He Got Riddim

King Arthur has a new CD, and Johnny Mathis is hipper than youll ever be

It's time for some historical revision on the career of JOHNNY MATHIS, long perceived by rock & roll people as a dork's dork and the progenitor of that dreaded genre known as (gasp!) "chick music." First, any red-blooded heterosexual male who has a problem with "chick music" apparently does not relish getting laid. How many nights have I spent with some nubile young goily-goil quivering exquisitely beneath my fat, pink, sweaty, hairy, heaving torso with Johnny Mathis serving as the soundtrack to a night of unspeakable acts? 'Twas not my formidable physical charms alone that seduced these girls, dear reader—oh, no! I must readily admit that the web was really woven by the angelic croon of Mathis, whose voice never fails to tickle a G-spot like a ring of latex, studs and feathers. It matters not whether the woman is a rabid punkette, a studiously morose Goth goil, a painted rockabilly trollop, or even a normal yuppette; they all must fall to the irresistible subjugation of the golden Mathis pipes. He is the guaranteed key to your conquest. A bit of booze and candlelight won't hurt the equation, of course, but if you fail to perform the dirty deed after an hour or so of Mathis magic, you might as well stick a gun in your mouth and see how many times you can pull the trigger because that can only mean you are much too ugly to live among other human beings.

What a voice! At once thin yet impossibly lush, Mathis' pipes sound like chocolate truffles wrapped in crushed velvet. Mathis would be immortal if he had never done anything else but turn the last three notes of "Maria" into six hair-raising syllables lasting 17 seconds. But he did so much more. Mathis, of course, recorded the quintessential version of "Misty," smoking every lounge singer in history—including Sinatra—in the process. An incomplete litany of spine-chilling Mathis hits would also have to include "Chances Are," "The Twelfth of Never," "It's Not for Me to Say," "Tonight" and "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" (recorded with disco diva Deniece Williams). His Greatest Hits album from 1958 spent a mind-boggling nine-and-a-half years on the charts, making Mathis one of America's first African-American millionaires.

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Music makes for strange bedfellows. Bizarre as it may seem, funk god George Clinton and garage-rock godfather Arthur Lee have both told me that Mathis was among their prime influences. How regal an anointing is that? You can walk around with all the tats and piercings and green hair you want, but Johnny Mathis is much cooler than you, by simple dint of these endorsements. It is, of course, impossible to find even the barest hint of Mathis pop balladry in Clinton's or Lee's music, but so what? They said it, and you will listen.

Go see Johnny Mathis in concert when he appears Friday and Saturday nights at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. And don't be surprised when your normally demure date proceeds to publicly play Squeeze the Weenie when Mathis sings "Maria."

LITTLE CHARLIE & THE NIGHTCATS namesake Charlie Baty recently told me his band's music is "counter-melodic, string-bending swing bebop." Fair enough, although the Bay Area-based group is most closely associated with the West Coast blues movement. Little Charlie, Rod Piazza, James Harman and the late William Clarke are among the stallions of the style, hallmarked by harp-based, swinging riffs à la Little Walter and jazzy-but-primal guitar work, often played with a double shuffle beat à la Louis Jordan, all while retaining the blues' essential down-home vibe. Add to this equation the Nightcats' noted sense of humor from the pen of singer/songwriter/ harpist Rick Estrin, who composed such Lieber-and-Stoller-like faves as "I'll Never Do That No More," "My Next Ex-Wife," "Poor Tarzan" and "Can't Keep It Up." Check the boys out Saturday night at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach.

THE BLAZERS, who play the Abilene Rose in Fountain Valley on Friday night, are musical throwbacks in the best sense of the word. Their sound is a raging tangle of roots, a sumptuous mix of rockabilly, R&B, blues, hillbilly and Hispanic folk traditions, which they play hard and with devoted passion. They evoke an era when rock & roll still meant something. They're not musical virtuosos and don't pretend to be, and pretty boys they definitely ain't (hulking guitarist Manuel Gonzales looks more like a mutant pro wrestler than a rock & roller). The vocals are ragged, and the guitars get too loud, but if you go to a Blazers show and don't find yourself smiling and having a great time, then you better hike on over to an opera performance instead because if you can't get behind the Blazers, you ain't no kinda fan of rock & roll.

Charismatic local roots-reggae singer "KING" ARTHUR SINCLAIR has finally released his debut CD. Mister Master proves conclusively that the Anaheim-based enigma with a headful of dreads like a weeping willow is a world-class talent, deserving much better than he gets playing covers in local bars. Songs like "Every Man Ah King," "Mother Africa," "Dreams and Visions" and "Ten Thousand Warriors" pulsate with equal doses of sweet melody, hypnotic riddim and apocalyptic spirituality (in concert and on disc, the gnomish Sinclair comes off like some mysterious prophet, experiencing apparitions only he can see). Sinclair's Bob Marleyesque vocals are complemented by a synth-heavy accompaniment reminiscent of Special-era Jimmy Cliff, plus some fine guitar work by Dale Hauskins and very pretty background vocals by Elizabeth Hangen and Einstein Brown. I would have liked to hear more on disc from his superb group, the Royal Posse, in lieu of so much synth-borne artificial backing—plus, I keep wondering why two of my fave Arthur jams, "I Want to Be Your Fantasy" and "UFO," didn't make it onto the album. Small complaints: I really love this CD, and you will, too. For ordering information, e-mail arthursinclair@hotmail.com, or call (562) 654-0846.

Johnny Mathis performs at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (800) 300-4345. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $67-$77; Little Charlie & the Nightcats play at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Fri., 10 p.m. $12; The Blazers play at the Abilene Rose, 10830 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 963-1700. Fri., 10 p.m. $7.
 
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