Sunday, September 29, 2013


In the late 60's, Homer and Jethro were slowing down. The aging "thinking man's hillbillies" had mellowed. Times had changed, too. "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Green Acres," "Gomer Pyle" and other rural TV shows began dropping out of the Top 20.

The Top 20 Billboard charts had "crossover" stars such as Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell moving toward the middle of the road. The aging duo that once poked manic fun at The Beatles, and got some jeers for it, weren't sure how far to go in making fun of "hippies." The old standby of cackling parodies involving ugly women…well, with women's lib, that kind of cornography was OUT.

Just as George Jones moved from high-pitched twangy things like "Why Baby Why" to baritone ballads and "He Stopped Loving Her Today," Homer and Jethro eased up and began making albums that were more "songs that have some humor to them" rather than outright novelty tracks. They also chose material that was "age appropriate." In other words...they started singing about aging. And death.

Back when they were 30 or 40, they made fun of old people as they did ugly women. A frisky parody of Hank Williams' "Settin' the Woods on Fire" chortled at someone "too old to cut the mustard." The comedy version of George Jones' "The Race is On" is sung fast and lively, even the line: ""My mind was making appointments my body just couldn't keep!"

By the end of the 60's? The end was in sight. "Old Grand Dad" points up some sad truths, and the "boys" are singing like older men. "Sow Sow Sow Your Oats" and "Laugh and Scratch" are more philosophical and upbeat about what to do until the reaper comes. Bill Clinton, on Letterman's show last week, said "every day's a gift." He said it after Letterman mentioned that they both had recovered from bypass heart surgery. Homer and Jethro's view on the gift of being alive another day? Drink whiskey! And remember: "Who's to say what's right and what's wrong? Keep laughin' and scratchin' we're not here for long."

Homer Haynes died of a heart attack in 1971. He was 55 years old.

OLD GRAND DAD Homer and Jethro



Was it that long ago that people took pride in having a great stereo system? In owning records? In knowing about "Mobile Fidelity" pressings, and "Living Stereo" from RCA or "Living Presence" from Mercury? Was it that long ago? Yes. It was. Several generations have come along since those vinyl days, and they are perfectly happy with mp3 files.

Here's a column confirming that not only is music so devalued that it's hardly worth buying, most are content hearing it squirted through small computer speakers, or equalized through headphones. BUY a stereo system? That makes no sense, dude!

When was the last time you tried to buy a turntable...needle...cartridge...replacement stereo receiver? Wasn't easy, was it? Not as many choices. What, YOU have RECORDS? What a fogey!

Oh ye generation of Miley Cyrus and Kanye West! Does the quality of the sound matter with today's music? It's thumping beats with either thuggish morons shouting or pitchy bitches mewling. It's for people who think Burger King and Applebees is good eating. For those who pour Coca Cola like it's vintage wine...and don't know Elvis Costello from Lou Costello. Us? We wanted to hear even "bad" voices like Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan and Neil Young with the best stereo sound possible. You sure as hell wanted the best headphones to get the nuances of classical, jazz or progressive rock.

Times change. Today's "Beliebers" care more about what they can see, not what they hear. They also don't have time to really listen. They've got Grand Theft Auto to play with. Facebook. 3D movies. All songs are, now, is background music for texting or twerking. Do mp3 files give you lyrics? Who cares? Cee-lo is saying "Fuck you!" And it's "Fuck you" to anyone who treasures their stereo system and shelves or records and CDs. Now, as CNN notes, a computer or a tablet is all that's needed.

"Big Bang Theory" boys and girls rule. Go find a VHS-DVD combo player, Fogey, and watch your "Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Monty Python" tapes and discs on a TV while you can! Maybe you'll try and keep up...but it'll be tough. "The Twilight Zone" turns up in a streaming version, and your grand kids show you how to save it via Internet storage? You'll probably have a heart attack shouting haplessly at the hackers, "Hey! You! Get offa my CLOUD!"

Yep, old-timers, them "big box" stores don't have much variety in mid-price receivers or turntables, and there are few "audiophile" stores for the rich and finnicky. Stereo equipment is becoming OBSOLETE. Like you. Listeners today aren't finnicky and don't notice auto-tune or fake drums or synthesized orchestration. Most don't buy compact discs, even if some artistes are stubborn enough to not only go into a real studio and take time for a recording, but issue their music via SACD [a shout out to Eleanor McEvoy!]. No, it's an mp3 world, and getting smaller by the nano second.

This is not a rant. It's just reality. Today's 18 to 40 demographic aren't that discerning about the quality of the music, and those over 40? Well, a lot of them don't have the time to listen to records, and many have hearing loss that make it hard to differentiate vinyl from CD or 320 bit-rate mp3.

