Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bee Gees, Jay Black and Neil Diamond were on COKE!

And you wonder if Coke is bad for you? Take a look at how Barry (gray thinning hair) and Robin Gibb (toupee plopped on his head) aged. How Jay Black (of Jay and the Americans at the time, now solo and no longer allowed to mention the band name) became quite frog-like. And yes, that's Neil Diamond without his hairpiece.

What do all of them have in common? They did singing commercials for Coca-Cola. They did Coke. As for the long-term effects of this drug disguised as a harmless soft drink, let's hear from Mercola.com, a natural health website that quotes Lancet, a respected medical journal. It's about...

What happens after you drink a can of COKE...

Within the first 10 minutes, 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. This is 100 percent of your recommended daily intake… Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat. Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream. Around 45 minutes, your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain – a physically identical response to that of heroin….

The chemicals in a can of ordinary, "harmless" Coke or Diet Coke include: Phosphoric Acid: Which can interfere with the body's ability to use calcium, leading to osteoporosis or softening of the teeth and bones. Caffeine…(which causes) insomnia, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, elevated blood cholesterol levels, vitamin and mineral depletion, breast lumps, birth defects, and perhaps some forms of cancer. And either sugar (which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, premature aging)….or Aspartame….There are over 92 different health side effects associated with aspartame consumption including brain tumors, birth defects, diabetes, emotional disorders and epilepsy/seizures.

Soda consumption and childhood obesity (are linked) and Just one extra can of soda per day can add as much as 15 pounds to your weight over the course of a single year!

• One soda per day increases your risk of diabetes by 85 percent

•Soda drinkers have higher cancer risk. While the federal limit for benzene in drinking water is 5 parts per billion (ppb), researchers have found benzene levels as high as 79 ppb in some soft drinks…

•Soda has been shown to cause DNA damage – courtesy of sodium benzoate, a common preservative found in many soft drinks, which has the ability to switch off vital parts of your DNA. This could eventually lead to diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson's.

If you struggle with an addiction to soda….remember, sugar is actually more addictive than cocaine!)

In order: Jay Black, The Bee Gees and Neil Diamond…. Get hokey for COKE…singing bubbly jingles for their favorite sugar filled dirt-colored dangerous drink

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"CRYING GAME" - BRATS, BOBBY COLE, MUSIC vs NOISE

Are you like me? You play music in self-defense?

You stuff ear buds in and turn your iPod on because it's impossible to be on a bus, on a street, or even in your own home…and not find yourself aggravated by totally unnecessary noise!

Perversely, if you choose to go out to a club, bar, outdoor concert…to intentionally hear loud music and not have to wear headphones …do you find the situation WORSE because you're near assholes who can't shut the fuck up?

This two pronged attack on the ears came to mind when I was sorting through odd audio, and found a recording I made of a noisy obnoxious neighbor's crying toddler…and then an old cassette of a 1994 Bobby Cole gig that included "Crying Game." Both reminded me of how difficult it is to enjoy peace and music. So I pasted them together more as document than pure entertainment.

First 30 seconds? Unfuckingbelievable. A 6'6" pinhead with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, and his simian arrogant bitch-mate from Morocco, spawned a child. They'd leave it in a crib with pounding disco music blasting. Why? "It helps him sleep." By the time this little monster could toddle, it was hyper-nuts.

What did they do when they didn't like his behavior? They LOCKED HIM OUT of the apartment. He'd be in the hall screaming his guts up and they'd blast music. They might open the door and lecture him (like he could even understand them) and if he stopped crying, they might let him back in. If he didn't understand and feel grateful these two ogres were paying attention to him again...if he kept crying...Slam. He stayed out and cried as the music blared. These two weren't afraid the kid might run away. He could barely stand up! Besides, let all the neighbors mind the kid! This went on night after night, month after month. I pounded on the door, tried to reason with them. No way. I'd get the door slammed in my face. I called the cops, said this was child-endangerment, etc. Eventually the unholy three were evicted…for not paying the rent, not for disturbing the peace or endangering their own child. Scum like this are sure to be deadbeat in every way.

You get thirty typical seconds. Yoko would've given you an hour and called it art.

How often have you had to flee your home because of noisy neighbors? If it's only every Saturday fucking night, maybe you can tolerate this forced change in your lifestyle. The worst is you have to go find an artist to "support" by attending a show. Just hope the artist doesn't play at deafening decibels and the cover and the minimum don't break you. Among those I'd go to see was Bobby Cole, if he was in town. Too bad, as Bobby would say with a sour grin and gimlet eyed irony, "the people-pleasing business" meant few who came were really into his music. Too manyh other customers were loud and obnoxious.

You know this from every bootleg audience recording you own. WHY the fuck do people pay good money to NOT listen to the singer? In Bobby's case, some of this came with the territory. If he played in a bar, he was there to encourage a good time; boozing, joking, smoking. I preferred to hear him and not assholes all around…and here the "Crying Game" song is typical of many frustrating hours I have of Bobby being heard through the human stain of snaps, crackles and burps. Wish I could've taken a cleaning cloth and wiped the faces blank of everybody who was adding their dirt to his soundtrack.

