Saturday, January 28, 2012
I've always wanted to type "Terry Pillow returns," and this will probably be my only chance. We heard four of these at the beginning of this very month--now we have six more, for a total of four plus six. Now, I know what you're asking: Were these, at the time of recording, the ten best known hymns? Answer: Who knows? Kind of ambiguous, really, since they may have simply been the ten best known to the compilers. No, I suspect they--"they" being the Varsity group of junk labels--had ten tracks to stick on a 10" LP and needed a title, whereupon these became the "ten best known hymns." Will the world ever know? Will the world ever ask?
Granted, Onward Christian Soldiers and Rock of Ages are definitely ten-best-known-hymns material, but How Beautiful Heaven Must Be? And what happened to Jesus Loves Me? The absence of Amazing Grace is no surprise, though, since it only relatively recently became an all-round standard.
Given that we don't even know who Terry Pillow is, I suppose the bigger questions can wait.
What about the sound? Well, Varsity's LPs, "vinyl filled" or no, were third-rate products, so... pretty bad. A less noisy pressing would have helped a lot. But the music--a cross between the Chuck Wagon Gang and the Sons of the Pioneers--is exceptional. So there are times when the noise of the pressing threatens to swallow the "full" fidelity--so what? I think it just adds to the crap-label ambience. Or maybe I just described the ambience. And how come Spell Check doesn't recognize "ambience"?
So many questions, so few search strategies. So, are you going to keep on reading this, or are you going to download this gem in its tacky entirety? To the music: Terry Pillow Singers--The Ten Best Known Hymns
ROCK OF AGES
ABIDE WITH ME
WHAT A FRIEND
NEARER MY GOD TO THEE
SOFTLY AND TENDERLY
ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
HOW BEAUTIFUL HEAVEN MUST BE
THE CHURCH IN THE WILDWOOD
IN THE SWEET BY AND BY
JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE
Terry Pillows Singers--The Ten Best Known Hymns (Varsity 6917)
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Johnny Otis--he helped form the foundation of a style that would, in time, help provide the basis for the, etc.
The major, major rock and roll pioneer Johnny Otis, who has passed away at the age of 90, wasn't black, but he's gotten the media treatment reserved for those black artists who dared to rock B.E. (Before Elvis). Namely, he's been dutifully shuffled into a Star Trek-style critical realm someplace between space and time, his long and powerhouse musical career condensed into such vacuities as, "Mr. Otis played an important role in creating a new sound for a new audience of young urban blacks. With a few years it would form the foundation of rock 'n' roll." That was the New York Times, whose pop music reviews and obits are a clearinghouse of received wisdom. The received wisdom, in this case, being the Elvis myth, wherein anything that rocked B.E. is an instance of almost-rock, or something-like-R&B, or "not quite there yet." You know the story--rock and roll was for many years on the verge of happening, but its Caucasian Savior had yet to glide into view.
And so we watch Johnny Otis, one of the inventors and promoters of rock and roll, memorialized in the standard "He helped lay the foundation for the structure that would grow, over time, into an influence for those forms which, once Elvis showed up, would play an important supporting role in influencing those artists and recordings and songs that would help play an often major role in the eventual development of...." treatment. You spend a long career fighting to stay popular, striving to keep producing hits, weathering the twists and turns of a cruel industry, but in the end the press gets ya.
Anyway, here are two of Otis' rockingest sides, both from the late 1940s, and both reminding us that, despite massive quantities of nonsense to the contrary, rock and roll/R&B started out as a type of jazz instrumental. More on that after these tracks.
Midnight in the Barrelhouse, 1947: MATB
Head Hunter, 1949: HH
On to others. Did I say jazz? As in, big band jazz? Yes. Though the pop press has the R&B genre maybe, sort of, more or less starting to begin, oh, about 1950-ish, the following, famous 1940 big band track by Erskine Hawkins is one of THE templates for same, and it's an earlier version of Midnight in the Barrelhouse, to boot (which, in turn, is an earlier version of Bill Doggett's Honky Tonk). Take away the jazz feel (and the band backing), and it's mainly classic piano boogie woogie:
After Hours--Erskine Hawkins and His Orch., w. Avery Parrish, 1940.
