Author Archives: Miles

Million Dollar Quartet

Sun Records

7 Aug , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Sun Records

Sun logo

Sun Records

Sun Records—I was about five years old in the early 1970s, when my grandmother first played a Johnny Cash record for me. I think it was “I Walk the Line”, or maybe “Ring of Fire”. I liked the way the rhythm reminded me of a train. I liked Johnny’s voice, and I liked the guitars of Cash and Luther Perkins. My dad had already played some old Elvis records for me, which I also liked. I had rockabilly in my ear from an early age. What I didn’t know at the time was, this sound that I liked was known as the “Sun Sound”. Both Elvis and Johnny Cash started their long careers at the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, with Sun founder, Sam Phillips acting as music producer, guiding and directing their sound.

Sun Records–Sam Phillips and a Good Idea

Sam Phillips at Sun Records

The Sun Sound began when Phillips launched his record company in early 1952. He named it Sun Records as a sign of his perpetual optimism: it was a new day and a new beginning for Phillips and for music in general. Phillips rented a small space at 706 Union Avenue, in Memphis, for his own all-purpose studio. Sun Records was launched amid a growing number of independent labels, and in only a short time Sun gained the reputation throughout Memphis as a label that treated local musicians with respect and honesty. Phillips provided a non-critical, spontaneous environment that invited and encouraged creativity and vision.

Sam Phillips had a good ear for music. He could tell when something was “good” or merely “good enough”. Phillips was patient and willing to listen to almost anyone who came in off the street to record. In the early 1950s, Memphis was home to a diverse musical landscape–gospel, blues, hillbilly, country, boogie, and western swing were all popular in the South, and were gaining popularity in the rest of the country. Phillips was a businessman who was able to take advantage of this range of talent–and to eventually become wealthy in the process. In one form or another, Sam Phillips found a way for Sun to record all styles and genres of music. Because of the vast pool of talent to draw from locally, there seemed to be no limitations at Sun. Sun Records was already doing well, but the label hadn’t yet found the One to put it on the map

Sun Records–Elvis and the Million Dollar Quartet

Million Dollar Quartet

Then, in 1954, by chance, a young truck driver from Mississippi, named Elvis Presley, came into Sun studios to record a song for his mother. In Elvis, Phillips found an artist who could perform with the excitement, unpredictability and energy of a blues artist but could reach across regional, musical and racial barriers. Elvis helped form the beginnings of the Sun Sound by infusing Country music with R&B. Elvis’s bright star attracted even more ground-breaking talent to the Sun galaxy. Among his Sun contemporaries were Johnny Cash, the “killer” Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. These four soon became known as the Million Dollar Quartet, because of an accidental, impromptu recording session, one Tuesday afternoon in December 1956.

Shortly after those stars were signed at Sun, came Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, Harold Jenkins—later to be known as Conway Twitty–and other equally memorable musical talents. All these artists eventually sold on Pop, R&B, and Country charts and grew to international fame.

Sun Records–Rockabilly to the Masses

Sun Studios2

Rockabilly became the major evolution in the Sun Sound. Lyrically the music was bold; these kids sang about things that the generations of young people before had only thought about, but dared not mention out loud. The music itself was sparse and exciting; and it certainly moved in ways that popular music hadn’t moved before.

In the 1950s, Country music rarely used the drums that were so vital to jazz, blues, and jump bands. In fact, at the time, drums were prohibited on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. But in Rockabilly, drums played a vital role in driving teens across the nation to get behind the Rockabilly movement and the revolutionary Sun Sound. Once again, Sun was able to break new ground, recording music of unparalleled diversity and creativity.  The lasting quality of Sam Phillips’ Sun label is vibrancy that survives to this day. Sun produced sincere, passionate music that has stood for almost 60 years. Sun’s music takes us back to our roots, while it moves us forward. It is music that has reached across race, age and gender boundaries. It reflects the diversity and vision of the talent that recorded on the Sun label, and indeed, American popular culture itself. Sam Phillips didn’t set out to change American music forever, it just happened. Sun Records was a place for locals to make some music, and for Phillips to make some money without having to get a real job. Phillips only wanted to pay his rent, and have fun while doing it.


Sun Records.

Rufus Thomas Blvd and Beale street

Rufus Thomas

19 Jul , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Rufus Thomas Jr.

Rufus Thomas Blvd and Beale streetRufus Thomas Jr.

Rufus Thomas was a friendly, likable guy. In fact, very few of rock & roll’s founding figures were as well-liked as Rufus Thomas. Pretty much everyone who met him had nothing but good things to say about him. From the 1940s onward, Thomas has personified Memphis music. As a recording artist, he wasn’t a major innovator, but he could always be depended upon for some good, silly, and/or outrageous fun with his soul dance tunes. He was one of the few rock or soul stars to reach his commercial and artistic peak in middle age, and was a crucial mentor to many important Memphis blues, rock, and soul musicians.

