Thursday, November 29, 2012


"Don't quit your day job," is a cynical remark you often hear in show business.

For Earl Carroll (November 2, 1937 – November 25, 2012) let's adapt a Bob Dylan line instead: "20 years of show biz and they put you on the mop shift."

Yes, the lead singer who was in two of the most popular doo-wop groups of all time, became a janitor in the 1980's, working in a public school (P.S. 87).

Ironically, Carroll began making music in another Manhattan public school; P.S. 139. There he entertained classmates as a member of The Carnations in 1953. They began recording the next year, but since there was already a group by that name, Earl and his friends became The Cadillacs. "Gloria" was their song to gain attention.

They were rehearsing for a show when disk jockey Alan Freed came by to watch. He urged their manager to record a new tune called "Speedoo" and issue it as a single. It became their biggest hit, and Earl's signature tune. That was the power of radio and disc jockeys. Today bands throw songs on YouTube free, and get no response beyond a friend or relative saying "Don't quit your day job."

"Well, they often call me Speedo but my real name is Mr. Earl…"

Back then, the underlying theme of black doo-wop was the search for identity. Even in the most frivolous settings, the singer and listener shared this need for respect. The song actually came from Carroll reminding someone that "Speedoo"was just a nickname. Likewise the self-proclaimed "Duke of Earl" re-invented himself as a somebody "no one can stop." The Drifters described their poverty but held onto the dream of being "On Broadway." The Coasters moaned the comic refrain, "What About Us?"

And so Earl Carroll rose above his sarcastic nickname: "I always liked to take my time, do things at my own pace," Carroll explained. "The other guys would be telling me, Come on, hurry up Speedy."

The Cadillacs changed personnel before they became popular, and even more conflicts with group members after. Their manager added to the confusion by sending out several versions of the band, with an original member fronting a group of hired hands. In one city Earl Carroll and the Cadillacs" might play, while in another "Jesse Powell and The Caddys" and in another, "The Cadillacs," with J.R. (Jimmy) Bailey. Finally in 1959 Bailey emerged as the official lead vocalist.

The Cadillacs' best years were behind them. Earl Carroll speeded along as a member of The Coasters, who became the greatest at rockin' novelty songs. When the hits stopped, the oldies circuit was a decent alternative, especially for a group with a dozen recognizable hits, not just two. But after twenty years of Coasting, the oldies concert market was not so viable, and Earl started his day job in 1982.

Earl was known at P.S. 87….for keeping the place clean. A local kiddie-book author wrote a book about him called "That's Our Custodian." He became a minor celebrity. "You really felt good about keeping the school clean, and then the teeny-weenies, they love you so much,” he told an interviewer in1988. "When they found out I was a rock ’n’ roller – I was on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo with Bill Cosby – the kids couldn’t believe it."

In the 50's and early 60's, before the civil rights movement began to rumble, The Cadillacs and the rest faced segregation indignities in touring the South, and the usual "small print" in record contracts and unfair "deals" from record labels. Where was the freedom? The rights? Things changed in the late 60's, but into the 21st Century, Mr. Earl saw the scales of justice tip and go back down. Copyright's become jeered as "copywrong," and if a man wants to get paid for writing or performing songs, he's told "music should be free." Go get a day job. The big power is not an "evil" record label, but a monopoly such as Google, with their "chilling effects" dealt to anyone trying to prevent their work from being stolen, and "Anonymous" groups who deny rights to the individual by declaring, in essence, "believe what we believe, do things our way, or we'll attack and destroy you." Not exactly the message of Martin Luther King Jr.

Earl Carroll put in his time at the public school, and retired in 2005. He'd gotten The Cadillacs back together for occasional oldies shows during his tenure at the school, but after a long work-week, he and the group could only get bookings on weekends, and in the summer, and often an oldies show only wanted The Cadillacs for "Gloria" and "Speedoo," and then other acts took the stage. Carroll sometimes paid out of his own pocket for transportation, meals and hotel. But that's how the arc went in his lifetime: from doing shows to spark record sales to doing shows because there were no record sales.

He ended up in a public nursing home, suffering from diabetes and finally a stroke. He died a few days ago at the age of 75, a shell of "Speedoo," but hopefully still known and respected as "Mr. Earl." Your download is both "Speedoo" and the inevitable attempt at a spin-off, "Speedoo is Back."