From the same period (late '30s/early '40s), two more vintage R&B/rock and roll numbers, the second by Lionel Hampton, whose sound was hugely like Otis', only earlier. Both demonstrate that hard-rocking blues sides were part of the popular jazz canon of the day, despite the common claim that such sides were a post-big band phenomenon and/or specifically fashioned for a later audience:
Back Beat Boogie--Harry James and His Orch., 1939. (When I first listened to this on a 45 reissue, I was sure it had to be a much later remake, that nothing could have sounded like this in 1939.)
Hamp's Boogie Woogie No. 1--Lionel Hampton and His Orch., 1944.
Hamp, again, with a smoother version of Johnny Otis. From 1949:
Beulah's Sister's Boogie--Lionel Hampton and His Orch., 1949.
Meanwhile, in the late 1940s, plenty of black popular discs rocked harder and less elegantly (and just as potently):
Fat Girl Boogie--Peppermint Harris, 1949.
Does any of this sound like music in search of an identity or in need of some special jumpstart to make it as chart "crossover" material? But such continues to be the insulting media narrative.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
As you can see, my Casio WK-3800 has grown considerably. Today, we hear your blogger playing the first portion of a Bach setting of Was Gott tut on two Casio WK-3800 organ voices. As I type this, I have yet to check out the C.'s virtual organ slides--instead, I've been sprucing up the sound with MAGIX. I are high tech.
Then, I quickly arranged Was Gott tut as Erik Satie might have harmonized it circa 1899. I'm amazed by how beautifully the melody sounds through the noise of all the wrong chord changes. It helps, of course, that the tune is in the top voice (i.e., that the other three parts are functioning as accompaniment).
I concocted the "Satie" arrangement in two-beat segments, so what you're hearing is a lot of spliced-together phrases. Thanks to digital editing, even I can't detect the seams, and I made them.
To Was Gott tut:
Was Gott tut (Bach)--Lee Hartsfeld, Casio WK-3800 (Church 1)
Was Gott tut (Bach)--Lee Hartsfeld, Casio WK-3800 (Chapel Organ)
Was Gott tut, As Possibly Arranged By Erik Satie (Arr: Lee Hartsfeld)
If you came here for country gospel, boy, are you in the exact right place--pull up a chair and sit a spell. (But, if it's winter when you're reading this, keep your shoes on.) This terrific gospel quartet was led by Arthur "Guitar" Smith (of Guitar Boogie fame), and these are some of their earliest recordings for MGM, as reissued in fake--i.e., "electronically enhanced"--stereo on MGM's Metro label. The LP is from 1965; the tracks date from 1954-1957.
And you won't have to endure the fake, pushed-to-one-channel effect produced by the Metro engineers--your blogger has restored these numbers to their original one-channel glory. Luckily, Metro's brand of fake stereo is easily undone.
It just occurred to me that fake stereo could just as easily be dubbed fake mono, which would linguistically work better with the concept of "restoring to...." That is, instead of claiming that I've restored fake stereo to mono, I could boast that I've returned fake mono to authentic mono. After all, "fake" stereo sounds like something yearning to become true stereo. Discuss amongst yourselves.
This is expertly done country gospel, and you're going to love it. It's hard to review tracks like these--better to put them up and let them work their considerable magic. I've always wanted to type "work their considerable magic." Is that a young Ed Schultz on the, er, far right?
Click here to hear: Crossroads Quartet--Inspirational Songs
I've Been with Jesus (1954)
The Old Hymns (1954)
Aren't You Glad You've Got Religion (1954)
The Sunshine of His Love (1954)
I Saw a Man (1954)
I've Heard About a City (1955)
The Fourth Man (1955)
Jacob's Ladder (1956)
You Are the Finger of God (1957)
(Metro MS-528; material from 1954-57)