Tuesday, March 29, 2016

MECCA - Arabs Killed Gene Pitney? Covers incl Spanish + Valerie Loeffler

Above, Valerie Loeffler, who may be the only female to attempt to cover "Mecca." And below, well, the highly individual journalism and oh so coherent critical views you've come to expect here.
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d wonder if Gene Pitney REALLY died of a heart attack. Could he have been murdered by some crazed hummus-faced armpit-bearded Allah-kazam? They’re a bit touchy and humorless, aren’t they? (They might not even be laughing at this very moment while reading this!)
Who is behind almost every bombing and cowardly attack on unarmed people? It ain’t the Druids. It’s the bunch that believes in circumcising WOMEN, killing cartoonists, and going into a raving fatwa denying “freedom of speech” to anyone that disagrees with them. With most people, “I don’t believe what you believe” isn’t an invitation to a beheading. So…
MAYBE somebody slipped Pitney a heart-stopping drug because he equated “Mecca” with his girlfriend’s house! Sacrilege! Radical Islam, awakened at the turn of the century, flew planes into U.S. buildings and blasted London transit. So, some Habib Falafel overdosing Pitney over "Mecca" isn’t that far-fetched. After all, Gene died in Great Britain, where they can slip polonium-210 in your tea in a restaurant and get away with it faster than you can say Litvenenko.
If I'm being honest, that teeny-tiny bunch of radicals who have hijacked “a fine religion” have killed people for much less. I mean, these are people who get touchy even if you try and compliment them. Like: “You know, I really like your stinky halal food.” or, “Danny Thomas did a great job playing a Jew in “The Jazz Singer.” Or “You fuckers sure know creative uses for pressure cookers.”
Those who insist we can’t expel every Muslim allay our fears by muttering that only 10% or 20% of the Muslim population support or approve of terrorists who want to make the world all-Muslim all the time. Okay, that’s several MILLION maniacs (more than Natalie Merchant could imagine). Given that it only takes two or three to blow up a Boston marathon, a Paris theater, a Brussels airport, or a mental health hospital in San Bernardino, who is to say ONE of ‘em didn’t off Pitney?
We’ll never know for sure if some Jihadi Jay anti-American didn’t get to Gene when he turned up in Cardiff. I quote Pitney’s tour manager, James Kelly: "He was found fully clothed, on his back, as if he had gone for a lie down. It looks as if there was no pain whatsoever."
Suspicious, huh? Kelly remembered that the last show Gene performed was happy. And you know how Muslims feel about “happy.” They hate it. James Kelly: “Last night was generally one of the happiest and most exuberant performances we've seen out of him. He was absolutely on top of his game and was really happy with the show." And was his encore…”MECCA?” And was there someone in the audience wearing a frown without pity?
Coincidence: “Mecca” began its climb up the charts in April of 1963…and Gene was found dead in April of 2006. How many years is that? Exactly 43. If you check the Koran, note what page you find after 42.
43 also happens to be the number of days it takes for fig yogurt to reach its expiration, and frankly, what can happen to fig yogurt can happen to Gene Pitney.
Mecca is a holy destination. It's possible a Catholic would be mildly irked if a lyric went: "That brownstone house where my baby live's like the Vatican, THE VATICAN, to ME!" A Jew might raise an eyebrow over: "My baby's birthday is holy like Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur, to ME!" So to have an Arab overreact these days, to the point of jihad, is hardly surprising, is it? If you saw a news item about a Muslim stabbing somebody for joking that visiting Disney World was like Mecca for the wife and kids, would you really be shocked?
When “Mecca” first appeared, Arabs were fairly peaceful, if you weren’t Jewish. Omar Sharif even got along with Peter O’Toole.
"Mecca" was just an odd novelty with a faux-Middle East arrangement and some snake-charmer clarinet playing. Ok, so it wasn’t authentic. It offended nobody at the time, and neither did "Little Egypt” by The Coasters. People enjoyed harmless ethnic stereotypes, and the charts embraced ethnic music from Nicola Paone's "Blah Blah Blah" and Horst Jankowski's jaunty "Walk in the Black Forest" to the foreign babblings of “Volare” and “Sukiyaki.”
There was nothing nefarious about John Gluck Jr., a co-writer of “Mecca.” He was a professional who worked with anyone who had a tune that needed some lyrics. (I’m assuming he wrote the lyrics. It seems that way.) Born in Ohio (1925-2000) he worked with Richard Maltby on “Who Put the Devil in Evelyn’s Eyes” (recorded by the Mills Brothers) and “Beloved Be True” (vocal by Russ Emerick).
With Diane Lampert he co-wrote “No One Home” (recorded by Alan Dale), “Little Lovin’” (performed by Mimi Roman), “Pinch Me” (done by Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads), “Can’t Wait for Summer” (sung by Steve Lawrence), “One Teenager to Another” (from Brenda Lee), “Precious Years” (a single by Glenn Reeves), and “Nothin’ Shakin’,” (yes, The Beatles performed it on a BBC broadcast). Not to mention “Wacky Wacky.” Forget I mentioned it.
With Bob Goldstein John co-wrote “The Other Girls,” a flip side for Jay and the Americans, and with Ben Raleigh, he co-wrote the Connie Francis tune “Blue Winter.” John took sole credit on “That’s Me Without You” by The Wilson Sisters, “Up Jumped a Rabbit” by Frankie Lymon, and “The Bridge” by The Harbingers and also The Cowsills.
Now, what about “Mecca?”
It was a co-write done with the exotic-named Neval Nader, who had Middle Eastern music in his blood, and was born Neval Abounader in Utica (1917-2009). This is not a joke: Neval served in World War 2 and then tried for a career in cartoons and art, marketing his novelties under the pseudonym Screwloose LaTrec.
