Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Old Curiosity Shop Blues Blast for 2021


Bobby Boy has found some more “oldies but goodies” in the record racks and CD stacks in the Old Curiosity Shop.


 Back in 1955 my father had a special assignment during the Christmas rush at the San Marino Post Office: He was upgraded to supervisor of the temporary night crew (his normal job was senior clerk). One of the other employees had installed a sound system, which was usually tuned to an elevator music station on the FM band. Pappy didn't think this was the right stuff for a night shift, "That damn fiddle-squeakin' music will put you to sleep!" He found that the AM band had swingin' rhythm and blues presented by the now legendary Huggie Boy (Dick Hugg), whose boast during the midnight to 4 a.m. program was "Nobody sleeps while this show's on!!" This was when Little Richard, Chuck Berry and many other artists were laying the foundation for the Rock Era.


I was in high school, and Huggie Boy soon provided the soundtrack for late-night studying. I also learned about the "Johnny Otis Show" and Hunter Hancock's "Harlematinee." (This was about the same time that folks back east were tuning in to Alan Freed). I took to hanging around the local music store, where I became what would now be called a "resource person." The owners of the store were more into the big band era, with some interest in Latin American dance music (mambo, cha-cha-cha, etc.) and I would help them identify some of the R&B and rock 'n roll that the teenagers were asking for. In 1957 they offered me a job as part-time sales clerk at $1 an hour plus a discount on record purchases.


In those days we still sold a few of the 78 RPM platters, but most of the business was 45RPM singles for the teenagers and 12" LPs for the adults. Quite a number of the rarer numbers in my collection were bought when they decided to close out the 78s; of course most of them are now on CDs-- something that would have been science fiction when transistor radios were just becoming popular.


As the years have gone by, my record collecting has gone in fits and starts-- sometimes an active quest, other times taking a back seat to my other great interest, railroading. Of course there are quite a few blues songs with trains as an essential element: "Mean Ol' Frisco Blues," "She Caught the Katy" and "Midnight Special."


One morning I was driving along Folsom Blvd. in Sacramento, when the country music station came on with "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash. On a later trip to Northern California, I was driving through the Sacramento River delta just at sunset, when my car tape sequenced into "St. Louis Blues"-- the 1924 version by Bessie Smith ("I hate to see--- that evening sun go down----"). To borrow a line from the late Lowell Fulson, "The blues is my companion, every night, every day.


1.     Mournful Serenade by Jelly Roll Morton.  Back when I was given an old AM/FM radio, one of the shows I listened to played old blues records.  I’ve forgotten whether it was a college station or KMET, but this was their opening theme.


2.     I Believe by Elmore James:  One of my all-time favorite blues recordings, one of those “wish I could have been there” sessions.   


3.     Every Day I Have the Blues by Fleetwood Mac: Elmore James was one of the inspirations for the original Fleetwood Mac, it was almost like Jeremy Spencer was channeling him with his slide guitar.  This song goes back to the 1930s and has been recorded by many artists.  What makes this track special is that although Mr. James had passed in 1964, when Fleetwood Mac was in Chicago in 1969, they found J. T. Brown, who played tenor sax on “I Believe” and got him to sit in.


4.     My Girlfriend Blues by Terraplane Special.  A local band that gets its name from a Robert Johnson song recorded in the 1930s.  Terraplane was a low priced model of Hudson that replaced the Essex in the Hudson lineup.  I discovered the band when they appeared at one of Terry Okey’s Second Sundays shows at Adams Pack Station in Southern California.


5.     Silver Train by the Rolling Stones: “Goats Head Soup” is a weird name for an album, but it’s where you’ll find this throwback to the early days of the Stones with slide guitar and boogie bass.


6.     Tin Pan Alley by Jimmy Wilson: From Robert Geddins’ Big Town Records in Oakland, some heavy blues.  We could do a segue to “Hastings Street,” “Lonely Avenue” and “Key to the Highway.”


7.     Meet Me with Your Black Dress On by Jimmy T-99 Nelson:  I was reminded of this song some years ago when Jenn “Funkyjenn” Gibbons was one of the guest performers with Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band shows.  She was wearing a slinky black dress, and at the break I told her that it reminded me of this song.  She asked, “Who recorded it?” and I said “several artists” to which she replied, “Oh, it’s like a standard” “Yeah, a blues standard.”


8.     Highway 61 Blues by Sampson Pittman.   Alan Lomax recorded this in Detroit back in 1938 as part of a Library of Congress folk music preservation project.  I heard about it when a YouTube algorithm brought it to my attention.  Some wicked guitar playing, probably on a resonator axe.  I’ve been on Highway 61, taking it from Memphis to Clarksdale, Mississippi in 2011.  Later that year we would have encountered the Blues Highway far from the Mississippi Delta on the east side of Iowa during our second cross-country motor home trip.


9.     Reconsider Baby by Elvis Presley.  I just received a compilation CD set of Elvis’ recordings of R&B songs.  Many of his early, and some of his later tracks were from the 1950s and even 40s R&B catalog; indeed his first commercial recording was an old Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup song, “That’s All Right Mama.”  This was written and first recorded by Lowell Fulson, whom we will meet on the next track.


