Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why Wait?

This week’s music didn’t reach me on 45, and my Uncle Tom didn’t buy it for me. I bought today’s song myself when I was five, without ever having heard it.

In my dad’s home town, Shoals, Indiana, the Alco Dime Store was the place to shop for everything other than clothing, which you bought from Lawrence “Son” Sorrels at Queen’s Clothing Store. If you wanted to eat, you went to the Dwyer Café, where my grandmother cooked you anything from a hamburger to an oyster sandwich. The Dwyer Café had the best jukebox ever, but I’ll get to that in April.

One day, my dad and I went to the dime store to spend my accumulated allowance. I looked at the toys, but I wasn’t intrigued by anything, so I wandered a bit. I happened upon a stack of records that looked like LPs but had just one song per side. My dad told me they were 78s. I remembered then that my record player had a setting for 78, but I didn’t know what it did. I gathered up the dozen or so 78s I could afford, and off we went.

When we got back to Gary, I started playing the records. I had purchased “Stroll Me”/“Rockin’ Chair” by Kay Starr, a 1957 single that never charted. I also acquired two Jimmy Boyd 78s, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”/“Thumbelina” and “My Bunny and My Sister Sue”/“Two Easter Sunday Sweethearts.” Really, I just grabbed what was there, sort of the way Uncle Tom did with 45s.

One 78 that stood out from the crowd was an Atlantic release. One day I took it to kindergarten, because Mrs. Ballinger let us bring in songs to play during nap time (her favorite time of day, I’m sure). When I brought in my song, she asked if it was slow, as per the guidelines for naptime songs. Five-year-old caithiseach said, “It’s sort of slow,” and it was, compared to “Flight of the Bumblebee.” But the second the needle hit the 78, the kids started rocking and rolling, clapping and swaying in the dim naptime light. I covered my head and waited for Mrs. Ballinger to take me to task for the debacle, but she smiled and let it go.

On the way home from school that day, one of the carpool kids, my friend Glen Fuller, sat on the record and snapped it in two. When I started to complain, the carpool driver, who happened to be my mom, said I had no business griping if I had put the record on the seat in the first place. I shut up. I don’t know for sure which Atlantic release it was, and that irks me, because I really dug that tune.

That 78 wasn’t the only one that broke. Since they were made of lacquer rather than vinyl, they were all prone to chipping or cracking. When the Jimmy Boyd 78s broke, I could see that they were so heavy because they were reinforced with a cardboard center. Knowing how 78s were put together didn’t make me any happier about how fast my stock dwindled.

The background I just laid leads to the focus of today’s post, a song that expanded my musical horizons more quickly than anything else I owned.

The 78 was an RCA release. It fascinated me how fast the little dog spun on this 78. The tonearm ate up the groove so fast you could see it move, unlike an LP, or even a 45. The artist was foreign, perhaps Mexican. These were my first impressions of this new experience of playing 78 rpm records.

And now, I present to you “Why Wait” by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra. Dámaso Pérez Prado wrote the song, and Herman Díaz Jr. (the orchestra's regular producer) produced it with Johnnie Camacho.

I latched onto this side of the 78, even though the A side, “Patricia,” was a fine song and a big hit. I’ll talk about the A side on Saturday.

Even if five-year-old caithiseach had known “Patricia” was the side that had sold the 78 originally, he would have preferred “Why Wait.” I was always a sucker for lively rhythms, and if a song had a horn section, it got high marks for that. This cut had a twangy guitar playing a 1-4-5 progression throughout, and somewhere in the mono mix I heard what sounded like bongos. It was pure sonic heaven. I started drum lessons that year, and I asked my dad to buy me bongos at Sparks Music in Gary, Indiana so I could play along with “Why Wait.”

If I underestimate and say that I played the song just twice a week, by 1978, when I went to college, I played that 78 1300 times. In fact, I often played it three times in a row, so the total plays must top 5000. You can tell from the scan of the 78 that the record got a lot of use. Even so, I treated it with care, and it survived the Great Meltdown, as well as many moves.

I’ll give you some background on the man Saturday. For now, I want to bring up one thing about the career of Pérez Prado that aggravates me. More than almost any other artist, Pérez Prado requires a discography such as this one: www.laventure.net/tourist/prez.htm if one is going to get a representative collection of his work. I’ve heard that his complete RCA recordings appeared in a Japanese box set, but I’ve not come across it. I own 213 of his recordings, and there are still a large number of RCA releases I can’t find on CD. I own 20 CDs of his music, with just two being original albums. One recording, of “María Bonita,” appears on eight of my CDs. “Patricia” appears on several, including one remastered version in stereo.

Here’s what bugs me: The version of “Why Wait” I have on the 78 is not on any of those CDs.

First of all, the song hasn’t been transferred to an official Pérez Prado compilation at all, as far as I can tell. A mono version that has an electric guitar overdub in the chorus appeared in the RCA Space Age Music series, as well as in the Rhino Cocktail Mix series, on the CD I bought that includes “Washington Square.” Perhaps if I had heard the version with the guitar overdub first, I would be satisfied with it, but I grew up with a guitar-free version, and I want it on CD.

“Why Wait” appeared on the Pérez Prado album Dilo (¡Ugh!), which was released in both mono and stereo versions. The LP is regularly available in mono on eBay, but I have yet to see a stereo copy come up for auction. I would love to hear the original song in stereo, even on vinyl. Considering that Pérez Prado’s work was released in stereo far earlier than many artists’, it shouldn’t be that hard to transfer the stereo mix of “Why Wait” to CD.

