Ben Sidran – Don’t Let Go (1974)

Ben Sidran
Don’t Let Go
1974 Blue Thumb BTS 6012 


A1 Fat Jam 3:23
A2 House Of Blue Lites 3:08
A3 Ben Sidran’s Midnite Tango 2:40
A4 The Chicken Glide 3:43
A5 She’s Funny That Way 3:34
A6 Monopoly 1:27


B1 Don’t Let Go 3:18
B2 Hey Hey Baby 3:30
B3 The Foolkiller 3:45
B4 The Funky Elephant 3:27
B5 Snatch 3:48
B6 Down To The Bone 1:08

Alto Saxophone – Bunky Green
Bass – Kip Merklein (tracks: B4), Phil Upchurch, Randy Fullerton (tracks: A1 to B3, B5, B6)
Drums – Tom Piazza (tracks: B2)
Drums, Percussion – Clyde Stubblefield, George Brown, Phil Upchurch
Guitar – James P. Cooke, Phil Upchurch
Harmonica – Jerry Alexander
Organ – Jim Peterman
Piano, Vocals – Ben Sidran
Tenor Saxophone – Sonny Seals
Horns arranged  by Sonny Burke

Strings arranged by Les Hooper
Art Direction – John P. Schmelzer

 

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Possibly it is because of his uncanny resemblance to Neil Innes – or the suspicious fact that nobody has ever seen them both in the same place, at the same time – but  sometimes I don’t know how seriously to take Ben Sidran.  But I doubt that fact would bother him, because he’s been far too busy accomplishing an insane amount of things in his long and prolific career for my perplexity to concern him at all.  Although at this point in his life as an artist, Ben Sidran is pretty firmly ensconced in the “jazz” area of your local record store, his overall vision and his diverse body of work taken as a whole is pretty hard to categorize, and there is a touch of whimsy to much of it.  Plus, his records are always fun, a word that doesn’t get paired with “jazz” nearly enough.

In his early days, he flirted with the life of rock stardom when he teamed up with his old college friend Steve Miller.  Sidran contributed extensively to his most interesting record (Brave New World), co-wrote his most charming hit single (Space Cowboy), stuck around for a few more records before going back to his old home base of Madison, Wisconsin, where he has essentially stayed ever since. He published his doctoral dissertation (which he earned in England in the 60s while moonlighting as a session man) as a book, back when dissertations were actually readable,  called ‘Black Talk’.  He hosted a late-night television show as idiosyncratic as he was, called “The Weekend Starts Now,”  in which he had guests like Kinky Friedman and Jane Fonda when she was at her anti-war finest, as well as jazz heavies like McCoy Tyner and Danny Richmond.  He’s worked with Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Phil Upchurch (who appears on the album here), and produced records for Mose Allison, Van Morrison, and Georgie Fame.  And somehow he has managed all this while also hanging out with Eric Idle and George Harrison and producing an entirely separate body of work under the name Neil Innes.

On his own albums, Sidran’s stable of musicians was always interesting.  For “Don’t Let Go” we have fellow Madison resident Clyde Stubblefield on drums, Phil Upchurch on bass and guitar, and saxophonists Sonny Seals and Bunky Green all joining the party.  Jim Peterman, a colleague from his Steve Miller days, provides some organ on a few tracks. The original songs here are all compelling, and Sidran seamlessly blends in jazz chesnuts from other composers: a very free and liberal interpretation of fellow Wisconsin-ite Freddie Slack’s “House of Blue Lites” seasoned with some profanity and jabs at New York snobbery,  a similarly stylized “She’s Funny That Way” (recorded by Gene Austin), Bud Powell’s brief ‘Monopoly’, and “The Foolkiller” from Sidran’s most obvious musical idol, Mose Allison. The original tracks span jazz, funk, and even soul in the song “Hey Hey Baby,” which is almost catchy enough to be a hit, as soon as understated Mose Allison-like beatnik crooning comes back into style.    Allison’s “Foolkiller” is arranged in an unrecognizable way and ornamented with greasy slide guitars and harmonica.  The only track that really nods to his past as a denizen of 60’s swinging London is the group composition (mostly likely emerging from an improvised jam) titled The Funky Elephant,which sounds like Dr.John dropping acid with The Beatles.  But not the 1968 Beatles so much as the 1974 Beatles, so basically a few years before they formed Klaatu, I guess.  The cut “Snatch” showcases Stubblefield at his best on the drum kit, tossed over a bed of mixed Wurlitzer and piano, and horn and string charts that make it all sound so easy. (It also makes an appearance on Flabbergasted Freeform Fourteen.)

