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Versailles Cuban Cuisine Stands Tall in Miami’s Little Havana

21 Apr

miami little hav sign

A visit to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is like a trip outside the USA. The sights, the smells, the accents — you’ll feel like you’ve really journeyed to Cuba. For many of us, it will be the closest we ever get to the real deal. We only had a few brief hours to explore this go around, so it was something of a whirlwind tour, for certain.

miami ver sign

We rarely come to this part of the world without stopping for a meal at Versailles Cuban Cuisine. If not the best, it is surely the most popular and well known eatery in Little Havana. The food is consistently good and the prices always fair. It always seems to be a proper mix of tourists and locals. And if the locals are consistently eating here in large numbers, then you know they are doing something right.

miami ver ext

Lots of locals make Versailles a regular stop — even if it’s just to grab a jolt of strong Cuban coffee or a flaky pastry from Versailles always-busy bakery. This place is a bit of a compound. A cottage industry, one might even say. There is a walk up window to accomodate patrons on the go and it appears to be a never ending flow of humanity. Boston may run on Dunkin … but Miami runs on these tiny, shot glass-size shots of dark coffee loaded with more sugar than a box of Dunkin Donuts. Yes, you could say this is an acquired taste. I whoofed it down and immediately felt the combination caffeine/sugar buzz. Eileen didn’t care for it and I, not wanting to waste a drop, knocked hers back as well. My day was now in full tilt mode.

miami ver cafe

Cafe Con Leche and Conversation — morning in Little Havana

miami ver menu

“The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant” — enough said.

miami ver mirror

Check out the ornate mirrored walls in Versaille’s rear dining area

miami ver cuban sandwich

The Versailles’ traditional Cuban sandwich is my go-to lunch order

miami ver tres

Save room for some Tres Leche Cake — it’s moist and sinfully good

miami ver coquitos

If you love coconut, give these sugar bombs (aka “Coquitos”) a try

dominoes

Playing dominoes to pass the day is a Cuban (and Miami) passion

miami cigars

The art of making a hand-rolled stogie is alive and kickin’ in Miami

miami south beach

The Breakwater – one of South Beach’s fabulous art deco palaces

Do not miss Versailles Cuban Cuisine. But more importantly, don’t miss Miami’s Little Havana. It is a cultural gem that showcases Florida’s diversity and strong connection to Latin America. One day I will get to the real Havana. That day is coming soon. But until then, this will have to do. My son told me he felt like we were in a totally different country. “That’s the whole point, Travis,” I replied. “That is the whole point.”

Versailles Cuban Cuisine – 3555 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33135

www.versaillesrestaurant.com; (305) 444-0240

The Zombies’ Biloxi Performance Produces Magical Moments

10 Mar

Zombies

“The Zombies Live” — a bit of an oxymoron, right? Or maybe a title of an upcoming horror film? I’ll tell you what I call it: A damn good time! These guys (leaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, by name) have been at it since 1961. Their first charting hit came along in 1964.  And you know what? They still sound great. Sure the lads have aged a bit. And maybe picked up a pound or two since the dashing portrait above was snapped. Some called them nerdy — some called them art school geeks — I have always dug them. They were always thinking a step ahead of their musical peers and that did not always translate into commercial success.

zombies hrc

The Hard Rock Casino – Biloxi is where it all went down

zombies sign

Our tickets to this Thursday night Zombies show at the Hard Rock Casino were just $25 each plus tax — and the seats were superb. Probably about 10 rows back and just a tad left of center stage. I didn’t really want to be much closer. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it can get a little loud up there sometimes.

zombie LP

The average Joe might be hard pressed to name a single song by The Zombies. Time of the Season could come to mind … as it should. That recording, in my world, ranks right up there with The Beatles best work. The casual music fan of a certain vintage probably remembers tracks like Tell Her No and She’s Not There — and most likely Argent’s big solo smash Hold Your Head Up. The more hardcore vinyl junkie like your’s truly can go much deeper into The Zombies’ highly underappreciated catalog. I, for one, would be hard pressed to stop at 20 or so songs. They were indeed that special. Especially when further incorporating Rod’s time with Argent and vocalist Colin Blunstone’s solo recordings (check out his breathy Caroline Goodbye for starters) and stellar session work with the Alan Parsons Project (see Old and Wise for beginners).    

zombies on stage

The view from our seats (above) at Hard Rock – a steal at $25 + tax

zombies signed cd

A signed CD was my souvenir for the evening

The Zombies masterpiece (often discussed in the same hushed tones as Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, and Love’s Forever Changes) is their Odessey and Oracle album. It may have only included one chart hit (the soaring Time of the Season) but it is laden with innovative, quirky, and ultimately unforgettable tunes. The themes can be somber (A Rose for Emily) and downright bizarre (Care of Cell 44). This is an album that grows on you — and then stays with you forever. I can’t recommend it enough if you consider yourself a fan of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Moody Blues, The Kinks, or Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it. Critics rave about it and it is often cited as one of the Top 100 LPs of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it #80 in their Top 500. How ’bout them apples???

zombies c n r

If you ever get a chance to see The Zombies in concert, don’t miss them. Rod and Colin work incredible magic together. Argent can still bang on the keyboards like nobody’s business and Blunstone remains, to my ear, one of rock’s great voices. They play a great mix of the old and the new — and both founding members get plenty of time to bask in the spotlight. When they broke into Time of the Season (easily one of my all-time favorite songs), my wife Eileen and I were grinning from ear to ear. By the time the song reached its crescendo, I could have sworn our feet were floating about a foot or two off the ground. It was the same magical feeling I experienced when I first heard Booker T and the MGs perform Green Onions in person. Or the time I saw Tony Joe White singing Polk Salad Annie. Or the time I experienced the great Roy Orbison bring the crowd to its collective feet with a live take on Running Scared. It was indeed one for the ages.

