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Danny Gatton, guitarist who fused rockabilly, jazz and country, was born 78 years ago
Photo by John Halpern
Danny Gatton was born 78 years ago today.
Gatton was a guitarist who fused rockabilly, jazz and country to create his own distinctive style.
Born in Washington, D.C., his father, Daniel W. Gatton Sr., was a rhythm guitarist known for his unique percussive style, who left his musical career to raise his family in a more stable profession. Young Danny grew up to share his father's passion for the instrument.
Gatton began his career playing in bands while still a teenager. He began to attract wider interest in the 1970s while playing guitar and banjo for the group, Liz Meyer & Friends. He made his name as a performer in the Washington, DC, area during the late 1970s and 1980s, both as a solo performer and with his Redneck Jazz Explosion.
In the Explosion, he traded licks with virtuoso pedal steel player, Buddy Emmons, over a tight bass-drums rhythm that drew from blues, country, bebop and rockabilly influences. He also backed Robert Gordon and Roger Miller.
Gatton's playing combined musical styles such as jazz, blues and rockabilly in an innovative fashion, and he was known by some as the Telemaster. He was also called the world's greatest unknown guitarist, and The Humbler, from his ability to out-play anyone willing to go up against him in "head-cutting" jam sessions.
Amos Garrett, guitar player for Maria Muldaur, gave Gatton the Humbler nickname. A photo published in the October, 2007 issue of Guitar Player magazine shows Gatton playing in front of a neon sign that says "Victims Wanted." However, he never achieved the commercial success that his talent arguably deserved. His skills were most appreciated by his peers such as Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and his childhood idol, Les Paul.
During his career, Gatton appeared on stage with Alvin Lee and Jimmie Vaughan. Gatton had roomed with Roy Buchanan in Nashville in the mid '60s and they became frequent jamming partners. He also performed with old teenage friend, Jack Casady, and Jorma Kaukonen (from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) as Jack and the Degenerates.
Those recordings were never released, but live tapes are in circulation. In 1993, rocker Chris Isaak invited Gatton to record tracks for Isaak's San Francisco Days CD. Reports of where Gatton's playing can be heard on the CD vary, with unconfirmed reports placing him on either Can't Do a Thing (To Stop Me), 5:15 or Beautiful Houses. He usually played a 1953 Fender Telecaster with Joe Barden pickups and Fender Super 250Ls, or Nickel Plated Steel (.010 to .046 with a .015 for the G) strings.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 90s, Gatton worked closely with Fender to create his own signature model guitar – The Danny Gatton Signature Telecaster. It was released in 1990.
For a slide, Gatton sometimes used a beer bottle or mug. He said he preferred to use an Alka-Seltzer bottle or long 6L6 vacuum tube as a slide, but that audiences liked the beer bottle. He did, however, only play slide overhand, citing his earlier training in steel guitar. Among amplifiers Gatton is known to have used are a 1959 Fender Bassman amp and a heavily customized blackface Fender Vibrolux Reverb.
After using Fender picks, he switched to a jazz-style teardrop pick after Buchanan had recommended them to him. He was capable of intricate passages combining bluegrass, bebop and garage sounds, executed with amazing clarity and at dizzying speeds.
His picking technique was a hybrid combination of pick and fingers, primarily his middle and ring fingers on his right hand. The basis of his picking technique was using banjo rolls, since was an accomplished banjo player and from that he learned the traditional (Scruggs style) right-hand technique.
His forward roll consisted of a pick downstroke, then middle finger, then ring finger. His backward roll consisted of middle finger, then a pick upstroke, then a pick downstroke. He possessed a classical guitar left hand technique, thumb behind the neck, fretting with arched fingers.
Among his admirers were Les Paul, James Burton, Lenny Breau, Joe Bonamassa (whom Danny mentored when Joe was eleven years old), Vince Gill, Evan Johns (of Evan Johns and His H-Bombs), Chris Cheney, Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee, Steve Vai, Buckethead, Arlen Roth, Johnny Hiland, Ricky Skaggs, Slash and Richie Sambora.
On October 4, 1994, Gatton locked himself in his garage in Newburg, Maryland and shot himself. He left behind no explanation. Members of his family and close friends believe Danny had silently suffered from depression for many years. He was 49 years old.
On January 10, 11 and 12, 1995, Tramps club in New York organized a three-night tribute to Gatton featuring dozens of Gatton's musical admirers, the highlight of which was a twenty-minute performance by Les Paul, James Burton, Arlen Roth and Albert Lee. Those shows (with all musicians performing for free) raised $25,000 for Gatton's wife and daughter.
Danny Gatton has been described as possessing an extraordinary proficiency on his instrument, "a living treasury of American musical styles." In 2009, John Previti, who played bass guitar with Danny for 18 years said: "You know, when he played country music, it sounded like all he played was country music. When he played jazz, it sounded like that's all he played, rockabilly, old rock and roll, soul music. You know, he called himself a Whitman sampler of music."
