Sunday, February 19, 2012


Yeah. That "Doggie in the Window" lady!

You're saying, "Ugh!" Of course you are. "The guy bothers to acknowledge the 6th year of the Illfolks blog because he wants to pay tribute to Patti Page??" Uh-huh.

The woman's never gotten much respect. Her image is White Bread. Anyone glancing at her hit song list sees a few kitschy songs with tourist-destination titles: "Old Cape Cod" "Allegheny Moon," "Tennessee Waltz." When I met Patti Page two or three years ago, she played a very modest venue. Her website hasn't been updated in a long time and she's pretty much retired now.

I'll tell you what I told Patti Page in person. What makes Patti Page the greatest, is what makes Muhammad Ali the greatest: versatility. Patti Page has not only recorded pop songs with panache and lilt, she's recorded jazz, country, Christmas, gospel and rock. As Michael Caine might put it, or Peter Sellers imitating him, "Not too many people know that." Obviously, so it has to be mentioned here!

One reason nobody knows, is the woman is humble. Her interest through her peak years was her family, especially her two adopted kids. She was just a working mom who liked to sing. She toured 40 weeks a year, she was prolific in the studio recording several albums a year...which meant that critics hardly noticed, and took for granted, the jazz concept albums, the torch ballad collections, or the rock cover songs. It was almost expected that a pop artist would do Christmas albums, collections of movie themes, religious stuff, novelty. It was only those who focused on one thing...that people really took notice of: Billie Holiday. Judy Garland. Marlene Dietrich. Patsy Cline.

Patti avoided parties, lived a suburban lifestyle, had no burning jealousies to drive her, and performed with the genial ease and gentle beauty that didn't set flashbulbs popping or make the front page of the pin-up magazines.

Judy Garland could belt. Billie Holiday had great phrasing on those jazz ballads. Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald enunciated perfectly and were elegant interpreters of jazz and the American songbook…but you wouldn't hand them rockabilly, rock or C&W or even gospel. Julie London was fine for intimate vocals and had sexy album covers…but guess what, Patti Page had some very hot album covers, too! And she sang a much wider range than Julie London could.

Patti Page should be a Kennedy Center Honors recipient…joining such past winners as Perry Como (1987), Mary Martin (1989), Roy Acuff (1991), Lionel Hampton (1992), Morton Gould (1994), Benny Carter (1996), Loretta Lynn (2003), Julie Harris (2005), and George Jones (2008).

The stats on Patti Page are astonishing. Over 100 million records sold. 84 singles on the Billboard Top 100. Oh. And one Grammy. 1998. But she won it the first and only time she was nominated. It came about 50 years after her first hit, "Detour," and her pioneering first "double track" recording sessions. "Tennessee Waltz" is reputed to be the #2 single of all time, behind Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas." From 1948 to 1982 she always had a single in the Billboard Top 100. And while she was mostly considered either a Pop artist or a C&W artist, she remained the best-selling female artist of all time…and I don't think that title was taken away until the Madonna era.

Frankly, there are three reasons why Patti Page has not been given all the credit she's due. First, is "How Much is That Doggie In the Window." As much money and fame as it's brought her, it's also irritated critics and unfairly labeled her as just a mainstream-novelty performer. (PS, for years, she sang a PETA-type new version of the song, telling people to adopt not buy!) Second, she's middle-America, and the critics working for influential newspapers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have never been kind to "people's choice" performers..even national treasures such as Carol Burnett or Red Skelton, or unpretentious writers such as John Steinbeck. Third, too often her record label or her producers were off the mark with what they gave her and how it was arranged. After her cool years at Mercury she moved to Columbia. Imagine if Mitch Miller had produced Simon & Garfunkel or Dylan at Columbia! Way too many of Patti's Columbia albums were ghastly-produced to the point of gassy middle-aged back-up singers and saccharine arrangements. From there, she drifted comfortably into country-pop, which was the only place for any woman of her age to get any work at all.

