On a recent long-delayed field trip to Fox Music Company in Watertown to dig through the store's thousands of 45s, disappointment reigned upon learning that they had sold the whole works to someone in Michigan just a few weeks previously. So I settled for digging through the thousands of LPs, and uncovered several obscure items to take a flyer on.
The biggest surprise of the day was running across an album by songwriter/producer/session man Marlin Greene. While Greene's name may not be familiar to anyone but dedicated record collectors, everyone's heard his guitar playing on Percy Sledge's immortal "When a Man Loves a Woman," his co-production with studio partner Quin Ivy.
Greene's is one of those names that is a reliable indicator for good tunes when it turns up on '60s soul and rock records, often in songwriting collaborations with iconoclastic Southern white soul men such as Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham and Eddie Hinton. I had no idea that Greene had ever done any solo recording; it turns out he actually recorded quite a few 45s in the late '50s and early '60s before moving to the other side of the studio glass.
Tiptoe Past the Dragon dates from 1972, and was released on Elektra. By that point the label had largely moved away from the traditional folk and ethnic music of its origins, but was still releasing rootsy material by artists such as Paul Siebel and Mickey Newbury, whose albums have aged much more gracefully than many of Elektra's rock acts of the time. Greene's album fits comfortably in that canon.
Dragon was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, and three of the studio founders -- drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood and keyboardist Barry Beckett -- are among the players. Eddie Hinton is also in the list of various studio hands here, along with one name that doesn't turn up in album credits too often: Larry "Gimmer" Nicholson. His acoustic finger-style guitar playing is often noted as a big influence on a young Chris Bell, who was hanging around at Ardent Studios in Memphis when Nicholson was recording a then-unreleased LP with Terry Manning. There are a couple songs here that do have that shimmering acoustic texture heard on Big Star's #1 Record.
All the heavy hitters would be for naught if Greene didn't bring some songs, and he takes care of his end of the deal just fine. Tiptoe Past the Dragon maintains a laid-back country rock groove, and the often hippie-ish lyrics date the album to its era more than the much of the music does. There's nothing immediately gripping here; it's definitely an album that requires some repeated listens for its subtle charms to begin to take root. Greene's wife Jeanie also cut an album for Elektra right around the same time, and I'll be looking to track down a copy of that one after hearing Marlin's excellent disc. (Elektra, 1972; recently reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice