A Drinking Town With A Historical Problem

    In 1830, the average American man consumed 50 gallons of liquor per year. That number does not include beer. In Charleston, the rate was higher. Carl Bridenbaugh of Boston wrote: The importation of liquors at Charleston Town staggers the imagination – 1500 dozen (18,000) bottles [of ale]… 1219 hogshead [wine]…and 58 barrels of rum.” This was a six month supply for one modest tavern.

    Gentlemen were encouraged to drink; in fact, part of being a gentleman meant holding your liquor. Having the reputation of being a “three-bottle man” was a mark of excellence. A “three-bottle man” consumed at least three bottles of whiskey or wine per day. Again, that did not include beer, which was consumed in the same manner as modern soft drinks.

It has been observed that during the settling of the American colonies, the Spaniards first build a church, the Dutch build a fort, and the English built a tavern.

During the first week of April 1670 ninety-three colonists arrived on the Carolina under Captain Joseph West. Some of the provisions on board included 4000 gallons of beer and 30 gallons of brandy. They found the “Water about Town so brackish that it is scarcely potable unless mixed with … liquors.”

Seven months later, Captain West complained that many of the settlers “were so addicted to the Rum, that they will do little whilst the bottle is at their nose.” Ten years later the Council felt it necessary to pass an act for “the Suppression of Idle, Drunken and Swearing Persons” and to “prohibit entrance of punch houses, or tippling houses during time of Divine Service.”  The Council finally figured it out – people were going to taverns for worship instead of church. It was the beginning of a long (and mostly unsuccessful) tradition by Charles Town politicians to pass laws to direct people away from the bars and into the churches.

The first Anglican minister, Reverend Atkin Williamson, was dismissed in 1681 for baptizing a bear while drunk. In 1708 a ship set sail from England, bound for Charlestown, carrying the Reverend Gideon Johnston, appointed commissary to the colony. As was customary during a trip from England to Carolina, before making the long passage across the Atlantic, the ship stopped to re-supply at the island of Madeira, off the coast of Portugal. Reverend Johnston went ashore and he sampled a new drink – a golden-colored spirit named after the very island. Madeira wine is aged at least twenty years in casks and then bottled and allowed to mature for another thirty to seventy-five years.           

Reverend Johnston enjoyed the wine so much that he missed the departure of his ship. He arranged for a second departure and persuaded the captain to load several cases of Madeira to enjoy during the voyage. Johnston’s second ship arrived in Charles Towne without the reverend on board. He was found marooned on an island off the coast without food and water – apparently abandoned by the ship’s crew.

Margaret Kennett, Charles Town’s first business woman, commented that the locals are Trained in Luxury and are the Greatest Daubauchers in Nature.” Josiah Quincy of Boston was astounded by the behavior of the citizens. He wrote:They are devoted to debauchery and probably carry it to a greater length than any other people.”

Charles Town was one of the busiest port cities in the colonies by 1720. There were often more than 150 sailing vessels from Portugal, Spain, England, France, Italy, and the Caribbean at dock in the harbor. With an average of twenty sailors per ship, that would an influx of 3000 men in the city who roamed the streets in search of one thing: entertainment, usually in the guise of wine, women and song.

In 1763, sixty-six tavern licenses were issued. Five years later the number had doubled – approximately one tavern for every five adult males. Half the licenses were issued to women. It was illegal for artisans to operate a drinking establishment, so most dodged the law by having their wives obtain the licenses.  Most of the taverns doubled as brothels – alcohol on the first floor, flesh on the upper floors.

   Just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War the Assembly became concerned that the Night Watch could not contain the “growing Vice and Immorality.” The Assembly, however, did little to solve the problem. They merely ordered the loose women to move from the waterfront district to an area four blocks west called Dutch Town, as it was settled mainly by Germans. Within the shadow of the St. John’s Lutheran and Unitarian church steeples, the six-block section of Clifford, West, Beaufain, Logan and Beresford (Fulton) Streets soon became a “constant scene of nightly brawls and riots.” 

   In 1780, during the British occupation of Charles Town, orders were posted for soldiers to avoid bawdy houses. Several of the Ladies of Eden were shipped out of the city for “health reasons” but most of the houses did a booming business where the soldiers found “willing female companionship.” Soldiers are always good for the bordello business. Lucky for the madams, the men of Charleston started a war against Yankee aggression in 1861.

   The governor and his council tried in vain to regulate the sale of liquor. The selling of intoxicants was “observed to be mischievous and to impoverish the otherwise sober planters.” The laws also tried to limit the amount of credit a tavern keeper could extend to customers. Ignoring the liquor laws became a long tradition in the low country.

   Taverns were much more than drinking establishments; they were prominent social institutions. Taverns hosted political functions. Men’s clubs and other charitable organizations held their meetings in the building.

   Up until the 1760s, most of beer consumed in Charles Town was imported from Philadelphia, Liverpool, or Bristol, Connecticut. There was a real need for a local brewer, but few men in the city had the skills, until Edmund Egan arrived.

    Egan was born in England and was an apprentice under a London brew master before his arrival in Charles Town. He encountered trouble setting up business. First, he was a newcomer, with no reputation or references, making it difficult to arrange the financial credit needed to procure brewing equipment. He supported himself for a few years as a fencing master and also went into a factoring partnership with Nathanael Greene and William Coates.

   In 1765, when the passage of the British Stamp Act ignited a passionate support of American manufacturing; Egan found a partner with John Calvert. They announced that a Charleston brewery was now in production. They advertised the sale of “Doubled brewed Spruce beer, table and small beer.” They also offered to ship any quantity above five gallons.