Legendary guitarist Steve Vai reckons Danny "comes closer than anyone else to being the best guitar player that ever lived." Accomplished guitar veteran Albert Lee said of Gatton: "Here’s a guy who’s got it all.”
Here, Gatton performs with a beer and towel…
Jerry Ragovoy, songwriter and record producer, was born 93 years ago today.
Ragavoy’s best-known composition, "Time Is on My Side," was co-written by Jimmy Norman, an R&B artist and long-time member of The Coasters. It was released under the pseudonym of Norman Meade. The song was made famous by the Rolling Stones, although it had been recorded earlier by Kai Winding and Irma Thomas.
Ragovoy also wrote "Stay With Me," which was originally recorded by Lorraine Ellison, and later performed by Mary J. Blige.
Born in Philadelphia, the son of a Hungarian-born Jewish optometrist, Ragovoy entered record production in 1953 with "My Girl Awaits Me" by the Castelles.
Another well-known song by Ragovoy is "Piece of My Heart," co-written with Bert Berns and recorded originally by Erma Franklin, and later famously covered by Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Between 1966 and 1968, Ragovoy was employed as producer and songwriter for the Warner Bros subsidiary Loma Records. He also co-wrote several songs in Janis Joplin's solo career, including "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" (originally by Lorraine Ellison on Loma Records), "Cry Baby" (originally by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters, "Get it While You Can" (originally by Howard Tate, covered by Joplin) and "My Baby."
Prior to Joplin's death, Ragovoy wrote a song especially for her next album, titled "I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven." The song was never recorded or performed until shortly before Ragovoy's death in July 2011, when it was included in the theatrical production One Night with Janis Joplin, written and directed by Randy Johnson with arrangements and musical direction by Len Rhodes.
Ragovoy was in attendance on opening night when the show premiered at Portland Center Stage on May 27, 2011.
Ragovoy died, following a stroke, on July 13, 2011, at the age of 80.
Here, the Rolling Stones perform Ragovoy and Jimmy Norman’s “Time Is On My Side.”
Jimmy Norman at Penang, mid 90s
Photo by Frank Beacham
The story of the rock classic, Time Is On My Side, was long shrouded in mystery.
Jimmy Norman, who died in 2011, claimed co-authorship with Jerry Ragovoy of the lyrics to the version of the song that is well known by music fans today.
A confusing history of recording credits only added to the mysterious twists and turns of a complex story. We researched the story, and did interviews with many of the main characters, including a very contentious Jerry Ragovoy.
Ragovoy denied any involvement with Jimmy Norman, but his own attorney, Don Biederman, acknowledged in legal documents that Norman had contributed to the song’s lyrics.
He argued that Jimmy Norman was not entitled to royalties because his additional work on the lyrics amounted to “a derivative work.” He argued that Norman’s credit on the original record was “a clerical error.”
So Ragovoy and his attorney disagreed on Norman’s involvement.
When I interviewed Irma Thomas about her work with Jimmy Norman, she claimed not to remember.
Today, “Time Is On My Side” is in the public domain. Another “clerical error” in Ragovoy’s office resulted in it losing its copyright protection.
In October, 1963, trombonist Kai Winding recorded Jerry Ragovoy’s instrumental for the first time. The Verve single was produced by Creed Taylor and engineered by Phil Ramone.
An uncredited background vocal group, made up of Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, sang the following lyrics:
Time is on my side, yes yes
Time is on my side, yes yes
You'll come running back
You'll come running back
You’ll come running back to me.
In early, 1964, the song was chosen for recording by Irma Thomas, then a young 23-year-old singer from New Orleans. Thomas’s arranger, H.B. Barnum, hired Jimmy Norman to write extensive additional lyrics to the original Ragovoy version, since there were none.
It was a rush job, finished at the Los Angeles recording studio only minutes before Thomas began recording.
Imperial’s single release of Time Is On My Side was not a hit for Irma Thomas. But, a short time later, in June, 1964, the Rolling Stones recorded the song, using the same expanded lyrics used by Irma Thomas.
Released as both an album and single in October, the song became a signature for the Rolling Stones and is now an American rock & roll classic.
Jimmy Norman was credited for his additional lyrics only on the original Irma Thomas single release. A Jerry Ragovoy pseudonym, Norman Meade, was used on the Kai Winding release as N. Meade. The credit N. Meade and J. Norman appeared on the Irma Thomas single.
On the Rolling Stones release the credit was printed in two versions, Meade-Norman, and Meade; Norman.
Jimmy Norman never collected royalties for his work on the song.
All the evidence points to Jimmy Norman writing a substantial amount of the lyrics to the song. In acknowledgment of that, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones met with Jimmy Norman in the final years of his life.
They smoked a joint together — sort of a peace pipe that symbolically settled a long dispute.
