Track 1: I’m A Believer
Track 2: Rhythm
Leo Morris was born on November 13, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father was a banjo player (his family originated from Nigeria), and his mother was French, and he had three brothers and a sister that played drums, so it was inevitable that he would follow the same path. Leo remembers his first day at school and the moment his teacher gave him a drum instantly when she had learnt this kid was another “Morris”. And he can also recall his mother’s reaction when he walked in with yet another drum for the house.
Leo knew at a young age that music was going to be his life. One Mardi Gras day, some Dixieland guys came by seeking a drummer, and asked his mother if he could play on the back of this truck with these old musicians. Some how they convinced her to let the 9 year old go with them. They had a big bass drum and one snare drum and a symbol, and they built up some beer cases for a seat for him. “This kid can play” acknowledged one of the musicians, and after about six hours of touring through the streets of New Orleans, they started passing out money and gave the surprised kid two $5 bills.
In his early teens Leo was snatched up by Arthur Neville who had band The Hawkettes, and believes he was only chosen because all his other brothers were already working at that time. That was the launching of his professional playing career…playing rhythm and blues. They would back up all of the important artists that would come to New Orleans, including Big Joe Turner and Muddy Waters, and would go on the road with people like Fats Domino, Eddie Bo, Earl King, and Lloyd Price. Thanks to Joe Jones recommendation (who had the hit You Talk Too Much) he scored his first trip to New York as Sam Cooke’s personal drummer, and that was certainly an eye opener!
For a time Leo became Jerry Butler’s musical director, along with Curtis Mayfield (who was the guitarist) and was recording a lot of music in Chicago. Curtis put The Impressions back together (between 1958 and 1960 they performed as Jerry Butler & The Impressions) and made Leo an offer he couldn’t refuse, so he joined up. After about three and a half years, deciding that the Chicago winters were too cold, and the fact that his wife, who was the lead singer with The Crystals, was living in New York, he moved back to the big city. Working the Apollo Theatre at nights, Leo would cross over afterwards to the jazz clubs like Birdland, “just to hear something else”. This music was jazz, and he was experiencing it by watching Miles Davis and Coltrane, Cannonball and the likes. In an interview with allaboutjazz.com, he says…”I’d just be hanging around, listenin’ at what they were sayin.’ I was too young to have a drink in Birdland. They had a space in the club they called the Peanut Gallery. That’s where all the young people used to go and have a Coca Cola and listen to the music”.
One night he wandered over to the Five Spot to hear a guy that all the members in the band were talking about, who played three horns at one time…a cat called Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Completely amazed, Leo asked the drummer if he could step in and play one tune with Kirk. After the song had finished, Kirk turned around and said, “Who’s that on them drums? Keep that beat! Keep that beat!” Leo ended up playing the whole set. Night after night, he kept on attracting he right attention. American jazz trumpeter, singer, and composer Kenny Dorham spotted him and asked if he could do concert with him. After a couple rehearsals, he played the concert at Town Hall with Dorham’s band. Also on he bill on the same night were Freddie Hubbard’s band and Lee Morgan’s band who also wanted to know who this new young New Orleans “jazz” drummer was and how do we get him? “I had this rhythm no one else could play”.
Never playing jazz before, he was now “the” drummer to have. After playing in Betty Carter’s band with (George Coleman, John Hicks and Paul Chambers) he joined up with Lou Donaldson in 1967, who started as a sideman in more or less straight ahead jazz settings, but now had begun experimenting with more bluesy beat-heavy styles, and recorded a string of influential albums on the Blue Note label. The first LP (recorded April 7, 1967 and released August 1967 ) was Alligator Boogaloo, a classic jazz masterpiece that also included Lonnie Smith on organ George Benson on guitar. Leo record a dozen or so LP’s with Donaldson and Blue note in the sixties, and would continue to work with a barrage of other Jazz “gods” at this time. His collaboration with jazz saxophonist Rusty Bryant is standout for me (by this time Leo Morris had changed his name to Idris Muhammad upon his conversion to Islam). In 1971 he recorded on the Fire Eater LP for the Prestige label, releasing that killer 7″ edited version of Fire Eater which includes that furious break, and is always sort by collectors. He also recorded on the Soul Liberation and Wild Fire LP’s.
