Talkin’ That Talk
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about. Sometimes he writes about other things.
Back in 1971, we blues fans were small in number.
I worked at Glen’s Music in Rockville, Maryland, with a lot of cool people.
My favorite was Dave Pierce. He was a real sarcastic guy who also became my first blues buddy.
We used to sit in his apartment drinking Silver Satin (Hoy, Hoy!) wine and listen to Muddy and Chuck Berry.
When I asked him who his all-time fave guitarist was, he began telling me about a show he used to watch late night on Channel 11 (the station that featured negro programming) from Baltimore. He claimed that it featured some guy named “Gatemouth,” who could actually make the guitar talk.
Figuring it was the primitive hallucinogenic effect of the Solver Stain, I didn’t push it.
Years later the show turned up in someone’s vaults. Its name was The Beattt, a mid ‘60’s dance show from Nashville hosted by legendary R&B disc jockey Bill “Hossman” Allen of WLAC radio.
The guitarist in question was Gatemouth Brown.
Last night, first at Dr. Joel’s crib, and then later at The Wirtz Compound, I spent the better part of the early morning hours having my wig fried, dyed, and laid to the side, by a whole bunch of totally Gonzo Catgut Talkers, most of them not from Chicago, but around Houston, Texas.
If Chicago is the “home“ of the Blues, then Houston would be its “All-You-Can-Eat Buffett.”
The town that would one day be known as the birthplace of John Bradshaw, Dr. Phil, and a host of other Codependent Cowboys still thrived on booze and betrayal in the mid 1950s. It rocked all day and night to the gospel-tinged erotic pleas of old black railroad piano players, Dixie Peach-conked gospel quartets, and bipolar hillbillies fueled by Mexican cough syrup and “diet supplements.” They made dozens of almost-hits for record labels owned or inherited by small-time pornographers and minor league gangsters.
Much of what was then considered “blues” in the black community during the early 1960s owed as much to Count Basie as it did to Robert Johnson, and often sounded closer to Ernest Tubb than Robert Johnson. When you said “blues” to the black community, it meant Junior Parker and Bobby Bland…
It also meant good, steady work for the musicians that played with them.
These next few cuts feature some amazing music that, frankly, even after forty years, I was virtually unaware of.
This “talking” style of guitar uses licks and runs I recognize from Check Berry, Keith Richards, and, especially, Alvin Lee.
“Okie Dokie Stomp”
This is the great blues guitar song of all time.
It’s Frank Zappa’s favorite, the one that turned his head around.
Swings like a Tea Party politician up for re-election.
The horns blow right on the edge of hysteria.
Gate was the slick-down, bad mother, shut-your-mouth player in those days.
“Strollin With Nolen”
Jimmy Nolen was a serious mothafuckin’ guitar player! That’s him standing behind James Brown at The TAMI Show. [see Blues Bytes column of 11.02.12] He’s the one that came up with that funky chord in “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
What a Tone!!
He sounds like a really pissed-off Chuck Berry whose just been told to turn down for the fifth time by some brain-dead club owner.
Apparently “Strollin’” was a fave in the strip clubs, and on Border Radio.
“Johnny’s House Party”
Beats me, I’ve never heard of this guy either.
However, Heartsman and the boys have obviously paid off a few speeding tickets with gigs in Tijuana.
Sounds like a medley of the hits they’d play behind Ouchy Wa Wa, the midget stripper that came onstage in a giant neon taco shell.
Or something pretty similar.
“The Big Push”
Before Elvis, guitar players, especially in R&B, were rare.
Hank Ballard changed all that, replacing the screaming tenor with the biting Telecaster.
You want it down and dirty??
This is X-rated guitar.
Actually this is an instrumental combining the melody of “Lucille” and “Work with Me, Annie.”
A prime example of (in the words of the white segregationists) “Filthy, suggestive Negro music” at its best/worst.
A fucking masterpiece, as is the next one:
Wild Jimmy Spruill
Go dig out your original copy of “Kansas City” by Wilburt Harrison. That insane guitar solo is played by Wild Jimmy Spruill, the pride of Little Washington, North Carolina.
Each note rings out with attitude and command.
A solid “ten” on the “dirty” scale.
And then there’s this charming number, that literally stings your ears. Once again, he makes that instrument laugh, cry, talk, and mainly groan.
Great musical surprises and rhythm patterns.
In the liner notes Turner attributes his “talking” style to his use of the whammy bar. Apparently, he thought that it was like a pick, to be used on every stroke.
Oh Lord, what a cool sound! And it just gets more interesting every verse, with wolf whistles in the background
I swear this guy sounds like Alvin Lee or vice versa. Everyone always compares Lee to Django, but for my money, this is the guy. How weird to be writing this on the day that Alvin leaves to join Green for the eternal jam session. This is the fastest solo I’ve ever heard, it makes “Going Home” sound like “Goodnight Irene.”
And now really finally:
Nashville’s resident blues master in the early Sixties.
Jones is often acknowledged as the single greatest influence on a young Jimmy Jones, who would later change his last name to Hendrix.
The above selections can be found on Plug It In Volume Two CD Number Three from Bear Family Records’ awesome mulit-box boxed set of electric blues. [See column of 2.22.13]
This is some amazing guitar playing. Very, very cool stuff.
The music is so high energy, it wears me out just listening to it.
Usually I’m not all that big a fan of guitar, but quite frankly Spruill, Turner, and the Green Bros actually leave me with a touch of Pianist Envy.
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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