Saturday

BITS AND PIECES - NEWS ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS By Michael McDowell



EMOTIONS: The tragic and unexpected passing on 15 May of beloved PRETTY THINGS front man PHIL MAY (pictured at center in the above 1965 group shot) following complications from hip surgery brought to an end one of the most extraordinary careers in not just first generation garage rock, but in all of music. Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell remembers May and the band's phenomenal story below. (Click on above image to enlarge).


WILD MAN:
THE SHADOWS OF KNIGHT
 DROP NEW SINGLE

It has been suggested to never send in a rookie to do a veteran's job.

This is not to say that an aspiring artist is bereft of merit. Quite the contrary. Many a new artist has come along throughout the years and managed to hit a home run with their first at bat in the recording studio.

Nonetheless, few musical experiences are more satisfying than to hear new material from seasoned greats who remain at the top of their art. And in one particular recent instance, it was a relative newcomer who played an integral part in bringing these veteran artists' latest musical vision to fruition.

Such is the case with first generation garage rock giants, the Shadows Of Knight. The Chicago-based band recorded two superb albums in 1966 for Atlantic's affiliate Dunwich label, Gloria and Back Door Men. Their mastery of the genre also served them well through a series of classic singles for the label, including Oh Yeah (and its utterly stupendous flip side, Light Bulb Blues), Bad Little Woman, I'm Gonna Make You Mine, and their early 1966 signature single, their sublime and definitive version of the monster classic, Gloria.

Following his successful run with the Shadows Of Knight, rhythm guitarist Jerry McGeorge went on to spend a season with H.P. Lovecraft during the latter band's tenure with Mercury's affiliate Philips label. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Jim Sohns continued to front various incarnations of the Shadows Of Knight through a series of acclaimed singles for the Team, Atco and Super K labels. Sadly, original Shadows Of Knight lead guitarist Joe Kelley is deceased, having succumbed to lung cancer in September 2013.

Happily, band co-founders McGeorge and Sohns have returned to the studio with new lead guitarist, Michael Weber to record an all new single, Wild Man. Co-authored by Sohns and Weber, Wild Man marks Sohns' and McGeorge's first studio collaboration since 1967. 

For their current project, Weber is one relative rookie who definitely got the job done, having also contributed organ, bass and drums to the Wild Man sessions. The Wild Man video also features action shots of the original band during their heyday with Dunwich. It is hoped that a new album will follow shortly.

REMEMBERING THE PRETTY
THINGS' PHIL MAY
I HAD A DREAM:

Although Harpers Bizarre did not get around to covering it until late 1967 on their second album for Warner Brothers, by 1964 it was already obvious that in terms of music, Cole Porter's 1934 composition, Anything Goes best represented the order of the day.

While its origins could be traced back to such monster classics as the Original Casuals' late 1957 I Love My Darling for Back Beat Records and the Bell Notes' 1959 I've Had It for the Time label, first generation garage rock was at last coming into its own in 1964. Inspired largely by their mutual passion for rhythm and blues, the leaders of the harder edge of the movement included the Dave Clark Five, the Yardbirds, and the Rolling Stones. They were followed in short order by such like minded visionaries as the Zephyrs, Masters Apprentices, the La De Das and the Chocolate Watchband. 

Joining them on center stage in the movement was the Sidcup, Kent quintet, the Pretty Things. Having developed their vision while attending art school in 1963, the ambitious group (which included mainstays Phil May on lead vocals and one-time Rolling Stones associate Dick Taylor on guitar, and joined at the time by John Stax, Brian Pendleton and the charismatic Viv Prince) signed with Fontana Records and made their debut in 1964 with the instant classic rave up single, Don't Bring Me Down.

Although mainstream acclaim proved to be elusive at the onset, the Pretty Things became heroes among the faithful. Their cause was furthered exponentially by the occasional television appearance, prompting a rapid succession of classic releases, including the influential Get The Picture, The Pretty Things and Emotions albums between 1965 - 1967. 

Throughout the decade, the Pretty Things not only underwent regular personnel changes, but nonetheless managed to stake their place in the burgeoning psychedelic movement in the process. Their experimental Electric Banana sessions set the stage for 1968's S.F. Sorrow and 1970's Parachute, both of which are regarded as being among the genre's definitive masterpieces.

While 1972's Freeway Madness (sans Dick Taylor and produced by band alumnus Wally Waller as Asa Jones) for Warner Brothers further set the stage by adding to the band's increasingly heightened profile, it was nonetheless their collaboration with Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label at mid-decade that at last brought the Pretty Things into the best of both worlds, and still without artistic compromise. 

