Friday, 16 August 2019

The Joy Of Lex


The album I’m featuring today comes courtesy of Dave Frankel, owner of Inner Groove Records of Collingswood, NJ. Dave is also a follower of this here blog, and was kind enough to send me a rip of this album when it turned up in his store recently.

And, oh my, what a record it is. Joy and Love From Lex James is an absolute pip! Through a mix of standards and his own compositions, pianist Lex lets us into his wonderful world.

Hailing from Big Spring, Texas, as the sleeve notes declare: “Lex James has been in the spotlight musically since his ‘stage debut’ at the age of six in his home town.” By the mid-1950s he had left home: in 1956 we find him working with a second pianist, Art Darcy, at the cameo Room in Palm Springs; three years later he’s earning a living in Pasadena, living in a custom-built, mobile trailer along with Art, his partner, and their two grand pianos. By the middle of the following year, James was vice president of the Los Angeles Pianists Club, an organisation made up mainly of cocktail bar pianists, with Darcy a member of the same organisation’s grandly-named Executive Council. Peachy.

But after a year of playing at separate venues, Lex and Art wanted to try something different. Playing piano nightly in in the town’s Old Virginia restaurant was not enough for the ambitious Mr. James: he wanted to bring two-piano music to one-horse towns, as he told Pasadena’s Independent newspaper. “The thing that got us started on this trailer idea was the problem of finding matching pianos. Even In large cities, it’s hard to find two available grand pianos of the same kind - not to mention matching the tone quality and touch. In small towns, where we want to play, it’s almost impossible”

Lex left the Old Virginia in June 1960, planning to put their $25,000 two-piano mobile studio on the road, dragging the contraption behind a three-quarter-ton cab. James and Darcy took turns driving the truck that pulled their piano parlour. “We had to hunt for a long time before we found a trailer company willing to build it,” he admitted. “They all tried to discourage us.” The two pianos were strapped and clamped into a standard large house-trailer, 35 feet long and eight feet wide. One side of the trailer had been adapted to open down to form a piano unloading ramp. “We use a hydraulic jack,” said James, “and put special oversize ball-bearing casters on the piano feet. Sometimes we have to take off the legs and pull the two pianos on dollies, on their edges, like harps.” The whole rigamarole was worth all the trouble, he insisted, because the joy of playing two perfectly-matched pianos was superior to the joy of making any other kind of music. “We try to make it sound like one gigantic instrument. In most teams you can tell who has the melody and who is playing support. But we try to toss the melody back and forth between us so fast that nobody can tell who is doing what.”

Obviously at some point between setting out on the road in the summer of ’60 and his solo album debut (issued around 1972 would be my guess, as most of the covers on the album originally appeared around 1969/1970) Lex and Art abandoned their plans to bring two-piano music to the masses, and our Lex found his way back to California. In 1966 he was playing piano nightly at Lydia and Leonard Stahl’s Town House, in Arcadia

This Liberace in lace (check out those shirts!) continued playing in restaurants: in 1973 he could be found, bringing his own special brand of keyboard magic to the new Medallion Room in San Gabriel five nights a week. Lex even had his own fan club, run from a tiny office in Pasadena. I’ve found evidence that Lex and Art continued to tour, although one would assume without the trailer, appearing together in Tucson in 1976.

Then something else happened: Lex found God, and became the Reverend Lex James, still playing the piano but this time to the glory of the almighty. As late as 2001 Lex and Art were still touring together, playing for mostly religious audiences. Sadly he passed away in 2009 at the age of 77. He was survived by Art, happily in these more liberated times able to announce himself as having been Lex’s life partner, after something like a half-century together.

Here are a couple of tracks from this magnificent album, Where Do I Begin (Love Story) and Sunday. Thanks Dave! I owe you one.

Enjoy!

Download Love HERE



Download Sunday HERE


Saturday, 10 August 2019

Let's Go To The Beach


Over the last few weeks I’ve been treating listeners of The World’s Worst Records Radio Show to the selected cuts from the delightful CD album by Fernando Y Francisco. Realising that not everyone who reads this here blog listens or has access to the radio show, I thought I’d treat you to it too.

Issued in 2003, Vamos a la Playa (Let’s Go to the Beach) is the only album (to date, anyway) from Venezuela’s Francisco y Fernando, two semi-naked backpacking chums who self-funded the recording and release of the ten tracks (in other, less reputable corners of the net you’ll find Sacven credited as the label that issued ValP: Sacven isn’t a label, it’s a copyright society, similar to BMI or ASCAP, the Sociedad de Autores y Compositores de Venezuela).

