Songs from under the floorboards #2: The 012, Voodoo Music from Haiti, Dave Dudley & more

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As the endless search for lost classics and obscure gems continues Getintothis’ Rick Leach picks some more of his favourites.

Sometimes you just forget about things.

It could be a book you’ve read, a restaurant you’ve been to, a film you’ve seen or anything. You just forget.

But days, weeks, months or even years later, something will happen-it may be a stray conversation that jogs your memory or some passing yet seemingly tangential reference- and it clicks.

Your memory sort of reboots and dredges up from the past that novel you really enjoyed while you were on holiday or that overpriced meal in that restaurant that was closed down for breaching health and safety regulations. You might even recall that film where Nic Cage ran around in a vest. (Mind you, that doesn’t narrow things down that much.)

You might decide start ferreting around your bookshelves to find that book, now gathering dust and with yellowing pages or clamber around your loft pulling out boxes of DVD’s you know you’re never going to watch again, but you need to track them down, right now. Your life will seem empty if you don’t catch hold of that classic Nic Cage film one more time.

The strange thing is when you do find them- flick through the book again or stick the Cage DVD on-that they’re either a lot better than you remembered or a lot worse. There’s never a middle ground.

And this happens to all of us, old or young, rich or poor.

In fact, this very week it’s transpired that Alice Cooper (rich and old) stumbled across an Andy Warhol silkscreen print in a storage locker that he’d completely forgotten about. This wasn’t an old Penguin Classic or some tatty DVD but an original artwork worth up to $10 million. “Oh yeah, that print by Andy? You know what? I just didn’t remember it!

Well, that’s unlikely to happen to any of us, but I’d guess we forget about music as much, if not more than anything else.

We all listen to so much music that there are bound to be things that fall through the cracks. Songs, tracks, gigs, whole albums and even artists we might forget about.

We might play something for a while, love it for a bit then move onto something else altogether. It seems a bit heartless to be honest, but it sometimes happens. Years later a mate may ask, “You remember that album you went on and on about? That one by…” and you realise not only did you’d try to convince everyone it was the greatest thing since Elvis, but that you’ve put it right to the back of your mind. Not only have you not thought about it but you’ve forgotten all about it. How fickle we can be!

We therefore build our own archive of obscurity. Not everything we fail to remember is obscure in itself. Some of those songs and artists are far from obscure yet it’s ourselves who make them that way to us.

So here we go again, metaphorically rummaging through the dusty bookcases and clambering recklessly up a loft ladder to bring you five more songs that have fallen through the floorboards.

And although there’s no monetary value in them, they’re worth much more than a rolled-up Warhol print.

The 012: Fish From Tahiti

Not the highest quality recording this one.

It’s one track on a compilation E.P. which sold for 60p-which was cheap even then, back in 1980. It was the first record issued on the Fuck Off label and correctly called the Weird Noise E.P.  Weird noise it certainly was-a 33 rpm 7” single with nine tracks in total.

To my eternal regret I never had a copy of it, but due to assiduous taping of the John Peel show over a number of weeks, I managed to collect all the tracks, which I then copied from tape to tape, and twenty or so years later onto a CDR.

Usually such copying made the sound quality degenerate drastically, in the case of the Weird Noise E.P. it didn’t really matter and in fact if anything, it may have improved things somewhat. Fuck Off Records hadn’t invested much money towards the studio process-the whole thing was recorded initially onto a cassette recorder.

They took the punk ethos of  ‘It was easy. It was cheap. Go and do it’ to the logical extreme. Why did you need mega-expensive Gibson or Fender guitars used by the “punks” such as The Clash or the Pistols, who were actually as remote as the bands they (Clash/Pistols) purported to be in opposition to?

Why did you need all that expensive equipment when you could get a cheap organ and guitar from the nearest junk shop?

Why did you need a drum kit when plastic bins, cardboard boxes and tin cans would suffice?

Why did you need to be technically proficient to play an instrument? What was the point of hiring a studio and putting up with hippy engineers when you had a perfectly serviceable cassette recorder at home?

