Make America What, Again?

“No fun, my babe, no fun. No fun to hang around. Feelin’ that same old way. No fun to hang around. Freaked out for another day.” 

By Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, and Iggy (Stooge) Pop, from the song, “No Fun” on The Stooges first (eponymous) album, released in 1969.

Happy 2017. Really. My excitement for a “new beginning” overwhelms me. Whoopee. Happy days are here again. (yawns pessimistically) But of course, we must make America great again, right? We will do this while we make America straight again, make America fake again, make America gray…and make Americans afraid again.

But this time the fear is not from without; it is from within. Well, far be it from me to swallow up or destroy… the party. After all, it’s my party (no, it’s not), but I fear all tomorrow’s parties. Now if you close the door I never have to go to parties again. I am peaceable and faithful to the “new King”, for I am scared shitless of him. Now let me be clear that when I use the term “party” I am not thinking of a political party (lies, lies, lies). I am thinking about the kind of party where cake is served. You know, let ‘em eat cake? Ummmmm, boy!

So, readers may ask, “Popeswami, where are you going with this?”  I am going nowhere. I am nowhere, man. Can’t you see? Perhaps you should tell me what you see. I will hold out hope that you see something different. But I can see for miles and miles and miles, yet all I can see is a river of shit. And I’m getting tired of it. But enough of the cheap efforts to be clever, using snippets of songs or song titles to make a point. There is no point. Pretty dull, eh? Well, happy 2017, anyway.

Seriously, America enters 2017 with more uncertainty than ever. It is difficult to remain optimistic, but I will attempt to continue to be a Ray of light and spread any joy I can muster. So, let’s talk about music! Hell, I quoted enough lyrics and esoteric Biblical references above!

Isabel Baker – I Like God’s Style

Speaking of the Bible, let me start out with what may be the earliest American Christian rock album ever recorded, Isabel Baker’s “I Like God’s Style”. This LP (in the form of a limited issue pressing on Harkit Records in 2015) was one of my prize acquisitions of 2016. While parts of this album sound like music from a Jimmy Swaggart revival, there are excellent examples of garage-rockabilly stylings coupled with down-home, real people singing and songwriting. All songs on the album were written by the mysterious teenager, Isabel Baker, who also sings and plays rhythm guitar. Not much is known about her. The liner notes, written by a certain Naomi E. Fieldstad, reveal that she was 16 years old when she recorded the album. Her father was an evangelist named George Baker. Besides Ms. Baker, the album includes Joe Utterback on piano (adding revival tent flourishes on the ivories that would make Jimmy Swaggart proud), Bob Garvey on lead guitar, Don Nunn on bass, and Jim Kincaid on drums. Per album notes, the original album was recorded in two days, on June 18th and 19th, 1965, in Wichita, Kansas. It was issued on the Kansas-based Romco Records label, with only 100 to 500 being pressed. They were primarily sold at her father’s church and prayer gatherings as they traveled the West and Midwest. It was produced by her father’s organization “The Challenge of Calvary Ministry, Inc.,” headquartered in Garden Grove, California. The front cover shows Isabel with her Fender Jaguar guitar. Upon hearing, it is obvious that Isabel has no formal music or vocal training. An insert in the reissue package says that Joe Utterback, who provided some recollections of the recording event, later became an annual performer for the Tony Awards gala reception and has recorded several solo jazz piano albums. On the other hand, efforts to track down Isabel Baker over the years have proven futile. People have posted several songs from this album on YouTube. Here is the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbXz2Z5_WN0

 Michael Angelo – Michael Angelo

Another acquisition this past year was the self-titled LP by Michael Angelo. His album was issued in 1977, on the Guinn label from Kansas City, Missouri, in a limited pressing of 500. Michael Angelo Nigro was a studio musician at the Liberty Recording studio in Kansas City at the time. Late at night and at other times when the studio was not being used, he would record the songs that would become this album. Liberty was not interested in issuing it, so he did the final mastering at Big-K Studios, a smaller studio in Kansas City, that issued it on the Guinn Records label. All vocals and instruments except drums were performed by Michael Angelo; all songs were written by him. Drums were provided by Frank Gautieri. The master acetate was destroyed shortly after the album was released and the record company went out of business. Original pressings sometimes go for over a grand. There were a couple reissues in the late 90s and early 00s using the needle-drop method with lots of Cedar noise reduction, which literally ruined the sound and ambiance of the album. A South Korean label, Big Pink/Beatball, issued a CD taken from one of these reissues and should be avoided. When I communicated with Michael in 2010 he was not aware of the Beatball release. Fortunately, a pristine original Guinn LP was located and provided for an excellent reissue by Anthology/Mexican Summer in 2015, with full permission of Michael Angelo Nigro. This release was also limited to 300 copies and includes an accompanying 7” record with three songs, one of which did not appear on the LP. Later in 2015, Lion Productions issued a double CD, again with full authorization of the artist, which includes both this album and a never-officially released second LP, “A Sorcerer’s Dream,” plus a third LP, “Nuts”, which was released under the name Michael Nitro. This double-CD release of the three LPs was made possible with the assistance of the late Patrick (The Lama) Lundborg (Acid Archives editor and author of the book, Psychedelia), Aaron Milenski (contributor to The Acid Archives book), Mike Stax (Ugly Things magazine), and Vincent Tornatore (Lion Productions).

