Saturday, January 30, 2010

ROOTS OF THE CRAMPS #1: Charlie Feathers

Charles Arthur Feathers was born June 12, 1932 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and recorded a string of popular singles like "Peepin' Eyes," "Defrost Your Heart," "Tongue-Tied Jill," and "Bottle to the Baby" on Sun Records, Meteor and King Records in the 1950s.

Feathers was known for being a master of shifting emotional and sonic dynamics in his songs. His theatrical, hiccup-styled, energetic, rockabilly vocal style inspired a later generation of rock vocalists, including Lux Interior of The Cramps.

He studied and recorded several songs with Junior Kimbrough, whom he called "the beginning and end of all music." His childhood influences were reflected in his later music of the 1970s and 1980s, which had an easy-paced, sometimes sinister, country-blues tempo, as opposed to the frenetic fast-paced style favored by some of his rockabilly colleagues of the 1950s.

He started out as a session musician at Sun Studios, playing any side instrument he could in the hopes of someday making his own music there. He eventually played on a small label started by Sam Phillips called Flip records which got him enough attention to record a couple singles for Sun Records and Holiday Inn Records. By all accounts the singer was not held in much regard by Phillips, but Feathers often made the audacious claim that he had arranged "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" for Elvis Presley and recorded "Good Rockin' Tonight" months before Presley. He also claimed that his "We're Getting Closer (To Being Apart)" had been intended to be Elvis' sixth single for Sun. He did, however, compose one of Elvis' Sun recordings, "I Forgot To Remember To Forget".

He then moved on to Meteor Records and then King Records where he recorded his best-known work. When his King contract ran out he still continued to perform, although Feathers - perhaps typically - thought there was a conspiracy to keep his music from gaining the popularity it deserved.

In the mid-1980s, he performed at times at new music nightclubs like the Antenna Club in Memphis, Tennessee, sharing the bill with rock-and-roll bands like Tav Falco's Panther Burns, who, as devoted fans of Feathers, had introduced him to their label's president.

He released his New Jungle Fever album in 1987 and Honkey Tonk Man in 1988, featuring the lead guitar work of his son, Bubba Feathers. These later albums of original songs penned by Feathers were released on the French label New Rose Records, whose other 1980s releases included albums by cult music heroes like Johnny Thunders, Alex Chilton, Roky Erickson, The Cramps, The Gun Club, and others. Colonel Robert Morris was one of Charlie's drummers in the 1970s. Feathers' song, "That Certain Female" was featured on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino's 2003 film, Kill Bill Vol. 1. His "Can't Hardly Stand It" was featured on the follow-up Kill Bill Vol. 2 soundtrack.

He died on August 29, 1998 of complications from a stroke-induced coma. (Wikipedia)

Although rockabilly pioneer Charlie Feathers never achieved commercial success, he was present at the creation of the form. Feathers himself hints that a mysterious, undisclosed "conspiracy" denied him maintstream fame; today he is a cult legend., living in Memphis in a little house with a white picket fence. Charlie loves to sit on his front porch, chewing and spitting tobacco.

Raised on a farm, Feathers quit school after the third grade, learned guitar from a black sharecropper, and worked on oil pipelines in Illinois and Texas as a teen. Moving to Memphis at 18, he contracted spinal meningitis and spent months bedridden, listening to the radio. Upon recuperating he concentrated on music. Feathers later claimed that he spent a great deal of time in the mid-Fifties at Sam Phillips' Sun studios, arranging some of Elvis Presley's early material. Though most of Feathers' assertions have been unsubstantiated, he did co-write Presley's "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" (#1 C&W, 1955). That year, his own debut single on Flip, "I've Been Deceived," showed the influence of Hank Williams, and from then until 1959, he recorded for Sun and smaller labels (King, Kay, and Walmay among them). Such singles as "Tongue-Tied Jill" and "Get With It" did little on the charts, but Feathers persevered, playing local roadhouses until gaining, in 1977, a gig at London's Rainbow Theatre that drew raves from rockabilly revivalists.

In the late Seventies, Feathers got the financial backing to start his own short-lived record label, Feathers, upon which he released a couple of albums and several singles. Frequently comic in tone his work was often straightforwardly country, but with 1991's "Charlie Feathers" (his only major label release) and the critical praise it provoked, it seemed apparent that Feathers will be remembered essentially as a great, early, if not widely known, rocker.

There is a excellent display on Charlie's memorbilia at the Memphis Music Museum on 2nd St., downtown Memphis.

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