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music friday: bunker hill, “hide and go seek”

Usually I post a video or three of a favorite artist, but this time is more like an archeological study. I heard of this track via Alex McNeil’s Lost and Found show on WMBR. It certainly grabs your attention, and I wondered where the hell it had come from. I didn’t know the track … heck, I didn’t know who Bunker Hill was.

I couldn’t find anything about Bunker Hill on Wikipedia. McNeil’s playlist tells me the song came out in 1962. AMG tells us that the track appeared on The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 6 (they quote the liner notes, which claim that “Hide and Go Seek” sounds “like a gospel holler in a squash court”), and The Northern Soul Story Vol.2 (Golden Torch). The song appeared on the Billboard charts, #27 on R&B Singles, #33 on the Hot 100.

Such are the changing ways of social media that I never thought of looking on MySpace. Sure enough, Hill has a page there. He was born in 1941 and grew up around Washington, D.C. He sang gospel, and worked as a professional boxer, at one point being the sparring partner of Archie Moore.

Eventually, he hit the studio and recorded a few singles for a man named Vernon Wray. And that’s where I can connect with the story. Wray played in a band with two of his brothers. In 1958, they had cut one of the most influential instrumentals in rock and roll history, “Rumble,” under the name “Link Wray and His Ray Men.” Link was Vernon’s brother, and the late guitarist is a legend of rock and roll (I had a chance to see him in the late 70s when he teamed up with Robert Gordon).

So the band backing Bunker Hill on “Hide and Go Seek” is essentially Link Wray and His Ray Men, and that makes sense now that I'm aware of it. Nothing Wray ever did vocally matched what Bunker Hill had to offer, though … if you’ve ever heard the Little Richard clone, Esquerita, you’ll get an idea, or maybe a more current example, Barrence Whitfield. Or Gary U.S. Bonds back when he was being recorded in a shower stall, or whatever they did to make “Quarter to Three” sound like that.

As I searched for the lyrics to “Hide and Go Seek,” I found a veritable wealth of information about Hill (a good overview can be found here). I learned, for instance, that Joan Jett covered the song. She cleaned up the sound quite a bit, which tells you just how messy Hill’s original was, when Joan Jett sounds clean in comparison. I can also understand the lyrics, kind of like when Linda Ronstadt covered “Tumbling Dice.” Oh, and John Waters used it in Hairspray. Clearly, I’ve known about this song all along, and just didn’t realize it.

So, here goes. First, Bunker Hill’s original. This is Parts 1 and 2:

And here is Joan Jett:

Finally, because I can’t resist, a little something for people who read this far, and/or are fans of either Esquerita or Barrence Whitfield (another artist I had the pleasure of seeing many years ago). Here is Whitfield doing a podcast out of his kitchen, playing an Esquerita record, acknowledging his debt, and finally, bursting out of his chair because he can’t take it no more!