Mr. Frank Frost
“Listen – My Back Scratcher MP3″
This was going to be one of those nights, i.e. the kind where I’ve been thinking about getting a post up in this space all day long, and then the night happened.
Y’know? It turned into one of those clean out and move the old car, go out to dinner, put the toddler to bed things, where by the time I’m done it’s like 10:45 and I just as soon crash.
Then I took a look at my ‘to-be-blogged’ folder, and realized that I had some of that good, greasy stuff in the on-deck circle, and I perked right up.
The tune in question, is a sweet little burner by an old-school, hardcore Arkansas blueswailer, gee-tar slapper and all around righteous cat by the name of Frank Frost.
Frost dropped into the world in 1936, and by the time he was 20 he was working alongside the mighty Sonny Boy Williamson II aka Rice Miller , with whom he gigged off and on until he passed on (Sonny Boy that is) in 1965.
In the early 60’s Frost, along with his band the Night Hawks recorded a number of sides for Sam Phillips’ Phillips International Records. They gigged heavily through the decade, before landing at Jewel Records in 1966, where, with Scotty Moore running the board (yes, the same Scotty Moore that played guitar for Elvis) he recorded a single that was simultaneously one of the all time great answer/rip-off records, but an absolute juke joint burner as well entitled ‘My Back Scratcher’.
I first encountered this tune some years back when it appeared on one of the UK ‘Mod Jazz’ comps. Despite the fact that much of the music on those CDs wasn’t really jazz in any meaningful way, it was a great window into the deep and varied tastes of the OG UK Mods. Back in the early to mid 60’s, the Mods were digging a wild mix of records that were connected only by the fact that they were generally American, also generally – though not exclusively – by black artists, and were to the last perfect for the dance floor. These sounds ran the gamut from pure Chicago blues, driving R&B, soul, soul jazz, to Latin and Jamaican, and while they may have been gathered from a wide variety of sources, they all fed into the same basic vibe.
Now while you’re busy trying to wrap your brain around a dance floor culture that lauded Mark Murphy, Prince Buster and Frank Frost all equally (it’s really not that hard once you get the hang of it), download today’s selection, and as the hip cats say, dig it.
Close your eyes and hop into the Waybac Machine (sic)* Mr. Peabody, where you will soon find yourself in the back seat of one of those old school Lincolns with the suicide doors, speeding down some long forgotten slice of two-lane blacktop in the deep south of 1966.
Out of the darkness you spot a sliver of light, which grows brighter – and oddly enough louder – as you approach, until the car rolls up on a roadhouse with a tin roof and a big old Rockola juke, out of which is winding the strains of Mr. James Moore – known to his friends as the mighty Slim Harpo – whipping a little thing called ‘Baby Scratch My Back’ on the room. As several sweaty bottles of beer, and the warring vibratos of the swampy guitar and harp lay down a foundation for Slim’s bluesy drawl, the song winds to a close. Just then, some wiseacre sidles on up to the box, pops a nickel into the slot and hits the right combination of buttons, and all of a sudden your ears are gobbling up something new, yet strangely – and I do mean strangely – familiar.
The vibe in the room picks up just a little bit, and the folks who were just sweating away their Saturday night on a barstool are now moving onto the floor and working up an even bigger head of steam, day(night)dreaming of getting a little something just after last call, while you, still wondering how you got where you are, are digging a song that your brain keeps telling you might be called ‘Baby Scratch My Watermelon Man’, until you press your nose up against the glass and discover that the man responsible for turning up the heat is a certain Frank Frost, and the tune is ‘My Back Scratcher’. The groove is tightened up, and the harp burns a little hotter, and while you still dig Slim Harpo **–nothing will ever replace ’Raining In My Heart’ as your ‘I’ve had ten beers too many and I’m pining for my old girlfriend’ song – you need to get a copy of this one to keep things warm at home.
Then – of course – you wake up and remember that you couldn’t be further from the rural south, and you’ve got a nice, cold cubicle waiting for you. The cool thing is, that while you sit at your desk, surrounded by your fellow corporate veal, you get to have this song running through your head all day long.
Not bad, eh?
*Come on. I can’t be the only guy watching “Bullwinkle and Rocky” with his three-year-old, can I???
** Keep in mind that although there’s a Shreveport, LA address on that 45, Frost was not a Looziana homeboy of Slims, but was actually doing his recording in Tennessee (Memphis and Nashville)