Oh, I do own a stereo version of “Why Wait” on CD. But it’s a remake he did long after my 78 came out. You have to be careful about his records—he re-recorded most of his repertoire at some point, especially after he left RCA. Very few of these recycled versions rival the originals, though a handful do.

In sum, I own the best recording of “Why Wait” on a mono LP. I own an overdubbed mono version on CD. I own a bad stereo remake on CD. And I can’t get what I want. I can’t even get what I need.

In my quest for the exact recording I want, I have learned that there are several other songs named “Why Wait” that are pretty good. You can find them on Rhapsody. A German group that calls itself Tennessee did a pretty nice job with the Pérez Prado tune. Lots of twangy guitar, but it belongs in their arrangement. I’ll include it here.

Also, I am offering you another tune, “Machaca,” that was recorded around the same time as “Why Wait,” in 1957. “Machaca” was released in stereo, and I envision “Why Wait” with a similar sound if it is ever released in stereo on CD.

End of rant. What I am giving you all to hear is the original version of “Why Wait” I heard when I was five years old. I seem to put it on all my compilation CDs, and I have never skipped over it because I was tired of hearing it. It is one of the few true classics to come from my childhood record collection. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Saturday, I’ll look at the other side of the 78, “Patricia.” See you on the flip side!

Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, Why Wait

Why Wait scan

Tennessee, Why Wait

Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, Machaca

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Where Is New Orleans?

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

I don’t know for sure how “Blue Monday” by Fats Domino was still sitting around the store when my uncle started buying 45s for me. The record was six years old then, and it had been collecting dust the whole time, perhaps, because of a defective label. My mom bought “Blueberry Hill” when it was a hit, and I still have that 45. At one point, when Fats is singing “those vows you made,” the master tape or the cutting lathe wobbled, so my 45 came from a bad master disc. My copy of “Walking to New Orleans” wasn’t defective, though.

In contrast to the not-so-exciting red Imperial labels, “Walking to New Orleans” sported a black label with colorful pinstripe-width rays shooting from the virtual center of the 45. (I can’t show you the label, because that 45 died in the Great Meltdown. My “Blueberry Hill” has a hint of a warp at one spot on the edge as well.)

Once I discovered “Walking to New Orleans” among my 45s, I was hooked. I did have to ask my mom where New Orleans was, though, since it sounded pretty far away. Fats probably contributed to hastening my awareness that the world was bigger than Gary and Shoals and the four-hour drive (or train ride via the Monon Line) between them. I would soon become aware that there were such states as Illinois, Michigan, Denmark and Australia.

I know. Leave me alone. I figured it out by the time I turned five, and boy, was I disappointed. I so wanted Denmark and Australia to be states.

What intrigues me now is that three-year-old caithiseach was not much of a fan of slow songs with strings in the background. Fats showed me that a solid performer sounds good regardless of the backing. In this case, the somber strings were the idea of producer Dave Bartholomew and came via the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. No Fats Domino recording had included a string section prior to this one, and Fats had the wisdom to embrace the innovation. It was also the first string-laden song that appealed to me, and perhaps the first song with a 6/8 beat that I played repeatedly.

The writer of the tune, Bobby Charles (born Robert Charles Guidry in 1938), also wrote “See You Later, Alligator” and “But I Do.” He appeared with The Band at their farewell concert, but his featured song didn’t make the final cut. He did appear during “I Shall Be Released” at the end of the concert.

Charles met Fats after the latter recorded his tune “Before I Grow Too Old.” Fats invited him to his house in New Orleans, and Charles said he would have to walk to get to New Orleans. He wrote “Walking to New Orleans” expressly for Fats and sang it for him at Fats’s house when he finally got there.

And so, these three talents combined to create a slow, stringy song I enjoyed. It was a revelation to me somewhere around 1963, and I hope you enjoy it if you’ve never heard it before.

The song (Imperial 5675) hit the Top 40 on July 4, 1960, peaking at #6 and spending 11 weeks in the Top 40. Its flip side, “Don’t Come Knockin’,” entered the chart two weeks later and climbed to 21.

Tonight, Fats is making an appearance at a special concert for his 80th birthday. Be sure to wish Fats a happy birthday on Tuesday, and buy his new album in support of musician victims of Hurricane Katrina:

Buy Fats Domino's new CD

And enjoy the mournful tones of today’s song. Wednesday I’ll be talking about another idol of mine, and the song will be one you probably haven’t heard. See you then!

Fats Domino, Walking to New Orleans

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fats Wednesday

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

By all rights, I shouldn’t have gotten any records by Fats Domino or Little Richard from my Uncle Tom. These were two huge artists, commercially successful icons whose 45s fell outside the purview of my source, the Big Top department store. Despite the quality of their music, I have a quality-control rejection to thank for their presence in my 1963 record collection.

As you can see if you look at this label scan, my copy of “Blue Monday” would be considered defective. Some label-attaching machine went haywire, and an eagle-eyed worker at Imperial Records tossed my copy into a cutout bin. What happened to my Specialty 45s from Little Richard was a bit different. A couple of the labels had purple smears on the yellow-and-white color scheme, one label was blurred, and I believe yet another was printed as a mirror image. All of my defective Specialty 45s finished their lives in the Great Meltdown, so I can’t show you what a mess those labels were.

