Friday, February 27, 2009

All in the Family

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?, billed as a biography of the Carter Family, is actually two books in one. The first, about the original Carter Family of A.P. and Sara and Maybelle, is a gripping description of the hardscrabble backwoods of Virginny and the unearthly sounds that came from there, as well as of a somewhat unhappy family walking miles up and down the mountains just to visit their neighbors. A.P. is the driven one, pushing his little family to their recording sessions and traversing the backcountry in search of new old songs. Sara, his wife, is the cold fish who sings like no one else on earth but would rather perform in her living room than on the concert stage. Plus, she kind of hates A.P., has an affair with his cousin and eventually moves out on him and their children. Maybelle is the Appalachian Stevie Ray Vaughan, popping her bass string while she picks out intricate melodies up top. (I was always confused by Maybelle's status within the family, since she has been variously described as "cousin Maybelle" and "sister-in-law Maybelle." She was both; she was Sara's cousin, and after Sara married A.P., Maybelle met and married A.P.'s brother Ezra.)

When Sara finally splits for good in 1949, Maybelle goes on the road with her daughters Helen, Anita and June, which constitutes the second half of the bio. And it's boring, despite the fact that they give Chet Atkins his first real job, befriend Hank Williams (who puts the moves on Anita), and go on tour with Elvis in 1955. But everything was more fun when Kingsport was the big city, and an all-day drive from home. Go figure.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

There'll Always Be an England

On Casey Kasem's American Top Forty this past weekend, from 1975, he mentioned that there were only six foreign-born women who'd had Number One hits as solo artists - and only one of those was from England. My first thought was that that wasn't very many, but now I think maybe that sounds about right. For one thing, 1975 was a long time ago - Celine Dion was seven years old at the time. And there weren't that many foreign acts period on the charts before the Beatles.

But that figure of only one English woman with a chart-topper seemed a little hinky. And I have to say Casey cheated a little to get there; Lulu, for example, who hit Number One with "To Sir With Love" in 1967, was British, but she was from Scotland, not England. (She turned 19 while the song was in the midst of its five-week stay at the top of the charts, by the way.) Then there was Olivia Newton-John, who was actually born in Cambridge, England. Her father was from Wales and her mother was from Germany, and the family moved to Australia when Olivia was five, which was enough for her to escape Casey's parameters.

So who was the one purely English woman who'd had a Number One by that time? 'Twas the lovely Petula Clark, born and raised in Epsom, Surrey, England. Unlike Lulu, Pet was a vet of the business by the time she became an American star: She was 32 by the time "Downtown" hit the top in January 1965.

Birthday Wishes to the Fat Man

Fats Domino turns 81 today. Mardi Gras was just this past Tuesday, you know. Do you think Fats' birthday has ever fallen on Fat Tuesday itself? That would be oh so appropriate, but I haven't the wherewithal to figure out if it's ever happened.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We'd All Love to See the Plan

In the comments regarding yesterday's item, Joe described "Revolution" as sort of a pastiche of the Beatles' early influences, noting, "The slow version is Chess records on the nod with doo-wop backing vocals." Joe is probably aware of this, but those doo-wop vocals were originally on the fast version as well.

You can tell this because at some point between when the single version of "Revolution" was cut, on July 12, 1968, and when it was released, on August 28, 1968, the Beatles made a video for the song. On it, you can clearly see Paul and George, although miming to a backing track, stepping forward to the microphone and mouthing the words "ah-om, shoo-be-doo-wop," although no sound comes out. Obviously, they put the backing vocals on the original record and made the video expecting them to still be there, then someone wiped them off before the single was released.

You can see that video here, if you so choose. The original video, with the backing vocals restored, surfaced on the Beatles Anthology DVD, and it sounded great. The shoo-be-doo-wops made even more explicit the connection between the Beatles' roots in Fifties rock & roll and the late-Sixties sensibility of the lyrics and the screaming guitar. Kind of like how Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" connected the Motown sound with the moral issues of the Aughts.

(Incidentally, I meant to mention this earlier, but the first disc of the Blue Album, which traces from "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" through Sgt. Pepper and up to "Hey Jude"/"Revolution," would be by far the greatest album ever made if it had been issued by its lonesome. The only real weak track on there is "Magical Mystery Tour," and most of the songs on there are stone classics, including five of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs, and that doesn't even include "Revolution." Which brings up the question: How is "Revolution" not one of the 500 Greatest Songs? [Even more incidentally, the line "When you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow" carries special resonance for anyone who has visited the offices of Rolling Stone.])

