CD Collecting Is Next To Godliness….

I thought I would take a break from the usual blogging about semi-obscure artists and their recordings to tell you a little more about The Nerd, which is me. Specifically, how I go about CD scavanging and getting these wonderful CDs I write about.

First off, let’s be honest – like any person who “collects” things, sometimes I feel like my penchant for hunting CDs is actually a sickness or, maybe more accurately, a compulsion I cannot help. I have sometimes decided to buy CDs instead of pay a bill. Thankfully, these occasions are rare and usually I can control my spending, buying just enough to satisfy my herculean thirst for cool music without jeopardizing things like my home.

When I was a teenager and just starting to become obsessed with music, the way I would usually hunt down new albums was to start at the writer’s credits of the songs on the albums. For example, one of my favorite bands is the Rolling Stones. In checking out their records I would invariably find some songs written by a C. Berry or McKinley Morganfield. Well, most music fans would recognize these names as aliases of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. Once I figured these things out I would start by searching down those artists’ records and learning about them and their influences. I did that for just about every album I acquired, artists leading me to more artists, expanding my musical tastes as I went. I don’t collect much that way anymore, but I am still a compulsive liner note reader, as I believe most music freaks are. I am always scouring for more names, whether they be contemporaries or influences – anything to give me another lead to find music I might like.

Of course, collecting music can be much simpler than the way I do it. A music fan could just be interested in a certain artist and be determined to track down every release, whether it be import, domestic, single or album. Or, like some collectors I know, a person could just be fanactical about a certain genre, say metal, and be determined to seek out the very best stuff, no matter how obscure or rare.

I have noticed these days it’s getting easier and easier to find stuff you had to really search for years ago. Thanks to the Internet, the world is pretty much just an email or website away. Personally, unlike most collectors and music buyers, I don’t really use the Internet to find music I am looking for. I have always felt it was too easy. I take what I like to call a “zen” approach to finding music. I believe the music I am “supposed” to find is out there just waiting for me to get in the right store and find it. Being a music nut, I have a huge want list comprising many artists, genres, and traits. But when I go somewhere to search for music, be it flea market, garage sale, used CD store, thrift store, whatever – I am not trying to find anything overly specific. What I am looking for is for something to “jump out” at me and almost “command” me to buy it. It doesn’t have to be on my want list or anything, it just has to be something I think is going to be cooler than anything else I might find that day. Do I always have to leave a store having bought something? Not always, but I usually do. Any decent size store in my area (Charlotte, NC)- Manifest, CD Warehouse, Record Exchange, what have you – is going to have something I want, new or used, whatever.

I have found Charlotte, where I’ve lived for the past 11 years, to be a haven for music collecting. While only medium-sized, it is on the grow (damn, I should work for the city) and people moving here bring their CDs with them, only to trade them in when they buy an Ipod or if money gets tight. More people means better selection and I have found many rare items (especially Blue Note jazz)over the past few years I don’t think I would have found if not for the constant influx of new people.

Now, I have went to Atlanta several times and have tried to do some CD shopping at Little Five Points (I believe that’s what the area is called) and have found absolutely nothing each time I went. Maybe it’s not all about population – maybe Charlotte has something other places don’t, I don’t know.

So, is my music collecting jones sickness or passion? Often, I have no idea. What I do know is this – if you look hard enough in the music shops in Charlotte on any given weekend, you will find someone who looks just like me quickly flipping through the CD stacks looking for some sort of musical Holy Grail.

Just remember – if you find something cool for yourself in the stacks – I was there first and it wasn’t cool enough for me.

The Music Nerd Knows……

I Love A Good Organ

The title of this piece grabbed you, huh? Before you go and call the FCC or whoever controls that kind of stuff, I just want you to know I am talking about the musical kind of organ, specifically the Hammond B-3. Though I really dig the distinctive Hammond sound no matter who is playing, my favorite organist is Jimmy Smith.

Like most of the classic organists, Smith started his musical career by playing piano before moving to the Hammond, studying the piano at several prestigious music schools. Once Smith heard the organ, however, it was love at first listen (I would think he probably heard some great Fats Waller organ stuff) and he rarely deviated from the organ from 1951 or so onward.