Thanks to this label defect, I got my first taste of the guy that three-year-old caithiseach simply called Fats. Until the day in late 1963 when I declared that a hit song (one I’ll profile in April) was my favorite song, Fats Domino stood above all the other artists I knew as my favorite performer.

I have chosen to include Fats in my blog of mostly obscure recordings because February 26, 2008 will be his 80th birthday. This post also marks roughly 45 years of my admiration of his work.

Fats is a New Orleans native, given the birth name of Antoine Dominique Domino. His tendency to portliness was the obvious source of his nickname, one that served as the inspiration for the nickname of Ernest Evans: Chubby Checker. Fats charted his first hit in 1950, “The Fat Man.” That song was the intended B side of “Detroit City Blues”; from the beginning of his career, the B sides of Fats Domino records charted well.

Fats logged 37 Top 40 hits, including 11 Top Ten hits. He never hit #1, though “Blueberry Hill” sat at #2 for three weeks.

His chief collaborator was Dave Bartholomew, producer and co-writer of numerous Fats hits, including “Ain’t It (That) a Shame” and “Blue Monday.” Bartholomew is still performing at age 87. Both are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Extensive biographies of the man exist elsewhere. So does information about his close call with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but I want to reflect on that terrible time for a moment.

New Orleans is where my ancestors landed when they immigrated from Ireland. My grandfather’s grandparents are buried there. Concern for their graves crossed my mind when Katrina struck, and the second thing that occurred to me was that Fats lived there.

I had wanted for years to write him a fan letter. It’s such an easy thing to do; often, if not always, appreciated, and yet a task that tends to sit on the back burner. Fats wouldn’t notice if I didn’t write him a thank-you note for all the music, but I would. According to early reports, it was too late. Fats had stayed in New Orleans to tend to his ill wife, and chances were good that he had perished in the hurricane.

We lost Barry Cowsill, and who knows how many other talented people, to Katrina, but in a near-miraculous turn of events, Fats and his wife were evacuated and taken to the Superdome. Their house was a mess, and Fats lost many prized career-related items. One of his first post-Katrina efforts was to release a new album, Alive and Kickin’, the proceeds of which go to Tipitina's Foundation, to benefit New Orleans musicians displaced by Katrina. The foundation serves also to encourage the reestablishment of the New Orleans local music scene. You can help the foundation and celebrate Fats’s 80th birthday by buying his album here:

Buy Fats Domino's new CD

Fats is in good voice on the title cut, which he recorded in 2006. Amazing. He returned to live performing on May 19th, 2007, my birthday. What a birthday present. Thanks, Fats, for everything. If you're in New Orleans on Saturday, you can catch his latest appearance.

Now, give “Blue Monday” (Imperial 5417) a spin. It made the Top 40 on January 12, 1957 and reached #5. Fats wrote the song with Dave Bartholomew for the film The Girl Can't Help It. If you don’t own any Fats, get some. More Fats to come on Saturday, so I’ll see you on the flip side!

Fats Domino, Blue Monday

Blue Monday label scan

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dixieland Pop Exposure

I’m sure my Uncle Tom didn’t look closely at the 45s he bought for me. He would walk into the Big Top department store near Gary, grab 20 singles from the cutout bin, lay down his dollar and two cents for the tax, and bring the records to me. If he had inspected his choices carefully, he would have noticed that, on a couple of occasions, he brought me two copies of the same 45 in the same batch.

He also would have noticed that he was bringing me an incredibly wide variety of music, the majority of which I appreciated thoroughly. The 45s, often either DJ copies (Not For Sale!) or cutouts (hole through the label), consisted of a healthy dose of R&B, some fun pop, and the occasional “Warsaw Concerto” or “Sabre Dance.”

Thus, Uncle Tom gave me the broadest musical education of any one human being. Others have shown me specific genres in greater depth, but nearly every musical genre I have heard (that existed as of 1966 or so) appeared among the 45s I received from Uncle Tom. When, on a subsequent visit, I would corner him and make him listen to some of the songs he had bought me, he didn’t flinch. I think he got it: I was an open-minded music fiend.

I received a couple of Latin singles, but I didn’t receive any African music on 45; you pretty much had to buy LPs to get genuine ethnic music. Another flavor of music I never acquired via Uncle Tom was Dixieland-style music.

Dixieland comes to mind because I mentioned on Wednesday that I could hear Nat “King” Cole’s “Send for Me” only at my grandparents’ house. Today’s song falls into that category as well. On our visits to Shoals, Indiana, my grandfather often played music for me. I remember a lot of Nat, and a lot of Celtic tunes, and a banjo plucking the melody of “Tom Dooley.” I asked my dad what song that one was, and he had to ask his dad.

My grandfather, who had begun to work in the coal mines of Beckley, West Virginia in 1911, when he was nine years old, had another banjo tune he played for me. I remember this song as the background music for a TV commercial full of black-and-white Depression-era images, so I always associated the song with the Great Depression. Unlike “Tom Dooley,” I didn’t ask the name of this song, and so I never knew what it was.

Finally, random chance gave me the song’s name. In 1996 I bought a Rhino CD called Cocktail Mix Volume 2: Martini Madness. I bought it for another song, one I’ll discuss on February 27. Track 16 of the CD was the song whose name I didn’t know: “Washington Square.” This version was by Dick Hyman & His Orchestra.

