Monday, December 19, 2016


Again, I remember a friend on a sad anniversary. It might be more fitting to celebrate Bobby Cole (September 8, 1932 – December 19, 1996) on his birthday, but, like John Lennon, the date of his death in December is much harder to forget. It happened so close to Christmas, after all. It was a very sad Christmas TWENTY YEARS AGO, when that small circle of friends learned that he had passed on.

At this point, some key figures in Bobby’s life are gone as well. That includes various musicians, most of his famous fans (Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra among them) and the eccentric woman who shared Bobby’s apartment (but not his bed). Karen Leslie Lyttle (known to her friends as Inga!) dabbled in an acting career. Her most notable film role (there were only two others) was as Fraulein, a stereotypical German nut, in the Richard Pryor film “The Toy.” She never gave up trying. One miserable summer, she went off to Hollywood to try and get auditions and drum up work, leaving Bobby to binge (and deliberately not take his Trazodone).

Over the past 20 years, there used to be phone calls at all hours, and some quiet get-togethers in restaurants, as I and some of Bobby's pals (mostly his lady friends, actually) talked about old times, and shared collected photos and tapes. Time heals some wounds, and wounds some heels, and gradually there wasn't quite the need to get together to talk about Bobby as there once was. An irony is that a family member who didn't even want to talk to Bobby in his later years (for understandable reasons) has now posted tributes on Facebook and YouTube.

Yes, it’s been a long, long time. Which is what had me pick out “Rocket Man” for the download. Bobby was a member of the obscure "Church of the Healing Christ," and was an avid student of poetry and philosophy. So he may have thought he was going to somewhere in the beyond. Is it possible his soul took off into the great beyond, and he's now on some new planet or cloud? I mean, aside from his music being hosted on a cloud?

While Bobby was certainly “old school,” and was more prone to get his older audience smiling through an Errol Garner-styled instrumental on “Take the A-Train,” or sing “After You’ve Gone,” his repertoire both solo and with the trio included modern material. He sang covers of songs by Leonard Cohen (he loved “Closing Time”), Procol Harum (yeah, “Whiter Shade”), The Beatles (“A Day in the Life”) and Elton John.

Unfortunately, Bobby was not a tape recorder junkie. He lived with his music via the live performances, and didn’t seem to have a need for recording anything for posterity. That rather spartan two-room apartment he shared with Karen didn't even include copies of his own records (the solo studio album and the earlier "Bobby Cole Trio" debut on Columbia). He had some cassettes of songs he was working on, but that was it. As he once explained to me, he knew who had the stuff, and could get it if he wanted it. He was so used to bouncing from place to place over the later years, he didn't need the burden of owning a lot of things. Some memorabilia was "stored" at the apartments of friends. Only a few items (some photos, clippings and a souvenir booklet from when he was the conductor/arranger for Judy Garland) were in his piano bench.

The dozen or so live shows that exist on him tend to be amateur ambient cassette recordings. Sometimes he allowed an admiring girlfriend to actually put the recorder on the piano, but other times, the recorder sat on a table a distance away, which means some distracting chatter. An annoying problem with nightclub and restaurant audiences is that they come for the drinking and eating and scoring as much as hearing the music. Not many of the live recordings survive without an undercurrent of mumble-rumble babble.

Older fans told me about the legendary dates at places such as Ali Baba’s, where Sinatra would turn up, and Art Carney would be granted a chance to spell Bobby and play a set at the piano. I saw him at places that ranged from elegant old school (Savoy Grill) to shitty (Judy’s) to his last regular location, Campagnola. It was his nature/affliction to sometimes take more than a night or two off at Campagnola. He played weekends, and sometimes didn't show up. Thus it was, TWENTY YEARS AGO in December, I noticed a prolonged period of darkness at the Campagnola window. The place was set up with him and his piano up front, the bar across from him, and the restaurant further down. Anyone passing by would instantly be drawn to the sight of a real live piano player and singer in that window.

But that December, he wasn't around. In fact, management was so certain that this was more prolonged than usual, they had a back-up guy showing up. This guy didn't sing, but he did play well, and even if he wasn't a name that drew the regulars, it was still a novel sight for passersby. Bobby's absence turned out to involve health problems related to all those years of drinking and smoking. 20 years ago, he was out for an evening walk, and passed by the bar-restaurant he was now avoiding. On the next block, he leaned against a lamp post to steady himself, but sank down to the pavement. An ambulance arrived but he was already gone.

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…”

There are still a lot of people who remember seeing Bobby perform. There are new fans, too, who have discovered him via YouTube posts and blogs. His cover of “Mr. Bojangles” is still the best version of that song, period. I have not met anyone who hasn’t been moved by hearing the last track on his solo album, his own “Growing Old.” There's more. I just wish that some of the “more” was in better condition. “Rocket Man” is in rough mono. The pretty arrangement he created for himself and the trio would’ve sounded great in stereo, professionally recorded for a “Bobby Cole Trio Live” album.

We’re used to good quality bootlegs these days, thanks to powerful and tiny digital recorders, but this show was recorded nearly 30 years ago, back in March of 1988.

Bobby used to say, with a wry irony, “I’m in the people-pleasing business.” A lot of people would’ve been pleased to have more of him on vinyl. He sadly fulfilled one of the basic axioms of show biz: “Leave ‘em wanting more.”

BOBBY COLE - ROCKET MAN live recording March, 1988


I was a bit shocked to read that Zsa Zsa Gabor died at 99. With Kirk Douglas reaching 100, I thought maybe she'd get there, too. As is usually the case with celebrity deaths, that Paul Simon song line played in my head: “I really wasn’t such a Johnny Ace fan, but I felt bad all the same.”

After all, most anyone over 40 and living in America knew all about Zsa Zsa Gabor. She extended her fame well past her 50's movies by becoming a larger-than-life raconteur. She took a little from Liberace (some outrageous, feminine outfits and props) and was always prepared with a bon mot to fling at Jack Paar or Johnny Carson. Her truest quote was one she lived by: "What is really important for a woman, you know, even more than being beautiful or intelligent, is to be entertaining.”

With her odd Hungarian accent and a becoming touch of self-parody, she went on and on, until she went on and on. Eventually, even on vapid talk shows, she really had nothing to say. She became a bit too much of a diva, which extended to her infamous arrest for slapping a cop. He had dared to give her a ticket.

Yesterday's obits seem to be remembering Zsa Zsa as the stone age Kardashian. That's what it takes to explain the woman to people under 30? She was obviously more than that.

No question, though, that in the primitive 50's and 60's and 70's, when "entertainment news" was NOT on the front page, and "scandalous" behavior and multiple marriages or affairs were largely confined to movie gossip magazines, "ZSA ZSA" was as prominent a headline then as KARDASHIAN is now. BUT, she wasn't "famous for being famous," like shit-eyed Kim. Gabor had been a legit movie star before turning "socialite" and "raconteur." In fact, even with competition (there was the more demure Eva Gabor, just as there is the more obscure demure Khloe Kardashian) there was no doubt who the big star of the family was.

Interesting, isn't it, that Zsa Zsa got a much bigger write-up than Eva, even if Eva was a true TV star (and "Green Acres" is STILL in re-runs to this day).

I honestly thought that Gabor's death would get a minimum of reporting, but it seems it's been a slow news day, people are sick of hearing about Trump, or she really was a legend after all. I thought there would be a bratty sneer of "Zsa Zsa WHO!" Instead, the reaction is more like "ZSA ZSA WHO??????" as uttered by an incredulous guy on an obscure Spike Jones record. How could anyone NOT know Zsa Zsa? Just on that weird name alone! Or, "ZA ZA" is some people insisted on calling her.

I recall two examples of Zsa Zsa being name-checked in songs. In “Donna The Prima Donna” streetwise Dion could find no greater put-down than to liken a snotty chick to the Diva Du Jour, “ZA ZA GABOR.” (That’s how he pronounced the name). The other example is below: “Knock Knock Who’s There,” from Spike Jones. Her name turns into a "Knock Knock joke" gag.

A word about this track, dahling. “Knock Knock” jokes have gone in and out of fashion (except perhaps in grade school). Back in the 78rpm era, there was a craze for this stuff, and novelty "Knock Knock" songs by big bands (Jack Hylton, Ambrose, Fletcher Henderson) were popular on radio.

When Spike Jones got around to doing one, it was out of nostalgia. His album “60 Years of Music America Hates Best” was basically a re-worked weakly Spiked collection of old novelty tunes. The tracks were short on insane sound effects, but did freshen up some old jokes. The "Knock Knock" gags in Spike's song cover quite a range. Some are both clever and wickedly awful at the same time.