Rufus Thomas 2Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-’30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis’ famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as Riley “B.B.” King,  Bobby “Blue” Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner and Roscoe Gordon.


Rufus Thomas–Bear Cat

Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with the tune “Bear Cat,” which was a humorous answer record to Big Mama Thornton’s recording ofRufus_Thomas3 “Hound Dog”, which was later recorded by Elvis Presley. “Bear Cat” reached number three on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some didn’t have a sense of humor about the song. Sun owner, Sam Phillips was sued and subsequently lost the lawsuit for plagiarism, brought by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote “Hound Dog”. Rufus Thomas would make only one other record for Sun, but he still recorded sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950s.

Rufus Thomas–Carla’s Dad

Thomas and his daughter,  Carla Thomas would become the first stars for the Stax label, for whom they recorded a duet in 1959, “‘Cause I Love You” when Stax records was still known as Satellite. In the ’60s,  Carla would become one of Stax’s biggest stars. On his own, Rufus wasn’t as successful as his daughter, but recorded and released a steady stream of vaguely popular dance and novelty singles.

Rufus Thomas–Nothing Deep and Meaningful, just Good Fun

Rufus Thomas 1There not deep or emotional statements in Thomas’ songs, nor did he try to pretend that there were. The music itself was silly yet fun. Some elements of Thomas’ music would later be incorporated into American funk. The accent was on the stripped-down groove, and Rufus’ good-time vocals proved that he didn’t take himself or anything too seriously. Rufus Thomas’ most successful song at the time was “Walking the Dog,” which made the Top Ten in 1963, and was covered by the Rolling Stones on their first album.


Rufus Thomas–1970s Funk Pioneer

Rufus Grave

Thomas hit his commercial peak in the early ’70s, when “Do the Funky Chicken,” “(Do The) Push and Pull,” and “the Breakdown” all made the R&B Top Five. As the song titles themselves make clear, funk was now driving his sound rather than the blues or soul of earlier years. Thomas drew upon his vaudeville background to put them over on-stage with fancy footwork that displayed remarkable agility for a man well into his 50s. The collapse of the Stax label in the mid-’70s meant the end of Thomas’ career, basically, as it did for many other artists with the company. In 2001, the same year as Rufus Thomas was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, he died on December 15, at St. Francis hospital in Memphis, TN, at the age of 84. Rufus Thomas isn’t really a name that a lot of people immediately recognize, but when we hear some of his rhythms, we can all say “oh yeah, I’ve heard that.”

Rufus Thomas

Journey band 2


5 Jun , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Journey–an apology

Journey3This may be my apology to my old buddy, Greg. On various occasions, I have been known to be kinda vocal and abrasive when I talk and write about some music. It has been suggested that I have gone off and verbally attacked some bands in ways that may have been un-warranted. Specifically, I suppose I’m talking about Journey.

Over the years, I have written a great deal about my distain and loathing for Journey, and at times, my criticism will extend to the fans of Journey’s music. In many ways. it was uncalled for.

I met my buddy, Greg in Sonoma county a few years back, when he and I werejourney-frontiers both working at a unique little guest resort. Greg was a 40 year old heavy metal guy and I was a 40 year old punk rocker. There were certain bands and artists and some music that we could see eye to eye on, but mainly, he thought my music was noisy and un-accessable to mainstream society, while I thought his music was either mass-produced pop, or cheese-metal crap that was marketed to people who didn’t know any better. or both. Perhaps both of our attitudes were a bit harsh and were in serious need of adjustment.

The thing is, Greg is a good guy. He played drums and drank beer. He had a good heart, and even though we came from vastly different musical backgrounds, every once in a while, we could come together and agree on some music

One of Greg’s favorite bands was Journey. Being the pretentious music snob that I am, this made Greg a target for my wrath and abuse. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that it was there.

Journey–Just because I hate Journey doesn’t mean that I don’t like you

The thing is, journey was very successful and popular during the 1980s whenJourney Escape they were making their magic. Journey was formed in 1973 in San Francisco by former members of Santana and Frumious Bandersnatch. Its strongest commercial success was during the 1980s. During that time, Journey released a series of hit songs, including 1981’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, from the studio album, Escape. That record reached #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and yielded another of their most popular singles, “Open Arms”. Its 1983 follow-up, Frontiers, was almost as successful in the United States, reaching #2 and spawning several successful singles.