So, how does it sound? It sounds both retro and ahead of its time all at once. Keep in mind this was recorded and issued in 1977. It did not fit that period, musically, hence it went nowhere. Besides, it was very limited in its exposure with such a small pressing.  There is a Paul McCartney influence both in voice and melodicism. Perhaps this is an indirect influence, since he sounds even closer to Emitt Rhodes, who himself, was influenced by The Beatles, and McCartney in particular. However, that is where the similarity ends. Michael Angelo’s songs are more “dreamy” with references to Greek mythology and a darker, romantic, and even suicidal longing. There are flashes of the late 60s Los Angeles sound but then there are new innovations overlapping Middle Eastern scales with 60s Donovan-like psychedelia coupled with an aggressive guitar, pointing to a newer sound from which perhaps Big Star and REM in the 80s and My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and other shoegaze bands in the early 90s took their cues. Yet, the album is significantly an understatement through-and-through; beautiful, but not flamboyant, leaving a sense of longing for some form of resolution. His second album, “A Sorcerer’s Dream,” sounds like an extension of the first. His Michael Nitro album is a bit more aggressive but it certainly has his trademark sound and songwriting style. Here is “Future,” the closing track from his first album:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwnNML4uyy0

Mistress Mary – Housewife

A few years ago, I watched a cache of original copies of this LP in sealed, mint condition go for nearly a half a grand each at various online auction houses. In the meantime, Companion Records had been promising for years to obtain permission to re-release it, making it more accessible to those of us who were curious to hear what all the fuss was about. My waiting paid off. In 2016, Companion Records released the LP, along with a digital download of the album with three bonus unreleased tracks. The original album was issued on the Afton Co. Records label, from Hacienda Heights, California, in 1969. Note that Mistress Mary’s real name is Mary Afton. It is rumored that Roger McGuinn and other members of The Byrds are the backup band on the tracks “And I Didn’t Want You” and “My Country Boy”. We now know that the 5-day session was conducted at Darrel Cotton’s Ion Studio, and the session was led by Cotton and steel guitarist Carl Walden. Also, one Byrds alumni is identified as Clarence White. Early rockabilly artist, Johnny Redd, also participated in the sessions. It is said that Mary was dissatisfied with The Byrds’ treatment of her songs, making them sound more rock than country. While her singing isn’t on the level of the leading country singers of her day, it isn’t bad at all. And, her songwriting, while a bit quirky and definitely unique, is solid. Being from Southern California, her singing has a softer touch than most country artists of the era. Mistress Mary – Housewife rides the picket fence line between a real people vanity recording and a commercially viable country sound. The back cover shows her being a true “Los Angeles housewife,” sporting a black negligée while mopping the floor and preparing a meal.  The liner notes are hand-written, and Mary describes herself as “Wife – Mother – Civic Leader – etc. – Artiste,” and she refers to “the more intelligent and perceptive of her in-laws.” This should give an idea of what her lyrics are like. The original pressing was only 500 copies, with about 50 of these going to key people in the music industry, including Elvis Presley. Mary Afton’s efforts to break into the country charts were met with little interest. So, after a couple years with no “bites” she moved on to other interests, including auto mechanics instructor for women, female self-defense instructor, belly dance instructor, and disco dance instructor. She continues to live in Southern California, and she loves throwing huge pool parties for hundreds of people at a time in her back yard. Here is “And I Didn’t Want You” from her LP:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Dnd94lsrBs

Palmer Rockey – Scarlet Love/Rockey’s Style

In the “anals” of recorded music, the Palmer Rockey story is one of the most amazing and incredulous. I was amazed, and quite pleased to find that Trunk Records located a mint copy of the first version of this album, Scarlet Love, and re-issued it on both LP and CD in 2013 (but using the third release, Rockey’s Style, title). I purchased the CD version soon after it was issued. This past year I was very fortunate that the Mr. Weird and Wacky blogsite had the other music version for download, and it is a crisp, clear copy. The original pressings of this album were in 1979, 1980, and 1981, all on the AB-Rock Music label. It is unclear how many were pressed, but with the scarcity of originals, it could not have been many. There were three pressings but as far as I can tell, only two variants of the music. The first version is what was re-released on the Trunk label in 2013. This version has two songs that do not appear on the other two versions, “Sunday Love” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. The second and third versions are musically the same but the second retains the “Scarlet Love” album title while the third release is retitled “Rockey’s Style” and both have slightly different sleeves. The latter two versions have a slightly different mix of some of the songs that appear on all three versions, and have two songs that do not appear on the first release, “Love, Love Rock” and “Love Is Deep Inside,” and one song title was changed from “Rock It Nice N’ Easy” to “Rock It”. There are three variants of the sleeves but none of them match the songs and sequencing on the first release. And to further the confusion, the album sleeves provided no guarantee which version of the LP would be found inside.

