Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sir Douglas Quintet - She's About A Mover

Check out this clip from Hullabaloo and you will see Sir Doug and the band remade as a British invasion band (see my previous post). Is this a freak show or what? Is that Trini Lopez introducing them? I think it is.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Joe Turner and the Alcove Groupies

As I am getting ready for the opening of the Knickerbocker Cafe in Westerly, Rhode Island this Saturday, I keep thinking about all the great music I heard there in the old days. When the Roomful of Blues held court every Sunday night in the 1970's, there was nothing better than hanging in the alcove, drinking a beer and listening to great Kansas City rhythm and blues.

 I can still picture Duke Robillard in that cream colored suit playing his Gibson guitar with Greg Piccolo and the horns behind him. At that time, the cover versions of songs by the great Big Joe Turner were the best part of the show. Shake Rattle and Roll, Honey Hush and Switchin' in the Kitchen were the tunes that got the dance floor jumping and the alcove groupies bopping.

Those nights at the Knick with The Roomful introduced me to the music of Big Joe Turner. He became a standard on the turntable at Floyd's Hotel. Turner's music was pretty different than what most people were listening to at that time, but we loved it.

Big Joe Turner, who was known as The Boss of the Blues because of his ample girth, was born in Kansas City in 1911. His first interest in music came from singing in church. After his father died when he was 4 years old, he began singing on street corners and by age fourteen he was singing in bars around Kansas City. In 1936, he was playing in New York with boogie woogie pianist Pete Johnson when they were discovered by legendary talent scout and producer, John Hammond. He got them a gig at Cafe Society, which really expanded their audience.

 Through the 1940's, Joe played  clubs in New York and toured with various big bands including Duke Ellington. In 1954, he was signed to Atlantic records and recorded his break out hit Shake Rattle and Roll. This classic blues song crossed over to the pop charts and helped launch the rock and roll craze when it was covered by Bill Haley and the Comets. Check out the lyrics in Big Joe's original version:

Get outa that bed, wash your face and hands
Get outa that bed, wash your face and hands
Well, you get in that kitchen and make some noise with those pots and pans

Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shining through
Way your wear those dresses, the sun comes shining through
I can't believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you

Turner was a great fit at Atlantic Records. Working with  Jerry Wexler (see my post from August 17), Big Joe recorded many classic songs including some written by Doc Pomus (see my post from September 18). My favorite of the Pomus covers is Boogie Woogie Country Girl, which Bob Dylan covered on the Pomus tribute album. It is a classic bit of rhythm and blues. Turner's massive voice and the big band behind him made for some great music.

I was lucky to see Big Joe play at the Knickerbocker one night in the early '80's. He was quite old at that point and weighed well over 300 lbs. He sang sitting on a stool in front of the band. Even then, he had a huge voice and it was special treat to see a legend in person. The alcove was rocking that night. After almost every song, Joe would yell out: "Let's have a hand for this band The Houseful of Blues". There was laughter in the alcove.

If you don't have any Big Joe Turner on your playlist, you are missing one of the great ones. Recommended albums include  Big Joe Turner: The Rhythm and Blues Years and Big Joe Rides Again. This begins with Switchin' in the Kitchen, which is my favorite Turner track and one of the best Kansas City style tunes ever recorded. Both are available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Hope to see you at the Knick on Saturday night.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


My introduction to the music of Doug Sahm came from Doug Sahm and Band. Living at Floyd's Hotel in early 1973, I was starved for any new music from Bob Dylan. It had been a long time since New Morning was released in 1970. When I read about Bob's appearance on this album by Doug Sahm, I was a buyer.

Although I didn't know it at the time, Sir Doug already had a long and colorful history as a Texas musician. Born in San Antonio in 1942, Sahm was a child prodigy, who played on the radio at 5 years old. He even shared the stage with Hank Williams Sr in 1952.