Journey–Amazingly Successful

Sales have resulted in two gold albums, eight multi-platinum albums, and one diamond album (including seven consecutive multi-platinum albums between 1978 and 1987). They have had eighteen Top 40 singles in the US, six of which reached the Top 10 of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and two of whichJourney band 2 reached #1 on other Billboard charts, and a #6 hit on the UK Singles Chart in “Don’t Stop Believin'”. Originally a progressive rock band, Journey were described by Allmusic as having cemented a reputation as “one of America’s most beloved –and sometimes hated–commercial rock/pop bands” by 1978, when they redefined their sound by embracing traditional pop arrangements on their fourth album, Infinity. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Journey has sold 47 million albums in the US, making them the 28th best selling band of the 20th century. Their worldwide sales have reached over 80 million albums. A 2005 USA Today opinion poll named Journey the fifth best American rock band in history. Their songs have become arena rock staples and are still played on rock radio stations across the world.

But, I still think that their music was terrible. It would be a lot more rational, and perhaps I would be a lot happier if I were to just ignore Journey, and live my life without having to insult anyone, but there is something in me and there is something about Journey that is just so damned annoying that I can’t let it go. When I hear journey’s music, it causes an emotional response in me that really isn’t good for anyone, especially me. I can’t help it, I fucking hate Journey!

So, my buddy Greg and I were both so passionate about our tastes in music, that it was inevitable that one or both of us was going to start acting like a jerk. Depending on which one of us was on the offensive,it was often implied, and in fact, argued, that anyone who truly likes–or doesn’t like–Journey is a fucking idiot who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.

Journey–More Personal Attacks

I understand that in a free society, people have the right to enjoy whatever kind of music they like. And while it isn’t spelled out in the Constitution, people should be able to like whatever music they want without fear of persecution. But, damn! Do I hate journey!

One evening after the work day was done, we were all gathered around the campfire, enjoying our well-deserved beer. In a moment of callousness, I mentioned that I wished I could do a Back to the Future deal, and go back in time to keep Steve Perry’s grandparents from ever meeting–by whatever means necessary– to insure that Steve Perry would never be born and Journey would never exist as a band.

Yeah, again, it may have been uncalled for, but I thought it was funny. I was ready to let it go, but Greg took it personally, and said it was one of the most hateful statements he had ever heard. He almost kicked my ass for it.

The thing is, Journey really was one of the most successful bands of the 1980s. From 1978 through 1987, they had a slew of top 10 songs and gold records, including Any Way You Want It, Don’t Stop Believin’, Who’s Cryin’ Now?, Open Arms, Separate Ways, Wheel in the Sky, the Eyes of a Woman, and Lights. How can I argue with that kind of success?

I hate Journey.


Louis Prima

1 Jun , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Louis Prima


Louis Prima isn’t exactly one of my favorite guys, or anything, but I sure did like his work as King Louie in Disney’s the Jungle Book. The more I learn about Prima, the more I like him. I didn’t know a lot about Louis Prima, so I did a little research, and found some interesting stuff…

Louis Prima–the Early Years

I first became aware of Prima–although I still didn’t know his name–when he sang “I wanna be like you” as King Louie, in the Jungle Book. What a great song. Anyway, as I researched Prima, I found out that Prima did it all it seems. He was a trumpet player, a singer, song writer, and actor.

As a young kid, Prima played the violin for several years before he moved to the trumpet. When he was about 17, Prima landed his first job as a singer and trumpeter in a New Orleans theater. Some of his great influences were bad-ass musicians like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. In the early 30s, Prima worked with Red Nichols, before forming his own seven-piece group called ‘New Orleans Gang’, with its signature tune, “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans”. They recorded more than 70 titles in New York for various labels from 1934 to 1939, some of which made the US Hit Parade.

Louis Prima1

Louis Prima was also a fairly successful songwriter. One of Prima’s biggest songs was “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Benny Goodman recorded “Sing Sing Sing” in the 1930s, and made it into a hit record which remains a Swing Era classic. Prima also wrote and produced “Jump, Jive, and Wail”, which is an amazing tune as well.

Through the years, Prima wrote and co-wrote many popular songs. Prima wrote “Robin Hood” for Les Brown in 1945, and in 1947 Prima wrote the Jo Stafford hit, “A Sunday Kind Of Love”.

Louis Prima–Film Star and Beyond

After making an good impression in his feature film debut in the Bing Crosby movie musical “Rhythm on the Range” in 1936, Prima continued to have small roles in a number of other movies, notably “Rose of Washington Square” in 1939, in which he accompanied Alice Faye on trumpet, in her rendition of “I’m Just Wild About Harry”.