This was the ethos of labels like Fuck Off who sold their cassettes and singles in the back pages of Sounds and NME D.I.Y. corner. If they ever touched lucky then they may have just get a bit of radio play on John Peel’s show, but I don’t suppose that it mattered to them at the time.

The track listing for the “Weird Noise E.P.” looked like this:

Side A

The Door & the Window-The Number One Entertainer

Danny and the Dressmakers-Legalise Vimto

Danny and the Dressmakers-Hey Ho Hey Ho My Cholesterol Level is Low

Instant Automatons-Electronic Music

Danny and the Dressmakers-(Don’t Make Another Bass Guitar) Mr Rickenbacker

 Side B

The 012-Fish From Tahiti

Danny and the Dressmakers-Cathy and Claire

The Sell Outs-The Ballad of Fuck Off Records

Danny and the Dressmakers-The Truth About Unemployment

I think that this track listing gives an indication of what they were all about. I especially like the use of the brackets on the (Don’t Make Another Bass Guitar) Mr Rickenbacker track to give it some sort of rock credence and that the Truth About Unemployment track was only 7 seconds long.

This only goes partly the way to describe The 012 track, which is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

The elements within the track are as follows:

  1. A thrashed guitar pummelled within an inch of its life.
  2. Some sort of percussion.
  3. A daytime radio phone in.
  4. Screamed, intense vocals which comprise largely of ‘you’re just another fish from Tahiti, turn to your lover and say hey sweetie, you’re just another fish from Tahiti’.

It all ends with a news item recorded from Radio 4, I think, about the Chinese planning to spend millions on armaments. There is no coherence to how all these items have been put together, no logical progression or narrative. I thought it was hilarious and fantastic back in 1980. Now in 2017, I now find myself older but no wiser and it is still a brilliant record.

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Dave Dudley: Six Days On The Road

Only in America.

It’s a cliché I know, but it is literally true-only in America could a song about driving called ‘Six Days On the Road’ make any sense. The only time you’d spend six days on the road in the U.K. would be if you were stuck in a traffic jam, and I think it’s possible to drive from one side of Europe to another in considerably less than six days.

Especially if you are in a big rig as Dave Dudley is singing about, and particularly if you keep taking ‘those little white pills and keeping your eyes open wide’– which he refers to more than once. Imagine if such a song was released now, rather than back in 1963, which explicitly referenced taking drugs to stay awake whist driving? I don’t think that it would make it out of the studio door, let alone sell millions of copies and reach number 2 in the charts.

Dave Dudley was born in Spencer, Wisconsin in 1928, and like a lot of country musicians had to choose between baseball and country music. After an arm injury put paid to a promising semi-professional baseball career, country music was his chosen route. A specifically apt phrase, as he became best known for that exclusively American sub-genre of country music, that of truck driving (or should that read truck drivin’?) music.

Nothing, if not prolific, Dudley released over 70 albums between 1963 and 1985. Kate Bush-style tinkering to perfection was not his thing I guess, and these 70 albums are all original music i.e. not compilations or repackaged stuff.

This is the only Dave Dudley song I’ve heard and it’s good stuff. I do know that Mark E Smith from The Fall rates truck driving music. Maybe I should get into it as well.

Possibly not however as the titles of some of Dave’s output give an indication of his political leanings. There’s the albums, There’s A Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere and 1776 as well as the singles, Viet Nam Blues and What We’re Fighting For issued in 1965. (I take it that the latter was a statement of intent rather than a question).

Maybe he redeemed himself somewhat with the albums Truckers Christmas and 20 Great Truck Driver Favorites.

I can imagine that latter one being a big seller in motorway service stations up and down the U.K. In times gone by, it would be as a cassette proudly on display in a wire carousel, although nowadays I suppose it will be on one of those badly not-quite cellophane shrink-wrapped CDs on the Hallmark label, and looking cheaper than any ripped CD that can be picked up in a car boot sale.

