Friday, July 17, 2009

Hot Lungs "I Cried One Million Tears" (Pe Pe)

Frank Guida sure had a knack for making music that sounded like nothing else anybody had ever heard before. Drawing heavily from seemingly disparate influences including Afro-Caribean rhythms, classical, gritty R'n'B, and the melodies of his Italian-American upbringing, Guida's compositions had an exotic quality that was alien to top 40 airwaves of the time.
His production style was dense, compressed and very loud, recorded with meters planted firmly in the red, and mastered super "hot", resulting in a delightful distortion that gave everything an electrifying live edge. Get a small but enthusiastic audience to come into the studio to clap their hands and raise a ruckus while the tape is rolling, and you've got a party... and a hit record. It was a sound that leapt from the speakers, and stood out ingeniously on AM radio. The drive to be different served Guida well, as his trademark "Norfolk Sound" routinely held lofty positions on the national charts (including two #1's) throughout the first part of the 60's.
But for every hit Frank Guida had over the years, there were a host of obscure recordings equally as captivating, and in many instances even more unusual. Case in point: the work of a singer known as Hot Lungs. We're not positive if Guida came up with this attention grabbing stage name a la Gary U.S. Bonds or Jimmy Soul, but one thing's for sure, it's definitely fitting.
Our pal Don Harrison, who interviewed Frank Guida in depth and wrote a fantastic article for 64 Magazine in 2001, shed much light on Hot Lungs since this entry was first published. According to Don: "Hot Lungs was none other than Jimmy Moore, who had been singing on Guida recordings since the early '60's, when he was the lead singer for the Sheiks. He also cut two great 45s for Guida on SPQR and Legrand under his own name. 'Church Street Sally' on SPQR is a particular favorite". It's also speculated that Moore was the uncredited lead vocalist on the novelty record "Spanish Cooking" by Chaos Incorporated (S.P.Q.R. 1005). Jimmy's alter ego Hot Lungs had two more singles, "Take Me Back To Virginia Beach" for the Got It label (named for Frank's record store, Frankie's Got It), and "I Cried One Million Tears" the only record we're aware of on Pe Pe. Jimmy Moore did, however, return to cut two singles for Joe Riley the first on the obscure Seagull imprint, the latter on the more familiar Pesante label.
"I Cried One Million Tears" is not so much a reworking, but a total deconstruction of the early Gary U.S. Bonds B-Side "One Million Tears". Whereas Bonds's 1961 reading is a plaintive ballad, Hot Lungs unleashes a throat-shredding howl worthy of his moniker. The whole thing is a weird amalgam of hard driving acid rock and funk. Besides the "double tracked" vocals and overall raucous "live" quality, this one bears little resemblance to the sound that made Guida famous. Nonetheless, the song still possesses the genre bending uniqueness that made so many of Guida's recordings interesting if not great, and very difficult to pigeonhole.
This record illustrates how radically things had changed since the dawn of the 60's. The Norfolk Sound hit machine had slowed considerably, at least on a national level, with the onslaught of the British Invasion. Ironically enough, many of these bands were influenced by Frank Guida's classic recordings. Regardless, Frank generally viewed these new acts and their sound with disdain. In fact, legend has it that in the early 60's Guida received a demo by The Beatles (then unknown stateside). Independent labels like VJ and Tollie jumped at the chance, Guida flatly declined. No doubt a huge business blunder, but a decision he steadfastly stood by until the day he died.
But that was Frank Guida, a guy with a strong vision, who wasn't afraid to (colorfully) express his opinions one way or the other. Although a record like "I Cried One Million Tears" seems odd, it makes perfect sense coming from a character like Frank. It's yet another compelling moment hidden away in the prolific, widely varied and wonderfully strange output of a man who was successful at a business in which he broke so many of the rules. A man who no matter how many gold records he had, still seemed to relish throwing the more than occasional curve to keep us all guessing.

Many thanks to Don Harrison for his invaluable information and all the support!

Hot Lungs "I Cried One Million Tears"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lenis Guess Entertains The People @ Dig Deeper

Decked out in a sharp white three piece suit with red shirt and white tie, Lenis Guess took the stage at Brooklyn's Five Spot with a nice fresh peach in hand. He slowly savored a few bites of said peach, musing over how hard it is to find a nice fresh one in New York, then placed it in a ziploc bag, slowly removed his wrap around red shades, and confidently launched into "For All You've Been". Lenis told the crowd it was the first time he had ever performed the song on stage. There he was, some forty plus years after the release of that first solo record, just getting around to singing it in front of a live audience. Pretty hard to believe, considering it's one of his greatest songs, but then again it was pretty fitting for such a special night.
It had been a couple decades since Lenis last performed in New York, but you wouldn't have known it from the show he put on at June's Dig Deeper. Some people just seem to be born entertainers, with a charisma, a presence, that never really fades away. This is Mr. Guess to a tee. He's still got it!
Lenis worked the crowd like a pro, his voice still in remarkably fine form, as he moved through a killer selection of his classic 60's tracks. Highlights included "Working For My Baby", "Thank Goodness Gotta Good Woman", and of course, "Just Ask Me", the show closer. The aptly named Solid Set did an amazing job supplying the musical backing. Guitarist and band leader Damon, took some good-natured ribbing between songs from Lenis, who affectionately referred to him as "the greatest guitar player in the world" and the bespectacled bass player, whose name escaped Lenis, as "Buddy Holly".
After a perfect set of about forty five minutes or so, Lenis finished things off with a blazing encore of "Why, Why, Why'd She Leave Me?" (a crowd favorite!) and then left the stage to the cheers of a packed room.
As the place buzzed in the wake of what could only be described as a phenomenal performance, Lenis came back out in a mustard colored button down shirt and gray slacks and unassumingly walked through the club. Drawing no attention to himself, he quietly slipped out onto Myrtle Avenue. It was an almost Clark Kent like transformation, but not too surprising from a class act like Mr. Guess. A true gentleman, who's probably seen it all in his distinguished career, he let his music speak for him.
We're just glad we could have been there to see a legend work his magic. When we first started finding the name Lenis Guess on so many of these great Virginia records we were turning up, we never in our wildest dreams thought we'd see him perform live someday. It was almost surreal to actually be witnessing it, and there were definitely some emotional moments. It was truly something we'll never forget.

Thanks to Nicole Lang Key and Kimberlee Fuller for the photos. And thanks to Lenis Guess for bringing it!