Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Carolina Beach Music

Guess what, folks?! I live on the East Coast again! I've had several posts in the 'draft' stage for months, but after our military move back to Virginia Beach, VA in May, I'm finally motivated to post something new! I've recently discovered a radio station on Sirius XM called Carolina Shag (Ch. 13, a temporary channel), and it's become the summer soundtrack as I drive through my new neighborhood.
Not to be confused with Surf Music and the California Sound, "Beach Music" (also known as Carolina Beach Music) is a regional genre that developed from R&B and pop music in the 1950s and '60s along the East Coast from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Virginia Beach, VA. Also associated with the style of swing dance known as the shag, or the Carolina shag (the official state dance of both North Carolina and South Carolina), the Beach music/shag phenomenon developed right after WWII when vacationing white youth had the opportunity to hear this compelling R&B sound not always heard in their still-segregated hometowns in the South, and young people flocked to the beach clubs and pavilions of these East Coast beaches where this music was gaining popularity. The term "Beach Music" emerged in the mid-1960s, and keyed off of the memorable experiences of dancing the shag to this music at venues by the sea.

Having a life-long love for The Drifters, I was pleasantly surprised to learn this R&B vocal group has that quintessential Carolina beach music sound. Forming in New York City in 1953, the long-lasting Drifters have been through 60 vocalists, and enjoyed three Golden eras: the early 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s (post-Atlantic Records period). In May of 1964 when the group was scheduled to record "Under the Boardwalk," then frontman Rudy Lewis unexpectedly died (don't do drugs, folks), so former Drifters lead vocalist Johnny Moore (whose previous departure was due to the military draft) was brought back to perform lead vocals for the recording. The last-minute move was a success that August of '64 when the single went to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #1 for three non-consecutive weeks on Cashbox Magazine's R&B chart. Here is that classic magic of The Drifters.

The East Coast beach party really starts groovin' with this next tune. From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Esquires were an R&B group that first formed in 1957 around the Moorer family. After many lineup changes over their first decade, the group scored a major hit on their debut record with "Get On Up" in August of 1967. It reached #3 on the R&B chart and #11 on the Billboard chart that year; ten years later, the band released an updated version in 1976 entitled "Get on Up '76." Perfect groove for some Carolina shag dancing!
Next up, Chicago R&B singer Major Lance had a number of US hits in the 1960s, and later became an iconic figure in Britain in the 1970s among followers of Northern soul. Although he stopped making records in 1982, Major Lance continued to perform at concerts and on tours until his death in 1994. Written by Curtis Mayfield (record producer and friend of Lance), "Um Um Um Um Um, Um" was Major Lance's most successful hit with a #5 peak on the Billboard chart in February of 1964 and #1 on the Cash Box R&B chart. One of the leading figures of Chicago soul, here's the sweet voice of Major Lance featured on Shivaree (an L.A.-based music variety show).

This next classic soul music song seemed to play on heavy rotation on the oldies station during my childhood, yet it never got old. Raised in the Los Angeles area, Brenton Wood is a singer-songwriter and music entrepreneur with an iconic soulful voice and decent piano chops to boot. Released in August of 1967 on the album Oogum Boogum (also the title of another great hit single), "Gimme Little Sign" hit #9 on the pop chart, #19 on the R&B charts, #2 on KHJ (AM radio in LA), and #8 in the UK Singles Chart, selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Oddly enough, the title is not actually sung in the song; the chorus instead repeats "Give me some kind of sign." Check out Brenton Wood performing on Top of the Pops in 1968.
This group hails from a city just down the road from me in Portsmouth, Virginia. Bill Deal began his musical career as a backup musician on studio recordings, including Jimmy Soul's 1963 hit "If You Wanna Be Happy" (written and produced by Norfolk’s Frank Guida). By 1965, Deal’s own band, The Rhondels, had made a name for itself throughout Hampton Roads, VA and northeastern North Carolina, performing regularly at Virginia Beach’s Peppermint Lounge. Crossing blue-eyed soul and beach music, Bill Deal & The Rhondels had three hit singles in 1969, including renditions of The Tams' "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)?" (#23)  and "I've Been Hurt" (#35). Beloved by fans from the Carolinas to the Chesapeake Bay, here's some footage of "I've Been Hurt" (never mind the Portuguese subtitles).     

