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.
Aged 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.”
In ’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…
Track 1 – Pretty Little Girl Next DoorTrack 2 – Buzz Buzz Buzz
Okay, first thing’s first…Robert Byrd, alias Bobby Day, of the Hollywood Flames, who were formerly The Flames, is not to be confused with Bobby Byrd of the Famous Flames, who were formerly…The Flames…got that? Good!
Robert James Byrd was born July 1, 1928, in Fort Worth Texas, and moved to Los Angeles in 1947. His first vocal group, The Flames, originated in 1949, when all members were in there teens. They all met at the Largo Theater in Watts at a talent show given by the theater’s owner, which brought together many singers from various high schools in Los Angeles.
Bobby strung together tenor David Ford, second tenor Willie Ray Rockwell and eventually Curlee Dinkins, who sang baritone and bass (Byrd would sing bass, baritone, tenor). They quickly learned how to sound pretty darn good together, and as they all needed to earn some dosh, they decided to brave up to an audition they had heard about at the Johnny Otis owned Barrelhouse. They started winning a few prizes here and there and were offered a few little jobs, sometimes making five dollars each.
The Flames existed from 1949 to 1966. In that time, they recorded under a bewildering variety of names (Four Flames, Hollywood Four Flames, the Jets, the Ebbtides and the Satellites), for a bewildering number of labels, with a bewildering cast of personnel.
In ’57, Byrd penned and recorded the great, Buzz Buzz Buzz, (Earl Nelson on lead) as The Hollywood Flames on Ebb. When the song became a hit, Bobby found out that he didn’t have any publishing rights and only half the writer credit…and never received any money owed to him. That same year with his back up group the Satellites, he also wrote and recorded (as Bobby Day) the fab foot tapping hand clapping Little Bitty Pretty One, released by Class in August. Popularized with success for Thurston Harris, whose release beat Bobby’s out the gate, it reached No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B chart…but I much prefer Bobby’s!
But the next year Day was the first to record Leon Rene’s (under the pseudonym of Jimmie Thomas) Rock-in’ Robin…the perfect counter attack, and Day’s most recognize and successful recording, which became Number 2 hit on the Billboard charts! Its flip, “Over and Over,” was a hit in its own right, and a cover by Dave Clark Five in ’65, brought a much more hip, modern youthful version back to the dance floors!
Bobby Day went on to partner with Earl Nelson and recorded as Bob & Earl from 1957 to 1959 on Class.
Moving on to 1963, and Bobby releases the incredibly uplifting Pretty Little Girl Next Door on RCA. I’m sure everyone reading this, has one song that they can rely on, that will always bring themselves a big damn smile, no matter what life is throwing at you! This is mine! From beginning to end, it’s a quite the pleasant build up. With it’s sweet caterpillar like beginnings, it quickly sprouts it’s wings and soars! The slinky groove grows, and it soon smothers you. And I’ve proved that this song can and will draw everyone within a kilometer radius of your turntable, onto your dance floor. Day gives it his all…he really shines in this one, and of course those gorgeous female backing vocals brings it all into perfect harmony! Imagine seeing this performed live by Mr.Day in ’63!
And on the flip, what a delight to have a revisit of his early Buzz Buzz Buzz! Just as great as the original, however this version may have a slower tempo, but certainly holds a stronger groove…and much more developed for the early sixties hipster dancers. Both tracks produced by genius Jack Nitzsche!
Bobby Day died from cancer on July 27, 1990, in Los Angeles and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. He was survived by his wife, Jackie, and four children. He may not have had the successive chart success he very well deserved (he never achieved another Top 40 Hit apart from Rock-in’ Robin), but in my book, he was just as important as the best of them, especially with his major part in the early days of doo wop! He always lifts me, and Pretty Little Girl just makes me drunk with happiness!
Essential reading for a very in-depth and thorough journey with Bobby Day and his Hollywood Flames, by Marv Goldberg…The Hollywood Flames.
Caprice 120 US Year 1963
Born Alonzo W. Lucas, 16 August 1914, Pritchard, Alabama, Buddy moved to Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of three. In years to come, a good neighbour noticed the young 11 year old’s interest in music and gave him a clarinet. This kind act must have been the true begins of where it all really started for Buddy! In the late 1940s he went to New York City, where he met drummer Herman Bradley, who helped him get his gigs and record dates.
