Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Yes, the blog once again morbidly plumbs the depths of all-girl a capella. For some peculiar reason, this irritating music form is popular at colleges. I guess there are plenty of students who want to sing, and not many that can play a variety of musical instruments. Not enough for a small orchestra or even a marching band.

"The New Blue" of Yale University released a "30th Anniversary Album" around 1999, and collected nearly two dozen tries at pop hits of the day…almost all of them very trying. Most were recorded with the latest group of co-eds, although some tracks go back to the 80's.

It would be cruel to pull a "so bad it's good" here…because while they're certainly bad…they just aren't entertaining about it. Hearing their unnatural "Natural Woman" or how they kill "Killing Me Softly," will only enrage you. They even managed to botch "Scarborough Fair" via insipid harmonies. (But since you don't believe me, go ahead, listen to their take on the obscure Paul Simon tale of a mean individual who seemingly is going to be the victim of vigilante justice). I had hopes the girls would somehow doo-wop this thing with some menace or soul, but…no. They handle it like the King's Singers, that famous group of odd girly-men.

Somehow, their take on Kate Bush's "The Man With the Child In His Eyes" (not written about Rolf Harris or even Gary Glitter) is well worth a listen. Perhaps the main reason is that Kate's voice on that song was so high-pitched that it was almost painful for some. Even some dogs. The girls here keep it at a human level, and with so many voices wrapping around each line, they make it the warm, fuzzy, almost dreamy romantic tune that Bush intended it to be. Maybe not.

Man with the Child in his Eyes THE NEW BLUE

(Mean Individual) Stranded in a Limousine THE NEW BLUE


What can you say about James Garner? He learned from Henry Fonda how to be natural as an actor. He played who he was. Garner bummed around at many odd jobs (well, his real last name was Bumgarner) before an agent pal hired him as an extra for a Broadway show starring Fonda. Soon enough, the good looking young performer left the stage (and its frights) for the comforts of Hollywood, working his way up to important roles and…"Maverick."

It was "Maverick" that made Garner a star, and once he was, he got out of his contract so he could try other kinds of roles. Despite moving on to a variety of roles in romantic comedies and action films, he ended up typecast as…James Garner. When he returned to television, he basically played the same glib, pacifist as he did on "Maverick," a guy who didn't like to fight…but was good at it. He also didn't like to hire lawyers, but was good at it. He sued to get 14 million bucks in back royalties on "Rockford Files."

Although he played good ol' boys and Western heroes, Garner was a lifelong Democrat and a big fan of weed…once claiming that he toked up most every day. Yes, there was a lot to like about James Garner…one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. And he even autographed a photo for me years ago.

His two most popular TV shows had very famous theme songs. "Maverick" was a typically catchy Warner Bros. hack job with fairly awful lyrics…though not any worse than the embarrassing ones for other WB shows such as "Sugarfoot" ("once you get his dander up…") or "Lawman," which proclaimed, "The lawman came with the sun. There was a job to be done." The dopey "Maverick" lyrics included the badly rhymed "Riverboat ring your bell, Fare thee well Annabelle." Only New Yorkers could get something out of the line "Living on Jacks and Queens," if they mis-heard it as "Living in Jackson (Heights), Queens."

As for Johnny Gregory (born Gregori, and still with us at 89), he was a versatile orchestra leader who imitated the 101 Strings (for his "Cascading Strings" albums), and sometimes called himself Chaquito (for Latin-tinged lounge music, but also for sassy TV theme cover albums). His version of "Maverick" was on an early (late 50's, obviously) album of Western TV themes.

It's memorable for being fairly idiotic. For some reason, his choir of dopes don't actually sing all the lyrics…but two guys who don't remotely sound like James Garner or Jack Kelly, turn up to intrude with such pearls as "Hello Bart." "Hello Bret."

Later as John Gregory, he was still specializing in TV theme albums when "Rockford Files" came along, and again, he contributes an interestingly mediocre cover of it. What made "Rockford Files" such a memorable theme song? The weird combination of a synthesizer and a harmonica. Apparently with access to neither, Gregory tries to substitute, without success. But that's the fun of "cover versions." Maybe.

Fare thee well, James Garner.

Maverick Johnny Gregory

Rockford Files John Gregory

Saturday, July 19, 2014


OK, who recorded over 300 albums?

Not so fast, Elvis the King. Or Michael King of Pop. Joining them in musical heaven, is one of the Kings of the Classics...Lorin Maazel. As Maestro for many symphony orchestras over his long career, he recorded a truly amazing amount of music.

