Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

January 26, 2022

JIMI HENDRIX-ABTONE SESSION (Jimco Records, Japan)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:01 am

If you want to dive into a deep and confusing mystery, try researching the pre-Experience recordings of Jimi Hendrix, many of which were not even thought of as finished masters and would never have seen the light of day had Hendrix not become a superstar and then passed away so young. For the most part, intrepid Hendrix researchers have tracked down and cataloged each separate and unique recording and each variation of it which found release somewhere on some dodgy rip-off LP or CD before the Hendrix estate clamped down on such releases. I’ve spent some time in the past scouring online Hendrix sessionographies and the like, which do provide some answers, but mostly give the reader a headache. Maybe it’s best that the provenance of these sessions stays a bit murky. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, every used record store would have three or four different albums of pre-Experience Hendrix sessions sitting in the racks (and there were dozens to choose from if you hit a lot of stores), and with the retitling of material and the lack of specifics on the covers, you never knew exactly what you were going to get. It probably provided the Hendrix fan of the day a bit of excitement, like a safer version of the thrill of an anonymous drug transaction or an illicit sex hookup. Or maybe like an exploitation-film double-bill at your local drive-in of two films you’ve never heard of….would they be retitled versions of something you’ve already seen, would they be an exploitatively titled release of some unreleased zero-budget dog that had been sitting on the shelf for 5-8 years and was picked up cheaply as filler for a double-bill, would they be some foreign film taking us into some exotic netherworld? Who knows….

I remember playing such an LP way back when, and a friend dropped over and asked, “what’s that you’re playing.” I said, “early Hendrix,” and when he inquired as to what exactly the material was, I replied “formless grungy R&B jamming.” That pretty much sums up most of the recordings in circulation, and I said those words with the greatest of respect. Hey, I would have salivated over some LP on a European budget-label called JIMI HENDRIX—FORMLESS GRUNGY R&B JAMMING, if only the labels had been honest enough to present the material that way. Or even better, FORMLESS GRUNGY R&B JAMMING VOLUME 5! They’d really be scraping the barrel on that one, which would make it even more delightful of a listen to someone like me.

On some of the recordings I’ve heard (not so much this album under review), Hendrix is clearly playing rhythm guitar in a group but for the release of this material he is mixed WAY up-front, which creates an odd effect. He’s mostly chording, but being the creative guy he was, he would have been bored just chording, so he kind of de-constructs the chords as he plays them, figuring that will add some nice unexpected touches to the ensemble, which it no doubt did, but when his playing is taken out of context and forced upfront, it becomes kind of odd, especially since on some tracks there was clearly a vocalist who was mixed OUT of the recording. It’s like those Beatle bootlegs where you hear ONE of the backing vocalists and maybe Paul’s bass, but nothing else. Imagine if that’s all you heard, but you’d never heard the actual song before. It would take on an odd quality, wouldn’t it? And you’d not really be able to “hear” what the original recording was like (having to rely on bleed-through on the other instruments and singers, if there was any). Take a plunge into the earlyhendrix.com website when you’ve got some time to kill—it’s fascinating, and these folks have been researching this stuff for decades. I just went back in for a few minutes to jumpstart my memory, and read some court testimony where Lonnie Youngblood admits signing Hendrix’s name to a contract, after Hendrix had died, for the production company/label run by Johnny Brantley (who produced the sessions on this CD, which feature Youngblood—see the LP pic of an earlier release of some of this material, and notice the cutout hole in the corner), so that a record could be released under Hendrix’s name after his death, and they could claim he was “signed” with them pre-Reprise/Warners. That’s just scratching the surface. There were also guitar overdubs made later by persons unknown (though not Hendrix) on some of the material on some albums. Wow!

This body of material from Brantley/Youngblood/Vidalia Productions was dipped into for many LP’s, cassettes, and later CD’s (undoubtedly 8-tracks too!). Discogs lists 21 variations on the sessions found on the CD under review, all with different running orders, different track selections, and differing track titles to some extent. Remember the dodgy “Accord” label in the early 80’s? They put out a sampling of this material under the name FREE SPIRIT (see pic), and you can get a copy of that LP for 92 cents (plus postage) on Discogs. It’s great that an album like that is not a big-ticket collectable, but actually an album you can buy for less than a dollar, something that no one wants, like an displaced animal wandering around who is not cute enough for any human to want to feed, sitting out there in the cold and the rain and staring at the “People…All going somewhere! All with their own thoughts! Their own ideas! All with their own personalities!” (to quote Ed Wood). The early Hendrix sideman material is the music equivalent of that unwanted homeless animal.

