Les Paul and Mary Ford – Bye Bye Blues! – 1952 – Capitol

Les Paul and Mary Ford - Bye Bye Blues! - 1952 - Capitol

Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford were a huge success back in the 1950s. They sold millions, they had 16 top ten hits in the space of four years and they also had a televison show, Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home. Their sound was pretty new and unique for the time involving multi-tracked vocals from Mary and plenty of echo on Paul’s multi-tracked electric guitars. Les Paul, who is still a well known name for his solid body electric guitars, was an innovator who was one of the first to work with overdubbing, multi-tracking and tape echo. He was also a great player. The back cover of this record proclaims “a dazzling cascade of notes… a sparkling combination of phantom guitars… the blend of a gentle voice with its own reflection… these are the hallmarks of music by Les Paul and Mary Ford.” It’s a good record. When you listen you get the feeling that the techniques are new because there’s a sense of novelty and a little bit of excitement that someone could be singing their own harmonies. I like their renditions of Frankie and Johnnie, and St Louis Blues. It’s all fairly laid back and relaxed, well played, well sung and nicely produced. It’s easy on the ear and good for winding down after a long day.

This album is a 10 inch EP, a little smaller than the regular 12 inch LP. I’ve only got about 30 10 inch records. The problem with 10 inch records is that often there’s more surface noise than with a 12 inch since the grooves are closer together and the volume of the music can’t be as loud. Also, for some reason the 10 inch records I own seem to be made of more brittle material than LPs. What is nice about them is that the artwork still looks great and the they are more convenient to carry than full size LPs.

Anyway, back to Les and Mary, they had a messy divorce back in 1963 which put an end to their musical collaboration. Mary Ford kept making music, sometimes with her sisters, and she died in 1977. Les Paul kept performing and recording until his death in 2009 at the age of 94. Their contribution to musical history was significant.

The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band – Wangaratta Wahine – 1974 – Image Records

The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band - Wangaratta Wahine - 1974 - Image Records

Those who remember Captain Matchox remember them fondly. They were active in the 1970s playing a crazy, souped up 1930s style of jug band music, in many ways they were swimming against the stream. They were a really, really great band but I don’t think anyone, the band included, expected them to be the nationwide success that they were. The core of the band was the two brothers, Mic and Jim Conway. Mic was the front man, the vocalist, he was a great showman. As well as singing and playing a variety of instruments he did magic tricks and fire breathing during songs. (This aspect of their show couldn’t really be demonstrated on vinyl.) Mic’s voice was fantastic, he has a great way of replicating that 1930s phrasing but he sounds like no one else. His brother Jim is a great harmonica player. He’s played with everyone – Johnny Shines, Brownie McGhee, Colin Hay, Jon Lord and so on. The two brothers are coming from related areas musically but they are fairly distinct. Jim is more into the blues end of the spectrum and Mic’s influenced by music hall, vaudville and novelty songs. There’s a good energy between them though, a clear respect for each other’s talents.

I never got to see them back in the 70s, I was too young, but I have seen Mic Conway’s band, The National Junk Band, a couple of times and I know Jim. Jim played on my most recent album, Mr Living Good. That was a fantastic experience. I never thought he’d say yes to being on my album. He has an inate understanding of what a song needs. I’ve seen his band, the Big Wheel, once. They are really great. Jim’s health isn’t so good these days, he has multiple sclerosis, but he performs and records regularly and his playing is as good as ever.

I was glad to find this album on vinyl. This is their second LP. I already had it on CD but, as you may have guessed by my blog, I prefer vynil. It’s bigger, it looks better and I suspect that most of my vynil will outlast my CD collection. I love the cover art by Michael Leunig. For those of you who aren’t from Australia, Michael┬áLeunig is one of our most well known cartoonists and has written and drawn a regular cartoon in the Sydney Morning Herald for many, many years. He has a whimsical, sad and surreal style. I love how there’s the creepy pervert looking guy on stilts trying to lick the stomach of the naked woman who is holding the bridge together with a parade of unsuspecting people walking across. It’s absurd, weird, sort of disturbing and a bizarrely funny image, a strange catastrophe in motion. It suits the record. It won Album Cover of the Year in 1974. It deserved it.

