Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Miracles - Way Over There (Tamla 54028)


Way Over There

This is one of those records that still knocks me out every time I hear it. A record that never dented the charts, yet somehow managed to change the world.

The Miracles had the first release on Berry Gordy's newly created Motown label in September of 1959. Through his brother-in-law Roquel 'Billy' Davis, Gordy was able to secure national distribution for the single by leasing it to Chess. Despite the Chicago label's considerable industry muscle, Chess 1734 barely made it into the Billboard Hot 100, crawling to #93 in early October.

It was Tamla 54027 however, which had been released that August, that Gordy believed was destined for greatness. Billy Davis thought so too and, although I'm not sure why it took so long, he picked it up for release on Anna 1111 (which would also be distributed nationally by Chess) in March of 1960. They were right, of course, and Barret Strong's Money (That's What I Want) shot straight to #2 R&B and stayed there for six weeks of its five month run on the charts. It is one of those songs that will live on forever.

It was on the strength of that monster hit that Gordy was finally recognized as the hit-making force he was to become, and he was able to secure national distribution for future releases on his own terms and on his own labels.

The next Tamla release, 54028, was by The Miracles and had been issued in September of 1959, presumably around the same time as 'Bad Girl'. The A Side, The Feeling Is So Fine, wasn't much of a song, and certainly wouldn't fly as the follow-up single to 'Money'. Gordy pulled the record back, and replaced the top side with a great new Gospel inflected song Smokey Robinson had written, Way Over There, in February of 1960. But Gordy still wasn't through. He would withdraw it again, re-cut the song with a little more drive, add some strings, and put it out in March as this third and final incarnation of Tamla 54028 that we have here today.

As I said, I just love it to death. The teenaged Smokey is singing his heart out on this one... dig that little tip of the hat to Sam Cooke there on the fade, man. Awesome. Despite Gordy's high hopes, I'm sure, that the record would become another There Goes My Baby, it didn't happen, and Tamla and The Miracles would have to wait until December to bust things wide open with Shop Around. "That's all very nice, Red," you might ask, "but what on earth does all of this have to do with Record Store Day?"

Well, I dug this one out from under the stacks and stacks of vintage vinyl on a recent foray with John Broven and Dickie Tapp to one of the coolest record stores on earth, Platter World in Garfield, New Jersey.

Beloved owner Charlie Rigolosi passed away at 87 years old in February. "I've had a long run," he said, "...before they close the casket they're gonna play two songs - Artie Shaw's version of 'Yesterdays' and 'Begin The Beguine'. Then they close the casket and that's the end of Charlie." An inveterate record collector since he spent most of his allowance on an Artie Shaw 78 in 1940, it's sad to think that he is no longer behind the counter, surrounded by the incredible mountain of vinyl he nurtured and loved. He will most certainly be missed.

Charlie's daughter Gina is committed to doing the right thing by her Dad's records, however, and she and her husband Joe open the shop up every weekend. This is not some cutesy place that stocks a few vanity pressings by the latest angst-ridden alternative band-du-jour. This is a real Record Store. A place where you can dig through thousands of mostly un-categorized LPs and 45s on your own vinyl voyage of discovery... a rare find indeed in this digital age. You owe it to yourself to check it out!




In Vinyl Veritas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby (Teem 1008)


Merry Christmas Baby

OK folks, as you may recall, last year we did an extensive examination of the many different versions of Charles Brown's Merry Christmas, Baby. At the time I said, "...Johnny couldn't resist cutting his own version of Merry Christmas, Baby, releasing it on his obscure Teem subsidiary. I've never actually seen a copy." Well, since then I was able to score us this very VG- one on eBay (thanks, Eli!), and I figured you'd like to hear it...