In a mere five years, Smith had begun making classic albums for Blue Note – 1960’s Back at the Chicken Shack and The Sermon, released in 1958, being just two of them. Then, after leaving Blue Note in 1963 and jumping to Verve, he made yet another round of classic albums between 1963-1972. What made his records special was Smith’s fusion of his influences. And, no, I am not talking about jazz fusion – which I absolutely detest. I am talking about Smith’s fusion of gospel music and blues into a brand of music you can’t help but smile and tap your feet along with while listening.

While the two albums above are great examples of what Jimmy Smith does when he is at his best, you can pick up any album he made between 1958 and 1974 and be completely awed by the quality of the music. Disco and the wane of funk-jazz did him in for much of the ’70’s and ’80’s, but Smith always toured and re-gained a lot of his success when Europeans stumbled across acid-jazz in the late ’80’s. Before his death last year, Smith had rightfully become a legend and put out a string of great CDs in the ’90’s reminding us age has nothing to do with the decline of creativity. Take that, Paul McCartney!

You can always tell a Jimmy Smith record from the masterful bass-lines and chordal accompaniment – not to mention the thrilling solos – which just about alter your body, turning it into nothing more than an adjunct of Smith’s organ. How else can you explain the reason I have to start dancing, jitterbugging, and jiving whenever I listen to Smith’s music? And that just happens when I listen to his ballads! The uptempo stuff makes me move around like I’m on crack!

There are other great orgainists as well: Jimmy McGriff, Big John Patton, Larry Young, Joey DeFrancesco – and the list goes on – but all pay tribute to Smith whenever they turn their organs on.

If you are a jazz or funk fan and want to hear some of the best music of your life, please check out Jimmy Smith if you haven’t already done so. All the classics are out there, most still in print, and really anything you pick up with Smith’s name on it is going to be great.

Do you love your organ?

The Music Nerd knows…….

It’s Gotta Have A Hooks

As I sit here still suffering from computer woes, I have to tell you about a great little CD I heard a few weeks ago by the young soul artist Ellis Hooks.

It’s called Godson of Soul and it came out on the Evidence label last year. I ran into it a few weeks ago during one of my frequent record store CD hunting expeditions and it quickly became one of my favorite CDs.

Hooks is a relatively young (late 20s) Southern born gentleman who has the uncanny ability to channel Sam Cooke and Al Green whenever he wants to. That’s right: he plays vintage soul of the highest order but does it in-the-now, baby. This ain’t old sessions from an unknown found and released – this is the freshy fresh done with the old school flava!

Old rock hand and (I am sure) friend of co-blogger Gary Pig Gold (yes, Gary – Intercourse is what I am talking about – the album, that is!) Jon Tiven and his wife Sally have produced all of Hooks’ albums including this one and done an excellent job of capturing the old Stax and Hi Records’ sounds. Tiven himself is worth a few columns and his soul tributes on Razor and Tie featuring Gary Pig (among many others) paying props to Don Covay and Arthur Alexander are delightful.

But Hooks is what I am writing about today. By the way, search out his other three records. Most are on Evidence but I believe his debut from 1993 is out only as an import. I have searched them out in the past few weeks and they are all equally great.

To see a new artist go after the old sound and be unashamed about it is refreshing and wonderful as hell. Artists like Hooks and Joss Stone are giving me faith in the music business again. A bonus with Hooks is he can write some hellacious lyrics and with his good looks and talents there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to put the puzzle together and hit it really, really big. I believe he just needs an “in” right now – to do some work or a duet with some established artist on a “big” album. He could do it on his own, but let’s face it – he’s fighting all of the scum in the music business.

If you are a fan of old soul like Green and Cooke and would like to hear what they did done on a contemporary level without all of the Michael McDonald/Taylor Hicks/Michael Bolton cheesiness, check out Ellis Hooks – you won’t be sorry.

The Music Nerd Knows……..

Get The Hinton

I sit here today on a friend’s computer a sad, broken man after the remnants of a thunderstorm totally fried mine this past Sunday. I have pretty much lost everything I have ever written, that is to say, the originals, how they were before all the evil editors I have worked with in the past tried to ruin them, destroy my thoughts and ideas. I still have the print copies, expurgated and diluted as they tend to be. It is not enough.

