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Arkansas Crate Digging

The secret history of Arkansas music.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 10:32:00

Psych of the South: The Paragons' 'Black and Blue' (1966)

The Paragons were a group from Searcy, Ark., that in 1965 traveled to Sun Studio in Memphis to record a British Invasion-flavored rendition of “Black and Blue,” a song dating back to the 1920s. It had been famously adapted by Louis Armstrong to reflect the era's racial discrimination, and had also previously been recorded by Frankie Laine, who had a Top 40 hit with it in 1947. I spoke recently with Paragons guitarist Bill Benz, along with Doris James, who recalled Zay-Dee Records, her ex-husband George Whitaker's label, which had released the Paragons record in early 1966.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016 - 10:57:00

Psych of the South: The Retreat Singers' 'I Can See' (1967)

 The Retreat Singers were based at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas and recorded a hauntingly beautiful album in 1967 depicting the life of Jesus in folk songs.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 11:18:00

Psych of the South: Magnificent Seven's 'Baby Doll' (1962)

The Playboys were a rockabilly-influenced garage band from Pine Bluff who recorded as Magnificent Seven for Vee-Eight Records in 1962. Jackie Hendrix was playing piano in a group with Happy Caldwell, who later became a famous pastor and founder of the VTN TV network. When most of the group moved away after graduation, Hendrix was left to put together a new band.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015 - 13:46:00

Psych of the South: Dutch Masters' 'The Expectation'

“The Expectation” by the Dutch Masters has long been hailed as an amazing example of garage rock among record collectors, but the story behind the song has been elusive. I spoke to three original band members including Earl Denton, Buz Johnson and John Walthall, to shed some light on this Arkansas mystery.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - 13:40:00

Psych of the South: TJ and the Fourmations' 'Time to Myself'

The Fourmations were a young garage band from Osceola, Ark., that formed in 1965. The star of the group was Tommy Jones, a natural on the drums at the age of 11. Chessie Jones, the owner of an auto repair shop in Osceola, was the stage dad behind the group as well as their manager.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 11:26:00

Listen to 'The Dogtown Chronicles,' a 1995 North Little Rock punk compilation

This week marks the 20th anniversary of an minor but nevertheless significant event in the history of Central Arkansas music: the (relatively small-scale) release of a compilation called "The Dogtown Chronicles," by Food Chain Records. The tape, available via the Bandcamp page for Harlan Records (a now-defunct label started in 1994 by Soophie Nun Squad member Nate Powell) is a time capsule of a punk scene that turns out to have been much weirder and more diverse than we've sometimes come to believe. Songs like Sacred Cow's "Hawaiian Apocalypse" or Hug's "Dead Roach, Motherfucker" or Pete's "In The End" don't have much in common with each other, except for a certain haunting tape-hiss quality (that makes it all sound a little like the strangest Guided By Voices concert ever) and the fact that they were all made by kids.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015 - 10:00:00

Psych of the South: Robin and the Hoods' 'Slow Down' (1966)

Usually my work involves a quest to find information on Arkansas’ garage bands of yore. In this case, Jim Finch, the drummer of Robin and the Hoods, contacted me. He wanted to share a demo that his group recorded circa 1966, including this take on the Young Rascals' version of the Larry Williams tune "Slow Down."

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015 - 12:26:00

Ride the Tiger: The Enduring Mystery of Doug Hream Blunt

You think you know something, that you've been around and heard what there is to hear, and then you hear Doug Hream Blunt. Born in Arkansas, of course, Blunt is among our state's least appreciated musical exports. He was a collector of vinyl records — he particularly admired The Whispers and Jimi Hendrix. He was a frustrated musician, not in the sense that he couldn't produce, but in the sense that the results were frustrating to him.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 15:14:00

Mix of the Week: A partial list of songs that mention 'Bangin' In Little Rock'

The Rock Candy mix of the week is a partial list of songs that mention the 1994 HBO documentary "Gang Wars: Bangin' In Little Rock." I've omitted local songs, because I'm more interested in the way the movie defined the city for outsiders in a strange, metonymic way. I'm sure I'm still leaving out plenty, feel free to suggest more in the comments.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 10:14:00

Psych of the South: Dead on Arrival's 'Run Hide Get Away' (1969)

Dead on Arrival’s story starts in the San Francisco psychedelic scene and ends in Ashdown, Arkansas. Mike Hubrel was a pre-teen in the golden era of the West Coast sound and was born in South San Francisco. By age 11, he was soaking up the city's burgeoning music culture, frequenting the stores in the Haight-Ashbury district, and formed his own group, The Daytonas. They played a battle of the bands and won the chance to perform at the Cow Palace, an indoor arena on the Daly City border. He felt he was becoming a part of the legendary music scene that he adored. However, his father feared for his son amid the city's emergent drug culture, and in a bold decision to 'save' him from this path before it was too late, he moved the family back to his hometown of Ashdown in Southwest Arkansas in 1968, when Hubrel was 13 years old.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 14:19:00