Neval discovered he had a talent for music. When he needed lyrics for an exotic melody, John Gluck provided it. Just another ballad about young lust, the twist was in making the Middle Eastern melody part of the story line. The girl could’ve been given an Egyptian name, but a cleverer idea was turning her home into “Mecca.” Instead of loving a girl from the wrong side of town, our hero (frantic, high-pitched excitable Gene) was hot about the street where she lived. He had an almost religious view of it, which hints that the girl's parents may be Middle Eastern immigrants. Well, he probably considered her TWAT to be “Mecca,” not the house, but this was 1963.
Exotic, driven by the haunting ‘Mecca…MECCA…MECCCCCAAA” chorus, abetted by some screaming cat-goddess in the background, and wailed by the greatest siren-voice in pop history, the tune was the best thing the Nader-Gluck team produced. But it wasn’t the only thing. Though not as prolific as some of Gluck’s other partners, Neval Nader wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He provided the music for The Fleetwoods’ “Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day,” which was the flip side to the Randy Newman-penned “They Tell me It’s Summer.” The team also scored with “Trouble is My Middle Name” recorded by The Four Pennies and “Punish Her,” which Bobby Vee took into the Top 20 in 1962.
John Gluck’s most famous co-write was still to come. With Herbert Wiener and Wally Gold, he concocted the music for “It’s My Party,” the Lesley Gore smash. By this time Gluck had been hired (along with veterans Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs) to work at Aaron Schroeder Music. Any number of people would be called in to help punch up a song. In this case, the name of one guy was left off. Seymour Gottlieb had the idea for the song, if not much of the lyrics. It was based loosely on events at his daughter Judy’s 16th birthday party.
While “It’s My Party” was instantly covered by a number of artists (notably Helen Shapiro), few have dared improve on Pitney’s “Mecca.” The Cheetahs offered a fairly insane and nauseating cover in 1964 for Philips. Playing it for punk laughs, New Zealand’s goofy Otis Mace took a shot at it in 1981. Let’s just say he was several years too late to be Elvis Costello, and that Split Enz were more authentic eccentrics.
Just two years ago, the group Varjokuva recorded it in Finland as “Mekka,” for their album “Tahti.” They finished it off with fresh lyrics in Finnish, as sung by eye-chart favorite Kyösti Mäkimattila. I think it won an award at the annual Lajso Music Festival, held in a graveyard in Croatia. The winner gets to leave the graveyard.
IF you want to say something nice about Arabs, it’s that they usually try and learn the language of the country they’ve invaded. (It's Latinos that don't want to learn INGLES.) Leaning English makes it easier to send threats to the local newspaper, as well as demands to government officials: “Attention infidels, we expect free housing, all our holidays off, and very light inspection of our luggage when we travel. Do not expect us to dress like you do or believe in your decadent ways. Respect our customs or we’ll kill you.”
Back in the early 60’s, many American pop stars re-recorded their songs in foreign languages, often French, German or Spanish. Below, Pitney burns his uvula on a Spanish translation of “Mecca.” Egyptian pop, Spanish lyrics with too many syllables…this IS an earache. Spanish, Mr. Dylan assured us, is a loving tongue, but maybe only when spoken by Ricardo Montalban or sung by Jose Feliciano. 
Below, rounding out the odd covers is the only female cover version I've found. It’s from Valerie Loeffler, who recorded it back in 2009 when she was apparently a student at Gateway Regional High School (in New Jersey). She performed it in a local coffee house, pausing from her versions of Natalie Imbruglia and Anna Nalick tunes. She sang “Mecca” in honor of her grandma. Yes, the old, old lady played some old, old Pitney songs for the young girl, and surprise-surprise, one ancient tune was weird enough to find favor. Why the song is credited to "JEAN" Pitney, I dunno.
Valerie takes a sincere stab at “Mecca,” which is more than you can say for most young girlies. Too many of today's shaven babes stick to wispy and baldly off-key Taylor Swift covers, expecting guyyyysss to join their Facebook or YouTube fan club. [update, July 2017: in deference to a comment left by her mother, I point out again, this is a 2009 cover. She was young. If you want to see the more mature Valerie, go to YouTube where she's posted cover versions of other tunes, circa 2011 and 2015, with ukelele. These have gotten about 70 hits, compared to 450 for Pitney, but that's the allure of "Mecca," right? Now back to the original post.]
 Valerie might not completely nail those high pitched blasts of “MECCA,” but who did? Only Gene Pitney, and that’s why the Arabs killed him. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, because this is an irreverent blog that is often full of put-ons.
All seriousness aside, most Islamites are very nice people as long as you leave them alone, tear down your church or synagogue and build a mosque, and put your wife in a fucking bee keeper’s outfit.
Oh yes, you are allowed to chew on dates, but if Papa Omar gets mad, you’ll have a misadventure with his mates.
PS, the second most upsetting possible Arab murder of a beloved creative artist would be Bob Clampett. He worked on Warner Bros. cartoons but later created the “Beany and Cecil” TV series. In one episode of the cartoon show, he had a gag in which Cecil the sea serpent announced he was going over to “Mecca Records” in order to…”mecca record.” This may have been enough to put Bob on the hit list, since the Ayatollah met with several Hamas terrorists and determined Cecil was a cartoon character, and would therefore be hard to murder.
Below, five difference variations on Mecca, including Pitney’s in Spanish. Blue Gene, baby, shall I mourn you with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief? Shall I ask why in the world people are killing each other over a fucking imaginary friend they can’t prove even exists?
Well, Gene, here’s hoping you’re reading this in heaven (the real deal, not the one full of goats).
Gene, may you be sitting on a cloud wanting something to eat, and a waitress comes over and shows you where. Or didn’t you know heaven was 24 hours from Tulsa?


