Bobby Day, who was born on this day in 1930 in Fort Worth, is best known for one of the biggest hits of the early rock n roll era, "Rockin' Robin". In fact, when I was playing a wedding gig last summer I was about to spin a different Bobby Day record, when a little girl strolled up to my turntables, read the label on the record and said, "Bobby Day. He did "Rockin' Robin!" And by that measurement, I'd say Bobby Day is pretty well-known even to this day.
However, there's more to Bobby Day than "Rockin' Robin." For example, he was an original member of famous LA-based doo wop group The Hollywood Flames. As Bobby Day & the Satellites he wrote and recorded the original version of "Little Bitty Pretty One" which was an enormous smash hit for Thurston Harris. He co-wrote one of the most famous uptempo doo wop tunes "Buzz Buzz Buzz" recorded by the Hollywood Flames and he wrote and recorded the original version of "Over & Over" which is more famous by the Dave Clark 5 (I have yet to find a nice clean copy of Day's version). And if that's not enough, Day was also reportedly the first "Bob" in the famous soul duo Bob & Earl. Bobby Day is full of surprises!
My record of the day is one of those surprises. This rare 45 beautifully arranged by Jack Nitzche, is a rendition of the unofficial "cajun national anthem". The first cajun recording of this song goes back to 1929. The song gained popularity outside of the cajun community when it was adopted by country music artist Harry Choates in 1947 and it swiftly became a country music standard. An r&b guy like Bobby Day wasn't expected to record a song like this and THAT is what makes this cajun meets country meets r&b version of this song so very interesting to me. I love these vintage recordings that pushed boundaries and busted outside of boxes.
Give it a listen as you head into your holiday weekend. It's a great reminder of the beautiful things that can happen when we rebel against societal definitions of who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to do
My annual celebration of the ladies of classic country is next weekend, so it's time for me to load in the go-go juice and put a gouge on it and take the big road to Party Preparation Land.
I'm having a lot fun putting my set together for this 4th edition of "Touch Your Woman" happening Saturday, March 28th at the World Famous Kenton Club.
One record I just can't get enough of is Linda Martell's rendition of "I Almost Called Your Name" from 1969. If you've been following the country aspect of my DJ career, you may remember me featuring Linda on-line a couple of times in the past. She's actually gained some more appreciation in the past couple of years, which is pretty exciting. I believe her country LP was reissued as well.
LINDA MARTELL was the first African-American woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. After recording some soul singles, she crossed over to country with the help of revolutionary Nashville producer Shelby Singleton, who built his career around blending country & soul in a variety of ways. Linda busted down walls, opened minds, and broke down traditional stereotypes of country music. She ultimately left the business to raise her family leaving a pretty significant void in the world of country music.
My record of the day is Linda's reworking of a Mira Smith & Margaret Lewis composition originally released by Margaret in 1963. Linda was actually not the first Black woman to do a country cover this song. Jewell Hall released a lovely country-pop version back in 1963. Perhaps that's why the Plantation Label thought it would be a good fit for Linda Martell when the songwriting team of Mira Smith & Margaret Lewis joined the label.
There's no denying that when Linda broke loose on this song, she brought it to another level. It's heartbreaking that she had to leave the business before putting more work out into the world. Just imagining what she could have done with so many other songs, all the opportunities lost, all the Linda Martell renditions of country classics that SHOULD be out there, but never came to fruition.
The Linda Martell chapter of country music history was never really completed, but it's also a story very rarely told. So, I hope you will join me in celebrating Linda today by listening to her song below, and then join me in person on March 28th at the Kenton Club to celebrate Linda and so many other ladies of classic country.
Queer Country Junction returns this Saturday at the Kenton Club in North Portland. I'm always on the lookout for rainbow country songs to play at this event. It turns out the rainbow is a popular symbol in vintage country music. When I was digging for musical treasure in Minnesota I found rainbow gold!
This record is by Ruby Falls (originally known as Bertha Dorsey) who took her stage name from the water falls at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. She charted nine Billboard country hits between 1974 - 1979. Unfortunately she passed away suddenly at age 40 of a brain hemorrhage.
Though she had all those hits and was even nominated "Most Promising Vocalist" by the country industry trade media in 1975, Ruby Falls is yet another artist who has seemed to have faded from the history of country music.
Help to change that by listening to my selection of the day and dance to it at the Kenton Club on Saturday! See ya soon!
Big Al Downing was born on this day 75 years ago in Oklahoma. He may not be the most recognizable name in American music today, but Downing had 15 hits on the country Billboard charts in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Has was also inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (his first recording was as pianist on Wanda Jackson's "Lets Have a Party") and he was named Billboard New Artist of the Year in 1979 (a strange accolade since he had been releasing singles since the late 1950s). He was a skilled songwriter and a captivating live performer with dedicated fans.
These days Downing is viewed by record nerds as sort of a "Bo Jackson" of the music world, meaning he was as proficient in the world of soul music as he was in country. He is one of two artists I can play regularly at both my soul dance parties and my country dance parties (the other being Ray Charles of course). That's a pretty special thing.
