Monday, 21 August 2017

Grateful Dead: Bring Me The Head Of Jerry Garcia



BRING ME 
THE HEAD OF 
JERRY GARCIA


A tribute to
GRATEFUL DEAD
mainman  Jerry Garcia 
 1 August 1942 – 9 August 1995



Don Henley saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. In “The Boys Of Summer” he relates how it spoke in a voice inside him ‘don’t look back, you can never look back’. Now it’s time to look back. Jerry Garcia slowed with a bang into the Last Chapter of The Book Of The Dead. And now, when the telecast obit’s need a sharp soundbite, they get a live triple-album.

The deaths of John Lennon and Elvis Presley place a final punctuation on their decades. But they belonged to the world.

The Grateful Dead remain cult. Even after all these decades.


Non-initiates say ‘Jerry who…?’ The ‘Sun’ says ‘DEAD STAR DEAD’. Yet it was the Dead who patented the since-maligned term ‘Community Band’. In the UK we had Man, Edgar Broughton, Pink Fairies… the Levellers. Life-style totems. Benefits. Free Gigs. Personal bonding with their tribe going way beyond anything as trivial or as ephemeral as vinyl or music. With the Dead, that bonding remains… remained. And Jerry Garcia – a stoned moon-faced cartoon from the ‘Furry Freak Brothers’, was always the Head Dead. Reviewing their first LP in July 1967 ‘Melody Maker’ calls him ‘one of the most boring lead guitarists ever to inflict his presence on a group.’ Many years later, when asked what the Dead had learned over their twenty-two years as a band, Garcia smiles his goofy avuncular grin and says ‘we expect to get the hang of it any day now.’


There’s a recent Dead CD made up entirely of different versions of Garcia’s “Dark Star” (‘Grayfolded’, 1994/1995). Great bands usually invent new maps of their lives every few years. The Dead, loose-riffed and loose-trousered, always steered by Zen and the Art Of Endless Improvisation. With Jerome John Garcia at the exact centre of its sprawling psychedelic chemistry. Inactive for much of the nineties the one-time Captain Trips finally unhappened 9 August, following a heart attack in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre fighting heroin addiction. And even Bill Clinton – the dope-smoking President who never inhaled, was moved to eulogy. Adding a warning to the nation’s youth that ‘you don’t have to have a destructive life-style to be a genius and make a contribution.’ Perhaps. Perhaps not.


The 1987 Grateful Dead single “Touch Of Grey” was their only US Top Ten record. Their albums seldom graze the Top Thirty. But what the Dead had was authenticity. When Hippie movie-goers wrangle over whether Dennis Hopper smokes real marijuana in ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) it’s not just nit-pickery. It’s a litmus for the sniff of hands-on authenticity. There was never any doubting that the Dead were for real.

Evolving rapidly out of Folk, Jug-Band and Bluegrass into R&B the then-Warlocks drink Ken Kesey’s LSD-spiked Kool-Aid, and create a beautiful mythology. ‘Synchronicity spoken here!’ says Tom Wolfe, ‘nothing was in perspective, nothing had any touch of normalcy’ (‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, 1968). ‘You can imagine what it was like’ recalls Jerry, ‘to have a whole band completely out of their heads on acid. It’s weird. It’s all out of time and the timing is all peculiar.’ The Skull-and-Roses sleeve-art by Rick Griffin, the spaced ambience, the inventive technical skills of their fully meshing free-form explorations, the ‘Extended Family’ of interactive contributors all play a part. Robert Hunter’s lyrics. The Day-Glo posters. But it’s Garcia’s grizzled presence that’s always the defining point. And he was always grizzled. On the sleeve of their debut album – covering material like “Morning Dew” and “Good Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl”, he wears Uncle Sam’s Stars-&-Bars Top Hat against the molten surface of the sun. And even clean-shaven he already looks grizzled.