It will seem odd to you that I could remain ignorant of the name of such a famous song for so long. Try to keep in mind that, while I had email in 1996, I didn’t have much access yet to this thing they called the World Wide Web, and it was another couple of years before it became an ingrained habit to do an internet search for anything, especially a song I knew from just the melody. Right now I can hold my phone up to a speaker and identify a song, but folks, it’s 2008, and a lot of technology has developed in twelve years.

So, the song was “Washington Square.” And a quick look at my Top 40 Hits book gave me the probable artist: the Village Stompers. Just about the time I was ready to seek the song, Collectables, a favorite label of mine, issued a twofer of Village Stompers LPs from 1963-64. And so I got the song, and a whole lot more Dixieland-style tunes, in pristine transfers, some of the cleanest I’ve ever heard. I never actually owned either the 45 or the LP, so I didn’t lose the song in the Great Meltdown. But I did lose access to the song when trips to Shoals became less frequent, so that counts for a loss of some sort.

The song itself had an interesting genesis. The writer, Bob Goldstein, who now goes by Bobb Goldsteinn, wrote the melody before he entered high school. He came up with the idea of fusing a folk beginning for the song and morphing it into a Dixieland tune. That approach suited the Village Stompers, whom I’ll discuss in a moment. But Mr. Goldsteinn wasn’t a one-hit wonder, unlike the Stompers.

Bobb Goldsteinn worked with Woody Allen and Andy Warhol, and it was Goldsteinn’s idea to synch lights to the sounds emanating from the turntables in disco clubs. So, we owe him for the lights that pound out the beat of Donna Summer’s tunes. And what did he call it? “Multimedia.” He’ll take credit for inventing the term.

Mr. Goldsteinn says he came up with the idea for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album cover, which features an Andy Warhol photograph. Designed by Craig Braun to have a real zipper, the cover impressed fans and annoyed record stores, since it scratched the cover of any album in front of it.

Bobb Goldsteinn produced the albums by the GoldeBriars, a 1960s folk group that included Curt Boettcher, who wound up producing albums for Tommy Roe and the Association and serving as an influence on Brian Wilson.

The Village Stompers recorded a pair of LPs for Epic. The first LP was a #5 smash on the strength of its #2 single, “Washington Square,” Epic 9617. Joe Sherman, co-writer of “Ramblin’ Rose,” produced the recording and sorted out the arrangement of the banjo-to-Dixieland-to-banjo concept. The song hit the Top 40 on October 5, 1963 and spent about three months there.

The Stompers—Dick Brady, Ralph Casale, Don Coates, Frank Hubbell, Mitchell May, Al McManus, Joe Muranyi and Lenny Pogan—hit the Hot 100 twice more, with “From Russia with Love” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” but that was the extent of their chart action.

“Washington Square” was, according to Bobb Goldsteinn, a huge favorite of Japanese listeners. Them, and one three-year-old Irish-American kid.

Village Stompers, Washington Square

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Today’s 45 survived the Great Meltdown. By the time I got it, paying full price, I had good needles, so it was never Ground to Dust, though I played it plenty. It even made the Top 40, peaking at #6 in 1963. And its artist is one of the great male vocalists of all time.

Why is this 45, despite its fame, getting the Great Vinyl Meltdown treatment today? February 15 will be the 43rd anniversary of the death of Nat “King” Cole, and he was a huge figure in my musical formation. My parents introduced me to him via “Send for Me,” a single that belonged to my grandparents. I got to hear it only when we were visiting them in Shoals, Indiana. That song, a 1957 hit, was unavailable on 45 by the time I heard it in the early 1960s, so I didn’t hear enough of it.

When “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” (Capitol 4965) hit the Top 40 on May 25, 1963, my parents told me who the singer was, and they bought me the 45. While the B side, “In the Cool of the Day,” didn’t impress me much, “Lazy” was exactly the kind of tune I enjoyed. The idea of girls in bikinis already intrigued me, and I liked going to the drive-in movie. I didn’t quite get the insinuations of the song, but the summer spirit was upon me in 1963.

It’s a clever song, and its provenance deserves a mention. One of its writers, Charles Tobias (1898-1970), co-wrote “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Merrily We Roll Along.” Apart from him, though, the situation is sketchy. As you can see, the 45 credits H. Carste as co-writer of “Lazy.” Hans Carste, a German composer, is listed as the writer of just two tunes connected with ASCAP, and neither of them is “Lazy.”

ASCAP gives co-writing credit to Hans Bradtke, who wrote “Calcutta,” a #1 hit for Lawrence Welk in 1961, with Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance, the two men responsible for another bikini song, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.” Those two also wrote “Leader of the Laundromat,” and boy am I getting far from the core of this story.

The third songwriter listed by ASCAP is Hans Haring, another German composer whose ASCAP crosslisted songs are almost all in German, save “Lazy.”

Given two Hans to choose from, it seems that the label-maker for Capitol Records failed to get the right Hans, ignored another Hans and assigned credit to the Hans that was left. Unless, of course, Hans Carste is an alias for one of the two right Hans and no one at ASCAP figured that out.

Seriously, something is curious about the writing credits. The original sheet music lists Carste as the composer, and neither Bradtke nor Haring is mentioned. ASCAP’s records seem to be in error.

Speaking of the label, you can see a number written in pencil. At least three times, after I learned to write my numbers, I decided to count how many 45s I owned. Rather than simply count the records, I wrote a number on each one, perhaps so I wouldn’t lose track. The second time I did it, I didn’t put the records in the same order (there was no order; it was really tough to find a song I wanted to play), so I scratched out the old number and wrote a new one. There are numbers on all of my original 45s, though the scans of the black labels I’ve featured before now didn’t show the pencil marks well.

