Last time out I analyzed Phil Alvin’s underrated 1986 LP, Un “Sung Stories.” Of that album’s 10 songs, only 2 were written after 1940, but only 1 of those sounded like it: “Daddy Rollin’ Stone.” Where the rest of Un “Sung” was old blues, jazz, country, and pop, “Daddy” was unique in hinting at rock ‘n’ roll. Written and recorded by Hall of Fame songwriter Otis Blackwell in 1953, “Daddy” represents that immediate pre-Elvis, pre-Chuck Berry, pre-Little Richard moment when R&B and doo wop ruled black radio and rock ‘n’ roll — or at least the idea of rock ‘n’ roll — was still fermenting in the American melting pot. This is a brief look at how one unassuming song filtered its way through early rock ‘n ‘roll, the British Invasion, and the first wave of punk before settling into the clutches of Phil Alvin and The Blasters.
The Who – Daddy Rollin’ Stone (w/The Ox intro) (1965)
December 30, 1965
We lead off with one of my favorite versions of the song, broadcast when The Who were maybe a year old. In fact, this performance was filmed on August 3rd — 4 years to the day before I was born — when they had exactly TWO singles to their credit: “I Can’t Explain,” which was released the previous January, and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” which was released in May. In the US, “Anyway” was issued on Decca and backed with “Anytime You Want Me.” In the UK, “Anyway” was issued on Brunswick and backed with “Daddy Rollin’ Stone” (pictured at top).
“Daddy” demonstrates precisely what made The Who so powerful. Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon may as well be playing 3 different songs, but what would be tuneless anarchy in lesser hands is focused anarchy here. They attack the song and Entwistle’s angular bassline is the gigantic hook around which the rest of the song congeals. Even at this early stage, The Ox was down with the bass like James Jamerson and James Brown‘s bassists in The Famous Flames: Bernard Odum, Sam Thomas, and Hubert Perry.
The Who cover sounds so unlike Otis Blackwell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t heard his original when they started playing it. Check that Brunswick 7″ at the top of this post and review the songwriter. You’ll see that it says Martin, not Blackwell. Who was Martin?
Derek Martin – Daddy Rollin’ Stone (1963)
Derek Martin was a Detroit R&B singer who gave The Who the “Daddy Rollin’ Stone” template, including Townshend’s sweet guitar riff, Entwistle’s lockdown groove, and Daltrey‘s muscular vocals. As great as The Who were, Martin brought 10-15 years of extra swag to his 1963 recording and the sassy Raelettes-lite backups help make the song damn near definitive.
Fun fact: In 1965, John Lennon purchased a Swiss KB Discomatic jukebox to take on tour and stocked it with 40 of his favorite singles. In 1989, the jukebox surfaced in an auction of Beatles memorabilia and amidst the usual suspects — Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett, and Buddy Holly — was, you guessed it, Derek Martin’s “Daddy Rollin’ Stone.”
Jimmy Ricks & The Raves – Daddy Rollin’ Stone (1962)
Jimmy Ricks is best-known, if known at all, for his work with The Ravens, a black vocal quartet that laid the foundation for what later came to be called doo wop. They lasted from 1946-55 and pioneered the use of a tenor/bass vocal contrast, with Ricks arguably being the first bass lead vocalist in the genre. Ricks went solo following the dissolution of The Ravens, eventually cutting “Daddy Rollin’ Stone” with The Raves in 1962. Why The Raves? Maybe because the name was close enough to The Ravens that it might pull in old fans and maybe because one of the singers was longtime Ravens tenor, Leonard “Zeke” Puzey. The other two singers in The Raves were Howard Guyton and … Derek Martin. As it happens, Guyton and Martin had previously sung together in The Five Pearls, The Sheiks, The Pearls, Howie & The Sapphires, and The Top Notes, before hooking up with Ricks.
One of those collaborations that looks so improbable on paper, it seems ridiculous that it happened. But, happen it did. Two Sex Pistols, a Thin Lizzy, a New York Doll and Heartbreaker (no, not those Heartbreakers, the other Heartbreakers), and finally a Small Face and Humble Pieman. OK, so maybe not THAT improbable. It’s little remembered now, but when the So Alone sessions were convened in 1978, Lynott, Jones, and Cook were actually playing together in a Thin Lizzy side project called The Greedy Bastards (or Greedies). Their setlists were composed of Lizzy and Pistols songs, as well as a smattering of covers. No doubt they came to So Alone as a group package, which is ironic to say the least.
