Celebrating King Records

ckr01Remember The Twist? How about Chubby Checker? Hank Ballard? Just about everybody will recognize the first two and two out of three ain’t bad — unless you’re from Cincinnati. Cincinnatians should know it was Hank Ballard and the Midnighters who first recorded the song that made Chubby Checker famous. They should know because that version was released by Cincinnati’s King Records. The Twist was a regional hit for the Midnighters and it got them booked on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. They didn’t make it and Clark got a fellow named Ernest Evans to lip-synch to Ballard’s recording then recorded and released an identical version with Evans using the name Chubby Checker. Why did Ballard miss his Bandstand session? Various stories have been told but the man in the photo above says Hank was in Atlanta with a lady. He should know. He’s Phillip Paul who played drums on The Twist and 400 or so other King recordings.

ckr02ckr03Not all of those were hits but many were. Several, in fact were major milestones on the route of rock and roll. Paul drummed on Little Willie John’s Fever, Tiny Bradshaw’s Train Kept a Rollin’, Wynonie Harris’ Good Rockin’ Tonight and Freddie King’s Hide Away. Today those song titles are more familiar than the artists’ names because they have all been covered over and over but, as he was with The Twist, Phillip Paul was there at the beginning; There when the originals were recorded. And he’s still “there” today, playing every Friday and Saturday at The Cricket in downtown Cincinnati. He was there Sunday, May 31, in Washington Park providing some “good rockin'” and good stories as the opening act for a reading of a new play about King Records.

ckr04That play, Cincinnati King by KJ Sanchez, tells the story of King Records largely in the words of people, including Paul, who were part of it. Many of the words are from the nearly fifty interviews conducted by Sanchez. Others come from recordings and printed material. The story of King Records is really the story of Syd Nathan. Nathan owned King and ruled it with an iron fist that usually held a cigar when it — the cigar not the fist — wasn’t in his mouth. He did things his own way and, more often than not, he did them himself. He started with a record store. When labels started gouging him for records, he started his own. When his “style” created problems with recording studios, he built his own. When pressing plants sent inferior product, he built his own. Eventually King did it all including designing and printing its own packaging.

ckr05ckr06Partly because of Cincinnati’s half-north half-south location, Nathan’s store did a good business in “hillbilly” and “race” records and that’s what his record company initially made. Those names have been replaced by country, bluegrass, blues, rhythm & blues, and a few other genres. King’s stable included Grandpa Jones, the Stanley Brothers, Cowboy Copas, Bill Doggett, the Delmore Brothers, Moon Mullican, Charles Brown, and on and on. Of course, the biggest star ever at King was James Brown. Nathan’s independent and demanding ways irritated just about everybody at some point and “The Godfather of Soul” was just as independent and just as demanding. The two were like oil and water but they made each other a lot of money and even managed to occasionally look like great friends at an award ceremony or some such.

ckr08ckr07Just as the musicians that King recorded were a mix of black and white, so, too, were the other employees. In time, King’s employment application included a question about whether working with a person of another race would be a problem. It’s said that Nathan would sometimes hire someone who answered “yes” then make a point of assuring that the new employee was put in the situation they thought would be a problem. Syd Nathan didn’t solve all the race issues in the world but maybe he did his share.

This concert and reading was part of the OTR Performs Series and a Cincinnati Fringe Festival Special Event

Phillip Paul turns 90 on August 11. The city of Cincinnati has proclaimed the preceding Saturday “Phillip Paul Day”. Look back at this article’s first picture. To me, that sure looks like a man who is enjoying himself.

