July 20, 2007

That's Right - More Danny James

I was going to wait to post these other two Danny James sides I mentioned that are favs of mine; but it seems to make more sense to put them up now, right behind the prior post with his background information near at hand/eye. I forgot say earlier that almost everything I know about James I learned from the notes to that Ace CD I referred to earlier, which were written by Robert Hankins back in 1996. The Ace label in England is top notch and usually always does its homework in researching the artists it features to provide adequate background and context to the music.

"That's Right"
(W. P. Guidry - C. S. Williams)

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"No Yo" (C. J. Guillory)
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Appearing on his debut single for Goldband, these cuts pre-date "Switch It" by about a year in terms of release. All of James instrumentals were probably cut between 1966 and 1967; and I would suspect that the band for the sessions was primarily made up of members of the Fabulous Kings with whom James regularly played at the time. Bandleader Clint West (Clinton Guillory) is said to have been the drummer on at least some of the cuts. That's likely him on "No Yo", which he wrote. Neither of these could be construed as funk; but the tunes have great grooves and arrangements and did not deserve the near instant obscurity they obtained.

"That's Right" is a minor key (G minor, I believe), way cool workout. James pulls off some supple runs, riffing with twangy dexterity - but the standout for me here are the horn charts. Talk about enhancing a track. Dig especially the interjected lines of syncopated staccato punches they throw during the main body of the song. It's high class, lowdown pro work that I could listen to all night. Yeah, that's right!

Meanwhile, the b-side, "No Yo", is nothin' but a groove, an insistent and deceptively simple one at that, with kind of a jazz feel to it. The backing chords do nothing more than a rhythmic half step slide up between two augmented nine chords that have an interesting harmonic complexity that becomes more apparent when the horns begin to play longer notes. Repeated over the course of the song, these changes create an inner tension that, combined with a fine, slightly syncopated drum shuffle, locks the listener into a groove which seems to move back and forth yet have a forward thrust, as well. Nice trick. Atop it all, James peels off some gritty, swampy string bending that hovers somewhere between Steve Cropper and Roy Buchanan territory. When it fades just after the two minute mark, you wish it had been a much longer ride and reach for the repear button.

Speaking of back and forth, I can't decide which one of these I like the most. They are both so knocked out. Combined with "Switch It", which is really the most straightforward of the three Danny James instrumentals I've featured, these potent products are indeed unique sounding tracks for Goldband, and for South Louisiana music of the period in general. At least they were a real surprise to me. Discovering hip stuff like this is what keeps me on the hunt for and totally strung out on South Coast sounds.

July 11, 2007

The Haplessly Hatted Count & The Reluctant Frontman

Being here in Southwest Louisiana, I occasionally like to feature some sides that didn't originate in New Orleans. There has been quite a bit of independent, small label recording activity in these parts with its own unique musical flavor from the mid-20th century onward. J. D. 'Jay' Miller had several labels and is best remembered for his classic studio work in Crowley with blues and r&b artists (much of which came out on Excello Records, based in Nashville). Floyd Soileau had the Jin and Maison de Soul labels in Ville Platte. Lee Lavergne ran Lanor Records in Church Point. Carol Rachou's La Louisianne was based in Lafayette. Not least by any means was Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records in Lake Charles. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Goldband side on this site; so let’s make up for that with some funk and r&b from 1968, when Shuler was trying to stay somewhat current with national music trends.

"Do Your Stuff" (S. J. Simien)
Count Sidney & His Dukes, Goldband 1194, 1968

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Eddie Shuler signed Sidney Simien, a/ka Rockin’ Sidney, Count Rockin’ Sidney. or just plain Count Sidney, to Goldband in 1965; and the singer had a total of about a dozen singles for the label. While that’s quite a few, it’s nothing like the 50 that online bios attribute to him for that time. Nothing that Simien did for Goldband was commercially successful; and, as far as I can tell, he had just one more single for the label after "Do Your Stuff", although he did play on some Katie Webster sessions, too, during the period. Surely that publicity photo of him in the hilarious headgear resembling a giant adult diaper did not help to advance his career.

