All Nite Hot Buns...And Hatchets
While I've been familiar with the three songs in this post for many years and had along the line noticed some linkage among them, my decision to group them together for a post came about by accident, the usual haphazard modus operandi around here, it seems. My plans for better researched, more "in depth" features keep getting pushed aside in favor of this or that whim of a hunch, arcane digression, or diverting rhythmic tangent, which is why no one will ever accuse me of committing scholarship on HOTG. So, you might want to pass on by, if you are seeking citations for your doctoral dissertation.
But, back to the tenuous threads at hand...and the music, of course, eventually. My inspiration for this goose-chase came about when I recently bought a copy of Paul Gayten's single, "The Hunch" b/w "Hot Cross Buns". Back in the 1980s, I had first encountered the songs on the MCA LP (and later CD) compilation of Gayten's Chess sides, Chess King of New Orleans. Hearing "Hot Cross Buns" again reminded me that it has several things in common with another instrumental side, "All Nite Long" (Part 2), on Robert Parker's first 45. I've always dug Part 2 since first hearing it, also in the 1980s, on a Rounder CD collection of sides from the Ron label (where it was mis-identified as Part 1). On that cut, Eddie Bo dropped in some random, amusing vocal commentary during the stop-time pauses, which, as you will hear, is very much like what Billy Davis did on Gayten's side. Of course, fans of New Orleans grooves will also recall that Bo later did some memorable spoken vocalizing on another more well-known instrumental two-parter, "Pass the Hatchet", by Roger & the Gypsies. So, suddenly I had the convergence of these three tunes in my head, and an excuse to do a post on their connections - real or imagined. You be the judge.
Luckily (for all of us), there have already been some good things posted on other blogs about these artists and two of the tunes; and I have found some other useful likns to lay on you. So, I won't have to do a lot of background in-filling. My friend and occasional cohort, Red Kelly, recently featured an older side by Paul Gayten as his 2008 mystery contest track over at Soul Detective, and did a nice bio of the multi-talented singer/pianist/writer/producer to boot. Last year, Red also featured Parker's "All Nite Long" (Part 2) on his The B-Side blog with an outstanding career overview on the artist. In addition, the esteemed Larry Grogan posted "Pass The Hatchet" on Funky16Corners several years back, and, by sheer coincidence, has recently put up a mind-blowing Eddie Bo-themed podcast leading off with the song. Plus, more details about the hatchet-men were revealed in an essential Offbeat article on the guy and band who recorded the song, Earl Stanley and the Stereos, a/k/a Roger & the Gypsies. So, I trust you'll open some new windows and study up, as I will be discussing the sides assuming that you have done your homework.
"Hot Cross Buns" (Gayten - Cooper - Davis)
Paul Gayten, Anna 1106, 1959
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"All Nite Long" [Part 2] (Parker-Bocage-Rebennack)
Robert Parker, Ron 327, 1959
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Both of these B-side novelty instrumentals came out during the last part of 1959. The notes to the MCA Paul Gayten LP/CD compilation specify the recording date for Anna 1106 as September 29, 1959; and one would assume it was released fairly shortly after that. The R&B Indies show it as the last release of that year on Anna in fact, which doesn't narrow the actual date down much. Checking the notes to Rounder's We Got A Party! The Best Of Ron Records, Volume 1 [alas, there never was a Volume 2], I found out only that "All Nite Long" was committed to tape in the fall of 1959. Was it just a big coincidence that these two songs, which had the same kind of stop-time structure interjected with high-pitched, jivey comments, appeared within a few weeks or months of each other? I rather suspect that part of "Hot Cross Buns" inspired "All Nite Long" (Part 2); but proof is hard to come by.
