Saturday, November 19, 2016


Al Caiola should be a better known name. The New Jersey guitar great (September 7, 1920-November 9, 2016) recorded about 35 albums for United Artists in the 60's. These "lounge" albums touched on all kinds of genres ("Tuff Guitar Tijuana Style," "Guitar for Lovers," "50 Fabulous Italian Favorites," etc.) 

He was UA's ace when it came to covering any popular movie or TV theme. Record stores would welcome topical releases such as "The Magnificent Seven," "Hit Instrumentals from TV Western Themes" or "Sounds for Spies and Private Eyes." This was the age when people would wander in saying, "I was at the movies last night, and I loved the theme you have a copy..." and the knowledgeable store owner would be able to offer singles or albums in every price range. 

Al's Top 40 hits included covers of "Bonanza" and "The Magnificent Seven" in 1961. 

Aside from sating the tastes of middle-aged people for mood music, or giving a kid such as I a twangy arrangement of a beloved TV theme, Caiola was a dependable session man. He was in the studio for just about everybody: Del Shannon on "Hats off To Larry," Simon and Garfunkel on "Mrs. Robinson," Johnny Mathis on "Chances Are," Al Martino on "Spanish Eyes," Julie London on "Lonely Girl," Ben E. King on "Stand By Me," Mitch Miller on "Yellow Rose of Texas," Johnnie Ray on "Just Walkin' in the Rain," Neil Sedaka on "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," Dinah Washington on "What a Difference a Day Made," Frank Sinatra on "Bye Bye Baby," Buddy Holly on "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," Mahalia Jackson on "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands," Connie Francis on "Al-Di-La," Eddie Fisher on "Dungaree Doll," Dion on "Abraham Martin and John," Glen Campbell on "Galveston," Rosemary Clooney on "Come on a My House," Tony Bennett on "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Frankie Avalon on "Venus" and Paul Anka on "My Way." Among others.

Al toured with quite a few famous artists, and probably had his longest relationship with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, which I think was still going on when he was 90. 

Often, Al's guitar twang was more than enough to sell a tune, whether it was a bouncy western number like "Bonanza" or a more eerie item, like the theme for "Experiment in Terror." On some of his mood albums, his guitar was featured but didn't overpower the rest of the orchestra. The tasteful charts were supplied by a veteran like Don Costa, and maybe the back-up band shaped by a pro like Tommy Mottola.

Below, one of my all-time favorites from Al, a great version of "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." It's a good example of his guitar work highlighting but not dominating a brilliant chart. 

On this arrangement gunshot percussion and a blast of brass let us know that we're in a bad part of town on a dangerous night; West Side Story without chorus boys or Sondheim. Al Caiola hauls out his twanger and seems to count the number of punches being thrown. 
We're barely a minute into the tune when the neighborhood really starts to rumble; organ blasts to one side, gasping horns on the other. And then, soaring over it all like a police helicopter, one hell of a trumpet. Blow, Gabriel, because some devils are gonna be swoopin' the planet tonight. 

Too often it's easy to overlook how calculated "charts" can be, and how perfectly they can produce some sonic sock. This is a textbook example on how to pull out all stops in tempo, juxtaposition of brass vs percussion, and the texture of hard bongo skin and twangy guitar, to produce an audio picture of mixed-neighborhood mayhem. 

Next comes the warning wail of a trumpet again, a police siren howl. The organ weeps and shudders, but the relentless drums don't stop, and with 40 seconds left, Al Caiola picks up the body count with his guitar pick, till the squealer brass section calls the cops and there's a final stuttering step-away from the crime by the drums. 

This was one helluva slaughter - Listen or Download

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