In the early 1990’s, there were some entrepreneurial types (the kind of people who today would be flipping houses in neighborhoods they themselves wouldn’t live in) who thought Emu ranching would be the next big thing. The Emu, a tall, awkward three-toed bird (second tallest bird, next to an ostrich), was speculated to be the next big meat source. It was low fat, full of nutrients, and considered healthier than other kinds of red meat. Briefly, you would see Emu sausage, Emu jerky, etc. at off-brand stores, and they even created Emu-based health products, like Blue Emu lotions, which you can still buy today, containing “Emu oil.” I remember seeing baseball great Johnny Bench shilling for Emu health products on TV ads. Up in Central Texas, people started large Emu ranches to raise these things for the expected huge meat market. Guess what? It didn’t happen. No one actually wanted these Emu birds, they couldn’t be sold, and some people just cut their fences down and let the gangly birds loose to run wild (I once met someone at a bar who told me that he’d raised emus once in his checkered past, and after a few rye and cokes he confessed that he abandoned his emu herd to run wild on the plains and in the hills). There was actually a problem in the late 1990’s of wild emu scavenging and causing problems in Central Texas. I even saw a few running around on rural roads back then. Those wild emu are like the Hendrix FREE SPIRIT album….you can’t give it away, but hey, give it a chance and it may be delicious. I have tried Emu smoked sausage, back when you could get it at Texas convenience stores, and it tasted fine, although you could probably put ANY meat (or even ground-up shoe leather) with those spices and oil and it would taste fine.

It’s a shame I don’t have any Emu jerky to eat while listening to ABTONE SESSION (in case anyone cares, I am eating boudin with an egg and jalapeno juice mixed into it while writing this), but the album is quite satisfying on its own. 14 tracks of somewhat-formless, grungy R&B jamming, with guitar that’s recognizably Hendrix on the first track (of course!). According to Youngblood, this material was recorded in a studio (Abtone) that had eight tracks, so it’s entirely possible that some of this material could have had two or three of the best minutes cut out of it for someone to lay down a vocal track on later (maybe that was the original plan, before Hendrix’s posthumous fame entered the picture. Having an eight-track master made it easier, after the fact, to bump up Hendrix in the mix, lower other players, add a new guitar overdub to make it more Hendrixy, remove a vocalist, etc). Something like “Soul Food” here could have been created that way….a good riff kicks in and Youngblood raps the names of Soul Food delicacies over that. There’s a long history of that food-naming in blues/R&B recording, going back to the 1920’s. Incidentally, Soul Food was issued as a single, backed with Goodbye Bessie Mae, on Cameo-Parkway’s “Fairmount” subsidiary in 1967 (see pic), the third of three singles Youngblood issued on Fairmount in 66-67. The first one doesn’t include Hendrix. The second one did include Hendrix, but is not on the album.

The first 12 tracks are from the same “Abtone Session” in June 1966. After that, there are two other tracks. One comes up a blank when I research it. The other seems to be from a 1966 single by The Dealers (see pic), on the Big Bunny label, and this track also comes from the same Youngblood/Brantley orbit. Is Hendrix on it? Even the Hendrix experts are mixed on that. However, YOU GOT IT by THE DEALERS is on You Tube, as I write this, posted as a Northern Soul track (why not!), and it’s been up there for ten years, so I’d guess it will still be up when you read this. Listen for yourself.

The good thing about all this material is that whoever is playing on it, it’s excellent anyway. If you found a 45 with this material under the name “Joe Smith” or “The Jersey Soul Agents” and never thought of Hendrix, you’d think they were great journeyman R&B workouts. That’s why I’ve always picked up any albums of this sort if the titles are new to me and the album is cheap. And we haven’t even mentioned the black-hole that is the PPX/Ed Chalpin material (I’ll save that for another write-up), most of which is great too….if it’s formless grungy R&B jams you’re looking for. I picked up this Japanese CD about ten years ago at a used bookstore in Kansas. Based on the tag, I could tell it had been sitting there for five years or more and it had been marked down three separate times. I scored it for $2—-they were originally wanting $12, then $8, then $5. I’ve blasted my copy many times in those years, taken it on road trips (don’t remember if any wild emu were wandering around, though), and listened to it three times today. I really don’t care who is playing on it….it sounds great loud, and I got more than my $2 worth.

