Friday, January 27, 2012

Bill Doggett, Billy Butler and Blue Velvet

David Lynch's decision to entrust the soundtrack of his film "Blue Velvet" to to the expertise of Angelo Badalamenti assured that its soundtrack would reflect the unsettling, indefinite timelessness the film projects. Lynch's subsequent collaborations with Badalamenti such as Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and Mulholland Drive reveal a similar approach; eclectic soundtracks that largely foreground 1950's music in order to create a sense of the decade's atmospherics. In Blue Velvet, Their decision to include Bill Doggett's 1956 crossover instrumental hit "Honky Tonk" in the scene at Ben's apartment also resurrected from obscurity the instrumental prowess of R&B tenor ace Clifford Scott and the unique guitar work of Billy Butler, who composed the instrumental together in 1956. Both players are given extended solos on "Honky Tonk." The inclusion of Doggett's instrumental in the film is a perfect fit, it conveys the sordid nature of of the venue and transmits the uneasiness that Jeffrey is experiencing in Frank's seedy, underworld hangout. Moreover, the rough R&B edges of "Honky Tonk" contrast neatly with the surface innocence of other songs on the movie's soundtrack from the same period, most notably Ben's lip sych version of Roy Orbison's In Dreams and Isabella Rossellini's torch sung club performance, closest to Bobby Vinton's syrupy yet somewhat haunting 1963 recording of "Blue Velvet." If you have never heard the very different 1954 version recorded by The Clovers, take a listen here. Exceptional.

Butler's guitar work is featured on most of Bill Doggett's King Records recordings from the mid 1950's, almost exclusively in instrumental settings. With the exception of Wild Bill Jennings' outstanding work with Doggett on Big Boy from 1955, Butler was Doggett's guitarist of choice throughout the King years. Butler's got his start in swing jazz bands but was also very adept in R&B settings. Influenced by Tiny Grimes and Charlie Christian and on the jazz side and the blues stylings of T Bone Walker, Butler developed a style of his own that continued to evolve throughout his career. Butler's versatility is apparent in the diverse musical modes he explores throughout the 1960's and 1970's, he worked with facility in jazz, funk and soul formats, recording LPs in all three. His solo on Honky Tonk became standard piece for most aspiring combo guitarists in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

1) Honky Tonk I - Butler gets the first lead and his extension in a traditional 16 bar format is outstanding, great comping just before Scott's superb solo. The tune was such a sensation in 1956 that 1950's guitar icon Duane Eddy covered it a year later, here.

2) The languid pace of Blue Largo from 1957 has that after hours sound and features superb phrasing by Butler. Scott soars on tenor as well.

3) Ding Dong, recorded in 1957 has one of Butlers' finest solos which starts at 1:50.

4) Doggett's Rum Bunk Shush from 1957 was another of his more popular instrumentals featuring Butler with a chordal based solo beginning at 1:40. A very nice cover recorded by Danny Gatton's band here in the 1980's nods to the influence of Doggett. Gatton has also cited Butler as a major influence in his own work.

5) Hold It is another instrumental classic that was a favorite segue piece commonly performed by combos just before breaks.

6) The Twang from 1969 is a good example of the evolution of Butler's work and represents the jazz/funk approach he has adopted by this later date. Excellent work.

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