Thursday, January 29, 2015

"SHADOW" - A Forgotten Pedo-pusher

The only thing people object to on the Internet now is pedophilia. Anything else is easily justified. Lie, cheat, steal, kill even, but…touch not the innocent child. Hear that, Rolf Harris? They tied that singer down, sport. Yet, even with pedophilia, the boundaries have widened.

It's hardly even news when school teachers have sex with their teenage students. Judges dismiss cases of "statutory rape" because, "she didn't look underage," and today's tweens are just emulating pop idols like Miley Cyrus. Folks don't raise an eyebrow about the tween brides being abused by some of the fine, fine religions of the Middle East and Africa...and in parts of the South, a 14 year-old can marry Jerry Lee Lewis.

A song like "Only Sixteen" is almost laughable now. Brooke Shields wasn't even 14 when she starred in "Pretty Baby." Ebay sellers can actually post nude Polaroids and if the seller says "model is 18," then it's ok. They don't even ask that the seller supply proof, something that even Hustler's "Barely Legal" magazines do.

Now, nobody would have a problem with "Shadow," a song that got very little radio play when it came out. This probably surprised Mr. Taylor, who'd had a hit, after all, with "Love Child," covered by The Supremes. But that was only about a bastard birth, so big deal. He may have sent this to The Four Tops, expecting Levi Stubbs to shout:

"Hair dark, black as coal, eyes that look into your soul, touch that makes you lose control...

"Shadow you drag me down, but every day I love you more! Shadow you bring me down, and every day I need you more than the day before! Body of a woman mind of a child. Shadow you sure do drive me wild. You're only 14 years old."

You might recall the name R. Dean Taylor. He wrote one of the classics of rock-crime insanity, the brilliantly schlocky "Indiana Wants Me." It even had sound effects (though the police sirens were edited out of subsequent pressings). He sang it as a love letter to his wife: "I'll never see the morning sun shine on the land. I'll never see your smiling face or touch your hand. If just once more I could see you, our home, and OUR LITTLE BABY."

Why was he on the run? Because, "If a man ever needed dying he did. No one has the right to say what he said about you." We're always told "verbal abuse is legal. Don't take the law into your own hands." But we're also told not to touch jail bait. And in this song, the criminal of "Indiana Wants Me" has a definite misdemeanor on his mind.

Who knows. In another year or two, when we have a pop singer even younger and lewder than Miley Cyrus, or some rapper even cruder than R. Kelly, somebody will dig up this song and take it to the Top Ten.

Actually the most regrettable failure in the R. Dean Taylor catalog is the milder but wilder "There's a Ghost In My House." Considering he was tight with Motown (he recorded on a subsidiary of it), it's a shame The Four Tops didn't grab "Ghost." Maybe they were sick of those "rooms of gloom" songs, and didn't want to deal with an entire house. Or maybe people would think the "ghost" in the house was a white guy.

"Shadow" is probably a black girl. But white or black, tweens knows all about sex now. They can see all the porn they want on the Internet. They laugh at gobs of semen stuck in Cameron Diaz's hair in a harmless film comedy their parents took 'em to see. The "age of innocence" in the 21st century isn't 18. 16. Or even 14. It's probably closer to 8, when a child can say something filthy and get a reply of "where did you learn THAT?" The answer: "I Googled it."


STATE OF SHOCK: The Moirs: Margot is No Moir

Before lesbians were out and romping on the tennis court (Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, etc.) or openly dishing as hosts of their own talk shows (Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, etc.) the weird Moirs sisters were singing a song of Sappho: "Who Needs a Man?" Not that anyone was paying attention. The death of Margot Moir hasn't gotten a lot of attention either

On January 27, Margot Moir died. While I wasn't in a "state of shock" (the title of their second and last album), I was surprised. Was it THAT long ago that I got a promo copy of the album? How…old…was she?

Only 55.

Next question, what do I say about The Moirs (last name pronounced the same as American TV personality Bill Moyers)? It's a bit of a left-handed compliment to say that I kept the album all these years just because it was so visually and musically weird. But it's true.

Back in the day, I was a young rock writer specializing in all the weird and edgy stuff that the rock editors didn't keep for themselves. They tossed me a dozen demo albums with a warning: "Pick one…ONE of these obscure debut albums to review for the next issue." I interviewed people nobody else on the staff cared about or wanted to talk to. So it was, that I scored a copy of "State of Shock," with a three page bio on light blue paper from Rocket Records' publicity department. Whatever drone was working for that label didn't know anything about writing an eye-grabbing opening line:

"Fifteen years ago the entire Moir family emigrated to Australia from their native forfar, in Scotland. On returning for a two-year sojourn some years later, a neighbor gave one of the girls a guitar, which helped to ease the tedium of their return to Australia. It began with Jean, but Margot soon joined with early dabblings in music and vocal techniques."