Extra Soul Perception: A Monk Higgins Mix

Because I couldn't find one anywhere else, here is a mix highlighting the best (or so) of the Arkansas funk legend Monk Higgins, born Milton Bland in Menifree in October of 1936. He worked as a social worker, a music teacher, and making his way to Chicago and later L.A., he arranged and produced records for labels like Chess, Onderful, St. Lawrence, MCA, United Artists and, eventually, his own label, Almon. He produced singles by Etta James, Muddy Waters, Bobby 'Blue' Bland (no relation) and hundreds of others, including several albums by Blood, Sweat and Tears. As a solo artist, he released records with titles like "Extra Soul Perception," "Little Mama," "Heavyweight" and "Dance to the Disco Sax of Monk Higgins."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 10:31:00

Chinese Girls to get double LP reissue this spring

Was Little Rock at the turn of the century a stranger, headier, more ambitious place? Was it more fun? I'm perennially haunted by these questions, and if art-rock duo Chinese Girls is any indication, the answers are clearly yes. We're in luck, though: the band's recordings are set to be reissued this spring by Drawing Room Records (also the home for Girls band member Andrew Morgan's new project Country Florist). Started at a Halloween party in 1999 by Morgan and Sam Murphy, the band made delay-heavy, energetic post-punk (some of which you can find here).

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 14:25:00

Psych of the South: Calvin Leavy's 'Cummins Prison Farm'

I interviewed Billy Cole in 2011 while researching a song of his titled “Fouke Monster,” a wacky hard rock tune about the Bigfoot sightings in Fouke, Ark. in the early 70s. During the interview, Cole spoke about “Cummins Prison Farm” by Calvin Leavy, which became a Top 40 r&b hit in 1970. Although there's been a lot of misleading and contradictory information surrounding the song, including the approximately 17 people who have tried taking credit for writing and producing it, Cole is listed as the principal songwriter and wanted to reveal the story behind it from his perspective.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 11:46:00

Psych of the South: The Mercenaries' 'Things Found Here'

Recently, a trove of band business cards from the golden era of Arkansas garage bands was discovered and put on eBay. I was able to purchase some of them, including one by a little known 1960s garage band from Little Rock named The Mercenaries. Their record, on the cult favorite MY records label based in Little Rock, was released in early 1967. Their songs, including the atmospheric and heavy “Things Found Here” along with the psychedelic tinged “Take It All” are obscure even by garage rock standards. They were not featured on the 1999 Butler Center MY records compilation and their story has not been told before

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 - 09:21:00

Psych of the South: Blues Foundation's 'It's Called Love' (1968)

Blues Foundation was from Prescott, Arkansas and traveled 100 miles to Jaggars Recording Studio in Little Rock to record this fuzzed-out gem in the fall of 1968. The 45 was released on Jaggars’ house label, Jaguar Records. I featured “It’s Called Love,” on "Lost Souls Volume 1," a compilation of 1960s garage bands from Arkansas (recently re-released on vinyl by Get Hip Records) and, while preparing for the release in 2007, I tracked down Hershel Cannon, Blues Foundation's singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Below are excerpts from that interview.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014 - 10:13:00

Psych of the South: The Barefacts' 'Tell Me' (1968)

The Barefacts recorded the infectious, stripped-down garage rock tune “Tell Me” on the Country Color label out of Osceola, Arkansas in the summer of 1968. They originally formed in Bear Creek, Alabama, in the late `50s, as the Shirley Family Band.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014 - 10:10:00

Psych of the South: Suspension of Belief's "LSD" (1967)

In 1967, a North Little Rock group, The Villagers, released a cryptic early psychedelic record called “LSD” under the name Suspension of Belief. The song is a mix of non-sequitur lyrics, a haunting folk guitar ballad and orchestral sound clips interspersed throughout in an early example of sampling. When the group recorded it, they had no idea that producer George Whitaker, the owner of Zay-Dee records, would transform their psychedelic folk song into a swirling operatic wonder.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 13:14:00

Psych of the South: Joe Lee's "Bottom of the Bag" (1971)

Introducing a new Rock Candy columnist: Harold Ott is the founder and primary researcher of Psych of the South, a record label dedicated to unearthing rare Arkansas pop history.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 14:27:00

Footnote: William Martyr 17, 'Four Years Long'

For this week's issue, I talked to Matt Werth, who runs the record label RVNG Intl. and hails originally from Little Rock, where he was an active member of the early and mid-`90s punk scene, the era of Das Yutes a Go-Go and File 13 Records (which he eventually ran for several years). The article covers his own musical output in passing, but in the interest of local history and completism, it's worth mentioning here that, kids or not, his band William Martyr 17 was very much a real thing and even sort of great. It's post-hardcore or it's punk rock or it's whatever you want to call it — it's intense.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 15:52:00

Lost Greers Ferry album, featuring members of The Easys, gets a release

It's a good week to be a fan of Isaac Alexander, the prolific local pop singer/songwriter. Yesterday, the self-titled debut by the Alexander-fronted Greers Ferry made its way to Bandcamp years after it was recorded and the band last performed live. On the same day, songs from another project, Molten Lava, were released.

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