It would, in any event, be well worth picking up a copy with a Mars bar for £2.49, and investing in 20 songs that seem appropriate for a dash down the M6. It would be the perfect accompaniment as you pulled out of Charnock Richard Service Station with nothing more than a big chocolate bar and stewed coffee to keep your eyes wide open.

Voodoo Ceremony in Haiti: Olympic LP

First off-just so there is a flavour of what this is all about- here’s the track listing of this record:

Side One

1. Voodoo Drums (5:26)
2. Nibo Rhythms (1:19)
3. Prayer to Shango (1:56)
4. Petro Rhythms (0:47)
5. Nago Rhythms (2:40)

Side Two

1. Invocation to Papa Legba (5:59)
2. Dahomey Rhythms “The Paul’L” – Maize Rhythm – Diouba Rhythm “Cousin Zaca” (6:06)

It doesn’t really help much. Maybe the titles of the tracks should assist-but as I have no idea who Papa Legba is or who or what a Shango is, I’m stumped.

It does give an indication, a feeling. You get a sense that it was recorded in a slightly threatening atmosphere. Maybe it’s just my imagination and I’m falling into a stereotypical cultural trap, but there’s a definite impression of chickens being slaughtered, bones being rattled and shrunken skulls used for percussion. I’m sure that there are goats in the mix as well. It’s a generally disquieting record and leaves a sense of unease.

It’s one of the few compilation albums I have where I’ve no idea who the artists are. What else do I know about this record? It was recorded in Haiti, sometime before 1974, on less than sparkling equipment.

Like many of these types of recordings, it wasn’t made in a studio, but is termed as a field recording. I don’t think it was made in gentle rolling green hills though, but in the backstreets of Port-Au-Prince, probably in the middle of the night. (The back of the sleeve states “Recorded on location”).

I’ve a feeling that it was recorded by some bloke cowering behind a wall, holding a microphone and crapping himself. It sounds as if the tracks are being played a fair old distance away, and every so often you can hear a woman’s voice, speaking French and sounding very scary. No wonder the album is relatively short-I’ll bet that he hightailed it out of there as soon as he could.

The album was released in 1974 on Olympic, which was a French record label, and although it’s now probably available as mp3’s, this was ripped from the original album, as the references to side one and side two attest. (There only seems to be one clip of it on the You Tube which is bad news. But in good news, it’s the whole album, so you can get a feel of it all.)

I did think that this was the only record I have of actual voodoo music. It is the only one on my iPod, but somewhere in the house I do have a compilation of field recordings made by Alan Lomax in the 50’s, which has a whole CD of voodoo music from Haiti. I think I’ve only listened to it once and I remember it being even scarier than this record.

I’d like to have a massive sound system in my little car. The next time some scally stops next to me at the traffic lights in his Subaru blasting out some generic r & b, I’d slap on this album, turn the volume as high as it would go, and put the fear of God into him.

Unless of course, I was driving round Port-Au Prince, where this stuff is probably the equivalent of listening to Songs of Praise.

 The Death of the Tape: the end of a remarkable medium

The Masterdon Committee: Get Off My Tip!

Recorded from a John Peel programme in 1986 and transferred from tape to tape, cdr to hard drive and ending up on numerous mix tapes and cds over the years, this truly is a magnificent record.

For ages I couldn’t find anything about this record or who recorded it, apart from what John Peel said when he played it, ‘produced by Duke Bootee and edited by the Latin Rascals. Magic!’

But that was enough for me. It was only when shuffling upon it at random on my iPod that I once again looked on Google.

I’ve done this a lot of times since I had internet access as it’s such a great track and I wanted to know more, or anything, about the record. Every time, either using Google or Wikipedia, I’d always come up with a blank.

Maybe they were just so obscure that there was nothing on the internet about them. Maybe Peel had got the name wrong. (Not unheard of). Maybe they were an offshoot of a more successful or more well-known group.

