A home for the children of the 7" 45 revolution!


Aaron Neville – Hercules

aaron-neville_02_Seven45rpmaaron-neville_01_Seven45rpmMercury DJ-369, 73387 Mono, Promo US 1973

Track 1 Hercules Track 2 Going Home

Aaron Neville has a gentle voice that could bring the hardest man down to his knees. A distinctive voice that closes the eyes and opens the soul. Hercules is his lost gem that deserved to outshine so many popular soul hits of the time, but it was never even given the chance. However today this elusive humble masterpiece WILL stand up high above any rival counterpart with the strongest respect and heroic vengeance.

Aaron Neville was born January 24, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is brother to Art, Charles, Cyril, and sister Athelgra. Before the children were around, Aaron’s mother and her brother were in what is said to be the best dance team in New Orleans. They were once offered to go on the road with Louis Prima, but their fearful mother didn’t allow it due to awful Jim Crow laws of the time (state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States). Aaron met his first wife Joel in 1957, and were married on January 10, 1959 when both were only 18 years old.

Aaron grew up in the centre of the Calliope Projects, a neighbourhood-housing estate built between 1939 and 1941, and which boasted 690 apartments in the original development. Although it was considered a means for working-class families to live comfortably while saving up the funds to purchase their own homes, the area gained nationwide fame/infamy for its extremely high violent crime rate. But for Aaron, who had lived there ‘til he was thirteen, his turf was a modern structure of family hope and happiness, a place that actually sheltered the surrounding evils away from his innocent years.

AaronNeville_001DAs a boy, Aaron liked to wander on over to the glorious Gem Theatre, where he would use his voice to bride innocent box office ladies into free admission to film screenings. While it must have been evident for Aaron, that segregation was an awful and ugly monster lurking behind every corner of his hometown, his love of musical artists had no colour prejudices. Those westerns that the wide eyed young boy was privileged to see, were pivotal to his voice development. Aaron credits the likes of heroes Roy Rodgers and Gene Auntry for shaping his yodeling technique and vocal range he was so proud to share among friends at that young age. Aaron singing took him to a safe place, and away from the horrible race discrimination and other negative ghosts that were breeding in his hometown, be it for just a short time. Aaron was open for inspiration by from all styles of music of the time, from R&B to country (he was a huge Hank Williams and Nat King Cole fan as a kid) but at the age of 13, Aaron first heard Sam Cooke’s song called Any Day Now, a moving and gentle song that must have had a real impact oh him. Aaron recalls that at that time, fellow gospel singers were more commonly singing strong, loud up-praising songs. Aaron was so moved by this song, and knew from that moment on, that he was placed on the earth to be a singer.

When Aaron moved out from “Kal-ee-ope” he was exposed to a harsh side of reality and in turn “traveled some crooked roads”. Stealing cars was an easy thing to do back then, especially in the company of mutually wild encouraging mates. He was caught one day when he was returning a car to a nearby location (as they did back then once the criminal task had served it’s course) and as a consequence the eighteen year old was thrown into the New Orleans Parish Prison where he served a 6 month sentence. But maybe the demon that lead him on this wayward path was an angel in disguise, for it was in this dark isolated institution where Aaron would find a light, and write his first song Every Day.

Every Day is harrowing and delicate at the same time, as he takes us through one day, yet everyday, of prison life, and how every hour reminds him of his past freedom and that now lost companionship with his lover.  The song was released in 1960 on the Minit label, which was only formed the year before in ‘59 in New Orleans, Louisiana, by Joe Banashak and Larry McKinley. The man responsible for most of the hits on Minit was Allen Toussaint, who wrote, played piano, arranged, and produced. The first Minit hit was with Toussaint’s production of Jessie Hill’s  Ooh Poo Pah Doo, which reached No. 28 in the summer of 1960. Toussaint had a part in Aaron’s debut flip recording, the rhythm and blues mover Over You, but this wouldn’t be the last time the two collaborated. That same year Aaron released another single that included Out Of My Life, another Toussaint creation, but this time credited with the pseudonym Naomi Neville, which was commonly used by Toussaint, mostly for songwriting credits at the time (this was his mother’s maiden name…she’s not related to the famous Neville brothers though).

AaronNeville_003BAaron would continue to release a handful of 7’s on Minit in the next year or two with moderate success. A standout is the ‘62 release How Could I Help But Love You, flipped with Wrong Number (I’m Sorry, Goodbye), again writing credits for both songs to “Naomi Neville”. It’s a truly sincere love song with a melody to match, that really should have been a smash for Aaron! When Allen Toussaint went into the Army in 1963, the hits stopped coming and the Minit Record Label was sold to Imperial.

But Aaron would have his breakthrough hit finally in 1966, this time released on a small New Orleans label  Par-Lo, co-owned by local musician/arranger and school friend George Davis, and band-leader Lee Diamond. That song was Tell It Like It Is, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for five weeks and also reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, AND it sold over one million copies! Aaron who was working hard on the docks at the time, tells of his surprise and shock when he learned that the single had sold close to  40,000 copies in the first week in New Orleans alone. Contributors to this successful release included George Davis arranging and playing Baritone Sax, Emory Thomas on trumpet, Deacon John on guitar, Alvin Red Tyler on tenor sax, Willie Tee played piano and June Gardner on drums.

One would think that this must have been a life changing time for Aaron. Unfortunately his well earnt success was short lived, and soon after, Aaron would find himself arrested again, this time on drug charges. Fortunate to be let off with 3 months probation, Aaron saw the short sentence as a blessing, and promised himself to never walk that dark path again, and even reassured the prison guard on the way out, of his last final parting. Neville would continue to release singles from the mid sixties to the early seventies, jumping from label to label, including Bell, Safari and Mercury. He had two LP releases also, the 1966 Tell It Like It Is, and a year later the similarly title Like It Is, on Minit. It is on a 1973 Mercury label, where this featured lonesome giant sleeps.

Hercules – Nowadays, that opening bass line is famous and well recognised to most soul lovers, but as simple and gentle as it may be, it’s strength is insurmountable. With arranging and writing credits to Toussaint (as well as a shared producer credit to Marshall E. Sehorn), as far as I’m concerned, among so many of his great and now historic compositions, this has to be one of, if not his most finest moment! Sung with such genuine yet unlarboured compassion by Aaron, here is another song about the downs and out of society, and having the strength and will power to stand tall up against it all. Aaron is invincible. Again I find it quite unbelievable that songs of this calibre never achieved any major recognition. Perhaps similar to Dusty’s Haunted, or Cappani’s I Believe In Miracles, the world just wasn’t ready. Or maybe promoters just couldn’t comprehend the beauty and significance, blinded because they didn’t fall into those “popular radio” or “smash hit” pigeon holes.

There lies some mystery and myth behind Hercules, as it is believed that due to production problems at the plant with the pressing of the 7”, meant they were all deemed faulty. Therefore it is also believed the record never received an official release, and were likely all destroyed just after production. Well I can’t tell you how much truth is in that, but it is rare for either the promo or red label to turn up these days.

AaronNeville_007My promo copy is styrene, (these are produced with injection mold as opposed to the vinyl counterpart which are heat pressed) which sources say wears out a lot faster than a vinyl record. My copy plays beautifully, and only on special occasions, but I have never had the opportunity to play a red label and would love to know if these are actual “vinyl” pressings. A common reissue label, who dare to call the originals “nasty”, released their edited “unreleased full length version” recently, and to tell you the truth, I hear no improvement in this mix at all. I stand by the original, which has a nicer vocal harmony mix and those distant keyboards are slightly more prominent, making it even sweeter. Sadly the single never appeared on an Aaron Neville LP, so it’s future seemed destined to be a lonely one. It did however appear on a soul funk compilation LP Get Up And Get Down (Philips E– 9299 160), along with other “disco delights”, but haven’t been able to track a release date on that one yet. If you want to hear an amazing alternate version, well in 1974 Boz Scaggs released his version on his Slow Dancer LP. I often wonder about that Scaggs link, just a year later, and how he discovered the track, or how it was it offered to him?

There’s also something pretty wonderful on the flip of this 7”…a slow deep gospel song called Going Home. Here’s a song of death, but not of misery. As sad as it may make you feel to get through this meaningful song, it’s message is beautiful and uplifting. The song is not just about departing, but more importantly, it’s about belief and faith, and being reunited with those loved ones that left before you. Obviously a song with deep meaning for Aaron.

Aaron’s brother Art formed Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, in the early 1960s which included brothers Aaron and Cyril, as well as George Porter (bass) and Leo Nocentelli (lead guitarist). Shortly after, Aaron and Cyril left the group to form their own band Soul Machine. In the late 1960s Art changed the name of his band to The Meters, which at that time included Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste on drums. Considered by many to be the founding fathers of funk, The Meters would release a series of albums that today are infamous classics that should be standard in all dj collections. In 1975, Cyril became the fifth Meter as a percussionist and vocalist for three of their albums for Reprise/Warner Brothers, but by the mid-Seventies, the four Neville brothers had not still recorded as a unit.

AaronNevillebrothers_001In 1976, the four brothers Art, Charles, Cyril and Aaron got together to take part in the recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas, a Mardi Gras Indian group led by their uncle, George Landry (“Big Chief Jolly”). The self titled result produced by Toussaint may not have been a financial success, but the effort was well received critically and the recording experience encouraged the four Neville brothers to perform together for the first time as a group. Paul Howrilla created Neville Productions, Inc., serving as president and CEO with all four Neville brothers as members of the board of directors. The newly formed business covered the entire Neville family, designed to protect them from the music business abuse they had previously endured in their individual careers. In 1978, The Neville Brothers self titled debut album was released from Capitol Records, and it was the beginning of solid recording run for the group for the next decade or so. Due to the health problems of Art Neville, the band kept low profile in the late 1990s onto the early 2000s. They made a comeback in 2004, however, with the album, Walkin’ In The Shadow Of Life, from Back Porch Records.

In 1989, Aaron would find that second big solo hit, well actually in the form of a duet with Linda Ronstadt, with the song Don’t Know Much. It reached #2 on the Hot 100, and was certified Gold for selling a million copies! This duet with Ronstadt would win Aaron his first of four Grammys! The album which was titled Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, was certified Triple Platinum for US sales of more than 3 million. And ever since Aaron has pretty much been a household name, and has shared more success from following albums.

AaronNeville_004Neville’s longtime partner Joel was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2004 and died on January 5, 2007. She was 66, and needless to say, this must have been a sorrowful time for Aaron. In 2008, during a People magazine photo shoot, Neville met photographer Sarah A. Friedman, who had been hired to take a portrait of the Neville Brothers. From that first meeting Aaron sensed something deep in his heart towards Friedman, and they were married November 13, 2010 in New York City. In 2016, Neville announced a 75th birthday show at the Apollo Theater that also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Tell It Like It Is.

Today Neville sister Athelgra is part of the current line up of The Dixie Cups (known for their hits Chapel of Love and Iko Iko) alongside original members, sisters Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins.

References and recommendations…

Nolan Porter – If I Could Only Be Sure

NolanPorter_Seven45rpm_01NolanPorter_Seven45rpm_02ABC Records 11343 Stereo Year 1972

Nolan Porter’s If I Could Only Be Sure is one of my absolute favourite soul 45’s, and while it gets copiousness amounts of rotations around the house, that fervor it holds to me has never dwindled. But once again, it’s a little sad to discover that the man behind this big soul track, never really received the accolades he well and truly deserved! His discography is brief, recording only two albums and six singles in the early 1970’s. If you know and love this giant but gentle tune, you may also feel a little cheated, and wonder why we couldn’t have had more artistry from the beautifully voiced man! Well maybe we can.

Nolan Frederick Porter was born 1949 in Los Angeles and started singing at around 12 years old, for local churches and choirs, and even in classical and madrigal styles. He believes he received his gift of singing from his mother, who had in fact auditioned for the Count Basie Orchestra at one time, but had to refuse due to her pregnancy. His musical “career” started when Porter meet Gabriel Mekler when he was performing alongside his sister in a classical group at the Los Angeles city college when he was around 19. She was keen for the two to meet, knowing with Porter’s voice, and her brother’s production knowledge, something great could come of it. Mekler was at the time producing some big bands like Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf and also Janis Joplin, and after Porter’s audition, the potential was evident for Mekler, who would spend the next year or two trying to help develop and adapt his vocal skills for the studio and the current scenes.

NolanPorter_03His first recorded release was in fact an LP in 1970 called No Apologies, and was release on Gabriel Mekler’s Lizard label. It included a handful of pretty smooth covers, including a really nice version of Van Morrison’s Crazy Love. He also tries on with comfort Randy Newman’s Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield and Don Convay & the Good Timers great Iron Out The Rough Spot. Also appearing on the LP was the track Don’t Make Me Color My Black Face Blue, which would turn up as a flip on a particular big classic soul 45 the next year. The track Somebody’s Cryin’ would also show up as another 7” flip, this time to I Like What You Give, also in ‘71.

Porter had some big session players by his side on this debut delight, including former members of Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, Roy Estrada (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (drums), and Lowell George (guitar). Also sharing studio space with Nolan were members of Little Feat, Bill Payne and Ritchie Hayward, who were at the time supposedly working on their debut album (along with George and Estrada). Lowell George and Bill Payne contribute an original song called Somebody’s Gone.

