6th March 2015
Orrin Keepnews, one of the most influential and respected figures in jazz died at the age of 92 at his home in El Cerrito, California on 1 March.
Keepnews founded the Riverside jazz record label in 1953 with the help of Bill Grauer, an old college friend. As editor of The Record Changer, Orrin was already on first name terms with most of the leading figures in jazz at that time.
Over a 10-year period Riverside recorded many of the important figures in modern jazz, notably Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery and Cannonball Adderley. Over the years Keepnews also founded and ran the Milestone and Landmark labels.
As a long term jazz fan, I jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose to invite Orrin to come to London with his wife Lucile in 1988. The idea of the visit was to help Ace launch a reissue programme for the various jazz labels that we had under license from Fantasy Records in San Francisco.
In the 50s and 60s, Orrin had produced many of my favourite jazz artists, including Bobby Timmons, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Mundell Lowe, Zoot Simms, Herbie Mann, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Golson, Max Roach, Blue Mitchell, Gerry Mulligan as well as those already mentioned above.
At the time, I was trying to drum up interest in Ace’s forthcoming reissue programme of vinyl releases for a bunch of classic Riverside and Prestige albums. I think that it was probably Bill Belmont from Fantasy Records who suggested bringing Orrin to London. “If he can bring his wife and come for a week’s holiday, I’m sure that he’ll be happy to do some interviews,” Bill said.
As it turned out Orrin was very accommodating. However, because of his legendary status, the queue for interviews stretched almost to infinity. In the end, we decided to devote three days to fairly Intensive interviews, leaving another three days for relaxation and sightseeing. Even in his mid-60s, Orrin had boundless energy and swept through a rather punishing schedule with enthusiasm and ease, not bothered by jetlag or anything else that came in his way.
One thing that fascinated Orrin greatly was the burgeoning acid jazz scene in London, where young people were dancing in clubs to records he had produced or released almost 20 years earlier on his Milestone label. He was delighted to hear that some of the recordings by such artists as McCoy Tyner, Gary Bartz, Phil Upchurch, Bobby Timmons, Ron Carter, Azymuth, Junior Mance, Johnny Lytle and others were enjoying a rebirth in front of a new young and very enthusiastic audience. The acid or club jazz movement had barely reached America at this time and was news to Orrin.
We were amused by the sense of enthusiasm of the young acid jazz fans of the 1980s, as compared with young modern jazz fans of the 50s who adopted almost identical elitist attitudes towards many of their heroes.
Orrin and his wife were delightful people, a joy to work with and not the slightest problem marred their visit. It was such a pleasure to have had the chance to meet someone who was so central to that classic period of American culture.
27th February 2015
During the compiling of the first ten CDs in the “By The Bayou” series, due to the plethora of alternate takes and incorrectly labelled tape boxes both within the J.D. Miller and Eddie Shuler tape vaults a number of mistakes occurred and it is clear to Ace Records, and to me personally, that it is to the benefit of all if these are cleared up.
Not all of the instances that have been flagged as errors are errors, some are clearly alternate takes and others are a little more complicated, but in order for readers to appreciate the complexity of the situation, I think it best to lay a little background. The Miller tapes - over the course of three years I spent a number of months listening to some 9,000 tracks of which I selected just over 3,000 for transfer and this task was carried out by Alec Palao. The Shuler tapes were transferred a number of years ago and have remained with Ace - a small proportion of these has been previously used. In both cases there are a considerable number of alternate takes of many of the titles.
In the Miller vault I would estimate that between 10% - 20% of the tapes were in their original boxes and the information on these is accurate, although one is now in dispute. Of the remainder, the majority have been re-boxed at some stage, frequently as result of termite or water damage. On these boxes, sometimes the information was transferred, but frequently it was lost and Miller employed an individual to go through the tapes and identify the material. This has meant that titles were frequently the subject of guesswork from the lyrics and in many cases the same song taped at different sessions has been given more than one title. Also, on a number of occasions the artist was incorrectly identified.
Obviously there were similar problems with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband material as again some tracks are wrongly titled, but where artists have been wrongly identified it appears that more than one vocalist took part at a session, but only the principal artist was named.
In many cases I was able to correct titles and artists’ names but obviously I didn’t spot them all and a number of collectors have got together and pooled their information to raise criticism. Fair enough - although obviously I would have preferred if it had come to me or to the company rather than through another publication.
Getting down to specific cases, I think sharing our tape logs might help your understanding. Let’s start with three cases which I consider to be absolute howlers on my part:
Mad Dog Sheffield
Watching The Clock
Mad Dog Sheffield
You Move Me Baby
Mad Dog Sheffield
Pretty Little Dolly
Mad Dog Sheffield
Wicked Old Fever
26th January 2015
The movie Zelig might be a suitable analogy for the life and career of that unique personage born Kim Vincent Fowley. It’s the fanciful tale of an individual who is able to insert himself at key moments in history, something Fowley accomplished at regular intervals over the past sixty years. But unlike Woody Allen’s character Leonard Zelig, Kim was not really a chameleon – his lanky frame and frequently off-beat attire put paid to that notion – and he certainly could not blend into the background of any scene. Instead, the man loudly demanded that people paid attention to him, whether they wanted to or not.
