Thursday, April 19, 2012

THE DARK SIDE of MR. BASS MAN, JOHNNY CYMBAL

Getting older usually means getting wiser, and a little darker.

The giddy novelty hit "Mr. Bass Man" gave teenage Johnny Cymbal instant fame, and optimism for a bright future. But he never had another hit. He even tried many name changes. Into his 20's and 30's he tried generic pop songs about love, as opposed to doo-wop nonsense noises. "Cinnamon," (1968) was the closest he had to another Top 40 success, released under the name Derek. He also recorded as "Brother John" or "The Non Conformists," and other names that distanced himself from the novelty of precocious doo-wopping comic "Johnny Cymbal"

The real novelty about Cymbal is…that his name was no drumbeat invention to go with the bass man. He was born John Blair in Scotland, but his stepfather was a Polish guy named Cymbal. The family moved to Canada where Johnny enthusiastically pursued his dream of being a teen idol. His dream began coming true. At the time, managers and disc jockeys could "discover" talent, and open doors to record labels. Only 15, he was signed to MGM. Though his singles, including teenager in love ballad "Always Always" didn't do much, a side released by Vee-Jay ("Bachelor Man") got some airplay, and he was picked up by Kapp, and bankrolled with studio time and veteran producer Alan Lorber. "Mr. Bass Man" was a hit. His next single, about a girl who wants to get married (with a bass man offering the first four notes of the wedding march, "Dum Dum De Dum") was not.

With no more light-comedy hits coming, Cymbal dipped briefly into the dark side with a strange teen-agony single. At a time when "Teen Angel" and "Tell Laura I Love Her" and other death tunes were popular Johnny offer "The Water Was Red," (about a shark attack on a young couple. It didn't bubble up into the Top 40. It may have been the romantic melody and soothing crooning, and the first stanza's imagery of red sunset on the water that lulled listeners into not closely following the end (literally) of the story. Likewise, his version of "Teenage Heaven," a morbid list of dead stars (including bass-man Big Bopper) and forecast of future inductees, didn't liven up his royalty check either. Apparently because he was a "one hit wonder," or that his very credible teen tunes of the late 50's and early 60's were spread over a variety of record labels, there was always a shortage of Johnny Cymbal compilations on vinyl, and the few CD compilations are such poor sellers that it's hard to find 'em on eBay or Amazon at a "nice price."

In his up and down career, he mostly survived as a producer (for Mae West and Gene Pitney among others) and songwriter. While songwriting royalties aren't as big as ones that include performance, his bank account got healthy from a sappy Hallmark ballad covered on hit albums from Glen Campbell and Elvis Presley ("Mary in the Morning"). Johnny couldn't resist coming up with novelty tunes now and then and one of them got some airplay: "I'm Drinking Canada Dry," covered by The Flying Burrito Brothers.

A songwriter's agony is rejection, and being ignored, and having some favorite songs never go anywhere except around and around on a worn-out acetate passed from cynical manager to dumbass agent to tin-eared record exec and back. To quote a line from a Gilbert O'Sullivan song posted on the blog: "I like it…but it doesn't knock me out. I think it's great! But it could be better…" Sadly, while the Lee Hazlewoods and Randy Newmans of the world could manage to get a record deal and at least get their quirkier, less commercial, or simply neglected songs out there in their own versions, Johnny Cymbal was tarred with the feathery "one shot wonder" tag, and rarely had such an opportunity. Long after his death, songs he "left behind" have finally been released on a pair of CDs, and there are some neglected gems. Here are two dark beauties:

"Here's to the Hunter" could easily have been sung by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, each taking a sullen chorus in this sullen, sinister story of an encounter between a drifter and a woman living alone. Not that it would've been a hit, but it would've been a respectable album tack, and that would've provided some validation and some royalties.

"This House is Haunted (by your memory)" is more upbeat in tempo, more in the style of R. Dean Taylor's 'There's A Ghost In My House," and other bleak but commercial pop tunes. Taylor pushed his rhythms in the direction of Motown, but the swamp stomp on this one means that Cymbal was hoping to find some grim C&W performer to take that darkness into the light.