NolanPorter_Seven45rpm_03In August 1972, Porter returned to the studio to record his second album, simply titled Nolan, this time distributed on the ABC label, and again Porter was gifted with a handful of incredible session performers to lay down these tracks. Crossfire Publications lists Clarence McDonald (keyboards), Jim Gordon (drums), Ray Pohlman (bass), Larry Carlton (guitar), Ron Elliott (guitar), Charles Owens (sax), Oscar Brashear (trumpet), and The Blackberries (backing vocals) as the studio line-up. The album contained four new songs and re-recorded mixes of older songs such as Groovin (Out On Life), which was released on a Vulture 7″ the year before, with Porter under the alias of Federick II. This album also contains Porter’s best known song Keep On Keepin’ On, which was written by Richard Flowers, and it’s a huge tune likely more popular on the world wide soul scenes of today, rather than of the time. It had a single release on Lizard label in ’71, with Nolan credited as N.F. Porter, as a white promo label and with two red variations.

NolanPorter_02Without any doubt If I Could Only Be Sure is the shining diamond of Porter’s catalogue, a composition of true genuine soul that has stood the test of time. One most notable player at these sessions was Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and when he plays Porter’s melodic guitar line, he threads the perfect foundation from the very beginning. The production breathes clearly, the keyboard has a minor but lustful distant howl, and Porters desirable voice sews all the components into a beautiful web of pure devotion. A simple progression with just a handful of poetic lines of love, like many of my favourite soul songs, it’s the simplicity that’s so astounding. The single was released on ABC then had a re-release on the subsidiary label Probe the year after in France, Japan, Brazil, and even Peru. All sharing the same flip with the Bryan Ferry sounding Work It Out In The Morning, quite a surprising jux’ed to the big soul sider!

Porter was around 23 when If I Could Only be Sure hit the Top 100, and the prospect of a successful music career must have seemed inevitable. But by some cruel fate, the anchor holding his aspiration and hope, and Mekler’s record company, broke away, and that dream drifted away into a sea of disappointment. It’s evident that the implosion of the his good friends Lizard label was a complete debacle, and Porter, who generally found the whole business side of things too difficult to deal with at the best of times, found it all very discouraging. Mekler had licensed Nolan’s previous Lizard/Vulture recordings and his new Nolan Porter material to ABC, but ABC never signed Nolan Porter as an artist, although his recordings appeared on the label in 1972 and 1973. With alternate record divisions putting different songs under different labels and under different artist names, it was all just a calamity!

With no intentions of suing helpful friends or playing any sly business games, Porter decided to depart the record business in 1974, but never got away from music. Porter returned to the studio in 1978 with the sessions producing the tracks, Bird Without A Song, Only A Thought Away, It’s Alright To Dream, City Lights, and a cover of Paul Simon’s Cloudy. He returned again to the studio in 1980, and re-recorded his 2nd LP cracker I Like What You Give, this time with a bit of a modern polish, but resulting with a more tame version than it’s predecessor. He also re-recorded Oh Baby, a new original titled Every Little Move, and also covered The Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes, and quite nicely may I add. But alas, nothing eventuated with these recordings, and it would be two decades before he took another opportunity to record again. In 1999, Nolan was asked by co-producer Jeffery Ward to do a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You, or the film The Quickie, but after the film was completed in 2001, it went directly to DVD.

NolanPorter-leecogswellBNolan has had a live and recording resurgence of late with contemporary soul group Stone Foundation to thank for. Founders and Porter fans Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, were able to track their legend down around 2010 and grouped together for a show. A tour followed from the north to the south of England in 2012, and in between, the band even shared some beneficial time in the recording studios. The outcome was a pressed 7” titled Tracing Paper (Heavy Soul ROR015HS3), a duet in fact with singer Neil Jones, who I’m sure must have been pinching himself more than a few times throughout that session. A follow up single in 2013 followed, this time resulting with a tight and snappy reworking of Porter’s Fe Fi Fo Fum (Heavy Soul ROR044), taken from his No Apologies Lp. Nolan and the “foundations” also recorded a very cool and moody track titled The Right Track, which was apparently featured in a detective show, but I couldn’t track down the details (my detective skills failing here) but I’m almost certain it had no official vinyl release.

In 1999 Nolan Porter met Patrice, and by coincidence, little sister to Frank Zappa, and as Porter quotes, a “far better” R & B singer than himself. The couple fell in love and married, and now sing together. Porter never had the opportunity to meet Frank himself, even back when key members of the Mothers Of Invention were hired to record on his debut LP, but he does feel close to him and holds him tight with the strong family bond. Today Porter is still both excited and surprised to discover that today’s soul scene holds him in such high regard, and that his tunes are been danced to all over the globe. But it is us that should be truly grateful!

Gabriel Mekler passed away in September 1977, leaving the entire Lizard/Vulture catalogue unguarded. This has led to numerous unauthorized and/or unlicensed releases of Nolan Porter’s material.

Photo by Lee Cogswell. More great Porter photos from Lee here… Lee Cogswell

Referencing and recommendations…

the45sclub interview

Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show Interviews

Shankar/Jaikishan – Jan Pehechan Ho – Gumnaam Soundtrack

Gumnaam_Seven45rpm_02Gumnaam_Seven45rpm_01bAngel Records ‎– TAE 1248 India 1965

This here sort Indian 7″ is without argument a holy grail of the Bollywood genre, and rightly so! And as a lover of beautifully bizarre go-go soundtracks, you can imagine how thrilled I was, to have finally got my little mittens on a very nice copy only recently! I think everyone remembers that moment when their ears and eyes first experienced the infamous Jan Pehechan Ho film clip from the 1965 Indian suspense thriller.

THE MYTH – Gumnaam, which translates to Unknown or Anonymous, is a film adaptation of the 1939 book  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which is widely considered her masterpiece, and was actually described by herself as the most difficult to write. Publications International lists the novel as the seventh best-selling title with more than 100 million copies sold. The Bollywood film adaption was directed by Raja Nawathe, who had commenced his film career as assistant director to Raj Kapoor, for three productions between 1948 and 1951, and were titled Aag, Barsaat, and Awaara. His debut as independent director started in 1953 with the film Aah, which, at the time, did not quite make its mark at the box-office, however his next directorial venture in 1956, Basant Bahar, was a musical success, which received the Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film in Hindi . He directed one another film before Gumnaam called Sohni Mahiwal in 1958.

gumnaam-Shankar-Jaikishan_002The Jan Pehechan Ho moment of Gumnaam, is a wonderful explosion of genuine music film art, and a seminal piece of Indian film history! The wild go go action takes place on the imaginary Silver Jubilee disco dance floor of the Princes Club. The floor is explosive with energy screaming from the dancers and band members, while sophisticated yet surprisingly unfazed high class diners watch on. You have masked men in tight fitted suits frantically hip swinging alongside shimmying shapely goddesses in tight pink fringing, and sometimes presented through some dynamic camera angles. And the track is purely unbeatable! Killer guitar riffs with that nice fat 60’s twang, up against the most applicable wild beat which compliments the tight horn section that seems to have lost it’s way from an Italian spaghetti western sound score.

THE MUSIC for the film Gumnaam, was composed by Indian duo Shankar & Jaikishan, who composed music for the Hindi film industry together from 1949 to 1971. The two earlier had both worked for Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatres [1], a traveling troupe which staged memorable productions all across India (it was Shankar who assured a job for Jaikishan who was a key harmonium player, without the permission of Kapoor). The two of them developed a very close friendship and apart from following their musical pursuits, they also used to play significant roles in various plays including the famous play Pathan, which was performed on stage nearly 600 times in Mumbai.

gumnaam-Shankar-Jaikishan_001cropThe two became known by the acronym “S-J”, and would form a core team with lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, and with singers Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar (although they also worked with almost all the popular singers of their time). The commercial geniuses lead the Bollywood music in spite of tough competition from maestros like Roshan, SD Burman, OP Nayyar and Madanmohan. S-J were the house composers or RK Films and were on their pay-roll till the end. Even after the termination of the professional association between Shankar and Raj Kapoor (Jaikishan had died by then), Kapoor had used a number of their earlier compositions (which were in his custody) for a lot of his films, though the credits were given officially to other composers.

gumnaam-Shankar-Jaikishan_004BShankar & Jaikishan’s compositions broke new ground in Hindi film music. Apart from relying upon their knowledge of Indian classical music, they also employed western beats and orchestration, and it became their established practice to have at least one song in a movie based on semi-classical style. While working as a team, Shankar and Jaikishan used to compose their songs separately. Between the two, Shankar was the senior partner and he would usually arrange the orchestra, even for Jaikishan’s songs. There was a gentleman’s agreement between them, for not identifying the actual composer of the song. Dance numbers, title/theme songs and soulful songs were Shankar’s forte while Jaikishan was a master of composing background score, but both Shankar and Jaikishan were equally proficient in scoring western music based songs. Despite their distinct working styles and preferences, it is very difficult to identify who composed what, and best to accept all their work was truly a joint effort.

Shankar & Jaikishan made a major contribution towards the development of jazz music in India and the new genre Indo jazz. Their 1968 album Raaga-Jazz style, the earliest Indo-jazz recording to come from India, and is considered to be one of the most innovative, with 11 songs based on Indian Ragas with saxophone, trumpet, tabla, bass and of course with sitar by Rais Khan.

Gumnaam-benjaminTHE LEADING MASKED MAN – That compelling personality who plays the singer-front man to this outrageous cacophony of spectacle, is dancer Herman Benjamin, also known as “Mr. Charisma”. He made his entry into the world of Hindi cinema as a choreographer, or as they were often called a “dance-master”, sometime in the late 50’s. Most often he assisted other choreographers with the more traditional dance routines, but on occasion he was handed one or two songs that leaned more towards the night club rock n’ roll numbers, that were getting more and more popular in the Bollywood films of those days. He also appeared on screen as a dancer in quite a few films of this period. Benjamin is the handsome devil prototype, and has an animalistic magnetism that Errol Flynn would duel to the death for. His apparent charming and humorous nature overflows with his maneuvers. Even among a crowded dance floor such as in the sequence of Tin Kanastar Peet Peet Karhis from the 1958 film Love Marriage, his distinct drawing power is undeniable. It‘s also evident that Benjamin studied Herbert “Whitey” White’s school of Lindy Hoppers and jitterbuggers, perhaps only through film, because some of his moves are brilliantly borrowed from the 40’s and 50’s! While Benjamin plays the moves in grand style, it is believed that Surya Kuma who at the time, was inspired by an English dance craze called “The Shake”, was likely the mastermind behind the Jan Pehechan Ho dance floor phenomena (both he and Benjamin helped choreograph the dances in Gumnaam). Benjamin sadly passed away on 13th September 1968 and was only 37 years old, which is such an injustice, but I’m so grateful he left a huge legacy of film attributions credited up until 1971, for us to enjoy.

gumnaam_laxmi2THE LEADING LADY – Strutting alongside Benjamin’s skillful and tight dance floor motions, dressed in tight gold lamé, is the stand out prismatic and blazing lead female dancer Laxmi Chhaya! Her wild energy is captivating and ferocious during the Jan Pehechan Ho routine, and it’s difficult to comprehend that she was only 18 at the time of shooting, when she danced herself into film history. In fact Chhaya was nine when she appeared in her first film Talaq in 1958, when director Mahesh Kaul had spotted her among the guests on the sets. Three years later her role in Bada Aadmi, established her as a dancing star. Although she’s most likely most recognised for her Gumnaam role on this side of the world, Chhaya in fact had a major and successful career in the Bollywood circuit, working in over 55 film productions between 1961 through to at least 1982. Just a year after Gumnaan, Herman choreographed the routine for Aaja Aaja for Nasir Husain’s Teesri Manzil. Chhaya again had a feature role, but this time she is far more sedated, with her part as a spectator. Maybe after her earlier smoking Jan Pehechan Ho performance, the Indian screen management felt they needed to cool things down for a while.

Gumnaam-laxmi_peacockChhaya moments of spectacular grandeur are a plenty in this time of Bollywood cinema. One of those spell binding moments is from the 1968 film Suhaag Raat, where there’s a cobra and peacock dance off between two beauties, Madhumati who convincingly plays the sensual serpent, up against the peacock adorned Chhaya! The battle is furiously tense and tight, and amazingly fought til the end! In the 1970 S. Sukhdev directed film My Love, there’s a seductive devilish dance by blond bombshell “Caron Leslie” to some low grinding grooves composed by Daan Singh [2]. With the devil shadowing her moves, the room gets so heated that uncomfortable onlookers almost turn away with embarrassment and guilt. But once Chhaya gets the nod things get even hotter on the dance floor. Miss Leslie is swiped by a far more dominant, spirited and high powered challenger, and the music is to revved up with heated frantic African tribal beats! Below I’ve listed a few of my favourite Chhaya moments of wonderment well worth looking at.

gumnaam-TedLyonsTHE BAND – The brilliance of Jan Pahechan Ho shines further beyond the dance floor and lifts up onto the bandstand. The group “performing” the anthem is known as Ted Lyons and his Cubs. Regardless of the cult popularity of this Bollywood performance, I found it difficult to find a lot of information on this mythical line-up. In fact when watching the clip, the line is blurred between actual bands members from bands actors, especially without knowing the real life line up of the Cubs. But it’s not important and the blend is splendid. I can tell you that the leader of the pack, Terence “Ted” Lyons plays the centered guitarist (with the red guitar) and is brother to the famous dancer/film actress Edwina Lyons (his other sister Marie Shinde was a very active dancer and choreographer also at that time). In the 1967 film Raat Aur Din, Edwina dancers along with Laxmi Chhaya to Awaara Ae Mera Dil, which also features Ted Lyons And His Cubs, however this time Terence has moved away from band member to join the dance floor society (he can be seen, especially near the end of the song, dancing in the shadows to the left of the band). Aficionados of Bollywood cinema would possibly recognise The Cubs appearing frequently in famous films, one other notable presence is in the film of the same year, Janwar. The song is an adopted “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, titled  Dekho Ab To, where this time Ted is behind the drum kit of The Cubs (pictured).