Stone Pony Picnic

stoneplogoI’m off to at least one concert, maybe two, and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll also get to see a parade. The for-sure concert is Willie Nile’s 35th Anniversary Show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on Friday night. The maybe is a Bruce Springsteen tribute band playing the same place on Saturday. The parade is a gay pride event on Sunday.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Zero and Ten Years in Cincinnati

cac01Cincinnati has a new carousel and an old brewery. Carol Ann’s Carousel officially opened on Saturday and Mt. Carmel Brewing Company celebrated its tenth anniversary the same day. The carousel is part of Smale Riverfront Park on the Ohio River between the baseball and football stadiums. It’s inside the low brown building near the center of the picture at right. I parked on the south side of the river just so I could get that picture (and park free).

cac02cac03cac04Musicians and other entertainers kept things lively until the opening ceremonies began. Parks Director Willie Cardens spoke briefly himself and also introduced others, including the mayor and the artists and planners who created the carousel. They were all just as happy as he was. Music from the Cincinnati Children’s Choir included Happy Birthday for the carousel’s namesake, Carol Ann Haile. It would have been her 92nd birthday. She’s been called “everyone’s Aunt Mame” and someone who knew her said the carousel is a perfect match for her “spirit of whimsy and wonder”

cac05The ceremonial ribbon cutting marked the culmination of a two and a half year 5.5 million dollar project. The carousel itself was $1 million. The building accounted for the rest.

 

cac06cac07cac08With the ribbon cut, VIPs were ushered in for a ride while everyone else pressed against the glass walls for a glimpse. Actually, it was all good. Those VIPs included the Cincinnati Children’s Choir and lots of other children and parents were allowed to slip inside to photograph the happy youngsters. I joined the line and was soon rewarded with my first view of the carousel without looking through tinted glass or at a computer screen. It’s a beauty with unique Cincinnati related critters and objects, carved by Carousel Works of Mansfield, Ohio, everywhere. A description of the figures and a lot more is available through the link at the beginning of the article or directly here.

cac11cac10cac09When my turn came, I laid back a bit to let others mount something they’d been targeting. I was just happy to be there and didn’t want to block someone from their favorite. When I saw that the cicada remained available I was all over it — literally. If you really need to know what the bottom half of an old man on a cicada looks like, here you go. I don’t own a selfie stick and my arms just aren’t that long but you can see that I’m having a good time and get a sense of those lovely red eyes.

cac12cac13cac14There is a lot more to Smale Park. These are some pictures I grabbed in the area near the carousel. The playground in the third photo was just opened in the last week or so. More will be coming online in the near future.

mcbff02mcbff01Beer wasn’t the only thing pouring when I got to to Mt. Carmel Brewing Company. The rain had been heavier, though, plus nobody really minded. The oldest brewery currently operating in Cincinnati was celebrating its tenth year with a Firkin Fest.

mcbff03mcbff04mcbff05It was dry in the tap room and dry spots had been found in the brewery for the music and the firkins. Birthdays with beer and carousels really are special.

Music Review
I.
Dead Man String Band

dmsb_i_cvrThis CD makes me smile. Not laugh. Smile. It’s not funny but it sure is fun. It opens with a scene reminiscent of Michael Jackson walking with his girl in Thriller or Brad and Janet stumbling through the rain in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then, instead of dancing ghouls or an invitation to do the Time Warp, the stranded couple encounter the Dead Man String Band making a come back of sorts. It happens as an old man on a porch explains how death might not be exactly final for the truly obsessed and DMSB starts building a tune called “Resurrection Waltz” in the background.

The opener, like almost everything on the album, drives hard with biting guitar and pounding drums all delivered, as is the vocal, by Rob McAllister. He also wrote every tune and every word including the skits. One man albums, with one person playing every instrument through the magic of overdubbing, are not at all uncommon. One man bands, particularly hard driving rock & roll one man bands, are. Dead Man String Band is such a band and Rob McAllister is that one man.

For convenience and precision, a little overdubbing was employed in making this album but a live performance sounds, as the saying goes, “just like the record”. With a splitter and crafty finger picking, Rob pulls lead, rhythm, and bass from his hollow bodied Gretch while pounding a bass drum with his right foot. In keeping with his “all appendages all the time” philosophy, the left foot is usually banging a snare drum or pumping a tambourine topped high-hat.

