Welcome to Mellow's Log Cabin. This blog's purpose is to supply information on a diversity of American southern music - ranging from country, blues, old-time and folk to R&B, rock'n'roll and rockabilly. I regularly present my research results about artists, labels, shows and also give guest writers a chance to publish their texts here on occasion.


• Jack Turner recordings available here.
• Update on Les Randall acetate.
• Thanks to Bob more info on Bill Harris.

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Freshest Live Albums in 50 Years plus

Another Bobsluckycat post presented by Mellow's Log Cabin!

After the recent passing of blues Icon B.B. King, I read somewhere and probably more than once that his recording of "Live at the Regal" was the definitive live blues performance on record. I bought that record when it first came out and it was a favorite of mine and my now 50 years old son used to dance to it in his playpen. He also still likes it (I warped him early. He's a blues freak still.) In any case, I get the record out and gave it a play, and yes it's still fresh and alive as the first time I heard it. I wondered how many "live" recordings from the late 1950s and the 1960s would still be fresh after 50 years the way they were when they debuted.

B.B. King - "Every Day I Have the Blues"

I thought immediately of "James Brown Live at the Apollo" recorded on October 2, 1962, and I knew it was a multi-million selling LP. I played that and confirmed again that it was also as fresh and dynamic as the first time I heard it. Let me digress for a moment. From 1959 well into 1961, I had the opportunity to catch both performers live doing pretty much the same program and in the same order in San Jose, California, along with the likes of Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, and others. So I was familiar with the programs, somewhat, before the LPs were ever recorded. Also just for the record, I got to see and hear Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs & The Foggy Mtn. Boys in concert in much the same time frame, but later, at lesser venues in the East, probably late 1962 or early 1963. The James Brown LP was more theatrical in nature and had to be seen to get the whole picture, but the sound version is indeed a ground-breaking historical R&B definitive live show unmatched to this day. The sound quality of the recording is fantastic. James Brown produced this recording and the sound engineer was Chuck Seitz of Columbia Records in charge.

Introduction to James Brown by Fats Gonder

James Brown - "I'll Go Crazy"

Live LPs from about 1951 forward were in monaural and on small jazz labels such as Fantasy and Verve among others. Big Bands were breaking up due to the financial considerations more than anything else and were not doing live recordings. Occasionally a big pop star such as Lena Horne would do a live LP and have a hit record. Her recording of "Lena Horne Live at the Waldorf Astoria" on RCA-Victor jumped high onto the Billboard charts giving her a major hit LP for several weeks in 1957. She became the largest selling female artist on RCA-Victor for quite some time after this hit. As the recording techniques improved during the late 1950s, with the introduction of first, high fidelity sound and then stereophonic recording, "Live" became more practical and sold very well in the jazz and popular music categories, while at the same time most of the new music (rock'n'roll, country, R&B and the such geared to a younger audience) was being served by the 45 RPM 7" record (the 78 RPM went defunct in 1957). Sometimes it crossed over but most of the jazz and pop music was by and for older adults who had a lot of money to spend and they bought LPs and "Hi-Fi's" and stereo's and such and in some cases in elaborate furniture pieces with 12 inch stereo speakers. However, now 50 years later or so, do any of those live recordings still stand up as fresh and contemporary as back then?

Most of those musicians and their audience is long deceased, but as for the music... I have two great examples coming up. Ahmad Jamal had been a jazz/lounge style piano player for a few years with a light style and touch with a trio consisting of piano, bass and guitar and it was bland but successful, somewhat, and did some early recordings for CBS/Epic records. When he changed out the guitar for more percussion in the person of Vernell Fournier, the entire trio seemed more complete. On January 16, 1958, at the small Pershing Club in Chicago, Jamal recorded the entire 43 song evening for Chess Records, 8 cuts were released as Argo LP 628. "But Not For Me" and a rather long version of "Poiniciana" at 8:07 caught the ear of the American public and the album took off like no other into the "Pop" music scene with a vengeance. 107 weeks in the Billboard album charts, millions of units sold of the LP and more with follow-up and repackaged LPs over the next several years. A footnote today. The one thing I always liked about Jamal was his sense of whimsy. He played a variety of songs, pop song hits, show tunes and others that allowed him to play with the music and in doing that play with the musical sensibilities of the audience. On this LP I have chosen "Music, Music, Music," a pop hit for Teresa Brewer and the Ames Brothers in 1950 to illustrate my point. 

Ahmad Jamal - "Music, Music, Music"

Frankie Carle, pianist and band leader from the 1930s had a string of hits and covers on Columbia Records into the 50s at which time he signed with RCA-Victor Records and put out several albums which sold well enough to warrant a live LP, "Top of the Mark" as by Frankie Carle & His Orchestra (RCA-Victor LSP-2233?) was recorded on May 7, 1960, a deluxe LP with many pages about San Francisco in words and pictures and short on songs. It's as slick as it could be, but I doubt it made its negative cost back. It's a great overlooked LP. I was in the San Francisco area at the time, but alas I had no tuxedo nor the $50.00 dollars per ticket to get in either. What's a twenty year old to do in such a sophisticated world, anyway? I ran across this LP still wrapped several years later. I love it. (Truth behind the story.) My father was a giant Frankie Carle fan for years. He played Frankie Carle records all the time. I heard them all from a very young age. The opening song "Beg Your Pardon" was a personal favorite of my father's and it's included here. So sue me.