Your download? Oh, no, you DO NOT get "Tennessee Waltz" or the other familiar 40's stuff from Readers Digest compilations. You can imagine (and probably don't want) the Anita Bryant-type and Doris Day-type stuff she did. What you get are six examples (from entire albums available) of why Patti Page is (unjustly denied the title of) America's greatest female vocalist. You wouldn't expect her to do a good job on:

The sophisticated Gershwin track "They All Laughed."
The country classic "I Fall to Pieces."
A typical Tony Bennett-type early 60's double-tracked pop single "Just a Simple Melody."
"The Twist."
The classic Cole Porter hooker ballad "Love For Sale."
One hell of a risk-taking gospel meltdown for "Motherless Child."

I've shaken hands and quipped with President Bill Clinton. I've been at parties with Rod Stewart and Elton John. I've had dinner with Batman (you can figure which one YOU think is the definitive actor in that part). I've been to Norman Mailer's place and spent an hour with Jim Carroll. Cool rockers, sexy superstars, and hip legends…I'm not exactly Piers Morgan but the list of celebs I've had contact with, from hours to lifelong friendships, is a pretty long one. The list does not exclude those who aren't "edgy." The book she autographed for me is on the shelf right next to the one signed by Jane Fonda. I treasure, warmly remember, and am so glad that I can say that I had a chance to meet Patti Page.

Six Examples of the Versatility of THE SINGING RAGE…Miss Patti Page Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.


As a comment left on this post alerted us, Patti just posted, September 2012, about the long silence of late, in live appearances and recordings.

In part:

Over the past year and a half I have not focused on performance or recording but have been more attentive to the doctors, nurses and thoughtful caregivers who have been helping me face several medical challenges. Throughout my life I never really gave much thought to my senior years. I was always able to hop on a plane, go out on stage and make music with the band. At this point I am no longer able to do that. My travels now are quite limited to North San Diego County, CA where I have called home for the past four decades. Although I feel I still have the voice God gave me, physical impairments are preventing me from using that voice as I had for so many years. It is only He who knows what the future holds.

Each and every day I am still hopeful that I might regain the strength I once had and resume a more active life. I thank all those well-wishers whose greetings and prayers touch me deeply, and I look forward to days of better health ahead.

Please keep me in your prayers as I will continue to pray for all of you.

UPDATE: January 1, 2013

Patti Page was set to finally receive a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Grammy organization on February 9th. She died on New Year's Day. The New York Times obit headlined her as the "Honey-Voiced 50's Pop Sensation." She was a sweet, kind lady. The last line of the obit is a quote from Patti: "“I’m sure there are a lot of things I should have done differently. But I don’t think I’ve stepped on anyone along the way. If I have, I didn’t mean to.”


Today, any idiot can be on YouTube and go nowhere. Any idiot can soil eMusic with a crappy album cobbled together with ProTools. And they end up in the the digital limbo they deserve…mere useless blips that most people don't even download for free. Why should anyone care when no care was taken in the recording? Knock something off for nothing and that's what it's worth.

Back in the vinyl era…you had to put your money where your microphone was. You hired the studio. You paid the musicians. You made sure what you did was worth investing in. You walked through the Brill Building with your demo. You sat in a manager's office or a producer's outer office, or stood in the sidewalk trying to sell your package to a stranger. (Uh, I think the latter was mostly on 42nd Street, several blocks from the Brill Building.)

With some luck your single got pressed and sent to radio stations. Even if you could only get interest from an indie label, there was a chance your tune could become a disc jockey favorite and the latest hit. Even if it didn't go anywhere, at least you made a real vinyl single! A piece of history! And if nothing happened, it was a family heirloom, maybe even a collectors item for some vinyl freak who's gotta have everything and thinks his hearse has a luggage rack.

I didn't know Mickey Press. I have no idea what his real name is. All I know is my father knew him, was given the indie single, and it was given to me. I've had this record for a long, long, long time. I remember also having a card with a photo of Mickey, declaring me an honorary member of the Mickey Press Fan Club. The record did get a review in Billboard, and probably some slight airplay. And it's a good bit of fake-Elvis. Meaning, Mickey Press turned in a performance well above "Conrad Birdie."