    Two years later, Parliament passed The Townsend Acts, which forced another round of boycotts against England by the Colonists. Egan had trouble getting quality hops and malt. In 1770, Egan was able to import his own barley seeds and convinced some local planters to lay in a crop, and one year later, Charles Town had their first constant supply of local brew. By 1775, Egan was outselling all import brews in Carolina.  According to 1772 financial records Egan’s income was almost 20,000 pounds.

   His brew house had two brick vaults 41 feet long by 13 feet. The malt house and kiln were 100 feet long by 22. Egan employed eight Negroes, two coopers who built casks and kegs, and six brewers. He also had two “house wenches” on the property.

Germania Brewery, Charleston, SC, 174 Church Street

   During the Revolution, Egan tried to expand his business by building a distillery on Coming Street, which failed and was abandoned. After the war, Egan borrowed money from William Gibbes to establish a new brewery, but he died before the venture could be completed. 

  During the years preceding the Revolutionary War, Christopher Gadsden and the “Sons of Liberty” met at Shepheard’s Tavern.

Shepheard's Tavern, corner of Broad & Church Streets
Shepeheard’s Tavern, corner of Broad and Church Streets

   Charles Shepheard built his tavern at the corner of Broad and Church Streets in 1720 and it quickly became the most important public house in the city. In 1734, Shepheard’s hosted the first theatrical season in American in the Long Room upstairs. Two years later, on October 28, 1736, the first meeting of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, took place in the tavern. And later, in 1801, “The Supreme Council of the 33d Degree of the United States of America” was opened in the Long Room.  Mrs. Coate’s Tavern (corner of East Bay Street & Exchange Street) exhibited what was considered to be the best collection of wax figures in America – including life-size replicas of George Washington, Dr. Ezra Stiles (late president of Yale College), David and Goliath and others. After Mrs. Coate’s death in 1824, the tavern was closed and replaced with a liquor store in the late 1890s, which is currently still open for business.

     One interesting club was called “Club Fourty-Five”. On November 21, 1772, a group of the “Sons of Liberty” met at the Liberty Tree at Mazyk’s pasture to swear their defense against the tyranny of the British.  The tree was decorated by 45 lights and 45 skyrockets were fired. Forty-five men paraded down King Street to Broad Street to Dillon’s Tavern. Forty-five lights were placed upon the table, along with forty-five bowls of punch and forty-five bottles of wine, which was then consumed.

   In the late 18th century, due to the arrival of French refugees from Santo Domingo, taverns were being challenged in popularity by French coffee houses. However, most people believed coffee did far greater harm to a person than did rum, whisky, brandy and beer. Some taverns even took out newspaper advertisements extolling the virtues of liquor and the ill effects of coffee. The coffee house merchants fought back and published pamphlets of the benefits of the genteel practice of drinking coffee.

18th century Coffee House

   Coffee houses may have experienced an ebb and flow of popularity through the decades – enjoying resurgence during the 1960s and the recent phenomenon of Starbucks is impressive – but liquor has ALWAYs been in fashion in Charleston. Even when it was illegal.

Prohibition – Wringing, Sopping Wet!

The Charleston Courier complained that Prohibition ruined Charleston’s tastes for fine liquor. Because they could no longer obtain brandy and Madeira, they guzzled “Hell Hole (Swamp) corn likker”. 

   The hostility Charleston felt toward Governor Tillman turned to outright hatred when Tillman announced the formation of the State Dispensary Board.  One thing Tillman wanted to control was the flow of alcohol in the state. The upstate of South Carolina was more conservative and fundamental than the low country, and they frowned on drinking and gambling. Tillman was a clever enough politician to realize that he could not prohibit alcohol, so he devised a system through which the state could control its distribution, which led to the Dispensary Act.

   The Dispensary was a state-wide state-owned liquor monopoly, and was intended to close down forever all saloons and liquor wholesalers, and to restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages to state-operated dispensaries. The Board (the governor, comptroller general and attorney general) appointed county dispensary boards, which chose one dispenser per county seat (Charleston and Columbia could have more). No children or habitual drunkards were allowed to make a purchase. All buyers must register before purchasing liquor. Alcohol could be sold only between the hours of sunrise to sunset. No private citizen could legally manufacture or sell whiskey. The people of Charleston were outraged by the law, not only because they considered it to be “Tillman’s baby”, but because of their 250 year opposition to any regulation of their liquor. Tillman commented about his Dispensary system during a speech in Charleston:

Why do Charlestonians hate me anyhow? Because they are behind the times and because their streetcars are run by mules instead of electricity. They can go to the devil in their own way if they want to. I am going to have the Dispensary down here whether you want it or not.

   On July 1, 1893, the State Dispensary Board opened for business. If a community wanted a dispensary they petitioned the county board, which issued a license. The board also authorized Dispensary constables to enforce the law, often with little supervision. The Constables were heavy-handed in their enforcement, searching private homes on the slightest context and spying on their neighbors. In dozens of cases, the constables killed several citizens but were promptly pardoned by Governor Tillman.

   In response to those tactics, Charlestonians began to attack constables by ambush, lying in wait for them armed with clubs and whips.  Tillman told the state legislature: “Almost all the people of Charleston are in league against the law and determined to overthrow it.” He stated: “The law is going to be enforced. If it results in killing somebody, it will have to be done, that is all.”

   Law-abiding citizens took pride in resisting the tyranny of the Dispensary. They had enjoyed rum, beer, wine and whiskey in public bars and restaurants for generations so they simply ignored the Dispensary law. Illegal bars, called “Blind Tigers”, sprang up around the city, and prominent citizens engaged in illicit liquor traffic. Governor Tillman called it raising hell on Chicco Street”.

