Monday, December 21, 2015

Ace Hotel Pittsburgh digs PITTSBURGH VINYL!

By now you are probably aware that the East Liberty YMCA has been converted into an Ace Hotel. Ace Hotel is an international chain of chic, boutique hotels located in a handful of cities across the United States, in addition to locations in London and Panama. When you book a larger room, or a suite, it comes furnished with a turntable and records. Make sure that you specify that you would like a turntable when you're making your reservations.

Ace Hotel Pittsburgh assembled a crew of seven local disc jockeys and music folk to curate a vinyl collection for them. One of those folks being local disc jockey J. Malls, who runs this here blog in addition to DJ'ing regularly around the Pittsburgh area. In fact he is the co-founder of the TITLE TOWN Soul & Funk Dance Party, which will take place the second Friday of each month at the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh beginning Friday, January 8th, 2016.

Ace Hotel requested "a mixture of vintage, current releases and local artists, or artists with Pittsburgh roots/connections." Of course there was a budget to operate within, so that had a lot to do with the selection process. We couldn't provide them with a record from every artist who ever resided in Pittsburgh, or records that typically carry a $100 price tag, but here goes the batch of forty (40) records that we delivered. It's mostly full length albums with a few 12" singles. We think it's a pretty eclectic batch of vinyl that will give hotel guests a glimpse into Pittsburgh's rich and diverse musical history.  

Look over the list and let us know what you think. All artists are listed alphabetically and compilations are included alphabetized by title. Here it goes ...

The B.U.D. "B. for the Ladies" b/w "Chill"
1994 Saturn Records, SR-12-0921-1
This is the debut 1994 record by Bud'da, then known as The B.U.D. Shortly after it's release on the Pittsburgh-based Saturn Records label, Bud'da headed to the west coast to work with Dr. Dre and his label, which was brand new at the time, Aftermath Records. Since then he's obtained super-producer status creating soundscapes for the likes of Aaliyah and many other notable Hip Hop and R&B artists. 

Floyd Beck "Party is the Solution" b/w "What About Me"
1980 Precision, 4Z8-9804
Pittsburgh guitarist and vocalist Floyd Beck released a number of great 7" singles in the mid to late 1970's, which continued into the 1980's. This release on Precision Records is likely his best distributed record. The B-side "What About Me" is actually a remake of a song that he produced in the 1960's, which was originally recorded by The Exceptional Three featuring Ruby Carter.

George Benson Breezin'
1976 Warner Brothers, BSK 3111
George Benson is perhaps Pittsburgh's most famous Jazz export. Born and raised here, he hit the road with Brother Jack McDuff in the early 1960's. By 1970 he'd already had a handful of solo albums under his belt. By 1980 he was topping the charts with hit after hit. This album is one of a half-dozen records that Benson released in 1976 alone. It includes classics such as the Bobby Womack-penned title track "Breezin'" and "This Masquerade." 

Slim Bryant and his Wildcats Square Dances with Calls and Instructions
195? Lion Records, L-70070
Slim Bryant is likely one of the most notable Country artists associated with Pittsburgh. He's not a household name like Kenny Rogers, but there's a good chance that he's one of your favorite Country artists' favorite Country artists. After all he recorded with none other than Jimmie Rodgers, who is widely regarded as the father of modern Country music, prior to relocating to Pittsburgh in 1940. This album, which is the only Slim Bryant full length album, features traditional square dances with calls and instructions. 

Flo Cassinelli Live at Chukkers!
1987 Self-released, NR 17056
Flo Cassinelli was, perhaps most notably, a member of Deuces Wild. Deuces Wild are often described as being one of Pittsburgh's most popular Jazz groups. They date back to the 1940's. The group had an interchangeable lineup, and was primarily comprised of white musicians, but Roy Eldridge was known to play with them from time to time. This private press release was recorded live, toward the end of Cassinelli's career, at Chukkers in downtown Pittsburgh.