PETER BROWN - The Theme from "LAWMAN"

I don’t think the death of Peter Brown (October 5, 1935 – March 21, 2016) got much coverage. You’d have to have a long memory and a fondness for vintage TV westerns to know that all-American name. The name, by the way, was originally the more exotic Pierre Lind de Lappe, but the Manhattan-born kid preferred to be called Peter. And when his mother re-married a guy named Albert Brown, he went with that new last name.

Brown’s mother was an actress (you may have heard of the “Dragon Lady” in the “Terry and the Pirates” comic strip? She played the role on radio). He wanted to be an actor, and journeyed to California…to end up working in a gas station.

He noticed a customer’s familiar name on a credit card. “Jack Warner? Are you one of the Warner Brothers??” Jack nodded, “I’m the last one left.” Brown declared himself an actor looking for a break, and Warner let him come to the studio for a test.

Back then, Warner’s TV division was loading up on handsome young guys that teen girls could adore and that would be heroic enough for men to admire. Looking good was secondary to acting well. From memory, I recall quite a few late 50’s Warner TV stars who became popular with little previous experience or success: James Garner, Jack Kelly, Will Hutchins, Ed “Kookie” Byrnes, Bob Conrad, Ty Hardin, Clint Walker, Troy Donahue and, very quickly, Peter Brown.

On “Lawman,” Brown played Deputy Johnny McKay opposite thin, wiry, super tough John Russell’s Marshal Dan Troop. There simply wasn’t a more intense figure on TV than Russell, and I’m including Clint Eastwood over on “Rawhide.” Despite his glaring and gruff demeanor, Russell was a sympathetic mentor to Peter Brown over the show’s four-year run. Neither of them showed much emotional range on the show, but that wasn’t needed. They were heroes.

An important feature of Warner westerns was a theme song to instantly tell viewers what the show was about. This song usually had a catchy melody and extremely stupid lyrics. The lighter shows like “Maverick” and “Sugarfoot” had the most ridiculous themes. “Lawman” was merely stolid and wonderfully inane.