By the middle 1930s, Prima was fronting his own big band, with great showmanship and panache. Some of Prima’s more popular songs from the 1940s included “Angelina”, “Bell-Bottom Trousers” with Lily Ann Carol on vocals, and “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)”, which was an amusing novelty from the 1947 Broadway revue “Angel In The Wings”. In 1941 Prima and his orchestra had an engagment at the Trianon Ballroom in Seattle Washington, one of the songs performed there was “Sing Sing Sing” and featured a 16 year old drummer named Jimmy Vincent, who went on to perform with Prima right on through the Vegas years. Blah blah blah…

In 1948, Prima began working with 16 year old singer Dorthy Keely Smith. AfterLouis Prima with Keely Smith having a hit in 1950 with their joint composition ‘Oh, Babe!’, they were married on July 13, 1953 and had two daughters,Toni Elizabeth and Luanne Frances. Keely was Louis’ fourth wife.

Prima’s forte was not subtlety. His singing and arrangements take influences from Dixieland, Jazz, and quite often Rock and Roll. Many times he devised medleys of two tunes at once. Often he scat-sang, with Sam Butera trying to copy him note for note. Another hallmark is Prima using songs from his Italian heritage.

During the next decade they were recognized as one of the hottest nightclub acts in the USA, and became known as ‘The Wildest Show In Las Vegas’. Prima’s inspired clowning and zany vocals delivered in a fractured Italian dialect, coupled with Smith’s cool image and classy singing, were augmented by tenor saxophonist Sam Butera and his group, the Witnesses. A typical performance was filmed at Lake Tahoe in 1957, and released under the title of The Wildest, and they reassembled in 1959 for the feature Hey Boy! Hey Girl! Prima and Smith were awarded Grammys in 1958 for their inimitable reading of the Harold Arlen – Johnny Mercer standard, ‘That Old Black Magic’.

In 1958 Prima was briefly in the UK Top 30 with Carl Sigman and Peter de Rose’s ‘Buona Sera’, and two years later made the US singles and albums charts with the instrumental ‘Wonderland By Night’. Other Top 40 albums include

d ‘Las Vegas-Prima Style’ and Hey Boy!, Hey Girl! In 1961, while still at the height of their fame – and having recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with the Desert Inn, Las Vegas, the couple were divorced, he then married another girl singer Gia Maione, and continued to work in Vegas through 1967.

In 1967 Prima and Butera subsequently attempted to cash in on the then popular dance fad by appearing in the movie ‘Twist All Night’, which sank without a trace in spite of items such as ‘When The Saints Go Twistin’ In’. Most memorable was Prima’s contribution in 1967 to The Jungle Book , the Walt Disney Studio’s first cartoon feature in four years, which went on to gross about $26 million. Prima provided the voice of the orangutan King Louie, and sang the film’s hit song, ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. As a result of Phil Harris’ and Prima’s success with the Jungle Book movie, they cut two albums “The Jungle Book”, on Disneyland records and “More Jungle Book”. The combination of receipts from both albums led Prima to a gold record.

Louis Prima–the Last Years

In the later years Prima mostly confined himself to performing with a small group at Casino’s such as the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas. In the early 1970s Prima’s act was no longer a crowd drawer as in the old days in Vegas, so he moved with Butera back to New Orleans, getting steady work for the tourist crowd.


In October 1975 Louis Prima underwent surgery for the removal of a brain tumor. He never regained consciousness from the operation. Disabled and incapable of communicating remained in a coma until in early July of 1978 he contracted pneumonia. Fed through a tube and given hoards of antibiotics, he was given his last rights. Prima a strong willed man hung on for another six weeks until he died from complications due to the brain stem tumor on August 24, 1978 in a New Orleans nursing home. He is buried in the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana along side his mother and father Anthony and Angelina Prima.


the Knack

27 May , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

the Knackthe Knack1

The Knack was one of the first bands I remember bringing America out of the Disco era into the New Wave era. I suppose I could be confused–this was over 30 years ago, you understand–but I recall that 1979 was a year of great change in popular music. With all of the crap going around, the Knack wanted to bring back what they called good, old-fashioned, “teenage rock’n’roll”. They wanted to produce what they called “high school songs with a teenage viewpoint.” So, the band put together a demo tape and shopped it around to every major label they could think of. After being rejected by so many labels, the group decided that they would hit the local LA tour circuit, where they were a sensation. Soon after that, every label in town wanted a piece of the Knack. After giving it some thought, the group signed with Capitol, records and was guaranteed $500,000 for two albums.