According to Memsaab’s incredible blog dedication, Feel the love! Ted Lyons & His Cubs, he emigrated to Brisbane, Australia, in 1972, resulting with the break up of the band and any further screen appearances. He says that he danced way more than he appeared with his band, and although they played plenty of weddings and events, no studio recordings were ever produced. He spent 20 years in the Bombay film industry as a dancer and drummer/band leader.

THE SINGER – The actual voice behind the man behind the mask, is the legendary and prolific Bollywood singer Mohammed Rafi. He was born 24 December 1924, as the fifth of six sons in a village near Amritsar, Punjab (the family moved to Lahore later in the 1920’s). Rafi’s elder brother, Mohammad Deen, had a friend Abdul Hameed, who recognised Rafi’s talent and would encourage him to sing, and later even convinced the family elders to let Rafi move to Mumbai.

There’s an infamous story about Mohammed Rafi’s rise to stardom. One time he and his brother Hamid went to attend a performance by the renown K.L. Saigal. The power went off (and from my brief experiences in Indian, a common occurrence even these days), and the dignified Saigal refused to sing without the benefit of the sound system. With agitated audiences tempers brewing, Hamid persuaded the organisers to allow Rafi to sing for them until the power was restored. It was readily agreed and everyone in the house was impressed, including the great composer and music director Shyam Sunder who happened to be among the audience. Rafi was invited to sing for one of his films in 1944 at the age of 20, with the song  Soniye Hiriye, Teri Yaad Ne Bahut Sataya, for the film Gul Baloch, and was quickly brought to attention of other music directors.

gumnaam-RafiNaushad Ali02Early in his career Rafi got a huge break when he got to work with Naushad Ali (pictured), one of the foremost musical directors for Hindi films of the time. His versatile musical vocabulary offered him a myriad of singing roles, one highlight must have been in the 1960 film Mughal-E-Azam, where Rafi sang Ae Mohabbat Zindabad, alongside a chorus of 100 singers. This relationship would establish himself as one of the most prominent playback singers in the industry cinema and he ended up singing a total of 149 songs for Naushad.

Rafi’s partnership with Shankar & Jaikishan was also very famous and successful (Rafi was their favourite singer despite having good reputation with other playback singers of the time). Out of six Filmfare awards, Rafi won three for S-J songs, and sang a total of 341 numbers (216 solo) for the partnership! With the voice in demand, he would also work with other big name producers. S.D.Burman used Rafi as a singing voice of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt, and would end up collaborating on 37 movies. Rafi also worked with the great Ravi Shankar, and in fact received his first Filmfare Award for the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), which was composed by Ravi. Rafi also received the National Award for Ravi’s song “Babul Ki Duaen Leti Ja” from the film Neel Kamal (1968), and admits that he actually wept during the recording of this stirring song. Myself, I love the swaying Baar Baar Dekho he sang for China Town in 1962.

gumnaam-Rafi01Mohammed Rafi died on 31 July 1980, following a massive heart attack…his funeral procession was one befitting a king. Said to have been the biggest funeral processions Mumbai had ever witnessed, with over 10,000 people attending despite heavy rains on that day. The government of India announced a two-day public holiday in his honour. In 2010, Rafi’s tomb was demolished to make space for new burials. Fans who visit his tomb twice a year to mark his birth and death anniversaries, use the coconut tree that is nearest his grave as a marker. Rafi was a big player in the history of Indian film which goes with out saying, and there’s actually some great sites out there that celebrate this man’s career and achievements, which I recommend new fans of this genre pursue.

Gumnaam-shailendra-cropTHE SONG – The lyrics to Shankar-Jaikishan’s Jan Pahechan Ho is by Shailendra (Shankardas Kesarilal), a popular songwriter who had already won the Filmfare Best Lyricist Award twice before Gumnaan. But sadly his promising career was cut short, when he was just 43 years of age. In 1961 Shailendra invested heavily in the production of the movie Teesri Kasam (released in 1966), directed by Basu Bhattacharya and starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman. Although the film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, it was a commercial failure. Stress, tensions and anxiety due to financial loss quickly contributed to his defeating health, and coupled with alcohol abuse, ultimately led to his death on 14 December 1966.

If you look up the literal interpretation on the song, well the words and meanings kind of bump into each other, which is not uncommon ofcourse. Here’s my blurry attempt at the song’s interpretation, mashing some of those online translations.

Jan pehechan ho, jina aasan ho…
Lets get to know one another…your life would be simple…
Dil ko churanewalo aankh naa churao, nam tho batao

Oh you stealer of my heart…you who avoid my gaze…at least tell me your name.

Aaj kee yeh sham javan, yu naa chalee jaye…
May this vibrant evening…not pass unavailed…
Phir se naa aayegi yeh kisee ke bulaye…

For it will never return, not by anybodys calling…

Bolo yeh naa bolo tum, ho gaye ishare…
accept it or deny…but there are feelings…
Sidhee sidhee chot huve dil pe humareit…

straight and direct…they have pierced my heart…

Chup chup dekha dekhee, najare divanee…
Oh your silent watching…driving me crazy…
Jara see yeh bat ban jaye naa kahanee…

All this small talk…should not be a town story…

I am sure my feeble translation is questionable, but do go to grabbingsand.org, for some fun and more in-depth translations, by people far more competent than myself .

IN CLOSING – Indian vinyl is not the easiest to find, especially in good playing condition. But this is a must for 7 lovers and you are rewarded with Lata Mangeshkar’s Gumnaam Hai Koi, a lovely cover version Henry Mancini’s of Charade! I have to mention that you will find an edited cut down version on the EP. (I do find the 3 minute edit version very does the job adequately), so if you’re after the long play version that you know and love from the film cut, them the LP could be a good option, which does appear far more often on the market. Note that the LP cover pictured above is the repress cover from Angel Records that came out the a little later in the same year of ’65.

To have Raja Nawathe and his collaborators all combining visions and talents, at what must have been a most amazing time, and to be rewarded with unbeatable masterpiece that is Jan Peechan Ho, is a blessing that will keep us music lovers dancing and smiling for a very, very long time!

Some great Chhaya dance floor appearances…

1 – Upkar -1967  Gulaabi Raat Gulaabi
2 – Wahan Ke Log -1967 (with Indian space go-go gals!)  Woh Pyaar Pyaar Pyaar Pyaar Chanda
3 – Baharon Ke Sapne – 1967 (duel with Laxmi Chhaya and Bela Bose) Do Pal Jo Teri
4 – Suhaag Raat – 1968  “Cobra And Peacock Fight” 1968
5 – My Love – 1970 Laxmi Chhaya and Caron Leslie
6 – Ek Khiladi Bawan Pattey – 1972 (hippie love) Le Le Ye Dil Ka Nagina Bahroopiye Log Saare

[1] In over 16 years of existence, the theater staged some 2,662 performances with Prithviraj supposedly starring as the lead actor in every single show. By the late 1950s, it was clear that the era of the traveling theater had been irreversibly supplanted by the cinema, which was sweeping across the lands. Clearly it was no longer financially feasible for a troupe of up to 80 people to travel the country for four to six months at a time, along with their props and equipment and living in hotels and campsites. Many of the fine actors and technicians that Prithvi Theatres nurtured had found their way to the movies.

[2] Carole Lesley (Maureen Rippingale) was a British actress who had a short but significant career as a “blonde bombshell”. In this film, this particular actress is credited as Caron Leslie. I am almost certain this is not her in this film but a dedicated inspired impersonator instead. But I could be wrong. 

References and recommendations…

Dusted Off – Edwina: A Short Biography 

A new Laxmi Chhaya treat



The Fabulous Usha Iyer & The Flintstones

UshaIyer_Seven45rpm_01UshaIyer_Seven45rpm_03The Trip – His Master’s Voice ‎– NE. 1005 India 1969

Blues Train – His Master’s Voice ‎– NE 1006 India 1969

I’ve decided to feature two 7’s this time around, as this some what lost and elusive coupling from Usha Iyer, who these days is more commonly known as Usha Uthup, should not be separated. Obviously I’m still hanging on to that recent India experience, that happily refuses to leave from beneath my skin.

Usha Iyer was born on November 8th, 1947, into a Tamil brahmin family that hailed from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in Madras (now Chennai). She has three sisters, all of whom are singers, and two brothers, herself being the the fifth of six children. As a child, she lived in the police quarters at Lovelane in Byculla in Bombay and attended a local school (her father Sami Iyer, later became the police commissioner of Bombay). When she was in music classes at school, she was a bit of a musical misfit, because “she didn’t fit in” with a voice like hers. But thankfully her music teacher did see something, and recognised her passion and determination, and would encourage her with simple instruments like clappers and the triangle.

Usha_01CEven though she was not formally trained in music, she grew up in an atmosphere of music. Her parents used to listen to a wide range from Western classical to Hindustani and Carnatic. “Along with Beethoven and Mozart, we listened to Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, K.C. De, Pankaj Mullick, Manna De, Shyamal Mitra M. S. Subbulakshmi, and a host of other great classical and modern masters,” reminisces Usha to The Tribune India. Her next door neighbour was S.M.A. Pathan, who was then the deputy commissioner of police. His daughter, Jamila, inspired Usha to learn Hindi, wear salwar kameez and take up Indian classical music. This fusion approach helped her to pioneer her unique brand of Indian pop in the 70s. Her first public singing occurred when she was nine. Her sisters who were already exploring a music career, took her to a musician called Hamir Sayani who gave her an opportunity to sing on the Ovaltine Music Hour in Radio Ceylon. She sang a number called Mockingbird Hill, and several more appearances followed through in her teenage years. A 20 year old Usha started singing in a small nightclub in Chennai called Nine Gem, which was in the basement of the Safire Theater complex . Her performance was so well received that the owner of the nightclub asked her to stay on for a week. She also began singing in Calcutta at night clubs such as Talk of the Town, now known as Not Just Jazz By The Bay, and the infamous Trincas.

Trincas – In 1969, when performing at nightclubs and restaurants was considered taboo, Usha became the highest-paid crooner in Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi. But in the beginning it was nervous times for Usha. Trincas, originally a Tea Room owned by the eponymous Mr Trincas, was converted into a nightclub in 1959, an run by Om Prakash Puri and Ellis Joshua. It went on to become the launch pad for many acts of the Indian live music scene. The hip club was more in trend with Anglo-Indians, fair-skinned and blonde haired glamours, so when Usha asked if she was allowed to perform in her sari, she was relieved to get managements full support. On 1 October 1969, some of the stereotypes surrounding female nightclub singers in India were shattered. That is when a young Usha Iyer took the spotlight at the crowded restaurant, wearing her sari and her hair lit up in flowers, and singing Little Willie John’s Fever. The first reaction of the crowd was one of disbelief, but they quickly fell in love with her and the club and patrons accepted her whole-heartedly! Also in those days, female singers in bars had to get a permit from Lalbazar, the police headquarters, with strict guidelines forbidding interaction with guests or soliciting. It basically meant that she wasn’t allowed to socailise with guests or sit at their tables. However Usha did break the rule once, and that was the moment she found her husband Jani.

This early recording period of Usha Iyer is very difficult to track, with even her official website failing to mention anything about these “Flintstones” recordings. I can tell you that in 1968, Usha recorded what was supposedly her first 45, released on the His Master’s Voice label (45-N.79858), where she was labelled as just Usha. Hecke Kingdom, who cut a distinctive figure on the Bombay jazz stage in the 1950s and ’60s with his enormous baritone saxophone, recorded the sessions with his Jazz Quartet. The two compositions were covers, the first was Hank Williams Jambalaya and then flipped with The Kingston Trio’s Green Back Dollar, and are apparently the only tracks he recorded on vinyl during his whole career.

Now it seeUshaIyer_Seven45rpm_02ms there was a popular “house” band at Trincas that went by the name of The Flintstones, and by the sounds of it, they were very impressionable and were a group that really left quite a heavy stamp on the face of the late 60’s-early 70’s Indian rock music scene. As this is also the time that Usha was playing at Trincas, I have to assume that this is the same band that appears on these two featured 7″ records. Apparently this cult band were the big deal, could consistently pack out the venue and could get some pretty wild dancers in action. There must have been some pretty crazy nights there on Park Street, with other psychedelic rock acts also appearing such The Combustibles, The Savages, The Fentones, The Playboys and other bands with names like Black Cactus, The Urge and The Hurricanes.