It was the work of Jay Livingston and Mack David who had a knack for writing hokey songs folks could sing along to. Remember “Que Sera Sera” and “Buttons and Bows?” How about “Silver Bells” or Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa?” One of their catchiest theme songs was for “Mr. Ed.”

As for “Lawman,” it is pretty repetitive and clumsy, but some stalwart fans out there could sing the melody to this: “The Lawman came with the sun! There was a job to be done! So they sent for the badge and the gun of the Lawman!”

You get both the original TV theme and the instrumental from Al Caiola, which includes some “Rawhide” whip cracks and “Lone Ranger” hoof beats.

It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, even antisemitic skeleton Roger Waters, to know that Livingston and Evans, authors of great Americana, were Jewish. Jay Livingston was born Jacob Levinson in Pennsylvania to immigrant parents. Ray Evans was born in New York, his father’s last name already changed via Ellis Island

Their first big hit together was “To Each His Own” in 1946. How big? I don’t think Roger Waters, the acromegaly-faced Nazi, ever had FIVE different versions of any of his songs in the Billboard Top 10 at the same time. All crowding the Top 10 together: The Ink Spots, Tony Martin, Freddie Martin, Eddie Howard and The Modernaires singing “To Each His Own.”

Peter Brown’s career would’ve gone nowhere without a Jew. Jack Warner was born Jacob Wonsai. His Polish immigrant parents had to flee Europe due to a little something called “ethnic cleansing,” which today Roger Waters believes only happens to antisemitic Ukrainians or Palesteeeeenians. He thinks Jews are no longer persecuted (even by him) and he also believes that only Israel (not even North Korea or Russia) is an apartheid dictatorship that deserves to be shunned.

But I digress.

After the TV western craze of the late 50’s subsided, each season brought only a few new oaters. Peter Brown luckily latched onto a new one in the mid-60’s. The cult classic “Laredo” borrowed from “The Three Musketeers” and the 1939 movie “Gunga Din,” in offering a look at a trio of heroes who just happened to have a carefree sense of humor and a delight in pranking each other like friendly enemies. Neville Brand was the older one, the butt of most of the practical jokes. William Smith appealed to guys who could be inspired to try body-building and getting a muscular body like “Joe Riley.” Peter Brown was intended to help draw in some female viewership, as stalwart “Chad Cooper.” The exuberant (lyricless) theme song was by Russ Garcia, and the original soundtrack probably sets some kind of record for the most distracting gunshots, which seem to number in the dozens. It’s really hard to listen to without the visuals.

In the 70’s Brown starred in some exploitation films (notably “Foxy Brown”) and spent most of the 70's and 80's moistening vaginas over 40 by starring in various daytime soap operas. Those growing up in the 50’s and 60’s never forgot “Johnny McKay” or “Chad Cooper,” and would eagerly wait for him to turn up at “western star memorabilia rodeo” shows. The somewhat elusive star had other things to do than stand around while paunchy idiot Hoobastanks clutched him around the shoulder, and grinned yellow cheesy smiles, paying $20 for a pose and an autograph. That’s why if you check eBay, a Peter Brown autographed photo is usually in the $50 range, or more. It’s a tribute that if you want a signed Brown, you need a lot of green.




At “the blog of less renown,” famous performers rarely get mentioned. They don’t need it. Their work is easy to find. Only vain idiots would bother upping an entire discography as a “tribute,” adding their own stupid Nazi name as a password (for what they merely stole from other blogs). They do it to get a free Freakyshare account or bitcoins. Some are so pathetic they only want a “nice comment” in return, one that will rock their Swedish-meatball middle-aged fat-faced lonely loser world. English being a second language, stealing a write up from "All Music" and pretending they wrote it, and adding "RIP" is their 16rpm speed.

So, no, you get no ELP or Nice albums here. If you really cared you would’ve bought them already. If you really need an introduction to this stuff, you must be very young or very senile, and that’s your problem not mine.

No, the reason Keith Emerson (November 2, 1944-March 10, 2016) is mentioned here is to acknowledge two things about him that are greater than the sum of his 20 minute show-off organ solos or whatever he did that made progfrogs consider him right up there with Rick Wakeman as a genius of “classical” rock.

Looking at the bigger picture, what makes this guy’s death important even to those who hated his rock groups, is how it happened and what led up to it.

