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Dave Alvin’s THE BEST OF THE HIGHTONE YEARS is the stark, lonesome soundtrack to a desert roadtrip of the mind’s eye. Put it on, and the slide guitars, folk rhythms and nuanced lyrics will have a listener in a classic Cadillac, nursing a broken heart, somewhere between the Inland Empire and the Texas panhandle, staring down a dusty ribbon of empty highway that stretches into the horizon.
What Alvin, an original member of the legendary Blasters, does brilliantly in his solo work is imbue the century-old country blues that obviously inspire him with the dexterous songwriting of a honed craftsman. In track after track, on songs such as “Dry River”, “King of California” and “Fourth of July”, Alvin uses a specific, blue-collar Los Angeles that is never mentioned in US Weekly and a metaphor for loneliness and longshots, giving transitory, sometimes frivolous Los Angeles a touch of pathos and, perhaps, stoic dignity.
Pick up this release if you want to hear what Country radio would sound like if they gave a damn. Dave Alvin expressed a desire to mix “blues, folk, rock and roll, R&B and country”, grow as a musician and not be messed with too much. By the sound of it -- mission accomplished!
THE BEST OF THE HIGHTONE YEARS culls from a decade of Alvin’s output: 1990-2000. It offers a solid overview of albums in this period, as well as some surprises: an amazing unreleased studio various of “Dry River”, an original blues tune, “Dixie Highway Blues” and a few rarities, such as a duet with Katy Moffatt. As with any collection, THE BEST OF THE HIGHTONE YEARS faces the conflicting tasks of appealing to neophytes and purists, both. It speaks to the continuing quality of SHOUT! Factory packages that it succeeds so well. Both “newbies” and longtime fans should wear this one out.
THE BEST OF THE HIGHTONE YEARS hits shelves October 28th.
Buy on Amazon.
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of one of Norton Records' premier stars, the incredible Rudy Ray Moore-- world famous movie star, recording artist and comedian, known throughout the world as the bad, bad Dolemite. We pass along some in-house memories here, adding to umpteen accumulating accolades.
BILLY REMEMBERS: THE CAT NAMED DOLEMITE
It's so hard to imagine that Rudy Ray Moore is gone. The phrase "larger than life" seems to have been coined just for him. The Dolemite character of his movies and comedy routines became part of his every day persona. I remember one time years ago, when Miriam and I drove over to pick up Rudy at his sister's place in West Orange, New Jersey. When we arrived at the address, I realized we had no apartment number so I went to use the pay phone outside to call him. There were two characters leaning against the phone booth, one drinking out of a paper sack. They gave me some grief about using “their” phone and a little uneasy banter was exchanged until Rudy strolled out the front door, resplendent in a long black coat with white ermine fur trim and a massive matching chapeau. The guy with the beverage's eyes popped out like in the cartoons. “DOLEMITE!" he cried out. “IT'S DOLE-FUCKIN'-MITE!” I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall the next morning when that cat tried to sort out his hangover.
Rudy may well have been the single most respected person I've ever met-- admired and revered by people from all walks of life. Once I was driving Rudy to the airport and he was jockeying two calls on his cell phone. He had a hip hop big shot on one line confirming Rudy's appearance at a Player's Ball, while he had a priest on hold. Rappers in particular all cited Rudy's groundbreaking films and records as an influence. One day while I was hauling records in and out of Coyote Studio basement here in Brooklyn, rap star Nas was shooting a video upstairs on North 6th Street. It was obvious that I was in the way, constantly coming in and out of the front door while they were trying to film. A crew member brought my interference to the attention of Mike Caiati, the owner of Coyote Studios. Mike told them to cut me some slack, that I was a friend of Dolemite. Suddenly everyone was my best pal and I was swapping Dolemite posters for delicious gourmet sandwiches.
Nathaniel Mayer, a major fan of Rudy's, pointed out after having his photo snapped with Rudy, “Where I live, if you show anybody a picture of you with Dolemite, you got gold…”
We had the great pleasure in recording Rudy along with Andre Williams on a cover of the Crawford Brothers' I Ain't Guilty, the pair belting out the duet like none other. Rudy arrived in the company of the immortal Jimmy "Mr. Motion" Lynch. Those guys were a non-stop riot! (Rudy climbing the three flights of stairs to the studio: "Jimmy, ain't they got an elevator?" Jimmy: "Sure, Rudy. You elevate one foot and then you elevate the other.") While in the studio, we asked Rudy if he would record a Public Service Announcement on the topic of his choice. He immediately chose AIDS as his topic, and proceeded to cut an excellent, informative off-the-cuff PSA. He then asked to cut another version with "hard words" for FM, and proceeded with a belligerent, hi-octane anti-AIDS rant that took even his saltiest "party records" one better.