In 1971 Prestige released Black Rhythm Revolution!, Muhammad’s debut album in the driver’s seat, and would be accompanied by a double funk 7″ which include two strong covers, Charles Wright’s Express Yourself and James Brown’s Super Bad! Although perhaps considered less intense than the title might lead one to believe, the LP is the opportunity for Muhammad to express and reveal just what this man is capable of, a taste test of what is to come. Peace and Rhythm was released later that same year, and this one comes with far more praise from the enthusiasts. A dynamic LP with more of everything and everyone, it includes his regular line up of greats (Melvin Sparks, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Jimmy Lewis and others) but also in came with the new addition of his wife Sakinah Muhammad.
Sakinah Muhammad was a former member of The Crystals and back then was known as Dolores “LaLa” Brooks (she also converted to Islam with Idris). Brooks was the second youngest of 11 children, and first displayed her talent by singing gospel music in church. At age seven, she took part in her siblings’ gospel group called the Little Gospel Tears, where they sang in Brooklyn. She was discovered in an after-school program by Crystals member Dolores “Dee Dee” Kenniebrew and her mother, who invited her to join the girl group as a replacement for a departing member. The youngest member of the group, she joined when she was just 13 years old and only after 2 years she became the lead singer. Coupling La La’s strong voice with Phil Spector’s (pictured) Wall of Sound, the Crystals would become one of the defining girl groups of the 1960s. Her first hit as lead singer was Da Doo Ron Ron, a top 5 hit in both the United States and United Kingdom, and then was soon followed by Then He Kissed Me. The 7″ to track down in my opinion is the post Spector uptempo R&B killer I Got A Man, released in 1966 on United (flipped to Are You Trying To Get Rid Of Me Baby). There are a handful of versions of this song and all great, and I’m guessing the Sugar N Spice version as it has a 1964 release, is the original (although song credits differ on each release). There is a rare issue by Barbara Harris of The Toys released in 1965, which I’m almost certain is the same version officially released by The Toys the next year. Again, all nifty versions worth tracking down.
So back to the featured track I’m A Believer, in which I question, is even possible to find a more spiritually uplifting song ever? You have to realise when listening to this, the strength and bond Idris and Sakinah must have shared together. The chemistry between every band member is exhilarating. Idris’ complex rhythms somehow come across with such nimbleness and feels so unconfined. Melvin Sparks on guitar and Jimmy Lewis on bass, together collaborate as the backbone that allows Sakinah to express her beautiful vocal lines and melodies. As in many cases, the 7″ has a cut down version and only runs at just over 2.30 mins, where as the longer LP version is where the horn sections of Virgil Jones and Clarence Thomas have the opportunity to fly gracefully between the song’s blissful arrangements. It’s a song about belief in the Lord, but I also think it’s a song about having faith and hope when your life is falling into pieces, and maybe that strength will come through friends or family or perhaps something else. The very contrasting flip side to this moving soulful masterpiece, is Rhythm, a fiery Latin dance floor jumper, and a rowdy neighbour to I’m A Believer, but a welcomed partner that you like to visit on many occasions.
Sakinah would also contribute as lead on Brother You Know You’re Doing Wrong, a more uptempo song, again about standing up and dusting yourself off, when you’ve fallen down that wrong path. I’m almost certain this would be the last time she would appear on any Idris Muhammad solo recording, and I believe this is because of her decision to devote more time to their family around that time (she was also touring and recording for various artists such as the Neville Brothers, Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes, and guest starred on movies and soundtracks including the 1970 film Cotton Comes to Harlem).
In 1974 Idris released the respected Power of Soul LP. In a Modern Drummer 1996 issue, he himself called it his greatest record. “It’s only four tracks,” he said, “but the intensity of the rhythms I’m playing and how settled, and how swinging, and how hard it grooves is what makes it.” The Beastie Boys album “Paul’s Boutique” opens with a lengthy sample of Loran’s Dance, from that LP. Asked in an interview how he felt about other people using his music, he told Wax Poetics magazine, “It don’t really belong to me, man,” adding: “The gift the Creator has given me, I can’t be selfish with. If I keep it in my pocket, it’s not going to go anyplace.”
