Monday, 21 November 2016

Bob Dylan's "the old, weird America" can be heard on Gin Gillette's creepy 1961 classic, "Train to Satanville"

I stumbled across this little noir, gem - shrouded in a a mephitic vapour comprised of brimstone, guilt, damnation and sin, and sounding as if it was being broadcast from a sinister parallel universe   - for the very first time three days ago. What's spooky is...

...that I have recollection of how I discovered it, or what I was doing when I came across it. I haven't really listened  to "pop" for many weeks, let alone hunted down obscure nuggets of American roots music. To be honest, I was beginning to suspect that my days of discovering rare rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, rhythm 'n' blues, country or soul classics were well and truly over: the barrel, as it were, had been scraped clean. But then I somehow found myself listening to this echoey fragment of obscure, old-time oddness.

Actually, it's not that obscure, as there are a number of cover versions floating around YouTube (but not by anybody you'd have heard of). The best - possibly because it's the most faithful to the original - is by the strikingly attractive neo-rockabilly singer, Ruby Ann, who's originally from the ancient university town of Coimbra in Portgual, but who now splits her time between the US and France:
Train to Satanville was also the title of Ruby Ann's first album, released in 2007.

As for Gin Gillette - who knows? As far as anyone can tell, she only recorded two tracks for Musikon Records of 3456 Floyd Terrace, Los Angeles, CA. The conductor was listed on the label as Jessie Sales, but any attempt to find out more about him (or her) just leads back to Gin Gillette's two songs. Ditto the listed composer, Frank Henderson. The producers are listed as Cy Irwin and Robie Lester. Irwin just leads back to Gin, but Robie was a successful female singer, actress and in-demand voice-over artist, who did a lot of work for Disney. I wondered if she might be Gin Gillette - but I've listened to some Robie Lester recordings, and she sounds nothing like the woman singing on the excellent, moody "She'll Never let Him Go", the other side of "Train to Satanville":
British DJ and producer, Andrew Weatherall, who paid a bloke in a pub £200 for an original copy of "Train to Satanville", had this to say in a 2011 interview
“It’s such a weird, ghostly, otherworldly record that I know nothing about, and I have made no attempt to find out anything about it because I don’t want to spoil that otherworldlyness. I probably could go online and Google stuff and find out who he or she was, but I didn’t want to.”
Don't worry, Andrew - there's not a shred of information to be gleaned online: Gin Gillette's secret is safe. Maybe she really did record those songs in a parallel universe, and they've somehow slipped through a crack in the space-time continuum. Whatever, I'm delighted to have made their acquaintance.

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