The good news: all the broken receivers and turntables, added to the obsolete VHS players and the rest...will make for chunky landfill, which just might help keep the beaches from eroding during the next climate-change hurricane or monsoon. it'll mean is that some old fogey might be killed by a flying Zenith radio rather than drowned.

Now for happier notes. On the right, my signed copy of a Flanders & Swann record. Flanders was the one in the wheel chair, but it's Swann's signature that is less bold and forceful.

"A Song of Reproduction" by Flanders and Swann, chronicles the rise of recorded music from a simple curiosity you played on a hand-cranked turntable to something grand and artistic for that newly evolved homo sapien, the "audiophile." Some of the satire is on the type of person who is in love with the technology more than the music: "I've an opera here, which you shan't escape…on miles and miles of recording tape." Well, today you can't find 4 track stereo tape recorders. Anyone trying to collect reel-to-reel is probably on the verge of hanging himself with his obsolete mylar. Ironically enough the song isn't hurt very much by hearing it in mp3 version rather than the original vinyl or CD reissue.

The song is from the "At the Drop of a Hat" revue, which Flanders and Swann recorded twice. The first record was released in mono (1957). When it was such a smash hit that it was going to come to Broadway, the duo recorded their final London performance in stereo. That 1959 recording would end up being the "original cast album" when it was released in America via Capitol.

Flanders and Swann Song of Reproduction (Mono)

Flanders and Swann Song of Reproduction (Stereo)


Jane Connell missed her 84th birthday by a month (October 27, 1925-September 23, 2013). I missed her entirely. Jane who? She was a Broadway actress who, early in her career, appeared in nightclubs and cabaret shows. Back in the late 50's, comic artistes such as Bea Lillie, Noel Coward and Hermoine Gingold, to name three ladies, thrived via sophisticated and often silly songs. Phyllis Diller actually started with a similar act, waving a cigarette in a long holder and singing chi-chi arch tunes including "I'd Rather Cha Cha Than Eat," which is on her obscure first album for Mirrosonic.

The sophisticates who came to Julius Monk's "Upstairs at the Downstairs" revue expected to hear new wry and witty songs from the cast members, and like "Saturday Night Live," new talent would turn up every year as the older performers moved on to Broadway or films. Jane and her pianist husband Gordon reached their peak with one year's show, "Demi-Dozen." A highlight was Jane's solo on "The Race of the Lexington Express."

You can almost imagine, from her improbable whooping (a visual variation on Bea Lillie's wild hula-hooping of her pearl necklace) and expressive singing (this was the era of Mary Martin) how vividly this song went over live on stage. And a stage was all that was needed, as long as the talent was given good music and lyrics and a pianist doing more than playing chord changes.

The song still sounds pretty fresh. You don't need much background. The IRT was an older subway line running up and down Lexington Avenue, with much more rickety trains than the BMT (or the IND, which actually runs parallel to the Lexington Avenue line as it reaches its end in the Bronx).

There are some references to particular subway stops. The "race" begins at Union Square (14th Street, an arbitrary choice). The IRT express actually begins many stops further down, past Chinatown and closer to City Hall. As it hurtles uptown to the Bronx, there's 59th Street (the stop where chi-chi folk would get off to shop at Bloomingdale's), express stops at 86th and 125th and ultimately fresh air and sunlight at 161st in the Bronx where the IRT is now on elevated track. At one time, people waiting for the downtown train at the 161st Street elevated platform had an unobstructed view from center field on into Yankee Stadium. And so "from the Stadium for Yankees," the train hurtles "to the park called Moshulu." That's Moshulu Parkway, the stop where upper-class Bronx golfers could enjoy a full 18 course game at the nearby course. And yes, the last stop on the IRT is what she says it is.

The song was written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, alias Schmidt and Jones, who would go on to write "The Fantastiks," off-Broadway's biggest hit of all time, featuring that dreary classic, "Try to Remember." As Schmidt and Jones moved on to write shows, Jane Connell left Julius Monk with a prestigious credit, good reviews...and offers both here and in the U.K. In London she took the lead in "Once Upon a Mattress," which starred Carol Burnett in the original Broadway production. In 1966 she was Agnes Gooch in "Mame," and reprised her role in the movie version replacing Madeline Kahn, who was canned by star Lucille Ball. Jane also played Gooch in the Broadway revival of "Mame" starring Angela Lansbury in 1983. Another important role for Jane in the 80's was her Tony-nominated turn in "Me and My Girl," and in the 90's she co-starred with Carol Burnett in "Moon Over Buffalo."