"Knock Knock!" "Who's There?" "Maverick!" "Maverick who?" "Mah-ah-'hv-a-rickording of this song??" Hey, it beats the Henderson version, with this inept recitation: “Knock Knock.” “Who’s there?” “Fletcher!” “Fletcher who?” “Fletcher self go!”

KNOCK KNOCK WHO'S THERE - SPIKE JONES. Once in a while you can listen on line but NOT download. That would be a bandwidth issue. Try back another time if that happens. It shouldn't be a factor with 2017 posts, but some links from 2016 and earlier have yet to be changed over to the more robust server.

Friday, December 09, 2016

"WILD BIKE" a well remembered bit of music from Robert Vaughn's MAN FROM UNCLE

Robert Vaughn (November 22, 1932 – November 11, 2016) had mixed emotions about "Man from UNCLE." The double-edged sword was that playing Napoleon Solo made him famous, and forever beloved by Baby Boomers. But it no doubt typed him to the extent that he lost some roles he wanted to play, and even if he was dressed up as Franklin Roosevelt or Hamlet, half the audience was still blinking and thinking, "That's him, Napoleon Solo!!" 

I remember seeing Vaughn at a book signing Q&A, and yes, virtually ALL the questions were about the one crime-fighting TV show (and he did more than one, and some of them lasted a lot longer than UNCLE did). Asked if he had a FAVORITE episode of "Man from UNCLE," he gave one of his famous open-mouthed grimaces (a bit like William Buckley Jr.) before saying, "NO." 

Since Mr. Vaughn is much too famous to belong on this blog of less renown, and so is the theme song from "The Man from UNCLE," we turn to a lesser known bit of soundtrack music from the show. You'll recognize "Wild Bike," as it was probably used quite a few times during the first season of the show. While most associate Jerry Goldsmith with UNCLE, this piece was composed by Morton Stevens. 

"WILD BIKE" by Morton Stevens


"WILD BIKE" by Morton Stevens - Alternate Link

Obscure Music from BURKE'S LAW

Since this blog ended up paying "theme music tribute" to Robert Vaughn and Van Williams, the trifecta here is just some good TV theme music from another 60's show, "Burke's Law." This series seems to be forgotten by most video historians, which is a shame. In its two seasons, it was stylish, well-acted, and the bonus was that every episode had about five famous "guest star" suspects. 

"Burke's Law." had a cool jazz theme with some quirky cadances Bacharach might've admired. Just whose sultry voice said "It's Burke's Law..." I have yet to find out. She is absent from the original soundtrack album. The show also had other bits of evocative music, including some great "stings" (15 or 30 second bits of music underscoring somebody discovering a dead body, or getting knifed or tossed off  a building) not preserved on vinyl. 

Below, are two examples of the show's fine TV soundtrack writing. 

“LIVE!” and “DRUM MADNESS” are typical of the type of “hot jazz” favored when the detective was in hot pursuit of the bad guy driving the black car around midnight on a street the was slick from rain. (Dark streets on TV always looked like they just rained, as shimmery puddles were much more "noir" than inky blackness.) 

Hot TV jazz was also suitable for those long fight scenes where hero and villain toss each other across a room, struggle to their feet, lunge forward, do flying kicks to knock the other to the ground, and then of course, you've got to pull the guy OFF the floor to punch him. "Ground and pound" is acceptable in 21st Century MMA, but WAS NOT sporting on vintage TV. 

The choreographed fight scenes were so cool, the music had to swing, rather than be all-out wild. 

Oddly enough, neither of these tracks is by Joseph Mullendore, who wrote a lot of the best incidental music on the show. They aren’t by Herschel Burke Gilbert either, who wrote the actual "Burke's Law" theme song and conducted the orchestra for the album. 

“Drum Madness” is credited to (Gordon-Oliver) and Live to (Marks). The skimpy album notes say nothing about who these musicians.  Hell, songwriters and soundtrack compoers were lucky if they got royalties. I was able to research Gordon-Oliver as the team of Kelly L. Gordon and Thomas E. Oliver. Who Marks is/was, I have no idea. There are too many composers with Marks for a last name to really research this, and I'm not being paid. 

And neither are they, for the downloads below. Don't call Captain Burke to arrest me for unauthorized use of music. First off, it's only two mono tracks, not the whole Stereo album. second,  his beat, as Gene Barry used to pronounce it in that New York accent, was "murda." Mono better evokes the memories of watching TV on a set with one speaker. 

Van Williams AL HIRT and WADE DENNING do "The Green Hornet" Theme

Media obits for Van Williams ((February 27, 1934 – November 28, 2016) were fairly brief. Millennials have no idea who he was, after all. And neither to the blacks who matter. Frankly, if it wasn't for Bruce Lee, it's possible poor Mr. W. would be even more of a footnote, mourned by that small circle of Baby Boomers and hapless Huelbigs. 

Bruce Lee co-starred as Kato in Van's best-remembered series, "The Green Hornet." Fans of the died-young karate star dolize Bruce, and don't give much of a damn about Van, the somewhat woodenly handsome guy who wore the fedora and the big wide green mask. 

They are much more prone to discuss conspiracy theories on Bruce Lee's death, than ponder that Britt Reid (the Green Hornet's real name) was the nephew of John Reid (real name of the Lone Ranger). It seems the creator of the Long Ranger simply updated the concept with a different ethnic sidekick (Kato replacing Tonto) and a different stolen classical theme ("William Tell Overture" swapped for "Flight of the Bumble Bee.") 

Frankly, or Vanly (yes, he was born Van Zandt Williams), our hero was just another handsome mannequin over at Warner Bros. TV studios. They had tons of 'em, and hoping they could act as well as they looked, turned them into "Cheyenne" or a Maverick brother. Warners had tons of westerns and a bunch of look-alike detective shows ("Surfside 6," "77 Sunset Strip," "Bourbon Street Beat") that required "hunks" to go after the far more magnetic villain types (Ross Martin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lon Chaney Jr.) 

Like James Garner, who also had very limited acting experience, Williams was "discovered" by some Hollywood mogul who simply liked his looks. Williams was a diving instructor at the time. Within a few years, Van was co-starring in "Bourbon Street Beat," and was then moved to "Surfside 6." In movies, he started with dopey "wow, what a good looking hunk" roles, like playing an athlete in the basketball drama "Tall Story." His big scene was appearing naked (this was 1960, no full frontal) in a naughty locker room scene with Jane Fonda. 

In 1966, amid the "Batman" craze, ABC offered up another hero, "The Green Hornet," with stoic Williams playing it straight. The show lasted one year. Williams was apparently typed as a retro-hero with his hair combed back, and didn't get another good guy role (as say, a Robert Conrad always did). Williams waited, and aged. Not everybody is John Forsythe, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Robert Young, and so in his 40's or 50's Williams didn't become a friendly doctor or the head of the FBI. He was wise enough to have a "day job," skilled in business, and was able to pretty much retire from acting, and live a good life with the wife and kids. Keeping his hand in the "hero" business, he did volunteer as a deputy sheriff and a firefighter. Instead of shooting bad guys, his hobby was shooting ducks and geese out of the sky. 

In talking about Williams to my better half, who barely remembered him OR the show, I got to discussing the show's famous theme. "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" was jazzed up and speeded up as a tour-de-force for Al Hirt. As a trumpet player (at the time), I was amazed at how fast Al could play. I said, "He was one of the last of the famous trumpet players. There was the Big Band era, which had a lot of band leaders playing trumpet, but by the 60's, it was out of fashion." "Al Hirt?" she asked. "I don't think he was the best known trumpet player in the 60's. What about that guy who played the Mexican music?" 

I countered, "OK, Herb Alpert had more hits. But most of his trumpet work was doubled or tripled. He had the entire "Tijuana Brass" behind him, and rarely solo'd. He also rarely showed off with hitting impossible high notes. Another trumpet player who did that was Doc Severinsen, He may not have had hit songs, but he made many, many record albums of jazz. When he got a chance now and then to do a number with The Tonight Show band, he was impressive. He hit notes easily an octave higher than I could ever hit." 

Solo trumpet? Al Hirt had a hit with "Java" among others, and his album containing "The Green Hornet Theme" (in stereo) sold thousands upon thousands of copies. I'll give Al Hirt the edge as the most famous, if not the best trumpet player of his day. Doc may have been the best. 