But despite playing Woodstock and the murderous Altamont Festivals they’re still $100,000 in debt to Warner Bros due to failed album sales. It’s not until 1970s ‘Live/Dead’ double LP which finally captures something of the Dead’s mystique, and the more accessible Country-Rock of ‘Workingman’s Dead’ (June 1970) and ‘American Beauty’ (November 1970) that they begin to achieve something like commercial recognition. While Garcia is also out freelancing solo with his ‘Garcia (The Wheel)’ (January 1972) album, or with New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Jefferson’s Airplane or Starship. And he’s there – grizzled and grinning on the liner photos of Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s ‘Déjà Vu’ (March 1970), or indulging his continuing taste for the more obscure byways of Americana Trad, Bluegrass and Country with Old And In The Way. Vocally he’s as light as his fretwork. The obvious technical limitations of his voice offset by its flesh and blood human warmth. His first instrument was the six-string banjo, and beyond his chemical Away-Day explorations, it was this simplicity he returns to. His solo ‘Run For The Roses’ (1982), ‘Reflections’ (1976) and the Jerry Garcia Band ‘Cats Under The Stars’ (1978) can be self-indulgent to the point of lethargy. While his down-home projects with the likes of Merl Saunders suffer critical neglect. But his pedal-steel guitar on 1988’s ‘Almost Acoustic’ can be near transcendental.


I saw the early-evening five-hour Dead set 7 May 1972 at the Bickershaw mudbath. We were all chemonauts together. But by the time of ‘Wake Of the Flood’ (1973), ‘From The Mars Hotel’ (1974), and the Dead’s first for Arista ‘Terrapin Station’ (1977), they have become a nomadic touring community, a cultural phenomenon spanning generations, a continuity the survival of which is hardly dependent on record sales at all. More an essential part of the American musical pageant.


Jerry Garcia’s narcotic problems through the mid-eighties are well-documented. He endures Drugs Rehabilitation following a five-day coma, returning to tour onstage with Bob Dylan. Then he’s hospitalised with ‘exhaustion’ in 1991, cancelling concert dates the following year due to ‘ill-health’. The final Grateful Dead concert with Jerry Garcia was in Chicago on 9 July 1995.

It’s barely conceivable that the Dead can exist in any meaningful form without him. But we’re going to continue re-exhuming the Dead for some time to come.




Grateful Dead: Debut LP



WHAT A LONG 
STRANGE TRIP… 
THE FIRST 
GRATEFUL DEAD 
ALBUM 


Album Review of: 
‘THE GRATEFUL DEAD’ 
 by THE GRATEFUL DEAD 
(Edsel ED 221, 1987, reissue of 
Warner Bros WS1689, March 1967) 


I’ve still got it – the Deadhead ‘Skull & Roses’ T-shirt. I wear it on ritual occasions. I wore it to revisit Stonehenge. I wear it now to revisit this revered and mystic load of old Rock. But does it still stand up? Stonedhenge – just about. The Dead – would YOU after all that spiked Electric Kool Aid? Fact is, Captain Trips and the Warlocks were always something mythic wrapped in something enigmatic. Hank Harrison’s Beat and beatific ‘The Dead Book’ (1973) takes a thick manic-prosed volume tricked out in grizzled archive pix, psychedelic posters and Egyptian tomb glyphs to get this far, and yet still can’t encompass the half of it. Hank’s scrupulously researched biog goes some way to explaining the sheer IMPOSSIBILITY of restricting the lysergic Dead maelstrom to mere vinyl. Already a major San Fran presence, they’d done an unsatisfactory 45rpm for an Indie label (“Don’t Ease Me In” c/w “Stealin’” for Scorpio Records 201, 1966) before pacting with an unsympathetic and somewhat baffled Warner & his Brothers for this debut twelve-incher. And I guess they, with producer David Hassinger, TRIED to make it work within studio discipline.

Lights, acid, roll the tapes – ACTION! Trippy Stanley Mouse art-sleeve – a clean-shaven Garcia wearing big grin and Uncle Sam top-hat collaged onto the solar photosphere. No sleeve-notes, not even full band-names, with the back cover split down the axis in reversed-out mirror-photo and lettering. And there are nine cuts, done over one long four-day weekend They do Sonny Boy Williamson’s lasciviously paedophile “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew”. But where the Yardbirds compress the deviant Blues energy of the former, and Rose (or even the proto-Deep Purple Episode Six cover) explodes the latter in growling electric tension in just around three minutes apiece, the Dead lose the song’s internal dynamic by attempting to apply their loose spacey stage-jam fluidity to them. As they’d first done with “Morning Dew” at the January 1967 ‘Human Be-In’. And – by comparison, it don’t work. Even these were razored down to fit the album’s 34:53-minute playing time. Full extended edits of “Morning Dew” “Good Morning Little School Girl”, “Sitting On Top Of The World”, “New, New Minglewood Blues” and Jerry Garcia’s “Cream Puff War” were finally issued as part of Rhino Records ‘The Golden Road’ box-set in 2001.


