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Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Day I Met Ray Hill

[ I've been thinking of Ray a lot this week after watching the wonderful preview of the documentary film on him ]

I met Ray Hill on April 20, 1981, and I even took notes. You may wonder how I know that so specifically and what I was doing.  I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, from 1978 to 1981 and my last year there I decided to take a cross-country trip, and I kept a journal, 110 hand-written pages. From April 1 to August 17 I trekked through the south, southwest, west coast and back to Norfolk via a northern route. I visited 25 cities and tried to soak up the gay culture wherever I went. 

As I had just finished a stint as editor of the gay newspaper in Norfolk I had some entree to other gay newspapers and visited them and tapped right away into what was going on and what to experience. I also tapped in the night life, going to 160 gay bars (23 in Houston) and it was during that trip I decided to move to Houston, which I did by the end of that year. So as luck would happen, I met Ray Hill. Here's my journal entry from April 20, 1981.

This afternoon I visited the radio station that airs the gay programs here in Houston, station KPFT, 90.1 fm. They broadcast on Thursday nights normally, but were having a special all-day program as a fundraiser, and they had open house at the studio, which is just three or four blocks from the guest house (Houston Guest House). Ray Hill is station manager and is also known as the father of Houston's gay movement. I didn't really talk with him--he was very busy, but I watched him in the studio give part of a news broadcast. He is very articulate, and to hear him talk on the air, you would swear he had the copy written in front of him, but he didn't. He is very involved in the court hearings in a case in which a gay activist (Fred Paez) was shot at point blank range by a cop. The activist had been doing a lot of research into police discrimination of gays. The shooting was just before Gay Pride Week last year. 

Ray's lover is Kent Naasz, whom Michael Collins (a NYC activist friend) suggested I look up in Houston. Kent happened to be the first person I talked to at the station, so it was kind of coincidental that we met that way. The station of course is all volunteer (except for Ray) and as expected, they program gay news, interviews, group discussions, records, and about anything else they can think of. It seemed like they had their shit together.

I did get to talk to Ray Hill later. He saw me at a nearby restaurant and sat down at my table for about an hour. He is very interesting. He should write a book on his experiences.

Above, January 2014, with Ray at The Banner Project display at Hilton Americas, during Creating Change 2014.

For my blog visitors outside of this area, Ray has for decades been ubiquitous with the gay movement in Houston. And, yes, this is one of my rare blog entries Not dealing with queer music.

Houston gay bars I visited during my trip:

Montrose Mining Company
Wildwood Saloon
Brazos River Bottom
Baja Sam's
Dirty Sally's
The Hole
Venture 'N
Midnight Sun
Mary's II (Galveston)
Briar Patch
Different Drum
The Barn
The Loading Dock
Grant Street Station
Miss Charlotte's
Montrose Pub

Friday, February 14, 2014

Everyone Is Gay

Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino have exploded onto the pop scene, and very quickly. As the act A Great Big World they have been very visible. For example, their song "This Is the New Year" got great exposure by being performed by the cast of Glee last season, but that was just the beginning. They were working on their debut album, to be called "Is There Anybody Out There?" and their version of the single "Say Something" was released early. The folks who rep Christina Aguilera got her to hear it and she loved it. Much to her credit, instead of easily grabbing it for herself, she wanted to do a duet with the act, which happened on the show "The Voice," they say...the rest is history. It went platinum.

But I want to back up. I first heard of them back in June of 2012 when I stumbled upon a various artists benefit comp called "The Gayest Compilation Ever Made." I mean, how could I resist? 

They were billed as Ian & Chad then and the album folks, at the site Everyone Is Gay, requested a very gay song. They came up with...the song "Everyone Is Gay," and it's gay for days. Here's the video...well, actually there are two versions, the original from the comp and the more polished one on the new CD, I'll give you both.

And, the new one:

How's the rest of the album? I like it a lot, it's VERY pop. You can hear full versions of almost all of it on their youtube channel, and find them at their website. And for the record Ian is straight and Chad is gay. Their career will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dowton Abbey: The Inspiration of the Jack Ross Character

I am one of those totally addicted to "Downton Abbey," and as a fan of old music I could not help noticing the direct inspiration of the character Jack Ross to cabaret legend Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson.

Leslie Hutchinson was one of most famous cabaret singers in the world in the 1920's and 1930's, and was a toast of society both in the U.S. and England. He was also known for his scandals and his bisexual affairs with high profile people including Ivor Novello, Tallulah Bankhead, Edwina Mountbatten (of the Royal Family), and Cole Porter, and he recorded a number of Cole Porter's songs.

This Youtube clip shows an apt Cole Porter song choice, "Just a Gigilo," from 1929.

Hutch and his affairs with celebrities of both sexes were the fodder of English tabloids, which must have been working over time trying to keep up with him. It is difficult to read about him without a mention of his reportedly huge, er, endowment. In fact, that's what google thinks as well. If you type in the name Leslie Hutchinson one of the first search prompts that show up is "well endowed." 

Another search result, "gigolo," leads you to the fact that in the UK in 2008 a documentary was produced with the title "High Society's Favourite Gigolo." But he certainly could sing, here's another example in this rare clip...

And searching in Youtube will get you a lot more to sample. I like his singing style, and have a couple of the many CD collections now available, with him doing many of the classics of our best composers.