From what I can work out, band members of The Flintstones were Eddy Ranger (lead vocals), Noel Martin (bass), Claton Saunders, Rhett May, and possibly Gautam Chatterjee, who was also playing at Trincas with another band, The Urge. It was the seventeen year old Clayton Saunders, who it seems was a musical genius from a young age, formed this band that took India by storm. Not long after this lively Indian rock spell, he would move over to my home country of Australia, and became successful with the country bands Hotspurs and Stoney Creek. At the tender age of 11, Saunders became the youngest talent to perform regularly on All India Radio’s renowned program The Children’s Hour. Rhett May also left the band and headed for Australia, and was in a band called Lucifer in the 1970s, and he is still quite active in the music scene releasing records today. Noel Martin still to this day, plays at Trincas, with his band Sweet Agitation, which was formed in 1984. I did track down evidence of another Flintstones 45 which was released in 1968, again on the HMV label (45 POPV 8085), with the tracks titled Be Mine and Happy By My Side, a mover credited to Clayton Saunders, that one could believe to have come from a Beatles track list, from their more raw early days.

The Caluatta Telegraph reported in 2008,”After 1972, the band’s popularity and also that of other live bands waned because of two reasons: anglo-Indians were leaving Calcutta and the popularity of the first discotheque in Calcutta, In & Out in Park Hotel. For a cover charge of merely Rs 10, patrons could hear DJs play the celestial music of Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes and Grateful Dead. These records were hardly heard in Calcutta then. No one would any longer pay to hear the cover versions”.

UshaIyer_Seven45rpm_04Thankfully someone back then did have the sense to bring Usha and The Flintstones into the studio, to lay down a handful of tracks. Today we can gratefully be transported back and experience if but a taste of those exciting vibrant times of that particular period of Indian psychedelia. On the first single, the A sided The Trip is absolute killer material from both Usha and the band. With it’s psychedelic brilliance, hard hitting break beats, snappy mod blues guitar work, and Usha’s beautiful acidic jazz vocals, it’s raw, dirty and dope, and for me, it feels like bathing in the richest soil of the Indian earth! As the only credit on the label is to Usha, again I have to assume the lyrics are hers. She sing’s of a faraway trip, leaving someone that was obviously close to her, behind, and whether it’s spiritual or literal, we don’t really have to know. For me this has to be her biggest tune, and to finally find it on a lost record that is about journey, is quite a trip. The flip to this big track is a cover of Tommy Roe’s 1960 number 1 hit song Dizzy, which for me is a bit too pop and doesn’t really suit the band’s dangerous edge. On the other hand, Blues Train, the second single featured here, we’re back on track, enjoying another dark journey with the brilliant combo. Like very many blues songs, this song is about loss, and this time it’s a tale of a dear soul to the story teller, that has taken their life. Usha sings of her desire to do what needs to be done, so they can be together again…”Every time I hear a train, I’ll be on the railway line, hang myself on a telegraph pole, then I’ll be with you body and soul. I know what to do, I’ve got to be with you tonight”. This moment of brilliance is tastefully complemented with the A-sided Summertime, which can be proudly added to the many amazing interpretations that exist, of Gershwin’s 1934 masterpiece.


In around 1974, Usha was invited by the legendary Goan composer Chris Perry to record an album of Konkani songs. Perry had just had a professional bust up with the ever so popular “Goan nightingale” Lorna Cordeiro, and was looking for a female vocalist who could fill that prodigious void. With compositions already to go, Perry approached her one day when Uthup was singing with the trumpet player at the Ritz near Eros cinema. The outcome was a successful record release comprising five Konkani songs performed by Usha including Meu Amor, Beautiful and the desirable Paka Paka!

Usha_03If we want to talk about some of Usha’s LP releases, an interesting record that needs to be mentioned here, is the album she recorded with producer Nabil Sansool while touring in Nairobi, Kenya in 1978. Titled Usha In Nairobi, this album is infamous and sort because of one particular killer version of Fever that Usha lays down! It a crazy good, spacey trip hop-drum n’ bass version way ahead of it’s time, and perhaps one of the best versions I have ever heard of that fine tune. The band involved is said to have gone by the name of The Fellini Five, with the line up including Fausto La Venia on drums, Pino Solitro on guitar, Massimo Sperduti on keyboards and on percussion was Fausto La Venia. The songs Malaika and Kirie Kirio, were released as a Kenya 7″ from this recording on EMI. Earlier in 1969, Usha also released an alternate version of Fever, on her jazzy Scotch And Soda LP (Odeon SMOCE 2006) along with other versions fine standards including Sunny and A Taste Of Honey. Bombay’s finest beat band, The Savages provide accompaniment on Midnight Hour and also on a cracking version of California Dreaming, while on all other tracks, The Ronnie Menezes Quartet are her support. Now don’t get confused with the other Fever track she recorded with Bappi Lahiri for the film Love In Goa a few years later in ’83.

Usha_08FadidSegwaying into some of her film scores, Usha was quite big within the Bollywood circuit, which I’m only going to briefly touch on here. This particular road started back in the early 70’s in Dehli when she sang at the Oberoi hotels. By chance, a film crew that included actor-director Shashi Kapoor, visited the nightclub, and obviously liked what they saw, because she was offered a chance to sing for an upcoming film score. As a result, her Bollywood career started with singing along side Asha Bhosle on Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Originally, she was supposed to sing Dum Maro Dum along with Lata Mangeshkar, however it seems there was some internal politics going on with others singers that didn’t allow that to happen, and as we all know the role went to Asha Bhosle (who deservedly won the 1971 Filmfare Best Female Playback Award). As mentioned on the previous R D Burman post, Usha’s incredible Listen To The Pouring Rain from the 1972 Bollywood adventure-comedy film Bombay to Goa, is classic Usha mastery!

Another big and dynamic film track from Usha is the title song for Dard Ka Rishta, named Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. Released in 1982, and produced and directed by Sunil Dutt (and starring Smita Patil, Reena Roy and Ashok Kumar), the track is said to have been inspired by the 1955 Henry King directed film of the same title. Yet another Burman masterpiece, with killer breaks, rapid space funk keyboards and Usha leading it all with her best Shirley Bassey sass! A must have LP for all Indian soundtrack collectors!

Usha_06Usha also had a platform into the disco dance scene which was sweeping the whole world at that time, although truth be told, India was a little behind by a few years. Her best for me is Auva Auva Koi Yahan Nache from Bappi Lahiri Disco Dancer masterpiece. And in true Bappi “borrowing”tradition, this time he channels The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star, so wickedly! In 82, Bappi and Usha were at it again with another disco rework, this time bravely mashing up Gibson Brothers’ Que Sera Mi Vida, with dare I say it, Donna Summer’s classic, I Feel Love on the Aarman soundtrack, titled as Ramba Ho-Ho-Ho Shamba Ho-Ho-Ho. There’s a far hotter and somewhat psychedelic version of “Love” on Usha’s earlier ’78 album You Set My Heart On Fire, which you’ll get far more respect from in the dance halls. I can’t leave this disco convention without mentioning Chhupke Kaun Aya, a pretty great hair flick towards to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.

Usha has performed for so many young and old adoring fans, and has sung in 13 Indian languages as well as 8 foreign languages. Her name and her distinctive big voice is attached to many famous Bollywood productions, and has also made a quite a few on screen performances. This iconic Indian star has also received numerous awards not just for her musical talents, but also for her devotion to charities and for mainly just trying to make the world a fair and better place.

Usha has continued singing unlike many of her contemporaries who have long stopped as they felt out of sync with the new age style. “I don’t like to live in the past. Nostalgia is fine”. She recently to told The Indian Express. She has given people in far flung cultures an unexpected image of an lndian woman: strong,independent, humorous, intelligent and loaded with talent. Jani and Usha who today reside in Kolkata, West Bengal, enjoy life with their daughter Anjali and son Sunny, and today Usha will occasionally appear on stage singing alongside with both her daughter and her granddaughter.

References and recommendations…

Pictured with Fadhili William in a joint performance of ‘Malaika’ at the International Casino, Nairobi in the late 70’s. (Courtesy of E.A. Standard Ltd)

R. D. Burman – Baby, let’s dance together – Shalimar (OST)

Shalimar_Seven45rpm_02Shalimar_Seven45rpm_01Polydor ‎Cat# 2221 334 India 1978

Track 1- Let’s Dance Together Track 2 – Cha Cha Cha!

Rahul Dev Burman was born on June 27, 1939 in Kolkata, to the Bollywood composer/singer Sachin Dev Burman and his lyricist wife Meera Dev Burman. According to some stories, he was nicknamed Pancham da because, as a child, whenever he cried, it sounded in the fifth note (Pa), G scale, of music notation (the word Pancham means five, or fifth, in Bengali, his mother tongue). Another theory says that little Rahul received the nickname because he could cry in five different notes.

rdburman-SachinDBurmanWhen Burman was nine years old, he composed his first song, Aye meri topi palat ke aa, which his father used in the 1956 film Funtoosh. Sar jo tera chakraaye was included in Guru Dutt’s 1957 soundtrack for Pyaasa, and was also another father/son collaboration this time sung by Gumnaan singer Mohammed Rafi. In Mumbai, Burman learnt to play the sarod by classical musician Ali Akbar Khan and also the tabla by Samta Prasad . He also considered composer poet and a playwright, Salil Chowder as his guru. He served as an assistant to his father, and often played harmonica in his orchestras.

RD Burman’s first released film as an independent music director was Chhote Nawab (1961). Popular Bollywood comedian Mehmood was the producer and first approached Burman’s father for the music, however he had to turn down the offer, saying that he did not have any free dates available. At that very meeting, Mehmood noticed Rahul playing tabla in a back room, and signed him up as the music director for the film. Burman’s first hit movie as a film music director was Teesri Manzil (1966), which starred Shammi Kapoor, who is hailed as one of the most entertaining lead actors that Hindi cinema has ever produced, and was married to actress beauty Geeta Bali. The scored had six songs, all of which were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Four of these were duets were with his future wife and superstar Asha Bhosle (apparently they first met when she was the mother of two and he was in 10th grade having dropped out to pursue music). I advise you to search for the brilliant Hassina zulfo walli clip, where you witness some amazing set designing, which is actually quite typical in this wonderful film genre. Nasir Hussain went on to sign RD Burman and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri for six of his films.

RDBurman-Hare Rama Hare KrishnaIn 1971, Burman composed the music for Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Asha Bhosle won the Filmfare Best Female Playback Award for the infamous electrifying Dum Maro Dum (Take Another Toke), from this film, which was a huge hit and proved to be a seminal rock number in Hindi film music. Dev Anand did not include the complete version of Dum Maro Dum in the movie, because he was worried that the song would overshadow the film. The hit film was a star-making vehicle for the model and beauty queen, Zeenat Aman, who won over the heart’s of world audiences, in her role as the westernized hippie, Janice. [1] The film was a huge success for her, going on to  win the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award, as well as the BFJA Award for Best Actress. She would become one of the highest paid Hindi actress between 1976-80 and appeared on every Hindi film magazine’s cover during the 1970s. Hare Rama Hare Krishna dealt with the decadence of the Hippie culture. It aimed to have an anti-drug message and also depicts some problems associated with Westernization such as divorce, and is said to be loosely based on the 1968 Richard Rush movie Psych-Out.

Bombay to Goa is a 1972 Bollywood adventure-comedy film directed by S. Ramanathan, and is actually a remake of a 1966 hit Tamil film Madras to Pondicherry. The movie is known particularly for its catchy tunes and includes Usha Iyer’s incredible Listen To The Pouring Rain which is a cool mashup of tunes such as Temptation, Fever and ends with a frenzied Be-Bop-A-Lula! In 1976, the Vijay Anand directed spy thriller, Bullet was released with yet another exciting soundtrack. This time Asha Bhosle is back providing the vocals on the trippy Peene Ke Baad Aati Hai Yaad Bhooli, again with suitable bizzaro film sets to match! Oh to be on that set when this was all happening!

ZeenatAman_05The 1978 Hollywood and Bollywood joint production film Shalimar starred Dharmendra, Shammi Kapoor, Prem Nath, Aruna Irani and once again Zeenat Aman (pictured right). Also in supporting roles in their first and only Bollywood film was, English actor Sir Rex Harrison, and American actors John Saxon and Sylvia Miles. The film was released in two versions; Hindi in India and also an English version in the US, known as Raiders of the Sacred Stone (and supposedly also as The Deadly Thief). All versions however were unsuccessful, although later gaining cult status. In this Indian crime adventure, the world’s best jewel thief invites his illustrious peers to try to steal the world’s most priceless jewel, the Shalimar ruby, from his home on a remote private island. If they fail, they will die.

The Shalimar soundtrack is packed with Burman gems! While the credibility of the film plot may be somewhat questionable, Burman’s work on the score is genuinely masterful and simply like nothing else. The Title Music has to be the number one all time opener to come from the Bollywood genre, and how I wish it was circulated on a 7”. Intense off beat jazz constructions, over operatic vocals, this masterpiece is a tip of the hat to greats like Morricone and John Barry, and I don’t say that lightly.

One of the film’s oRDBURMAN-Shalimarn going musical themes, is the delightful Hum Bewafa Hargiz Na Thay, which at one time comes with a pretty extraordinary beach tribal dance scene filmed at night. And Mera Pyar Shalimar with Asha Bhosle’s dreamy vocals is pure ecstasy. Sylvia Miles who had won two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress in the movies Midnight Cowboy and Farewell My Lovely, apparently snatched the role of Countess Rasmussen, from the intended Gina Lollobrigida, Italian sex symbol of the fifties and sixties. She plays a far fetched trapeze artist-master thief, who seems to have a love for doing an over excessive amount of somersaults and cart wheels that’s really ever necessary. In one scene where the countess is attempting a break in and theft of the Shalimar jewel, one of Burman’s big jazz tracks Countess’ Caper, plays over the top, doing it’s best to add drama, but really only adding even more lunacy to the moment.

RDBURMAN-Shalimar_02BMoving on to the feature 7”, of the 2 tracks, Baby Let’s Dance Together, sung by the mysterious Kittu, is the standout for me. A laid back super chic funk oozing pure class, this song criminally only gets a brief look in during the film, as a background track to an enticing bedroom scene from Sheila Enders to S.S. Kumar, that quickly ends in an argument. Who the vocalist Kittu is, I can’t really tell you, as the only other song credit I could find from her, was for the track I Have a Crush On You from the 1980 Ek Baar Phir, film directed by Vinod Pande. The second track on offering is the quirky work out, One Two Cha Cha Cha, which actually has the responsibility of opening the film even before the aforementioned diabolical Title Music. Vocals provided by Usha Uthup, accompanied nicely with the expected Burman Moog and sitar, the opening set up brings us into a day lit seedy gambling club, with Sheila Enders approaching an eager flare filled dance floor, who she will provide a personal instructional dance routine for. What a way to open a spy thriller. That’s the way ah ha, ah ha, I like it!

Burman’s genius workings for this soundtrack did not go unnoticed, resulting with 3 Filmfare nominations…Best Music – R.D. Burman, Best Male Playback Singer – Kishore Kumar for the song Hum Bewafa Harghiz Na, and Best Female Playback Singer – Usha Uthup for One Two Cha Cha, which funnily enough ended up being won by Asha Bhosle for the Kalayanji Anandji track Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Diwana from the exceptional Don score. The highly regarded LP comes in a few variants, the best in my view is the fold out cover with the intricate die-cut inserts nicely formatted with film stills. If you need to have a few important Bollywood soundtracks in your collection, this one’s on the top of the list and isn’t too difficult to find, although as with most Indian records, it pays to hold off until you can find a nice conditioned record.

rdBurman-burningTrainBurman would go on to release more killer soundtracks, and a handful with accompanying 7″s. Getting into some serious stuff, I want to bring up The Burning Train score. When I first heard the opening score I really struggled to believe it wasn’t a contemporary production. I love this period of Burman! Released in 1980, directed by Ravi Chopra, the film featured a huge all-star cast [2]. The plot revolves around a train named Super Express that catches fire on its inaugural run from New Delhi to Mumbai. It’s out of control, the drivers are dead, and many lives will certainly expire if somehow the burning train isn’t stopped. I’ll be a bit more elaborate on this film when the time comes (and it will) to post that particular soundtrack. But this is R.D. Burman on FIRE as the title track clearly displays, as well as the Latin flavoured Meri Nazar Hai TujhPe if you even needed more proof.

If it was one BuRDBurman-DevAnand-smallrman really excelled at, it was drawing in audiences into films with exciting title tracks, and Hindi action thrillers such as the 1980 Shaan (Pride) provided the perfect platform. This film was directed by Ramesh Sippy after the super success of his previous venture, Sholay. He drew  inspiration from the American Western and spaghetti western films, and took its lead from the James Bond films with fancy sets and beautiful costumes. Shaan took three years to make and it was expected to match the success of Sholay but failed to do so, however, it ran to packed houses in its re-runs and ended up making a lot of money. Eventually, it was declared to be the highest grosser of 1980 by IBOS. Once again the opening track Doston Se Pyar Kiya with the mighty Usha Uthup on vocals, is exciting and abstract, and perfectly wigged out! Thanks to Burman, the film recieved a Best Music nomination at Filmfare, this being its sole nomination. For the Bollywood Rocky film, also released in 1980, Burman gave us some killer breaks and spaced out “borrowing” with the War of the World’s inspired Aa Dekhen Jara.

In 1983, Chor Police, the directorial debut movie of Bollywood actor Amjad Khan, includes one of my all time favourite Bollywood dance numbers, Aaj Mera Dil. In yet another Bhosle-Burman classic, we have once again another killer dance sequence, this time it’s the Indian beauty Parveen Babi as Seema, drawing the audience right in with her hypnotizing moves. Audacious and daring, starting with a slow and wonderfully psychedelic intro, simple exotic moog lines are soon swooped over by spaced out guitar riffs, perfectly syncopated percussion and Asha’s “from another world” vocal lines…this is one of Burman’s best!

RD-Burman-pantera_lpBurman also made an international “non-film” album not many know about, a Latin-American-Indian monster, nowadays quite sort. Released in ‘87, Pantera was financed by his father, and as well with his friend Pete Gavankar, who wanted the aspiring musician to explore the music scene outside India. The idea at first didn’t really appeal to the reluctant Burman, for it was well known those days that producing a record usually took months in that part of the world, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to move away from his home land. In 1981, Gavankar borrowed 15 tunes from RD, who had composed them in a matter of seven days and handed the tapes to his sister Nilu, who was connected to pop groups in San Francisco. Nilu played the tunes to an upcoming musician Jose Flores who immediately liked five compositions and recorded them. Back in India, Burman  heard the tracks, and it charged him up enough to go to San Francisco and record an album. It was carnival season when Pancham landed in San Fran’on June 15, 1984. The atmosphere there inspired him so much that he composed the tracks Carnival and Caminando almost immediately. One evening, they visited a disco where Burman’s and Jose’s joint collaborated In Every City was played. He recalls how all the people started dancing, and then how they all clapped at the climax. He was so moved he almost cried. All the artists on Pantera were significant musicians, and it also included vocalists from diverse backgrounds – a Japanese, a Puerto Rican and an African-American.

rdburman-smallRahul Dev Burman was quite ahead of his time, and his music came with a harmony, uniqueness and an integrity. Often been credited for revolutionising Bollywood music, he successfully blended Latin sounds, cabaret, psychedelic vibes and disco and funk styles. He experimented with an array of new sounds with great execution, and developed songs that went to become massively popular with the audience. But even after 331 released movie scores, he was awarded a total of only three Filmfare Awards, one of which was awarded posthumously (for 1942: A Love Story). [3]

In 1995, Filmfare Awards constituted the Filmfare RD Burman Award for New Music Talent in his memory. Pancham da’s death in 1994, after a massive heart attack, left a void in the Indian film music industry, but even over two decades later, his lilting melodies and soulful tunes continue to inspire and influence musicians and music aficionados alike. Hindi film music is forever indebted to him.

Referencing and recommendations…

Top picture…Sachin Dev Burman with his son, Rahul Dev Burman. Image owned by Penguin India (rediff.com)

B&W picture…Hare Rama Hare Krishna Director-Actor Dev Anand with Rahul Dev Burman (thequint.com)

[1] Zeenat Aman did her schooling in Panchgani and went to University of Southern California in Los Angeles for further studies on student aid, but she could not complete her graduation. Upon her return to India, she first took up a job as a journalist for Femina and then later on moved on to modeling. One of the first few brands that she modeled for was Taj Mahal Tea in 1966. She was the second runner up in the Miss India Contest and went on to win the Miss Asia Pacific in 1970.

Dev Anand offered Zaheeda (his second heroine in Prem Pujari) the role of his sister in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Not realizing the importance of this secondary role, Zaheeda wanted the lead female part (eventually played by Mumtaz) and she opted out. Zeenat Aman was chosen as a last-minute replacement. Her hip looks in Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) as the girl carrying a guitar, singing Churaliya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko (over Asha Bhosle’s voice) has won her more popularity and the hearts of millions of fans.

Zeenat Aman unfortunately had to deal with domestic violence in both her marriages. Sanjay Khan, her first husband, had reportedly bashed her up leaving a permanent scar on her eye, and vision problems. Her second husband Mazhar Khan also reportedly harassed the actress physically. A brave Aman dressed up as a village girl with a burnt face when she approached Raj Kapoor’s office, when he was finalising his heroine for Satyam Shivam Sundaram. He was so impressed and proud of her dedication, that he signed her right then.

[2] Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Vinod Mehra, and Danny Denzongpa.

[3] Out of RD Burman’s 331 released movie scores, 292 were in Hindi, 31 in Bengali, 3 in Telugu, 2 each in Tamil and Oriya, and 1 in Marathi. RD also composed for 5 TV Serials in Hindi and Marathi.

Bappi Lahiri – Mausam Hai Gaane Ka (Gun Master G9) Surakksha O.S.T.

GunMasterG9_Seven45rpm_02Gunmasterg9_Seven45rpm_01Columbia 16540 Year 1979 India

So I just recently returned from a short but incredible trip into country India, which I’m just refusing to let go of at the moment. The experience was one I’ll never forget because of the people I met, the things I saw, and the sounds I heard.

Somehow, in the little city known as Pushkar, a small record shop appeared, something I was not expecting to see, and a lovely man named Shashi, sat behind the counter. Now my knowledge of Indian music is very thin, especially in the Bollywood genre, which is what a lot of the shop stock consisted of. But after a few days of drop-ins, and some great recommendations from the shop keeper, I started to comprehend the realisation that there were certainly some records that needed to come back home with me! While most of my wins were marvelous, colourful outlandish soundtrack LP’s, I did also manage to bring home a few 7″s, including this one by prolific and renowned “disco king” Bappi Lahiri, that I thought I should share.

Bappi Lahiri_02Bappi Lahiri was born in Calcutta, West Bengal in 1952 into a family with a rich tradition in classical music. His father, Aparesh Lahiri was a famous Bengali singer and his mother, Bansari Lahiri was a musician and a singer who was well-versed in classical music and Shyama Sangeet. His parents were determined to teach their only child in every aspect of music, and by the tender age of three, Bappi began to play the tabla. At the young age of 19, Bappi began his career as a music director, and received his first opportunity in a Bengali film, Daadu in 1972. The first Hindi film he composed music for was Nanha Shikari in 1973, and only 2 years later it was Tahir Husain’s Hindi film, Zakhmee that brought him to the heights of Bollywood fame, also bringing forth a new era in the Hindi film industry. Bappi rose from strength to strength, and the music for his subsequent films Chalte Chalte and Surakksha were tremendously popular, placing Bappi on the pedestal of stardom, and making him the youngest music director of his time to have attained such intense success in such a short duration.

Surakksha, which I think translates as “Protection” in Hindi, was directed by Ravikant Nagaich and released in 1979. The film stars Mithun Chakraborty as CBI Officer Gopi, Ranjeeta Kaur, Jeevan, Jagdeep, Iftekhar, and Aruna Irani. Based as a spy thriller (with the hero’s code of Gunmaster G9, as opposed to 007), it was the first of a two of such films with Chakraborty in the lead, the other being the sequel Wardat. The success of Surakksha made Chakraborty a huge commercial star.

Bappi-Surakksha_Seven45rpm_02I have yet to watch this film in it’s entirety, so I’m just summarising the plot through other sources here. The evil Shiv Shakti Organization (SSO) intends to spread terror in India. The trouble starts when a plane manned by Captain Kapoor is attacked by a stream of deadly signals forcing the plane to land. The missing agent gets replaced by a look alike, but Officer Gopi, aka Gunmaster G-9, who was assigned by the Central Bureau of Investigation, is on to it!  But there are obstacles, including Priya Varma, played by Ranjeeta Kaur, who’s out to investigate her father’s death, supposedly by Gopi, and who’s determined to seduce and enslave him. Gunmaster G-9 must also battle other women, venomous snakes, gangsters, kidnappers and even a robot-human. The fast adventures continue with wild stunts and car chases, but of course there’s always an opportunity to dance with scantily-clad girls, before there inevitable meeting with the patchy-eyed SSO chief Doctor Shiva .

PremaNarayan02Actress Prema Narayan who plays Maggie, is quite the attractive star who has quite an established Bollywood movie career, appearing in close to seventy films. Originally an English teacher in a convent school, she later opted for  a modelling career and was crowned Femina Miss India World in 1971. Besides being noticed for her acting prowess she was also appreciated for her western-style dance numbers. A fine example of those said dance moves can be witnessed during the song Tere Jaisa Pyara Koi Nahin in Hotel. She was also a regular feature in lower-grade horror films including Mangalsutra, Saat Saal Baad and Ghabrahat. Mithun Chakraborty made his acting debut with the art house drama Mrigayaa (1976), for which he won his first National Film Award for Best Actor, and to this day has appeared in more than 350 films. Most famous for his lead role as dancer Jimmy in the 1982 super-hit film Disco Dancer, he is particularly recognised as one of the best “dancing-heroes” in Bollywood with his unique “Disco and Desi” fusion-style dancing that is immensely popular among the masses. The 1981 Gunmaster sequel Wardat, was even more high action with giant locust plagues attacks (brought on by evil men who plan to black market farmer’s grains), a new hunch backed super villain called Jambola, more gadgets and even flying cars!

