CD Reviews for 12/24/04 (Norton Records 2004 Recap) by Dan Ferguson
Holy smokes, folks, the holidays are upon us and it's that time of the year again when we dive into the latest batch of rock 'n' roll and assorted music hooch from reissue house Norton Records. Headquartered in Brooklyn, Norton Records typically unleashes its new releases primarily in two waves each year; one in the May timeframe and the other around the beginning of November (and each usually timed around the fabulous WFMU Record Fair which happens in New York City the first weekend in May and November each year and where the Norton folks are always on hand selling their rockin' & rollin' wares). For those drawing blanks for gift ideas, the Norton catalogue is essential viewing for those looking for a jolt in their listening diet. Maybe a little King Uszniewicz or Link Wray guitar raunch to freshen the festivities? Norton is the one stop at www.nortonrecords.com. It is a record label that digs deep into the crevices of rock 'n' roll past, from the slayers of the 7-inch slab variety who deserved better when it came spin time to the bona fide oddballs (one of whom is well chronicled by a new release from the Norton team). It also continues to be a label where vinyl (33 and 45 RPM) is just as significant an entity as the compact disc. All three formats are well represented in the latest batch of wax and aluminum from the concern. Let's dig in.
Teen Scene - Texas Style
Having grown up about 25 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island, I can't really speak for the teen scene in these Rhode Island parts during the rock 'n' roll and garage rock prime time of the early-to-mid 1960s. (I can say that even Long Island in the 1960s wasn't much of a rock 'n' roll hot spot). Head down to the Dallas-Fort Worth area around that time and it was a spot, particularly Fort Worth, that was busting at the seams with turbo-charged, teenaged rock 'n' roll band talent. Norton Records takes us back to those early days in a colossal way with the release of the terrific, three volume set titled Fort Worth Teen Scene (Norton CED-304 thru CED-306). Similar to prior region-themed rock 'n' roll collections from the label showcasing both the New England (The Raging Teens series) and Minneapolis/St.Paul (Bloodshot! The Gaity Records Story series), the three volumes comprising Fort Worth Teen Scene offer an ultra-satisfying super-sized dose of teenified testosterone goodness from bands the bulk of which the members hadn't even finished high school when they were laying down some of these wall-shuddering sounds. It was a scene dominated by A-Go-Go clubs where rather than the DJ scenes of today's teen clubs, live bands were presented in all their pimply goodness rocking and rolling their socks off. Whereas the bands themselves may not ring a bell - Cynics, Jades, Larry & the Blue Notes, Jinx, Barons, Trycerz, etc - the typically raw as red meat tunes they dish out are garage rock in its purest form.
Stone Age Woo
Moving to the oddball side of things, there's the new collection Stone Age Woo (Norton CED-303) focusing on the nearly impossible to categorize, musical missing link Nervous Norvous. First off, I challenge anyone to make it through the 33 tracks and 70 minutes of Stone Age Woo in a single sitting. This cat is just so far out there that he has you scratching the head into bewilderment as to just what drove his muse. The kicker is that no home should be without a little Stone Age Woo. It just needs to be approached in small doses to grasp the full import of what the Nervous one has to offer. Eking out a living as a demo singer and songwriter, Jack Drake, a.k.a. Nervous Norvous, took his cue from disc jockey Red Blanchard who hosted a Bay Area novelty-styled radio program in the 1950s. In fact, it was Blanchard who first broke Norvous's 1956 novelty number "Transfusion", a wigged-out, high speed, two-minute jive-talkin' rhyme-fest of a masterpiece chock full of car crash sound effects and all. Released on Dot Records, it was a smash (no pun intended!) right out of the gates and would go on to be a million seller. It even got Norvous an invitation to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show which he declined. A couple of equally whacked-out singles followed - the prehistoric hipster tomfoolery of "Ape Call" with Tarzan yelps and all, and the zorched-out hunk of outer limits mayhem called "The Fang" - with only the former making anything close to a dent on the charts (and a modest one at that). The three singles would be all she wrote for Drake's Dot days. There'd be a few additional singles for regional labels through the early 1960s - "Stoneage Woo" b/w "I Like Girls" on Embee and the twisted pair "Kibble Kobble (The Flying Saucer Song)" and "The Lean Green Vegetable Fiend (From ’Tuther Side Of The Moon)" on Vellez - before Drake's formal recording contract work was done. All of these along with recordings culled from privately pressed platters, demos and his unissued Melloroonie masters comprise this 33-track, biggy order of Nervous Norvous fittingly titled Stone-Age Woo. And in typical Norton Records fashion, the recording includes an equally monster-sized bio booklet filled with photos and the total skinny on the King of Zorch.
