Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Nightcaps – Wine, Wine, Wine (1960)


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The Nightcaps were one of those great overlooked bands of the late '50s and early '60s. By rights, they deserved the kind of recognition accorded outfits like their Texas compatriots the Bobby Fuller Four, or even Buddy Holly, but somehow they never made it to a national following. Lead singer Billy Joe Shine, rhythm guitarist Gene Haufler, lead guitarist David Swartz, bassist Mario Daboud, and drummer Jack Allday were all high school students in Dallas who started playing record hops and school dances in 1958, and also began writing songs as well. It turned out that they were good in both departments and got a lot of gigs locally. They were also noticed by a local entrepreneur named Tom Brown, who tried and failed to get them signed to RCA Victor and then put the Nightcaps out on his own local Vandan label (it sometimes seems like a quarter of the businessmen in Texas had record labels at one time or another). The Nightcaps' debut single, "Wine Wine Wine" b/w "Nightcap Rock" (the latter owing more than a little bit to "Night Train"), became a hit in Dallas and was heard enough in other parts of the country to get the band offers from locales they'd never played or even visited. When their second single, "Thunderbird" b/w "Ole Jose," released in 1960, was also a hit in Dallas, the group was prevailed upon to record a complete LP, Wine, Wine, Wine. 

The Wine, Wine, Wine album was one of the best rock & roll LPs of its era, a solid mix of rockabilly, blues ("I Got My Mojo Working," "Sweet Little Angel," "Mojo Man"), and instrumental rock that still sounds good more than 40 years later. Apart from the excellence of Shine's singing and the band's musicianship -- David Swartz was a first-rate blues player, his virtuosity and feeling for the music showcased on the instrumental "Tough That's All" -- was the one major addition to their lineup, jazz saxman John Hardee, who had returned to his native Texas by then and was teaching at around the time that the Nightcaps needed a reed man. Their album never got anywhere near charting, but it was good enough to be pirated around the country and was a sufficiently impressive showcase for the Nightcaps that they were soon getting bookings across the south. The British Invasion should have doomed them, but it proved little more than a slight interruption of momentum and broke their string of steady local radio play for a short time -- the Nightcaps proved enough of a going enterprise to last right through the 1960s, past the British Invasion and through numerous lineup changes. At one point, Gary Mears of the Dallas-based Original Casuals passed through the ranks of the group. 

During this period, they became a major influence on such future luminaries as Jimmie Vaughan -- who apparently learned every song off the Nightcaps' LP -- and his younger brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan, who thought Wine, Wine, Wine was just a great record, and ZZ Top. Vaughan would later record "Thunderbird," and ZZ Top used it to open their Fandango album. Ultimately, advancing maturity (as much a killer to a rock & roll career as drugs, alcohol, etc.), marriage, and weariness led the members into regular jobs and professions, but by all account, Billy Joe Shine was still fronting a version of the Nightcaps on weekends in the 1990s and is still a well-known musical figure in and around Dallas.


Every so often, in the course of unearthing rock & roll history, Collectables records stumbles on a real treasure -- a musical jewel of such diamond-like symmetry and beauty, that it just makes those in its presence stop to appreciate its perfection, right down to sharp edges of its facets. These boys meshed rockabilly, R&B, Chicago blues, Delta blues, and rock & roll into a seamless whole with the kind of ease and spontaneity that recalls Elvis Presley's earliest sessions for Sun records. The Wine, Wine, Wine album is as perfect a blues-based rock & roll album as was ever produced by any white band, and one of the most enduring and endearing pieces of music of its era. The title-track and "Thunderbird" are the most well-known cuts here, rock & roll/rockabilly standards that are still covered by Texas bands today, but this album is filled with material that's just as good, three killer blues covers ("I Got My Mojo Working," "Sweet Little Angel," "Mojo Man"), two first-rate rock-flavored instrumentals, and a third ("Tough That's All") that's as good as any blues instrumental ever cut by any white band. The CD is in excellent sound and features two bonus cuts, "I Got the Blues" and the smooth, bluesy rocker "Next Time You See Me." By all indications, Jimmie Vaughan and Stevie Ray Vaughan wore out their share of copies of the LP version of this record when they were growing up, and ten seconds into the CD it'll be no mystery why. Oh, and as a footnote to this amazing record, the saxman credited on the original LP as "John Hardtimes" is none other than jazz reedman John Hardee, stepping out of retirement for one session.


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