Friday, March 29, 2013


Today is Good Friday, and on Sunday, it's Easter.

Religulous as these days are…Jesus Christ…it's just too easy to make fun of it all. "Easter," with the bonnets, and the chocolate bunnies, and the colored eggs…it's already a joke. What has any of this to do with the supposed death and resurrection of somebody that a billion or more people think is the "Son of God?"It makes as much sense as Santa Claus and "Christmas."

We're dealing with revisionist crap. That's what all religion is. It's hearsay. People literally get bent out of shape, go around killing other people, make their lives miserable as well…all because of some shit that was written hundreds and hundreds of years after the supposed "sacred" events took place.

The more ridiculous the religion, the more humorless and vicious the followers are…because they are so fragile, so insecure, and so stupid, they can't just accept the fact that not everyone believes what they do. Some religious fanatics are so humorless, they will kill you over cartoons depicting their "savior," whom they insist was (is?) a deity of peace and good will. Nyuk nyuk. Why the fuck shouldn't people make fun of religion? It's hilarious. It's full of inane rituals, stupid-looking clothing, mumbo-jumbo prayers, and all kinds of psychotic taboos (which are mostly broken by the pious assholes who profess to follow them).

Enjoy the download, which is from the soundtrack to "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," and contains a few amusing remarks on the Easter bunny courtesy of the lovable horror star Vincent Price who was born in Saint Louis, religulously enough.

I've met Bill Maher, and I've watched him morph from the mainstream witty stand-up that Steve Allen admired, to one of the best political and religious satirists around. His recent "Real Time" editorial on the election of the new Pope included a few choice paragraphs on the revisionist nature of religious fanatics. He laughs at those who foolishly believe in "rules" that were not even in The Bible (second-hand source that it is) but tacked on later by a variety of laughable loons who somehow got others to go along with their nunsense. Here's some of what Bill said:

You know, people think all the church's rules and traditions come right from Jesus.  But almost none of them do…For example, New Rule: confession.  Jesus never said anything about confession.  Never even thought of it.  They pulled that out of their ass in the 12th century.  Just like they did with, New Rule: women can't be priests.  That's also not in the Bible.  Neither is celibacy for priests.  We didn't have that until the 4th century.  And even then, priests could still get married.  They just couldn't have sex — like regular marriage.

Jesus also never said anything about a Pope, let alone that he should live in a palace and get carried around in a chair like Liz Taylor in Cleopatra.  Or papal infallibility, another rectum-derived edict that came in the year 1870.  It's an eternal truth that's 11 years younger than the escalator….

Or how about this whopper?  New Rule: not only does God have a Son — who's really Him — but there's also a "Holy Ghost" in there, and they're all one person called the Trinity.  A Catholic monk named Tertullian made up the Holy Ghost in the 3rd century.  And after that, "It is true."

I tell ya, religion?  It's like Wikipedia.  Anyone can write something in.

VINCENT PRICE The Easter Bunny Always Sleeps


College! One can look back on the experience quite fondly…the sex, the drugs, and actually learning a few things that helped jump-start a career. But sometimes, a belief that a college campus is a place of "higher education" can be shattered by irresponsible behavior and doing things that are downright brainless.

Like…being part of a marching band.

Like…being part of an a cappella ensemble

As this is a music blog, we confine ourselves to these two types of activities, which involve people who should be confined in strait jackets.

Two CDs that will always be part of my collection are: "Roses for the Lions" from the Penn State Blue Band, and "Cause It's Time" by the Vassar Devils. And yes, that hellish name is very accurate.

Below, you get a HALF DOZEN examples of the Vassar Devils sticking their pitchfork tongues into deservedly wretched pop-rock songs.

"Africa" by Toto. The soggy whitebread pop group's wimpy and limp ode to a country that hates their music, had gratuitous homogenized harmonies now bettered, buttered and battered by the Vassar Devils. They scat and doo-wop "Africa" to a level that could cause race riots.

"Carey" by Joni Mitchell. Another Africa-themed number, for reasons unknown, whiter-shade-of-vanilla Joni sets the tale somewhere near Africa winds, or Butterfly McQueen farts. There's a calliope of doo-doo's in the background as a plucky soloist named Biz (wasn't there a detergent by this name?) does her best to mimic the precociousness of her Canadian heroine.

