Today’s JAMuary entry comes courtesy of Townsman “Boom Boom” dbuskirk. I’ll let him tell you about it. As a special treat, he’s spread jam on both sides of the toast: JAMuary’s second double shot in as many days! (Don’t get spoiled!)
Don “Sugarcane” Harris has been on my front burner in recent years, particularly the eight records he recorded for the MPS label back in the 1970s. Sugarcane Harris, who died in 1999 at the age of 61, had an odd career trajectory. He started in the 1950s as half of the duo Don & Dewey, who recorded gritty doo-wop styled tunes for the Specialty label. Together they wrote and recorded the garage rock classic “Farmer John” and “Leaving It All Up To You,” which I first knew as the 1974 Donnie & Marie remake. During the ’60s, L.A.- based Don was in bandleader Johnny Otis‘ stable, singing and playing in Otis’ Revue on what became his trademark axe, the electric violin. However Sugarcane is probably best remembered by rock fans when he guested on some of the Zappa‘s post-Mothers records, 1969’s Hots Rats and 1970’s Chunga’s Revenge (that’s his violin solo on “Willie The Pimp”).
Anyway, without the Zappa connection I doubt Sugarcane would have ended up in the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1971, playing a set featuring European prog and jazz musicians, including Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt on drums, Volker Kriegel on guitar (from vibist Dave Pike’s group), experimentalist Wolfgang Dauner on keyboards, and bassist Neville Whitehead, like Wyatt also out of the Canterbury prog scene.
“Every word of it is true” Sugarcane swears in the introduction of the 12-minute “Where’s My Sunshine,” from Sugarcane’s Got The Blues. Actually there are only seven words in the song (maybe nine if you count “Oh yeah”), but there’s a conviction in everything Sugarcane sings and plays in the song that makes it all seem kinda profound. By dragging this progressive crew back into the blues (and a pretty unusual one too, I’ll leave the more schooled folks here to figure out exactly what time the song is in) Sugarcane stirs this mixture of rock, jazz, soul, and blues into one of those cross-cultural exchanges that gave rock and roll its initial kick.
Then again, for a sizable percentage of rock fans the sound of the electric violin is akin to listening to a cat being skinned, bringing up bad flashbacks of Kansas and Jean Luc Ponty. But for me there is something captivating about this recording, perhaps Sugarcane’s most cohesive, that has made this propulsive track a go-to record when I’m driving by myself. If only Phish sounded more like this.
BONUS JAM! Don & Dewey, “Farmer John”