From Salem, Michigan, the talented Barbara Lewis began writing songs at 9 years old, then recording as a teenager with record producer/DJ Ollie McLaughlin. She wrote all of the songs on her debut LP, including the hit "Hello Stranger" which reached #3 on the Billboard chart in 1963. After a few moderate follow-up hits, her million-seller "Baby, I'm Yours" peaked at #11 summer of 1965, produced by Bert Berns and written for Lewis by Van McCoy (producer/songwriter known for "The Hustle" in 1975). . The "beach music" scene of the Carolinas remains a mainstay of appreciation for Lewis' records, which continue to enjoy popularity and airplay there decades after their original release.
There are so many stellar groups in this genre, I'll definitely need to make multiple Beach Music posts, but for now, we'll conclude with doo-wop/ R&B group The Jarmels who officially formed in 1959 in Richmond, Virginia. After meeting in high school and singing together at their local baptist church, the start of their big break came in 1960 when they met Ben E. King (of The Drifters) after his performance in Richmond, and he invited them to travel to New York and meet various recording companies. Their second single, "A Little Bit of Soap," reached # 12 on the Billboard chart in September 1961 and #7 on the R&B charts. While "Soap" proved to be the only hit single for The Jarmels, it was the first hit record for the song's writer Ben Berns (who went on to write hits like "Twist and Shout," "Under the Boardwalk," "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Hang On Sloopy," just to name a few). Time to get your Carolina shag on with this beach music classic by The Jarmels. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Farewell to the 5th Beatle

Well, quite late to get this post up, but certainly not forgotten. Earlier this year on March 8th, the world lost 90-year-old Sir George Martin - English record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer and musician. In a career that spanned seven decades, Martin was one of music's greatest talents, working with numerous artists including Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Jeff Beck, Neil Sedaka, Kenny Rogers, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Celine Dion, and more. However, he is most fondly remembered as The Fifth Beatle, as his greatest fame and influence comes from his seven years working with The Beatles.

Martin's more formal musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles' unrefined talent, and the sound which distinguished them from other groups and added in their success. Most of the Beatles' orchestral arrangements and instrumentation (as well as frequent keyboard parts) were written or performed by Martin, in collaboration with the less musically experienced band. It was Martin's idea to put a string quartet on "Yesterday", against McCartney's initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available. Of course, Paul McCartney's songwriting is nothing to sneeze at either, but the collaboration not only led to a #1 US hit in 1965, but also has been voted the #1 pop songs of all time.

 His work as an arranger was used for many Beatles recordings. For "Eleanor Rigby" (previously featured here), he scored and conducted a string accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann (composer for Hitchcock thriller, Psycho). For "Strawberry Fields Forever" (featured here), he and recording engineer Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For "I Am the Walrus" (here), he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On "In My Life," he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to create the orchestral 'climax' in "A Day in the Life", and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded. (Sidenote: gotta love seeing Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, Monkee Mike Nesmith, and Donovan all in attendance during the recording and filming of this promo video!).

Martin contributed integral parts to other songs, including the piano in "Lovely Rita," the harpsichord in "Fixing a Hole," the old steam organ and tape loop arrangement that create the "Pablo Fanque" circus atmosphere John Lennon requested on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (both Martin and Lennon played steam organ parts for this song). To create the circus-like atmosphere of the song, Martin made tapes of old calliope records, then had the recording engineer cut the tapes into short segments, throw them in the air, and splice the pieces together at random. The result was a swirling sound collage that creates the disorienting feeling of a whirligig at a fair. Mr. Martin himself played the swirling organ runs that follow the line, “And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz,” recorded at half-speed. Pretty cool, if you ask me! Here's the song used the Beatles' "Love - Cirque du Soleil" show in Las Vegas (this part is actually a bit creepy for me and I had to look up the meaning behind some of the costumes. But that's for another day...).

Since the early 1960s. Martin composed, arranged, and produced film scores like the instrumental scores of A Hard Day's Night (1964, for which he won an Academy Award Nomination) the Bond classic Live and Let Die (1973), and many more. He also composed this awesome song below, "Theme One" which was used as the introduction on BBC Radio 1 for many years beginning in 1967. This composition makes great use of the pipe organ, heavy brass, and my favorite psychedelic effect of "flanging." Paul McCartney once commended Martin by saying: "George Martin [was] quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up." Check out the super-cool "Theme One:"     

I could go on, but this could take all week. 
The above is just a blip from the career of this legendary music producer. 
Thank you to the Fifth Beatle for your outstanding contribution to the music industry.