AnnettePinto-bappiThe title track Mausam Hai Gaane KaAlong, includes the popular singer Annette Pinto, who would provide her voice talents on the Gunmaster sequel a few years later as well. Her dynamic voice really delivers a huge cinematic, almost Morricone-like characteristic quality to this opening titles track, and has to be the perfect introduction director Nagaich could have wished for! She went on to release many more sizzlers with other producers also, including Handsome Man from Mr. Bond in 1992 (composer-duo Anand-Milind and brother Anand Chitragupth), the hot disco Love Me Now for Hemant Bhosle and the film Barrister in 1982, and the cheeky Hello Darling with Rajesh Roshan, from the film Telephone in 1985. She also stars on the absolute incredible title track for The Burning Train from composer Rahul Dev Burman, where you feel like she’s channeling Yma Sumac! I will feature that one soon!

Surakksha also marked Bappi Lahiri’s entry as a singer, where he would provide his voice talents onto four of films compositions, including the second track on this EP, Dil Tha Akela Akela, which incredibly sounds like The Stones’ As Tears Go By! In fact throughout his career Lahiri has been accused of plagiarizing music produced by other composers without giving them any credit or royalties. I was actually surprised at first, when listening to a bunch of his records, at just how many covers he did, not realising that they were apparently original compositions. Ironically portions of his song Thoda Resham Lagta Hai were included in the song Addictive by American R&B singer Truth Hurts in 2002. Copyright holders sued Interscope Records and its parent company, Universal Music Group to the tune of more than $500 million. But lets not take any praise away from this talented producer/musican. His interpretation can sometimes be wonderful takes on well worn classics (have a listen to Meri Jaisi Mehbooba from Baadal) that can only make you squeal with delight.

Morchha-BappiBBappi Lahiri would go on to release literally stacks and stacks of LP’s, and so far my standouts-latest discoveries include Karate, Wanted Dead or Alive, Morchha and Dance Dance…or big sounding soundtracks! Along with Biddu (who had the international breakthrough in 1974 with Kung Fu Fighting with eleven million records sold), Lahiri helped popularise disco music Indian style. The pioneer of disco beats with his refreshing, vibrant, and rhythmic music had the entire nation dancing for decades. He has also worked with renowned singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, had paved the path to fame for Alisha Chinai and Usha Uthup through his compositions, and has sung alsongside Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. In fact a barrage of popular singers have sung songs composed by Bappi Lahiri in a career spanning for 40 years in over 600 films in over 5000 songs. Bappi received an award in 1990 from the then Indian President Giani Zail Singh for the best musical score in the film Thanedaar and was invited by Ex-Prime Minister of India, H.D. Deve Gowda, to compose a song for the World Football Tournament in Calcutta.

Lahiri disappeared from the Indian film industry in the 1990s though he tried a brief comeback in the Prakash Mehra produced Dalal starring Mithun Chakraborty with the song Gutur Gutur which was a big hit although it had its share of controversies due to its suggestive lyrics. Thereafter he focused on bringing out albums with remixes of his earlier songs, and to this day appears on guest spots for popular TV shows, with the occasional film role. Lahiri is famous for his constant desire to reinvent himself and face the challenge to keep up with the rapidly changing preferences of current generations. He is the complete entertainer and superstar with his multiple talents as a singer, music director, and percussionist! I feel I have only scratched the surface of what this man has done for Bollywood music, and the damage to dance floors he is responsible for all around India.

References and recommendations…

Bappi Official

Seven women

Prema Narayan – Interview

Christy – Deep Down (Danger: Diabolik OST)


Parade PRC 5052 Italy 10 Jan 1968

For many years I’ve been a huge fan of those dark Italian cinematic soundtracks from the 60’s and 70’s, but If I had to specify a period in my life where it all started, I have to honestly say it was way back in my childhood. Growing up in the 70’s, occasionally those great spaghetti westerns were screened on the TV, if very late, on a Saturday night. And while I was most of the time permitted to sit alongside and experience these great films with my papa, I somehow doubt I would have lasted the distance at that time of night. However the dramatic opening titles definitely pulled me in, and they stuck and still are quite memorable for me today. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was one of those films, and it so happened that my papa also owned the picture sleeve 45 (the Hugo Montenegro version) which I would play over and over.

But it wasn’t until many years later, as I was growing up and started to dig deeper into the heart and soul of music, did I start realising the great names and achievements of these composers. Nino Rota, Armando Trovajoli, Piero Umiliani, Piero Piccioni…these and many more were true masters of the genre. But there is no argument that it is Ennio Morricone who is the ruler of the castle, who stands tallest without a doubt, on that high cinematic mountain.

One of Morricone’s strongest elements of his work has to be depth and atmosphere, and in the 60’s, there was a plenty of it. Many of his compositions and film scores were immersed with very deep, haunting and many times sensual flavours. Moody female vocals would be key, and were often used as background instruments rather than lyrically. Now while this Morricone sound is famous today, and those vocals are such an important and recognisable ingredient, it’s still difficult to find out a real lot about these incredible singers, as is the case with Christy (and also Edda Dell’Orso from previous post). Luckily I have a few friends who are big fans (such as Brendan Young aka dj Diabolik) who have been able to give me a few leads to follow.

Chrsity-runMaria Cristina Brancucci was born in Rome on April 20, 1940. In 1966 Morricone took her into the recording studio to lay down some vocal tracks for Sergio Sollima’s feature La Resa Dei Conti. It was a big spaghetti western that deserved a big opening title track, which she provided so appropriately with Run Man Run. The film falls under the subgenre called Zapata Westerns (spaghetti westerns with some political context usually concerning the Mexican revolution) and was co-written by long time Sergio Leone collaborator Sergio Donati. With Tomás Milián who plays Cuchillo and bounty hunter Jonathan Corbett, who is played by Lee Van Cleef, it is today considered as one of the best Italian Westerns ever made due to its tightly directed staged scenes and genius score. The English release, The Big Gundown, would also provide an alternate English version of “Run”, but I definitely lean more towards the more pure Italian version.

Chrsity-ConneryIn 1967, Christy calibrated with Morricone for the spy spoof OK Connery (re-titled Operation Kid Brother for the US). The plot involves an evil criminal named Thanato, who is bent on taking over the world, using a magnetic wave generator that will cause all metal-based machinery to grind to a halt. However, the secret agent normally assigned to such tasks isn’t available, so they engage his civilian brother, Neil, who is a world class plastic surgeon, hypnotist, and lip reader, which turn out to be precisely the skills required for thwarting Thanatos. Sean Connery’s brother Neil, actually plays the role of the surgeon, and the film includes a bunch of familiar bond faces including Bernard Lee, the original M from the Bond series, and the original Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell. Former Miss Rome and Miss World 1960 runner up Daniela Bianchi, is also starring in the wild romp and she sizzles just as you would hope and expect from an Italian beauty queen!

In 1968 Christy would be called upon again for another western, Tepepa (also known as Long Live the Revolution and Blood and Guns), this time directed by Giulio Petroni. The film stars Tomas Milian as the Mexican revolutionary leader, Jesus Maria Moran a.k.a. Tepepa, and in opposing roles, Orson Welles as Colonel Cascorro, and John Steiner  as Doctor Henry Price, who saves Tepepa from the firing squad in order to exact personal revenge for the death of his fiancée. Christy provides the fitting dramatic Al Messico Che Vorrei, again with Morricone at the wheel.

Diabolik-AngelaLucianaGiussaniIn the late sixties, Christy’s 7″ release Deep Down was recorded for Mario Bava’s diabolical Danger: Diabolik masterpiece. If you happen to be a fan of pop mod spy action films, then this is your movie! It’s bizarre Italian cult cinema at it’s best, and needless to say, it’s legendary with Italian genre film buffs. But even before the 1968 cinematic hero existed, the myth was well and truly alive in the form of a long running controversial pocket sized publication entitled Diabolik. It was created by former secretary, editor and model Angela Giussani, who founded the Astorina publishing house, a company that was limited to board and Western card games. Angela really studied the market and concluded that many commuters liked to read mystery novels. She imagined a magazine commuters could read during their trips, that was entertaining yet intriguing, with breathtaking action.

danger-diabolik-2Inspired by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantomas, Angela and her younger sister Luciana, who had now started working with her, came up with the handsome masked criminal, who would be seen really as an anti-hero for grown-ups of both sexes. The first issue had a dark yet vibrant cover of a masked man in the background and a woman screaming in the foreground, with the subtitle “Il fumetto del brivido” (The comic book of terror). This really highlighted that the publication was aimed at an audience of grown-ups, who likely preferred noir novels, something rather unique for those times when comics were considered as light entertainment for kids. Luciana collaborated with her on the series’ stories starting from issue #13, and the exciting adventures evolved. Diabolik was soon a successful working man’s super hero which has sold more than 150 million copies since he made his first appearance.

In the Dino De Laurentiis produced feature film, John Phillip Law plays the “master sports car racer, master skin diver, master lover”, Diabolik, and the stunning Austrian Marisa Mell plays his girlfriend Eva Kant. The movie is a real trip. It’s got that great 60’s vibrant Technicolour palette, over the top action and charismatic characters, and like its De Laurentiis companion Barbarella, it’s damn sexy! (1*)

danger-diabolik-4So the plot in a nut shell is. After an armored car leaves the bank with ten-million dollars, Diabolik manages to attack and steal the money, escaping with his partner. He heads back to his secret underground electronic hideout where he decides to steal the famous Aksand emerald necklace for Eva’s birthday from the Saint Just Castle. He out smarts the law, as he has done so many times before, and succeeds, but gangster Ralph Valmont finds a way to kidnap Eva and holds her up for ransom. With the ten million dollars and emerald necklace for trade, Diabolik sets off to the rescue. Eva makes her escape and Diabolik kills Valmont, but this time he is trapped and faces a shiny gold plated death. The police find Diabolik and proclaim him dead, but soon it is revealed that he has in fact faked his death through a technique taught to him by Tibetan lamas. He returns to life, however if he does not get the antidote within 12 hours, he will die. I think I’ll leave it there and keep you all hanging, so you can go out and find a copy to see how it all unfolds for the anti hero.

danger-diabolik-5The film is typical of a De Laurentiis production, and while some just can’t see the beauty in this genre, tagging it as camp and cheese, I seriously love this kind of film making. For me everything works as it only could have, in that late sixties era of cinema history. And when the psychedelic spiraling open titles kick in, again we have the great Christy-Morricone collaboration with Deep Down. This time, as opposed to her previous more expressive soundtrack recordings, Christy is far more subtle with her approach. It’s actually very sensual and her vocals riding nicely up alongside the distorted whaling guitar that brands the composition. Don’t get me wrong, she stills sings with her gusto and passion, but this time it’s the whispery voice that really draws you in here. The genius of Morricone shines in this perfect collaboration. Some may find this surprising, but this Parade 1968 single featured, is the only vinyl to be officially released from this infamous underground cult film. The word on the street is that all masters and recordings of Morricone’s work for the film were destroyed in a studio fire. An “unofficial” soundtrack on Sycodelic in 2001 was released but it is believed that these recordings may have been ripped from a laser disc edition of the film, as some sound effects and dialogue are evident throughout. What you will find on this release are 3 alternate versions of Deep Down performed by Edda Dell’Orso (featured on my last post) and the incredible psychedelic Valmont’s Go Go Pad and Underwater Wah-Wa. Crazy fabulous stuff! This featured isolated Diabolik single is flipped with the unconnected Amore Amore Amore, which was produced by Piero Piccioni for Alberto Sordi’s 1967 film Un italiano in America.

Maria_cristina_brancucci02Deep Down is such a great little 7″ and a bit of a shining gem in my collection, obviously because it’s an important piece of Diabolik history, but also because I just love this song so, so, so very much. It’s not too difficult to find and it plays nicely for those early cocktail sets. Deep Down was recently covered by Mike Patton on his Mondo Cane Lp, and there’s some great clips online, in particularly the live footage at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, you may want to search. Whether fans agree if Patton gives the song it’s deserved justice or not, I don’t know, But I have to say, once those horns kick in on that live version, the hairs do rise!

In the late 60s Christy recorded more pop songs (including a great version of Quando Quando Quando) and ended up a popular Italian TV variety artist for a number of years. Today she’s now a well known voice actor, who dubbed Barbara Streisand’s voice for the Italian version of Funny Girl, and has worked on countless animated films including The Princess and the Frog, Anastasia, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, The Three Musketeers and The Lion King 3.

(1*) The release of Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik lead to a minor trend of adaptations of comic strips that emphasized mild sado-masochism and late 1960s fetish gear. These films were followed up with Piero Vivarelli’s Satanik (1968), Bruno Corbucci’s Isabella, duchessa dei diavoli (1969) and Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga (1973) which had a Piero Umiliani soundtrack.

Black and white photo. Angela and Luciana Giussani, the creators of the comic book Diabolik, in their studio, 27th September 1966 (photo credit unknown).

