A. Kostis was the pseudonym of Konstantinos Bezos (1905-1943), a guitarist and singer from Greece who recorded sides for RCA Victor and Columbia in the 1930s and 40s. He played several different styles throughout his career, including a large Hawaiian steel guitar repertoire. However, this song is a “rebetika”, a kind of Greek popular song and “outlaw blues” which typically dealt with street culture: sex, violence, drugs and death. Springing up around the turn of the 20th century in places like Constantinople (Istanbul!) and Ottoman Smyrna, its origins are hazy and, as it was a song tradition associated with hashish dens, criminals, jail, and the poorest classes, it was banned for a time starting in 1937. So the music went underground and the tradition carried on, ever with the possibility of imprisonment or worse.

“Isouna Xypoliti” translates to “Without Stockings.” I looked around the internet and found a really great translation of the lyrics, which deal with a man addressing his wife who now wants luxuries like earrings:

“you were barefoot, out on the streets, now that I took you in (or married you) you even ask for a horse and stable boys, you were out in the market begging for some food, now that I took you in you want earrings”

However, because of all the antiquated Greek slang, some of the lyrics are difficult to connect. The last two verses deal with imprisoning Death to live forever, dice gambling and something about the cops, but it is not entirely clear. To me, the incomplete understanding of the lyrics is just another reason to dig in and inhabit the world and voice of the character. And the two guitar attack playing a traditional 9/4 meter full of quick, dark, and sort of “Eastern blues” runs, is hypnotizing.

This shellac is also of the much rarer 12″ sort, which makes for an almost 4-minute song, whereas most 78s are 10″ and hold between 2-3 minutes of music. Opa!

 

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“White Silver Sands” is a famous pop song written in 1957 by Red Matthews and covered quite often thereafter, but this Don Rondo & Billy Rock Orchestra version has a cheerful, bop-country rock feel and the melody is fun to hum (and can get stuck in yer’ head)

“Where the deep blue pearly waters
Wash upon white silver sands
There on the brink of love I kissed her
And obeyed our hearts command
Where the deep blue pearly waters
Wash upon white silver sands
We watched the sun set in the evening
In a far and distant land”

 

On the NYC Jubilee Records label, Rondo scored a Billboard #7 chart hit with this one the same year Matthews wrote it.

 

 

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On the rare La Belle Creole label, this Haitian 78 rpm of Guy du Rosier singing the rollicking, self-penned calypso “Mathilda” is a real treasure; and not only because it is basically impossible to find in any shape. Around 1948 Du Rosier and his Rhythm recorded this lively performance filled with masterful percussion, rock solid & perfectly playful piano by Bebo Valdes (father of the very famous contemporary pianist Chucho Valdes), and an energetic vocal take which was just loose enough to catch the island feeling but not lose the ensemble nuances that you need to pull off this kind of laid-back sound. Later on, in the 1950s, Harry Belafonte would do his own version of this tune to great acclaim, but this lesser-known original take (on a super clean shellac – yes!) is the one I prefer every time.

Edith Piaf once called Mr. Du Rosier, a calypso star from an early age, ”the living breath of Haiti.”

 

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This sax-driven tune, written around 1947 by a musician from Rhodesia (current day Zimbabwe) named August Msarurgwa, became a worldwide hit in 1954 and was quickly covered by many popular groups of the era, including this exceptional mambo by one of the undisputed kings of the style, Prez Prado. “Skokiaan” is the name of a home-made hooch, basically a moonshine often made with maize, that was popular in Southern Africa at the time.

Also nice that this wonderful performance comes on a mid-50s RCA shellac, which are known for their high fidelity and warmth.

 

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“Sweet Leilani” was written in 1934 by Harry Owens for his one-day-old daughter, Leilani; her name is Hawaiian for “garland of flowers from heaven”. This song became a standard in many genres, but this Ray Kinney version with its sorta “island country western” feel with the sliding chords & 1920s pop crooner vocal is my favorite so far. The shellac is a bit worn  (from plenty of loving plays I’m sure), but I still love to spin it nonetheless, and the melody is just so charming and a little funny.

 

Ray Kinney - Sweet Leilani

This Latin side from 1933, on the Brunswick label, is a terrific little rhumba, and the bottle percussion is just the perfect, final piece for the arrangement. Palm trees, sea, and sun come to mind immediately when this tune gets going. Mr. Molina, who was born in Puerto Rico in 1899, was a very popular orchestra leader for about 40 years or so, and he had a big role in introducing tango and rhumba to Californians in the 1940s. And though his 78s are tough to track down in any condition, I found this one, and luckily in Excellent shape – “dime” (di-me) is “tell me” in Spanish.

 

Carlos Molina - Dime

This virtually forgotten release from 1956 on Chicago’s Argo Label is a classic Mike Simpson, on tenor sax, doing a snazzy spy lounge snapper with JUST the right amount of 007 meets Sammy Davis, Jr. and that 50s space-age boozy vibe.

 

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