Song topics tend to be a bit off center. One’s titled “Organ Donor” and another, with a bright almost ragtimey sound, talks about going to the river with “those deep water cinder block blues”. Delivery and clever writing make these tunes a lot more playful than sinister, however. The opening skit gets its own track then, after six high energy rockers, the last two tracks ease off just a bit. It’s all relative though and nothing on this album could be called low energy. The medium speed bluesy “Josephine” is one of my favorites and so is the following “Already Gone” with Chet Atkins style licks behind lines like:

You can hang me atop the tallest tree that you find.
Take my body. Put it in a sack. Throw it in the riverside.

The CD should eventually be available on line but the only way to get it at present is at a performance. That’s not at all bad since Dead Man String Band should definitely be seen as well as heard.

My own post on the release show is here and a downloadable track from the CD is here.

Dead Man String Band CD Release

dmsb1This week, I once again came close to using a canned post but I know you’d much rather see what I saw Saturday night than a Trip Peek or another old car. Saturday night was the release party for I, the first CD from Dead Man String Band, at Southgate House Revival. Rob McAllister IS the Dead Man String Band. I’ve seen Rob play on several occasions but, much to my chagrin, this was my first time seeing DMSB. Turns out it was also the first time for Rob’s mom. And it was the first time for the coffin, which Rob jumped out of to start the show, and the makeup. “Sorry, Mom”, said the Dead Man.

dmsb2I didn’t meet Mom but I did meet Dad who was very much enjoying what was obviously not his first DMSB show. The music is described as Appalachian punk folk and that seems about right to me. I don’t know how long it will remain but, at the moment, there is a free download of a single from the album here. There is a nicely done video of the same song, “Joe’s Not Here”, here and an interesting interview with Rob here. Rob has developed into a pretty impressive finger picker and DMSB is a pretty impressive one-man Appalachian punk folk band.

Bock to Rock

b2r01I stole the title. There’s a music store in Greenville, Ohio, called Bach to Rock which I think is the coolest name for a music store ever. On Friday, I followed up the 23rd annual Bockfest parade with a Dave & Phil Alvin concert. Voila! Fits like a glove.

While looking up the music store’s web address, I discovered that there is now a bunch of franchised music schools called Bach to Rock. They started in 2007 and the store has been around a lot longer than that. The store could probably sue the school but I doubt they will. We Darke Countians are a mellow lot.

b2r02b2r03The sun was shining — at a very low angle — as the parade “formed” on 8th Street near Arnold’s . Perhaps words like “formed” and “organized” are a little out of place when applied to the Bockfest Parade but it somehow happens. This year both marchers and watchers were plentiful despite the temperature being right at the freezing mark. Or maybe it was because of the temperature. WE ARE READY FOR SPRING.

b2r04Another word, “irreverent”, has always applied to the Bockfest parade. That definitely won’t be changing for the event in general but it does no longer apply to one major piece of the parade. Previous grand marshals have included the likes of the four-legged mayor (It’s a dog, don’t you know?) of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, but henceforth, in recognition of the serious celebration of Cincinnati’s past underlying this event, the organizers will select grand marshals for their “contribution to local culture”. This year’s choice is Elmer Hensler, founder and President of Queen City Sausage. The company is turning fifty this year. With honesty and quality, Elmer built it from nothing to being the official brat and mett of both the Reds and the Bengals and the last surviving meat packer in what was once Porkopolis. This year, the company’s bockwurst can be had wrapped in a Servatii (another Cincinnati favorite) pretzel as the Bockfest Pretzelator.