Noisy idiots! How's it at home for you? I'm sure you have some reeking home-wreckers similar to the brat you'll be hearing. Some of my runners-up…include the asshole who had to practice drumming (rather than pay for a soundproof room or studio), the moron bitch who let her kids jump rope and run up and down on bare floors overhead, the jerk leaving his precious poochy-woochy to bark its guts up constantly, or... the ruddy-faced goon who lived next door by himself (no surprise) and blasted his radio at sunrise.

I staggered out of bed one morning to catch up to the asshole as he left the house. I mentioned "You have an umbrella because you hear so-and-so the weather guy say it would rain." The asshole just said, "Yeah," and held it up. So I said, "How did I know you heard the weather report? I heard every word on your radio through the wall." "Oh." Next day silence. Next day, full blast news again, for the usual full hour till he left the house, by which time I was wide awake. He snarled, "I need the clock radio on loud in order to stay awake. YOU made me late for work because I turned the radio off and fell back asleep. I can not help your problems." No, I had to wait till he moved out. Because a grown man couldn't get out of bed and into a shower, or drink a fucking cup of coffee. Nah, why care about somebody else? And why not blast a radio to penetrate so much further than the reasonable thickness of a brick wall?

Ambient noise is far from ambient these days. It's pervasive and percussive. People never shut up. Construction goes on day and night. We've come to expect that even a library will not be quiet. Inconsiderate low-class ill-bred monsters aren't content to be headbangers, they live to MAKE SOME NOIZE and don't care if your head is throbbing because of them.

Howling brat allowed to disturb neighbors, babbling idiots not paying attention to a nightclub singer…. THE CRYING GAME

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CARGOES - gruesome dream ship for GUNHILL ROAD

Something about an ocean voyage…that terrifies people. As well it should. It's beyond me why anyone would feel comfortable isolated in the middle of the ocean, at the whim of everything from a tsunami to Legionairre's Disease to a magic act that was on "Britain's Got Talent."

Assholes who go on a "Carnival Cruise" deserve what they get. The fascination with the Titanic, and the endless disaster films about other ocean liners, plus the look-alike movies involving various ghost ships and death ships….has led to a variety of eerie songs full of creepy symbolism about various ships of fools.

Among the eeriest and creepiest is Gunhill Road's "Cargoes," which may be a distant, drowned cousin to the trapped Bee Gees of the "New York Mining Disaster, 1941." What exactly was the point of that song? To be creepy. To enjoy some sweet sorrow. Same deal here, with images of misery stuck aboard some Styx-crossing steamboat to hell. Gunhill Road was a Bronx trio led by two founding members Glenn Leopold and Steven Goldrich (who both were on hand for a surprising re-union gig in New Jersey a few years ago after a 35 year hiatus). They had fashionable Bee-Gee nasal voices and pop sensibilities.

The problem with the band was, unlike the Bee-Gees, they could flake off their sugar coating and sneak in some wicked lyrics or some less than savory subject matter.Kama Sutra, who released their second (and last) album, insisted on censoring some songs. Gone was the reference to heroin on "42nd Street," and a re-write was needed for "Back when My Hair was Short," on the lines about being into a "heavy scene reading Screw magazine," taking hard drugs while "selling dope to some kids. Only a couple of lids…" To give Kama Sutra credit, the speeded up and sanitized version they got did produce a minor regional hit for the band...BUT not enough for the label to keep them around.

"Cargoes," is on their Mercury debut "First Stop," and it's a dark waltz of destroyed lives and gruesome losers. The hero tells us he's "stowed away on a dream ship," standing in brine up to his neck. From this vantage point he can view "life's precious cargo huddled in knots on the deck." You'll hear ripe pathos (a barefoot kid given rags by some kind soul) gore movie fodder (somebody on board has a jar of human remains) and the obligatory reference to whores. Things seems to get ever-weirder and more grotesque…including the lines about a guy who served in three wars, "losing a limb in each one." Why you'd send a soldier to fight after losing an arm or a leg then another arm or a leg….

The song enjoys track space with another grimly amusing cut, "Man of Trade," about a guy who happens to be a drug dealer and a pimp. "42nd Street" you can hear elsewhere on the blog, and appears in different tempo, on both of their albums. It's those songs that get them eternal praise here! Quite a few of their other songs, like "She Made a Man Out of Me" or "My Lady Loves the Day" are just too nice and normal to even discuss here.

Now leaving from GUNHILL ROAD.... a ship of fools containing a cargo of creepiness

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SLIM WHITMAN DEAD at 90 - hear "I'll Never Pass This Way Again"

The reason for mentioning such a well-known singer on the blog of "less renown" is…that Slim Whitman was one hell of an enigma. He yodeled. How many people can stand that? Like most C&W artists, he was rarely welcomed on mainstream television variety shows. You'd think these two strikes would've given him only the modest fame and genre popularity of an Ernest Tubb or Ferlin Husky...

And yet…Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr. (January 20, 1924-June 19, 2013) has supposedly sold more records than The Beatles and Elvis Presley. While vocally Whitman didn't seem to make an impression on The Beatles, George Harrison once said that he was "the first person I ever saw playing a guitar," and the sight was an inspiration. As for Paul McCartney, Slim recalled, "Paul McCartney saw me in Liverpool and realized that he too could play the guitar left-handed." Macca's admitted that he learned to re-string his Zenith upside down from a Whitman poster.