Anyway, let's have a listen:

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Healthy Rivalry

Not having been alive at the time, I always kind of pieced together the British Invasion as consisting primarily of the Beatles breaking through at the beginning of 1964, followed by the Rolling Stones coming on with "Satisfaction" a year or so later. "Satisfaction," with its crude riff and roughly vernacular lyrics, doesn't really sound anything like the Beatles' early hits, but one thing I never had a sense for was - how long after the Ed Sullivan business did the Stones reach the charts? Was there a point when the Stones replaced the Beatles as America's newest hitmakers?

I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of all the Beatles and Stones Top Ten American hits, through the end of 1970, overlaid so that you can see who was dominating and who was answering whom. And to see if anything else interesting came up.

There was this: Only one time did the Top Forty feature new entries by both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, on March 5, 1966, when "Nowhere Man" and "19th Nervous Breakdown" both crashed the charts. Here's the rest of them, with the dates when they first entered the Top Forty:

"I Want to Hold Your Hand," January 25, 1964
"She Loves You," February 1, 1964
"Please Please Me," February 22, 1964
"Twist and Shout," March 21, 1964
"Can't Buy Me Love," March 28, 1964
"Do You Want to Know a Secret," April 11, 1964
"Love Me Do," May 2, 1964
"P.S. I Love You," May 16, 1964
"A Hard Day's Night," July 18, 1964
"Time Is on My Side," November 7, 1964
"I Feel Fine," December 5, 1964
"She's a Woman," December 12, 1964
"Eight Days a Week," February 27, 1965
"The Last Time," April 10, 1965
"Ticket to Ride," May 1, 1965
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," June 19, 1965
"Help!," August 14, 1965
"Yesterday," October 2, 1965
"Get Off My Cloud," October 16, 1965
"We Can Work It Out," December 18, 1965
"Day Tripper," December 25, 1965
"As Tears Go By," January 8, 1966
"Nowhere Man," March 5, 1966
"19th Nervous Breakdown," March 5, 1966
"Paint It, Black," May 21, 1966
"Paperback Writer," June 11, 1966
"Mother's Little Helper," July 16, 1966
"Yellow Submarine," August 27, 1966
"Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?," October 8, 1966
"Ruby Tuesday," February 4, 1967
"Penny Lane," March 4, 1967
"Strawberry Fields Forever," March 11, 1967
"All You Need Is Love," July 29, 1967
"Hello Goodbye," December 9, 1967
"Lady Madonna," March 23, 1968
"Jumpin' Jack Flash," June 15, 1968
"Hey Jude," September 14, 1968
"Get Back," May 10, 1969
"The Ballad of John and Yoko," June 21, 1969
"Honky Tonk Women," July 26, 1969
"Come Together," October 18, 1969
"Something," October 18, 1969
"Let It Be," March 21, 1970
"The Long and Winding Road," May 23, 1970

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

Who sings a better whoa-ho-ho: Beyonce, in "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," or Alicia Keys, in "No One"? I think I'll have to go with Beyonce, although I still think "No One" is a better song. "Single Ladies" is awfully good, and those whoa-ho-hos are the best part. She sounds like she's keeping a shuttlecock aloft with a badminton racket.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Home and Dry

You may remember a few months ago I told the story of Gerry "Baker Street" Rafferty, who walked out of a London rehab hospital last August 1st, and at that time I wrote that (on November 20th), no one knew where Rafferty was.

Well, they do now. Earlier this week, the Evening Times, which I gather is published in London, reported that Rafferty was found healthy and happy in his home in Tuscany, where he's been for the past six months. "At his house there, which is just north of Florence, he continues to compose and record new songs and music," read the statement from his attorney. "He would like to send a personal thank-you to all of his fans who have expressed their concern for his well-being and he hopes to release a new album of his most recent work in the summer." I bet that album will be a huge hit.

One wonders why it took this long for anyone to look for Rafferty at his house. I suppose it's possible that no one cared to find him, but that is just too awful a scenario to subscribe to.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Season Four

Throughout the fourth season of NBC's Saturday Night Live, there was a running gag that John Belushi, whose film Animal House had opened to great acclaim in the summer of 1978, had forged a future as a great movie star and was one of the biggest shots in all of entertainment. (By the way, Dan Aykroyd was supposed to play D-Day, which makes all kinds of sense.) That was the theme of the monologue of the season's first show, when Mayor Koch presented Belushi with a certificate of achievement ("Isn't there a key to the city or something? Dolly Parton got a key to the city"), and it was kept up through Gary Busey's show, on which Jane Curtin claimed that Busey had stolen Belushi's Oscar nomination. Belushi even missed a show, when Richard Benjamin hosted.

This is not a state of affairs that is conducive to ensemble comedy. The talent that was there, and the ambition, was still enough to make Season Four a landmark TV show. On the show hosted by Cicely Tyson, Belushi says offhandedly that he's on the best show on television, and he's not bragging; it's a simple statement of fact.

