David McGee (davidmcgee) Mon 5 Dec 05 06:04
Ed, I can give you a couple of other "musts to avoid." First, the Phil Ramone-produced "Heart to Heart" album with Diane Schuur is really tough to get through, and I sense B. reigning himself in on the tracks instead of cutting loose. Schuur's style is way off B.'s path, and I think he had trouble adjusting to her idiosyncratic approach. I know she has her fans, but she leaves me cold--all technique and no fire, and that's no way to move B. That said, the album remains B.'s only #1 album ever. Go figure. Another misstep occurs on the album I mentioned as having tracks produced by Jerry Williams, "King of the Blues, 1989," that feature drum machines! That same album also has tracks produced by Trade Martin and others produced by Frederick Knight that are pretty good (my take on it was that Knight should have produced the entire album; if he had, he might have given us another B.B. classic--his work with B. is exceedingly strong and empathetic). The second album of duets, "Dueces Wild," is spotty, but the veteran artists get B. going pretty good, and I'm lukewarm about this newest album of duets too. For B.'s 80th birthday, something a bit more ambitious was in order that a bunch of artists phoning in their parts for B. to accompany. Dare I say it again? The gospel album Stewart Levine wants to make with B. would have been quite a gift to B.'s fans on the occasion marking the artist's 80th year on the planet. Also, his first ABC album, "Mr. Blues," has quite a few detractors, although I'm not one of them. The problem with this Sid Feller-Clyde Otis co-produced disc is that it was already date when it was released in 1962. Most of the arrangements--some by Maxwell Davis--echoed late-'50s R&B styles; many of those are wonderful, by the way, and B. gives some terrific performances on the album, but it wasn't right for its time. Still, it closes with one of the few (albeit oblique) protest songs in B.'s repertoire, "I'm Gonna Sit In 'Til You Give In." It has a bright, bouncy arrangement by Maxwell Davis, and seems to be a fairly straightforward B.B. come-on to a reluctant paramour, but B. has cited it (to me, among others) as an example of his growing social conscience at the time. No one paid much attention to that at the time, or to "Mr. Blues." As I noted in the book, the album "appeared to have had the effect of driving away his core blues audience without adding any new pop fans to his base. For almost two years neither Kent nor ABC saw any chart action on B.B.'s singles." "Mr. Blues," by the way, is out of print at the moment. Other than those, I think you can dip into any B.B. album and feel like you got your money's worth. "Love Me Tender" used to be on a lot of "must to avoid" lists, but I hope I'm getting those naysayers to rethink their position in light of the in-depth account Stewart Levine gave of the sessions and their aim. All in all, it's amazing that an artist could record as many albums as B. has and so many of them be above average or better.
Berliner (captward) Mon 5 Dec 05 06:55
So David, wanna stick around and talk about the Carl Perkins book some? I know there are some folks here who'd like to hear you reminisce about working with him. Only if you have the time and inclination, mind.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 5 Dec 05 09:32
Please do talk about the Perkins book.
David McGee (davidmcgee) Wed 7 Dec 05 09:45
I'll be happy to talk about the Original Cat any time. These are sad days in the Perkins household, with the deaths of his wife Valda and second-born son Greg occurring within two days of each other. These tragedies have put me back in touch with some of the family and friends in Jackson recently, so Carl and the journey we took together have been much on my mind. Ask away.
Berliner (captward) Wed 7 Dec 05 10:25
Was Greg the demon guitarist son who used to play with him? One of those boys was scary, and I saw them a bunch of times. I'd be interested in finding out how you and Perkins touched base and agreed to do the book. What I remember from it (it's buried under a huge pile in the next room) is that the voice in the book was 100% Carl Perkins, which is a tribute to your ear. But how'd you guys get together in the first place?
