Posts Tagged ‘ 1963 ’

Jesse Fuller “San Francisco Bay Blues”

Born in Jonesboro, Georgia in 1896, Jesse Fuller spent most of his childhood growing up in the countryside outside Atlanta under what you could call less than ideal circumstances in a foster home. Fuller spent the next sixty years working a handful of odd jobs, working on the fields and in the farms, on the railroads and in the factories, and out in the street. His resume even included a stint in the circus and an appearance as an extra in the film The Thief of Bagdad. In the years just before World War II, Fuller found himself living in Oakland, CA and working for the railroad. As work became increasingly difficult to find after the end of the war Fuller began to consider, already well into his 50’s, the possibility of a career in music. This should have been an obvious choice for Fuller, as he had already developed a wide ranging repertoire of songs on the guitar as a boy. After failing to put together a dependable band, Fuller decided he’d simply have to become a one-man band.

San Francisco Bay Blues, Fuller’s first album, was released by the label Good Time Jazz in 1963 and features Fuller performing mostly originals, singing and playing guitar while accompanying himself on a variety of instruments, including harmonica, kazoo, high-hat, and the fotdella–a musical instrument of Fuller’s own creation that is essentially an upright bass with six strings that are plucked by a row of foot pedals. Every track is all Fuller and completely live with no overdubs of any kind.

The record kicks off with the title track, “San Francisco Bay Blues,” a completely classic song in every way. One of the quirkiest blues songs ever laid to wax, this tune has a good-time jug band vibe that leaves the listener feelin’ good and waiting for more. Side 2 kicks off with Fuller showcasing his bluesy bottleneck guitar style on “John Henry”, his own re-telling of the classic railroad tale of man vs. machine. “Stealin’ Back To My Old Time Used To Be” is an upbeat rag that features Fuller accompanying himself on acoustic 12 string guitar and harmonica, channeling a country blues sound straight from the Piedmont Georgia pines and backwoods farms of his youth. Fuller wraps it all up with “Brownskin Girl (I’ve Got My Eye On You),” a rollicking country-blues pop tune that sounds, like much of the album, too big to have been performed by just one man.

Fuller’s debut is notable not only for the top-notch singing and songwriting, as well as Fuller’s unique one-man band approach that he had perfected to a tee, but for being such a vivid portrait of, essentially, an old time street performer. Good Time Jazz Records had the foresight to capture Fuller in his prime, playing the songs the way he had intended, instead of forcing him to record with a band backing him, as was becoming more and more common with many of the blues records of the era that were streaming out of studios like Chess in Chicago. Good Time Jazz made the equally smart decision to send Fuller to a quality recording studio, and San Francisco Bay Blues greatly benefits from a wonderful quality of sound, where every instrument can be heard with a surprising clarity– putting the album, in terms of listenability, heads and shoulders above piles of excellent but muddy sounding blues records. The Grateful Dead, Dylan, Clapton, and others have covered his songs and the influence of Fuller and his bold one-man band sound can be heard in groups like Jim Kweskin and his motley crue of jug fanatics and the legions of kazoo blowing washboard wailers that had began popping up around America in the years just before and following the release of this lp. With a sound equally rooted in the Georgia country blues of Blind Willie McTell, the ragtime rompers of Gary Davis, and the old-timey jug sound of groups like The Memphis Jug Band, Fuller’s San Francisco Bay Blues serves as a bridge between the acoustic blues of the late 20s/early 30s and the acoustic blues and jug sounds of the mid-century urban folk music revival that brought hordes of bohemian beatniks into coffee shops from coast to coast–San Francisco Bay Blues brought the blues into a new era and onto the West Coast.

Simply put, San Francisco Bay Blues serves up a heapin’ helpin’ of upbeat, feel-good blues tunes, reminding you that, dark as the days may get, as long as you’re alive you’ve got a reason to dance. Better get ready!