But having watched every episode of the fourth season now, and the precedeing two seasons not so long ago, I am prepared to officially declare that the third season of Saturday Night Live was the show's peak, the finest of the series' run, and therefore probably the finest season of televised comedy in American history.

I had expected that Season Four would be when the recurring characters took over, but that's not really the case. I'm not going to go back and count, but I think there were more Coneheads in Season Three. There were plenty of nerds and Roseanne Roseannadanna, and three installments of the now-forgotten Widettes, but the only thing that got sickeningly repetitive was the weekly dose of Mr. Bill, which I soon began treating like a commercial.

Most of the wounds were self-inflicted. For one thing, sketches got longer, as if the writers were running short of ideas and needed to pad out the ideas they had to fill the show. On Michael Palin's show from May 12, 1979, following the cold opening, there were a grand total of four sketches. One of them, a chapter in the history of Miles Cowperthwaite called "I Am Nailed to the Hull," took us aboard The Raging Queen for a funny but interminable fifteen minutes. (That whole show was out of whack; Palin ended his opening monologue by throwing it directly to musical guest James Taylor, which I have never seen before or since.) The infamous Milton Berle show, which Lorne Michaels forbade to ever be re-aired, didn't suffer so much from Berle's supposed mugging and overplaying in the sketches (which wasn't that bad, and Berle was fine as an aforementioned Widette) as it did from a very long, unfunny Borscht Belt style monologue and a sappy, mawkish closing monologue kicked off with a rendition of Kurt Weill's "September Song" and finished off by the notorious planted standing ovation. If the show failed, it was the fault of whoever gave Berle all that time alone onstage.

But there was a lot of great stuff, too. The Pepsi Syndrome, from Richard Benjamin's show, was long but earned every second of screen time, giving each player (except the mysteriously missing John Belushi) a chance to shine, even Franken and Davis as the speaking mimes who made up the Two Mile Island Players. Garrett Morris put a wicked, sassy spin on his brief turn as a maid; near the end of the sketch, Gilda came out and did 20 seconds' worth of Baba Wawa and just killed. They even brought out Rodney Dangerfield to explain just how big the nuclear accident had made the president. I once saw an ice-skaing exhibition of former Olympic champs, except that rather than compulsories and highly regulated routines, they just came out and kicked butt on the ice for 90 seconds apiece, doing whatever killer routines they could come up with. This sketch reminded me of that.

We also got the apotheosis of Nick the Lounge Singer, on Maureen Stapleton's show. After singing "Beast of Burden" to Pearl Bailey, Nick Wings came across three women on their way to a National Women's Caucus, leading to the following exchange:

Murray: What do you know, fifteen hundred women all in one place, maybe even Nick Wings could score. What do you think about that?

Gilda (after a perfectly timed beat): I wouldn't bet on it.

Then he serenaded them with "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."

The next week, Buck Henry hosted, as he traditionally did for the season-ending show. Near the end of the show, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd appeared in a Greek diner sketch, one that showed the Olympia closed on account of a fire. It would be their final sketch. When Buck came out for the goodbyes, he couldn't even acknowledge the end of the season, because Michael O'Donoghue was busy screeching out his done-to-death steel-needles-in-the-eyeballs shtick. Buck just waved goodbye, and the finest comedy series in the history of American television had, for all intents and purposes, come to an end.

Back in the New York Groove

From the Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything Dept.: Did you know that three of the songs on Kiss' dreadful 1981 album Music From "The Elder" were co-written by Lou Reed? According to Kiss legend, Reed contributed the line "A world without heroes is like a world without sun" to the song "World Without Heroes," which was the album's first (and only) single. But the album credits claim that Reed co-wrote "Mister Blackwell" and "Dark Light" as well.

That's not the most bizarre songwriting collaboration out there, though. Not until someone shoots down the story that Bob Dylan co-wrote "Steel Bars" with Michael Bolton. I can't verify the provenance of this, but this quote supposedly comes straight from Bolton:

"We're planning on writing some more songs together. He's kind of hungry to get back out there and wants to work with a few contemporary hit song writers. Someone who works with Dylan called me up and said 'Bob Dylan would like to write with you.' I was awed. I told him, 'I don't even know how I could write a lyric when working with you ... I'm too intimidated.' But then we started messing around with some chords and wrote 'Steel Bars,' a song about obsession. It took us two sessions to write, and when I left, I was told, 'Bob likes you and he wants you to come back.'"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


All of us at OPC offer our congratulations to frequent commenter/fellow blogger/all-around good guy Gavin Edwards on the birth of his son Dashiell yesterday. Dashiell joins older brother Strummer in the ever-expanding Edwards clan. One nice thing about having a simple last name like Edwards is it gives you license to be a bit more creative on the given names; me, not so much.