Below, you get Al Hirt's version and one by Wade Denning and the Port Washingtons, which was on a budget TV theme album I absolutely had to have at the time. Yes, even though it looks phony, that was his real name. Wade Denning (July 21, 1922-September 17, 2007) did live in Port Washington. It's a rather tony Long Island suburb maybe only an hour or so away from Manhattan. Not the 2 1/2 hour drive it would be to Montauk or Southampton, Port Washington was where pianist/conductor/songwriter Bobby Cole once had his super-affluent home. I wished I'd known him back then, and got a chance to check out his famous swimming pool, which was built half-indoors and half-outdoors, for all-weather relaxation. But I digress...

Denning and his guyyyysss were very busy with commercial jingles and yes, budget record assignments. His version of "The Green Hornet Theme" actually has lyrics, which certainly helped give the trumpet a break. There isn't nearly the frantic amount of blowing you get in Al Hirt's version. And if you'd like to actually see a frantic amount of blowing, well, no, you can insert your own Kardashian joke here. 

AL HIRT - Green Hornet Theme in STEREO

Wade Denning & The Port Washingtons - Green Hornet with LYRICS

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Yes, Hillary Clinton won the actual general election. SHE GOT MORE VOTES.

But as has happened before, and I think both Republicans and Democrats have griped about this, it was the weird ELECTORAL COLLEGE that made Donald Trump the winner. 

With reasons and logic far beyond that of mortal man, the Presidential election depends on the number of ELECTORAL VOTES a candidate gets. Each state is given what seems to be a random amount of these. If a candidate manages to win in the states with the best number of ELECTORAL VOTES, it doesn't matter if that person has actually gotten the most votes in total. 

Memes such as the above began popping up as soon as "the unthinkable" happened, and a reality talk show host with many bankruptcies and an almost feature-length Blooper reel of stupid and dangerous comments became President. 

WHY OH WHY do shit-kickers in lonely, barren, fairly useless (except for Yellowstone National Park) Wyoming have a bigger say in the election than Californians? A fair question. Wyoming is one of the least-populated states in America. NOBODY wants to live there. California by contrast, is packed to capacity, despite smog, high rents, earthquakes, leafblowers, and problems having enough water for a good shower.  

At one time, Wyoming showed some promise. Laramie, (which doesn't quite have 100,000 people) was fairly well known back in the Wild West era. The TV show "Laramie" was set there, obviously. So was the great series "Lawman," featuring intense John Russell as town marshal Dan Troop. Any town with Dan Troop presiding was sure to have a future, right? Oh well. He was fiction. 

Morey Amsterdam wrote the novelty semi-hit, "Why Oh Why Did I Ever Leave Wyoming." It was covered by everyone's favorite masturbatory pun-name, Dick Jurgens. But when it comes to jerkin' around with comedy, you go to bug-eyed Jerry Colonna.

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Day is Done: HOLLY DUNN and "WHY, WYOMING"

I caught up with Holly Dunn when she joined Warner Bros. and became a country-crossover star. Like Juice Newton or Pam Tillis, she had a most definite country vibe and was favored more on the C&W charts, but she could rock when she wanted, and pop a tune, too. While I'm not a snob about a Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette, I do tend to listen much more to the ladies who go easy on the squeamy violins. Holly was certainly one of those in the late 80's.  

Her 1989 debut for Warners' Nashville was the tasty "Blue Rose of Texas," which yielded her first #1 hit, "Are You Ever Gonna Love Me." Another hit from that album was "There Goes My Heart Again." She had another #1 on her second Warners album, "Heart Full of Love" in 1990. The stupidly titled "Getting It Dunn" was her third and last major label release. 

Holly Suzette Dunn (August 22, 1957-November 14, 2016) first came to prominence in 1986 with the Top Ten "Daddy's Hands," for the MTM label. Her second album, "Cornerstone," had three more Top Ten numbers, of which "Why, Wyoming" is not one. 

They were: "Love Someone Like Me," "Only When I Love" and "Strangers Again." Why oh why choose "Why, Wyoming?" Because it's not well known, because it was co-written by her brother Chris Waters (born Chris Waters Dunn). And because I'm still not over how an almost empty piece of Red State land called Wyoming could count for more in the Electoral College than, for example, California. Wyoming, a heart breaker indeed.

Speaking of heartbreak, Holly Dunn had the misfortune to be a huge star on a shitty label. MTM went bankrupt. It was fortunate that Holly's potential was seen by Warners. Too bad that the label apparently was bankrupt in the heart department, and as soon as Holly faltered, cut her loose. Three years later, she surfaced on a record label called River North. After two albums for them, she was without product for six years. In 2003 she issued her new (and last) album, "South Heart." 

Things became dire when Holly was diagnosed with a fast-moving form of ovarian cancer. She was optimistic, but any time a "has-been" gets a big write-up in the London Daily Mail (aka the Creepy Daily Fail) you know something bad is happening. "I ask for prayer of strength and courage," the rag reported in August of 2016. 

"If you read the statistics," she said, "it is very bleak. Good thing I don't believe in statistics. I had surgery and now I am having chemo treatments. I have since grown more tumors and it is going to be more of a battle than I anticipated, but I have a huge faith in the healing power of God and the healing power within me that originates from my God." 

Naturally, this was met by trollish comments from the hairy-handed London Daily Mail bunch, laughing at her. Just why newspapers even allow "comments" at the end of an article, I don't know. These "comments" almost never are enlightening; they are instead dark and warped insults from the vast unwashed, angry mob. 

"Doesn't believe in statistics. Believes an invisible god will save her," somebody wrote. "Lesbian?" another asked. Another commented: "Praying to an imaginary being while poison is being pumped through your veins. Sounds like a plan. Shell be dead in a year, right after the medical industry sucks every last possible cent out of her and her insurance company."

Oh, and this: "But cancer is only caught if you are obese or smoke?" And, "God Schmod." 


"DRIFT AWAY" songwriter MENTOR WILLIAMS passes away: Brother of Paul Williams

'Tis better to be known as a "one hit wonder," or "the brother of Paul Williams," than not be known at all. 

Either or both were headlined when Mentor Williams died a few days ago, Nov 16th, at the age of 70 in Taos, New Mexico. Mentor also had a hand in writing "When We Make Love" a 1984 success for Alabama, and the Randy Travis and George Jones novelty "A Few Ole Country Boys" in 1990. He also was a capable guy around the studio, doing a lot of mixing and recording work for a variety of people including Kim Carnes and Paul Macca McCartney (or as they're known together, Caca) 

Below you get Mentor's own take on his best-known song, which was of course, not successful. He wasn't a particularly distinctive singer, and his bland country rendition was not what the song needed. Not with lines about "free my soul" and "rock and roll." 

John Henry Kurtz and John Kay were among the first to cover "Drift Away" in 1972, but it became a hit in 1973 for Dobie Gray. After that, just about anyone and everyone took a shot. Roy Orbison gave it the traditional country-rock treatment on his "Milestones" record, while The Doobie Brothers re-titled it "Give Me The Beat Boys." 

It's been done by Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen, Uncle Kracker, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Michael Bolton, Bon Jovi, and most recently, Meryl Streep in her film "Ricki And the Flash." 

You can definitely get lost in the rock and roll and country cool of "Drift Away." Sorry about the loss of Mentor Williams (who lost his lady love Lynn Anderson July 30, 2015). 

Drift Away with Mentor Williams singin' his own song in 1974

Ill-ustrated Songs #36 Genya Ravan BIRD ON THE WIRE

Leonard Cohen is, of course, much too well known to be chronicled here on the Blog of Less Renown. He was an ill folkie, with an amusingly black sense of humor, but he was an international success. While not everyone is aware of "The Future," "Everybody Knows," "Tower of Song," or "Don't Leave Home With Your Hard-On," everybody sobs and nods to every horrible rhyme of "Hallelujah." 

Singers seem hell bent on making sure to make it sound like the songwriter was from Brooklyn and not Montreal: 

"You don't really care much for music, DO YA...her beauty and the moonlight over-THREW YA...I used to live alone before a KNEW YA...HAL A. LEWYA..."  

Arguably his second-most-covered-song among the Shaunas and Saskias of the world, is either "Suzanne" or "Bird on the Wire." The latter was startlingly covered by the great Genya Ravan when she got her first (and last) chance with major label Columbia (also Cohen's label). It was released in 1970. I'm frankly surprised my vinyl is still in good shape on this, 'cause I played this track and several others, over and over on late-night radio. 