It is in times like this when I turn to some pretty deep music to try to erase the evil thoughts in my mind. The ones telling me to kill.

Once again I turn to Eddie Hinton.

The last, and really, only great white hope of deep soul music, Hinton wrote songs like Dan Penn, sang them like Otis Redding and played guitar like Steve Cropper. Only better. He spent a lot of time in the big recording studios in the deep South when the soul music boom of the late ’60’s/early ’70’s was at it’s peak. He played and wrote songs for artists like Percy Sledge, Johnny Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, the Staple Singers and the list goes on and on. All this was just the start, though. It is where he shaped his sound and honed his craft.

All for one reason: to strike out on his own. He got his chance around 1977 or so. The original Capricorn label wanted an album from him and he was only too eager to deliver. He poured his heart and soul, his sweat and tears, everything he had into the album and it was released. And it was fucking great. Sadly, the label started experiencing legal woes around the same time and the album trickled out to almost no response whatsoever.

It broke him. Shattered his mind to the point he was a mere shell of himself. Another band followed and some recording time but soon he was homeless. A friend found him, luckily, and helped him regain a measure of himself and also helped him put out some records for Rounder Records’ subsidiary Bullseye. While decent, these albums are scattershot – his vocals worn and ragged and his songs mere sketches. His guitar playing remained genius, pouring out of what was left of his shattered soul.

He managed two albums before he found peace in 1995. What we have left are rare albums that are the hopy grail of soul music. I implore you to find anything with his name on it and study it. Inside those grooves are the soul of a man who could do anything before the music business ripped his life from him and left him a limp husk.

Keep an eye out for an exceptionally good 3 CD series of songwriting demos put out by Zane records of Austrailia. Google them and buy those CDs. Both works-in-progress and finished songs are featured and the CDs are riveting. Also find Hard Luck Guy which was released in 1997 on the revived Capricorn label. Twenty years after screwing him and two years after his death, the label released what may actually be his best album – comprised of what he was working on before his death, it is a bittersweet listen – he seemed to have located his genius and was on the verge of putting it all back together.

Listen to these albums before you sign that record deal. And anytime you just don’t feel good about what’s going on. They are classic cry in your beer albums from an artist who could have been a legend many times over. Part of me hopes you never get sad enough to appreciate them.

The Music Nerd Knows……

A Little Street Team Work

As I sit here ready to start a day full of article deadlines and some magazine consulting work, I have decided to ruminate on the next few blogs and who I will write about. A little pre-publication “street team” work if you will – you know, do some advance work and get you, the audience, ready for some prime obscure musician/recording writing.

In the next week or so I will be writing about several of my all time soul and jazz faves including soul great Don Covay (any of his albums are good, but there is one obscure blues-based CD he recorded under a group name alias I will be specifically talking about), Memphis soul titan Eddie Hinton (this guy was a genius who could do it all – write songs, play blistering guitar, sing like Otis Redding, and, sadly, have a mental breakdown so severe it cost him his career), organist and hero of mine Jimmy Smith, James Brown’s right hand man and funk-king in his own right Bobby Byrd, the original Do Right Man and brilliant songwriter Dan Penn, and maybe Polk Salad Annie’s best friend Tony Joe White as well.

As you can see, I am on a major soul and jazz kick lately. Over the past year or so I have really become quite bored with rock music. While I am an intense power pop and psyche-rock fan and may decide to do some writing about The Spongetones, Dungen, Willie Wisely, Jellyfish and others of that ilk, by and large most rock is leaving me cold. I am sure it’s just a phase. For a long while, and even continuing to this day, I was up to my earholes in great music as I embraced my inner banjo-loving redneck. While the feeling isn’t as strong, I still get exciting when bands like the Bottlerockets release new albums (which they just did, the album Zoysia on Bloodshot Records) and make tour stops around the Southeast.

There is so much great obscure music
out there, some of it released by major bands and just forgotten about. For example, did you know both The Tokens and The Four Seasons each released great, obscure, forgotten psyche-rock albums that rank right up there with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds? Bet you didn’t. Very little recent music makes me smile – but the underground stuff, whether it be vintage or new, is simply great to discover and I am hoping I can bring you to some new stuff that makes you travel down a whole different musical avenue.