David McGee (davidmcgee) Wed 7 Dec 05 16:00
Ed, Neither of Carl's sons (actually there are three Perkins sons, but Steve is not a musician and has never been involved in the music business in any way) is really a guitar player, but Carl always had another guitarist in his bands. I'm not sure who you might have seen; if you are certain it was one of his sons, then it definitely was Stan, who usually plays drums but can hit a lick on the guitar. The Perkins book was actually a biography, written in the third person, mostly in my voice, but I had sections of uninterrupted quotes from Carl under the heading "The Voice of Carl Perkins." Those were set up in such a way as to be Carl's reflections on the issues or the timeframe at certain junctures in the storyline. The byline is Carl Perkins and David McGee, but that was an eleventh hour unilateral decision by the president of Hyperion, who wanted Carl to be able to go out and promote "his" book. Carl always wanted it to be a biography, and in fact I have an early cover draft with only my byline on it. (By the way, the Hyperion president also wanted to retitle the book "Blue Suede Shoes," but was finally convinced not to by an editor who polled the entire publishing house and found out everyone thought a book titled "Blue Suede Shoes" would be about Elvis Presley. He didn't get that "Go, Cat, Go!" was meant to evoke an era, not just an artist's most famous work.) I was told that Carl had turned down upwards of a dozen writers who wanted to do books with him, for various reasons--not feeling the time was right, being uncomfortable with the writer, or simply not wanting to do it. I moved from New York to Nashville in January of 1990, and in February the music editor of Rolling Stone called and asked if I'd like to go over to Jackson and interview Carl for a special issue on the '50s. Indeed I did, and Carl and I spent three-and-a-half hours talking on the appointed day. Later on, I learned that after I had left, his wife told him, "You're gonna see that boy, again, Carl. God sent him here for a reason." That three-and-a-half-hour transcript was basically the outline for a book, and I told Carl as much. After a few discussions, and being summoned by his manager for an in-person interview, Carl opted in, and off we went--only to be stopped in our tracks right at the outset when Carl was diagnosed with throat cancer. For the next year or so I worked on the third edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide, and after Carl was healthy again we began working on the book in earnest. Ultimately, I think Carl was persuaded to work with me because there was so much common ground between us. Both from poor Southern farming families; both of us had older brothers who were great role models but died young; grew up hearing much the same kind of music, especially gospel; basically shared the same values; and both of us were essentially loners--we recognized each other as fellow travelers in a lot of respects. I think he liked it too that I first showed up at his door wearing a Joe Montana t-shirt. Apparently a lot of writers came around in coats and ties, and Carl almost immediately mistrusted them. Whenever I'd come around his place, he'd call out to Valda, "Valda! Joe Montana's here!" And I think I wore that t-shirt only a couple of times to his house--but he always got a kick out of calling me Joe Montana. Stuff like that really made an impression on Carl. The moment that I will always cherish came after we had completed our 100 hours of interviews for the book, and were sitting alone in his den, just talking about nothing in particular, Carl scrubbing away on acoustic guitar, playing bits and pieces of new songs he had written (and he threw in a little taste of "Matchbox" at one point too). He stopped playing and put the guitar down and looked me dead in the eye and said: "I want you to know I was really scared of doing this book. I didn't think I could relive all those things, and I told Valda so. More than once at the beginning I was about to call you and call the whole thing off. But you know, now that we did it, I'm glad I got to go back and think about all those years and all those people again. So many great memories; so much sadness too, but I'm glad I did it. And I want this book to do well, but if it doesn't sell a lick, I won't care. Because I'm glad I met you. I really do like you a lot and I'm glad to call you friend." Ed, when you grew up with that music from Sun being pretty much the first music you remember hearing in your life, to hear the Original Cat say those things to you, well, it don't get any better than that. We were both pretty tear-eyed at that point, I'll tell you right now. I gotta run meet some friends for dinner, but I'll be back here tomorrow. A goo night to everyone!
David Dawson (dawson54) Wed 7 Dec 05 21:05
You done good. It's a fine book, and it helps underscore how important Carl Perkins was as a musician. But its main virtue, for me, lies in how Carl's integrity and kindness remain paramount throughout what was a turbulent and (at times) tragic life. I got to interview him twice, and each time he humored me by showing me a few simple licks or chord changes on the guitar, something he certainly didn't have to do. It was clear that he was an extraordinary guitarist, and it remains what Mencken called a "souvenir of a journalist" that I got to sit a few feet from him, and watch and listen. Although I never approached him about it, I too had a notion of doing a biography about Carl (or even ghosting an autobiography for him), something that I wanted to do just because I liked him and his music, and figured he hadn't gotten anything like the credit he deserved. Your book did a much better job of this than anything I could have written. When I read "Go, Cat, Go" upon its release, I knew you had gotten it just right. And the music -- my god, it not only "holds up" 50 years after it was concocted. It still flat-out smokes.