Although there's no Cosimo Code on the record, we can date it as being released for Christmas 1963, which would coincide with the first Liberty release of the aforementioned Aladdin/Imperial version. Maybe Vincent thought he had a shot at the Southern juke box circuit, I don't know. In any event, it seemed odd that the publishing on the Teem 45 was now listed as Johnny's own Ace Publishing (a brazen claim even by Imbragulio standards), but now that I've heard it, I can see how he pulled it off. Song titles, as you know, cannot be copyrighted, only song lyrics - so Johnny had Brown write him a whole new version:

"Let's make Christmas merry, baby, make it last through New Year's Eve, I want to kiss and be near you until the old year leaves..."

I am right there with that!

After I wrote that whole thing up last Christmas, I found one more Charles Brown 45 that had somehow flown under the radar, Ace 775. I snagged that one for us on eBay as well and, as it turns out, it is cut from the same master as our current selection. Oddly, it is not listed in The R&B Indies, and the nearest Ace release number I can find is 674 which (according to The Code) was issued in 1966. Hmmm... I imagine Johnny Vincent pressed it up on his main imprint every Christmas, once Teem had ceased to exist. [John Broven has since postulated that the matrix number, 92772, refers to a date, as in 9/27/72. Sounds about right, I'd say!]

"I'm so happy to be near you, baby, on this lovely Christmas morn, well I know we all remember it's today that Christ was born."

Amen! Merry Christmas, Everybody!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Fats Domino - What A Price (Imperial 5763)


What A Price

Fats Domino has sold over 65 million records and yet, it seems, he gets no respect. I think it's difficult to truly understand the impact he had on the development of Rock & Roll from our vantage point here some 53 years after he cut his first hit for Imperial and changed the course of history in the process. He would chart fifty five more times for the label before he moved on to ABC-Paramount in 1963 - a number which includes some thirty-eight top ten R&B hits, nine of which climbed to number one. This buttery bowl of pure Creole Gumbo we have here today would hit #7 R&B in early 1961, and is as good an example of a 'non-coded' Cosimo 45 as you are likely to get.

Rick Coleman has written the definitive biography on Fats, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and The Lost Dawn of Rock 'N' Roll, and has been working with archivist Joe Lauro on creating a film version of his life and times for almost ten years. As Lauro told John Broven and I last week, "You'd think in this case, with a guy who was such a big star and sold so many records, that there would be some kind of corporate interest in backing the project but, sadly, there isn't." Joe runs a company called Historic Films (which is headquartered right here on Long Island), and when he recently acquired the rights to some French footage of a full 1962 Fats performance with Dave Bartholomew leading the band, he knew the time was ripe to move the project forward.



Please join me in my support of THE BIG BEAT: The Story of Fats Domino & His Band on Kickstarter... with Fats turning 85 and Dave Bartholomew 93, it certainly feels like it's time we got this story told:


Thank You.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bobby Bland - Members Only (Malaco 2122)


Members Only

Here's Bobby Bland's last chart hit, which would just miss the R&B top fifty in 1985. Sounding every bit as good today as it did back then... how could it be possible that 1985 was twenty eight years ago?

"They're throwing a party for the broken-hearted, and it's Members Only tonight."

Yes it is.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chris Kenner - Time (Instant 3244)



Time

As I was saying over on the other side:

"On the way back from Memphis on the Road Trip last August, John Broven invited me to take part in a discography project he had been working on for a few years with John Ridley and a couple of other major UK record collectors. The project, he said, involved New Orleans music, in particular the music cut by Cosimo Matassa at his studio on Governor Nicholls Street. I am, as you know, a big fan of that music, and was fascinated by what he had to say. I immediately agreed to come on board.

The project had to do with deciphering the numbers that Cosimo had begun (in October of 1960) stamping on virtually every 45 he cut, mastered or pressed at the studio, numbers which we were soon referring to as 'The Cosimo Code'. Broven and Company had identified hundreds of these 45s by the time I got there, with more being found every day. My job was to ready the project for the internet, so we could open it up to the public. As I got further into it, I began to appreciate the sheer magnificence of this music we were talking about. Again and again, I would be blown away by some obscure record I had never heard..."