Monday, February 16, 2009


In the book Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?, a biography of the Carter Family, there is a reproduction of a poster from the Carters' early years. It reads:

Victor Artist
A.P. Carter
and the
Carter Family
Will give a

AT Roseland Theater
ON Thursday August 1

This Program is Morally Good

Admission 15 and 25 Cents

A.P. CARTER, Mace [sic] Spring, Va.

A couple of things to note about this: First, the Carters' hometown was Maces Spring, not Mace Spring. Second, the author doesn't give a year for the poster, but it's probably 1929. The only other real choice is 1935; those are the only years between 1918 and 1940 that August 1st fell on a Thursday.

But most importantly, how great it is that they advertised "This Program is Morally Good"? I wish I had thought of that as a slogan for OPC: "This Blog is Morally Good."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Champions of 1978

It sure was weird to hear "We Are the Champions" by its lonesome, separated from "We Will Rock You," on Casey Kasem's American Top Forty from February 21st, 1978. It's like hearing "Admiral Halsey" isolated from "Uncle Albert." "We Are the Champions" was at Number Four that week, behind three Bee Gee-heavy products: Samantha Sang's "Emotion," which more or less showcases her playing Merry Clayton to the Brothers Gibb's Rolling Stones; Andy Gibb's "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water"; and the Bee Gees' own "Stayin' Alive," at Number One for the third consecutive week.

The Number One spot would be Gibb-ruled from Christmas Eve, 1977, when "How Deep Is Your Love" took over, through May 20, 1978, when Wings' "With a Little Luck" reached the top slot. Except for a three-week interregnum for Player's "Baby Come Back," Barry Gibb would be instrumental in every song at the Number One spot for six straight months, including those mentioned above plus the Bee Gees' "Night Fever" and Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You," which the three older Gibb brothers wrote. (The Bee Gees' version was the B side to "Stayin' Alive.") If you like string-based disco music underneath falsetto singing with clipped phrasing, this was your Camelot.

That's not my cup of tea, so I'd rather talk about "We Are the Champions." Why, when it's so inextricably linked to "We Will Rock You," was it on the charts by itself? "We Will Rock You" preceded "Champions" on Queen's News of the World, with only a split-second gap between the two, signaling that the two songs were to be played together. "We Will Rock You" was the B side to "Champions," and I certainly recall most radio stations playing the two songs as a single offering.

One source lists "We Will Rock You" as reaching Number 52 on the Billboard Hot 100, which I don't quite understand. It's not like it was the double-A-sided single "Hey Jude"/"Revolution," where the sales were obviously intertwined but the airplay could be tracked separately; most stations were playing the two Queen songs together. I imagine it was quite the headache for the boys at Billboard back in 1978.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Feels So Bad

In the comments to my item on instrumentals the other day, Rob lamented the fact that Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" never made it to Number One (it peaked at Number Four in June 1978). Well, there's more bad news for flugelhorn fans: Chuck was scheduled to appear with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra this evening (Friday night), and two of the members of his band, guitarist Coleman Mellett and saxophonist Gerry Niewood, were on the plane that crashed in Buffalo the other night. Chuck's from Rochester, so it would have been a sort of homecoming. The performance, of course, has been canceled.

Neither of those gentleman played on "Feels So Good"; I'm not sure who's left from that band, which I studied many times on the album sleeve while listening to the record back in 1978. (The guitarist from that band, Grant Geissman, went on to not only play the theme song to the TV show Monk [unheard by me] but to write a book called Collectibly Mad, about Mad magazine.) The sleeve also contained lyrics to "Feels So Good," which I have never heard anyone sing. They are as follows:

There's no place for me to hide
The thoughts of all the times I've cried
And felt this pain that I have known
Because I needed just to hear that special something

And then one day
You just appeared
You said, "Hello, let's make love along the way"
Your name is music to my heart
I'll always really love you

Feels so good when I'm with you
I can't believe you love me too

With you it feels like it should feel
Feels so good let's make a deal

I'll trade my baseball cards for you
Now I believe that dreams come true

With you my smile sticks all the time
With you the sun will always shine

This is one of two Adult Contemporary smashes of the mid-1970s to mention (however obliquely) baseball cards, the other being Chicago's "Old Days." You cannot overestimate how significant this was to me back in 1978.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's a Mixed-Up, Muddled-Up, Shook-Up World

After I wrote about Stella Walsh a while back, commenter Volly mentioned the similar case of Billy Tipton, which inspired me to pick up a copy of Diane Middlebrook's Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton. The subtitle is a bit of a misnomer, because Billy Tipton didn't really lead a double life, but rather just a life as a man, although she was all girl.

