Thursday, 29 March 2018

VINNY BELL "WHISTLE STOP" (1964)

«SPECIAL NOTE TO THE CONSUMER AND RECORD REVIEWER: this album contains recordings by VINNIE BELL, at this writing New York's busiest studio guitar player. It is designed to show-case Vinnie's electronic genius and his musicianship. The album is based on the contemporary, popular, instrumental approach to recording. This is not a JAZZ recording.»

[from the back cover notes of "Whistle Stop"]



It's high time for another chapter in our series of posts that celebrate leading American session guitarist and pioneer of electronic effects Vincent 'Vinnie' Bell.

One of the two or three greatest guitar geeks of the Space Age Pop era, Vinnie Bell will go down in musical history as the inventor of the 'water guitar sound' that was a big fad in instrumental recordings during the '60s.

Used most prominently on Ferrante and Teicher's 1969 Top Ten cover of the theme to "Midnight Cowboy", and on his own rendition of the "'Airport' Love Theme" in 1970, the effect became one of the most-copied technique among guitarists until the wah-wah pedal became standard equipment in the '70s. Among the other essential records that feature his trademark sound, we should at least mention Dick Hyman / Mary Mayo's "Moon Gas", released in 1963 and available here on Stereo Candies..

Born in Brooklyn in 1935, Bell started to learn to play the mandolin when he was four years old according to the old method: solfeggio and a good swat for every mistake. Then, at eight years of age came the switch to guitar, and at the ripe maturity of twelve years the start of his professional career.



Trained by teachers like Carmen Mastren, who taught him the rhythm guitar, and Tony Mottola, who taught him the basic all-around fundamentals and made him his protégé, Bell also studied under Everett Barksdale and Mickey Baker.

Long before any company commercially produced guitar effects pedals, Vinnie Bell was tinkering and inventing with his own electronic custom effects pedals for his guitars. He constantly invented new effects using fuzz distortion and wah-wah pedals, before anyone else had them. This gave him an edge over most other guitarists in the '60s recording world, and producers loved to bring him on their sessions to get his unique guitar effects.

Bell soon became an in-demand session guitarist. The list of artists who benefited from his work is huge and includes Louis Armstrong, Simon and Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Donovan, The Mamas & The Papas, The Four Seasons, The Lovin' Spoonful, Bobby Darin and many more...

For a detailed biography of Vinnie Bell, I suggest that you read the post I dedicated to his debut album a while ago.


My copy of "Whistle Stop" comes with an original Verve company inner sleeve, yippee!!!


"Whistle Stop" contains the following tracks:

01. Moonglow (2:02)
02. Night Train (2:41)
03. Fever (2:29)
04. Dawn (2:09)
05. Bellzouki (2:12)
06. What'd I Say (2:57)
07. Last Stop (1:39)
08. Trainman's Blues (2:23)
09. Shindig (2:06)
10. Whistle Stop (2:13)
11. Memphis (2:18)
12. I Have But One Heart (1:59)
13. The End of the Line (1:47)
14. Tramp Song (2:07)

All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in March 2018 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.

Please have a look at the comments for the download link.

Here's the complete credits and personnel list of the album:

Vincent Bell: guitars and effects
Everett Barksdale: bass
Paul Griffin: electric piano, electric organ
Al Gorgoni: rhythm guitar
Gary Chester / Buddy Saltzman: drums

Arranged by Claus Ogerman and Charles Calello, except "Bellzouki", "Trainman's Blues" and "Whistle Stop" arranged by Vincent Bell.

Director of engineering: Val Valentin

Liner notes: Warner Fredericks

Cover photograph: Todd Webb

Produced by Creed Taylor.


Vincent Bell, circa 1964


Probably recorded sometime during the last months of the previous year, "Whistle Stop" was released by Verve with catalogue number V6-8574 (stereo) and V-8574 (mono) around January or February 1964.

