Likeable rogue on guitar

Astonishing, the human stories which lie behind the neat gold lettering on a gramophone label. “Never heard of him,” I thought of Vic Lewis, placing this 1946 shellac disc on the turntable. Lowered the needle. And, wow. Lovely jazz guitar in front of a tight band. But not just tight, there’s real feeling in this. That extra “something” – indefinable but unmissable.

So, who is this Vic Lewis? An Englishman, he was born in 1919. Inspired by American recordings, he became one of the pioneers of jazz guitar in Britain. He visited America and at different times played with the cream: Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli, George Shearing. At least, he claimed to have played with them, and this was mostly true. Vic Lewis was, you see, not the most reliable witness.

viclewis

Vic Lewis

He served in the RAF during the war, and it was there that he met the other musicians on this record. He was successful as a band leader and arranger after the war.

When rock’n’roll arrived, he shifted into management. He worked with Brian Epstein, and was involved in the careers of Cilla Black, Elton John and The Beatles. Like most managers, he was a bit of a spiv. His business dealings were not always honourable; his word, not always his bond. But people liked him: he might cheat you, but he was also generous with his time, his talents, his connections and his money.

And he never lost his love for jazz. And that shines through on this recording. “That’s a Plenty” is an up-tempo stomper, with a Dixie feel; “Singin’ the Blues” more mellow. Something special about them both, I reckon. Just listen!

That’s a Plenty

Singin’ the Blues

  • Artist: Vic Lewis and Jack Parnell’s Jazzmen,
  • A side: That’s a Plenty
  • B side: Singin’ The Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: A7551
  • Year: 1946

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

 

 

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

 

 

A strange democracy

“Jazz is a team game”. This was said a few days ago by T. S. Monk, a stellar jazz drummer who is touring Australia. Monk (son of Thelonious) was chatting on community radio about his art. “In a jazz group, everyone gets to solo. No one is the star, because everyone’s the star.” I’d never really thought about it this way, but he’s right. A jazz group is a strange democracy of geniuses.

Solid_(Grant_Green_album)

Case in point. Grant Green was a guitarist. I didn’t know that when I found this LP – I had never heard of him. I still didn’t know it when I had listened to the record. I loved it: dazzling be-bop, amazing musical prowess. But no instrument stands out. Everyone solos, even the drummer. I guessed Grant Green might have been on sax.

All this shows that I don’t know much about jazz, but I’m learning. That is part of the point of Planet Vinyl. Grant Green, who has been described as “one of the great unsung heroes of jazz guitar” was born in Missouri in 1935, and recorded prolifically, mostly for Blue Note records and mostly in groups headlined by others. Like many other jazz greats of that time, drug addiction marred his career and ruined his health, and he died aged only 38.

But, man, could he play. The LP was originally recorded in 1964, but inexplicably not released until 1979. Even a jazz neophyte like me can recognise it as a work of genius. This track, a Duke Pearson tune called “Minor League”, is the album’s opener. Like everything else, it is brilliant, with solos all round. Green shines on guitar, but so does everyone else: James Spaulding on alto sax, Joe Henderson on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

I used to wonder why, when you hear jazz on the radio, the announcer gives the name of every musician. This is why. Jazz is a team game.

  • Artist: Grant Green
  • LP Title: Solid
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Minor League”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Blue Note
  • Catalogue: LT 990
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1995 (reissue: recorded 1964, first released 1979)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stage fright

Mea culpa. Or, as young folks say these days: “my bad”.

It’s like this. I pick up a battered old single, a local release, mid-sixties. I have not heard of the artist,  Ned Miller, but I recognise the song on the A-side. “Do What You Do Do Well”: one of Johnny Cash’s hits. Clearly, then, Ned Miller was a second-tier country artist, pumping out a cover.

My bad. The great Johnny Cash did have a hit with “Do What You Do Do Well”, but that was after this release. Not only did Ned Miller release it first, he wrote it. In fact, Miller wrote lots of great songs. One, “From a Jack to a King”, was a top ten hit in many parts of the world, but mostly he wrote excellent songs, which other people recorded. “Invisible Tears” and “Dark Moon” were two: hits for Bonnie Guitar and Elvis Presley respectively. There were plenty more: Miller was in the top echelon of Nashville’s songsmiths. Why didn’t he have more success as a performer?

0673 labelSimple, really. He didn’t like performing, and often suffered stage fright. He retired from the entertainment business in 1970, saying: “If you love shows and like to perform, it’s a great business, but if you don’t, you shouldn’t be in it.”

