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Posts Tagged ‘rock and roll

“I went down to St. James Infirmary / Saw my baby there”*…

One of the greatest of American songs is “St. James Infirmary,” and it is also one of the most mysterious, with a cloudy and complicated history. Despite the credit on the record pictured above to Don Redman, no one knows who wrote the song, and its lyrics are endlessly variable. Here’s how Louis Armstrong sang it:

I went down to St. James Infirmary,

Saw my baby there,

Stretched out on a long white table,

So cold, so sweet, so fair.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,

Wherever she may be,

She can look this wide world over,

But she’ll never find a sweet man like me. 

When I die, want you to dress me, straight-lace shoes,

Box-back coat and a Stetson hat.

Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain, 

So the boys’ll know that I died standin’ pat. 

He first recorded the song in 1928, and then re-recorded it in 1959. (That second link says that it’s the 1928 version, but it isn’t: it’s from Armstrong’s outstanding 1959 album Satchmo Plays King Oliver.) The funeral-march pace of the later recording fits the lyrics’ mood better, I think, that the speedier early version. And Armstrong’s vocal on that later version is one of his very finest. 

Wynton Marsalis’s staggering song “The Death of Jazz,” from his 1989 album The Majesty of the Blues, is musically so close to Armstrong’s 1959 recording of “St. James Infirmary” that it’s almost a cover. Listening to the two songs back-to-back is an education in the resources of the blues tradition – and of certain folk traditions that pre-date the blues. 

The Wikipedia page for “St. James Infirmary” traces its history quite effectively, following the various dim paths back to England and Ireland. I’d give a lot to know where this unsettling masterpiece of American music really came from – if such a question can be answered at all.

As the blues became jazz: an appreciation of an American classic, from Alan Jacobs (@ayjay)

* “St. James Infirmary”

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As we note that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that guitarist Willie Kizart, playing with Ike Turner’s band at a session in Memphis produced by the (later famous) Sam Phillips, recorded what most believe is the first recorded example of electric guitar distortion. The legend of how the sound emerged holds that Kizart’s amplifier was damaged when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis. On arriving and discovering the problem, Kizart stuffed the amplifier with wadded newspapers to hold the cone in place– and unintentionally created a distorted sound. Phillips liked it and used it (though when he sold the rights to Chess records, he credited “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats,” who were actually “Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm”).

The song that they recorded, “Rocket 88,” is considered by many to have been the first rock and roll record– for which it has earned berths in he Blues Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles.

“Don’t hate the media; become the media”*…

Punk Planet was a 16,000 print run punk zine, based in Chicago, Illinois, that focused most of its energy on looking at punk subculture rather than punk as simply another genre of music to which teenagers listen. In addition to covering music, Punk Planet also covered visual arts and a wide variety of progressive issues — including media criticism, feminism, and labor issues.

The most notable features in Punk Planet were the interviews and album reviews. The interviews generally ran two or three pages, and tended to focus on the motivations of the artist (or organizer, activist, or whoever) being interviewed. Punk Planet aimed to be more inclusive than the well-known zine Maximum Rock and Roll, and tried to review nearly all the records it received, so long as the record label wasn’t owned or partially owned by a major label. This led to a review section typically longer than thirty pages, covering a variety of musical styles. Although much of the music thus reviewed was, expectedly, aggressive rock, the reviews also covered country, folk, hip-hop, indie rock, and other genres. The Punk Planet reviews section also encompassed independently released comics, zines, and DVDs…

The first issue of the zine was published in May 1994, in part as a response to the perception that Maximum Rock and Roll was becoming too elitist. In September 2006, Punk Planet had printed 75 issues of their bi-monthly publication, and in the fall of 2004 launched a book publishing arm, Punk Planet Books, in conjunction with the New York-based small press Akashic Books…

A number of poor distribution deals and the collapse of the Independent Press Association resulted in mounting debts for the editors. As a result, issue 80 was shipped with a cover reading: “This is the final issue of Punk Planet, after this the fight is yours.” Subsidiary business Punk Planet books remains in business…

The annals of punk, the subculture as much as the genre– the invaluable Internet Archive (@internetarchive) has digitized and made the full run available: “Punk Planet Archive.”

* Jello Biafra

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As we travel in time, we might recall that this date in 1959 was “the day the music died”: the day that a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (aka, The Big Bopper), and pilot Roger Peterson.