Mike Chapman had produced number one singles by artists like Blondie, Nick Gilder, and Exile. Chapman was chosen by the band to produce their debut record because the band liked his pop sensibilities and they felt that he shared their vision for their music. Almost all the tracks on the Knack’s first record were cut live in one take. There were a few overdubs here and there–mostly lead guitar on only a few tracks–but the entire album was pretty much recorded live, mixed down, and ready to go in eleven days. The best part for the label was, it only cost $18,000. According to some industry people, it was one of the cheapest platinum album ever made. After being released on June 11, 1979, Get the Knack went gold in thirteen days — the fastest climb by any new group in years. It went platinum on August 3 and sold more than four million copies.

the Knack–My Sharona

One of the things I remember about the Knack and about their song My Sharona–Ithe knack2 still think My Sharona is a great pop song–is how forward sounding the song was while maintaining a serious retro quality that reminded so many of us of the early Beatles. I was just a kid in the late 1970s, and was still listening to Los Angeles pop radio stations like Ten-Q, KIIS FM, KEZY, and KIQQ. The harder rock stations like KMET and KLOS had started to grab my attention, and I was all over the progressive New Wave station, KROQ. At about the same time as Blondie and the B-52s were charting with songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Rock Lobster”, and Devo and Rocky Burnett had released “Freedom of Choice” and “Tired of Towing the Line”, the Knack was playing music that was as simple as two guitars, bass, and drums, good vocals, and great hooks. Really, what more could you ask? The only two songs by the Knack that I can recall now off the top of my head are “My Sharona” and “Good Girls Don’t”, and I gotta say that those two songs are plenty to secure the Knack’s place at the table of rock and pop. I’m not saying that these guys are Hall of Fame material, but they made some fun music.

Doug Fieger, who originally put the band together, once said that his favorite pastime as “writing nasty songs about girls that I know.” One was a young groupie named Sharona. Telling the story, Fieger said that guitarist Berton Averre had a guitar riff and drum beat that was just laying about, not being used for anything. About the time the band was forming, Fieger became infatuated, and whenever he would think of this Sharona lady, Averre’s riff would go through his head. The end result was the song “My Sharona”.

With its slamming drums, driving guitar work, and simple, infectious beat, “My Sharona” took off on June 18, 1979, went gold in eight weeks, and reached number one in early August of that year.

the Knack–Creating an Anthem

You know how certain songs become legend? Some songs become anthems almost bythe knack3 accident. Queen’s “We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You” is like that. Slade’s “Come On Feel the Noise” made it to anthemic status after Quirt Riot recorded it, and gave it newfound attention. Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” is like that. U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Aerosmith’s “Dream On”… There are so many other songs that have achieved anthemic status that I can’t even recall them all. The Knack’ s”My Sharona” is definitely one of them.

In 1994, I recall Wynonna Ryder and …was it Jannine Garrafalo..? singing and dancing their way through My Sharona in the film, Reality Bites. It seems to me that film put the song back in the great national consciousness, and I was cool with that.

I mean, what a great bass line. What a cool guitar tone. As damned silly as My Sharona is, there is no getting away from the fact that it has a great, catchy melody, good rhythm, solid production, and is an all around pop song that defies dating by musical era.

In so many ways. it is a shame that the Knack ran out of ideas before they could really shape popular culture. In many other ways, what more do they really need to do?

the Knack.


B. B. King

15 May , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

B. B. King

B. B. King. One of the cooler things about B. B. King is that he generally onlyBB King1 plays five notes, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest living blues guitarists, indeed, one of the greatest guitarists ever. Rolling Stone magazine ranked B. B. King at Number 6 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

According to Edward M. Komara, King “introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed.” Those are some fancy words, and what they mean is “listen to what he does with only five notes”.

B. B. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

B. B. King the early years

According to one legend, at age 12, B. B. King bought his first guitar for $15. Another reference says that he was given his first guitar by his cousin, Bukka White.BB King4 In 1943, King left home to work as a tractor driver and play guitar with the Famous St. John’s Quartet of Inverness, Mississippi, performing at area churches and on WGRM in Greenwood, Mississippi.

In 1946, B. B. King went to Memphis, but shortly returned home. After saving some money, King went to West Memphis, Arkansas, two years later in 1948. He performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM where he began to develop a local audience. King’s appearances led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the legendary Memphis radio station WDIA. Initially he worked at the local R&B radio station WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, where he gained the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to Blues Boy and finally to B.B. It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker.

In 1949, King began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King’s early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. Before his RPM contract, King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single “Miss Martha King” in 1949. But, those first few recordings did not chart well.

B. B. King Performing with his famous guitar, Lucille

In the winter of 1949, King played at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. InBB King3 order to heat the hall, a barrel half-filled with kerosene was lit, a fairly common practice at the time. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the burning barrel and sending burning fuel across the floor. The hall burst into flames, which triggered an evacuation. Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside the burning building. He entered the blaze to retrieve his beloved guitar, a Gibson semi-hollow electric. Two people died in the fire. The next day, King learned that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. King named that first guitar Lucille, as well as every one he owned since that near-fatal experience, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over women.

