Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

March 11, 2020

MICKIE MOST AND THE PLAYBOYS, “Hear The Most, The Best Of…” (Rock-In-Beat CD, Germany)

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One good-sized body of work from the original rock and roll era that’s never been reissued legitimately is the material MICKIE MOST—-the legendary producer of The Animals, Donovan, Herman’s Hermits, The Yardbirds, and many others—-recorded in South Africa in the 1960-62 period. Most (real name Michael Peter Hayes) was of course a Brit, but he was married to a South African lady, Christina, and returned with her there to test the waters, sensing that there might be a shortage of wannabe Elvises and Buddy Hollys and Cliff Richards. It turned out there was, and Most assembled a band, The Playboys (with varying personnel, according to the few online sources dealing with the subject), and beginning in late 1959, he was referred to as “The Human Dynamo” in Johannesburg and throughout South Africa and Rhodesia.

Most and crew recorded 30+ sides there, featured on three albums (HEAR THE MOST, MICKIE MOST, and BIG BEAT BALL), some EP’s,  compilation appearances, and many hit singles. 25 of those South African sides were made available on this grey-market CD on the Rock-In-Beat label from Germany in 1998. Despite Most’s huge influence on the UK music scene (he was viewed as a kind of starmaker and master-producer, and he appeared extensively on British TV in the 70’s in the role of a sage about all-things-pop), he never sought to re-release any of his early recordings (which he could have done easily on his successful early 70’s RAK label) and generally laughed off this period of his career in a self-deprecating way, once referring to these recordings as “awful” but admitting their chart success in Southern Africa and his drawing power and fan base as a live performer. Tracks 1-25 (see below) document this period, and I must say I’m quite excited by this material.

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1              Doesn’t Matter Any More             2:22

2              Johnny B. Goode              2:25

3              I Dig You Baby   1:36

4              That’s What You Do To Me           2:24

5              Think It Over      2:23

6              Paralyzed            2:38

7              You’ve Got Love                2:15

8              Boney Marony  1:58

9              Reeling And Rocking       2:22

10           Tom Dooley        2:56

11           Shake Rattle And Roll      1:58

12           Rave On               2:22

13           Pick A Bale Of Cotton     2:29

14           Sweet Little Sixteen        1:48

15           Greenback Dollar             1:50

16           Down By The Riverside  2:40

17           Heart Beat          2:18

18           Corrine Corrina 2:25

19           What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For           1:58

20           I Shall Not Be Moved      2:15

21           Guitar Boogie Shuffle     1:44

22           The Twist             1:39

23           Whole Lotta Twisting      1:53

24           Blue Moon          2:56

25           Green Corn         2:02

26           The Feminine Look          2:25

27           Money Honey   2:18

28           That’s Alright      2:07

29           Sea Cruise           2:25

30           It’s A Little Bit Hot            1:45

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The S.A. recordings are all cover versions, and while they are taken from a wide variety of sources (R&R, folk, R&B, gospel), there is a consistent sound to the records. Most’s main-man is clearly Buddy Holly, and his band-model the Crickets (including the post-Holly Crickets), and he does about a half-dozen songs related to the Holly/Crickets axis. Most’s own voice is in the same range as Holly’s and he does a similar vocal hiccup on some of the tracks. However, there is none of the Tex-Mex tinge of The Crickets, which is not surprising with Most being a Brit who is working in South Africa, and the musicians do not resemble (and to their credit, do not attempt to imitate) Jerry Allison’s drumming or Holly’s guitar work (only on “Heartbeat” do we hear the signature Holly gtr phrases). One strong element in these recordings is that unlike much of the pre-Beatles rock and roll coming from the UK, these Most sides ARE NOT at all slick, and there are no studio musicians or pizzicato strings or cloying backing vocalists in sight. What you get is a small rocking quartet—-singer/2nd guitarist, lead guitarist, bassist, and drummer—-plowing through the material in what must have been a fairly close approximation of their live act. They also do not attempt carbon copies of the original recordings–the arrangements are changed up and the guitar solos do not ape the solos on the records.