The darker side of Johnny Cymbal's songwriting was not seen by the public. Getting older for a "one hit wonder" is not very commercial. Being "young at heart" is. And that's why the oldies circuit thrives on performers who look fairly close to the way they did 20 years ago (Peter Noone, Frankie Avalon, etc.) still have the energy and/or the range despite the graying hair (Lou Christie, Jay Black once leader of Jay and the Americans), or had a hit song that transcends any era and his ageless (nothing can stop Gene Chandler, "The Duke of Earl.") Johnny, still youthful with a full baby face, could indeed sit at a piano and tackle both the falsetto and the bass of his one-hit wonder. The original bass line was provided by Ronnie Bright of The Valentines…who was only a notch below other wacky practitioners of the day, such as fabulous Fred Johnson, who dipped and wurped for The Marcels). Cymbal performed "Mr. Bass Man," "Cinnamon," and other songs in his catalog on March 11th 1993 at a songwriter workshop-event, looking good and singing strong. A few days later, March 16th, he was dead. He was only 48. Yes, the picture of him at the top was taken less than a week before he was taken.

And so it goes, and so it went, for Johnny and for so many other songwriters who score a hit or two, and try to make it into a career. You knock 'em out and you hope for the best, and yes, you also hope that the music industry (the RIAA, ASCAP, BMI, RCA, etc.) tell the accountants not to screw you so badly you can't pay for health insurance. Not that the alternative today…giving it away free, or streaming it for pennies, is better. (Note, the songs offered in the link below are of a lesser bit-rate than both CD and mp3 downloads available on line from the major music selling sites).

In the old days, fans hunted for music in record stores. Now the internet makes it easy, and free. "Here's to the hunter, here's to the great pursuer. Here's to the hunter. Drink to the evil doer….here's to the hunter in us all."

HERE'S TO THE HUNTER

THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED

PETER TORK & his MARTIN BRILEY MILKSHAKE (no Gannet)

Let's be honest about human nature. When Davy Jones of The Monkees died, most of you thought: "Who'll be next? Peter, Mickey or Mike?" Before this, morbid fans were wondering: "Who will be the first of the gang to die." Who knows, some fan newsgroups even have a "death pool" and bet on this kind of thing. Some even voice their opinions on who should be the first to go, based on which one isn't as essential or lovable as the others.

In ruminating on God's heavenly blender and the final frappe…here's Mr. Tork, surviving health problems over the years, and covering an obscure (as most of them seem to be) Martin Briley song. Martin, known for his misanthropy and misogyny (a matched set) always threw a novelty song onto each album….at least, a fast paced and sardonic one with comic aspects and strange imagery. "I Feel Like a Milkshake" (reduced to "Milkshake" by Tork) appears on his first lp, a tonic to another song about being terminal and "lying in a bed of piss and crumbs."

Peter thought enough of Martin's song to cover it twice. The version on the "Tao" CD is faithful to the original in tempo and lyrics. The version below is, well, more Torky. The song is about a Brit visiting a typical greasy spoon Smokey Joe diner and getting involved with the chef's wife. "I tipped heavy so he wouldn't think the English were mean," sings Martin. In this cover version, changes "the English" to "the Yankees." And in the original and Tork's "Tao" version, the line is: "I'm not a gannet but she had me eating out of her hand." Which had me asking Mr. B. what a "gannet" was, as I thought this was British slang. Obviously Tork, like me, is no ornithologist, and he's changed the species to one more common in America, the pigeon. This slower version gives Peter more of a chance to put some comic phrasing-spin of his own on the proceedings.

Other Peter Tork obscurities are available at the usual places, like eMucous and SpottyPie, where the artist might get a fraction of a penny per streaming play or download. In other words, a royalty check from all of these places, combined, might be enough to get the singer a milkshake at Applebees. Maybe even a hansburger to go with it, and some Dutch fries…but not much more. In other words, the price of a milkshake in a virtual store costs what people feel is a reasonable price for the producers and distributors and store owner to live on…but the price of music? Oooh, it should be about the same as coins thrown in a beggar's cup.

Feel Like a Milkshake Check out the fast Tork on this download. No capcha code or extortion to open a premium account.

GUNSMOKE THEME: THE RARELY HEARD LYRICS

Sixty years ago, a new radio series premiered: GUNSMOKE. It lasted from April 26, 1952 to June 18, 1961…starring William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon and Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell. It was one of the last radio shows to fall to the popularity of television, and it's quite a testament to Mr. Conrad and his writers and cast, that his "Gunsmoke" spent most of its run in competition with the TV version starring James Arness and Amanda Blake. The TV show premiered September 10, 1955 (ending its historic run on March 31, 1975).