Chunky, Novi & Ernie Self-titled
1977 Warner Brothers, BS 3030
Chunky, Novie and Ernie are a 1970's Soft Rock group. Chunky, who was born in Pittsburgh as Ilene Rappaport, got her start in 1969 with an obscure Sixites Psych/Folk Rock group, Rebecca and the Sunny Brook Farmers. She later recorded as Lauren Wood and also recorded with Frank Zappa off and on over the decades.

Kenny Clarke Kenny Clarke Meets the Detroit Jazzmen
1977 Savoy/Arista, SJL-1111

Pittsburgh native Kenny 'Klook' Clarke, also known as Liaqat Ali Salaam, is one of the fathers of Bebop and is widely regarded as the father of modern Jazz drumming. He played with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to name just a few, but he is perhaps best known as the original drummer for the Modern Jazz Quartet. This album was released in 1977, but was recorded in New Jersey in 1956. The lineup features Paul Chambers on bass, who was also born in Pittsburgh.

Frank Cunimondo Trio The Lamp Is Low
1969 Mondo, 102
Frank Cunimondo has been a fixture in the Pittsburgh Jazz scene for decades. He still plays out on occasion. This is his second full length album, released in 1969, and it features Mike Taylor (bass) and Roger Humphries (drums). Humphries is one of Pittsburgh's premier Jazz musicians, who is well-known for his recordings with Horace Silver on Blue Note Records. If you're lucky, maybe you will catch Cunimondo playing live while you're in town. Humphries is a safer bet. He hosts weekly sessions, which are always a great time.

DJ Big Phill Wide Screen Music Vol. One
2003 BUKA Records, BUK 10
Pittsburgh rapper J. Sands of Lone Catalysts formed B.U.K.A. Records in the latter part of the 1990's. He released a series of singles and compilations that is still unrivaled in terms of Pittsburgh Hip Hop labels. One of these releases was Wide Screen Music Vol. One, which was assembled by Pittsburgh-based producer DJ Big Phill. Check out the track "412 Memory Lane" by Hi-Lo Productions, which takes listeners on a journey through Pittsburgh Hip Hop history. Read more about B.U.K.A. Records here

Diamond Reo Dirty Diamonds
1976 Kama Sutra, KSBS 2619
This is the second full length album by Diamond Reo on Kama Sutra Records. The Dirty Diamonds are a notable Pittsburgh Rock group who toured with the likes of Kiss and Aerosmith. This album features Frank Czuri (previously of The Igniters, who later went on to join The Jaggerz and The Silencers), Norman Nardini, local guitar hero Warren 'Kingfish' King and drummer Robert Johns.

Erroll Garner Gemini
1972 London, XPS 617
Erroll Garner, one of the world's most innovative Jazz pianists, was born here in PIttsburgh. He fits into a lineage of amazing Pittsburgh piano players, most notably including Earl 'Fatha' Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal. Garner's most famous composition is the standard "Misty." His 1955 album Concert By The Sea set records for Jazz album sales at the time of it's release and he was the first Jazz artist to cross over to mainstream success and perform in concert halls. This is one of the one hundred (approx) albums that he recorded.

Ailene Goodman Pittsburgh: Songs of a City
1954 R4RM-4757
Here goes a very interesting record made to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the Joseph Horne Co., which was a department store (better known as 'Hornes') founded here in Pittsburgh in 1849. The story of Pittsburgh is sung by Folk artist Ailene Goodman. The best part of the album is the narration featuring a who's who of mid-century Pittsburgh broadcasting. Paul Long and Clark Race are among the many TV and radio celebrities who are featured. 