SAPRISTI! SPEEDOO Mr. Earl Carroll Speedoo is Back

FRANK ALAMO - BITCH, MY BITCH! And Lou Gherig's Disease, too

Having passed on without much ink, the death of Jean-Francois Grandin, aka Frank (or "Franck") Alamo, is hereby noted, a month late. He died October 11th of Lou Gherig's disease (ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) which does show the influence of American baseball around the world. Or how diseased we are all becoming. He just missed making it to his birthday (October 12th, 1941).

Alamo wasn't known in England or America because he was an importer. He took English language songs and covered them for the French market. "Leader of the Pack" became "Le Chef De La Bande." While nonsense words were universal, "Da Doo Ron Ron" did require some Franco-filing to become a hit in Paris. Otherwise, Frenchies might've thought the song had something to do with kitten feces ("Ronron" is the name of a cat food in France, and Da Doo is, well, da doo).

It's possible Frank could've made more than francs if he chose to sing an English translation of his biggest French hit, "Biche ma Biche" (aka "Biche oh ma Biche"). Especially if the translation was "Bitch, Oh My Bitch."

The original lines:

"Biche, ô ma biche. Lorsque tu soulignes. Au crayon noir tes jolis yeux.

"Biche ô ma Biche. Moi je m'imagine. Que ce sont deux papillons bleus."

The illfolks translation:

"Bitch, oh, my bitch. Your soul is lost. I've got a black crayon to bring joy to you.

"Bitch, oh my bitch, in my imagination, you could give a butterfly the blues."

Something like that.

OK, the actual translation of the song's title is "Sweets for my Sweet." To which we say "Merde!"

Alamo's peak years were the early 60's. It was a fairly recent John Wayne movie of the day, that led his record label's president to re-name him "Alamo." But by the late 60's, at the same time John Wayne was losing fans with his pro-Vietnam rhetoric, the singer lost interest in music. He owned a car company and focused most of his energy on business ventures. In the 90's, nostalgia for Frank's "ye ye" music (and his Beatles yeah-yeah covers) led him to try and revive his career. Fortunately, unlike Lou Gherig who was struck down while still playing baseball, or Catfish Hunter, who died at 53, Alamo did get back to singing and have his second chance, before the problems associated with his motor neurone disease became too severe. When that happened, well, life can be "biche," ie, sweet, and sometimes, living can be a bitch.

Remembering ALAMO…

FRANK ALAMO Biche oh ma Biche

Monday, November 19, 2012


Dear Ray…

Hope you and the Village Green Preservation Society are doing well. Well, we know the Village Green will become part of the Ocean Blue soon! We are too far along with climate change for anyone to think that children born today will survive adulthood without scuba gear.

We won't be around to see that. As sons of Miniver Cheevy, we were always looking happily backward anyway, not only pining for the good old days remembered from youth, but even for ages we never knew. Like the Victorian era of the British Music Hall. That's even better. People our age can tell us, "come on, things were NOT better when we were kids," but nobody's around to scold us for not wanting to live back in 1910.

We can pretend that living when "I'm Henry the 8th" was sung by Harry Champion and not Herman's Hermits, was indeed a golden age. Meanwhile, we can look at picture books from long ago, buy antiques, play old records on vintage equipment or, at least, listen to un-restored recordings on our new-fangled digital players. Thus we can momentarily go back in time (as long as the cell phone is on mute, or the neighbors aren't blaring rap). While this blog has previously paid homage to world-weary Greta Keller, the sophisticated chanteuse from Germany, there's no question: when it comes to old-time singers, Victoria is my Queen. Ray, as a proud Brit, I'm sure you know her full name: Vesta Victoria. She was born on November 26, 1874. She died April 7, 1951, before I was born.

"She was comedy's heroine of woe, whether singing songs as a child who can not get her father to buy her a dog, or as a woman who can not land a husband. One of the greats of both British music halls and American vaudeville, Vesta Victoria warbled in a husky voice that often strayed with delightful guilelessness in and around the tune's key." So says "Comedy Stars on 78 RPM," which mentions that Vesta was making "an astonishing $3,000 a week in 1907" for a United States tour. That's when Variety noted "she remains the magnetic, pretty, buxom character songstress, the idol of the New York public, unexcelled and impossible of imitation." Actually, she was imitated by Ada Jones, who covered several of her tunes for American record companies.