"Gunsmoke" is credited as the first "adult western" series. Radio's "Lone Ranger" and "Cisco Kid" were intended for kids, as was most of the cowboy movies that played in theaters starring various Bucks and Hopalongs and Sons of pioneers. Radio listeners instantly knew the intent behind the series from the weekly introduction:

Announcer "“Around Dodge City, and into territory on west, there's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers: that's with a U.S. Marshal, and the smell of gun smoke!” Conrad: "I'm that man. Matt Dillon. United States marshal… the first man they look for, and the last man they want to meet… it’s a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful… and a little lonely.”

Lonely? Not a trait of such heroes as the Cisco Kid, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Tom Mix, Wild Bill Hickok or Roy Rogers. Episodes often involved sadism, loose women, grim tales of human nature, and story lines that led more into darkness than happy endings. Some aspects of this can be scene in the early half-hour version of "Gunsmoke," which often began with Arness wandering a graveyard, grimly wishing that people weren't so prone to violence.

The end of both radio and TV versions offered up a mild, unmemorable theme song to roll with the credits. Rex Koury's loping melody had lyrics from Glen Spencer, all about old trails and ghostly horsemen…cliches from other series and movies. Tex Ritter tucked it on the B-side of his 78rpm cover of "Wayward Wind" back in 1955. In 1944, Ritter was the star of "Marshal of Gunsmoke," which was the name of the town. Marshal Dillon's town was Dodge City. Your download is naturally the most obscure version to be found…the work of The Prairie Chiefs, who probably were not Native American, and didn't scalp lyricist Glen Spencer for handing them such forgettable words.

"Gunsmoke trail, oh tell me of days gone by, tho' alone you still wind your way. Are the ghostly horsemen riding, as they speed the eastern mail? It's up to you see them through the old trail….Gunsmoke traveler, no traveller to care where you go. Sands of time are hiding your way. Bet if heaven ever let you, you could tell a rugged tale. That's why I hate to see you fade old trail…."

GUNSMOKE THEME - WITH LYRICS Instant download, no capcha codes, or lame ads for dating services or video game websites, and no extortion from organized crime Eurotrash to buy a premium account so they can make money off somebody else's copyight.

I'M DICKENS HE'S FENSTER. IM FENSTER sez SIMONE

This month, "I'm Dickens He's Fenster" is being released on DVD. It was a a combination of hard pushing from fans and surviving members of the cast and crew…and the way copyright is raped on the Internet. DVD companies know that hit movies and TV shows are "shared" the moment they come out. Even if "extras" are added for the DVD release, within weeks, a box set of "Seinfeld" or "Lost" goes for a few dollars on eBay because every forum has perfect copies for download. BUT, obscure and cult-oriented items have a rabid following. Fans will quickly rush to buy what they've craved for so long, especially since this stuff doesn't turn up so fast on blogs. That's because supposedly "generous" bloggers who "share" entire TV shows don't bother with obscurities that don't get the thousands of hits which give them rewards from their file hosts.

So if you want "I'm Dickens He's Fenster," and remember it as an amusing blend of old-school slapstick and more modern sitcom stylings ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" was around at the same time) stick a crowbar in your wallet and buy it.

The show's intent was instantly apparent from the theme song, the "I'm Dickens He's Fenster March," styled after Laurel and Hardy's "Dance of the Cuckoos" with a dash of "Mr. Ed" cadence thrown in. Laurel & Hardy's theme was by Marvin Hatley, who never had a bigger hit. The closest would be 'Honolulu Baby,' used in Laurel & Hardy's "Sons of the Desert." Fortunately for Fenster theme writer Irving Szathmary, his royalty check was fattened by the other theme song he wrote: "Get Smart," used as Don Adams marches (and eventually drops) into CONTROL headquarters. Both sitcoms were produced by Leonard Stern, who knew catchy music when he heard it.

Szathmary was a big band arranger in the 30's (when he was in his 30's) and he helped to score some of Raymond Scott 's zany instrumentals (which ironically have been recorded by The Beau Hunks, a group that has also issued CDs of Laurel and Hardy background music). Irving eventually had his own band, and dabbled in songwriting, too. One of his tunes, "Leave it to Love," was covered by Dinah Shore and Peggy Lee among others.

Irving's brother Bill was also in show biz, but changed the last name from Szathmary to Dana (their mother's name). Bill Dana (aka "Jose Jimenez," star of several best-selling comedy records) wrote for Don Adams, and knew Leonard Stern, who was both a TV producer and novelty book publisher. Dana got Irving his first theme song assignment: "I'm Dickens He's Fenster." Then came "Get Smart" and then…Irving retired from the music biz. While his brother Bill moved to Hawaii, Irving took it a step or two further…and moved to Malta.

