This version of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic “Wild Man Blues” by jazz clarinetist Johnny Dodds (1892-1940) and his Chicago Boys is my absolute favorite ever; its melody is a New Orleans blues if ever there was one, bub. He recorded this tune several times in the course of his career, all different takes with different approaches to the solos and the arrangements. This one is from a 1938 New York session and features the New Orleans legend towards the very end of his life still playing with so much energy and so much feeling for a song which was “a hit” for him and which he presumably played very often until his premature end. He died in 1940 leaving a tremendous legacy of music and recordings, and this is one of those songs which I will always love and never forget.

Thank you, Mr. Dodds, for this little heart & joy that you left the world.

Charlie Shavers (tpt) ; Johnny Dodds (clt) ; Lil Armstrong
(p) ; Teddy Bunn (g) ; John Kirby (bs) ; O’Neil Spencer (dr)

 

 

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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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Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958), American blues legend.

Born in Mississippi, he played guitar, piano and bass, and went on to pen many blues standards, and copyrighted over 300 of them. Also, he was one of the founding faculty of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music , in 1953.

His sides on Paramount and Vocalion (where he is sometimes called “Willie Broomzy”) are typically hard to find, they’re expensive, and are almost always pretty beat up from the jukebox joints etc. “I’ll Start Cutting On You”, a 1938 country blues on Vocalion #04095 is no exception – it is roughed-up and scratchy; but I love this tune and it still comes up wonderfully from under the hiss, promise (you could also very easily adjust the treble settings on your EQ for a less lived-in sound, and you would still enjoy the bouncy beauty of this rare pre-war gem)! Happiness.

 

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This gospel quartet caught-on in the U.S. national scene in the 1940s and kept up their popularity & musical quality into the 50s. The great Ray Charles has said that the Pilgrim Travelers, and particularly their baritone Jesse Whitaker, influenced him and his then developing musical style: a brew of blues, gospel and jazz which would eventually come to be known as “soul” music.

This acapella take of “I Was There When the Spirit Came” is vocally tight, light and snappy, especially much of the accompaniment behind the lead.  On the Specialty label out of L.A., which was known for its many excellent black rock & roll and gospel sides, this is a pretty clean copy with plenty of lustre on the shellac, and the voices are clear and really ring out so beautifully.

 

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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