Zzz. I did know what a sojourn was, but not a "forfar." It turned out to be a typo and should've been the town of Forfar. So far, so uninteresting. But happily for the girls, they did have a top ten Aussie hit in 1974 with "Good Morning (How Are You?)" and the following year recorded the album "Lost Somewhere Beyond Harmony."

Three years later, Rocket Records thought America might want a spooky, pedo-goth trio of Kate Bushes. Or maybe a girl-group variation on The Chipmunks. So "State of Shock" became the first album by The Moirs to be released in America. How sad that when I wangled an invite to a Rocket Records party for new artists, I got to talk to President Elton John his own self, and Colin Blunstone, and Lorna Wright, but...nope. The Moirs weren't there. I never did get to see the three sirens in the flesh, assuming they had any. But I kept the 1978 record, which turned out to be their last. 18 years later, Margot issued a solo album that included a new version of "Who Needs a Man." What she did for the next 18 years, I have no idea. She's survived by her two sisters, the younger Jean (born in 1957) and older Lesley (born in 1962).

Who needs a download of "Who Needs a Man?" Why not you? The music's a cheesy brand of vaudeville rock, somewhere between "Winchester Cathedral" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." There's a doodle-ee-doo type bit of scatting as well, which might be a nod to the aggravating ""A Doodlin' Song" from the 50's, or just a variation on vodo-ee-odo. I guess "nyaa nyaah" was already done by McCartney and wife. The precocious number is the only one on the album with music by Margot. The lyrics are by Jean (who wrote the music for all the other songs). The sisters chide a girl for not hooking up with a willing lesbian:

"Met up with a girl who had a surprise. WOOO! You thought she was strange because she wanted to hold your hand. She said "Listen sugar, are you disappointed 'cause I ain't a man? Who needs a man?"

"Well your parents just wouldn't understand how a daughter could not love a man (too bad). Loving like this can bring a lot of pain. Some people don't think that you are the same. Who needs a man?"

Man, if you need something weird, here it is:


Friday, January 09, 2015


He stepped out of obscurity and...into "The Twilight Zone."

Meet one "Battista Locatelli," a cheerful, hardworking man from Italy. He toils at many jobs with little success. He dreams of a career in opera, and hopes to get a scholarship to study fine music. In a world where people are more concerned with stuffing their mouths rather than hearing him sing, he finds work as a waiter. His disposition: cheerful. His chance of an opera career: nil.

Witness the arrival of a brooding, chain-smoking writer. This is Rod Serling, a man hot-wired into observing every nuance and irony among what are called "human beings." As Battista Locatelli serves the food, singing gently to himself, Serling takes note. More than that, he takes it into his mind that he can magically change this waiter's life.

He sees Battista Locatelli in another dimension, and with Locatelli's sound in his mind, Serling does the most logical thing he can do. No, it isn't to star him in some episode of "The Twilight Zone," but rather, to bring him along for a guest spot on Groucho Marx's new TV series, "Tell It To Groucho." And so it is, that he tells Groucho about his discovery.

With many a wisecrack, Groucho listens to Battista's story. Groucho almost mocks the young vocalist by showing off his own vocal skills (Groucho did, after all, star in a TV production of "The Mikado). But finally, Groucho allows the young man to perform. Without a chance to rehearse (he's a contestant on a quiz show, after all), and with time at a premium, Battista is only allowed to sing a fragment from "Pagliacci." Following this, he and Serling team up to win $1500 in the quiz portion of the show.

Yes, Battista Locatelli found himself in "The Twilight Zone," and had a chance to sing for the great Groucho Marx. And the not history. Not what Serling or Locatelli expected. Despite the Marx show, and another similar variety appearance courtesy of Serling's influence, Battista Locatelli does not become an opera star.

In a plot twist that might've made for a middling episode of Serling's show, Battista Locatelli DOES release one record album. It's for a hole in the wall called..."Battista's Hole in the Wall." Mr. Locatelli, at least defying the odds that most waiters have, emerges to own his own restaurant in Las Vegas. He sings there, although an accordion player remains the main attraction. His lone album is a souvenir that patrons can buy.

For some thirty years, Battista enjoys his success in the restaurant business, and has a song in his heart. Unfortunately for him, he has something else in his heart. It's a problem that requires quadruple bypass surgery in 2002.

Did I say "unfortunately?" In another twist of fate, this near brush with death only makes Locatelli determined to live life to the fullest, and change the lifestyle that led to his condition. This is a stark contrast to the fate of Rod Serling, who died during heart surgery at the age of 51. Battista becomes an advocate of the Pritikin diet system. He starts a habit of walking six miles a day. At 71, he comes to New York for the November marathon race, and finishes in just five hours, less than a fourth of the time of the annual "Twilight Zone Marathon" that runs on TV stations over the Thanksgiving holiday. He also takes up mountain climbing.

The world of show biz has many hills and valleys, and most know when to live the dream and when to face reality. Battista Locatelli: a lucky man who rose from unemployed waiter to owner of a restaurant that still, though he retired from it in 2005, remains a tourist mecca. Perhaps he didn't become the opera star he thought he'd be, but his music has pleased thousands and thousands via his restaurant singing and souvenir. Into his 70's he changed his lifestyle so he could enjoy his 80's. The signpost up ahead: your download of Locatelli's moment of song on Groucho's show, preserved here, in the Ill Folks Zone.

Battista Locatelli Aria from PAGLIACCI


The blog's first obits of 2015 hark back to December 28th, 2014. On that date, two rather obscure singers died. One of them was Merrill Womach and the other, Frankie Randall.

For Randall fans, the question always was, "How come he never made it BIG?" I mean, BIG big. He did have a long career in live performances, a kind of junior Tony Bennett for fans of "good music," but somehow the handsome fellow didn't emerge as some kind of "Sinatra for the Kids" like Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka or Bobby Darin.

"If I'm being honest," as Piers Morgan loves to say, I only vaguely heard of Frankie Randall and oddly enough, don't even recall flipping through the bargain bin albums and seeing his stuff. Maybe it was prized by his adoring female fans, and they vowed to keep these treasures even as they parted with Richard Chamberlain singing, or the Sergie Franchi and Jerry Vale albums grandma gave them at Christmas.

The Frankie Who Would Be Frank died at the age of 76. Born Frankie Lisbona (January 11, 1938 – December 28, 2014) in Passaic, New Jersey, he wasn't a Jersey Boy original like Frankie Valli. Rather than a bizarre falsetto, Frankie sang smoothly, and if one of his songs was on the radio people might've asked, "Who is that? Jimmie Rodgers? Pat Boone? Steve Lawrence?" He was good, he was solid, but he wasn't quite the distinctive stylist with a signature voice. Maybe that's why the handsome fellow sort of got lost on the record shelves. He did have his shot, though. At the time Frankie Avalon was making beach pictures with Annette Funicello, Frankie Randall turned up in "Wild on the Beach" (1964) with Sonny and Cher. RCA Victor, already owning Eddie Fisher and Neil Sedaka, released "Frankie Randall Sings and Swings" (1965, note the reference to old-school music arranger Billy May) and "Going the Frankie Randall Way" (1966). The notorious "Mods and the Pops" (1968) included Frankie's pop version of "I Can See For Miles." He was star enough, or that cut campy enough, for it to be included on a "Golden Throats" CD nearly two decades later.

Randall aged into a reliable singer for a certain aging demographic, and did receive his star…it just wasn't on Hollywood Boulevard, it was via the "Palm Springs Walk of Stars." Always tan and good looking, Frankie was a favorite in those retirement areas loaded with tan and not-so-good looking men and women. They envied Frankie his looks and his voice, and certainly with good reason. He was a charmer, and never less than professional. He always gave a great show.

While this is an acerbic blog at times, there's no reason to disrespect a professional, and above all else, Mr. Randall was that. He was very good at what he did. And really, even if "I Can See For Miles" gets sniggers from some, it was kind of a pioneering effort back then. Thirty years later, survivors Paul Anka and Pat Boone offered "swinging the rock songs" albums, believing (as some fans do) that big band arrangements are not just a novelty, but can even bring out some nuances of lyric and melody. So give Frankie some cred for trying to bridge the generation gap way back when. Sure, he may have fallen off that bridge, but you can't say he didn't have a good smooth voice, or land with a splash.

Frankie Randall I Can See for Miles Listen on line, or download. No egocentric passwords, no capcha codes, no "buy a premium account" games.

MERRILL WOMACH, the Toast of the Christian Music World, 87

Among the tragically hip, Merrill Womach (February 7, 1927 – December 28, 2014) has a cult following for his "incredibly strange" belief in God and over a dozen albums that feature his burn-scarred face. "Ha ha, ho ho, hee hee," chortle the hipster/"lounge" music fans, here's a guy who THANKS GOD for disfiguring and nearly killing him on Thanksgiving Day, 1961.

Back in 1961, Womach was a handsome fellow with a wife and three kids. What Muzak was to elevators, his "National Music Service" was to funeral homes. He offered instrumentals, and his own vocals on hymns that could be heard on tape during wakes and services. His voice was heavenly, and as you'll hear on "Ten Thousand Angels," he was capable of registering sincere emotion, not just an impressively strong operatic tenor. With a hectic schedule of concerts, and a new business that he needed to promote by visiting funeral homes all over the Wes Coast, Womach flew his own small plane.

The man who brought comforting music to death scenes, was nearly burned alive in Beaver Marsh, Oregon. Cold weather caused engine trouble, and the plane conked out as he tried to find a safe place to land. He clipped a bunch of trees, and when he landed a gas explosion seared his face. He staggered from the wreckage with a head that, by his own admission, looked more like a giant toasted marshmallow. Most people in such condition die of shock, but to keep himself from sinking into a coma or possible death, Womach began to sing. What else did he know besides his hymns? It's no surprise that among the cynical, the thought of a crisply burnt man wheeled into surgery bellowing songs about God seems like very black humor.

Only a few weeks later, he faced his congregation at church, wearing a grafted mask of skin. He was lucky to be alive, and like so many in a situation like this, he chose to thank God rather than curse God. He somehow believed that the years of pain and reconstructive surgery were setting him up for greater things. His music would not only comfort those grieving; he felt his concerts now would show anyone in pain, that the pain and suffering could be overcome.

This isn't to say that being burnt up didn't mean hell for him, and even a loss of faith. To be literally grounded just when his concerts and his business were taking off, drove him to despair. The long recuperation, the constant skin grafts, and the pain both physical and emotional were a trial for him and his wife and family. "Scriptures," he admitted, "that before that time had buoyed our spirit and made us feel better, made me feel worse."

In 1964, Womach's business finally was making enough of a profit for him to incorporate. A dozen years later, and he was voted "Spokane's Outstanding Citizen of the Year." From a struggling singer who performed at local funerals of all denominations, he was now average over 100 concerts a year.

Among the "So bad it's good crowd," the main thing was that Womach was still an appalling sight. They sought out, and enjoyed an ironic laugh at albums titled "Happy Again" (1974) and "Feelin' Good" (1983).

Womach's albums became snickering collector items to hundreds of people beyond the Christian music market. The high prices reflected that these small label items weren't easy to find. It's doubtful even a Christian record store would put one in the window. Womach wasn't easy to find, either, since his scarred face didn't make him welcome on "The Lawrence Welk Show." I don't think he guested with Pat Robertson or on other evangelist TV talk shows. Not everyone was prepared to use Merrill Womach as an example of how the Lord works in wondrous ways. Still, he made many local concert dates despite (or because of) his unique appearance and story. During his prime recording years (post-accident, 1973 through 1983) he issued thirteen albums. One of them, "In Quartet," featured Womach over-dubbing his voice three extra times, and, yes, featuring FOUR shots of the burn victim on the cover.

"He Restoreth My Soul" a documentary about his ordeal (based on his paperback "Trial By Fire") was not competition for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," nor featured on the counter at Blockbuster video rental stores. At one time it was highly prized by geeks and nerds who bought bootlegs at record memorabilia conventions. Now it's free for all, courtesy of YouTube. It has interview footage with his wife (they would divorce in 1980) as well as graphic images of how he looked right after he withstood the force of the fuel explosion. Some secular viewers are more horrified by the scene where Womach comes to "cheer up" patients in a hospital. There's no question that a happy burn victim can inspire...a wide range of conflicting emotions in people.

In 1989 Merrill was leasing his funeral music to over 6,000 funeral homes around the country, and he was adding video, as well. Customers who provided photos, VHS or 8mm of the deceased, could have it custom-made in a short movie that could be shown during the services, complete, of course, with musical soundtrack. New ideas, hundreds of concerts, and new recordings  — Womach seemed to be busier than ever, losing himself in his work. "I'd rather burn out than rust out," he said, perhaps with a straight face. It was also in 1989 that a fire destroyed his home. "I'm alive," he said, "My possessions? So what, they can be replaced. Bodies cannot be and no one was hurt.”

In 1997 the New York Times interviewed Womach about the "funeral video" phenomenon, and he confirmed that his company was making about 50,000 tribute funeral videos a year for clients all over the country. The shuffle of photos and home movies seemed to include very predictable music. The Top Ten songs to be played with these video slide shows? They are:

1. Amazing Grace. 2. My Way. 3. He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother 4. Anniversary Waltz. 5. How Great Thou Art. 6. In the Garden. 7. The Old Rugged Cross. 8. And I Love You So. 9. Hands of Time (Brian's Song). 10. I Believe.

Womach's "National Music Service" company is now run by one of his daughters, and called "Global Distribution Network." For the digital age, the firm offers downloads of the inspirational music as well as CDs.

Merrill Womach died in his sleep "surrounded by family and friends." Somehow the story didn't make it to the national news outlets. They were instead giving viewers a look at Justin Bieber showing off by skateboarding down four steps and falling, or Miley Cyrus's latest bare nipple pose. Only the local TV station KREM gave their beloved singer some air time or tribute. The January 10th memorial service for Womach at Fourth Memorial Church at Baldwin Avenue and Stanard Street in Spokane will be open to the public. The service begins at 2:00 p.m. Open casket, I assume.