You get two versions of the Dickens and Fenster march…the original TV soundtrack, and Nelson Riddle's expanded version. Here's to Irving Szathmary, whom Jose Jimenez would have noted, was a very talented Jungarian Hew.

Original TV THEME Just as it was heard on the sitcom soundtrack

Dickens and Fenster in STEREO Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra.

Now, what about SIMONE?

Here's "Im Fenster das Meer."

Loosely translated, she's singing about looking at "the sea through a window." In other words, in Europe they think it's "I'm Dickens, He's a Window." It's been a while since this blog's offered a foreign language pop oddity (that wasn't sung in French). It's also been a while since it promoted a still-living and performing female vocalist, so here's a piece of Danish for you to discover. Simone Egerlis became a pop sensation in Denmark via the "Scenen Er Din" talent show in 2004, and "Im Fenster das Meer" is a typically bright and catchy number that might recall Abba and other visually pleasant and musically mild cheeses.

Sample a Danish Pop Tart SIMONE

A FILL OF DYLIS - DYLIS WATLING

Happy upcoming birthday (May 5, 1943) to adorable Dilys Watling, who was comic eye candy for many leering TV comedians, most notably Benny Hill, but also The Two Ronnies, Morecambe & Wise, and Frankie Howerd.
Would it surprise you to know that long before her Carol Cleveland-esque cameos in comedy, she was a singer? The evidence is in the download, which zips you two of her singles, including her first: "Don't Say You Love Me"/bw "Now's the Time," made for Philips in 1964. For 1965 she covered Neil Diamond's "Act Like a Lady" /bw "I'm Over You," which isn't obscure enough to include. It got some airplay and even Gramophone reviewed it, declaring both numbers were done "sweetly, in a style reminiscent of Cilla Black without the stridency."

Despite the nice comment, Watling's output of singles waned with the sadly neglected "Paper Heart"/bw "You Go Your Way." Fortunately, at the same time, she was becoming known as an actress thanks to TV appearances on UK shows "The Likely Lads," "United" and "Theatre 625." She earned more fans via "Coronation Street" in 1966 and "Twice a Fortnight" in 1967. In 1968 she appeared on stage in "Fiddler on the Roof," starring Alfie Bass, and followed it by starring in "Promises Promises." She even got another record deal, issuing a new single via Pye, "Have Another Dream On Me" /bw "Sweet Darlin'."

On the strength of her rising stardom in British stage versions of American hits, the cute Brit was imported for a dream assignment, opening on Broadway in the swingin' musical "Georgy." Although she was completely unknown in America, producers had faith in their discovery. They should've at least stocked the cast with a few well known Brits that Americans had heard of and might want to see, but Georgy girl Dilys was supported by John Castle, Melissa Hart and Stephen Elliott instead. Theater fans didn't know the musical's composer (George Fischoff) and at the time, they never heard of the lyricist either...a promising talent named Carole Bayer. Critics took Bayer aspirin after reviewing the show: Dilys Watling had made her Broadway debut and her Broadway farewell.

Back in England in the 70's, she made those appearances for which she's probably best known around the world…including the beach pantomime in which she demurely refuses leering Benny Hill's ice cream and other treats because she has to watch her figure….only to become a binge-eating cow the moment after the poor sap marries her.

Fans of theater in the UK got a few chances to see Dilys Watling in the 80's and 90's. In an intriguing bit of casting, she turned up as the crazy beggar woman in the 1980 "Sweeney Todd" production starring Denis Quilley and Sheila Hancock. More logical was her turn in "Noises Off" in 1985. The following year, she turned up in Dave Clark's "Time." And the 90's? She appeared in a few (exactly two) TV episodes, one of "The Bill" and one of "Minder," which was back in 1994.

Most of what you can find on Dilys is audio and video from the 60's and 70's…the bleating bopping ballads that were briefly on the radio, and the saucy sketches that are being snapped up avidly on DVD from fans of "The Two Ronnies" and "Benny Hill." So she remains eternally in her late 20's as far as most of her fans are concerned, and as you approach your latest birthday, Ms. Watling wherever you are, may you stay forever young.

4 Song (two singles) Dylis Delights file No capcha codes, no demands to pay premium account money to thieving Kim Dotcom-types or organized crime slobs in foreign countries.