Well, that’s it for today. Hopefully you know at least a few of these names, or maybe it’s even better if you don’t. Do a little homework this weekend and check some of them out. Their all great – I wouldn’t tell you about them if they weren’t!

The Music Nerd knows…….

Look at Howard Tate Run, Run

Ever since the millenium rolled around it seems the music gods pick one old soul star from the ’60’s or ’70’s to resurrect each year. They come complete with accolades and shiny new albums sounding as much like their vintage selves as they possibly can.

Think about it: Since the millenium, Betty Wright has resurrected herself as a producer and songwriter for the young, nubile soul star Joss Stone, helping Stone out for her two albums to date. Al Green reunited with his old producer Willie Mitchell and put out two collections of songs sounding almost exactly like his best Hi Records work (one of which, I Can’t Stop, is a modern-day classic). Solomon Burke put out the almost-perfect album Don’t Give Up On Me a few years ago on Epitaph subsidiary Anti and got some of the best reviews of his career. Under-appreciated soulwoman Bettye Lavette has turned out a few fantastic albums (the latest and best of which also released on Anti) in the last couple of years which have garnered tons and tons of praise (which they completely deserve, by the way) and uber-obscure cult singer Howard Tate has re-appeared out of nowhere to reclaim his career. A career he vanished from in the mid-70’s.

Out of all of these re-appearances and resurrections, Tate has, by far, the more interesting story. In the ’60’s Tate had sung gospel and had a stint as vocalist for organist Bill Doggett before branching out on his own. Together with legendary producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, Tate recorded some moderately successful singles and albums for Verve, Lloyd Price’s Turntable label and, finally Atlantic Records. By 1974, however, Tate had grown tired of his moderate success and simply vanished off of the face of the earth, at least as far as his musical career went.

Unlike enigmatic soulman Bill Withers who simply quit the biz and went back to carpentry when his hits dried up, Tate’s disappearance had to do with something more sinister than just a “retirement”. Tate’s problems had to do with substance abuse. For a long while, almost fifteen years, Tate was homeless, living on the streets, unrecognizable to the very public who had cheered him just a few years before. Thankfully, he eventually was helped, brought to a mission and straightened out his life. When he was rediscovered a few years back (by a soul DJ who got sick of people asking him what happened to Tate and decided to go and find him himself) Tate had turned his life around and was a counseler for the addicted.

Though Tate hadn’t sung in public for many years, he was soon reunited with Ragovoy for a new record that came out in 2003, the very good and aptly titled Rediscovered. Last year, Tate released one hell of a live record called Get It While You Can. Please search it out. It is one of the best live documents of a soul singer I have heard in years. Though it does lack a defining “go crazy crescendo”, it is very solid throughout and contains all of Tate’s hits like Look At Granny Run Run, Ain’t Nobody Home, Try A Little Bit Harder and Get It While You Can.

Redemption is always great to experience, whether it be your own or watching someone else who really deserves it get some. Howard Tate deserves all the accolades he can acquire in the time he has left (hopefully lots) and I hope he records a lot more and I hope you go out and try to hear some of his music because if you like classic soul, you’ll love Howard Tate. Check out his old stuff too. It’s hard to find but it’s all been reissued so just look for it.

Are you smart enough to Get It While You Can?

The Music Nerd knows……..

Still Searching for Bobby Charles

Just wanted to add a little more info about Bobby Charles that I forgot to put in yesterday’s blog.

If you are a fan of a newer artist by the name of Jack Johnson and have heard the soundtrack to the recent movie Curious George, there is a song by Johnson called “Upside Down” off of the soundtrack that is getting a lot of airplay right now. That song is very much like the style of Bobby Charles and reminds me of Charles’ song Small Town Talk off of his self-titled album on Bearsville I talked a little about yesterday. Charles’ album is hard to find but is well worth searching out. It is sublime.

It was exciting to hear the song by Johnson as I am surprised radio is interested in that type of sound. It’s very cool and after I get done listening to more of Charles’ music I may check out some of Johnson’s CDs.