A-Bones Hit 20!
If there was such a thing as a Norton Records house band, the A-Bones would be it. What with two of its members - Miriam Linna and Billy Miller - the braintrust at the label, it comes as little surprise that they themselves have delved into garage-like shenanigans over the years with the A-Bones that get your yahs yahs out outlet. An aural whiff of the A-Bones and you'll understand what I mean. In its heyday, this was a band with mucho juice primed and ready to inject a romp and stomp butt-shake into just about any watering hole unafraid to book them. And that is exactly the mantra adopted by the band since day one. Born back in 1984 at a party in a storefront in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, it was supposed to be nothing more than a one night stand to play a bunch of personal nuggets for the beer-happy party people. The fact the band ignited the evening with a cover of the legendary Benny Joy's bell-ringer of a rocker "Gossip Gossip Gossip" was proof positive that a single gig would not cut it for this band that favored "real" rock 'n' roll. In the time since, five longplayers along with a variety store batch of non-LP singles and compilations tracks followed. The newly released two-CD anthology Daddy Needs a Cold Beer.....and Other Million Sellers (Norton CED-310) collects all A-Bones non-LP singles and compilation tracks including 10 previously unissued tracks of which one is a brand new recording with Japanese gal rockers The 126.96.36.199's of Kill Bill Volume 1 motion picture fame. It adds up to a colossal 46 tracks. The first disc is straight-up A-Bones while disc two finds the group mostly in backup band mode accompanying the likes of Norton Records faves such as Roy Loney (ex-Flamin' Groovies), The Great Gaylord, and rockabilly's Rudy Grayzell and Johnny Powers. A 28-page booklet accompanying the collection provides the complete, 20-year A-Bones lowdown as well as photos galore. Looking for an instant party starter for your own dive joint? Search no further than Daddy Needs a Cold Beer. Now that sure has a nifty ring to it, doesn't it?
West Virginia wild man Hasil Adkins' first studio album (which doubled as his Norton Records debut) finally gets the CD makeover here in the digital age. The 14-track LP The Wild Man first saw release on vinyl back in 1987. It was most of the world's first introduction to the off-kilter and gloriously unrefined sounds of the one-man racket squad Adkins. The newly issued CD re-release of The Wild Man (Norton CED-203) adds five bonus tracks to the original LP line-up, four of them previously unissued. The classics are all here, "Chicken "Flop", "Punch Wunchy Wickey Wackey Woo", "Do the Scalp", and "Still Missing You" to go with deep-catalogue "Haze-ified" covers from noted tunesmiths spanning Merle Haggard to Carl Perkins and A.P. Carter to Jimmie Rodgers.
7-inch Stones Continues
When it comes to releases of the 45 RPM variety, Norton Records has few, if any, rivals when it comes to carrying the 7-inch torch. Along with releasing a mess of amazing rock 'n' roll and R&B obscurities from the past on 7-inch vinyl, the past couple of years has seen the label launch its Rolling Stones 7-Incher series. The quick and dirty on the series is the commissioning by the label of a number of its most favorite combos to record their favorite early Stones compositions. Featuring a commemorative series label and sleeve, each 7-incher serves up two different bands delivering a Stones tune apiece. The 2004 wave features the likes of Jersey's The Swingin’ Neckbreakers teamed with Detroit maulers The Shanks, Boston legends The Lyres with The New Conolly 5 on the flip, the aforementioned A-Bones with the Rotting Stumps, ribald crooner Andre Williams with A-Bones backing on one side and joined by the Greasy Chickens on the B side, fearsome feline rockers 188.8.131.52’s paired with lower East Side beer band the Church Keys, and two of modern garage rock's best in The Greenhornes and Thee Shams covering "Sad Day" and "Under My Thumb", respectively.
The 7-inch madness doesn't stop there. Other Norton offerings on the 45 RPM front include rarities from The Triumphs, Texas garage rockers Randy Alvey & The Green Fuz ("Green Fuz"/"There is a Land"), and Twin Cities dance king Kai Ray ("I Want Some of That"/"Trashman’s Blues").
Moving to vinyl releases of the foot-long variety, Norton offers up a couple of LP-only releases of demo recordings from legendary rockabilly cat Johnny Burnette. The highly recommended Crazy Date: Rock & Roll Demos Volume One (Norton 308) and Wampus Cat: Rock & Roll Demos Volume Two (Norton 309) combine to deliver 36 previously unreleased demos from the great Burnette. (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.)
posted by Boudin Dan, 12/24/04