ILL-USTRATED SONGS #21 - THE HALF-FAST WALTZ

Oh those fabulous fifties…when people were so naive they didn't know what "double entendre" meant…and when corny wordplay got grins instead of grimaces. Previously, semi-sophisticated fellows such as Dwight Fiske and Charley Drew performed "party songs" in front of elegantly dressed drunks in expensive nightclubs. But in the 50's and 60's, Las Vegas lounges and bars all over the country were hiring whiz-bang entertainers to sing dumbed-down ditties. 78's that guys like Fiske sold secretly via his own label, were replaced by rude long-players that emerged from "under the counter" to get stocked in high-profile bins at respectable record stores.

It was basically the difference between Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello…the tradition of suit and tie Music Hall giving way to the baggy pants comics schooled in Burlesque. Bud Abbott called his style of comedy "lay it in their laps," and that's what simple-minded pun songs were all about, from "Everybody Wants My Fanny" (Benny Bell) to "The Biggest Kanakas In Hawaii" (Sophie Tucker), to "The Half-Fast Waltz," which was covered by every hack in the business.

Billy Devroe was based in Florida and was probably the only artist on the Tampa record label. He and his Devil-aires have not gotten much credit for being distinctive comic singers…and don't expect any here, either. But that's why they are the download choice for an example of easy listening lewdness…they are very much under-appreciated. Except by some record store owners who are charging $10 or $20 because of the record jacket, and not the vinyl inside. Most Devroe releases (along with Bert Henry and others) featured nudie cuties on the cover. But this won't last. Fewer and fewer people care about album jackets any more. They figure a jpeg of an album cover flashing on a computer screen is good enough. Here at the old blog, that thinking sounds half-fast.

THE HALF-FAST WALTZ Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, no demands to pay premium account money to thieving Kim Dotcom-types in foreign countries.

DICK CLARK, 82: "I WANNA DIE YOUNG AT A VERY OLD AGE" Charlie Louvin

He was dubbed "America's Oldest Teenager," and even into his 80's, Dick Clark was "with it," still hanging in as a host of the "Rockin' New Year's Eve" show he created. Life goes on without Dick Clark, who died yesterday of a heart attack, but New Year's Eve won't be the same.

Before Ed Sullivan gave us The Beatles, Dick Clark gave us…well, just about everybody else via his pioneering "American Bandstand" show. Unlike colorful radio personalities such as Murray the K and Cousin Brucie, Dick Clark was a laidback guy who simply gave fans the music they wanted to hear. He let the musicians have the spotlight As with Johnny Carson, he weathered changes well and remained a likable TV host for decades. He added a variety of TV series and quiz shows to his hosting resume, from Blooper compilations to the "$25,000 Pyramid." Never too old to rock and roll, he produced the "Rockin' New Year's Eve" as an alternative to "The Tonight Show" and the Guy Lombardo style of television celebration that had marked midnight.

You'll find plenty more about him with any obit search. My encounters with him were minimal…I was invited to a photo op when he launched one of his shows, exchanged letters now and then regarding some performers or some trivia from the past, and he always was pleasant and professional; a good guy.

It's a measure of the man that even some of the most prickly people in show biz paid him tribute yesterday. Roseanne Barr remembered him as "Always a nice man." Dane Cook wrote: "Rest in peace Mr. Dick Clark. Thank you for new years and new years of class, positivity and entertainment." Joan Rivers said, "What a great life. What a great career. Relevant until the end." And he was. Although his 2004 stroke seriously affected his ability to speak, and Ryan Seacrest was really the host of "Rockin' New Year's Eve," Clark turned up for a cameo every year, and it was lovely to see. Some idiots wanted him kicked off the show for being a "downer," even if his sound bytes were just a few 30 seconds here and there, but his presence was an inspiration; he was still with us, making it to a new year, even with physical problems, keeping on rockin' as we all try to do.

Even though his speech was not perfect, and he was finally beginning to actually look somewhat octogenarian, Dick Clark remained, as Joan Rivers said, "relevant." He remained young. That spirit leads to the tribute song: "I Wanna Die Young at a Very Old Age." It's about a guy who died at 82, as Clark did, and it's sung by C&W great Charlie Louvin who kept singing and recording to the very end:

"I wanna die young at a very old age. Make life worth living each and every day… Gramps was sharp as a tack at 82, acting half his age, kickin' up his shoes. I never thought of him as old, to me he was just a kid full grown….hope that I'm that young when I'm that old…"

"I Wanna Die Young..." Charlie Louvin.