Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who in the World Is Richard Baskin?

Who was the most obscure featured musical guest ever to appear on NBC's Saturday Night, or its successor Saturday Night Live? It's almost certainly Richard Baskin, who was on the show when Sissy Spacek hosted, on March 12, 1977. It's not just that Baskin never had a hit song or a hit album; he never even recorded an album. And most obscurely of all, Richard Baskin is so little-known that he does not have a page on Wikipedia.

So who was Richard Baskin? He was a songwriter, session pianist and producer, at that time best known for his work on the soundtrack to Robert Altman's brilliant Nashville. He co-wrote Henry Gibson's "Keep a-Goin'" and "200 Years," and wrote several other songs all on his lonesome, including Gibson and Ronee Blakley's duet "One, I Love You," which he eventually did on Saturday Night. Sissy Spacek harmonized very sweetly with him on the final chorus.

But what was he doing on national TV, two years after Nashville had come out? That's a good question. He had written "Yes, I Do" with Lily Tomlin, a song she sang in Nashville, and of course, Lily was a good friend of the show in its early years. Richard's sister, Edie Baskin, was the production designer of the show, which certainly wouldn't be enough to get him a guest slot but didn't hurt, either. Maybe Sissy asked for him; she certainly seemed to enjoy singing with him.

And he wasn't half bad. He was certainly better than Kinky Friedman was, and better than the bizarre turn the week before by the Kinks, who came on and, in a stupefyingly bad decision, played an awkward medley of their greatest hits. It was as if they were afraid no one would know who they were. (In their second number, they did a scorching "Sleepwalker," showing that the band was in fine fettle that night.) But anyway, yeah, Richard Baskin. Go figure.


Scraps said...

There was a folk duo late in the first season -- I can't remember the name, and I'm not at home to check -- who I think were even more obscure. I thought they were pretty good -- nice intricate melody -- so I investigated them on the net and found virtually nothing.

The worst musical performance we've noted so far -- we're still early in the second season -- was John Sebastian, who performed "Welcome Back" to complete indifference and pathetically tried to encourage audience participation.

T. Nawrocki said...

I wonder if you're thinking of Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson, who are listed as having appeared on Elliott Gould's show from May 29, 1976. They were the secondary musical guests, after Leon Redbone. I know nothing at all about them.

In the early days, there was often a second musical act on the show; when Joe Cocker appeared on 10/2/76, his backing band, a group of New York sessionmen called Stuff, got to do a number of their own late in the show. On Fran Tarkenton's outing, the primary musical guest was Leo Sayer (doing an even-yuckier-than-normal version of "When I Need You"), but there was also a gospel group called Donnie Harper and the Voices of America that did a song very late in the show. That's why I specified that Baskin was the most obscure featured musical guest; some of those late-show people were probably just as obscure.

Gavin said...

Scraps is referring to Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson, I believe.

The most obscure guest after 1980: the Spanic Boys, the mariachi group recruited at the last minute to fill in for Sinead O'Connor when she refused to perform on the show hosted by Andrew Dice Clay. (Public Enemy lobbied for the spot but were turned down.)

Some other SNL musical guests without Wikipedia pages: Kenny Vance, Keith Sykes, Ellen Shipley.

Gavin said...


T. Nawrocki said...

To be fair, the Spanic Boys only did one number on that show; Julee Cruise, David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" chanteuse, did the other one.

To be unfair, the Spanic Boys were not all that obscure to me, because I had earlier seen them open for the BoDeans. They're not a mariachi band but a Midwestern roots-rock band from Wisconsin, fronted (if I recall correctly) by a father and son.

Scraps said...

I did mean Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson, yep.

Stuff were a great band; I've got two of their albums, and wish I had more. Carla Bley used them for her backup band on her early album Dinner Music.

Cripes, Carla Bley is about to turn 70.

Gavin said...

I stand corrected on the Spanic Boys, who apparently I misremembered.

Joe said...

Also, most of Stuff formed Paul Simon's backup band in the '70s. They appear on "Still Crazy," then stick with him pretty much until he puts the "Graceland" band together. They are featured in the film "One Trick Pony," in which Lou Reed plays the evil record exec who order overdubs on Simon's masterpiece (or whatever) forcing Simon to steal the master tapes! Paul Simon wears one of the worst wigs ever in that movie.

Rob said...

Edie Baskin was actually the show's photographer (she took the pictures of the hosts and cast), and according to the Hill/Weingrad book "Saturday Night" she's also the one who introduced Lorne Michaels to BFF Paul Simon. Lorne must've been grateful enough to book her brother on the show. (After she broke up with Simon, she dated Michael O'Donoghue--what taste.)

Collins & Everson were musical guests on the superb second Elliott Gould show (with the famed Star Trek sketch). There sure are some odd music guests in that first-season box. Howard Shore's All-Nurse Band, Toni Basil 6 years before "Mickey," Anne Murray... fwiw Harlan Collins has an IMDB credit for "This Is Spinal Tap"--apparently he did the arrangment on "Cups and Cakes."

T. Nawrocki said...

The best of those wee-hours bands was clearly the Meters, on the show hosted by Broderick Crawford. The primary musical guest was a group called the RCO All-Stars, featuring Levon Helm, Dr. John and Paul Butterfield. They did two so-so numbers, then as the show was ending, the Meters came out and smoked 'em.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks Richard Baskin is obscure is correct. But anyone who doubts his songwriting, arranging or singing capabilities never watched the movie, or surely didn't listen to the soundtrack, of "Welcome to LA", Alan Rudolph's little masterpiece.

Baskin, heir to the ice cream company that his father founded, and one-time boyfriend of Babs Streisand, is a musical genius.

> Dante Santini

Scott said...

I agree with the above comment.

My all-time favorite soundtrack was the one for "Welcome To L.A." Not the 2 Keith Carradine cuts, but the sultry, jazzy renderings of Mr. Baskin, on his own songs.

It is too bad that the soundtrack is unavailable on CD and the movie isn't available on DVD.

I suspect that his appearance on SNL had to do with Spaceks involvement with the movie, at that time, and the fact that much of the movie was about his songs.

Anonymous said...

I switched to the th!s (MGM) channel in the middle of "Welcome to LA". The first time Baskin started singing, I turned the volume most of the way down. The second time, I just turned it off. The movie, which seemed to be nothing but a series of pointless titillations, wasn't worth having to sit through Baskin's lame lullabies. Of course, if I had kept watching my opinion of the movie might have improved; I doubt that the same would be true of the music.

PS: I have to make a somewhat out of character defense of '70s lameness with respect to Leo Sayer's '77 appearance on SNL. I had always hated the radio version of "When I Need You" especially after our parish priest got the idea that it would be a good song to use as a hynm and sang it at the pulpit (try flushing something like that from your memory). When the SNL show was re-aired a few years ago, I was taken aback by how much better his live version sounded; it had all the conviction the 45 lacked without being bombastic. Still kind of a lame song, but he made the best of it.

Anonymous said...

Richard Baskin is a God; I listen to Welcome to LA constantly; tragic that he didn't record more

Matthew said...

Welcome to LA was an excellent movie, and the soundtrack was brilliant. I still have the original vinyl album (albeit rather scratchy by now).

I really wish they would issue DVDs of this movie and a CD the soundtrack.

Go figure.

Pens and pencils said...

Now wikipedia has a page on Baskin.