Thank you, Rod and Colin. LONG LIVE THE ZOMBIES!!!

And just in case you boys ever wonder if all the bad meals, hotels, and travel are worth it, it is. Trust me … it really is.

You are making the world a brighter, more joyful place.

And what could be more rewarding than that?

“The Best Album Otis Redding Never Made”

2 Mar

otis

I have always loved the voice of Otis Redding. Who doesn’t, right? So much soul and feeling. So raspy and unique. More of a song stylist than a true singer. He could scream and shout with the best of ‘em, but his talents were perhaps best on display when he performed a slower ballad. That is especially true when the ballad tackled the topics of pain, loneliness, heartbreak or sorrow.

The cover looks like an old, time-worn LP cover. The cover art fits within the time period. Yet this is a completely new collection being released for the first time. Cool concept — and it works. The album is a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The original songs and a few alternate versions. Some Redding penned originals and compositions by the likes of Eddie Floyd and Lloyd Price.

Most all the cuts here click. Those that don’t on all levels still demand your attention and curiousity. An example of the latter would be the alternate take of “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.” There are a few awkward key changes that can be hard on the ear, but the feeling and emotion is still very much there. The backing band (Steve Cropper, Booker T and the boys) seems to be experimenting — trying to find their way at times on this take. I’m guessing that is why this version is subtitled “Rougher Dreams.” You can understand why this rougher take didn’t make the original record back in the late 60’s.  

On the other hand, the alternate version of “Open the Door” is simply killer stuff. Subtitled “Skeleton Key Version,” this one delivers the goods in the best Redding tradition. The 2:29 slow burn comes complete with door knocks and goosebump-inducing blasts from the mighty Memphis Horns and Booker T’s Hammond B-3. The collection closes with the hopeful “My Lover’s Prayer” — long one of my favorite Redding performances. It leaves you wanting more, so don’t forget to punch that REPEAT button. This makes for ideal late night listening.  

Turn the lights down and the volume up.

You’ll find plenty to like about this new addition to Otis’ legendary catalog.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Otis Redding’s Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding could pass for a title Stax/Volt might have released in the late ’60s. The look of the album reflects Stax’s design themes of the era. But in fact it’s a collection that never existed, until now, that homes in on one mood and one theme —heartbreaking, yearning ballads — of which Redding had many. The album will be released as a CD and blue vinyl LP on March 5, 2013 on Stax Records through Concord Music Group.

Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding contains the hits (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “These Arms of Mine,” “My Lover’s Prayer,” “Free Me”) alongside many lesser-known songs (“Gone Again,” “Open the Door,” “Waste of Time,” “Everybody Makes a Mistake,” to name a few). They’re all included in this compilation because they share the tangled theme of sorrow.

According to compilation producer David Gorman, “Given how nobody delivered a gut-wrenching sad song like Otis, I always felt he should have made an album you could put on late at night and settle into with a glass of something strong. The mood and the subject of every song is the same — Otis, heartbroken, and begging for love. I tried to find the saddest most potently heartbreaking songs he ever sang, with no regard for chart position or notoriety. There are a few hits on the album, but they’re there because they fit the mood, not because we wanted to include the hits.”

For instance, an alternate version of “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” features lyrics that are darker and tell a more personal story than the better-known hit version. Little-known tracks like “Gone Again” and “A Waste of Time” are given the same weight as “I’ve Been Loving You too Long.” The motif of love is even subtly addressed in the sequencing, the album closing with “Send Me Some Lovin’” and “My Lover’s Prayer.”

The concept of Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding plays out in the packaging as well, which was intentionally designed by Gorman to look as if Redding actually did put this album out at the height of his career. The typography, color palette, and layout are all meant to adhere to the Stax/Volt LP designs of the time. This extends to the liner notes, which are written in the present tense and credited to a fictitious DJ so that they read as if they were written while Redding was alive at his peak.

“The goal,” explains Gorman, “was to create the best album Otis never made and ‘reissue’ it in 2013 rather than do another hits compilation. We hope this album will reframe him as something more than an oldies radio staple and become his Night Beat (a classic 1963 Sam Cooke LP) — the album that exists as a starting point for people wondering why so many consider Otis Redding the greatest soul singer of all time.”

