Fat Boy

Thursday, June 30, 2005

:: Billy Stewart - Let's Fall In Love ::

:: Billy Stewart - Ol' Man River ::

I love it when I come across an artist whose work simply blows my mind and makes me run out and search for all their music. That’s the reaction I had to ‘60’s R&B singer Billy Stewart, and I’m still not sure how I lived so long without ever hearing him on oldies radio. I picked up The Best of Billy Stewart: The Millennium Collection” when it came out in 2000, and I don’t think a month has gone by since that I haven’t had the need to hear his soul pour out of my speakers.
Thankfully, Bo Diddley discovered Stewart for all of us, playing piano in Washington, D.C. and invited him to be one of his backup musicians. This led to Stewart being signed to Chess in 1957, but it wasn’t until he began working with Chess A&R man Billy Davis in 1962 that the hits started rolling out. Billy Davis, incidentally, went on to become an advertising jingle writer in the 1970’s, bringing us Coke classics, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” and “Have a Coke and a Smile.” Davis convinced Stewart to focus more on songwriting and to come into the studio and work out songs on a more regular basis.
Stewart hit both the pop and R&B charts in 1965 with two gorgeous ballads, “I Do Love You” and “Sitting in the Park.” On these his vocals are silk, and the songs hold up today as melancholy testimonials that remain sentimental without getting overly sappy. But it’s his distinctive, scat-like vocal style that sets Stewart apart from his contemporaries and makes him truly unique and compelling. Billy had a dynamic improvisational technique of doubling-up and stuttering his words, trilling his lips, and playing with a lyric as if it were a toy in his hands. This is what makes his autobiographical song, “Fat Boy”, and his biggest hit, a radical interpretation of Gershwin’s, “Summertime,” so damn soulful.
Obesity, diabetic health problems, and a motorcycle accident in 1969 contributed to a slowing down of his career momentum. Tragically, the next year, a 32 year-old Stewart and three of his musicians were killed after their car ran off the road and plunged into a North Carolina river. Duke Ellington had seen him perform a short while before and the two were making arrangements to work together prior to the fatal accident, sadly leaving us to wonder what could have been.
There were only three Billy Stewart albums and a handful of singles, all of them now out of print. Until Chess/MCA-Universal decides to either re-release them or put out a proper anthology of all his recordings, I highly recommend a 1988 best-of compilation, “One More Time,” as it includes all the hits and some singles that were never released on LP. These two songs are from his last album, “Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks,” and don’t appear on any of the best-of compilations.


Roy Montgomery Makes Me Space Out

Monday, June 27, 2005

:: Roy Montgomery – Sterling Morrison, Corner 10th & First, 1966 ::

Very few songs on 7” singles have ever had the immediate effect on me that this one did. The intertwining guitar parts pulled me in. By the end, they intensify and crescendo into staccato kaleidoscope fireworks, and I remember almost being in a trance by the time the needle ran out of grooves. I don’t have good enough words to articulate what this sounds like, although to my ears it conjures some of the psychotropic Eastern sounds on Echo & The Bunnymen’s Porcupine album. A quote from the inside of the record explains it pretty well: “I wrote and recorded this piece as a tribute to someone who profoundly influenced my guitar playing. I am certain he left some vibes at this intersection, but I’m not sure why.” This gorgeous piece by the kiwi DIY king was released on a 1996 split with Loren MazzaCane Connors on the Gyttja label.



Thursday, June 23, 2005

:: F.O.D. - Powerload ::

Record Robot was born this week, so I'm putting up a song by a band that hails from the city of my birth, Philadelphia. Philly had a somewhat decent music scene in the mid-to-late eighties. No, I'm not talking about The Hooters, I'm talking more along the lines of Dead Milkmen, Ruin, Serial Killers, and Pagan Babies. One of my favorite local bands during that time period was Flag of Democracy, better known (as were most 80's punk bands) by their acronym, F.O.D.