Even so, few beyond C&W fans and the elderly could name any hit single of Whitman's besides maybe his 1952 reworking of Nelson Eddy's "Indian Love Call" (which was his only mainstream USA Top Ten). Fewer would believe you if you said that a Slim single stayed on the UK chart longer than anything by the Fab Four! That would be "Rose Marie," another old Nelson Eddy tenor-terror featuring notes flying higher than a buzzard on White Lightning.

In fact, for the general public in the post-Beatles era, Slim Whitman was known as more a novelty, to giggle at, like Wayne Newton or Lawrence Welk. No kidding. Slim's hugely successful 70's TV infomercials hawking mail order albums of his sincerely sung oldies got parodied all over the place. For 20 and 30-somethings, especially on the East and West coast, this was the first they'd ever seen or heard of the guy. It led Johnny Carson to book him for "The Tonight Show." Psycho comic Andy Kaufman was shown glazed over and amazed, when Slim sang on the same stage with him for a broadcast of the hip rock show "Midnight Special." Whitman's popularity, for whatever reason, was probably at its peak at that time. For many there was an edge of campy humor to his appeal, which is why his "Indian Love Call" became the satiric running gag in the 1996 cult film "Mars Attacks." That's telling you that for every C&W fan who thought Slim was great, there were even more who just thought the guy was…wonderfully bizarre.

Though rather dormant as a recording artist in the 90's, Slim was not through. As Bob Nolan did, and Curly Putman did, Slim issued a new album when it seemed he was all but forgotten. That was "Twilight on the Trail," 2010.

Nobody who has ever heard Slim Whitman can forget the guy. While Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and George Jones have gotten the critical raves and have clearly influenced many generations of artists, one might suggest that Roy Orbison learned a lot from Slim. Like Slim, Orbison was no raving beauty, and was somewhat of an acquired taste with the tendency to creep into falsetto. It would also be hard to believe that one of the most dizzying and nauseating C&W songs of recent years, "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak, could ever have been a hit without Slim Whitman having prepared everyone's ears for a sudden stomach-unsettling take-off.

Perhaps what made Slim Whitman so popular was that he absolutely wasn't a mythic "Man in Black," a tragic Hank who died young, or a drunk who was getting divorced too often and wasting his talent and failing to show up for gigs. No, he just sang good 'uns and that included gospel, pop, and for his faithful U.K. audiences, albums of Irish songs and such classics as "Annie Laurie." He was rather slick and savvy in choosing a lot of standards, avoiding cliche country fiddle arrangements, and presenting himself more as a crooner in rhinestone cowboy outfits than somebody hangin' around the Opry waiting to court and spark with Minnie Pearl. Slim actually did better, chartwise, overseas than in America, getting back in the U.K. Top 20 at least once in the 70's and in the 80's. While he modestly said he was "no saint" and simply didn't like to sing about standard country topics like drinking and messing around, Whitman was married to the same woman for over 60 years, stayed out of the tabloids, did his humble crooning and his lilting tilts of high-note surprises, and enjoyed his home sweet home, 'Woodpecker Paradise," in Jacksonville, Florida.

What an unusual, remarkable artist, this Slim Whitman. His dizzying vocals will spin forever, though he himself knew that one day, today…"I'll Never Pass This Way Again.." Try to "leave each precious mile with some kindness and a smile!" Slim summed up his unlikely success this way: "I don’t know the secret. I guess it’s the songs I sing and my friendly attitude. When I say hello, I mean it."

If you think you'll become a huge star via croon & yodel…. Your chances are Slim. Listen to Slim Whitman sing: "I'll Never Pass This Way Again." Listen on line or download. No capcha codes, porn ads or tricky links to creepy places.

GROUCHO MARX: FATHER'S DAY

Father's Day passed a few days ago. My father passed a few years ago. Time marches on. Sometimes it slouches. So we salute Groucho Marx, who spent much of his entertainment career in a permanent crouch, sneaking forward armed with only a cigar and wisecracks. Sometimes, he favored us with a song. It had to be fairly ridiculous and anti-social and the track below is a bit of both."Father's Day" acknowledges the genial apathy that dear old Dads get after the kids spent so much on Mother's Day.

Julius Marx and his four siblings didn't have that much respect for their father. Julie's brothers were Arthur (Harpo), Leonard (Chico), Herbert (Zeppo), Milton (Gummo). A fifth brother would've had little respect for the father too, but that one, Manfred, died young. "Frenchie" as they called Dad, was a fairly inept breadwinner. His one movie appearance as an extra in a Marx movie was a failure too: he could be seen both on board a ship and waving to it from the pier. It was mama Minnie who pushed the boys into show biz and whose brother Al Shean was a famous vaudevillian. It would seem the Marx Brothers' talents were mainly inherited from her side of the family. She even took to the stage with them in embryonic versions of their comedy-and-music act. And it was under the title "Minnie's Boys" that a Broadway musical told the story of the brothers' rise to fame.

Groucho was not much of a father, as every bio of him admits. He went through long periods estranged from his writer son Arthur and his alcoholic daughter Miriam. As for his much younger daughter Melinda (the one he kept pushing into duets on "You Bet Your Life" and who briefly recorded a few teen 45 rpm singles), she retreated from show business and pointedly refused any interviews about her famous Dad. She too would often be out of contact with Groucho for years.

"They didn't call him Groucho for nothing," is how Chico's daughter Maxene put it. I met her once, corresponded with Arthur briefly…that's as close to the Marx family as I've ever gotten, which is probably just as well. Some people are best admired from a distance, and Groucho in that way, is among the most admirable. While bios of him from Arthur Marx and Maxene are bittersweet in offering frustrating anecdotes about his cantankerous and often gloomy nature, these don't have the power to detract from even the lousiest gag he quipped in the least interesting Marx movie.

Not even a crappy middle-aged choir can detract from "Father's Day," which Decca released in 1951. It was one of six songs on "Hooray for Captain Spaulding," a 10 inch album of Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby tunes that Groucho especially liked. Some of these appeared in or were intended for Marx Brothers movies. (A decade or so later, Zero Mostel recorded an album also compiling the obscure works of Harry Ruby, who wrote both the lyrics and the music after the early death of his partner Bert. Harry even appeared on a "You Bet Your Life" with Groucho). For a long time, Groucho's Decca disc was "Holy Grail" vinyl. When the Internet began to force record store owners to be a little more reasonable, the $100 price shrank to the more eBay-average $50. Then $25. Now, most every collector who remembers Groucho or collects vinyl has it, and only a mint copy fetches more than the price of a dinner at Applebees. Which is often the same amount spent on dad for a Father's Day gift.

Groucho's lively on the vocals, but there's a lot more humor in the old man's version sung nearly 20 years later on "The Dick Cavett Show." It's nice to hear a live audience actually laughing at some of the lyric-writer Harry Ruby's ironies, and the extra treat is Groucho offering what might be an ad-libbed bit of monology in the middle. It's possible, ala "You Bet Your Life," that there was some hint beforehand that Groucho was either armed with some extra comic ammunition, or to be prepared for some kind of detour and detonation if he had a certain look in his eye. The bit of bass harmony at the very end is host Dick Cavett, who wasn't often moved so deeply by a vocalist that he had to join in.

Groucho's FATHER'S DAY recording 1951 You say that it was nice of us to bother….

Now a grandfather…. Father's Day sung on the Cavett show

GROUCHO MARX sings "The FUNNIEST SONG IN THE WORLD"

When Melinda Marx was only three years old (1949) Groucho arrived in a recording studio to sing "The Funniest Song in the World." The six-minute tune was parted in the middle for two sides of a 45 rpm and 78 rpm single via Young People's Records. This was an ambitious record label often offering classical music and literature narrations aimed at educating brats on matters of both culture and morality.

Groucho's very first recording, it seems to be the exact opposite of his comic persona. He's actually concerned that comical insults may hurt somebody's feelings?? How he came to make this kiddie single seems to be an unsolved mystery. I had a copy of this when I was a kid, and assumed so did anyone who'd want to write a bio of him. Yet none of those biographers seem to have heard this or heard of it to the point of doing any research when the trail was still warm. By the time I got onto the trail, it was pretty icy. I remember visiting the record label's small office hoping to score a fresh copy to replace my original 45 rpm. Yes, they did happen to have ONE 78 rpm left in a file cabinet, and sold to me at list price at the time (I think, $1.29). But nobody had any recollection of what went on in February of 1949 when it was recorded. It was officially released March 15th.

A Marx fan might figure the hook here would have to be Harry Ruby, Groucho's favorite song lyricist. No. The lyrics were written by Raymond Abrashkin, and the music by Peter Gordon (not Peter & Gordon!). Abrashkin, who wrote a kiddie comic strip called "Timmy" and a series of young adult sci-fi books with "Danny Dunn" the main character, would score a major success scripting the Oscar-nominated film "Little Fugitive." His "Danny Dunn" series slowed as Lou Gherig's Disease took control of his body and mind, and he died at the age of 49 on August 24, 1960.

The head of Young People's Records, Horace Grenell, catalogued the song as a "pre-school-age tolerance record," which certainly would've been a nice gift for pre-age Melinda Marx. Maybe she even owned his "Young People's Records Folk Song Book," also published in 1949.

In his inimitable New York accent, Groucho has a monkey trying to write the funniest song "in the woild." He makes fun of a giraffe, who isn't amused, offends a bear, and bounces gags off a kangaroo, who has a "kanga-rooish face." (It was always easy to tell in the animal world which ones were roo-ish). Typical of human nature more than animal nature, each annoyed beast points a finger and suggests…making fun of someone else!

Is it possible to be funny without being hurtful? Yes, but it ain't easy. Most every comedian I've ever known from the hacks to the greats, believes the laughs come from hostility, from tragedy, from some kind of puncture or fracture or violent surprise. Mel Brooks said that comedy is like a rubber ball, and it's liveliest when it smacks against something hard and unyielding, like the brick wall of authority. Joey Adams told me comedy must "devastate," which was why he was famous (at one time) as an insult comic.

Groucho, along with Edward Lear, Spike Milligan and some others, did dabble in "nonsense" once in a while…bullets flying up in the air instead of at a target. And so the lesson kiddies, is in the last verses of the song where Groucho goes off on a wonderful ride not too far removed from something out of W.S. Gilbert's lyric book. And let's not forget the last lines which, unlike today's passive entertainment, promote exploration and creativity.