A curious bit of trivia about the title track of the album: it was written for the original television series adaptation of “Serpico” but was shelved when the project was put on hold for several years due to legal complications.  When the show finally took to the airwaves in 1976 (for only one season, alas), Sidran’s track was not used.  It was written for a scene in which Frank Serpico is a given a surprise birthday party by the rest of his precinct and gets all teary-eyed and starts hugging and kissing everyone.*

Sidran appears to be, constitutionally speaking, a workaholic unable to simply take it easy.  He continues to record, perform, and write.  One of his most recent endeavors is a book regarding the role of Jews in the music business, titled “There Was a Fire: Jews, Music, and the American Dream.”  I’m sure archive-based historians might turn up their noses a bit at his interloping, but as a Jew and a musician I think he’s got a right to explore the subject, and seems to have kept busy on the lecture circuit talking about the book over the last few years.  You can catch some of his talks on his YouTube channel.  This channel, incidentally, is one of the more impressive artist channels I have seen on YouTube, as somebody (if not Sidran himself, then a stalwart staffer) has uploaded a ton of archival material, including lots of clips from the aforementioned television program from the early 1970s.  Check it out here.

(*Disclaimer: this trivia fact may or may not have any basis in our consensual reality.)

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Clifton Chenier – Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band (1978)

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Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band
1978 Arhoolie Records – 1078

A1         Grand Prix     3:05
A2         Hungry Man Blues     4:30
A3         Parti De Paris     2:20
A4         Take Off Your Dress     4:40
A5         Party Down (At The Blue Angel Club)     4:30
B1         Falksy Girl     4:20
B2         Easy, Easy Baby     3:05
B3         Tante Na Na     3:50
B4         Do Right Sometime     3:35
B5         Highway Blues     3:20

    Bass – Joseph Bruchet
Drums – Robert Peter
Guitar – Paul Senegal
Piano, Organ – Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural
Saxophone – John Hart
Washboard  – Cleveland Chenier
Vocals, Accordion – Clifton Chenier

  Producer – Chris Strachwitz
Photography By – Edmund Shea
Cover – Wayne Pope

Recorded April 25, 1977 at Sea-Saint Studios, New Orleans, La. except A4 which was recorded October 27, 1975 in Bogalusa, La.

Like many before me, my early interest as a teenager in jazz, funk and blues led me to the music of New Orleans.  That interest piqued further when I found a collection of sides recorded for Atlantic by Professor Longhair in the 1950s at a public library , and then went out and bought everything I could get my hands on.  Before long my ear wandered up the countryside to the bayous and swamps where music sounded a little different than in the city, namely to cajun and zydeco records. Not speaking any French, let alone Acadian or Creole, I couldn’t understand a word of much of it, yet I still felt like I connected to the music. Before the term ‘zydeco’ came into common musical parlance outside its region of origin, Clifton Chenier was said to have played “the blues accordion.” That description makes sense. Chenier, who had been recording since the early 60s, had a style capable of filling the space usually filled by a harmonica in a blues band and blending it with the piano or organ riffs you would expect from a keyed instrument.  Reeds and keys together in one place.   But his musical ladle also dipped into a stew containing fiddle tunes from around Louisiana’s “Cajun belt,” along with rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, and early rock and roll music. His band briefly featured his brother Morris Chenier on fiddle in the 60s, but his lineups more typically counted on saxophone, electric guitar, bass, organ and piano to back him up. And he was always accompanied by his brother Cleveland on the washboard, who is credited with being the first washboard player to wear his instrument draped over the torso in a customized breastplate-type thing. Cleveland would tap out his rhythms using up to a half-dozen bottle openers in each hand.
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This particular album has quite a few tunes that are fairly straight forward blues, and “Hungry Man” may strike many as being eerily close to a certain McKinley Morganfield song. It is also from the period when a young Stanley Dural (aka Buckwheat Zydeco) was playing keyboards with Chenier. It might be Dural (who previously played in a funk band) whose influence we hear on the one tune that deviates a bit from the rest on this album. “Party Down (At The Blue Angel Club)” is positively funky with a taste of wah guitar and some delicious sax riffs. Between the ballads and the burners there is one tune that cries out for fiddle, the waltz-time “Tante Na Na,” but Chenier’s accordion carries the day with grace and grace notes.  The song is kind of a staple in a lot of dance band repertoires and I’d be interested in knowing its origins if there is anyone out there who knows. (All the tracks are attributed to Chenier, which seems like a bit of legal fiction by the folks at Arhoolie).  The next track (Do Right Sometime) disposes with everything but the drums, washboard and the sax which just plays rhythm, but the chord changes somehow still sound fleshed out.
This is also a cool record because it catches Chenier’s band at an interesting time, riding a wave of mounting interest in the genre that he played a huge in creating. By the late 70s he could be found playing both the Montreux and New Orleans Jazz Festivals. But zydeco would become even more famous in the next decade, and Chenier himself would become the first zydeco musician to win a Grammy award.

