Saturday, November 14, 2009


Long before “rhythm and blues” records replaced the use of “race records,” there was gutbucket, the kind of R&B played in dives and cheap saloons, the sort of places where you could gamble, buy hard liquor, and, if you so desired, hire a prostitute (the sort of cheap saloons that characterized New Orleans’ Storyville district). My guess is that “gutbucket” is a reference to the can (or bucket) in which customers could put money to support the musicians that played in these places. According to Ricky Riccardi, a self-proclaimed “Louis Armstrong freak,” “Gut Bucket” is a term used among the fish markets in New Orleans. According to Riccardi, “the fish cleaners keep a large bucket under the table where they clean the fish, and as they do this they rake the guts in this bucket.” After one of the historic recording sessions in 1925, Louis Armstrong was asked what name to give to song he and his Hot Five had just recorded—he said call it “Gut Bucket Blues,” a name for “low down blues.” He might also have said, “low down dirty blues.”

A washtub bass, which uses a washtub as a resonator, once was referred to as a “gutbucket”; the washtub bass was used in African American jug (folk) bands. In the 1920s and 1930s, jazz bands that played traditional (“New Orleans”) jazz referred to themselves jug bands, as for instance, with Tampa Red’s Hokum Jug Band. Bands such as Tampa Red’s often performed songs with raunchy lyrics, such as “My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll),” one of the songs which eventually inspired the use of the term “Rock ‘n’ roll” to describe a certain form of R&B.

Some Collections of Gutbucket:
Various Artists - Risqué Rhythm: Nasty 50s R&B
Various Artists - Copulatin' Blues
Various Artists - Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon: The Ultimate Rude Blues Collection
Various Artists - Bed Spring Poker: Meat In Motion, 1926-1951
Various Artists - Eat to the Beat: The Dirtiest of them Dirty Blues

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ode to Billy Joel

Swamp Rock is a term coined by producer Jerry Wexler in the late 1960s to describe the sound of records made by Creedence Clearwater Revival (Bayou Country, 1969) and Louisiana-born singer/songwriter Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie,” also 1969). Swamp rock is the musical equivalent of the literary genre known as “local color,” and while it isn’t generally considered an instance of so-called Swamp Rock, the popularity of this particular musical form was jump-started by Bobbie Gentry’s huge hit “Ode to Billie Joe,” a Number 1 single released in 1967. In fact, Gentry’s debut album, Ode to Billie Joe, knocked the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the top of charts in the late summer of 1967. (Incidentally, as an instance of local color, I think it’s arguable that Jeannie C. Riley’s 1968 smash hit, “Harper Valley PTA” profited greatly by the success of “Ode to Billie Joe.”) Coincidentally released at about the same as the “The Golliwogs” were reinventing themselves as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the musically sparse, lyrically haunting “Ode to Billie Joe,” often considered an example of “Southern Gothic” and not Swamp Rock, sounded “down-home”—and therefore authentic. Hence Swamp Rock, characterized by a heavy, fluid bass and distorted reverb guitar, was perceived to have actually emerged from the Louisiana bayous (the inspiration for the term), as CCR’s “Born on the Bayou” (1969) suggests. Since the lyrical content of the music often spoke to backwoods, rural experience and relied heavily on colloquial expression and local idioms—Tony Joe White actually was from Louisiana and his thick Southern accent was immediately noticeable—it was therefore considered “authentic.” However, since Creedence Clearwater Revival was from the Bay Area of San Francisco and not from the Louisiana bayou country, Swamp Rock may be considered an instance of the way the perception of authenticity can legitimize a certain form of popular music, and hence raise its cultural cachet in the marketplace. Just as the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” (from Abbey Road) was initially believed to have been recorded by a local band by “Swamp pop” enthusiasts in the New Orleans area, so, too, could CCR’s John Fogerty sound convincingly Southern.

Required Listening:
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born on the Bayou (1969)
John Fogerty – Blue Moon Swamp (Geffen, 2004)
Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe (1967)
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Swamp Music (1974)
Jerry Reed – Amos Moses (1970)
Jim Stafford – Swamp Witch (1973)
Tail Gators – Swamp Rock (Wrestler Records, 1992)
The Ventures – Hawaii Five-O/Swamp Rock (One Way, 1996)
Tony Joe White – Polk Salad Annie (1969)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Earth’s Diurnal Course

Today’s blog entry represents my 146th of this year, and 365th overall. Because it’s my 365th post—the number of days in a year, except when leap year makes it 366—I thought it appropriate to blog, briefly, about songs featuring the word “year” (not as a calendar year, but as a long ago season, a specific time in one’s life which invokes a powerful memory, or a generalized time period in one’s life) as well as songs about years. After all, one of my favorite British blues-rock bands is Ten Years After (the cover to 1968’s Undead is pictured) formed in November 1966 and named in honor of Elvis Presley (an idol of Alvin Lee’s), who popularized rock ‘n’ roll in the year 1956—a very good year indeed.

The Year As A Season:
David Bowie – Golden Years (Station to Station)
David Bowie – Five Years (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars)
Death Cab For Cutie – The New Year (Studio X Sessions EP)
George Jones – A Good Year For the Roses (A Good Year For The Roses: The Complete Musicor Recordings 1965-1971, Part 2)
Norah Jones – Seven Years (Come Away With Me)
Van Morrison – Celtic New Year (Magic Time)
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year (September of My Years)
Al Stewart – Year of the Cat (Year of the Cat)
U2 – New Year’s Day (War)
Zager & Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) (Billboard Top Pop Hits: 1969)

Songs About Years:
Bryan Adams – Summer Of ‘69 (Reckless)
Ryan Adams – 1974 (Rock N Roll)
David Bowie – 1984 (Diamond Dogs)
John Cale – Paris 1919 (Paris 1919)
The Clash – 1977 (Super Black Market Clash)
Robyn Hitchcock – 1974 (A Star For Bram)
Rickie Lee Jones – On Saturday Afternoons in 1963 (Rickie Lee Jones)
Paul McCartney & Wings – Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five (Band On The Run)
Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945 (In The Aeroplane Over The Sea)
New Order – 1963 (Singles)
Harry Nilsson – 1941 (Aerial Pandemonium Ballet)
Josh Rouse – 1972 (1972)
Smashing Pumpkins – 1979 (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness)
The Stooges – 1969 (The Stooges)
Prefab Sprout – Carnival 2000 (Jordan: The Comeback)
Prince – 1999 (1999)
Rush – 2112 (2112)
Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – December 1963 (Oh What A Night) (Who Loves You)
The Who – 1921 (Tommy)