(Bill Shute, originally published online in 2020)

January 19, 2022

SAD SACK AND THE SARGE #133 (Harvey Comics, October 1978)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:46 am

I’ve always been a devoted reader of Beetle Bailey comics, comic books, and paperbacks, and recently I’ve been reading some of the Beetle offshoot-comic book SARGE SNORKEL. While most people have heard of the Beetle character, his military colleague (at another publisher) SAD SACK is not as well known, although the phrase “Sad Sack” is used by people who have no idea it was once related to a famous comic.

According to Toonopedia, Sad Sack dates back to World War II, when it premiered in LIFE magazine and dealt with the realities of wartime military life and had a certain gallows humor to it as well as suggestive situations. To give you an idea of its roots, the title referred to “Sack Of Shit”! It appeared mostly in military-distributed publications, but when that material was reprinted for the general public in book form, its popularity skyrocketed. It became a comic strip in newspapers, it became a movie starring Jerry Lewis, etc. Harvey Comics eventually purchased the character rights from its creator, beginning an aggressive expansion of the Sad Sack comic book line. As Harvey is best known for Casper, The Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich, you can be sure that the trenchant analysis of military life and jaded fighting-man humor was replaced by slapstick kiddie antics.

From the 50’s through the 70’s, SAD SACK-related titles were common at Harvey, a publisher that seemed to believe in milking a handful of their own characters for multiple comic books rather than developing new items, although Sad Sack never had as many spin-offs as Richie Rich, which according to Toonopedia, had as many as 50 (!!!!) different spin-off publications—-that’s right, DIFFERENT spin-offs. Take a look at the page pictured here of a month’s worth of Harvey Comics. Of the 20 magazines listed, 18 are Richie Rich variations! I’ve never found Richie Rich that funny or appealing (although the worst Richie Rich comic would be better than that frightful movie with McCauley Culkin….or as my children used to called him, “Cauley McCulkin”), and I don’t ever remember buying a Richie Rich comic….ever! I have owned some people have given me, but even recently, when a dealer I get cheap comics from offered me as many different ones as I wanted in excellent shape for seventy-cents each postpaid, I passed.

Sad Sack is a much more worthwhile comic than Richie Rich, but it lacks the bite and the insight into human character that Beetle Bailey offers. There’s a lot of workplace wisdom in Beetle, so that it works for folks who’ve been in the service but it also resonates with anyone who’s worked with a regular crew of varied people on a job. That’s why Beetle is timeless. Sad Sack also has a military cast of characters, a “Sarge” who is like Sarge Snorkel, and I find it funny in the sense that a Police Academy film is funny, but it’s really just sight gags and physical humor, and the gags tend to go on for too long.

Maybe I should be pointing out that I’m talking about the Harvey Comics version of Sad Sack, not about George Baker’s military-era strips, which are NOTHING like this at all.

The gags going on for too long is also symptomatic of a page-killing tendency I see in this mag. There are a few full page promos for Casper at charitable events, with pics of a member of the Harvey family in a Casper costume (there’s also a full page throwaway of Casper promoting the Cub Scouts). Then there’s a full-page comic promoting a Richie Rich board game, and of course, a two-page Sad Sack prose short story, which is not the best format for him. That they did not kill those two pages with military humor or military-related stories as they would have done in a Charlton war comic tells you that military folks were NOT the audience here, but kids who could have just as easily spent their dimes and quarters on Richie Rich or Casper.

At his best, this 1978 version of Sad Sack has a kind of Jim Varney quality about him, but he lacks much character at all, other than being a jovial guy who spills things, burns things down, and mis-understands things. He’s a vehicle for jokes.

I actually like the Sarge here (after all, it’s HIS comic book), and the Sarge/Sack dynamic does echo that of Sarge Snorkel and Beetle, but without the subtlety and also aimed at a 10 year old audience.

If you like slapstick comic books and can find a Sad Sack cheap (mine cost 60 cents), give it a try, but for a much better experience and something you can read and re-read and which is funny while reflecting the huIman condition, go for a Beetle Bailey product. You can still find the paperback collections cheap. love them. In fact, last weekend, when I was out bar-hopping and catching live bands, I had a Beetle paperback in my back pocket for the down period in between sets. Even though I’d already read it ten times, it still satisfied.

(Bill Shute, originally published online in April 2017)

January 12, 2022

Rhythm ‘n’ Bluesin’ By The Bayou: Bop Cat Stomp (Ace, UK), CD

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:18 am

Mary Anne and I just returned from a six-day sojourn to SW Louisiana (catching the horse racing at Delta Downs) and East Texas, so what better time to revisit this wonderful 21st volume in Ace’s sublime BY THE BAYOU compilation series devoted to the purest and rarest musical gems from the 50s and 60s from Beaumont to Baton Rouge….

