The Strangers – Caterpillar Crawl
My dad had terrible taste in music. Scratch that. He had no taste in music. I don’t mean that in the “this music you listen to sucks, you have no taste” way. I mean, while growing up I don’t recall him ever intentionally listening to a song other than the National Anthem at a football game, or the hymns sung at church. He could play the first line of “White Christmas” on the piano using his index finger, so he must have heard that song at least once, probably when he watched the movie. The only opinion on music that I ever heard him offer – other than “Turn that down,” a review that was broadcast rather indiscriminately when I was in high school – was “I never cared much for Patsy Cline.” There was nothing in that statement to suggest that he had actually listened to a Patsy Cline song; it could have been an evaluation of Patsy’s moral character.
Thus I was slightly petrified to learn, many years later when I was an adult, that in the late 50’s Dad had worked as a record reviewer for a regional trade sheet in north Alabama. The story was that he was working two jobs, one with the trade sheet and the other reporting on high school football games for a newspaper. Dad said that, while driving around the Alabama countryside on Friday nights, making his way to the games, he would listen to the local AM radio stations and get ideas for his reviews. My petrification resulted from my inability to imagine Dad giving anyone a useful recommendation about any recording, though I suppose “Turn it down” could be considered legitimate criticism of many Post Rock bands.
The only remnant trace of Dad’s former job was a handful of 45’s wedged into a bookshelf in the den between the ancient copies of Life and Look magazines. At the time, I didn’t know where the records came from and never bothered to ask. When you’re a kid, you just accept whatever Universe you are born into, and the 45’s formed part of my Reality. I would like to say that the meager collection comprised Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, maybe some “race” records from the Mississippi Delta. Nope. We had “Waikiki Beach” by Paul Peek, “Waterloo” b/w “Smoke Along the Track” by Stonewall Jackson, “Ten Thousand Drums” b/w “Tall, Tall Gentleman” by Carl Smith, and “Pig Knuckles and Rice Tonight” by someone whose name escapes me. These were, I later surmised, promotional copies of records that came his way as a reviewer. I played these many many many times when I was a little kid. My favorite was “Caterpillar Crawl” by The Strangers, released in 1959 on Titan Records and distributed by Dot Records. The Dot connection explains how Dad got his hands on it. Dot was based in Gallatin, Tennessee, and specialized in distributing artists of regional interest in central Tennessee and the surrounding areas.
I would like to think that my preference for this record demonstrates my excellent taste in music. It more likely demonstrates that I liked songs with “caterpillar” in the title that I could march around the den while listening to. I was also fond of an album of Sousa marches. But let’s pursue the idea that I could recognize talented, unheralded individuals, a conceit essential to the legitimacy of Reverb Raccoon…
The Strangers were Joel Scott Hill (guitar), Harold Kirby (bass), Ronny Lynch (sax), and Johnny Callard (drums). Hill became a mainstay of the California music business, one of those individuals who played with everyone while never quite cracking the consciousness of the public. After The Strangers departed, he formed the Joel Scott Hill Trio, featuring bassist Bob Mosley, who later joined Moby Grape, and drummer Johny Barbata, a future member of The Turtles and Jefferson Airplane/Starship, and who appeared on CSNY’s 4-Way Street. Hill was a member of Canned Heat (an honor claimed by half the country), and was part of a late-70’s incarnation of The Flying Burrito Brothers. With Barbata and Burrito Brother Chris Ethridge, Hill recorded L.A. Getaway, described by a hyperventilating Amazon reviewer as “one of the most overlooked albums of all time.”
Joel Scott Hill was, therefore, a talented musician. And even my primordial self recognized his talent. So when I review a completely unknown person in these virtual pages, and tell you the songwriting is great even though the recording sounds like crap, you can rest assured that I know what I am talking about.
I assume that Joel Scott Hill is still alive, simply because I can’t find his obituary.