Records like this way cool Gospel-flavored number we have here. Kenner gave us an inkling of his Sunday-go-to-Meeting roots in the restored intro to Land of 1000 Dances, but here he's just going for it. Given three stars by Billboard when it first came out, it really gets moving there towards the end. Check out Toussaint's piano... "Can I Get A Witness?" Chris asks over those mournful background vocals, very obviously led by our man Benny Spellman... just unreal!

It was records like this one that convinced me of the importance of the project, and fired me up to get the job done. And so, after many months spent working behind the scenes, I am proud to announce that there is a new website in town: cosimocode.com



Come on over and Join the Team!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas, Baby (Imperial 5902)



Merry Christmas, Baby

Hi folks. I don't know if you've noticed this but, in this day and age of things like Pandora and Sirius XM, the actual versions of many of the songs they play are different from the 'classic' originals that have been ingrained in our heads. I imagine they pick the ones that have the clearest licensing, and figure that most of their target audience (read: not crusty old record nerds like yours truly), won't know the difference anyway. In any event, the practice seems to run particularly rampant in the field of R&B Christmas Music, especially when it comes to this tune... but there may be a reason for that.


The first of many versions, of course, was recorded for Leon Rene's Exclusive label when Charles was the vocalist with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in 1947. It would break into the R&B top ten the next three Decembers in a row. When Exclusive went belly up in 1949, it appears that the master was picked up by Swing Time, who would change the label credit to read 'Charles Brown with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers', as Charles had headed out on his own by then, and was charting under his own name for the Aladdin label.


Aladdin (originally named Philo) had been the label that released Moore's 1946 mega-hit Driftin' Blues, and was only too happy to sign Brown as a solo artist once he left The Blazers. Nothing short of an R&B superstar, Charles would spend 103 weeks on Billboard's Race Chart between 1949 and 1952, including an incredible twenty nine weeks in the number one position.


In 1953, the colorful Country & Western impresario Don Pierce started up the Hollywood label, initially as an outlet for West Coast R&B. In October of 1954, Pierce would buy the master of Merry Christmas, Baby from Swing Time as Hollywood made the switch from 78 to 45.

According to this Billboard ad, by 1955 the label had coupled it with another Swing Time master, Lloyd Glenn's Sleigh Ride, and it would top Hollywood's impressive list of Christmas releases from that moment on, with a copy spinning on virtually every juke box from coast to coast. By this time, the hits had all but dried up for Mister Brown, and I'm sure it irked the Mesner brothers at Aladdin to see this perennial best seller line Pierce's pockets instead of their own.

In September of 1956, Aladdin would send Charles (and his main squeeze Amos Milburn) down to Cosimo's Studio on Governor Nicholls Street in New Orleans for a now legendary session with the fabled studio band led by Earl Palmer. There they they would cut a new rendition of Merry Christmas, Baby, and release it on both 78 and 45 that December, with Brown's last number one hit, Black Night, as the flip.


By 1959, both Brown and Milburn were recording for Johnny Vincent at Cosimo's, and Johnny couldn't resist cutting his own version of Merry Christmas, Baby, releasing it on his obscure Teem subsidiary. I've never actually seen a copy.

In 1960, Charles Brown and Amos Milburn were signed by King Records, which would release one of my all-time favorite double-siders in time for the Holidays that year, Please Come Home For Christmas, backed with Milburn's ultra-cool Christmas (Comes But Once A Year). On its way to becoming the absolute standard it is today, it would represent Brown's last chart appearance, climbing to #21 R&B and breaking into the lower rungs of the Hot 100.

In February of 1962, Lew Chudd bought the entire Aladdin back catalogue from the Mesner brothers, and re-released the 1956 Cosimo's version (Aladdin 3348) as Imperial 5902, the awesome record we have here today, that December. With it's mournful Crescent City stroll, I think it's better than the 1947 original. After Chudd sold off Imperial to Liberty in 1963, they would continue to issue it every year, and their superior distribution and industry muscle got the record heard.