Her classics were recorded over 100 years ago, but in 1931, she was persuaded to record a 78 featuring two medleys of her most famous songs, and that's what you get in the download below. She sounds even more comic and woeful than ever, in dealing with her cast of nasty boyfriends and/or their mothers. "Waiting at the Church" is almost masochistic, isn't it? She sings about lost money and lost love, and the punchline is a bitter jeer at her foolish naivete. And yet, we sympathize and we love her, and we even laugh. "Poor John" isn't much better. Here, she has a potential boyfriend who brings her home to see his mother. And his mother's reaction is the humiliating two words that title the song.

One of the most annoying things on earth is the spoiled child…and yet another of Vesta's biggest hits, "Daddy Wouldn't Buy me a Bow Wow," invites us to laugh at a girl's pouty complaint and embrace her rather than spank her.

Ray, we all know that from the "gay 90's" to the "roaring 20's," people weren't exactly prudish. So nestled in with the spinster songs and kid numbers is another favorite: "It's All Right in the Summertime." It's about her turn as a nude model! Yes, once again, she's sort of the "butt" of the joke. She has no choice but to help her old man by posing for his pictures…even in winter: "with a little red nose and very little clothes," and the stormy wind does blow!

That's about it, Ray. I don't want to go on and on. I hope you like the download, and that others who have never heard of Vesta Victoria get something out of it. There's not much of Vesta Victoria available. Not even enough to fill one re-issue CD. Check a book called "The British Music Hall Discography" and you'll see she made lots of cylinders and 78's, but most of them are dust now. Still, we can whip up dusty memories into almost corporeal reality, and it's a comfort to see a picture of Queen Victoria and think for a moment she's still on the throne, and listen to Vesta Victoria and think she's still on the boards. It's a sherry-type high in these days of Coca-Cola. C-O-L-A, cola.

VESTA'S Last Music Hall Medley


Most casual visitors to this blog know about Bobby Cole by now…and may share the view here that "Mister Bojangles" was the best single to be released on Columbia's short-lived subsidiary label, Date Records.

While Date didn't last long, it did try to get some attention for a lot of obscure people. The label didn't issue a whole lot of singles between 1966 and 1969 but most of what they issued involved acts most disc jockeys had never heard of before: J.J. Lancaster, Van Trevor, Plant Life, Pretty Prudie, Derek Savage Foundation, The Will-o-Bees, Richard Fudoli, The Music Bachs, Robert Tamkin, Silky and Sage, Free Ferry and Don Meehan.

OK, they also had Peaches and Herb, Argent, and a little something called "Time of the Season" by The Zombies. But those hits weren't enough to keep the label alive. Bobby Cole did pretty well for them with his Top 40 "Mister Bojangles." And "Death of a Clown" by The Seagulls got some airplay, too, though the big push (even ads in the trade mags) was for their debut single "Don't Go Out into the Rain." By the time of "Death of a Clown," Date Records was beginning to show mortality.

The Seagulls were Kenny Young, Kenny Soenberg (aka Kenny Sonn), and June Winter. Was Dave Davies impressed with the cover? Not sure. But Twiggy seemed to enjoy another single of theirs: "Twiggs." They performed it for her, and she even consented to pose with the group. Which didn't help much.

The Seagulls was neither the beginning nor the end for its leader Kenny Young. Before he formed the group, he was a Brill Building songwriter, half of the team behind "Under the Boardwalk," The Drifters hit. Slightly less well known: "Gentlemen Joe's Sidewalk Cafe" recorded by The Status Quo, "Oozi-Oozi-Ooh" and "Please Don't Kiss Me Again," both recorded by The Charmettes, "Kinky Kathy Abernathy" recorded by The Searchers," "Looky Looky My Cookie's Gone" by the Raspberry Pirates, and "Hold The Night" recorded by the San Francisco Earthquake.

He also wrote and recorded under his own name: "Shaga Zooma" for Atco, "Mrs. Green's Ugly Daughter" for Diamond, and "Don't Waste Your Arrows" for MGM.

Young went on to record a few albums for Warner Brothers, and aside from The Seagulls, formed several other groups using animal names: Fox, Squirrels and Yellow Dog. He also has a lot of credits as a producer which includes three albums with Clodagh Rodgers and the superstar-filled albums "Earthrise" and "Spirit of the Forest." His most recent productions are two "Rhythms del Mundo" albums. It's always great to note a talent who hasn't stayed rooted to oldies shows, or left the music business rather than found a way to stay involved and creative within it.