When I first heard these sessions, I was reminded of the late 50’s/early 60’s New Zealand R&R sides included on the ROCK FROM THE OTHER SIDE compilation LP”s (there were five) issued in the 1980’s on the Dutch Collector-White Label’s “Down South” subsidiary. I owned volume 1 (see pic) back in the day and played the grooves off of it. These were raw and rocking sides, but they were a bit “off” compared with American or even British R&R. However, after a few plays, I began to appreciate the novelty and freshness of the bands’ approaches to the music and could feel the excitement that the New Zealand audiences must have experienced with their homegrown R&R groups. They were locals, they were approachable, and you could see them at your local club and buy their records on local labels. And they really did not sound like their American models.

bobby vee early

Mickie Most and His Playboys also reminded me of the pre-Liberty recordings of Bobby Vee and The Shadows, especially the Suzie Baby-era sides recorded at Kay-Bank Studios in Minneapolis. Most’s band has the same treble-heavy sound, twangy and reverbed guitar, and dynamic vocals free of any direct blues/R&B influence (the boys being from the Upper Midwest) heard on Vee’s early local recordings. Of course, there is not the rich, deep, bank-vault reverb of Kay-Bank that’s so thick you can slice it….a sound echoed (no pun intended) in other Upper Midwest recordings, such as the records made by James Kirchstein at Cuca Records in Wisconsin. If I did not know what these Most recordings were (and you deleted the local references to the Transvaal and the Free State), I might well place the sessions as coming from the US Midwest, and speculate that the singer had been an exchange student in the UK for a year or two and picked up an accent on some words.

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If you like pre-Beatles local rock and roll bands doing a repertoire of cover versions and want to hear 25 tracks of spontaneous, exciting rockers with enthusiastic vocals and twangy guitar, delivered with a warts-and-all honesty, that’s what you get here. If you are the kind of person who enjoys small-label rockers from the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles era and look forward to the hundredth cover of a Chuck Berry standard (after all, that’s how a band proves themselves—-didn’t Greg Shaw once say that he could never accept a band who could not do a decent version of “Louie Louie”?), I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t enjoy these Mickie Most South African recordings.

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Wait, you may ask…..aren’t there 30 tracks on this CD? Yes, the final five are sides Most made in the UK after his return, circa 1963-64 (see pic of “The Feminine Look”). All of them are first-rate British Beat records which would fit well on a BEATFREAK compilation. “Money Honey” and “Sea Cruise” could easily have been part of Most’s 1959-62 South African repertoire (maybe they were), and hearing the 63-64 UK beat recordings of the songs immediately after 25 of the earlier records, it becomes crystal clear what elements were added to basic post-Elvis rock and roll to turn it into 63-64 era Beat. You can hear this transformation also by listening to the Beatles’ Hamburg recordings, both studio and live, and then their EMI sessions. Most’s vocals on the British recordings are much more carefully recorded than on the S.A. sessions, where you are basically getting a live-in-the-studio experience, and it’s clear the man could have had a revived career as a singer/frontman in Britain had he not had such success as a producer. However, as the producer who found “House Of The Rising Sun” for The Animals and who became a virtual industry in 60’s British pop music, he surely recognized he could make a much bigger impact behind the microphone instead of in front of it, which he did.

feminine look

Going back to the 20’s and 30’s, there were a number of artists who found success as producers/publishers/A&R people and left the performing aspect behind, people such as Irving Mills and Ed Kirkeby (even Clarence Williams), and then in the 50’s and 60’s, people such as Ray Rush, Felton Jarvis, and Ray Ruff (or even Ozzie Nelson’s pivotal role in his son Rick’s early musical career). Who better to prepare and give advice to young up-and-coming performers than someone who has been there themselves.

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Some of Most’s South African sides can be found on You Tube, and there is also another CD on the French “LCD” label (home of the Nowhere Men UK beat compilations) that includes 20+ tracks (though fewer than on this one).

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If you want to see Mickie Most at the height of his production fame, circa 1968, acting like the rock star he clearly enjoyed being (those teenagers in Johannesburg gave him a taste of something he did not want to lose) and opining about all aspects of record-making, take 40 minutes to watch this BBC documentary (link below). It will give you a very clear picture of Most’s larger-than-life persona. It’s a shame there is no film footage (that I know of) of Most performing in Southern Africa circa 1959-62. He could have been worked into a club scene in a film the way that Bill Haley was in Mexico or Dean Reed was in Argentina. Oh well….just look at the picture at the top of this post of Most posing in front of a huge poster advertising his band and their upcoming live shows, play one of his rockers (I’ll post a You Tube link at the bottom here), and it’s not hard to imagine him on stage. First, though, here is Mickie in 1968, pop-production guru:

It’s a shame that with his power and connections Most never chose to acquire the tapes of his South African recordings, remaster them, and put out a selection on his RAK label. Britain has always had a dedicated roots-rock and 60’s beat following after the end of that era–they still do today–and surely that audience would have loved these sessions. Maybe he was embarrassed by them, feeling that in an age of sophistication they were sloppy and primitive; maybe he did not want to deal with the fallout from having worked in Apartheid-era South Africa. In any event, they ARE out there for you to hear…with a little searching.

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