Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thee Midniters - The Complete Midniters (1965-69 us, chicano garage/beat, psychedelic rock, 2009 remaster edition, 4 disc box set - MP3 320k and FLAC)

Who were Thee Midniters? As outlined in archivist Richie Unterberger's incisive liner notes (Unterberger previously did an in-depth profile of the band in his 2000 book Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock), the Chicano band formed in East Los Angeles while most of the members were still in high school, playing the covers of the day at the usual teen dance parties, eventually graduating to the recording studio where they cut their first album, 1965's Whittier Blvd., which contained a pair of regional hits, the title track - "a warped mutation of the Rolling Stones' ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue'," is how Unterberger describes it - and a rousing cover of "Land Of A Thousand Dances."

Armed with the killer instinct and soulful lead vocals of Willie Garcia (a/k/a Little Willie G, who'd go on to work with Los Lobos, Ry Cooder, Los Straitjackets and others) and possessing an uncanny ability to both channel and transcend their influences, Thee Midniters served up a heady stew, one that was primarily rock and soul-based but occasionally spiced up with touches of their Mexican-American musical heritage (although to this day the surviving musicians will insist that they were not playing Latin rock per se; they just happened to be Latinos who rocked).

Observes Lobos' Louie Perez in Unterberger's liners, "Thee Midniters didn't stay in one predictable place. They were willing to push the envelope of what was expected by a band that was from East Los Angeles... [They] were the best band around at the time. They became our Beatles; all the stuff that was going on in Beatlemania, we translated into Midniter mania. It gave young kids who would eventually become musicians like myself inspiration to pursue a career in music."It's not hard to hear why, based on the four complete LPs and assorted B-sides and rarities represented on Complete.

The first album primarily comprises cover tunes, standouts ranging from the swaggering R&B of Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow" and street-corner group the Concords' smooth "Come Back Baby" to the aforementioned "1000 Dances" and signs-of-the-times rockers "Slow Down," "Money" and "Johnny B. Goode"; anyone who grew up on this material can picture him- or herself crowding down front at the local high school hop, freed for an hour or two from parental constraints and cutting loose while going through the rituals of teenage courtship. The bonus material (seven songs) yields its own trove of gold, including a swinging "Heat Wave" and a two-part live version of "1000 Dances."

1966's Thee Midniters Bring You Love Special Delivery, though, is where things start to heat up. Still dominating the setlist are covers, notably smoking takes of "Do You Love Me," "Good Lovin'" and "Gloria" (the latter has a punkish vocal snarl and angular guitar attack that very nearly tops the Van Morrison/Them original) plus the obligatory soul outings ("When A Man Loves A Woman" passes the audition) and at least one stab at pure schmaltz ("Strangers In The Night," which no doubt was strategically deployed at those dance hops to melt the hearts and part the thighs of sweet young things). But with torrid originals like "Love Special Delivery" (penned by Garcia and bassist Jimmy Espinoza, it's on fire with surging horns, a Who-worthy rhythm section and searing lead guitar;

I'm betting King Khan has heard this a time or two) and funky, loony R&B raver "I Found A Peanut," you get a clear sense of how rapidly the band was evolving. There's also an astounding band-penned instrumental among the four bonus cuts titled "Thee Midnite Feeling," which with its cinematic/psychedelic funk vibe demands to be covered in the modern era by the Budos Band or the Dap-Kings. Sure enough, with the stage duly set, on 1967's Unlimited the band comes out firing masterfully with all guns.

Opening track "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" may be remembered by most as a Solomon Burke tune subsequently covered by the Rolling Stones, but here it's a throbbing, churning, hormone-drenched garage anthem worthy of any Nuggets or Pebbles collection that totally demolishes the Stones' version. And this time around the LP primarily consists of originals; no slight to "Devil With A Blue Dress"/"Good Golly Miss Molly" (an overwrought take of the Beatles' "Yesterday" is best ignored), but with such gems as brown-eyed soul weeper "Making Ends Meet," the jaunty, swinging "Cheatin' Woman," Yardbirds/Sonics pastiche "Welcome Home Darling" and horn-powered, Latin rock instrumental "Chile Con Soul," it's a real head-scratcher to think that Thee Midniters never really notched any significant national chart action.