I wasn't around in 1949. But by the time I was a precocious child listening to what I thought were kiddie records (like "Heartaches" by The Marcels and "Gypsy Cried" by Lou Christie as well as "The Chipmunk Song") "The Funniest Song in the World" was part of my treasured collection. Despite "Lydia" and even the wonderfully cynical and accurate "Dr. Hackenbush" (recorded for Decca years after this kiddie disc), this remains my sentimental and favorite "funniest song" from THE ONE, THE ONLY…Groucho.

Is this the Funniest Song in the WOILD? Rat Rat Tea!

ROBERT PAIGE - SINGER WITHOUT A SOLO SINGLE

You know, Robert Paige was underrated. No. You don't know. Which proves he was. Doesn't it?

A pleasant and versatile actor, Paige was often the mild romantic lead in 30's and 40's movies, often in parts so inconsequential that the leading lady did most of the work. Ellen Drew had to take over "Women Without Names" to solve the crime that sent him to jail. He was barely a threat to whatever villain was helping to push the plot along (including Lon Chaney Jr. in "Son of Dracula"). Probably because his singing voice was nice, but no competition to distract from his more famous co-star, he was the only man who actually was allowed to duet with Deanna Durbin in a movie.

Some of you wouldn't be able to distinguish him from Patric Knowles, Arthur Franz or even Dick Foran among the thankless leading men who bore the plot and tolerated the wisecracks in Abbott & Costello movies and/or Olsen and Johnson comedies. Romantic comedy teams were popular in the 40's and Paige was paired with Jane Frazee and Louise Allbritton among others. Probably his best role was in "Her Primitive Man," a very un-PC comedy with Louise as a tough whistleblower who, for a change, ultimately brings out the comic aggression in our laidback hero Bob. He spends quite a lot of time in bronze South American headhunter make-up, and even plucks a few laughs away from veteran hams Edward Everett Horton and Robert Benchley.

In looking for any long-lost gems among the Paiges, one will find a surprising number of B-movie musicals. There was never a shortage of crooners, or singers tossed into movies to try and gain sales for 78's…so why Paige was so often used is a bit of a puzzle. In his early career, he was billed as "David Carlyle," and it was under that name, in the light b-movie filler "Meet the Boy Friend," that I first heard him sing. I thought maybe he had been dubbed, but no…that was him. The song he had to sing was never issued on a 78 rpm single.

When I found him singing in various other movies…I assumed that some of this stuff was made available on record, and not just sheet music. No. The only studio recordings on Paige are on the soundtrack to the movie he made with (the recently deceased, April 30th) Deanna Durbin. That's pretty odd, isn't it? Back in the day, 78 rpm singles were being grinded out on big labels and indies. Most any personality who could sing recorded something. 78's were hugely popular because at night there were only three major appliances that could supply entertainment…the radio, the record player, and the fridge.

The 78 rpm 3-disc Decca set of the "Can't Help Singing" soundtrack (re-issued on LP via "Ace of Hearts") did have "Elbow Room" the only solo Robert Paige recorded:

The multi-talented and versatile Mr. Paige left the fluffy world of amiable character parts in the early 60's, following a bit part in the James Mason-Susan Hayward comedy "Marriage-Go-Round" and became a television newsman. Which is news to you...ye who probably never heard of him before this. Nice guys sometimes finish...on the illfolks blog.

In keeping with the header about the singer who never issued his own solo single, here are two duets:

ROBERT PAIGE and JANE FRAZEE stop Olsen and Johnson's comedy to sing HEAVEN FOR TWO in "Hellzapoppion."

ROBERT PAIGE and DEANNA DURBIN some might object but they…CAN'T HELP SINGING

THE NEW YORK SYMPHONY - Molly Picon goes nuts

All right. Picon nuts. There, now that it's out of the way…just listen to this woman's vivid New York portrait in sound…which is still timely:

"Different people, different nations all in one lot! Pour their souls together in a big melting pot!"
Some are a bit loud….
"From an attic, a crazy woman shrieks like mad! Yeeeeeeeeeeee in that New York Symphony..."
"Slowly a funeral passes you by. And from a wedding somebody sings Aiyyy yayy yi!"
"….it's "driving you mad…That NEW YORK SYMPHONY!"

Much more Yiddish than other beloved Jewish comediennes who arrived a little earlier or later (Fanny Brice or Sophie Tucker and Gertrude Berg and Mae Questel), Molly Picon was born in America in 1898, but didn't choose vaudeville or radio for a show biz career. The former Ma┼éka Opiekun made her name in Yiddish theater productions and ethnic silent films. By the 1930's, she was a lot more assimilated, and goes through the frantic English lyrics of "The New York Symphony" like the native New Yorker she actually was. The song was recorded in England in 1936, which isn't that surprising. Picon performed around the world, and that same year, released what fans consider her best movie, "Yidl Mtn Fidl" which was shot in Poland (home of her ancestors). That's "Yiddle with his Fiddle" to you…with Molly mostly in male drag.

In the 20's and 30's, Picon recorded dozens of 78's, many of them for Columbia and RCA Victor, which is kind of surprising considering these were sung in Yiddish, with titles including "Farges ich Nit," "Ch'hob a Katar," "In a Yiddish Shtetele," and "Abi Gesind." She rarely sang in English. "Believe it Or Not" for Banner, and the bizarre serio-comic "New York Symphony" were exceptions.