"Signed, Sealed and Delivered" by Stevie Wonder. Blind people do not know the difference between black and white. But they can HEAR the difference. The Persuasions, this ain't. Sometimes you also have to wonder what the fuck the point is of NOT singing with backing instruments. A bunch of assholes going "doo oooh oooh" is fatefully farty.

"Killer Queen" by Queen. Well, ok, anything goes when you're covering the fruitiest rock band in history, even a cappella. Just wait till you hear the Vassar Devils do some kind of cat noises along with their usually poopy doops.

"Changes" by David Bowie. By this time, I was waiting to hear "ch-ch-ch" instead of "doo-doo-doo," but the Vassar Devils, like most a cappella groups, are really into deep doo-doo. While lead vocalist "Jon" does ch-ch-cheese it up, there's still way too much doo!

"Uncle John's Band" by The Grateful Dead. Say, didn't those dead-heads actually have an a capella moment in the original? Trust the Vassar Devils to add plenty of doo-doo to this happy shitkicker tune.

Also below, in addition to the zip-file of six songs from the Vassar Devils, is the most vivid example of marching band mania from "Roses for the Lions."

Who doesn't love a marching band? Spectators.

But let's not be so pessimistic. It's possible that half the marchers in the band don't love what they're doing either. Some have no choice if they're music majors, others…well, any joy in being in the midst of all that blazing brass and percussion soon palls due to rehearsals, lousy weather, embarrassing uniforms, having to carry around an instrument and choreograph at the same time…and most of the musical choices you get are cheese.

If they aren't cheese, they become cheese as they whiz through your horn. That most certainly includes a medley of Beatles songs…"Magical Mystery Tour…Got To Get You Into My Life…Hard Day's Night."

"Roses for the Lions" is a souvenir CD from the PENN STATE BLUE BAND, from live recordings made at the Eisenhower Auditorium between 1992 and 1994. At least they didn't have to march around when they were recording…although that misses a great opportunity for "living stereo" and having the thrill of tubas, trumpets and trombones circling around inside your head.

Take five, guys. And take a shower…it's ok, Sandusky's gone.

VASSAR DEVILS! SIX A CAPPELLA ROCK COVERS including Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and The Grateful Dead



She nearly made it to 100.

The greatest "Carmen" and "Delilah" of her generation, and beloved for her operetta and "American Songbook" recordings as well, Rise Stevens (first name pronounced Ree-seh) passed on, March 20th…less than three months shy of June 11th, what would've been her 100th birthday.

As you'd expect from an expert in femme fatale roles, Rise (born Rise Steenberg, father Norwegian, mother Jewish) had a tough beauty. On some album covers, she was so striking that even somebody flipping through the used records looking for pop or country might stop for a moment and think, "Gabba gabba hey…." Which is frankly part of the reason why mezzo-soprano Rise became one of my favorite opera singers. Nice that it turned out she could sing. In the opera world, there tended to be the homely ones with great voices, and the hotties who didn't record much but had packed houses as long as they performed mad scenes or topless scenes (Carol Neblett, everyone!). Probably the best balance between beauty and singing ability was achieved by my other favorite opera singer, soprano Victoria de los Angeles.

Like Beverly Sills a generation later, Rise Stevens (she was married to Mr. Stevens for over 50 years) was a popular opera star, the "go-to" performer when a variety show needed some culture. On both radio and TV, she not only performed classic arias, but show tunes, light opera, and in the samples below, "Ave Maria," the type of popular song often best rendered by a trained classical vocalist. Ms. Stevens lived in Manhattan and was very active in the worlds of culture and music almost to the end. You can even find an interview with her on YouTube, done only a year or two before she passed on.

Rise and Shine On, You Delightful Diamond…

RISE STEVENS AVE MARIA Television Soundtrack 1951

RISE STEVENS AVE MARIA Radio Performance 1954

WORST PIES IN LONDON - Jade Lomas-Anderson Killed By Dogs

Singing about "The Worst Pies in London," Mrs. Lovett admits that what she serves to her fellow Brits is "disgusting" and "revolting." Unlike a pie shop rival, her product doesn't contain pieces of cat, because "them pussy cats is quick." Fortunately she gets a new beau, Sweeney Todd, and together they make human meat pies. If the story took place today, they'd own a Subway sandwich franchise, selling Sub-Humans.

