Tuesday, December 29, 2015

TDATS #128: Sweet Home Birmingham, Alabama

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Many thanks to Garagehangover.com
We all know Birmingham UK was a hotbed for hard rock and heavy metal, with the likes of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, so the obvious question (to me at least hehe) is, what about Birmingham, Alabama, USA? As a bit of fun, this has unearthed some cool records and here's the best selection I could come up with!

Alabama, along with all the south-east states, is deeply involved in the history of Southern rock and American rock. Although the city of Birmingham itself didn't throw up any internationally-famous bands, it had a thriving music scene. Formative bands in the '50s and '60s were garage bands like The Ramrods and The Vikings. Two are included here with a pair of great covers by The Outer Mongolian Herd and The Distortions. Also included are names like Hardrock GunterJerry Yester and Vic Upshaw, who were born in Birmingham but had further-reaching careers; Vic made singles in France for instance.

01. Crimson Tide - Turning Back (1978)
       from album 'Crimson Tide'
02. Sam Lay - Maggie's Farm (1968)
       from album 'Sam Lay in Bluesland'
03. Hardrock Gunter - I'll Give 'Em Rhythm (1955)
04. The Outer Mongolian Herd - Hey Joe (1968)
       from comp 'Psychedelic States - Alabama Vol. 2'
05. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester - Snowblind (1969)
       'from album Farewell Aldebaran'
06. Vic Upshaw - Popcorn Crazy (1969)
       from EP "Dance the Popcorn"
07. Smith Perkins Smith - Save Me (1972)
       from album 'Smith Perkins Smith'
08. The Distortions - Smokestack Lightning (1966)
       from comp 'Psychedelic States - Alabama Vol. 2'
09. Backwater - Pair O' Dice (1976)
       from album 'Backwater'
10. Hotel - City Lights (1979)
       from album 'Hotel'

Crimson Tide

Crimson Tide self-titled LP 1978
We kick off with a killer track from Crimson Tide. Although their 1978 self-titled debut had a couple of harder cuts on it, and "Turning Back" is one of those, their second LP, "Reckless Love", is the most consistent. The kingpin of the outfit was guitarist Wayne Perkins (wiki), who started out as a session player in his teens, and in '60s Birmingham bands like The Vikings. After working in the famous Muscle Shoals scene, and a stint working in the UK in Smith Perkins & Smith, who made a record in 1972, he wound-up back home in The Alabama Power Band (originally started by his brother Dale, who was the drummer). They had changed name to "Crimson Tide" by the time of signing with Capitol.

The playing is impeccable through-out with nice slide guitar, but the band didn't last long after their second record. Wayne's session career continued as before, he made his first solo record in '95 and throughout his career has played for everyone from Don Nix to Bob Marley.

It's not too easy finding the whereabouts of the remaining guys, but keys-man Richard "Wolfie" Wolf is a Los Angeles-based music producer, remixer and composer, with numerous film, television credits too.

Alabama Record Collectors Association - "Wayne Perkins, through the help of drummer Jasper Guarino, became a session guitarist at a studio in Muscle Shoals owned by Quin Ivy at $100 a week. He later formed a band, Smith, Perkins and Smith for a very short time. He then was a member of several different bands, including the Gap Band. Wayne was even considered at one time to join the Rolling Stones, but was decided against because he wasn’t British, but did play on one of their albums in 1974.

Crimson Tide - Wayne Perkins center
One day Wayne Perkins went to hear his brother Dale's band, Alabama Power. "They had a great band and no songs," he says. "They had the vehicle and I had the gasoline. I had the connections in Hollywood after all these years." Perkins says that lawyers for the Alabama Power Company were not pleased with the band's name, so the group changed it to Crimson Tide. "I much preferred the name Alabama Power to Crimson Tide because that's sacrilege, to me. Crimson Tide is a great name but [the University of Alabama] was already using it." Crimson Tide released two albums on Capitol Records, the self-titled Crimson Tide in 1978 which provided the single “Love Stop,” and Reckless Love in 1979 and a single of the same name, the latter produced by Donald "Duck" Dunn, bassist for Booker T. and the MGs, with the MGs' Steve Cropper contributing guitar parts.

Crimson Tide became the house band at the Crossroads Club in Roebuck for a couple of years in the late '70s, where well-known acts such as Yes, Joe Cocker, or Rick Derringer, if they had performed elsewhere in town that day, often showed up to sit in. "That's one thing about the Crossroads Club. You never knew who would show up," Perkins says. Crimson Tide split up in 1979. Perkins later released a pair of solo CDs, Mendo Hotel in 1995 and Ramblin' Heart in 2005, as well as having his songs included on soundtracks for several films and TV shows. The members of the band were: Dale Perkins, Wayne Perkins, Greg Straub, Bobby Delander and J.J. Jackson. By the second album, Richard Fox, who played keyboards on both albums, was an official member."

Sam Lay

"Sam Lay in Bluesland" LP 1968
Sam Lay (born March 20, 1935, Birmingham, Alabama) is a drummer and vocalist, who has been performing since the 1950s. His drumming can be heard on over 40 recordings for the Chess Records label and 1968's "Sam Lay in Bluesland" was his first solo LP. His career began in 1957, as the drummer for the Original Thunderbirds. In the early 1960s, he began recording and performing with prominent blues musicians such as Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Eddie Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Bo Diddley, Magic Sam, Jimmy Rogers, Earl Hooker, and Muddy Waters

In the mid 1960s he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and recorded and toured extensively with them. Lay also recorded with Bob Dylan, most notably on the Highway 61 Revisited album. He drummed on the "Highway 61" track, so I guess he's more than qualified to do the great cover of  "Maggie's Farm" included here! Sam was featured in 'History of the Blues', produced by Martin Scorsese, and was inducted into the 2015 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Hardrock Gunter

Now to what is by far the earliest track I have ever included in these collections. Sidney Louie Gunter Jr. (b.27 February 1925), known as Hardrock Gunter, was a guitarist and performer who was there right at the formative stages of rock and roll and rockabilly at the turn of the '50s. His first teenage group was the Hoot Owl Ramblers. In 1939 he joined Happy Wilson's Golden River Boys and acquired his nickname "Hardrock" when a van trunk lid fell on him before a show and he never flinched. After wartime service he returned to work with the group, before leaving to become their agent and starting to appear on local TV.

As a popular local personality, he signed to Birmingham's Bama label. He recorded his own song "Birmingham Bounce" in early 1950 (youtube), the Golden River Boys being renamed the Pebbles on the record. A regional hit which produced over 20 cover versions, the most successful being by Red Foley, who reached no.1 with it on the Billboard country chart, and no.14 on the pop chart. Gunter's original version has become regarded as a contender for the first rock and roll record. It predates "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (who were actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm) by a year. Gunter followed up with "Gonna Dance All Night", one of the first records to feature the actual words "rock'n'roll". Gunter signed to Decca, and his 1951 duet with Roberta Lee, "Sixty Minute Man," was one of the first country records to cross over to R&B audiences.

In 1953 he began working at a radio station, and also remade "Gonna Dance All Night" and recorded "Jukebox Help Me Find My Baby", both of which were issued by Sun Records and became regional hits. In 1958 he was one of the first musicians to use both echo and overdub on his recording of "Boppin' to Grandfather's Clock", released under the name Sidney Jo Lewis. He continued to record with limited success, and in the 1960s left the music business. He retired to Rio Rancho, New Mexico. In 1995 he began to perform again at festivals in England, Germany and the United States. He died aged 88 in 2013.

The Outer Mongolian Herd

This is a Birmingham band band I found by checking out 'Psychedelic States - Alabama Vol. 2' from Gear Fab Records (link). It's a great version of Hey Joe, but they certainly put their own garage twist on it. Here's what's written about it: "Hey Joe, The Outer Mongolian Herd (Bill Roberts), Third Story Music, BMI, 2:09 - Released on the Daisy (4847) label in Jan 1968 and b/w "I Wan't To Love You (Scared)". A mystery crew that recorded for a Birmingham-based label, these guys laid down one of the finer versions of "Hey Joe", a garage band staple that never sounds tired or dated." [Mike Markesich]

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester

Farewell Aldebaran LP front
This great track is here because Jerry Yester was Birmingham-born. Judy Henske & Jerry met while working in the West Coast folk scene in the early 1960s, Henske as an uncategorizable solo singer recording folk, blues, jazz and comedy, Yester as a member of the Modern Folk Quartet. They married in 1963. A few years later Henske's career was faltering as a result of ill-advised forays into cabaret while Yester had produced albums by Tim Buckley and The Association, and replaced Zal Yanovsky in The Lovin' Spoonful.

Judy Henske
The pair, with their new-born daughter, moved to Los Angeles in 1968. Henske shared a manager, Herb Cohen, with Frank Zappa, who suggested to her that she should put music to some of the verse she was writing. Yester, at this point, was working with Yanovsky on the latter's first solo album, and experimenting with new electronic and other sound effects. The couple combined to put together the Farewell Aldebaran LP, drawing on a varied selection of their musician friends, and it was issued on Zappa and Cohen's new label.

Farewell Aldebaran LP back
In the UK, the album was broadcast by John Peel who played Three Ravens on more than one occasion on Radio One. Henske and Yester went on to form a more conventional band, Rosebud, before they went their separate ways at the start of the 1970s. The album was reissued on CD by bootleg label Radioactive Records in 2005 (link).

Vic Upshaw

Vic Upshaw - Dance The Popcorn
Time for a funny novelty single which grooves and funks along in an addictive way. It seems that Vic was a dancer first before a musician, and his handful of records were related to dance moves and instruction. It would seem he was attempting to plug a dance called 'the popcorn' with this single! The most information I have found so far is unfortunately from his obituary. An American choreographer who brought modern jazz styles to France in the mid-1960's, he died on Nov. 5 1990. He was 50 years old. A spokeswoman for a dance society with which he worked said he died of a stomach disorder. Born in Birmingham, AL in 1940, Mr. Upshaw played minor roles in the 1958 film version of "South Pacific" and in the Judy Garland version of "A Star Is Born" before moving to France in 1964.

Mr. Upshaw designed dance routines for the Lido cabaret. His own dance group, the Vic Upshaw Six, was a staple for years on French television variety shows. He taught steps to some of France's best-known show-business personalities, including Catherine Deneuve, Sylvie Vartan, Pierre Mondy and Jean-Claude Brialy.

Smith Perkins Smith

As previously mentioned with Crimson Tide, the "Perkins" part of this trio was Wayne Perkins from Birmingham. The "Smiths" are American brothers Steve and Tim Smith. Steve Smith had played on southern soul tracks recorded by the likes of Sam & Dave, the Staples Singers and Wilson Pickett at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Birmingham, Alabama. Arthur Alexander and Ben Atkins (the first white singer signed to Stax) had recorded songs written by the Smith brothers.

The album is mellow country rock affair, mostly acoustic, but there's a couple of electric tracks and "Save Me" is my pick here. Indeed, it was tapped for a single by Island. Smith Perkins Smith started a second album while residing in the UK, which wasn't released. Wayne Perkins had other distractions, including being asked by Island to add rock guitar to a reggae band they were trying to break. His solos on Concrete Jungle and Stir It Up helped Catch a Fire do just that for Bob Marley.

Smith Perkins Smith
Steve Smith was asked to produce Robert Palmer's solo debut. They'd met at Leicester University when Smith Perkins Smith supported Vinegar Joe – in which Palmer shared vocals with Elkie Brooks – but the production offer came out of the blue. His masterstroke of matching Palmer with Lowell George and the Meters for Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley, the album that out-funked Little Feat, confirmed his talents behind the mixing desk. Tim Smith too went into production and arranging, working with Lynyrd Skynyrd among others.

The Distortions

The Distortions - picture found at Garagehangover.com
Here's another track I have 'borrowed' from 'Psychedelic States - Alabama Vol. 2' (Gear Fab Records - link). Here's what it has to say - "Smokestack Lightning - The Distortions. (C. Burnett), ARC Music, BMI. Released on the SEA (102) label in April 1966 and b/w "Hot Cha". The band came from Birmingham and along with the Rockin' Rebellions, The Distortions were the city's top teen crowd-pleasers.

Their first three singles were issued on the SEA label. "Smokestack Lightning" was also issued on the Malcolm Z. Dirge label in August 1966 as the b-side to "Behind My Wall", an original tune and the band's biggest seller in Montgomery and Birmingham. This prompted several record label scouts to present signing offers to the group, with the Mercury label winning out. Mercury placed "Behind My Wall" on their Smash label subsidiary a couple of months later. The Distortions continued to perform well into the late sixties, releasing singles on Malcolm Z. Dirge and the Casino label from New Orleans in 1967 and Capitol in 1968, but all pale in the throes of "Smokestack Lightning". [Mike Markesich]

There's an account of The Distortions over at Garagehangover.com (here) which shows the band's changed appearance and outlook into the early seventies, including a couple of '70s tracks showing a decidedly more slick, funky approach.


Nearing the end, here's a change in tack with some live jazz rock. Backwater made two private press records. This track is taken from the 1976 self-titled debut, which has one side of studio tracks and another side from a live performance. I have selected "Pair O' Dice" from the live side. Jazz rock is not something i'll use to often on this blog but in this case a cool riff is a cool riff what ever the style! The quartet formed in 1975, playing clubs and working as session musicians in Birmingham. According to their surprisingly inclusive wiki page (link), the record sold quite well locally and saw them get support slots for the likes of B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Emmylou Harris (Harris hailing from Birmingham herself). Backwater released two records on their own amusingly-named label "Bongwater Records", the second is called "North Of The Mason-Dixon And The Heart Of Dixie" and also includes live/studio material.


To close this volume we have a late-'70s AOR band called Hotel. Looking for similar from the Birmingham area, I found only one more band of this ilk, called Telluride, but they are way too soft for TDATS. Much of Hotel's music was very slick and commercial also, but the self-titled first of their two records has a good rocker on it called "City Lights". According to guitarist Tommy Carlton's website (link), he started out in sixties garage band The Swingin' Lampliters, and according to Hotel singer/pianist Marc Phillips' website (link), the band lasted from 1973 to 1982.

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  1. Is anyone else having difficulty opening the file? Most of the comps i downloaded here worked grand but I get an error message for this and a few others.

    1. Tests out OK to me, if you are on Mac try using 7zip to unzip.