Track Listing:
1. I Love You More Than Words Can Say
2. Gone Again
3. Free Me
4. Open the Door [Skeleton Key Version]
5. A Waste of Time
6. These Arms of Mine
7. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
8. Everybody Makes a Mistake
9. Little Ol’ Me
10. I’ve Got Dreams to Remember [Rougher Dreams]
11. Send Me Some Lovin’
12. My Lover’s Prayer

Nashville’s Triple Threat Jerry Reed Enjoys New Life Thanks to Real Gone Music

26 May

JERRY REED

The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice of Jerry Reed

Nashville Underground

OK, folks. Let me begin by stating that this CD does not contain the radio hits “Amos Moses,’ “When You’re Hot You’re Hot,” “Ko-Ko Joe,” or “East Bound and Down.” So does this mean should immediately dismiss the new Jerry Reed release from Real Gone Music? Nope. Check that. Make it “Hell no!” Jerry Reed Hubbard was one talented cat, y’all. Master guitar picker. Cracker Jack sense of humor. Accomplished song writer. Starred in a few movies too (who can forget him as Burt Reynold’s sidekick in “Smokey and the Bandit”?).

Real Gone’s new CD covers 2 early Reed efforts (1967 & 1968) on the RCA label. RCA was riding high during those times – thanks in good measure to the production skills of legendary Chet Atkins and all the talented musicians and tunesmiths who called Nashville’s fabled RCA Studio B home. Reed spent some valuable time in that stable, but it soon became evident that this Georgia native had major star power.

Check out “Guitar Man” — you’ll dig it. Elvis did too. The King recorded it and it became a sizeable hit. Presley also tackled “U.S. Male,” another rockin’ track appearing on the original issue of “The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed.” Sure, a pretty wordy album title. But you must keep in mind that Jerry Reed was not exactly a man of few words. In fact, some of his recordings might even be called “Redneck Rap.” The old boy had a way with the King’s English, that’s for certain.

Reed’s nimble fingers get a 1:59 workout on his signature instrumental piece, “The Claw.” “Love Man” spotlight’s his undeniable Dixie-fried bravado, while a few Nashville Underground tracks like “A Thing Called Love” showcase Jerry’s softer side and actually tug at the heartstrings. Reed’s voice tended to take on a deeper tone when delivering this type of sentimental material. The song’s a keeper … as are cuts like “Fine on my Mind” and the raucous “Tupelo Mississippi Flash.” The latter tune is a fine example of Jerry Reed’s trademark sense of humor and gift of gab. Have a listen to this disc, hoss. We think it will, as Jerry used to say, “knock your hat in the creek.”

Two classic, late-‘60s albums from Jerry Reed, both of them never on CD before! The titles to these two records (his first two) really tell the tale; Jerry was an unbelievable guitarist and singer, and you can add songwriter to the list—at least Elvis thought so, as he covered both “Guitar Man” and “U.S. Male” from Unbelievable (and hired Jerry to play guitar on both)! Jerry returned the favor by writing an Elvis tribute song (“Tupelo Mississippi Flash”) on 1968’s Nashville Underground, which lives up to its title by presenting a revelatory blend of country, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, blue-eyed soul and even progressive pop.

Though Reed was a protégé of Chet Atkins, his eclectic taste and irrepressible personality—later on full display in the Smokey and the Bandit films—ensured that this record busted out of the countrypolitan mold that held sway in Nashville at the time. Both of these albums are must-listens for any alt-country and roots music fan, and Chris Morris contributes notes that place these two albums in context of Jerry’s incredible (and, to this day, underappreciated) career.

Featured Songs:

It Don’t Work That Way

Guitar Man

You’re Young and You’ll Forget

Woman Shy

I Feel for You

Take a Walk

Love Man

If I Promise

U.S. Male

Long Gone

If It Comes to That

The Claw

Remembering

A Thing Called Love

You Wouldn’t Know a Good Thing

Save Your Dreams

Almost Crazy

You’ve Been Cryin’ Again

Fine on My Mind

Tupelo Mississippi Flash

Wabash Cannonball

Hallelujah, I Love Her So

John Henry

Available May 29, 2012 Pre-Order Now!

Concord Re-Issues “Here’s Little Richard” with Bonus Tracks/Features

7 Apr

Little Richard was an electrifying talent — that we can all agree upon. But where exactly does he stand among contemporaries like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry? Richard, like the other performers mentioned, was an early inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But his legacy has not aged as well as many of his fellow rock giants. Richard did not always have access to the best material. His career quickly stalled out when he announced he would no longer sing “the devil’s music.” Yet, at the top of his game, the man born Richard Penniman could really stir up a room.

Top notch songs like Tutti Frutti, Ready Teddy, Long Tall Sally, Slippin and Slidin, and Rip It Up have surely stood the test of time. Penniman’s producer Art Rupe deserves a great deal of credit — as does the marvelous crew of backing musicians that can be heard on Richard’s New Orleans and Los Angeles recording sessions. These often overlooked studio cats included names like Lee Allen on tenor sax, Huey Smith on piano, Alvin “Red” Tyler on baritone sax, and the legendary Earl Palmer on drums.

Most of the highlights of Little Richard’s early rock n’ roll career can be found on “Here’s Little Richard.” Of special note is the bonus audio interview  with Rupe, Richard’s two original demo recordings, and included videos of Penniman’s 1956 Hollywood screen tests. The videos show Little Richard powering his way thru Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally. These songs heavily influenced acts like The Beatles and still maintain their energy and excitement more than 50 years after first being transferred to vinyl. The packaging also comes with a tastefully done booklet, some very cool B&W photography, and a fold-out poster of the original album cover. How’s that for extras???