Rockin' Sidney wrote most of his own material over the years; and it was of varying quality, with much being more miss than hit. He could and would just as readily put out drivel, if not outright dreck, as decent material, which makes collecting his good stuff challenging, if you have not previously heard the tunes. Fortunately, “Do Your Stuff”, which I ran across recently, is one of his better sides (Larry Grogan has written about another of the Count's Goldband outings).
This is no newly discovered classic, mind you; but it has sufficient groove for some fun and get down, with a pumping bass line, effective horns, some nice organ licks (maybe by Katie Webster?), and a bit of broken drumming to boot. It’s lyrics, based around a typical call to the dance floor to do all the popular moves of the day, might have been a bit more convincing had Sidney put more into his vocal. He sounds kind of hoarse and too pooped to pogo on this one, despite the compelling beat.

Simien soon dropped the Count moniker (and thankfully the faux turban), and, as simply Rockin' Sidney again, took up the accordion in the 1970s, trying to claim a slice of the creole zydeco music market. Not "cajun" music (beware wikis),
zydeco is a strong, dance-oriented rhythm & blues based music featuring the accordion as lead instrument. It was developed by the French speaking creoles of African and mixed ancestry in the Southwest Louisiana area, with Clifton Chenier being the best know progenitor. By some miraculous fluke of fate and piece of luck, one of Simien's zydeco-lite songs, “My Toot Toot”, became a multi-million seller in the 1980s and was covered by legions of artists (including Jean Knight and Fats Domino), making him quite well-off in his later years. In the great music business lotto, that was Rockin Sidney's Powerball payday. Though he was never considered a premier zydeco artist, the success of that song made it an obligatory (if tiresome) part of of the repertoire of virtually every zydeco band for years; and it remains a standard.

Back to
Goldband, Eddie Shuler never did have much soul music on the label. When he seriously tried to tap the emerging soul/funk market in the later 1960s, he launched the short-lived Anla label; and some of those singles have become, years later, a hot commodity for soul and funk collectors. Of those I've heard, many are interesting; and some are even pretty good. You can find a few of the funkier Goldband and Anla tracks on various CD compilation, including Southern Funkin'. But, as far as I know, "Do Your Stuff" has yet to make an appearance.

Does anybody know what a palanquin guitar is?

"Switch It" (E. Shuler)
Danny James, Goldband 1200, 1968

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I first learned of Danny James (Sonnier) from a few mentions in John Broven's book on the music of the Acadiana region, South To Louisiana. Then, around the mid 1990s, I found the Ace (UK) CD, Boogie In the Mud (now out of print), which compiled most of James' Goldband appearances both as a session guitarist and frontman, playing instrumentals and doing some vocals, too. The earlier instrumentals suited James best; and when he had a good tune, arrangement and groove to work with, he made some great records. Three of those sides I think are outstanding. And, today's feature is one of them.

"Switch It" came out very soon after the Count Sidney track in 1968. No funk here, but a there's a little wah-wah work mixed in with his more clean twang tone, plus a nice bouncin' South Louisiana soul groove with a strong horn section. A few years before this record, James began playing behind blue-eyed soul singer Clint West, who had just left the legendary Boogie Kings to form a touring band with co-vocalist Tommy McLain. They called their new outfit the Fabulous Kings. So, the big band soul sound on "Switch It" (credited to Shuler but likely written by James) was something he was accustomed to. With a spacey instrumental, "Blue Clouds", on the flip, James' third of four instrumental singles for Goldband was not the charm. When none of James guitar records did anything in the sales department, Shuler tried him on vocals for three more releases. The producer thought James had a commercial singing voice, as it was an earthy baritone, reminiscent of Tony Joe White; but, in reality, it had no range. James more talked the lyrics than sang them on those equally non-selling sides, which were similar in approach, if not quite in execution, to White's swampy early work like "Polk Salad Annie". Another problem seemed to be that the guitarist felt far more comfortable in the background and never sought to promote his recordings with live appearances.

Between 1962 and 1970, Danny James played on numerous sessions at Goldband and for other local area studios, as well, including several classic swamp pop tunes: Little Eddy's "Linda Lu", Tommy McLain's "Sweet Dreams" and "Before I Grow Too Old" singles, and Charles Mann's "Red, Red Wine". After his second marriage and with two young children, James got out out of the music business for over a decade, but returned in the 1980s, playing in Louisiana Pride, which featured local vocal favorites, Mann, Little Alfred and Skip Downers. One of his last sessions was on Mann's locally popular version of Dire Straits' "Walk Of Life". Long in poor health, Danny James Sonnier passed away in 1991 at the age of 46.