Point One: he suffered from intestinal problems. Add the recently deceased Glenn Frey (colitis), as well as Patty Duke today (death due to sepsis from a ruptured intestine) aging rock fans are beginning to see that food over-processed and chemically altered by modern farming techniques is kicking us in the gut. Maybe some of this doesn’t outright kill us, but it fucks our quality of life and often makes us susceptible to something lethal. Let’s add David Bowie’s cancer to this. Our innards are getting corrupted and it seems the odds are much greater now of getting lethal liver, pancreas or intestine rot than a good ol’ quick heart attack.

More and more people are finding, like the late Keith Emerson and Glenn Frey, that immune-deficiency is a hell on earth. Medication taken to stop the body from attacking itself can also stop the body from defending itself.

This situation has been building over several decades. No less an indestructible force than Frank Sinatra suffered from diverticulitis and had to deal with a very shitty situation involving a colostomy bag before he got any kind of cure. And what happened next? He began to wither in confusion and more misery. His son had prostate cancer and not too long after that, a fatal heart attack.

Most of us grew up never knowing about diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, AIDS, SARS, ebola, or some of the other seemingly new or newly festering illnesses out there. These things mutate pretty quickly, and one thing leads to another. Glenn Frey had colitis, then arthritis, and seemingly well enough to appear at reunion Eagles concerts, he ended up in a coma, and dead. And before Keith Emerson shot himself?

Here’s a Facebook post from Keith Emerson, from 2010.

No, that doesn't sound like fun, does it? People kill themselves in the midst of problems like that. Yes, Keith Emerson “got better.” Just as Glenn Frey and Sinatra Jr. “got better.” Emerson found more ailments creeping up on him, and his quality of life diminishing. Did he see any hope in dangerous drugs that can cause cancer or suicidal depression? Now we know what drug Del Shannon should NOT have taken. Do we know what warnings should be ignored on new wonder drugs like Remicade or Humera? You’re putting your life in your hands listening to a doctor, a second opinion, or ignoring either opinion. No winners, it seems.

Patty Duke’s sepsis from a ruptured intestine? I’m not sure if that’s a common problem but I would not be surprised if it’s becoming one because our bodies are so weakened by pollution, stress and lack of proper nourishment. Some of this you can blame on the government allowing the Monsanto bunch to do as they please, but a lot is the fault of ignorant slobs who don’t care what poisons they put in their bodies in the guise of a “happy meal.”

While various fan-assholes grumbled that Keith Emerson was a “coward” for killing himself, and depriving them of another tour, or a new album they can complain “isn’t as good as the old ones, just like we were disappointed by the new Jethro Tull and Vanilla Fudge…”) let’s dismiss them. They are FAN ASSHOLES. They are likely to live a shorter life than Keith Emerson because they are happily gorging on ham from shit-covered pigs loaded with infections, burgers from mad cows, and “wings” from bacteria-infected chickens. All washed down with a soda containing 8 spoonfuls of sugar.

The ones who don’t understand Emerson’s suicide, or shrug that Frey somehow just “died too soon” and that’s fate, are just ignorant fools. They laugh at climate change and smirk as they order that “heart attack on a plate” at the deli. They also don’t realize that for every star’s suicide there are hundreds and thousands of ordinary people going that same route, which means the problem is much more severe than what Todd Rundgren once called the “tortured artist effect.”

And so it was, that Keith Emerson put an end to his misery. “Suicide is Painless,” as the song says.

Your download is the Roger Williams cover version of the M*A*S*H theme, since it’s a lot more obscure than the one on the original soundtrack to the movie. You’d expect the song to get the stereotypical Roger Williams treatment of “falling leaves” piano glissandos but this item is closer to what a Percy Faith would’ve done. It’s got a full orchestra (which Roger did not conduct), and even a chorus just like the film. The TV show never did offer a lyrical version of “Suicide is Painless” in any episode. Maybe Alan Alda and his gang knew something from operating on people who tried to kill themselves and didn’t quite complete the job? Maybe suicide isn’t painless. You can’t ask Keith Emerson.

Roger Williams Suicide is Painless

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Final Score: Frank Sinatra 82 - Frank Sinatra Jr. 72

The ad for the show Frank Sinatra Jr. had to cancel.

Frank Sinatra Jr. (January 10, 1944-March 16, 2016) was a realist about his mediocre career. A few years before his sudden heart attack (while touring in Florida) he reflected: ’I’ve never been a success. I have never had a hit movie, a hit television program, a hit record. It would have been good for my personal integrity, my personal dignity to have had something like that. I have never made a success in terms of my own right. I have been very good at re-creation. But that is something that pleases me because my father's music is so magnificent.”