Wangaratta Wahine is a fantastic album, wild, carefree, funny, satirical, nostalgic, crazy. It’s perhaps the most unlikely gold record in Australian music history but it is one of the best. I love playing this to people who’ve never heard the band before. The reactions it gets are interesting indeed.

Captain Matchbox reformed a couple of years back for a final bunch of shows. The only original members were the brothers, the rest of the band being made up of members of Mic and Jim’s bands. There were so many shifts in lineup during their initial run anyway that it didn’t really matter and the new version was made up of first rate musicians so it sounded great. I managed to see one of those shows in Leichardt, Sydney. It was a riot of a show. Captain Matchbox were all set to do a show at the Sydney Opera House as the backing band for 60s underground cartoonist Robert Crumb that year but Robert Crumb cancelled because of an Australian media backlash against him (because his art was deemed to be degenerate by the conservative press, it probably is degenerate in its way but it is brilliant too). He decided it was safer not to visit Australia. That’s a pity. It would been a great gig. It would have sounded fantastic.

Kid Thomas – Living New Orleans Jazz 1973 – Smoky Mary Phonograph Company – 1973

Kid Thomas - Living New Orleans Jazz 1973 - Smoky Mary Phonograph Company - 1973

Kid Thomas Valentine was a New Orleans trumpet player. He’s not to be confused with Louis Thomas Watts who was also known as Kid Thomas. Kid Thomas Valentine and his band were pretty cool. There’s a joyfull exhuberance to the music. I love Kid Thomas. On this record he’s also joined by gospel singers Sister Annie Pavageau and Sister Alma Anderson.

I really can’t remember when or where I found this record. One of the cool things about it is that the cover is signed by Kid Thomas himself and by six other people. Some of those other autographs I can’t decipher and the ones I can didn’t play on the record. I’m presuming that they were in a band with Mr Thomas and an audience member bought the record at a gig they were playing at so they all just signed it anyway. One of the signatures reads “Dr. Paul Polo Barnes – jazzologist”. Polo Barnes was a jazz saxophinist and clarinetist who played a lot in the 20s and 30s. He died in 1981. On the subject of death, Kid Thomas passed on in 1987. Not many people make music like this anymore. In many ways jazz has become too highbrow lately. It’s lost the joy and freedom that it used to have.

I know very Little about the Smoky Mary Phonograph Company but I have one other album that was on that label. I think it is one of the coolest names ever for a record label.

I’m glad that I own this. With the old time musicians playing old 1920s style jazz in the 1970s and with their autographs on the cover it feels like a nice slice of history.

Art Pepper – Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section – 1957 – Contemporary

Art Pepper - Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section - 1957 - Contemporary

Reading Art Pepper’s autobiography, Straight Life, I realized that he was one badass, mean, crazy motherf$%&er and not at all in a good way. But the guy made such beautiful sounds and he was articulate. It is difficult to make sense of that. He had a hard and a horrible life. This is a great record he made playing with Miles Davis’ rhythm section. Stunning.

Marianne Faithfull – Strange Weather – 1987 – Island Records

Marianne Faithfull - Strange Weather - 1987 - Island Records

My favourite record to come out of the 1980s. I hated growing up in the 80s. Not much of the music being made then sounded good to my ears. This record, with it’s slow burn smokey dark blues and cabaret, sounded as far from the typical 80s release as possible. It didn’t have the 80s drum sound. It didn’t sound vaccuously upbeat. It had guts. It was a nicely sad album. I didn’t hear it until 1992 though so it didn’t save me from the aural pain I had growing up but it did impress me that this flower grew in such a barren environment. I first heard this when I was having dinner with my friend ├ľzlem at her home in Guildford. Our friend Michael was there too, He wanted us to hear this album. He a cassette in his pocket. We put it on. It was amazing. For me this album and her 1967 album Love in a Mist are Marianne’s best works. Her voice changed so much between those years, from high and sweet to a deeper rasp that it is almost as if they are different people. She has always been a great singer though. The musicians on this record are a high point too particularly Bill Frisell with his silvery guitar and Fernando Saunders’ great bass playing.