In the midst of a week filled with rotten news, things were made even worse when we lost a kindred spirit…
Billy Miller was a true champion for the foot-stomping, hip-shaking, soulful roots music we call rock ‘n’ roll. Along with his beloved companion / partner Miriam Linna, they established an incredible legacy designed to honor, archive and celebrate in the grandest possible manner, the rich heritage of American garage rock music with their Norton Records label, Kicks magazine and their musical group, The A-Bones.
In the Norton comic book “Kicksville Confidential,” (illustrated by Avi Spivak) Billy shared his story about how they got started….
I really loved KICKS magazine – a fantastic hodgepodge of music reviews and historic overviews of forgotten oddball performers, all blended together with a healthy sampling of humor in the jugular vein.
Here’s a sample page from issue #3….
When Billy and Miriam shifted their focus from a music magazine to a record label, they created a wonderful showcase for some truly unforgettable entertainers…
“Norton’s got a six and a half foot Cyclops drag queen, a pair of singing Siamese twins, an Indian with a lung, at least three murderers, the nation’s number one art thief, the world’s first wheelchair confined bad guy wrestling manager, a hillbilly who sings about the joys of chicken, cheese and decapitation, at least three pimps, an elephant thief, a convicted pornographer, about a dozen guys that wears turbans for no apparent reason, one guy who claims to be from Saturn and another who claims to be from Mars, and we haven’t even gotten to Kim Fowley!” – Billy Miller, as quoted in interview with Ugly Things Magazine
..and their own band, The A-Bones, wasn’t too shabby either!!
The legacy of Billy and Miriam’s empire has been a great inspiration for us that love this kinda stuff!
(a cool photo of Billy & Miriam with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – a wild and crazy guy)
Four years ago, Hurricane Sandy destroyed a lot of the Norton Records inventory, but they were able to salvage what they could, and continue what they were doing, opening a retail shop earlier this year.
To celebrate the spirit of Billy, we’re sharing a special performance of him singing a “LOUIE relative” with a video clip of the A-Bones live at Otto’s Shrunken Head’s Tribute to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on February 13, 2014. It’s a cover version of a Paul Revere & Raiders song written as a sequel to Richard Berry‘s timeless ditty.
As promised, here’s more on Buck Ormsby, who passed away recently…
My friend Alec Palao wrote an excellent tribute to Buck that was shared at the Ace Records website.
Here’s the first paragraph…
BUCK ORMSBY defined the term “rocker” better than anyone I have ever met in the music business. Not in the clichéd sense of an extrovert who struts the stage and lives life with abandon; rather, Buck was a clear champion for, and a willing slave to, the cause that unites us all. Unlike others in a similar position, he was never overbearing or proprietary; eschewing the spotlight, Buck Ormsby proffered no agenda other than to keep the faith for what he felt need nurturing and preserving: real rock’n’roll.
My friend Merri Sutton shared a wonderful memories of Buck on her Facebook page:
He heard our son, Peter (11 years old at the time, 2004), playing guitar one Wednesday night in the Guitar Center store in Tacoma. We had been amp shopping for what seemed like months. While I wandered around, memorizing all of the guitars on the wall, Peter was playing “San-Ho-Zay.” A fellow walked up to him and said, “Hey, kid, where’d you learn that song?” Peter said, “From Jho Blenis, my guitar teacher.” “Well, my band recorded that song. You play it pretty good. Would you like to come play with my band next week at the Silver Dollar? We do a radio show there.” “Sure, but I’ll have to ask my mom.” The mom was standing behind Buck by the time…. Buck turned around, smiled, extended his hand, and said, “Hi. I’m Buck Ormsby (like he needed to introduce himself). Your boy here is pretty good. I’d like him to come out and play with The Fabulous Wailers, if that’s okay.” I nodded like a drunken seal. “Yes, that would be fine….” And so it began. By the summer of the next year, Peter was on the poster for Louiefest, a huge music festival of which I had become an organizer, playing on the Main Stage with some of the top guitar players in the PNW. He played with The Fabulous Wailers at their gigs all summer – at 12 years old. I was asked by Buck and Kent Morrill to be on the board of the Wailers Performing Arts Foundation, and then I found myself in the position of photographer for The Fabulous Wailers and The Sonics… being mentored by the legendary Jini Dellaccio. I still pinch myself because it’s so surreal.