When I told him I was booking him room at the Marriott Hotel when he emceed our Norton Soul Spectacular a couple of years ago, he refused to stay there, accusing me of overspending. “Billy, you're just like Busta Rhymes!” Rudy was total class on that show, bringing to the stage one star after another with the same fiery delivery he brought to the screen in DOLEMITE or PETEY WHEETSTRAW. A bad motherfucker to the end and indeed, much, much larger than life.
MIRIAM REMEMBERS: GENTLEMAN RUDY RAY MOORE
Billy's always goofing on me for calling things "Old School". For me, that means the good stuff, better ways, the real deal-- as defined by Rudy Ray Moore! The man defined the limits of taste, humor, and style and left everyone around him agog with his regal personality. And you know, he wasn't pompous-- he just naturally oozed total class. Just gliding through a door, you knew with Rudy that you were in the presence of a true V.I.P. And when he spoke, in that astonishing baritone, he could make a simple sentence an awesome, lyrical pronouncement.
We first met Rudy many years ago at a comedy show. The Great Gaylord called and told us Rudy was going to be doing a show in Jersey City with Wild Man Steve. None of us really knew what to expect-- we loved the Dolemite movies and were crazy about his old 45s, but we didn't know how approachable he'd be with a bunch of goofy greenhorn fans. We needn't have worried. Rudy strode in from the shadows after Wild Man, a tall, insanely handsome man with a dazzling smile, and immediately the audience erupted into enthusiastic screams and applause, particularly from the women! From a ladies point of view, let me assure you girls (and Rudy had a delectable way of says "GIRLS" that could make a 90 year old blush and giggle) that when he started cat calling the big bottom dolls, baiting them with what might be considered insults to the uninitiated, it became obvious that this was a man whose craft was making everybody feel like part of the show. Even when he engaged various ethnic, overly-proportional, overtly interesting, and well, plug ugly, people, it was like a hazing into a esteemed club. Getting called out by Rudy was a badge of honor, a matter of pride. Rudy wrapped up the show by personally presenting the ladies in the audience with battery-operated, light-up, scented roses while reciting his Legend of Dolemite, which is as close to the Rime of The Ancient Mariner as rockin' folk care to teeter. We all jumped up for a standing ovation that went all for some time, and afterwards, we all bought Dolemite back scratchers and got autographs and pictures with the man.
It was obvious that Rudy wanted to reach everyone the world over with his talents. He was not content with being a Black icon in film, or heralded as the first Rapper. It was back at an early WFMU record show in a church basement in the East Village, that Billy and I started speaking with Rudy about his early musical days. He was somewhat shocked that anyone thought there was interest in his early R&B recordings. He was instantly on it, digging for scrapbooks, tapes, and any ephemera to help us document his early pre-comedy career. We started seriously pulling together old recordings, and began interviewing Rudy for biographical notes. Rudy told the stories with great relish. We had the tape recorder going in the car during a snow storm while Rudy was belting out Rally In The Valley and remembering the amateur shows in Cleveland, St Louis, New York, Los Angeles--- every city where there was a venue and audience for Black entertainers. Another time we were eating dinner with him at a hotel restaurant, again over a tape recorder, when Rudy pulled out one of his impromptu, gemaceous nonsequiturs. An airline pilot, evidenced as so by the uniform and hat, was eating alone at another table. Quite suddenly, Rudy called out to him, "Excuse me, young man!" and the pilot looks around and says, "Me?" "Are you flying to Dayton, Ohio this evening?" he asked with great pomp and circumstance, with an elegant English accent. Puzzled, the pilot shook his head, no. Rudy went back into his story with us, without missing a beat. Trust me, it was one of funniest moments, ever. Totally out of the blue, unexplained and OLD SCHOOL. Well, the R&B collection ended up as a double LP set called HULLY GULLY FEVER, the first collection of his early records, and the first thorough telling of his early days from the R&B chitlin circuit to his first moments in standup comedy. He said it reminded him of how much he loved to sing, and he took to including some musical numbers amongst his comedy routines.