With our boys vocalising (you can’t really call this singing) over pre-recorded backing tracks, bad midi programmes and the like, unsurprisingly the CD disappeared without a trace, selling probably no more than a handful of copies to family and friends. In fact, it would have been forgotten forever if Francisco had not appeared on a local TV talent show, TV Libre, a year or so after the release of their magnum opus, performing an a cappella version of the title song. His appalling performance quickly became something of a viral hit in his home country, igniting interest in the album.

And, my goodness, what an album it is! Highlights include the wonderful Rigi – sample lyric “Rigi, rigi-rigi-rigi, rigi-rigi-rigi, rigi-rigi-rigi”, the title track Vamos a la Playa and the incredible Con La “P” – a song that pretty much consists of an endless list of things that begin With A “P”. It may make some sense in the boys’ native tongue but does not travel well at all: from what I can make out “Podemo decir pana, pana, panaderia/Ponte, ponte, ponte, las pilas” translates as “I can say bread, bread, bakery/Put on, put on, put in the batteries”. Shamelessly, Con La “P” uses the same backing track as Vamos a la Playa.

I love the way that the boys take every opportunity to remind listeners who is performing, shouting out “Francisco Y Fernando” at every opportunity, like there’s some old school rapper in da house, yo, yo yo! Luckily they refrain from doing so during the woefully out of tune ballad Mariluisa and the Ricky Martin-esque Yo Quiero. Francisco is still making a racket today, performing in tourist bars under the name Francisco el Playero. Fernando has kept a respectful silence for more than a decade.

You can find most of the album on YouTube if you wish to, but for now here are what for me are the two standout tracks, the aforementioned Rigi and the title track, Vamos a la Playa.

Enjoy

Download Vamos HERE



Download Rigi HERE

Friday, 2 August 2019

Pot Holing For Fun and Profit



You’ll recall – for it was only a couple of week ago – that I recently introduced you to Chuck Holden’s weird and wonderful 45 The Cave, issued by Joe Leahy’s Unique Records in 1956. Well, apparently that’s not the only peculiar record about damp and dark crevasses.  

Gary “Spider” Webb’s The Cave (Parts one and two) was originally issued by the tiny Bamboo label in 1961. It’s just as nuts as the Chuck Holden track, but this time with an added sense of suspense that gives it a more Timothy-esque twist. Oh, hang on: that makes three crazy cave records.

I’ve not been able to discover much about Webb, apart from his being a former serviceman, stationed at the Naval Air Station Alameda in California in 1959. He was also an impressive drummer, winning an all-Navy talent contest and appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Webb’s parents owned an apartment complex in Hollywood, called The Hollywood Argyle, and he would go on to play on sessions for our old friend Gary Paxton. Paxton formed a studio band called The Hollywood Argyles (presumably named after the apartment complex) for a one-off single by his friend Kim Fowley, Alley-Oop. When that song became a hit – eventually selling over a million copies in the US alone - Paxton formed a touring band, and Webb became their drummer. He did not perform on the record.

Being a drummer kind of complicates things, because there’s another Spider Webb who was also a drummer, and details about the two different men have been conflated across the Internet.

We can be reasonably sure that the 45 issued on Donna records in March 1960 and credited to Spider Webb, Drum City  (again in two parts), was by our Gaz for several reasons. First of all, the other Spider Webb, born Kenneth Ronald Rice, was only 15 at the time of the recording. Also, a year before a band called Spider Webb And The Insects had been signed to Donna’s parent company, Del-Fi. SW&TI are notable because a former member was Tom Fogarty, brother of John who would go on to become the rhythm guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival.

When Tom was still in the band SW&TI recorded an unissued session for Del-Fi, but after the tracks recorded were rejected the band broke up; Tom went on to find fame and fortune and a solo Spider recorded his one-off single for Del-Fi’s sister label. That’s what you call research!

Two years after The Cave our Spider Webb issued a further 45, this time credited to his previous band Spider Webb And The Insects. Maggie/Big Noise From Winnetka was issued in 1963 by the tiny Lugar label, but it does not appear to feature any CCR alumni.

The other Spider Webb, an American jazz drummer and session musician, recorded with United Artists and Holland-Dozier-Holland in his early teens, before joining forces with King Curtis around 1967. He would go on to record for Fantasy in the 1970s, and was once married to the legendary Carol Kaye. As of three years ago, our Gaz was still living in California.

Enjoy!

Download Part One HERE


Download Part Two HERE

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