Below is just a fraction...the very accessible SLAVONIC DANCE #8 which is "Presto" (meaning fast...or good music for a magic trick).

The two-album "Slavonic Dances" set was one of the first classical records I bought. I mention this not out of nostalgia, but to suggest that if a 12 year-old could enjoy it...you might, too. Arista say they love it but the kids can't twerk to it. Back then, I bought a cheap version in mono on Urania, but when I could afford to upgrade, I chose Lorin Maazel's Emi Digital, even if it was with the less than Slavic Berlin Philharmonic. They say, Emma, that for one reason or another, Berlin has become the most dangerous city in Europe. But I digress. As usual.

Maazel was having some health problems in 2013 but figured he might get better. On his website, he mentioned that he was turning down the kind offers from symphonies around the world, and would make his comeback in the summer of 2014 via his own annual Castleton summer festival held near his home in Virginia. Yes, of all the places this man performed in around the world...he chose to call Virginny his home. Unfortunately he died there of pneumonia, his website calendar still showing his return schedule. He died the day he was supposed to make his return:

The details of Maazel's life and times (Mar 06, 1930-Jul 13, 2014) can be easily found elsewhere, so I'll nutshell it by stating his last name is pronounced Mah-Zell (accent on the Zell), that he was Jewish, born in France but raised in America. He helmed the New York Philharmonic (taking over for Kurt Mazur), and was also at various stages of his career, on the podium for the Cleveland Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera among others...and actually wrote an opera, "1984," based on the Orwell nightmare of a life ruled by a Big Brother called Google.

A pretty incredible man, Maazel could speak the languages of most of the great classical masters...Italian, German and French...and had a photographic memory. He could conduct an orchestra without having the score in front of him. This guy knew the score. The New York Times once wrote: "Maazel, when he’s ‘on,’ has led some of the finest, most impassioned, most insightful performances in memory. When he’s good, he’s so good that he simply has to be counted among the great conductors of the day..." The unfortunate thing is that he was a great conductor at a time when it increasingly didn't matter.

Through the 80's and 90's, there was a downturn in sales of classical music, and less support for live concerts. At the turn of the 21st Century, we've seen many symphony orchestras struggle (as well as opera houses and ballet groups) because this type of entertainment is just not popular anymore.

At one time, most any reasonably sophisticated fan of good music (including me) could easily name the great conductors and their orchestras. Even the not-so-great conductors. Name the city and I could tell you who conducted the orchestra. And every city seemed to have a great orchestra. Bernstein, Ormandy, Szell, Steinberg, Leinsdorf, Bohm, Reiner...during the golden era of classical recordings (when RCA had "Living Stereo") all the greats were working and competing with each other. They created definitive recordings that could rarely be matched by the mono work of a Furtwangler or even Toscanini. It's truly astonishing that by the time Maazel was recording, there was any market at all for him and his contemporaries, but people who did come to the concert hall wanted a souvenir of the man they saw on the podium, and perhaps also had the fetish for seeing DDD on a CD and knowing it was a completely digital recording.

I don't pretend that a vast proportion of my music-listening time is devoted to classical over rock, but even people who aren't students of "good music" can find a lot of "easy listening" in that noble genre. After all, there's not that much difference between classical and some of the beloved music heard on film soundtracks. Certainly everyone from Alfred Newman to John Williams was influenced by, and had a solid knowledge of the classics. So from time to time, some real classical music does the soul some good. Maazel's catalogue has a lot of greatness waiting for you. Here's a taste of it, with his version of Dvorak...

Maazel Slavonic Dance #8 PRESTO!

Consolation Prizes: Gruesome and Sad Jesus Songs by Jimmie Davis

The great Jimmie Davis has already been profiled on the blog. Twice. So third time's a charming finale, adding a few more numbers from his album "Songs of Consolation."

Back in 2008, I posted "The Three Nails," a pathetique about the shopkeeper who accidentally sold three rusty nails to a big mean Roman soldier (who wasn't Jewish in the least). With that entry, I mentioned that Davis grew up poor ("The first Christmas present I ever got was a dried hog's bladder…"). He got signed to Victor Records in 1928 (for such peculiar items as "Tom Cat and Pussy Blues"). By 1934, and on Decca, he became known for country tunes. In 1940 he had his biggest hit with "You are My Sunshine." He was eventually elected governor of Louisiana, and uniquely managed to serve his constituents while amusing the entire country with more country-charting songs!