Connell was simply one of those performers who loved the theater and had the good luck to keep getting stage work. It didn't seem to bother her that she didn't have the fame-name she might've gotten from more television or film work. It also didn't mean that she was free of ego. My father met her once, and told her how much he liked her performance of "Lexington Avenue." My parents had indeed seen it live, and had the original cast album at home. Mentioning this obscure song was quite a compliment, right? It was at least 20 years since she recorded it. But after 20 years, my father made a little memory mistake and called the train engineer "Merwyn." Madame Connell pointedly glared and corrected, "MERRRVIN! "

I nearly met Connell. After 9/11, when Mayor Giuliani was urging people to support the city and go shopping or see a Broadway show, I attended, among others, the musical version of "The Full Monty." There in the Playbill was Jane Connell. But only in the Playbill. She was already elderly at the time, and her understudy would usually handle a few of the shows each week. Better safe than sorry; Jane had replaced the great Kathleen Freeman, who died during the show's run! I would've liked to get an autograph on my Playbill and tell her how much I enjoyed her work in "The Full Morty." Just to hear her icily entone, "THE FULL MONNNNNTY!"

All is forgiven, Jane. And may you never be forgotten…as long as there's a Lexington Avenue Express…

JANE CONNNELL Race of the Lexington Avenue Express

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Greek rapper KILLAH P was KILLED by Neo-Nazi

Things are bad all over.

Yesterday, Pavlos Fissas was murdered. He was a rapper, using the name Killah P.

Submitted for your disapproval, the news that not only are there rappers bellowing in Greek, they are being killed for it! By Nazis. There you are, rappers and Nazis in what was, so many centuries ago, the cradle of civilization.

The economic chaos in Greece is as beyond comprehension as, well, listening to Greek rap. Around here, you say that phrase and people think, "Oh, with Feta, Olives, some lettuce..." no, not a Greek Wrap...

But America, rappers kill EACH OTHER. So things have to be worse in Greece. And they are.

And not helping matters much is the adorably named "Golden Dawn," who as you'd expect, gain their strength by bitching about the economy and blaming the Jews. Or the Egyptians. Or anyone else who isn't like them. They are a right-wing hate group and like the ones in the USA and UK, they have no shortage of willing members who are frightened, angry, and find scapegoating to be the "logical" way out. If ONLY there weren't so many foreigners...

Or...rappers. Guys like KILLAH P, who have a lot to talk about, including a rage against Fascist and neo-Nazi ideology.

Members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn were casting their murderous gaze toward the stage...waiting for the right time to strike at Pavlos Fissas. Meanwhile,they were busy prowling the streets performing thuggish acts on other people and groups they hate.

A week ago, they clashed with competing loonies, the KKE, the Greek Communist Party. Oh, when these two zany groups get together! Last week 30 KKK members attempted to put up posters for their cause...and 50 masked men with Golden Dawn insignia literally beat them back with nail-studded wooden clubs, creating bloody carnage.

And KILLAH P? This was an assassination.

In its way, it's violence against violence. Rap is a violent form of music. It mirrors our times. Rappers are so angry they can't even bother to sing. They have to growl, shout, go into agonized fits of almost psychotic monotony as they describe everything that is wrong with their world. They usually do it over primitive beats. Any normal person listening to it for more than a few minutes is bound to become violent...or violently irritated if it can't be turned off. Whatever KILLAH P was saying violently turned off members of Golden Dawn. They, along with the lunatics in Iran, Iraq and Putinland (where most of Pussy Riot remains in jail) don't like don't like anti-Fascist rap or rock and will go to their usual extremes to silence it.

Some of them DO like punk rock, though. The increasingly powerful Golden Dawn was able to get their man Artemis Matthaiopoulos elected as MP for the town of Serres. Artie likedto sing in his band "Pogrom," and in case you wondered who the group wanted mass-exterminated they sang a little ditty called "Auschwitz" with a line that translates as: "fuck Anne Frank." Still, Artie had plenty of fans, and so does Golden Dawn. Why? It's not just that they preach hate. They GIVE AWAY THINGS FOR FREEEEEEEE.

Yes, you can be a Fascist, a Nazi, someone who doesn't believe in equal rights (whether it's copyright or human life) and if you GIVE AWAY THINGS FOR FREEEEEEE, you can't be all bad. John Gotti knew it when he'd put on free fireworks shows in Little Italy. And Golden Dawn knows it when they distribute food to "the poor." As long as they are Greek. On May 2nd of this year, at Syntagma Square, Golden Dawn turned away immigrants in their "charity" event to give FREEEEEE food to the deserving poor. The mayor wasn't going to tolerate this, and eventually the police had to come in. They were the bad guys, them and their tear gas, ruining the fun. Later that day, thugs from Golden Dawn planned their revenge on the mayor. As he was handing out Easter candles to ALL deserving poor, a neo-Nazi came after him with fists flying. Only he missed the mayor and struck a 12 year-old girl. Which was a shame, because it was a Greek 12 year-old girl. Not a Jewish one of the "fuck Anne Frank" songbook of Artie Matthaiopoulos.