Tyrone Green "You Ain't Right Eddy Murphy"
1986 Precise Music, PMR-1401
This is one of the earliest Pittsburgh Hip Hop records, which was written and produced by Melvin 'Melle Mel' Plowden, also known as Jazzy Mel P. Plowden was a mover and shaker in the early days of Pittsburgh Hip Hop. He was cast in the 1985 Hip Hop film Rappin', which was filmed here on Pittsburgh's Northside. Plowden performed on "Snack Attack" which is included on the original motion picture soundtrack. After Rappin' Plowden started his label Precise Music Records and this was the first release, which was inspired by Eddy Murphy's popular Tyrone Green skits on Saturday Night Live.

Dave Greene Taking The Chance
1981 Sound 7 Records, SLP-81-7-001
Private press Country Rock/Folk with a few notable local musicians including Pittsburgh living-legend Joe Negri (guitar) and Lou Scheiber (piano). Recorded by Lee Hollihan who worked on a number of cool Alternative/New Wave records in the Eighties, in addition to some notable Indie Rock releases in the Nineties. 

Walt Harper Walt Harper Live at the Attic
196? Birmingham, BI-1570
Walt Harper was a very popular Pittsburgh-based Jazz pianist. His groups date back to the 1940's. In the 1960's he opened his own venue, Walt Harper's Attic, where this recording was made. This is also one of the finite number of albums where you can hear Pittsburgh-based trombonist, Dr. Nelson Harrison, who still performs locally on a regular basis.

Phyllis Hyman Self Titled
1977 Buddah Records, BDS 5681
The debut full length album by Phyllis Hyman. Hyman was born in Philadelphia, but she was raised here in St. Clair Village (in Pittsburgh's South Hills region). This record was released a year after she was featured on Norman Connors' album, You Are My Starship. Her earliest recordings were made years earlier singing background vocals for artists here in Pittsburgh. 

Eddie Jefferson Letter From Home
1987 Riverside, OJC-307 (RLP-9411)
1980's remaster of Eddie Jefferson's debut album Letter From Home, originally released in 1962. Jefferson is one of Jazz's most innovative vocalists and the inventor of vocalese. He is associated with the Detroit Jazz scene more so than Pittsburgh, but he was born here where he made his earliest recordings with the Walt Harper Quintet. 

James T. Johnson Mass Gospel Choir Children of the Lord
197? Triumph Records, 007
Local Gospel recording dedicated to the memory of James T. Johnson, Sr., by his son James T. Johnson, Jr. James Johnson, Jr. plays piano and wrote the arrangements on this record. He is most notably the founder of the Afro American Music Institute in Homewood. Some of the children pictured on the album cover are now Pittsburgh-based musicians themselves, such as DJ Big Phill who also appears on this list. Johnson continues to impact the lives of young people through music.

Gene Ludwig This is Gene Ludwig
1965 Ge-Lu Records, GL 1415

This is Gene Ludwig's self-released album on Ge-Lu Records. It features Randy Gelispie on drums and Jerry Byrd on guitar. Ludwig converted from piano to the Hammond B3 organ after catching one of Jazz's most famous organists, Jimmy Smith, live here in Pittsburgh at the Hurricane club. Ludwig can also be heard on the recordings of Sonny Stitt. Read more about Gene Ludwig here

Madhouse 16
1987 Paisley Park Records, 1-25658
The 1987 sophomore follow-up to Madhouse' debut full length, which was titled 8. All horns and keyboards are played by Eric Leeds, a Duquesne University music major and the brother of Alan Leeds. Alan Leeds became Prince's road manager circa 1984. Eric Leeds was also a member of The Family who Prince released in 1985. In 1987 Madhouse released both of their albums on the Prince-run Paisley Park imprint. Read more about Eric and Alan Leeds' contributions to Pittsburgh music history here.

Henry Mancini The Pink Panther Strikes Again
1976 United Artists, UA-LA694-G
Composed and conducted by Aliquippa, PA's own Henry Mancini who wrote the original Pink Panther theme. This is the soundtrack to the fifth film in the Pink Panther franchise. It's just one of Mancini's many, very famous film scores, the most famous of which are perhaps Peter Gunn and Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Frank Metis and Randy Starr Pittsburgh; Biography of a City
196? Mayflower Records, M-632
A narrative biography of Pittsburgh set to the compositions of Frank Metis and sung by Randy Starr. These eleven tracks tell the story of Pittsburgh from 1753, when George Washington first surveyed the area prior to the Revolutionary War, to the time the record was made, which was likely in the early 1960's. 