The album cover features a picture by famous American photographer Todd Weeb, which depicts a small train station in Domingo, some sixty kilometers south-west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Luckily, there is a road just near the rails, and Google Maps can help to give a more precise idea of where the picture was taken. Of course at least 55 years has passed, the small station is not there anymore, but I think I have recognized the old water tower...

Both the album title and its cover clearly imply that this work is focused on the railroad, and at least five of the tracks also explicitly refer to trains, trainmen, stops, stations and lines. A nice theme, I would say, and one that also vaguely inspired Bell on his previous solo effort.

Anyway, curiously enough the author's name is spelled as Vinny Bell on the front cover, spine and center labels, but he is referred to with the more usual Vinnie Bell on the back cover and in the liner notes... The same liner notes identifies this as Bell's «first recording as a soloist», which is not the case since his debut album was released no less than three years earlier, in late 1960.

In the page dedicated to the album on the super cool Spage Age Pop website, the reviewer points out how apparently the label was trying to «distance itself from its own artist» by including on the back cover the "Special note to the consumer and record reviewer" that you can read in full at the beginning of this post, warning them that «this is not a Jazz recording»... I can't help but agree with him, also when he writes that «Whistle Stop is, arguably, Bell's best album by far.»

In November 1963, "Whistle Stop" was preceded by a 7" release credited to Vinny Bell and The Bell Men. This included the title track on Side A and "Shindig" on the flipside. In Italy the songs were switched and the record was given the picture cover that you can see below. In Australia the songs included on the single were "Moonglow" and, once again, "Shindig". On such occasion they were credited to Vinnie Bell; pictures of this release are also available below.


In Italy the "Whistle Stop / Shindig" single was released in a picture sleeve and sides were switched...


    
...while the public in Australia was offered a "Moonglow / Shindig" single


The following is a slightly edited version of the liner notes written by Warner Fredericks that are printed on the back cover of "Whistle Stop":

«Better open the window and get ready to toss out every idea you’ve ever had about what a guitar should sound like. Because from the moment the stylus touches the first groove of the record inside this sleeve every guitar you’ve ever heard will become part of the past tense of your life. Vinnie Bell’s new recording as a soloist, composer, leader, arranger is a straight-off blast into the future of guitar music.

Look at the line-up of tunes: "Night Train", "Memphis", "What’d I Say", "Bellzouki", "Dawn", "Trainman’s Blues", "Shindig", "Fever", "Last Stop", "Moonglow", and the title tune - "Whistle Stop". Every one of them is dressed up in sounds you’ve never heard before - sounds no one has ever heard before on record. Sure you’ve heard train sounds - but who ever heard a trombone moan come out of a guitar? Listen to the moving bass line on "Moonglow". Or, who ever dreamed of making a violin come singing out of a guitar - or a French Horn, or cello, or pipe organ, or a baritone sax?

Vinnie Bell - he’s the dreamer behind this fantastic array of new sounds that come roaring, sighing, singing out of an instrument that once used to hang around in the background of folk songs and blues. Vinnie, a superb musician and a natural born inventor, got the idea a few years ago that there was a terrific, rockin’ orchestra hidden inside the curved frame of his guitar. He was determined to pry every instrumental sound loose he could discover - or invent.

Remember when Paul Anka took off with “Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine”? - a gold-mine of an LP. The guitar was Vinnie’s, the same guitar you will hear on "I Have But One Heart". He could bill himself like an old-time private detective, “The Eye That Never Sleeps”... He’s too busy - playing, composing, inventing.


Recently, he counted down the Top Fifty singles in the best-seller charts and discovered to his happy amazement that he had played guitar on thirty-two of the recordings! He averages close to twenty recording sessions a week in the New York studios; single dates, LP dates, TV commercials, radio commercials, movies, network TV shows... And he is a consultant for Danelectro in the engineering and development of new guitars, amplifiers and guitar attachments - both acoustical and electronic. "Bellzouki" is named after a patented device of Vinnie’s that he based on the terrific Greek bouzoukee sound. (Remember the sound track of Never On Sunday? That was a bouzoukee.)

