Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder (1963) Blue Note

Inexplicable omissions, albums I overlooked writing about. 

No. 1: Lee Morgan The Sidewinder

Selection 1: The Sidewinder (Morgan)

. . .

If The Sidewinder is the immediately recognisable signature track, no review would be complete without also including the best track on this album, which sits somewhat in the shadow of The Sidewinder: Totem Pole. A classic latin swinger with Morgan in feisty mode, gorgeous harmonies between Lee and Joe Henderson, and Barry Harris  steps beyond “accompaniment” with a lovely extended solo, lyrical in McCoy Tyner manner.

Selection 2: Totem Pole (Morgan)

. . .


Lee Morgan, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Barry Harris, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Billy Higgins, drums. , Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 21, 1963

I expect bass player Bob Cranshaw wasn’t to pleased to see his name misspelt as Crenshaw on the cover.


No Blue Note collection is complete without a copy of The Sidewinder, the album and track that launched Boogaloo – “a dance to rock-and-roll music performed with swivelling and shuffling movements of the body, originally popular in the 1960s” (Wiki). James Brown shows you how, so you can practice your dance moves at home (I suggest with curtains drawn, until you’ve cracked it).

 In a world saturated with “dance music”, mostly  to jump up and down to, its nice to see such cool understated moves in action.

The boogaloo groove became the mandatory opening funky “commercial track” on almost every jazz album for the next five or more years. I exaggerate, but just a little. The impossibly catchy piano riff is courtesy of Barry Harris, and punishing beat is from Billy Higgins, whose snare must have been really very naughty. The record probably made Blue Note enough money to stay solvent and record more boundary-pushing jazz for several years to come, a fair trade.

An Amazon customer  review gave such a comprehensive write up of the album, did all the heavy lifting,  that I could scarcely better so I’ll steal it shamelessly here:

Morgan seems barely to break a sweat during the title track, and yet exploits the groove with precision and energy. The musical interplay between Morgan and Joe Henderson on Tenor Sax is superb and seldom matched in any session. Bob Cranshaws’ irresistable basslines, and Billy Higgins’ powerful backbeat create a momentum that will have your feet tapping helplessly from the first few bars.
After the sublime cool of “The Sidewinder”, things get better and better, with every track arguably a masterpiece of the genre. Totem Pole is a superbly constructed piece, proving that Morgan is also a Jazz composer of a high order. “Gary’s Notebook” and “Boy, What a Night!” are both upbeat numbers, with more challenging lines, and feature superb solos from Morgan and Henderson. Running through them all is the superb rhythm section, which never fails to groove, and at times takes centre stage – listen to Barry Harris’ great piano work on “Totem Pole”, and Billy Higgins’ relentless beat on “Hocus Pocus”.

For the technically minded,  the Sidewinder is 24-bar composition has a sting in its tail, with a surprise change to a minor chord in bars 17–18  , which gives it a piquancy that pulls it out from the ordinary. Having thrown you off balance, Morgan throws you back into the groove with relish. Having listened to a lot of Hubbard recently, with growing appreciation of Freddy’s beautiful tone, Sidewinder is a good reminder of Morgan’s different strength: how much infectious excitement he injects in to his playing. We are so lucky to have had both, and recorded on Blue Note, bless Rudy.

Vinyl: BST 84157 

The full Plastylite, Van Gelder,150gram vinyl weight, an early pressing according to the inner sleeve, correct for tail end 1964. Mastered at the time at which Van Gelder stamped his metal  STEREO to distinguish it from the mono. Near the Van Gelder stamp Side 1 you will see Van Gelder’s  signature thee close rings where the trail-off groove meets the label. Neat, I never noticed that before. You see so much, and take notice of only a small fraction.

Collector’s Corner

When looking for a picture of the label on LJC, I checked Sidewinder, only to find it wasn’t there as I expected, curiously absent. Putting that right got me to play it after a long absence, and was delighted to rediscover other tracks contained some gems I hadn’t dug into at the time.

As a result of its huge hit -sales success, The Sidewinder is probably the least rare and therefore the cheapest among Morgan’s trophy  Blue Notes. Popsike returns over 1300 auction results, and the Liberty can sell for as little as $20: call the cops, it’s a steal.

Released in July 1964, The Sidewinder peaked  at #10 in the Billboard Hot 100 LP Chart, January 30,1965. Michael Cuscuna confirmed Blue Note  issued only 4,000 copies upon release (around the figure we estimated for new title delivery from that Blue Note photo of Lee a few posts back), and ran out of stock in three or four days. With sales building to a peak over the following six months, selling 4,000 copies a week for twenty six weeks would mean 100,000 copies sold.  Whether record sales have an exponential growth curve over time, ” a normal distribution” over time, or a skew front end with a long tail, I have no idea, but the 100,000 copies figure is attractive,  if only because no-one knows for certain what the right number is, so no one can prove it wrong, which it almost certainly is.

The takeaway point is that the price of a vintage record is a function of its scarcity not its quality and The Sidewinder is certainly not rare. The most desirable edition –  a Plastylite Test Pressing – sold for a mere $688. Why someone  “redacted” the Plastylite provenance of the TP and added “Blue Note Test Only”  is a mystery. As regular readers will be aware,  mysteries are commonplace here for vinyl collectors, not at all rare, and this one I feel no necessity to solve.

