Published by Feral House on September 16, 2016. Craig Smith was a 1960s golden boy – good looking, charismatic, outgoing; a preternaturally gifted musician and songwriter whose songs were recorde
By Doug Sheppard The musical, cultural and societal waves that Chuck Berry made by pioneering rock ’n’ roll could fill a book. And of course, there are so many great songs—brilliant
(Get On Down) LP/CD
The Wolf said, “These electric guitars, they got them queer sounds,” and the full name of this funky, fuzz-filled fantastic footlong is This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either. This LP’s the famous financial folly (along with Muddy’s Electric Mud) by Marshall Chess on his Cadet imprint, trying the youth turn-on via throwin’ the roots in the sketch, with fruits like Hendrix in the foreground. The blues purists slagged it, but like much of producer Charles Stepney’s work, was later embraced by hip-hop producers and diggers of all stripes.
BUT, when speakin’ on this mess-terpiece the cast of cats adept in jazz, blues and soul that form the group is generally left outta the equation. This psychedelic solid-sender carries no less than four guitarists (Phil Upchurch, Pete Cosey, Roland Faulkner), including long-time sideman and geetar goliath Hubert Sumlin. The funky, frisky and free rhythm section, Louis Satterfield (bass) and Morris Jennings (drums), along with Upchurch carried backup duties for many Chess, Cadet and outside artists including Terry Callier, Jimmy Reed, Donny Hathaway’s debut, Shel Silverstein, Curtis Mayfield and the Rotary Connection; while Cosey did time in the wild mid-‘70s with Miles Davis amongst others. The fevered flights are handled with finesse by this fab group and never descend into overwrought jamminess, while not kid-glovin’ the Wolf classics but bringin’ a new light to ’em. The “Back Door Man” hisself also shines migh-tee brightly on the insistent-grooved, reverb-drenched track this sentence began with; the plaintive, slinky “Little Red Rooster” and the wah-wah’ed stutter funk of “Down in the Bottom.”
The fave-rave of the platter is the haunting, backwoods electric burn take of “Moanin’ at Midnight,” where you could hear crickets off in the distance if the amps were turned down a notch or two, but this whole disc begs repeated listens. So, if you’ve got an appetite for the wild, untamed and raucous, pick up this platter that matters! (jeremy nobody, esq)
(Originally published in Ugly Things #33, Spring/Summer 2012)
(Future Days) CD
Recorded and released in 1970, The Black Gladiator was Bo Diddley’s first album of all new material since 1965’s 500% More Man. In the intervening half-decade the music scene had been through some pretty radical changes, and the astute and forward-thinking Diddley wasn’t about to be left behind. “I just decided to do somethin’ different,” he told biographer George R White. “Everybody was wearin’ funny lookin’ crap—Isaac Hayes had come out with chains an’ stuff on, an’ it was kinda flowin’ in that area at that particular time—so I got me some belts an’ stuff, an’ said I was The Black Gladiator.”
The resultant album is one of the overlooked gems in the Diddley catalog, showcasing a freakier, funkier sound that was in step with the times, while retaining the raunch and swagger that defined his earlier work. Bo goes balls-out on the very first track, “Elephant Man,” whipping up a torrid, wall-shaking guitar riff over which he hollers some of his craziest rhymes yet, about how he constructed this bizarre animal, called the elephant (maybe you’ve heard of it?), piece by piece, naming its various body parts, then letting out a blood-curdling scream every time he gets around to not quite mentioning its ass. Such profundity was in short supply at the time.
The album never quite scales the elephantine heights of its monster opening number, but there’s still much to enjoy. The backing band cooks throughout—plenty of wailing organ, rattling tambourines and crisp, funky drumming—and Bo is clearly having a ball with this new, different sound. “Black Soul,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Funky Fly” all boast tough, memorable grooves as well as plenty of muscular guitar work. “You, Bo Diddley” is one of Bo’s archetypal self-tributes, as is “Power House,” a virile boast built around his trusty “I’m a Man” riff, while the strange but wonderful “I Don’t Like You” is one of Bo’s trademark signifying pieces in the tradition of “Say Man,” with Bo trading insults with backing singer Cornelia Redmond (a.k.a. Cookie Vee) and also showing off his abilities as an opera singer—was there no end to this man’s talents?
There’s been a vinyl boot doing the rounds, but this digipak CD with liners by Scott Schindler is a legit, from the masters, reissue on Light in the Attic’s new Future Days imprint. (MS)
(Originally published in Ugly Things #33, Spring/Summer 2012)
FLYING SAUCERS ROCK’N’ROLL: Conversations with Unjustly Obscure Rock’n’Soul Eccentrics edited by Jake Austen (Duke University Press, US; 2011; 282 pages)
For the past couple of decades, Jake Austen and his ragtag team at Roctober have been engaged in some truly outstanding work in the field of rock’n’roll writing and research. If for some reason you’ve missed one—or any—of the almost 50 issues they’ve put out in that time, you could do a lot worse than pick up this book which compiles some of their most memorable interviews.
Roctober’s coverage has always been all over the map, taking in ’50s rockabilly, country, vintage soul, R&B, blues and funk, ’60s garage rock, ’70s and ’80s punk rock and new wave, heavy metal, and a range of unclassifiable species that might be loosely defined as novelty acts. A cross section of those styles are represented in the ten meaty interviews selected here, which include career-spanning conversations with Sam the Sham, David Allan Coe, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Oscar Brown Jr, the Fast, and the Good Rats.
Among the highlights are Ken Burke’s lengthy and absorbing chat with Sun rockabilly giant Billy Lee Riley, Jonathan Polettia’s disturbing voyage into the dark world of Hollywood glam weirdoes Zolar X, and a wonderful chat with the late, great Claude Trenier by a team of Roctoberists headed up by John Battles.
Each chapter is headed up by artwork by King Merinuk, illustrated with rare photos, and features a brief update on each artist. In several cases, the update turns out to be an obituary, a stark, poignant reminder of just how important it is to document the personal stories of these rock’n’soul innovators and eccentrics. (Mike Stax)
From UGLY THINGS #32 (Fall/Winter 2011)