I’ve learned so much from Buck over the years. He has been so giving of his knowledge, encouragement, mentoring and, most of all, friendship. We’ve done a lot of work together and had even more fun. He’s helped me connect with many amazing people, and because of him I will hopefully be able do a lot more with and for the PNW music community – and help finish some of the projects he has left undone. I will miss him so much. He was my buddy.
Merri Sutton shot this photo of Buck (right) with Kent Morrill and Jini Dellaccio, as well as the lead photograph of this blog post.
Tacoma Weekly did a nice write-up on Buck, featuring some wonderful words from his long-time friend and former bandmate Bill Engelhart.
“Of all of us, that kind of started the ball rolling in Tacoma, if any of us really tried to keep the history of that going it was Buck,” Engelhart said. “That was a focus that he seemed to have all the time. He wanted people to remember. He would give us light, and it was really important to him.”
Today, I’m sharing a video I shot of Buck performing “Willie and the Hand Jive” live at the Kent Morrill tribute concert that took place on May 4, 2011 in Tacoma, Washington.
This was the first and only time I’d ever heard Buck sing lead vocals!!
My friend Dave Marsh on the passing of Buck Ormsby:
My first response is about what I figure Buck’s woulda been: Aww fuck…
Dave dedicated a special edition of Rock & Rap Confidential to Buck:
RRC Extra No. 58: Buck Ormsby
SPANISH CASTLE WIZARD…. Dave Marsh writes: Buck Ormsby was the guitar player in the Wailers of “Tall Cool One” and the leader of all the madhouse rock that came after him and his great band that rescued “Louie Louie” from a trash-heap.
Now, this won’t mean a damned thing to anyone not fully steeped — soaked to the DNA — in Pacific Northwest rock’n’roll lore. But without Buck, and the shows he did with the Wailers and other bands he was in, at the Spanish Castle (not a figment of Jimi Hendrix’s imagination but a true crazoid rocker hatchery) and elsewhere in Seattle and Tacoma and Portland, that whole area, there would not have been the Kingsmen doing “Louie Louie” (because they were only doing it ‘cause they’d seen the Wailers do it), there would not have been any of the Sonics, etc. powerhouse garage punk music, there wouldn’t be any memory of “Louie” at all.
He was a pioneer in having a band own its masters (and for that matter, its record company), he was a champion of the lost memory of Rockin’ Robin Roberts, of the blues and R&B musicians they copped all their licks from before warping them into teenage overdrive. He was one of the toughest guys I ever met and although I usually couldn’t deliver, I’m proud of the fact that he always at least tried to include me in all his over-ambitious projects. He had a vision, more vision than pretty much anybody out there, certainly more vision than anybody in his area until the grunge gangs evolved (and that wouldn’t have happened without the foundations he laid, and there’s nobody part of it I can think of it who was as visionary as Buck was on a bad day). And nobody outside of Seattle-Tacoma-Portland will remember him in a half inch of obituary.
But I can’t forget. He was my shepherd when I wrote the “Louie” book. But it wasn’t just that. He was a throwback to every indomitable rock’n’roll impresario I’ve known from Jeep Holland to Frank Barsalona. He was even in his own merciless way a prefiguration of Little Steven. I own no higher praise.
I told Eric Predoehl, the “Louie” archivist who’s been close to finishing a Louie Louie documentary for the past 25 years that my reaction to the news was “Aw fuck” because I figured that was what Buck would have said. They tore down the Castle to widen the highway, or something equally useless. They will never tear down Buck Ormsby because they can’t even reach that high.
Take it from Jimi, who was there, up front copping licks from all those heroes, and didn’t neglect them as he became one:
Hang on, My Darling, Yeah
Hang on if you want to go
It puts everything else on the shelf
With just a little bit of Spanish Castle Magic
Just a little bit of daydream here and there.
