Christmas in spring was just one way to describe the reaction at Compact Capsules Central when a package from Norton Records arrived in the mail in mid June. Such was the case when the first wave of Norton releases for 2005 struck – the Brooklyn-based Norton Records typically unleashes their releases in two fell swoops each year, one in mid-Spring and the other in mid-Autumn. And in typical Norton Records fashion, all forms of music media are represented in the latest batch of earlobe rattling goodness from the label from 45s to LPs to CDs. For the uninitiated, Norton Records is the home of the big beat where the music of cats from the late Hasil Adkins to Link Wray and the Flamin’ Groovies to the Sonics to Andre Williams is held in high esteem or as the label heads like to say, “Where the loud sound abounds”. It is also a label where vinyl, be it the seven or 12-inch variety, continues to thrive. This week’s Compact Capsules takes a look at the latest offerings from Norton Records.
45 RPM Wallop!
All I can say is break out the 45 RPM record player and call your pals because it’s party time thanks to three new slabs of 7-inch insanity from Norton Records. Rockabilly with a side of Northwest romp and stomp sets the stage for the latest seven-inchers from the Brooklyn concern. First up is the EP Party Date! (Norton EP-123). It features four frantic party-hearty stompers. The year was 1958 and the recording locale Dallas, Texas when the likes of Gene Rambo and The Flames (“My Little Mama”), Carl Canida and The Flames (“Party Date”), Vince Murphy and The Catalinas (“Speechless”), and Scotty McKay (“Bad Times”) committed these priceless beauties to vinyl. Label this new EP 7-inch rock and roll preservation at its finest.
One-time hillbilly great Jimmy Lee Fautheree of the 1950s duo Jimmy & Johnny had just relaunched his career last year after a 40-plus year layoff with the album I Found the Doorknob (EccoFonic Records) when he unexpectedly passed away. A terrific comeback album, the Norton folks salute the late Texas hillbilly honky tonker in style with a new single that features two tracks from that 2004 longplayer, “I Want The Cake (And Not The Crumbs)” backed with “You’re Not Play Love” (Norton 45-122).
We round out the 45 RPM portion of this week’s look at recent releases from Norton Records with a blast back to the great Northwest, Spokane to be exact, and a pair of rootin’ tootin’ tunes from Johnny Clark and The Four Playboys. The instrumental “Jungle Stomp” backed with the shades-of-Buddy Holly “I Need a Woman” (Norton 45-125) is Northwest rock ‘n’ roll at both its rawest and finest. Extra cool is the priceless photo on the back of the 45 RPM sleeve. It’s an aerial shot of the band on a gymnasium/auditorium stage with teen couples galore slow dancing in front. Ah, the good old days of rock ‘n’ roll!
On the LP front come two new releases of cool old stuff. The various artists compilation Shake It Up and Move: Primitive Texas Rockabilly (Norton ED-313) hearkens the listener back to 1956-1957 and the goings-on at the Trail 80 Motor Courts situated on US Highway 69 in the East Texas town of Mineola. In particular, we’re talking about a makeshift recording studio set up in a couple of rooms behind the motel’s kitchen by proprietor/songwriter Jack Rhodes. For those unfamiliar with the name Jack Rhodes, think such 1950s country & western smashes as “Satisfied Mind” (Porter Wagoner), “Beautiful Lies” (Jean Shepard), “Waltz of the Angels'” (Wynn Stewart), and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” (Wanda Jackson), all of which Rhodes wrote. A died-in-the-wool lover of country music, Rhodes was not nearly as fond of rock & roll. The irony of it all is you sure can’t tell from the demos of his songs found on this collection which moves between shakers with a good dance beat and grooving blues numbers. Of the 20 album cuts comprising this collection of demos, three of tracks would eventually find their way to the great Gene Vincent. The cast is some of the unsung heroes of the Texas rockabilly scene, crazy cats such as Elroy Dietzel (a ripping version of “Rock-N-Bones” and “Shanghai Rock”), Derrell Felts (“Too Much Lovin’ (Goin’ On)”, “Shake It Up and Move”, “Rock Saturday Night”), Jimmy Johnson (“Preview of the Blues”, “Too Many Honky Tonks”) and Johnny Dollar (“Lovin’ Up A Storm”, “Action Packed”, “Heart Appeal”, and the slayer “Slim Jim Baby”). Dollar is arguably the biggest name on this compilation. A little on the rough side fidelity wise, the common thread throughout it all is the songs of Rhodes which in large part was what brought these artists to the Trail 80 in the first place. In other words, Trail 80 Motor Courts or bust!
