COLUMN NINETY, MAY 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
HAMMOND'S LAST 'DISCOVERY'
NED MASSEY's CONTINUED APPEARANCE
What's more ballsy, going
up to your mean ol? disrespectful Taliban-like boss and demanding more
sixpence to your meager chump change salary, with a sledgehammer pound of your
fist on the top of his desk--- seasoning it with a yell like Fred Flintstone?
Or, endlessly pestering the most important and biggest record producer and
talent scout of the day via phone, (and/or damn near camping out in front of the
man's office), begging him to listen to your music, like you're the next
best thing since Swiss cheese?
Well, if that record
producer (and talent scout) was the late, great John Hammond---the same John
Hammond who not only discovered Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but who also
signed countless other notables like Count Basie, Lester Young, Charlie
Christian, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops and Pete Seeger, who
all rose to success and stardom---then I would say pestering John Hammond would
be more ballsy than pestering your mean ol? boss for a raise.
But sweet and humble singer, writer and producer Ned Massey did pester and harass Hammond until the legendary A&R man checked out Ned's stuff. And you know what? Hammond liked it! He started telling folks, "I'm wild about Massey!" He also said he had found 'the next Dylan, the next Springsteen." He started playing Massey's demo tape endlessly, expressing more than
cab driver floored the gas pedal after learning
who his passenger was
excitement about his latest
"discovery." For Ned, acceptance by John Hammond was acceptance of the
highest order. But did Ned get ballsier yet? He didn't get a chance to. Just
as Hammond was in the studio recording Massey's album, Hammond suffered a
"He'd been in
ill-health," Massey remembers. "We used to walk cross-town from the studio
and on the way he would stop for his usual goodies, He'd buy a hot dog from a
cart and we'd play pinball at the Broadway arcade. While we were working in
the studio, he collapsed. I had to carry him down the stairs. His secretary had
phoned for a cab and the cab was waiting at the door. We started out for Lenox
Hill Hospital, but the driver, an old black man, was driving so slowly, I asked
him if he could go any faster. He said if we didn't like the way he was
driving, he would stop and let us catch another cab. He was enjoying himself
listening to a jazz station and suddenly a Billie Holiday record came on. I told
"?Look! Do you like
Billie Holiday? Well this is the man who signed Billie Holiday to a record
contract. He also got a record contract for Count Basie and Lester Young and
Aretha Franklin. He's sick! And he needs to get to the hospital fast!??
"And after that, the
driver flew through the traffic!"
But Hammond never recovered
from the stroke and died. That was in 1987. Without Hammond to champion his new
"discovery? Massey's contract never got signed. Since then, Ned has
continued singing, playing and recording---despite the lack of support from
Hammond's employer, Columbia/CBS Records.
Immediately after Hammond's death, Massey relocated to Nashville and in
1991 recorded a work titled Almost Drowned for the Punch label
there. He's been recording and performing at various venues throughout the
years, bringing his brand of country/folk/rock to the masses. That's why A
Brief Appearance, Massey's latest CD, is sort of an ironic title for a
work, since the guy's been around for more than a minute.
With a poetic style of
gentle strength in tone, as far as lyrics go, Massey presents us with subject
matter ranging from Bosnia to Jesus. In other words, the man can write, and his
skill in that area (as well as in catchy literate lines) is evinced in works
like His Wife's Crazy Dream, Dangerous People (?Dangerous
people get wrapped up in the flag") and Bosnia 1992 (with a chorus
that cries: "Allah save us from the Christians"). Time and again,
Massey presents us with the psychology of most of the whole damn planet, taking
us on excursions into love and political shenanigans.
Musically, Massey opts for
the folk/rock combination, with a drop of country. But he can change up here as
well, because when you hear a piece like his The Waiter, your
heart most certainly yells out Kurt Weill, occasioned by the melodic structure
as well as the lyrics. Massey produced and engineered most of this work, with
additional input on other tracks from Steve Keller, Roger Greenawalt and Terry
Radigan. There's not an overabundant use of fancy sound textures on the
production side, which is good, because Massey's lyrics and music are what
should stand out on a work utilizing these types of genres.
I think that if John Hammond were around today he would still be proud of his discovery, Ned Massey. We don't have too many troubadour types like him roaming around the Earth these days, but Massey fits the category for his verse constructions alone, with his music following a close second. I like him. ##
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