Chicco’s Tavern, Market Street

   The quantity of liquor supplied by the Dispensary was not enough to supply Charleston County drinkers, and since nature abhors a vacuum, soon a bootleg whiskey industry was thriving. Vincent Chicco became the state’s most notorious liquor dealer. Chicco manufactured quality liquor and grew rich and powerful. He served on Charleston City Council for four terms and once even sat on a grand jury investigating liquor violations. In other words, Chicco sat on a grand jury that was investigating himself! Another prominent bootlegger was W. J. Cantwell, brother of the Charleston chief of police. Most of the city leaders opposed the Dispensary, and looked the other way at violations, or often, facilitated the flagrant flaunting of the law.  

   In April 1894, the South Carolina Supreme Court (by a vote of 2-1) ruled the Dispensary an illegal monopoly. However, Governor Tillman was prepared.  A new bill passed the state assembly, and when the two judges who voted against the Dispensary came up for renewal, Tillman replaced them with two of his friends and the new law was declared constitutional on Oct. 8, 1894.  The Dispensary was too successful (monetarily) to cease. During its thirteen year existence its profits were $10 million. 

   The Dispensary quickly came under attack due to corruption among dispensary officials. The Board was subject to bribes from various dealers to buy particular brands of liquor. The distillers were ready to give handsome “gifts”. Local officials were bribed to overlook the blind tigers.

   In 1896, in an attempt to clean up the corruption, the Dispensary Board changed its directors from the Governor and other State officials to men elected by the legislature. Soon there were hundreds of people in the state capital schmoozing legislators to become members of the Dispensary Board, bribing for the right to get their hands on the “liquor money”.      

   Also in 1896, due to flagrant and successive dispensary violations, Tillman’s successor, Governor John Evans, placed Charleston under state police control. Evans appointed his own police commissioners and for over a year Charleston law enforcement was under state control. The result was an improvement in the enforcement of liquor laws, but a growing dissatisfaction among most of the locals who were affected by that enforcement. Twenty-three Protestant ministers issued a statement endorsing the improvement in law enforcement, but the letter was not published by the News and Courier, which opposed the state constable rule. For some the Dispensary was seen as a complete and massive failure. Its intention had been to institute a quasi-prohibition, but it had only succeeded in increasing alcohol consumption. In 1898, the prohibitionists (the Drys) made a strong run for the governorship but failed.

   The Dispensary was repealed by the legislature, and thereafter, each county was free to continue its own dispensary system or adopt total prohibition. Under the new system, each county could have as many Dispensary licenses as they wanted. In 1906, the state of South Carolina granted 297 liquor licenses. Two hundred and thirteen of them were issued in Charleston, fifteen bars were located around City Hall and nineteen operated within a block of St. Philip’s Church.

   Gov. Coleman Blease(1910-14) had the backing of the whiskey and gambling interests. He strongly resisted the1912 law that prohibited horse racing. Charleston, of course, ignored the horse racing ban. In fact, the manager of the Charleston race track was quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer that racing would continue since Charleston had a long history of ignoring laws it did not like. During his second inaugural Governor Blease defended his actions: They are yelling, ‘What is the Governor going to do about the Charleston races?’ Do they expect me to dress up like a preacher and beg them not to race?” He continued to ignore Charleston’s violations of racing and drinking. Blease said that “if a man wanted to sin, that was his own business, not the state’s.”

   Blease was another in the long line of corrupt South Carolina Governors who flaunted their power. During his term Blease freed more than 1500 convicts, many who were guilty of murder (of blacks) and arson. He also believed in white supremacy. He denounced members of the state legislature as being born in North Carolina and having Yankee parentage. He encouraged lynchings, and opposed education for blacks at white taxpayer’s expense. He stated, “I have no fear of Negro contacts, neither for me nor any of my family – for each of them, I am proud to say, is physically able to pull a trigger whenever it should become necessary.”

   He called newspaper reporters “a dirty set of liars” and praised Lt. Governor Jim Tillman’s murder of N.G. Gonzales, editor of The State newspaper. Gonzales had been a long opponent of Tillman and Blease and their policies. In his newspaper Gonzales had exposed Tillman as a “proven liar, defaulter, gambler and drunkard.” On January 15, 1903, Tillman had walked from the Senate chamber and shot the unarmed Gonzales on the street. Tillman was acquitted of murder by claiming self-defense.  
  

Mayor John P. Grace

Mayor Grace testified in 1913 that Charleston had 250 Blind Tigers for a population of about 60,000. He bragged that he had instituted a system where the city fined each liquor operator and bordello $50 every three months. Grace claimed that it was a fair system. “”If I wanted, I could fine them every time they sell a drink,” he said. He made no effort to close them down. The fines provided thousands of dollars. In fact, without the liquor and prostitution fines, the city budget would have been in the red. The mayor rarely ordered raids on Blind Tigers, and then it was “just for show”. He claimed that “Blind Tigers are too much of the web of life to close them down.”

   In 1915, the Drys won a state-wide referendum, ending all legal sale of alcohol within the state, four years before national prohibition took effect. However, the referendum did not repeal the “Gallon-a-Month” law, which permitted the importation into the state one gallon per person per month. Men like Vincent Chicco, W. J. Cantrell, Leon Dunlap and Frank “Rumpty Rattles” Hogan were more than happy to fill the void of legal liquor with their bootleg product. By the time national prohibition was in effect, Chicco and other bootleggers had their distilling and distribution systems in the Hellhole Swamp area of Berkeley County organized and operating as smoothly as a Ford assembly line. During Prohibition more than 20,000 South Carolinians made a living as a bootlegger, moonshiner or rumrunner.