If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music… and of aviation.

– Tom Stoppard

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Written by LW

February 3, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Every record I put on was like a baptism”*…

The sensation of being “in the groove” is the holy grail of jazz. As the renowned drummer Charli Persip described it, “When you get in that groove, you ride right down that groove with no strain and no pain—you can’t lay back or go forward. That’s why they call it a groove. It’s where the beat is, and we’re always trying to find that.”

This expression from the Roaring Twenties is an allusion to an insect secretion. The close fit between a phonograph needle and the grooves in early shellac 78 rpm records determined the quality of the playback. Shellac—a resinous, amber-colored secretion of the tiny scale insect Kerria lacca—served as the key ingredient in the first generation of phonographic disks. Odd as it may seem, a gummy substance manufactured by bugs and their human hosts in South Asia was the pioneering medium for the transmission of recorded sound.

The curious story of how a sticky discharge from billions of insect bodies became a vehicle for the globalization of audio culture spans millennia and crosses oceans…

The miraculous properties, and fascinating history, of shellac: “Like Jazz, Bowling, and Old Hollywood Hairdos? Thank Insects.

* Questlove, Mo’ Meta Blues

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As we gently lower the needle, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix; he was born (Johnny Allen Hendrix) on this date in 1942. Though his career as a front man lasted only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. Indeed, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”

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Written by LW

November 27, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I’m Your Puppet”*…

 

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What have you been doing during the COVID-19 Lockdown?

Binging on boxsets? Drinking too much? Self-medicating? Finding all your good clothes have shrunk from lack of wear?

All of the above?

George Miller spent his time lockdown making a set of beautiful marionettes featuring some of the biggest stars of rock ‘n’ roll, country, and R&B.

Miller is a Glasgow-based artist, singer, musician and iconic pop figure who’s better known as the front man to the legendary Kaisers and more recently the New Piccadillys…

Over the past few months, he would post a photograph of his latest marionette in progress. Sculpting heads of rock stars like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly or country greats like Johnny Cash. They were beautiful, fabulous models, which were then dressed by Ursula Cleary and placed in boxes designed by Chris Taylor…

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From the ever-illuminating Dangerous Minds, “Your favorite rock ‘n’ roll, country and R&B legends as marionettes.”

* song written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham; most famously recorded by James & Bobby Purify

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As we pull the string, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that the first singing telegram was delivered.  On that day, a fan sent Hollywood singing star Rudy Vallee a birthday greeting by telegram.  George P. Oslin, the Western Union public relations director, decided this would be a good opportunity to make telegrams, which had been associated with deaths and other tragic news, into something more popular.  He asked a Western Union operator, Lucille Lipps, to sing the message over the telephone… et viola!

The initial response within the company was not-so-positive; Oslin recalled that he “was angrily informed I was making a laughingstock of the company.”  But the service caught on.  As relatively few telegram recipients had telephones in the 1930s, most telegrams, including singing telegrams, were first delivered in person.  As the phone caught on, delivery shifted there– but demand for telegrams began to drop.  Western Union suspended the service in 1974, though it survives as a novelty provided by independent companies.

TelephoneOperators2 source

 

“Soon silence will have passed into legend”*…

 

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The idea behind myNoise is to use the noises you most enjoy to mask the noises you don’t want to hear: chatty colleagues, your tinnitus, or even your inner voice when you can’t shut it down! The concept is simple, works extremely well, and doesn’t require expensive noise-cancelling headphones. Thanks to its sound quality and unique audio engineering, myNoise sets the standard among online background noise machines…

Missing the buzz of the coffee shop?  Anxious to mask unwanted audio distractions? Need to concentrate (or sleep)?  MyNoise is ready to help.

[Image above: Flickr user Sascha Kohlmann, via]

* “Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.”  — the censorious Jean Arp (who, if he were alive today, might or might not agree that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”…)

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As we bathe in sound, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that that Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” reached number one on the Billboard charts– the first rock and roll record to ascend to that pinnacle.

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Exactly one year later, Dick Clark began one of television’s longest-running stints as a host when he debuted Bandstand on WFIL, a Philadelphia TV station.  The show was eventually picked up by ABC-TV and changed its name to American Bandstand.

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