Farewell, Sir George Martin. You shall be missed.

Disclaimer: As it has taken me so long to finally finish this post and I was lacking creativity, some content was taken directly from good ol' Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Farewell: Baby, It's You

 This week on March 1st, American singer Gayle McCormick died of cancer at the age of 67. In 1969, the blues-based rock band Smith formed in L.A., and their first album, entitled "A Group Called Smith," featured McCormick as the primary vocalist. Smith mainly played and recorded covers of pop and soul songs, and made the Top-5 with a remake of the Burt Bacharach-penned tune "Baby It's You," charting higher than the previous hit versions by The Shirelles and The Beatles. Selling over a million copies in the summer of '69, it received the gold record award. Smith's version was also featured in Quentin Tarantino's film Death Proof, introducing the tune to a new audience. After Smith disbanded, McCormick went on to record three solo albums in the early '70s. The single "It's a Cryin' Shame" from her eponymous first album was a minor hit for her, reaching #44 on the charts in 1971.
Here's classic footage of some great talent, "Baby It's You."

RIP beautiful Gayle. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Farewell Bomb

Whoa, barely two months into 2016 and the world has lost an incredible amount of musical talent. While you may not know of all these names, here are five more noteworthy artists who have recently passed away.

On January 28th, Jefferson Airplane's lead guitarist and songwriter, Paul Kantner, died at the age of 74 (pictured second from left with glasses). Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic sound and free-spirited mindset helped define the '60s counterculture in San Francisco. Kantner was a co-founder of the group in 1965 with Marty Balin and the guiding spirit of its successor, Jefferson Starship. With hits like "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" (both featured here), Jefferson Airplane wrote anthems for the hippie movement and the memorable Summer of Love in 1967. While vocalists Grace Slick and Balin were the public faces of Jefferson Airplane, Kantner was often the creative force of the band, bringing a freshness from his folk music scene background. From their historic album Surrealistic Pillow in 1967, listen for Kantner's vocal at 1:08 in "How Do You Feel?"

And what are the odds two members of Jefferson Airplane would pass away on the same day and at the same age? Also on January 28th, the band's original female vocalist, Signe Anderson, died at 74 (also pictured in the top photo). Initially a jazz and folk singer in Portland, OR, she joined Jefferson Airplane after a trip to San Francisco in 1965, and sang on their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Married to one of the Merry Pranksters, Jerry Anderson, and pregnant with her first child, Signe left the group in late 1966, and was replaced by rock 'n roll diva Grace Slick. Check out this footage of the band performing "It's No Secret" at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in 1966; look for Signe at the 1:34 mark.
 On January 16th, American singer and guitarist Gary Loizzo, best-known as the lead singer of The American Breed, passed away at the age of 70. From the greater Chicago area, The American Breed had several hit records, including the million-selling single "Bend Me, Shape Me" in 1967/'68. In the early '70s, Loizzo went on to start his own recording studio called 'Pumpkin Studios,' and became a two-time Grammy-nominated recording engineer. He worked with REO Speedwagon, Styx, Bad Company, Slash, Survivor, Liza Minnelli, Tenacious D, and many others. Since "Bend Me, Shape Me" was previously featured here, here's their first Top-40 hit in 1967, "Step Out of Your Mind" (gotta love that "trumpet-playing" drummer).
On February 6th, American singer-songwriter Dan Hicks passed away, also at the end of 74. Combining cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop, and gypsy music in his sound, Hicks first became part of the San Francisco folk music scene in 1959, performing at local coffeehouses. Later, he joined the San Francisco band The Charlatans in 1965 as drummer, and in 1967, formed Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, contemporaries of Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. From his first album released in 1969,  "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" features Hick's humor, frequently infused into his tunes.
Finally, American musician, songwriter, screenwriter, and voice actor Bill Martin passed away on January 27th at the age of 64. A friend of Monkee Michael Nesmith, Martin's first contribution to The Monkees came in the form of "All of Your Toys," recorded during the very first studio sessions that featured the group supporting themselves instrumentally. Because of a publishing dispute with Screen Gems, the song never saw the light of day until it was released on the Missing Links compilation in 1987. He also composed "The Door Into Summer," which did see release on 1967's Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. album. Martin later collaborated with other artists, including Harry Nilsson ("Rainmaker," covered by Nesmith on his third solo effort, Nevada Fighter). Martin later co-starred with Nesmith in his Grammy-winning Elephant Parts in 1981, and in addition to screenwriting credits (1987's Harry and the Hendersons), his voice skills earned him roles in numerous animated series. Unfortunately, I could not find any photos of him! But these two songs are true gems and needed to be included. Here's the Bill Martin-penned could-have-been-a-hit Monkees' tune, "All of Your Toys," recorded in 1967.