Today, Jimmy Norman is credited with co-authorship with the song, though he never got more than the $200 in cash for writing the lyrics at Irma Thomas’s recording session.
On this day in 1882 — 141 years ago — a section of New York City began to glow as the sun went down.
That afternoon, an employee of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company had flipped the main circuit breaker at Thomas Edison’s first power plant on Pearl Street, bringing light to 800 bulbs in a 50-block area downtown.
According to The New York Times, “it was not till about 7 o’clock, when it began to grow dark, that the electric light really made itself known and showed how bright and steady it is.”
The Times described “the light was soft, mellow and grateful to the eye.”
It went on to say: “The electric lamps in The Times Building were as thoroughly tested last evening as any light could be tested in a single evening and tested by men who have battered their eyes sufficiently by years of night work to know the good and bad points of a lamp, and the decision was unanimously in favor of the Edison electric lamp as against gas.”
The plant was located at 255-257 Pearl Street on a site measuring 50 by 100 feet, just south of Fulton Street. It began with one direct current generator, serving an initial load of 400 lamps at 85 customers. By 1884, Pearl Street Station was serving 508 customers with 10,164 lamps.
The station was originally powered by custom-made Porter-Allen high-speed steam engines designed to provide 175 horsepower at 700 rpm, but these proved to be unreliable with their sensitive governors. They were removed and replaced with new engines from Armington & Sims that proved to be much more suitable for Edison's dynamos. The station burned down in 1890, destroying all but one dynamo that is now kept in the Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
In 1929, the New York Edison Company constructed three scale working models of the station. When a button was pushed, a motor turned the engines, generators and other equipment in the model. A set of lamps connected to labelled buttons identified the various areas of the building.
The models still exist and are on display at the Smithsonian Institution Behring Center in Washington, at the Consolidated Edison Learning Center in Long Island City, New York and at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Thanks New York Times!
On this day in 1951 — 72 years ago today — President Harry S. Truman's opening speech before a conference in San Francisco was broadcast across the nation, marking the first time a television program was broadcast from coast to coast.
The speech focused on Truman's acceptance of a treaty that officially ended America's post-World War II occupation of Japan. The broadcast, using microwave technology, was picked up by 87 stations in 47 cities.
It’s hard to believe, with the deep the effects television has had on our culture, that the medium is still so young. Television, of course, is now in every nook and cranny of American life. It has not been with us forever, as many seem to think.
Today, television has mostly become a tool of political propaganda. It is long past time for a national debate and a critical reassessment of the effects television has had on our culture.
Frank and Moon Zappa
Versatile, prolific, iconoclastic, misanthropic — all of these labels were attached to the name Frank Zappa over the course of his unique career in music, but one label that never fit was "pop star."
Even during his late 1960s and early 1970s heyday, it would have been hard to imagine a figure less likely than Frank Zappa to make a record that would capture the imagination of America's pop radio-listening 14-year-olds.
But then a funny thing happened: Frank Zappa had a 14-year-old of his own, and through her creative attempts to connect with her work-obsessed father, a true pop phenomenon was born.
On this day in 1982 — 41 years ago — Frank Zappa earned his first and only Top 40 hit with the satirical record, "Valley Girl," conceived by and featuring the voice of his 14-year-old daughter, Moon Unit.
As Moon Zappa ("Unit" is her middle name) tells the story, the one and only sacred rule growing up in the Zappa household was never to disturb dad while he was working in his studio, which was most of the time. So it was via a note slipped under his studio door that Moon broached the idea of recording a song that would satirize the shallow and vapid culture of a certain element of teen culture in her Los Angeles-area environs.
"Since we don't seem to be able to get together personally," she wrote to her father, "maybe we could get together professionally." Two nights later, Frank Zappa invited his daughter into his studio for the first time, and they began work on "Valley Girl."
Though intended by both father and daughter as a send-up of the stereotypical mall-dwelling teens of the San Fernando Valley, "Valley Girl" took on a life of its own once loosed into the popular culture. While most may have consumed the song as satire, that didn't stop such Valley vocabulary as "Fer sure," "Ohmigod," "Gag me with a spoon" and "Grody to the max" from spreading like a virus into corners of the world previous untouched by such catchphrases.
Frank Zappa's biographical overview at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — into which he was inducted in 1995, two years after his untimely death from cancer at the age of only 53 — includes the following observation:
"Throughout his career, Zappa darkly but humorously depicted a landscape of wasted human enterprise largely driven by Pavlovian desires for consumer goods, sports and sex."
"Valley Girl" might not have been the most sharply realized example of Frank Zappa's dark humor, but when it entered the pop charts on September 4, 1982, it gave him the biggest hit of his truly unique career.
Here, Moon Zappa performs “Valley Girl” in 1982.
Dancers at Club Ebony, Indianola, Mississippi
Photo by Bill Steber