I was probably about 14 or 15 years old when I found a copy of their 1984 debut 7", Love Songs, and instantly loved it. Fast, loud, sloppy hardcore; the sonic equivalent of two cats mating in your ear duct. I ran out and picked up their follow-up LP, Shatter Your Day, for more. Most of this early output was typical punk rock fare thematically: non-conformity, oppression, war, suicide, rejection, etc., but these guys did it with a great sense of humor. They weren't cool and they knew it, just like this listener. Or, at least, that's what it felt like to me growing up in an era of hair metal fandom, which is what seemed to pass for "cool" in my neighborhood.

"Powerload" is one of my favorite F.O.D. tunes, off of that Love Songs 7". Singing along to it in my room was incredibly satisfying during my miserable teenaged years (oh, hey, its pretty satisfying to sing along to in my miserable adult years, too). Bonus points for the most creative use of the Philly colloquialism, "YO!".

F.O.D. are surprisingly still around, though their output is incredibly hard to find. Their website is pretty shabby, but it looks like the show dates page gets updated every once in awhile for Philly area shows.


Manifolds Are Dead, Long Live Manifolds

:: Manifolds – Testy + Turbin Warfare ::

I saw these guys at Spaceland, opening for U.S. Maple a little over a year ago, and I was so impressed (and engorged with Red Hook) that I stumbled over to the merch table and worked out one of my favorite things, the package deal. This split 7” with The Days End was in the haul. Sadly, whatever sum I ended up paying evidently wasn’t enough to keep their band together.

Their music really socked me in the gut, with a two-drummer attack and guitar jabs all over the damn place. The singing could get a little Rage Against The Machine-y in places, but it worked. You can get the first track from this split at their still-functioning website, and I’ve posted the other two. Not because I am a freakin’ philanthropist, but because these songs run together so nicely on my turntable.

I see that one of the new projects to spring from their ashes, The Pope, is playing a show at the Knitting Factory LA, June 30th, with Scout Niblett and Afrirampo. That’s gonna be a good one.


Round Ball, Square Tune

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

:: Wolf Jameson - Soccer To 'Em ::

I scored this record in 1976 when I was about 19 from a friend of a
friend of the singer, Wolf Jameson. As we all know, 1976 was a great
year for bad music. It was the 200th anniversary of our nation's
birth, and countless musical hacks felt it was their sacred duty to
commemorate the event in song. "Soccer To 'Em" was not one of these
patriotic odes, but it fits into this category none the less. In the
tradition of "school spirit" songs, such as The Beach Boys' "Be True To
Your School", it evokes a simpler time, or at least a simplistic view
of a typically fucked up time.

What it comes down to is this: AYSO, the American Youth Soccer
Organization put out some big bucks to have this record produced to
help promote their cause, and hopefully to suck in some unsuspecting
kids with the power of rock & roll. Wolf Jameson was obviously the
right man for the job. I never met the guy, but it was my
understanding that he was one of those guys in high school who was
destined to make it big. Whether it was in soccer or music didn't
matter. And as the old joke goes, as a singer he made a good soccer

But it wasn't Wolf alone who made Soccer To 'Em rock on such a grand
scale. The track was produced by Tom Claiborne, but unfortunately
there's no info on the sleeve about the musicians or where exactly it
was recorded. The whole thing reeks of Torrance and the South Bay area
of Los Angeles though. The picture of Wolf on the back cover says it
all. Sun bleached (balding) hair, eye brows and moustache, reclining on
a hammock wearing a "Peaches" record store t-shirt. He was probably
kickin' back with a brewsky between games. Oh, and Soccer To 'Em was
written by Paul Stierle. Thank the good Lord they had room next to
that picture of him to print the lyrics as well, especially since
Wolf's enunciation can be a bit abstract at times. For instance during
the refrain "A-Y-S-O", a friend once commented that it sounds like
he's saying "K-Y-Ass-Hole", which I like better anyway.

The B-side is Soccer Shuffle, which isn't so much about telling the
people about the history of the organization, as it is about dancin'!
A hilarious example of white man funk, complete with a too loud and
completely out of sync bass drum track, and some wicked-ass piano
tinklin'. There's a good reason though why Soccer To 'Em is the A-side
of this platter, and it's all about the message. Some of it seems
almost threatening: "American Youth Soccer Organization wants your
whole family". Look out!