Junior’s career, especially in the past 25 years, was basically being a tribute act. Aging Baby Booers now mellow enough to appreciate "The American Songbook" might go to his shows, but were more likely to try for a ticket to a Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga show. The crowd for Junior was mostly old farts. They'd come up to him for an autograph, either saying, “You did your Dad proud,” or “You’re pretty good in your own right.” Or some other pathetic “compliment.”

The sad fact is that Frank just never fit into the slots that were occupied by his contemporaries, who were either successful Sinatra imitators (Bobby "Beyond the Sea" Darin) or had the puppy-eyes and soft round faces to be teen idols (Paul Anka comes to mind). If teenagers sighed "Frankie" in 1965 it was over Frankie...Avalon, who looked natural in a swim suit. Frank Sinatra Jr. was a stiff; he sang cold, and he looked too much like his father. No, he didn't even have that ONE hit that goofy Gary (son of Jerry) Lewis managed. That had to burn him up.

Gary Lewis or his manager managed to find a hit song in "This Diamond Ring," and was also able to regurgitate a hit by re-covering "Sealed with a Kiss" in 1968. Gary wasn't a great singer but he was a typical nerdy teenager and Jerry fans identified with him. By contrast, teens didn't like Frank Sinatra and were lukewarm to the guy's stone-faced son. They DID like his sister, though. Nancy Sinatra was a star in the mid and late 60's with a string of hits. Well, Nancy Sinatra Jr. didn't have the shadow of her famous mother in her way. After some experimenting, she ended up a blonde toughie, rocking C&W with her "Boots." Frank Junior was stuck with looking like his father and having the same name and...making poor choices with his singles. And albums.

Frank, Mr. Nepotism, did indeed sign his son to Reprise back in 1965. The debut album seemed to emphasizes this was "Frank JUNIOR," as the boy was dressed in a tux and singing Daddy's rejects, shit like "S' Wonderful" and "I Got the Sun in the Morning." It was with RCA Victor in 1967 that the kid had his best shot at singles success. At the time, there was still a chance for a singer or 30 or 40 or even older to score a hit if the song was something catchy by Mancini or Bacharach or Jimmy Webb. Below, two examples of what Junior chose.

“Building with a Steeple,” which opens in a minor key, as if it might break into a Del Shannon “Stranger in Town” rocker, limps toward Lee Hazlewood. But instead of singing ala sullen and gritty Lee, Junior can’t stop a’swingin’ and his vocal style just doesn’t fit the song.

“Shadows on a Foggy Day,” has backing from “High Hopes” brats. It’s a sappy happy sunshine song that in no way brings fog or shadows to mind. And who gives a crap if a rich man's son is happy? Frank Senior, on drek like "High Hopes" or his duet with daughter Nancy on "Something Stupid," was enough of an actor to fake some charm. Junior just couldn't seem to do it, and his pavement-hard vocals don't levitate what should be a cheery and optimistic fluff song.

Bobby Darin remained the young listener's Sinatra till Bobby died. The field was then dominated by Paul Anka in a tuxedo, and hipper satellites like Tom Jones and Neil Diamond. Junior issued the embarrassingly titled "His Way" in 1972 and spent the next 20 years being a budget version of his father in smaller venues, and then moving on to being the nostalgia link to the past, when the alternatives were non-relatives like Steve Lawrence, Jack Jones and Tony Bennett.

Yeah, pity the guy a bit, since being the son of a famous man can be tough. Frank Sr. wasn’t around much in Junior's early life. He was busy with his career, not the type to play baseball with his son or sit around playing with crayons or watching cartoons and watching the boy laugh. Nope. Frank would’ve preferred to be out drinking, and slamming Ava Gardner. Junior had to grow up fast and deal with a lack of fatherly warmth.

Frank Jr. became famous for being kidnapped. After four frightening days as a captive to a bunch of clueless cretins, he was rescued and they were jailed. Some considered it all a “publicity stunt.” To his credit, the kid bore up well under the ordeal, and also under the camera flashes that greeted him wherever he went. He developed, if not poise, stoicism. A stone face. The result was that over the years people didn't feel that sorry for him. He seemed to be polite and distant to fans and to even friends. When he died, even his own family reacted with little emotion.

If you checked Facebook, you saw very unemotional posts about him. Mia Farrow (who was a year younger than Frank when she married his father) offered the standard "condolences" and "RIP." Farrow used that familiar "Rest in Piece" shorthand? Really? That's how rock forum members used to dismiss some bore who died. They'd hear that some guy who used to upload Ray Price and Ernest Tubb albums died, and all they'd do is maybe add "RIP" to the list of others who couldn't be moved to add anything more. Yeah, RIP, Lazy Rebel. RIP. RIP. Condolences.

