Young Turk

Torok is an unusual name for an American country artist of the 1950s. Country is usually the domain of the Anglo name: Nelson, Cash, Jennings, Parton. Even those not born with one used to put a suitable name on with the cowboy hat. Baldemar Garza Huerta did better as “Freddy Fender”.

Torok means “Turk” in the Hungarian language, and it was a surname given to people whose forebears had migrated there from Turkey in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That empire was destroyed in the First World War, and in the wake of that defeat a Hungarian couple, Niklos and Irene Torok, migrated again, to the United States.

3331There, in Houston, they had a son in 1929. Mitchell Torok grew up listening to the music around him, took up guitar at age twelve, and by his 20s became small-big in country music. He appeared on the major country radio programs, and wrote song for many of the stars of the day, particularly Jim Reeves.

His biggest hit came in 1953 with “Caribbean”, a light-hearted stomper with a vaguely Hawaiian sound celebrating the beauty of ladies in Cuba and Haiti. It’s a fun song but I prefer the B side. One of Torok’s idols was the great Hank Williams (who died before his time earlier that year), and there is more than a hint of Hank in “Weep Away”.

Whoever bought this record loved this song – it has been played many, many times, and the shellac is battered and worn. Even through the rumble and scratch, this is a heartfelt performance.

  • Artist: Mitchell Torok
  • A side: Caribbean
  • B side: Weep Away
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: London
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: HL-1011
  • Year: 1954

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)

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

Love and theft

Billy Vaughn was an American multi-instrumentalist and band leader, who had success in the 1950s and 1960s. These were days when a hot dance band could earn a living playing instrumental versions of popular tunes. It was the quality of the playing and the inventiveness of the arrangement, rather than new material, which was the selling point. Do something different, make it new.

0036 B side

This track, “Wabash Blues,” does that, but it also sounds weirdly familiar. Anyone who grew up when ABBA were giants, in the 1970s, will know what I mean.

ABBA’s 1974 single, the somewhat repetitively titled “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, begins like this:

“Wabash Blues” begins like this:

Slow down the tempo of “I Do x 5”, and it sounds like this:

Speed up the tempo of “Wabash”, and this is what you get.

Vaughn’s record was a hit around the world, including Sweden, in 1959, when Benny and Bjorn were teenagers. Bound to have heard it …

No problem in that. Music is, in Bob Dylan’s immortal words, a matter of love and theft. Everyone steals from everyone else. What matters is the end product. “I Do” is not ABBA’s finest work, but the sax is the highlight. And Billy Vaughn’s version of “Wabash Blues” is a delight. He takes a jaunty ragtime tune from the 1920s, turns it into something from a burlesque show, with wonderful sleazy sax.

  • Artist: ‎Billy Vaughn And His Orchestra
  • Single Title: Carnival In Paris / Wabash Blues
  • Track: Side B “Wabash Blues”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: London 45-HL-1566
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1959

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