And, speaking of sub-humans, Beverley Concannon is in the running for "The Worst Bitch in England,"owning five vicious dogs…most of them joining in to kill a teenager who had made the mistake of being near them…and eating a meat pie. Who knows if, given British cooking, that meat pie contained cat, or more likely horse meat, but there's room for blame all around.

Nobody should be owning a bunch of big dogs, for a start. Big dogs are like guns. They are lethal. Only stupid people think otherwise…fools who have a pathetic need to own something dangerous, who snivel and cower in the world unless they have a dog or a gun (or both) for "protection." These weak-minded obnoxious scum also enjoy intimidating others with their dogs (and/or guns).

Sweeney Todd sang that there's a hole in the world that's a great big pit and the people who inhabit it are full of shit…and it goes by the name of….LONDON.

Silly man. Why single out London when there's also Scunthorpe, and Grimsby, and plenty more? Probably because a century ago, the big city was far more dangerous than the current craphouse towns full of chavs and yobs and other disgraces to the heritage of Great Britain. Sweeney also didn't live in an era where ungrateful immigrants, with no respect for Great Britain, turn against their hosts to create stinking violent and bloody chaos unless they get their way, which is to make their new neighborhoods into ethnic fortresses for their own kind

You know what should happen? New laws. Cameron and his yeah-nay bunch of assholes should stop babbling every week ("Does the right honorable Prime Minister AGREE that dogs eating children is wrong….") and pass "Jade's Law." Which declares: NO pit bulls allowed in Great Britain. NO similar species of brutal dog such as a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd unless the owner has passed tests and is licensed to take care of such a dangerous beast. And NO person can own more than one.

All big dogs currently in shelters should be euthanized. All dogs of any size for sale in pet shops must also be neutered. All dogs must be kept in humane condition and not simply be chained up to protect some asshole's property. Dogs that bark for more than two minutes in a row will be confiscated, owners paying a fine. A second offense, and the dog's vocal cords removed. It's time to understand that dogs are very stupid, that a sick need to play "God" over a leashed animal is wrong, and that the peace and comfort of human beings rates first…and that dogs shouldn't be protecting a junkyard, barking insanely because a leaf fell off a tree, or snapping at everybody as they get walked along by a megalomaniacal piece of shit who gets a kick out of making other people cringe...and who also thinks nothing of letting the animal shit all over the place and piss all over everything...sending dog urine molecules into the air for YOU to breathe in.

The psycho bitch who owned the five dogs is unfortunately, all too typical of the average dog owner: stupid. Irresponsible. Selfish. A dimwit. The exact opposite of an animal lover. A hideous cretin who should be sterilized or euthanized along with her dumbass mongrels.

Why do people own dogs in the first place? Unfortunately, most do it for the same reason they own guns. Because it intimidates others. It makes a weakling suddenly powerful and not to be messed with. And sadly, "Jade's Law" has about as much a chance of passing as gun control laws…because there are too many people in the world who are sick and selfish and dangerous, and who want dogs and guns in order to have power over others…a power that often ends up in tragedy that takes the lives of the innocent.

"Sweeney Todd" is one of the great musicals of the 20th Century because it doesn't turn a blind eye to human nature. Human nature often involves abusing the animal kingdom, which in turn, only leads to a wreckage of human quality-of-life, and in many tragic cases, a loss of life.

These are the times that try Tesco-shoppers' souls The Worst Pies in London

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ill-ustrated Songs #22 : "Tying Up is FUN To Do"

The world's just discovered bondage and domination? Seems that way, thanks to that ugly cow who wrote the "Shades of Grey" series, which is now the subject of tiresome "who will be in the movie" rumors. A quirk of publicity (some people wanting to censor her self-published junk) led idiot women to seek out the ineptly written mommy-porn. Moronic readers have made millionaires of moronic writers over the years…talentless word recyclers like formula fatales Barbara Cartland, Jackie Collins, Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel.

It's no surprise that the late Marquis De Sade's books remain shunned by most everyone. After all, the guy was the real thing. He lived what he wrote. The "Grey Lady" has been a snore on talk shows. Her worst sin is that she has no panache. You can find intelligence, wit, even a certain odd sense of adventurous "fun" in De Sade and so many others…but the "Grey Lady" turns out to be like the result of a bad S&M session…lame.

