Coal miner’s daughter

Like any self-respecting country singer, Loretta Lynn was born into poverty in a colourfully named Kentucky hamlet – Butchers Hollow, in this case. The daughter of a coal miner, she was married at 13, though happily not to Jerry Lee Lewis. She does not quite complete the c.v., not having been to jail, but this is serious country cred.

Loretta_Lynn-Love_Is_the_Foundation

Image: Wikipedia

Though I knew the name and some of the hits, I had not realised how big a star Lynn was. Through the sixties and seventies she was a giant of country who also made the pop charts: “crossover” is the annoying term the marketers use. More to the point, she could really sing. She had that ability to sing sometimes maudlin material and carry it with sheer conviction. Given a half-decent song …

She also had a feisty, no-nonsense assertion on behalf of women: brave stuff in its day. Still needed, actually, judging by the news from Hollywood.

Here is one of her gutsy-sentimental songs, from the 1973 LP, Love is the Foundation, a declaration that this Southern Belle ain’t no doormat.

  • Artist: Loretta Lynn
  • Album: Love is the Foundation
  • Track: A4 “Just To Satisfy (The Weakness In A Man)”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: MCA
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: MAPS 7001
  • Year: 1973

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Life intervenes

Catching the shuttle to Planet Vinyl can be hard. There is work, there is family, there are bills and tax returns. There is illness and stress. Life intervenes. But though I have been too busy to write about music, I have been listening, with open ears, and discovered some strange and wonderful things. Here is one.

Christopher Wood is a guitarist, from my home state of Victoria, Australia. In 1988 he put out an LP. It is solo guitar, a set of original instrumental compositions, independently recorded and released. Out there in the distant reaches of obscurity, it is in my honest opinion a masterpiece. Lovely, delicate compositions drawing from a wide range of influences, played with absolute assurance.

woodI had never heard of Wood, and could find out nothing about him from the usual sources, but kept hunting. I was delighted to find that he is still around, still playing, and has a website: www.christopherwood.com.au. There is an email address, and I sent him a message. After a little while, a reply came:

Hello Richard
Thank you for your kind words.
They are much appreciated.
After years of composing and playing in a reclusive environment I am currently preparing to do more recording and performing.
Regards
Chris

This is wonderful news. I still don’t know much about Christopher Wood. He is a private person, obviously, and I respect that. You get the feeling that, in the past thirty-odd years, life intervened. But he is a wonderful talent. I have put my money where my mouth is and bought his most recent release. If you like what you hear, be sure to check out his website and consider doing the same.

  • Artist: Christopher Wood
  • Album title:Guitarist
  • Track: B1 “Song of Hope”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Red Hill Music
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: RHM. CWG. 001
  • Year: 1988

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Carmen was a boy

Carmen Dragon was the stage name of, well, Carmen Dragon. Slightly unusual name, especially for a male born in California in 1915. His first claim to public notice was as the composer of a theme song for his local high school. A local newspaper gave the composing credit to “a high school girl, Carmen Dragon”. Even in our more gender-fluid times, you can understand the mistake. But this Dragon was made of tough stuff, and he thrived in California, bringing his musical talents to the emerging film industry, and establishing himself as a leading composer and arranger of film scores.

Dragon SpainHe also served as conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, which performed for decades on a radio music program introducing classical music to primary school audiences, and the HBSO also recorded several LPs. This is one of them, and I will admit that I had low expectations. The cover is a tad tacky. Scratch that: bigly tacky. With the Spanish theme and the toreador on the sleeve, I was expecting lots of castanets and mariachi brass. There is a bit of that, but it is subtle, used well. This is a fine recording of classical music, the pieces all chosen around a theme which is not overworked.

This is my favourite track, an arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s ballet piece “Ritual Fire Dance”, which was written in the year of Dragon’s birth. It is dramatic and beautiful.

  • Artist:, Carmen Dragon, conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra
  • LP Title: Echoes Of Spain
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Ritual Fire Dance”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1955

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

A homogeneous plastic mass

When I was growing up, there was a thing called “Kraft Cheddar Cheese”. This revolting, yellow foodstuff was nothing remotely like cheddar. In fact, it did not have much to do with cheese, either. As kids, we called it “plastic cheese”, and we were actually close to the mark. The origins of Kraft Cheddar lie with either sacrilege or ingenuity – depends on your point of view. During the First World War, James L. Kraft, a Chicago cheese seller, began shredding all the husks and rinds and discards from the cheddar he sold, mixed in sodium phosphate as a preservative and – voila! – gave the world the wonder that is “American process cheese”. This is the stuff which, to this day, limply sags in the fast-food take-away hamburger.

kraft-singles-cheese-646

When it was first being produced, the people who made actual cheese went to court demanding that Kraft not be able to call this new substance “cheese”. They were half-successful. What came to be known as “American cheese” was defined as “a stable concoction of natural cheese bits mixed with emulsifying agents” which would form, in legal language “a homogeneous plastic mass”. (I am indebted to David Clark on Mental Floss for this background.)

All of which is completely irrelevant, except that when I first heard of the German experimental group Kraftwerk, I immediately thought of Kraft and plastic cheese. And in a strange way, the association is a good one. In the 1970s, Kraftwerk were pioneers in electronic music – pushing the new technologies of synthesised music into a deliberately machine-made minimalism. Their subject matter was, deliberately, the mundane products of modernity. Repetition, mechanical reproduction, the future: these were Kraftwerk’s themes.

