Thursday, May 31, 2018

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Night of the Johnstown Flood

One hundred and twenty nine years ago the South Fork Dam near Johnstown, Pennsylvania broke. creating a flood that killed at least 2,200 people.

A little history from

Johnstown is 60 miles east of Pittsburgh in a valley near the Allegheny, Little Conemaugh, and Stony Creek Rivers. It is located on a floodplain that has been subject to frequent disasters. Because of the area’s susceptibility to floods, a dam was built in 1840 on the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles upstream from Johnstown. Nine hundred feet by 72 feet, it was the largest earth dam (made of dirt and rock, rather than steel and concrete) in the United States and it created the largest man-made lake of the time, Lake Conemaugh. The dam was part of an extensive canal system that became obsolete as the railroads replaced the canal as a means of transporting goods. As the canal system fell into disuse, maintenance on the dam was neglected.

In 1889, Johnstown was home to 30,000 people, many of whom worked in the steel industry. On May 31, the residents were unaware of the danger that steady rain over the course of the previous day had caused. A spillway at the dam became clogged with debris that could not be dislodged. An engineer at the dam saw warning signs of an impending disaster and rode a horse to the village of South Fork to warn the residents. However, the telegraph lines were down and the warning did not reach Johnstown. At 3:10 p.m., the dam collapsed, causing a roar that could be heard for miles. All of the water from Lake Conemaugh rushed forward at 40 miles per hour, sweeping away everything in its path.

Floods this devastating frequently end up being the subject of folk songs and even pop songs. The website for the Johnstown Flood Museum lists three such songs that were written not long after the tragedy. These include "That Valley of Tears," composed by William Thomas, "My Last Message" by J.P. Skelly, and Joseph Flynn's "The Johnstown Flood," which possibly is the song Bruce Springsteen refers to in "Highway Patrolman." ("Takin' turns dancin' with Maria as the band played `Night of the Johnstown Flood' ,,,")

I searched but couldn't find any versions of these songs. However, on YouTube I did come across three Johnstown flood songs, all by artists I'd never heard of. But they sound pretty cool, so here they are.

This one by a Nashville group called Chicken Little. (Another chicken song?)

This is by the Rock Creek Jug Band from Chico, California.

And this song, billed as "relaxing blues" is by a New England group called Delta Generators

For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook

(belated) Wacky Wednesday: Tastes Like Chicken

It's still Wednesday, no?

I was at a medical appointment this morning when it occurred to med that I hadn't posted this week's Throwback Thursday. A couple of seconds later I realized I hadn't posted Wacky Wednesday either.

Maybe blame the medication?

Anywho, this week is kind of a sequel to a relative early Wacky Wednesday, in which I posted songs about ducks. Here's some equal time for chickens.

Let's start with the Louis Jordon classic :Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens."


This 1940 Cab Calloway tune has long been one of my favorites

Moving deep into the rock 'n' roll era here's "Psycho Chicken," a spoof of a Talking Heads song by a band called The Fools.

But nobody captured the essence of chickens better than the genius, Ray Stevens.

Throwback Thursday coming soon. Watch this blog!

Thursday, May 24, 2018



One hundred and four years ago this week -- May 22, 1914 -- Herman Poole "Sonny"  Blount was born in Birmingham, Alabama. In the early 30s he began a career in music. Moving to Chicago in 1945, Sonny played piano with R&B shouter Wynonie Harris and jazz greats like Fletcher Henderson and Coleman Hawkins.

By the early 1950s, Sonny transformed into Sun Ra, a visionary emissary from the planet Saturn, sent to earth to preach a cosmic philosophy of peace and love.

Like Sonny Blount, Sun Ra was a great musician. He formed an amazing musical collective called the Arkestra that played with him, in various forms, for the next 40 years.

Here's what The New York Times said about Sun Ra in its 1993 obituary:

Sun Ra was jazz's most theatrical band leader. A performance of his would feature anything from large drum choirs and African-style chants to orchestral be-bop, free expressionism and swing pieces. He had singers, dancers and acrobats and sometimes film and light shows ...

He and his band, usually called the Arkestra, dressed in a funny version 1950s intergalactica, with glittering hats (which, in fact, were spandax tank tops), robes and amulets that signified everything from Egyptology to outer space surrealism. Sun Ra made his performances a mixture of camp, pandemonium, seriousness and musical intelligence.

Below are a couple of lengthy performances by Sun Ra and crew. The first includes two songs from a 1989 appearance on the syndicated Night Music.

And here is part of his set at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival

Finally here's a fun little tune from Sun Ra's Walt Disney tribute album, Second Star to the Right.

R.I.P Saturn man. May Mr. Bluebird always be on your shoulder.