A whopping eight bonus tracks round out the disc, notably the rambunctious, speed-rapping (in Spanish) mariachi rocker "The Big Ranch (El Rancho Grande)"; the Mexican folk-flavored "The Ballad of Cesar Chavez" (two versions, one in English and one in Spanish); and a track that Unterberger rightly pegs as "one of the greatest R&B-grounded garage rockers ever waxed," the positively riotous - but unerringly groove-driven - "Jump, Jive, and Harmonize." Hell, that song alone is worth the price of admission to this box.

Thee Midniters' swan song came in 1969 with Giants, a kind of odds-and-sods affair released in the aftermath of Garcia's departure from the group. By this point the inability to make much headway beyond their SoCal base of operations was taking its toll; Thee Midniters recorded for a pair of regional operations, the Chattahoochee and Whittier labels, that suffered from limited distribution, and for some reason the group's management passed on a chance to ink a deal with RCA. Still, Giants has its share of wonderful moments. Some material is reprised from earlier releases, including "Whittier Boulevard" and a live "Land of A Thousand Dances."

A five-minute instrumental cover of "Walk On By" is revelatory, its part-spiky/part-lush horn charts lending a twinned edgy/sensual feel that, had the tune been released a year or so later, would have been perfect for the soundtrack of a Blaxploitation flick. And original "Breakfast On The Grass," though somewhat anomalous for the band, is a classic slice of psychedelic pop that might have found a home on Top 40 radio; peace, love and flower power, anyone?

A final single, included here among the three bonus tracks, was recorded by the band in '69, a defiant yet buoyant Latin rocker titled "Chicano Power" that ranks alongside Santana and War. Speaking of which, also included is the previously unreleased "Baila Cinderella," a Spanish language Hubert Laws cover that, with its lead guitar and Latin percussion, makes for a satisfying Santana doppelganger. Each original album is presented as a tri-fold digipak featuring reproductions of the original sleeve art plus images of rare 45s and track annotations for the non-LP material.

The four digis along with Unterberger's liner notes are housed in a handsome box, making it an artifact that no self-respecting fan of Thee Midniters' oeuvre will want to pass up. The collection was compiled from "best available" vinyl sources, meaning that in places you will indeed hear surface noise and minor pops and ticks, but don't let that deter ya: think of it as your personal gateway to an authentically recreated experience.

by Fred Mills


CD-1 Whittier Blvd

1. Whittier Blvd. (Dominguez, Figueroa, Garcia, Lopez, Marquez, Prado, Rendon, Salazar) - 2:28

2. Stubborn Kind of Fellow (Gaye, Gordy, Stevenson) - 2:18

3. That's All (Brandt, Haymes) - 3:06

4. Come Back Baby (Lewis, Lisi) - 2:21

5. Empty Heart (Phelge) - 2:31

6. I Need Someone (Welch) - 2:59

7. Land of a Thousand Dances (Domino, Kenner) - 2:20

8. To Be with You (Jimenez, Torres) - 2:38

9. Slow Down (Williams) - 3:03

10.Giving Up on Love (Feldman, Goldstein, Gottehrer) - 2:42

11.Money (Bradford, Gordy, Gordy) - 3:01

12.Johnny B. Goode (Berry) - 2:38

13.Evil Love (Phillip) - 2:12

14.It's Not Unusual (Mills, Reed) - 2:17

15.Heat Wave (Dozier, Holland, Holland) - 2:25

16.Land of a Thousand Dances, Pt. 1 (Domino, Kenner) - 2:28

17.Land of a Thousand Dances, Pt. 2 (Domino, Kenner) - 3:35

18.Heat Wave (Dozier, Holland, Holland) - 2:26

19.Ball o' Twine (Harris) - 1:42

CD-2 Love Special Delivery

1. Love Special Delivery (Espinoza, Garcia) - 2:12

2. Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things (Dozier, Holland, Holland) - 3:14

