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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Oldies but Goodies Aren't in Rocking Chairs

While Granny is Rockin', Grandpa's Gawkin'

By Randy McNutt

Once, there were no “oldies,” except grandma and grandpa. Then in the late 1950s came a demand for records from the beginning of rock ’n’ roll. Oddly enough, the early days had happened only five or six years earlier. No matter. The need was there. 

The original term oldies meant something specific: doo-wop singles. Soon the demand for oldie LPs increased, too. As Music Business magazine put it in 1964: “The evolution of the term oldie in recent years is comparable to what has happened to such originally specific terms as folk and hootenanny. They tended to take on a broader meaning than originally and as this pattern developed the trend itself became diluted and less clear-cut.” 

In New York, Irving “Slim” Rose opened what is considered one of the first oldies-only record shops in the nation, Times Square Records. Rose referred to oldies as those made from 1953 to 1959. His customers were mainly in their teens to early twenties. Rose sold original 45- and 78-rpm discs. Soon he started releasing original doo-wop masters on his own label. Some DJs started playing them on oldies radio programs. Noticing this trend, the original record labels started re-releasing some of their old hits. 

In the late ’60s, the oldies market picked up considerably, blossoming in the era of hipness, hippies, and psychedelia. Companies kept up with the times by re-releasing songs from the early ’60s. Meanwhile, the ’50s oldies market remained strong, sparking a modest career comeback for Bill Haley, who by 1968 sounded like a clunking old Chevy without an exhaust.

And so, the oldies market drifted into the future. Old being a relative term, the oldies expanded to include classic hits a decade ago. To meet the demand, an increasing number of the original record labels began publishing catalogs exclusively devoted to their re-issue discs. 

By 1971, Sterling, the title-strip maker for jukebox records, counted forty-one record companies with oldies catalogs. From 1970 to 1971, the number of labels offering oldies catalogs doubled, according to Billboard. One beneficiary of the oldie was the jukebox industry. When labels realized the oldie was not a fad, they started forming their own special imprints for oldies. One of them was Starday’s Country Jukebox Oldies. Others included RCA’s Gold Standard and Decca’s Original Performance. Elektra introduced its Spun Gold series in 1971. In that period, the most favorite oldies were by big-name acts in various genres, including Ray Price in country and Creedence Clearwater Revival in rock. Obviously, not all kids were dipping into the past for their fix of music. 

These days, oldies are taken for granted as a part of the record business. They are often called re-issue albums. Perhaps the 45 oldie will come back stronger now that younger people have discovered vinyl.

Excerpted from Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove: An A to Z Adventure to the Lore, Legends, and Lingo of the Old Record Business (HHP Books.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Scott Walker's Death Ends a Pop Era

Scott Walker: The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

The recent death of Scott Walker all but closes the book on '60s pop giants. His fame came at a time when a young rock 'n' roll gladly embraced a pop sound without hesitation. So long as you were young and your hair was long, you stood under the rock umbrella.
He was one of my all-time favorite singers. He put everything he had into each track. The guy was one fabulous singer. Too bad he didn't cut more songs with which people could identify. But never mind. At least he did what he wanted.
Walker--his real name was Scott Engel--began his career in America in the late 1950s. In the early 1960s, teamed with John Walker, another vocalist, and they soon found Gary Leeds, a drummer who also sang. They all adopted Walker's last name and headed to England, where in the mid-'60s the Walker Brothers found chart success. Hits there turned the group's members into major stars. "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," a flop for the Four Seasons in America, turned into a international hit, mainly because its English producers combined the group with an orchestra and decided to speed up the tempo of the song. Another well-known hit for the group was "Make It Easy on Yourself," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
In England, the Walker Brothers' hits kept on coming. But in the States, subsequent releases failed. Scott Walker disliked the fame he had gained, and the material that was chosen for the group. When the band broke up in the late 1960s, he started a successful solo career and was rewarded with his own television show in England. The group temporarily reunited over the next decade, but its magic sound had faded. In time, Scott Walker turned to experimental recordings, which seemed almost like no music at all. 
I'm just pleased that he left a lot of beautiful tapes in the can. Take a listen to him on YouTube. In the last year I bought everything he did--the real songs--from the '60s and '70s. If you want to hear him at the peak of his vocal career, listen to the moody album cut "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," a Randy Newman song done by the Walker Brothers. He tears up "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life." 
The echo on that Newman song is real, and different. It makes Walker even better. Not that he needed any vocal enhancement. In his heyday, you had to be great to be called great. No Auto Tune, electronic gimmicks, or anything else that put you on key and fattened thin, whiny performances. In those days, your naked voice was out there for everyone to hear. 
There were some great young pop-rock singers back then, including Gary Puckett and Billy Joe Royal on Columbia alone, but for my money, no one could do it like Scott Walker. 
In the States, he was underappreciated. He left one song that is close to Ohioans, "The Lights of Cincinnati." 
Goodbye, Scott. Thank you.

Scott Walker in his heyday, the late 1960s.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Sonny Moorman
Rockin’ the Blues with Lucky 13 Naked

Singer-guitarist Sonny Moorman has done it again with his new blues-rock album, Lucky 13 Naked. Like the other albums in his growing repertoire, this one will knock your head off. He is literally in the groove, for this record is a real one—his first vinyl LP. “I’ve always wanted a vinyl one,” he said. “We spent a lot of time on this record.” 

The celebrated power blues man from Hamilton, Ohio, shows everyone that his music is the essence of rock and the blues. He distills them like musical moonshine and serves it up for a growing number of fans who enjoy his distinctive sound—whether it’s plugged in or unplugged. 

The guitarist can flat-out pick, and Naked shows it once again. His record features a band that’s as tight as an iron fist, and his vocals sound as gritty as any old roadhouse stage. Hearing Naked for the first time, listeners will find it difficult to believe that the immense sound is coming from three musicians: Moorman on guitar, Chris Perreault on bass, and Dave Fair on the drumsMoorman can change speeds as easily as a ’59 Corvette. One minute his guitar whines like an old freight train rolling through lonely Southern countryside, then thunders as loudly as a fast-coming storm. He grew up in southwestern Ohio, a melting pot of the blues, rock ’n’ roll, country, and about everything in between. Somehow, all of these elements became infused in his world of music. Now, he has established himself as a blues man with power. His followers call it the “Sonny Moorman sound.” The room rocks whenever he walks in.

His music comes about as close to the old-time roadhouse sound as you’ll ever hear, and he proudly plays it with the affection and enthusiasm of a true blues fan. For Sonny Moorman, the giants of his rockin’ world—Lonnie Mack, Freddy King, Duane Allman, and others—are revered for their musical trail-blazing. He manages to fit in with them while he forges his own sound, one that carries his own stamp of musical personality. In Lucky 13 Naked, he offers up power blues ballads, power rocking blues—and as much voltage as your local power plant. When he sings, "I’m and ol’ gunslinger, and I roam from town to town,” you know he means he carries his guitar across the country. When he adds, “I’m not as fast as I once was, but I’m much too fast for you,” you know he’s not so serious. For Sonny Moorman fingers still move at the speed of light. 

He’s that rambling, roadhouse power man.

Sonny’s latest release is on Atlas Records, the label owned by Willie Perkins—best known for being the Allman Brothers’. road manager. In the Hamilton-Cincinnati, Ohio, area, the record is available at Shake It Records, Everybody's Records, Main Street Vinyl, 3rd Street Music, and Lester's Rock and Roll Shop, as well as at Sonny’s gigs. He has also taken mail orders through his Facebook page. Each store copy comes with a digital download card. He plans to soon make the album available digitally on CD Baby as well.