King meanwhile toured the entire “Chitlin’ circuit” and 1956 became a record-breaking year, with 342 concerts booked. The same year he founded his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom, with headquarters at Beale Street in Memphis. There, among other projects, he produced artists such as Millard Lee and Levi Seabury.

In the 1950s, B.B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “3 O’Clock Blues”, “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues”, “Sneakin’ Around,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “Sweet Little Angel”, “On My Word of Honor,” and “Please Accept My Love.” In 1962, King signed to ABC-Paramount Records, which was later absorbed into MCA Records, and then his current label, Geffen Records. In November 1964, King recorded the Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

King won a Grammy Award for “the Thrill is Gone”; his version became a hit on both the pop and R&B charts, which was rare during that time for an R&B artist. It also gained the number 183 spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. He gained further visibility among rock audiences as an opening act on The Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour. King’s mainstream success continued throughout the 1970s with songs like “To Know You is to Love You” and “I Like to Live the Love”.

Clapton and BB KingKing was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. In 2004 he was awarded the international Polar Music Prize, given to artists “in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.”

From the 1980s onward he has continued to maintain a highly visible and active career, appearing on numerous television shows and performing 300 nights a year. In 1988, King reached a new generation of fans with the single”When Love Comes to Town”, a collaborative effort between King and the Irish band U2 on their Rattle and Hum album. In 2000, King teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton to record Riding With the King. In 1998, King appeared in The Blues Brothers 2000, playing the part of the lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys, along with Clapton, Dr. John, Koko Taylor and Bo Diddley.

After 63 years on the road, B. B. King is still performing…

BB King2


Mississippi Queen

4 Apr , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Mississippi Queen

Mississippi Queen. Today, I was listening to FM radio, as I was cleaning up my surroundings, preparing to make another leap into the great unknown. The radio station I was listening to was much like the classic rock station I listened to when I was in high school. I think I listened on and off for just over an hour this afternoon, and I was pleased at how much of the music being played were songs that I remember as already being classics, back in my high school days.

Mississippi Queen1

Mississippi Queen–Classic Rock Radio

Included in the sample of rock and roll I enjoyed this afternoon, was Black Dog by Led Zeppelin, Dream On by Aerosmith, Ain’t Talking About Love by Van Halen, Free Falling by Tom Petty. I heard music from the Who…Bad Co… Pink Floyd…Jimi Hendrix… Eddie Money…the Scorpions…the Doors… Jackson Brown… the Beatles…Lynyrd Skynyrd…and so many others.

One song that I heard, almost by accident was “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain. Chances are pretty good that you may not remember the name Mountain. Chances are also pretty good that you remember Mississippi Queen.

Mississippi Queen–the band never needed another hit

After releasing Mississippi Queen in 1970, Mountain didn’t necessarily need anotherMississippi Queen2 hit single. Their place at the Rock and Roll table is secure. This is a good thing, for the band, because I can’t think of another single they had. Mississippi Queen isn’t a great song in terms of skill and artistry. It’s not beautiful poetry, either. But, dammit! It sure is a good rock song, isn’t it? What would classic Rock Radio be without Mississippi Queen?

Mississippi Queen reached number 21 on the Billboard pop charts and has been a staple on Classic Rock radio for years. With good reason. It is indeed a rock classic.

Mississippi Queen–Still Alive 42 years later

Although I really wasn’t paying a lot of attention at the time, I seem to recall that Ozzy Osbourne had a modest hit with a 2005 version of Mississippi Queen, which peaked at number 10 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart.

Molly Hatchet–remember them?–did a version on their Southern Rock Masters CD, and the American industrial metal band Ministry recorded the song for their all-covers album, entitled Cover Up. Among others, Sam Kinison also recorded a different take on the song on his comedy album Leader of the Banned along with three other classic rock covers.

Mountain’s original song has appeared in several films, including Vanishing Point, Outside Providence, The Longest Yard, The Dukes of Hazzard, Comeback Season, and The Expendables. It also is briefly featured in the “Homerpalooza” episode of The Simpsons, an episode of Ed and the Regular Show episode “Weekend at Benson’s”. The song is also featured in the video games Rock Band (cover) and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

And for all of the new-found publicity and popularity, I still contend that Mississippi Queen by Mountain is still one of the greatest classic rock songs in history. Mississippi Queen.



5 Feb , 2012,
, , , , , ,
No Comments

Taxman–the Taxman cometh…

Taxman–These days with the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers at odds, it seems that there is still a serious problem with who pays what and how much to keep society running. In so many ways, I believe that people should be able to keep what they make, and spend it as they see fit. After all, it is their money. No one wants or expects the taxman to take everything, do they? At the same time, I believe that those that can, need to do their part to keep society going.