As for 75 year-old Nancy, her dry-eyed Facebook post added the line "Keep Warm, Frankie," which sounds like a a sarcastic suggestion as to his final destination. She did get some "nice" comments from, er, the late Ava Gardner, and Joe Piscopo, the SNL comic who used to get some snickers by imagining Frank Sr. singing disco tunes in a burly Joisy accent.

Junior didn't seem to get along with anyone too warmly. He was married only once, and it lasted for two years, just enough to squeeze out a son. The son, Michael Sinatra, offered this quote: “He was a man who was loved so much despite being so flawed - and that was always a great inspiration for me.”

A few months ago I watched the HBO documentary on Frank, and Junior did much of the talking for the family. His tone was clipped, dry, and strangest thing of all, he insisted on calling his father “Sinatra,” and not “Dad,” saying it was “out of respect.” Warmth apparently didn’t come that easily to him, and perhaps the majority of people noted the chill and that was why he didn’t make it too big in show business. He gave off the vibe of a Sinatra impersonator, settling for a career he really didn’t want for himself, but making the best of the cards he’d been dealt.



Another Dead Jewish Woman: GOGI GRANT (“The Wayward Wind”)

A few months ago, it was Kitty Kallen. Now we say Kaddish for another Jewish woman who had her name changed so she seemed she was born in Tennessee. Philadelphia’s Myrtle Audrew Arinsberg (September 20, 1924 – March 10, 2016) became, thanks to her record label, “GOGI GRANT.” If that first name seems impossibly stupid, well, it was the era of America’s Binnie Barnes and England’s Googie Withers.

Grant’s strong, mystical “The Wayward Wind” blew Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ off the #1 spot exactly 60 years ago. It was an unlikely achievement for a 30-something, who had begun her recording career only a year earlier. On the small Era record label she'd had the modestly charting “Suddenly There’s a Valley.”

Back then, anything could happen…if you had the right name. An Italian became a cowboy song hero as “Frankie Laine.” And so Gogi, and Kitty Kalen (and Dinah Shore) passed as wholesome middle-Americans, not Jews to be jeered or stolen from by every Hans and Christer. I once had a discussion about this phenomenon with Gene Simmons, and how sad it was that he couldn't have been the hip, hot, rocking leader of KISS if he remained Gene Klein. Wouldn't it be nice if stereotypes could be smashed? "Yeah, I know what you're saying," came the reply. But he added he was happy being Gene Simmons. Just as Bob Zimmerman was more comfortable as Bob Dylan.

While racism implies that you’ll be shut out if you don’t assimilate, many nice people simply expect certain stereotypes in their lives. They want their Italian restaurant run by Italians. They want a Jewish accountant. A yoga instructor from India. Speaking of India, we may know that Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji, but we appreciate him taking the effort to toss his 'eathen real name AND, allow him to play Gandhi because we know what his real name was.

“The Wayward Wind” was the perfect storm of singer and song. Her follow up, available below, was the predictable “When The Tide is High.” Chart failure didn't bother Gogi much. Her fame was strong enough to take her to a Hollywood studio where she dubbed Ann Blyth for the musical biopic “The Helen Morgan Story.” The soundtrack was a best-seller. The following year, 1958, she starred in “The Big Beat,” one of those jukebox movies full of top singers and musicians of the day.

Gogi issued three RCA albums in 1958-59, “Welcome to My Heart,” “Torch Time,” and “Granted it’s Gogi,” but there was a lot of competition in singing “The American Songbook.” Her versions of songs such as “That’s My Desire” were very competent but not all that exciting. Fans seemed to long for tangy country-lilted things like "The Wayward Wind." Another aspect of stereotype is expecting a star to stay in the style that made 'em famous.

Willing to try roots music again, Gogi recorded a 1960 album for Liberty called “If You Want to Get to Heaven.” It was loaded with Gospel shouters, which seemed to reinforce the idea that she was Christian. Her next and last stop was CRC-Charter in 1964: “City Girl in the Country.”

40 years later, 80 years old, Gogi Grant thrilled nostalgists by singing “The Wayward Wind” on a PBS nostalgia special.