Ravan (pronounced "Raven") sounded like a "black bird," and her version of "Bird" starts softly, with a beautiful gospel touch, before rising into a crescendo of emotion. I was proud to tell her that I thought she was the real deal, and that Janis Joplin was just a "high wind." Genya did not choose to agree or disagree. She was, to paraphrase Dylan being a "diplomat." She kept mum and stroked her siamese cat. No, really. She had it on her shoulder for a while.

If we can make something positive out of Cohen's passing, it came on a high note. What he intimated would be his last album, was deemed a brilliant "comeback" and received glowing reviews. Like Zevon, he was receiving renewed appreciation when the end came. Suffering from back pain and an increasingly frail body, Leonard died following a fall in his home, apparently not regaining consciousness or suffering any further pain from a futile trip to the hospital. 

One thing people sometimes say when a person dies is, "Oh, if only I had a chance to say how much I loved the music." Well, that chance still applies to Genya Ravan, who I've always believed to be one of the greatest female vocalists of all time. Just listen to what she does with that BIRD ON THE WIRE. 

Bird on the Wire - listen on line or download

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Al Caiola should be a better known name. The New Jersey guitar great (September 7, 1920-November 9, 2016) recorded about 35 albums for United Artists in the 60's. These "lounge" albums touched on all kinds of genres ("Tuff Guitar Tijuana Style," "Guitar for Lovers," "50 Fabulous Italian Favorites," etc.) 

He was UA's ace when it came to covering any popular movie or TV theme. Record stores would welcome topical releases such as "The Magnificent Seven," "Hit Instrumentals from TV Western Themes" or "Sounds for Spies and Private Eyes." This was the age when people would wander in saying, "I was at the movies last night, and I loved the theme you have a copy..." and the knowledgeable store owner would be able to offer singles or albums in every price range. 

Al's Top 40 hits included covers of "Bonanza" and "The Magnificent Seven" in 1961. 

Aside from sating the tastes of middle-aged people for mood music, or giving a kid such as I a twangy arrangement of a beloved TV theme, Caiola was a dependable session man. He was in the studio for just about everybody: Del Shannon on "Hats off To Larry," Simon and Garfunkel on "Mrs. Robinson," Johnny Mathis on "Chances Are," Al Martino on "Spanish Eyes," Julie London on "Lonely Girl," Ben E. King on "Stand By Me," Mitch Miller on "Yellow Rose of Texas," Johnnie Ray on "Just Walkin' in the Rain," Neil Sedaka on "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," Dinah Washington on "What a Difference a Day Made," Frank Sinatra on "Bye Bye Baby," Buddy Holly on "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," Mahalia Jackson on "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands," Connie Francis on "Al-Di-La," Eddie Fisher on "Dungaree Doll," Dion on "Abraham Martin and John," Glen Campbell on "Galveston," Rosemary Clooney on "Come on a My House," Tony Bennett on "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Frankie Avalon on "Venus" and Paul Anka on "My Way." Among others.

Al toured with quite a few famous artists, and probably had his longest relationship with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, which I think was still going on when he was 90. 

Often, Al's guitar twang was more than enough to sell a tune, whether it was a bouncy western number like "Bonanza" or a more eerie item, like the theme for "Experiment in Terror." On some of his mood albums, his guitar was featured but didn't overpower the rest of the orchestra. The tasteful charts were supplied by a veteran like Don Costa, and maybe the back-up band shaped by a pro like Tommy Mottola.

Below, one of my all-time favorites from Al, a great version of "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." It's a good example of his guitar work highlighting but not dominating a brilliant chart. 

On this arrangement gunshot percussion and a blast of brass let us know that we're in a bad part of town on a dangerous night; West Side Story without chorus boys or Sondheim. Al Caiola hauls out his twanger and seems to count the number of punches being thrown. 
We're barely a minute into the tune when the neighborhood really starts to rumble; organ blasts to one side, gasping horns on the other. And then, soaring over it all like a police helicopter, one hell of a trumpet. Blow, Gabriel, because some devils are gonna be swoopin' the planet tonight. 

Too often it's easy to overlook how calculated "charts" can be, and how perfectly they can produce some sonic sock. This is a textbook example on how to pull out all stops in tempo, juxtaposition of brass vs percussion, and the texture of hard bongo skin and twangy guitar, to produce an audio picture of mixed-neighborhood mayhem. 

Next comes the warning wail of a trumpet again, a police siren howl. The organ weeps and shudders, but the relentless drums don't stop, and with 40 seconds left, Al Caiola picks up the body count with his guitar pick, till the squealer brass section calls the cops and there's a final stuttering step-away from the crime by the drums. 

This was one helluva slaughter - Listen or Download

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


"Hey Moog! Hey Perrey!" Remember the late 60's, when electronic music went wacky? 

At first the Moog synthesizer was going to be used for SERIOUS classical music. You know, "Silver Apples of the Sun" stuff. But just as the sax was better suited to sexy, raunchy rock (even if its inventor thought it would be welcomed in symphony orchestras),  many felt that the blips and burps of Moog music were HILARIOUS and suited to novelty pop.

While the Musitron did get used in one serious rock single (Del Shannon's "Runaway,") the moog was best served in Top 40 via the hot buttered hit "Popcorn." That single would not have popped into the ears of a grateful public were it not for the team of Perrey and Kingsley and their pioneering "In Sound from Way Out" album. 

Jean-Jacques Perrey (January 20, 1929 – November 4, 2016)  actually worked with the man himself, Robert Moog. He had previously worked with Georges Jenny, who invented the Ondioline, which nobody seems to remember. Perrey also took note of other techniques in "modern" music, including the manufactured soundtrack of "tonalities" that could be heard in the film "Forbidden Planet." 

Perrey ended up partnered with Gershon Kingsley, a Zionist musician (born Götz Gustav Ksinski ) who had studied with the ultra-serious John Cage. Veering away from classical electronic music, the duo were at the vanguard of blip-pop thanks to the Vanguard Records release of “The In Sound from Way Out.” The second and last album on their contract was "Kaleidoscopic Vibrations.” By that time, they had plenty of competition from other electronic novelty-makers and the fad was dying out. 

Perrey-Kingsley’s most enduring works were “Baroque Hoedown,” used by Walt Disney in their theme parks, and “The Savers,” which was adapted as the theme for the quiz show “The Joker’s Wild.” Another track, "Visa to the Stars," recalls Joe "Telstar" Meek, and is more of a dreamy piece of music. But soon enough the "Telstar" sound, reflecting sleek space travel, had given way to silliness (like "The Martian Hop").  The best selling electronic pop album was "Switched on Bach" by Walter Carlos, and it was pretty light-hearted. Carlos went on to more frivolous albums that made odd noises out of Bacharach and Beatles tracks, and others joined in, blipping everything from Scott Joplin to Erik Satie. The big hit of course was "Popcorn," a Gershon Kingsley solo composition on his album "Music to Moog By." 

Perrey, not to be outdone in ridiculousness, tried to rival Gershon with his own single "Gossipo Perpetuo," which was a mash of moog and cut-up collages of sound and repetition. 

Kingsley tried to create a classical gas with the wonderful  “Concerto for Moog,” which I saw performed by Gershon's "First Moog Quartet" in concert with the Boston Pops. Sadly the piece doesn’t seem to have been immortalized on vinyl. It isn’t on the 1970 “First Moog Quartet” album. Attempts to pull electronic music back into classical, or into "heavy" rock, didn't really work. Oh, there was "Emerson Lake and Palmer," and others adding synth, but it was pretty synthetic, and soon a cliche. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono tried to adapt repetition and collage into a new, modern electronic type of music on their “Two Virgins” album, which was better seen than heard (and that’s pretty damning, isn’t it?) Anyone out there have George Harrison’s “Electronic Music” album, and can admit to playing it twice?  

Eventually Perrey left the frivolity of pop behind, returned to France, and worked on serious ballet scores and music based on the “medical research into therapeutic sounds.” We've had "environmental" CDs that have tried to synthesize "soothing" sounds along with sampled noises from nature, and we've had more than enough "new age" albums that have tried to hypnotize the brain into floating in its own juices. Yum. 

For many, the best Moog and electronic stuff remains the novelty discs from the likes of Kingsley and Perrey. You'll like the samples below. 



Curly Putman - and the GREEN GREEN GRASS OF HOME

Well, yes, one of the truths touched on in the classic "Green Green Grass of Home," is mortality.