Whoever Mickey got to give that razzy-wow sax intro…and whoever charted the song…they gave him all they had, and the guy sang it with confidence. The lyrics are right down the pike, in keeping with the times, when swaggering rock n' rollers were winking about being poor little fools, and not quite towers of strength, and not always gettin' the girl they wanted even though they were so greasy and handsome and charismatic.

And so for the sixth anniversary of the blog of less renown, here's something that ain't been on the Net before, and is not on any of those "lost jukebox" compilations either.

My father died two months ago. Distinctly I remember. It was in the bleak December. He's now shelved in a very cold rectangle of cement in a mausoleum. With no records. No turntable. None of his possessions except the clothes he has on. Which I picked out to match the color of the casket. And this single he gave me....

Well...."Greatest Lover Of Them All," submitted for your approval, can be filed in the mausoleum of your external drive, under the great general category: "bid for immortality."

THE GREATEST LOVER OF THEM ALL by Mickey Press. A gift from my father. Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.


The beauty of the human voice has led some people to believe that its purity is best heard without piano, guitar or other musical accompaniment. Sometimes a single sadist will stand up and start singing (Sinead O'Connor lost her hair doing this) but more often, a group is involved, creating a gangbang for the ears.

With rare exceptions (The Mills Brothers, for an example) a cappella has not been commercially successful. It's been pretty damn good (think of The Persuaions and "It's All Right") but not successful. And if it's sold a lot of copies ("The King's Singers') it shouldn't have. But sometimes…in some ways, it can be, to quote a David Seville b-side, "Almost good." And I'm glad that I found a CD by the Oxford Blues!

I found it despite the sloth I've felt in the past six lazily downloading from blogs similar to mine replaced going to thrift shops and library sales. Why help the economy and pay so that somebody can still own a record store and be a magnet for weird old vinyl and oddball CDs when it's easy to just stay home and leech for free? Well, once in a while I find a surviving record store somewhere, or a thrift shop that still keeps a box of singles away from the mildewed floor, and one day I did rummage around, grab a fistful of oddball CDs, paid some poor wretch a buck each…and came away with some fun stuff including the Oxford Blues. And thought of YOU. And how you might like to hear a few tracks. And go on your own hunt again and buy and discover.

And to keep things fun, and not snarky (which is so hard for any blogger to resist) I will not, NOT make fun of an all-girl college a cappella glee club who combined vocals and menstrual cycles at Haverford College and pointlessly named themselves the "Oxford Blues" when they weren't at Oxford and never sang the blues. I won't say that Haverford College is located a good distance away from Philadelphia because Philadelphia insisted on it. I won't say that being in an a cappella choir is generally considered the best way of maintaining virginity.

I won't laugh at how late the "Oxford Blues" came into existence (1985) compared to Yale's poufter-esquely named Whiffenpoofs who have been pooffing away since 1909, or the all-female Smiffenpoofs (of Smith College, and I'm not making that name up) who began harmonizing in 1936. Nor will I make a lame joke about scat-singing being shitty. Nor will I lapse into lame rock-critic-speak and say how much I loves me some outsider music that's in because, well, Gabba gabba hey! No, not ME.

Because I respect any singers that DO something. That take a chance. Seriously, there's something pretty sick (even for ill folks) about getting an evil kick out of enjoying (to the point of grand derisive laughter) the well intended failures of others. Here's two cuts from the 1997 CD, issued when Emily Dorean was the musical director for the "Oxford Blues." You'll hear soloist Sarah Byrne (class of '99) handling Madonna's Connie Francis-like opening to "Like a Prayer" before the rest of the choir kicks in. No way a cappella is entertaining? Way!

LIKE A PRAYER - Madonna cover oozing with oohs.
Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

I SHALL BELIEVE - Sheryl Crow cover with merry-go-round whoops

The Old Baby Farmer - Ladykiller Amelia Dyer via Derek Lamb

Sweeney Todd was a myth. But another mass murderer immortalized by the British Music Hall, was very real. Her name was Amelia Dyer.

She may be the most prolific serial-killer of all time. She's most definitely the worst female murderess in the history of the English-speaking world, and might only be rivaled by some European historical figure such as Countess Bathory.