It was not that he couldn’t play and sing. Just listen to this, “Dusty Guitar”, the delightful B-side to a more famous song. The record is a bit battered, but the performance shines through. It is a rumination on musical fame, ironically enough from someone who achieved it, and then decided it was not for him.

  • Artist: Ned Miller
  • Single title: Do What You Do Do Well
  • Track: B “Dusty Guitar”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: W&G
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: WG-S-2321
  • Year: 1964

 

Love song to a weed

The key to appreciating the music of Hawaii? Ignore the kitsch album covers. Pay no attention to the palm trees, hula girls, frangipani and bright shirts. As Hawaiian LPs go, this one actually isn’t too bad: just a murky sunset. Lame, rather than loud.

2074-coverEven more important: do not read the sleeve notes, which belong to the same genre as try-hard travel brochures.

2074-detailI did tell you not to read it.

Ignore all that. Just listen.

This record is cocktail-hour, hammock-sway stuff, skillful and restrained mood music by the Maile Serenaders, which was a floating collective of some of Hawaii’s best musicians of the 1950s. On Evening in the Islands they do laid-back versions of island standards, including this one, “White Ginger Blossoms”.

It is actually a bit hard for an Australian to get misty-eyed about White Ginger, which is listed under the Biosecurity Act (2014) as “a restricted invasive plant”. It is, in other words, a declared noxious weed. You might as well sing romantically about Kudzu Vine, or Prickly Pear. But a lovely tune, even if it is about a weed.

  • Artist: The Maile Serenaders
  • LP Title: Evening in the Islands
  • Side 1, Track 5 “White Ginger Blossoms”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, stereo
  • Label: Warner
  • Catalogue number: WS 1584
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1963

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

 

Guitar man

To many musicians, the name Les Paul means “a Les Paul”, which is a line of electric guitars made by Gibson. Handsome things they are – that’s one below – and played by many of the greats. But first came the man Les Paul. He didn’t quite invent the electric guitar but was one of its most important pioneers, and he was also one of the finest players ever to break a string on any guitar, electric or not.

les-paul

His real name was Lester Polsfuss, and he was born in 1915 in Wisconson. Les Paul was a gifted multi-instrumentalist, but it was the guitar which became his instrument, inspired by the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. Paul became a successful musician in country, jazz and many other styles during the 1930s and 1940s, and played with the cream of American popular music, including Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

Paul also loved tinkering. Along with making major improvements to the electric guitar, he was the inventor of the neck-worn harmonica holder, and also developed new techniques for recording, including multi-tracking. In the 1950s had a string of hits on which involved Paul played multiple guitar parts, and with his wife, vocalist Mary Ford, harmonised to her own vocals.

paul-a-inverted

There was nothing of the gimmick about this. The results are magic. Have a listen to this track, “Cimarron”. (The name refers to a river, a tributary of the Arkansas.) Released in 1955, this disc is a 78 rpm record, but made from the new vinyl rather than the usual shellac. It is a curious blend of tradition and new technology, appropriate to such an inventive man.

  • Artist: Les Paul and Mary Ford
  • Title: Cimarron (Roll On)
  • Format: 10” vinyl disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Capitol
  • Catalogue: 3444
  • Manufactured in: California
  • Year: 1955

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

Twang!

Duane Eddy was one of the first rock ’n roll guitar heroes. He used the bass strings of his Grestch guitar (the one on the right on the album sleeve picture below) to play a melody line. This was recorded through an echo chamber to create a distinctive, almost grungy rock sound.

2977-coverEddy is best remembered for the theme to the detective show Peter Gunn, but he did a lot else, including movie and television soundtracks, and with his band The Rebels had a long string of huge hits, selling more than 12 million records between 1958 and 1963. Eddy’s ‘twang’ sound made him a rich man, and inspired legions of teenagers to learn guitar. Among his admirers were Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ry Cooder.

This track was his first release. It was only modestly successful, but it is a perfect jukebox number. The low-down guitar is complemented by a brassy, sleazy saxophone. It’s wild, and sexy. Imagine hearing this bursting out of the speakers in a small town diner in 1958. Twang!

  • Artist: ‎Duane Eddy,
  • LP Title: $1,000,000 Worth Of Twang
  • Track: B1 “Moovin’ ‘N Groovin’”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: London Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: HAA 7621
  • Year: 1962 (this track first released 1958)