Fowley was the king of hype, the honcho of hustle, the sultan of the schuck; in fact, in rock’n’roll terms, Kim Fowley not only defined that role, he more or less invented it. But even the most colourful propaganda could not fully cover the breadth of achievement Kim Fowley attained in the music business. Behind the names of the better known acts he would brag about discovering, producing or mentoring – from the iconic (gal rockers the Runaways) to the risible (80s big-hairs like Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses), there lies a litany of one-shot, see-if-they-stick productions and obscure 45s or cash-in albums resulting from handshake deals and temporary A&R stints. The vast majority of these came from Kim’s first decade as a music maven, the 1960s, and many of the more interesting or significant items are collected on Ace’s essential Fowley retrospective, “Incredible But True.”
For some Fowley aficionados – this writer at least – that was his golden period. The unwanted child of jobbing movie actors, Kim learned independence at an early age and that, combined with street smarts and a remarkable confidence, set him in good stead to succeed in a Hollywood music industry that at the time thrived upon indie productions and the quick sale of a master. His ascent was rapid, and this history is laid out in typically Fowleyan detail in the above-mentioned compilation, but Kim was driven and seemed perennially restless. So, for example, after his association with major hits like ‘Alley Oop,’ ‘Nut Rocker’ and ‘Popsicles And Icicles,’ not to mention a lengthy string of misses – records that he produced almost weekly, often just to be able to eat and pay the rent – Kim arrived in London with the flimsiest of excuses, and ingratiated himself with everyone from Cat Stevens to the Soft Machine. From Finland to Australia, Dublin to New Orleans, over the course of his career Kim made sure he was where the action was. Too iconoclastic to ever become a music industry “suit,” he kept his nose to the street, and had an uncanny knack of being at places at just the right time to become the self-appointed guru of what was happening, whether it be Topanga Canyon hippies or Sunset Boulevard decadents. If he wasn’t inserting himself into a scene or switching into full-on Svengali mode for a hot new act, Kim was at least grabbing the available publishing, getting paid to produce the demo or the first single, and establishing his A&R sixth sense once again.
One thing I always noted about Kim, despite some interesting divergences - producing Helen Reddy, for instance - was that he more or less stuck to his forte: basic rock’n’roll. It’s next to impossible to get a reasonable grip upon the entire Fowley discography, whether it be as a producer, songwriter, or upon a considerable tranche of solo recording (some of the latter, such as ‘The American Dream’ or ‘Motorboat,’ were amongst the best things he was ever involved with). It probably numbers in the low thousands. Few would deny that Kim’s talent was his mouth, not his voice, and he was no musician. But, just as with Phil Spector, most of the time you could spot a Fowley production at a thousand paces. His recall of the specific events behind any given project he had been involved with was also something to marvel at, even if his reminiscences might be couched in a trademarked hyperbole. Because of this, some interviewers or chroniclers may have doubted the veracity of such memoirs. But in my experience, most everything Kim claimed to have done panned out as true. I have lost count of the times I have dug through a vintage label’s archives, only to come across a typically colourful communiqué from Fowley that puts him right where he said he had been.
Kim was relatively erudite and willing to give anybody the time of day, if it meant he could do the pitch. Like many larger-than-life rock’n’roll personages, he came alive with an audience, whether on the phone or in person. Whenever I ran into Kim at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles on a late night snack-attack, he’d be there holding court with his latest protégée, invariably young and female with more than a passing resemblance to Joan Jett. But I also spent a considerable amount of time with him out in Redlands, an undistinguished suburb two hours east of Hollywood, where for a time he lived by himself in a small home which seemed remarkably isolated. In truth, Kim was somewhat wary of me at first, because of my friendship with his erstwhile associate Gary Paxton. Thankfully I learned early on that his bark was worse than his bite, and I cannot recall how many truly hilarious insider snippets Kim shared with me during many unavoidably lengthy conversations over the years. He could be very, very funny. Once, through a simple misunderstanding, he had thought I was trying to tape him surreptitiously - which is not my style at all – but in that moment I learned that Fowley remained gun-shy and somewhat paranoid, even after having survived as long as he had in the business.
Kim was producing, hustling and ligging right up until the end: I last saw him in August 2014 at the premier of the Seeds documentary, in which he reprised a recurring, and not undeserved role, as acid-tongued sage of all things trashy and Hollywood. Even in a wheelchair he made sure to announce his presence to the theatre and presided in the foyer afterwards, making sure to advise me that he had several songs in one chart or another that particular week. He once told me, with a customary combination of arrogance and self-deprecation, “I’m neither an businessman nor an artist, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m justifying immature behaviour in modern times. No business manager would allow someone this gifted to waste this much time, ever.” Whatever one’s view of Kim Fowley, in the long run, his distinctive role in not just the record industry, but rock’n’roll itself, cannot be denied.
19th December 2014
John Fry, founder of the world-class, world-famous Ardent Studios in Memphis, and the genial, self-effacing mentor of cult act Big Star died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 69. Alec Palao pays his respects.
24th November 2014
Ace will close on the 23rd December and reopen on the 2nd January 2015. The website will stay open over the Christmas period with all orders being dispatched on our return in January.
Thanks for all your support this year, we couldn't have done it without you!