She killed babies. This is one reason why she hasn't had the "cult" appeal of such superstars as Charles Manson, Ed Gein, John Gacy, Richard Speck, or everyone's favorite, Jack the Ripper.

I learned about her decades ago when my love of British Music Hall led me to an obscure Folkways album by a guy named Derek Lamb. Unlike, say, Ian Whitcomb, Peter Noone, or an authentic old-timer such as Stanley Holloway, Lamb didn't choose to guff-up his assortment of old tunes with Cockney brawling or Lionel Bart-ish camp and good cheer. He sang the numbers in a sincere, unassuming way. Might've been because he wasn't primarily a singer. He was an artist. You've seen his animation on those Edward Gorey drawings used on "Masterpiece Theatre" as hosted by Vinnie Price and Diana Rigg.

Lamb's vinyl, out of print for years, but now digitally available from the usual suspects such as eMusic), is wonderful. From an eerie version of "Sweeney Todd" (first I'd heard of that fellow, too), to comical and droll numbers such as "Don't Cry Daddy," "Roll Tiddley Ole" and "The Hole in the Elephant's Bottom," it covers the scope of the Music Hall, in all its sentiment, ribaldry and, yes, pathos and horror.

The saga of the malicious, psychopathic baby farmer finally yielded a researched book by the appropriately named Allison Rattle (co-authored by Allison Vale), and Dyer's story was also featured in a one-hour episode of the "Ladykillers" British TV documentary series. "She was a bad woman, it is not disputed..." In other words, this baby farmer was no "Little Buttercup." Lamb's wistful rendition is probably quite different from how they sang it back when broadsheets accompanied Dyer to her hanging.

The late Mr. Lamb's wife, Tracie Smart, is also on eMusic with two unusual albums of rather stark and somber folk-rock. If you know Bridget St. John's work, you might want to get Smart. Just don't think you can grab something free off the Captain. He never heard of her. A few samples are on Tracie's website.

THE OLD BABY FARMER - the wretched MRS. DYER Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

Ill-ustrated Songs #21 - COMIN' ON BACK TO YOU

Among the many sublime little hippie-chick ditties out there, there's "Comin' On Back," barely two minutes on the obscure quadraphonic RCA album Carolyn Hester made in 1973. Billboard called it a "good mix of country, rock and folk from (the) veteran singer." It was, as rock critics love to say, an "eponymous" release (artist's name being the title). And in this nostalgic mood of the 6th anniversary of the blog, a little return to genteel "hippie dippie" thinking seemed like fun. Imagine, a chick who actually thinks of selling some newspapers to raise money to meet her man. What, she can't just steal 2000 eBooks and collect Fileserve spare change or get a blog and some Paypal donations??

Hester probably remains best known for being a Greenwich Village icon pre-Bob Dylan (at Club 47 among others) and for her pioneering connection to him: allowing Bob into the studio to play on her Columbia album before he was signed to the label. Though eclipsed by Bob, and by Joan Baez and Judy Collins among female folkies, the "Texas Songbird" was on vinyl as early as 1957, had already married (and divorced) a major player on the folk scene in Richard Farina, and as a symbol of the new era of folk music graced the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post" for May 30, 1964.

Her big albums of that era were "This Life I'm Living" (Columbia) and the two "Carolyn Hester at Town Hall" albums for Dot (re-issued on CD by Bear Family). Legend has it that Hester was so big, she turned down the chance to become part of a trio with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey. The trio instead became "Peter Paul and Mary."

As folk music evolved from traditional to commercial, Hester's somewhat flinty delivery left her trailing the more pop-oriented ladies. She ended the 60's by marrying David Blume (he wrote The Cyrkle hit "Turn Down Day") and they worked on various projects together and individually, including albums on their own Outpost label. She made some attempts to adjust and update herself ("The Carolyn Hester Coalition" album featured a trendy cleavage-showing album cover…partially copped for the Photoshop job above). But by the 70's, with Carly and Ronstadt among the top sellers, the high-voiced Hester wasn't getting airplay. "Comin' On Back" in 1973 didn't bring her back. She's remained busy with solo tours, which included Blume as a side-man (he passed on in 2006).

