Sunday, 5 June 2011

28 May 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

/ Nice cleavage shot of Dinah Washington, the great torch singer of R&B /

This Bank Holiday Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head was nicely mellow and boozy (well, I’m speaking for myself here) with no stressful technical glitches (apart from some last-minute drama about locating a microphone for emcee Ophelia Bitz, but nothing major).

The performer / model this time was Tallulah Tempest, making her Dr Sketchy debut. We were all dazzled by Tempest: A former ballerina-turned burlesque performer, she still wears her white satin ballet shoes and displayed her ballet skills by posing en pointe for long, tortuous stretches. Ophelia and I admired Tempest’s powerful calf muscles while she modelled – impressive! Tempest performed to The Doors's version of the Kurt Weill song "Alabama Song". Her costume was great, too: a sort of harlequin / Pierrot black and white diamond-patterned ballerina outfit, with black tear drops drawn coming out of the corner of one eye. She looked like an escapee from the 1950 Kenneth Anger film Rabbit’s Moon.

You can actually watch Kenneth Anger's wondrous Rabbit's Moon in its entirety on Youtube. I recommend you do. Or better yet, get it on DVD. The dream-like imagery, married to a doo wop soundtrack, is sublime

/ The vivacious Ophelia Bitz and I enjoying some sparkling repartee. How we laughed! Photos by Maria Depaula-Vazquez /

When I was in Vegas in April I spent a whole afternoon exploring the maze-like Charleston Antiques Market. One of the used books I skimmed and was tempted to buy was Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington by Nadine Cohodas. (The other one I almost bought: a pristine edition of Funeral Rites by Jean Genet. I really should have snapped that up!). I’ve never read any biographies of the great Rhythm and Blues torch singer. Her life and career are fascinating. One of the true jazz and blues greats, Washington’s influence is incalculable: just as Washington as a young singer was initially indebted to Billie Holiday, you can recognize Washington's idiosyncratic phrasing in the like of Esther “Little Esther” Philips, Lula Reed and Timi Yuro. (When I play Timi Yuro’s swinging, finger-snapping version of “Fever”, people assume it’s Dinah Washington). Today, Amy Winehouse has declared she reveres Washington.

Washington’s life was short but tempestuous and decadent – qualities audible in her remarkable gritty, bluesy wailing voice. A dedicated boozer and pill-popper, she was dead by the age of 39 (in 1963) of an apparent accidental overdose when she unwisely mixed diet pills (which in those days were essentially amphetamines; Washington struggled with her weight) with sedatives and alcohol – a combination that proved lethal. What a loss, as Washington was still at the peak of her powers at the time of her death.

There was a great photo in the biography of Washington shortly before her death wearing a platinum blonde bouffant cotton candy wig, a mink coat and an outrageous pair of diamante-trimmed cat’s eye sunglasses: the caption says something like “Dinah wearing her two favorite accessories: a wig and a mink coat”. One of the first African-American superstars to enjoy crossover success on the white pop charts, Washington was financially able to indulge her love of bling. Luxuriating in jewelry, furs and sports cars, she embraced the ghetto fabulous ethos decades before hip hop. Washington was called The Queen of The Blues in her lifetime, and by all accounts her manner was definitely imperious. A defiant and willful tough cookie, she was known to pull out a gun in disagreements. During recording sessions she would pound back magnums of pink champagne (no wonder her vocals sound so relaxed and effortless!). By the end of her life Washington was married seven times.

Her career was as volatile as her private life. As a recording artist, Washington was very prolific and there wasn’t always the highest quality control (the liner notes to one of my CDs claims “Records were released that Dinah didn’t even remember making”). On the plus side, that means there are always more treasures to discover in La Washington’s oeuvre. Dinah Washington is definitely an artist I play a lot at Dr Sketchy. I know she’s most loved for classics like “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” and “September in the Rain”, her duets with Brook Benton and her sumptuous, string-drenched version of Noel Coward’s “Mad About the Boy”, but I think I like her best at her most subdued and melancholy, when she drops the trademark bravado and sassiness to reveal a sensitive, bruised side. Check out these two stunning, goose-bump inducing heartbreak ballads I’ve recently discovered – to me they sound like Dinah Washington baring her soul. I’ve been playing both these a lot lately when I want to drop the tempo to something sultrier and dramatic.

"You're Crying" by Dinah Washington

"I Want to Cry" by Dinah Washington

Miss Irene - Ginny Kennedy
Cheesecake - The Nite Sounds
That's Why I'm Asking - Carl Dobkins Jr with Lew Douglas Orchestra & Chorus
Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson
Rock'n'Roll Waltz - Ann-Margret
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
Little Ole Wine Drinker Me - Robert Mitchum
Too Old to Cut the Mustard - Marlene Dietrich and Rosemary Clooney
Jungle Walk - The Dyna-Sores
Oui je veux - Johnny Halliday
Over the Rainbow - Gene Vincent
It's Only Make Believe - Billy Fury
Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield
Directly from My Heart - Little Richard
The Strangeness in Me - The Runabouts
Love Letters - Ike and Tina Turner
The Heel - Kay Martin
Bombie - Johnny Sharp
Out of Limits - The Marketts
The Coo - Wayne Cochran
The Chase - Chaino
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Stop Talking, Start Walking - Annie Laurie
Save It - Mel Robbins
De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden
That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle
Blockade - The Rumblers
Torture Rock - The Rockin' Belmarx
Salamander - Mamie van Doren
Please Don't Go Topless, Mother - Troy Hess
My Baby Cried All Night Long - Lee Hazlewood
Raunchy - Bill Black Combo
Do It Again - April Stevens
Anasthasia - Bill Smith Combo
The Beast - Milt Buckner
Screwdriver - Luchi
Willow Weep for Me - Nina Simone
Lullabye of Birdland - Eartha Kitt
Night Walk - The Swingers
I Want to Cry - Dinah Washington
Blues in My Heart - John Buzon Trio
Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Denise Darcel
The Sneak - Jimmy Oliver
I Need Your Lovin' - Don Gardner and DeeDee Ford
Everywhere I Go - Ted Taylor
Daddy Daddy - Ruth Brown
This Thing Called Love - Esquerita
Fever - The Delmonas
Stranger in My Own Hometown - The Earls of Suave
Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires
Comic Strip - Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg
Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four
Black Tarantula - Jody Reynolds
The Whip - The Frantics
A Guy Who Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich
Bonjour Tristesse - Juliette Greco
Drums-a-Go-Go - The Hollywood Persuaders
Intoxica - The Centurions
Crawlin' - The Untouchables
Like a Baby - Wanda Jackson
The Stalk - The Giants
Blues in the Night - Julie London
Sleep Walk - Henri Rene & His Orchestra
What is This Thing Called Love? Lena Horne
Rollercoaster Blues - Diana Dors
Let's Get Lost - Chet Baker
The Lady is a Tramp - Hildegard Knef
Mambo Miam Miam - Serge Gainsbourg
Gopher - Yma Sumac
What is This Generation Coming To? Robert Mitchum
Lover - Peggy Lee
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
You Know I'm No Good - Wanda Jackson

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