In 1960, he pledged to continue his policies on segregation, much to the delight of his gubernatorial colleague, George Wallace. But by the time he recorded "Songs of Consolation" in 1970, Jimmie was born again on the subject of the Negro (who had now been upscaled to "black"). Jimmie lived to be 101…and some of his songs remain timeless. Meaning, few have the time to listen.

But on this blog, there's always time for a pungent Jesus song. In 2009 I posted "I'd Hate to be the Man Who Put the Nails in Jesus' Hands."

And now, a trinity. Some wags might call it an unholy three, but believing in Jesus ain't no sin, and loving country music and Jimmie Davis tain't neither. Bandwidth prohibits indulging in any further tribute, but do enjoy, in a seamless download, three songs produced by the legendary Owen Bradley and sung by the former Governor of the Great State of Louisiana:

"Shake the Nail-Scarred Hands of Jesus," "I've Been Born Again" and "Going Home."


Groucho Marx's Daughter and John Lennon's Father

In the spirit of the old Firesign Theatre cover...

Let's take a look at Marx and Lennon...Melinda Marx and Fred Lennon.

Groucho Marx had three children, and only the youngest daughter, Melinda, is still around. She's been reclusive ever since her acting career evaporated in 1972 with the obscure film "No Deposit No Return." Born August 14, 1946, she's known to Marx fans for a few appearances on "You Bet Your Life," including a pretty complicated Gilbert & Sullivan duet with Dad. Sweet Melinda was a little goddess of gloom in real life, not exactly thrilled with being thrust on stage to sing perfectionist patter songs. She wasn't all that thrilled about Life with Groucho in general, and her mother was not faring well either. This photo shows the kind of dysfunctional family they became...

...a chagrined kid, an alky wife (stepmom Eden) and a grouchy old hubby.

The perk of being Groucho's daughter did seem to perk up Melinda when she was in her teens, and able to score a record deal. She probably had visions of being the next Petula Clark, as her single "East Side of Town" draws an obvious comparison to "Downtown."

The East Side...and Down Side of Being a Celebrity Daughter

Meanwhile, across the pond...

Alfred "Freddie" Lennon was a disappointment to John. As in, "Daddy come home." The seaman who was mostly floating outside of John's orbit suddenly re-emerged when his boy was a huge success. John didn't want much to do with him...especially after Fred got himself a record deal.

John inherited some of his famous nasal voice from "Freddie," that's for sure. On the A-side, co-written by Freddie, he offers an autobiographical apology for his love of sailing (which made him an absentee father and husband).

His label had reason to be optimistic. Back then, The Beatles shared the charts with many middle-of-the-road performers. There was Louis Armstrong doing "Hello Dolly" and Andy Williams with "Moon River," and only a few years earlier Walter Brennan was offering talk-novelties with middle-aged background singers. Here's Fred Lennon and his 3 minutes of fame; the sailor come home from the sea. To cash in on his son.

That's My Life... FREDDIE LENNON
b-side, The Next Time You Feel Important

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


Groucho Marx was greatly amused by "Peter O'Toole," a name he thought of as the perfect dick joke. First and last name: both lewd.

My favorite? Dick Jurgens. Sorry that a few British or European readers might not be doubled over with laughter, but there wasn't a musician named Dick Wanking.

Does a name that signals masturbation beat (off) a guy with two dick names? I think so.

But I didn't think about this when I first encountered the big band leader via a family heirloom 78rpm of "Sweethearts or Strangers." This was well before I was old enough to think dirty thoughts. I also had no idea that the song was actually a C&W hit, and composed by our old pal and Jesus freak, Jimmie Davis, whose songs about putting nails in Jesus' hands can be found here on the blog.

This is more than an OK big band version of a C&W hit…it's Okeh. It swings along genially and nicely. Yes, Virginia, there were "crossover" songs well before you were born, and it wasn't uncommon for popular big bands to borrow classical melodies or boogie a bit of shitkickin' hillbilly music. I prefer the way the swing musicians are Jurgen around with the melody here...although that shouldn't imply that I spend a lot of my time listening to either C&W shitkickers or big band shit. Both categories have an awful lot of...awful stuff. This is, come to think of it, the only cut I have from DJ's big band. I don't even have the flip side.

So who was Dick Jurgens? He was a Californian (lived and died in Sacramento: January 9, 1910 – October 5, 1995). He put together his own swing orchestra, played at the St. Francis Hotel, and got himself a Decca deal that lasted from 1934 to 1940 with Eddy Howard his lead vocalist. He then switched to Okeh (with the wonderfully named Harry Cool on vocals…later replaced by Buddy Moreno).

Jurgens had a lot of obviously forgettable or forgotten hits before going into the Marines in World War II. After the war, he continued with his big band, but by the mid-50's, rock and pop had taken over, and rather than jerk around with that stuff, Jurgens took day jobs…from selling electronics to dabbling in real estate. He was called on to revive the band from time to time, but finally retired in his 70's. Ironically the Dick Jurgens band continued…he sold the rights to somebody who vowed to keep up his style of music and keep that name alive.

These days, if anyone knows the name "Jurgens," it's because of the hand lotion…which comes in handy if…you find yourself involved in Dick Jurgens. OK, that's not too respectful, but it's amphisbaenic.


Sammy Walker at 62 - Waitin' for Jesus to Show?

Happy Birthday to Sammy Walker...a few days ago.

I remember Dick Van Dyke smiling wryly, at age 86, and saying, "I'm circling the drain." But a birthday can bring up the subject of mortality to most anyone...especially as 20's turn to 30's turn to...

So Sammy wrote the following, acknowledging birthday wishes from so many of us:

"Thank you all, dear friends and family from near and far for the Happy Birthday wishes and messages you posted today 7-7-14. At age 62, the finish line is beginning to come into view. This morning I was doing my little crossword puzzle in my little simple book that I have done most every morning for several years. The book is the July issue and I was working on puzzle # 7 and the clue for 7 down was "_____ birthday to you". The answer was of course, happy. I've never come across this clue in one of these books before. I have no doubt in my mind that this was a Happy Birthday wish from my mom and my dad and my sister, Janet.

Sometimes those who have passed on choose to contact us in strange and mysterious ways when we need it the most. I'm sure most everyone experiences this a time or two in their life if you are aware enough to recognize it when it happens. It also helps us to know that we need not fear the finish line and that there is life beyond it. There is a place reserved in Paradise for the homeless, the hungry, those suffering in pain and anguish and for all who choose to live a good and righteous life and who have faith in the Creator and Keeper of The Paradise."

62 ain't old, Sam. Bob Dylan is over 70 now, and still here with us. When he tours, he makes this Earth into some kind of paradise. People sure look like they're seeing Jesus, Moses or The Pope when he comes out. So as they say in the Dutch cheese shops, "Make good use of the time you have left." Aging can be a good thing...you can wine about it. But as we get older, and either have the material things we want or know we'll never get 'em, it's natural to ponder "the finish line," as Sammy notes.

Things get better? Well, Sammy's two Warners albums were re-issued this year. So you never know what's going to happen. How nice if there was a travelin' folkie show mounted...so people could get an entire evening of Sammy, Eric Andersen, Jim Glover, Billy Edd Wheeler, Barry McGuire...whatever combo you'd want from the great days.

It's been a double-edged sword for Sammy Walker; he was "discovered" by Phil Ochs, and billed almost instantly as a Dylan sound-alike. This has helped him get sampled by fans of Phil and Bob...but it's come at a price, with some people never getting those names (or Woody Guthrie's) out of their heads. The fact is, Sammy Walker is, most assuredly, his own man. His best songs don't make you think, "Oh, that could've been on an Ochs album," or "that's early Dylan." You think: "This Sammy walker is a damn good singer/songwriter." And once you get into his albums, the more you pick up on the unique themes, musically and lyrically, that make these Sammy Walker songs.

The brief notes for the re-issue CD booklet mention that Sammy's major label days ended with the two WB albums, and that he's only issued a few sporadic indie releases since. The later material is well worth getting. Some of it is pricey on CD, but a lot is easy to find via cheap download...the kind that delights fans while pauperizing the artist. Not to mention the secret forums and torrents that give the stuff away so the uploader can make some spare change or pretend to be in show biz.

Here at the blog of less renown, one sample song is sufficient to let educated (and this blog isn't aimed at dummies) music fans discover a new favorite. On your next birthday, you might ponder if you're one year closer to your own personal Jesus, or just to a wooden box or incineration.

You might also ponder the odds of heaven on Earth...and if Jesus (or Mohammed or Buddha or Moses or JFK or Lenny Bruce or Phil Ochs) might come down and make this place a little less miserable than it is now. Sammy's had such thoughts, as have we all. It's just the Sammy has done a good job of putting those thoughts to music. Some people ask "what if Phil was alive...what would he be writing about..." or "What if Bob cut it out with the Delta blues stuff..." I'm tempted to say that the answer is in the song below...which covers religious war, global warming, the fate of animals and humans, and those who simply leave it to a "savior" to come down and save us. But this song is not an Ochs and not a Dylan...it's a great Sammy Walker song.

Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads or wait-time.