Pop The Clutch

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For Record Store Day’s Black Friday they put out a limited edition release of not so well known rockabilly hits called Pop The Clutch. I had to work, so I couldn’t make it to my favorite LRS Obsessions but lucky for me the MND was kind enough to pick it up. He also did his usual fine work on the needle drop even though it took some extra work, because all the songs are real short, with the longest being three and a half minutes. But in the immortal words of The Ramones, “We play short songs for people who don’t have a lot of spare time.” These songs make every second count right up to the moment they cut off. Back in the day having a song fade out wasn’t really a thing, so having an album full of songs that do a hard stop at the end takes a little getting used to.

This is a really fun collection and well worth getting your hands on. All too often these kinds of compilations are B-sides that while interesting really don’t add much to one’s music collection unless you are a completest and have to get everything the artist ever recorded. The other factor with compilations is that the sources can be pretty damned random. You can go from a song that is sourced from a perfect analog tape and sounds great, to one that is from an old cassette and sounds like crap. Pop The Clutch is smooth across the board with every song sounding like it was carefully edited.

The history of where this collection is curated from makes for some fun reading. Rhino Records is responsible for putting it together but all the artists were originally with Roulette Records (and some of the smaller companies they swallowed up over the years) which was founded back in the fifties and had ties to the Genovese crime family in New York. Tommy James and the Shondells who did the classic Crimson and Clover, reported that the company kept 40 million dollars of the bands royalties. Roulette was bought out by a consortium of Rhino and EMI in 1989 after the head of the company was sent to jail.  The new company sent out back royalty checks to a number of the artists who had been screwed over the years. They also started doing compilation albums like Pop The Clutch.

The first song off the album is by Chan Romero who got famous for Hippy Hippy Shake. He was a true American whose father was Spanish and Apache while his mother was Mexican, Cherokee, and Irish. Chan was discover by the A&R rep Sonny Bono who really liked the song that starts the album, My Little Ruby.  Cher’s future husband and comedy partner had a good ear because Ruby rips up the vinyl and starts things off with a blast.

Try as I might I couldn’t find info on Gerry Langford beyond copies of the song that is on the album, Tell Me. A straight forward rocker with the rolling lyrics and licks that make that kind of song so much fun, I’m surprised that there’s nothing out there about the artist. If anyone knows more please let me hit me up.

Buddy Knox was the kind of artist who never quite made it past Roy Orbison or Buddy Holly but did good solid work all the same. Not exactly an also ran but when you are in the company of giants sometimes it is hard to break past. Buddy Knox did songs like Party Doll that did well on the charts and wrote songs like Rock Around The Clock that were smash hits for other people. Swinging Daddy is one of his hits and should have a bigger following. It is so danceable and just makes you want to move.

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In Canada Ronnie Hawkins, or The Hawk, is Mr. Rockabilly. Born a couple of days after Elvis, in 1958 he took the advice of Conway Twitty and went to Canada. Ronnie Hawkins has been doing just fine. He has mentored musicians including members of The Band, ran The Rockwood where people like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins would come to play. This is the guy who wrote Stuck in Lodi and Lonesome Town. Bob Dylan considered him to be a genius. The song they picked for the album is Forty Days has a touch of Elvis, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins, then shows exactly what makes The Hawk all his own. It is rockabilly at its finest and the longest song on the album. There is another song on the album called Fussy that is a simple little instrumental piece by his backup band The Hawks. It’s the kind of thing a band would play while the lead singer is getting a drink and they want to show off. The picture below is Ronnie and his wife Wanda hanging out with some hippies, you might recognize.

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The next one is pretty cool, or at least it is for a geek like me. The song is I Got A Rocket In My Pocket, which you may have heard on the soundtrack from The Right Stuff. The name given for the artist is Jimmy Lloyd which has an interesting story behind it. You see Jimmy Lloyd was actually Jimmie Logsdon who was a country singer doing Hank Williams style music and who felt he was a bit long in the tooth to be doing rock and roll. So he signed onto Roulette Records using the Jimmy Lloyd name and didn’t have any pictures. Of course, his most successful music was the rockabilly and for good reason. Rocket In My Pocket bounces and jumps all over the room without slowing down with the piano giving it a kick ass drive.

