I heard the sad news today about Reg Presley passing. Encouraged by a friend who suggested that “a kind thought almost never falls on stony ground,” I called his wife, Brenda to offer my sympathy and to say a warm hello. I was so glad I did. Hearing her voice was a clear reminder of how special Reg & his wife were together… kind and loving to each other.. with a unique common-man sense of humor.
I met Reg and the boys in New York, maybe a year or so after Wild Thing went to #1 on the U.S. charts. I liked them immediately. There was no rock & roll posing – these were just damned good guys. Every so often our paths would cross again.
Then, about seven or eight years ago Reg & I were in each other’s company on a few occasions. We played Wild Thing on a UK TV show (with Carrie Rodriguez) and then Reg & Brenda showed up at a few of our shows. Each time he’d come with his trusted ocarina in his pocket and gladly join us for a show-stopping version of “that song.” I love those memories.
About Wild Thing
Back in the “Brill Building” 60s, my biggest concern as a writer, was that the artist and producer recording my song would capture the feel or the groove of the song correctly .. that is, like the demo recording that I produced. I’m happy to say that many did. I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. But none captured the feel and the intent of the demo, better than the Troggs recording of Wild Thing, thanks to the true rock & roll spirit of Reg & the boys and Larry Page’s instincts not to overproduce. I remember the first time I heard it .. it killed me!
And Jimi Hendrix felt exactly the same way. I love the story about Jimi jumping out of the shower butt naked when he heard Wild Thing playing on his radio to tell his girlfriend, “That’s the record I was telling you about!!” Thanks to Reg & the boys, Jimi immediately included the song in his shows and his legendary Monterey performance soon followed.
REG – THE SONGWRITER
Aside from his unique – humble but passionate – delivery as a vocalist, it should be remembered that Reg was an important writer in his own right. Sandwiched between and around Wild Thing and another of my songs, Anyway That You Want Me, in the space of a couple of years, he wrote and had hits with some cool, simple little rock & roll heartfelt songs, With A Girl Like You, I Can’t Control Myself and Love Is All Around. Those honest blasts of rock & roll energy were unique in their day. Later on, you could feel similar energy with the Ramones and the Velvet Undergound. Reg & the boys should be remembered as sort of pioneers of that great stuff.
My deep condolences to Brenda, daughter Karen and son Jason – as well as to Jacqueline (Jackie) Ryan and all those from his passionate and wonderful fan club, who saw the beauty in what Reg & the boys did from the very beginning and were their champions for all these years. I’m proud to have known so many of you.
Here’s to Reg .. a talented guy – a humble guy .. a nice guy. It’s wonderful that he came by when he did.
I can remember when and where it was that I first became aware of Levon Helm. In the early 80s, when MTV was just starting out, they would occasionally play clips from concert movies as videos. I was about 12 years old and had been playing drums in a band for about a year. I had also been doing some singing from the kit.
One afternoon, a clip from something called, “The Last Waltz” came on by a group I’d never heard of called The Band. They were playing a song called,”The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
The drummer was playing a black marine pearl Gretsch kit that looked a lot like the ’60 Slingerland kit I had inherited from my dad. He was stationed at stage left more towards the front of the stage, his kit cocked to the side so you could see everything he was doing. There was a vocal mic goose necked directly over his head and he was singing lead with every ounce of his being.
His playing was completely different from all the other drummers I had been hearing and seeing at that time. For starters he had a basic 4 piece kit with just a few cymbals,not one of those huge drum cages with toms and cymbals surrounding him. He held the sticks traditional grip with the left stick in a sideways fashion. I had learned traditional grip from my Dad who was a drummer himself, but many of my drummer friends played “matched grip” as did most of the other drummers I’d been aware of then.
His rhythmic feel was loose and fluid, yet rock solid, deep and funky. His drumming seemed to weave in, out and around the vocal line rather than lock it in with a static “time keeping” groove. His touch was sharp and sophisticated. His sound was low, warm, thuddy, clunky, chunky. Like a gut-bucket, second line, Salvation Army band. There were pauses and big breaths in the music that he accentuated with his bass drum and with press rolls. It totally blew me away and I immediately identified with it. I felt like he was playing the way I wanted to play. For months I walked around thinking the guy I saw was possibly Kris Kristofferson on drums but I didn’t know for sure….