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“San Francisco Bay Blues”

:D CD Reissue | 1991 | OBC | buy here ]
:) Original | 1963 | Good Time Jazz | search ebay ]

Mark Leeman Five “Memorial Album”

The UK didn’t produce garage bands; in post-austerity Britain few enough people had cars, let alone covered accommodation for them. The Brit equivalents cut their teeth during the early sixties in youth clubs or in the few schools whose music teachers were sufficiently broad-minded to admit that anything more recent than Elgar was actually music. In these restrictive settings a rash of teenage groups got together on cheap instruments to bash out joyous covers of the black American underground sounds recently imported by merchant seamen and cult blues enthusiasts. The Animals in Newcastle, the Rolling Stones in Dartford, the Spencer Davis Group in Birmingham and those four lads in Liverpool all offered their own distinctive takes on R’n’B, coloured by their preferred influences: Berry and Diddley for the Stones, Hooker and Jimmy Reed for the Animals and the Spencers, Tamla and Arthur Alexander for the Fabs. The Mark Leeman Five chose to enhance their R’n’B with a smattering of funky jazz via the likes of Booker T, Ray Charles and Nina Simone, mostly courtesy of their trump card, the splendid acoustic/electric pianist and occasional organ player Terry Goldberg. Along with the spiky guitar of Alan Roskams and the solid rhythm section of David Hyde (bass) and Brian Davison (drums) came the aggressive, punky pipes of Mark Leeman.

The Five assembled at school in Woolwich in 1961, and their initial influence was clearly Joe Meek judging by their first demo single. The second covered Barrett Strong’s “Money” – well before the Fabs got hold of it – and indicates their change of direction. Sometime in 1963 they cut an eleven-track demo album which was two years ahead of its time and didn’t find a sponsor. Undaunted, Leeman and the lads built up a formidable live following around the capital until spotted by Manfred Mann’s manager Ken Pitt in January of the following year; an impressed Pitt subsequently ensured prestigious support slots to the Manfreds. Twelve months later a single “Portland Town” b/w “Gotta Get Myself Together”, the latter benefitting from harp by Paul Jones, finally hit the record racks. Five months further on, and tipped by their peers as the band “most likely to succeed”, the Five’s train hit the buffers when Leeman was killed in a car crash on his way home from a gig in Blackpool. Vocalist Roger Peacock was recruited to replace him, but as a tribute to their former frontman the band kept the same name. Three further singles were released, but the zeitgeist was past and the Five folded within a year. The only member to find subsequent celebrity was Brian “Blinky” Davison, who went on to thump the tubs with the Nice.

The Five’s recorded oeuvre remained in limbo till 1991, when with Ken Pitt’s assistance See For Miles released this compilation which includes both sides of the two early demos, both sides of the four later singles and the whole of the demo album (allegedly previously unreleased, although I’ve found reference to it as Rhythm And Blues Plus!, including cover art, on one website: possibly a few pressings did escape). The three final singles, produced by Denny Cordell, are competent, unremarkable Manfred-ish fare, deliberately commercial.

The second demo single and the album are revelatory; though all the tunes are covers, the musicianship is impressive and the energy is astonishing, the latter blasting through the unpolished but surprisingly clean production. Goldberg’s stomping electric piano take on “Green Onions”, IMHO, blows the original away. His boogie-woogie piano and Roskams’s bluebeat guitar power a fine, edgy rendition of Simone’s “Forbidden Fruit”, while “Work Song” and “Let The Sunshine In” hold up easily against the better-known versions by Mose Allison and Ray Charles. The straightforward R’n’B cuts include the overworked staples “Shame, Shame, Shame”, “Got My Mojo Working” and “You Can’t Judge A Book”, but the Five attack these as if they’d never been heard before, with Goldberg’s piano always to the fore.

The Memorial Album has never seen a re-release and is now hard to find; I picked up my copy in a record store clearout some ten years ago. However, copies can be found at a price, and both collectors with an ear for early British Invasion influences and fans of quality R’n’B garage music from the Animals to the Mysterians should hunt down this fine early
example of the genre.

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“Green Onions”

:D CD |  1990 | Sfm | at amazon ]