Even now, when most sophisticated listeners are used to high voices (Kate Bush) and somewhat wayward ones (Iris Dement), there hasn't seemed to be enormous interest in Hester, and when people grab a Nanci Griffith album, they haven't added a Hester, thinking "I'd like more in Nanci's groove." At least Nanci Griffith and Carolyn Hester teamed up to sing "Boots of Spanish Leather" at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniverary show at Madison Square Garden back in 1992. In 1995 long-time hippies who could no longer patch the belt-drive on the turntable, rejoiced at a double CD reissue of her Outpost material. Hester then issued the new "From These Hills" in 1999, a "Tom Paxton Tribute" in 2000, and her most recent album is a collaboration that includes her two daughters, Amy and Karla Blume: "We Dream Forever" (2009). All are available via mail order and can be ordered at her website.

Hester's RCA album remains outta print. But listen to this cut, with its charming references to simply gettin' by on a modest income selling alternative newspapers. The song reflects the still-naive way some hippies intended to live their lives…without stealing, selfishness, or becoming Yuppies. While a minor part of the Hester legend, it's an introduction that may lead you to her folk era past, and to her contemporary CDs today.

CAROLYN HESTER's COMIN' ON BACK to YOU Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

#6 and Six Years Ago Today - Illfolks in "The Village"

Six years ago, this blog arrived in "the village" of sharing. In honor of #6, a download of the original "Prisoner" theme by Ron Grainer. It was rejected as a little too weak for such a groundbreaking, dramatic new TV series. Ron re-scored it with dramatic counterpoint, ominous brass, and stunning shifts between a single melody and literal thunder.

In these half-dozen years, the copyright owner has emerged as The Prisoner, or, to use a Lennon song title, "Nigger of the World." Everyone recognizes now that Blacks, gays, Muslims and even illegal immigrants have rights...but Google and Hacktivists and greedheads don't believe copyright owners do. Copyright is not considered a human right, and people snigger at the very words "intellectual property." Having black skin could get you killed. Now, it's having an idea and asking to be paid for it. You're told: "Give it away free. If you don't, you'll be sorry! We won't let you win, you bastard!"

Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake," and what do songwriters hear? "Let them sell t-shirts." What do writers, photographers, artists hear? Some shit about "invent a new paradigm. What you do should be FREE." Recently, simple laws to block Russian thug websites and PirateBay from making huge profits off what they steal, got stalled because Google and other Internet giants (who make a fortune off all this) brainwashed the already brain-dead by declaring "war" against "censorship." Censorship is the issue? No, it's about justice. You don't let a bunch of avowed "Pirates" steal, whether they're in Sweden copying movies or in Somalia taking over passing ships. You need to do something when craven sites making money off pathetic dating-service ads and video game links mock DMCA's (the polite "please cease and desist stealing from me, and gee, it would be nice if you don't re-up"). It isn't "censorship" to make sure the royalties go to the artists and the companies that support the artists, and not to Internet slimeballs who chose music stealing over spam this week. Some dirtbag starts a torrent site to make money for himself and is lauded as a freedom fighter! Jesus what a world, confusing "freedom" and "we want shit free."

Six years ago, "sharing" was the innocent word for what we were doing. Quickly, the power to have an Internet audience led to corruption, self-inflated stardom, inane rationalization, and warped philosophies about why taking somebody else's property without permission was a good thing. With music blogs and forums, it became a bonfire of vanities, with everyone gleefully tossing whole albums in FLAC out there, entire discographies, and even demands for Paypal donations and urgings to download so that the "hard work" could get rewarded with Rapidshare points, Megaupload money pay-outs, etc. etc.

Good bloggers found themselves in the company of inane ones who turned their silly names into graffiti tags, over-posted like mad and made themselves out to be Gods, or cool outlaws, or hipsters, or revolutionaries. The truth is they are mostly fat, middle-aged nobodies, social lepers who have nothing better to do every day than look for "nice comments" about themselves and admire their blog wallpaper with their idiot graffiti names on. Their ego kick is to pretend their fake alias with Devil, Rock, God or some other idiot tattoo term is real and they don't have a boring name and live in anonymous emotional poverty. Their stubborn and dead-wrong behavior led to scorn and disgust from the music world.

