Sporting a thin frame, six fingers on his left hand and a personality the size of the Sears Tower, Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor was simply incomparable. While some continue to deem him as an aberrant madman swaddled in amplifier gristle and reeking of discount hooch, he was truly one of the greats of the blues. Any well-considered list of the genre’s indispensable LPs will include the loose, crazed, and eternally blistering 1971 monster he cut with the Houserockers.
Essentially a neighborhood band that transcendeth all geography, the Windy City weekend booze-joint mania of Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers eventually became celebrated all over the world. Their incendiary self-titled ’71 debut long-player also provided the Alligator label with its inaugural release; it stands as one of the greatest first albums ever recorded in any genre in large part because the trio’s sound was already fully-formed and confident.
In fact, Alligator Records came into being specifically to issue this rough diamond. The scoop is that Bruce Iglauer, then a shipping clerk for one of the USA’s most laudable (and still extant) indies Delmark Records, had been trying to get his boss Bob Koester to sign Taylor. When the situation appeared hopeless, Alligator was born.
In retrospect this might seem shortsighted on Koester’s part, but please cut the man a little slack. The Houserockers’ offerings were considerably more aggressive and gnarled than was the material that served as Delmark’s bread and butter at the time (Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, etc); they didn’t even have a bass player for crying out loud.
Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You served as the titular singer-songwriter’s return after a long, purposeful hiatus, and it stands as one of 2013’s stronger releases. Anybody harboring a passion for well-built tunes delivered with confidence and hints of eclecticism should look into its contents. And for those residing in the neighborhood of Washington DC, attending Mulcahy’s March 8th show at Sixth & I’s Historic Synagogue will very likely provide a fine evening out.
Often sweetest is the music that almost slipped through the cracks; a purchase made against fervent advice, the mysterious album received as a gift, an LP that messy ex-roommate accidentally left behind, a disc an acquaintance ardently insists deserves deep and immediate notice. Though it’s less than a year old, Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You solidly fits the bill for this writer.
I’ve been casually aware of Mark Mulcahy’s output for over half my life, but only very recently has it impacted me on a profound level. To elaborate, his ‘80s outfit Miracle Legion was a post-REM mainstay on college radio playlists of the era, but sadly dwelling beyond the reach of those stations’ wattage, I heard the group only infrequently.
My closest encounters came via ‘89’s “You’re the Ōne-Lee” single and the two cuts (one of them a cover of Mission of Burma’s “Acadamy Fight Song”) included on the soundtrack to the film A Matter of Degrees. To be succinct, Miracle Legion was one of numerous acts from this period that I intended on checking out further but never did.
One of the finer developments in this still young century has been the steady flow of well-annotated retrospectives offering knowledge into global sounds once largely obscured by national boundaries. Happily this trend shows no signs of receding, and those carrying a jones for intercontinental funkiness will very likely find Bombay Disco: Disco Hits from Hindi Films 1979-1985 to their liking. Featuring a recurring cast of contributors led by prolific Bollywood composer Bappi Lahiri, the 2LP’s 13 selections brandish a pleasing consistency along with its highpoints.
As detailed in this collection’s liner notes, by the time disco was stalling out in its country of origin, the form (spawned from the intersection of urban African-American, Latino, Italian-American, and homosexual communities) was just getting its footing in South Asia. Like Euro disco, the South Asian variant not only continued to thrive far into the following decade but reportedly retained popularity with Hindi audiences into the 1990s. And as Bombay Disco’s full title clearly explains, its spoils all derive from Bollywood film scores.
Some might remember and sense a connection to Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars & Sitars, a late-‘90s Dan the Automator-instigated project that found the producer revamping the “Brownsploitation” soundtrack work of the composer/arranger/conductor duo Kalyanji-Anandji, and while there are similarities, there are also notable differences.