Silk Torpedo was indeed the album that both culled and articulated the best of their ever changing artistic moods to date. Featuring the sublime single Dream Joey, the Silk Torpedo album arguably remains the Pretty Things' finest moment.

Although their recorded output remained relatively sparse for the remainder of the twentieth century, the Pretty Things continued to reassure the faithful with such acclaimed touchstones as 1999's superb Rage Before Beauty for Snapper Music, as well as a series of top notch live albums. 

The first decade of the twenty-first century saw the Pretty Things return to form with some of their best ever work. The highlight remains 2007's Balboa Island for the prolific Zoho label, which gave the band an additional anthem of sorts with the single, All Light Up.

Although the Pretty Things persevered well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, ill health had begun to take its toll on beleaguered front man Phil May. The band largely busied itself with live releases, as well as a comprehensive career-spanning box set, Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky. Their final studio release came in 2015 with The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course....) for the vaunted Repertoire label.

The Pretty Things soldiered on until 2018, playing their final live performance in December of that year with May and Taylor, as well as guitarist Frank Holland, bassist George Woosey and drummer Jack Greenwood. And while Phil May did his best to counter his persistent health concerns through a well intended exercise regimen, he nonetheless had fallen from his bicycle earlier this week. Tragically, May passed away on the morning of 15 May in a Kings Lynn hospital, following complications from emergency hip surgery. 

To say that the Pretty Things' impact on their fellow musicians was significant would be an understatement. Artists from the aforementioned Rolling Stones to David Bowie, Pink Floyd and the Kinks have all acknowledged the band's ongoing inspiration. 

But perhaps the most enduring evidence of such impact is best borne out in San Diego musician Mike Stax, who founded the hugely successful Ugly Things magazine as a result. The band's complex history has been chronicled in painstaking detail in the magazine over the years, with Stax's affiliate Ugly Things label underscoring his commitment to the band via the release of The Pretty Things / Philippe DeBarge album of rarities on his affiliate Ugly Things label. 

"I am awash with a lifetime of memories", said Wally Waller in an online statement.

As are indeed the countless musicians and devotees whose musical experiences were forever changed for the better by the Pretty Things. May's survivors include his son, Paris May and his daughter, Sorrel May. He was 75.


ACES WITH YOU:
REMEMBERING MOON MARTIN

"Doctor, doctor, gimme the news". 

A phrase tossed about with unnerving frequency in these uncertain times. But one that in 1979 put Batley, Yorkshire native Robert Palmer on center stage for Island Records in a big way.

The man behind that memorable single was composer, vocalist and Altus, Oklahoma native John David "Moon" Martin. So nicknamed because of his penchant for invoking the Moon in his memorable lyrics, Martin first commanded center stage in his own right in 1979 with his Capitol Records single, Rolene. Concurrently embraced by the discerning and demanding so-called New Wave movement, Martin also received considerable accolades for his work at the time in Blitz Magazine. 

Martin persevered with Capitol into the 1980s, with such noteworthy singles as No Chance, Signal For Help and Aces With You to his credit. As a composer, he provided label mates Mink DeVille with their own signature 45, Cadillac Walk.

Martin's ongoing influence was acknowledged in 2020 by Jay Willie and James Montgomery, who covered Cadillac Walk as the title track of their just released collaboration for Zoho Records. Sadly, Martin's return to the spotlight proved to be short lived, with his untimely passing on 11 May. Martin was 69.

DIRECTLY FROM MY HEART TO YOU:
REMEMBERING LITTLE RICHARD

In 1956, I had not yet acquired the discernment to turn to radio to discover great new music (and that in and of itself is somewhat ironic, considering that radio is about the last place to look for it these days). 

However, when a particular piece of music caught my attention, I was quick to embrace it. My Aunt Marie had a copy of a 78 on Art Rupe's Specialty label, Tutti Frutti, and played it incessantly. Curious, I asked my mother what Tutti Frutti meant. She replied, "It's a flavor of ice cream".

That was all it took. I was hooked. Later that year, I got a copy of that 78 of Tutti Frutti and several others as a birthday present from Aunt Marie. After that, there was no going back.

