Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is It Live, Or Is It Memories?

I have mentioned before that Christmas, 1963 brought a technological advance to our home. My parents bought a reel-to-reel tape deck, and they recorded audio to accompany most of the Super 8mm film footage my dad took of a number of big family events. A few times during my early childhood, my dad pulled out the projector and showed the footage. I laughed at most of it. Then the film went into a box, not to be seen again for ages.

I have not mentioned before that my sister found the film reels in our attic, and she had them transferred to DVD for me for Christmas, 2004. Then, for the first time in my active memory, I saw my mother at Christmas in 1959, pregnant with her only child. She looked happy. Considering that she had just ten more years of life in her, I find the images bittersweet.

But today’s post is about the audio. I confiscated the tape recorder and the audio tapes right after college, and eventually I transferred them to my hard drive. I had to use a different machine for the playback, because the original one had given up all of its ghosts. It still spins, but all you hear is static, no matter what tape you slip between capstan and roller.

When I played one of the tapes, I heard three-year-old caithiseach opening a present and finding a mechanical dog that I could take for a walk by pulling on his leash. My adult persona exclaimed, “Gaylord!” And a deep memory unlocked itself.

Then, later on, the tape came on at the end of a song I had forgotten. The 45 that held it was a children’s record with two songs per side. It was almost certainly on the P-R-O-M-E-N-A-D-E label, though I had some kids’ Western tunes on a 4-song 45 with a black label as well. That 45 was a Victim of the Great Vinyl Meltdown. The thing is, I had the second song, “Pony Boy” by Marty Martin and His Six-Shooters, on a separate Peter Pan 45 (Peter Pan 535), which survived the Meltdown. Thus, I remembered that song, which, according to the tape, was the song I preferred of the two my mom recorded.

But as an adult, having just the last few seconds of “A Boy in Buckskin (and a Gal in Calico)” on an old tape was not enough. As soon as I heard the song, I remembered enjoying the melody and the harmonies involved. So, I started my search.

One guy had put the recording I was after online, from an album he had encoded in RealAudio (that was therefore mushy-sounding). The album billed the singer as Artie Malvin, who had a career in the Army during World War II, singing for Glenn Miller. In a bit of historical irony, Artie seems to have sung a version of “A Gal in Calico,” which is a different song and confuses search engines mightily. In the 1950s, Artie, who is in fine voice here, sang a lot of children’s songs.

I made do with that recording for a while, but eventually I found that someone who owned an antiques shop had a 7” 78 rpm record (Peter Pan 415) that included the identical recording, but billed as by Frankie Starr with the Peter Pan Orchestra and Chorus, directed by Vicky Kasen. This version also had the sound of squeaky wagon wheels dubbed into the martial drum intro and the outro. Dumb. But both the RealAudio and the 78 version had a verse that had been cut off my 45, so I was glad to get the 78.

The final verse, though, is about as jingoistic a piece of music as I could ever hope to hear. I don’t have a problem with being proud of some of the things my country has done in honest attempts to improve life for people in other nations, but my applause for attempts to recreate the British Empire American-style is tepid.

So. In order to get rid of the squeaky wagon wheels, I took an identical opening drum riff and spliced it onto the recording. My kind commentator, Yah Shure, apologized awhile ago for mentioning the name of Mitch Miller in a blog comment, but the drums are from his version of “Yellow Rose of Texas.” So there.

After “A Boy in Buckskin” comes “Pony Boy,” a song that defies lyrical logic: “Pony Boy, Pony Boy, won’t you be my Tony Boy. Don’t say no, here we go, off across the plains. Carry me, marry me, ride away with you . . . “ I do not get it at all. Is he planning to marry his horse? Or a boy? There is something slightly twisted going on, and I’ll need some therapy to get over that one.

The writer of “A Boy in Buckskin” was J. Fred Coots (1897-1985), who registered more than 300 songs with ASCAP and, according to Wikipedia, wrote more than 700 songs, often for children. His biggest hit would have to be “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” (I promise I am not trying to bring on Christmas early.) But that song gets some competition from “Love Letters in the Sand.”

Regardless of who really sang “A Boy in Buckskin,” you have to give credit to the people who made the recording for trying to put together a decent effort. Some thought was put into the instrumentation and the vocal arrangement, unlike a lot of today’s kids’ music, which was clearly recorded in someone’s house on a $100 Casio keyboard. Gone, too, are the days when songwriters used three-syllable words in songs aimed at kids. Maybe that will change at some point, but I’m not optimistic.

For Saturday, I have a couple more juvenile recordings, one a 1920s song for adults, and the other a legendary folk tune. See you then!

Artie Malvin?, A Boy in Buckskin

Marty Martin and His Six-Shooters, Pony Boy


Anonymous said...

Oh, well, that's embarrassing. Until I read this post, I didn't know "Pony Boy" was a real song. My mum used to sing "Pony Girl" while bouncing me on her knee when I was small. She had a habit of making up songs, and I'd never heard that one anywhere else, so I assumed it was an original. Oops!