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 Listen to this record a few times in a row and you might just end up like this guy

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Jimmy McGriff – Countdown (1983)

 
Jimmy McGriff
“Countdown”
1983, Milestone  (M-9116)


1. I’m Walkin’ (Domino and Bartholomew)
2. Holly (Jimmy Mcgriff)
3. Down For The Count (Frank Foster)
4. Blow Your Horn (Benny Green)
5. Since I Fell For You (Buddy Johnson)
6. Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster)


Clifford Adams, Jr – trombone
Marshall Keys – alto sax
Arnold Sterling – alto and tenor sax
Jimmy McGriff – organ
Melvin Sparks – guitar
Vance James – drums


Produced by Bob Porter
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder
Recorded on April 27 and 28, 1983

Vinyl ; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
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Organ combos are often a whipping-boy for jazz purists.  Seated behind an instrument with limited emotional range, organists were perhaps in the forefront of artists who extended the jazz tradition of dipping into the “great tradition of popular song” of Cole Porter or Gershwin and looking to the contemporary hit parade to produce jazzed up versions of Carol King, Burt Bacharach, Ray Charles or funkier fare like Sly Stone and Motown, earning the ire of critics who lambasting this ‘pandering’ to commercial trends.  By the nineteen-seventies the funky soul-jazz record was so ubiquitous that it seemed like a handful or artists were able to crank them out quicker than hotcakes from a griddle and with about as much variety.  Even if I personally love most of this stuff, I acknowledge that, as one of my friends Stumpy McFinn (a pseudonym) put it regarding his own feelings for these records, “A little goes a long way.”

So as the golden age of soul-jazz and jazz-funk faded away, where did it leave some of the people who made a healthy livelihood from it and left us some great records like “The Worm,” “Electric Funk,” and “Groove Grease”?   With a recording date of 1983, I braced myself for lower expectations when I picked up this record cheap as dirt, and instead found myself liking it quite a bit.   Relieved not to find McGriff trading in his Hammond for a Fairlight synth or strutting around the stage with a “keytar,” he instead retrenches his roots more than he’d done since his days on Sue Records.  The repertoire is anything but contemporary, leading off with a New Orleans stroll by way of Fats Domino’s hit “I’m Walkin'”, whose vamp outro might be the funkiest thing on the record.  The album embraces a big band sound with small group arrangements, written in a way to create aural illusions that, as McGriff said to the Newark Star-Ledger reporter whose story comprises the liner notes, uses “close harmonies and voicings to make you hear some things that aren’t really there.”  Two selections are Frank Foster tunes from the songbook of the Count Basie Orchestra, “Down For the Count” and “Shiny Stockings,” and the slow blues “Since I Fell For You” has me wanting to burst out into the lyrics —

You made me leave my happy home
You took my love, and now you’re gone
Since I fell for you 

The sideman on this date all hold their own but the potential show stealers are guitarist Melvin Sparks and trombonist Clifford Adams (member of Kool & The Gang and a presence on some of my favorite soul-jazz efforts from the likes of Charles Earland and Lonnie Liston Smith).  Adams gets to trade riffs with saxophonists Marhsall Keys and Arnold Sterling on “Blow Your Horn,” the most driving tune here which also happens to have been written by legendary trombonist Bennie Green.  Drummer Vance James is a no-frills player who holds down the shuffles and the swing with aplomb; he also played on records by frequent McGriff collaborator Hank Crawford during the 80s and 90s.  The sound on this record is wonderfully full-bodied, with Rudy Van Gelder behind the board, and “production” limited to a splash of reverb on the horns.  There may be no surprises or blinding flights of inspiration on this album, but there are no gimmicks either.  A solid low-key listen for a lazy Sunday like today.

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Joe Turner Meets Jimmy Witherspoon – Patcha, Patcha All Night Long (1985)

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Joe Turner Meets Jimmy WItherspoon
“Patcha, Patcha, All Night Long”
1985 Pablo Records 2310-913
A1 Patcha, Patcha 7:30
A2 Blues Lament 12:07
B1 You Got Me Runnin’ 3:33
 B2 Kansas City On My Mind 7:56
B3 J.T.’s Blues 5:38
 B4 I Want A Little Girl 5:46

Bass – Rudy Brown,
Drums – Al Duncan,
Guitar – Gary Bell,
Keyboards – Bobby Blevins, 
Saxophone – Lee Allen
, Saxophone [Alto] – Red Holloway,
Saxophone [Baritone] – Jerry Jummonville,
Trumpet – Ike Williams

Producer – Norman Granz

 

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

There’s really no particular reason why I’m posting this particular album other than that I was going through my crates of records, stumbled on this one, and realized I couldn’t remember what it sounded like. So I took it out, put it on the turntable, and now here it is.

