Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dirt City Chronicles_Cassette to MP3

Cassette to MP3: The Bobby Fuller Four_Best Of_Rhino Records_ Golden Archive Series 1981

Nobody does reissues like Rhino Records and this “Best Of “ compilation, released in 1981 meets the Rhino standard for excellence. An 18-track compilation from the Mustang archives, described by Richie Unterberger of All Music Review as “truly all killer, no filler” It's loaded with hits "I Fought the Law," "Let Her Dance," "The Magic Touch," "Love's Made a Fool of You," "Fool of Love," "My True Love," and some lesser-known but requisite tracks, “Baby My Heart” “It's Love Come What May” “Another Sad and Lonely Night” “Don't Ever Let Me Know” As with all Rhino retrospectives, the insert notes are detailed, extensive and informative. That's wasn't always the case with cassette releases. Just one of the many reasons Rhino releases are bitchin'.

Founded by Richard Foos in 1973, from its austere start Rhino grew into a national record distributor specializing primarily in novelty records. (Wild Man Fischer “Go to Rhino Records” Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, The Plastic Rhino Band etc.) The early releases were imprinted with “Rocky the Rhino, a leather clad 50s greaser. The recording label was launched in 1978 and the shift towards re-issues began with the acquisition of licensing rights to the White Whale Records catalog (A Los Angeles indie label best known for The Turtles... Warren Zevon was once a staff songwriter) A landmark six year distribution deal with Capitol Records, allowed Rhino to re-issue Capitol recordings (and those of its subsidiaries such as Roulette Records, acquired by Capitol's parent company EMI)

A subsequent deal with Atlantic Records and Time Warner further enhanced the Rhino catalog and resulted in Time Warner acquiring 50% of Rhino Records (re-branded as Rhino Entertainment) Rocky the Rhino fell by the wayside, replaced by a trademarked red & white “Rhino” corporate logo. The one constant at Rhino records was always the superior sound quality. The work of music engineer and producer Bill Inglot, known for his unmatched ability to remaster older recordings to meet high quality digital standards. Rhino's superb research staff (Harold Bronson, Gary Stewart and a host of others) compiled music and composed sleeve (liner) notes. Bronson one of the original store managers is credited with moving the record stores towards distribution.

“The Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four” fittingly kicks off with a pair of Sonny Curtis compositions. Bobby Fuller went to the “In Style With The Crickets” wellspring many a time. It's probably safe to say that he either recorded or performed every single song on The Crickets iconic album at one point or another (including the “I Fought The Law” “Baby My Heart” and “Love's Made a Fool of You” all included on this compilation) In any case, Bobby wasn't alone, numerous musicians cite “In Style With The Crickets” as a major influence, including The Beatles. In the U.K. They were considered major artists on par with Buddy Holly. The British, being excellent judges of American musical talent were certainly on to something. Buddy received the laurels but The Crickets were no slouches either.

Jerry Allison had a distinct style of playing drums. Not content to just sit back and keep the beat, he was one of rock music's most innovative drummers. His modal cymbal drumming and rolling toms were as recognizable as Buddy Holly's distinctive vocals. Allison as “Ivan” scored a minor chart hit with his version of the rock classic “Real Wild Child” having heard Johnny O'Keefe's original while touring Australia with The Crickets in 1958. Sonny Curtis (one half of the Buddy Holly & The Two Tones, Don Guess being the other) joined The Crickets after Buddy's death. Sonny's best known songs include: “I Fought The Law” (Bobby Fuller, The Clash) “More Than I Can Say” (Bobby Vee, Leo Sayer) “Walk Right Back” (The Everly Bros.) Love is All Around (Mary Tyler Moore theme song)

Throughout the Mustang recording sessions Bobby Fuller agonized over what was becoming of his music. Accustomed to calling the shots, he found himself butting heads with Bob Keane. This ate away at Bobby's self confidence. The egocentric Fuller had always plotted his own course, now it dawned on him that by signing with Bob Keane, he had conceded that right. The most glaring example of this was the band's new name “The Bobby Fuller Four” changed at Keane's insistence. “Let Her Dance” the band's near breakout single was also a source of friction. Bobby felt that Keane had taken liberties with his original composition “Keep on Dancing” when in fact Bob Keane had transformed Fuller's clunky original into a pulsating, bass propelled radio friendly ditty.

Next, Keane's A&R man, session musician, arranger, producer Barry White (the make-out music maestro) was brought in to work the sessions for “The Magic Touch” and “I'm A Lucky Guy”, John Barbata (of The Turtles) sat in on drums, replacing DeWayne Quirico who had been unceremoniously shit canned. Bob Keane felt that lacking a strong follow-up to “Let Her Dance” song mills such as The Brill Building were his only viable option. Written by Brill Building veteran Ted Daryll, “The Magic Touch” was an Motown-esque number that should have been a big hit. It failed to launch. Bobby was unhappy with the final mix, which he deemed as “too thin, with not enough oomph” He bitterly vented to his brother Randy "It doesn't even sound like one of our songs"
It was a classic disconnect between “the artist” who wanted to see his “artistic vision” come to fruition and the hit maker who just wanted to see a profit on his investment. The focus on Bobby was straining relationships within the band. Bobby and Randy were at odds, DeWayne Quirico had been fired and as Bob Keane recalled: “The other guitarist (Jim Reese) was a real asshole, he caused a lot of problems” Under the gun to produce a “hit” Bobby had turned to his tried and true El Paso songbook. The success of “I Fought The Law” may have exacerbated the stress Bobby was feeling. The gigs Bob Keane had them working amounted to long hours of playing to unappreciative partygoers. Which Bobby resented to no end. “It might as well have been a juke box playing up there, for all the difference it made. They don't need us”

They had become provincial hot shots struggling to stand out in the crowd, rubes reduced to playing in square clubs where the music merely provided a soundtrack for celebrity gawkers. The Beatles had released “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” The Beach Boys were coming out with “Pet Sounds” Bob Dylan was ready to drop “Blonde on Blonde” on the masses. Music was changing rapidly, The Bobby Fuller Four were falling hopelessly out of fashion. The band's final tour (just a few months prior to his death) was met by small apathetic crowds, unfamiliar with the band or their music. That tour came to an ugly end at the start of a four day run in San Francisco, when Bobby and Randy came to blows. Bobby immediately canceled the band's remaining appearances and returned to Los Angeles.