Collectors and longtime fans will really dig the extra features and enhanced sound quality. If you don’t have any Little Richard in your collection, this is a wonderful place to start. Pop it into your CD player and you’ll be “ripping it up” in no time flat. Little Richard had that effect on people — and he still does today.

Rock ’n’ roll may date back to Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” in 1951 and perhaps further to blues/swing hybrids of the 1940s. But many would contend that Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans in September 1955, was the first great rock ’n’ roll record. “Tutti Frutti” kicks off Here’s Little Richard, Concord Music Group’s expanded reissue of the original Specialty Records album from 1957. Street date is April 17, 2012.
In addition to the original recordings of Little Richard’s best known hits — “Long Tall Sally,” “Ready Teddy,” “Jenny Jenny,” “Rip It Up,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and more — the Concord remastered reissue features two bonus tracks (Specialty demo recordings of “Baby” and “All Night Long”) and two videos (screen tests of “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”).

The set contains liner notes by R&B musicologist Lee Hildebrand, as well as the notes from the original LP. Although Little Richard recorded for RCA Victor in 1951 and Peacock Records in 1953, his Specialty years — the 25-month period between September 1955 and October 1957 — proved monumental. As annotator Hildebrand writes, “They are quite possibly the most exciting and incendiary recordings in the annals of popular music and constitute a body of work upon which Richard’s reputation as one of the primary architects of rock ’n’ roll is measured.” Richard approached Specialty Records at the suggestion of R&B legend Lloyd Price, best known for the 1952 R&B hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

Richard and his band, the Upsetters, recorded a demo of two blues songs at Macon radio station WMBL-AM. The first, “Baby,” was a blues shuffle, the second a slow blues titled “All Night Long” that featured B.B. King-style guitar by Thomas Hartwell. In fact Specialty owner Art Rupe happened to be looking for a singer like B.B. King, although staff producer Bumps Blackwell recalls Rupe as seeking the next Ray Charles. The demos didn’t overwhelm Rupe, but he signed Little Richard anyway.

Blackwell was assigned to record Richard in New Orleans, and the resulting session featuring pianist Huey Smith and saxophonist Lee Diamond begat eight standard-issue blues/R&B songs. Then, during a break on the second day while Smith was out, the producer heard Richard sing “Tutti Frutti,” accompanying himself on the piano. With only 15 minutes of studio time remaining, and the original lyrics cleaned up by songwriter and studio habitué Dorothy LaBostrie, there was no time for Smith to learn the piano part, so Richard played it himself.

According to Hildebrand, “Richard attacked the piano with incessant even-eight-note patters which was decidedly different from the shuffle rhythm drummer Earl Palmer was laying down behind him. Swing and shuffle beats had been the primary pulse of rhythm & blues until Richard introduced even eights that would come to drive most R&B and rock music and still do today.”

 
The song shot to #2 on Billboard’s R&B charts and a creditable #17 pop. Rolling Stone rated it at #43 on its list of Greatest 500 Songs of All Time. Subsequent Little Richard Specialty hits dented Top 10 R&B and Top 20 pop. All the songs on Here’s Little Richard were recorded in New Orleans with the exception of “True, Fine Mama” and “She’s Got It,” both made in Los Angeles, Specialty’s home.


Since abruptly giving up show business for God in October 1957, Richard’s life has vacillated between religion and rock ’n’ roll. Today at age 78, he lives in Nashville. Despite being wheelchair-bound, on July 3, 2011, he performed “Tutti Frutti” and other hits on the nationally televised all-star “A Capitol Fourth” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Mitch Ryder is BACK? Well, Sock It To Me, Baby!

4 Feb

MITCH RYDER TO RELEASE HIS FIRST NEW ALBUM IN 30 YEARS, THE PROMISE

Produced by fellow Detroit native Don Was, Ryder returns to his Motor City rock and soul roots.

DETROIT, Mich. — Before Jack White, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger or Iggy Pop, Detroit’s number one rock export was Mitch Ryder. Fronting the Detroit Wheels, Ryder spun out a string of rock ’n’ soul hits — “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Devil With a Blue Dress On / Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Sock It to Me, Baby” — in the mid-’60s that landed in the charts alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Ryder’s new album, The Promise (his first U.S. release in nearly 30 years), due out February 13, 2012 on his own Michigan Broadcasting Corporation label, finds him in prime form. The disc’s dozen tracks feature eleven full-bodied originals plus a live cover for the Motown classic “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” Ryder teamed up with acclaimed producer Don Was (a fellow Detroit native) to create a record that’s full of soul yet grounded in rock: music that acknowledges the past while looking forward. Ryder says he writes all of his songs from personal experiences. “When I am in the writing mode, I don’t listen to other music. I just shut down and draw on what my mind and my soul tell me to do.”

The Promise starts off capturing a particularly personal moment with “Thank You Mama.” This Motown-esque rocker serves as a eulogy to his parents. Ryder wasn’t able to attend either his mother or father’s funerals for various reasons (including a promoter who threatened to sue him if he went to this dad’s funeral) and he wrote this song, he reveals, “because I needed to get it out of my system. I never got to tell them thank you.”