01 Everybody Wants To Know – Lester Robertson
02 I Found My Baby (By The Drive-In Show) – Unknown
03 Crazy Rock – Cookie & the Cupcakes
04 Raise Some San – Jay Nelson & his Jumpers
05 Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone – Elizabeth
06 For Your Precious Love – Sonny Martin
07 Come On Home – Prince Charles
08 Mary, Mary (Tk 2) – Blues Boy Palmer
09 Come Over Here (Tk 2) – Little Miss Peggie
10 Please Don’t Go – Sticks Herman
11 Never Too Old – Big Walter
12 Be My Baby Doll (Tk 3) – Unknown
13 Bop Cat Stomp – King Charles and his Orchestra (feat Left-Hand Charlie)
14 Augustine – Rockin’ Sidney
15 Shake It Up (All Night Long) – Thaddeus Declouet
16 It Happened So Fast – Clifton Chenier
17 Rocks On My Pillow – Cookie & The Cupcakes
18 Stand By My Side – Big Chenier
19 I Wants You – Ashton Savoy
20 I Hear Someone Call My Name – Charles Perrywell & the Fairlanes
21 Crazy Dream – Big Walter
22 Don’t Mess With My Man – Margo White
23 Bye Bye Baby – The Yellow Jackets
24 My Life For Your Love – Blues Boy Palmer
25 Send For Me – Lester Robertson
26 Never No More – Charles Sheffield with Big Sambo & the Swingsters
27 Goodbye Whiskey – Guitar Gable & King Karl
28 Whoa Mule – Leroy James & his Combo

Volume 21 of Ace’s “By The Bayou” series of compilations, dedicated to various genres of late 50’s/early 60’s small-label sounds from Southwest Louisiana and East Texas, returns to R&B, with a strong 28-track collection of obscure and raw material from the vaults of local record-men such as Jay Miller (from Crowley, LA, the producer most associated with swamp blues), Eddie Shuler (from Lake Charles), Sam Montel (Baton Rouge), Floyd Soileau (Ville Platte), and Huey Meaux (Port Arthur, TX). Only 12 of the 28 tracks were issued at the time (though some crept out on obscure LP’s later, sometimes hampered by crude overdubs, thankfully removed here), and it’s safe to say that even those will be new to most ears.

     Many of the artists are trying for the appeal of such successful Louisiana recording artists such as Guitar Slim or Earl King, though often with a twist of zydeco influence and less of a New Orleans beat (Route 90, now known as I-10, separates the core area of the album’s music from N.O.). Also, these records were made during the rock and roll era, so while the artists may be rooted in R&B, most wanted to play music that would also appeal to fans of Little Richard…while not alienating older listeners who might prefer T-Bone Walker. That’s certainly a demanding tightrope to walk, and the artists here approach it from many different angles, so there is a lot of variety here, and the album is programmed to highlight the diversity of sounds.

     More than half (15 of 28) of the tracks come from Goldband, certainly one of the most raw and downhome of labels in what they released, so you can imagine how primal their unreleased material would be. Musicians taking guitar or sax solos are off-mike, the horn voicings are a bit imprecise, and the chord changes are not always made by everyone at the same time—but that’s the joy of small-label local recordings. They capture living, breathing roots musicians in real-time and in one-take in a way that slicker R&B recordings do not.

     The best-known artists here (all represented by rare tracks) are Rockin’ Sidney, Clifton Chenier, Cookie & The Cupcakes, and Big Walter Price, but the lesser-known Lester Robertson or Leroy James or the ‘unknown’ artists all rock the house equally well. Another essential entry in an amazingly deep series.

Bill Shute (originally published in 2019 in Ugly Things magazine)

January 5, 2022

HOT RODS AND RACING CARS #78 (CHARLTON COMICS, FEBRUARY 1966)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:43 am

Comic books about auto racing shouldn’t work, but the geniuses at Charlton Comics made them work, and had multiple hot-rod comics running and selling for many years. This particular title ran for 120 issues, from 1951 through 1973. The first 88 issues, pre-1968, are public domain and available online at Comic Book Plus, so you can actually read the issue I’m discussing today without having to find an original.

