Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Billy Lee Riley, 1933-2009


"My gal is red hot. Your gal ain't doodley squat." Rockabilly boasts thousands of great lyrics, but perhaps none are better than Billy Lee Riley's "Red Hot". The rockabilly giant died August 2. The Los Angeles Times' fascinating obituary of Riley recounts a great story about Riley's reaction to Sam Phillips' alleged suppression of the song. It's worth noting that much of Riley's original Sun sessions are pure blues. The instrumental "Thunderbird" is just plain greasy.

While in Los Angeles earlier this week, I heard a DJ play a track from a Jerry Garcia solo album. It was shockingly great. I'd never heard the Bert Jansch-style psychedelic folk-rock song. I'm quite agitated that I'm now compelled to dig into Garcia's catalog, a project I never expected to undertake.

Kansas City Click: Longtime rivals for the title of Kansas City's premier melodic metal band, Red Line Chemistry and The Leo Project battle tonight on the Power & Light stage.


joe said...

Garcia was a brilliant musician. I was big into the Dead for a while in the late 80s, when they were reaching their peek in popularity. Then I hated them on principle for the next 20 years, because of all the pachouli goofiness etc. But earlier this year I got curious to listen again and immediately got hooked on all the live recordings that are now available. Beautiful music.

If I can make recommendation, check out a couple of the live recordings they've released since Garcia's death, partiucarly ones from 72-74. You side you like the psychedelic folk stuff, try these songs:

Mississippi Half Step
Row Jimmy
Must Have Been the Roses
Ship of Fools
Stella Blue

Beautiful music!

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks for the tips, Joe. I caught the Dead's final show in St. Louis (my boss dragged me to the gig), and as you suggest, it can be difficult separating the scene from the music. I need to let that go.

bigsteveno said...

So I gather you never figured out which Garcia solo song it was? Your description doesn't ring a bell. My favorite of the solo albums is the one called Reflections, but that's mostly electric.

Billy Lee was definitely one of the good ones. The Rockin' with Riley compilation ends up with some spectacular stuff he recorded in the 60s with more of a souldful vibe. And those bluesy albums he made during his 90s comeback were very fine.

Happy In Bag said...

I'm going to have to do some digging, Big Steve. I only know the mystery track isn't from Old & In the Way or from the Grisman collaborations. It was spooky, arty and weird- not unlike Tom Waits or Captain Beefheart. And Garcia's craggy vocal had a sort of mystical quality, as if he was inspired by an old English balladeer.

Rick in PV said...

Oh, yeah, Jerry's solo stuff is sweet: the funky live albums with Merl Saunders, the 72 "Garcia" album is primo, "Cats Under the Stars" has an indelible riff, the country stuff, and let's not forget his steel guitar work with NRPS (R.I.P. John Dawson) and Brewer and Shipley and on and on ...

Happy In Bag said...

I can also rule out the Saunders stuff, Rick. I'll try "Cats" and "Garcia." I once shared an office with a guy (Dan Conn) who listened to this music, but that was twenty years ago. Thanks.

bigsteveno said...

I'm going to guess that maybe the track you heard was Bird Song from the eponymous solo album, the lyrics supposedly inspired by Janis Joplin's death. It's not totally acoustic, but it's very light and spacily modal. It may fit your description.

And btw Sunday is the 14th anniversary of Garcia's passing.

Happy In Bag said...

That's close, Steve, but not quite it. Perhaps what I heard was an alternate or live version of "Bird Song." I'll keep after it and let you know. Thanks again.

joe said...

Birdsong was one I forgot to suggest.

The other thing that's great about all those old Garcia song are Robert Hunter's lyrics.

The Dead sucked pretty horribly by 1995, and the scene was incredibly annoying. The last show I saw was in 1990. I got caught in a the worst trafic gridlock I've ever experienced, because everyone was out of their cars selling dope and string or whatever, so I had to abandon my car by the side of the road and hoof it a mile or so and miss most of the first set.

Happy In Bag said...

That's a rough story, Joe. Reminds me of a challenging trip to an early '80s Stones show.