the uber-prolific Buddy Holly, Richardson released only a small number of recordings during his lifetime. While both Holly and Valens have had several expansive box sets of their work released over the years (including one provided here last year), The Big Bopper has rarely received that sort of recognition - only a incomplete compilation of his tunes (Hellooo Baby! The Best of The Big Bopper 1954-1959) released by Rhino Records in 1989.

This situation was rectified back in 2010, with the release of the album provided here. This disc includes every known song and song version (LP or rare single-only version) recorded by Richardson in his lifetime, along with an additional eight cuts featuring tributes and answer songs to some of the singer's most beloved tunes. As far as Big Bopper releases are concerned, it gets no more complete than here.

So here for your listening pleasure on the anniversary of one of the most tragic days in music history, I proudly present you with Hellooo Baby - You Know What I Like!, the definitive Big Bopper compilation, released by German label Bear Family Records on June 1st, 2010. Enjoy, and as always, let me know if I know what you like!

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