David McGee (davidmcgee) Thu 8 Dec 05 08:37
I appreciate those kind words, David. I'm especially grateful for the observation about how Carl the man came through--the more we got into our interviews the more I realized what an extraordinary human being he was, that there was a depth in him that had only been hinted at in other articles I'd seen; moreover, so many of the later songs that had been dismissed by our colleagues in the press turn out to be quite revealing of Carl's life and times--we always hear that writers should write about what they know, and Carl was true to that sentiment up to his dying breath. You wan to know what the poor white southerner's life was like at a certain juncture in American history, listen to Carl's songs. And no matter how much he acquired in material possessions over the course of his lifetime--and maybe I should note that Carl was never a rich man; he did okay, but he never acquired great wealth--he remained very much a child of the land he grew up on and the values imparted in his household. This was a good, decent man who asked only to be able to do his work so that he could support those he loved. I'm always pleased to hear from people like you who had a chance to spend some time with Carl and found him to be exactly the man I portrayed in "Go, Cat, Go!" A Salon reviewer who trashed the book dismissed it as a "literary lovefest." My question to her is, What's not to love? Ed, I omitted one important detail in responding to your query about how Carl and I connected. In addition to the shared background I described, I found out something else during our interviews that gave me pause was when Carl told me he had recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" on December 19 (1955)--my seventh birthday. For those who believe in such things, maybe Valda had some inside info when she told Carl that God had sent me there for a reason when I was assigned that initial Rolling Stone interview. And David, about Carl's music, it does flat-out smoke, all these years later. I play those Sun recordings for people who haven't heard them before and the usual reaction is one of being completely dumbfounded and speechless by the vitality and honesty of those performances. By the way, there's some interest from a couple of publishers in returning "Go, Cat, Go!" to print next year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of "Blue Suede Shoes." Let's hope that happens; Carl deserves it.
David Dawson (dawson54) Thu 8 Dec 05 15:59
> and maybe I should note that Carl was never a rich man; he did okay, but he never acquired great wealth < Absolutely. He had some downright lean times in the late 70s, when he was the celebrity spokesman for the local Apollo Hair Replacement franchise, His photo would be in the weekly TV section of the newspaper, along with a written testimonial about how fine Apollo's toupees were. He didn't do this for kicks. He was, I imagine, needing the money that bad. >I play those Sun recordings for people who haven't heard them before and the usual reaction is one of being completely dumbfounded and speechless by the vitality and honesty of those performances. I had a similar experience. A Memphis musician and writer named Randall Lyons, who died nearly a decade ago in Little Rock, was a source for an article I was doing on the day the Beatles played Memphis. I interviewed Randall and a woman he had invited over who was the president of the Beatles fan club back in 1966, when they played here. The concert was about a week after John Lennon (RIP -- 25 years ago today) had made his statement about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. Well, the Klan turned out to picket the coliseum in Memphis where they'd be playing. Death threats were called in to local radio shows. Records were burned in the parking lot. And somebody lit a cherry bomb near the stage, startling the band into silence for a few moments. In one of his lasts interviews, Lennon told Robert Palmer that this was a major reason the group decided not to tour anymore after finishing this 1966 tour at Candlestick Park. A good story, and Randall Lyons -- who was a larger-than-life character who helped nurture the Memphis music scene for about 40 years -- told it well. Then I made the arrogant faux pas of saying something about how the Beatles did Carl Perkins better than Carl Perkins himself did. Randall Lyons used his bear claw of a hand and pushed me into an overstuffed recliner. For the next two hours I listened to reel-to-reel recordings of Carl's music through a magnificent sound system at top volume, starting with the earliest Sun recordings and continuing right up through the country hootabilly stuff he had done most recently. And like you say, I was dumbfounded. I left the house a certified Carl Perkins fan, and have been trying to sing his praises ever since. I still can't get enough. Here's hoping you can get a second edition or a new printing of "Go, Cat, Go" into the stores. It needs to be read, and Carl deserves a "lovefest" of a book. (Damn critics!) Like you say, sometimes when the subject deserves it, that's what you have to write.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 8 Dec 05 16:57
Well, ok, it's not going to make David any money, but I just bought a used copy on Amazon. I have to say that I probably haven't paid enough attention to Perkins' music, although the song "Dixie Fried" has long been one of my all-time favorites, because it has exactly the qualities mentioned in the last several postings. Sounds like I'm about to get educated, after which I'll go out and buy some CDs.
