Key to the Highway2016-09-14
Freddie KingThe Electric Flag
Clarence “Pinetop” Smith
*************************I keep my CDs in a manner which, to my imagination, is unlike most folks. I remove them from their jewel cases and store them in binders usually in groupings of similar players. That way, I try to keep musicians who came from the same band (even sidemen who later had their own careers) together, but the primary similarity would be by location. Freddie King is one artist I feel I have always misfiled. Freddie was born on September 5th of 1934 in Gilmer, Texas, and that is where I have him placed, but in reality the style of his recordings should place him in one of my Chicago Blues binders because he was a contemporary of my favorite generation of Blues artists of all time, the one that included fellow guitar-slinging vocalists Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, etc., and stylistically he certainly fits best with them.
By the age of six, Freddie was learning to play guitar from an uncle and his mother, Ella Mae King. Freddie’s family relocated from Dallas to Chicago’s south side in 1949 and, although only fifteen, he began entering the nightclubs in the neighborhood which featured some of the best Bluesmen of the day, among them Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson II. He very soon formed his own band, The Every Hour Blues Band (which also featured guitarist Jimmy Lee Robinson). In 1952, King was working in a steel mill, but the eighteen year old was also finding time to play as a sideman in bands like Earl Payton’s Blues Cats, for whom he recorded in 1953 on the Parrot label but the tracks were never released.
Freddie continued to work as a sideman and it appears his reputation was climbing higher as some of the bandleaders included guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood Jr., Eddie Taylor, and Hound Dog Taylor, pianist Memphis Slim, harmonica master Little Walter Jacobs, and often included Willie Dixon on bass. King cut his first tracks as bandleader in 1956 for the El-Bee label. Margaret Whitfield performed vocal with him on the A side, Country Boy, while King sang alone on the B side, both numbers featuring the guitar of Lockwood, Jr. Try though he may, however, in spite of backing on some of their artists’ recordings, King was unable to acquire a contract with Chess Records, the premier Chicago Blues label, but in the late fifties while Willie Dixon was away from Chess, the producer and songwriter did get Freddie into a session for Cobra Records but, again, this session was never to go to platter. Still, King was becoming among the best-known artists on the growing West Side Blues scene.
In 1959, Freddie met pianist Sonny Thompson, who also served as producer and A&R man for Syd Nnathan’s King Records conglomerate and got signed to the Federal subsidiary in 1960. His first recording session for the label, on August 26th, produced that year’s single Have You Ever Loved a Woman and You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling, but easily the most significant track from that date was his instrumental Hide Away which, when released in 1961 as the B-side to I Love the Woman, reached #5 on the R&B charts and #29 in the Pop Singles list, the latter fact unheard of until then for a Blues instrumental. It became common practice after this during his stay with the company to pair singles with a vocal on one side and one of the more than thirty instrumentals King and Thompson wrote on the flip. Following that tradition, I have alternated instrumentals throughout our opening set.
Wikipedia tells us his birth name was Fred King but his recordings with Nathan’s Cincinnati-based labels listed him as Freddy King; later, Freddie made his preference clear. In 1961 Federal released two albums of mostly past singles, the first, Freddy King Sings, was followed quickly by Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King: Strictly Instrumental. The latter, combined with the 1965 LP Freddy King Gives You a Bonanza of Instrumentals, was released in 1991on CD as Just Pickin’. Freddie recorded for Nathan into 1968 but late in the year signed on with Cotillion, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, at the urging of one of their producers, saxophonist King Curtis, releasing the albums Freddie King is a Blues Master in 1969 and My Feeling for the Blues in 1970.
In 1969, Freddie was booked in the Texas Pop Festival, which was headlined by Led Zeppelin and led to his signing with Leon Russell’s Shelter Records in the fall of 1970. The label released Getting Ready in 1971 (recorded at the former Chess studio in Chicago) followed by 1972’s Texas Cannonball and then Woman Across the River in 1973. Combined with the inclusion of Freddie’s old King singles in so many popular musicians’ repertoires, the success of these three LPs had Freddie’s concert appeal in high gear, appearing with major rock artists and before audiences made up mostly of white fans.
Freddie’s next signing was with the Robert Stigwood Organization’s RSO Records. Legendary British producer Mike Vernon was in charge of 1974’s Burglar and the follow-up Larger Than Life albums with the exception of Sugar Sweet, a track produced by Tom Dowd at Miami Florida’s Criterion Studios which had King backed by Eric Clapton and his band at that time, drummer Jamie Oldaker, bassist Carl Radle and third guitarist George Terry. Clapton also appeared on a ive version of Farther On Down the Road contained in the post mortem compilation, Freddie King: 1934-1976.
