Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter with SMILIN' ED MCCONNELL (not Froggy the Gremlin)

When you're lost in the rain, or just stuck in a frog pond, and it's Easter time, too...

You might need to get out your Smilin' Ed McConnell hymn book and pray... you can just flip around on your handheld device, and draw some comfort in a pair of tunes from the old smiler, courtesy of the download below.

Religion, like a rifle, can be very useful. Too bad that religion, like a rifle, can be abused, specially by fanatics shooting their mouths off about who is a heathen and who should be blown up in a holy war. this time of year, let's be optimistic and hope that soothing traditions and words of peace don't get as stale as your marshmallow peeps do within a week.

Yeah, brothers and sisters...I believe. I believe! "I Believe" the song as sung by Frankie Laine is damn - er, DARN good. I believe that Turley Richards' "I Heard the Voice of Jesus," is one of the greatest vocal performances of all time. I believe that there is great comfort to be found in hearing "Kol Nidre" or "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I believe that even a non-believer can find courage, strength or inspiration from religious music. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Johnny Cash, have written or sung some grand songs that reference God, the Bible, Mother Mary and churches as a place of sanctuary and good will.

Smilin' Ed McConnell…like sinner/singer Johnny Cash, was a guy with two very odd sides to his personality. He wrote and sang gospel music, but his enduring creation is "Froggy the Gremlin," a cheerful little devil. Froggy, precursor to Topo Gigio as a bizarrely manipulated puppet, mocked any figure in authority, and he specialized in hypnotic suggestion. He probably would've enjoyed waterboarding, he would he would. He was always influencing adults to do stupid things against their will, and end up throwing childish tantrums in front of him. This was a pretty bizarre concept for kids to follow on radio and TV. (When the Smiler passed on, Andy Devine took over the TV show as host).

Froggy grinned and destroyed all instructors and teachers, and literally drove them to tears. Guest: "To bake a cake, you first take the flour…" Froggy: "And dump it on your head." Guest: "And dump it on your head, like so…NO! NO! Look what you made me do!" A 30 second little sample on You Tube: Gremlin kinescope link . The Smiler and his weird rubber gremlin remain cult heroes to this day, and an entire graphic novel was written about them: "The Search for Smilin' Ed" by underground comics legend Kim Deitch. Kim discusses Ed and Froggy and his new book. YouTube link.

Smilin' Ed made a few 78's, some were novelties with Froggy the Gremlin, or pleasant kiddie fodder, and an early one had him in black dialect as a comical preacher. Some of his recordings were religious. McConnell hosted many religious programs on radio, some local some syndicated. One was called "Hymn Time." For a while he had a five minute series sponsored by Aladdin (a company that, yes, made lamps). The format was: a commercial, a non-sectarian song, and a closing hymn. That's what you get below, sans commercials. Ed sings "Wishing Will Make it So," and then his own composition loaded with Bible references, which may have been called "A Radio Station in Heaven" or "My Mother's Prayer." He doesn't seem to have recorded it for any label, and it's not in McConnell's "New Radio Hymn Book," (I don't have the original 1933 "Radio Hymn Book" - it might be in that one)

Call it an Easter offering. Or, pass over it….



Anonymous said...

You just solved a mystery for me--the origins of the hilarious sadistic Froggy on The Ghoul show, a Detroit-based Ghoulardi spin off hosted by Ron Sweed who used to work for and was mentored by Ernie Anderson. Clearly Smilin' Ed left some lasting impressions...

Ill Folks said...

Yes, I think one of those guys used to buy the Rempel nine-inch "Froggy the Gremlin" dolls and blow them up. I'm pretty sure Ron didn't have the budget to keep buying those antique toys and just had a plaster mold made, so he could make as many, and blow up as many, as he wanted. Very strange concept, it is, it is.

Ill Folks said...

PS, fans of ill vinyl, Ernie Anderson made two comedy albums (on the Liberty label) with Tim Conway, "Are We On?" and "Bull."