Sunday, 4 December 2011

Neville Dickie - Boogie Woogies Fantastiques (1975)

This album physically has all the elegance of a French pressing. But, when the needle drops, whatever illusions of Parisian refinement you once had are quickly shattered and are replaced with the sounds of a rowdy 1930’s Kansas City. Well, not quite. But it’s somewhere in between the two. I’ll explain.

The album is by Neville Dickie – an Englishman – but to fully appreciate what he’s playing, it’s important to understand where the Boogie Woogie he’s playing came from.

It started in Kansas City in the early 1930’s. The town was run by mayor Tom Pendergast who allowed for after hours gambling and prostitution. A town full of vice and sin. And a town with a wickedly awesome music scene.

 Known as “Barrel House Music”, Boogie Woogie music was distinct from it’s cleaner progenitor Swing in that it featured a dirtier-driving left handed stride pianist with a right hand that would make ladies quiver. There was however, a reason for it. The Boogie stride piano was an evolutionary response to the environment in which the music developed. ‘Barrel Houses’ were normally associated with mines and served as the local watering holes. One of the most popular of which was the Sunset Cafe - which played host to some of the best Boogie players in the Mid West. In such an environment, the piano had to be loud and abrasive to cut through the raucousness of the bar. As a result, Boogie features a lot of piano solos while the rhythm section just holds it down. Solid as a rock.
The Café Society

 Boogie Woogie eventually made it’s way north to New York in the late 1930’s and found a new home at the Café Society – a centre for the local intelligentsia. From there it made it’s way across the Atlantic to Britain – which is where Neville Dickie – the artist on this album was from. Dickie was a member of the RAF and moved to London after his service. He played in bars and eventually grew to prominence on the British airwaves after being discovered by BBC Radio 2 director Doreen Davies.

Original Cover
This album was initially released in 1975 as Back to Boogie but was rebranded and re-titled as Boogie Woogies Fanstastiques to cater to the French audience. Covers often betray a lot about the intent of the distributors and this case is no exception. Why wouldn’t the French distributors just re-title it in French and keep the original picture?

On the original British issue, there is a picture of Dickie on the cover (who is White). The French audience was known to be very fond of African American Jazz musicians - who in turn enjoyed the relative lack of racism and the appreciation the French showed towards their art. From what I’ve seen, when it comes to race, album art, and record distribution, record companies tended to not feature African American musicians on the covers of records they were trying to market to White audiences. Remember, the Boogie on this album is far removed from the nitty-gritty boogie of 1930’s Kansas City and has instead been highly refined in the sterile studios of the BBC. If a record company did decide to feature the African American artist on the cover, it would show the artist playing to a predominantly white audience (Stevie Wonder My Cherie Amour, Joe Houston Rock and Roll with Joe Houston). In this instance, it may very well have been the exact opposite.

The French knew their shit and knew what was hot. They had an affinity for the African American jazz musicians because of their distinct African American style. The record-execs knew that Dickie's record was good stuff, but may have thought that the French audience would be reluctant to accept it if they saw a White guy on the cover. I think the record company did not want the audience to know that Dickie was white in order to boost sales and add legitimacy to their product. Dickie sold 100 000 copies of the album upon it’s initial release in the UK and it’s quite possible that French distributors sought to capitalize in France by re-marketing the same hit-seller with a different cover.

That being said, Dickie had played with famous French pianist Louis Mazetier before and therefore, it is likely that he would have had some exposre to the French audience.

For all I know, maybe the distributor decided to scrap the original cover because it was too dull for his French pallet. Who knows? Either way, Dickie swings hard.

Tracks to look out for:
·      “Saint-Louis Blues” – Great halftime breakdown in the middle.

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