Punching a 12 year-old girl. Knifing a musician. That's Golden Dawn, who were cheering Rudolph Hess as a martyr 50 years ago and have only become more outrageous since.

Read the details on the death of KILLAH P:

Whew. Anything like this happen in America? Can you imagine, oh, the police in Chicago trying to beat up Phil Ochs for singing folk songs at the Democratic convention?

Oh. Bad example. How about Victor Jara...murdered for singing folk songs in Chile? Hmmm...

It's the 21st Century. Or is it? Do we continue to up the ante with ugly music and mass murder, or is there some way of stopping the madness? Supposedly neutral and peaceful countries such as Norway suddenly have neo-Nazi maniacs performing mass-murder. And here's Plato's Greece with a goon squad of "Golden Dawn" madmen on the loose and too strong of a "political party" to be outright banned. America's got plenty of Nazi scum protected by "Freedom of Speech." And there's no shortage of fundamentalist Muslim psychos "hijacking a fine religion" and making people yearn for the good old days of the thugs of India, the cauliflowers (excuse me, the Kali followers) who just outright said,"kill for the love of killing."

If there's any good news coming out of the death of Pavlos Fissas, it's that it brought protests in the streets. Outraged citizens didn't just wear a "Free Pussy Riot" t-shirt on their way to the bar, they joined together and raised their voices and fists. And, naturally, this brought in the tear gas and the police.

Things are bad all over.

And now, to quench your curiosity, here's what Greek rap sounds like.

THE LATE PAVLOS FISSAS...KILLAH P To ανεγκιχτο βασιλειο‬

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Fred Katz produced some pretty swingin' music…especially when it came to cult artists and cult films. The Fred Katz Group backed word-jazz hipster Ken Nordine on the creepy-cool novelty single "My Baby." Dig who the baby he's growlin' about really is, and flip your lobes laughing. Maybe. Maybe not. Katz also composed the jumpy soundtrack music for the Roger Corman classic "Little Shop of Horrors," and many more.

The dynamite Brooklynite (February 25, 1919-September 7, 2013) started out in squaresville…but an impressive part of that town….playing cello in symphony orchestras. He had studied his craft with the great Pablo Casals his own self. Even so, Katz was more of a meow on the piano, and that's where he got his better paying gigs, tinkling for Lena Horne and pounding the elephant tusks for Frankie Laine. He was both a dry pianist and seminal cellist with the Chico Hamilton quintet. You can see the quintet in the movie "Sweet Smell of Success." Katz's expertise in classical music gave him an edge when it came to composing, conducting and arranging, and while his film score "Sweet Swell of Success" wasn't used in the film, he found a willing customer in director Roger Corman. Aside from "Little Shop of Horrors," Katz scored "Bucket of Blood," "Wasp Woman" and "Creature from the Haunted Sea." Matching wits with the frugal Corman, his soundtracks tended to sound alike. Fred's appraisal of Corman's films is that they were all alike: "“I hated every picture that Corman did."

Among Fred's other bend-your-head creds…is Carmen McRae's classic 1958 album "Carmen For Cool Ones." He supplied all the arrangements. The following year, he issued his own legendary album, "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk." Among his other albums, there's "Soul-o Cello," which includes a wide variety of oddness, ranging from jazzy versions of light classics ("English Garden") and folk ("Poor Wayfaring Stranger") to his own "The Vidiot." The latter, overlayed with a dialogue between a groovy interviewer and a square boob-tube lover, was on Ken Nordine's 'Word Jazz" album, but below, you get Fred's music sans words.

Fred was all music all his life…and more. As the concerned "don't quit your day job" conservatives would tell you, making it as a full-time player in a jazz band, or waiting for movie score work, or arranging charts for pop singers, is very, very hard. As is being a novelist, actor or painter. So…Fred put in 30 years teaching at Cal State (both Fullerton and Northridge campussies, cats) handling some unusual courses, including "Shamanic Magic and Religion." One of his students was John Densmore, or "Dinsdale" as he's sometimes known…who is best remembered as a member of Jim Morrison's back-up group. But if you really want to enter a door of perception, check out some of dead Fred. You know (now) he even performed his "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk" when he was far into his later years...yes, he was far from forgotten by real music devotees.

While some of Fred's albums are fairly common, including "Eastern Exposure," and a few are even on mp3 now at bargain prices ("Soul-o Cello" and "Fred Katz and his Jammers") old-school jazz fans and new-wave weirdos alike crave and pay high for the Pacific Jazz release with Paul Horn and Chico Hamilton, "Zen: The Music of Fred Katz," and of course the Warner Bros. classic "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk." Quite the tribute, Rhino even made an "original soundtrack album" out of a 35mm print of "The Little Shop of Horrors." Oh yes…the opening credits theme is also hear to sauce your cauliflowers....