Hell Hole Swamp in Berkeley County, north of Charleston, produced so much corn liquor that it gained a national reputation. Governor John G. Richards, a rabid Prohibitionist, claimed that, “Berkeley County is a festering sore in South Carolina.” Charleston newsman Tom Waring Jr. wrote, “Hell Hole Swamp, exuding an aroma of spirituous liquors which reeked throughout the Southeast, was a stench in his nostrils.” Richards, already unpopular in Charleston, became openly hated when he resurrected a blue law that made selling gasoline and playing golf illegal on Sundays.

Mason jars filled with Hell Hole Swamp moonshine were shipped by the boxcar-full to Al Capone’s Chicago, lined the shelves of speakeasies in New York, and filled the teacups at the blind tigers in Columbia, Savannah, and Atlanta. Meanwhile, in high society Charleston, Hellhole Swamp supplied the booze for the afternoon cocktails to which they were long accustomed. One eldery society lady declared, “Of course we continued to drink during Prohibition. I don’t know where Daddy bought the liquor. It was just delivered to the back porch every morning with the milk.”

   On April 7, 1933 Congress repealed national prohibition and on the following day Charleston merchants were offering 3.2% beer for sale, which violated state law, but no one complained. Mayor Maybank, once called a “drunken sot”, announced that it did not “matter whether or not the state legalized the sale of alcohol, since tourists wanted it, and Charleston wanted tourists and we will give liquor to them legal or not.” Maybank was later elected Governor of South Carolina.

   South Carolina legalized the sale of beer and wine, but kept in place the prohibition of distilled alcohol. Restaurants and bars could be licensed to serve wine and beer during the week, until midnight on Saturday and never on Sunday. Since distilled liquor was against state law there were no legal hours to serve whiskey, hence there was no license to lose by selling it. Distilled liquor was available in Charleston around the clock, seven days a week, much to the dismay of the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

   In his book The Charleston Gospel, J. Francis Brenner describes the system the city developed for keeping the liquor flowing. Whenever SLED officials came to town to investigate the serving of distilled liquor they would pay a courtesy call at the Charleston police station, informing the local officers that state constables were in town. Chief of Police Herman Berkman would direct the SLED officers to a couple of small time “half-pint” dealers working out of their cars. Meanwhile, phone calls would be made from the police department. Two bars would be notified that SLED was in town. In turn, those two bars would call two more bars. Those four bars would contact sixteen bars and within half an hour, the city would be as dry as a Puritan in the Sahara. The whiskey disappeared and when SLED walked through the door, only beer and wine could be found on the premises.

   Whenever the city needed alcohol for a social function they would instruct Chief Berkman to knock off a few half-pint dealers or request “donations” from some of the better restaurants and clubs. It was also well known that local law enforcement officers would “convoy” moonshiners’ cars down Highway 42 from Hellhole Swamp. For allowing the safe passage of liquor into the Holy City the officers were paid in pint bottles and cold hard cash, some of which worked its way up the chain of command. It was a smooth and profitable operation for many years until 1951. That was when patrolman James Chassereau became an informant for the United State government. Federal agents hid in the trunk of Chassereau’s police cruiser and recorded conversations between police and bootleggers. Nine policemen and one city councilman, including former chief of police Julian Williams, were arrested and sent to federal prison for violating federal liquor laws.

   During the trial the prosecutor asked Chassereau if, while serving on the county police, he did anything other than “fool with liquor”. Chassereau answered, “We made a few traffic cases, and answered burglary calls, but our main business was to catch whiskey cars and get what we could out of them.”

   Former chief of police Williams was defended by Ernest “Fritz” Hollings. Hollings was soon to be elected governor of South Carolina and in 2004 he retired after thirty plus years as a U.S. Senator. In his defense of Williams Hollings stated that “the government conspired with perjurers and blackmailers to present a gory picture of this community and of the defendants.” 

   Williams pleaded “not guilty” to all charges. One of the charges was that he was the owner of a property that dispensed illegal whiskey from a freezer in the back of the building and from the Kelly’s Newsstand next door. Kelly’s was so well known as a place to buy after hours liquor that you could call a taxi company and ask them to pick up whiskey and deliver it to your house. Williams claimed to know nothing about the liquor being handed out on his property. The Reverend John J. McCarthy of Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church testified as a character witness for Williams. Father McCarthy stated, “I know that Julian would not commit a sin of perjury.” 

   Charleston has always been a city that loved its alcohol. From the earliest settlers who arrived with twelve tons of beer, to the Reverend Gideon Johnston who missed his ship because he was drunk on Madeira wine, to the little old blueblood ladies sipping liquor on their piazzas from fine China tea cups, Charleston has always been a drinking town with a historical problem.

Note: The previous material was exerpted from my two books, WICKED CHARLESTON: THE DARK SIDE OF THE HOLY CITY, and WICKED CHARLESTON, VOL II: PROSTITUTES, POLITICS & PROHIBITION.

Cheers!

Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs

November 9, 1970

LAYLA AND OTHER ASSORTED LOVE SONGS was released by Derek and the Dominos.

The Dominos was born out of Eric Clapton’s frustration with the amount of hype he dealt with in his previous two bands, Cream (dissolved in 1968), and Blind Faith (a single album supergroup with Steve Winwood). During the 1969 Blind Faith tour, Clapton became disillusioned with the new band, and began to spend his time hanging out with the opening act, the American roots-blues duo Delaney & Bonnie. Blind Faith called it quits after that one tour and album, Clapton joined Delaney & Bonnie as a member, and played on their 1970 live album. Other members of D&B’s live band included drummer Jim Gordon, bassist, Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock.