Vinnie is originally a Brooklyn boy, born just about a mile from Coney Island. He’s a family man (“When I get to see them”) with a son and two daughters, all under 9. Married ten years, he and his wife went together for 9 years before they decided to take the final step. Vinnie’s training was informal - “But, with some really good teachers,” he says, “Tony Mottola and Carmen Mastron. Tony taught me the basic all-around fundamentals, and Carmen taught me rhythm guitar. Then, fellows like Everett Barksdale and Mickey Baker taught me a lot more later on. They’ve got something special.”

Incidentally, Everett Barksdale plays on this date and helps Vinnie make his debut as a combo leader on records. Barksdale plays bass guitar and gives the album a terrific drive. He sounds like he’s playing a bass fiddle - but most of the time it’s a Danelectro bass guitar that Vinnie helped research and develop. The other players in Vinnie’s group are: Paul Griffin, electric piano and electric organ; Al Gorgoni, rhythm guitar; Gary Chester or Buddy Saltzman on drums. Vinnie arranged three of the tunes and the others were scored by Claus Ogerman and Charlie Calello, both outstanding arrangers.

Vinnie has adapted, modified, invented, experimented, dreamed... Sometimes people are likely to think that a guy so obsessed with perfection is a little out of this world - a little touched. Vinnie’s certainly way out in a world of his own - a world of vibrant, exciting, rocking new sounds. And indeed he is touched - with genius.
»



Side A starts with "Moonglow", a popular song written by Will Hudson and Irving Mills with lyrics by Eddie DeLange. There is an abyss between the first version of the song recorded by Joe Venuti in 1933 and Bell's version, but the original melody is still quite recognizable. As I already wrote, this tune was released as a single in Australia.

On "Night Train" Bell emulates a variety of train sounds with his guitar, a trick that he already applied to "Sentimental Journey" on his debut album, but in a completely different way. This song was written by Jimmy Forrest with added lyrics by Lewis C. Simpkins and Oscar Washington. compared to Bell's rendition, the original version recorded by Jimmy Forrest in 1952 is much slower and creates a completely different atmosphere. James Brown also recorded his own version of the song in 1961, turning it into a Funky number with different lyrics.

"Fever" was written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. The song was first recorded in 1956 by American R&B singer Little Willie John, and topped the Billboard R&B chart when it was released as a single in April the same year. Bell aptly takes the original vocal line and builds his soloing on it with a lot of expressiveness. His trademark water guitar sound is scattered all over the track and it takes the lead along with an heavy reverb during a break halfway through the song, making it one of the best cuts on the album.

Well, I tried my best but I couldn't find any relevant information about "Dawn" a song written by one Robert Robinson... It's a real pity because this is probably the most scintillating track on "Whistle Stop" and I would have been curious to learn something more about it and listen to the original version... Maybe someone in the know could shed some light about it? Thank you!
Anyway, once again I agree with the reviewer at Space Age Pop: «"Dawn" stands out in its compact intensity. It starts revved up and keeps the pedal to the metal right to the last note. Bell's fuzzed-out tone is pretty remarkable to hear, given that it's just 1964. It's the kind of track that blows the dust out of the speakers and leaves compilation makers wondering how to possibly follow it up.»

The album proceeds with "Bellzouki", the first of three compositions co-written by Bell himself with Wandra Merrell Brown that appear on the record. As per title, the song makes good use of the Bellzouki, an electric 12-string guitar that Bell had invented and perfectioned for Danelectro just months early. Bell's creation was inspired by the Bouzouki, a Greek string instrument, and I easily guess that this is one of its very first appearances on a record.

"What'd I Say" was written by Ray Charles, who also recorded it in 1959. Bell's version is pretty tight just like the original, and although it doesn't introduce new elements we can still appreciate the precision of his mighty touch.

First side finish with "Last Stop", the shortest number on the album. This instrumental was written by Phil Ramone and Cathryn Williams, and having being copyrighted just in December 1963 I believe that it is an original piece of music created on purpose for the inclusion on this LP. Bell's guitar introduces the track with its imitation of a steam whistle and then proceeds solidly to the end, making this a favourite of mine.



