Thursday, February 14, 2013

Best Local Rock Songs Ever, Part Five [Charlie Rich, Dallas Frazier, Moldy Goldies, Moby Grape]

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Nashville recorded rock 'n' roll in the '60s — the confluence of songwriters, performers and studios could only result in the occasional rock masterpiece. By the end of the decade, rock had decisively taken over, although Nashville remained an unconvinced outpost of another kind of music-making. For this — the fifth installment in our ongoing Best Local Rock Songs Ever series — we present five songs that prove Nashville could rock in the rock era.

Charlie Rich, "Mohair Sam" (The Many New Sides of Charlie Rich)

Listen: Spotify | YouTube

Dallas Frazier wrote "Mohair Sam" for singer Charlie Rich in 1965 — in fact, Frazier penned it in Nashville the night before a Rich recording session in Music City the spring of that year. As Frazier told me in a 2008 interview, "Ray Baker, the guy I was writing for at the time — he owned Blue Crest Music — he came by my house in the late afternoon, and he said, 'Dallas, I was just with Charlie Rich downtown, and he's gonna be recording.' He said, 'I told him you had a smash for him.'"

Frazier worked on "Mohair Sam" late into the night without coming up with anything he liked. Catching a few hours of sleep, he arose at 5 a.m. and began brainstorming the riff that defines "Mohair Sam." As he told me in 2008, "The idea came to me. It was just kind of a riff, and once I got an idea, then I had to frantically work, of course. [Ray] came by my house about 9 that morning, took it to the 10 session, Charlie cut it, and it was a hit."

"Mohair Sam" is an evolutionary step beyond such early clothes-obsessed rock tunes as Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "Pink Pedal Pushers." Rich plays Frazier's early-morning, coffee-cup-on-piano piano riff with utter conviction — as recorded by producer Jerry Kennedy that day in May 1965, the song doesn't even need an instrumental break. Rich's brief flourish more than suffices. "Who is the coolest cat that is what am," Rich asks, and he sounds like he knows the answer: the guy singing the song, of course.

Dallas Frazier, "Home in My Hand" (Tell It Like It Is!)

Listen: YouTube

Dallas Frazier is perhaps best known today as a country songwriter with a vast oeuvre that includes tunes associated with such figures as Merle Haggard, Connie Smith and George Jones. But Frazier began his career as a jazz-loving rock 'n' roller — he wrote the rock 'n' roll standard "Alley Oop," which became an early-'60s hit for three artists: The Hollywood Argyles, Dante and the Evergreens and The Dyna-Sores.

Frazier cut a couple of excellent rock 'n' roll albums for Capitol in the '60s. They reveal the Oklahoma-born songwriter as a completely credible blue-eyed R&B singer. Although he wrote most of the material, one of the greatest rockers on his 1967 album Tell It Like It Is! is his cover of Ronnie Self's "Home in My Hand."

From Missouri, Self had cut some highly regarded rockabilly-flavored tunes in Nashville in the late '50s. With Dub Albritton, Self wrote "I'm Sorry," a No. 1 hit for pop singer Brenda Lee in 1960. Frazier cut "Home in My Hand" first, and the song lives on: British pub-rockers Brinsley Schwarz learned the tune from Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen's 1971 cover version. Dave Edmunds recorded a version on his 1979 full-length, Repeat When Necessary. Still, Frazier's version rocks hard, and he sounds as if he knows from whence he speaks.

"Good Lovin'" (Moldy Goldies: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston and His Mystic Knights Band and Street Singers Attack the Hits)

Listen: Soundcloud

There's not much to say about Moldy Goldies: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston and His Mystic Knights Band and Street Singers Attack the Hits except that, first off, that title is ridiculous, and second, it's an example of the much-lauded Nashville studio aesthetic gone completely nuts — the pressure of conformity must have been too much. Producer Bob Johnston had begun working for Columbia, masterminding a comeback hit for Patti Page, and he had wrapped up the Nashville sessions for Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde before he cut Moldy Goldies with the famed session cats he'd used to back Dylan.

This album is out of print, and that's a shame: Here is a guided tour of pop rock, 1966, with Johnston and Charlie McCoy and Kenny Buttrey and Mac Gayden and Norma Jean Owen and, bizarrely, Memphis Mafia member and Elvis hanger-on Lamar Fike — all singing, tooting kazoos and creating extraneous brass-band arrangements and mayhem on versions of such '60s classics as "Monday, Monday," "Good Lovin'" and "Secret Agent Man."

It's one of the earliest examples of true rock 'n' roll rebellion in Nashville — an anti-pop masterpiece. It's hard to pick just one tune from Moldy Goldies, but I've gone with this version of Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick's "Good Lovin'," which you probably remember from The Young Rascals' 1966 hit version. And which doesn't deserve the treatment any more than the other songs on the album.

Moby Grape, "Truly Fine Citizen" (Truly Fine Citizen)

Listen: Spotify | YouTube

Another Bob Johnston Nashville production job was Moby Grape's 1969 Truly Fine Citizen. By the end of the decade, Moby Grape had gone from being America's greatest rock band to being halfway forgotten — the innovations of their brilliant 1967 self-titled debut had given way to a somewhat less memorable followup. As their sound matured in the late '60s, Moby Grape turned to country-rock, a form they helped invent.

They were hugely influential on contemporary rockers, and Truly Fine Citizen is the Grape at their most relaxed, if not their most compelling. The concise title track is the album's high point: it shows their oblique, subtle style of almost-country-rock at its most understated, and features the great Nashville bassist Bob Moore.

Charlie Rich, "Memphis and Arkansas Bridge" (Boss Man)

Listen: Spotify | MySpace

We end as we began, with Charlie Rich, a complex musician comfortable playing straight-ahead jazz or singing country. He was also a great rocker, and 1970's "Memphis and Arkansas Bridge," recorded in Music City with producer Billy Sherrill, is one of Rich's finest and most impassioned moments as a singer and songwriter. It's the tale of a man who just wants to get back home. But, as this song implies, perhaps there really is no Memphis and Arkansas Bridge, although there is definitely a Memphis and Nashville vibe to this superb performance.

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