Danger: Diabolik! Trailer

Recommended reading… Anna Battista’s irenebrination


Edda Dell’Orso – Kukumbe (Le montagne della luce)

EddaDellorso_Seven45rpm_02EddaDellorso_Seven45rpm_01 Ricordi SRL 10781 Italy 1975

As the saying goes, behind every great man, there is a great lady, but there was more than one that strengthened one particular composer’s work if we’re talking about Morricone. A key element so important to his sound, Morricone would expose and you could even say, flaunt his leading ladies up front in the mix down, even if they were at the time providing background sounds or atmospheric vocals.

I’m going to parallel two posts celebrating two important women with names that are synonymous with Morricone, particularly from the 60’s and 70’s, when that era of his film scores were infamous for that beautiful sensual psychedelic and at some times haunting sound. But I also want to present other composer’s that all contributed to that now distinctive classic Italian cinematic sound if that time. This post I’ll be looking into an Edda Dell’Orsa composition she undertook for one of those other composers, and with a follow up post, I will pursue a journey into the works of Maria Cristina Brancucci, also known as Christy. As always, I wish I was able to enlighten you all with more information about Dell’Orso’s musical journey, but facts and life details are a little mysterious and not too easy to come by. However I will go through a bunch of my favourite Edda tracks and touch on some of those great composer contributions.

Edda Lucia Sabatini, was born in Genoa, Italy on February 16, 1935 and married pianist Giacomo Dell’Orso in 1958. She studied singing and piano at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome from around 1958, and in time she would possess a beautiful soprano voice with a three octave range that would stamp many now legendary composers work.

Morricone_GoodTheBad_AndTheUglyAround the mid sixties, Morricone was the first composer and conductor to use her astonishing voice for a feature film, and with immense artistry, he created unforgettable innovative vocal lines and sound effects. One of those early soundtracks was for Sergio Leone’s 1966 Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and it includes one of the most celebrated Morricone’s themes, The Ecstasy of Gold, which is played while Tuco is frantically searching a cemetery for the grave that holds $200,000 in gold coins. This amazing piece of cinematic music has been covered from Yo Yo Ma to Metallica, but as famous as this soundtrack is today, Edda was actually was uncredited for her part.  The soundtrack album was on the charts for more than a year, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard pop album chart and No. 10 on the black album chart. The main theme was also a hit for American musician Hugo Montenegro, whose rendition on the was a No. 2 Billboard pop single 2 years later in 1968.

This was an incredibly busy period for Dell’Orso recording from film to film, studio to studio. Westerns were of course very popular after the success of A Fistful Of Dollars, and the hard working Dell’Orsa kept providing the goods, including the very moving titled track C’era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) for Sergio Leone in 1968, another Morricone partnership (1*). Again in ’71, another fitting title track with the quirky Giù la testa for Leone’s Duck, You Sucker! (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite and Giù la testa), but she also worked far beyond the Italian West.

DellOrso-mission-stardust-cropIn 1967 Dell’Orso scores the opening swinging title song Seli, for the Italian science fiction film Mission Stardust (…4 …3 …2 …1 …morte), composed by Antón García Abril & Marcello Giombini. Some fans of the genre consider this offbeat film so appallingly bad that they playfully deny its very existence, however this rare soundtrack is also called a masterpiece by many jazzy lounge aficionados, which I tend to support. The next year Dell’Orsa contributes to the infamous Danger: Diabolk soundtrack, offering 3 alternate versions of Deep Down…The Shower, Eva’s Holy Dress and the tripped out, whimsical Emerald Bikini version. The title track was performed by Christy, another female legend of the Italian cinema soundtrack that Morricone liked to work with. 1969 offered up a true classic Dell’Orso-Morricone cooperative, with Metti una sera a cena for the Italian drama film of the same name, directed by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. One of my favourites.

Dell’Orso moved into another film genre with the thriller La stagione dei sensi (Season of the Senses), bringing with her the lovely bossa styled Una Voce Allo Specchio. The title track for Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s 1969 drama, Metti, Una Sera A Cena, is classic and rich in Dell’Orso spices, and was covered a few years later quite nicely by Milva. The 1967 chilling score for Bruno Gaburro sci-fi  post-apocalyptic Ecce Homo I Sopravvissuti, which gave Morricone an alternate opportunity to get down low into the darker side of Dell’Orso’s vocal soul, and the outcome is a soundtrack which offer varied versions of Venuta dal mare throughout, that all raise the hairs. Staying on the horror theme, Dell’Orso contributed to two films by Italian shock horror director Dario Argento, the first in 1970 called  L’uccello Dalle Plume di Cristallo (The Bird With Crystal Plumage), and then for Perche Si Uccidono? (Why Do They Kill Themselves), a film essay about drugs and self-destruction. For the latter 1976 film, the score was a collaboration with composer Fabio Frizzi and instrumental band Goblin (often used by Argento), under the pseudonym of Il Reale Impero Britannico.

Dellorso-Svezia Inferno E ParadisoNewDell’Orso was also providing her voice for other prominent, mostly Italian composers of those times, and was also a key figure of the I Cantori Moderni choir, which was founded by Morricone’s childhood friend and composer Alessandro Alessandroni (2*)(3*). Piero Umiliani was one composer that regularly worked with Edda & I Cantori Moderni, and some of the best Dell’Orso work came from this collaboration. One of Umiliani’s most recognised tracks is Mah Na Mah Na, which he did for Svezia, Inferno E Paradiso, a 1968 pseudo-documentary about sexuality in Sweden, which ironically was later popularized by Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Another Umiliani-Dell’Orso standout is the fuzzed up Le isole dell’ amore, for the 1970 film with the same title, which to be honest I know absolutely nothing about! Another soundtrack worth mentioning from the same year, is the impossible to find whacked out 5 Dolls for an August Moon, originally titled 5 Bambole per la Luna d’Agosto, and directed by Mario Bava (4*). Also check out the very chic Luna Di Miele, which was recorded for the documentary directed by Mino Loy and Luigi Scattini called Questo Sporco Mondo Meraviglioso, and includes whistling by Alessandro Alessandroni.

So lets now move on to the feature 7″ which was recorded for Giorgio Moser’s TV special Le Montagne Della Luce. Kilimangiaro is a beautifully produced composition with Dell’Orso’s trademark atmospheric artistry. Arranged by Gianni Oddi and composed by Romolo Grano, this track alone is well worth the effort it will take to find this rare thing. However while the titled A side was probably the selling point, it’s the magnificent B-side Kukumbe, that I think is the dynamic and most grooviest track she’s worked on. Big breaks, fender rhodes, jazzy trumpet, congas and top scat vocals by Edda, all amount up to a very sizeable and rhythmic killer production. I’ve been fortunate enough to play this on a big sound system and it was real fun! That bass drive grooves very nicely with that back beat. Now if you’re hoping that there’s a few Dell’Orso 7″s that you need to get a hold off, well in fact as far as I know there are only a few officials, one other being an earlier release from ’69 titled Sospendi Il Tempo, for the psychodrama La stagione dei sensi.

EddaDellorso_01NewDell’Orso would continue to record for many soundtracks and collaborate with many musicians. There was a very pertinent chemistry delivered in 1974 when Dell’Orso voice was utilized quite significantly on Italian master guitarist Bruno Battisti D’Amario’s album Samba Para Ti, which includes the beautiful spaced out Show Samba and the frantic upbeat Playa Sin Sol. The following year proceeded with a second team-up album called Granada and includes the standout upbeat latin dancer Su Delicia and a very cool version of Ipanema. In 1976 she worked alongside her hubby’s brother Gianni Dell’Orso, and laid down the sexy discotheque track Night Magic for Mondo Di Notte Oggi (directed by Gianni Proia), a soundtrack which has some nice funk moments, in particular on Soul Meeting.

Many years later in 2011, Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi released Rome, a soundtrack for a non-existent movie, that took five years to record. Obviously die hard fans of that era of Italian cinematic sound, the producers had their hearts set to develop the sound and process as authentic to that time as possible. The album was recorded using only vintage analogue recording equipment and musical instruments frodellOrso-I CANTORI MODERNIcropm the 1960s and 1970s. They also took the opportunity to reunite Alessandroni’s Cantori Moderni choir, who had not performed together since the early 1980s. Dell’Orso’s beautiful voice can be heard on the Theme of Rome track. The album also features vocals by Norah Jones and also Jack White who also provided the lyrics for his three songs. Even more recent, Dell’Orso was picked up by Alex Puddu, another true devotee of Italian vintage sound, to work on his 2013 album Registrazioni Al Buio, where she laid down 3 very smooth tracks (5*).

To try and cover all the composers, producers and productions Edda Dell’Orso worked with especially in the specific 60′ to 70’s period, would be a bit of a feat, and true fans will agree that I’m really only scratching the surface here. Her work is the epitome of intelligence and sophistication and she is the sound of Italian cinema, and remarkably she still continues to perform today with her strong distinctive voice. And obviously there’s a lot more we can talk about, regarding those great Italian composers that she worked with, that thankfully are now getting the praise they have always deserved. In time I’m hoping to cover a special selection of favourite cinematic Italian 7’S, but for now, stay tuned because there will be a follow up post tomorrow, celebrating another Italian female legend of the cinema soundtrack, Christy!

(1*) Edda Dell’Orso performing C’era una volta il West live in 1982.

(2*) Alessandroni  was an accomplished whistler, and he can be heard quite famously on numerous Leone’s western soundtracks, and also was responsible for THAT twangy guitar riff that is central to the main theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

(3*) I Cantori Moderni, was an eight-to-sixteen person vocal group featuring Edda Dell’Orso, Giulia De Mutiis (Alessandroni’s first wife), Gianna Spagnuolo, Augusto Giardino, and Franco Cosacchi.

(4*) Mario Bava’s work from the “golden age” of Italian horror films is said to have kick-started the giallo film genre and the modern “slasher film”. He was also a special effects artist and had all director, screenwriter, and cinematographer credits for many movies including Danger: Diabolik, Planet of the Vampires, The Whip and the Body,  Black Sabbath and Kill, Baby, Kill to name but a few.

(5*) Dell’Orso with Alex Puddu band captured live in Copenhaghen.

Research and referencing…

The Sixth Dimension

The Vinyl Factory


Albert Collins ‎– Defrost – Thaw Out

AlbertCollins_Seven45rpm_02AlbertCollins_Seven45rpm_01Hall Records 45-1925 US 1964, Hall-Way Records S-1795 US 1963

Track 1: Defrost 1963 Track 1: Thaw – Out 1964

Albert Collins was born on 1 October 1933, and was raised by two farming parents in Leona, Texas, approx. 100 miles north of Houston. He was introduced to the guitar at an early age through his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, also a Leona resident, who frequently played at family reunions. In 1938 his family relocated to the third ward district in Marquez, eventually settling in Houston in 1941, where he later attended Jack Yates High School. Collins initially took piano on lessons when he was young, but during periods when his piano tutor was unavailable, his cousin Willow Young would loan him his guitar and taught him the altered tuning (that he used throughout his career). His idol when he was a teen was Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff, but the growing teenager made the decision to concentrate on learning the guitar after hearing Boogie Chillen‘ by John Lee Hooker.

AlbertCollins_002Aged 18, Collins started his own group called the Rhythm Rockers (a seven-piece group  consisting of alto, tenor, trumpet, keyboards, bass, and drums) in which he honed his craft. But Collins would still hold his jobs which around this time, included working on a ranch in Normangee, Texas for four years, followed by twelve years of driving a truck for various companies. In 1954 Collins, then aged 22 and still without a record release, was joined in by the 17-year-old Johnny Copeland who had just left the Dukes of Rhythm (a band he had started with Houston blues musician Joe “Guitar” Hughes).  Collins started to play regularly in Houston, most notably at Shady’s Playhouse, where James “Widemouth” Brown (brother of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown) and other well-known Houston blues musicians would meet for the Blue Monday jams.

By the mid 1950s he had established his reputation as a local guitarist of note and had started to appear regularly at a Fifth Ward club called Walter’s Lounge with the group Big Tiny and The Thunderbirds. The saxophonist and music teacher Henry Hayes had heard about Collins from Joe “Guitar” Hughes. After seeing him perform live, Hayes encouraged Collins to record a single for Kangaroo Records, a label he had started with his friend M. L. Young. Collins recorded his debut single The Freeze b/w Collins Shuffle, for Kangaroo Records at Gold Star Studios, Houston, in the spring of 1958, with Henry Hayes on saxophone. Shuffle is an upbeat rippin R & B groover while Freeze, in contrast, is a slow but deadly creeper with sharp plucking knife cries that Collins is so now renown for. What an incredible wax debut, and a sure definite sign of things to come from this master!

That debut 7″ really was just the begins of a long run of singles which Collins would release the next few years, for regional labels. Conflicting research is telling me that he’s big million seller Frosty (though it apparently never landed on any national chart, so it’s not easy to check that claim’s veracity), happened for him in ’62. However it looks like the release date for that one was in fact in ’64, after being recorded at Gulf Coast Recording Studio, Beaumont, Texas, for Hall Records. Owner Bill Hall, had signed Collins on the recommendation of Cowboy Jack Clement, a songwriter and producer who had engineered sessions for Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash at Sun Records. Possibly there’s an earlier pressing that I can’t find any info on?