I picked up this particular issue some time in the early 1970’s at a junk store on the north side of Golden, Colorado, a place that looked like it might have been a storehouse for agricultural supplies at one time, but had been turned into a repository for discarded and unwanted items of all kinds, for sale cheap. In these pre-Ebay, pre-internet days, junk stores priced things to sell. The formula for pricing probably went something like “what’s the highest price I can charge and still move this item in 6 weeks?” For a comic book like this, a dime was the cost. I probably went across the street to Dairy Queen after this comic purchase and bought a 25-cent cone, and then went to the city park, ate my cone and read my hot rod comic book twice. From my vantage point in the park, if I looked north, I saw route 93, the road to Boulder. Although there were a lot of good things about Boulder, I tended to identify it with Grateful Dead fans who hated The Standells (at that time, I dressed as if I was auditioning for the front cover of the DIRTY WATER album on Tower) or The Knickerbockers, hated drive-in horror films, and looked down on meat-eaters! Looking southeast, I’d see the massive Coors Brewery, the main employer in the town. A number of my friends’ parents worked there (mine did not), and a number of kids from Golden High School, my classmates, would wind up working there, back when one could get a full-time job with benefits and security right out of highschool if you were willing to work hard and become part of the company team. Golden always smelled like beer, though you didn’t notice it when you lived there. The town was in a valley between two mountain ranges, and the scent of hops and grain hung over everything like fog in some 1940’s movie version of Victorian London. When you left for the day to go down to Denver, and then came back to Golden in the evening, you’d smell it when you entered the valley, and if you can imagine a massive twenty-thousand-gallon vat of beer left open to waft across town, that’s what the town smelled like, although as I said, when you lived there, it was the norm and you didn’t notice it. Any readers who’ve ever lived near a slaughterhouse or a paper mill know what I’m talking about—like a lot of things in life, you get acclimated to it and don’t notice it the way an outsider would, though as a beer-drinker, I found the presence of a weighty beer-scent, so strong you could taste it, in the atmosphere at all times to be a good and positive thing. This was during the days when Coors beer was not distributed nationally, and I can remember out-of-state relatives or family friends, like my father’s old Navy shipmates, coming to visit us and filling their trunks with cases of Coors to take back home to whatever state they were from.

An ice-cream cone and a used hot-rod comic book was heaven in my 9th grade world. Charlton hot-rod comics always seemed rooted, no matter what date they were from, in some lost civilization where 1963-era Rick Nelson, in a cardigan sweater and with college pennants on the wood-paneled rec-room wall, was performing, where the malt-shop was serving up burgers and cherry colas and you’d expect the Bowery Boys to barge in at any moment, where the album to own was JERK & TWINE TIME by THE KNICKERBOCKERS, and where the drive-in was showing the 1966 spy-hotrod comedy OUT OF SIGHT, which incidentally featured The Knickerbockers (see movie poster). With heroes with generic names like Ken King and Clint Curtis, HOT RODS AND RACING CARS and its ilk existed at some racetrack right outside Archie and Jughead’s Riverdale (where Eisenhower is still President, not the new revisionist Riverdale), where people would go on Friday and Saturday night because it was there, it was inexpensive, and there was nothing better to do. And so much of what I’ve enjoyed throughout my life has been based on those standards: it’s there, it’s inexpensive, and there’s nothing better to do. Even today, reading this comic book I bought 45+ years ago and devoting an hour or two of my life in 2020 to something anyone else would have thrown away decades ago if they’d even bothered to ever pick it up in the first place, I’m still following that formula.

Most of this issue is written and drawn by Jack Keller, and he should get some kind of award for making car racing, and the world around hotrods, come alive on the comics page. The first story deals with a practical joker who baits Clint and his sidekick Alex a number of times with car-related practical jokes but then gets paid back at the end. The second story has Ken King in a mountain road-race in a place called TARGA FLORIO, with ten laps of 45 miles each with more than 700 curves. The third story BANZAI RUN has Clint in the world of dragsters, and you can smell the smoke, the burning oil, and the burning rubber—all that’s needed is some stinging reverbed instrumental from The Astronauts (my fellow Colorado boys) as a soundtrack. Keller manages to take action drawings, with smoke and jagged angles and suggestions of speed and wind in our faces, mixed with drama and dialogue sequences that move the story and pull the reader along, and chop it together into 5-7 page chunks that have the feel of the racing world while keeping things rooted in a teenage environment (I’d say most of the characters are only a few years out of high school) that would resonate with the readership. The book concludes with a “Great Moments In Racing History” (not written or drawn by Keller, but still dripping with action and atmosphere) piece on SEBRING ’65, linking everything to the REAL world of auto racing.

All that for a dime (or 12 cents if you’d gotten it new in 1966), and it’s still working its magic in a new century. Yes, my friends, what they used to say at the top of the comicbook page is as true today as it was back in the 60’s and 70’s: CHARLTON COMICS GIVE YOU MORE!

(originally published online in 2020)

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