In the ensuing months, the artist behind that iconic single was hard to miss. Macon, Georgia native, composer, vocalist and keyboard man Richard Wayne "Little Richard" Penniman was an omnipresent figure in radio, television and film. From covers of such engaging fare as Billy Murray And The Haydn Quartet's By The Light Of The Silvery Moon and Jan Garber's Baby Face to such impossible to ignore originals as Long Tall Sally, She's Got It, Lucille, The Girl Can't Help It, Good Golly Miss Molly, She Knows How To Rock and True Fine Mama, Little Richard cut a wide path to center stage, which made him an instant and immeasurable influence upon countless musicians to come. 

However, those Specialty sides were not his initial forays into the recording studio. Penniman had recorded a pair of acclaimed singles for RCA Victor in 1951 and 1952, including the often covered Taxi Blues. Upon leaving Specialty following an epiphany, he signed with George Goldner's New York-based End label, for whom he recorded a Gospel 45 in 1959. Various recordings on Modern and Peacock also surfaced during this period, with Penniman continuing in Gospel via several singles for Mercury and Atlantic into the early 1960s.

In the ensuing years, Penniman continued to label hop with great frequency. Combinations of new material and re-recordings of previous triumphs surfaced regularly on such labels as Vee Jay, OKeh and Brunswick. 

By 1970, he had landed at Reprise, earning considerable acclaim while there for such singles as Dew Drop Inn and Greenwood, Mississippi. The quality of his output remained high well into the decade, as evidenced by his magnificent In The Middle Of The Night single for Green Mountain Records in 1973.

Early in that decade (and in no small part as a backlash against the excesses that had plunged mainstream music into a protracted aesthetic slump), attention turned widely once again to the pioneers of the movement. Little Richard responded accordingly, and became part of an immensely successful package tour that was chronicled in the motion picture, Let The Good Times Roll

For much of the remainder of his career, Little Richard continued to record and tour prolifically. As always, he was all over the map musically, as evidenced by his unique and engaging  Shake It All About album for Walt Disney Records in 1992. The previous year, he filmed a video in tandem with Debbie Gibson for Disney's For The Children compilation, singing Itsy Bitsy Spider.

Although Penniman continued to perform live into the twenty-first century, by the second decade, his health had begun to decline. He suffered a heart attack in September 2013, and made his final concert appearance in Tennessee in August 2014. 

Most recently, Penniman had been battling bone cancer. Tragically, he succumbed to that battle on 09 May in Tennessee, at the home of his brother. He was 87.

A SPARK MET A FLAME:
REMEMBERING EDDIE COOLEY

As the legendary John Madara has noted time and time again, all it takes is that one song.

In Madara's case, that song was Do The Bop, which he composed in 1957 with Artie Singer and Dave White. At the suggestion of American Bandstand host Dick Clark, the title was changed to At The Hop. White's group, Danny And The Juniors recorded it for the Singular label (later re-released on ABC Paramount), and At The Hop went on to become one of rock and roll's most beloved and enduring masterpieces.


For composer, vocalist and Atlanta, Georgia native Edward J. "Eddie" Cooley, that moment of glory came in 1956. Having relocated to New York City some months earlier, Cooley struck up a friendship with acclaimed songwriter Otis Blackwell in 1955. Cooley had the basic template in place for an original composition entitled Fever, but the piece needed some finishing touches. Blackwell completed the song, and Fever went on to become one of the most often covered standards in music history. Little Willie John brought Fever its initial acclaim via his rendition for King Records in 1956. Successful versions followed by Peggy Lee, the McCoys, Elvis Presley, Madonna and others.

That success opened some unlikely doors for Cooley. Remarkably, among the artists to record his compositions were the 5 Royales and Joseph "Joe Tex" Arrington. Remarkable in that both artists generally composed their own material, with group guitarist and principal visionary Lowman Pauling serving in that role for the 5 Royales.

Up to that point, Cooley had been content to function in a behind the scenes capacity. However, Blackwell (whose extraordinary acumen as a composer was hailed by such giants as Roy Hamilton and the aforementioned Elvis Presley) saw in his colleague even greater potential as a front man.

As Fever became one of the highlights of 1956, Cooley had a demo made of another of his own compositions. With its irresistible shuffle beat and relentless optimism, Priscilla had all of the key ingredients to become a monster classic. 

Cooley shopped Priscilla to rockabilly great Boyd Bennett, whose Seventeen for King Records had put him on the map, and whose My Boy Flat Top was covered some years later by Brownsville Station. While impressed, Bennett nonetheless passed on the track. 

Undaunted, Blackwell got the demo of Priscilla to Royal Roost Records head, Teddy Reig. Primarily a jazz label up to that point (Georgie Auld, Kai Winding, the Bud Powell Trio, the Stan Getz Quartet, Coleman Hawkins, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Stitt and even a pre-RCA Victor outing by Harry Belafonte), Reig was interested in expanding his artist roster into R&B and rock and roll. 