This could be called a ‘jump blues’ album but it’s basically jam session and, like the Kansas City tradition where Joe Turner hails from, what you call it isn’t really all that important. It’s the groove and the swing and all these guys got plenty of it. Nat Hentoff provides nice liner notes, although he doesn’t praise Red Holloway nearly enough, and doesn’t even mention stalwart blues drummer Al Duncan. He also skirts around the fact that he had nothing to do with the session, wasn’t there, and doesn’t seem to have anything to say about the particular day in the studio when these two luminaries were brought together. Label head Norman Granz (of Jazz At The Philharmonic and Verve Records) apparently had Big Joe doing all kinds of ‘duet’ albums like this during his stint with Pablo, but this is the only one I have. In reality, they only sing *together* on the first side, where they trade off verses. The second is split evenly between the two of them.

 Hentoff, oddly enough, mentions being surprised by a rather disturbing line that Witherspoon sings in the impromptu “Blues Lament”, but only because he hadn’t heard it before, not because it was, well, really, REALLY not cool: “I’m going to take you to the dentist tomorrow morning, because I’m knockin’ out all your teeth tonight.” Dude… just not cool at all.

 Spoon sounds really at ease doing Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Runnin’.” Although both these guys were in the twilights of their careers at this point, I have to say that Witherspoon sounds in better form. He nails this, and the chestnut standard “I Want A Little Girl,” which has become an unofficial anthem for pedophiles the world over. Big Joe is a lot of fun though. Kansas City On My Mind is a great slow-burner, but the kicker for me is “J.T.’s Blues”. I’ll also give $20 to anyone who can transcribe the lyrics to the first verse. I actually find myself cracking up laughing trying to figure out what the hell he’s saying.

 Just for the hell if it, I’ve included a partial list of all the people who’ve recorded “I Want A Little Girl.”
 I WANT A LITTLE GIRL
(Billy Moll / Murray Mancher)

McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (vocal: George Thomas) – 1930

Count Basie & His Orch. – 1956
Big Joe Turner – 1956
Ray Charles – 1958
Benny Goodman’s Big Band – 1958
Billy Eckstine (with Count Basie & His Orch.) – 1959
Vic Damone – 1962
Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One – 1964
Jimmy Rushing – 1971
Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson – 1981
Roy Eldridge – 1986
Joe Williams – 1987
Jimmy Witherspoon – 1988
Bert Firman & his Rhythmic Eight – 1930
Louis Armstrong – 1946
Kay Starr (“Boy”) – 1955
Sammy Price – 1957
Nat “King” Cole w Count Basie’s Orch (but not CB!) ’58

Also recorded by:
Pee Wee Russell; Jimmy Smith; Ike Quebec; Ben Webster;
Jack McDuff; Lou Donaldson; T-Bone Walker; Earl Hines;
Clark Terry…….and others.

 Not an essential piece of either of their discographies, but still a fun record to have around.

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Grifters – One Sock Missing (1993)

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GRIFTERS
One Sock Missing
Released 1993
Shangri-La Records 004

1 Bummer 2:53
2 She Blows Blasts of Static 4:04
3 Shark 4:16
4 Teenage Jesus 3:02
5 ‘Side 2:50
6 #1 1:16
7 Tupelo Moan 5:06
8 Wonder 1:20
9 Corolla Hoist 4:02
10 Encrusted 2:19
11 The Casual Years 3:19
12 Sain 2:28
13 Just Passing Out 3:21
14 I Arise 4:35

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So here is something you don’t see everyday on this blog. I’m too tired to write much lately and so this is sort of a cop-out post. Pulled this off the shelf the other day and was surprised how much it still tickles my eardrum. Did the Grifters have vibe? You bet. Could their music melt the faces off of any current-day skinny-pants ‘indie’ band? Hells yeah. These guy were ‘lo-fi’ when that term did not signify an affected, contrived aesthetic choice, but an economic one where musicians creatively pushed the limits of whatever recording gear they could get their hands on in the days before every schmuck with a computer had a studio at home. Plus they were from Memphis, where ‘vibe’ is included with your zipcode. These guys could lurch vertiginous from dirty, scuzzy, noisy rock to moments of undelicate beauty, sometimes in the same tune. One of my favorite musically bipolar choices of the era. While the band’s songwriting would develop and sophisticate itself rather quickly and pleasingly in the albums to come, this one boasts the spontaneity and messiness that they would lose somewhat around the time they got picked up by Sub Pop and then had their career crash and burn. You know, like all those other bands. Along with ‘The Eureka EP’ this is one of their better hidden pleasures. Partially recorded in a flower shop, partially at Easley Studio, it sounds the way it ought to.

Oh, I had actually prepared this to share elsewhere but a CRC-mismatching error on the fourth track made it ineligible there, so that’s another reason why I am breaking form a bit and featuring it here. What the hell, it’s the holidays. Just an FYI for those of you who crave 100% error free audio extraction, this isn’t one of those..


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