3. Do You Love Me (Gordy) - 3:07

4. Soul and Inspiration (Mann, Weil) - 4:10

5. Good Lovin' (Clark, Resnick) - 3:08

6. When a Man Loves a Woman (Lewis, Wright) - 2:49

7. Strangers in the Night (Kaempfert, Singleton, Snyder) - 4:44

8. Gloria (V. Morrison) - 3:16

9. Love Makes the World Go Round (Jackson) - 3:28

10.I Found a Peanut (Espinoza, Garcia) - 2:30

11.Don't Go Away (Marquez) - 2:46

12.Are You Angry (Espinoza, Flores, Garcia) - 2:24

13.It'll Never Be Over for Me (Biagman, Bobrick) - 3:23

14.Thee Midnite Feeling (LaMont, Rendon) - 3:09

15 .Hey Little Girl (Lewis) - 2:45

16.Are You Angry (Espinoza, Flores, Garcia) - 2:39

CD-3 Unlimited

1. Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (Berns, Burke, Wexler) - 2:41

2. Cheatin' Woman (Espinoza, Garcia, LaMont) - 2:45

3. Could It Be (Marquez) - 2:03

4. Thee Walking Song (Dominguez, Garcia) - 2:18

5. Dreaming Casually (Garcia, Rendon) - 3:05

6. Never Knew I Had It So Bad (Dominguez, Garcia, LaMont) - 2:31

7. Yesterday (Lennon, McCartney) - 2:34

8. Devil with a Blue Dress/GoodGolly, Miss Molly (F. Long, W. Stevenson, J. Marascalco, R. Blackwell) - 3:13

9. Making Ends Meet (Garcia, Rendon) - 2:32

10.Chile con Soul (Prado) - 2:33

11.Welcome Home Darling (Garcia, LaMont) - 2:17

12.The Town I Live In (Dodd, Mitchell, Rice) - 3:18

13.The Big Ranch (El Rancho Grande) (Ramos, Silvano R. Ramos) - 2:50

14.Dragon-Fly (Garcia, LaMont, Marquez, Rendon) - 3:06

15.Looking out a Window (Bagliazo, Dominguez, Garcia) - 2:57

16.Jump, Jive and Harmonize (Espinoza, Garcia, Marquez) - 2:29

17.Tu Despedida (Dominguez, Garcia) - 2:54

18.You're Gonna Make Me Cry (Prado, Torres) - 2:40

19.The Ballad of Cesar Chavez (English Version) (Dominguez, Garcia, Garcia) - 4:55

20.La Copla de Cesar Chavez (Spanish Version) (Dominguez, E. Garcia, Garcia, Garcia) - 4:58

CD-4 Giants

1. Whittier Blvd. (Dominguez, Figueroa, Garcia, Lopez, Marquez, Prado, Rendon, Salazar) - 2:30

2. Goin' out of My Head (Randazzo, Weinstein) - 5:32

3. Land of a Thousand Dances (Domino, Kenner) - 2:24

4. Walk on By (Bacharach, David) - 5:15

5. Sad Girl (Higgins, Smith) - 2:42

6. Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (Berns, Burke, Wexler) - 2:38

7. Brother Where Are You? (Brown, Oscar Brown Jr.) - 4:04

8. Breakfast on the Grass (Espinoza, Marquez, Torres) - 2:31

9. Strangers in the Night (Kaempfert, Singleton, Snyder) - 4:44

10.Love Special Delivery (Espinoza, Garcia) - 2:15

11.That's All (Brandt, Haymes) - 3:07

12.Chicano Power (Prado) - 3:04

13.Never Give You Up (Butler, Gamble, Huff) - 3:22

14.Balla Cinderella (Laws) - 3:17

Thee Midniters

*Willie Garcia a.k.a. Little WIllie G - Vocals

*George Dominguez - Guitars

*George Salazar - Drums

*Romeo Prado - Trombone

*Jimmy Espinoza - Bass

*Larry Rendon - Saxophone, Flute, Piano, Organ

*Ronny Figueroa - Organ, Conga

*Paul C Saenz - Guitars

*Danny LaMont - Drums, Piano

*Roy Marquez - Guitar, Background Vocals

[ Rip and Scans by MARIOS ]

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