Hot Cross Buns" and the A-side, "The Hunch", were cut in New York City and featured Gayten on piano, co-writer and producer Roquel "Billy" Davis doing the vocals on "Buns", and other unknown musicians. I don't know why NYC was the venue for the sessions, since Anna Records was a Detroit-based label and Gayten was working out of New Orleans at the time, doing full-time production/A&R work for Chess Records on local artists (working with Bobby Charles, 'Frogman' Henry, and Eddie Bo, among others), and infrequently recording for the company himself. Though I am not clear on how Gayten and Davis got together, I assume that the Chess connection probably had something to do with it, as Davis had earlier written some hit songs for Chess artists; and, since Chess was distributing Anna releases, they didn't mind Gayten doing a little something-something with Davis. "The Hunch" was a quick cover of a tune the Bobby Perterson Quintet had out on the V-Tone label that was getting airplay and hot regional sales. The Anna version got enough favorable response itself to hit a not too shabby #68 on the Hot 100 chart. Gayten followed-up in 1960 with "Beatnik Beat" b/w "Scratch Back" (Anna 1112); but it was a non-starter. That was the extent of his work for Davis, who soon went on to join Chess himself and help them build a successful R&B/soul division.
A pleasant enough little bounce in the bakery, "Hot Cross Buns" was surely considered a throwaway flipside, because the sole purpose of that 45 was to steal some of the thunder from the original version of "The Hunch" and make a quick couple of bucks - a common ploy in the music business back then. "Buns" strikes me as a not very substantial, but fairly entertaining, in-joke. It has a simple central guitar-driven riff and a stylized hybrid R&B/rock/pop arrangement employing a lightly Latinized swing beat accented by trendy (for 1959) bongos, a stop-time structure, and some instrumental soloing. Gayten's signature back o'town New Orleans piano pounding throughout seems kind of out of place in the production, which may be why it is somewhat low in the mix. But, what interessts me here as it relates to the other fetured sides, are Davis' vocal toss-off during the musical pauses, playing around with the” buns” double-entendre, and likely making the song too suggestive for 1950s airplay, anyway. Today, though, they'd have the Pillsbury Doughboy dancing to it on TV (and, if that ever happens, I want my conceptual cut, by the way).
Meanwhile, back in the Crescent City, Eddie Bo, who had been recording sides for Chess under Gayten's direction in 1957 and 1958, started working for Joe Ruffino's new local Ric and Ron labels in 1959, as an artist, writer, producer, arranger, bandleader and pianist. Having played on sessions and gigs previously with tenor saxophonist Robert Parker, Bo recruited him for the Ric/Ron house band; and, before long, Parker got to record two singles on his own under Bo's supervision, starting with the double-sided "All Nite Long". While Parker and local DJ Larry McKinley got writers' credit on Part 1, Part 2 of the same song strangely shows a writing collaboration of Parker, Bo and Mac Rebennack, who was also active in the studio working with Ruffino's artists. McKinley has been said to have produced the record, which pretty much guaranteed at least the A-side would get airplay; but it was Bo made the music work. Because of the popularity of Gayten's version of "The Hunch" at the time, I suspect that it and "Buns" might have caught the attention of McKinley and/or Bo, as they were working up the material for Parker's debut release, leading to the development of a stop-time instrumental number with Bo’s own less suggestive vocalizing in the pauses on Part 2, even seeming to mimic Billy Davis' voice. It's possible, too, I guess, that Bo could have heard an early version or demo of "Hot Cross Buns" through his association with Paul Gayten. You never know.
Whether or not the idea was borrowed, Bo made sure Parker's track cooked; and it leaves Gayten's buns in the dust. Side A/Part 1 of "All Nite Long", which I have left out (as did the Rounder CD) is merely a less engaging warm-up with no vocals, building to where Part 2 kicks in on the flip. And then it gets hot to go, as Parker kicks in with a new sax riff, and the players rise to the occasion, with the three principals taking solos. Rebennack, who so far has been chopping chords on the guitar, uncoils several rounds of slinky runs; Parker blows some real strong lines; and Bo lets loose his funky knuckle-busting to close it out. It's a throw down, rollicking round of rock 'n' roll New Orleans-style with a beat that is not straight. It really doesn't make much difference who stole what when or from whom. There's no comparision. The hometown krewe ruled; and "All Nite Long" made a local splash for Parker as a first-time frontman. On his second and final single for Ron, the song "Across The Tracks" introduced his easy-going vocal style to the world, but did not fare as well with the public. After that, Parker did a couple of extremely low profile singles, one on Imperial, "Mash Potatoes All Nite Long" b/w "Twistin' Out In Space", and the other for the Booker label, "The Laughing Monkey" b/w "Let's Do The Thing", before hooking up with Wardell Quezergue and Nola Records, striking national paydirt with an outstanding original, "Barefootin'".
