Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Down Goes Frazier!"

"Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!" Howard Cosell's staccato delivery of those words during the 1973 Frazier-Foreman fight was one of my favorite TV moments as a kid. (I used to do a pretty fair Cosell impression back when Nixon was in the White House.)

That said, and with apologies to Howard's estate, down goes Dallas Frazier as one of my favorite country/soul songwriters. Never heard of him? Then check out "The R&B Sessions," the recent release (on Australia's great Raven reissue label) of some of Mr. Frazier's work from the mid-1960s. It'll be time well spent.

Dallas was the guy who penned "Mohair Sam" (Charlie Rich), "Elvira" (Rodney Crowell, The Oak Ridge Boys), "Alley Oop" (The Hollywood Argyles), "There Goes My Everything" (Jack Greene), "True Love Travels Down a Gravel Road" (co-writer) (Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge), and many other classics. (The last two tunes listed are not on this reissue.)

Although Mr. Frazier's career as a recording artist never really took off, this pair of albums from the mid-1960s is a great listen. It's a wonderful blend of country, soul, and gospel delivered in two- to three-minute doses. If you're a fan of Charlie Rich or Buddy Miller, give it a listen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Let's Hope This Deal Gets Done

Legendary music executive Jerry Wexler died last Friday at his home in Florida. If you don't know who Jerry Wexler is, read "Sweet Soul Music" by Peter Guralnick; better yet, listen to just about anything issued on Atlantic Records from 1953 through the late 1960s.

At the time of Mr. Wexler's death, he was working with my good friend Alan Elliott to bring to life a documentary about the making of "Amazing Grace," Aretha Franklin's great gospel record from 1972.

The film, which was orignally shot by the late Sidney Pollack, ended up in the Warner Brothers vault because the production company was never able to reach an agreement with Aretha.

Alan told me several months ago that he was working with Jerry Wexler to get this movie financed and released. I'm confident Alan will figure out a way to secure the financing to get this done.

After Mr. Wexler's death, Alan discussed the project with writer Ethan Smith for an article that appeared in Saturday's Wall Street Journal:

"Jerry always would say, 'My contribution to that session was that I brought a profane rhythm section into a sacred space,'" recalls Alan Elliott, a former Atlantic staff record producer.

* * * * *

"All the energy he poured into these phone calls at 91, you can only imagine what he must have been like 50 years ago," Mr. Elliott says.

* * * * *

Mr. Wexler and drummer Bernard Purdie felt that the rehearsals for "Amazing Grace," which Mr. Pollack also shot, were even more powerful than the actual sessions. Mr. Wexler was overseeing sound mixing on the rehearsals near the time of his death. The film is now being edited.
Over at Al's blog, he describes, as only he can, the events that sparked his involvement with this project.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this documentary hits the big screen one of these days.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Elvis Has Left The Building"

Because today is the thirty-first anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, you can bet that there are folks around the globe donning white jumpsuits and jet-black wigs to attend screenings of "Clambake" and "Flaming Star." I won't be among them. That's not the Elvis that hooked me as a kid.

I've been a fan of EP's music since I was a toddler. I sat glued to the tube as a four year-old, when the 1968 comeback special aired. (I still get goosebumps watching his performance of "If I Can Dream.") And as I got older, I came to appreciate the writing of folks like Peter Guralnick, Robert Gordon, and Greil Marcus, whose books shed light on the larger cultural and musical contexts in which Elvis crafted his body of work -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yes, I'm a fan of Elvis, but being a music geek, I guess I'm also a student of Elvis -- in the same way I'm a student of Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Hank Williams.

Back in mid-2002, it was the "music student" in me that initially got a charge out of meeting Al Dvorin. My family and I had just moved into our Rogers Park home, and Al and his wife, Bernice, lived across the street.

As I later found out, Al loved to chat, and on one of the first Saturday afternoons we were in our new house, Al stopped my wife on the sidewalk and engaged her in a long conversation. During the course of that conversation, Al mentioned Elvis. My wife took that as a cue to tell Al, "You really need to meet my husband."

A couple minutes later, I wandered out of the house to meet Al. He was almost eighty years old, but that day we began a friendship that lasted until his death in August 2004.

You see, I knew about Al from Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis -- and Al got a big kick out of that fact. And when I told Al that I was a part-time rocker and was probably the only guy in the neighborhood who had performed "Suspicious Minds" in Japan and "Burning Love" at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he knew he'd met a kindred spirit.