A few months later I was in our backyard raking leaves with the radio on. The local rock station was playing “blocks” from A-Z of the greatest rock bands of all time all weekend. They started the Bs with The Band. I immediately got excited hoping to hear that “Dixie” tune again. Instead,the first tune started with a funky riff between the bass and drums. It was,”Up On Cripple Creek”. The tempo was deep, way back,and the pocket was wide as a river. At the time I considered myself an expert on all of the classic rock bands but this was really like nothing I’d heard before. It was so organic sounding. Real. Unprocessed. It sounded like some guys playing in a room together and the rhythm gave you something to hang your hat on right away. The vocal came in with a soulful southern twang that worked in tandem with the drum beat. They danced around each
other like two prize fighters at the beginning of a championship fight. It hit me like lightning.
If you had told me that day that I’d ever get to meet Levon Helm, let alone play music and share the stage with him, I would have yelled for the neighbors and called the cops. But through his daughter Amy, my bandmate in Ollabelle, we all got to meet him and share many great times together. Musically and otherwise. What I found was that the soulfulness, the realness, the earthiness and that delta swing were ALL who this man really was. The guy you felt like you knew in those songs through that voice and those stories, and that incredible, perfectly placed backbeat was exactly the guy you met, if you were lucky enough to meet him. And if you were so lucky, he went out of his way to make you feel comfortable, included and welcome. He loved people, telling stories and, above all, laughter.
On April 19th, 2012 the music world lost one of its true originals. He was the kind of musician who had no filter between his soul and his hands or voice. He was born and raised at the birthplace of rock n’roll. His lifelong teachers had been the road and the audience. His mission was to make the people dance,smile and feel good. And he seemed always able to tap into that well of light and share it with us all.
Though his passing has caused a tremor of loss through the world of music lovers, his legacy is his music and the joy, tenacity, and celebration of life that it held and conveyed.
“As a child I had imagined, erroneously, that Tin Pan Alley was a physical alley next to the Brill Building. Both were symbols of music publishing in the twentieth century, which is probably why so many people think that my husband Gerry Goffin and I wrote in the Brill Building when we worked as songwriters for Aldon Music. But we didn’t. The Brill Building is at 1619 Broadway. The building that housed Aldon Music was 1650 Broadway.” – Carole King Read Full Article
Nicky Hopkins was certainly a session man, playing piano and keyboards on some of the best tracks and albums of the 60s and 70s. In part due to health problems, Hopkins never joined a band (some say he turned down the opportunity to join Led Zeppelin when they first formed) but you have definitely heard his music. Ray Davies wrote the song “Session Man” for Hopkins and you can find it on one of the Kinks best records.
Nicky Hopkins can be heard on the single version of “Revolution” by the Beatles, great albums by the Who (My Generation, Who’s Next), as well as many tracks with Jeff Beck, Steve Miller and the Move. This is a good list of the many songs that you can hear that feature Hopkins’ outstanding playing.
But Hopkins is rightly best known for his work with the Rolling Stones. He played on some of their best tracks during their best period. Here is one of his first appearances on a Stones record:
You can also hear Hopkins on one of rock’s best ever songs:
And Hopkins is all over the seminal Exile on Main Street album (Ian Stewart also plays keyboards on several Exile tracks but he is a Joe for another day) and his great playing is prominent here:
That’s what Cornell Dupree told an interviewer years ago. But here at Rock and Roll Joe we do read the back of albums and an awful lot of them featured Cornell Dupree’s name next to “guitarist.” He played with the best of the best – Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Paul Simon, Ringo Starr and Miles Davis all featured Dupree on their records.
One of Cornell Dupree’s signature riffs can be heard on Brook Benton’s version of Rainy Night in Georgia – a truly great song.
But Dupree’s best work may have been with Aretha Franklin. He played on some of her biggest studio hits like Spanish Harlem
And Dupree was also part of her touring band (he started out with the King Curtis band) and can be heard on her seminal live recordings like the amazing Live at the Fillmore West.
Cornell Dupree went on to work on his own projects, including a stint with the jazz funk band Stuff in the 1970s.
We had hoped to post about Cornell Dupree sometime in the coming year but we had move it up because he passed away last week at the age of 68. But his music lives on and he will always be a true Rock and Roll Joe.
With dreams of making it big, Baker moved to LA in 1958, hoping to get his songs recorded, secure a recording contract or become a movie star. For several years he struggled with little success in any of these endeavors.
A chance meeting with Ricky Nelson provided the songwriting break he needed.