The title track is a deeply soulful number — both through the music and the message. Combining a slow-burning rhythm with incendiary social commentary, this powerful ballad offers an unflinching portrait of a working-class American who is struggling to make ends meet yet holding on to “the promise” of a better tomorrow, when “my child will have doctors and my child will have good schools.” The song’s gritty quality, with its rock-edged funkiness, also fuels tunes like “One Hair,” “The Way We Were” and “Junky Love.”

However, it’s not a Mitch Ryder album without some party music too. The Latin-flavored “Let’s Keep Dancing” shakes up the disc’s tempo with a tango. Similarly, the piano-based ballad “Crazy Beautiful” gives Ryder an opportunity to show his vocal range extends beyond that of a belter. This song also provided him a chance to perform with one of his heroes, keyboardist Patrick Leonard. Leonard led the ’90s band Toy Matinee, whose sole album, Ryder says, stands as “one of the best pieces of American music I’ve ever heard.” When Was said that Leonard was working in the same studio where they were recording, Ryder went over to meet him. “I was brought to tears during the conversation,” Ryder admits. “That’s how powerful an impact he had on me.”

Ryder was also thrilled to have Was onboard. The two met when the famed producer worked in the studio where Ryder was making his 1980 release Naked But Not Dead. Although they’ve worked together over the years (“Brokenhearted” comes from one of Was’ annual “Concert of Colors” in Detroit), this was the first time they collaborated on an entire album. Ryder reveals that Was didn’t ask to see his lyrics before recording the songs and told Ryder that the only other artist similarly treated was Bob Dylan, which Ryder found a high compliment. Ryder also raved how Was was “able to bring the real exact sound of my voice as it exists today without using any gimmicks.”

Recording in Los Angeles’ historic Henson Studios (formerly A&M Records and originally Charles Chaplin’s studios), Was used his team of talented players (keyboardist Jamie Mahuberac, bassist Reggie McBride, guitarist Randy Jacobs and drummer James Gadsen) to give Ryder all that needed — whether it was an explosive guitar solo or a soulful groove. Ryder re-did one of his older songs, “My Heart Belongs To Me,” because he realized correctly that this band could give it the proper Stax sound that he wanted.

Born William Levise Jr., Ryder grew up in working class Detroit and started working as a singer while still a teen. He performed in a black soul club and fronted the Peps, a black vocal trio. As Billy Lee, he led a popular local band, the Rivieras. After Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe was blown away by one of their live performances, the group re-located to New York; however, they had to change their name due to the Rivieras of “California Sun” fame. Ryder, as the story goes, found his new stage name while flipping through the Manhattan phonebook — and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were born.

With Crewe at the helm, Ryder and the Wheels quickly developed a potent music style that infused R&B with high-octane rock ’n’ roll. Their biggest success came with the “Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” medley, which hit #4 on the charts and was famously re-done by Bruce Springsteen. Ryder says the band’s magic came from wanting “our records to sound live,” adding that “listeners responded to the energy.”

However, the success came with a price. Although they wrote their own material before, that changed when Crewe took control of the band. Ryder states, “We were told in no uncertain terms that we would be doing songs that Mr. Crewe presented to us and all he was doing when he wasn’t writing originals was throwing us covers. It was screwed up.”

By 1967, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels had splintered. Ryder later went to Memphis to do an album with Booker T. and the MGs before returning home to front a band called Detroit. Their one release included such a powerful rendition of Lou Reed’s “Rock N’ Roll” that Reed nabbed guitarist Steve Hunter for his own band.

While The Promise is Ryder’s first American-released record since his 1983 John Mellencamp–produced Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, he has been a busy musician over the years. He has a very devoted European following, especially in Germany, where a 1978 TV performance catapulted him to stardom. He has released 14 CDs in Germany and regularly puts on 2½ hour concerts. “I don’t have to do any of my American hits. They don’t care,” Ryder states. “It really makes me happy to have that alternative career.”

The Promise is just one of Ryder’s several current projects. His just published memoir, Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend chronicles his colorful career — and how he suffered through addiction, bankruptcy and more — and survived to talk about it all. In addition to the new book and album, Ryder is working on stage musical that he describes as “intensely emotional” and like “a Russian novel.”

An energetic 66-year-old, Ryder doesn’t think “time is an issue that should be treated so seriously.” He just strives to be productive and continue to grow as an artist. “I don’t feel old,” he proclaims, “I feel great about what I am trying to accomplish.”

# # #

For more information about Mitch Ryder, please contact Conqueroo:
Cary Baker • (323) 656-1600 • cary@conqueroo.com

Oh Brother, This Is One Mighty Fine CD, Y’all!

4 Feb

JON DEE GRAHAM, FREEDY JOHNSTON
AND
SUSAN COWSILL
ARE THE HOBART BROTHERS & LIL’ SIS HOBART

Itinerant singer-songwriters unite to record album,
At Least We Have Each Other, due for late February 28 release

The moment I first heard about this collaboration I knew we were in for a major treat. And I’m happy it does not disappoint. In fact, it would be safe to say that this will become known as one of the best Americana releases of 2012. Certainly the critics will love it. All three contributors are highly accomplished in their own right. And each brings something unique to this highly enjoyable party.