Every album has its misfires and Rave On is this ones. Sonny West wrote Rave On but Buddy Holly went on to make it his own. The arrangement especially with the sax just doesn’t work. Sonny was part of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia and a decent writer/musician but this just doesn’t work.

Dale Hawkins was Ronnie Hawkins cousin but their music styles are completely different. Dale Hawkins is swamp rat boogie at its finest. His song Women – That’s What’s Happening has only one problem, it’s too damn short. It could do with some guitar solos in the middle or something. I’m surprised that George Thorogood hasn’t found this one, harmonica and all.

Jimmy Isle wrote all of the songs he did with his brother Ronnie and since the two of them grew up in Nashville it only made sense to be country music stars. Going Wild was their one big hit and they have backup from The Southlanders for vocals as well as some wild guitar work.

Fast Freight is labeled as being by Arvee Allens which is the first non de plume of Ritchie Valens. If you don’t recognize the musician who was there when the music died, maybe you are more familiar with his big hit La Bamba. Personally I’m a huge fan of the all instrumental Fast Freight, it just rolls down the line like the train it’s named after clearing everything out of the way. He also has a song later on the album as Ritchie Valens, the more well-known, Come On, Let’s Go. It’s fine, but doesn’t have the get up and go that Fast Freight does.

Johnnie Strickland is another artist I couldn’t find much about, which doesn’t make me feel too bad since I guess a lot of other music writers can’t either, but it is a shame because his song Baby Come Back just rocks the house down. Every one of these songs makes you want to move and groove but this one fires up the afterburner.

Sometimes you read about those kids who had a band in high school made a few albums then when it didn’t go anywhere, they broke up and didn’t do anything with music again. From what I can tell that’s what happened to the Rock-A-Teens. I have to say it’s kind of a shame there is some genuine talent in their song Lotta Boppin. I’m sure a lot of people could just write it off as one of many like it but it fits in really well with the album.

Johnny Rivers comes as you can get to aping Elvis on Baby Come Back. It’s not a bad song just pretty derivative and considering this is the guy who did Secret Agent Man, it could have been more interesting.

Now for one of the coolest songs on the album. It’s called How’s Your Bird and it’s by a band called Baby Ray and The Ferns. Baby Ray is a gentleman named Ray Collins who did falsetto in do-wop band and doing voices. The Ferns was his friend Frank Zappa. Yes, that Frank Zappa. This can only be done with a video.

I learned a lot about Mel Jackson (and a lot of other amazing musicians) from Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians by Peter Guralnick. Mel Jackson grew up in the industry and could play at the drop of a hat. His song Move It Over Baby shows how you use the sax to make a song move unlike Rave On. This one does have a nice fade at the end.

The Addrisi Brothers came from a family of acrobats and had help getting started from Lenny Bruce. Can you tell that I had way too much fun researching this stuff? The thing is that music often has touchstones to history that we don’t realize when we just hear the song on the radio. Cherry Stone was their only real big hit and it’s worthy of the collection.

The last song in the collection is Diamond Back by Cecil Moore, which is a pretty choice wrap up. From its guitar opening and the maraca ‘rattler’ tail this is a fun instrumental piece that just gets you moving. Cecil Moore plays lead guitar, Joe Woods is playing rhythm guitar, Larry Voight is on bass, Scotty Decker is on drums and Billy Don Pester is playing the maracas.

So yeah, if you can get this album. It’s a limited edition and won’t be easy but I can’t recommend it enough. Here’s the really important part though. Every one of these artists are worth checking out further, if you can find more of their stuff that is. If you are looking for other rockabilly compilations I would recommend Whistle Bait and the 1998 Rockabilly Essentials.

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Peter Hill

About Peter Hill

Hunter of vinyl, lover of music, drinker of Guinness, causer of trouble and pounder of keyboard.

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