Frankie Carle and Orchestra - Intro and "Beg Your Pardon"

In the late 50s and early 60s, the two major labels doing live LPs were RCA-Victor mostly out of L.A. (Hollywood) and Capitol Records which was doing recordings of Louie Prima and Keeley Smith with Sam Butera and The Witnesses in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, and other locations as well. On May 4, 1959, at the first Grammy Awards in L.A., Louie Prima & Keeley Smith got the award for "Best Vocal Performance," on the strength of an album cut which went to the top 20 and a gold record for "Old Black Magic" in November of 1958. With a lot of million selling "groups" having hit records, it's a little dubious that they should win the Grammy, but they did. Vegas? Reno? You do the math. The first commercial country music LP was "Hank Thompson at the Golden Nugget" (Capitol Records LP S1632) which was recorded in March 1961. It was a fine showcase for Hank and his large western swing type band featuring Merle Travis on lead guitar and it is still fresh today as far as traditional "golden age" country music goes.

Hank Thompson & the Brazos Valley Boys - "Honky Tonk Girl"

"Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys at Carnegie Hall" (CBS/Columbia CS8845), recorded on December 8, 1962, is the definitive live recording of the group and it also included Merle Travis. In 1998, however, the tiny label Koch Records reissued the complete concert of 32 songs on Koch-CD 7929 and that CD is the more definitive Flatt and Scruggs live concert. It is beyond that even. It is the only bluegrass album you really need to own. Those 32 songs run the gamut of bluegrass as defined then in 1962 and now. Even if you came down from Mars or somewhere, this is the only Bluegrass album you need to have to know the genre.

Flatt and Scruggs - "Salty Dog Blues"

Jerry Lee Lewis over the years recorded several live albums and they run from grade "A" to grade "D" and never doing a really bad one. Jerry's first live LP was recorded on April 5, 1964. "Live at The Star-Club" for the Dutch label Phillips and it was a "grade A" monster LP across Europe, very popular LP with a terrific number of units sold and due to legal conflicts was never issued in North America. This is the opening song attached.

Jerry Lee Lewis - "Mean Woman Blues" (live at the Star-Club)

Three months later on July 1, 1964, at the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham Alabama, Jerry recorded what was supposed to be the American equal to the "Star-Club" LP. It wasn't. It was a much larger room, the sound was somewhat off, the song selection somewhat off as well. The opening number tells all. The LP "The Greatest Live Show on Earth" as it was titled, wasn't. It came onto the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 albums before falling off quickly and was in the cut-out bins by years' end. "Grade D."

Jerry Lee Lewis - "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny" (live in Birmingham, Alabama)

Johnny Cash had two "Live at" LPs in 1968 and 1969. "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" in 1968 and "Johnny Cash at San Quentin" in 1969 and they are bookends. One pretty much equals the other. The "Folsom" album sold well and was high in the charts. The "San Quentin" album was a smash album and went to number two on the album charts. The song "A Boy Named Sue" was number one on the country charts and number two on the pop music charts. Written by humorist and sometime Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein, the song went on to win a Grammy award and a CMA award as "Single Of The Year."

Johnny Cash - "A Boy Named Sue"

With a nod to my European readers, I am including a live album cut from 1968 by Israeli singer and light comedian Aliza Kashi, who was taking America by storm in the late 60s both in live performances and on television on many national programs with an eclectic mix of songs in various languages and from many different sources. Her last American album was "Hello People" (Jubilee JGS-8012) recorded live at the Caesar's Monticello supper club in Framingham, Massachusetts. Aliza was 28 years old at the time and at the very top of her game. I chose the song from the LP that I've always liked "Mala Femmana." Except for the English language songs, it's the only one I understand all the way through. It could have been recorded yesterday. Viva Aliza!

Aliza Kashi - "Mala Femmena"

Finally this final cut is from July 22, 1954. "Wailin' at the Trianon" (Columbia LP CL711) by Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra and it's a train wreck. The Trianon Ballroom until shortly before this point in time was a segregated white only venue, even though it was located in the blackest section of South Chicago. On this night, after Lionel himself kicks off the opening line to the song "How High The Moon," a pop hit from 1951, the band, the audience and all got into the act as the various forms, big band, jazz, R&B and whatever else came to mind, came together on a jam session that has to heard to be believe. It will wear you out listening.

Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra - "How High the Moon"

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Enjoy all of these. My best to you all.

1 comment:

Red Strings said...
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