David McGee (davidmcgee) Thu 8 Dec 05 17:54
Carl, I'm glad to see you're still with us--capital L, small A, capital F, small o, small n, small g. I hope you get half as much pleasure out of "Go, Cat, Go!" as I did seeing your name here. Barring a full-blown W.C. Fields revival, I was growing pessimistic of your ever surfacing again. I'll gladly forego any royalties for the thrill of knowing you own my book! That said, I do hope it compels you to check out some of the great and revealing work Carl did that few paid attention to (and some of it is on the Sun label. I'm going to recommend you find a disc that contains the obscure "Her Love Rubbed Off." Sam Phillips never issued this cut, but it surfaced on a five-CD box set released by the German Bear Family outfit (which, by the way, never paid Carl a dime; the label has issued four James Talley albums without license and to date has paid him exactly nothing). My take on it was that if "Dixie Fried" was rockabilly's most powerful moment, "Her Love Rubbed Off" "was its most surreal." If it had been issued in its day, we would be pinpointing Carl as a direct influence on the sound and style of both Link Wray and Duane Eddy, as well as--seriously--the godfather of surf guitar. You gotta check it out. Carl didn't appreciate my enthusiasm for the song, telling me, "I should have been drug out onto Union Avenue and whipped by my daddy with that same belt he wore me out with in Lake County, then sent home till I got right. It's crazy, man. It sounds like a bunch of drug addicts so high they don't know where they're at...Well, we were pretty high. I remember that session. I slept on the studio floor that night." Priceless. But he also added that some band in Australia got hold of the song and cut it, and every few months he'd receive a royalty check for it. He didn't know the name of the band and he never heard the cover version, but it definitely amused him that he actually made a few bucks on that song. David--priceless story about Randall Lyons, whom I did not know but have always heard good things about. I didn't realize he had passed, though. Sorry to hear that. At least he gave you a good education in the time you had with him, and you really got what you were hearing. Tell you what, as I was researching Carl's story, I came across story after story, review after review, totally dismissing most of his Sun work post-"Blue Suede Shoes" (save for "Dixie Fried") and almost all of his post-Sun recordings (save for "Restless"), thereby reducing him to the status of one-hit wonder and almost a footnote in history. Perhaps those critics had never heard George Harrison playing all those variations on Carl Perkins licks on early Beatles records, or ever talked to gifted pickers such as Jerry Kennedy, Vince Gill and Marty Stuart and (insert name here), who would have told them that to get from there to here in a certain style of rock 'n' roll guitar, the road led right through Carl Perkins, and there were no detours around him. As Rodney Crowell sings on his great new album, "Don't get me started!"