On the CD Front
Moving to the digital side of things, we have four new CD collections from Norton. What the Grand Ole Opry was to Nashville and country music, the Corinth, Mississippi-based Dixieland Jamboree was to rockabilly. The brainchild of promoter Charles Bolton, the Dixieland Jamboree began in 1954 broadcasting weekly from the stage of the Von Theater in Booneville presenting the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette and Charlie Feathers at the earliest stages of their careers. It moved to the Coliseum Theater in Corinth in 1956. In addition to more seating, the Coliseum offered much more posh surroundings. From screaming teens to the local advertisements to some piping hot tunes from such regional and very vital bop cats as Lloyd Arnold & The Rockin’ Drifters, Johnny Jumper & The Rhythm Drifters, Curtis Hobock & The Stardusters, Billy Wayne & The Rockin’ Bandits, the compilation Wildcat Jamboree! Rockabilly Radio Broadcasts from the Dixieland Jamboree: Corinth, Mississippi 1958-59 (Norton CED-314) offers a full-bodied taste, warts and all, of the goings-on at this weekly shindig. Checking in at over 78 minutes of mayhem, the collection features a meaty CD booklet that includes rare photos, an interview with Bolton, and liner notes from Jamboree regulars Hayden Thompson and Eddie Bond. For fans of the old noise, Wildcat Jamboree! is essential goods.
Next up is the third volume in Norton Records’ Kicksville series of raw unissued rockabilly acetates. Kicksville, Volume 3 (Norton CED-312) brings together 18 previously unissued, certified Compact Capsules killers from a mix of early rock and roll icons like Benny Joy, Danny Dell, Ral Donner, and surf legend Gary Usher The Usher track is his first ever demo recording. Whereas sparse on the liner notes, there is absolutely no scaling back on the big beat side of the ledger as these 18 maulers cranked to the max are guaranteed to scare the bejeezus out of your neighbors.
It was 1996 when the collection 99 Chicks from Ron Haydock & the Boppers was first released on CD. Norton Records now makes the collection available for the first time on vinyl with the LP reissue of 99 Chicks (Norton 247). Pared down from 29 to 17 tracks for release on LP, the collection features some of the best of cult rocker/screenwriter/actor/editor/publisher Haydock’s 1950s rockers. Taken entirely from original master tapes, the listener is treated to such genius as the title track, “Baby Say Bye Bye” which sounds like a precursor to Link Wray, the infectious “Bop Hop”, “Be-Bop-A-Jean”, and a plenty cool reworking of “Maybelline”.
We conclude this Norton Records roundup with a massive, single-disc collection that brings together a potpourri of works from that “B” star of stage, screen and records, Arch Hall, Jr. Wild Guitar! (Norton CED-307) is truly a variety store look at the many sides of Hall from his earliest music travails with his band the Archers to aural snippets from his various motion pictures which consisted of such cult classics as Wild Guitar, Eegah, and The Sadist. Taken largely from newly found master tapes, Wild Guitar! features Hall’s earliest solo recordings as well as live performances with the Archers from 1962 at a Pensacola, Florida drive-in theatre and a 1964 Pasadena night club gig. As is par for the course, the collection includes a bio-booklet with oodles of information including interviews with Hall himself, the Archers, filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler, movie star Liz Renay, and various cast and crew from Fairway International Pictures. Classify Wild Guitar! as the ultimate Arch Hall, Jr. big gulp! (For information on Norton Records including their fabulous catalogue, write to them at Norton Records, Box 646 Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276 or check them out on the web at www.nortonrecords.com.)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at email@example.com.)