Correction: The earlier version if this post said Sun Ra was born 114 years ago. Actually it's a mere 104 years. Thanks to Facebook friend Russ for pointing it out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

WACKY WEDNESDAY: So Goes the Legend of Bonnie & Clyde

On this day 84 years ago a team of law enforcement officers led by the Bureau of Investigation (back before they were known as the FBI) killed Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Park in an ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

According to the FBI website:

Before dawn on May 23, 1934, a posse composed of police officers from Louisiana and Texas, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, concealed themselves in bushes along the highway near Sailes, Louisiana. In the early daylight, Bonnie and Clyde appeared in an automobile and when they attempted to drive away, the officers opened fire. Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly.

And thus ended the bloody career of the armed and dangerous couple known as Bonnie & Clyde.

At least until they were reborn as Hollywood legends in the 1960s.

Here's what the feds have to say about Bonnie & Clyde's earthly career:

At the time they were killed in 1934, they were believed to have committed 13 murders and several robberies and burglaries. Barrow, for example, was suspected of murdering two police officers at Joplin, Missouri and kidnapping a man and a woman in rural Louisiana. He released them near Waldo, Texas. Numerous sightings followed, linking this pair with bank robberies and automobile thefts. Clyde allegedly murdered a man at Hillsboro, Texas; committed robberies at Lufkin and Dallas, Texas; murdered one sheriff and wounded another at Stringtown, Oklahoma; kidnaped a deputy at Carlsbad, New Mexico; stole an automobile at Victoria, Texas; attempted to murder a deputy at Wharton, Texas; committed murder and robbery at Abilene and Sherman, Texas; committed murder at Dallas, Texas; abducted a sheriff and the chief of police at Wellington, Texas; and committed murder at Joplin and Columbia, Missouri.

But like I said, Bonnie & Clyde staged a spectacular comeback in 1967.

Filmmaker Arthur Penn directed Bonnie & Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. It became a box office smash. There were questions about the movie's historical accuracy and controversy over what some saw as a glamorization of criminals. But soon after it's release, everyone knew who Bonnie and Clyde were.

Besides the movie, several musicians jumped on the Bonnie & Clyde bandwagon in 1967 and 1968. Here are some of them.

Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames had a big hit with "The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde."

Merle Haggard wrote and performed "The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde."

Even Mel Torme couldn't resist. His song is called "A Day in the Life of Bonnie & Clyde."

Meanwhile, French pop star Serge Gainsbourg teamed up with the one and only Brigitte Bardot (!!!) on a song called "Bonnie & Clyde." This tune borrows heavily from the poem Bonnie Parker wrote about her exploits with Barrow.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Here's a musical tribute to one of my favorite actors, the late Dennis Hopper. His 82nd birthday would have been today.

Hopper was not a musician. But his greatest films were full of unforgettable music. Here are a few of the songs that helped make those movies resonate.

The 1969 hippie odyssey Easy Rider was full of great music from the heyday of the counter culture. While many tunes in the soundtrack had been big hits before Easy Rider, this one, by a group called The Fraternity of Man, became well-known because of the movie.

This tune by ex-Byrd Gene Clark was the theme song of a 1971 documentary about Dennis Hopper.

Hopper directed a 1988 movie called Colors, which dealt with the Los Angeles gang wars. The title song, by Ice T, is an early example of gangsta rap.

For my money, Hopper's greatest role was the evil Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. With the help of lip-syncher Dean Stockwell, Blue Velvet made a perfectly decent Roy Orbison song into something twisted and perverse.

The candy-colored clown returned with a vengeance in this subsequent scene.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WACKY WEDNESDAY: Birthday Salute to Ray Condo

The late Canadian rockabilly Ray Condo, born on this day in 1950, was a natural rocker, mastering that sweet spot where rockabilly intersects with western swing and post-war honky-tonk.

And he also had a humorous edge to his music -- as shown in the title of his album Door to Door Maniac -- which was the title of a 1961 crime movie starring Johnny Cash as a kidnapper. (It was originally released under the name Five Minutes to Live.)

As Condo said in a CBS interview in 2000, "We like to keep a sense of humor about it and kind of keep it on the light side.

Condo was born Ray Tremblay in Quebec. After a stint in a Vancouver punk band called The Secret Vs, the Condo persona didn't emerge until he moved to Montreal in the 1980s. Forming a band called the Hardrock Goners (a play on the name of proto-rockabilly Hardrock Gunter). By the early '90s, Condo moved back to Vancouver, where he started a new group, The Ricochets.

Condo died of a heart attack  in 2004 at the age of 53.

Here are a few samples of Ray Condo's music -- the first two videos being cartoons.

Here is a live video of Ray and boys covering a long-forgotten country novelty song, "I Lost My Gal in the Yukon."

