Back in 1948, Samuel Goldwyn got a big idea to do a remake of the Gary Cooper flick “Balls of Fire”. He wanted to showcase the top talent of the day, and also wanted to get Danny Kaye out of a funk after Danny left his wife. The result was nothing short of complete MGM/RKO style awesomeness.
What happens when you put the following people all in the same room –
Danny Kaye, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, Mel Powell, Alton Hendrickson, Louis Bellson, Harry Babasin, Russo & the Samba Kings, and the Golden Gate Quartet…..
…..and throw in a little Virginia Mayo for some eye candy as well?
I am not quite at liberty to say in as few words, but I’ll say this for sure – A Song Is Damn Well Born.
In the madcap world of rockabilly, there has always been a question about who the king of the pickers should be.
(For argumentative purposes, we’re going to leave the immortal ones out of this discussion. Guys like Scotty Moore, Luther Perkins, or Duane Eddy are not the kings but the Gods of twang and that’s that. Moving along…..)
I have always believed that the two reigning champeens of rockabilly guitar have spent far too much time away from each other and need to be placed in a direct head-to-head pickoff to prove once and for all who should wear the championship belt with the Gretsch and Bigsby logos on it, and have the blessings of Bettie Paige thrust upon them. Place your bets and tighten your seatbelts. It’s about to get rough.
The Reigning Champ – Brian Setzer
Brian cut his teeth and inked his tattoos in NYC and the UK with the Stray Cats, was groomed by none other than the great Dave Edmunds himself, and took the stale but hip concept of big band music and made it revved up and cool, like a daddy-o. He is able to be smooth on tunes like “Sleepwalk” but can rev up the rebellion with tunes like “Switchblade 327” Show ’em what ya Got!
The Upstart Contender – Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath
Jim reigns from the dusty back-road honky-tonks of Texas. He grew up playing the bar circuits and got his name by an old player who felt he deserved the monikor of a righteous man. After landing in Austin, he made his first albums with none other than Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers producing him and sending off into a haze of feedback, cigar smoke, and cheap bourbon lullabies. The smoothness is dark, musky, seductive, and ominous at times (as seen in “The Devil’s Chasing Me”), and his razor licks in “Psychobilly Freakout” will cut you up like a Bowie Knife fight.
Soooo…..the King! The Contender! The shootout!
Place your bets! Cast your votes! Tote that barge! Lift that bail……IT’S A……IT’S A……..SHOOTOUT…..WHO YA GOT?!?
Wow…..where do I begin about Mother Maybelle Carter? To come so far from the remotest backwoods of Clinch Mountain, WV (I’m told they had to walk towards town to go hunting), and begin a revolutionary musical style that still resonates across the world today is a feat that will most likely never be witnessed again. One of my colleagues noted in a previous post about Wanda Jackson that nothing is quite as sexy as a woman with a guitar. If Wanda Jackson was sexy, then Mother Maybelle was a picture of simple country grace.
Interesting facts about Maybelle and the Carter Family –
None of the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara, and Maybelle) were actually related. Sara Dougherty was married to A.P., and Maybelle Addington was married to A.P.’s twin brother, Ezra “Eck” Carter.
When the family moved to Del Rio, TX in the 1930’s to perform their radio show for station XERF, the signal strength was so strong (It was pre-FCC regulations), you could hear the music being played in the barbed wire fences a few miles away from the transmitter.
Maybelle is given credit for discovering some unknown guitarist from Tennessee by the name of Chet Atkins. Chet used to back the family up during the Texas days.
She was one of the main people who stood up for letting Elvis Presley perform on the Grand Ole Opry by telling them that she wouldn’t perform until he did. She also offered to run interference with distracting Bill Monroe while Elvis covered his song “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. (It turns out that Bill actually liked the way Elvis did it.)
When Johnny Cash was battling his addiction problems, Maybelle and Eck were first on hand to help see him through the tough spots. It was later revealed by Maybelle that the main reason why she wanted to be involved wasn’t only to see Johnny through for his and June’s sake, but also to prevent a repeat of what she went through when her other daughter, Anita, had a quasi-affair with Hank Williams. With Hank’s rocky marriage that he wanted so badly to save, combined with what Hank felt to be a love so strong for Anita that should and could never be mixed in with his “I’m Hank Freakin’ Williams” addiction issues, it was the perfect storm that eventually ended up killing him. Hank lived the pain he sang about, but that’s another story for another day. (He even actually almost shot June. The bullet missed her by inches.)
Anyhoos….enough of my ceaseless prattling. I could go on for hours about the contributions of Mother Maybelle to music as we know it. (Don’t even get me started about her L-5 guitar being offered up for auction….Blasphemy. Pure. Blasphemy.)
I humbly submit this video of the Carter Family v2.0 (Mother Maybelle and her girls; Helen, Anita, and June on the autoharp) performing the bittersweet ballad of unrequited love that launched an entire style of music. The lyrics are very underrated as they really make you wish you could just hug away the pain (you can see them here), and the way the girls deliver the harmony vocals is like the feeling of witnessing some angels in calico come down from the mountain and offer up a little hope to this pale Wildwood Flower.
Let’s get something straight here at the beginning of all things. I am not a music historian. I am not an archivist. I am a soul who believes that the essence of music comes from the passion of the person performing it. If a guy is standing on a corner smacking two rocks together, as long as he believes in what he is doing and can put his heart and soul into it, then it’s music. If poetry is all about painting with words, then music is all about making art with sound. Am I going to review pieces from different people? Maybe. Am I going to be all Simon Whatshisass from that show where you become a great musician by standing in line all day and singing to a camera for a couple of minutes and then personally attack them? Absolutely not. What I am going to praise is the effort that each person places by exposing their passions and fears and making themselves vulnerable for all to see as they share their soul through sound, and if they try to do it for any or all of the wrong reasons, I will also be the first in line to rip them a new asshole, per se. What really jazzes me about music is someone who takes a chance to be different. To be an innovator. You want to sound or look like someone else using their formula? Fine; don’t expect me to be impressed.
I grew up on the stage in a family of professional musicians, playing my first paid gig at the age of 8. At last count, I can currently play around thirty something musical instruments, and can’t wait to get my hands on new ones. I’ve played the circuits in Kansas, Arizona, Colorado, Austin TX, Madison WI, and NYC, and have gone on the road more times than I’d care to admit, and quite frankly, goddammit I’m tired……. I’ve been signed with labels from small indies all the way up to CBS Epic, and they all played their part. I’ve always had a rule about music. The second it quits being fun and becomes a business, walk away. They saw to it that I walked away from music because it became something I despised, which was that they made it into a product to be sold and merchandised. No art. No passion. Just like a toy for people’s amusement, making cute noises that would make them coo and giggle. Again, it’s all about how you feel.
Over the life of this esteemed and noble blog, I intend to represent and point out what was and is good about music. How it makes you feel. No technical stuff. Just the raw essence of the art.
Let’s kick things off with the Godmother of Rock herself, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the only woman who could make this heathen shout “Hallelujah!”