Blackwell brought in an accomplished trio that he had discovered, the Dimples (Beverly Coates and her sister, Carolyn Coates, along with Barbara Sanders) to provide backing vocals, and Cooley suddenly found himself as a rockabilly singer of sorts. Beloved and enormously influential radio announcer, composer, bandleader and actor Alan Freed was an early supporter, who championed Cooley's single on his radio program. Like At The Hop and Fever, Cooley's Priscilla went on to become one of rock and roll's definitive masterpieces.

From his own perspective, Cooley was primarily a composer. He nonetheless persevered as a vocalist for the remainder of the decade, recording for both Royal Roost (April 1957's Hey You!) and Triumph (the sublime Leona in July 1959). In the process, Cooley continued to place his compositions with such fellow heavyweights as Harold "Conway Twitty" Jenkins and Reese Francis "Buzz" Clifford, the latter who covered Cooley's February 1957 Royal Roost single, Driftwood. Blackwell persuaded Cooley to return to the studio one more time to contribute two tracks to MGM Records' We Wrote 'Em, We Sing 'Em compilation in 1961 (reprising Lay It On and Fever).

Cooley had one other strong advocate in his corner at that time, in the form of Roulette Records' co-founder and CEO, Morris Levy. Roulette rereleased Priscilla as a 45, and the track was again included as part of Levy's acclaimed Golden Goodies and 20 Original Winners multi-volume album series for the label.

Thankfully, Cooley did find "that one song" in the form of Fever, which continued to generate royalties for him up to the present day. In recent years, Cooley's daughter, Bridget Opher has worked tirelessly to champion her father's legacy, as has Greer Williams, daugher of the Dimples' Beverly Coates. 

Cooley eventually relocated to Rose Hill, Mississippi. Sadly, he had been in ill health in recent years. He passed away on his birthday, Wednesday 15 April at Anderson Regional Medical Center in Meridian, Mississipi. Cooley was 87.


THE "A" TEAM:
UNRELATED SEGMENTS CO-FOUNDER
OFFERS A MUSICAL SALUTE
TO FIRST RESPONDERS

When the late Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler sang of the accomplishments of The "A" Team for RCA Victor in 1966, it is unlikely that he had in mind a time such as this.
These days, The "A" Team is facing a set of challenges that were heretofore unknown to this generation. The so-called virus pandemic has witnessed society at large at war in recent weeks against an unseen enemy. 

To their considerable credit, The "A" Team in the current conflict is comprised of not only the various military personnel who routinely lay their lives on the line for the common good, but a legion of dedicated medical professionals who risk their own health and safety to attend to those directly impacted by the disease. Their efforts are augmented most capably by the various retail personnel who likewise put themselves on the front lines to ensure that the basic needs of life continue to be met for one and all. 

Thankfully, their endeavors have not gone unnoticed by either the faithful or the musical community. To that effect, pastors around the globe have taken to social media to bring the message of the Gospel to the world during this most unusual Easter season. In turn, countless musicians have also weighed in with words of encouragement, as well as an uplifting musical interlude of their own.

Interestingly enough, the latest veteran artist to contribute in that respect is a combination of the two.

Bassist, composer and vocalist Barry Van Engelen is one of two surviving founding members of the legendary first generation garage rock quintet, the Unrelated Segments. The band earned a permanent place in the upper echelons of the genre with their trio of 1967-1968 Jack Chekaway-produced singles, Story Of My Life for HBR Records and Where You Gonna Go? and Cry, Cry, Cry for the Liberty label. Van Engelen's extraordinary and unique bass runs on those singles have been hailed as being among the best ever committed to record.

A Vietnam veteran, Van Engelen in recent years has remained active in veterans affairs, and also serves in a leadership role at his home church in southeastern Michigan. He concurrently performs live prolifically as Barry the Guitar Guy. making regular appearances in that capacity at the historic Greenfield Village in neighboring Dearborn. 

All of which prompted him to take guitar in hand and offer a few musical words of encouragement for those on the front lines in these trying times.

Inspired by the aforementioned Barry Sadler's early 1966 signature single, The Ballad Of The Green Berets, Van Engelen added his own timely observations to Sadler's compelling melody. Van Engelen's performance posted on Easter Sunday.

"I felt this coming for a while", Van Engelen said.

"This song was just laying inside me".