All these factors combined to foil Fuller's muse and stunt his creative progression. Desperately seeking artistic inspiration, Bobby had started experimenting with LSD” telling Randy "The way that LSD works, if you're really intelligent, if doesn't affect you" We would never see the fruits of Bobby's acid inspired revelations. A sense of malfeasance was slowly enveloping the band. Frustration and bitterness hung in the air like a fog. Thing is... chart success was just around the corner. In early 1966, a new version of “I Fought The Law” was working its way up the charts (written by Sonny Curtis and originally recorded on Exeter Records, Fuller's own label) It would peak at #9, a few months after Bobby Fuller had been laid to rest. (the song had just cracked the Top 100, at the time of his death)

The Bobby Fuller Four     KRLA King of the Wheels     Mustang 1965

And now on to the bonus round of Cassette to MP3. “KRLA King of the Wheels”, was the Bobby Fuller Four's first official album release. Issued in November, 1965 it was “sponsored” by KRLA-AM. The station was going through a turbulent period. Previous owner Jack Kent Cooke (future owner of the Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings) had been stripped of ownership by the FCC for contest fraud and foreign control of a US radio station. A non-profit group had been appointed to run the station until a new owner could be found. As a result KRLA operated within a bare bones budget. This led to some creative forms of advertising. It's generally acknowledged that Bob Keane slapped KRLA's call letters on the cover in exchange for radio play.

Since the advent of Top 40 radio, KRLA had been locked in a ratings war with KFWB and KHJ. By the mid-60s it was battling KFWB for the “ Top Rocker” spot, though KHJ with the introduction of “Boss Radio” in 1965 quickly left both stations in the dust. KHJ ran a heavy rotation of promotions and contest. KRLA was forced to keep pace. With “hot rod” music all the rage, the station took on sponsorship of Doug Robinson's KRLA Horse Power Engineering top fuel dragster. That's how the iconic cover shot of The Bobby Fuller Four and Doug Robinson's rail dragster came about. (With Bobby at the wheel, of course) Bob Keane's primeval version of Kick Starter paid off. Randy Fuller recalled: “Bob told us, you boys listen to KRLA at one o'clock today. Your record's gonna be on there”

At the prescribed time “Let Her Dance” came pulsating from the car speakers throughout Los Angeles. Side one is solid, with the exception of the throwaway “She's My Girl” which is more of an idea than a fully realized song (Hey!, let's do something that sorta sounds like what the Beach Boys were doing last year) “Never to be Forgotten” “Another Sad and Lonely Night” “Fool of Love” are Bobby Fuller classics. With better promotion, the infectious “Let Her Dance” would have been a huge hit. Mustang botched the release, releasing it twice, then licensing the song to Liberty Records which released it again, confused the hell out of distributors. “Take my Word” an excellent song, is Bobby's take on The Beatles' sound before “Rubber Soul”

“King of the Wheels” is Bobby's surf anthem “King of the Beach” enhanced with dragster lingo and sound effects. “The Lonely Dragster” is “Wolfman” stripped of wolf howls and Bobby's hilariously bad Wolfman Jack impersonation. The wolf howls do make an appearance on “KRLA Top Eliminator” which shamelessly rips off Long John Hunter's “El Paso Rock” without giving him so much as a songwriting credit. Not Cool! “The Phantom Dragster” is a hokey, “how does this guy keep showing up everywhere I go” hot rod saga, that ends with the chief of police a mangled heap of meat. “Little Annie Lou” is an old fashioned rave-up that somehow ended up as the b-side of “I Fought The Law” “ The Old El Paso warhorse “Saturday Night” gets a makeover and still sounds hopelessly dated.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.... I mean tires and not cigarettes. My copy of “KRLA King of the Wheels” appears to be of Mexican or Argentine origin, “Discos Astro S.A. Serie Cassette” Could be a pirated copy or an attempt to tap into that lucrative market “south of the border” by Bob Keane. I plucked it from a table of cassette tapes at Big Louie's Flea Market in Las Cruces years ago. The vendor claimed he bought them in bulk from Casa de Musica De Luxe in Juarez. Who am I to say otherwise. For a cassette tape of fuzzy origin and unknown age, the audio quality was above par. Although I did apply a bit of audio normalization to eliminate some volume drop offs. I tweaked the stereo mix and cut out the silence between songs, some of which seemed inordinately long.

I Fought the Law
Baby My Heart
The Magic Touch
It's Love, Come What May
Only When I Dream
Love's Made a Fool of You
Let Her Dance
King of the Wheels
Little Annie Lou
Another Sad and Lonely Night
My True Love
Don't Ever Let Me Know
I'm A Lucky Guy
Saturday Night
Fool of Love
A New Shade of Blue
Never to Be Forgotten

Never to be Forgotten
Another Sad and Lonely Night
She's My Girl
Take My Word
Fool of Love
Let Her Dance
King of the Wheels
Little Annie Lou
The Phantom Dragster
Saturday Night
KRLA Top Eliminator