Loved the commercial. Excellent!

Anonymous said...

My mom, likewise, sang "Pony Boy" to me while bouncing me on her knee, and "Pony Girl" to my sisters. Sure, the meaning was a bit on the nebulous side, but it prepared me to learn how to cope with life's other zingers, such as "Horse With No Name." Thanks for sharing this song!

"A Boy In Buckskin" really set my Mitch Miller alarm off, and not just because of its borrowed intro (which does fit splendidly!) There's plenty of Guy Mitchell's "My Truly, Truly Fair" in there, too, particularly with the horn arrangements.

I could picture the New Christy Minstrels singing this one, perhaps. And that last verse is straight out of the final verse of Bill Hayes' "Ballad Of Davy Crockett," and is even a bit reminiscent of the last verse on the Chordettes' "Lay Down Your Arms."

Oh, heck, you're right. It's just a neat kids' tune.

I was a definitely older than the kids Ideal was targeting with Gaylord, but holy smokes, did that ad bring back the memories!! There was nothing like being a Saturday morning cartoon show viewer all the way through high school. :)

Thanks again for the posts!

ululator said...

I LOVE the Pony Boy song, & have been looking for it for a very long time! If you have the full song, would you be willing to share it? (Please?)

caithiseach said...

Ululator, I was hoping you meant the link had gone bad. Unfortunately, the song you heard here was the only version I ever heard. If there's more to it lyrically, and you remember some of the verses, do let us know. I can start looking for more developed versions. I thought this one was already pretty long, considering that Marty Martin sings the same chorus six or seven times. :) Thanks for finding me, and for your comment.

ululator said...

When I downloaded Pony Boy from your link yesterday, all I got was a 23 second fragment – that’s why I was asking for the full song. After reading your response, I tried downloading it again today… & got the complete (1:55) song!
I have no idea why any of that happened – I’m just happy to have the song at last! Pony Boy was one of my favorite songs way back when – that, and Burl Ives’ Little White Duck.
Thanks for responding so quickly to my post.
BTW… Greetings from the other St. Cloud – in Florida!

caithiseach said...

I'm glad the song behaved itself this time. You did a good job of not freaking out when you were that close. I'm really glad I could help--there are still a handful of songs I would give that hand to hear again. One point of this blog was to reconnect people with music they knew a long time ago.

Finally, a St. Cloud link. What you don't have there, of course, is our lovely snow cover. I'm feelin' sorry for you right about now!


ululator said...

I’ve been in FL for nearly 20 years, but I’m a native New Englander. I’ve had my share of blizzards & nor’easters… but nowadays, the only snow I see is in pics from friends up north (& that’s fine with me!)

LOU said...

I always remembered that song.....and some of the words.....being a davy Crockett fan and born in 1954.....I think I still have the old yellow Disney 45 somewhere......"a boy in buckskin and a gal in calico fell in love one day down around the Alamo..and like 2 pioneers of the western frontier...they made our country grow and grow and grow....when Washingtom was president this land of ours was young...and as it grew came heroes who had their place in the sun.....they made us all a heaven...right here on earth...no wonder were so proud of them and sing for all its worth"......thats all I remember........I have to look for that record now.

caithiseach said...

Lou, if you read this follow-up comment, I'll be glad to get "A Boy in Buckskin" to you if you want me to repost it here or email it to you. Just let me know.

LOU said...

That would be great thanks!!.....my email is Lonetree22@aol.com........cant wait to hear it to see if my lyrics were right!!

Anonymous said...

Didnt the Chipmunks do a version of "A boy in buckskin"? I remember it like it was yesterday. I would like to find a recording of that too please. gbwis@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Didnt the Chipmunks do a version of "A boy in buckskin"? I remember it like it was yesterday. I would like to find a recording of that too please. gbwis@yahoo.com

Unknown said...

I've been looking for "A Boy In Buckskin" for years! It was one of my favorite records as a little boy. This is the only place I've seen it referenced, other than a horrible rendition by The Grasshoppers. I know this thread is probably dead, but is there any way someone could post it somewhere or email it to me? Many, many thanks.

Unknown said...

I've been looking for the original version of "Boy in Buckskin" for years! It was one of my favorite records as a little boy. The only reference I've found is a horrible rendition by the Grasshoppers. Any way someone could post it or email it to me? Many, many thanks.

caithiseach said...

Bob, I can get "A Boy in Buckskin" to you directly, if you wish. email me at caithiseach@gmail.com and I'll gladly send it along.

Suburbane1 said...

I remember "A boy in buckskin" too! Loved that song. I think it was on an album of western type kid songs with a yellow and black cover. If I remember correctly, other songs on the album were "Buffalo Bill" (Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill. No one ever shot as straight as Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill greatest of the great). I seem to recall another song about Jesse James (When he went to turn his head little Bobby shot him dead and they laid poor Jesse in his grave). Just now realized those are questionable lyrics for a kid's album. Still loved those songs back then.