That is all for today.

The Music Nerd knows…….

Searching for Bobby Charles

Though I see and understand the enormous benefits of the Internet, I have never liked using it to search for CDs to buy. I feel it’s too “easy” that way. I have always felt whatever music I have stumbled upon in a store (whether I have searched off and on for it for years or not) is somehow destined for me to find on that day, in that place. Sort of like the way some people (okay, maybe just me) will find a book on a bench or something and feel compelled to read it just because it is somehow there for YOU.

So, I guess the powers of the universe wanted me to listen to some Bobby Charles this weekend and I couldn’t be happier. I found the elusive songwriter’s self-released CD Last Train To Memphis in a used music store this past weekend and was excited as hell about it. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face and I am sure the confused clerk was only too happy to get my creepy ass out of the store.

First, a little info: Bobby Charles was a staff songwriter/recording artist for Chess Records and is the songwriter who gave the world songs like See You Later, Alligator and Small Town Talk as well as a host of other classics recorded by everyone from Bill Haley to Delbert McClinton. As a performer, he struggled, not getting anywhere despite constantly touring for his ’50’s and ’60’s Chess singles. He ended up being taken to school a bunch of times: being cheated out of song royalties, having a then-prominent indie label stolen from him (He helped form Jewel/Paula records after leaving Chess), and was just generally being mismanaged. He wound up near Woodstock NY in the early ’70’s and ended up cutting a almost-perfect self-titled record for Bearsville with members of the Band which sadly ended up getting neglected after management problems developed between Charles and Albert Grossman. The follow-up, an even better record (and if you hear how good the self-titled one is, you’d have a hard time believing anything could better it) was never released.

Since then, Charles has recorded sporadically, content to live on the Gulf Coast and write songs whenever the spirit moves him. Every once in a while, he emerges from the shadows to give the world a taste of what it could have had on a regular basis if only the world would have cared back when Charles did. The album I picked up this weekend is a 2 CD special edition of an album he released back in 2003 on his own label, Rice N’ Gravy records. It is pretty much a compilation of tracks he’s recorded over the years in various studios, with various people. The star power on here is a testament to how many music legends love Charles’ songs. People like Willie Nelson, Dann Penn, Sonny Landreth, Neil Young, Ben Keith and many others make contributions to this CD.

And it’s fantastic. The star power never outshines Charles’ ability to write a simple song that resonates like an earthquake. Like his compatriot Gulf Coaster Tony Joe White (he of Polk Salad Annie and Steamy Windows fame) Charles moves to his own drummer and I am just glad to be allowed to live on this earth at the same time Charles does. I will probably never meet him, see him, or interview him but his music has touched my life and made it better in ways only few have.

If you can, search out this man’s simple music (Stony Plain Records out of Canada is a good place to start – Google them) and see if it doesn’t move you the same way. It’s out there and may be hard to find but the best things in life are never easy to acquire.

Get working.

The Music Nerd knows…..

I’d Love A Mink Willy

Yes, yes, I know. I need to get back to doing these more often. Not a ton of time today, but I implore you to check out one of my favorite albums of all time: Le Chat Bleu by the band Mink DeVille.
Led by Willy DeVille, the band is long defunct (although DeVille himself still records on a regular basis out of his adopted hometown of New Orleans) but was once a part of the same New York City CBGB punk scene that spawned Blondie, Ramones and Talking Heads.
DeVille’s musical vision was slightly different than his brethren, though. Along with the vital street punkiness, DeVille added to his energetic rock a reverence for the classic pop of the Drifters and doo-wop in general, though the doo-wop part was more of a feeling than something he expressed musically. During its’ lifespan, his band recorded several albums of smart songs with lots of passion and plenty of guts. As albums, they were pretty good, though nothing really life-changing.
His music got life-changing when he started writing songs and running around with legendary Brill Building songwriting genius Doc Pomus, the man who wrote Save The Last Dance For Me for the Drifters and many, many hit songs for various artists, including Elvis Presley.
DeVille took the Spanish lilt (what I believe is called the baion beat) that Pomus specialized in and started adding it to his NYC street poetry. Together, the old legend and the young turk wrote songs that should have been all over the radio. The glorious result was Le Chat Bleu, a beautiful album that, sadly, was only released overseas at the time but eventually trickled back to the US through word-of-mouth. Recently re-released by Raven in Austrailia, the album has been expanded with a bunch of bonus tracks that somehow make perfection even better. The album is a smoky, rocking, almost-male-chanteuse-like, passionate testament to love and it is something I have yet to hear attempted by anyone else, let alone duplicated.
It simply knocked me out and I remain a fan to this day, though I stringly feel Le Chat Bleu was Deville’s peak, both with his band and solo. Today he seems to take the style of Le Chat Bleu a little serious and there is less of the warmth and innocense present though you could do much worse than using that album as a blueprint.
If any of this appeals to you I hope you decide to check this album out and give it a listen. It is available through Raven Records of Austrailia along with a few other of DeVille’s CDs both new and old and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Are you gonna love Willy?