There’s an argument that the Dead NEVER mastered studio-craft until ‘Workingman’s Dead’ (February 1970) and ‘American Beauty’ (November 1970) – by which time they were well into a whole different thing anyway. But in the meantime, there are moments here that ignite with enough intensity to make the album worth your pennies. “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” makes for a curious opener, their shot at creating an obligatory contract-fulfilling hey-hey-hey-catchy garage-band single with summery barefootin’ dancin’ ‘in a ring around the sun’, atmospheric transcendental overtones caught by the oriental-tuning of the guitar-break, into the freak-jangly crash-fade. Then Bob Weir takes vocals for Jesse Fuller’s “Beat It On Down The Line”, a jumpy workingman’s song about riding that train to a better life. A busy “Sitting On Top Of The World”, variously done by a primally rasping Howlin’ Wolf, and a hyper-charged Cream, has a long Blues lineage going all the way back to 1930. The Dead variant takes it at a lighter jerky faster lick, ‘Mississippi River, so big and wide, blonde-haired woman on the other side.’ Until, closing the first side, Garcia’s tempo-shifting “Cream Puff War” goes from hard noodling guitar soloing, vehement Dylan-phrasing put-down vocals (‘you’re constant battles are getting to be a bore…’) offset by almost waltz-time breaks, into a Punky echo-reverb finish into the play-out groove.


There’s also “Cold Rain And Snow” – highlighted by Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan’s Vox Continental organ, and “New, New Minglewood Blues” – both trad arrangements, which capture unmistakably Deadheaded sonic weirdness. While the vocal harmonies are raggedly rough-edged in a way that gives a raw spontaneous dimension to a live context, but less so when condensed down onto record. The full closing 10:01-minute duration of “Viola Lee Blues” allows them sufficient time to develop that riffed mantra quality until it starts blowing high-octane sparks towards the eight-minute crescendo end-game, neatly counterpointing Jerry Garcia-Bob Weir’s lead-rhythm guitar interplay over Phil Lesh’s bass pulse, before dropping back into the closing verse. It might’ve been done earlier by Noah Lewis’s Cannon’s Jug Stompers, but extending out with jazz-fluid guitar improvisations it comes closest to catching the Dead’s unique stage presence, unlike anything else across the spectrum of Rock, entering their mythic continuum. With Bill ‘The Drummer’ Kreutzmann’s rangey time-keeping tying it all together.


The Dead leave little beyond that tripped-out image by way of legacy. Even at the time there was an incredible wealth of new music jostling for attention, picking up clues from hints and mentions in ‘Record Mirror’ or ‘New Musical Express’ I was listening to Jefferson Airplane, Love, Electric Prunes, the first Pink Floyd singles. The Doors debut album had arrived in January. The Byrds ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ in February. The first Velvet Underground album came that same March. And that’s before you get to the singles. “Strawberry Fields Forever” was the UK no.2. I later picked up on a copy the Dead’s single “Born Cross-Eyed” c/w “Dark Star (2:50-min edit)” (WB 7186), although it’s impression was muted.

Now, for the uninitiated, there’s little here for 1980s Paisley revivalists to readily latch onto – no clean customised liftable motif like the Byrds Rickenbacker jangle, Syd Barrett’s acid-fried lyrics, or Thirteenth Floor Elevators garage-thrash. No Airplane hard-acid laser-focus, or Crosby Stills & Nash close-harmony. Fact is, with the Dead, it’s ALWAYS been necessary to suspend disbelief and take them on their own terms. And that, now – without all their attendant 1967 hippie paraphernalia, ain’t easy.

So file this one in your library under ‘SEMINAL’, and wear that T-shirt with pride, for strictly ritual occasions only.