By 1966, as this Billboard chart of the top thirty Christmas singles shows, Brown would now have two renditions of Merry Christmas, Baby on the list at the same time, with Hollywood 1021 coming in at #5 (just beating out his own Please Come Home For Christmas), and Imperial 5902 at #16. The only person with more records on there was Bing Crosby...

King, meanwhile, had been putting out a Charles Brown Christmas single every year, without much luck. In August of 1968, they brought Charles into their studios in Cincinnati to cut a new recording of Merry Christmas, Baby, probably in direct response to the news that Liberty had been taken over by something called the Transamerica Corporation that Summer. By 1973, according to the Billboard chart of the top fifteen Christmas Singles below, this King version had supplanted both the Hollywood and Imperial releases:

The only person to have two entries on the list was our man Brown, of course, and the other one was on King as well... Bing Crosby was nowhere to be found! It is interesting at this point to note (as the inimitable John Broven pointed out to me), that the publishing on the song has changed, from 'St. Louis Music' to 'Hill & Range', the company owned by the upper-crust Aberbach brothers (notwithstanding the fact that Johnny Vincent had claimed it as belonging to his Ace Publishing for the Teem release all those years before...). In any event, with the ga-zillion cover versions of this tune out there, I'm sure it has proved a valuable copyright indeed!


According to Broven's copy of The Blues Discography, the Bihari brothers would cut their own version of Merry Christmas, Baby on Charles out in L.A. later in 1968, and release it on Kent in time for Christmas every year after that.


In 1970, Brown would cut an obligatory version for Stan Lewis when he signed with Jewel Records, and another for Johnny Otis, released on his Blues Spectrum label in 1974.


In 1977, Jules Bihari would produce an entire album by that name for his Big Town label in Los Angeles. None of these versions got much airplay, to say the least.


After his 're-discovery' in the late eighties, Charles would cut a duet on Merry Christmas Baby with Bonnie Raitt for the benefit album, A Very Special Christmas 2 in 1992, and another one for the 1994 Bullseye collection Cool Christmas Blues... at the Christmas party this past Friday at our local watering hole, somebody played Merry Christmas, Baby by Charles Brown on their new-fangled internet jukebox. It turned out to be the Bullseye 1994 version, bundled as part of their 'Holiday Playlist'. This is the same one they play on Sirius and Pandora... It kind of made me sad to think that this is how people will hear this song from now on.

As I've said in the past, I will always treasure the chance I got to hear Charles perform it live at Tramp's Cafe on 21st Street in New York almost twenty years ago now... "I haven't had a drink this morning, but I'm all lit up like a Christmas Tree..."

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Willie Hightower - Walk A Mile In My Shoes (Fame 1465)


Walk A Mile In My Shoes

As we were saying over on the other side, Joe South knew a thing or two about R&B, and I think this amazing 45 we have here is a shining example. If ever there was a 'message song' that should live forever, this one is it. I wish I could play it for Mitt Romney...

As South's original version was climbing the charts in late 1969, Fame had just 'inked a joint venture' which named Capitol Records as their distributor. Willie Hightower, who had come to Capitol along with his producer Bobby Robinson in 1965, was apparently released by the parent label at this point, and signed with Fame. As Rick Hall is quoted as saying in the essential The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973, "...I think I've cut a better record than the Joe South version." Well, I think so too. Hall is at the top of his game here, and I can't think of a better example of just how good a producer he was. Hightower, who remains one of my all-time favorites, is just belting it out, and the Fame Gang is on fire! Check out Clayton Ivey's soulful piano, Jesse Boyce's incredible bass line, and that stinging Junior Lowe guitar. Together with Hall's understated string arrangement and those high energy horns, this is just about as good as it gets.

"Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes..."

Words to live by, folks.