From The Monkees' fourth studio album, here's "The Door Into Summer," officially written by Bill Martin and the Monkees' producer Chip Douglas (although Douglas denies any writing contribution). Another fantastic tune.

RIP and sincere farewell to all these talented legends.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Farewell to an Innovator

On January 10th, the world mourned the loss of music innovator David Bowie, who lost the battle to liver cancer at the age of 69. Born and raised in Brixton, South London as David ("Davie") Jones, he changed his name to Bowie early in his career to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees. From singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor, Bowie was a trailblazing figure in pop culture for over four decades, and a pioneer of glam rock in the 1970s. While Bowie re-emerged in '72 with his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, and achieved American crossover success in '75 with "Fame," we'll only touch on his first Top-5 UK hit in the late '60s, "Space Oddity."
Released as a single in July 1969, the title and subject matter were inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and introduced the character of Major Tom. The United States' Apollo 11 mission would launch five days later, and would become the first manned moon landing another five days later. Written by Bowie for his promotional film Love You Till Tuesday (featured below), a longer re-recorded version of the song was included as the opening song for the 1969 album David Bowie (released that November). Upon its re-release as a single in 1973, the song reached #15 on the Billboard chart and became Bowie's first hit single in the US. Still one of his best-known songs, "Space Oddity" was a largely acoustic number augmented by the eerie tones of the Stylophone, a pocket electronic organ played by Bowie. Love this classic footage from so early in his career.

So much more can be said about this influential musician; this quick tribute doesn't do him justice. Farewell, David Bowie.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Farewell: "I Knew You When"

This week on October 6th, we lost another voice of the '60s. American pop singer Billy Joe Royal passed away in his sleep at the age of 73 in his North Carolina home. His most successful record was "Down in the Boondocks" from 1965. After hearing a demo he recorded of the song (written by his friend, performer and songwriter Joe South), Columbia Records offered Royal a singing contract in 1965, and released his version of the song. "Down in the Boondocks" remained his best-known song, reaching # 9 on the Billboard chart and # 38 in the UK. He followed up with another hit single in '65 with "I Knew You When" (#14 in US, #1 in Canada), and later, "Cherry Hill Park," #15 in 1969. Royal became a regular performer in Vegas during the 1970s, and reinvented himself as a mainstream country star in the 1980s.

Here's a classic performance of his "wrong side of the tracks" theme, "Down In The Boondocks."

Here's another performance on Shindig! and some great vocals on "I Knew You When," also written by Joe South. (When I didn't know any better, I use to think this was a Tommy James song. My apologies, Mr. Royal). 

And can't forget about this tune with its barely disguised double-entendre lyrics about Mary Hill in "Cherry Hill Park."

Gone, but NOT forgotten! RIP Billy Joe Royal!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Happy Together Tour 2015

On July 22nd, my college buddy (music major too!) and I enjoyed a groovy night of The Happy Together Concert at a fantastic outdoor venue, Humphrey's-By-The-Bay, in San Diego. Back by popular demand, this year's tour featured regulars like Flo & Eddie of The Turtles and The Grass Roots, as well as The Buckinghams, The Association, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders), and first-timers, The Cowsills. While I've had the opportunity to see The Turtles and The Grass Roots perform together three years ago, it was a real treat hearing these other great artists as well! The backing band was made up of stellar musicians who helped lock in the sound of the original recordings we all know and love. No doubt the crowd at this sold-out event was really diggin' the perfect weather and classic tunes!

 Our view from the back of the relatively intimate venue. Loved the location right next to the harbor in Point Loma (photo during The Association's set).