The orchestra leader on “Lazy,” Ralph Carmichael, became Cole’s main collaborator for the 1960s, after which Carmichael turned to gospel music and became known as the primary creator of the Contemporary Christian sound.

The track was recorded on April 11, 1963, with Lee Gillette as producer. Born in 1912 in Indianapolis, Gillette grew up in Peoria and Chicago. Among his first productions for Capitol was “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” the iconic Tex Williams hit that adds a twist to today’s story. He also signed Tennessee Ernie Ford to Capitol and produced “Sixteen Tons.” Gillette became a close friend of Nat “King” Cole, so much so that, upon Nat’s death, he took early retirement from Capitol. He did little work after that, though in 1981 he produced some work by Alvino Rey. In August, 1981, Gillette fell at his California home and died that same month.

Unlike almost any other producer I mention, Lee Gillette will make an audio appearance when you play the recording. That’s because some preliminary chatter from the recording session was left on this track. I am a real sucker for studio chatter; knowing what happened just before the people involved made music history fascinates me as a peek into another world. The interactions often show the personalities of the performers, as is the case this time. I hope you don’t mind that I left the preliminaries on for you. The song starts 30 seconds in. The track is taken from the Capitol Collector Series, CDP 7 93590 2. It’s a great collection, and it deserves to become part of your collection.

You can find a hundred biographies of Nathaniel Coles, so I’ll keep this bio short: he was born in Alabama in 1919 (year seemingly confirmed at last), became a superb pianist, led the King Cole Trio, started singing more, switched from jazz to pop, smoked constantly (you can see video of him performing, smoking) because smoking helped him hit low notes. Which leads me to the reason for this post.

On February 15, 1965, my parents were watching the news. Five-year-old caithiseach didn’t watch the Huntley-Brinkley report often, but when my dad told me that Nat “King” Cole had died, I stopped whatever I was doing and paid attention. His death from lung cancer, caused by smoking, gave me something to fret about, since my parents smoked at the time. Now, when I listen to his final recordings, I can hear the toll taken on his voice by smoking. The rasp in his voice is the sound he was after, but it’s the sound that killed him as well.

What mattered most to me, though was that Nat wouldn’t be making any more records. I didn’t know about his family, and I didn’t think to grieve for anyone but him. He was the first musician of whose death I became keenly aware, and learning that this great voice had been stilled took me to a place I had never before visited. When I assimilated the news of his death, I went to my record player and put on today’s song.

Nat “King” Cole, Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer

45 label scan

Friday, February 8, 2008

There's Room for Everyone

Note: This is my second post of the day. The primary post follows this one.

The first music blog I ever read regularly was Echoes in the Wind, to which I was introduced by its creator, whiteray, after we met at a book club gathering. In my online searches for particular songs, I had previously bumped into music blogs, but they were all two-sentence posts with a song link attached.

Whiteray’s blog was different. He shared his personal feelings about songs and memories of when he heard them and how he acquired his recordings. caithiseach dug his style and became a daily reader. Eventually, inspiration struck me, and caithiseach became a music blogger as well.

The premise of my blog, as many of you know, is to share roughly 110 singles I have owned since the early 1960s in 104 posts, each Wednesday and Saturday in 2008. When I was doing what would pass for a feasibility study of the concept, I laid out a table and slotted the songs on my 45s into it. Once I got the song order to where I liked it (a matter of a couple of hours; I don’t know how it can take an artist two months to sequence twelve songs on an album. Good golly.), I decided to write a couple of trial posts, to see if my voice suited the medium.

After I wrote those trial posts, I realized that what I was writing was free of time constraints, a music history that could have been told at any point in the past 35 years. It is also, in a sense, a childhood memoir. It deals with loss, both of perfectly good 45s and of people who gave me that music. Since it is a 104-chapter life story, I want to make it robust and compelling.

To make it robust, I scour the internet for data on the artists, producers, songwriters and label owners who made up the pipeline that got the vinyl to my box of 45s. To make it compelling, all I can do is pray that my internal editor kicks in before I get too wordy, maudlin or flat-out boring.

Since I can write these posts in advance, I do write them in advance. First of all, the stories have been in my head for so long that they pour out in a matter of minutes. Second, it behooves me to write in advance, because each post takes close to three hours to write, by the time I finish my research.

caithiseach, like whiteray, is usually a deadline-driven writer. How I have been able to write this blog ahead of deadline is a question worth pondering. I’ve done it before; I wrote a 400-page novel from March to July of 2007 with no deadline. But the best college paper I ever wrote got written from 2am to 4am on its due date. It’s possible that some texts just want to come out so much that they allow themselves to be typed long before they’re due.

In contrast to the Great Meltdown posts, the posts for my Spanish version of the blog, La Gran Fusión, get written under deadline pressure. And thus it was that last Wednesday, January 30, I was so dizzy from sinus pressure on my inner ear that I didn’t write the Spanish version on time. It took me so long to feel well that I just combined the Wednesday and Saturday Spanish posts. As with most blogs, there was no economic downside to taking a day off, so I did what I needed to do.

Right now, I am glad I’ve written my posts through April 2, because I am working on a 24-HOUR scholarly presentation on the history of American music-chart hits for my school. I am also coordinating the National Spanish Contest interviews for the state of Minnesota. And my boss asked me this week to come up with a plan for a one-week summer Spanish camp for THIS summer.