Taxman–there is no getting around it, Romney is the 1%


When it was revealed that Republican Presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney paid only 13% to the Federal taxman in 2010, it pissed a lot of people off. Why should a millionaire pay a smaller percentage in taxes than someone who is struggling to make ends meet? That 13% that Romney paid translated into something ridiculous like $7 million. A lot of other people think that is too much to pay,  even for a guy who made $40 million in 2010.


So, let’s think about this. After the 13% of $40 million is calculated, it is still more money than you or I will likely see in our entire lives.

Taxman–the Beatles were also the 1%…

So many of us like to think of the Beatles as free-spirited mop-tops or hippies, with no concern for things like money and taxes. They were about love and peace, right? Well…yes. Of course they were.

George3…but they made a lot of damned money in the process of being free-spirited hippies.

George Harrison wrote Taxman because he didn’t see the use or benefit to anyone from his tax money. Part of what George was pissed off about was not only how much damned money he was giving away to the government before he even saw any of it, but what the government was doing with his money. Harrison couldn’t see society being enriched by the Beatles’ contributions, but he sure saw a lot of bullshit that he didn’t want to pay for. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?


Okay, so the Beatles were all millionaires before they were 25, but still, they were being taxed at something outrageous like 95%, due to the progressive tax system that the U.K. used. No one really wants a 95% tax rate, no matter how much money someone makes.

A progressive tax is a tax by which the tax rate increases as the taxable base amount increases. “Progressive” describes a distribution effect on income or expenditure, referring to the way the rate progresses from low to high, where the average tax rate is less than the marginal tax rate. It can be applied to individual taxes or to a tax system as a whole; a year, multi-year, or lifetime. Progressive taxes attempt to reduce the tax incidence of people with a lower ability-to-pay, as they shift the incidence increasingly to those with a higher ability-to-pay.

It sounds complicated, and I guess it is. The thing is if the Beatles are going to pay aGeorge2 95% tax rate, why should Mitt Romney only pay 13%?

Because he has some smart lawyers on his side who advised him that paying taxes is something that only little people do.

McCartney3Paul McCartney played the bass part and the guitar solo in Taxman.





Johnny Otis

20 Jan , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Johnny Otis–the Johnny Otis Show

Johnny Otis died this week in Los Angeles. I knew Johnny Otis in 1998, when I was working and helping out on his radio show out of the Powerhouse Brewing Company in Sabastopol, CA.

Otis1The Johnny Otis show was satellite-linked to the station,and simulcast live on KPFA and KPFB out of Berkeley, and KFCF, Fresno. It was probably because of the simulcast that I even discovered Johnny Otis’ name. I never really listened to the radio on Saturday morning. I would usually put on a record or CD, or I’d be doing something else.

Dad knew what kinds of music I liked, and he kept reminding me to listen to the Johnny Otis Show on Saturday mornings from 9a-12n.   So, one Saturday morning I had just made my coffee, and I turned on the radio. I liked what I was hearing.

Johnny Otis Otis–Hand Jive

I was familiar with Otis’ work since I was a kid–I just didn’t know it was his. In the musical/film “Grease”, the song “Born to Hand Jive” was tightly adapted to Otis’ “Hand Jive”.  In the 1950s, “Hand Jive” was a big thing with certain circles of hipsters.  The song was popular, and there was a silly dance that went with it.

Hand Jive1

We all know that rhythm–we can think of it as the “Bo Diddley” rhythm.  U2’s “Desire”, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, and even George Michael’s “Faith” all incorporate this familiar “Bump buh-Bump Bump. Buh-dump Bomp” pattern.  I haven’t listened to popular radio recently, but I suspect that this rhythm is still alive today, somewhere on the charts.

Everyone knows his music, but, not a lot of us knew Johnny Otis’ name.

Johnny Otis–Harlem Nocturne

Johnny Otis grew up in the a mostly black, urban neighborhood in Berkeley where hisOtis3 Greek immigrant parents owned a grocery store. Johnny’s first drumming gig was playing with Count Otis Matthew’s West Oakland House Rockers, while he was in high school. By 1943, guys like Nat “King” Cole and Jimmy Witherspoon were telling young Johnny Otis to get to Los Angeles, where the music business is always big. Once he got settled in LA, Johnny joined Harlan Leonard’s Kansas City Rockets at the Club Alabam. By 1945 he was leading his own band, and had his first big hit that year with “Harlem Nocturne”.

If anyone remembers the “Mike Hammer” TV show starring Stacy Keach in the 1980s, the “Mike Hammer theme”, is in fact, “Harlem Nocturne”.

Johnny Otis–Discovering talent

Johnny Otis did a lot for R&B music over the years, and discovered many legendaryEtta James1 Rhythm and Blues singers such as Esther Phillips, Willie Mae “Big Momma” Thornton, Etta James–who also just passed away.   At one time or another, these ladies were all featured vocalists in his band.