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 8 Dec 05 18:16
Hah hah! Glad you caught the W.C. reference. Perhaps my favorite scene in his entire body of work. Unfortunately, almost everything black and white seems to have gone into total eclipse, although maybe DVDs will bring some of it back. Jeez, and here I thought that when I was buying from Bear Family I was right with the Lord. Might as well get stuff from Proper, I guess. BTW, I'm also a James Talley fan, and you don't have to buy them from Bear Family: http://www.jamestalley.com/purchasemusic.php That's from James himself, and you can even get them autographed. I don't know if he owns the masters or what, but I bought "Got No Bread" and the sound quality was excellent and I'm picky. I'm planning to buy the entire run, as cashflow allows. If it wasn't for Reaganomics III, I'd go for it for Christmas. If you've never heard "The Road from Torreon," do yourself a big favor. I will see if I can turn up "Her Love Rubbed Off." What's the best 1 or 2 CD intro to Perkins' work? I know I've heard more than one version of Dixie Fried... KFAT used to play one that was even more insane than the take you usually hear. But yeah, I've read a lot of the standard histories, and they all basically say he mighta been great except he had this horrible car accident at just the wrong time, and it was all over. One quote I read somewhere in an interview with Perkins really stuck with me. I'm very interested in WW II history and also the period in Britain right after the war (and right through the 60s). I came across a contemporary interview with Perkins done just after he went to Britain for the first time -- imagine this would have been late 50s. He said the thing he noticed most about it was how poor people were: "Man, they eat everything on their plate!" Considering Perkins' own background, I sorta re-callibrated my notion of how tough things were in Britain in the 50s.
David Dawson (dawson54) Thu 8 Dec 05 20:21
Carl LaFong -- that is one of Fields' best scenes. From "It's a Gift," if I'm not mistaken. The same film that has him trying to shave in front of a mirror suspended from the ceiling. I hope people never forget Fields OR Perkins, but I despair -- my children, one 18 and one 20, have never heard of the man. They think "Jackass" is the ultimate in humor.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Fri 9 Dec 05 06:20
I used to be a high school teacher about 10 years ago -- teaching in a vokie program. Mixed race, but all-male and pretty much all ghetto. They thought they knew everything, and that anything weird or edgy had been invented by their generation in the last 5 years, if not the last 5 minutes. "The Fatal Glass of Beer" convinced them otherwise. A few of them even found it hilarious.
Berliner (captward) Fri 9 Dec 05 06:49
One thing I loved about the Perkins book was that, for me, it finally laid to rest the old canard promulgated by racists about Elvis stealing black culture to become famous. Carl makes it very clear there that, growing up, he didn't really have any perception of black or white, but just saw his family and their neighbors (who were black and white) as poor. Elvis came up in a more urban surrounding, but I suspect it was more or less the same for him. Carl Perkins seems to have been a very articulate guy when it comes to this stuff.
David McGee (davidmcgee) Fri 9 Dec 05 09:23
Guys, I just a hit a key that completely wiped out a long response to these latest posts. I have to go do some other work for awhile, but I'll be back later to respond to these latest comments. Note to Carl: Glad to hear you're a James Talley fan. He's an old and dear friend of mine (we're fellow Okies). You'll be glad to know he's releasing a 30th anniversary edition of "Got No Bread, No MIlk, No Money But We Sure Got a Lot of Love" in February, with extensive new liner notes that he penned himself (I edited them for him), plus a bonus interview disc that was originally released in '75 to radio only as a promotional item. And you're right that you can now get all his other albums from James directly, now that he has the rights to his masters back from Capitol. He's still trying to get money out of Bear Family, though, to no avail. Carl tried to sue Shelby Singleton for licensing all that Sun stuff to Bear Family, but Singleton beat a retreat to Canada to avoid the long arm of the law and Carl's case never got off the ground. That Perkins box set even includes some home recordings (on some of which you can hear his wife Valda singing along with him) that Carl claimed he never knew existed; he had no idea how they could have come into Sam Phillips's or Shelby Singleton's possession. More later, guys!
Berliner (captward) Fri 9 Dec 05 09:34
The guy who runs Bear Family told me he does his deals directly with the record companies, so anyone who's been burned by them should sort it out with the record company, presumably. I say presumably because the Bear Family guy isn't a very pleasant person, in my dealings with him. As for Shelby running away from the law, gee, what a surprise. The phrase "music business legend" generally translates as "who thought he'd get away with it for so long?"