Clapton used most of D&B’s band to record his first solo album, ERIC CLAPTON, in early 1970. This group of musicians also was used by George Harrison at the same time in the recording of his first solo album, ALL THINGS MUST PASS. This was when Clapton met Harrison’s wife, Patty Boyd, and he became infatuated with her. When she spurned his advances, Clapton and Whitlock spent most of April 1970 writing songs, many of which reflected Clapton’s romantic and professional frustrations. Dave Marsh, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, wrote that “there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder, or a suicide … to me, ‘Layla’ is the greatest of them.”

Disillusioned at always being the “name” member of the group, and not just part of an ensemble, Clapton organized a new group with D&B’s backup band “Eric & The Dynamos”. The band did a quick tour of small clubs in England, and the announcer at their first concert mispronounced the band’s name as “Derek and the Dominos” which Clapton decided to keep, because it kept his name and celebrity from getting in the way. When the tour was over, they headed for Criteria Studios in Miami to record an album.

Producer Tom Dowd (Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding) was recording the Allman Brothers second album, IDLEWILD SOUTH, when the studio received a phone call that Clapton was bringing the Dominos to Miami to record. Upon hearing this, guitarist Duane Allman indicated that he would love to drop by and watch, if Clapton approved. When the Allmans performed in Miami on August 26, Clapton insisted on going to the show, saying, “You mean that guy who plays on the back of (Wilson Pickett’s) ‘Hey Jude’? … I want to see him play … let’s go.”

After the show, Allman asked Clapton if he could come by the studio to watch some recording sessions, and Clapton responded: “Bring your guitar; you got to play!” Jamming together overnight, the two bonded; Dowd reported that they “were trading licks, they were swapping guitars, they were talking shop and information and having a ball – no holds barred, just admiration for each other’s technique and facility.” Clapton wrote later in his autobiography that he and Allman were inseparable during the sessions in Florida; he talked about Allman as the “musical brother I’d never had but wished I did.”

The majority of the songs on LAYLA were products of Clapton and Whitlock’s collaboration, which produced six of the nine originals on the recording, with five covers making up the balance. They co-wrote “I Looked Away”, “Keep on Growing”, “Anyday”, “Bell Bottom Blues”, “Tell the Truth” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Whitlock also contributed “Thorn Tree in the Garden”, while Clapton brought “I Am Yours” and “Layla” (with the piano coda credited to Jim Gordon). Duane Allman played lead and slide guitar on eleven of the fourteen songs.According to Dowd, the recording of the blues standard “Key to the Highway” was unplanned, triggered by the band hearing Sam Samudio performing the song for his album “Hard and Heavy” in another room at the studio. The Dominos spontaneously started playing the song in their studio and Dowd told the engineers to roll tape, resulting in the tune’s telltale fade-in. Bobby Whitlock’s version of the story is that the tape was rolling non-stop for the entire session, but that Dowd had taken a bathroom break leaving the faders on the mixer down. As the jam began, he came running back into the control room, still pulling up his trousers and yelling, “Push up the faders!”

LAYLA AND OTHER ASSORTED LOVE SONGS was initially regarded as a critical and commercial disappointment, it failed to chart in Britain and peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Top LPs chart in the United States. It returned to the US albums chart again in 1972, 1974 and 1977, and has since been certified Gold by the RIAA. The album finally debuted on the UK Albums Chart in 2011, peaking at number 68.

LAYLA also flopped critically. Harry Shapiro wrote: “As with Eric’s first solo album, the reviewers liked the guitars-on-fire-stuff … but regarded the [love songs] as little more than fluff.” Roy Hollingworth, writing in Melody Maker, claimed the songs ranked “from the magnificent to a few lengths of complete boredom”, and specified: “We have Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ played with such spreading beauty that Jimi would surely have clapped till his hands bled, and then we have ‘I Am Yours’ … a bossa that novas in pitiful directions.” While he identified portions of “pretty atrocious vocal work”, Hollingworth considered Layla to be “far more musical” than Eric Clapton, and praised Clapton and Allman for “giv[ing] about every superb essay possible on the playing of the electric guitar”.

Ellen Sander, writing in Saturday Review, described it as “pointless and boring” and “a basket case of an album”, and said that Clapton had “all but blown his musical credibility”. Since its initial reception, LAYLA has been acclaimed by critics and regarded as Clapton’s greatest overall work. In Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Christgau dubbed it “Clapton’s most carefully conceived recording”, while admiring the album’s “relaxed shuffle and simple rock and roll” and Clapton’s “generally warm” singing.

PERSONNEL

Eric Clapton – vocals, guitars

Bobby Whitlock – vocals, keyboards; acoustic guitar

Carl Radle – bass, percussion

Jim Gordon – drums, percussion; piano (on “Layla”)

Duane Allman – guitars (on all tracks except “I Looked Away,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” and “Keep on Growing”)

Albhy Galuten – piano (on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”)

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: Debut Album

On Nov. 4, 1969, a new band entered the markets with their self-titled debut LP. The record included unknown songs like “Dreams” and “Whipping Post.” As you can tell by now, that band was The Allman Brothers.

They were formed in March 1969, during large jam sessions with various musicians in Jacksonville, Florida. Duane Allman and Jai Johanny Johanson (Jaimoe) had recently moved from Muscle Shoals, where Duane participated in session work at FAME Studios for artists such as Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, and Wilson Pickett, with whom he recorded a cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” that went to number 23 on the national charts. Duane began to put together a new band and invited bassist Berry Oakley to jam with the new group; the pair had met in a Jacksonville, club some time earlier, and became quick friends. Oakley brought the guitarist / singer of his former band with him to jam, Richard Betts. They invited another drummer, Butch trucks, to jam with them. The group had immediate chemistry, and Duane’s vision for a “different” band — one with two lead guitarists and two drummers began evolving. Then Duane’s brother, Gregg, returned from California, where the brothers as a band named Hour Glass, had recorded two unsuccessful albums.

Allman Brothers on stage, 1969

Most of the songs on their first album were created during their long, impromptu jam sessions and the band’s style evolved from a mix of jazzcountry musicblues and rock, as a result of each individual member turning the others onto their particular interests. Trucks introduced fellow drummer Johanson to the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones; Johanson likewise introduced the group to jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and Betts did the same with country music and Chuck Berry. Duane Allman had previously listened to Davis and Coltraneand his two favorite songs — Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things” and Miles Davis’ “All Blues” — were the basis for the majority of the band’s modal jamming, “without a lot of chord changes.”

The new Allman Brothers Band relocated to Macon, Georgia and within a couple of months, they became an explosive live band. They recorded their debut album for Epic/Capricorn Records, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND, at Atlantic Records studio in New York City. According to biographer Alan Paul, “virtually no outtakes exist from the sessions.” The band had performed their songs countless times in the preceding months and “[had] them down cold. The two-week booking was initially designed for laying down basic tracks, with overdubs following later but the group ended up cutting the entire record in six non-consecutive days.

Alan Paul, author of ONE WAY OUT: THE INSIDE HISTORY OF THE ALLMAN BROTHERS, stated that Gregg Allman’s lyrics were “remarkably mature lyrical conceptions for such a young man, expertly executed in a minimalist, almost haiku style.” Allman claimed his lyrical inspiration for “Whipping Post” came from his time in Los Angeles as a part of Hour Glass, “getting fucked by different land sharks in the business,” experiencing great frustration among fierce competition. “I wrote most of that whole first record in that one week. I had total peace of mind. L.A. and all its changes didn’t even cross my mind. I felt like I was starting all over, which I was.”

Upon release, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND album received a poor commercial response, selling fewer than 35,000 copies upon initial release and only reaching No 188 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart. Executives urged Walden to relocate the band to New York or Los Angeles to “acclimate” them to the industry. “They wanted us to act ‘like a rock band’ and we just told them to fuck themselves,” remembered Trucks. For their part, the members of the band remained optimistic, electing to stay in the South.

Despite the poor sales, the album was well liked by reviewers. Rolling Stone‘s Lester Bangs called the album “consistently subtle, and honest, and moving,” describing the band as “a white group who’ve transcended their schooling to produce a volatile blues-rock sound of pure energy, inspiration and love.” A retrospective review from Bruce Eder at AllMusic stated it “might be the best debut album ever delivered by an American blues band, a bold, powerful, hard-edged, soulful essay in electric blues with a native Southern ambience.”

TRACK LISTING:

Side 1

  1. Don’t Want You Know More (Spencer Davis, Edward Hardin)
  2. It’s Not My Cross To Bear (G. Allman)
  3. Black Hearted Woman (G. Allman)
  4. Trouble No More (Muddy Waters)

Side 2

  1. Every Hungry Woman (G. Allman)
  2. Dreams (G. Allman)
  3. Whipping Post (G. Allman)

PERSONNAL:

Gregg Allman: organ, lead vocals

Duane Allman: slide and lead guitars

Dickie Betts: lead guitar

Berry Oakley: bass guitar, backing vocals

Jai Johanny Johanson: drums, congas

Butch Trucks: drums, percussion

CHARLESTON BATTERY: From Marsh to Mansions

“THE BATTERY” is the common name used in Charleston to describe the pair of man-made seawalls that border the eastern and southern tips of the Charleston peninsula.  The “High Battery” is just over 1,400 feet long and was built in the early 1800s wich led to the creation of what is now East Battery Street and White Point Garden.  The“Low Battery” was a twentieth century expansion of the original Battery that runs an additional 5,000 feet in length that was built in the early twentieth century along the Ashley River on what is now named Murray Boulevard. These “Batteries” provide a panoramic view of Charleston harbor and the adjacent islands, and are a “must see” for any tourists who visit the city.

Photo by Willie Harper. Pixels.com

The original Battery was constructed on non-existent land, built along the low tide mark of the Charleston harbor and the Ashley River. The goal was to enchance the beauty of the area, create a barrier to blunt storm surges, and, ultimately, create new usuable (and taxable) property. When Charles Town was founded, the settlers first built upon the high ground on the peninsula and in early records the term “White Point” was used to describe the land south of Vanderhorst Creek (today’s Water Street) that was “washed by the tides.” About thirty per cent of the peninsula was “low land.”

Broughton’s Battery @ White Point. Map captions by author.

In April 1725, the South Carolina Provincial Assembly ordered the owners of the sandy land at White Point to stake out their waterfronts with a line of wooden pilings and ballast stones, and began the decades-long process of creating a hard line between the water and dry land. In 1738, the city completed Broughton’s Battery, a double-row of wooden pilings along the waterfront. Within a decade they city had completed an earthen wall and military gun battery along White Point, which unfortunately, was destroyed by the 1757 hurricane.

German-born engineer, William De Brahm was hired to design and construct new fortifications around White Point and in the 1750s hundreds of laborers built massive banks of earth that finally formed a high, solid wall around the perimeter of White Point, from Granville Bastion (currently the Missroon House, Historic Charleston Foundation) stands south to Broughton’s Battery, and then westward to the south end of Legare Street. Dozens of cannon were mounted along the wall to protect the southern edge of the harbor.

During the 1790s, construction of the wall continued. The city contructed square “hog pens” of palmetto logs filled with ballast stone to weigh them down, and for the next two decades the city used granite blocks from the northern states to extend the seawall into the marsh and mud. In 1836, Charleston City Council proposed transforming the vacant expanse behind the Battery into a public pleasure garden called White Point Garden. After completeing the landscaping of the area with fill dirt, planting trees and shrubs, White Point Garden opened to the public in 1838.

White Point Garden, at southern tip of Charleston peninsula, behind completed Battery Wall.
White Point Garden, at southern tip of the Charleston Peninsula. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Images courtesy of New York Public Library
Images courtesy of Library of Congress
Images courtesy of Library of Congress
Images courtesy of Library of Congress

MEDDLE: The Classic Pink Floyd Begins

October 31, 1971. MEDDLE by Pink Floyd

MEDDLE was Pink Floyd becoming the classic band most listeners are familiar with. After Syd Barrett’s 1968 departure from the band, Floyd flailed along releasing several uneven, sporadically excellent, but often directionless albums. MEDDLE is Pink Floyd finding their post-Barrett musical voice and direction where the songs are allowed to breath and grow. Everything you hear on DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, WISH YOU WERE HERE, and onward, started on this album.

ROLLING STONE magazine’s Jean-Charles Costa wrote: “MEDDLE not only confirms lead guitarist David Gilmour’s emergence as a real shaping force with the group, it states forcefully and accurately that the group is well into the growth track again.”

The band returned from the ATOM HEART MOTHER tour across America and England and in January 1971 they returned to Abbey Road Studios to work on new material. However, at the time, Abbey Road was equipped with only eight-track multi-track facilities, and the band found that insufficient for their increasingly technical demands of more layered music. They transferred their Abbey recordings to George Martin’s sixteen-track AIR studio, and Morgan Studios in West Hampstead, London. Without a central theme for their new project, each band member created separate tracks, with no reference to what the other members were doing. The tempo was entirely random while the band played around an agreed chord structure, and moods such as “first two minutes romantic, next two up tempo”. Each recorded section was named, but the process was largely unproductive; after several weeks, no complete songs had been created. The band labeled these tracks “Nothing”, which they ultimately turned into a track called “Son of Nothing,” and with more experimentation, it was called “Return of the Son of Nothing.” One of these “nothings” consisted of keyboardist Richard Wright feeding a single piano note through a Leslie speaker, which created a submarine-like “ping!”.

“Return of the Son of Nothing” was finally renamed “Echoes” and this is first magnificent song where Pink Floyd finds its groove – atmospheric, spacey dreamy melody featuring Waters and Gilmore singing together, Gilmore’s stinging guitar playing over the lush bed of keyboards, drums and bass, with Rogers’ first set of insightful lyrics. It is now acknowledged as one of the greatest Progressive Rock songs.  

The NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS called it “an exceptionally good album.” Ed Kelleher of CIRCUS called it  “another masterpiece by a masterful group”, noting “Fearless” as “fascinating” and praising “Echoes” as “a tone poem that allows all four group members much time to stretch their muscles” However, MELODY MAKER described it as “a soundtrack to a non-existent movie”.

STYX: Crystal Ball

October 1, 1976.

Styx released their sixh album titled CRYSTAL BALL. It was the first LP by the band to include Tommy Shaw. Tommy wrote the title song, which is still part of the bands set whenever they play live. I purchased this LP the day it arrived at Best Pharmacy, Barnwell SC. Shaw would make his presence felt in the band immediately by writing (or co-writing) five of the seven songs on the album. The track “Mademoiselle” was Tommy Shaw’s vocal debut and the album’s Top-40 hit.

The album’s title track would become a concert staple for the band, as it was performed on every subsequent Styx tour with which Shaw was involved.The previous Styx albums were good, but Tommy Shaw was the final ingredient that catapulted the band into superstardom. The next year, they released their breakthrough THE GRAND ILLUSION.

RUSH: All The World’s A Stage

September 29, 1976

RUSH released their first double live album, ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE. Recorded over three nights, June 11-13, 1976, at Massey Hall in Toronto, during the band’s breakthrough 2112 Tour. The release of the live album was, according to singer/bassist, Geddy Lee, “definitely something we used to buy us more time” to work on their studio follow up of 2112.

This album captures the entire setlist that was regularly performed during headlining shows of the 2112 tour. However, due to technological limits of approximately 20 minutes per side on vinyl, the positions of “Lakeside Park” and “2112” were swapped with “Fly By Night / In The Mood” and “Something For Nothing”.Due to stage time restraints during the 2112 tour of 1976, this performance of the song “2112” omits the “Discovery” and “Oracle: The Dream” sections of the studio recording. Although the final 32 seconds of “Discovery” are played as a lead-in to “Presentation”, the liner notes and track listing do not indicate this.

According to the liner notes, ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE marks the end of the “first chapter of Rush” and would begin a trend of Rush releasing a live album after every four studio albums. This lasted until 2003, when the band released a live album and DVD of each subsequent studio album’s tour.ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE was Rush’s first US Top 40-charting album and went gold, alongside A FAREWELL TO KINGS and 2112 on November 16, 1977.

ELDORADO: A SYMPHONY BY THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA

September 28, 1974

ELDORADO: A SYMPHONY BY THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA was released as the fourth studio album by the Electric Light Orchestra. Jeff Lynne conceived the storyline before he wrote any music. The plot follows a Walter Mitty-like character who journeys into fantasy worlds via dreams, to escape the disillusionment of his mundane reality. Lynne wrote the album in response to criticism from his father, a classical music lover, who said that Electric Light Orchestra’s repertoire “had no tune”. The song, “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” became ELO’s first Top Ten song, reaching no. 9. There is a strong Beatles influence that runs throughout the album, something that would become a staple sound of the band.

This was a major transitional album for ELO, and for Lynne. ELDORADO marks the first album on which Lynne hired an orchestra; on previous albums, Lynne would overdub the strings. The group’s three resident string players continued to perform on recordings, however, and can be heard most prominently on the songs “Boy Blue” and “Laredo Tornado”. Bassist, Mike de Albuquerque departed early on in the recording process, as touring made him feel separated from his family. Lynne plays most of, if not all, the bass tracks and backing vocals for the album, even though de Albuquerque received credit. Kelly Groucutt replaced de Albuquerque for the subsequent tour when cellist Melvyn Gale also joined (replacing the departing Mike Edwards). “Eldorado Finale” is heavily orchestrated, much like “Eldorado Overture”. Jeff Lynne said of the song, “I like the heavy chords and the slightly daft ending, where you hear the double bass players packing up their basses, because they wouldn’t play another millisecond past the allotted moment.”

The album was named one of Classic Rock magazine’s “50 Albums That Built Prog Rock” and ranked #43 on Rolling Stone’s “50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time.”

On a personal note: My favorite song from ELDORADO, is “Boy Blue”, which relates the scenario of a weary soldier returning home triumphantly, but with a new, slightly bitter, realistic view of what ha had accomplished, and his determination to never do it again. At the time the LP was released the Vietnam War was stumbling toward it’s chaotic conclusion, and there were weekly news stories on vets returning from the War, describing the nightmares they endured. For my 14-year old self, is was easy to put “Boy Blue” into the context of a song about returning Vietnam soldiers.

BAND PERSONNEL:

JEFF LYNNE – lead & backing vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, bass, Moog, production, orchestra & choral arrangements

BEV BEVAN – drums, percussion

RICHARD TANDY – piano, Moog, clavinet, Wurlitzer electric piano, guitar, backing vocals, orchestra & choral arrangements

MIKE DE ALBUQUERQUE – bass & backing vocals (credited; departed during the recording of the album)

MIKE EDWARDS – cello, MIK KAMINSKI – violin, HUGH MCDOWELL – cello

SEPTEMBER 1, 1975-78: Four Classic Rock Albums

For four consecutive years in the 1970s, September 1 was a magical day – four classic rock albums from three classic bands were released. Pretty amazing. And rock radio is still playing many songs from all four of these albums forty years later!

September 1, 1975

FACE THE MUSIC, the fifth album by the ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA (ELO) was released. This was the album in which Jeff Lynne began to perfect his classical orchestrated sound onto the palette of “radio-friendly” pop/rock songs. It was the first ELO album to go platinum.

Bass player Mike de Albuguerque and cellist Mike Edward quit in January 75, and were replaced by Kelly Groucutt and classically-trained cellist, Melvyne Gale. Groucutt also gave the band a second strong vocalist, who sang lead on “Poker” and traded vocals with Lynne on “Nightrider.”

FACE THE MUSIC produced two Top Fifteen singles, “Evil Woman (no. 10) and “Strange Magic” (no. 14).

September. 1, 1976

One year (to the day) that FACE THE MUSIC was released, ELO released A NEW WORLD RECORD, which continued Jeff Lynne’s shift toward shorter pop/rock songs, with layers of strings on top.

The album contained four hit singles, “Living Thing” (no. 14), “Telephone Line” (no. 8), “Do Ya” (no. 24), and “Rockaria” (did not chart in America, but it one of Jeff Lynne’s best records).

September 1, 1977

RUSH released their fifth LP A FAREWELL TO KINGS. After touring behind their previous album 2112, the group reached a new critical and commercial peak. One year before, RUSH was in danger of being dropped by their label, until the success of 2112.

The album was recorded in three weeks, followed by two weeks of mixing. Peart said that 2112 made the band sound confined in their sound, so for A Farewell to Kings, the group decided to write material that featured instruments they could play naturally as well as new ones, thus allowing them to play multiple instruments when performing on stage. As a result, A Farewell to Kings features Peart playing orchestra bells, tubular bells, chimes, and other percussion; Geddy Lee playing double neck bass (a Rickenbacker 4080) and Minimoog; and Alex Lifeson on new guitars and for the first time, a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer (used by both Lee and Lifeson). Prior to recording, Rush completed a short tour in 1977 which saw the group perform “Xanadu” prior to recording. Apart from early ideas for “Closer to the Heart”, the majority of the album was developed in the studio.

 The album would become Rush’s first US gold-selling album, receiving the certification within two months of its release, and was eventually certified platinum. After the success of this LP, their previous album “2112” took off and ended up selling more copies than A Farewell To Kings.

September 1, 1978

STYX released their eighth album, PIECES OF EIGHT. Like the band’s previous album, The Grand Illusion, Pieces achieved triple-platinum certification, thanks to the hit singles “Sing for the Day”, “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade”.

The band members produced and recorded the album at Paragon Studios in Chicago with recording engineer Barry Mraz and mixing engineer Rob Kingsland. “I’m O.K” was recorded at Paragon and St. James Cathedral. This would be the last album to be produced at Paragon Studios.