MIXED BAG: # 1
1.) I have to own up to it… one day I was not well and so I was stretched out on the couch watching England being beaten up by Australia in one-day cricket. I was desperate. As is often the case with cricket (to this “American”), things moved rather slowly and so I channel-surfed… in Australia that means going back and forth with five stations! And I happened upon one of those truly American television shows – “Judge Joe Brown” – on one of the commercial stations (Channel 10).
This sort of extra-legal-system court show must have begun with Judge Wapner and “The People’s Court” of some years back. There is another similar US show broadcast here, “Judge Judy”, which has as its magistrate an obnoxious NYC former jurist, while Brown is a Black male. Talk about niche marketing! This alone would not be worthy of comment here except for the people involved with the episode that I happened upon during cricket lulls (and there are many) while a bit “under the weather” from some local virus.
The star of the show was Ike Turner, who was suing a former Ikette for monies “loaned” her for clothing, cars, etc. His wife Jeanette was also there beside him with all of the documentation for their claim of somewhere in the vicinity of US$ 5,000.00 And I kept going back, even though it was embarrassing! Ike in his hip cream-colored leisure suit and his wife in a tight mini-dress, and the defendant in a hot red number. I know – I should have ignored it, but I kept being drawn back (the competition was cricket) to the tawdry excuse for entertainment. There’s the righteous Ike and this woman, whose cars and money kept being made off with by various boyfriends, and on and on, and on. Yes, I do slow down at accident scenes, I must confess, so this must be another form of that sort of voyeurism, I suppose. Well, I had the flu. The competition was cricket.
Yet I probably would not have bothered to re-visit that show had it not involved someone that I was aware of, had it been the usual anonymous persons that appear on such shows (and I include in that category such gems as Rikki Lake, and Jerry Springer). I do know for sure, but I think that it was H.L. Menken who once said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. There’s your proof. (!)
2.) While it has nothing to do with the blues per se, save in a peripheral way, I once met producer Orrin Keepnews in California. He is the guy who has been involved in the music business since the late 30s and who began Riverside Records with Bill Grauer in the fifties. Later on, he started Milestone Records (now part of Fantasy) and then Landmark Records (later picked up by Joe Fields and now owned by 32 Jazz Records and Joel Dorn)*. I spoke with him briefly and one thing that has stuck in my mind from that meeting at the Fantasy offices many years ago. In speaking of Riverside (one of the great jazz labels), he said, “only in America can you take a $500 investment and run it into a multi-million dollar deficit”. Words to take heed of from a master and part of my thinking that I will never again start a record label, no matter how tempted. I’ll let others deal with that which I cannot do well: I can produce; I can write; I can photograph. I cannot run a business. And I’m really not a masochist! No, really!!
* Since this was written, JVC (Japanese Victor) has picked it all up, including “my” Trix albums (plus Muse, 32 Jazz, a.o.).
3.) I did receive some good advice at the beginning of Trix Records in the early 70s. I had by then too much great material to feel comfortable sitting on the stuff (besides the sharp corners of the tape boxes!), and I had hoped that their release would benefit the artists in some way. One of the first things that I did was to go to the second annual meeting of what was to become N.A.I.R.D. (2) [now AFIM] in Memphis. I had at that point released two 45s (Baby Tate was one, Eddie Kirkland was another) and I wanted to move into LPs (for obvious reasons!). One of those at the meetings was Bob Koester – he gave me some very good advice. First, he said to subscribe to BILLBOARD, the music business weekly magazine. The second thing was no matter what the cover art was to be, you had to put the f@#*ing artist’s name at the top of the lay-out, or it would not be readable in retail LP browser bins. Since Bob has also been involved in retailing as well as Delmark, I believed him. I tried to convince Atlantic Records (O&S # 15) on this matter when I produced the “Blues Originals” series, but to no avail. It was probably partially responsible for the series low sales (the Professor Longhair was the best seller, by quite a margin I am told). Bob’s advice is still correct in the CD age – thanks, Bob.
4.) This is as good a time as any to mention in passing a small bit of information that was mentioned in passing by Tarheel Slim many years ago. I asked him if he knew Riff Ruffin: He did, and also said that Ruffin was responsible for the arrangement of Buster Brown’s hit “Fannie Mae”. That’s one of the five top dance-inducing arrangements/riffs of all time, right up there with “Dust My Broom” and most Jimmy Reed recording. Presumably, Ruffin is the guitarist on the session as well (and in the photo on the cover with Brown… it’s not Jimmy Spruill). Has anyone any information on him? He recorded on both the Left and Right Coasts for independent labels, but I’m not aware of anything written on him.
In a similar vein, it was Big Chief Ellis who remembered Square Walton as a guitarist who lived on Long Island, that Alonzo “Lonnie” Scales also played guitar (Ellis recorded with both), and that there was an artist named Eddie Riff who also played guitar. If you listen to Eddie Riff’s Dover single, there is only one guitar heard and it is played without the fluency expected of Mickey Baker or any of the other NYC session pickers in my estimation. But nobody listens to me!
While B.B. King takes credit for “Blues Man” on his latest and best album in a long time with the line, “I’m a blues man, but a good man, understand.” I doubt that attribution. I remember Leroy Little’s record of it (of two) from 1960 on the Cee Jay label of NYC (anybody got info on that one?) entitled “I’m a Good Man, But a Poor Man” with “understand” coming after that. Little was a pianist who I was told could only play in a couple of keys, but his two singles are quite good. Is there an earlier song out there of that nature? I’d suspect that’s the case.
(1) For those interested, the Aussies once again pummeled the Poms badly in the one-day match, and Ike won his case.
(2) National Association of Independent Record Distributors (and Manufacturers), know known as AFIM (Association For Independent Music) giving a much better acronym, one that doesn’t sound like a depillitating cream!
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM
My unreleased/unfinished Eddie Kirkland album (#3) included one Hugh Brodie on tenor saxophone, a decent post-bebop jazz player who grew up playing R’n’B, etc in the NYC area. He recounted to me playing in clubs in Newark, NJ with guitarist Riff Ruffin back in the 50s/60s. Further proof that the categories are fluid in reality and not etched in stone, no matter what W.E. think.