Thunders previously covered “Daddy” with the Dolls, but this version is more fully realized. My favorite part of the Thunders (And Friends) “Daddy” is the traded vocals because you get to hear exactly what each singer brought to the table. Thunders is all whiny petulance struggling to stay in tune. He’s easily the worst singer of the the three … and yet it works. The Johnny Thunders template is clearly flawed, but it proves that if your heart is in the right place, and you surround yourself with sympathetic talent, pitch perfect is besides the point. Basically, it’s an extension of the Keith Richards template. Lynott is all fuck me braggadocio, speaking as much as singing, but his is probably my favorite vocal of the three. I’m pretty sure Chris won’t be able to do much if Phil goes after Joanie. Meanwhile, Marriott’s voice explodes with an almost black gospel fervor. He’s the song’s MVP with his distinctive vocals, harmonica bursts, and piano comping all high points. Keep in mind, too, that Marriott’s presence on this track ties it directly to the first band we heard from today. When The Small Faces were leading (musically speaking) Britain’s mods from 1965-67, only one band was more popular within and without the movement: The Who.
There was another common bond among these musicians. I can’t speak to Paul Cook, but the other 4/5 of this band spent significant time under the influence of booze and narcotics. Steve Jones did so many drugs between 1978-85 that in 1987 he cut an anti-drug ad for MTV saying, “Hi, I’m Steve Jones. I used to play guitar for the Sex Pistols. A good friend of mine, Sid Vicious, died from drugs. I nearly died from drugs. Drugs suck.” Phil Lynott’s gift to his mother and two daughters on Christmas Day 1985 was collapsing due to a kidney and liver infection exacerbated by years of drug and alcohol dependency. He went into a coma and died 11 days later (1/4/86) at the age of 36. In an eerie coincidence, Steve Marriott and Johnny Thunders died 3 days apart in 1991. On April 20 of that year, the 44-year-old Marriott is believed to have passed out at home with a cigarette in his mouth after a night of drinking and doing blow. He set his house on fire and died of smoke inhalation, failing to escape the inferno. A tragic figure, Marriott spent much of the previous 25 years abusing himself with alcohol and a pharmacopoeia of meds, habits that affected his stints in The Small Faces and Humble Pie as surely as his unscrupulous managers did.
The death of Johnny Thunders on April 23, 1991 (at age 38), is shrouded in mystery because he had advanced (and undiagnosed) leukemia, though that wasn’t necessarily the cause of death. He may or may not have died from LSD, which may or may not have been provided by gangsters, who may or may not have subsequently robbed Thunders after administering the killdose. The New Orleans coroner and police department — Thunders died at St. Peter House in the French Quarter — haven’t been especially forthcoming or enthusiastic to discover what actually happened, giving them the appearance of corruption (covering up a murder), incompetence (fucked up the original investigation), or arrogant apathy (don’t give a shit that they may have fucked up a murder investigation, but WTF are YOU gonna do about it?). I’m sure this a stunning allegation to anyone familiar with the efficient engine of integrity that is the NOPD. Thunders was a lifelong junkie (Too Much Junkie Business) who was carrying large doses of methadone at the time of his death in an effort to kick heroin. If he died due to a simple methadone overdose it wouldn’t be particularly shocking. The frustration is that a more definitive answer will never come because bureaucratic forces are allowed to enforce that reality.
Blasters – Daddy Rollin Stone
Alter Bar, Pittsburgh, PA
March 17, 2011
This, of course, brings us back to Phil Alvin and The Blasters. While I love The Who version, Derek Martin’s cover is a revelation, and Johnny Thunders (And Friends) bring historical importance, I feel like The Blasters are the song’s rightful stewards. When you go back to the Otis Blackwell version (here on The Vinyl File: Phil Alvin – Un “Sung Stories”), you’re hearing classic, doo wop-era R&B just before it transitioned into Little Willie John, and THAT is Blasters Ground Zero. The mothership. The primordial ooze.
Here they pay homage to that basic sound, but where Otis painted a dark, brooding canvas using piano and tenor sax, The Blasters shake the shack with rock ‘n’ roll. Sure, while it would be nice to have pro audio/visual, this ain’t too shabby for a guerrilla audience cam. The sound is certainly good enough to showcase Keith Wyatt’s guitar heroics. Dave Alvin will always be THE Blasters guitarist and that original lineup is an American (music) treasure, but Wyatt ain’t just some guy keeping a seat warm. His two solos here (2:45-4:04 and especially 5:29-7:27) bring the Les Paul-driven heavy ordnance. And for the record, he more than held his own at last January’s benefit for Phil where both guys played with the band. If anything, it gets me thinking about a two-guitar version of The Blasters which would be a “damn blues guitar bashing, short story singing, folk rocking fucking rolling motherfucker” (a phrase that comes from Dave Alvin’s Facebook page).
“Girl, you think you’ve had lovin’
Girl, you think you’ve had fun
Girl, you ain’t seen nothin’
Til I come along
I’m a daddy (daddy rollin’)”