Which, sparing you any further ranting, leads to "Tying Up is Fun To Do," which is something Dr. Ruth Westheimer could tell you in two perky minutes, or two pages of one of her sex books. The song is on an obscure album by "Franken'Don," which was self-pressed years ago in Vermont. Frank Chase and (shades of) Don Grey took a bunch of familiar 50's and 60's tunes and dirtied up the lyrics a bit. Released on their own "Lox Records" label (produced by a guy named Shapiro), the cuts range from faux-Weird Al ("Another One Buys a Saab") to faux-Allan Sherman ("Thank God I'm a Jewish Boy") to the more universal subjects of sex and stupidity (combined here).

Rather than offer the actual cover of this dollar-bin diversion it's filed under the category of "Ill-ustrated" songs…as we take the actual author, Neil Sedaka, and pair him with his one-time girlfriend Carole Klein (King). You might remember that Neil wrote "Oh Carol" for her, and she, in an early effort to move from songwriter to star, knocked off a slow-selling answer single, "Oh Neil." "Oh…" just download this curiosity and waste two minutes of your life.

Shades of Idiocy! TYING UP IS FUN TO DO Instant download or listen on line. No "type my name as the password" crap, no faux-links to spyware sites, no requests for donations.


What are the stats? It seems to me that quite often, people who are nearing the end seem to hang on until they reach their next birthday. They shoot for that milestone, and then they're shot. Exhausted. A few drop dead right on the finish line, and Fran Warren was one of them, entering the world on March 4 (1926) and exiting on March 4 (2013).

While she wasn't the most famous of big band singers, she had a few hits on 78 rpm in the 40's and 50's. By the late 50's, she could only get a label deal with the era's budget companies. Her debut "Hey There! Here's Fran Warren" was issued by Tops in 1957, and "Something's Coming" was on the obscure Warwick label in 1960. When I started haunting dollar bins in record stores, I sure knew who Fran Warren was. She was the one getting in the way of the used Julie London albums and cut-out still-sealed movie soundtracks that hadn't listed for $1.99.

The former Frances Wolfe first gained attention with Claude Thornill's big band in the late 40's. Thornhill had both a girl singer and boy singer, and in about 4 years in the late 40's Fran recorded some 14 sides (which have now been collected on CD by Collectors Choice). In 1950 she joined another Jewish vocalist with a "straight" name, Tony Martin, for the Top 10 cutie-pie duet "I Said My Pajamas And Put On My Prayers."

The pleasant-looking performer had one chance in a feature film. In 1952 she was the brunette Lady Jane in "Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd," playing second fiddle to blonde Hillary Brooke as beautiful Captain Bonney. Fran recorded singles for Columbia, RCA and ended her attempts to make the Top 10 with MGM around 1955. Not exactly competing as a pure vocalist she now found better luck as an actress-singer in stage musicals, and was hired for the touring version of "Pajama Game," which had starred Janis Paige on Broadway.

The big hit in "Pajama Game" was "Hey There," and at least she convinced Tops that fans seeing her in the touring show might prefer hearing her do the number rather than Janis Paige. Promoting the 1957 "Hey There" album, Fran managed to get booked for a week on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show." She didn't make a return visit until 1962 when Johnny Carson took over. She sang for Johnny in 1966 and 1967 and managed two appearances on Joey Bishop's talk show in 1968 and 1969. Her album output over those years was sparse as well.

Warren seemed to have achieved a balance in the 70's and 80's between a private life and work in nightclubs, and as you can see on this page, looked the part of a successful veteran performer when cameras snapped that 1981 shot of her and easy going Tony Martin.

Below, a four-song sampler from her prime decade of recordings, 1947-1957: "Just About This Time Last Night," a pleasant ballad with Claude Thornhill's band in 1947, "I Said My Pajamas" the mild novelty duet from 1950, the whitebread tango "Kiss Me and Kill Me With Love," which was a 1955 MGM single, and her sweet and dreamy cover of "Hey There."

In the 60's, for budget-minded music lovers who couldn't afford Eydie Gorme, June Christy, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Dinah Shore, Jeri Southern, Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford, Ella Fitzgerald, or some of the other major label warblers who were singing the standards and show tunes, Fran Warren gave you some audio bang for your literal buck.