I was fortunate to hear Freddie around 1972 at the Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains, an intimate setting that was one of the highlights of my musical appreciation. With tour dates amounting to nearly 300 days on the road each year, Freddie’s health was failing and, at the age of 42, he passed away due to complications from stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis on December 28th 1976. Posthumous recognitions came in 1993 when Texas Governor Ann Richards proclaimed September 3rd Freddie King Day, and when Rolling Stone magazine posted its list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time, Freddie ranked #15. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
*************************In the early nineties, just after I had joined KKUP, I went down to the Monterey Blues Festival a couple or three times with the Conductor (still on KKUP Thursdays 5-7pm), and on one of those occasions there was a little R&B combo on the secondary stage whom I liked enough to pick up the CD they had available. The disc was titled Cornbread and Cabbage Greens, which compiled tracks recorded by the Jazz and R&B saxophone player Joe Houston around December of 1952. We hear today several tracks from that disc, which was released in 1991.
Another Texan, Joe was born in the Austin suburb of Bastrop, Texas on July 12th 1926. Before taking up the saxophone, he learned to play trumpet in school and received his first break in 1941 when the sax man from a band he went to see didn’t show up and the teenager was allowed to take his place. Houston toured with the Midwest territory band of King Kolax around Chicago and Kansas City from 1943 to 1946.
Returning home to Texas after World War II, Joe recorded with Amos Milburn and Big Joe Turner; indeed, it was Turner who got Houston his first recording contract, with Freedom Records to whom Big Joe was currently signed. Through this time, Houston had been playing alto sax but switched to tenor when he chose to emulate the honking sound that was new on the scene. In 1949, Joe moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he played with Wynonie Harris, among others.
Joe moved to Los Angeles in 1952, the same year he had two hit singles with his band The Rockets in Worry, Worry, Worry and Hard Time Baby, both of which climbed to #10 on the Billboard R&B chart and the only times he would make such a list despite recording for many of the L.A. record companies.
Joe appeared in concert and on disc throughout the 1990s and 2000s with his band the Defrosterz (perhaps the group I saw him with in Monterey) alongside his manager and bass player Mark St. John. Joe only ceased playing in 1995 after he had a stroke and, having suffered several more, passed away on December 28th 2015 in Long Beach, California.
*************************Again, going back to my early times here at the station, the earliest recollection I have of Andy Mazzilli was when he stopped by our studio in Cupertino and just sat down and talked music with me as I was doing a show. I had already cued and put on a CD that I believe was the first time I heard it and when I played it, starting with the classic It Hurts Me Too, Andy said something like, “That’s the Holmes Brothers.” It was their first album so I asked Andy if he was familiar with it and he said, again paraphrasing, “No, but I recognize the song from when I played with them in New York.”
Andy was about my son’s age; in fact, he attended the same high school but when I asked my son recently if he happened to have known him, he looked it up in a yearbook or something and discovered that Andy was about three years his elder. While we were in our Santa Clara studio Andy was staying nearby and every now and then would stop by when I was on the air. We also went out for beers a couple of times and I got to know him fairly well. I considered him a friend.
Andy was a very talented young guitarist (when I first met him he would have been in his mid-twenties) and I recall one time in particular that was among the best pure Blues jam session I had heard. It was at the short-lived Bathtub Gin and Blues (formerly the Lakewood Lounge) and it matched him up with bass player Charles Lyons, possibly with a drummer, and it was most likely entirely instrumental. As far as local bassists, I have always considered Charles among the elite and the way the two worked off of each other . . . . All I can say is WOW!
Anyway, shortly after it was recorded, Andy gave me a CD with about twenty minutes of a session at JJ’s Lounge in 2002 and that will be played on the air for the first time, by me anyway, today. I don’t know who the other players are, but I think you’ll find it highly enjoyable.
I found a brief bio online and from it I discovered that Andy left the Bay Area while still in high school to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston, then, while still seventeen, moved to New York. Andy would tour with some of the best-known Blues sidemen, I presume as an ensemble, including Howlin’ Wolf’s longtime guitarist Hubert Sumlin, pianist Pinetop Perkins, former Muddy Waters guitarist Jimmy Rogers, and harpman / guitarist / vocalist Louis Myers who, often with his band The Aces, backed up Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Charlie Musselwhite. When not on tour, Andy could be found performing with The Holmes Brothers, John Popper of Blues Traveler or, if I knew Andy, just about anybody in order to get his music out. He also spent a year as the main guitarist for Joan Osborne.