Little Shop of Horrors


The Vidiot


Who'd pay $63 for a novelty single? Some kind of moron?

Maybe a Moore-on, a fan of legendary Washington D.C. disk jockey Harv Moore.

As remarkable as it seems in this age of mp3 downloads, there still can be two or three vinyl fanatics fighting each other on eBay to get that rarity still untouched by Spotify or the Unholy Three of iTunes eMusic and Amazon. There are some "old school" folks out there who love the ritual of playing a single on a "victrola." There are also just some "old fools" out there who have nothing better to do than get excited over eBay auctions and boot sales.

In this case, the added allure might be that this was (eeh, ah, oh, ooooh!) a white label pressing. Yes, in the world of the true vinyl collector, it's not uncommon to spend big bucks on something you already have, because THIS is the foreign pressing, the promo copy, or the senile bidder forgot which storage box contained the one he already bought. But oh, the joy of having had enough disposable income to beat out some other disposable old bidder!

I keed, I keed. I know the feeling...triumphing (that's a pun, Smigel fans) over somebody on eBay. Why, sometimes I've triumphed over nobody but myself. NOBODY ELSE wanted that super rare 45 rpm? Hey, that doesn't make me an idiot, just a fucking connoisseur! And do I "share" with others? Indeed...that item might end up right here, for NOBODY ELSE to download!

No, I KEED again...and predict there will be plenty to download THIS rarity. Which is?

A "break in." This is one of the strangest categories in novelty singles; it's even more peculiar than a fondness for collecting vocals by The Chipmunks, Nutty Squirrels and other faux-fuzzy creatures, as well as speeded up vocalists pretending to be space aliens and bugs. Pioneered by Dickie Goodman back in 1956, the idea, never really changing, is for an interviewer to do a news report and ask questions of people...who turn out to be famous pop stars or vocal groups who answer via a snatch of their current hit song. When I was a kid, I found this very clever. The smiles came from "recognition humor." In the case of Dickie Goodman, he also had a moronic voice which added to the corny fun.

By the time the Beatles invaded, Goodman was STILL churning out successful break-ins, as were a few copycats.

Harv Moore was a disc jockey at WPGC (Washington, D.C. from 1963 to 1975). He witnessed first-hand the Liverpool invasion, and The Beatles doing a local concert. He recalled that doing a Beatles knock-off was the idea of Bobby Poe, the Sun Records rockabilly star ("Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats"). Poe had moved on to manage The Chartbusters and also concentrate on songwriting: "I met Bobby in the Spring of '64. He had a hit with The Chartbusters' "She's The One." Bobby and I wrote the script to 'Interview', and we recorded it at Edgewood Studios in DC…."

Leave it to Mr. Poe to finish the tale of woe: "We sold the master to the American Arts Recording Company, which at the time was the record label of British invasion superstars Chad & Jeremy. It was a Dickie Goodman-style track where Harv pretended to interview The Beatles and their responses would be little snippets from their songs….it was very funny, it took off like a rocket…" Within two weeks, the record company was prepared to press a half-million copies, judging that they were going to have a national hit. But, Bobby explains, "Brian Epstein immediately killed the single by threatening to sue. In a way, American Arts was fortunate that they did not have to pay for the 500,000 copies since they had not been pressed yet. In a rush to release the record, the label hadn't secured the rights to use any of the various bits of Beatles' songs that were included on the single. Another hit down the tubes!"

While there would be no more Moore break-in singles, Dickie Goodman kept going with them for another two decades. Unlike Harv's single, Dickie never issued one that featured only clips of one artist. Goodman, inventing new names for his self-pressed indie record companies (Luniverse, Rainy Wednesday, Goodname, Comic, Wacko, Mark X etc.) kept on dodging irked record labels and artists, trying for topical comedy hits.

Happily you don't HAVE to spend big for his singles. They've been collected on CD's and are even on Spotify. Not that they sell too well, mostly because the Demento-obsessed nerds who should support this generally small-press niche market are too unsightly to go to record stores. They tend to either be obese, or scrawny near-midgets. Many of these sexually forlorn childlike misfits have found their way on line...where they adopt "wild and crazy" names to use in forums. These usually involve farts or any word that they think sounds hilarious with "Doctor" or "Captain" in front of it...along with maybe an animated gif of the bouncing boobies they never see in real life. These people are so unemployable, therefore cheap, they have to swap copies with each other. But back in the days before the Internet killed comedy records and novelty singles, Goodman was still hoping to get a dollar for the Nixon yocker "Watergrate" (1973), and various movie parodies Mr. Jaws (1975), Star Warts (1977) and Hey, T.T. (1982). He issued "Safe Sex Report" in 1987, a year before he killed himself.

As for Harv Moore, when his radio station was bought by a new owner who wasn't a fan, he wisely studied other options. His ex-boss now owned WPHD in Buffalo, so Harv moved up to New York to do a morning show co-hosted with Robert W. Taylor, which lasted through 1989. As one might expect from a morning disc jockey with a prank sense of humor, he told jokes about "The Land of Fa," and the king who ruled it. Yep, the Fa King...a variation on the old joke-name the Fakawi Indians. Johnny Carson had used that one till the censors got wise. The name was sanitized into "Hekawi" for the sitcom "F-Troop" (the punchline as a rival tribe tries to locate them: "Where the Hekawi?") In 1989 the station changed its call letters to WUFX and made a lot of other changes…including the removal of Moore and Taylor. Moore freelanced in and out of the radio world and then from 1998 until his retirement in 2007 worked for Buffalo's WHTT station doing an oldies show. Wonder if he ever dusted off the grooves on the grammatically questionable "Interview of [not with?] the Fab Four." Maybe Epstein's cease from 1965 still had him desisting. OK, Brian, COME AND GET ME! Here's the download of a VG pressing (same grade as the one on eBay) of a banned near-hit.


Hard Luck Singer JOAN REGAN, DEAD

Some folks' lives roll easy…but Joan Regan had some violent ups and downs. It seemed that her high moments were swiftly mirrored by low ones, and the yin and yang extends to her fame; she's unknown in America, but most Brits over 50 would remember her as a variation on Vera Lynn…the so-called "Girl Next Door" (to quote the title of her Decca debut album of 1955).

Born in Romford, Essex (January 19 1928-September 12 2013) her first hill and valley was her marriage to Dick Howell in 1946. She was only 18, and by the time she was 23, a divorcee. The single singer with two children to raise needed her luck to change. Fortunately she benefitted from an era when managers and agents actively sought out talent. Bernard Delfont felt she had star potential, and it seemed like the curtain was going to rise swiftly on the pretty blonde. But at her first big performance, the curtain came down prematurely, conking her on the head and knocking her out.

The violent start to her career was soon forgotten (and her memory for lyrics unimpaired). At 25, she scored her first Top Ten hit via "Ricochet," with The Squadronaires. Any version would have to be more tolerable than the original by Teresa Brewer. Doris Day was a more likely singer for Joan to cover, and her label sent her to the studio to turn Day's "If I Give You My Heart" and "Someone Else's Roses" into Top Ten hits as well.

In 1955 Joan sang before the Queen for a Royal Command Performance. In fact, everyone did. The Queen didn't sing at all that night. Joan played The Palladium, was featured in various Christmas pantomime shows, and was the star of her own cozy-named TV series "Be My Guest." She was getting offers for top venues in Europe, and also came to America, sharing the stage with Eddie Fisher, Perry Como and Johnnie Ray among others. But, as they say around the Old Folks Home, in America her discs "did not chart."

Joan's producers continued to eye American artists for a possible hit. She covered "This Old House" (Rosemary Clooney), "Cleo and Me-O" (Jill Corey) and "Till They've All Gone Home'" (Giselle McKenzie). But once again, her personal life interfered with her career. Her wholesome Doris Day-like image was hurt in 1957 by a Daily Herald article that insinuated she had to get married (to Palladium box office manager Harry Claff) because she was two months pregnant. What a difference the two months made…when the newspaper lost the court case! They'd predicted she'd drop her daughter in February, but Regan held out till April, proving that she was not marrying because of sexual indiscretion, but (sigh) because of love.

Joan signed with HMV in 1958, and her fourth and last Top 10 of the decade in the U.K. came in 1959 covering "May You Always." The saccharine anthem was popularized by The McGuire Sisters. It's easier to take with only one voice…and it's yours in the download below. Around that time, movie fans got a chance to see Joan in the movie "Hello London."

It was "Hello Courtroom," for Joan when she had to endure the trial of her husband Harry. The Palladium manager was convicted of fraud and sent off to the slammer. Regan ended up with a nervous breakdown. She managed to get out of this deepest of valleys…and out of England entirely. She married Dr. Martin Cowan in 1968 and settled in Florida. She didn't have to worry about her career, or being a knockout in the U.S.A., but she was; in 1984 she knocked herself out due to a fall in her shower. It was serious enough to cause a brain hemorrhage, and that led to paralysis. For a time she was in a wheelchair and unable to speak, but she through intense therapy, she was able to speak and even sing again. She came back to England with her husband, and encouraged by Russ Conway, performed at a variety of "oldies" shows backed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. She even issued a new single, "You Needed Me." She's survived by the two sons from her first marriage, and the daughter from her second. Now take a few seconds for…"May You Always."