In the 1965, Sahm and his friend Augie Meyers formed the Sir Douglas Quintet, which had a top twenty hit with She's About a Mover. Even though some of the players in the band were Mexican and they had a decidedly Tex-Mex sound, Sahm's record company remade them as a British invasion band to capitalize on the hot trend of the day. Whatever the story, Doug and this band had a unique sound and made some great music. They even patented the cheap Mexican organ sound heard on She's About a Mover and other Sahm songs.

Doug Sahm and the Band was recorded in 1972 at Muscle Shoals studio under the direction of legendary producer Jerry Wexler (see my post from August 17). Wexler brought together Doug, Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Dr. John, and Flaco Jimenez for the session. Although not a commercial success at the time, the record has been mentioned as one of Wexler's favorites in several articles. Listening to it today, I can see why.

The record kicks off with Doug's take on Is Anybody Goin to San Antone, which was a number 1 hit for Charlie Pride. With the fiddle playing the roll of a percussion instrument, Doug and the band turn this into an appealing romp. It has a loose, modern country sound and and you can tell the musicians are having a great time. Listen for the steel guitar taking on the fiddle parts later in the song.

 Later on the disk, you get Bob Dylan stepping up for vocals on his original composition Wallflower. Bob's pipes sound a little rusty from hanging around in Woodstock, but it still was a treat to hear him sing some new material. 

On the rest of the album, Sahm shows his versitilty by covering some great country songs as well as some blues standards. He does a good job on Willie Nelson's Me and Paul and on the western standard Faded Love. The band also works up some energy on great blues tunes like Dealer's Blues, Blues Stay Away from Me and Papa Ain't Salty.

I was lucky to see Sahm live at Ferdie's, a beer joint north of San Antonio, in May of 1986. It was a wedding celebration for a good friend who was a fan and long time friend of Doug's. The party (what I remember of it) was rocking and the music was great. I got to talk to Doug and Augie during one of the breaks. I asked Doug about Bob Dylan. He said: "He's a weird cat." Right after the break, the band launched into a blistering version of Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. My night was made.

If you don't have this classic album on your playlist, you need to add it. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Skeeter Davis -- The End Of The World

As mentioned in the last post, this is a great '60's country song. The video is worth watching just to see Skeeter's hair. Look out for the ceiling fan!

Monday, February 9, 2009


I watched part of the Grammy show on Sunday night. I will spare you most of my usual rant, but I have to say there is nothing I like about watching Carrie Underwear try to sing. Even worse is watching those two teen nitwits sitting on stools singing about being 15 years old. I hate sh*t like that. The only good part of the show was Sir Paul rocking out. He was the best of the live music by far. How about that face lift? Get the name of his surgeon.

Speaking of Sir Paul and that band he started (If you think I'm talking about Wings, press delete now), I have been thinking about a great song that was released in the year before the British Invasion. That song is The End of the World by Skeeter Davis.

 Early in 1963, The End of the World was all over the radio. In fact, it got to number 2 on both the country and pop charts.  Although I didn't know it at the time, that was unusual for a country singer like Skeeter. In those days there wasn't a lot of crossover between those two types of music. Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee were able to do it, but it was rare event.

Mary Francis Penick (Skeeter Davis) was born in Dry Ridge, Kentucky in 1931. She had some early success as part of a country duo with Betty Jack Davis called The Davis Sisters. In 1953, they had a number 1 country hit with  I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know, which was even covered by Bob Dylan on his 1970 disaster Self Portrait. Shortly after the release of the record, the Davis Sisters were involved in a car accident that killed Betty Jack and left Skeeter seriously injured.

From there, Skeeter worked with Chet Adkins and RCA Records and recorded several solo records that made the country charts. Her biggest hit and signature song was The End of the World. It is a great song of teen love and loss that sounds as good today as it did 46 years ago.