Full Album:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgN6_crD1hY


Grateful Dead: 'The Arista Years'



WELCOME TO 
SHAKEDOWN STREET

Album Review of: 
‘THE ARISTA YEARS’ 
by THE GRATEFUL DEAD 
(Arista 07822-18934-2) 

Dead songs are never finished. Weirdologists already know this. The Dead were a fractured family orbiting their tribe like strange planets around a Dark Star. They began forging future-sounds from chemicals, electricity, and smidges of Jugband Surrealism in the late Sixties, and they just kept on keeping on, from endless promise to tired resignation. ‘Going to hell in a bucket’ and enjoying the ride, all the way through into the Nineties, until they were America’s premier anti-realists in the cold new age of realism. If they’d gone any further they’d be hanging off the edge of the horizon. But they lived fast. And sometimes not so fast. They didn’t die young. But they left a few grizzled corpses in their wake. And they left this double-CD shot through with epic space and time curving away into limitless distance.


Even within the context of an odd career structure the Eighties were odd years for Deadheads (this compilation covering eight albums from 1977 to 1990). But writing as a semi-Dead Fellow Traveller the alleged inconsistencies of the period now seem to achieve an exotic and ruined clarity. There were – for the first time, outside producers on Dead sessions, including Little Feat’s party animal Lowell George. There were shots at new stylistic diversions too. The “Terrapin Station” cycle is loaded with complex shifting textures, a mass choral section, and some of Robert Hunters’ most allusive lyrics, all seamed together by strings from Elton John alumni Paul Buckmaster. “Shakedown Street” was supposedly their sprawling and chaotic answer to Disco, but it now sounds like nothing so much as classic Grateful Dead with a jumped-up bass-line. “Estimated Prophet” has a 7/4 rhythmic core derived from Reggae, as “Alabama Getaway” nods at Chuck Berry. They even borrow a cover, “Good Lovin’” from the Young Rascals But the Dead are bigger than them all, effortlessly absorbing and containing the changes.

And later, with tracks lifted from their unexpected commercial rejuvenation ‘In The Dark’ (1987) and ‘Built To Last’ (1989), it all becomes an alchemy of wonderful strangeness, harbouring wry humour and wistful reflection. ‘Too much of everything’ was just about enough. But because Dead songs are never finished, it’s live that their continuously evolving fluidity is most accurately captured. So there’s inevitable live material too, including a free-form 16:25-minute “Without A Net”, illuminated by unpremeditated sax from Branford Marsalis. Dead/Not Dead. Those improvisations probably continue on some alternate plane of reality, as well as in collective memory – or, as Richard Gehr says it in the sleeve notes, in ‘magnetic and mnemonic form’. Weirdologists already know that.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Cult Blues: 'HOWLIN' WOLF ALBUMS'



Album Review of: 
‘MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT’ 
(Blue City CD 2652292, 1988 compilation) 
‘THE REAL FOLK BLUES’ 
(MCA CHD-9273, 1966) 
‘HOWLIN’ WOLF COLLECTION’ 
(Déjà vu DVCD 2032, 1987 compilation) 
and ‘THE LONDON SESSIONS’ 
(Chess CD 1004) 

all by

HOWLIN’ WOLF 

In the 1960s Electric Wolf was considered an overwhelming prospect. Now we get electric and digitally re-mastered Wolf to corrode your CD speakers, and it’s truly awesome. The Blues form is welded into our ears, realise it or no. It’s the charged air Rock breathes, with Howlin’ Wolf a huge black bullfrog of a man – 6ft 4ins, 300lbs of haunted howls and harsh resonant growls. ‘Oh-ohh Smokestack Lightnin’, Shinin’ just like gold, Oh, don’t you hear my cryin, Wooooo-ooooo, Wooooo-ooooo-ooooo, Wooooo’. No BB King slick or John Lee Hooker sly wit here, just granite tornados ripped from the bowels of Pluto dripping venom, gore and entrails. The Wolf can be terrifying.