Eventually, we will return to the green green grass. Either we'll be sprinkled on top of it, or buried six feet under it. 

And so the end has come for Curly Putman, who not only wrote that song, but co-wrote the other candidate for "greatest country song of all time," the even more morbid "He Stopped Loving Her Today." 

I once mentioned to Mr. Putman that I figured he had as much fun writing the songs as we all did hearing them. I thought it was especially true of the "agony" songs. He and Bobby Braddock intimated as much, regarding "He Stopped Loving Her Today." As they wrote, they were heaping on the sentiment, and almost smiling at how they were creating more and more torment for this poor lovelorn sap. And yet, producer Billy Sherrill insisted on, let's have a stanza about the guy's funeral. 

Why shouldn't country songwriters have the same sense of gleeful evil as Alfred Hitchcock? Alfred used his story boards and his actors to make his ironies and his horrors as sublimely awful as possible. I think you'll find that Mr. Putman did the same thing on "Radio Lover" Writers tend to enjoy putting their characters in danger, and in three or four minutes, you can set up the listener for a deliciously sour twist ending that doesn't turn a blind eye to human nature. 

A fun thing about the non-stooge Curly, is he DID have a sense of humor. I mean, he didn't simply write songs that a tear-jerker like George Jones could sing so well, (or the sad Tammy Wynette on "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"). One novelty number he uncorked is "You Can't Have Your Kate And Edith Too." Oh, the pun-ishment. 

For ye who don't like C&W at all, how about this: Paul McCartney paid tribute to Curly via "Junior's Farm." Yes, when Paul was trying to soak up the country life (Ringo wasn't the only one), he spent time with Claude Putman Jr.  aka Curly. Macca never forgot the cool life on Junior's farm.

And who could ever forget true story-masterpieces like "Green Green Grass Of Home?" Below is Curly's own version. He did make a few albums in his time, and he was a good singer. He died at the age of 85, but we'll never stop loving the songs he brought to this world. 

A Star's Gone Out: OH BABE...KAY STARR


Probably the most interesting remark uttered about Kay Starr was from Billie Holiday. Billie insisted Kay Starr was "the only white woman who could sing the blues."  

But did she get the chance? No, not often. She also wasn’t a “white woman” technically. Her father was an Iroquois Native American, and her mother was part Native American as well. Katherine Laverne Starks (July 21, 1922 – November 3, 2016) had the same problem as quite a few artists, including the great Patti Page: shitty management, bad arrangers, and a fear of leaving the middle of the road.

She ended up having a solid career for several decades, but in terms of superstar fame, she got lost amid competition from Keely Smith (another part-Native American), Lena Horne, and chirpers of various varieties from Edith Piaf (she covered a Piaf song in English: "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" to Gogi Grant and even Patsy Cline.  

When Kay passed on a few days ago, a victim of Alzheimer’s, she was mourned mostly by 60-something and 70-something and 80-something fans of big band and 50’s pop. After all, the woman’s biggest hit was “Wheel of Fortune” and she covered “Sentimental Journey" and the mild jazz tunes "Ain't Misbehavin'" and the war horse "Stormy Weather."  The news of her passing wasn’t news. Kay was just another retired pop star from a long-gone era, as far as the media was concerned.  

Like Patti Page who suffered with some strangely bad arrangements from Bob Mersey (perhaps aping Mitch Miller's style) Kay Starr was often burdened by corniness. "Oh Babe" could've been an enduring, fairly hipster bit of jazz-pop, but it's got too much of a big band arrangement and a chorus of middle-aged men. Even so, you get the hint that if not credible jazz ala Billie Holiday, her voice could've gotten her assignments well into the early 60's, via country-crossover or the Connie Francis "Stupid Cupid" style of pop. 

By the 60’s she was in her 40’s, and so she was mostly popular singing 40’s songs for people in their 60’s. You do the math. Much of her catalogue is for old people who know which instrument Tommy Dorsey played and which instrument Jimmy Dorsey played. They're the kind that still wonder if Glenn Miller's death was an accident (while most have no idea how the guy died). But if you cherry-pick through the CDs, there are still tracks that might entertain you, oh kay?


Hang Down Your Head - Weird Tammy Grimes has Died

TAMMY GRIMES  (January 30, 1934 – October 30, 2016) seemed British, but she was born in Massachusetts. She lived most of her life on the East Coast (she died in New Jersey). She first gained attention in some of the lah-de-dah cabaret/revues in New York City. At a time when elegant and eccentric Brits were popular in cabaret (Noel Coward, Bea Lillie and Hermione Gingold come to mind),  Tammy’s brand of eclectic charm fit right in. 

In the late 50's when TV variety shows weren't plentiful and people actually went out to enjoy an evening of songs and comedy, budget impresarios such as Ben Bagley and Julius Monk put on nightly revues, and you could also go nightclub-hopping to see a variety of performers. Tammy quickly moved from this level to Broadway, winning a Tony award as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” 

A slight setback was that the movie version starred Debbie Reynolds. Likewise, Tammy was one of the stars of Neil Simon’s “California Suite,” but the movie version featured Maggie Smith instead. It wasn’t just that casting directors screwed up her chance for international fame; she did it to herself. She turned down the role of Samantha on TV's “Bewitched,” convinced she could do better as the sole star of her own sitcom, “The Tammy Grimes Show.” 

That show was one of the most notorious bombs of the 60’s, canceled within a month. It was a bit of a shame, because like Judy Carne or even Marlo “That Girl” Thomas, Tammy had a lot of charm and pixie-esque vulnerability. But it certainly would’ve been interesting to see what the much more Salem-like Grimes would’ve done over the warmer, more Californian Liz Montgomery as the witch Samantha. 

Tammy appeared in Noel Coward shows including “High Spirits and “Look After Lulu,” and won another Tony Award for “Private Lives” in 1970. Speaking of the Tony, not only did Tammy win, but so did her one-time husband Christopher Plummer, and their daughter Amanda Plummer. After that, she was less visible. Her golden decade was definitely the 60’s.

Now, how...weird...was she? While her personality was quirky and amusing in films and on stage, her choices the few times she was given a shot at SOLO SINGING STAR success were very bizarre. Her attempt at a kind of "wall of sound" hit single was the hot mess "Nobody Needs Your Love More Than I Do." It was produced by Jack Nitzsche, who tended to throw the kitchen sink at most any singer, even overpowering Judy Henske on an oddball single. When it came to putting together an album, Tammy went well beyond "slow song, fast song, sad song, funny song," and came up with tracks that were pretty jarring when placed next to teach other. 

Try and make sense out of her version of "Tom Dooley," which sounds like she's turned the folk song into a Geisha's lament. There was nobody quite like Tammy Grimes, and sometimes, you could listen to Tammy Grimes and not be sure it was Tammy Grimes. 




"Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked." Bob Dylan

The naked truth about Donald Trump is that he was able to thrive in a divided, fearful, hate-driven country. 

He was bitching that it was a "rigged" election. Who were The Riggers? His supporters. White Riggers, mostly. Meth addicts. Toothless Kentucky and Florida rednecks. Borderline mental defectives with chain saws and guns. Frightened woman-haters. The KKK. Religious fanatics who think a raped woman should bear the child of her psycho-tormentor while THEY spill sperm in men's rooms pretending they aren't gay. 

I could go on. If Donald Trump did STAND NAKED, he would reveal that he's a dick who played on the worst traits of inbred American farmers and farts. 

It's human nature, really, if you're a white man of the Donald Trump variety. You're happy to import foreign whores to be mail-order brides. If one doesn't work out, get another. That they are dumb-ass bitches who can't speak English and have no brains doesn't matter. They let you grab pussy. Ivanka or Melania, or some bimbo named Marla, it's just pussy. Fuck it. Impregnate it. Raise a few inbred monsters who look like you. 

If you're a white man who supports Donald Trump, you are suspicious of foreigners. "Xenophobia" used to be scorned as ridiculous, but some immigrants lately are so self-entitled, obnoxious and downright dangerous, it's no surprise that Trump rose to prominence by screaming, "We'll build a wall." If you pick up a fucking phone in America to dial any business, you're likely to get a recorded message in SPANISH, asking you if you'd like to listen in SPANISH. Who wouldn't be offended when one race refuses to speak English and expects YOU to get a headache listening to jibber-jabber? 

Donald doubled-down on the "Xenophobia" quite easily, because another annoying bunch, the Muslims, have committed almost all the acts of terror in the world. ISIS. Boko Harum. Draw a cartoon and they'll kill you. Be gay and they'll kill you. Be a woman and your genitals get mutilated. Be an ordinary citizen doing good work in San Bernardino, for example, or watching a marathon race in Boston, and you're shot to death or bombed to pieces. No surprise that Trump received huuuuuuge support from pissed off white guys. 

Add good Christian women who think abortion is terrible, but who don't adopt children themselves, and don't care about overpopulation at a time when fish and bees are disappearing and food is becoming contaminated, and rents are soaring and diseases proliferating. To low-rent cunts in Georgia or Tennessee, old-fashioned values involve breeding Christians, not watching packs of Hispanics scuttle around (even if Hispanics tend to be Christian). 

When it comes to standing naked, Donald should explain to us why HE can be protected by air conditioning and limos, while WE suffer, and have to strip down as much as we can. Donald Trump does not believe in climate change. He thinks it's bullshit. That means he'll make sure to push for more filthy coal production and pipelines spilling oil all over the land. He's actually laughed that using aerosol sprays can't damage the ozone layer because they disappear in the room you're in. 

If you ignore Bill Maher's "FBI coup" theory (that in the last weeks they made it seem Hillary was more crooked and corrupt than the average politician), the big reason Clinton lost was because of her moderate views on immigration. She said she'd welcome more Syrians, and she would NOT deport Mexicans, and that Muslims are lovely people. 

She also happened to be an extremely literate, poised, and intelligent WOMAN...which makes toothless Florida rednecks and retarded Pennsylvania coal miners suspicious, and downright hateful. 

Trump moaned that Chicago is being torn by violence, and the poor blacks in the inner cities are being killed. What do you suppose he'll do about THAT? Send in the National Guard and shoot anyone who riots, that's what. He'll look the other way as more and more Americans stock up on assault weapons and murder each other. After all, he thought his two mongrel sons were wonderful when they went to Africa and shot up the wildlife, and posed with a dead tiger and the tail of a murdered elephant. All over the Internet today, writers are predicting all the different ways Trump could make America and the world a living hell. 

I only offer some random thoughts on this, the morning after. As Paul Simon sang it, "No I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day." 

To be optimistic about it, we do know that the President usually gets nothing done. He is not a king. Whether it's Nixon, Reagan or the Bushes, certain laws, rules and customs survive. If only by the sheer incompetence of the government, even the best schemes don't reach fruition. So in incompetency there is hope.  

It's possible Trump will not be able to dismantle Obamacare and make life worse for those with physical and mental miseries. It's possible he won't appoint dour religious fanatics to the Supreme Court and overturn the abortion laws. It's quite likely he'll approve lax marijuana laws because a country of pot-headed dipshits will be too stoned to care about the rest of his agenda. Liberals have pointed to a bunch of states legalizing marijuana as a sign "all wasn't lost" on election day. 

So we wait. "Is he REALLY going to build the wall? Is he REALLY going to deport thousands of Mexicans? Is he REALLY going to keep Muslims out of the country? And how is he REALLY going to destroy ISIS without starting World War Three? And what compromises will be make with his buddy Putin?" Some are praying that Trump, who was once a Democrat, will slyly shed his cloak of conservative stodginess. Surely he's used birth control with his whores. He wouldn't want his creepy sons to be stuck with brats they didn't want. MAYBE he'll have an advisor or two who can talk sense to him. After all, his victory speech wasn't the preening, smirking ego-fest you'd expect. He actually had a sense of humor about how half the country didn't vote for him and didn't think he was right for the job. 

America is fractured. It's been fractured but now you can see the break and the blood and the sores and the sinews exposed. Most every election has been close, with close to 50% of the country NOT voting for the man who became President. Dubya Bush slipped by twice. Obama squeaked by twice. Trump didn't really win by much. And so it will be a happy "White Christmas" mostly for conservative, fearful/hateful white people, the ones clinging to family values that they ignore. That includes the anti-gay men who get caught in men's rooms, and all those people who insist guns are for their protection only they end up getting offed by a friend or a relative or even a baby accidentally pulling the trigger on a weapon left nearby. 

Stand Naked and admit that what motivates people is not what they like but what they hate.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

HURY BURY BABY - and now ZACHERLEY the cool ghoul

It’s a sad Halloween for those of us who loved “The Cool Ghoul.” Dick Clark, a broadcasting colleague of John Zacherle’s in Philadelphia, gave him that nickname.  

Just how to describe or explain Zacherley (as he came to be known) is almost as futile as explaining, for example, “The Goon Show.” Listening to a sample could be very bewildering for a newcomer. It’s as much about attitude and character as it is the jokes. In fact, on most of his novelty singles, Zach was probably laughing a lot more than any of the listeners. Ah ha!

I should go find my interview with Zacherle, but it’s on one of hundreds of cassettes of interviews yet to be digitized. I do remember him saying that his early stuff benefitted by his association with Cameo-Parkway records. His label practically handed him the masters of their best hits, with the vocals wiped. He was allowed to simply ad-lib horror jokes (and his own laughter).

In 1958, he had his Top 10 hit, well before “Monster Mash,” with “Dinner with Drac.” The B-side below is “Hury Bury Baby,” a ghoulish variant on the Hully Gully. He was an unlikely star among teens, at age 40. 

The horror-novelty king was born in Pennsylvania in 1918, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. After World War 2 service, he joined a theater group, performed in local TV commercials, and in 1953 was hired by local WCAU to appear in a budget western-serial called “Action in the Afternoon.” A character he played, local understaker Grimy James, was soon spun off into hosting duties when WCAU bought 52 old horror movies. They needed someone to even-out the timing of these ragged 78 minute or 65 minute B-movies, and Zach proved to be an inspired choice.  

He didn’t merely introduce the films, he CUT into them. Like Ernie Kovacs (another local TV personality who would become national), Zach let his imagination run wild because there was no budget to hire writers. He "broke the fourth wall" as they say, and loved to irreverently stop a movie to offer a wisecrack or make fun of the bad acting. 

Zacherley ad-libbed gags, performed mini-skits, and made the weekly “Shock Theater” show a joy for the locals. He moved on to New York. Though still local on the East Coast he had enough of a following to interest a local record label. Though perhaps most of the sales were coming from his home base of Philadelphia, “Dinner with Drac” was a hit in 1958. New York’s Warren Publishing put him on the cover of their struggling “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine in 1960. Soon the “Monster Craze” was in full bloom, and Zacherley paperbacks appeared, along with new Zacherley albums. 

Aurora model kits let brats paint up replicas of Dracula and Frankenstein, and the toy store was loaded with monster cards and games. "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters" were part of the cash-in, and "Famous Monsters" magazine, its spin-off "Monster World," and "Castle of Frankenstein" had revered places on the magazine rack, sometimes even edging off Nugget, Sir, Rogue and Gent. 

 “Monster Mash” was a huge hit, and old-time horror actors like Karloff, Lorre and Price were in demand for new movies.  Zacherley sometimes adopted a slightly Karloffian vocal for his novelty tunes (he did cover "Monster Mash" and was a bit of a Boris on "The Ghoul from Wolverton Mountain" among other parodies). Still, his make-up and his humor was uniquely his own, along with his somewhat Bostonian demeanor and that cheerful, barking laugh. 

The late 50's and 60's was a great time to be a kid, and kids adored Zacherley, who was the superstar in his field. His only competition was clear across the country: Vampira on local TV in Los Angeles. For Zach fans, “The Cool Ghoul” grew like a fungus, aging right along with them. While many tweens never lost their fondness for monster movies as they became teens, their interests expanded into rock music and, gosh, finding an Evelyn Ankers or Elsa Lanchester of their very own. Zacherley turned up as host of “Disc-O-Teen,” an East Coast TV show that offered the latest pop hits and finger-snapping pimple-popping teens dancing with each other. 

The mid and late 60's TV show did well, and Zach became a rock radio host. The fans that blew bubble gum while listening to "Dinner with Drac" were now blowing their minds, exploring drugs and FM-progressive rock. Zach was with them, first on WNEW and then WPLJ. When groups such as Boko Harum (or whatever they were called) and Foghat and the Alex Harvey Band were booked for ABC’s “Wide World of Entertainment,” the shows were simulcast in stereo on WPLJ, introduced by Zacherley. 

Zach’s cultured voice was part of FM radio for a decade. By then, Zach fans were grown up and ready to pay tribute. This included roles in “Brain Damage” and “Frankenhooker,” and regular appearances at East Coast memorabilia shows. He was sort of the mascot of the “Chiller” conventions, were corpulent Huelbigs would grin through their baby-like teeth and pay $20 to have him pose with them. There were some new Zach CDs as well as other collectibles, and he incredibly continued to be an age-defying ghoul into his 90’s. I think he was even in attendance last year, albeit briefly. 

Zacherley had unique style and flair, a sense of fun very much in keeping with the light-hearted international stars like Vinnie Price. He appreciated his genre and his fans, and tried to keep the quality up, and his dignity intact. Unlike so many on the memorabilia circuit, he didn’t seem like he HAD to be there, or that he WANTED to be there, but that he was doing everyone a good-natured favor because he LIKED what he was doing.

I remember Elvira confiding to me that Vampira was grumbling about filing a lawsuit. The grump old lady had insisted that Elvira had somehow "stolen" her act. This was quite an irony, since as Elvira and everyone else knows, Vampira "stole" her persona off the Morticia character in Chas Addams cartoons: the white skin, jet black long hair and costume. I remember Elvira saying, "She thinks she can do what I'm doing? She doesn't have a tooth in her head!" I mention this just to point out a contrast between Vampira and Zacherley. Zach was a mellow monster. He didn't compete with anyone. At "Chiller" shows, he was indeed the cool ghoul, willing to participate if a Bobby "Boris" Pickett wanted a photo op or a duet, but just as easily willing to let another vintage horror star have the spotlight if that was what was desired.  

Yes, I liked Zacherley, and collected the singles and albums, and had the books, and was glad to fulfill a childhood wish and get a chance to meet him, and not as a pay-to-play geek at a convention, but via a radio interview with good exposure. At this moment, the “Chiller” convention is going on in New Jersey, and sweaty, overweight, repulsive zombies are too busy pestering Meatloaf for autographs and photo ops to give more than a passing, “Er, RIP Zach” to the guy who was a regular at all those shows over all these years.

With the demise of Christopher Lee, Bobby “Boris” Pickett and a few others, Zacherley was one of the few “legends” left from the 50’s. Now he’s just remains, but, ha-ha, he remains legend. Hury Bury Baby, my dears…  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ill-ustrated Songs #34 Dracula's Three Daughters - Ray Ellington


It's Halloween time, and all over what's left of blogland, people are dutifully upping "Monster Mash" yet again, offering "The Addams Family" theme, or noting that Burt Backache wrote "The Blob," but it did not chart. Some unimaginative swine will be offering Albino Brother #2''s novelty instrumental "Frankenstein" or, har har, "Ghostbusters" (maybe with an oh-so-scholarly note about its similarity to a Huey Lewis tune). 

As Oscar Brand's "The Hearse Song" isn't really intended as a Halloween item, and it IS obligatory to note holidays, your download is "Dracula's Three Daughters." It's from the neglected Ray Ellington, best known these days as the singer who provided a musical interlude during episodes of "The Goon Show." Ah, holidays. If not for them, boring people wouldn't have anything to blab about except sports and politics. 

Nerds, I am fully aware that the photo above is actually of Dracula's brides, NOT his daughters. But don't they look nice? That's Ivana, Marla and Melania

Dracula's Three Daughters - listen online or download. No capcha codes, pop-ups or passwords

Grand Old OSCAR BRAND - The Hearse Song (the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out)

Few have remarked on the passing of Oscar Brand (February 7, 1920 – September 30, 2016). One reason is that he out-lived the folk movement by about 50 years, and though active almost till the end, he didn’t quite have the visibility or the hit songs that Pete Seeger did. '

He knew and worked with Pete, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Jean Ritchie and all the legends, and hosted a remarkably long-running radio show in New York (originating on WNYC). While a traditionalist, he supported all the newer performers, and his radio guests included Phil Ochs and Judy Henske.  Oscar appeared on the memorable TV broadcast of the “Tribute to Phil Ochs” in 1976, singing an updated version of “Love Me I’m a Liberal.” (On the same bill, two of the Weavers, Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger, took on Phil’s other satiric classic, “Draft Dodger Rag.”)  

Brand made nearly 100 albums, but only a few folkies, scholars and pervs would know. One problem is that he sounded a bit like another bland Jewish-Canadian, Monty Hall (who is still alive, at 95). Monty’s high tenor was crisp, even, and well suited to dispassionate quiz show hosting. It wouldn’t have worked too well if he’d tried to be an actor. Likewise, Brand’s voice was bland, and not expressively individual. It served him well in preserving musical history where diction and correct notes were important, but it was more textbook than novel.  

His neutral vocal talent probably helped his “Bawdy” record series stay in stores, and himself out of jail. The multi-disc series could've been an "under the counter" item but he gave it legitimacy with his clear voice and his background as a student of music history. There was hardly a growl or leer in his vocalizing, as he documented dozens and dozens of ribald folk songs, sea shanties and madrigals. He also sanitized some of the lines, which were already full of inane euphemisms (“jigga-jig-jig hey ho!”)  

Brand wrote over 300 songs, but to use the critical line hurled at the even more prolific Steve Allen, “name two.” You might know “A Guy is a Guy,” which was a hit for Doris Day, or “My Old Man’s a Sailor,” which was inspired by tongue-twisters and became a highlight for the Smothers Brothers.  

Born in Canada, which has given us quite a few Jewish stars (Monty Hall, David Steinberg and William Shatner among them), the family moved South when Oscar was seven, first to Minnesota and then to New York. He attended college in Brooklyn, but in an irony, came back to Canada to get his first break. He became host for the TV show “Let’s Sing Out,” which had a long run and, like his later WNYC radio show, helped give exposure to new talent, in this case Canadians Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell.

The ever-busy Mr. Brand wrote songs for cabaret shows including the 1968 off-Broadway hit “How to Steal an Election,” and worked behind the scenes at the Children’s Television Workshop in developing “Seseme Street.” Like so many of his contemporaries, he marched in Civil Rights rallies, sang just enough “radical” or at least “off color” songs to make him suspicious to Republicans, and was investigated by “Red Channels” for being a possible Communist.  

Through it all, he continued singing and performing and writing songs, rarely getting as much attention as others in the folk world. Again, part of it was his bland voice, and also his professor-personality. While he could be witty and wry in his between-song patter, he came off more as a lecturer. His hosting was a bit dry, and he had enough ego to take up time on every show (being the “star”) to sing a song on his own; this, while most in the audience would’ve preferred a third one from Ochs or Henske or the Ivy League Trio, or anyone but Oscar.  

I know an obit isn’t really the place to be truthful or "critical," but this blog IS run by a realist (in the Paul Krassner sense). Besides, for better or worse (it's hard to tell) this blog has gotten a reputation and cult following for, to use a Dylan phrase, "not turning a blind eye to human nature." And as Sahl might add, "and not resisting iconoclastic humor."  

To digress,  below you'll note a little mention of the IllFolks blog. Sometimes bloggers offer up a list of recommended sites, and one fellow very kindly added a link to THIS one, but with a slight caveat. Just look down a bit (passing quite a few of now-defunct blogs and websites) and note this site and a parenthetical word of caution:  

Although Oscar's personality could be a bit off-putting, (gee, where did I borrow THAT description from), he was a venerable man, and his credits are enviable. Oscar’s version of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” was the first I’d ever heard. He even recorded it for a major label (Kapp) on a live album recorded at a college concert. Oscar's introduction to the song mentions that his scholarly interpretation may be different from the popular one but, "I'd like to do it MY WAY." And, as is often the case with off-putting personalities, more credit to him for being an individual. 

Brand was probably one of the first to actually record “The Hearse Song,” which some of you might not know by title, but by the key phrase, “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out…”

One of the great things about song-collectors like Brand, or Carl Withers, the author of "Rocket in My Pocket," is the preservation of every-day pop culture. Schoolyard rhymes and anonymous folk songs deserve documentation. Some scholarly types even take the trouble to note permutations (we need a pinhead word for this) in how an item might be performed in a specific part of the world, or by a certain ethnic group. Brand's chosen version of "The Hearse Song" is how soldiers sang it, sort of "black humor" in the trenches. There's a reference to officers, and later, to The Pentagon. In part:

“...As you watch the death wagon riding by, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. 
You wish it weren’t, but you know it’s true, the very next load may consist of you. 
The burial detail lowers you down, the officers they just stand around, 
they shovel in dirt, they shovel in rocks, they don’t give a damn if they break the box. 
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, they creep all over your chin and mouth. They call their friends, their friends’ friends too, you look like hell when they get through…"

In your Trick or Treat days, maybe you sang: “the worms crawl in the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout” or “the worms crawl in the worms crawl out, they chew your guts and they spit them out.” Whatever, the imagery and grim finality in the song never changes. But there's hope. Oscar Brand, who succumbed to "the old people's friend" (pneumonia) may have been cremated. Or as we say around the crematorium, "Fuck you, worms!" 

 THE HEARSE SONG (the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out...)   (Listen online or download; no pop-ups, no requests for payment, no passwords.) 


No, it's not "Captain Spaulding," it's Mel Torme, no longer tormented by a stinker who is "not the only starfish in the sea." 

If you want to know how the Rat Pack-types would do a jazz version of this folk-rock kiss-off, here it is. The mid-60's and late 60's were perilous times for lounge singers. Now "retro-cool," at the time they were becoming corny. They survived as best they could. After crooning "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" in his typical insincere way, Dean Martin starred on a long-running barely-rehearsed comedy-variety show.

Sinatra, going morbid ("It Was a Very Good Year") simmered sourly about retirement, and went into some odd phase by hooking up with boyish Mia Farrow. Sammy Davis Jr. got cornier ("Candy Man") but mostly stayed in Vegas. His version of "Mr. Bojangles" wowed the crowds there, but it was Jerry Jeff Walker and Bobby Cole who dueled each other on the Top 40 singles charts.

The rest of the lounge acts and Rat Pack wanna-be's simply had to hep it up as best they could. Andy Williams, Jack Jones, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Kate Smith and even George Burns covered whatever rock songs MIGHT be middle-of-the-road enough for the old fans and tolerable for anyone else listening. And so they did "Mr. Bojangles" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Hey Jude" or "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" or those awful hybrids like "Up Up and Away." 

Paul Simon's stuff was easily covered, but not so easily swung (Sinatra's "Mrs. Robinson" is elsewhere on this blog). Mel Torme did a good job on "Red Rubber Ball." He was known as "The Velvet Fog" (and not too thrilled with the those who falsely called him "The Velvet Fag" or more accurately as he got older and more bulge-eyed, "The Velvet Frog.") Here, his voice actually has a lot more clarity and less of the soft burr.  

Paul, born and raised in Queens, New York, and a big baseball fan, no doubt spent his early teen years playing with a specific "red rubber ball." It was what New Yawkers called a "Spaldeen." With hard balls and softballs not suited to street play, and a tennis ball lacking pop, kids bought a "pinky" instead. No, it was never actually bright red, but kids thought of it that way anyway. If you wuz a New York kid, you'd  woik up an appetite playin' stickball with yer "Spaldeen," and then if you didn't have to drop into the "Lie-berry" to get books for skoo-well, you'd go home and have a bowl of "Piss-ketti."

Oh the nostalgia of red rubber balls, blue balls, finger-snappin' lounge singers, melodic pop songs, and getting over a break-up with a bitch. 

RED RUBBER BALL - listen on line or download, no Zinfart passwords, no porn ads, no capcha codes.


Woah, it's been about TEN years since Gina Gershon self-pressed her album? 

In that time, it's become kind of a cult legend. It runs from $39 to $69 on Amazon. But yeah, who cares about a CD (or a signed one, which I have…she was actually signing these when it first came out). It IS available on iTunes and the other usual suspects for just the familiar .99 per song.

Gershon, a figure of lust thanks to several cult movies ("Showgirls" and "Bound") as well as many more films and TV appearances, was a very capable singer ("Prey for Rock and Roll"). Just why she didn't stick with it, I can only guess. A big reason: it's a rotten business now that it's almost impossible to make money from CD sales (or legal downloads). 

Gina has instead appeared in Broadway musicals, written some books, and an upcoming credit will be guest starring on an episode of Fox's series EMPIRE. One thing hasn't changed. She's still alluring, she's still got those "lucky lips" (she opened with that venerable pop standard when I saw her live show) and...if you sing it with irony, "it's a beautiful world." 

Follow along:

Zelda, she loved her man. He broke her heart but then again, don’t we always really know who should stay and who should go? 
So she looked for love online, waiting, staring, sipping wine. When at last the night she shared, she came home with dirty hair. 

Oh, oh, the world is spinning. Oh, yeah, the clouds are flying by. Somewhere some kids are singing. Oh oh yeah, it’s a beautiful world.” 

Wasted opportunity, living in his memory. 
Thinking back now he can’t feel which among his loves were real.
Shinin’ like a diamond sun,  twenty years have been and gone.  it took him far too long to know he never should’ve let her go.  (chorus…it’s a beautiful world) 


Tears are falling. Future calling. 
River running to the sea. 
So much sadness. Lies and contrast
to just how perfect it can be. 

Listen on line or download; no capcha codes, sleazy pop-ups or Hans-worms:

HOUSE OF WOE - Gina Gershon

Sunday, October 09, 2016


Things have not gone well for Paul Simon lately.

There was that odd "domestic violence" incident, where the diminutive singer-songwriter was accused of attacking his willowy wife, Edie Brickell. (Edie refused to press charges, and then went off to co-write a Broadway musical with Steve Martin).

Paul's newest album got the same reviews as always: "Not as good as the last one." A charity appearance (was it at the tribute to Joan Baez or at the convention nominating Hillary Clinton?) had critics moaning that his singing was off.

He then declared that he was most likely retiring from the road, because at 74, he simply was sick and tired of it.

And now? A new bio threatens to close the book on him.

How's THIS for a headline?

At least this news seems a little more important than Matt Damon grumbling about Trump, or some media whore posing in her bra.

I have not read the book.

I will not DIGNIFY it by buying it.

I will, however, download it when it becomes available on a torrent.

Not that I expect much. This guy Carlin is a hack, and a shitty writer. From the "juicy" quotes the newspapers have printed so far, this guy seems like even more of a presumptuous prat than Paul could ever be. How about this:

"On a darker day Paul would examine his friend from afar and feel a pulse of bile. Why had Artie gotten to be so blessed, with his height, his voice, his hair? And why did Paul have to be so dependent on him?"

Or this:

"For fuck sake! He'd known Artie since they were eleven: Artie with braces, Artie with zits, Artie with a Yarmulke on his head surrounded by all the bearded Jews hoisting the Torah around the synagogue in Queens."

Yeah? Where was Carlin? Not even born yet? It's a bit too easy to come up with this kind of psycho-babble, and to accentuate the rivalry that did and still does exist between the two. It's also easy to cut and paste from the many articles that have touched on Paul not giving credit where it's due.

The stories about Simon being sulky or nasty or arrogantly grabbing somebody else's work are not new.

Rolling Stone ran a piece several years ago about how Paul ripped off Los Lobos, and pretty much said "Sue me," to the bewildered band members. Then there's the question of the mysterious "Red Rubber Ball" which was a Bruce Woodley co-write. Or did Bruce write the whole thing, and "Cloudy," too?

There's no question that Paul IS a genius and DID write most of his own stuff. But just as Dylan has been plagued with a few plagiarism rumors, Paul's been under the microscope from time to time. There's also the question of just how "fair" it is to do what so many performers do...have someone come in and do "editorial" work for a straight cash fee, add some lyrics or chord changes, and NOT get a co-write credit.

I've heard rumors, but I'll leave it at that.

The book no doubt also will offer a few stories that will indicate Paul is a prick. Would this come as any surprise? It's the "ordinary temperament of genius," as Mr. Poe once phrased it. It's possible to be warm, have a sense of humor, be very sensitive...and also be a perfectionist, selfish, and sometimes loutish.

Below? Well, below is an example of the songwriter at work, and proof that Paul has done what all great songwriters have something to make it better. Bob Dylan was and is notorious for re-writing lyrics even as he records them, and once famously scrapped an album at the last minute ("Blood on the Tracks") to re-do most of it with a new band and in some cases, revised lyrics.

This Simon "first audio draft" has the famous "Zoo" melody, but the lyrics are different.

Just as Paul McCartney mumbled "Scrambled Eggs" before he arrived at "Yesterday," Paul Simon had some similar breakfast problems, before taking his words to the zoo instead:

"Something tells me things have changed since I've been gone.
My bowl of Rice Krispies ain't what it used to be!"
His lady friend isn't what she used to be, either:
"Your eyes are filled with icicles, your touch is bitter cold.
And I know I have been on the road too long..."
Hear what happens when you're so alienated, your bowl of Rice Krispies gives you the silent treatment.