I would surely be skipping posts now were it not for the ones I already have in the can.

I don’t think my approach is less valid for having prepared for lean time-times. Every word I write is written in the moment, just not this moment. When I wrote a lot of posts over Christmas break, it felt like February, then March, as I wrote. Mel Torme wrote “The Christmas Song” in July. I have no qualms about my pragmatism regarding this blog-to-memoir I am writing.

But whiteray takes a much more daring and exciting approach to music blogging: he lets his music collection tell him what to write the morning of a post. He has to improvise, associate songs and memories, and make it all work in a matter of minutes.

When you consider that his prose comes out at least as clean as mine, and more evocative on a daily basis, you know you’re witnessing superb writing when you read his blog. If he doesn’t need three hours to research his posts, it’s because he has so much more music history stored in his brain than I have available to me on Wikipedia. It’s no wonder that he won an Any Major Dude award this year.

With this on-the-edge approach to blogging, which in whiteray’s case produces professional-quality work, unexpected glitches can mess up a blog’s rhythm. It’s to his credit that his readers would be so hungry for his posts, and he so much a part of their reading routine, that they would gripe when illness or just plain busy-ness keep him from posting.

One thing you can’t do, though, is look to me as an example of consistency against which any other blogger should be compared. As I said, I already blew one Spanish blog deadline because of overstuffed sinuses. That’s the blog I write on the edge. If I ever do a more random blog of any type, I assure you that I will turn up missing from time to time. It’s the nature of the game, and within that game’s parameters, I know of no one as consistent as whiteray, both for quantity and quality.

While I’m at it, I want to thank the people who show up on my counter all the time: Pittsburgh, Toronto, Minneapolis, Adelaide, Sydney, Winnipeg, Poughkeepsie, St. Paul, Calgary, London, Denver, Aliso Viejo, Los Angeles, Lake Mary, Washington, Halethorpe, Green Bay, Heerhugowaard, Edinburgh, Lexington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and all the rest of the regulars. Seeing that you are still with me makes me glad I started the blog and keeps me writing and posting. I’m grateful, and I hope you’ll say hello sometime.

Since every post deserves a song, here’s one that seems appropriate for the theme of the blog. It’s obscure, well-loved by caithiseach and worth sharing. It’s a tune recorded in 1969 by Ronnie Dante and Jeff Barry. Just update the population numbers as you listen. The rest remains the same.

Thanks for reading this hot-off-the-press editorial. See you Wednesday!

Archies, A Summer Prayer for Peace

Angels to the Rescue

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

Some cross-pollination has occurred in the past couple of days. My friend whiteray mentioned on February 6 in his blog, Echoes in the Wind, that he and I have differing approaches to blogging. He and I know that, but it seems pertinent to give some details on that matter, so look for a second Saturday post coming shortly. Now, on with the scheduled program:

I feared this might be a spectacularly short post. I told you everything I know about Danny Kellarney last time, which is next to nothing. I told you what I know about the songwriters for the A side, “Jealous.” I told you about the orchestra leader. Thank goodness the B side, “You Can't Fool an Angel” (Fraternity 783) was written by a different set of guys. That gives me another bit of history to develop for this post.

Or not. You can see from the label that, because the song had four writers, Fraternity Records didn’t even give first initials, much less the whole names.

So, I looked up the last names anyway. ASCAP reports no Herig or Fiume, no likely Henn, and a couple of weak possibilities for Moss.

Just look up the title, you say. ASCAP shows no record of the song, though it was published originally by Windy City Music, ASCAP. No BMI record, either.

The song probably was not written as far back as “Jealous” (1924), but that could account for its disappearance into the ether, or it could have gone into the public domain and not been restored to copyright protection. In that case, if you’re looking for a song to cover for your next album, have a listen to this poor wee tune that no one loves any more. You can record it for free.

I can tell you that, despite losing this 45 in the Great Meltdown in 1972, I remembered the label name, the artist, and the title of the B side. How did I remember all that? 1. The Fraternity label was fairly distinctive, 2. I didn’t think people should try to fool angels, and 3. I associated the singer’s name with Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Doing so made the online search for his name more difficult, but I found his record, obviously. And that’s all I can say about Danny Kellarney. There is one more tidbit I can add once I confirm it, and if that happens, I’ll make a special update post.

Rather than stop writing here, I’ll use the leftover space to reminisce about another tune I lost in the Great Meltdown, one I will most likely never see again. The title, as I recall, was “I’ve Got to Lose These Blues.” The label was Hi-Hat Records, blue with a silver logo. If you do a search for the label name, you find a current label that specializes in square dance/hoedown calling records. Their logo, a high top hat with a walking stick, is very similar to the label of the 45 I owned, so they may have bought the rights to the name and logo.

This new label has interesting wares. You must listen to this square dance version of “Don’t Be Cruel,” called by Masaru Wada! If you are a square dancer, I endorse their products.

But, oh, do I ever digress. So, Hi Hat Records released in the late 1950s a song with the aforementioned title, or one very similar to it. I don’t know the artist. But the songwriter was Bernie O’Neill, my uncle by marriage.

Let me tell you, when you’re a little music fiend like three-year-old caithiseach, you think it is very cool that your uncle wrote a song that made it onto a record. It may well be that I learned what the names in parentheses on a 45 meant when my mom told me Uncle Bernie had written the tune. Once I was old enough to read, I saw that she wasn’t kidding: B. O’Neill was listed as the songwriter. And now I have neither the 45 nor a recording of the tune, thanks to the Great Meltdown.

I can tell you about as much about Uncle Bernie’s music career as I did about Danny Kellarney’s. I can tell you that he was serious about breaking into the music business, and he may have been taken for a bit of a ride by his publishing house. I can tell you he and my mother’s sister, Aunt Anita, didn’t get along so well, and they divorced in the 1960s, when Roman Catholics just did not do that. I remember that people always whispered the word “divorce” whenever it came up regarding Aunt Anita.

But Uncle Bernie was a good guy. His two children, my cousins Chip (Bernie Jr.) and Kathy, were good to me. Chip was murdered in his home in Gary, Indiana in the 1980s, and that is the biggest externally produced tragedy in my family.

Does anyone have a copy of Uncle Bernie’s song? I’d love to have it.

For now, take a listen to Danny Kellarney’s other tune. He also recorded “Never Til Now”/“You Opened Up My Heart” (Fraternity 785), but that one never made it into the bins where my Uncle Tom shopped for the 45s he bought me at twenty to a dollar.

After this dose of obscurity, look for a couple of weeks of homages to personal favorites of significant musical fame whose 45s happened to join my collection when I was a tot. See you Wednesday!

Danny Kellarney, You Can't Fool an Angel mp3

Masaru Wada, Don’t Be Cruel sample mp3

You Can't Fool an Angel label jpg

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Those Annoying Deadly Sins

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

If you’ve gotten into the groove of this blog, you know I am mixing some known songs with real obscurities. (If you’ve discovered me late, you may want to read from the beginning on January 2, as the posts build on each other to some degree.) Today’s post is the first really tough essay I’ve had to write.

It’s a strain for two reasons. The first is that the artist is a true unknown. The second is that I didn’t like the songs on the single when I was a kid, and they haven’t aged well. Part of the fun for me, though, is knowing that I am disseminating information that only one in ten million of you has ever discovered before.

I mentioned previously that in the 1960s I owned several 45s on the Mercury label, and a few from Specialty, Imperial and Hi, though those all came from one artist per label. Another successful indie label, Fraternity, made it into my collection just once. Fraternity Records, despite having hit records from the likes of Cathy Carr, Jimmy Dorsey and Bobby Bare, was capable also of delivering such product as “Jealous” by Danny Kellarney, Fraternity 783 (1957).

There’s nothing wrong with Kellarney’s voice, which sets him apart from a few of the artists I’ll discuss later in the year. But three-year-old caithiseach put the other side of this 45 (to be profiled Saturday) on the turntable one day, listened to a few seconds of the yawner of a chorus and orchestra, and yanked it. I don’t know if I ever played the A side, “Jealous.” I don’t remember it from my childhood, and since the 45 managed to fall prey to the Great Meltdown in 1972, I couldn’t play the song as an adult to see if I liked it. Frankly, I don’t know how this 45 got stacked high enough in the box of 45s to be melted by the sun, but it warped, and I tossed it.

Once I replaced the 45 a couple of years ago, I got the impression that I hadn’t missed much. The song is very much a product of its time and its label: orchestra plus electric guitar, vocal chorus and everything that a three-year-old dislikes in a song. Nowadays I would have to say that I have heard worse recordings, and I’ll even share some via this blog, but “Jealous” is not a tune I play often.

If the recorded song is not very interesting, the back story is a bit better. The song was written by Tommie Malie, Dick Finch (1898-1955) and Jack Little (1899-1956). Malie registered just 18 titles with ASCAP, Finch just 5, but Little composed 95 tunes, including “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town.” He had tunes covered by artists as disparate as Jimmy Durante and Fletcher Henderson.

Little got some of his work into the movies. “Jealous” showed up in a 1941 film, The Feminine Touch, starring Rosalind Russell and Don Ameche, and also in Somebody Loves Me (1952), starring Betty Hutton. The song was very appropriate for The Feminine Touch, as the plot concerned a jealous husband. But the song was written in 1924, so the writers got lucky by its inclusion in the film.

“Jealous” was a #3 hit for Marion Harris in 1924, and Ben Selvin’s version reached #13 the same year. The Andrews Sisters took it to #12 in 1941. Cab Calloway and Jimmie Lunceford both recorded it, probably around 1941, though I can’t confirm the date. Les Paul & Mary Ford sang it later as well.

A figure of considerable notoriety connected with this recording is the orchestra leader, “Dom Frontieri.” With his name spelled correctly, you may recognize Dominic Frontiere (born 1931) as the composer to the theme from The Outer Limits. He composed music for the TV shows Branded, The Flying Nun and Rat Patrol, among others, as well as the score for Clint Eastwood’s Hang ’Em High, which was a Top Ten hit for Booker T. and the MG’s in 1968-69.

In 1980, Dominic’s ex-wife, Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams (who died on January 18, 2008), gave him some tickets to that year's Super Bowl. He scalped them. The big problem was that she gave him 16,000 tickets, and he made half a million dollars from the sales. Oopsies, he forgot to report the income to the IRS, and he did nine months for his bad memory.

It would be intriguing to learn why the people involved in the Kellarney recording decided to resurrect this song, which didn’t even chart during its second film life. The Kellarney trail is pretty cold, though I have one tidbit to follow up before Saturday. I am going to hope one of my readers has a clue to warm up the trail again. Let me know.

For my amusement, please consider taking the opinion poll on this song. (It’s off to the right.) See you on the flip side Saturday!