Johnny Otis also discovered and promoted artists like Sugar Pie DeSanto, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Jackie Wilson, and Little Willie John. His band, the Johnny Otis Show was the backing band on the original recording of “Big Momma” Thornton’s “Hound Dog”. Otis produced and played on Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love”, and produced some of Little Richard’s earliest recordings.

Blues Spectrum was Johnny Otis’ label. In his time, Johnny Otis recorded and played with Rhythm & Blues pioneers such as Big Joe Turner, Gatemouth Moore, Amos Milburne, Richard Berry, Joe Liggins, Roy Milton, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Charles Brown, and Louis Jordan. Johnny was the session drummer on Charles Brown’s first major hit “Driftin’ Blues” in 1946. He also recorded with Illinois Jacquet, and Lester Young.  One of the many highlights of his long career was when he performed as a drummer with the great Count Basie Orchestra.

In the 1960s, Johnny Otis became a disc jockey for Los Angeles radio station KFOX, and was also heavily involved in politics and the civil rights movement.  He wrote about both in his 1968 debut book, “Listen to the Lambs,” in which the 1965 Watts riots played a central theme.  He also became an ordained minister, opening the Landmark Community Church in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. He later moved back to northern California to become an organic farmer.  He was an apple farmer in Sonoma County when I knew him.

But Johnny Otis never moved too far from his first love, which was making music.   He toured well into his 70s, headlining blues and jazz festivals along with his son, Shuggie Otis.

Otis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Johnny Otis–Retirement

When I knew Johnny Otis, in the late 1990s, he was old and grumpy. He didn’t much like what younger people were doing with music these days. In some ways, working with Johnny was like working with my grandfather. In other ways, it was like working with a living history book. In still other ways, Johnny Otis had some great stories and serious wisdom to impart, whenever he wasn’t acting like a cranky old bastard.

Johnny Otis





19 Jan , 2012,
, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments


I was just turning nine years old in July of 1977. but, I remember well August 16, 1977 when Elvis Presley died. Of course, I knew his name, and even at that young age, I knew songs like Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel. Being nine, I didn’t quite get it yet.


I remember Dad getting home from work that day in shock and disbelief. Dad kept saying that he couldn’t believe he was gone. I didn’t know what was going on. I had been outside playing Star Wars all day. I don’t think I had even turned on the TV yet. Okay, so Elvis was dead, but it didn’t really mean anything to me then. I was already a fan of the TV show Happy Days. I thought Fonzie was still the coolest thing around. Young Elvis reminded me of Fonzie, and I was cool with that.

It was years later, after I got into high school, that I developed a true appreciation for Elvis. I was starting to discover rockabilly in the early ’80s. It was the Stray Cats who reminded me that I had heard these sounds before. In my mind, even though Elvis had become the punch-line to a bad joke among my circle of friends, there was still something that I liked about him. I chose to ignore the cheesy, Las Vegas Elvis, preferring to listen to the younger, ‘dangerous’ version of Elvis.

Elvis–Sun Records

Elvis5Anyone who cares to know, has already heard that in the early 1950s, a young Elvis Presley went into Sam Phillips’ Sun recording studio, to make a record for his mother,and how Phillips later nearly shat himself when he realized that he had found exactly what he was looking for with a young white boy who had the look and sound that would turn the music industry upside-down. Phillips had been looking for a white kid who could match the intensity of what the young black artists were doing at the time. The term Rock and Roll hadn’t even been coined yet, and Phillips was hoping that he could find a way to break into the white audience market with an artist that wouldn’t frighten the money–or the audience–away.

Elvis–the Million Dollar Quartet

Between 1953 and 1955, Elvis Presley’s Sun recordings were cut at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is a melting pot of many types of music: both black music–blues, rhythm & blues and gospel–and white music–country & western and hillbilly. The records that Elvis made reflect these influences.

Million Dollar Quartet

Elvis recorded more than 20 songs at Sun, 18 of them have survived and two tapes are lost. Ten were released by Sun as Elvis’ first five singles between 1954 and 1955,  A year or so after he left Sun Records–although Elvis would never officially record with Sun again–Elvis was caught on tape during an impromptu jamming session on December 4, 1956. Presley had arrived during a Carl Perkins recording session, which also featured a young Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, with Johnny Cash watching on. During a break in recording Elvis sat at the piano and began to sing along with Perkins, Lewis and Cash. Phillips kept his tape recorder running and, seeing an opportunity to promote another of his new acts, he arranged for a reporter to cover the event. The recordings would eventually be known as “The Million Dollar Quartet”.

Las Vegas would come later…