Long candle?

Someone in France has just paid me five Australian dollars for a Jerry Lee Lewis compilation LP issued 51 years ago. What makes it more impressive is that the postage was another $22.00. It doesn’t seem as much in euros, maybe. But it does show a love for the music of this feral cat of a man which I now fully understand.

shakin

I had always thought of Jerry Lee Lewis as kind of a poor-man’s Elvis. I only knew a few hits, and one of those had the misfortune of being ruined by a television advertisement in the 1970s. There was a snack food comprised of equal parts salt, fat, corn-starch and yellow food-dye, something like the Cheesy Poofs which appear on South Park. Anyway, they carried a jingle which went “Goodness, gracious GREAT balls of cheese!” This has made it hard for me to appreciate “Great Balls of Fire” ever since.

So I had low expectations when I picked up this compilation LP, released in the mid-1960s, but given a clean and played loud, it was like being smacked in the face with a live catfish. The thumping boogie piano, the yowling exuberant singing, the utterly unrepentant tom catting lyrics (“She’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen!”): it’s exciting and wild and quite unlike anything I have ever heard.

Lewis himself is like a South Park character. Married seven times (once to his 13-year-old second-cousin), he is a drinkin’, drug-abusin’, gun-totin’ redneck. Astonishingly, born in 1935 and burning both ends of the candle ever since, he is still alive. Long candle, I guess.   He was arrested while waving a gun outside Gracelands in 1976, and once accidentally shot his bass player in the chest. Not, in short, someone you would especially want your daughter to marry. But, man, what a performer.

I love this record so much I can’t stick to one song, so I am going with two sides of what was a 1960 single. The A side is a soulful, imaginative take on the blues standard “John Henry”: The B side is more typical, a rockabilly number, “Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes”. Meantime, the LP is on its way to France, where soon there will be a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.

  • Artist: ‎Jerry Lee Lewis
  • LP Title: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
  • Track: Side 2, Track 2 “John Henry”; Side 2, Track 3 “Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: London
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: HAA 8251
  • Year: 1965 (both tracks originally released 1960)

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

Sorta Country

Like quite a few great Australians, including Pharlap, Tex Morton was actually a New Zealander.

Born in Nelson in 1916, he started performing at 14, and enjoyed success with travelling bands, playing and recording country songs. In the early 1930s he did what all ambitious New Zealand musicians do: crossed “The Ditch” (the Tasman Sea) to try his luck in the larger market of Australia.2183 label

“Larger” is a relative term, of course – Australia was still a small country. But here Morton managed to make a living from his work, touring endlessly, doing tent shows and vaudeville, mixing in whip-cracking, jokes and sharp shooting with his music.

Like many country singers in this part of the world, how to sing was a problem. Singing American songs with an Australian accent tends to sound wrong, jarring. We speak with very flat vowel sounds, and that doesn’t translate well to singing.

2183 coverWhen Australian singers try to adopt an American accent, the result can be even worse: a kind of trans-Pacific accent which sinks somewhere near the Line Islands. But it can be done – just takes practice and trial and error, and Tex was a pioneer in this. In his early recordings he attempts a nasal Appalachian twang, but with time his voice becomes smoother, his delivery more assured: recognisably not American, but not jarring. Morton was among the first people to write and sing songs about the Australian experience with any success.

This song is not one of those – we’ll meet him again on Planet Vinyl soon enough, don’t worry – it is his take on an American comic song, “The Cat Came Back”. It appears on a 1970 compilation Sorta Country, put out by the budget label Summit in 1970. Originally released in 1961, it is funny, assured, well-played and sung, and is fitting for Tex Morton. When it was very tough to make a living form music, he kept on touring and singing and playing, developing his own style, through the Depression, through war, through the arrival of television and pop music, doing his own thing. He was the cat which kept on coming back.

2183 cover detail

  • Artist: Tex Morton
  • LP Title: Sorta Country (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1, Track 2 “The Cat Came Back” (first released 1961)
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit SRA-250-177
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1970