Lee Morgan the artist continues to top the upper reaches of Blue Note auction results. A quick search on albums  with Lee as leader or in the front line indicates they can  cost up to ten times as much as even that exceptional Sidewinder TP:

Lee Morgan’s album  Indeed is pipped in the auction stakes only by Hank Mobley’s BN1568, which continues to reign supreme, and this astonishingly rare withdrawn cover of The Sidewinder, prepared by Reid Miles while a few beers worse for wear, only one copy is thought to exist.

I sometimes wonder whether collectors who pay these eye-watering prices actually play the record is a question? How much does the pleasure come from owning it, or playing it? How does it feel paying so much? It seems not everyone who buys vinyl plays it. I found this odd statistic the other day, a survey from our national broadcaster the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation):

What’s this survey about? It seems a thinly-veiled  smirk at the much-hyped revival of vinyl sales. Look. Half of them don’t even play it.   Memo to the BBC: I have to pay the BBC license fee because I have a TV set, but personally I don’t watch it, because  I have better things to do with my life than watch television. Get That? “Have a TV but don’t use it”.

I like  listening to vinyl, because it sounds better than anything else, but I’ve found another good use for it too, in the home:

At home in South London, my very modest Jim Flora vintage vinyl LP cover collection, LP frames from FlyingTiger, of Copenhagen. For any interested in such matters, the upper walls are covered with another kind of vinyl:  four coats of Johnstone’s brilliant white vinyl matt, CovaPlus. This is not just a jazz site you know, I do home decorating tips too.

Anyone else found interesting use for vinyl apart from playing it  (no smut, please) feel free to share, including pictures – I’ll repost!





13 thoughts on “Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder (1963) Blue Note

  1. I have mono and stereo NY “ear” copies so I’m set. “The Sidewinder’ was used by Chrysler for a TV commercial during the 1965 Baseball World Series (Oct 65), and repeated several times during TV coverage. I have no doubt that TV exposure boosted sales as the LP peaked at #10 in Billboard (as noted by LJC) the following Jan 1966. Ironically Chrysler did not secure the right to use the tune in a commercial. LM heard the tune while watching the broadcast and immediately complained to BN, who in turn threatened to sue Chrysler ! The later agreed to stop using the tune in their commercials, limiting additional chances for exposure. Overall great tune, great album. And Boogaloo led to plenty of tuneful funky releases over the years. If you have access to Netflix, you HAVE TO watch the documentary. So sad that he died so young. The mind boggles at what he could have accomplished during the Jazz renaissance of the 80’s….he would have been 39 in 1980…..

  2. Yet another BN ball-tearer, LJC. Its amazing that this was Lee’s ‘comeback album’ [@ 24 yrs!]. He also counselled Joe Henderson on the music scene in NYC [Joe was 27, just out of the Army]. Last, I’ve always been partial to his tenor solo on ‘Gary’s Notebook’. An iconic entry in the Hard Bop Pantheon.

  3. I have a Music Matters 33.3 reissue as originals are not common in my neck of the woods. I avoided it for the longest because of the over familiarity of the title track but one day I decided I should have it in my collection regardless. Since MM had just released their version I went with it and discovered how good side two is. It’s always a pleasure hearing Joe Henderson so it gets more plays than I expected. I’d like to hear an original some day. It could happen.

  4. Several years ago I picked up a liberty stereo (keystone/all disc) copy of the sidewinder that I have been very happy with. As it turns out I came across an original mono today and couldn’t pass it up. so I now have the best of both worlds 🙂

  5. I buy LP’s and I stack them up in a corner of my office. Yes, I have two (2) turntables. They’re in the corner too and I plan to make time to get at least one operational so I can sit back and listen like our host does. Right now, I mostly read the liner notes to better understand what I have.

  6. “Boy What A Night” is one of my all-time favorites. Killer track.

    What a run of LPs this started: The Sidewinder, Search for the New Land, Tom Cat, The Rumproller, The Gigolo, and Cornbread, all in 2 years. Wow!

  7. Cool – great LP. I myself was not content with the sound until I got an original stereo “P” pressing. The CDs are ear-piercing bright – especially the RVG-edition. I read somewhere what made the Sidewinder take of sales-wise was a TV commercial for a car. Was it Chrysler? Anyway I wonder if Plastylite was able to meet the demand for 100′ Sidewinder LPs? Maybe it was not a problem?

  8. My mono NY USA ‘Sidewinder’ has a totally blank label on one side. I guess they were churning them off the production line to meet demand so fast that the QC suffered !

  9. Best of all, Sidewinder is available from The Tape Project on 15 ips, 2-track tape! Now that’s spectacular! 😉

  10. Launched frisbee style I find LPs act as a very effective deterrent against trespassing cats in the garden.
    180/200 g.s.m pressings achieve greater accuracy and a quick dip in the pond after use removes most soil,leaves etc.from the surfaces.Left to dry naturally in the garden this also imparts a very attractive green tinge to the vinyl.
    Sleeves,of course, are unaffected and remain in mint condition.

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