For fans wanting to go back in time for more of this group, The Seagulls did manage three singles (several songs originals written by Kenny Young)…which is one more than Bobby Cole, who recorded his two in 1968. The discs are: "Don't Go Out into the Rain" bw "Hitting the Moon with a Sling Shot" (1966), "Twiggs" bw "Charlie No More" (1967) and "Death of a Clown" bw "Annabel" (1967).

THE SEAGULLS Death of a Clown (cover)


Here in mid November, we're right between the birth (October 28, 1902) and death (December 26, 1986) of Elsa Lanchester. She was last heard from on this blog in October of 2007, celebrated for her risque comedy albums. Now it's time to give a nod to her for all the British Music Hall songs she performed, which kept alive the spirit of Vesta Victoria, Marie Lloyd and other charmers she no doubt saw live on stage. When Elsa was on Broadway with her one-woman show, she performed, among many others, "Mrs. Dyer, the Baby Farmer." It appears on her album "Cockney London" (released on vinyl by Verve circa 1958, now a gray area bootleg on CD by Windyridge in the UK).

In a style somewhat in homage of Vesta, Elsa often sang with wavery pitch. Her performance here is almost "campy," probably because the sophisticates in her audience relished decadence and prided themselves on being urbane and shockproof. Prolific murderess Amelia Dyer, the greatest monster of the English-speaking world, gets a coy tribute from the woman who once played opposite Boris Karloff. Her vocal might remind some of the time Roseanne Barr, unintentionally singing "Star Spangled Banner" out of her range, decided the only way out of her embarrassment would be to go for laughs and accentuate her ineptness. Elsa no doubt was aware of the limitations of her voice, and used her acting skills to color the lyrics to best advantage.

From the rather awful piano work of Ray Henderson, to her own wobbling between disgust and amusement over the dire doings of Dyer, Elsa sometimes hits both the bone of pathos and the funny bone on voice alone. When it was penned, and sold to crowds gathered at her hanging, the lyrics were intended to fire up outrage at Dyer's crimes, and to make people happy she was going to die. Over the years, the serious world of England a century ago has often been revised and parodied. From Peter Sellers' comical torture of "My Old Dutch" to Lionel Bart's lovable Fagin and musical comedy version of "Oliver Twist," the idea has been to lighten up the dark. And so "Mrs. Dyer, the Baby Farmer" becomes a black comedy of sorts for Elsa Lanchester. The former Bride of Frankenstein wants to have you in stitches.

ELSA: Mrs. Dyer the Baby Farmer

"MY LIFE" - The Return of IRIS DEMENT

Most of us hipsters scorn America's "Heartland," and cringe with fear and loathing at the term, which brings up images of Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood paintings, corny sayings stitched on pillows, plastic statues of Jesus and posters of Santa, and a pantry full of white bread to be served to redneck racists. But in the right hands, written and sung by the right voice, elements of "family values" and homespun wisdom become a source of pride and purpose. And we remember that the Heartland is also Lincoln and Sandburg, and Davy Crockett and Walt Disney, and Jimmy Stewart and Red Skelton, and honest people doing a day's work, and good dreams of modesty (a chicken in every pot) and of ambition (a man on the moon). Yes, as Paul Simon sang, "I wonder what went wrong." But there's also Iris Dement, singing about what's right.

Listen via the download below to Iris Dement, and "My Life," a song that seems ages old, but was written in 1994, not 1894. The lyrics have a purity and a clarity and a truth that's just hard to find these days (and wasn't so prevalent in early ages, either). Her voice? It's plain and yet it's beautiful; if some sound engineer added a few clicks and pops, you might swear her recordings were from the Woody Guthrie era of the 30's, when the corn and wheat were covered in dust and the nation was in a Depression…but never lost its spirit.

Iris Dement's early recordings on a small indie folk-oriented label, didn't exactly set the woods on fire, but critics were kind, she was nominated for a Grammy, and old fashioned "word of mouth" helped her become popular on tour. That was most important to her, and still is. She sees herself as a comforting singer…and she didn't even bother to sit own and write more songs and put out "new product" for over a decade. This post is keyed to that new album, "Sing the Delta." It's a good one. In singing about the Delta, and about rural life, and life in general, Iris has managed to reach all kinds of people. Just check her touring schedule. Unlike so many acts in her category of folk, country or "rural" music, she isn't merely performing in the South, or the Bible Belt. Her new tour takes her from Charleston, West Virginia to Berkeley California, to Orlando Florida, to the venerable venue of Town Hall in Manhattan, and to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

That's quite an achievement for someone with one semi "hit" in "My Life," almost a generation ago. That was when she got to be on TV for a while. She brought "My Life" to several programs. She always performed it sitting at a piano, looking very much like an awkward schoolgirl at a recital, hitting the notes with practiced determination and singing in a clear voice. Conan O'Brien was one of those who, having witnessed what he might've thought was just another "singer for the last five minutes of the show," actually came over from his desk and respectfully and sincerely thanked her for her moving performance.

You may have heard another song of hers play in the closing credits of a popular movie. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" was used by the Coen Brothers for "True Grit." Another rather pithy song of hers, may be known to you not by her version but by the one done by David Byrne and Natalie Merchant: "Let the Mystery Be." And let's have a closing word about her from Merle Haggard: "She's the best singer I've ever heard."

"My Life," your download below, comes from a 1998 Australian radio broadcast. Her new album, freely available on the Internet wherever fine albums are stole'd, is also available for sale on iTunes and at her Iris Dement website.

IRIS DEMENT sings… MY LIFE on Australian Radio 1998

Friday, November 09, 2012


One of the many wisecracks about the first man to have a successful sex change operation, was "if you can't get a raise, take a cut." After George Jorgensen became Christine…the question of making a living became more important than making water while squatting. Would she just disappear into private life and some low-paying job? Why not use the new-found celebrity to turn her artificial vagina into a real money-maker?

Christine would indeed make a living as an actress and lecturer, and being something of a novelty herself…issued a novelty single. "Crazy Little Men" arrived around the time speeded-up vocals were more popular than sheered-off testicles. Now, there are thousands of sex change operations every month but rarely one novelty song reaching the Top 100.

Over 50 years ago, people guffawed over the "Purple People Eater," the Chipmunks, the Nutty Squirrels, Maymie and Robert's "Ha Ha Hee Hee Ho Ho Hum Hum," and Jesse Lee Turner's "The Little Space Girl," which gave its heroine a chipmunk voice. So why not have a speeded-up space alien greet a transsexual on her trip to the moon?

"Crazy Little Men" was the wackiest song issued by a tranny until Amanda Lear covered "They're Coming to Take Me Away." Alas, neither song slid many coins into the singers' drawers.

Christine's item just didn't sell many copies. As for Amanda, in this age piracy circumcises half the take, and cheap streaming downloads means most listeners hardly spend a penny. Any pre-op trannies out there should realize that you won't be able to pay for a sex change with the spare change given out as music royalties. Save up as both Christine and Amanda did. Get a real job to pay for your operation, because in the music world, you'll be cut off without a cent. In other words, don't expect to Twatify on the money you get from Spotify.

Sapristi! Mooning Men? Christine did it!


Did you know that one of the most popular Hank Williams tunes of all time…was about shitting?

Merle Haggard tells the story:

"Hank was on the road, and they stopped at this Mexican joint. There wasn't a rest stop for miles so Hank went in the woods and took a shit. He said, 'I'm setting the fucking woods on fire!' That was the hottest godamn chili I've ever seen!' Before they'd driven another few miles, Hank had a song."

And when Hank spied the lady above, he wrote "The Log Train." Although you never know, it might've been "Hey, good lookin' watcha got cookin'?" No? "Your Cheatin' Fart?"

Since Hank is amply available all over the place, let's go with a parody version, which better suits a Photoshop photo anyway (no, Google censors, in the original the girl was just bent over, and nowhere near a campfire). Submitted for a shit-eating grin, the sadly neglected Homer and Jethro, who've gotten one decent compilation from an American company (Razor and Tie) and only one from Germany (Bear Family). It's about time for a full box set on these dead guys. Not that it will do them any good, but, to quote a revised line in this parody: "poor ol' Victor needs the money!"

Oh, speaking of needing the money, poor ol' Google has taken to hot-linking certain words. If you foolishly scroll over one of them, a pop-up ad appears. I will do my best to re-write my copy if I see one of these distracting blemishes. Google, of course, does not share the profits with me. They also dictate on YouTube how many pennies they might give for a highly viewed post and don't even start the count if there have been less than 50,000 hits. But let's pretend they're the good guys and the record labels, book companies and movie studios are the only ones cheating the talent and fudging royalty statements and using their power to take the whole pie and leave behind only a few crumbs.