Born Chester Burnett, 10 June 1910 in Sunflower County, Mississippi, he lived generations of Blues, learned his craft during the 1930s hard-travelling with Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, first recorded in Memphis with Sam ‘Sun’ Philips and a youthful Ike Turner, roared through the Chess Golden Decade, to finally lope into the 1970s for Rolling Stone Records (originally COC 49101, 1971) in the overly respectful company of Bill Wyman, Ringo ‘Ritchie’ Starr, Steve Winwood and a tremulous Eric Clapton. Wolf left a pack of originals easily the equal of any Blues vocal meltdown anywhere, with a voice at once raucous, and fluid as gasoline.


“Smokestack Lightning” says it all, but there’s nineteen more titles on the Blue City CD, Willie Dixon’s lecherous “Back Door Man” – ‘…the men don’t know, but the little girls’ – and Jim Morrison, ‘understand’, the R&B showcase “Wang Dang Doodle” sucked appropriately onto MCA’s 1978 soundtrack album to the unrelenting urban ‘Blue Collar’ movie, to Wolfish originals “Howlin’ For My Baby”, “Moanin’ At Midnight” – its seminal version dating from August 1951, and the now-standard “Spoonful”. ‘The Real Folk Blues’ stark, austere and nerve-drawn, is a straight reissue of a Chess original, its twelve titles compiled from 1957-1966 sessions usually in the company of Wolf’s finest guitar sideman Hubert Sumlin. It encompasses his most aggressively lethal invective – “The Natchez Burning” illuminated by the Civil Rights race war, through to “Sitting On The Top Of The World”, “Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy”, and “Built For Comfort”.

Title duplication seems inevitable, with the second twenty-track anthology sharing “Red Rooster” and “Wang Dang Doodle” – but neolithic slabs of pure rusted sheet lightning like “Killing Floor”, “Highway 49”, “Ain’t Superstitious”, “Louise”, and the predatory “The Wolf Is At Your Door” make the ‘Howlin’ Wolf Collection’ as essential to the health of the planet as the ozone layer. The British Blues boom plundered or plagiarised the primitive sophistication of Wolf’s lycanthropic carcass from Manfred Mann to Cream, from the Rolling Stones to Little Feat. But the cross-bred ‘The London Sessions’ – a well-intentioned kickback with the Wolf retreading his catalogue, “Red Rooster”, “Do The Do” and the rest, in a ‘supergroup’ setting coerced by producer Norman Dayron – shows just how far they got it wrong. White sheep in Wolf’s clothing? Only Sumlin and the mighty Wolf himself invest the exercise with authentic dignity.

Chester Burnett died of a heart attack following brain surgery in Chicago, 10 January 1976. But the Wolf is still Howling…


Cult Blues: Howlin' Wolf Second Album




MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT: 
HOWLIN’ WOLF 

 Album Review of: 
‘HOWLIN’ WOLF (SECOND 
ALBUM aka ‘ROCKIN’ CHAIR’)’ 
by HOWLIN’ WOLF 
 (Hoodoo Records) www.hoodoo-records.com 

Chester Burnett was a big man. The primal Wolfman. Motown had the Pop hits. Stax had the Memphis Soul Stew. But Chess had the fiercest roster of Blues ever assembled on planet twelve-bar, Chuck, Bo, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and the spine-chilling Smokestack Lighting Howl of the Wolf. The rawest voice from hell, supernaturally surreal in its doomed menace. So way-down slow it becomes gut-bestial thunder. Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits try, but can’t come close. It’s a scary Howl at the Moon against life and the injustice of living. ‘I’ve had my fun, if I never get well no more.’ That you know every one of these songs through reverent awed white R&B covers is a given. When Jim Morrisson leers ‘the men don’t know, but the little girls understand’ he’s aping the lascivious Wolf prowl. Wolf is the strutting priapic Rooster Jagger was trying to be. Although this was Burnett’s second album, issued in 1962, it was assembled from a series of singles, the earliest sessions as way-back as 1957, yet they’re consistent, the flip-sides as powerful as the ‘A’s. And there are ten valuable bonus tracks, each as vital. You don’t argue with the Wolf. He was a big big man.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ 
Vol.2 No.47 Sept/Oct (UK – September 2014)


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Motown's First Star: MARY WELLS



MARY WELLS: 
 MOTOWN’S 
‘MISS HITMAKER’

 13 May 1943 – 26 July 1992 


Never one to waste an idea on one song when it’s rich enough for two, Smokey Robinson wrote “My Girl” and “My Guy” as a back-to-back matching set. The former subsequently resurfaced into chart awareness nudged by the tacky movie of the same name, and by the still sublime harmonies of the Temptations. Then “My Guy” began getting high-profile radio play too, due to Mary Wells’ untimely death from throat cancer.