Within hours, the response went viral in a good way.

"Barry Sadler would have been proud", noted more than one observer. 

As for the rest of us, Van Engelen's Barry Sadler-inspired musical words of encouragement not only resonate, but inspire in a manner that points toward both Easter's hope of the cross, as well as the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the circumstances at hand. To be certain, the answer to Van Engelen's 1967 musical question, Where You Gonna Go? is onward and upward.


I WON'T BE THERE:
REMEMBERING BARRY ALLEN

Once in a great while, Dobie Gray got it wrong.

Gray's 1965 Charger label signature single, The "In" Crowd featured a lyric that resonated to such a degree that it became an integral component of Blitz Magazine's mission statement:

"Other guys imitate us, but the original's still the greatest".

In terms of music overall, Gray's observation has more often than not proven to be the case. For rarely does the cover version of a given recording pack the impact, vision and emotion of the original. 

However, in the case of Edmonton, Alberta vocalist, composer and guitarist Barry Allen Rasmussen (professionally known as Barry Allen), one particular standard improved to such a degree via his interpretation that it became a hallmark of the garage/psych hybrid.

Following fruitful affiliations with RCA Victor, Vik, Groove and other labels, veteran duo Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanderpool briefly signed with the Willow label in 1961, where they released the acclaimed single, Love Drops. In Mickey And Sylvia's hands, Love Drops became a career highlight as the result of their unique mid-tempo arrangement and dramatic delivery. 

Meanwhile, after a successful run as guitarist with Wes Dakus And The Rebels, Barry Allen opted for a solo career. His acclaimed releases for Capitol at home led to an affiliation with Dot Records in Nashville. While at Dot, Allen joined forces with legendary producer Norman Petty at the latter's renowned Nor-Va-Jak Studios. In their most capable hands, Love Drops was transformed from a dramatic ballad into a pathos-laden, vocal harmony rich hallmark of psych rock. Dot released Allen's version in March 1966, and it has since became one of the genre's definitive masterpieces.

Allen continued to perform and record prolifically well into the current century. Working with a new version of the Rebels, he took to the stage regularly throughout the mid-2010s. 

Sadly, Allen underwent a bout with cancer in 2016, which curtailed his live performance schedule. He rebounded to the degree that he was able to complete the acclaimed solo project, Speed Of Dark, which was released in November 2019.

Tragically, Allen faced a recurrence of cancer earlier this year, which finally claimed his life on 04 April. He was 74.



DOWN THE ROAD APIECE:
AMOEBA MUSIC HOLLYWOOD
CONFIRMS NEW LOCATION

After much speculation (and no small amount of anxiety among musicologists and record collectors), the wait is over. 

Amoeba Music, which ranks among the world's largest record retailers, has announced that its Hollywood location (which is presently on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Cahuenga) will be relocating in the Fall of 2020. The new site will be several blocks away, at 6200 Hollywood Boulevard, on the corner of Argyle.

"It's a bit smaller, but not a whole lot", Amoeba announced on 05 February in a statement.

"It's still a huge space that will house all the formats and goodies we carry now".

Long targeted for re-development, Amoeba's Sunset Boulevard location is directly across the street from the immensely popular Jack In The Box restaurant, and a short walk from the First Southern Baptist Church Of Hollywood, which is pastored by renowned musicologist Gary Tibbs. The new Amoeba outlet will anchor the El Centro complex, next door to the Fonda Theatre.

One potential concern may follow Amoeba from its present location to the new one. The Sunset Boulevard location offers limited on site free parking in the form of an underground garage, which during peak hours of operation has been known to generate traffic back ups onto Cahuenga. But according to Amoeba, some changes are inevitable in that respect.

"The El Centro complex has a large, well-managed parking garage", according to the Amoeba statement.

"We'll validate for the first 75 minutes with any in store purchase. There are many parking meters on all three of the surrounding streets (Hollywood, Argyle and El Centro)".

A fixture in Hollywood since the dawn of the twenty-first century, Amoeba also has locations to the north in San Francisco and Berkeley. The store is known for its massive inventory in virtually all recorded formats, including 78s, 45s, vinyl LPs, CDs, DVDs, cassettes and eight track tapes. Amoeba also boasts an extensive selection of such related merchandise as t-shirts and turntables. 

The move is scheduled to take place after Labor Day 2020. Amoeba anticipates minimal interruption in its day to day operations during the transition. Meanwhile, Amoeba's three outlets remain closed during the virus pandemic, as does the San Fernando Valley-based Freak Beat Records.