Jon Dee Graham is perhaps the least well-known of the group. But he boasts an impressive resume and a loyal Texas following – most notably in the Austin area. Graham has played in bands like The Skunks and the True Believers and sports one of the most well-worn singing voices this side of Tom Waits. Freedy Johnston is an talented singer-songwriter who has released about a dozen CDs thru the years. You may recall his 1994 hit single, Bad Reputation. Susan Cowsill grew up in the music business as a member of the real life Partridge Family, The Cowsills. Their hits included everything from the sublime The Rain, The Park and Other Things to the ridiculously fun Hair. Susan has much more recently made some beautiful music with The Continental Drifters.

The opening track is a cracking number intitled Baby, Didn’t I Love You. Cowsill takes the lead vocal on this one and really shines as she pleads, “How could you leave me here on the track?” This is the obvious “single” on the CD, but the rest of the collection is hardly filler, trust me. Jon Dee follows with a swampy take on Why I Don’t Hunt. It has a a “Wooly Bully” chug to it with Cowsill providing some vocal sweetness to Graham’s down & dirty delivery.  The next track, Sweet Senorita, begins with a Neko Case-like wistfulness. Freedy gives this Latin-tinged piece the meloncholy treatment and succeeds. Susan again jumps in on harmony vocals — she is the glue here.

The 4th number, I Never Knew There Would Be You, is certainly one of the disc’s standout tracks. It is likely the most pop-oriented song included here. Cowsill’s lead vocal soars — at times reminding me of the clear as a  bell tones of the late Mama Cass Elliott. Yes, Susan is a child of the 6os and that influence is clear. The twin-guitar break is really sweet — only wish there was more of it. Track 6, Almost Dinnertime,  features Jon Dee doing his best Tom Waits’ growl, which is followed up by the dreamy Johnston vocal, I am Sorry.  

My First Day On The Job is catchy and humorous, but get the earmuffs out for the kids — some salty language on this one. It’s all about toiling in the not always glamorous restaurant industry, which all 3 of the band members have experienced at one time or another. Soda Pop Tree is just what you’d expect — sweet and cool. The disc closes with Jon Dee Graham singing over the slow yet steady jangle of The Dishwasher, another ode to his former food service career.  

Not a bad track can be found here, friends. What a terrific collection of songs and performances. As I mentioned, don’t be surprised if this CD turns up on many Best of 2012 lists. Let’s just hope this is not the last we hear from this trio. It is rare that 3 such diverse talents come together in such a winning way. Maybe they aren’t really blood relatives, but when they throw on the recording switch, they sure do sound like it.  

AUSTIN, Texas — Jon Dee Graham , Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill, united as the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart , will release their long-threatened debut album, At Least We Have Each Other, on Freedom Records in CD, LP and digital download formats, with a street date of February 28, 2012. A limited tour is planned for spring.

The ten-song LP/CD/download release comprises seven songs from the most recent band recording sessions, plus three from the first, drumless, demo sessions. With every purchase of any format of At Least We Have Each Other comes a free download of the entire demo-session set.

The three singer-songwriters got together in an Austin backyard one afternoon in 2010 to write songs about their early days (yes, even Sue) working in restaurants. They took the family name Hobart, after the dishwasher found in nearly every commercial kitchen, and began to reminisce.

Over the next couple of months, they put together ten songs about cooks and waitresses and dishwashers, but also songs about Mexican-American truck-drivers, pleasant dreams had while living in your car, the collapse of the Texas cotton market, despair on a pay phone, unread letters and, of course, love.

The Hobarts recruited Andrew DuPlantis, bassist from Jon Dee’s band the Fighting Cocks, and drummer Russ Broussard, husband and band-mate of Ms. Cowsill, and played SXSW 2011 to a tremendous response. The band then pursued a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of At Least We Have Each Other at Top Hat Studios in Austin.

The finished album provides a rare glimpse of what three unique and talented artists might come up with when they think no one else is listening. The songs were recorded live with one or two takes, and there is a resonant honesty and completeness to them.

About the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart:

Jon Dee Graham was named Austin Musician of the Year at SXSW in 2006. He was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame three times: as a solo artist in 2000, in 2008 as a member of the Skunks, and in 2009 as a member of the True Believers. Graham has released seven albums and was the subject of a DVD called Big Sweet Life: The Songs of Jon Dee Graham. In August 2008, Graham underwent emergency surgery after being injured in a one-car accident. His current album is aptly titled It’s Not As Bad As It Looks.

The New Yorker cited Freedy Johnston’s “finely wrought, melancholy character studies” as one of the calling cards of 2010’s critically acclaimed Rain on the City album, his twelfth. According to SPIN, “Johnston’s characters always make a deep impression.” He has been recording since 1990’s debut The Trouble Tree on Bar/None. In 1994 he hit with “Bad Reputation” from his Elektra album This Perfect World, and Rolling Stone named him “Songwriter of the Year.”

Susan Cowsill was born into show business as a member of the Cowsills, who hit with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” and “Hair” in the late ’60s. In the ’90s, she joined forces with Peter Holsapple and Vicki Peterson to form the Continental Drifters, and migrated from Los Angeles to New Orleans. In 2005 she released her first solo album, Just Believe It, concurrent with losing her brother Barry and her house to Hurricane Katrina. Her current album Lighthouse, called “an earthy, often crunchy folk-pop gem” by Rolling Stone, reflects upon these experiences and features guest spots from Peterson, Jackson Browne, and former Cowsills session player Waddy Wachtel.