Mary was the First Lady Of Motown – at least in the chronological sense. Her light fly-away voice may have lacked the fire of a Martha Reeves, or the aching desolation of a Supremes-era Diana Ross, but she predates them both. And if she was essentially a vehicle for other’s ambitions, arriving at her unique nexus in Pop history as much by chance as by excellence, then the honeyed seduction of her run of American hits still stands up to repeated play.


Intent on a song-writing career she’d initially taken her “Bye Bye Baby” to Berry Gordy Jrn hoping to interest Jackie Wilson in the song. But Gordy took note of the self-assured schoolgirl who’d walked into their regular auditions straight off the Detroit street, listened to her perform her song, and immediately signed her to an artist contract instead. Jackie Wilson’s loss became the Motown label’s fourth single release. Then “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” b/w “I’m So Sorry”, her second record (catalogue no. Motown 1011), charted as high as ‘Billboard’ no.33 in August 1961. And the following year brought no less than three straight Top Ten hits – “The One Who Really Loves You” (no.8 in May 1962), “You Beat Me To The Punch” (no.9 in August), and the mildly risqué tough ‘n’ tender “Two Lovers” (no.7 in December). Starting out ‘I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed, two lovers and I love them both the same’, she explains how one is ‘sweet and kind’ while the other ‘treats me bad’, until the neat final verse resolution reveals they’re both split personalities of the same guy, her teasing vocal intonation running rings around its torn-between-two-lovers contradictions. 

But close your eyes, listen, it could almost be Smokey himself singing “You Beat Me To The Punch” rather than him just using Mary’s voice as his instrument. Then listen to the razor-sharp handclap backing that will become a Motown production-line trademark. It’s all there in blueprint – the sound that will dominate, not only black music, but the sound of the sixties. Mary Wells’ silk-smooth soul, oozing taste and poignancy, was an essential part of bursting Motown through the Pop R&B crossover map. It was Mary Wells who scored those early vital breakthroughs.


There were other American hits, including the captivating double-header “You Lost The Sweetest Boy” (no.22 in October) and “What’s Easy For Two Is So Hard For One” (no.29 in January 1964), before “My Guy” finally peaked at no.1 in April 1964. It was also Mary Wells’ name on the label’s first Top Ten British single, issued on the Stateside label here in the days before Motown qualified for its own separate identity. In a chart dominated by the new Mersey Beat-group wave, “My Guy” entered at no.37, 21 May 1964, before loping unstoppably to no.5, beneath Cilla Black’s “You’re My World” by 18 June – and, re-issued in 1972, repeated the feat as high as no.14…

There was to be one further Motown Chartbuster, a duet with Marvin Gaye linking “Once Upon A Time” c/w “What’s The Matter With You Baby” (Billboard no.19/17 in May 1964). Making Mary the first of Marvin’s ‘Girl’ partners, for with Mary Wells gone he’d go on to chart with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell.


Mary Esther Wells was born in poverty to a single mother, 13 May 1943, but her career grew inexorably with the burgeoning fortunes of Motown. Through its tutelage she was its first female focal point, recognised and lauded by arbiters of Teen taste from Dusty Springfield to the Beatles on down. When Searchers lead singer Tony Jackson went solo he not only covered “Bye Bye Baby” as his launch single, but followed it with “You Beat Me To The Punch”. Still barely twenty-one years old, ‘Miss Hitmaker’ toured Britain as the special guest of the Fab Four and found them ‘perfect gentlemen’. I caught the Autumn ‘package tour’ at Hull’s ABC Regal cinema, with her slinky good looks showcased in a ten-minute three-song excerpt from the Motortown Revue. She was backed – awkwardly, by Brian Epstein’s Sounds Incorporated, but nothing could diminish the sense of something new and sweetly significant taking place. Yet her celebrity was already running out.