I’m not sure of the exact dates but I feel safe in saying he was born in December of 1967 and left us in April of 2007. Way too soon.``
*************************We likely won’t get around to it due to my talking too much, but I did include on the second disc three tunes by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith. Clarence was born in Troy, Alabama on June 11th. 1904, and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I had always assumed that the nickname Pinetop referred to the wood in a piano, but Wikipedia informs us that Smith acquired it from his childhood penchant for climbing in trees. In 1920 Pinetop moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and found work as an entertainer. He showed off skills not only as a singer and piano player but also as a comedian when he went out on the T.O.B.A. tour, short for Theater Owners Booking Agency but often spoken of as Tough On Black Asses. He spent time accompanying Blues singer Ma Rainey and the musical comedy duo of Butterbeans and Susie.
Fellow pianist Cow Cow Davenport referred Smith to J. Mayo Williams who was the main producer for Vocalion Records, leading Pinetop to move his wife and son to Chicago, Illinois, where, in 1928, he made his recordings. I’ve been unable to ascertain whether Pinetop made more than one session in 1929, but he was all set to return to the Vocalion studio when on March 15th, the night before the session, he was shot and killed in a bar fight; whether he was the intended victim is unknown.
At one point, Clarence lived in the same Chicago rooming house as Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. I hope there was more than just one piano in the house! Smith recorded what would become almost an anthem to Boogie Woogie, a relatively new style of piano that all three were practitioning at the time, and although Ammons and Lewis went on for long careers, Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie was not only among the earliest hit in the style but the December 29th creation Smith said he put together while at a St’ Louis house rent party seems to have taken on a life of its own.
In 1938, Tommy Dorsey had a big band arrangement of the song made and recorded by his orchestra, which became his best selling record at five million copies, and was followed by versions by Bing Crosby and Count Basie. Joe Willie Perkins’ version of the song in the 50s led to his forever being known as Pinetop Perkins, a moniker which lasted long into the new millennium. Unlike many of the Boogie Woogie piano presentations, Smith’s music was not strictly instrumental, and lyrics from Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie can be found in a couple of Ray Charles’ tunes, Mess Around and What’d I Say; phrases like “the girl with the red dress on”, “shake that thing”, and “mess around”. Smith’s tune was also included in a Modern Jazz vein on Bob Thiele’s 1975 LP, I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood, and the renditions go on to this day. Pinetop was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.
*************************\The Electric Flag dubbed themselves “An American Music Band”, originally intended to be the group’s name when first assembled in the spring of 1967, and the only liner notes that appeared on the LP we will be hearing from today, go on to say, “American music is not necessarily music directly from America. I think of it as the music you hear in the air, on the air, and in the streets; blues, soul, country, rock, religious music, traffic, crowds, street sounds and field sounds, the sound of people and silence.” That is all that is provided to describe the 1968 debut album, A Long Time Comin’, except for the song list and a somewhat complicated list of players, but I’ll try to clarify that a little by cutting it down to its core. I believe it was an eight man band with drummer / vocalist Buddy Miles, bassist Harvey Brooks, keyboardist Barry Goldberg and guitarist Michael Bloomfield along with saxophonists Herbie Rich and Peter Strazza and trumpeter Marcus Doubleday with singer Nick Gravenites holding the front of the stage.
In 1967, the ensemble was formed by Bloomfield shortly after leaving the Paul Butterfield Blues Band just as they were winning acclaim for their first two albums. He was strongly assisted by Goldberg’s organizational skills. Goldberg, a Chicago native, began as a drummer until his barrelhouse playing mother convinced him to switch to piano. Shortly after graduating high school, Barry joined an R&B band, Robbie and the Troubadours, with whom he toured for three years. Later, on July 25th 1965 he was part of the infamous Bob Dylan performance at the Newport Folk Festival.
Also that year, he met the Texas-born guitarist Steve Miller, who had moved to Chicago because of the town’s wealth of Blues. The Miller-Goldberg Blues Band was formed and maintained a year’s residency at Big John’s, putting out one single on Epic which led to a promotional spot on the TV show Hullabaloo. The next step was a four week gig at New York’s nightclub The Phone Booth beginning December 15th, where an unreleased album Live at the Phone Booth was recorded. Miller soon went back to Texas and it then became the Barry Goldberg Blues Band.