S/he started out as Dorothy Tipton in Oklahoma, a kid saxophonist in a Western swing band, dressing in man's clothes although living her private life - she still lived with her mom at this point - as a woman. Eventually, Dorothy/Billy left her mom behind, split up the woman who had begun calling Billy her husband, and started living full-time as a man, wooing women who really did believe s/he could be a husband. There were four more wives, none of them ever legally married to Billy, and only one of whom eventually saw through the deception. There were also three adopted sons, who considered Billy only their dad, until that day in 1989 when Billy collapsed on the kitchen floor in his trailer, and Billy's son called the paramedics, who ripped open Billy's pajamas and immediately asked, "Son, did your father have a sex change?"

No, s/he hadn't, but had merely wrapped his upper chest in bindings, claiming that s/he had badly broken several ribs as a youngster (in either a car accident or as a result of getting kicked by a horse; it changed). Billy also always kept the bathroom door locked. Several of his/her ex-wives, when confronted with the truth after Billy's death, recalled clues they should have picked up on; one noted that when Billy went on the road with the Billy Tipton Trio, s/he packed a big box of sanitary napkins, which s/he claimed were excellent for filtering oil. Why s/he needed to filter all that oil, I'll never know.

After living for decades as a man, Billy went back to Oklahoma to see his/her mother one last time before she died, and was reunited with two female cousins s/he had grown up with. Eventually, the three of them sat down and talked about how Billy made it through the world, in one of the sweetest scenes in the book - two old Midwestern farm ladies talking with this she-male about going through the change.

Middlebrook thinks that Billy needed to become a man to have any sort of career in the world of jazz. And eventually, the need to be a man cost Billy his/her career: Later in his/her life, after years on the road, the Billy Tipton Trio declined a lucrative opportunity to become the house band in a hotel in Reno - because, Middlebrook surmises, Billy couldn't risk having such a visible post in the music world, where some of his/her old Oklahoma bandmates might run into him/her and give away the secret. Instead, s/he moved to Spokane. Sometimes it's hard to be a woman.

Estelle Bennett, 1941-2009

Estelle Bennett, one of the original Ronettes and the sister of the legendary Ronnie Spector, dead at the age of 67. The Ronettes were originally called Ronnie and the Relatives, and in 1961 released a single titled "I Want a Boy" on the Colpix label, but it went nowhere, and they spent a few years working mostly as backup singers for the likes of Bobby Rydell and Del Shannon. But once Phil Spector saw them, their legend was assured; the first single by the rechristened Ronettes was a little something called "Be My Baby."

Estelle and Ronnie's father was Irish, and their mother was a mix of African-American and Native American. This gave them an exotic look that, combined with their extraordinary singing ability, made them hugely popular even among their fellow musicians. When the girls were on tour in England circa 1965, Mick Jagger was supposedly greatly interested in both Bennett sisters, to no avail.

Phil Spector apparently lobbied for a while to keep the Ronettes out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they finally got the nod in 2007. Keith Richards inducted them. Ronnie and the third original Ronette, Nedra Talley, sang some of their hits; Estelle didn't, for reasons that remain obscure, but I'm glad she was at least there. At the podium, she simply said, "I would just like to say, thank you very much for giving us this award. I'm Estelle of the Ronettes, thank you." No, thank you, Estelle.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

White People

A while back, my friend Eric Banks gave me a copy of George, Being George, the oral history of George Plimpton, which I had twitted back here. I have finally started reading it, and the book is far more fascinating for what it says about its contributors than for what it says about George Plimpton. This is the last roar of the old, liberal moneyed class of New York City, and frankly, folks, they're ridiculous.

Freddy Espy Plimpton, George's first wife, solemnly intones: "I was always amazed at his lack of vanity." Shortly thereafter, the late Norman Mailer pipes in, "He had a gift of a sort I never had: He never felt unimportant in the scheme of things." That's our George: utterly without vanity, yet always self-important. And we loved him for it.

That's not even the craziest thing Mailer says in that paragraph. He goes on: "You know, where does this guy get that absolutely extraordinary, unique sense of cool? That's why blacks loved him." That's right, if you only take one fact away from George, Being George, let it be this: Blacks loved George Plimpton.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lay Your Weary Head to Rest

You may have seen the stories last week about the strange case of Eric de Boer, who died at age 57 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Mr. de Boer had explained to his family and friends that he was retired from the rock band Kansas, for whom he had played guitar under the stage name "Rich Williams." There was only one problem: Kansas still tours with two of its original members, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams, who lives in Atlanta. Note I said "lives."

It turned out that de Boer had been claiming to be Rich Williams for a long time, long enough that the real Williams had actually become aware of him about five years ago. It didn't take long for the news of the death of "Williams" to reach the real Rich Williams. To his credit, Williams took the whole thing in stride when a newspaper reporter tracked him down, and when it was explained to him that de Boer was a former marine who had been a POW in Vietnam, Williams said he saluted his service.