Norman Nardini and the Tigers Self titled LP
1985 CBS, BFZ 39457
The second full length album by Norman Nardini and the Tigers. Nardini had previously played bass for the Pittsburgh Rock super-group Diamond Reo. On his solo albums Nardini sings lead and plays guitar. This was likely his best distributed record on CBS. It not only includes additional guitars by fellow Diamond Reo alum Warren King, but also features background vocals by a much lesser-known Jon Bon Jovi. 

Various Artists Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits
1966 Itzy Records, 101
Reissue of Itzy Klein's 1966 double album compilation that defines 'The Pittsburgh Sound.' These are primarily songs that were popularized by Pittsburgh DJ's, not necessarily songs recorded by PIttsburgh artists, but there are a few local artists included - namely Chuck Edwards, The Splendors and The Arondies. 

Pittsburgh Pops Orchestra An American Musical Panorama
1964 United Artists, UAL 3384
This album commemorates the Pittsburgh Pops 1964 tour, An American Musical Panorama, which traveled through seventeen cities that year. It features tenor Mike Driscoll and baritone Robert Mosely, both Pittsburgh natives, in addition to guitarist Joe Negri (aka Handy Man Joe from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) and Paul Hubinon. The record is particularly interesting because of Hubinon and Mosley. Paul Hubinon relocated to Los Angeles where he became one of the most recorded trumpet players of the 1970's. Robert Mosley was among the first generation of African American opera singers to achieve success during the 1950's and 1960's.

Pittsburgh Steelers Super Team XII
197? Fleetwood, FCLP-3111
If you're staying in Pittsburgh during the football season, the town will likely be painted black and gold. Say you are not the biggest sports, or more importantly Pittsburgh Steelers, fan. This album will come in very handy. Familiarize yourself with the highlights of the 1978 Super Bowl champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Narrated by notable local sports journalists, WTAE's Jack Flemming and, the inventor of The Terrible Towel, Myron Cope.

Pittsburgh Symphony Rhapsody of Steel
1959 United States Steel, JB-502
Here we have the soundtrack to a short animated film made in 1959 by United States Steel. Dimitri Tiomkin conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony who plays his original compositions. The B-side features Gary Merrill's narrative dialog from the film. The gatefold 'book and record' package is assembled Disney-style and includes beautiful illustrations from the animated film. 

Jimmy Ponder White Room
1977 Impulse/ABC, AS-9327
Jimmy 'Fatts' Ponder is another one of Pittsburgh's most famous guitarists. He began playing in the early 1960's and by 1970 he had recorded with the likes of Stanley Turrentine (also from Pittsburgh), Andrew Hill and Lou Donaldson. He can also be heard on the recordings of Rusty Bryant, Shirley Scott, Donald Byrd, Jack McDuff and Houston Person - just to name a few. This is his third full length album, arranged & conducted by Johnny Pate and released on Impulse! Records in 1977. 

Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band Is It Over?
1980 Green Dolphin, 800756
One of Pittsburgh's premier Blues singers. Price relocated to Pittsburgh in the late 1960's. In the Seventies he attracted national attention recording with Blues artist Roy Buchanan. Since then Price and his Keystone Rhythm Band have achieved long-term success in the local region. This album, recorded in 1980, features notable Pittsburgh artists such as Eric Leeds (baritone sax), Kenny Blake (alto sax) and Don Garvin (guitar). 

Pure Gold Self TItled
1983 Green Dolphin, NR14861
This is the first full length album by Pure Gold, a local 'oldies revival' group with their roots planted firmly in the 1950's and 1960's. Pure Gold is tremendously successful in the Pittsburgh region and they're famous for their numerous appearances on the PBS "My Music" concert series, which was produced by their manager Henry Deluca.