And here's that CBS interview I mentioned earlier.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Yes, There IS a Brand New Big Enchilada Episode


I'm back! I was laid up in the hospital for nearly a month -- and I missed the April episode -- but I'm healing up at home now and chomping at the bit to bring you some crazy rock 'n' roll.

So in the tradition of Big Enchilada 47, which I recorded while recovering from a hip replacement, I give you Music to Heal By 2. (I even borrowed the opening sound collage from that show.) Soak in the sweet healing sounds of The Dirtbombs, Archie & The Bunkers, The Cramps and more.

And remember, The Big Enchilada is officially listed in the iTunes store. So go subscribe, if you haven't already (and gimme a good rating and review if you're so inclined.) Thanks. 


Here's the playlist:

(Background Music: Wipeout by The Eliminators)
Pray for Pills by The Dirtbombs
Fire, Walk With Me by Archie & The Bunkers
End of Nowhere by Trixie & The Trainwrecks
Don't Torment Me by The Masonics
Crazy Pills by Quan & The Chinese Takeouts

(Background Music: Sardonic Recovery by Vinnie Santino)
I Ain't Dead Yet by Mondo Topless
I Bring Home the Bacon by The Dappers
Half Nelson Headlock by The Common Cold
Hospital by Skip Church
Shake That Bat by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
White Wedding by Herman's Hermits

(Background Music:Ya Move Ya Lose by Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band)
Bop Pills by The Cramps
The Ugly Side of the Face by Hang On the Box
Dr. Boogie by Flamin' Groovies
Mystic Waves by San Antonio Kid
St. James Infirmary by Johnny Dowd
(Background Music: General Hospital Theme)

Play it below:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

THROWBACK THURSDAY: I am Normal and I Dig Bert Weedon!

I'd never heard the name "Bert Weedon" until I heard the Bonzo Dog Band's immortal song "We Are Normal" in the late '60s or early '70s. 

It's toward the end of the song, when after  one of the many times they shout, "We are normal and we want our freedom," one of the Bonzos proclaims, "We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon."

I didn't know who he was, but I figured Weedon was some obscure Brit celebrity -- and that it probably wasn't "normal" to dig him

Decades later I stumbled across a used CD compilation of Weedon's music.

And damn if I didn't dig him too.

Weedon was born 98 years ago today in London. He died in 2012, just shy of 92. He started his musical career as a teen in the 1930s. In 1959 he became the first solo guitarist to have a hit in the British charts.

Besides his recordings, Weedon was influental as the author of guitar instruction books like Play in a Day and Play Every Day.

Here are some Weedon songs in honor of his birthday.

In conclusion, The Bonzo Dog Band stands by its original contention.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

WACKY WEDNESDAY: Songs of the Vast Wasteland

On this day 57 years ago, Newton Minow, the nation's new chairman of the federal Communications Commission -- appointed earlier that year by President John F. Kennedy -- gave a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters' convention in which he called commercial television a "vast wasteland."

Though TV still was fairly new back in 1961, that phrase stuck.

Here's what Minow said:

"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
"But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

"You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it."

Pretty strong stuff.

Luckily all the broadcasting heavies in the audience paid heed to Minow's words and immediately set out to make sure television truly lived up to its potential.

Just kidding. They didn't.

I don't know whether the musicians whose work is shown below actually listened to Minow's famous speech, but it's obvious they agree with the sentiment.

Let's start with Frank Zappa, who's 1973 album Over-Night Sensation included this little gem called "I'm the Slime."

I've always liked Bruce Springsteen's take on TV from the early '90s -- although the idea of "57 channels" now seems rather quaint.

The late Gil Scott-Heron lampooned the Wasteland in his first hit "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

Then there was this sardonic ode to the one-eyed God from Black Flag:

But nobody took on TV like the proto-punk wonders Figures of Light. At their debut concert in 1970 at Rutger's University, the band smashed 15 television sets on stage. Unfortunately I couldn't find video, but there is audio of the event.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Whoa! What Happened to April?

As many of you noticed, this blog came to no a screeching halt in early April.

That's because of a sudden medical crisis that kicked my ass and put me in the hospital for nearly a month.

But don't worry, nothing terminal ... and I finally got out of the hospital earlier this week. I won't be going back to work or doing my radio shows for a few weeks but I'm going to try to kickstart this stupid blog.

Let's start by posting belatedly the Terrell's Tune-Up column I wrote right before I went to der krankenhaus and was published at the outset of my stay.

Watch this space!

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
April 6, 2018

Author, filmmaker, journalist, and Memphis native Robert Gordon first discovered the blues as a geeky-looking teenager at a July 4, 1975, Rolling Stones outdoor concert.