Idris Muhammad would ease nicely and successfully into the disco and boogie genres with following LP releases. As far a 7″s go, Turn This Mutha Out, taken from the 1977 LP of the same title, is a nice disco 45 to have, and can be found either as a flip to the great Could Heaven Ever Be Like This, or as a two sided Part A and B solo track. Beyond that, a few more releases into the early 80’s, but personally, not the era I really move in to.
I’m A Believer is a very treasured single, and I’m incredibly thankful that Sakinah and Idris joined together in a studio, to produce this jewel. When Sakinah sings a song about faith, love and worship, it is a true genuine piece of artistry that only this true believer could deliver. And regardless of your beliefs, you have to agree that with this kind of strong faith in music history, we have been gifted with some of the most beautiful and purest songs that soul music has to offer. I for one am very grateful for that, and I feel very honoured to have this much revered record in my collection.
Idris and Sakinah Muhammad had had two sons and two daughters together, and lived in London and Vienna before their marriage ended in 1999. Idris Muhammad died on July 29 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2014, at the age of 74. His cause of death was not immediately known, but Muhammad had been receiving dialysis since retiring to his native New Orleans in 2011. La La Brooks (as she now goes by publicly) also moved back to the United States and resides in the East Village and is a grandmother of seven. She released an album containing 14 new original songs in 2013, titled All Or Nothing and continues to perform across the world.
Referencing, researching and recommendations…
Jerry Lott a.k.a. Marty Lott, was born 30 January 1938, near Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in rural Leaksville, Mississippi near the Alabama border. As a kid he played country music on the school stage, which progressed to playing at Paynas Furniture Store in Lucedale, Mississippi. Jerry started entering and winning local performing contests, which led to touring, a familiar pattern to so many other artists on this blog.
But in 1956 when Elvis Presley came along, Lott’s eyes were pried opened, and his soul was charged with rock and roll. Country music was now the yesterday sound.
But Lott had written a simple yet sweet country love song, Whisper Your Love, which he says he spent a good 3 months putting it together. In the summer of ’58, Lott’s manager Johnny Blackburn, rented some studio time over at Gulf Coast Studios in Mobile, Alabama. Lott told Derek Glenister of New Commotion magazine in 1980, that someone had asked “What you gonna put on the flipside?”. Such was the naivete and innocence of the times, Lott had honestly never even thought about it. So he and the band shot form the hip on the B side! “Someone suggested I wrote something like Elvis ’cause he was just a little on the wane and everybody was beginning to turn against rock ‘n’ roll. They said, ‘See if you spark rock ‘n’ roll a little bit.’ It wasn’t any problem at all, and I wrote Love Me in about ten minutes”.
Lott continues with his story…”Me and Johnny Blackburn worked the controls in the studio, as we didn’t want it to sound like a commercial record, that was for sure. I put all the fire and fury I could utter into. I was satisfied with the first take, but everybody said, ‘let’s try it one more time’. I didn’t yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall. I’m telling ya, it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player’s glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes, he looked like he was hypnotized”.
The result is a lusty explosion of animalistic energy, and if it had been 20 years later, you’d call hard punk! A monster was born on that day in ’58, and to this day, it still hasn’t lost any of that almighty fury! Clocking in at around 1.30 min., it’s a fast roller coaster ride through to the depths of rock ‘n roll hell, and it feels even with the frantic energy that Lott releases here, he is struggling to keep up with the manic “full steam ahead” drive the rest of the band are pushing out. But back then, wild got you nowhere without a record deal in your hands. Manager Blackburn sat on the tapes for more than a year, unable to clench any label interest.