But, if you want more scandal, check out this UK article, entitled "The scandalous truth about Downton Abbey's royal gigolo Jack Ross."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Young Jessie's Transphobic 45 RPM Record


Okay, you're wondering....who the hell is Young Jessie? (You may also be wondering why you might care, but hey, this is a queer music history blog). Obe Jessie is the real name for an artist who got a lot more attention, and a long career, as Young Jessie. Go to Youtube and search that name and you'll find pages of songs. In the 1950's he was with the well-respected group The Flairs, and stepped in briefly as a member of the Coasters around 1957 ("Searchin'" and "Young Blood"). Just after that he had his main claim to fame for his song "Mary Lou," covered with much success by Ronnie Hawkins, in 1959, and others.

But then what? Well, not too much until the 1980's when his records began being reissued in Europe and there was demand for his performances there. However the focus of this blog entry is a song he released in 1972 that is quite transphobic. Produced by Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, it appears it was Young Jessie's last single release, and is only widely available now (as a download) as it was part of a compilation CD of Williams' productions.

And, as you can see, it was not released as by Young Jessie, but under his real name, Obe Jessie. I wonder what prompted that change? When you have a "name" in show business, why use another unless you were unsure of the material or knew it was an outspoken release. And that description fits for this one.

Above is the 45, and below a sample of the lyrics...

"Somebody please tell me what kind of world are we living in 
where boys want to be girls, good God, and woman, she want to be men....
who's the blame?" 

It continues on that path, and you can hear it, courtesy of Youtube

As Young Jessie he's still performing. Below is a poster with cool retro artwork for a November 2013 show in London.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Yes, a Lyrically-Gay Song from 1957!

I am always delighted to find a song with gay references from before Stonewall, but this one was even more of a treat as it was from the 1950's. That's rare indeed, and I thank my friend John Trudell for pointing me to it. And better yet, it has a Youtube video.

The group was called the Three Flames, and they were quite successful, even having their own radio and TV shows in the 1940's. They scored a top ten hit in 1947 with "Open the Door, Richard," and performed at the Bon Soir club in Greenwich Village for several years. If the name of that club sounds familiar to you trivia bugs, that's where Barbra Streisand first performed, in 1960. It was an elegant venue where gay and straight clientele mixed, hosted by popular gay entertainer Jimmie Daniels, who gained fame during the Harlem Renaissance.

But I've gotten side-tracked, back to the Three Flames. The group was led by Tiger Haynes, who was also known as an actor. He was in the Broadway variety show "New Faces of 1956" and was the original actor to portray the Tin Man in the Broadway version of "The Wiz," in 1975, the role taken over by Nipsey Russell in the 1978 film.

The 1957 album where I started my research is at the top of this post, but here are the back jacket notes.

And....ta ta....the song that inspired this post, "I'm In Love With You." It was written by Don Raye and Gene DePaul (both in the Songwriter's Hall of Fame), and it's the surprise ending that delights.

So, yes, this was a lyrically-gay song in 1957, and even more amazing, it was on an LP on a major label, Mercury.

Finally, yeah, I've got something from the juicy gossip department, I found this description in a column by Warren Allen Smith:

"Musical accompaniment at the Bon Soir usually was by the Three Flames, an all-black bass (Avril Pollard), piano (Roy Testamark), and guitar featuring Tiger Haynes. Cruisers who were three-deep at the bar focused on Tiger’s tight pants as the big St Croix-born musician sat on a high stool, his trousers purposely failing to hide the merchandise. His pearly teeth and his consummate musicianship gained him much notoriety. “No, Mary,” explained someone ingenuously at the all-male bar one night, “ ‘Big 10 Harmony’ refers to the size of his LP album.” The gossip was that, when in New Faces of 1956 with drag queen T. C. Jones, Tiger had a white wife and, alas, was not bisexual."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Paul Jabara and Friends, Part 2 (and that includes Whitney Houston)

I did a blog entry in June of 2012 on Paul Jabara, a songwriter and producer genius who died way too soon (in 1992) and gave us monster hits by Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, The Weather Girls and others, winning a slew of awards, including an Oscar and Grammy. 

When I did the blog I was missing the album shown above, which usually goes for, I think, outrageous prices. But I just found a copy on eBay for a bargain and grabbed it. Of course I already had the huge hit "It's Raining Men," but the 1983 album also includes a rather unknown track by the soon-to-be superstar Whitney Houston. You can hear her contribution to the LP, "Eternal Love," below.

But I love to give as much info as I can, so here's the back of the LP.

And the LP labels.....

The LP jacket and disc does not do a good job at identifying the vocalists, so I'll do it:

Bad Habits - Paul Jabara
Ladies Hot Line - Weather Girls
Hurricane Joe - Leata Galloway
It's Raining Men - Weather Girls
Eternal Love - Whitney Houston & Paul Jabara
What's Become of Love - Leata Galloway
Hope - Weather Girls

And, as you've been patient enough to read this far, you can listen to the entire album at the link.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

She N She

This morning I've been listening to the latest album by the Augusta, Georgia, band She N She, and they are Brandy Douglas, Drea Suarez and  Kate Anderson-Grijalva, and I am so, so pleased. The CD is called "Midsummer's Day" and was released late in 2012, and I have the website RightOutTV to thank for giving me a head's up on them. I was immediately drawn in, captured by the vocals. For example, check out the song "Baby I've Got You."

Okay, now go to their Reverbnation page and here's where I found myself listening to the rest of the album and more.

You can pretty much start at the top of the list, with "Secrets," but I encourge you not to miss the, gasp, woman-to-woman lyrics of "Pathetic." Or the haunting (also lyrically lesbian) "I Can't Stay," or the title track "Midsummer's Day." I could go on....

Find out more at....