Except that was another lie. De Boer had only served in the Coast Guard, and was never even in Vietnam, as several Vietnam veterans were quick to point out. If you're a non-veteran who claims to have been a POW, these guys will be all over you like Kiss Army members on an autographed copy of Destroyer. In the end, de Boer was just a loser. His ex-wife (or, given the nature of this tale, someone purporting to be his ex-wife) posted to a newsgroup I read with the following:

We married in 1976 had two beautiful children but, unfortunately our
marriage was based on lies. I don't think he new how to tell the
truth. It didn't matter what he said I just didn't believe anything he
told me anymore.

He walked out on us when my children were 7 & 11. That was that. I
have been looking for him for over 20 years. I knew he went to
Chicago then Tennessee then South Carolina then to find out that he
lived an hour away from us for 5 years and never got in touch with his
children makes me sick.

He was in the Coast Guard but, I think he was dishonorable discharged.

I heard all the stories the POW the rock band although it wasn't
Kansas at that time.

The big question here is: Rich Williams? Huh? If you remember Kansas from the 1970s, Williams was the guitarist whose trademark was that he wore a tuxedo, which was a lame trademark even for 1970s arena rock. In the videos I saw, he would stand silently on the drum riser with his puffy shirt and bowtie, looking as if he had just gotten stood up for the prom, so he decided to sit in with Kansas instead. Why would anyone want to imitate that guy?

On the other hand, Williams was easy to imitate, since he had lost an eye as a teenager. Although he wore a glass eye in Kansas' heyday, he had since taken to wearing an eyepatch onstage. But, for some reason de Boer didn't even bother with the patch. Or the tuxedo, near as I can tell. Loser.

Was it you that said how long? Right now:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Farewell, Dearie

The wonderful cabaret singer Blossom Dearie has passed away at the age of 82. One of the many delightful things about the ever-girlish Miss Dearie is that she really was named, improbably enough, Blossom Dearie. She was born Marguerite Blossom Dearie in Durham, New York, up near Albany, in 1926.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Shut Your Mouth!

These are the instrumentals that made it to Number One on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, which debuted in August 1958:

"The Happy Organ," by Dave "Baby" Cortez, May 1959

"Sleepwalk," by Santo and Johnny, September 1959

"The Theme From 'A Summer Place,'" by Percy Faith, February 1960

"Wonderland by Night," by Bert Kaempfert, January 1961

"Calcutta," by Lawrence Welk, February 1961

"Stranger on the Shore," by Mr. Acker Bilk, May 1962

"The Stripper," by David Rose, July 1962

"Telstar," by the Tornadoes, December 1962

"Love Is Blue," by Paul Mauriat, February 1968

"Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet," by Henry Mancini, June 1969

"Frankenstein," by the Edgar Winter Group, May 1973

"Love's Theme," by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, February 1974

"TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)," by MFSB, April 1974

"Pick Up the Pieces," by the Average White Band, February 1975

"The Hustle," by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony, July 1975

"Theme From 'S.W.A.T.,'" by Rhythm Heritage, February 1976

"A Fifth of Beethoven," by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, October 1976

"Gonna Fly Now," by Bill Conti, which I wouldn't call an instrumental but Billboard lists as such, July 1977

"Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band," by Meco, October 1977

"Chariots of Fire," by Vangelis, May 1982

"Miami Vice Theme," by Jan Hammer, November 1985

And unless I missed one, which is certainly possible, that's it. There are basically two eras when instrumentals were big: the pre-Beatles days, from 1959 to 1962, and the early disco years, from 1973 to 1977. The craze broke long before disco itself faded away, but "TSOP" and "The Hustle" and "A Fifth of Beethoven" are all disco songs, aren't they? They're at least dance songs with lots of strings and at this late date are indistinguishable from disco. But the hegemony of the Bee Gees put these records out of business.

Then, of course, we haven't had an instrumental Number One in over 20 years, and in practical terms, they died out more like 30 years ago. You might say we'll never have another instrumental Number One, and you might be right, although these trends tend to turn when you least expect them.

Finally, the whole reason I did this was because it seems to me that people with big instrumental hits are invariably one-hit wonders. You'll notice that no artist repeats on the above list, but that's not the half of it. Of the sixteen artists on that list after Lawrence Welk, ten of them never had another Top Forty hit of any kind. And two of the remaining six had only one more hit: Love Unlimited Orchestra with "Satin Soul," and Rhythm Heritage, whom you will recall followed up "Theme From S.W.A.T." with "Baretta's Theme (Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow)." S.W.A.T. and Baretta, along with the quickly cancelled Caribe, were the three great hopes of ABC's fall season in 1975. Maybe Caribe should have had Rhythm Heritage do the theme song.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Was So Much Older Then

I'm not going to bother to check, because there's no way he doesn't hold the record, but I'm going to assume that the oldest performer ever to appear on Saturday Night Live was Eubie Blake, who appeared with Gregory Hines on March 10, 1979 (the show hosted by Gary Busey), at a time when Eubie claimed to be ninety-six. (The revue Eubie! was a hit on Broadway at the time). He was pretty remarkable, playing three songs - two of them solo - with his incredibly long spidery fingers and being utterly charming as he chatted with Hines.