Consider "The New York Symphony" to be an ultra-strange prelude to Tony Martin's horribly entertaining "Tenement Symphony," performed in a 1940's Marx Brothers movie and chronicled elsewhere on this blog.

One of the more audible female Jewish comic voices in the 40's belonged to Minerva Pious, who played "Mrs. Nussbaum" on Fred Allen's radio show. Mrs. Nussbaum and her husband Pierre once had a fight. She told Fred that her husband stormed out of the house...but made sure to take his Molly Picon records! Molly had lots of fans, and those old records from Bubbe's attic would be replayed by Jerry Lewis and Barbra Streisand and many others. While Gertrude Berg would achieve 50's TV fame as "Molly Goldberg," influential and nostalgic fans like Jerry and Barbra did something about Picon's relative obscurity when they had the chance. After the Yiddish theater great starred in the musical "The Kosher Widow" in 1959 she came to Broadway in 1961 with an important starring role in "Milk and Honey." Along with Mae Questel, Picon became one of the last old cute Jewish ladies standing, which helped her get small roles as aunts and feisty grandmas in sitcoms.

She turned up in a few films, including "Come Blow Your Horn" (1963, the same year she published her autobiography "So Laugh A Little") and the screen adaptation of "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1971.

Why Picon her? because of the outrageous NEW YORK SYMPHONEEEEEE

Sunday, June 09, 2013

DON BOWMAN DEAD: "CHIT" ATKINS & WILLIE NELSON FAVE

As usual with the blog, you're wondering WHO? Don Bowman?? Dead? Didn't know he was sick. Never heard of him.

Well…the guy ain't that obscure, at least not to C&W comedy fans who bought some of his vinyl in the 60's. Or those who attended Willie Nelson shows in the 80's. I can't say he was a favorite of mine, despite the great Homer & Jethro name-dropping him now and then. I've played some of those drunk-dopey Ben Colder novelty parodies a lot more, but the guy is being missed by some Red State folk around now. Why not pay respects? Whether you'll respect any of the "best of" in the download below, tain't my concern, at least it's yore education. If you do get a kick out of a certain type of rural character (a Festus, Floyd the Barber, or some other resident of Mayberry, Hooterville or Dodge City) you might be smiling at wiseguy Don's attitude-based humor.

A Southern-area disc jockey both before and after his singing and concert successes, Texas-born Don Bowman (August 26, 1937- June 5, 2013) never seemed to come close to getting mainstream fame. Jim Stafford, hardly a household name either, did push Bowman's song "Wildwood Weed" onto Top 40 radio but few could quote a line of it. Don's only Top 20 single was strictly in the C&W charts. This isn't a knock on Don, it's just reality. And certain types of country comedy, especially character driven (whether Sheb Wooley's "Ben Colder" 45's or Jerry Clower's huge number of stand-up albums) just turn off most everyone who doesn't chaw, watch the Indy 500 or know someone named Ferlin. (If you'd like to know what C&W comedy albums I find mainstream and very funny...try Pat Buttram, or George Lindsay's MCA disc. You can't deny Minnie Pearl had a lotta personality.)

Don definitely had his chances. First off, he was on RCA (along with Homer and Jethro) and was even Grammy-nominated in 1967. His resume did have "Top 20 single" on it via "Chit Atkins, Make Me A Star" (1964). He even starred in a pair of cheap movies that could've gotten him a sitcom or something ("The Las Vegas Hillbillys" and "Hillbillys in a Haunted House" 1966-67). "Haunted House" is a cult item on DVD thanks to hapless roles for fading horror stars John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone. Remember, this was a time when "Green Acres" was a popular show for everyone, and even Homer & Jethro got TV commercials. But as the 60's ended, so did Don's RCA deal. He became more of a journeyman doing comedy and opening for singers on the country circuit. Which was good enough, really.

He just wasn't very funny by mainstream standards. Listen to "Hello D.J." and if you're not a C&W fan recognizing a particular type of local cuss, you'll have a hard time smiling. It's just aimless music with a nasty, almost bitchy-gay Southerner grumbling on the phone to a radio station because his single "ain't been played yet, now play the son of a bitch..." Maybe that same script drawled by Redd Foxx or Moms Mabley would also fail to get laughs if the listener didn't get the character and love the voice. Recognition humor can be right tricky. Don wasn't so familiar to Top 40 America that a rant like this would yield chuckles instead of "who's THAT guy and what's his problem?."

Unlike the Ben Colder singles, which threw in some corny jokes you might guffaw at in spite of yourself, there's not a single funny line in "Hello D.J." The formula was set with "Chit Atkins Make me a Star," which also has no jokes in it. It's Don as a dopey drawling hayseed screwing up on guitar in front of C&W's genius producer (at RCA) Chet Atkins. Most comedy fans will be scratching their heads now as they were then, wondering how Bowman even had a hit with this. Which may not be what an obit should be saying, but it's part of being honest. And Bowman fans shouldn't be offended because comedy is in the ear of the be-hearer anyways. Comedy often depends heavily on getting the references or loving the personality of the performer.

