There is a sadness in your new album that I like, for I have always found beauty in sadness, like the first smell of fall in late summer or the first sound of peepers in early spring.
Your album has peepers in it and the smell of fall, hounds trailing on the mountain and a lonesome freight train singing low across the valley.
Once I told you then you couldn't sing until you found out who you were. You sang soft and that didn't work. You sang hard. Ditto. So you went back to Nashville and you sang like you had a mouthful of coon with polka dotted vocal cords and I was your best man again. And your daddy died.
I'll never forget how you loved your daddy and how once he whipped you and just as you hated him for it he handed you his belt and took of his shirt , said, "Here. You whip me if you think I whipped you wrong."
Your little Lex was growing up and so were you. You were singing closer to the real you. You'd spit out some of the coon till the words were clearer, but soulful and flavored.
We lost you to the coast after you composed "Reuben James" and "Tell It All Brothers" and Kenny started giving you his producing time and talent. The musicians gave you some fine licks. (Which made me feel bad for all I ever gave you was hell.)
What did you give back?
You gave us an album full of peepers and people a voice closer to the real Alex than I've yet heard. (Except where you sound like a hillbilly imitating a hillbilly, which you are and which you don't have to do!) It is a voice that life and joy and hurt and loving gave you. Once you reached down to your toenails to produce. I won't ask for more. Right now.
Billy Edd Wheeler
The letter above was written from one long forgotten songwriter to another. You might not know Billy Edd Wheeler, but you'll recognize his songs like the Carter/Cash classic "Jackson", or the Kenny Rogers fan favorite "Coward of The County". Billy Edd's intimate review is included on the back cover of Alex Harvey's self-titled 1971 masterpiece.
What makes this record so noteworthy? It was the debuting of timeless tracks such as "Delta Dawn" and "Tulsa Turnaround", for starters. There's also the touching "To Make My Life Beautiful" and the fire and brimstone funk of "Jesus Man". However, it's the swampy southern gothic tale "Hoodooin' of Miss Fanny DeBerry", and the revisited "Ritual of Miss Fanny DeBerry" that's done gone bewitched my turntable.
New England folk lads The Fabulous Farquahr recorded this saloon-styled ditty for their immensely enjoyable, and shamefully out-of-print LP back in 1968. The band consisted of four men, three of whom were brothers. Maybe that helps explain why they used whimsically avian stage names (Hummingbird, Condor, Flamingo, Barnswallow). The whole album is full of charming songs, but "My Eggs Don't Taste The Same Without You" is the one that takes the toast, so to speak.
"Fever" is one on my all-time top ten songs. It doesn't matter whether it's Peggy Lee's beloved standard, Little Willie John's original, or this big boomin' instrumental by Joe Sherman & The Arena Brass. This drum crazy Chicano reworking is off their delightful 1966 "Promise Her Anything" LP. Frankly, being sick has never sounded so good!
Nobody can sing for someone's affection as urgently as Levi Stubbs. There are few Motown acts that can match his emotionally pleading punch. If my heart were in shambles I'd steal his famously fragile composure for practically crying in front of audiences. His magnetic showmanship tends to get overshadowed by the likes of Marvin Gaye or Smokey Robinson, but that's largely due to never breaking out solo. If you've never given The Four Tops a serious listen I recommend starting with "You Keep Running Away".
As much as I love Petula Clark's English records it her French EPs for the Disques Vogue that I enjoy even more. In full disclosure, I'm partial towards French cover tunes and will be posting more favorites soon. Here's her wonderfully cheeky version of the Kinks "A Well Respected Man", 1966's "Un Jeune Homme Bien".
Sometimes, when I get tired of listening to Little Willie John's "Fever" I listen to Matt Monro's "Honey On The Vine" instead. The irresistible finger snapping effect is still the same. Matt was a crooner's class act all the way. When Nat King Cole died Capitol records eventually positioned Matt Monro to fill that unforgettable void. Too bad his obvious talent couldn't outlast his booze soaked liver, or the cancer which caught him at an early 54 years old.
Have you ever wondered where the affectionately blunt term "Main Squeeze" comes from? Well fellow vinyl hounds, it wasn't until the early 1970s when Johnny "T" Thompson dropped this top twenty funk bomb on the unsuspecting masses. Also, fans of frisky soul shouldn't be surprised to note that Andre Williams was responsible for writing this ace single.
"Ina Mina Dika" was recorded by Kishore Kumar for the 1957 Bollywood blockbuster "Aasha". The song was written by composer C.Ramchandra and inspired by children singing "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe" outside his office door. The lyrics, much like the nursery rhyme, are comprised of silly nonsense words (Rum pum po). Many historians consider "Ina Mina Dika",or "Eena Meena Deeka" to be the first international hit from the then budding film industry. What I absolutely love about this song is its hook-heavy nod to dixieland jazz.
I'll take Martha Reeves and her Vandellas over The Supremes anytime. Diana Ross's voice lacked the soulful grit which many of her contemporaries possessed. It was great for white teenage audiences, but much too polished for my liking.
Could you ever imagine The Supremes, wearing their fancy dresses, and shooting a music video inside a Detroit auto factory? Doubt it!
The lovely LaVern Baker (A.K.A. Little Miss Sharecropper) released this buzz worthy single back in 1960. The xylophone (or vibraphone?) gives it a charming kookiness that's hard to resist. If you've ever been stung by a springtime love then "Bumble Bee" is dedicated to you.
Another superb Roulette single from Shawn Elliott, "Shame and Scandal in the Family". It's a catchy little ska number about family relationships running amuck. There are many perfectly decent versions of the song (Madness, Trini Lopez, Peter Tosh), but I dig this one the most.