10.     Why Don’t We Do It in the Road by Lowell Fulson.  To some extent the British rockers of the 1960s followed a trail blazed by American blues artists in the 1950s.  Then Lowell Fulson, who wrote “Reconsider Baby” in 1954, returns the favor by covering a Lennon-McCartney number in 1969.


11.     My Baby Left Me by Arthur Crudup.  Another song covered by Elvis, this time in one of his first recording sessions for RCA Victor in 1956.


12.     Bacon Fat by Andre Williams.  This song comes to mind when we’re watching a cooking show on TV and the title subject is mentioned.


13.     Boogie Woogie Country Girl by Joe Turner.  One of Big Joe Turner’s later releases, I used to play it at Friday night dances in the San Luis Obispo Recreational Center on Santa Rosa Street back in 1958.


14.     Calling All Cows by the Blues Rockers.  . .  Back in 1958-59, I was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a school noted for its engineering and agriculture programs, and sometimes called “Cow Poly.”  One of the dorms I lived in was way up on a hillside, near one of the grazing areas.  There seemed to be one cow who was the “spokescow” for the herd, because she was usually “mooing” about something.   There’s a story about two young men from the Los Angeles area who were planning to major in an engineering field, and they had heard good things about Cal Poly.  They made arrangements to discuss their plans with a faculty member, and drove up to the campus.  US 101 can be a real traffic nightmare at times, but this day all the usual trouble spots were OK and they arrived in San Luis quite early.  They went to the instructor’s office, and were told “I have a class right now.  This would be a good time to take a look around the campus.  Then you could come back in an hour or so.”  They started exploring and wound up at a corral where they were puzzled by the animal on the other side of the fence.  One of the Ag majors saw them and said “Howdy!  If you fellers have any questions, maybe I can answer them.”  “Why yes, we do have a question.  How come that cow doesn’t have any horns?”  “Could be any one of several reasons.  Often, we remove the horns when they’re young so they can’t hurt each other if they get into a fight.  Some breeds don’t grow horns— kinda like they’re genetic’ly programmed for  no horns. And sometimes a cow will lose a horn in an accident.  The reason why that cow doesn’t have horns is because it’s a horse.”


15.     I’m a Hog for You by the Coasters.  Takes me back to my days working for the Santa Fe in San Bernardino.  Around midnight a Union Pacific freight train would come through with 8 to 12 carloads of porkers bound for the Farmer John plant in Vernon, California. It also reminds me of “Convoy” by C. W. McCall and the reference to “Pigpen” with his Jimmy (GMC truck) hauling a load of hogs.


16.     Warm Your Heart by the Drifters.  The flip side of “Honey Love,” common practice in the 1950s was to have a jumpin’ side and a dreamy/slow dancing side on R&B records.


17.     Ruby Baby by the Drifters:  One of the many Lieber & Stoller compositions in my collection, more widely known from the cover by Dion in 1963.


18.     TV Mama by Joe Turner with Elmore James.  The Boss of the Blues and the King of the Slide Guitar!  Recorded in Chicago in 1953, back in the days when TV sets were just starting to become common in American household (I don’t think we got one until 1954).  We could do a segue to “TV Is the Thing This Year” by Dinah Washington, then go to “Tele-Vee-Shun” by Stan Freberg.


19.     Baby What You Want Me to Do by Jimmy Reed.  Long before Bob Dylan combined harmonica and guitar played by the same person, Jimmy Reed was making hit records for VeeJay in Chicago.  Covered numerous times, including by Elvis Presley back in the 1960s, when meant it could be included in the last Elvis Birthday Bash in January 2019.  I also saw Tracy Dawn include it in a show a few years ago in Burbank.


20.     I’m Bewildered by Richard Berry.  An R&B classic that I probably first heard on Hunter Hancock’s LA radio show in early 1956.  But it wasn’t until 1981 that I was in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and bought a copy at Val Shively’s treasure trove of old 45s and brought it home on Amtrak as part of the “No Scene Twice Seen Tour.”


21.     WPLJ by the Four Deuces.  I have a copy of this obscure product of Ray Dobard’s Music City label in Berkeley.  It was brought to the attention of a larger group of music fans when Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention recorded a tribute version in 1972.  This abbreviated name for a low-rent district drink was later adopted by a New York radio station for its call letters.


22.     Walkin’ After Midnight by Otis Williams.  Is it country or R&B?  It was Patsy Cline’s first big hit, but it was also recorded for DeLuxe Records by Otis Williams and the Charms a short time later in 1957, reversing the usual order of white artists covering R&B songs (and sometimes rewriting the lyrics to “tone them down”)


23.     Shake Your Moneymaker by Elmore James.  Who would have expected this song title to show up in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess?


24.     Night Beat by The Chanceteers.  A jazz-infused number first released on Chance Records of Chicago in 1951.  I heard the re-release on the Chess label in 1956, probably on Hunter Hancock’s radio show.  A cool number to close out our session.

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