Mister Rogers Josephine The Short Neck Giraffe
1968 Small World Records, 81053
One of the world's most famous children's television programs of all time, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, originated here in Pittsburgh. Most of the Mister Rogers records were originally released on his own label, Small World Records, in the late 1960's. In the Seventies, the records were licensed for reissue to a variety of labels including Columbia and Pickwick. Then the finite number of recordings were reissued again in the 1980's on Small World Enterprises, Inc. This particular 1968 recording was never reissued and is definitely one of Mister Rogers' most obscure albums.

The Skyliners Since I Don't Have You
1963 Original Sound, OSR-LPM-5010
This repackage is mostly comprised of songs from The Skyliners debut 1959 album, which was originally released on the Pittsburgh-based Calico Records label. The title track of this album, "Since I Don't Have You", was a major hit in the early days of Rock & Roll. It was covered by the likes of The Four Seasons, Chuck Jackson, Guns N' Roses and Brian Setzer. The Skyliners are still performing today. In 2015 they were invited to perform an impromptu rendition of "Since I Don't Have You" live on stage with Stevie Wonder.

Thee Speaking Canaries Platter Base Must Be Constructed of Moon-Rocks
2015 Chunklet, CHKLP018
Pittsburgh was an Indie Rock hotbed in the 1990's. The most successful group to emerge from that era was no doubt Don Caballero, which was formed by drummer-extraordinaire Damon Che Fitzgerald. Thee Speaking Canaries was another of Fitzgerald's groups at that time, which featured an all-star Indie Rock lineup including Karl Hendricks and Noah Leger. This album was released in 2015, but it was originally recorded in 1990 with Ray Caperoon (drums) and Lee Hollihan (guitar). Limited edition vinyl was pressed courtesy of, purveyors of Post-Punk Math-Rock, Chunklet Industries.

Dakota Staton I've Been There
1970 Verve, V6-8799
Dakota Staton was a Pittsburgh-born Jazz vocalist who began recording in the 1950's. This is one of the first albums that she released after returning to the United States from overseas. It's particularly interesting because some of the songs are written by Elizabeth Davis, who was a Pittsburgh-based song writer who lived above one of the city's most notable Jazz venues, The Crawford Grill, in the Hill District. Davis' compositions were also recorded by the likes of Ramsey Lewis.

Terry Lee Music for Young Lovers Volume 4
1976 Airship Communications, CS82742-35
This Terry Lee compilation was originally released in 1969. Terry Lee was one of Pittsburgh's most famous DJ's. He was not only famous as a radio disc jockey, but he also hosted dance parties and the Come Alive television show, which was a local program patterned after American Bandstand. In addition he also managed artists, some of which are among the city's most famous Garage Rock groups - namely The Swamp Rats.

Strict Flow "People On Lock" b/w "Radio"
1999 Raw Shack Records, RSP-008
Strict Flow formed in the Mid-Nineties when most of Pittsburgh's older and more established Hip Hop artists were leaving the city. In 1999 they signed with Raw Shack Records, a small indie label who attracted attention with the release of J-Live's first single. As the years went on Strict Flow formed their own label Authentic Recordings, released a full length album and then subsequently went their separate ways. MC Sied Chahrour became Pittsburgh Slim and signed with Def Jam Records. Masai Turner formed the Hip Hop/Rock band Formula 412. Producer E. Dan started Pittsburgh's famed recording studio, I.D. Labs, and fellow producer CLG began managing a young Wiz Khalifa. The rest is Pittsburgh Hip Hop history.

B.E. Taylor Group Innermission
1982 Sweet City/MCA, MCA-5335
First album by B.E. Taylor on MCA Records. Taylor is another local artist who's had national exposure followed by long-term success in the regional market. Nowadays he's best known for his annual Christmas concerts, which have been televised by local PBS stations. They're a pretty big deal. Not many local artists can sell out Heinz Hall two nights in a row.