Lott, known at this time as The Gulf Coast Fireball, left Mobile for Los Angeles to shop his master tape around. Then one day, on a truly bizarre impulse, he trailed pop crooner Pat Boone to church one Sunday morning and convinced him to give the tape a listen. It sounds like Boone had now been converted or had some kind of other spiritual awakening soon after. It was Boone’s idea to rename Lott The Phantom, and even agreeing to issue the record on his own Cooga Mooga label (an euphemism for God, as in Great Cooga Mooga). Eventually Lott signed a contract with Boone’s management but the single Love Me b/w Whisper Your Love was released on the label Boone recorded for, Dot Records in 1960 (apparently Lott never even met anyone at Dot). It was also released with a nifty picture sleeve, which normally was reserved only for the really big stars, and which I still have to get my hands by the way.
The song Love Me was appropriately covered by The Cramps in the late 70’s and released on both the Drug Train 7″ in ’80, and on the Bad Music For Bad People Lp in 84. The raucous romp is so very suited for Lux and Co., as can be seen in early footage from June of 1978, when they played at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa, CA.
But the deserved success story never really amounted for Lott, and in fact life instead, would soon drag him down into a darker chapter. Sadly in 1965, Jerry’s wife took her own life, and shortly thereafter, in 1966, while still attempting to tour, The Phantom was involved in a near fatal auto accident in York, South Carolina. After his car tumbled 600 feet down a mountainside he was left paralyzed below the neck. Lott continued to write songs, but he never recorded again.
But you know what…plenty of “rockers” since, have been signed and have had deals, have hit the big stages and have recorded hundreds of hours of material, yet the majority, if not all of those songs, would crumble in fear if they came up against the wild young reckless animal that is Love Me! Jerry Lott passed away on September 4th, 1983 at the age of 45.
Jerry Lott (The Phantom) – Vocals
Frank Holmes – Electric Guitar
Pete McCord – Bass Guitar
H.H. Brooks – Drums
Bill Yates – Piano
Referencing and interests…
Rockabilly – The Twang Heard ‘Round The World – published 2011, Voyageur Press.
Express Compact ETP-4277 Japan 1970
Track 2 – A1 Yoru Ga Aketara
Maki Asakawa was a born in Ishikawa Prefecture, January 27, 1942. After graduating high school she worked as a civil servant for a short time before moving to Tokyo to pursue a far more inspirational career in music. She started by playing at United States military bases and cabarets, where she refined her style, which she says was largely influenced by Blues queens such as Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson.
In 1967 Asakawa made her debut recording, releasing Tokyo Banka with B side Amen Jiro on Victor. In 1968, Asakawa got her big break when she appeared for three days running at the Shinjuku underground theater known as Sasoriza, a project of underground playwright Shuji Terayama. She soon signed with Toshiba, and by the next year had released the very, VERY cool and slick Yo ga aketara (At the Break of Dawn) and Kamome (Gull) on Toshiba’s subsidiary Express label.
1970 saw this featured Asakawa release, which has as the B2 track, Chicchana Toki Kara. This wonderful, yet not easy to find EP, has to be my favourite from Maki, with it’s big beat drive, high energy horns and cinematic production. Every time I play this I get comments as to how hasn’t Tarantino used this track for one of his movies. It’s 70’s sex, has a good amount of sting, and would be the ideal punch for a strong femme fatale introduction. And having the slow swinging Yo Ga Aketara as the opening track makes this 7″ a real delight (that distant train at the end…I mean really, what a way to see out such a cool track). Just the thought of seeing this performed in a dark underground club of Tokyo by Maki and that time just does my head in. The smoke, the black, the neons and the distant traffic outside…not too difficult to visualize. But this wasn’t just a time for Asakawa’s musical exploration.
In 1971, Asakawa made her big screen debut when she played the stairway prostitute in Shuji Terayama’s experimental Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets. It was the first film for poet-playwright Terayama, and it was about an angst-ridden teen who hits the streets after dealing with his dysfunctional family. This hard to find movie has a strong underground following due to it’s non-linear Avant-Garde vision and amazing pre-punk psychedelic soundtrack. Asakawa’s recording of Nemuru No ga kowai is included amongst the tracks, and can also be found on her 1971 Maki II album, which by the way also include covers of Gin House Blues and The House Of The Rising Sun. That great LP also happens to include the incredible psychedelic Govinda (there should be a link below)…such a stand out Asakawa composition! The next year in ’72, Asakawa would release Blue Spirit Blues, and again here her voice somehow feels so right within the warm minor chords.