# # #

 

Pan Am Soundtrack Jets You Back To A More Glamorous Era For Air Travel

14 Jan

Pan Am — yes, I have flown on the airline — it’s been a long while though. Pan Am the TV show? Haven’t seen it yet. Pan Am the Soundtrack? It sends me. I admit it is a quirky mix of songs and artists. But that is what the early to mid-sixties were all about. Take a look at the Billboard charts during that time and you’ll see that I am right. So don’t get all uptight. Recline your seat, ask your attendant for a strong cocktail, and enjoy the flight.

Your ears will encounter very little turbulence as your musical journey cruises from Buddy Greco to Grace Potter or from Brenda Lee to Nikki Jean. Some tracks are pretty well-traveled, while others just might be new destinations for you and flying companions. You can’t go wrong with Bobby Darin’s Call Me Irresponsible, Getz and Gilberto’s Girl from Ipanema, or Count Basie’s swinging groove on an instrumental I Can’t Stop Loving You. Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 injects even more Latin spice to the cabin with Mas Que Nada and Nikki Jean turns in an impressive twist on Do You Want To Know A Secret?

My top pick of all is Dinah Washington’s Destination Moon.

Bang! Zoom! It is a complete and total gas.

So get your ticket and take a trip back in time.

Travel was far more classy then – and so was the music.  

***I prefer Engelbert Humperdinck’s version of Quando, Quando, Quando

Pan Am: Music From and Inspired By the Original Series, a collection of music from and inspired by the ABC television drama, slated for January 17, 2012 CD release from Verve Music Group, is a non-stop flight back to the early ’60s. The collection features 14 songs by Buddy Greco, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz & João Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Peggy Lee, Shirley Horn, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Brenda Lee, Connie Francis and Dinah Washington, plus new artists Grace Potter and Nikki Jean.

According to the Verve Music Group’s SVP of A&R Jay Landers, “The Pan Am series goes to great lengths to capture the dawn of the jet age with accuracy, and music plays a vital role. Many of the artists of the era are found in the classic Verve catalog so it was a great synergistic opportunity.” Also, S-Curve/Universal recording artist Nikki Jean sings the Lennon & McCartney classic “Do You Want To Know a Secret.”

The TV series Pan Am follows the travels of a young flight crew as they set off on international adventures at the dawn of the Jet Age in the 1960s. The show captures a time when only a few could experience a global adventure or gain a front-row seat to history. Those lucky enough flew Pan Am, the largest, most prestigious airline in the world. More than Coca-Cola, Elvis Presley or the transistor radio, Pan Am exported American culture to the world abroad and brought that world back to American shores. The crew travels to intoxicating cities such as Paris, Berlin, Monte Carlo and Rome and bumps into history along the way. Through their eyes, Pan Am revisits an era nearly half a century ago. So, buckle up . . . adventure calls . . . and thank you for choosing Pan Am.

Track List:
1. Buddy Greco – “Around The World”
2. Grace Potter – “Fly Me To The Moon”
3. Bobby Darin – “Call Me Irresponsible”
4. Ella Fitzgerald – “Blue Skies”
5. Stan Getz & João Gilberto w/Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim – “The Girl From Ipanema”
6. Peggy Lee – “New York City Blues”
7. Shirley Horn – “The Best Is Yet To Come”
8. Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – “Mais Que Nada”
9. Billie Holiday – “Just One More Chance”
10. Count Basie – “I Can’t Stop Loving You”
11. Brenda Lee – “Break It To Me Gently”
12. Nikki Jean – “Do You Want To Know A Secret”
13. Connie Francis – “Quando Quando Quando (Tell Me When)”
14. Dinah Washington – “Destination Moon”

Maynard Ferguson Early 60’s Cameo Sessions Re-Issued by ABKCO

14 Jan

Maynard Ferguson was one of the great Big Band trumpet blowers. Sure, the heyday of the Big Bands had long passed by the time these sessions were laid down in 1963. But Maynard, a native Canadian, continued to carry the torch — and did so in spectacular fashion. Ferguson was best known for his amazing ability to hit and sustain high notes, yet please do not consider him a “one trick pony.” He could play with the best of them and consistently surrounded himself with talented young musicians. This is certainly the case for these takes, which were recorded during the peak of the Cameo-Parkway label’s financial success. That success was due in great part to Chubby Checker’s mega-hit, “The Twist.”

ABKCO’s upcoming release of the NEW SOUNDS OF MAYNARD FERGUSON and COME BLOW YOUR HORN (both LPs are included on this single CD) do a fine job of displaying Maynard’s versatility and virtuosity. Many songs will be immediately familiar to the casual jazz or pop music fan. These tunes would include Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man, the traditional Oh Danny Boy, Count Basie’s rousing One O’Clock Jump, Ray Allen’s groovy Gravy Waltz, Duke Ellington’s hit Take the A Train, Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town), and Billy May’s Naked City TV theme. Slightly lesser known compositions by Hammerstein-Kern, Oliver Nelson, Benny Golson, Elmer Bernstein, and the prolific team of Cahn-Van Heusen help to round out the collection. Yes, Maynard had great taste as well as great musical chops.

