Seven Nights To Rock
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
When I began this column, the purpose was to encourage readers to seek out great music they might have missed. Before I get too carried away with names, dates, and events, here’s a real-time example of how I write these columns and what often happens in the process.
4:00 p.m., Monday: I Google King Records and begin to realize that anything less than ten thousand words to properly discuss the impact of King Records on music would be pointless. Hmm…
4:27: YouTube: I notice that they have some clips featuring one of my heroes, Moon Mullican. Moon is another completely forgotten artist with a major, major influence on American popular music, in particular, what would become rock ‘n’ roll piano. Before Jerry Lee there was Moon. He wasn’t the only piano player to fuse Swing Blues and Hillbilly, just the best. Mullican also wrote some great tunes, the most famous being “Jambalaya,” which he co-authored with Hank Williams. His style of piano, known as “two-fingered playing,” was characterized by (here you go, music theorists) ascending pentatonic scales, triplet tremolos, and major 6th runs. Pick up a copy of The Greatest Live Show on Earth by Jerry Lee Lewis, and you’ll find Mullican’s style all over the place, especially on the ballads. Actually, Jerry Lee even does a version of Moon’s signature song “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” and intros it as a song by “One of my all time favorites, the great Moon Mullican.”
Aubrey “Moon” Mullican came from Corrigan, Texas. His story reads like it was scripted by a music writer.
Grows up in a religious family, dad buys a pump organ for the daughters to play hymns on, younger brother becomes fascinated with it, learns to play a few licks. Plays a local beer joint, makes a whole bunch of money in tips, and decides that playing piano beats the Hell out of working on an oil rig or picking cotton. Runs way at sixteen, comes up in the dives and chicken-wire joints down around Houston. Mullican would later recall: “The only place a piano-playing kid like me could get work wasn’t exactly high class. The ladies of the evening, who worked there, would come and set on the piano bench and fan me as I played.”
His bio on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame site says he was heavily influenced by itinerant black piano players like Buster Pickens. Buster who?
4:35: YouTube: Buster Pickens- “The Ma Grinder No.2.”
Whoa, buckle your seat belt William, this guy was one of those “Sawmill” players. “Sawmill” piano is a primitive, almost completely extinct style of piano, combining elements of Ragtime, Boogie Woogie, Barrelhouse and Lord knows what else. It evolved in backwoods lumber camps around the South and West in the early part of the twentieth century. Any form of artistic expression performed on Saturday nights in Texas, with the sole purpose of keeping a bunch of severely hammered lumberjacks happy, is bound to be a little rough around the edges. Sure enough, Pickens’ words are down and dirty, his playing loaded with what Sunnyland Slim called “trickerations.” (“Trickerations” are little runs, slides, and accents that the old piano players used to use as calling cards. Each of them had their own little flourishes and embellishments to set them apart from the others). All history lessons aside, I can immediately hear his influence on Moon. Further reading yields the following info, written in the sixties, by noted blues authority Paul Oliver: “Buster Pickens is a barrelhouse pianist who has played the sawmills, the turpentine camps, and the oil ‘boom’ towns since his childhood. He has outlasted most of his contemporaries in their tough and often dangerous life and can lay good claim to be virtually the last of the sawmill pianists.” (Note to self: Call BP – and tell him to send me some PickensMP3 files.)
5:00 – Back to YouTube.
It’s a live version from an old Country-Western TV Show. This is one of my favorite songs. Although slightly politically incorrect (“He sings an Indian boogie to a white man’s song”), it just rocks, complete with a sing-a-long (Hey Oh-Eh-Lee-Nah!) part. Right off the bat, I notice that unlike the record, this live version begins with a straight-ahead Albert Ammons intro and changes the words to “that” line. For the next one minute and forty four seconds, The Moon Man proceeds to lay the smackdown on those helpless eighty-eights… At: 47 he breaks into a solo, not to ruin it by getting too technical, but he does an Amos Milburn walk-down, into an Ammons high run, and then closes out the phrase with his own little “trickeration.” Brilliant, absolutely f-cking brilliant.
Scrolling over to the right, I notice there’s another clip.
“St. Louis Blues?”
Moon Mullican playing “St. Louis Blues” on YouTube.
W.C. Handy meets the King of the Hillbilly Boogie.
The first ten seconds define his talent as an artist. The intro, with New Orleans triplets, breaks out into a left-hand figure I’ve never seen before, he’s playing stride and boogie woogie simultaneously. The “St. Louis Blues” are sung slightly behind the beat in a laconic, world-weary voice that quiets any questions as to the credibility of a middle-aged white guy wearing a camouflaged cowboy hat ( I just report ‘em) singing the blues.” At: 58, he drops it into second and double times the rest of the song. Yeah, daddy!
I notice that there are a few of his other songs listed on the menu as well.
There’s “Rheumatism Boogie,” “Grandpa Stole My Baby,” and, my favorite, “Seven Nights to Rock.”
I click over to “Seven Nights…” It’s the song alright, but there’s no real video to go along with it. Apparently, I’m not the only Moon fan; there are several versions by other artists, among them:
Brian Setzer: Moon Mullican on Adderal. Setzer and Co. drive it harder, but lose some of the feel.
Bruce Springsteen: Huh? Naw, Un huh, no way. (Me talking to myself)
Sure as shi- Sherlock, there it is, the BOSS. He’s hunching his shoulders and playing it with a “Johnny B. Goode” beat.
Still, not too bad.
But by far, my favorite, hands down for the W.T.F. moment:
Seven Nights To Rock – BR5-49 – Rock & Roll en Argentina on YouTube.
Oh Lord, Sweet Jesus, Yes! This is why I do this column.
Apparently, somewhere on the plains of Argentina, there is a secret swing-dancing cult. This shocking video lays bare the truth behind this forbidden sect. It’s a dance party hosted by Rocky D.J. and featuring BR549’s Alt-country rendition of Moon’s tune.
It begins with an unidentified hippie couple staggering through something like the Jitterbug, but then dissolves to Ruben y Elena. Wow! Ruben actually cuts a couple of Shag moves. Next, we have Patricia y Eduardo, and then, my man Nestor DJ y Ester.
Nestor DJ has got the moves. He’s look like a Flamenco dancer doing his bad-ass impression of Joe Tex. It ends with a big smile and tip of the hat from Rocky DJ.
No Mal (Not bad)
Ya know, sometimes progress and technology ain’t all bad.
Chew on this:
I’ve just watched, via a computer, three video clips of a song recorded in 1956, by a country boy from Texas, influenced by black Sawmill players of the thirties.
The song was originally recorded in 1956, on a label (King Records) owned by the son of Jewish immigrants in Cincinnati, Ohio. Almost sixty years later, people all over the world, from a coliseum in New York to a high school gym in Buenos Aires, are still dancin’ to it.
Not bad at all.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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