The world will remember Rudy as an entertainment genius, as a man with great vision and daring, as a man who would continue working his craft until the end of his life. He will also be remembered as the last of the true gentlemen, a veritable Human Tornado whose work will never be forgotten and whose spirit will forever affect and inspire anyone who follows their heart, no matter what. We love you and miss you, Mr. Rudy Ray Moore.
With rockabilly, the Stray Cats wrote great songs. Most bands just had that "1,4,5 Go Cat Go". They didn't break out of that. - Brian Setzer
This article's a few months old at this point, but its always great when musicians interview other musicians. Here, you have THE LIVING END's Chris Cheney interviewing his childhood hero, Brian Setzer about the end of the STRAY CATS and his next moves.
One of the most interesting bits is a discussion about how to be true to rockabilly, but not a slave to it. To a certain extent, the entire scene is about "authenticity", but using the past as a springboard for self-expression is just as important. The Living End left rockabilly behind a long time ago. Their early EPs rate as some of the best 90's era rockabilly, approaching REVEREND HORTON HEAT in energy. As they matured, they seemed to reach for 80's UK power pop influences and the rock/punk melange of the Clash. Now, you can barely hear the rockabilly in their increasingly complex sound.
Setzer crumbing on people's desire "to make it sound like it was done in 1955" is rich, considering the Stray Cats have always relied heavily on covers with similar arrangements to the originals and Setzer produced two albums consisting entirely of covers (STRAY CATS ORIGINAL COOL and solo effort, ROCKABILLY RIOT: A TRIBUTE TO SUN RECORDS - both are great!) Still, it's worth thinking about: is retro lifestyle really liberating our imaginations or is it a crutch... a uniform... that allows us to lazily avoid originality while still donning the cloak of "alternative" and "outlaw"?
1. Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love." Romantic, haunting, creepy. This ballad from the tragic R&B star (he died in a Russian Roulette accident in 1954) has been used in many a movie, including Abel Ferrarra's "Bad Lieutenant."
2. Rufus Thomas, "Memphis Train." The clown prince of Memphis soul recorded for Sun Records and more famously, Stax Records. This raging R&B ode to love and trains is hard to beat.
3. Charlie Feathers, "That Certain Female." Why Mr. Feathers is only appreciated by a cadre of die-hard roots music enthusiasts and rockabilly nuts is beyond me. Check out the LPs available from Norton Records.
4. Billy Lee Riley, "My Gal is Red Hot." With a raw, gravely voice and a manic stage presence, Riley cut his best material for Sun Records, both as a front man and as a session musician. This song, covered by many a retro rockabilly, is one of his finest offerings.
5. Booker T. and the M.G.s, "Green Onions." Recorded at Stax Records, otherwise known as Soulsville, U.S.A., this is one of the best brooding, strutting instrumentals of the '60s from one of the South's first interracial music acts.
6. The Prisonaires, "Just Walkin' in the Rain." Just one of the many great groups obscured by Elvis Presley's tenure at Sun Records, the Prisonaires were actual Tennessee state prisoners that the warden allowed out -- accompainied by armed gurads -- to record at Sam Philips' burgeoning R&B studio. The 45 went on to sell over 250,000 copies.
7. Bill Justis, "Raunchy." Another killer instrumental from Sun Studios, this catchy and kooky number features the warbly-yet-wonderful sax work of Justis himself, who took over blowin' duties when the session player assigned the instrument failed to show up to the recording date.
8. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Whole Lotta Shakin.'" His personal foibles have been the subject of movies, documentaries and books, but the important thing to remember is that the Killer recorded some of the most energetic, foot-stomping songs of the '50s. This is just one of them.
9. Sam and Dave, "When Something is Wrong With My Baby." They may be best remembered for "Soul Man," but this hot buttered ballad, penned by Isaac Hayes and his Stax writing partner, David Porter, is a beautiful, juicy slice of classic '60s soul.
10. Carl Mann, "Mona Lisa." A love song penned around the famous portrait, this is yet another sadly underappreciated Sun Record, featuring smart lyrics, precise playing and a bouncy energy that can't be denied.