The first act of the evening was The Buckinghams, and not only did they sound great, they looked pretty good too! Featuring original members Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna, I loved hearing all their hits from "Kind of a Drag," "Susan," "Mercy Mercy Mercy," "Don't You Care," and "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)." It was a crack-up when lead singer Carl brought out an old, retro jacket he wore in concerts in the '60s; he claimed he had to buy it back on eBay! Did I mention his voice sounded superb?! Love this Sunshine pop from Chicago! Here's The Buckinghams' #1 hit from 1967, "Kind of a Drag."

On their debut year with The Happy Together Tour, the next act featured the wonderful Cowsill siblings, Susan, Paul and Bob, whose hits include "The Rain, the Park and the Other Things," "Hair," and "Indian Lakes," to name a few. They even performed "Love American Style," which was the theme they recorded for the 1970s show of the same name. The Cowsills proved they can still harmonize beautifully and were fantastic addition to the Tour. Since the other songs mentioned have already been featured on this blog, here's a classic promo video of The Cowsills' "We Can Fly," a #21 hit in 1967.

Before intermission, we rocked out to Mark Dawson and Dusty Hanvey who have returned to carry on the music of the The Grass Roots. As mentioned in my concert recap from three years ago (here), these guys never disappoint and covered all the great ones including "Let's Live For Today," "Temptation Eyes," "Wait a Million Years," and "Midnight Confessions." I love their moving a cappella tribute to Vietnam vets, particularly to the ones who did not return home. Although it's been featured a few times before on this blog, here's rare footage of The Grass Roots performing their #5 hit "Midnight Confessions" from 1968 (Rob and Warren are enjoying themselves way too much, ha). Love this tune!

Kicking off the second half of the show, The Association continued with the talents of Del Ramos (brother of the late Larry Ramos), Jim Yester, and Jules Alexander (although a 4th member joined them this particular night and I can't remember who! Maybe Russ Giguere? Feel free to chime in if you were there too!). Performing their four big hits like "Windy," "Along Comes Mary," "Cherish," and "Never My Love," the whole crowd was singing along, no matter that the vocal group didn't have the tightest of harmonies as they did in the '60s. It was a lot of fun and the guys looked cute in their matching white suits.
Because you've got to check out this clever and classic opening from this live performance, here's The Association playing "Along Comes Mary" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
For the next set, you could feel the crowd's love for Mark Lindsay, original lead singer for Paul Revere & The Raiders. While this guy not only sounds pretty good, he had incredible energy and can still kick higher than a Radio City Rockette. This Raider covered the hits like "Kicks," "Hungry," and "Good Thing," as well as "Arizona" from his solo career in the early '70s. I couldn't
help but laugh at the ecstatic audience when he performed "Indian Reservation." I get this was a #1 hit in 1971, but I have never liked that song for some reason. Sorry, guys! Still a well-done performance for a happy crowd. Considering how much these guys were on TV, it's surprisingly hard to find good quality footage, but here's Mark Lindsay performing the #6 US hit "Hungry" with Paul Revere & The Raiders in 1966.

The night concluded with the entertaining Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) of The Turtles, who are responsible for keeping this Happy Together Tour together each year. After beginning their set by poking fun at the "lousy" music of today (in this case, Flo wearing a snowman suit and lip-syncing a bit to a certain popular Disney song), the guys jumped into their early folk rock hits like "You Baby" and "It Ain't Me Babe," followed by "Elenore" from the late '60s. They also condensed snippets from their solo show including nods to Frank Zappa and Bruce Springsteen (which I likely would have missed if I hadn't seen their show 3 years ago). Of course, this wouldn't be the Happy Together Tour without their quintessential '60s hit of the same name. Finally, the concert was recapped when each group hopped back onstage and performed a quick segment from one of their top songs, concluding with an all-hands "Happy Together" singalong (The Turtles' #1 hit in 1967). Also a great cover version by Johnny Cash, here's The Turtles performing the Bob Dylan-penned "It Ain't Me Babe" on Shindig! in 1965 (#8 in the US).

 What a fun night hearing all the classics! Thanks to Humphrey's for hosting these great groups! 
And thanks to my buddy, Jenny, for being a good sport as my concert buddy. :)

On a side night, this night holds the record for the most comments about my white go-go boots. I even had someone ask me if these were my original boots that I had kept all these years. Why, yes, thank you. I do look pretty good for 65!