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Fri 9 Dec 05 11:07
I do computer software training for a living these days, and about a year ago I did a training in Stillwater, OK. I actually did my best to find Meehan, Oklahoma, but there ain't much left of it. I found the right road, but if there was anything remaining of the town center, I missed it. It is in deep rural OK (in fact, I think one of the towns near there is called "Rural") and really puzzled the locals to have a guy dressed in business clothes show up at the convenience store and ask where he could find some obscure local hamlet that even they had never heard of. "No Bread" came into the college radio station where I worked when it was first issued by Capitol and man, I drove everyone crazy trying to convince them they should play it, and I sure played the hell out of it myself. I guess I was one of relatively few people who didn't go "Who?" when Jimmy Carter said James Talley was his favorite singer. I will look for the 30th anniversary edition, although I might buy some of the other ones I'm still missing on CD first.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Fri 9 Dec 05 11:08
No, now that I think of it, it might be "Agra" rather than "Rural." Let's just say I was the only guy in the convenience store without a feed cap on.
David McGee (davidmcgee) Sat 10 Dec 05 08:01
Ed, I've heard the same description of the Bear Family guy from others who have dealt with him--including James Talley, who confronted him directly about being paid. James says the guy dismissed him, saying, "We're putting out music that otherwise wouldn't ever be on the market again, so we feel we're actually helping you." And felt no compunction to pay licensing fees or any such thing. Also Ed, I appreciate your remark about the Carl Perkins book debunking the notion about Elvis stealing black culture to enrich himself. Carl impressed upon me that in his youth there weren't issues of black and white in his community, because the white families were every bit as poor as the black ones. These people lived and worked together. My mother was a great resource in researching the culture of poor white southerners, because her family was among them, moving from year to year to another farm that maybe paid better wages or offered better living conditions, and she was walking five miles a day to school, sometimes with black kids her age. I'm not denying there was virulent racism in the Deep South, but a lot of the rural folk there, of a certain generation, lived free of it, at least for awhile. It's a complex issue that would take us months, years to sort out, but pertinent to our conversation here, what a specious argument to suggest that Elvis at 19 or even younger had the intellectual wherewithal to see a fortune in ripping off black culture. Even Sam Phillips only had a hunch that a white artist who performed with a "black feel" might make it big, because he knew that whites "listened to blues surreptitously." It's still a stretch to get from there to the kind of acclaim Elvis experienced, and say in 1954 anyone saw it coming. I know Chuck D. has been vocal in dismissing Elvis, saying "Elvis don't mean shit to me." A friend of mine had a good retort to that: "Chuck D. don't mean shit to Elvis, either." Carl, Agra is indeed the Oklahoma community you're thinking of. I've been there, or what's left of "there." Gene Autry is another interesting, near-desolate outpost in southwest Oklahoma. Last time I was there, all that remained of Gene Autry was a bench that served as a railroad station and a sign above it reading "Gene Autry." Oh--and a cemetary too, in which is buried Jesse Chisolm, after whom the Chisolm Trail was named.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Sat 10 Dec 05 08:14
Yeah, the utter de-population of much of the rural midwest sparks a feature article in the eastern press now and then, but most people just aren't aware of it.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Fri 30 Dec 05 09:56
I know this topic may go permanently dormant at this point, but I just wanted to say that I got David's "Go, Cat, Go!: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins." What a great book. And an intereting, affecting life story. I like the way that the book doesn't offer pat explanations. Most real humans are contradictory, and the book let's Perkins' contradictions shine through. Strictly from the point of view of his role in music history, it sounds like Perkins was truly rooted in a particular tradition, a tradition that really meant something to him and reflected his life experiences up to that point. And when the music moved on from that style, that was pretty much that (although I was unaware of his later successes as a songwriter). I don't know much about Cash's career, but if you look at Elvis and Jerry Lee, the latter had his enormous egomania to keep him moving and changing, and the former simply allowed his career to be taken over by people with a plan. Seems like Perkins lacked Jerry Lee's ego and had too much self-respect to go the same route as Elvis.
Berliner (captward) Fri 30 Dec 05 10:08
Plus, he had the stumble at the beginning, the car accident right when he was supposed to go on TV with "Blue Suede Shoes." By the time he was out of the hospital, Elvis had done it, and the momentum was gone. But Carl was a gentleman about it.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 30 Dec 05 10:44
I pinged McGee just now - I hope he'll stop by today. And if you do, David, I'd also like to hear about your new book, STEVE EARLE: Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 30 Dec 05 11:46
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I want to hear about *that* one.
Members: Enter the conference to participate