Sources: IMDB, Wikipedia

Danny Kellarney, Jealous mp3

"Jealous" label

Fraternity Records sleeve

Friday, February 1, 2008

Summertime After Dark

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

When I was five years old, I was not a very discriminating listener. That’s why half of the 45s my Uncle Tom bought for me didn’t get dumped in the trash. I’d like to think I was open-minded and saw value in everyone’s attempts at musical expression. My keeping all the 45s I received as gifts doesn’t mean I gave them all equal playing time, though.

The B side of Epic 45 5-9299, “When the Sun Goes Down” by the Jamies, struck five-year-old caithiseach as a far better tune than the A side, “Snow Train.” For one thing, “Snow Train” was a winter song, and while I loved Christmas and making snowmen, who would want to play a song about winter in the summer? That was a dumb idea. And while trains were cool (my mother’s father was an engineer for the EJ&E railroad), what was a Snow Train? If the songwriter, Sherm Feller, couldn’t sell that corny idea to a little kid, how could the Jamies sell it to the hip teens who had found the saucy lyrics of “Summertime, Summertime” so attractive?

The hip teens ignored the winter sequel, of course. But I wonder what might have happened if DJs had flipped the 45 over and begun to play “When the Sun Goes Down.” Epic was big enough to work the B side of the 45 when the A side tanked, so maybe they tried, and the B side was also a flop.

“Summertime, Summertime” survived on a sparse arrangement (harpsichord and someone beating on a cardboard box with his hands), thanks to clever lyrics. This second single required a typical pop arrangement to attract what little audience it drew. I believe, frankly, that the perceived need for a sequel to the hit, and the route taken to create that sequel, doomed the Jamies.

Sherm Feller wrote “Snow Train” by himself. Apart from writing a song that had a lot in common with late-1950s Christmas recordings and thus was sentenced to two weeks of annual sales, the lyrics are not particularly evocative. Here’s the entire song:

Here comes the Snow Train!
(tepid yay from the Jamies and train whistle)
Snow Train, Snow Train, merry merry merry go-go-go train
Snow Train, Snow Train’s on the way
Up hills, down trails, stocking caps and flying pony tails
Snow Train, Snow Train’s on the way
Rain, rain, go away
Come again some April day
When you see the snow is flyin’
We’re all through with
summertime, summertime, summertime, summertime
Snow Train, Snow Train, rockin’ rollin’ ho-ho-ho train
Snow Train, Snow Train’s on the way
Key change and repeat all lyrics.

The song has nothing in common with the writing style of “Summertime, Summertime.” It has nothing in common with hit songs, either. That doesn’t make it a bad song, but it was never going to make anyone a lot of money.

The in-your-face rebellious nature of “Summertime, Summertime” made it a hit. Compare these lyrics, the first set from “When the Sun Goes Down” and the second from the hit. (I am tired of writing “Summertime, Summertime.” Sorry.)

“When the Sun Goes Down” (partial)
Early to bed and early to rise is what some people say
But the gals I know and all the guys, they just don’t live that way
The night was made for people like us who enjoy the finer things
We live our lives without the fuss that normal living brings

Come on, you sun, roll across the sky and sink into the west
’Cause I can hardly wait till I start living the life that’s best
When the sun goes down, I’ll be goin’ to town
Just to look around for you
Just to look around for you

“Summertime, Summertime” (partial)
Well shut them books and throw ’em away
Say goodbye to dull school days
Look alive and change your ways
It’s summertime . . .

Its time to head straight for the mills
Its time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free-for-all

Well are you comin’ or are you ain’t
You slowpokes are my one complaint
Hurry up before I faint
It’s summertime

Well I’m so happy that I could flip
Oh how I’d love to take a trip
I’m sorry, teacher, but zip your lip
Because it’s summertime

“When the Sun Goes Down” shows some of the liveliness of the hit, with the added feature of an internal rhyme in each phrase. Both “Sun” and the hit ooze teen perspective, whereas “Snow Train” is close to sterile in both teen appeal and Christmas validity.

The difference? Tom Jameson contributed his songwriting skills to both the hit and “Sun,” while he was absent from "Snow Train." An astute music detective might hypothesize that the hit was mostly written when Sherm Feller discovered the Jamies, and that “Sun” was mostly the work of the writer who gave the hit its cleverness.

If that hypothesis is correct, then Tom Jameson might have been a writing talent worth developing. As it is, he wrote just five tunes, four with Feller and one, “Evening Star,” by himself. That song’s lyrics would be a key to deciding who was the bold lyricist of the pair, but to be fair, I would also have to examine a number of Feller’s solo composition (42 total registered works). So far, I haven’t been able to gain access to other songs by either songwriter, so I hope to revisit the topic sometime this year.

I’m not knocking Sherm Feller’s legacy. It would make more sense (in the way things were done then) for the unestablished writer (Jameson) to give some credit for minor tweaks on a song to Feller, rather than Feller adding Jameson to the song’s writing credits out of kindness. Keep in mind that I am speculating on the song's authorship and could be completely wrong.

Now, take yourself back to a time in your personal music history when everything was new, and what was good was what you liked and not only what Rolling Stone endorsed. The Jamies, with their innocently broad Dorchester accent, seem to be having fun on this side. Listen to the song, and be sure to comment!

Next week, I’ll look at an artist who really is obscure. See you then, and thanks for reading.

Jamies, When the Sun Goes Down

When the Sun Goes Down label