While Big Al recorded some excellent rock n roll, R&B and soul records, in the mid- 1970s he decided to focus solely on his first love of country music. From the Big Al Downing website: He told the Boston Herald in 1998, "I grew up in Oklahoma hauling hay, riding horses and doing all the things country folk do. So how can anyone say Country music is white?"
Like Stoney Edwards (who I featured a couple of weeks ago) Big Al Downing is not as well-remembered as he should be. So, lets rectify that on this 75th anniversary of his birth, I ask you to raise a mug of beer in memory of Big Al Downing and listen to this song while you're doing it.
Stoney Edwards, who was born on this day in 1929, has an interesting story. He was born into a family of rural Oklahoma bootleggers. He left OK and the family business for San Francisco after receiving a warning from the FBI who had been monitoring their corn liquor moonshining.
In the Bay area he took a job in a steel refinery, but became trapped inside a tank and suffered carbon dioxide poisoning. For two years he lapsed in and out of a coma. When he had finally recovered he chose to focus on his passion, country music.
He was discovered in 1970 during an era when record labels were looking to discover "the next Charley Pride". Stoney proved to find some success on the charts, but he never reached the level of Mr. Pride. Sadly, he is largely forgotten and rarely discussed these days. It's a shame because he put out some quality recordings and offered a truly unique perspective to the world of country music.
He was deeply influenced by Bob Wills and his vocal style owes much to Lefty Frizell. That's why I've chosen this song as my Record of the Day.
I have to admit that as a young person, it was the music of Ted Hawkins that demonstrated to me more than anything else that soul music and country music are two sides of the same coin. Ted taught me that it's all about context. I didn't know at the time that many of the songs he covered were classic country songs. I just loved his music, whatever it was.
I always saw a straight musical genealogical line from Sam Cooke to Otis Redding to Ted Hawkins. The three are intrinsically connected in my head. Yet, Ted didn't have the reach or influence of the other two. But he did die somewhat prematurely on the brink of something big, just like the other two.
For younger folks who might not be aware of Ted's story, I'll try to give the nutshell version. Ted Hawkins had a rough 'n' tumble childhood in Biloxi. Surviving by the skin of his teeth, he became inspired to become a musician through the music of Sam Cooke and later Otis Redding. He ended up recording a small handful of singles in the 60s, then spent the rest of his days as a busker in Venice Beach, Ca. A couple of well-meaning record label dudes "discovered" him at different times over the next two decades. He was popular in Europe but mostly ignored in the states. However, in the early 90s he recorded a slickly produced album that (at the time) nicely showcased his talent to a modern audience. It was well-received and gaining momentum when Hawkins died of a stroke at age 58. He was on tour at the time and I was planning on seeing him. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
The record of the day (actually from an LP) is Ted's country composition "My Last Goodbye" recorded with his wife Elizabeth in 1985 for Rounder Records. A classic honky tonk bopper by a man whose talent was too unique to be easily packaged and sold by the music industry. It was too real for the 80s, too raw for an era of synthetic plastic dreams. The 90s could handle him. I wonder how he would have handled the 90s.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ivory Joe Hunter, a man who defied categorization in an industry that has been determined to draw racial lines around genres. Though he is generally considered an R&B artist, many of his recordings could easily nestle perfectly within a country set list. He was a master musician and songwriter, performing in a variety of styles throughout his life: jump blues, R&B, country, soul, rock 'n' roll, and beyond. If you look up his best known songs, "Since I Met You Baby," "Empty Arms", and "I Almost Lost My Mind" you'll find they are standards in genres across the board. You might even find more country versions of those songs than R&B (although there are plenty of both).
Near the end of his life, Ivory Joe spent a lot of time in the country world, performing regularly at the Grand Ole Opry. At the same time, he was still busting out modern funky grooves at soul labels like Stax and Sound Stage 7.
The Record of the Day represents the country side of Ivory Joe Hunter. It was a minor hit in 1959. I suppose some might consider it kind of schmaltzy in arrangement and background singers, but I urge you to ignore that and listen to the song. This time the tables are turned as it is Ivory Joe who is covering a song written by a country artist, Bill Anderson. He gives it the full "Ivory Joe Hunter" treatment, so much so that one would believe it was his own composition.
The lyrics incredibly well-crafted. I can't help but appreciate the duel meaning of "The Great White Way" when delivered by a Black man singing country. Though generally "The Great White Way" refers to Broadway, it seems in this song to be all about Nashville:
A bright array of city lights as far as I can see
The Great White Way shines through the night for lonely guys like me
The cabarets and honky tonks, their flashing signs invite
A broken heart to lose itself in the glow of city lights.
Lights that say "Forget her name in a glass of sherry wine"
Lights that offer other girls for empty hearts like mine
They paint a pretty picture of a world that's gay and bright
But it's just a mask for loneliness behind those city lights.
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!