By 1966, when they went to Nashville to lay down the tracks to the album Blowing My Mind, the band included Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and Harvey Mandel on guitar. The LP didn’t do much, as Goldberg recalled, “We were playing stone Blues, but nobody knew and we were starving, so we finally broke up.” The three were re-united for Musselwhite’s 1967 debut album, Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s South Side Band.
In between those, Goldberg, who had been set to tour with Dylan until Bob got in a motorcycle accident, spent a few months with the Chicago Loop, including appearing on a 1966 single which also included Bloomfield and another in 1967. Goldberg’s organ was a driving force on Mitch Ryder’s #4 single, recorded in late 1966, Devil with the Blue Dress On / Good Golly Miss Molly, and he and Michael backed Ryder on his 1967 LP What Now My Love. Now that the Electric Flag was about to happen, Ryder was offered the vocalist spot but decided to stay with the Detroit Wheels
Nick Gravenites was another Chicago native, growing up on the city’s South Side. He was enrolled at the University of Chicago beginning in 1956 and soon met the sixteen-year-old harp player Paul Butterfield, who attended a nearby high school. The two began performing as a duet in the style Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (Nick playing guitar). Gravenites: “Then we got more interested in electric Blues, and we began hanging out together in black clubs and thinking we may even be able to play that stuff.”
In 1959, after receiving a small inheritance, Nick seized the opportunity to visit San Francisco where he played the coffeehouses and crashed where he could, shuttling back and forth between Chicago and S.F. until he finally made the Bay Area his home in 1965. One evening while Butterfield was visiting, the two were playing at the Cabal coffeehouse and were heard by Elektra Records producer Paul Rothchild, who offered Butterfield a contract. When Butterfield said he was not yet ready to commit, the other Paul gave him a card to use when the time was right.
In early 1963, Paul and Nick were together, playing at the Blind Pig in Chicago, until Butterfield got an offer to take over Bloomfield’s gig at Big John’s. He formed a new band without Gravenites, but in early 1965 Michael and Nick formed another group which, at times, also included Musselwhite. Unable to quite make a success of it, the band fell apart when Michael joined the Butterfield band.
Still in 1965, Gravenites was able to place two of his compositions on vinyl and included future Butterfield guitarist Elvin Bishop on one side. Nick went on to become managing partner in a club on the North Side called the Burning Bush and put together a band to play there. Things went well until Nick’s partner was killed in a car crash; it was then that Gravenites made the final move to San Francisco, playing gigs at the Matrix and the Jabberwock. Then, in 1967, Gravenites signed on with the Electric Flag as songwriter and featured singer, singing two of his compositions Groovin’ is Easy and Another Country which we hear here.
I must once again express my gratitude to the compilers of the 2001 book Blues-Rock Explosion, for without it I surely would not have had almost any background on Goldberg and Gravenites. Maybe I should just congratulate myself for having the wisdom to have bought it!
Bassist Brooks was in Bob Dylan’s band when Bloomfield had worked on the 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, and it was his recommendation that they bring in the nineteen year old Miles, who had been drumming for Wilson Pickett. Bloomfield had recently completed the production of a session for James Cotton and he decided then that his new band should have a horn section. I have no idea how tenor saxist Strazza was chosen but Doubleday was referred to them by Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell.
Prior to this album, they did the soundtrack to the movie The Trip, starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasburg and Bruce Dern, written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Roger Corman, all about an LSD experience. Bloomfield still wanted a baritone saxophonist and Herbie Rich came on board in time to make their first gig June 16th or 17th at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. I was fortunate to be there Sunday so I know they did not play that day.
This segment is not complete and I have not even proofread it. I ran out of time or I would have at least given a few more notes on Bloomfield, and for all of that I apologize, but it is not like this i`1``s a short read. Enjoy the show.
*************************Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word. I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access. If you go to our website at KKUP.org you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE. By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile. I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed. As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time. I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening. (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.) Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada. Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
Have You Ever Loved a Woman
See See Baby
I’m Tore Down
I Love the Woman
You’ve Gotta Love Her with a Feeling
Freddie King 36mins
Killing FloorGroovin’ is Easy
You Don’t Realize
The Electric Flag 32mins
3 untitled songsAndy Mazzilli JJ’s 2002 19mins
Remington RideDust My Broom
It’s All Right
The Same Blues
Living on the Highway
Palace of the King
Freddie King 28mins
Lester Leaps InSentimental Journey
I Cover the Waterfront
All Night Long
Joe Houston 18mins
Pinetop’s Boogie WoogieI’m Sober Now
Clarence “Pinetop” White 9mins
Big Legged WomanWoman Across the River
Key to the Highway
Freddie King 15mins