In 1973 Asakawa would this time hit the small screen on the dark Japanese TV Series Kyôfu Gekijô Umbalance. From what I can put together, she appeared in season 1 episode 7, and I’m almost certain the link below is the clip from that episode, where she plays herself singing Yo Ga Aketara, on a cinema screen in a dark seedy theater, and with the dark seedy characters to match.
Over the next 30 or so years, Asakawa recorded quite a lot of records, but it wasn’t all dark moody blues and folk jazz. I discovered the Catnap album through a favourite blog, Interstellar Medium – Foriegn Lavish Sounds, which you should hit up, for a far more detailed look into the great album. Released in 1982, it’s a colourful, bold yet smooth collision of electronic jazz funk post punk plus, and for myself, it was so exciting to discover this side of Asakawa. The opening track Kurai Me Wo Shita Joyuu and also Shinkyoku B are real high lights, if I was forced to choose. This album holds up to quite high to today’s very standard standards in my opinion.
As Maki Asakwa grew older, she never stopped performing live. Just before an appearance on January 15-17, 2010 where she had a concert in Nagoya, she died of heart failure before the show could go on. She was 67.
References and inspirations…
Slave Girl (Side 2 Track 2)
While this is a far lesser known track from the Farina brothers, this exotic sultry instro has to be my fav from this talented duo! And to find it on a 45, means I can now take it with me everywhere I go.
Farina brothers, Santo Anthony & John Steven, were born in Brooklyn, New York, just 4 years apart. Santo, the elder, was born October 24, 1937 and then Johnny followed, April 30, 1941. The boys were young when their Dad was drafted into the army and stationed in Oklahoma. One evening on the radio, he heard this beautiful accent while listening to country and western…it was the sound of the steel guitar. He wrote home to his wife and said “I’d like the boys to learn to play this instrument”. When he returned from the war they searched out for a man who could get them started with the steel. The boys, I imagine, probably jumped for the opportunity. What kid doesn’t want to play a guitar of sorts?
But although their dad was super keen to have the boys learn that very particular style that carried those unyielding memories, and although he was successful in finding a lap steel guitar somewhere in a music store in Brooklyn, there was no certainty that the right teacher who had the specific skills would materialize. After a few failed attempts from baffled music school tutors, who just lacked the know-how to master the “sound”, their frustrated dad searched himself and eventually found an authentic Hawaiian musician with the skills. The brothers finally had a teacher with the expertise, and thanks to some Italian food coaxing, he would tutor the boys at their own home. After about 5 months, the teacher headed back to Hawaii, and the brothers never saw him again, but he had left behind enough of his teachings for Santo and Johnny to now take flight…and spread their wings they did.
When Johnny reached the age of twelve, he began to play accompaniment to Santo on a standard electric guitar (his big brother helped him learn to play). Their supportive father had bought them a Webcor tape recorder, and encourage them to write their own material and record everything. The brothers eventually formed a duo and became rather popular in school, soon started performing at church dances, weddings, clubs and other events in the New York boroughs. The Farina brothers began to gather fans from Brooklyn to Long Island.
In 1958, Mike Dee & The Mello Tones (Santo Farina on steel guitar; Johnny Farina on electric guitar and with their uncle Mike Dee on drums) recorded a self-penned instrumental which they called Deep Sleep. Loosely inspired by the song Softly, As In The Morning Sunrise (Sigmund Romberg, 1929), it had the same chord progression but a simpler melody line. Deep Sleep would in time become Sleep Walk.
The determined younger brother, Johnny, made the rounds of the New York record companies searching for a publishing deal, with a couple of their recorded demos in hand. His persistence and determination paid off and they got lucky with Canadian American Records, who signed them to a song writer’s contract. Although grateful I’m sure, it was a recording deal which is what they were really chasing, and soon enough the opportunity was granted to them. Their first release in 1959 was consummated, and it was called Sleep Walk. And did it do well? Umm…yes it did! It was recorded at Trinity Records in Manhattan and entered Billboard’s ‘Top 40’ on August 17, 1959. The moody eerie composition rose to the No.1 position on the American charts, for two weeks in September, and remained in the ‘Top 40’ list until November 9. There’s a great live version from ’59 on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show, on youtube I recommend you looking for.