Every time I searched for them all I got were references to prehistoric elephants or mammoths or the heavy metal band. I finally twigged that I’d been spelling their name wrong and it should have been Masterdon (i.e. Godfather-ish) rather than Mastadon (i.e. Jurassic Park-ish). I couldn’t believe that I’d been getting it wrong for so long and I’d never realised.

There isn’t however, much about them anyway on the net. A few clips on YouTube-but only of stills of 12” singles with the audio of this single and another one called Funk Box. There’s little else, but I don’t really want to go searching for much more.

I’m sure that more than a few people know all about the Masterdon Committee, their role in rap and what they ended up doing. Maybe I could scour the net in the name of research; maybe I should.

However, I don’t want to see photos of a bunch of badly-dressed 80’s rappers, wearing multi-coloured shell-suits and looking like extras from Do The Right Thing or Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I don’t want to know any more about the Masterdon Committee and I don’t think I need to. I’d much rather just have the memory of this great, great record.

What it has got is the most angry-sounding, righteously pissed off, female rapping on any record I’ve ever heard, thanks to one Pebblee Poo. In fact, not only is she the angriest sounding female rapper, she’s the angriest vocalist ever. So much so that that she makes Crass sound like Johnny Mathis.

I’m not exaggerating one iota-she really is that annoyed; and that what makes this such a fantastic song. It stands above most of the other rap music of that time thanks to these vocals. While some of the other stuff of the time that was so fresh and highly rated now seems quaintly old fashioned-Schoolly D, Grandmaster Flash, KRS-1 et al-this one track still retains that edge that their records have lost over time. Nothing has evaporated from this record like theirs have.

If anything, the years that have passed have caused it to become stronger and deeper, like a rare malt whisky. I have no idea who Pebblee Poo was or is, but I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.

 King Solomon Hill: Times Has Done Got Hard

This is possibly the only artist ever who’s completely named after a church. King Solomon Hill was the professional name of one Joe Holmes; born in Yellow Pines, McComb, Mississippi in 1897, he took his name after the local church, King Solomon Hill Baptist Church.

Of all the now very old blues songs you can hear King Solomon Hill’s is the most other-worldly, ghost-like and above all, just plain strange. The lyrics, which are sung in a keening falsetto, are wholly indecipherable.

There’s just no way at all that you can tell what exactly he is singing about and it’s so mumbled that you can only make a slight guess as to it all.

However, it’s chilling to the bone; merely from the title of the song itself and with odd dispassion and weariness of his voice, Hill evokes something from another world. It’s not only from another time and place, but because the record sounds so old and different, there’s something more than that, something that’s intangibly and frustratingly just out of reach.

The sheer sense of eeriness is added to by the echoing bottleneck guitar throughout the song and I have a strange feeling that if I was asked to guess how long the song actually lasts for I wouldn’t have a clue. Is it two minutes long or ten minutes?

At times – and I’ve played it over and over again (it’s on repeat as I write), it seems to be over in a flash, but sometimes it seems to be playing forever. There’s a kind of internal loop within the song and the song itself is doing odd things with time.

Maybe it’s the voice, the guitar or the actual structure of the song, which seems to have no beginning, middle or end. There’s no overall narrative flow as it just starts from nowhere and it finishes just as abruptly. I suppose that a lot of this could be created by the fact that I can’t tell what he’s singing about, but I’ve more than a few records sung in a language other than English and none of them make me feel like this.

I’m not being too over dramatic by saying that this track does send a shiver down my spine, gives me goose bumps and makes the hairs on my neck stand up. All of those well-worn phrases can be demonstrated by this song.

If there were ever any doubts about the possible physiological effects of music then all that would be needed to be done would be to give Times Done Got Hard a quick spin. This would be difficult however, as there is only one known copy of the original recording of this track to be in existence. All other copies-either on compilations, or floating around on the internet, are from the b-side of this 78 on Paramount, recorded back in 1932.

King Solomon Hill only ever recorded eight tracks and all in one session. The other seven are all as odd and as great as this one. He disappeared into obscurity shortly making this record, returning to the streets and a life of heavy drinking, dying of a brain haemorrhage sometime in 1940.

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