b2r05I really liked this Wizard of Oz themed group and walked a few steps with them so I could ask who they were. The first person I asked answered “Mustard Club” then, when I said something like “What’s that?”, turned me over to another marcher who explained they were from Mecklenburg Gardens, a popular local German restaurant. I later learned that this isn’t your run of the mill mustard club that likes just any old mustard. It’s the Händlmaier’s Mustard Club Cincinnati who go to great lengths to acquire their favorite condiment. If I had an award to give, they would get it because: 1) The Wicked Witch of the West was most convincing when she warned, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little goat too.” 2) There’s a bunch of them, from the group leading the yellow Hummer, through Dorthy and friends on the trailer it’s towing, to the pack at the back. 3) They covered both mustard and beer in their theme title “Follow the Yellow Bock Road”. 4) One of them handed off that giant lollipop to the traffic cop in the picture at the top of the page.

b2r08b2r07b2r06There were familiar entries like the Trojan Goat, Arnold’s self propelled bathtub, and the dancing pigs. Arnold’s previous tub, which appeared with some snow on it a couple paragraphs back, had some issues at last year’s Bockfest and, although it was repaired, I guess it’s never been the same. I suppose the new high class ride is more reliable but I still prefer the basic tub and motor style myself.

b2r09b2r10And there were some new themes like Bock to the Future (This is THE year, after all.) and the Bock Street Boys.

 

b2r12b2r11Here are a couple of entries which don’t have any really clever bock related names and really don’t have any particular bock connection at all but I like ’em. On reason I could not leave out the League of Cincinnati Steampunks is that I’m pretty sure this is the way to melt snow. Lastly is the very talented Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle that we last saw here.

b2r13Yeah, I guess there does seem to be a lot more bock than rock but it was really good rock. Dave Alvin and his brother Phil, both formerly with the Blasters, are currently touring together and they deliver one tremendous load of music. I wish I’d seen them years ago but I’m sure happy that I’ve seen them now.

Congrats WNKU

bwphhOnce again I was within minutes of posting a Trip Pic Peek when I decided to do something like what I did a couple of weeks ago and make a quick post with a picture of my favorite thing from the week. I didn’t do much this week. We had record-for-the-date temperatures and snowfall and I spent a few days battling a cold. It was all I could do to see sixteen bands.

My favorite radio station, WNKU, celebrated its first thirty years and raised a little money for the next thirty with a two night event at The Southgate House Revival featuring fifteen performers each night. A Saturday pre-show party with one of the performers from Friday and two new additions brought the total to thirty-two. I didn’t see them all. That would have meant staying up way past my bedtime. I concentrated on seeing acts that were new to me and, having seen both night’s “headliners” before, I was able to cut out early each night. However, I did stay a little later than planned on Saturday. I intended to listen to just a few songs from Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle but ended up staying for their full set. They are this week’s favorite thing.

When I first started hearing of them, I kept putting a “The” in front of the name and thought it odd that these two bands kept getting booked together. I eventually learned that it was a single group and this week I learned that Buffalo Wabs isn’t a band. It’s guitarist Matt Wabnitz’s nickname. Their website says he handles “most of the vocal duties”. That may be true but The Price Hill Hustle (Casey Campbell, Ian Mathieu, and Scott Risner) all sing and the harmonies are fabulous. They’re almost as much fun to watch as they are to listen to. It’s kind of hard to see but that really is a log chain that Casey’s playing that snare with.

Here’s the full line-up, with the acts I saw in bold:

Friday – Wild Carrot500 Miles to Memphis, Jason Wilber, Will Kimbrough, The Tillers – Alone at 3AMFrontier Folk Nebraska, Noah Wotherspoon Band, Arlo McKinley & the Lonesome Sound, Charlie Mars – My Brother The Bear, The Great Wide Open, The Repeating Arms, Honey & Houston, The Part-Time Gentlemen.

Saturday –  Chardez, Nikki LaneJason Wilber – The Bromwell Diehl Band, The NewbeesBuffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle, Noah Hunt & The Scotty Bratcher Band, The Cliftones – William Matheny, Ben Knight & The Well Diggers, Tyler Childers & The Food Stamps, Hocking River String Band, New Country Rehab – Willow Tree Carolers, BMV, The 220 Breakers, Nick Dittmeier Band, The Ready Stance.