"Sharers" insisted they did no harm, even as record stores folded and recording artists good and bad, from Joni Mitchell to Lee DeWyse got kicked off their labels due to low sales. The domino effect meant everyone from secretaries to janitors got the boot, and thriving offices that employed hundreds and thousands of people (not just greedy CEO's and nasty rich songwriters and singers) were headed for the dole. The utter madness continued, nastier and nastier, with "here's my re-up, here's my new blog, let's make sure the bastards don't win." What bastards? The Beatles? The indie band that just put out their first album and went $50,000 in debt to do it?

Let's quote from the Doubleday book "Free Ride," by Robert Levine. Or rather, the quote from it published in Rolling Stone, November 24 2011: "At what point did free music become a social cause? If artists want to give away their music, that's great. They just shouldn't have to do it when they don't want to." Oh. Well, then again, Mr. Levine, you probably know your book is being given away via eBook and mobi and you're being told to rationalize "the people who stole it wouldn't have bought it" and "get yourself a new paradigm" and "so what if the advance you got was minimum wage in terms of the time it took to write it, and your royalty check will be a joke."

We have since discovered that Kim Schmitz, a professional conman, was making $100,000 a day with Megaupload. What happened when he was jailed? People mourned. They wept. Nevermind that Schmitz, who smugly changed his name to "Dotcom" and was the richest man in the country, could've given us all premium accounts FREE. Instead we paid him, at the same time we stiffed artists and grunted that maybe, MAYBE we'd buy a whole CD if the download was a dollar or two. Somehow Megaupload wasn't a sleazy corporation run by a crook, just Sony.

No no, Herr Kim and his mob weren't evil manipulative corrupt bastards like the suits at Sony, targeted instantly with silly trick-or-treat "denial of service" website attacks. No, no, Fuhrer Schmitz wasn't perceived as evil as the CEO of McDonalds, Burger King, Tesco, Wal-Mart or Nike or Coke or the other places nobody protests and everybody visits. No, let's all scapegoat the companies that we can rip off with anonymous downloading, and don't do any "occupy Wall Street" tactics in front of Burger King...even if the employees there barely get minimum wage while the CEO's make a bundle. Hacktivists who happily block a corporate website for daring to stand up for their legal rights, wouldn't even ring the doorbell of a Tesco exec and run.

Kim Dotcom somehow deserved $100,000 a day? 99% of it built on getting paid for what he was stealing?

Who is The Prisoner now? It's the copyright owner. But the "village" is bigger than that. Generated by the writers, actors, musicians, the "village" is in danger, too. Sure, George Clooney is rich. But the staff on a movie set are not. So what happens. Clooney's movie is given away on every torrent. He still gets a fortune and his CEO's do. But union members get laid off, and the grips, the make-up assistants, the guys who shlep scenery…don't get work because the jobs are farmed out to Canada or Romania somewhere, and staffed by minimum-wagers, just like the ones at the Nike and Apple factories in China. California movie union people are as screwed as guys picking lettuce in a field in Barstow. It goes overseas. Or not at all; notice how few movies are being made. How few TV shows. How few albums. It's reality shows, cheap cartoons and a bunch of rap assholes using auto-tune and ProTools. "Find a new paradigm."

The Prisoner rails about being pushed around. But over his head comes the laughter of "Number Two" (the shit-head with the graffiti name tag he uses for his re-ups, his blog, his Torrent posts, etc.) laughing and saying, "You are NOT a free man!" But, heh heh heh...the movie you made, the novel you wrote, the song you sang. That's free!"

Yes, "sharing" has changed quite a bit from what it was six years ago. Somebody else might post every "Prisoner" soundtrack album. Over here, and not in FLAC, is the fairly obscure original "Prisoner" theme. A "share" that's more like jaywalking than attempted murder.