In 1963 he recorded De-Frost, a low grinding icy cool instro that burns like cold fire. With driving percussion, keyboards and horns, it’s embodies and slowly devours the listener. From that very first guitar note, most blues lovers will pick that technique and sound, and call out “The Master of the Telecaster”. The following year in 1964 he recorded Thaw-Out, which is likely a reworking of De-frost, but this time the driving is now the ploughing! The shards are deadlier and sharper, and let me tell you that this is one for the early keen dance floor, who are eager to warm up the bones.

During this period, even more of Collins’ song titles were uniquely associated with freezing temperatures, like Tremble (1964), Sno-Cone and Dyin’ Flu (1965), Don’t Lose Your Cool and Frost Bite (1966). These singles, along with his cold, crisp guitar technique, earned Collins his nickname “The Iceman.”

AlbertCollins_003In ’65 Collins’ debut LP, The Cool Sound of Albert Collins (TCF-8002), was released by Hall. Mainly a collection of his singles with the exception of some label additions, Kool Aide (another De frost reworking?) Shiver N’ Shake the very sophisticated Icy Blue. In ’69 the Blue Thumb imprint repressed it with a new title and cover upgrade as Truckin’ with Albert Collins. Through the rest of the 1960s, Collins pursued his music with short regional tours and recordings for other small Texas labels while continuing with his work day jobs. In 1968, Canned Heat’s Bob “The Bear” Hite, had a very strong interest in the guitarist’s music, and took Collins to California, where he was immediately signed to Imperial Records. By later 1968 and 1969, the ’60s blues revival was still going on, and Collins got wider exposure opening for groups like The Allman Brothers at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and playing the San Francisco psychedelic circuit.

Collins didn’t have a lot of success in the most part of the seventies and actually hid into retirement as a result. It was his wife that pushed him back up on his feet and just as well! In 1977 he was offered a record deal by Bruce Iglauer of Alligator records in Chicago, which led to his most successful release Ice Pickin’. It won the Best Blues Album of the Year Award from the Montreux Jazz Festival, and was nominated for a Grammy. Finally it was time for Collins to receive some of that overdue and so well deserved success. With his new signature backing band the Ice Breakers, he would release successful “cool” themed LP’s, and take home a bunch of awards. In 1987 he won his first Grammy Award for Showdown, an impressive three-way guitar duel with Johnny Copeland and the newcomer Robert Cray.

Collins’ technique, his “attack” guitar style, and his minor tunings, were incredibly influential. In the live setting he was known for his showmanship, and his stage presence was legendary, with his famous “guitar walks” into the crowd. It was not unusual for Collins to conclude his concerts with a grandiose exit from the stage by walking straight through the crowd (with the use of his legendary 150 foot guitar cord) and out the front door of the venue, to stand in the middle of the street wailing on his guitar while bringing the city traffic to a halt.

The Iceman was robbed of his best years as a blues performer, after a three-month battle with liver cancer that ended with his premature death on November 24, 1993. He was just 61 years old.

References and recommendations…

Encyclopedia of the Blues  By Edward Komara

Graded on a Curve By Joseph Neff

AllMusic biography by Richard Skelly


Charlie Feathers – Can’t Hardly Stand It.

CharlieFeathers_Seven45rpm_01CharlieFeathers_Seven45rpm_02King 4971 US Year 1956

Track 1 – Can’t Hardly Stand It Track 2 – Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby

In the music world, earning a legendary status doesn’t necessarily stem from hits, success and riches. Such is the case with the highly influential and respected rockabilly wonder, Charles Feathers. Yet this unique talent who was there in the Sun sound booth spurring on a young Elvis, never even saw a billboard credit.

Charles Arthur Feathers was born in Slayden, Mississippi, just outside of Holly Springs, on June 12, 1932. Growing up on his parents farm, he became interested in music at a young age, singing in church and regularly tuning in to WSM’s ‘Grand Ole Opry’. The Opry was where young Charlie would find his earlier influences like Bill Monroe, but he’d was also picking up on the sounds of the Negro sharecropper’s who worked the fields in the Mississippi backwoods. One field hand in particular, Junior Kimbrough, introduced him to the acoustic guitar, providing him with valuable lessons which he eagerly absorbed.

By the age of nine, Feathers had become an adept guitarist and was beginning to develop his unique vocal style, which likely was patterned after that of his hero Bill Monroe. Honky tonk great Hank Williams’ MGM recordings of the period also impressed Charlie greatly. He could understand and appreciate the feeling in Hank’s lonesome hillbilly whine, and it soon rubbed off on him.

Charlie CharlieFeathers_001left school at a very early age, after the second or third grade, likely around 1948. He struggled finding any employment, so he traveled to Cairo, Illinois to work the oil pipeline’s with his father. This work later took him to Texas where Charlie, guitar in hand, hit the honky-tonks and juke joints in his spare time, providing him with valuable experience in playing the live circuit. In 1950, 18 year old Feathers moved back to Memphis where he got hitched. He also started working for a box manufacturer until a bout with spinal meningitis left him hospitalized. While bed ridden, he listened to the radio incessantly, and would emerged from his stay with drive and determination to become a professional singer.

By 1954, Feathers was working his way into the confines of Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, with an eye toward getting something released on Sun Records. He filled in whenever and wherever he could, helping with arrangement ideas, even playing spoons on a Miller Sisters recording, Someday You Will Pay. He soon scored a very important writing credit along with engineer-steel guitarist Stan Kesler on the Elvis 7″, I Forgot to Remember to Forget. Released on August 20, 1955, this Sun 7″ is flipped with the gorgeous Junior Parker song (billed as “Little Junior’s Blue Flames” on the Nov. 1953 Sun release) Mystery Train!

CharlieFeathers_007Phillips decided to start up a non-union label called Flip to test out new local artists. He paired up Feathers with country session songwriter-musicians Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and released Charlie’s first single on that label, Peepin’ Eyes, flipped with I’ve Been Deceived. Released in April 1955, the record did reasonably well on regional charts, selling approximately 2585 copies in that first month (1). An eager Phillips brought Feathers back into the studio on November 1, 1955 for a second session.

January ’56 saw the release of titles from that session, Defrost Your Heart and Wedding Gown Of White (Sun 231). Phillips had complete faith with Feather’s latest release, but obviously disappointingly surprised with the unexpected low amount of units sold (approx. 919) this time around. The lack of success was certainly a unjust mystery, as some would say the two tracks were just as strong as Charlie’s Sun predecessor. As Feather’s contract was due to expire soon, Phillips was unwilling to renew his commitment to him for a second term, as he was now devoting much of his time to Sun’s latest stars, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, whose flames were shining far more brightly than Feathers’.

But the artist had bigger visions. Now tired of being cast in the hillbilly mould, and eager to record rockabilly, Charlie set about reforming his band in order to cut this new sound (2). Booking studio time for January 31st, the band headed to 706 Union where they cut four proto-rockabilly styled numbers, Honky Tonk Mind, So Ashamed, Frankie And Johnny and Charlie’s own Bottle To The Baby. But the shackles tying Feathers to a hillbilly stereotype proved difficult to break and the hope to convince Phillips to extend his contract with Sun for another term, seemed hopeless. But luckily for Feathers, his talent had not passed completely unnoticed.

Les Bihari, head CharlieFeathers_002cropof Sun’s cross-town rival Meteor Records, who had become aware of Charlie’s rockabilly intentions and unique talent, invited him to visit his studio on Chelsea Avenue to cut a demo session. Along with lead guitar player Jerry Huffman and Jody Chastain, who had switched from steel guitar to string bass, they laid down the two-sided rockers Tongue-Tied Jill and Get With It. Acetates of the two songs were sent back to Phillips who was, by all accounts, uninterested in either song but, particularly Tongue-Tied Jill, which he considered degrading to the vocally impaired. But Bihari on the other hand, showed a keen interest, and coupled both songs for release in June (Meteor 5032), both on a 10″ and a 7″ in 1956. Despite the quality of the record and the surprisingly good sales, royalty statements were poor, prompting Huffman to state “The first check was such a pittance. We told him (Bihari) what he could do with it”. Now, with no contract, the trio began to flounder. That is, until they were approached by Syd Nathan’s strong Ohio based independent label, King Records. Alerted by a Memphis based distributor for King who had heard the Meteor disc, Nathan dispatched King’s country division A&R head, Louis Innis, to the southern locale to audition Charlie and his band. An immediate contract was organised, and with the ink barely dry, a refreshed group were in King’s Cincinnati studio to cut their first session for the label on August 18. Four tracks were laid down with dirt and authority, and it is here that Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly flame burns best.

His gift was apparent from the beginnings, and his 1956 King releases were all shine from the get go! The first King release for Charlie is my standout Feather’s 45, with the flaming echo laden Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby on the A side, and the infamous flipped out flip, Can’t Hardly Stand It (King 4971 October 1956).

Well, the sun’s gone down
And you’re uptown
And you’re just out runnin’ around
I can’t hardly stand it
You’re troublin’ me
I can’t hardly stand
It just can’t be
Well, you don’t know, a-babe I love you so
You got me all tore up, all tore up…

The lines are simple, but the infatuation is deep. Feathers sings this broken ballad while drunk on love, and I can’t help but feel, that if that little lady could only hear this howling call out on his six string, she would have him back in a smack! God I love this! Even his guitar feels sadness, like that of a loyal dog when he knows his master is feeling lost. One bass, one guitar and one bruised man, and you have an iconic Feathers classic. Again, many years later covered by The Cramps, and with that great electrifying shock wave manner that The Cramps do so well, but this song belongs to Feathers, and it’s him inside and out! From that same one day session, One Hand Loose and a reworked Bottle To The Baby (King 4997 December 1956) was released and is another two sider, filled with hot twangy stuttering goodness!

Very soon after, another four titles (3*) were cut in the studios on January 6th, 1957. Louis Innis oversaw the session and attempted to polish Charlie’s sound, by adding a vocal group fronted by Johnny Bragg. This cleaner “country pop” result I think it’s fair to say, didn’t really complement Feather’s style nor did it improve Charlie’s rockabilly reputation. In an attempt to expose Charlie to a wider audience and possibly sell more records, he was booked to play gigs with Sun label luminaries such as Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Record sales were a defining factor to a performers success, so when Feather’s King records were still selling poorly, he was dropped from the company’s roster later that year.  

CharlieFeathers_004Feathers had signed a one-off deal with Charlie Kahn’s Kay label in Memphis late in ’58, and  traveled to the WHBQ radio studio in Memphis to lay down four sides in December. After eighteen months away from a recording studio, Charlie’s originality had not worn away, and his fire was still well and alive, as the wild and glorious Jungle Fever proves (Kay 1001). But this searing rocker, along with the other 3 tracks recorded (4*) would not see the light the of day until June 1960. Kahn did not seem to appreciate the originality of the recordings, deciding to leave them in the can for almost two years.

Maybe it was an itch, or maybe built from frustration, but Feathers took a sharp turn off the rockabilly highway in ’59, when he teamed up with former Sun session men Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, to record two folk inspired numbers Dinky John and South Of Chicago. These refreshing songs harked back to Feathers’ Bill Monroe influence and out shone the bland, typecast folk material of the day, yet Hi label boss Joe Cuoghi declined to push the recordings. Not to be easily thwarted, Charlie hawked the songs to Walter Maynard, who eventually put the record out in July 1960 on his Wal-May label under the pseudonym of Charlie Morgan.

CharlieFeathers_003Feather’s would continue to release a handful more 7’s, with various willing labels. Some notables are Wild Wild Party, released in December 1961, Johnny Burnette’s Tear It Up flipped with the fab Stutterin’ Cindy, was released in ’71, and Uh Huh Honey in 1973. But by this stage of his career he was performing to ever dwindling crowds, and his priorities shifted elsewhere, like car racing and softball. As Billy Millar illustrated, “…Charlie gained such a rep around town as a top fast pitch hurler that many of his teammates were unaware of his musical exploits”. But Charlie was never far from his guitar and tape recorder. He would continue to record and perform throughout the 70’s and 80’s and even release a bunch of 7’s on his own private Feathers label, which were sold at his concerts. And in ’91 he released a self titled album, his final recording.

On August 25, 1998 Feathers suffered a stroke and was admitted to the St. Francis I.C.U in Memphis. Falling into a coma a day later, his condition deteriorated and he passed away on August 29. His passing was of course a sad loss to his family and friends, but also to his many admirers worldwide.While he may never have achieved the chart success that he well deserved, his legacy is concrete and will continue to spread tomorrow and the days after.

“Rockabilly is different. Nothin’ can touch it, man; and it don’t take a big band to do it…a lead man and a good acoustic rhythm and a big slap bass. Can’t beat it, man!” Feathers was a true die hard  believer of the “religion” til the last day.

1* Shortly after the Flip disc was launched onto the market, Phillips was forced to re-release the record on Sun proper (Sun 503), as he was threatened with legal action from one Ed Wells (owner of the Flip label) over improper use of label name.

2* With steel guitarist Jody Chastain brought into the fold, and very likely Jerry Huffman as the guitarist and one Shorty Torrance as string bassist.

3* Too Much Alike, When You Come Around, When You Decide and Nobody’s Woman.

4* Why Don’t You, and Jody Chastain’s release My My with instrumental flip Jody’s Beat (Kay 1001).


Black Cat Rockabilly

Rockabilly The Twang Heard ‘Round the World – Robert Gordon

Tip Top Daddy – Charlie Feathers, His Life and his Music by Shane Hughes


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