But it wasn’t until ’51, when Lucas would make his first vocal recording on Soppin’ Molasses, for Jerry Blaine’s Jubilee label. Jubilee specialized in rhythm and blues and was the first independent record label to reach the white market with a black vocal group, when The Orioles recording of Crying in the Chapel reached the Top Twenty on the Pop charts in 1953. Lucas became leader of the house band and renamed his combo “The Band Of Tomorrow”. Scoring a #2 hit on the R&B charts in 1952 with the slow revived Diane, may have given the saxophonist some attention, but the flip Undecided is far more foot tapping and exciting! This set the pattern for most of his following Jubilee singles : a lush ballad on the A-side and an R&B sax led instrumental on the flip.
Lucas had one other hit on Jubilee, Heavenly Father (I Love You is the much preferred flip), sung by Edna McGriff (# 4 R&B in 1952), before moving on to RCA and its subsidiary Groove. Releasing a handful of 45’s, including the raw Greedy Pig, my pick of this bunch would have to be the Groove two sider My Pinch Hitter (along side Almeta Stewart, who I honestly have to say, I do not know enough about) and of course the great flip I Got Drunk! The title alone tells you that this here track was always going to be good! Also No Dice (flip to High Low Jack), should NOT be ignored, as Buddy really gets the opportunity to have some sexy fun with his sax and harmonica skills here!
From ’56 to ’57, Buddy had seven 45’s released on Bell Records, a budget label specializing in covers of the big hits of the day, including Hound Dog….okay stuff. BUT also in ’57, he comes out with the hammering Bo-Lee, on the Luniverse Records label. Established in 1956 by struggling songwriters Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodma, but ceasing production in 1959, this label, with a few exceptions, were nearly all Buchanan-Goodman titles. As much as I admire Budy’s instrumentals, I think his vocal releases are just the bomb, as is the case with Bo-Lee!
in 1958, he became the nucleus of the Gone All Stars, George Goldner’s session band for his Gone Label. Fun stuff, but no real earth shaking releases, well especially compared to the previous Luniverse monster.
Carlton released Beulah in ’59…fantastic stuff, but incredibly similar, if slightly more bizarre, to Bo-lee!
Many more releases were to come in the next few years from Lucas on various labels including Vim, Tru-Sound and Pioneer (I recommend Get Away Fly on the latter label), but let’s move to 1963 and this mind blowing Caprice release!
At just age 28, Gerry Granahan became the youngest record executive in the music biz to that time, when he formed his own company, Caprice Records. He was a former disc jockey at WPTS in Pittston and in 1957, he was the first white artist on the Atlantic’s subsidiary label, Atco. He had a lot of success with numerous solo and group projects (including as pseudonym Dicky Doo and the Don’ts and group The Fireflies), but in 1960, he found being a performer, composer and producer for all his different acts, was too much to handle and realized his future success would come from sitting on the other side of the desk. Granahan had used Buddy’s talents on some of his own previous recordings, so it’s no surprise he brought him over to his new label. I can’t really find out much about the Gerry Granahan Orchestra that accompanies Buddy’s composition. While the label did have some major successes (and why this track wasn’t one of those I’ll never understand…although I have to suspect poor marketing perhaps?), the label folded in ’63 due to some dodgy “off the books sales” from a business partner.
I Can’t Go is an absolute Big Buddy gem! He writes about finding love and fame, and not holding onto to either tight enough. It’s blues…I guess…but so contradictorily upbeat! The cheeky keyboards, the wriggling bass and the outstanding dry production are all perfectly synced. Sometimes I really struggle to understand how music can be this great! And I’d love to find out who is responsible for the fabulous backing vocals…perhaps again former Granahan collaborators?