Skeeter had an active music career for many years. She wrote several country hits and recorded many songs including several with Bobby Bare. She even recorded an album called Skeeter Davis Sings Buddy Holly

The End of the World is available from iTunes. Add it to your playlist.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I have returned from my Steakhouse tour of America. In four nights, I ate at five different steak restaurants. (The Palm, Smith and Wollensky, Morton’s, Fleming’s, and Sullivan’s) Thank God for Vytorin and pass the salad.

As reported in my last post, I ended up my run at a birthday celebration in Kansas City. The party was fun and the music by Robert Earl Keen and the band was excellent. Robert played his usual high energy set and the crowd was very receptive.

An additional treat was the band that followed Robert for a short set of Merle Haggard favorites. I think they were called Bill Whitbeck and the Strangers, but I’m not really sure. All I know is they nailed Merle Haggard. Bill’s vocals were Haggard like and my favorite man of steel, Marty Muse, had all the right licks for the songs. Even the rhythm guitar player was pretty good. These guys might have a future.

Monday, February 2, 2009


 Getting ready for Saturday's big 50th birthday celebration for Perry S, I am thinking about hearing Robert Earl Keen and his band live, drinking some whiskey and maybe even dancing the Saratoga no-step and falling down on my ass. Perry is a big fan of country music and Merle Haggard. A while back he suggested that I write a post about Haggard. This is it.

Merle Haggard is one of the most prolific, talented country stars of all time. Haggard and his band The Strangers, along with Buck Owens, popularized a type of country music known as the Bakersfield Sound. It is a sound that has always been a little harder edged than the normal polished Nashville country music. This may reflect Haggard's rough and tumble upbringing that included several stints in jail. He was actually in the audience at San Quentin when Johnny Cash preformed those legendary shows.

Between 1966 and 1987, Haggard recorded 40 number one hit songs, many of these are enduring classics. There would be a big hole in the country songbook without songs like I Am A Lonesome Fugitive, Mama Tried, Working Man's Blues, Okie From Muskogee, Big City and Kern River to name just a fewAlthough over 70 years old, he continues to tour with his great band The Strangers.

I have been a fan of Haggard since I moved to Texas in the late '70's. Although I knew a few Haggard songs (we weren't listening to much country at Floyd's Hotel) before that time, I got a lot more interested in Haggard's music when I first heard his classic 1982 duet with Willie Nelson on Poncho and Lefty. From there, I became an even bigger fan after I played a cassette of his 1985 release Kern River to death. I love a sad country song and there are few song that are sadder than Kern River. Have a listen, but keep the hankie close at hand.

I have been very lucky to see Merle and The Strangers live several times in my life. The first was in 1994 in Corpus Christi at an outdoor show at Johnny Land. It was a beautiful night under the Texas stars. There was a dance floor up front and Merle and the band sounded great. Another show later that year at Rockefeller's in Houston was not as successful. Merle must have gotten over served before the show and was not at his best that night.

More recently, I have seen him twice as the opening act on The Never Ending Tour. Seeing Dylan and Haggard in one night should be illegal. Hearing both of them sing on the same bill, was a testimony to the aging of Haggard's voice. Unlike Bob, he can still sing like a bird. At the Beacon Theatre in New York he even played Kern River, which almost brought me to tears.
At a show in San Antonio with Guitar Johnny working his backstage magic, I got to meet Merle (see photo above), which was a great honor. I went to the show hoping to meet Dylan (good luck), but getting to spend some time with Merle more than made up for it. He was super friendly and we had a nice time before the show.

If you do not have a lot of Haggard tunes on your ipod, you are missing some great music. Merle Haggard 40 #1 Hits is available from Amazon and would be a good place to start. From iTunes you can pick up either Hag-The Best of Merle Haggard or Merle Haggard: 20 Greatest Hits. Check him out.

Bob Dylan's Grammy speech about Buddy Holly

Sitting here on the eve of the 50th anniversary of "The Day the Music Died", I am thinking about Dylan at the Grammys talking about seeing Buddy Holly in Duluth two days before he died. Here is the clip. Enjoy.