The Vogues Five O'Clock World
19?? Pickwick, SPC-3188
This is a budget label reissue of The Vogues second album, which was originally released here in Pittsburgh in 1966 on Co & Ce Records. This Turtle Creek, PA quartet was one of Pittsburgh's most successful exports with the popularity of their single "You're The One." The song was featured on their first album Meet The Vogues, but they tacked it on to this reissue as well. 

Adam Wade One is a Lonely Number
1962 Epic Records, LN 24026
Adam Wade may not be a household name, but he's had a very interesting career. He's a Westinghouse High School graduate who worked with Jonas Salk while he was discovering the Polio vaccine here in Pittsburgh. Wade recorded a handful of albums in the early to mid 1960's, which drew a comparisons to Johnny Mathis. He acted as well. While he landed very few lead roles, you would be amazed at some of the movies and TV shows that he appeared in. In addition he become the first African-American game show host in 1975. 

David Werner Whizz Kid
1974 RCA, APL1-0350
David Werner is often referred to as the David Bowie of Pittsburgh. He was in fact label mates with Bowie when his first two albums were released on RCA Records. This is his first album, which he recorded and self-produced at the age of 19. Werner's recording career didn't survive into the Eighties, but he continued writing well into the Nineties. One of his biggest hits was likely Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Mad Hatters: The Early Recordings of Billy Strayhorn

Join us in this celebration of composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn’s ONE-HUNDREDTH birthday!  The information we are presenting here is largely taken from David Hajdu’s extensive interview with Jerome Eisner, for his book Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn.

In June of 1937 Billy Strayhorn, not quite twenty-two years old, asked Jerome Eisner to join a trio that he was putting together. Strayhorn and Eisner became friends while attending Westinghouse High School here in Pittsburgh. Strayhorn patterned the group after the Benny Goodman Trio, which included Jazz pianist Teddy Wilson, who was no doubt a great influence. The trio was eventually named The Mad Hatters. They were an integrated group, similar to Benny Goodman's trio, comprised of Strayhorn on piano, Eisner on clarinet and Calvin Dort on drums.

Visit I DIG PGH on Youtube to listen.

The Mad Hatters' first gig was in 1937 at Charlie Ray’s, a club located above the Triangle Theater building on Station Street in East Liberty. They played there Friday and Saturday nights for nearly a year. A not-yet-famous Billy May sat in occasionally during his early days as a trumpeter. Early in 1938 The Mad Hatters expanded to become a quintet. That March they recorded three sides at George Heid Studio. Those recordings are thought to be lost. That summer the group performed regularly at an amusement park located somewhere between Bridgeville and Canonsburg. By the end of the summer The Mad Hatters downsized to their original three-piece line up. They performed six nights a week, for several weeks, at a club south of Pittsburgh in Winchester, VA. Their successful run at the venue ended abruptly when a brawl broke out between drummer Calvin Dort and a patron who made racist remarks toward Strayhorn.

On December 21st, 1938, after Strayhorn’s first meeting with Duke Ellington, The Mad Hatters recorded four songs at Volkwein’s in downtown Pittsburgh. Strayhorn quickly departed to join Duke Ellington in New York and The Mad Hatters never played again. Two of the recordings are thought to be lost and here we present to you the two surviving sides of the single remaining acetate. Both sides are tunes popularized at the time by the Benny Goodman Trio, “Body and Soul” and “Sweet Sue.”

These recordings are a very important part of Pittsburgh music history, dating back seventy-seven years. They are likely the earliest Billy Strayhorn recordings in existence. Until now, very few people have had an opportunity to hear them. We thank pianist and musicologist Bryan Wright for his restoration work on the recordings.

Once again, happy ONE-HUNDREDTH birthday Billy Strayhorn!