FRAN WARREN Four Classic Songs

JOE E. ROSS "Are you Loathesome Tonight?"

If he was still alive, on March 15th Joe E. Ross would have turned 99. Some still fondly remember his sitcom days when he was basically Shemp Howard doing a bad impression of Joe Besser. What's not to like? The TV age needed new comic losers and slobs. Shemp was gone, along with Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, Rags Ragland and Eugene Pallette. For the late 50's a comic sitcom gorilla needed to be a lot more cartoonish, incompetent and simple minded than the current Runyonesques of the day such as Robert Strauss.

Ross had the kind of blunt features that no make-up man could've created out of mud and silly putty, and his lack of acting skills only added to the humor. An idiot savant who drifted into show business after Army service, he memorized old jokes, and moved slowly from announcing girlie shows and doing bits in burlesque. He and his clone Dave Starr provided comic relief in the 1955 burlesque movie"Teaserama" which headlined some mild dances from Bettie Page among others. The former Joe Roszawikz (March 15, 1914 – August 13, 1982) finally got a break when sitcom writer Nat Hiken saw him bumbling around with a solo nightclub act and brought him into the platoon of misfits run by Phil Silvers as"Sgt. Bilko."

An authentic slovenly illiterate, good-natured Joe was a realistic member of Bilko's hapless collection of foils and fools, and like Henny Youngman, it was hard to tell if he was in on the joke, or just grateful that what parroted got him a pay check. In private life, Ross amused, from a distance, the other actors. They chuckled at his embarrassing lack of hygiene, his messy eating, his dirty jokes, his lack of dressing room modesty and his inability to relate to a woman who didn't expect to get paid for the evening. Not quick with memorizing a line, he'd blurt "Ooh! Oooh!" and it turned into a lucky catch-phrase. He was also lucky when, after the top contenders fell out, Ross ended up cast as bulky Gunther Toody on "Car 54 Where Are You," the series Nat Hiken developed after Bilko left the air.

Joe's musical career centered on his "Ooh Ooh" single, and the album that tried to trade in on his "Car 54" fame, "Love Songs from a Cop," from which we hear his Elvis take, "Are You Lonesome Tonight." On "Ooh Ooh," Joe unveils a second catch-phrase, a bellowy but Besser-esque whine of "Do ya mind?" Steve Martin fans will recognize the tone of voice as quite similar to "Excuuuuse me." Which only goes to show that "stupid" never goes out of fashion, it just changes faces. Joe's well-worn face wasn't wearing so well as a "star" comic, especially since he had limited acting skills. "Car 54" didn't last very long, and "It's About Time," in which he played a caveman opposite Imogene Coca, made it through one season. Ross ran his Runyonesque personality through bit parts in films, engagements in small clubs, and very briefly, as half of a comedy team with Steve Rossi, late of "Allen and Rossi." They lasted four months, disbanding in January of 1969.

Haggard, aging, and trading in on "Ooh Ooh," Joe managed to issue a stand-up album on Laff, the same label that had recorded the even older and more obscure comic character actor Mantan Moreland. Joe went through his familiar dirty jokes, most going back to the long-lost era when his pals Dave Starr and B.S. Pully had put out "party" records. The album was titled "Should Lesbians Be Allowed to Play Pro Football," which was a crappy throw-away joke when Billy Gray told it on a Verve album about a decade earlier. Gray owned The Band Box, a club in a Jewish neighborhood in L.A., and yes, Ross sometimes performed there. Sometimes. Ross's old jokes didn't appeal to modern audiences and dismayed fans who remembered his family-oriented sitcoms. According to legend, Joe's last gig was $100 to perform for neighbors at his housing complex.

Ross was a lovable loser…someone even other down-and-outers could look at and feel better about themselves. Most any deli-denizen of that era could tell a story or two about his bumbling boorishness, his unabashed chasing after hookers, or cheerful low-class schmoozing and boozing. He was a walking cartoon, and "ooh ooh!" it's easy to see why he got some laughs as part of a group of flatfoot cops or genuine dogfaces that included characters named Schnauzer and Doberman.



Instant download or listen on line. No "type my name as the password" crap, no faux-links to spyware sites, no requests for donations.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

HEAVEN HAS A BALL - Kenny Ball dies at 82 (Your Mother Should Know)

The song choice to commemorate Kenny Ball is "Your Mother Should Know." She probably remembers Kenny's #1 hit, "Midnight in Moscow," and might even be able to name it, or hum along to it, if you found it among her old 45's.