And the amazing thing? It works! It takes a little getting into, but there is real art here, a jazz-like restraint amid minimalist self-parody. Kraftwerk takes “machine modern mundane”, takes Kraft singles (a plastic box of plastic cheese, each slice wrapped in plastic) and turns it into art.

No, I didn’t believe it could werk. But take the time to listen, more than once. This stuff is addictive, subtle, worth revisiting. Unlike Kraft Cheddar Cheese.

 

  • Artist: Kraftwerk
  • LP Title: The Man Machine
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Spacelab”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Catalogue: ST-11728
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1979

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

‘Obscure English singer-songwriter’

It says in the Bible:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

That is the King James translation, at any rate. If you want to get all-1970s and groovy, there is the Message version:

I took another walk around the neighbourhood and realized that on this earth as it is— The race is not always to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor satisfaction to the wise, Nor riches to the smart, Nor grace to the learned. Sooner or later bad luck hits us all.

Hmm. Not perhaps the finest moment in the Message. Anyway, you get the point. Life ain’t always fair. Sometimes, people do something wonderful, and get no recognition.

Leno BCase in point. In 1974, Sam Leno released his one and only LP. It was on Anchor Records – not a major label, but home to Alice Cooper among others, so big enough. I am a researcher by trade, so to find out more about Leno did not seem like a challenge. Mainstream release, mid-1970s: should be easy. But no. The sole reference I can find to Sam was written four decades later – in a piece mostly about someone else.

John Apice, in the roots music journal No Depression, compares a contemporary artist, Comrad, to “an obscure English singer-songwriter named Same Leno”, who:

had one wonderful album called “Ordinary Man,” … these two artists are on the same wave-length, kindred spirits, soul-brothers. … It’s a rich, ignored musical style … Tin Pan Alley, pop songs of the 1920s and dance hall frivolity … Leno’s album was filled with these kinds of light, well-recorded, fun to sing melodies … Comrad is not imitating Sam Leno. How could he? I doubt Comrad ever heard of Sam Leno.

Neither had I, but Apice is apt in his description and justified in his appreciation. This is the B-side of one of Leno’s handful of singles. It is a gem. It deserved to succeed, but didn’t. No further albums followed, and I don’t know what happened to Leno. The race is not always to the swift.

  • Artist: Sam Leno
  • Single Title: Oh, Joanna
  • Track: B-side, “You Know What I Mean”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Anchor
  • Catalogue: ANC-10646
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Pacific Rim

Allegations are flying that Planet Vinyl has sold out. A puerile head of state, who shall remain nameless, has Tweeted: “So-called ‘obscure’ music blog writes about ROLLING STONES in failed attempt to boost LOSER ratings. Sad.” Well, Sir, normal service has been resumed.

I had never heard of Rim D. Paul, but one of his records came my way. And, wow! Yes, it is derivative. There is some Wilson Pickett there, and a lot of James Brown. But, who cares? The band rocks, and Rim gives a stellar vocal performance.

0638Rim, I learned, is a legend in New Zealand, a pioneer of Maori music breaking into the mainstream. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Like the indigenous peoples of my own country, and indeed pretty much every colonial-settler society, the Maori have had a rough road. But they are resilient, proud, adaptable, and a people with an amazing feel for music. Listen, just listen, to a Maori choir. A whole community singing together, weaving in Maori tradition, mission hymns, and the popular music of the world.

Rim Paul was a bridge builder. Back in the 1960s he led groups, such as the Quin Tikis, bringing Maori musical talent into the mainstream – first in New Zealand and later in Australia as well. He also worked with or led the Howard Morrison Quartet and the Maori National Choir, exploring an extraordinary variety of musical styles.

Wanting to learn more, I found an interview Rim did with Radio New Zealand a few years ago. He talks of his long, varied career, his journey exploring and recovering his Maori identity, the struggle to make a living as a musician. He shows an undiminished voice and love for music, not to mention a dignity and grace which the odd world leader could learn from.

  • Artist: Rim D. Paul
  • Single Title: All God’s Children Got Soul
  • Side A “All God’s Children Got Soul”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Philips
  • Catalogue: BF-454
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Wealth, status, friends, etc

“The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse,” wrote John Heywood in his collection of “all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue”, published in London in 1546. A modern dictionary explains the meaning of this durable saying: “a person who does not settle in one place will not accumulate wealth, status, friends, etc … with allusion to the proverb, moss is occasionally used to denote money.”

0847 upI don’t know what John Heywood would have made of the Rolling Stones, 500 years on, but the band’s story rather gives the lie to its name. They accumulated a great deal of wealth, status, friends, etc, not to mention a legion of fans who have made Mick’n’Keef the joint subjects of an annoying personality cult. It’s a bit off-putting, the whole hero-worship thang.

But Planet Vinyl is an open society, the fellowship of the fair listen. When seven inches of Stones came my way, I cleaned off the moss and gave it a spin. I already knew the A side,  “The Last Time,” which was released in 1965, and was a number one hit in the UK. Good, bluesy rock.

But the B side was a surprise. “Play With Fire” belongs to that sub-genre of songs in which a working-class lad scoffs at a society girl for her privilege and lack of life experience. You ain’t lived in the real world, honey. The lyrics are a tad trite, but the mostly acoustic arrangement (the work of Phil Spector, who also plays bass) is lovely, and there is subtlety to the delivery.

  • Artist: Rolling Stones
  • Single Title: The Last Time
  • Side B “Play With Fire”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Decca
  • Catalogue: Y 7217
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs