Monday, October 16, 2017

On The Deuce- This song should be that HBO's show theme song

Although I haven’t been catching all the episodes,  HBO’s latest series “The Deuce” has done a great job in triggering some memories. Some of us actually sit around and swap stories, romantically looking back at the old Times Square/42nd Street area with a fondness for the grit, smut and drugs that used to permeate the concrete. It wasn’t Kansas, and definitely not Disneyland, and I remember being offered a wad of cocaine in a phone booth once, grabbing a $5 dinner at Brew and Burger with an all you can drink side mug of beer (usually you got thrown out after 7 or 8 mugs) and getting the best movie value a quarter could buy.

But I never heard the nickname “The Deuce” until 1989.

In ’89, I had the insane idea of starting an independent record label with a buddy of mine, Gene Campanelli, and the first record we produced was a collection of New York City based blues and R&B artists. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but we made a few good print pieces that made us look like we had more than two nickels to rub together, and we convinced a bunch of local artist to work with us. It was a crazy time in New York for blues and r&b- there were clubs all over town- Dan Lynch’s, Delta 88, Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso, Terra Blues, Tramps, The Lone Star, and Manny’s Car Wash to name a few…There was actually a “scene” happening- and any night of the week you could crawl out and check out The Chris Carter Band with the amazing Frankie Paris, Pat Cisarano, John Paris, Diane Scanlon, The Holmes Brothers, The Belmont Brothers, and more. There was even the early and rough version of Blues Traveler playing at Mondo, and Joan Osborne was just cracking her pipes at Dan Lynch’s jam (we actually turned her down for that first record….but that’s another story).

When pulling together the roster for that first record, I happened to get introduced to Crispin Cioe -sax player for the baddest band on the scene- The Uptown Horns- I had always been a fan of Crispin’s playing since he played with Carolyn Mas in the late 70s and early 80s- and the Uptowns had become a powerful fixture in the NY r&b scene. With Crispin on alto sax, the remaining lineup included Arno Hecht on tenor, Bob Funk, trombone, and “Hollywood” Paul Litteral on trumpet.

In addition to being a very successful horn section for other artists (most notably, the J.Geils Band), The Uptown Horns Review was their own musical collective of players from the scene that regularly took the stage at The Lone Star, Tramps or any other place that can handle a large 8 to 12 piece band. The performances were classic R&B revues- with people in the band coming forward and doing songs, and then the band backing up a parade of “guest artists”- which could range from anyone from Bo Diddly Jr. to David Johansen, to Soozie Tyrell dropping by to do a few songs. The shows were magical, fun, and totally captured the spirit of a full blown R&B house party-

So when Crispin said the Horns would be cool with doing two tracks for the new record, we were thrilled- they were our headliner, our big gun that totally gave our project weight and validity. The record was to focus on original tunes-and the Horns had an instrumental called “52 Pick Up” and a song that paid homage to the Times Square neighborhood, “On The Deuce”.

The original "Third Rail Screamin'" CD cover -

With the interest in that NYC legendary neighborhood rekindled, I figured I’d share the tune with you, and give a bit of background on who actually played on the session. Reading the liner notes a while ago, I had forgotten what a powerhouse line up that band and session turned out to be- from the guys behind the recording console, to the background singers-it was an amazing track.

“On The Deuce” opens up with an audio snippet of ambient background- the Horns went to Times Square with a field recorder, with the intention of capturing some to the sounds of the neighborhood to weave into the track. I remember them coming back to the studio pleased as all get out with the results of the field trip. Some of the snippets you hear on the track include a bit of a three card monty game, and a random couple arguing about their rent payments and of course, the constant din of traffic, horns and sirens passing through the space.

We had tapped Steve Burgh to oversee & produce the recording session- he owned Baby Monster Studio- a somewhat worn and weathered but totally solid studio up a creaky set of wooden stairs in a building on 14th Street. Burgh was a interesting cat- it turns out he was friends with David Bromberg, Steve Goodman and John Prine, and had a hand in co-writing Goodman’s classic tune “Old Fashioned”. His engineer was a young Canadian guy- Gil Arbarbanel……who now lives back in Montreal and is involved in the finance world.
After we ordered the contractual obligatory pizza from Arturo’s, we got down to recording.

The Players
The Horns were hot to showcase their vocal protoge- a young soul singer from Nashville named Ben Houston. Armed with good looks and a classic smooth soul vocal range, Houston totally shines on the track, especially on the outro-vamp, where he ad-libs and fades off down the block.

Drums were handled by the amazing Tyrone “Crusher” Green. I had seen him play around town with so many different bands and loved his feel. When Crusher was on the throne, band just sounded better- it was only later on that I found out that this was the guy responsible for the drum track on Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”. Loose but in the pocket, Crusher was masterful at giving “On The Deuce” an amazing sauntering feel.

Tony Garnier - who has been playing bass and traveling with some guy named Bob Dylan since 1989 was around for the session.

Charlie Giordano- on piano and organ. He had come off a stint as keyboard player for Pat Benatar and these days plays with the E Street Band. Yea, that E Street Band.

Guitar duties were in the hands of Danny Draher- one of the UH Revue regulars and another of Buster’s crew, Draher is still out there slinging the guitar and playing with more people than I can list here….

Background vocals were instrumental in defining the Horn’s vision on this song. At the time, there were three women who sang under the name of “BMW” Emily Bindiger, Sherryl Marshall and Leslie Wagner. Ms. Sherryl Marshall- who went on to a successful career as a Banshee of Blue with David Johansen, even showed up on a Dirt Napper album or two. She’s even played the famous Green Growler as part of my monthly singer-songwriter showcase!

Fred Walcott played percussion. Another veteran of Buster’s band, Fred was the go to percussion guy in NYC and beyond- playing with people like Son Seals, Shameka Copeland and rock and roll legend, Dion.

This track still kicks butt today. I think they should use it as theme music for the series, so if anyone knows the music director of “The Deuce”, send them my way.

It was fun tracking down all these players- and thanks to Crispin for letting me post the track up here.

The Horns are still out there. Shortly after recording this song, they got tapped to tour with The Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour. You can still catch Arno playing with Dion, and Crispin keeps busy with his own band and acting as music director for a number of Kennedy Center shows. In addition, he performs regularly with one of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time, Ms. Darlene Love (If you haven't seen the movie "20 Feet From Stardom", do so).
Check out his site here for more:

And definitely pick up a copy of the 1994 release from The Uptown Horns-   It’s good for your soul.

And now, sit back and listen to “On The Deuce”

“On The Deuce”- The Uptown Horns

In the evening-steam is rising
Hot and sticky-on the street
Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Three card monty-for the wet behind the ears
Dealers hustling -with a smile that’s so sincere
Painted ladies who are old beyond their years
They’ll take you round the corner-set you up and disappear

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Now they tell me there’s some stories-but it’s the same one every night
So many different faces  -but the price is always right-

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well they say this place is changing-gonna tear these buildings down
It doesn’t matter where you go there’s a Deuce in every town
On the Deuce

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