In the coming weeks, I'll bring you two more of Danny James sides, which I think were his best. So, stay tuned.

Another New Orleans Loss

George Brumat, owner and operator of Snug Harbor, New Orleans' premier jazz club, died of natural causes a few days ago. This gentleman was a class act; and he and his venue were vital parts of the local music scene. The fact that family members will keep Snug going with no changes is reassuring news for a city that needs all the continuity it can get. . . .

July 04, 2007

A Cracked Bell & A Cold Bear

I'm dedicating this post to the outstanding New Orleans drummer for Willie Tee, the Gaturs, and the New Orleans Project (who backed the Wild Magnolias on their first two albums), Mr. Lawrence Panna, Sr., who passed away on February 23, 2007. As his son said about him, "He was a tremendous drummer with an incredible zest for music playing, who also played with other groups like Oliver and the Rockettes and Louisiana Purchase. Outside of music he was a printer and a coach at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Metairie, LA for many years." Larry Panna added much to the musical tradition of his community and will be missed.

Willie Tee in New Orleans, May, 2007

"Liberty Bell" (Wilson Turbinton)
Willie Tee, from Anticipation, United Artists, 1976
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It's been two years since I first posted this one, and you can read more about it back there, or not. I'm way too sleep deprived to care. To my somewhat heat-addled, warped, and mildly hallucinogenic mind, Willie Tee's "Liberty Bell" is a perfect song to celebrate Independence Day. For those of you on another side of whatever major or minor pond separates us logistically, on July 4th in the US of A, we celebrate freedom, lack of oppression, and the human rights guaranteed in a constitution hashed out by the learned and illustrious fore-fathering founders of this nation over 200 odd (and getting more so all the time) years ago. If you fail to see the immense irony contained in that last sentence, you must not have been on this planet very long. For, in an intensely moronic effort to save our country from the Others, we have given up whatever tenuous grip we had on those rights and our sanity. Mr. Wilson Turbinton was originally spot on with his assessment of America in its bicentennial year; and he could have written this song yesterday, just as well. The only thing that maybe dates it is that he assumes there is hope of changing things. Seems we're much more cynical and indifferent (or in denial) these days, with our leaders perpetrating blatant malfeasance and rampant ineptitude on all fronts, with more opening up all the time. In the oft quoted words of one of America's great cartoon philosophers, Pogo Possum, "We have seen the enemy, and he is us." Uh, oh, I'm turning into Keith Olbermann here. Need a cold bear...I mean, beer. All I wanted to do was play some friggin' music - really. Anyway, what Willie said. . . and have yourself a funky Fourth, what's left of it.

A Reasonable Facsimile

"Cold Bear" (W. Turbinton, E. Charles, D. Charles, L. Clark, L. Pania[sic])
The Gaturs, ATCO orig #6870, 1971
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OK. Some holiday lagniappe for good measure. As I have pointed out before, some of the stuff by Willie Tee's funk outfit, the Gaturs, just exudes the hot, moist, funky, sweet-buzz-goin'-on summer vibe. It puts me right in that place year 'round. So, let's celebrate the recent kick-off of the sultry season here above the equator with a "Cold Bear", what the man in the intro to the song says he's in need of.

This is probably the Gaturs' best known side, as Atlantic picked up the original Gatur Records single for national release on ATCO in 1971. Not that it was heard much even then; but it has since gotten onto a bunch of CD comps*, including Funk Drops and the US counterpart, What It Is. As a matter of fact, this single is another reproduction/re-issue from the limited edition What It Is 45 box I've mentioned before. Not deep funk, "Cold Bear' has a great groove, but with a light touch, and moves along quite nicely. Tee's B-3 and Louis Clark's wah-wah guitar dance around each other, while Erving Charles' bass bobs and weaves in and amongst Larry Panna's tastefully broken-up drumming that stays in the pocket. Percolating congas, probably played by Uganda Roberts, add to the polyrhythmia. This is definitely one that should be pumping the speakers as you cruise the highways and by-ways and hang out all summer long.

*Of course, Tuff City/Funky Delicacies released an entire CD of issued and unissued Gaturs and Willie Tee sides from his Gatur label entitled Wasted; and there is one other Gaturs single and more of Willie Tee on Gatur Records (along with his earlier Nola and related labels material) on the Night Train CD Teasin' You.