Today, Saturday October 29th, I was saddened to learn that my friend Buck Ormsby died early this morning on his birthday.
Here’s the message I saw on Buck’s Facebook wall:
Thank you to everyone who is sending birthday wishes to my father. He died early this morning. As many of you know he was down in Mexico for alternative cancer treatment, though cancer was not the cause of death. It was an unfortunate accident. Please know that his last months have been transformative in so many ways, and he was in a special place. Please give us time to adjust to our new reality. We will post information regarding services as plans form. Thank you everyone for all of your love and support.
Buck has been a great ally for the LOUIE documentary project, providing multiple interviews over the years. In the Pacific Northwest, Buck was a genuine legend in the music community, performing with the Fabulous Wailers, creating one of the very first artist-owned record labels- Etiquette Records, and was directly responsible for discovering + producing the Sonics, one of the earliest bands to perform in the ragged style of rock music that would eventually be labeled as “pre-punk.”
Buck was one of the major architects within the LOUIE LOUIE universe, recording his friend Robin Roberts doing “that song” with the Wailers for the first record ever released by the newly-founded Etiquette Records in 1961. That particular recording, which used a very different arrangement than Richard Berry‘s original 1957 version, established an archetype that was followed closely by the Kingsmen, as well as Paul Revere & the Raiders, who both wound up with hit recordings of that song in 1963.
One of the earlier bands Buck ever joined was the Blue Notes, group of teenagers from Tacoma (Washington), featuring Buck’s good friend Bill Engelhart, who would eventually be given of the stage name as “Little Bill” of the band that would eventually be re-named as Little Bill and the Blue Notes. Early in their careers, Buck and Bill decided to visit the Puyallup Fair, where they found one of their high school classmates, Robin Roberts, singing rhythm and blues songs to a captivated crowd that was clearly enjoying this impromptu performance. It was at this point that both Buck and Bill thought Robin would be a perfect addition to The Blue Notes, and Robin soon became a full-fledged member of the band
For a couple of years, these three guys performed together (along with various other members) for what turned out to be one of the earliest rock bands ever created in Tacoma. Eventually, this collaboration drifted apart with Bill focusing his efforts as a solo artist, while Buck and Robin (now known as “Rockin Robin Roberts“) both teamed up with the Fabulous Wailers, who had just finished an east coast tour that included an appearance on Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand TV show.
Not long after Buck and Robin joined up with the Wailers, a recording was made of Robin singing LOUIE LOUIE with the band… and the rest was history, so to speak…
Here’s a photo I took of Buck with Kent Morrill, his musical partner with the Wailers and Etiquette Records, back when they visited KFJC Radio (Los Altos Hills, CA) in December 2001. As you may remember, KFJC was the place that produced the MAXIMUM LOUIE LOUIE marathon that played over 800 versions of the song for 63 hours.
When Buck and Kent did this radio appearance, they were in the middle of a road trip, and had driven down from Tacoma in a beautifully restored vintage Cadillac. They had just released their new album “Cadillac to Mexico,” and this was one of their stops.
As fate would have it, Bill returned to Mexico for what turned out to be his final roadtrip.
There’s so much more that could said about Buck, but we’ll save that for another time.
My thoughts are the family and friends of John Buck Ormsby.
Today, we celebrate Chuck Berry‘s 90th birthday, who’s still rockin’ live for fans all over the world!
For the record, Chuck Berry is definitely NOT related to Richard Berry, author of the song “LOUIE LOUIE.” That being said, there was one particular song that Chuck wrote and released in 1956 that may have had an influence on Richard’s most famous composition, which was written the year before (1955), but released the year after after (1957).
Here’s the original recording of Chuck’s song, which shall be categorized as a “Pre-LOUIE,” one of a handful of songs released before LOUIE, which may or may not have had an impact on Richard’s creative process.
Richard did actually record his own version of this song, produced by Steve Douglas, featuring Leon Russell, but we’ll save that as-yet unreleased recording for another day….
This week, The Blues Poets get the LOUIE spotlight with their special version of the song.