Side B opens with "Trainman's Blues", another instrumental written by the Bell-Merrell duo. As the title clearly implies, this is a Blues number augmented by Bell's tremolo and distortion effects. At times I feel like he's about to dive into a devastating solo along the lines of the one played by Marty McFly / Michael J. Fox in one of the best scenes of "Back To the Future", but instead he always manage to keep the train on the track, just to use a metaphor which suits both the song and the album.

"Shindig" is an instrumental written by Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch and brought to success in 1963 by their band, The Shadows. Bell adds a touch of his water guitar sound, but his version - althought being more powerful, in my opinion - remains mostly faithful to the original.

"Whistle Stop" is the third number written by Bell and Wandra Merrell Brown, this time also aided by Phil Ramone. It would be interesting to know the name of the anonymous whistler who gives this distinctive touch to a rather simple bluesy track... Since Bell had often collaborated with Dick Hyman - who is also well-known for his whistling ability - I wouldn't be surprised if it was really him, but of course this is just mere speculation... As I already wrote, apart from being choosen as the album's title, this cut was also released as a single. This was not a wise choice in my opinion, and the album has stronger tracks that could have served that purpose better.

"Memphis" is a famous song written by Chuck Berry, which was first released in 1959. Somehow Bell's version differs from the original and I must admit that I was not able to recognize it at first listen. The chord progression seems to be the same but the distinctive vocal line is completely absent and is not replaced by any instrument, making it difficult to draw a connection with the original composition, at least for me.

"I Have But One Heart" is a popular song composed by Johnny Farrow and Marty Symes. The song is an adaptation of a traditional Neapolitan song entitled "O Marenariello", and was first recorded by Vic Damone in 1947. Bell brings the song back to its original Southern Italy context by aptly playing most of it on a mandolin and using a very clean and gentle guitar sound.

"The End of the Line" is another short instrumental written by the Ramone-Williams duo, and I assume from its copyright date that, once again, this is an original number created for the album. Bell's guitar is at its best and this track - although not sharing any striking similarities - somehow reminds me of Perrey and Kingsley's "Swan's Splashdown" from "The In Sound from Way Out!", a 1966 album that also features an unaccredited Vinnie Bell on guitar, uhm...

"Tramp Song" brings the album to an end. The original version of this track is entitled "Tramp-Melodie" and comes from the original soundtrack written by German composer Martin Böttcher for the 1963 movie "Der Schatz im Silbersee" (The Treasure of the Silver Lake). It may seem an odd choice, but the orchestral movements of the original are faithfully reconstructed by Bell on his guitar, making it a perfect closure.


The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album: enjoy "Moonglow", "Night Train", "Fever", "Dawn", "Bellzouki", "Shindig", "Whistle Stop" and "The End of the Line"!


















More information about Vinnie Bell and "Whistle Stop" is available here:

http://www.vinniebell.com/

http://www.spaceagepop.com/bell.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinnie_Bell

https://www.discogs.com/artist/353572-Vinnie-Bell

http://www.spaceagepop.com/rc008.htm

http://uniqueguitar.blogspot.com/2010/02/danelectro-bellzouki-model-7010-was.html

http://wfmuichiban.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-liquid-guitar-of-vinnie-bell.html

http://chmatinee.blogspot.com/2015/06/newsreel-corner-cross-promotion-for.html

https://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/vinnie-bell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE3C1bX-6yk


If you have other useful information about this post, or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

6 comments:

  1. DOWNLOAD LINK

    https://mega.nz/#!RIV...

    If you download this file please consider leaving a comment, your feedback is important!

    Please let me know if the link is broken and I'll do my best to quickly fix it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonderful work as always!

    If only some of the so called "professional" record labels could take so much care when they re-issue older albums. Thanks for sharing your hard work :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for all your hard work putting this Vinnie Bell post together. Looking forward to hearing it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Superb! Many thanx............

    ReplyDelete

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