JOAN REGAN May You Always

Monday, September 09, 2013

John Lennon's TOOTH, and a CLONE IN LOVE...Reggie Knighton

A recent headline imagined the cloning of John Lennon's tooth, the only bit of matter that has survived of the cremated Beatle. The creepy publicity-mad dentist who owns it even has a website for it, with all kinds of nonsense about the cloning process (which, fortunately, is not yet perfected). The old fashioned way of replicating somebody works fairly well doesn't it? I mean, that first Julian Lennon album wasn't so bad, was it?

Why, there are people not even related to John Lennon who've done work worthy of him. I still have my promo press release on Reggie Knighton, where Columbia happily quotes L.A. Times writer Robert Hilburn: "There are traces in his work of Paul McCartney's simple melodic charm, John Lennon's primal urgency and John Fogerty's delta rhythms."

There's also more than a bit of 10cc in the selection below, "A Clone in Love," which isn't too surprising. Reggie's band opened for 10cc in support of the album that includes that track, which you'll find in the download link below, the standout on Reggie's eclectic, but sadly final album as a Columbia artist.

Despite the bulkiness of vinyl, and keeping promo copies and press releases, I've held on to Knighton's albums all these years, mostly because I liked the "Clone" song and Reggie's out-of-the-blue cover of the theme to the old TV show "Highway Patrol." And so it was a simple matter to convert "Clone" to mp3, and better to ponder it than the future of Lennon's tooth.

As for the future of Mr Knighton…well, he's one of many restless 60-somethings who'd like to get back into the game in some way or other. He was in The Grass Roots in the mid 70's, worked on John Sebastian's "Welcome Back" album in 1976, and finished out the 70's with his two albums on Columbia. When they dropped him, he began to consider a day job…and eventually disappeared into the burgeoning world of technology, if not cloning: "I was involved in the development of a graphical user interface for a checkbook size personal computer back in the mid 80's. and in the early 90's I helped design a traditional recording console's on screen graphical representation as part of a (at the time) state of the art automation system for a Neve console."

Knighton may yet return to what Record Review Magazine admiringly noted as more than just good rock music: "It's the lyrics and their ironic absurdity with underlying meaning that give real strength…" to his work. Meaning, he might be able to come up with something quite startling in a new song, and not have to just clone "A Clone in Love."


There's a good reason YES albums are in the dollar pile at thrift shops, or at those "boot sales" where mindless "collectors" wander around with nothing better to do.

YES albums are lousy. In fact, most progrock from that era is lousy, especially the synth stuff.

"Oooh, what a lucky man" you are…if you can still find a sucker to buy an Emerson Lake & Palmer off you!

At this point, now that the drugs have worn off, it's time to admit that the music was never very good. Mostly, it was obnoxious: some clown at the keyboard playing fast-fast-fast like a rabid chimp screaming for bananas…a lead guitar idiot savant choking the neck of the guitar and issuing one strangled high note at the wrong pitch for 30 seconds…the grubby drummer just waiting for his sweaty solo; sounding like a rhino being thrown downstairs.

Back then, most any simpleton set of lyrics would do. Dorm dimwits solemnly sat around mouthing the moronic words like they were giving a prayer for wine...not stuffing junk food down the munchie-hole. But check the words! So often, it was just an inane collection of Alice in Wonderland bullshit, all full of mushrooms and hogweed, or platitudes that thick-as-a-brick bozos were all supposed to live by.

"I've seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I'm on my way!" Gad. And how many times did they REPEAT that damn line? "Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life. Make the white queen run so fast she hasn't got time to make you a wife. 'Cause it's time is time in time with your time and its news is captured...for the queen to use!"

Profound, huh, Mr. Natural?

You need more? Here's "All Good People," a cappella from the appropriately named VASSAR DEVILS. These babes made some sort of deal in Hell: no wayward synth. No dimwit drums. No loopy lead guitar…just the lyrics carefully chanted with almost enough magic force to "surround yourself with yourself….'Cause it's time is time in time with your time and its news is captured...for the queen to use! Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda…""

A Capella ALL GOOD PEOPLE…by those bad, bad VASSAR DEVILS


One thing about a deck of cards…you never know when you'll turn up the Ace of Spades. For Sir David Frost, the death card arrived while aboard a cruise ship. The instant "claim to fame" in all the obits, was that he'd sparred with Richard Nixon in a series of TV interviews. Frost's blend of tenacious badgering and wide-eyed adulation and coaxing charm got the ex-President to finally admit, "I let the American people down." Which wasn't that much of a victory considering Nixon had already resigned, which was the most important thing. I must admit, the mention of Frost's death had me thinking of Nixon's demise as well. But more on that aspect in a few paragraphs.