In recalling Ball (May 22, 1930– March 7, 2013) we hark, if not bark, back to the long lost age of the instrumental. At one time it was not unusual for a song without lyrics to be on the charts along with "It's Not Unusual." Why, even foreign language pieces such as "Volare" and "Sukiyaki" were welcome, and without having to follow the bouncing ball to sing along, ballrooms played the singles of Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, and even the dreaded Percy Faith.

What happened? Have we simply run out of melodies? Is that why instrumentals rarely get anywhere anymore? Might be. How many Top 10 singles from last year can you sing? Not many, huh? Because there's no melody. The lyrics are crap, too. At best, you might know the chorus which could be "Fuck You" from Cee-lo or "Umbrella-ella-ella" from Rihanna-anna-nanna or some shit or other about wanting or not wanting to be your girlfriend, coming from Avril or Taylor.

You'll also note that it's rare when there's a good instrumental movie or TV theme. Quick, hum the theme song for Jay Leno's "Tonight Show." Back in Kenny Ball's day, there was "Theme From a Summer Place," and in a less corny mode, a wide variety of rockin' twangin' instrumentals from The Ventures and Duane Eddy among others, plus evocative melodies such as "Telstar." Herb Alpert had a ton of hits. There was a market for oddball ethnic tunes including "Petite Fleur" from Chris Barber's Jazz Band, "African Waltz" from Johnny Dankworth, "Afrikaan Beat" by Bert Kaempfert, and…getting back to the subject at hand, or rather six feet under…"Midnight in Moscow" from Kenny Ball.

Although Kenny Ball could've told you, "I'm from ESSEX, in case you couldn't tell…" his heart was in Dixieland, and the trumpet player formed his own group in 1958 to modernize the stylings of Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, and others. He caused a stir with his version of the Cole Porter tune "Samantha" in 1961, and the following year had his biggest hit with "Midnight in Moscow," which sounded like he was taking Kruschev to the nudie bars of New Orleans. It sure as hell could not have been the reverse…cold, nasty Moscow actually seeming jovial around Midnight! At that time, swingin' a slavic minor key melody could probably get you a year in a labor camp.

[Parenthetically noted: ironically, another "One Shot Wonder" who only had one #1 hit in America died the same day as Kenny Ball. His #1 hit was even in the the same year as Kenny's. The late, 90 year-old Claude King sang "Wolverton Mountain" which was popular in the summer of 1962…three months after "Midnight in Moscow" was a Spring success.]

Ball's next 1962 single was also Top 10 in the UK (but not in America), "March of the Siamese Children," and he had another Top 10 in 1963 for an instrumental version of "Sukiyaki." Fans got to see Kenny and his band in the 1963 film "Sing and Swing" (aka "Live it Up") which featured Joe Meek's music and performances by Gene Vincent, Jennifer Moss, Trisha Noble, Steve Marriott, Ritchie Blackmore (part of "The Outlaws") and others. Kenny would have sporadic hits through the 60's and 70's in the U.K. and even supplied music at the wedding reception for that loving couple, Prince Charles and Diana.

As is often the case with jazz musicians, Kenny Ball did not retire and his enthusiasm did not diminish. He was still touring with his Jazzmen when he took ill with pneumonia, leaving a rather petite list of surviving instrumental greats, including some guys he was often co-billed with, Chris Barber, and that "Stranger on the Shore," Mr. Acker Bilk. Kenny's classics…well, yes, your mother should know all about them. And in some cases…so should you.

KENNY BALL Your Mother Should Know


One of the legends of Canadian folk music, Tom Connors (February 9, 1936 – March 6, 2013) released over 20 albums of original material, and wrote over 250 songs. I know: "name one of them." Well, if you ask such a question, you're obviously not Canadian.

Otherwise, you'd instantly say "The Hockey Song," or "The Consumer" (the theme song for the CBC series "Marketplace). He had #1 hits with "The Ketchup Song," "Big Joe Mufferaw" and "Moon Man Newfie." He was also known for "Sudbury Saturday Night" and for his breakthrough tune, the Top 30 "Bud the Spud" in 1969. His last significant hit single was "Canada Day Up Canada Way" in 1989, his first one to crack the Top 30 since 1973.