Frankly, non-comedy singers George Jones ("White Lightning") and Roger Miller ("Dang Me") demonstrated more natural comedy ability on their hits than Bowman. Given funny lyrics by Shel Silverstein, Johnny Cash showed great comic phrasing too ("Boy Named Sue"). Bowman's voice is, oddly enough, a bit creepy, like a Southern version of Kenneth Williams' Rambling Syd Rumpo. It's deep, nasal and if you're not on his wavelength, grating.

Slightly more accessible is "The Other Ringo," Don's kick in the shins to Ringo Starr by way of Lorne Greene's non-Beatles "Ringo" song. There's also "Tom Dooley," from his skewering "Folk Flops" concept album. At the time, good ol' boys shore hated urban folk singers for their uppity elevation of down-home music into coffee-house chic. "Tom Dooley" has no jokes. It's all attitude: "ya oughta hang down your hay-yed…if you did wutt I'm beginnin' to think ya did. Dooley Baby, mah boy, mah boy…." Not many comics made concept albums. After a whole album of "Folk Flops" Don made a disc poking fun at the fad for Herb Alpert via "From Mexico with Laughs." Gotta admit, Don's drawling about marijuana on the cut "Mexican Weed" was slightly ahead of its time, Did anyone think Herb Alpert was on pot? Anyone know what pot was when "Spanish Flea" was on the radio?? And lastly, there's "Coward at the Alamo," one of those non-PC novelties making fun of homos. But it's no "Mister Custer," because Don's coward doesn't have the cartoony voice of a Larry Verne (or a Ray Stevens) which could instantly put a smile on your face just on sound alone.

In the 70's, no longer on RCA (his record labels degenerated from Mega to Lone Star to Lard Bucket) Bowman had better luck as a radio host via the"American Country Countdown" show. He was Willie Nelson's opening act from 1981 through 1986 and after that turned up at various Southern radio stations amusing listeners with his ad-libs and personality. While he ended up in a nursing home, somebody from his family had a website up in his honor, listing his many C&W achievements, and he did have a career with a lot of credits, and he's made a lot of people smile, and he still will, even if his voice isn't Chill Wills'. YOUR DOWNLOAD is a half dozen Dons…

Chit Atkins Make me a Star (Our Man in Trouble)

Coward at the Alamo (Fresh From the Funny Farm)

Hello DJ (On the Road too Long)

The Other Ringo (Funny Way to Make an Album)

Tom Dooley Baby (Funny Folk Flops)

Mexican Weed (From Mexico with Laughs)

A Half Dozen Dons The Best of Bowman

BOBBY LEWIS - MUMBLES BLUES

Mistakes...can become intentional. Stuttering, stumbling all around, playing with spoonerisms or just plain mumbling…if a vocalist accidentally makes an audience laugh or applaud...it stays in the act! There probably are some long forgotten cylinders and 78's that sold because nobody bothered with a re-take and the result was a "novelty." No wonder the music world soon began to see deliberate screw-up songs like "K-K-K-Katy" and...many decades later, "Mumbles Blues," recorded in 1957 by Bobby Lewis. Yes, the Bobby Lewis who had that big hit years later with "Tossin' and Turnin'"

"Pure Sound" and the joyful noise...not such a big part of music anymore. From Big Band idiocy ("The Hut Sut Song") to doo-wop, to the scat singing of Ella Fitzgerald and Roger Miller, to Chipmunks novelty songs...there was always a place for frisky sound effects and sing-alongs. Now? Well, there's a farty pastime called "beat boxing," but can you think of two more sinister and unpleasant words? A "beat boxer" is no entertainer, just a spitty show-off, the exact opposite of a warm, giving, ebullient performer such as Bobby Lewis.

Lewis is now about 88 years old, living in Newark, and mostly blind. But he can still get on stage if asked, and if given the opportunity to do more than the "hit single," he probably could do a wonderful job on "Mumbles Blues."

Maybe Clark Terry is the most famous "mumbler" of all time, but this IS a nice one. Some song lyrics don't need much analysis. As for Bobby's sound effects, he's doing a nice job of both mumbling AND stuttering. Mumbles you killin' me! Just download it for some fun….

Tossin, Turnin…. MUMBLIN and STUTTERIN'

JOSE CAN YOU SING? Jose Gonzalez-Gonzalez "TACOS FOR TWO"

Salsa replaced ketchup as America's favorite condiment. You're being asked to choose whether to continue in English or SPANISH when you use your ATM machine or call up 311 for a complaint. You go to a movie and can't understand the actress because it's Penelope Cruz. Telemundo beats NBC in the ratings. Half of Cuba is in Florida and areas of Manhattan are so Puerto Rican and Dominican it's hard to find a single store front with an English-speaking sign in the window. The Catholic church wisely chooses a new Pope from their best baby-making ethnicity. Wall Street cries for Argentina and the rest of Latin America. You watch Jimmy Kimmel's late night show and nobody's complaining that his sidekick Guillermo is a fat, ugly nasal-voiced stereotype of a Mexican because…men (and women!) who look like him now outnumber most everyone in California.

What do you do, amigo? Enjoy…TACOS FOR TWO.

Poor Jose Gonzalez-Gonzalez. He was a little ahead of his time. But maybe somebody will download this and add some Jenni Rivera beats or Thalia thump and his relatives will be making mucho dinero!