Here’s their band statement, shared via their YouTube page:
The band in one, two – hey are survivors, musicians who are still performing what they choose to perform; a mix of blues, soul and r ‘n’ b music. The only guarantee is harassment, that and an interminable succession of the most minor, most petty inconveniences imaginable – all designed to do your head in, destroying the very discipline you’ve had to grab and cling onto in order to survive, not just as an artist but as a human being. Here we have The Blues Poets and guests, live on stage, playing out a day-in-the-life of people who aren’t themselves, not anywhere near it, not on any personal level, although art is always personal – it’s what the plays about.
“I’m not saying that every play about musicians must have musicians in the parts. But in this particular play the qualitative and genuine nature of the performance of music is structural. Obviously there is a difference between performing music and acting a performance of music. A similar distinction exists between the creation of art and a simulation of the creation of art. In one, two – hey it is necessary that the art of music-in-performance is created.” (James Kelman)
The Blues Poets George Gallacher – vocals/harmonica Fraser Watson – guitar Jackson Clarkin – bass/piano Scott McGowan – guitar Dougie Henderson – drums
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where I saw, among other things, the Otis Redding exhibit.
At this exhibit I saw Otis items I’ve never seen anywhere else – rare family photographs, the original painted marquee for the Whisky-a-Go-Go show, his red jacket worn on the “Live in Europe” album cover, his personal Super8 film camera and the suitcase he carried onboard the airplane for his final flight, among other things.
In the museum there was a lot of media kiosks, showing various video clips of his performances. A great tribute to an unforgettable musician who created some very powerful music during his all-too brief existence.
At this exhibit, details were shared on each of his albums, which of course, acknowledged his debut album “Pain in My Heart,” which was released on January 1, 1964, and peaked at number 20 on the R&B chart and at number 85 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That was the album that featured Otis Redding’s recording of LOUIE LOUIE. It’s interesting to note that his recording came out less than one month after the Kingsmen‘s version of the song entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at number two the following week, a spot which it held for six weeks.
Otis was definitely hip to the good stuff! On that album, he also covered “The Dog”, by Rufus Thomas; “Lucille”, by Little Richard; and “Stand by Me”, by Ben E. King. The musicians for this album included Booker T. Jones (keyboards, organ, piano), Isaac Hayes (keyboards, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar, keyboards, piano), Donald Dunn (bass), Al Jackson, Jr. (drums), Johnny Jenkins (guitar), Lewis Steinberg (bass), Wayne Jackson (trumpet), Charles Axton (tenor sax) and Floyd Newman (baritone sax)
I wish I could tell you that the Otis Redding exhibit was still up at the Grammy Museum, but unfortunately, the run ended about a week or so after I saw it.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the official OtisRedding.com webpage, which provides a wealth of material about the man, as well as details about the Otis Redding Foundation, which was created to “empower, enrich, and motivate young people through programs involving music, writing and instrumentation.”
This week’s LOUIE comes from Livorno, Italy, courtesy of my friend Caterina Di Biase at Orme Radio:
After the very 1st LL marathon here in a web radio called #OrmeRadio (only 24 hours ~ April 11 2015) one of the “new” versions we got from Italian musicians, a band called Stella Burns and The Lonesome Rabbits, is now a video and part of their new upcoming album called Jukebox Songs.
Louie Louie is the first single from the new album by Stella Burns and The Lonesome Rabbits, Jukebox Song, released September 13, 2016. A cover album that embraces Leonard Cohen, Calexico, Radiohead and Mino Reitano, revisited through the typical style of the Livorno cowboy.
The attached press release says “Louie Louie (Richard Berry song of 1957) is a song so well known and covered that it required, perhaps most of the other songs on the disc, a signbificant dose of courage and adventure”….”The version is unusual because lazy and listless and the video fully respects this attitude. Shot in the main entrance of Ex Aurora, a theater in Livorno, which for the musicians has become a family house, in the video we see a playback connecting Stella Burns indolence and, conversely, the enthusiasm of the Lonesome Rabbits. The deliberately simple animations created by Sara Cimarosti emphasize the playful atmosphere.
This version was unveiled this week – September 13th 2016 by Love & Thunder Records.