You never would have guessed it by looking at the octogenarian who walked cautiously from his Rogers Park bungalow to his old blue station wagon, but Al was the man whose voice was heard at the end of the King's concerts: "Elvis has left the building. Thank you and good night."

During the short time I knew Al, he spent most of his time caring for his sick wife. After she passed away, he used to talk to me about his desire to go back “on the road” to attend the many Elvis festivals and conventions to which he was always invited. He said, “My family will think I’m nuts, but this is what I need to do right now.” And it was what he needed to do.

Al eventually went back "on the road." Sadly, in August 2004, he was killed in a car accident near Palm Springs on the way home from an Elvis tribute show.

Shortly before Al died, he was excited when a local pinball machine company – Stern, I believe -- wanted to license his voice for use in an Elvis game it was designing. Al asked me to review the proposed contract for him. I don’t know whether the game ever hit the market.

I’m glad I got to know Al Dvorin. I miss him, and I think of him often -- and always on August 16 -- the day on which Elvis left "The Building" for good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Papa Jack -- Thanks for the Threads

Jack Weil, America's oldest living CEO, passed away on Wednesday . . . at the ripe old age of 107. He founded Rockmount Ranch Wear in 1946.

When it comes to cars, cameras, toothpaste, and most other consumer goods, I've never had much brand loyalty. Jack Weil's Rockmount shirts are the exception. When I put one on, I'm ready -- at least in my own mind -- to rock.

Most of the calendar year, I'm a lawyer. As a result, I have way too many lawyer clothes in my closet. They weren't fun to buy and they are not fun to wear. Every now and then, I get to shed the lawyer skin (no snake jokes, please) and lead my bar band. For those occasions, I keep a small section of music clothes in my closet. Those were fun to buy and they're also fun to wear. Most of those duds came from Jack Weil's company.

Elvis had Bernard Lansky; Gram Parsons had Nudie Cohen. Legends all.

But even without the talent or the checking accounts of Elvis and Gram (both of whom I've managed to outlive), I look forward to playing tavern gigs in Jack Weil's Rockmount shirts for a long time. Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I hope to be doing it when I turn 107.

Rest in peace, Papa Jack.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If You Only Knew Him From "South Park" . . .

If you only knew Isaac Hayes -- who died earlier today -- as the voice of "Chef" from the TV show "South Park," you've missed out on a lot of music -- and a lot of music history. (Same is true if you only knew Buck Owens as a cornball character from TV's "Hee-Haw.")

Grab Rob Bowman's book "Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records" if you want the best account of Mr. Hayes and his contribution to soul music. Had Isaac Hayes never made a record as a solo artist, the songs that he wrote with his partner David Porter (e.g., "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Coming," "B-A-B-Y," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby") would have ensured his place in any number of musical halls of fame. His performance credits, however, were equally noteworthy. Isaac Hayes was a massive talent.

To my ears, one of the more interesting -- though least popular -- records in his discography is his first Stax offering, "Presenting Isaac Hayes." It's a late-night piano trio record from 1968, and it features Ike's piano and vocals along with "Duck" Dunn's bass and the magnificent drumming of Al Jackson, Jr. The session, it is said, followed a Stax company party, and Isaac Hayes sounds, shall we say, quite relaxed. Check it out. The trio covers several standards and digs into some gospel and blues, as well.

The live clip below is not from that 1968 date, and it features a mega-star Ike with a larger group; nevertheless, his treatment of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues" carries a vibe similar to the one you'll feel on that first Stax record.

Isaac Hayes was 65 years old.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ask and you shall receive . . .

In my July 19 post on this blog, I wrote about a recent Christie's auction of many of the late James Brown's possessions. The auction (and the ugliness that gave rise to it) disturbed me. After reading about an auction house selling off James Brown's hair rollers and gel, I asked:
Couldn't the Godfather's estate have figured out a more tasteful way to raise some cash? For example, there has got to be a wealth of old James Brown performance videos out there. I've been trying for years to track down a decent copy of James on the T.A.M.I. Show, but I've had no luck. I realize the JB estate may not own any rights to that particular video, but surely it owns rights to a lot of other great footage. James was too shrewd a businessman to have given all that away.
So imagine my surprise this afternoon when I stumbled upon a 3-DVD set -- just released yesterday and officially licensed by the Godfather's estate -- entitled "I Got The Feelin': James Brown in the '60s" The set features not only the documentary "The Night James Brown Saved Boston" -- a night more Americans should know about (see trailer below) -- but also footage from the T.A.M.I. show.

Spectacular. Buy it. Savor it. Share it with your kids.

"Can we hit it and quit it?"