I must say I really dig this stuff. Some of you whippersnappers out there may think Big Band music is out of date or even, GASP, uncool. I beg to differ — in fact, I strongly beg to differ. I’d take this over your Gaga and your Bieber any day, Junior. And if you’re an older music fan with a fondness for Big Bands like Basie’s or The Tonight Show’s Doc Severinson, this will surely send you soaring as high as one of Maynard Ferguson’s stupifying trumpet blasts.  This is far out, groovy, Buddy Rich, Jack Sheldon, Old Blue Eyes’ “Koo-Koo” kind of good.

The New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson/Come Blow Your Horn—the Complete Cameo Recordings  

PRE-ORDER-NOW! Available January 31, 2012

Released through Real Gone by arrangement with ABKCO Records, this twofer features two of the most collectible albums in the entire Maynard Ferguson catalog, the two records he recorded in 1963 for the Cameo label in between his stints at the Roulette and Mainstream labels. Maynard still has his great Roulette band of Lanny Morgan, Willie Maiden, Frank Vicari, Mike Abene, Ronnie Cuber and master arranger Don Sebesky et al. with him on these recordings. Sourced from the original master tapes, this marks the first time these rare gems will be legitimately released on CD. Both albums feature driving big band arrangements of both standards and originals, and we have unearthed an unreleased bonus track from the New Sounds sessions, a take on the classic The Song Is You, exclusively for this reissue. Remastered straight from the original tapes with new liner notes—Maynard’s complete Cameo recordings!

The New Sounds Of Maynard Ferguson C1046 (1963)

1. Take The “A” Train; 2. Bossa Nova De Funk; 3. Gravy Waltz; 4. Cherokee (Indian Love Song) 5. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You; 6. One O’Clock Jump; 7. At The Sound Of The Trumpet 8. Maine Bone; 9. Watermelon Man; 10. Danny Boy; 11. The Song Is You (previously unreleased)

Maynard Ferguson – Come Blow Your Horn C1066 (1963)

12. Groove; 13. Country Boy; 14. Blues For A Four String Guitar; 15. Whisper Not 16. We’ve Got A World That Swings; 17. Chicago That Toddling Town; 18. Naked City Theme; 19. New Hope; 20. Antony And Cleopatra Theme; 21. Come Blow Your Horn

Two New Southern Books Worthy of Your Attention This Holiday Season

18 Dec

THE STORY OF THE NU WAY

by Ed Grisamore (Mercer University Press)

We dined at the Nu-Way a few years back. This is truly one of the South’s most iconic eateries. I have always loved the look of their historic neon sign, yet I knew very little about this hot dog stand’s history. Pick up a copy of this new book and expand your knowledge — we think you’ll dig their dog. They may have spelling issues, but they have the whole hot dog thing down to a science.

For almost seventy-five years, one of Macon’s most famous eating establishments, Nu-Way, has intentionally misspelled the word W-E-I-N-E-R on its marquee. Thanks to a sign-maker misplacing those vowels in 1937, the restaurant has had a conversation piece on the plate along with its legendary hot dogs. James Mallis immigrated to Macon from Greece and opened the city’s first fast-food restaurant on historic Cotton Avenue in 1916. Nu-Way is now the second-oldest hot dog stand in America, just a month shy of Nathan’s on Coney Island in New York.

In his eighth book, There Is More than One Way to Spell Wiener, Macon newspaper columnist Ed Grisamore tells the amazing story of how Nu-Way has become a cultural and culinary icon. Nu-Way is part of the fabric of Macon, Georgia. Nearly everyone in town has a Nu-Way story. When people move away, Nu-Way is one of the first places they visit when they come back home. One woman drove almost 500 miles and ordered 150 to go. But it’s not just about the food. It’s nostalgic. It’s a melting pot of Macon. To go downtown for a hot dog at noon is to see the common denominator of businessmen in three-piece suits sharing the same lunch counter with blue-collar workers and street people.

The book covers the generations of Macon families that have worked at Nu-Way, captures the passion of its loyal customers and tells the story of how the Norman Rockwell-like logo was painted by a former Macon fire chief. Even Oprah Winfrey dropped by for a chili dog and a Diet Coke on a visit to Macon in 2007 . Grisamore has been known to satisfy his cravings for slaw dogs (voted No. 1 in the nation by The New York Times) several times each week.

www.mupress.org

THE GORILLA MAN & THE EMPRESS OF STEAK

by Randy Fertel (University Press of Mississippi) 

The name Ruth’s Chris Steak House was always something of an oddity to me. Who was this Ruth? Who was Chris? Exactly how did this unusual name come about? Sure, their steaks were really good. And yes, the brand is well known throughout the world. But who knew there was such an interesting and colorful back story? Their saga is fascinating and provides a rare glimpse into the culture and restaurant industry of old New Orleans. You’re familiar with their steaks, so now take some time and learn more about the characters who created the sizzle.  

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth’s Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise–buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo– he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!

These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected–lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street–and how it intersected with the denizens of “Back a’ Town,” just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city–before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.

Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.

www.upress.state.ms.us 

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