The biggest distinction is that outside of careful remastering, Bombay Disco’s producers, DJs Brother Cleve and Deano Sounds, have admirably left the compilation’s entries untouched. That means no remixing, no added instrumentation and to my understanding no editing. This hands-off approach not only enhances the historical importance of the whole endeavor, but also underscores the sustained focus of a specific wrinkle, namely filmi (the South Asian term for movie music), from inside of a much larger artistic impulse.
Altered Images are basically remembered today for being one part of the early-‘80s influx of the New Wave, one that never broke big in the States. Featuring the unique vocal talents of Clare Grogan, the group’s early material provides a very interesting collection of melodic yet appealingly edgy post-punk that should satisfy fans of the later-‘80s c86 movement, and by extension the partisans of ‘90s indie pop that was issued via labels like Slumberland. The best place to start with Altered Images is with their first effort “Dead Pop Stars” b/w “Sentimental,” a gem of a single that never got its just due.
A band’s debut record can serve a variety of different functions. At the time of release these documents will reliably stand as a tangible marker of achievement for the musicians involved, indicating that they’d transcended the realm of the practice space and low-to-no paying local live gigs to actually produce something permanent.
So many records have been issued over the years that the steady flow of bands announcing their existence with yet another 45, EP, or album can frankly not seem anything even remotely like a big deal, but the reality is that only a percentage of groups have what it takes to make it beyond the initial stages of formation to deliver something concrete, and only a portion of those actually possess the collective inspiration to deliver music that can withstand the test of time. Yes, the debut record delivers permanence (“We did it!”), but it’s far from a given that what’s contained in those grooves will cut through the haze of subsequent activity to attain the stature of the truly lasting.
In the ‘90s, Crypt Records received quite a bit of well-deserved attention through releases by the New Bomb Turks, Teengenerate, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But the label’s activities in the previous decade are just as interesting, and a huge part of the reason draws from a slew of compilations detailing all sorts of once secret rock ‘n’ roll mayhem that spawned from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Some of the best entries came through a series titled Strummin’ Mental, and anybody thirsting for a taste of the pure youthfulness of early-R&R expression should seek out Volume One.
It was once considered by quite a few that the period falling between the initial rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the mid-‘50s and the eventual appearance of The Beatles and the ensuing madness of the British Invasion was essentially an accumulated span of downtime, an era that in its supposed aimlessness was often summed up as the music’s wilderness years. Elvis was a movie star, Buddy Holly was dead, Jerry Lee Lewis pretty much committed career suicide, Little Richard was tangling with religion, and Chuck Berry was plagued with legal troubles.
These days it’s not a bit difficult to locate numerous examples of uncut R&R action from within this timeframe, though much of it was waxed either by one-hit wonders or via acts that managed to attain no more than regional success. Predictably, even this minor chart activity proved fleeting. Amongst other factors, the challenges of record distribution posed a big problem. For example, the certifiable hotbed of early rock motion that is New Orleans found some of its finest material kneecapped by limited access to the wider listening public, with soon to be classics withering on the vine at the time of their first release.
In 1969, with the help of James Brown and his band, veteran organist and bandleader Bill Doggett returned to the fertile soil of “Honky Tonk,” the song that remains his greatest achievement in both commercial and aesthetic terms. The King Records’ single “Honky Tonk Popcorn” b/w “Honky Tonk” wasn’t a hit however, and its current rep is too often absorbed as part of Brown’s long string of musical triumphs. But in relation to Doggett, it does provide a valuable lesson; never count an artist out. And nearly forty-five years later, the single continues to sound fantastic.
Even though his career spanned a large portion of the 20th century, Bill Doggett’s name will always be associated with his biggest hit. And that hit was indeed a huge one. “Honky Tonk (Part 1)” was simply a monstrous object; not only the most successful R&B single of 1956 (chalking up thirteen weeks at the top spot), the 45 additionally attained the stature of true crossover smash, making it all the way to number two on the pop chart.
