VARIOUS - Bad Music For Bad People - Songs The Cramps Taught Us CD (Righteous/2009)This is where my head's at lately. I write about old hardcore/punk/undie-rock here coz I figure that's what the folks want. Don't get me wrong - I love the stuff, too, and surely that's obvious - but sometimes I drag my feet a little, writing about hardcore platters of yesteryear simply because I know they're the entries which will at least get a little feedback. And when I write about "jazz", fuggedaboutit! I can hear the snoring and sense the glazed eyes from all the way over here. Which means I can occasionally be stuck in a bind when my head is caught in a certain musical corner which: A) may bore readers of this blog to tears if I were to attempt to dissect, critique and explain it; and B) may be a field of music I'm not particularly confident in tackling, or at least not as qualified as others who will appraise said music in a far more literate manner than I could muster. Before I wind up tying myself in parentheses-laden knots I can never escape from, I'll put it like this: My head has been deeply ensconced in the sounds of '40s/'50s America the last 6 months, and yet I've barely dribbled a word of it.
Dale Hawkins, Slim Harpo, Amos Milburn, Wynonie Harris, Clyde McPhatter, Lightnin' Slim, Hank Ballard, Elmore James, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Big Jay McNeely, Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Louis Jordan, the deep and wonderful vaults of the Excello, Aladdin, Modern, King, RPM, Meteor, etc. labels. Them's the goods that've been keepin' my head spinning. If you want the dice on these folks and more, go here, or perhaps even better yet, read yerself Robert Palmer's Deep Blues and Nick Tosches' Unsung Heroes Of Rock 'n' Roll and get started. It's been a collision of factors which have led me down this path of late: belatedly discovering the genius of Louis Jordan 18 months ago was one, but also blogs, the Palmer and Tosches books and a recent splurge on the Ace label have sent me into a spiral of obsession. All this doesn't mean I'm letting the bumcrack fly the flag as I squat over milk crates at record fairs whilst searching for rare 78 sides - my musical obsessions usually jump in about five different directions at once (I'm also enjoying early '60s Jamaican rocksteady, medieval music and '70s Australian boogie-metal, so go figure) - but it's certainly something which has, musically speaking, gotten me excited all over again. And that's a good thing.
And now that that hideously long-winded introduction is out of the way, let's tackle this CD in question. There was quite the glut of Cramps-related compilations back in the '80s, specifically the Born Bad series, one which I indulged in as a 14-year-old Cramps fan at the time, though also one whose wares I sold a few years later as I disappeared into the SST jazzbo zone, not to be seen again for a while. Rumour has it that a certain Australian ex-retailer was behind the Born Bad series, and whilst I'm not one to champion bootlegging of any sort, at least such a public service managed to open the eyes of a few gormless suburbanites to the wonders of pre-Beatles rock 'n' roll and its eccentrics such as Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, Wanda Jackson et al. These kind of comps had been almost entirely erased from my memory until this release came into my peripheral vision earlier in the year. I'm happy to be reminded.
Righteous is a Cherry Red imprint overseen and curated by author/writer/man-about-town, Dave Henderson. As the music biz continues to crumble under the weight of its own bullshit, Righteous is doing something right. It's a label of personal intent and taste: reissues and compilations of all shades and stripes which Henderson deems important enough to put back into circulation. 30 years from now - hell, maybe 10 years from now - folks are gonna miss these kinds of things. There's everything from exotica oddities to country/hillbilly gems to piano-boogie-blues from the 1940s to beatnik gimmickry from the '50s. I'm not going to say it's all good, but the strike rate is strong enough for me to always take an interest in what they're up to, and this release in question is definitely one of the best things Henderson has done, even if it is treading over old ground in places, ground which may well have been exhausted back in the '80s when the Cramps were at the height of their popularity, but as all nostalgia comes in waves, perhaps it's time to get nostalgic about a certain brand of nostalgia from 20 years ago. Are you still reading this? Good. Carry on.
If you have the slightest clue about rock 'n' roll beyond the plainly obvious, you may be familiar w/ some of the 26 tunes featured: Sonny Burgess' "Red Headed Woman", Elroy Dietzel & the Rhythm Bandits' "Rockin' Bones" (later covered by Ronnie Dawson), Slim Harpo's terrific "Strange Love" (a song which really does sound strange in the company it keeps here, the context giving it a quiet, unsettling aura), Dale Hawkins' "Tornado", etc. There's also a very cool Lightnin' Slim track, "It's Mighty Crazy", songs of raw genius I previously knew zip about (Jimmie Haskell & his Orchestra's "Astrosonic", Macy "Skip" Skipper's "Bop Pills", The Bangers' "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box"), and one of the great surprises is a staggeringly awesome track by Mac Rebenack (AKA Dr. John, if I gotta say it), "Storm Warning", a truly wild and hopped-up, speed-driven rockabilly instrumental aided and abetted by roaring sax and fuzz/tremelo guitar. It'll knock you out. The liner notes tell me the Cramps used the riff as a springboard for their own number, "Corn-Fed Dames" from A Date With Elvis. I haven't listened to that LP in over two decades. I might need a revisit. I knew of Rebenack's pre-Dr. John session work and that he had indeed dabbled in solo material under his own name in the late '50s/early '60s, but I had no idea that any of it was of this calibre. It's possibly the best thing here, and none of this is anything less than "good" and most of it is great.
What's in a compilation these days? If you buy your music via single-track MP3 downloads, then this kinda thing is not of any interest to you. I don't have the time nor willpower to make my own compilations. I need someone else to do it for me. Like I've said before: a good label is a filter, a conduit. Bad Music For Bad People has done the trick. Lux 'n' Ivy, god bless 'em, they unwittingly started up a cottage industry of folks trying to dig their way into their psychs, hearts and record collections over 30 years ago, and yet it continues. You oughta be happy someone's still doing it.
The Soothers "Best Australian Music Blog" competition winner has been announced, and... the big news is that it ain't me. But I can say w/ at least some sense of hopeless and desperate pride that Lexicon Devil came in second and in fact received over twice the votes as the winner. How the hell does that work?, I hear you ask. Well, you get a couple of marketing executives keen to ingratiate their product - a goddamn cough lolly... I mean, do you buy the things unless you're feeling crook?! - w/ the hep music scene, and then you somehow create a competition to determine who has the best music blog in the land. You do this not by the quality of the actual writing or the public's response to it, but by creating a "virtual concert" which in fact possibly says very little about the blog in question... and then... I guess you kinda make it up as you go along. The story isn't even interesting enough to bother re-telling. But my monstrous ego was moderately flattered, and so I'd like to thank you. Good night.