Nelson decided to record two of Baker’s songs which helped establish him as a songwriter. The two songs Nelson recorded were Lonesome Town which reached #6 on the Billboard charts and I Got A Feeling which reached #11. Ricky Nelson recorded many more Baker Knight songs as did Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Mickey Gilley.
[This was the Academy of Country Music Song of the Year in 1975]
Throughout his life Baker continued to write, record and release his own recordings but found little solo success.
He returned to Birmingham Alabama in 1985 where he unfortunately developed and struggled with some serious health problems. He died in 2005.
Lonesome Town in my opinion is one of the greatest rock n roll ballads ever written. It certainly may be one of the saddest.
Baker has yet to be recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Songwriter Hall of Fame.
“Give the drummer some” grunted James Brown on one of his signature hits, Cold Sweat. That drummer, who was crucial in helping Brown create a whole new genre (funk) in the late 60s, was Clyde Stubblefield – a true Rock and Roll Joe. One of the most influential drummers in rock history, and probably the most-sampled, is largely unknown so Rock and Roll Joe wants to give the drummer some.
Stubblefield was in James Brown’s band for only about 5 years but he played on many iconic hits at a time when Brown was changing the face of rhythm and blues. In addition to Cold Sweat, Stubblefield played on monster hits like Mother Popcorn, Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud and arguably the most famous drum break of all, Funky Drummer.
His rhythms were innovative and have become timeless as hip-hop artists have gone back to the Stubblefield well over and over again. Despite this amazing legacy, Clyde Stubblefield is not a well known name. Read this recent article in the New York Times for an interesting update on Stubblefield’s story. And then put on some of his music and try not to get up and dance.
Richard Bell first came to my attention in 1970 when I heard Janis Joplin singing”Me and Bobby McGee”. The record was released not long after she passed away and I really liked the sound of her singing and I loved the band that was playing and especially the piano player.
Forward to 1984, and I was playing on what some people might call the chitlin circuit in Alabama, Georgia and my home state of Mississippi. I became friends with some musicians in a band called “The Convertibles” based in Atlanta. I noticed on an equipment case the name Valerie Carter who was, and still is, one of my favorite singers and I asked who the case belonged to. The keyboard player said it was his and he had been her band leader. His name was Richard Bell.
Then I heard Richard play and I knew right away I was in the presence of someone very special. We hit it off right away and not long after that first meeting I was at a party at the place Richard was living with some other musicians and I saw a gold record for the album “Pearl” by Janis Joplin. I asked him where he got it and he said he’d played on it. I found out right away that this guy was not only a “sho nuff” bad ass musician but he was also very humble. We became great friends and played a lot together.
A couple of years later I moved to Nashville and tried to get him to do the same thing but I think he’d been wandering a long time and wanted to get back to his hometown of Toronto. We stayed in touch and over the years we still did quite a few sessions and gigs together thanks to our dear friend, the great guitarist, writer, producer Colin Linden. I found out over all those years what an important part Richard played in lots of musical situations that he never really talked about. He played with people like The Band, Ronnie Hawkins, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Cockburn and tons of other folks. he always made everyone feel important. He didn’t care if you were famous or just getting started in the business. He was the best musician I’ve ever known and also one of my dearest friends.
Richard got sick about a couple of years ago and passed away June 15,2007. After he passed, Colin and I were talking and Colin put together a list of the records Richard had played on that he knew about. It looks like it’s over 400 albums. He was an influence not only as a musician but as a person too. It just doesn’t get any better than Richard Bell. He was a real Rock n Roll Joe.
Paul Griffin – session piano player in New York in the ‘60s
I was a huge fan of the soulful blues/ country playing of Nashville’s Floyd Cramer. When I was first getting my songs published in the early 60s, I searched for somebody in New York who could play from the heart like that to play on my demos. Paul was a huge find for me. He had that same sweet touch as Floyd and could play warm R&B sounds with the best of them.
Although we only saw each other at sessions, I considered Paul a true friend. His wife at the time, Valerie (Simpson), sang background vocals on many of my productions. She later became half of the pop/R&B duo Ashford & Simpson. It was a sad day for me when I found out that Paul & Valerie were divorcing (she would marry Nick Ashford).
Another not well known fact – told to me by Rock & Roll Joe, John Platania – Don McLean tried many times to record “American Pie”. He never hooked it until he hired Paul Griffin. For me, the magic of that track is all about PAUL GRIFFIN’S PIANO PLAYING! It’s time this guy got some of the credit he deserves.
At the age of 62, Paul Griffin died of a heart attack at his New York home on June 26, 2000