Santo and Johnny actually wrote lyrics to Sleepwalk, and after the instrumental was a hit song, Betsy Brye (real name is Bette Anne Steele) released a beautiful “lynchesque” vocal version as a single in 1959 (Canadian American Records 106), which did not chart on the Hot 100, but damn I like it! At first it was believed that the composition was written at 2.am early one morning, when one brother woke the other with an idea. But a recent interview with Johnny reveals that it was a long and constant progression of revisited ideas that finally got them the hit.
The follow-up song “Tear Drop” was also a hit, though their self titled LP released that same year, was less successful in the United States. But that takes nothing away from the lp, which was arranged and conducted by Bob Davie, who had been the guiding hand to all of Santo and Johnny’s musical activities. It included some fabulous interpretations of well known ditties such as Caravan, Raunchy, Dream, and there’s even a take on Chuck Berry’s School Days. And you have to hear the wildly hypnotic version of Summertime. But the standout for me at least, has to be the self penned Slave Girl, and it wasn’t that long ago that I made the discovery of it in the form of a mono UK 7″ EP. There’s just something so exciting about this wonderful piece of exotica. It’s slinky (yeah I know I like using that term), sensual, so rhythmic, and it’s quite transporting, but unfortunately it’s also just too short! It’s a fine early night spinner, to get the right kinda’ cool in the air. This ep also includes a gorgeous version of Blue Moon which makes it even more desirable. Also funnily enough, I recently found an Aussie copy with an alternate picture sleeve, in a local record shop bargain bin.
With their unmistakable sound, they appeared on all the top music shows, “The Alan Freed Show”, “Dick Clarks’ American Bandstand”, “The Perry Como Show” etc. etc. Their fame spread to other countries and they got booked on tours in Australia, Mexico and Europe. After the less successful debut album, they issued five more albums for Canadian-American, before the company dissolved in 1965. But Santo & Johnny continued to record and release a great amount of Lp’s and 45’s with other various labels including Imperial, Ricordi and Produttori Associati, the Italian label founded in 1969 by Antonio Casetta. The albums were ethereal, relaxed, sometimes swinging, and variously themed (James Bond, Hawaiian songs, country music, rock and roll hits, etc.), but were more popular internationally than at home.
In 1964, they released an album of Beatles covers including And I Love Her, which hit #1 in Mexico and held the spot for 21 weeks (they received The Golden Kangaroo Award for it). In 1973, Santo & Johnny recorded Nino Rota’s The Godfather theme which went to #1 in Italy and stayed at that spot for 26 weeks which broke all records in Italy (there certainly feels like some Jean-Jacques Perrey channeling going on in that one). They received a “Gold Record” in Italy and were inducted into the Italian Music Hall of Fame.
Santo and Johnny’s distinctive sound influenced a generation of not just guitarists, but all kinds of musicians. “Sleep Walk’s in everybody’s DNA,” says Farina. “John Lennon said he was inspired by Sleep Walk, and that’s why he wrote Free As A Bird. George Harrison released a song called Marwa Blues inspired by Santo and Johnny”.
1999 was a great year for Sleep Walk, it earned BMI’s Millionaires Award symbolizing 2 million airplays on the radio. Also that year, Brian Setzer’s version earned him a Grammy Award for best instrumental of 1999. Because of constant radio airplay and numerous TV show and commercial plays, Sleep Walk continues to be one of the most popular and quickly recognized instrumentals of the 20th century. It was also used throughout the 1992 Stephen King movie, Sleepwalkers.
In 2002 Santo & Johnny were inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Hanging proudly on his wall, Johnny has 2 Gold Records, one for Sleep Walk and on for The Godfather.
Santo retired from music in the early 70s, but Johnny continues to perform, now taking on the lap-steel role, and still finds time to record new material with his own band. He is also the president of Aniraf, Inc., an international record company based in New York, and currently operates the official Santo And Johnny website.