I say "claimed to be," because at some point, pretty far along in his life, Eubie added four years to his age. This was sometime before he recorded his 1969 album The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake, because Eubie was in reality only 82 at that point. The album was nominated for a Grammy (and featured, as long as we're on the topic, a song called "Chevy Chase") and kick-started his late-in-life revival. He appeared on The Tonight Show in 1973, got an honorary doctorate from Rutgers in 1974, and Eubie! premiered on Broadway in 1978.

The decision to add exactly four years to his age would prove fortuitous, for Eubie Blake died on February 12, 1983, five days after the celebration of his centennial. He was ninety-six.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

That's What I Like

Today, of course, is the fiftieth anniversary of The Day The Music Etc. Etc., when three of the biggest stars of the early days of rock & roll went down in a field near Clear Lake, Iowa. All three of them would be responsible for a Number One hit song: Buddy Holly made it to the top with "That'll Be the Day," which reached the top of Billboard's old Best Sellers chart in September 1957, and while Ritchie Valens' "Donna" stalled out at Number Two shortly after his death in 1959, Los Lobos' imitation of his version of "La Bamba" went to Number One in August 1987.

I know what you're saying: The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" only climbed as high as Number Six on the charts. And that's true. But the Bopper had also written a song called "Running Bear," which he offered to a fellow named Johnny Preston whom Bop had seen performing at a Houston nightclub. Bopper went into the studio with Preston to cut the song, and added the Indian vocals along with - are you ready for this? - a cat named George Jones. They recorded the song in 1958, but it wasn't released until August 1959. It may have been intended to capitalize on the Bopper's death, but waiting six months seems like an odd way to do that. On January 18, 1960, "Running Bear" became the Number One song in the land.

No-Show Jones was also a friend of the Bopper's from back in Houston, and he recorded another Bopper song called "White Lightning" in 1958. He actually showed up to the session, but he was drunk, and he required 80 takes to get through the song. It was worth it, though, because in April 1959, "White Lightning" went to Number One on the country charts, becoming the first of Jones' fourteen chart-toppers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Born in the Fifties

Rick Nelson hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live on February 17, 1979, and in lieu of a monologue, he came out and sang "Hello, Mary Lou," "Travelin' Man," and "Fools Rush In." Wait, what was "Garden Party" about again? I thought he'd rather drive a truck than do this kind of thing.

Nelson would end up singing four numbers, with a slowed-down version of "Dream Lover" (which was his current single, although it didn't even make the Hot 100) toward the one o'clock hour, but in a strange choice, they added a musical guest anyway: Judy Collins, who was horrific, missing notes right and left. Nostalgia was clearly the watchword of the night: The first skit was a huge set piece where Ricky was wandering lost through the stage sets of various Fifties sitcoms. John Belushi was Bud from Father Knows Best and Danny Thomas and the Beaver; Jane Curtin was perfectly cast as the pearls-wearing mother on all those shows. Bill Murray was completely made up to do a nonspeaking cameo as Cesar Romero on I Love Lucy - it was the funniest two-second silent appearance in the history of the show. Dan Aykroyd had it roughest; he did two interstitial bits as Rod Serling, then had to quick change into George Burns, then again into Alfred Hitchcock for the closer.

I mention all this to point out how thoroughly steeped they all were in the history of television. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players may have set out to revolutionize TV, but they obviously grew up on it and loved it. If Godard's generation was the children of Marx and Coca-Cola, the Belushi generation was the children of heroin and Leave It to Beaver.

A Simple Kind of Man

After our discussion of the tragedies that have befallen Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kinky Paprika chimed in on an old, long-dead thread to say that he had found a picture of the brand-new car Gary Rossington was driving when a whiskey bottle caused him to say "Oak tree, you're in my way." They don't seem to want people to post the photo elsewhere, but you can see it here.

It's not much of a new car for a rock star, is it? At the time of the crash, September 1976, Skynyrd was about to go on tour, and was forced to postpone a few dates. The rest of the band fined Rossington $5000. He didn't learn his lesson, though; last October, Gary was arrested for driving his 2005 gold Cadillac under the influence while outside Atlanta. The police offered to give him a Breathalyzer test, but Rossington refused: "I know I am drunk," he said, according to the police report. "I do not want take [sic] the evaluation."