He was a prolific bastard, this son of unwed teen Isabel Connors and her boyfriend Tom Sullivan. Isabel couldn't take care of the boy, and his adoptive parents didn't do much better, so the wild roaming lad took off at age 15 to become a traveling troubadour. He learned Canada's folk songs and performed them with rousing enthusiasm. His nickname came from the old folkie habit of keeping time with a powerful foot…which led him to say "It's just a stage I'm going through!" He eventually brought a "stompin' board" with him to protect the venue's flooring.

Connors was not well known outside Canada, and liked it that way. First off, his material was steeped in the country's jargon, and secondly, his brand of very ethnic folk was not too commercial beyond his country's borders. This will be obvious when you download "Bud the Spud," which is not only aggressively "folkie" in melody and performance, but requires an interpreter who can explain the slang. Slightly more accessible is the traditional "Farewell to Nova Scotia." Elsewhere on the blog you'll find an entire essay about that song.

One of the only times Tom appeared on American TV was in 2004, only because Conan O'Brien had brought his show to Canada for a week and was eager to book crowd-pleasers his live audience would enjoy. He was lucky Connors didn't find any reason to object, because the feisty folky often warred with any figures of authority. He feuded with the CBC, who ultimately turned down a TV special the beloved singer-songwriter had financed. He also had a running feud with the Juno Awards (Canada's version of the Grammy) and returned the six statues he won: "You can give them to the border jumpers…maybe you can have them presented by Charley Pride. I feel that the Junos should be for people who are living in Canada…." Connors deliberately went on a nearly decade-long hiatus from recording. He also snubbed the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame when they attempted to honor him. He liked to control his work and release it his way…a reason why he ultimately recorded for the label he helped create, Boot (what you Stomp with, get it…) Among his albums through the years:

"The Northlands' Own Tom Connors" (1967), "Stompin' Tom Meets Big Joe Mufferaw" (1970), "Stompin' Tom and the Hockey Song" (1972), "Stompin' Tom Meets Muk Tuk Annie" (1974), "The Unpopular Tom Connors" (1976), "Stompin' Tom is Back to Assist Canadian Talent" (1986), "More of the Stompin' Tom Phenomenon" "(1991), "Dr. Stompin' Tom Eh?" (1993), "Stompin' Tom and the Hockey Mom" (2004), and "The Ballad of Stompin' Tom" (2008).

Connors' health was fading toward the end, a fact he noted on his website: "I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom," he wrote in his farewell. "It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world….I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future.''

Stompin' Tom Farewell to Nova Scotia

Recorded live BUD the SPUD


Harvey Levan Cliburn…Van Cliburn to you…died last week (July 12, 1934-February 27, 2013). He achieved honors mostly given to sports heroes and rock stars…a ticker tape parade and a platinum album. He played the chords of fame —mostly Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1, and similar war-horses from Grieg and Rachmaninoff — and suffering from backlash and burnout, retreated into obscurity to pursue happiness and let the old-timers (Horowitz & Rubinestein) and newcomers (Brendel & Pollini) have the spotlight.

Any denizen of the dollar bin has seen Van Cliburn's first album for RCA. It was a million seller. a first for classical piano. Americans who never owned a classical album rushed to get it because the newspapers were full of Van Cliburn's story…how the 23 year-old kid invaded Russia and brought back a prize. It was as if he spat on their Sputnik, as the powerful Red Machine had taken the lead in the Space Race, batting a satellite into orbit. Van Cliburn brought them Ruskies back to Earth and gave America something to cheer about.

The thunderous ovations for the Texan (born in Louisiana) made it impossible for the Russians to rig the voting. The famous anecdote has the judges going to Nikita "We will BURY YOU" Kruschchev muttering that it would be impossible to deny Van Cliburn. "Is he the best?" Kruschchev allegedly asked. "Then give him the prize." Van Cliburn returned home to a ticker tape parade in New York City and a contract from RCA.