The Music Nerd knows…….


Despite an unfortunate one day delay we will now return to the topic at hand: NRBQ.
For those who did not follow my helpful and life-changing instructions to check out some NRBQ over the weekend, I will describe them the best way I can. Imagine interstellar jazz traveller Sun Ra fronting a rock band and you will get an idea (albeit small and one-dimensional)about NRBQ. Not only does the band play some of the catchiest bar-band rock around, the band can immediately stop on a dime and play humourous ditties or songs just so crazy and “out” that it almost turns you off of the band and makes you decide to not listen to them anymore. Then, almost magically, the band will play something so tuneful and McCartney-like as to make you wonder why they are not all over the radio. It is this dichotomy that has both endeared the band to its’ many, many fans and also kept the band out of the mainstream.
You will often find two camps of NRBQ fans: ones who like the band better in it’s most popular incarnation when guitarist/songwriter/ex-Wildweed Al Anderson was still in the band (there were a few other guitarists before Big Al – he didn’t join until 1974) and those who like his replacement, Johnny Spampinato, Joey’s brother, who took over in 1994. Being a talented songwriter (besides being a demon on guitar)Anderson had to always know he could write hits. Even while being criminally ignored by the general public while being in the ‘Q – his songs were often covered by other country and rock artists. Nashville eventually called Anderson and he jumped ship, leaving the lead guitar spot open. Luckily Johnny shares the same genetic musical genius as his bassist/songwriter/singer brother Joey and he easily slid into the replacement slot and has also found his songwriting legs with the band as well, contributing one of their best latter-day songs, Be Here Now.
There is much argument over which album is the band’s best. They’ve recorded over twenty albums and about half of those are live documents, building them a following today that is populated by many jam-band fans who are attracted to the band’s willingness to experiment onstage and their formidable improvisational abilities. Since I prefer studio albums to live ones (which I feel never quite fully captue a band’s true sound and the total live experience)I find the albums most talked about are At Yankee Stadium, Grooves In Orbit and Wild Weekend.
At Yankee Stadium (1977) is a classic by anyone’s standards, containing most of the songs people associate with NRBQ. The songs Ridin’ In My Car, Green Light, and Me and The Boys are on this CD and it is, in a word, great. Every song is killer and pop bands like Cheap Trick and the Cars would dream of releasing this CD.
Wild Weekend (1989) is probably their best late period album, and the last album for which they were signed to a major label deal. They got a lot of press for this CD and it’s lack of commercial success despite the ‘Q reigning in most of the crazy side of their personality, sealed their fate as an underground band forever. There were a lot of potential hits on this that would have sounded great on the radio. It’s too bad radio sucks.
My personal fave is Grooves in Orbit, which came out in 1982. Not only does it have the killer song Rain At The Drive In but, to me, the album has the best selection of classic NRBQ songs than any other CD they did. This CD delivers on the promise that At Yankee Stadium suggested and, for the most part, the band was never this good on album again. The love songs are tender and meaningful and the rockers rock like hell.
You can probably tell that I can’t say enough about this marvelous band. While this is a just a small smattering of info, I hope it is enough to get you a little psyched about trying a few of the band’s CDs. All are worth the money because there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Some are better than others but all of them have some gems on them.
Are you new to the ‘Q?

The Music Nerd Knows……