Perhaps intimidated by the wealth of talent within Motown she’d already stopped trying to write her own songs, and in what she mistakenly saw as an astute career move, on the crest of a chart-wave, she unexpectedly re-resigned to Twentieth Century Fox Records. Presented as the face of young black America, she’d always ducked attempts to celebrate her success as part of a racial thing. She saw herself purely as a singer, a performer. But without the black artist’s support structure and the R&B identity of Motown her career nose-dived. Never to recover. When she quit ‘Hitsville USA’, the magic stayed in Detroit. Her final American Top 40 entry, “Use Your Head” no.34 in January 1965, is a fair Motown imitation from her predominantly white new company. But pseudo-Motown was suddenly by no means a scarce commodity, and Mary Wells got lost in the deluge.


There was much subsequent frantic label-hopping to Atco, Jubilee, Epic and Warner Bros with sporadic hints of a comeback that never quite materialised. Positively for Mary there was brief marriage – to producer-guitarist Cecil Womack (they split in 1970, and she married his brother, Curtis), and four children, but creatively there’s a certain irony that even by the mid-sixties her albums consist of a complete Beatles tribute – ‘Love Songs To The Beatles’ (1965), an unlikely Rolling Stones covers – “Satisfaction”, and second-hand Supremes material – “My World Is Empty Without You” both (on ‘The Two Sides Of Mary Wells’, Atco, 1966). Eventually some of her later sides – such as “Ain’t It The Truth”, or “The Doctor” recorded for Reprise, would be rescued by the Northern Soul fraternity where she remained a respected name.

There are distressing tales of her final years, of bankruptcy and ill-health, with her medical bills footed by Rock star fans Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins and Rod Stewart. But essentially, Mary Wells was Detroit’s ‘Little Miss Hitmaker’, Motown’s first First Lady Of Soul. And that brief but lush golden span of hits is more than enough to ensure her a unique footnote in Pop history.


Saturday, 29 July 2017

Poem: "Roll Over Dean Benedetti (& Tell Dave Britton The News)"




ROLL OVER 
DEAN BENEDETTI 
 (AND TELL 
DAVE BRITTON 
THE NEWS)/ 
 OPERATION MOONBEAM 

“The music business was in a mood of high self-congratulation
this week after what is described as ‘the smashing of the biggest 
 bootleg ring in the UK’.” (‘Melody Maker’ 1 September 1979) 


Manchester streets 
squirm unclaimed sound, 
a patina of noise 
collecting in flesh-pools 
oozing in gutters. 
BUT DON’T PICK IT UP!!! 

Manchester caves 
r-e-v-e-r-b-e-r-a-t-e 
with indecent exposures 
of stolen sound, 
sucked from hidden mics, 
stacked in neat piles 
across grotto’s where 
Aubrey Beardsley and 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti dance 
(watched by fabricating 
identi-machine wizards) 

Mandible moonbeams 
light gleams 
stealth shift – 
finger prods the gloom 
sinks into viscous mounds 
of round black sounds, 
various, nefarious. 
R-E-C-O-I-L-S 
in legislative horror, 
image screwed into retina’s 
of vinyl germs 
inviting aural disease – 
wilderness is not a place 
but a state of unordered sound!!! 
Moonbeam wizards 
disinfect ears, 
check palms of hands 
for masturbatory hairs, 
flush offenders into 
neat matrix catalogues, 
and chains of books 
synchronizing 
gratuitous breathings 

Sometimes they hear 
Manchester streets 
v-i-b-r-a-t-e 
with a pulse 
of bass lines 
that coil and 
snare unsuspecting 
feet 

 and they ache… 



(Addendum: Dean Benedetti, who invaluably pirated live Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker sessions in the 1940s, is the legendary first sound recording-Bootlegger. Dave Britton, publisher of ‘Savoy Books’ and co-owner of Manchester’s ‘Bookchain’ shop, was the victim of anti-Bootleg prosecution following the ‘Operation Moonbeam’ Police purge in September 1979)

Published in:
‘GLOBAL TAPESTRY No.9’ (UK – May 1980)
‘IT: INTERNATIONAL TIMES – Frivolous Summer Issue 1980’ (UK)