If you're a student of oddball novelty, that last name MIGHT seem familiar to you. Jose Gonzalez-Gonzalez. Wasn't he that comical deadpan guy who was a contestant on Groucho's "You Bet Your Life" show? Si?

NO. But…it was his brother, Pedro!

And aside from Desi Arnaz, he may have been one of the first Latino laugh-getters early TV audiences saw. After all, Mel Blanc ("Cy" the Mexican) and Bill Dana ("Jose Jimenez") were both Jewish. But let's not digress too mucho.

Pedro's appearance on Groucho's show led to a decent part-time career as a comic actor on TV and in films. All because of his ability to match Groucho's questions with cute, obstinate responses. Yeah, he had a redundant last name ( his father and mother were both named Gonzalez. ) He also had a brother Jose.

And it was Jose who gifted the family with one novelty single, the obscure but unforgivable…unforgettable, "Tacos for Two." Which does almost sound like some racist thing Spike Jones might've recorded to go with the awful Jewish and Asian dialect numbers that mar some of his compilation albums.

If the track makes you want more of Jose Gonzalez-Gonzalez you might find him in bad sitcoms ("Baileys of Balboa," "My Mother The Car") and as a stereotypical character in brief scenes in a few movies ("Herbie Goes Bananas" and as "Wetback" in a 1956 Lloyd Bridges movie called "Wetbacks.") Never deserting music, Jose could play bottles and pans as if they were xylophones and drum sets, and toured the country with his own stage shows, specializing in state fairs and conventions. He was a mainstay at the Los Angeles County Fair, the Monterey Fair and the State Fair in Sacramento, as well as Los Angeles' annual birthday extravaganzas and Cinco de Mayo celebrations in such places as Santa Ana's Centennial Regional Park. A bit part as a mariachi musician in Leslie Nielsen's 1991 "Naked Gun: The Smell of Fear" was Jose's last film credit. He died on December 15, 2000. Brother Pedro died February 6, 2006.

But he LIVES. Viva Jose Gonzalez-Gonzalez. It's time for…

JOSE Tacos for TWO

LANCE RENTZEL : INDECENT EXPOSURE BEHIND THE MUSIC

It's hard not to feel badly for someone like Lance Rentzel. Sort of. A sports figure is supposed to be a hero, but he's just some jock who might have some mental problems. If his mental problem is being a gambler (Pete Rose), a con-artist weasel (Lenny Dykstra), or even a wrongful death murderer (O.J. Simpson) he can still hold his head up, get news coverage, and have fans. But if it's a sexual problem, and doesn't even involve touching the victim? Rentzel now can't really show his face. He can't do memorabilia shows. Not even after 30 years.

If the athlete exposing himself is not particularly well known (Ed Bouchee) there aren't blazing headlines and the man can resume his career and later go to autograph-signing shows if he feels like it, reliving the good times. If it's a non-consensual gang bang involving another player's woman, but can't be fully documented with videotaped evidence (Dwight Gooden, Vince Coleman and Daryl Boston taking their turns at bat) then people likewise forget. If the incident is wife-swapping and the guy ends up divorced and looking like a total asshole AND he's not much of an athlete anyway, he can change his name and disappear (oh, Mike Kekich where art thou…nevermind….)

But Rentzel? The unusual name, his huge fame (a star athlete married to Joey Heatherton) and being officially caught TWICE exposing himself to young girls? Hey, that's the third strike, even if you're a football player.

Rentzel got away with it once in 1967 when he was with the Minnesota Vikings, and the charge was quietly reduced to "disorderly conduct." But three years later, while a member of the Dallas Cowboys and Joey-married, his victim's family refused all bribes and chose to shame his fame. And they did, nevermind his excuses, his depression, his confusion. Rentzel's marriage ended, and while he did manage to keep playing (for the Rams) the scandal sent him to exile and obscurity soon after. His whereabouts and his life over the past decades are not well known.

Footnote #1: scandal-plagued bike rider Lance Armstrong was named after Lance Rentzel.

Footnote #2: Rentzel blamed the first incident on depression after reading the book "1984." The second incident after watching the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Footnote #3: Lance's book is mostly a straight autobiography, not entirely about two incidents or the psycho-sexual phenomenon of guys who either have a turn-on or suddenly are driven to "prove their masculinity" by flashing (especially flashing at young girls or old ladies who'd be most likely to show a reaction). An irony is that Lance talks about the sadistic coaches that worked players till they dropped (not illegal) and the hazing rituals he and other college athletes went through. Like being forced to crawl around backward with "grapes up our asses" while drinking body fluids and getting smacked with battery-powered cattle prods. Ohhh, that's normal college activity! All the laughter hasn't died as far as college fraternity and sorority antics go...it still goes on, and nobody's as concerned with that shit as they are with protecting children from...the sight of a dick? Which they get to see on line thanks to our wonderful Internet sometimes by accident but many times on purpose by people a lot more evil than Lance Rentzel?

And here's a musical footnote. When he was a big star, Lance was even asked to make a record.

LOOKIN' LIKE SOMETHIN' THAT AIN'T?...too easy to make that into a dick joke. Let's just say that this star athlete, who wrote a book trying to explain himself, was not a bad singer. He does a nice job on this mild soul B-side. It's short and painless. No, that's not a dick joke either.

Lance Rentzel LOOKIN' LIKE SOMETHIN' THAT AIN'T