Tuesday, April 19, 2005

KC on the wheel of steel Posted by Hello

John Fred and His Playboy Band

John Fred died last week.
If you remember him at all, it's for his 60's Beatle-esque "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses), a #1 hit in 1967.
Long before I associated the name John Fred with that hit, however, I knew him only as the bandleader of John Fred and his Playboy Band, of whom I owned the 45 of "Hey Hey Bunny/No Letter Today."
This record is one of a handful that I have owned since before the dawn of my conscious memory. Several singles by The Four Seasons ("Dawn/No Surfin Today", "Let's Hang On/On Broadway Tonight" and "Dody/Beggin") also fall into that category. My Mom at this point was past her teen record-buying stage (Dad never had the money to have a record-buying stage). Since I had shown an interest (OK, obsession) from almost birth in records/music, I can only surmise that somewhere along the line they went to the store and bought for me a handful of 45s to replace the (probably now ridiculously valuable) old 78 albums that I can just barely remember owning and breaking. Above this post there's a picture of me, barely of walking age, clinging to a record player and dropping the tone arm on some early favorite.

Fast forward several years, to Westarea Elementary School in Fayetteville , NC where I spent the fourth grade in Mr. McCloud's class. Mr. McCloud was a tall African-American gentleman with a big afro (it was the 70's), a kind teaching style, and most memorably, at least one pair of ridiculously purple polyester pants. Every Friday he allowed us to bring in records (you know, kids, those black round things) to play during rest time (ah, I miss rest time). This was 1971/72, so we got to listen to a lot of Donny Osmond, Tony Orlando & Dawn, etc. I kept showing up with my little stack of well-worn singles, but the little clique of pre-teen prima donnas wouldn't let me near the record player.

I don't recall exactly how it happened (probably through Mr. McCloud's intervention) but one day out of the blue the keepers of the record player deigned to allow me to play a song. Quickly shuffling through my little stack of records I selected "Hey Hey Bunny", walked it up to the front of the class, handed it to the head tastemaker, and indicated which side needed to be played. Now, remember that this was fourth grade in the 70's - a simpler time. The classroom titters and blushing that followed her announcement of the artist John Fred and his PLAYBOY Band could probably only be matched now by full nudity and/or an announcement of possible bestiality. The fact that the title was "Hey Hey Bunny" (Playboy bunny, get it?) only added to the shock of the little Osmondites. Never-the-less, Mr. McCloud had spoken, so the disc got played - 2:20 of glorious blue-eyed soul, all pounding drums, blaring horns, Hammond organ, cowbell (more cowbell!) and some way-out syncopated bass playing that in retrospect might have been the single most influential record I ever owned (I didn't pick up the bass until 8 years later, but it lurked in my subconscious). The record faded, the needle was lifted, and...silence. Absolute, dead silence. Blank stares. I walked back to my seat to the quickly-cued-up strains of "I'm Leaving It All Up To You." I'd like to think Mr. McCloud was thinking to himself something along the lines of "not so unfunky for a little white kid" but that may just be wishful thinking.

John Fred died last week. Here's my salute: "Hey Hey Bunny."

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Scotch and Soda

The very first real rock band I was in was called Know The Score back in 1982. We played one gig after some months of practicing covers from The Kinks, The Clash, Joe Jackson, and The Beach Boys (via the Ramones). I retired back to the bedroom and the four-track until I was dragged back out into the performing arena with The Home Boys*, who actually played a few gigs [The Place(with Clock on the Wall), The Buttonwood(with The Senators), a field in Greenback) before disbanding. You can hear some of the recorded legacy of the band at Auntie Grizelda Records. The one link between these two bands is guitarist Smootz (aka scooter). Smootz broke up the band to go away to grad school in Carbondale, wherever the hell that is. The first Christmas break he rolls into town and wants to know if I'd like to do some recording over the break. Is a bear Catholic in the woods? Of course I would!

We filled a concrete room in his parent's basement with equipment - a four-track cassette recorder, guitars, amps, and a drum kit. The latter especially delighted me, as I'm a long-time drummer wanna-be. My parents bought me a really cool Sears drum set when I was about six (the psychedelic kick drum head art was complimented by a light bulb in the kick that may or may not have flashed - I don't remember). Unfortunately it was (besides it's inherent cheapness) assembled incorrectly, with the paper-thin cool looking head placed where the batter head should have been, and I put the beater straight through it with the first downbeat. Thus, my first drumming phase came to an end.

In this case, since our regular drummer (Dave Tumblin) had moved to Germany, drumming duties fell to me (or we arm wrestled for them - hard to remember). Scotch was playing guitars and singing, I was playing bass and recording, and somewhere along the way S agreed for some unknown reason to let me sing a little, too.

Once we got set up it occurred to us that we had no actual material to record, as we'd exhausted the store of S's songs that we knew with the recording of the Home Boys album (available by mail order from Auntie Grizelda Records, BTW). Luckily, Scotch had a handfull of Mel Bay Easy Chord song books laying about, and we pawed through them looking for songs that we either knew, liked, or could play the chords in some approximation of the correct order.

Scotch always had a fondness for old-school country, so "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" got in. Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" was probably a mutual choice. I can only think that "Born Free" must have been my choice, though if Scotch wants to claim it that's cool with me.

"Born Free" is my favorite of the bunch, primarily for the extended guitar freakout coda. Scotch stood on one end of the room with his guitar and headphones, and I sat at the other end next to the amp (Yamaha solid-state combo something or the other) with it cranked to 11 while I randomly varied all the knobs. I'm hoping I had some headphones on, but I can't really remember.

Enjoy, or don't.

*The Home Boys ended up spinning off members into several Knoxville bands of the 80's - Sea 7 States, What Alice Found (which begat the Taoist Cowboys), and Awfully Anglo.