The police report also noted "a odor [double sic] of an alcoholic beverage from the driver that caused the accident." Can't you smell that smell?

Birthday Wishes

All of us here at "One Poor Correspondent" wish a happy birthday to friend of OPC/funniest writer in America Rob Sheffield. Back in the late 1990s, before I was an editor there, whenever I would pick up a copy of Rolling Stone, the first thing I would do is read Rob's column "Pop Eye" in the front of the magazine. The second thing I would do is flip to the back to read any record reviews Rob had written. The third thing I would do is flip even further back to the TV reviews to see if Rob had written any of those.

Then I went to work there, and we became friends. I knew I had arrived at Rolling Stone when I asked Rob to write a story about watching TV all night long, and the bizarre things you would find there. His article concluded with the relief of coming across, in the wee hours, an episode of "Three's Company"; Jack, Janet and Chrissy, Rob wrote, just wanted to help you make it through the night. I suggested he amend that to say that they "just want to come and dance on your floor, take a step that is new, and help you make it through the night." Rob thought that was funny, and agreed to the change. I thought, if Rob Sheffield thinks I'm funny, I might have a future in this business.

These days, you can read Rob's "Station to Station" column in Blender magazine. Or you could pick up his heartbreaking memoir, Love Is a Mix Tape, if you haven't done so already.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

OPC Recommends

"One Poor Correspondent" would like to take this moment to wholeheartedly recommend a brand-new blog on the market, "The Squeaky Shoe" by Jack Nawrocki. If you enjoy OPC, this compendium of bizarre and humorous news stories is well worth checking out.

The Little People Simply Don't Understand Finance

The New York Times had a piece today where Wall Street wizards defended the bonuses they pried out of the money given to them by the Treasury Department, i.e., you and me. Here's one such rationalization:

“On Main Street, ‘bonus’ sounds like a gift,” he said. “But it’s part of the compensation structure of Wall Street. Say I’m a banker and I created $30 million. I should get a part of that.”

OK, now say you're a banker and you lost $30 million. What should you get for that?

OPC's Continuing Coverage of the Super Bowl

In the local paper yesterday appeared a collection of Super Bowl picks by celebrities, my favorite of which came from Penn and Teller: "Pittsburgh, 27-17. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has an unbeatable motivation: The NFL has promised that if he wins a second Super Bowl, he can put an umlaut on his uniform." Now, you might think this necessarily comes from Penn, since Teller doesn't talk, but Teller certainly writes, and this could have been delivered via email. Teller even talks, a little bit, as you know if you saw the 1989 film Penn and Teller Get Killed, directed by Arthur "No Relation" Penn. Teller speaks, albeit softly, at the very end of that.

More disturbingly, Vanilla Ice echoes my own pick by predicting the Cardinals, 31-21, with the reason being "I'm just going with my gut on this one." If there's one thing I always assume is wrong, it's Vanilla Ice's gut.

I do have to say I'm impressed with how many of these celebs display more than a superficial knowledge of the two teams. Speed skater Apolo Ohno says, "Warner might get sacked hard during the game, and those Pennsylvania boys are coming hungry." Branford Marsalis: "The Cardinals match up physically, and Warner knows exactly how to exploit the blitz, which the Steelers do a lot." Pilar Lastra, holder of briefcase 14 on Deal or No Deal: "[The Steelers] have both an amazing defense, and their offense is right up there with Arizona's."

Then there's Maya Angelou, who picks Arizona "because the Cardinal bird is so poetic." Thanks a lot, Maya. I guess we should be thankful she didn't simply assert that she knows why the caged bird sings.

I'm picking Arizona, in part because of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (who is almost as good as Larry Fitzgerald, and who is probably hacked off that Larry has gotten all the press lately while he's been ignored), but mostly because of Kurt Warner. This was in the paper today:

Warner and wife, Brenda, have a family tradition of picking up the check for another table whenever they eat out. ... "We started doing that when we were in St. Louis and the manager would always give us our meal for free whenever we ate out," Brenda Warner said earlier Friday. "I had been a single mother living on food stamps at one time who couldn't ever afford to eat out, and I never understood why people give free meals to people who can afford them."

The Warners started a tradition of allowing their seven children to pick one family in the restaurant, and they try to quietly pay that table's tab before slipping out the door.

"It's gotten to be part of a game with the kids," Brenda Warner said. "They'll say `Oh, that family has a lot of kids, dinner must be expensive.' Or `They look old, maybe it's hard for them to afford eating out a lot.' We try to be discreet about it, because we don't want people trying to get picked."

You can pick who you think is going to win, or you can pick who you want to win. I want Kurt Warner to win.