Crate Digger Confidential: JAMES RIVERS Bird Brain
James Rivers – Bird Brain (1966 Eight Ball)
Ok, hands up, who likes mental Flute and Harmonica tunes? My hand would be up first for sure. This is the craziest of them all (I can’t think of another) I have a soft spot for an oddly placed flute, they turn up in way more tunes than you might imagine, I also have a soft spot for many other things, bongos for instance and timpani drums where they shouldn’t be.
It’s a familiar R&B backing, it’s all Hi Heeled Sneakers or Send You Back to Georgia at the start, fairly standard gob iron played well, wailing from what seems like the deep recesses of a stage anywhere in mid-sixties, USA. Then the flute starts…..
Frantic doesn’t cover it. It wouldn’t surprise you if it emerged that the flute player had rushed the stage and started playing with the band uninvited. It’s a frantic start that gets faster and more ragged as the solo progresses, before he is halfway through he is literally gasping for breath, you can hear the gasps in between the phrases as if the solo itself is a river and he is going under with every bunch of notes. Big heavy draughts of air audibly sucked down into his lungs. Towards the end of the disc, just before the Harmonica returns to save the Flute from a watery end, you hear a grunt and a hum of melody that appears to be the flautist preparing to abandon his instrument forever and swim back to the surface. The band resumed as if nothing had happened and faded into the distance merrily playing on. I wonder if the produce upon playback heard these grunts and moans and decided not to ask him to repeat the solo in case it actually caused the death of the flutist by suffocation.
Again I have no idea who James Rivers was or even if he was a flautist, (he probably was as his other releases on Eight Ball all feature a flute solo) I can only find 9 records on this label and he had the good sense to release this cause I love it.
JAMES RIVERS Bird Brain
Artist photo via Discogs
Producer – Hal Atkins
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – James Rivers
“Crate Digger Confidential…A Lifelong obsession with plastic discs laid bare. Don’t expect just reviews of records, it’s much more important to me than that.“
James Rivers is still an active musician on the New Orleans scene. Performs at JazzFest many times and I saw him again just a few days ago (May ’22). The man is quite an entertainer: the harmonica you hear is welded (okay, “somehow attached”) to his flute… and he switches back and forth in some songs… usually building up to the one flute/harmonica number as the set builds in intensity, then he finishes it off with a bagpipe medley ending with Amazing Grace. He sings, plays saxes and bagpipes as well as flute/harmonica. He doesn’t produce flawless, complex solos but instead always puts on a solidly entertaining and energetic set switching between his 4 instruments. First time I saw him I was amazed, a few times later, well… he’s got his schtick down to a T, and since I know what’s coming, it’s not so amazing anymore… but I still make time at the fest to find his showtime at the fest, so take that as you will…