Not A Bad Week At All

wnile01It’s been a pretty full week. It included several things that could have been turned into blog posts if I felt the urge but none for which the urge was felt. I was about to schedule a Trip Peek to fulfill my Sunday morning commitment when I decided to just list the week’s activities and include a few pictures from my favorite.

On Sunday I went to the afternoon performance of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash at Playhouse in the Park. The play was over before the big football game started so I watched some of that, too, but I liked the play a whole lot more.

Monday was Groundhog Day and, although I didn’t didn’t actually travel to the home of any of the prognosticating rodents this year, I did make the quasi-traditional visit to Bob Evans for ground hog & eggs and I did follow the reports. There are three furry forecasters whose jurisdictions I think I might be in. One is Punxsutawney Phil who is the most famous and whose forecasts might, for all I know, apply to the whole world. The others are Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s Official State Groundhog, who makes his predictions in Marion, and Rosie who lives and works in nearer-to-my-home Dayton. Phil and Rosie saw their shadows. Chuck did not. What now? There isn’t even a geographic pattern. I don’t know whether to hunker down for six more weeks of winter or get ready for it to be over in a month and a half.

Tuesday I did nothing but meet the gang for some Buzztime trivia. The temperature was in the 40s on Wednesday so I walked down to Flipdaddy’s for exercise then ate a Burger of the Month to nullify it.

A string of nights out began on Thursday with the Bare Boards Theater Company‘s performance of Rabbit Hole. This isn’t a trivial play but the BBTC nailed the first performance of their first production. I attended with my daughter and both of us were entertained and impressed.

wnile02wnile03wnile04On Friday it was a Willie Nile concert at The Southgate House Revival. I became an overnight fan of Willie after seeing him for the first time last year and bought my ticket to this show as soon as I heard about it. I learned just a few days ago that, rather than the anticipated full band show, this would be a performance with just Willie and bassist Johnny Pisano. I thought things might get toned down and I’d be disappointed. No so and not so. I’ll admit to missing Matt Hogan’s guitar licks now and then but I got to focus on and appreciate Johnny’s outstanding bass work even more. Far from being disappointed, it was, as you can see, my favorite event of the week.

The Cincinnati Winter Blues Festival took place on Friday and Saturday. I wrapped up my week by going to the festival’s second night with a few friends. The night’s headliner was young guitar phenom Joanne Shaw Taylor and she did not disappoint. The festival was successful to the point of being uncomfortably crowded. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this sort of thing even when it’s got chandeliers and marble staircases.

My Wheels – Chapter 14
1965 Barracuda

barracuda1965A white Plymouth Barracuda became mine after the Suzuki disappeared from the roadside and I think it was still running when the purloined motorcycle returned. I bought it from a co-worker for $300 or maybe $350. Though barely a half-dozen years old, the slant-6 3-speed had accumulated more than its share of miles and developed an appetite for oil in the process.

Of course, the Barracuda was my main ride while the wife drove the “good” car. I often took the bus to my downtown job and even when I did drive it to work, the car’s oil burning tendencies were kept in check by the fairly low speed route. Then a job change inserted about twenty miles of expressway into my workday drive. Some carpooling helped and I drove the wife’s car when I could. Sedate right-lane travel, frequent looks at the dipstick, and an ever present case of cheap oil in the trunk held off the inevitable.

I was still in a band and that was the job where the Barracuda’s oil consumption became something of an issue. Actually, it was just one particular gig. This gig was in Napoleon, Ohio, near the top of the state. We played there multiple times and each was a three night, Friday through Sunday, deal. I was working about 150 miles away in South Lebanon, Ohio. With looser schedules,  the rest of the group drove up on Friday afternoon. I headed north as soon as I could slip away. This freed me from lugging in and setting up equipment but meant I had some real time constraints and basically walked through the door and started playing after a non-stop drive. Or maybe a one — or more — stop drive. At 50 MPH or less, the Barracuda could squeeze a few hundred miles out of a quart of oil. At 65 MPH, the rate was closer to 100 MPQ and at 75 or 80 it was noticeably worse. More than once I found myself trying to mentally calculate whether I would get there sooner by rocketing onward and making a high-speed dump-in-a-quart pit stop or slowing down and saving the oil. I don’t recall ever getting that worked out satisfactorily.