Apparently a close second as a claim to fame was Frost's celebrity as a "lothario" who dated a string of beautiful women, including Carol Lynley, Diahann Carroll (a minor scandal at the time) and the ex-wife of Peter Sellers. In the body of the obit came his talk show credits, and a note that at 74, he was still working (albeit for the Al Jazeera satellite network). Over here, the first thing that came to mind about Frost was his beginnings as a comedian and host of satirical shows. At merely 23, he assembled "That Was the Week That Was," an alternative to the very staid variety shows of the day. He opened with a monologue and it was followed by sketches and from his assembled cast. Topical songs came from the ebullient Millicent Martin (Nancy Ames for the American version). The similar "Frost Report" gave work to some hot new writers who would eventually be part of Monty Python's Flying Circus (including John Cleese, now a regular in front of the cameras). Frost united Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker, who would soon get their own series.

Frost's successful American talk show from 1969 to 1979 led him to constantly fly back and forth across the Atlantic so he could tape five shows a week in New York...while doing yet another set for British television. A viable combo of Carson and Cavett, Frost tried to offer a varied 90 minutes that might include both the simple and the intellectual. He could ask warm and fuzzy questions ("What is your definition of love") or book a guest in the news...including Phil Ochs. Phil's only appearance on a major talk show was because Frost heard about the bizarre "gold suit" concert at Carnegie Hall, which was considered an abject failure. Frost wanted to know what was behind it, even if the general public in America could've cared less.

Frost was not a singer, but did issue a single: "Deck of Cards." It's a track on "The Frost Report," his album co-featuring John Cleese. What you get below is the entire bit, including the introduction. Typically, Frost puts his points across with scathing wit and a lecturer's precision, and then offers his parody of the then-current Wink Martindale hit using the condescending delivery style he liked to employ for goading targets that he felt were incredibly stupid.

I have all of Frost's various comedy albums, domestic and imported. I didn't find myself instantly rushing to play them, although I easily remembered some of the bits. One joke came to mind, indelible thanks to its use in commercials promoting his TV show. It was a clip of David declaring in his most comically officious tone, "WHY is it...that SWISS cheese has the holes...when it's GORGONZOLA that needs the ventillation??"

Aside from recalling that cheesy joke, David's death and the Nixon references instantly brought a flashback to the time I "witnessed" the ex-President's demise. Over the years, Nixon seemed to live in comfortable, smiling retirement in New Jersey, signing autographs, waving to people, and being treated with some sort of respect. As his heath failed him, the animosity toward him faded. Ultimately, a news report declared he was in seriously bad shape, being transported barely conscious to hospital.

"A strange force," to quote a line from the song "Strange Things Happen," drew me to be part of the vigil. I don't know why I had to be there, but I did. I joined with various reporters and photographers standing outside the hospital, simply waiting for the official word of his last physically be there for the final moments in the life of one of the strangest, most divisive, most frightening and yet most pathetic figures in modern American politics.

There wasn't much to see. Nobody knew for sure which floor he was on. But as I looked up at the huge building, I almost expected to see the familiar outline of Nixon's over-sized head on a window shade ten or twelve flights up. That ski-nose. Those jowls. The sloping forehead with the hair combed flat but turning woolly-headed toward the back. I almost expected that "Tricky Dick" would defiantly pull back the curtains of his hospital room, and stand there with his arms up in the air, shoulders hunched, giving the familiar V for Victory symbol with both hands, scowling and grimacing just like David Frye. But, no, Nixon was beyond all that, behind a hospital door with his family and friends, and we were on the sidewalk just to mark the official time of his death...which was certainly important for the TV reporters who had their cameras and were hoping it would happen before the end of the 11pm news.

It wasn't much of a dramatic ending for Richard Nixon. Perhaps David Frost's heart attack aboard the cruise ship was a lot more dramatic and vivid. Certainly Nixon didn't utter any final words, nor re-iterate the catch-phrase David Frye had given him: "I AM the President!" David Frye had put out four albums on Nixon. Laughing at Nixon hadn't taken him down. Perhaps David Frost realized this limit to the power of comedy...and wisely chose chat shows and political interviews for his future. And so it was that his obits concentrated on the legacy of his serious interviews with presidents and prime ministers.

Over here, we say that there's nothing much we can do about how politicians and dictators and kings behave. Much of it is not funny in the least. And so we need, desperately, the John Cleese, The Two Ronnies, or someone like David Frost in the 60's to organize some satirists for a broadcast. Frost's early shows disturbed the powers that be via ridicule and laughter, and to my mind, what he did to politicians back then is every bit as valuable and valid as interviewing them seriously in the later decades. And here, minor though it is, is David Frost slapping at Wink Martindale's religious pretentiousness...finding religion not really in a deck of cards, but...a cricket bag....