Mick Jagger wanted to delay the Stones’ set until after sundown, thinking, mistakenly, that the evening air would be cooler — “and his makeup wouldn’t run,” according to Gordon’s account of the show. So the Stones’ organization went across town to rustle up an eighty-year-old local country bluesman named Furry Lewis to play before the Stones went on.

Lewis started recording in the late 1920s — songs like “Judge Harsh Blues” (“They ’rest me for murder, I ain’t harmed a man/Women hollerin’ murderer, Lord I ain’t raised my hand”) and “Kassie Jones,” an alternative spelling for legendary railroad man Casey Jones.

In the preface to his latest book, Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music’s Hometown (Bloomsbury USA, 2018), Gordon writes that the ancient bluesman’s set was life-changing:

“Furry’s playing was unlike anything I could have anticipated; the still, small, voice after the raging storms. His rhythms were slow, his songs full of space, his notes floated in the air. … There was an immediacy to his art that the Stones’ big production could never match.”

Teenage Gordon not only started seeking out Furry Lewis records — he was determined to get to know the singer himself. Lewis actually performed a lunchtime show at Gordon’s high school. Talking to him after the show, Lewis actually invited the kid to visit — just told him to bring along a pint of bourbon and a raw Wendy’s hamburger.

Gordon writes, “it was harder for me to get a ride to that part of town than it was to buy Furry’s pint of Ten High bourbon.”

But his frequent visits to Lewis’ duplex grew into an obsession, not only with Lewis but the blues in general — and soon, with other types of music and other musicians as well. 

Memphis, as any more-than-casual fan of blues, soul, and rock ’n’ roll knows, is fertile ground for such passions. Just think Sun Records, Stax Records, and Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records, where Al Green released the greatest soul music of the early 1970s.

Gordon published his first book, It Came From Memphis, in 1995. Like Memphis Rent Party, Gordon’s debut was an overview of the city, focusing mostly on lesser-known Memphis characters who helped make the music unique — iconoclast musicians like Jim Dickinson, Alex Chilton, and Tav Falco.

Since then, Gordon has done a couple of books about Elvis Presley, others on Jerry Lee Lewis and Muddy Waters, and one about Stax Records. This one basically is a love letter to Memphis and some of the characters who inhabit Bluff City. The book consists of re-published magazine and newspaper articles, liner notes for albums, and previously unpublished writings.

There’s a chapter on Junior Kimbrough, a Hill Country bluesman, who was at the forefront of the Fat Possum Records explosion in the 1990s. “He was a big man, like a football player, with an air of quiet violence, simmering sexuality, and raucous good times,” Gordon writes. “His eyes were big, like they’d seen things we wouldn’t believe, and though he was welcoming, he also seemed to have a live 220 current running through him. He was Junior Kimbrough.”

Gordon writes about Jerry McGill, a real-life outlaw country singer. McGill, working under a bunch of fake names, was a fugitive of the law while working as Waylon Jennings’ road manager and rhythm guitarist. “Jerry McGill was Memphis’ homegrown Lash LaRue, our own personal outlaw,” Gordon writes. “McGill traded Lash’s black whip for a .44 Magnum but kept the black hat, kited checks, attempted murder, robbed a liquor store and some banks, and stayed on the lam.” Gordon writes that “while he was someone I may not have wanted in my house, by the end he was someone I was glad was in my life.

James Carr
One of the book’s most poignant chapters is the one about James Carr, a soul singer best known for his rendition of “The Dark End of the Street.” He also had a hit with the song “You Got My Mind Messed Up.” There’s more than a little irony there. Carr has a well-documented history of mental illness. Gordon includes part of a 1992 interview in which Carr expounds on his belief that someone had “switched” his body with someone else.

“I felt as helpless hearing this story then as I do reading the transcript now,” Gordon writes. “He needed more help than I could give him … He needed healthcare, dependable doctors, and reliable medications.” Carr died in 2001.

There is even a little investigative reporting here. In a chapter called “Hellhound on the Money Trail” — originally published as a 1991 article in LA Weekly — Gordon dives into why it took years for the heirs of bluesman Robert Johnson to see any royalties from a Johnson boxed set. Basically, it was a battle of two hucksters, each claiming to represent different Johnson descendants.

“In 1998, seven years after this piece was published, Mississippi courts determined that Robert Johnson’s heir was Claud Johnson, a son not born of Johnson’s wives. Claud was in his seventies and working as a gravel-truck driver in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. His wife ran a BBQ stand. ... When he moved to a nicer house, he kept his gravel truck, a reminder of his life’s hard work.”

In addition to the book, there also is a “soundtrack” album with songs by Furry Lewis, Junior Kimbrough, Charlie Feathers, Jerry McGill, Jim Dickinson, Alex Chilton, and others. It’s worth it if only for Dickinson’s crazy “I’d Love to Be a Hippie” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ wild, rocking “Harbor Lights.”  


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