With his wavy hair and pleasant looks, the young man eased past Liberace as the dreamboat of ladies sans gadar, and his comfy set list of familiar concertos made him popular among anyone interested in experimenting with classical music. He turned out to be, along with Glenn Gould, one of the last superstar pianists, the kind of artist you'd ask for over the name of the composer. "Mr. Record Store Man, I'd like VAN CLIBURN's version of Debussy…")

Critics were quick to resent Van Cliburn's super stardom, especially since he played safe with showy romantic pieces. The high pressure of classical music, where most any mistake is magnified and any interpretation fuel for debate and complaint, is not for everyone. Victor Borge's nerves led him to jokes…and a new career in comedy over a promising but demanding start as a straight pianist. For Van Cliburn, some performances were erratic, while others were unjustly criticized. While the general public roared approval, and his tours and his albums made money, he was relieved when he could tell his mother (also his manager) that enough was enough. In 1978, only 43, he disappeared. He filled 15 rooms in Manhattan with antiques and enjoyed the night life of the city.

His sexuality was hardly an issue during the height of his fame. Celebrities were not being "outed" at that time, either because of pay-offs or an old-fashioned sense of propriety. Unless a star was being outrageous, the tabloids weren't likely to bother. The outre Liberace flounced about in effeminate sequined outfits but the tabloids even left him alone after he won a lawsuit against a magazine that couldn't back up their innuendo.It had to be tough for him, a pious Baptist, non-smoker and teetotlaler, to hold onto his secret, and to not speak out at a time when homosexuality was routinely described as an abomination in the eyes of The Lord. Ultimately, the public heard all about it in 1996, when sour ex-lover Thomas Zaremba, on the losing end of what had been a 17 year relationship, chose to file a Rock Hudson-type palimony suit. Zaremba lost, and with so many gays coming out of the closet, or being outed by radical gay activists, the news was a big yawn. Van Cliburn continued on, occasionally scheduling a few concerts just to keep up a certain level of fame. As for recording, no, the stores kept re-issuing his material from the late 50's and early 60's. Record labels simply didn't see any viability for him in an age when only die-hard connoisseurs were buying classical music and/or studying the differences between an artist's earlier and later interpretations of the same concerto. Van Cliburn sold mostly to those on a budget, and to less-than-serious listeners who simply wanted one album of "greatest hits," and could get it with"My Favorite Brahms," "My Favorite Debussy," "My Favorite Lizst," and "My Favorite Chopin."

A 1993 biography of him by Howard Reich had reminded readers, " “It’s important to remember that…were it not for the sweep and innate lyricism of his playing, as well as its technical brilliance, he wouldn’t have conquered the very demanding Russian public, and the rest wouldn’t have happened.”

Reminding people of what Van Cliburn once was, was easier than explaining his current limbo as basically a celebrity pianist. In 1997 he toured with the Moscow Philharmonic, but the stress was too much. He felt dizzy, and revised his program to scuttled his famous interpretation of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto in favor of some easy solo pieces. Some critics were happy to have him back, but others were disappointed and complained about erratic performances and the tedium of hearing old classics. As the old pianists died off and the newer ones failed to become superstars, Van Cliburn found himself the recipient of such prizes as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, and the following year, the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation. He remained a popular celebrity at galas and parties, and presided over his own charities that recognized emerging young classical artists. Last year, the music world learned of his struggle with bone cancer, and while still standing ramrod tall at public appearances, he looked thin and frail, despite retaining that full head of (now white) hair.

I have about 500 classical CDs in my collection, and at this point, still cling to about 100 classical albums on vinyl. I have to admit that I don't have many examples of Mr. Cliburn among them. I had the Grieg/Lizst album he did with Eugene Ormandy, but traded it away years ago. Oddly enough,I never grabbed that million-seller "Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1/Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2" RCA album even when it was a buck. I do have a CD featuring his Rachmaninoff #3 (or Rachmaninov, as RCA preferred to spell it), and that's what you'll find below. It's the final movement (15 minutes), recorded in concert at Carnegie Hall, May 19, 1958. At the podium is Russia's foremost conductor of that era, Kiril Kondrashin (March 6, 1914-March 7, 1981). I would've upped the entire concerto but that's over 35 minutes, and a lotta bandwidth. The snappy "finale" should do. Sviatoslav Richter and Guiomar Novaes were 82 when they died, Vladimir Horowitz was 85, Claudio Arrau was 88, and Arthur Rubinstein and Wilhelm Kempff were both 95. Cliburn was 78, but that's actually a long time to keep any Van running.

VAN CLIBURN Third Movement (Finale) Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #3