Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters: Who's Afraid of a Greatest Hits LP?

I, for one, ain't scared, not if said long player is actually called “Greatest Juke Box Hits,” as with this collection by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, on the King label from 1957. An apt title, since several of these singles, like “Get It” and “Work With Me Annie,” originally released on the King imprint Federal during the years 1953-1956, were deemed too raunchy for radio. Still they charted, some of them holding top spots on Billboard’s R&B & Pops, thanks largely to their popularity on the old Rockola.

Gathered together in one place, these songs relate the full saga of that poor “scarlet-lettered” girl Annie, her peculiar line of work, and its fruit. Plus there’s the occasional side or two dedicated to supporting players like “Annie’s Aunt Fanny,” and the protag of “Henry’s Got Flat Feet.”

But, of Annie, subject of song, object of undoing, we must make solemn observance, and ask just what is it makes her so tragically irresistible? She has her “Sexy Ways.” She can wiggle, wiggle, wiggle...upside down, all around, any ol’ way just pow-ow-ow-ound! That’s to say nothing of her ice cream hips and a certain “Switchie Witchie Titchie.” It’s no wonder that for her the streets and juke boxes should ring “24 Hours A Day” with invitations to “Get It,” to take her loving boy’s “love” and not forsake it, sake it, sake it! But it’s not all fun and games when your mama and daddy are away. We all know what happens when the gettin’ gets good. “Annie Had a Baby,” and now she don’t work no more.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Having Fun With Mike Edison

Last night former Raunch Hand, Screw writer, and High Times editor Mike Edison held another book party for his memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go (Faber & Faber, 2008), at Frank’s Coctail Lounge, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I picked up a copy of the book, but have only skimmed it so far. The reading was real hoot, however, featuring such "savage tales" as “The Warlord,” “Pornography Part I,” “Jews for Jesus,” and one of my favorites, his song “Cocaine Habit Blues,” all performed with the backing of the Space Liberation Army (Jon Spencer & Co). Above is a clip of Mike Edison performing the song in LA at a previous appearance.

All in all a very entertaining night, which my girlfriend summed-up thusly: “He’s living every boy’s dream: writing about strippers and massage parlors, then ranting about it at Frank’s, while Jon Spencer plays guitar.” Yup, pretty much. I gotta add that, as someone who's pretty soured on book publishing, unable to read most current titles, bummed by most bookstores (bitterness/resignation largely caused by my own failures in that racket), it's great to see someone getting such stuff printed these days.

Another highlight last night was a stripped-down set of Lost Crusaders songs by Mike Chandler & guitarist Johnny Vignault.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rock-A-Teens: Who's Afraid of a Reissue LP?

Especially when it’s a reissue of what some have called the last great R’n’R record of the 50’s, Woo-Hoo by the Rock-A-Teens, on the Roulette label, recorded in November 1959. My copy's an 80’s re-ish, in stereo, bagged from the inner reaches of the “Rockabilly” bin at Looney Tunes Records, in Boston. Why it still sat there collecting dust beats me.

Maybe everyone’s still too sick of the title track, after the 5678’s version played incessantly in that Vonage commercial and the Kill Bill soundtrack. But the Rock-A-Teens’ original version remains an enduring monument to teenage R’n’R slop. Some personal favorites from their full-lengther are “Woo-Hoo,” “Doggone It Baby,” their cover of Gene Vincent’s “Dance to the Bop,” “Twangy,” “Lotta Boppin,” and “Oh My Nerves.”

The full story of this Richmond, VA combo, formed by Boo Walke and Vic Mizelle in ’56, and their recording of "Woo-Hoo"⎯one of the great accidents in R’n’R history⎯along with a great interview with Mizelle, can be found in Kicks Magazine #7, still available from the Norton Records catalog. Sorta pointless to paraphrase it here.

What I'd like to note is the Rock-A-Teens connection, as another act on the Roulette roster, to notorious music biz gangster Morris “Moishe” Levy. Add the R-A-T’s to the list of those who got their song-writing credits hijacked by Levy, and never reaped a dime of "Woo-Hoo" publishing action, despite the song peaking at the #16 position on the Billboard charts in 1959. But Levy wasn’t the first to fleece the R-A-T’s. That dubious distinction goes to George McGraw, owner of the Mart label, who originally released the song. McGraw followed the Levy blueprint by forcing his name onto the songwriting credits, and then leased the song to Levy's Roulette, who continued the bilkage on a grander scale. Learn more about Levy and his equally heavy partner George "Pay-to-Play" Goldner in Josh Alan Friedman’s Tell the Truth Until they Bleed (Backbeat Books, 2008).

Much as I love Looney Tunes Records⎯I mean, where else can you still hear Monoman Jeff Connolly give hell to Drop-Kick Murphy clones who stray haplessly into the store?⎯ and In Your Ear, Boston's other great store, I woulda preferred to find my copy of Woo-Hoo in a Strawberries record store instead. Morris Levy once owned the Strawberries chain as part of his aim to put a lock on every level of the music biz, even retail. A few stores still remain in the Northeast. In a twist of R’n’R Babylon weirdness, Levy sold the chain a year before his own 1990 death, to the tune of $40 billion, to west coast conglomerate Live Entertainment. Broker for the deal? Jose Menendez, famous victim of patricide. Although at the time authorities considered a gangland connection to Menendez’s death, a jury ruled that he was murdered by his own two sons Erik and Lyle, the notorious Menendez Brothers!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Time for You to Leave" ⎯ RIP David Carradine

Pity the Sky with Nothing but Stars

From the Dreaming-of-Lost-Worlds Department, my current reading list:

The big highlight of this romp through the peeps and scumatoriums of old Times Square, by former Screw writer Josh Alan Friedman, has got to be the tale of Plato's Retreat owner Larry Levinson's big bet that he could ejaculate 15 times in a single day (at age 45 no less). Tales of Times Square (Delacorte, 1986) is hilarious throughout, and shows that the big clean-up didn't begin with Herr Giuliani, but goes back to the 70's, to the start of the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corp, and the establishment of NYPD's Office of Midtown Enforcement.

Luc Sante's Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1991) is essentially a history of vice on the Bowery, covering its heyday from the mid-19th Century to World War I, and the passing of the Volstead Act, which ushered in the prohibition era, the Bowery's first big kiss of death. As a history, the book's subjective enough to make it lively, and offers plenty of further reading, if one is inclined to delve more deeply into the subject. And Low Life does what Spengler said history’s supposed to: it adds depth to present reality. Obviously the dives, blind tigers, knockout drops, and hot corn girls are all part of a long gone ancient history. Still, to read Low Life only accentuates how bizarrely out-of-place those new, ultra-modern glass high-rises are on Cooper Square⎯trendy minimalist restaurants on Rivington Street? In the Essex Market? Yo, not so long ago the Essex Market was good for a brush with any number of lures and snares (Dors 'n' Fours anyone?). Low Life sorta lets you hear the whispers of ghosts, if you go for that sort of thing. And who knows? If you play your cards right, maybe even today you could still get sucked into the wrong Chinatown doorway and get your organs harvested.