Subsequently, that killer and its fabulous flipside “Honky Tonk (Part 2)” have become part of the lore of the early rock ‘n’ roll era, even though Doggett was far from any kind of rocker. Born in 1916 and considered a child prodigy on the piano at age 13, William Ballard Doggett began his career shortly thereafter, and by the ‘30s he was leading his own orchestra.
Tough times led him to sell his band to Lucky Millander. Doggett continued to work with the group, making his recording debut with that outfit in 1939. In 1942 he became the pianist and arranger for The Ink Spots. Employment with Count Basie, Wynonie Harris, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, and Ella Fitzgerald followed, and by 1947 he’d stepped into the piano role for Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. It was with Jordan that Doggett first played the Hammond organ, the instrument that came to be his calling card.
Zephire Andre Williams has packed a lot of living into his nearly 80 years on this planet, and along the way his name has been attached to a whole lot of records. In the second half of the 1950s he cut a slew of smolderingly low-fi platters for Detroit’s Fortune label, with “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because of a Kiss” growing into a national hit. The a-side is amongst the most potent R&B of its era, and it rightfully stands as a classic.
Specifically due to its scarcity, Andre Williams’ early work was once the stuff of legend. Not just his run of singles for Fortune, but his subsequent motions for ventures of differing size and longevity such as Wingate, Sport, Avin, Checker, and Duke. He was also noted for his role behind the scenes at Motown during the first half of the ‘60s and as a co-writer (with Otha Hayes and Verlie Rice) of “Shake a Tail Feather,” the original of which was recorded in Chicago by The Five Du-Tones for the One-derful imprint.
The waxing of that ludicrously swank monster occurred in 1963 during one of Williams’ absences from Motown. It’s now well-established that he and Berry Gordy’s relationship was a highly volatile one, and by ’65 the two men had parted ways for good. His biggest post-Motown success came at Checker, one of the numerous subsidiaries belonging to Phil and Leonard Chess. Hooking up with Ike Turner in the early-‘70s sent Williams’ life into a downward spiral, mainly due to the steady availability of copious amounts of cocaine.
And Williams’ frequent label-hopping combined with his overall lack of national hits to basically insure difficulty and neglect in the anthologizing of his discography, even after he’d made his comeback. In ’84 Fortune Records, still in business against seemingly insurmountable odds, issued the compilation Jail Bait, but by the point of his ‘90s resurgence copies of that slab were long gone.
Some call it an inspired gag, others dismiss it as a mediocre lark and a few select oddballs are downright determined to overpraise it to the rafters, but one thing’s certain; “I’m a Cult Hero” b/w “I Dig You” is a true curiosity. Perhaps that should read Cure-iosity, for Cult Hero was a brief early digression for UK Goth titans The Cure, featuring the band with a handful of added help, most notably a pub-haunting postman named Frank Bell on lead vocals. While it’s not really well-suited to accompany the midday mope of a cardigan-clad sad sack as they sip from a cup of lukewarm Earl Grey tea, the appealingly minor charms of the 45 are surely worthy of a retrospective salute.
Back in the second half of the ‘80s, as part of a small group of post-punk acts that managed to hang around long enough and grow in stature to become one of the initial bands in the first wave of the marketing-based non-genre known as Alternative music, The Cure came to be esteemed by quite a few as underdog survivors. But simultaneously, the outfit was on the receiving end of an uncommonly high level of flack.
They were reliably disparaged for such miscalculations as horrid dress sense, ludicrous hairstyles, overzealous and poorly applied makeup, banal subject matter, trite lyrics, ham-fisted song construction, and brazen music-video clowning. And these assessments were often spouted from folks who actually professed to like the band.
Observers who did not enjoy or even downright hated The Cure could frequently be found seething over the very existence of the group, deriding them as an affront to the cherished modes of acceptable rock and roll behavior. The derision of these bitter sorts reliably focused upon bands of the Alternative persuasion (to say nothing of newfangled Rap music), but The Cure seemed to catch a little extra opprobrium, many because they seemed to have no problem with being perceived as ridiculous.