Saturday, June 9, 2018

Gems & Stones: Gary Lewis - This Diamond Ring

purchase [This Diamond Ring]

Most 60s music doesn't light my fire - except in that it is seminal. Some of the best of today's musicians were starting out then, so their early material is potentially of interest.

Gary Lewis (and his band, the Playboys) fall into that category - if you had been around then and listening to (AM) radio, you would have heard their "hits":
Everybody Loves a Clown
Save Your Love for Me
and of course, This Diamond Ring

As is often the case, when I set out to write something here, I end up learning some new things:
Gary Lewis is the son of Jerry Lewis and singer Patti Palmer.
This Diamond Ring, while making it into the "Top" lists in 1965 under the Gary Lewis name, was actually written by another musician whose name has always sort of bubbled under the surface - Al Kooper.

Al Kooper is a gem of sorts in his own right: 70+ years playing with and writing for most anyone who's anyone. Prolific to say the least, Kooper's done it all. His Wikipedia entry says "Kooper has played on hundreds of records." Hundreds, including Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Lynryd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, he formed Blood Sweat & Tears.

As for the Playboys' rendition of the song he sold for $300, Kooper doesn't have a lot of compliments, writing in his "Backstage Passes .." book that he and the song's other writers were "revolted: at how they had made a "teenage [turkey] milkshake" out of a song that had a lot more soul in it. Hmmm. Maybe that why - besides the outdated 60s sound, I cant say I chose this one for love of it - more for the curiosities I came across in checking into its history.

Of further interest, Leon Russell was the arranger. Snuff Garrett, the producer is credited with doing a pretty amazing job not only with pushing Lewis's development as a musician but also with some excellent timing of their hits so that they didn't coincide with the Beatles' output, which was otherwise dominating the chart.

Lewis took a long break from music but has returned to performing - cruise ships, casinos, corporate events ...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Well, my tried and tested has again come up trumps, the old my i-tunes library search model. This at least has the advantage of knowing the songs shown, rather than a pretence based on some song that just happens to have amethyst otherwise mentioned, culled from '100 Best Songs with Gemstones in Their Title', those lists forever propagated in the once venerable Rolling Stone magazine. OK, I had a false start with Jade: Wayne Shorter being perhaps too old school for this site, and Opal: Bicep, which is maybe too new. And Lapis Lazuli brought nothing forth, even though I swear it is in a lyric I can't quite grasp right now, perhaps a Jim Morrison. (Answers to me in comments, please, it is too hot a day for me to be researching.)

I really rather like Low, the husband and wife team from Duluth, famously Mormons. Although they have been around for yonks, it is probably only within the last 5 - 10 years I have become aware of them, in part through the promotion given them through the patronage of others. (Robert Plant is a prominent fan, including 2 of their songs on his 2010 album, 'Band of Joy', saying, at the time of this, possibly, given his back catalogue, unusual choice:

"It's great music; it's always been in the house playing away beside Jerry Lee Lewis and Howlin' Wolf, 
you know. There's room for everything." 

Often slow and sombre, with sparse and understated arrangements, they have a mesmerising vocalist in each of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Turner, otherwise guitar and drums respectively, but it is in duet harmony that the gem surely sparkles. I am sometimes minded of Richard and Linda Thompson's less cheerful moments in many of the arrangements, the voices melding both equivalently and equally melancholically. Bass duties have been provided by a variety of bassists over their 24 year recording history, but with Steve Garrington for the past 8. Keyboards, swathes of choral synthesised sound, are provided also by Garrington. As well as their own material they have also produced quite a selection of unlikely cover material, from Neil Young to the Smiths, Joy Division to the Trapp Family Singers(!). 'Amethyst' is from 2013's 'The Invisible Way', possibly my favourite of their output. Here is what UK online hipster resource, 'The Quietus' had to say about it.

I won't go on, the music says more than I possibly can. By way of a sign off, here is another song from the same album, 'Just Make It Stop', just to make me stop.

Amethyst, the song: here!