"Pass the Hatchet (Part I)" (R. Leon, Jr., R. Theriot, E. Oropeza)
Roger & The Gypsies, Seven B 7001, 1965
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"Pass the Hatchet (Part II)"
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As I said, "Pass The Hatchet" is included here due to the Eddie Bo connection, specifically his added vocal contributions over the insistent strip club bump and grind groove and trance-inducing ostinato riffs. The combination conjures up the murky, spooky mondo bizarro atmosphere of some sleazy zombie hooker movie (note: your hallucination may vary) - in other words, a New Orleans record through and through. Prior to finding a copy of the single I could afford (!), my vinyl source for years was Part I, featured on the 1970 Instant various artists compilation LP, Solid Gold (a/k/a All these Things).
While it has generally been known that guitarist/bassist Earl Stanley (Earl Stanislaus Oropeza) and his band, the Stereos, actually cut the track, Michael Hurtt brought to light in his Offbeat article on Stanley (linked above) that Earl oversaw the creation of the instrumental and recorded it at his small production studio, Thunder Recording, that he ran with his partner, Ray Theriot. Working from just the central riff and song title that his cousin, Roger Leon, Jr., had brought to him, Stanley and band fleshed it out, came up with their down and dirty arrangement pretty much on the fly, and laid the tune down on tape in short order. As he recounted to Hurtt, other co-conspirators on the session included Li'l Joe Lambert on drums, Nicky Bodine on bass, Art Sir Van on piano (it's barely discernible), and Hector Nieves on the up-front maracas.
Such was the go-for-it method to Stanley and the Stereos' studio madness. They wrote and recorded countless tracks that way just to see if something good and sellable might crop up, using various assumed band names and a revolving cast of players and/or or singers for the projects. On "Pass The Hatchet", because his cousin had instigated the song and played rhythm guitar on the recording, they became Roger & the Gypsies when Stalnely took the master tape to Joe Banashak, owner of numerous labels including Instant and Alon, to see if he would put it out.
Banashak agreed to give the oddball little tune a shot and leased the master for his newest imprint, Seven B. Thinking the song still needed something to make it stand out, Banashak asked Eddie Bo, who he ran into at Cosimo's studio, to spice it up; and the result was a re-mixed version onto which Bo had overdubbed his attention-grabbing grunts, shouts, and other hatchet-inspired, tree-chopping interjections - a vocal tactic similar to what he had done six years earlier for Robert Parker. The record, which was the second release on Seven B (#7001), came out in 1965 and became a local #1 radio hit that sold well in the area but did not break out nationally, due, Banashak concluded, to the aftermath of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles (surely not the best time for an African-American to shout on the radio about passing out hatchets!). As a result of its popularity, Stanley and his band gigged off the record as Roger & the Gypsies for over a year.
This hometown success was enough motivation for Banashak to hire Eddie Bo to record, produce and write for Seven B and some of his other labels, too, resulting in more classic, but not very commercially successful recordings over the next few years. Stanley was able to place several of his other productions with Banashak, resulting in one-off singles for singers Kathy Savoy (Instant), Art Van, and Lenny McDaniel (both for Seven B). But, by far, "Pass The Hatchet", done as a bit of spontaneous fun in the studio, has been Earl’s most well-received number. Growing over the years into a cult classic, it gained more attention through a late 1980s cover version by underground faves Tav Falco and Panther Burns, and through inclusion on several film soundtracks, New Orleans music collections, and, recethly, has graced at least one TV commercial.