After researching this great musician, it seems evident that Buddy is much more known and credited for his prolific tenor sax and harmonica contributions, than as the cool cat vocalist that he certainly was. And he did put down some mean grooves with plenty of talent. In the 50’s he worked with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and also with Little Willie John on his remarkable Fever take! He would work with blues and soul queens Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone! He would also get wild with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Smith and Count Basie. It’s obvious that here was a man with incredible talent to share, and I’m sure many friendships were made in his lifetime. And while his recording credits can be all laid out to a point without too much unraveling, it kinda saddens me that I can’t seem to find out much more about the man himself, behind those great notes, with such an important historic relevance to soul and blues. There must be interviews out there somewhere with either himself or collaborators. Even some photos?!
Buddy would continue to work with countless more musicians including Hendricks and George Benson, offering his harp and sax skills. In 1980, Buddy had his right lung removed after cancer was discovered, but continued to play alongside his old friend Herman Bradley, that he meet back in the ’40’s. In December 1982, due to ill-health, he finally had to give up doing what he loved most. He passed away on March 18th, 1983.
Referencing Dik from Black Cat Rockabilly
Also great Buddy discography here at Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Roll
…and here at WangDangDula
And some definitive reading on Caprice Executive Gerry Granahan
Jubilee 45-5459 US Year 1963
Track 1 – You’re No Good Track 2 – Don’t Call Me Anymore
If there’s ever a 7″ that deserves an A for “attitude”, then this is it!
Jersey gal Delia Mae “Dee Dee” Warwick (sister of Dionne Warwick, niece of Cissy Houston and cousin of Whitney Houston) brings us this dizzying monster two-sider from way back in the early 60’s on Jubilee.
A young Dee Dee sang with her sister and their aunt in the New Hope Baptist Church Choir in Newark, New Jersey. Eventually the three women formed the gospel trio the Gospelaires, and at a performance with the Drinkard Singers at the Apollo Theater in 1959, the Warwick sisters were recruited by a record producer for session work and, along with Doris Troy, subsequently became a prolific New York City area session singing team.
Dee Dee began her solo career in 1963 cutting You’re No Good, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, then in ’64 on the Tiger Label, releasing the lovely ballad Don’t Think My Baby’s Coming Back, before signing with Mercury in 65.
Vee-Jay’s head a&r man Calvin Carter found You’re No Good while visiting New York City in search of material for his label’s roster and he originally intended to cut it with Dee Dee, but as he recalls, “when I went to rehearsal with the tune, it was so negative, I said, ‘Hey, guys don’t talk negative about girls, because girls are the record buyers. No, I better pass on that.’ So I gave the song to Betty Everett”. Still uncertain as to why there’s an exception when Betty sings it however, maybe it was her more “acceptable” feminine approach she gave it?
Dee Dee’s delivery and conviction is nasty on this little gem. The tempo is scathing, the backing vocals are damn sassy! The song hits you in the head like on old piece of hard timber….she’s letting you know! And just as you think you can’t take anymore, you soon discover the rusty nail in the form of some serious fuzz tone delivered by a short but intimidating guitar rant.
While this tune proved to be much more successful for Everett, which she released only 2 months later in November, (the single peaked at number fifty-one on the Hot 100, and at number five on “Cashbox’s R&B Locations” chart), I’m definitely a lot more infatuated with this dirty raw punchier version of Dee Dee’s from what I like to call her “early punk” R&B days. I don’t wish to ever take anything away from Betty’s take, which really is something special (it may start off quite sweet and slick, but it builds up and gets swinging, and she does finally get a bit worked up towards the end).
There’s only one thing better than a two-sider, and as in this case, two tracks that you could say relate to each other in subject (another great example is Ann Sexton’s You’re Losing Me flipped with You’re Gonna Miss Me). The flip Don’t Call Me Any More is simply great and again, hard hitting, and makes this 7″ release quite an interesting one, when in a time most soul songs were about love and sorrow in relationships, and not so much about attitude and angst.
On a sad note…
The more I research about these wonderful artist’s that gave us these incredible songs, too often I find that there’s another darker side to their story. Dee Dee Warwick struggled with narcotics addiction for many years and was in failing health for some time. Her sister was with her when she died on October 18, 2008 in a nursing home in Essex County, New Jersey, aged 66.
Other Dee Dee recommendations!
Dee Dee Warwick – Foolish Fool – Mercury 72880 Year 1969
Dee Dee Warwick – Cold Night In Georgia – Atlantic 2091-057 Year 1971