It’s probably not surprising that other ‘Cuda stories are also band stories. One involves having my drums loaded in the car. It was actually pretty good for that. With the rear seat folded down, there was a goodly amount of space under what was the largest piece of glass ever used in a production car at the time. Details escape me but we had stopped somewhere to see another band play. The others wanted to stay longer than I did so, after hearing a few songs, I went out to the car to sleep. Maybe I had to work in the morning or maybe I was just tired. By moving some things to the front seat, I dug out enough room to snake around what remained and fall asleep. I awoke when the light of a thousand suns hit my face. My head was toward the rear with that big rear glass just inches away. I eventually figured out that there was just one light, not a thousand, and that it was white and probably not the sun. I couldn’t look directly at it, of course, or see around it and I felt completely helpless and pretty darned scared. The car was locked but if someone wanted to smash a window and drag me out by my feet I certainly couldn’t have stopped them. At last the light pulled back and I could see that it was held by someone in a uniform. There was another person beside him and in time I could make out badges and realized that it was a pair of police officers. They chatted with each other and, although I couldn’t make out what they said, they apparently decided I was harmless and moved on. I went back to sleep. With long distance hindsight, I’m thinking that those cops may have glimpsed a horizontal body in the car and hit the light for some parking lot picture window porn. Sorry to disappoint. Wish I could have obliged. Really.

The back end of that car really could hold a lot. A Hammond organ, for example. It wasn’t a line topping B3 and it wasn’t completely pure but a real Hammond did get transported inside the compact Plymouth. It was an M3; Noticeably smaller than a legendary ‘B’ but still a potent music maker with two keyboards. In the interest of portability, the organ’s “guts” had been removed from its finely finished tall wooden cabinet and placed inside a sturdy but far from finely finished black plywood box. The desired playing height was achieved by screwing legs made of pipe into brackets on the bottom of the box. A similar box held the volume pedal and the bass pedals were simply left at home. I have absolutely no memory of why it became necessary to carry the organ in the Barracuda but things like that seem to happen fairly common in the music world. The big black box went in and out the passenger door and I recall that someone had to force that seat forward and down while the organ was squeezed over it. Apparently once was enough. We henceforth put enough effort into planning to avoid a “Hammond Under Glass” repeat. Sure wish I had a picture.

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Rail

octrainAmtrak has a simple but incredibly effective way of avoiding scenes like this at its station in Cincinnati. Eastbound trains are scheduled to depart at 3:27 AM; Westbound at 1:23 AM. That’s AM as in “ante meridian”, as in “before midday”, as in “middle of the night”, as in “dark as a black cat in a coal mine”. That would seem to be sufficient discouragement but, just to be on the safe side, Amtrak frequently misses those times by sizable amounts. On rare occassions, they might even cancel a train a day or two before departure as they did for me in 2011.

I made it this time though not exactly as planned. Between the time I left home and the time I reached the station, the Amtrak Cardinal had gone from 8 minutes late to 3 or 4 hours late. It finally pulled out of Union Terminal with me on board at 8:03 — a mere 4 hours and 36 minutes behind schedule. It was no longer dark. My plans for the evening are clearly demolished but I still have hopes for the rest of this trip to Washington, DC. A Saturday concert remains on the agenda followed by a couple of days roaming around the National Mall before heading back home on Wednesday.

The trip journal is here. This blog entry is to make blog-only followers aware of the trip and to provide a place for comments which are very welcome and appreciated.