The music is what would be considered Twilight Zone crooner lounge, with some lounge rock thrown in for good measure. Little is known about the sessions. According to liner notes on the CD, it is rumored that the recording “sessions were fraught with tension and madness.” The session musicians are professional. Palmer Rockey’s singing is not. It is obvious his voice is untrained, but he tries to sound hip, sometimes attempting to imitate Elvis, and at other times attempting to sound like classic crooners such as Dean Martin. His singing is unique and some lyrics sound like they are improvised. All songs were written by Palmer Rockey. The songwriting is fair to good musically, but corny and weak lyrically. Sometimes the lyrics are just weird, meaning it is right down my alley! One song, “Rock It,” sounds like it was designed to be used in aerobics classes. We don’t know if Palmer Rockey played any of the instruments during the session, but my bet is that he didn’t, otherwise he would have stated it on the album cover.

The album is supposed to be a soundtrack to his second movie, “Scarlet Love.” It is suggested that this movie evolved from his first, “It Happened on Sunday,” also titled in some sources “It Happened One Weekend,” from 1974. He was working on edits to the second movie for years, even after the last release of the LP. On his Lysergia Website, the late Patrick Lundborg provided many hilarious and interesting details about the making of the movie. It seems Mr. Rockey swindled many wealthy, elderly Dallas, Texas women to obtain the money for his endeavors. He maintained a post office box where he was known to read “mail from Hollywood” out loud for those passing by. When approached in the 90s about the album and movie, he informed the inquirer to never contact him about this again. He passed away in 1996. He was married to Mary Ann “Cookie” Carson in 1968 when she was just 21 and he was 47. They were divorced in 1977, prior to the release of the movie and soundtrack. Cookie Ann Rockey recently wrote a book about her life with him, “The Rock: The Life and Crimes of Palmer Rockey.” Here is the song “Scarlet Warning” from the LP:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdsJ1greKh8

Frunk – If at First…

Another rarity that sells for a grand today is an album that could possibly be the first karaoke album ever produced. It contains the music of five young women in their 20s singing along to some popular songs of their era. It was recorded in the private studio (Vampire Studio, Haddonfield, NJ) of Peter Graulich, who was the brother-in-law to one of the singers.  It was pressed in a limited quantity of 25 on the RPC label. This would have been beyond all possibility of being heard let alone being owned by this Popeswami if it had not been for Peter Graulich discovering that he had 8 original Frunk LPs stashed away. He came to my attention when I saw him selling them on eBay for around $600 each. He used the funds to reissue the LP, again in limited quantity. It is one of these re-pressings that I was able to obtain. In his own words, here is how the recording came about:

“The album was released in the Summer of 1972. There are 8 copies available and we believe the initial pressing was 25 records, not 100. We have also located the original Master as received from Frankford-Wayne Recording Labs at 212 N. 12th St. in Philadelphia PA. I have also located the original master tape on which I recorded all of the sessions, then mixed them down via a TEAC 4 channel mixer, to the final set. The record was recorded on a Teac 3340 10 1/2″ reel 4 track recorder. The tape is exactly as it was when it was delivered to the pressing company. If you would like details of how the record was created and the group formed: Back in 1971 I was just getting into serious electronics and high end audio was my current compulsion. I was living in Haddonfield and I build a recording studio in my basement. One day my sister in law and her friends were visiting and I was playing “500 miles”, Peter, Paul & Mary in the studio and they came in and started singing. It sounded interesting, so I suggested we record. Over the next few weeks we recorded many takes on my Teac 3340 4 channel recorder. As there was no karaoke in those days, I dubbed the girls voices over the original music from the turntable. Eventually we got “acceptable” material. I mixed it all down and created a 10” reel with the master on it (which I still have) and took it to Frankfort Recording Labs and had 25 copies made. We created covers, pasted them up and poof! We had a record. I gave the girls each a 3 copies and asked if they could sell them (for $5 each to help off set the cost of the project. I think my Mom bought the only copy sold, but I felt sorry for her and gave her a refund)…”

The five singers were Dee Graulich, Mary Anderson, Kathleen Anderson, Mary Anna Baptiste, and Terry Wadlinger. Peter Graulich was audio engineer and producer. Larry Viarengo was responsible for the cover design. The music sounds a bit eerie to me, hearing the original music with different singers. But there are a few giveaways such as hearing Paul Simon singing in the background on “El Condor Pasa”. Their singing is not always synchronized with the recording, but it really was never intended to be a commercial release. It was definitely for themselves, their friends and family. Here is Frunk singing along with Karen Carpenter on “Close to You”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXMHSJjUrDY

In Closing

IMG_1978

I did not discuss any local outings in this post. But believe me, I have been seeing some great stuff in San Diego. I will write about it later. This will be my final post before the presidential inebriation. In the meantime, stay safe and warm.

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