Gogi did herself proud that night. She was one of the highlights. Reports say that she was still turning up for cameo stage appearances into her late 80's. And, no, Gogi did not end up cremated, and tossed into "The Wayward Wind." She can be found at Hillside Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles that is also the final rest for Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Leonard Nimoy, David Janssen, Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Milton Berle, Al Jolson, Allan Sherman, Dinah Shore and Moe of The Three Stooges.

GOGI GRANT When the Tide is High

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Some years ago, Jimmie Rodgers autographed a CD for me and said, “Say hello to Bobby Cole for me.” While they were not exactly similar in style, they covered some of the same songs, had some of the same highs and lows, and ironically, wrote eerie, beautiful ballads about age and fame.

Bobby’s most legendary number is “Growing Old.” Sometimes, late at night in a club, he'd offer “So Sleeps the Pride,” a bittersweet meditation on his time in the spotlight. He never recorded it, which his fans always lamented. And Jimmie Rodgers, who did record the pensive “Child of Clay” never waxed “Leader of the Band.” It appears below via a live rendition done some 16 years ago.

Sadly (on this day that we remember the passing of George Martin at 90), in the case of both Bobby and Jimmie, there wasn’t a producer (or agent, or manager) able to take a “Growing Old” or “Leader of the Band” to some influential artist who could make it into a hit. Of course in that regard, luck plays a part. The well-connected Randy Newman hoped Frank Sinatra would cover the bitter “Lonely at the Top.” Frank never did.

James Rodgers was born September 18th, 1933 in Camas, Washington. The other Jimmie Rodgers, a legendary C&W star, had died several months earlier. By the time Rodgers began performing, there didn’t seem any reason to worry about any confusion with the long dead competition. Now, of course, any Google of “Jimmie Rodgers" will get a pastiche of both. It doesn’t help modern confusion that Jimmie’s early singles, like the 1957 hit “Honeycomb” sound quaintly country and might be mistaken for much earlier C&W fare. Jimmie also covered a lot of folk songs in those early days.

After his breakout year (aside from "Honeycomb" he also married, and made his “Ed Sullivan Show” debut), Rodgers was welcomed on live show tours around the country. In 1958 and 1959 he was on the same bill with The Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, The Tune Weavers, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly among others. Yes, Jimmie was going to be part of Buddy Holly’s ill-fated winter tour, but had to cancel due to illness. Jimmie continued to have hit records, but not all the money that he deserved. This was because he was on the notorious Roulette Records, which labelmate Tommy James would later expose as Mafia-run.

In 1963, Jimmie moved over to Dot Records, and in 1967 with folk-rock now popular, signed with A&M, the label that also had faith in Phil Ochs. Rodgers’ career, which had flagged a bit, instantly gained a strong new direction via his ballad “Child of Clay.” But 1967 ended up as the worst year of his life.

Rodgers told Rolling Stone (in a 1986 "Where are they Now" piece), “"I got beaten up by an off-duty Los Angeles policeman. I went to a Christmas party in December of 1967. On the way home a car pulled up behind me, blinked its lights. I pulled over and stopped. This guy got out, stood outside the car. I rolled down the window, and he hit me through the open window with a bar or something. I don't know what transpired because I was unconscious. I might have said something to him, 'Who are you?' or whatever, and that's all it took. Whether I cut him off on the road or what, we don't really know."

It’s possible Rodgers was being vague out of worry for the still-powerful president of Roulette, who had made no secret of telling people that if they dared to leave the label they’d get the same treatment as Rodgers. Apparently the mob, following Oscar Wilde's advice ("revenge is a dish best served cold") had waited a few years for the right time to get Jimmie, which coincided with his big comeback and new hit single. Rodgers wasn’t beaten up by just one off-duty cop. There were three on the scene, and all became implicated when Jimmie ultimately sued and settled.

The cop version seemed to change from an excuse that Jimmie was drunk and had needed to be subdued after being pulled over, to the even more ludicrous insistence that Jimmie had merely fallen down and injured himself. Once he had stopped falling down and injuring himself, they’d merely put him in his car and abandoned him so he could sleep it off.

Rodgers went through three brain surgeries. His loyal pal Joey Bishop publicized the problems via his late night talk show. He interviewed Rodgers during his road to recovery, and booked Jimmie in 1969 for a comeback appearance. It was at this point that I really became aware of this singer. Yes, I sort of knew of those early hits, but it was traumatic for a kid to see a guy lying in a hospital bed half-dead, and a comedian (Bishop) somberly interviewing him and wishing him well. (Years later, when I had a chance to communicate with Bishop, I mentioned that my first memory of him was not the sitcoms or stand-up, but his talk show and his concern for Jimmie Rodgers).

Unfortunately, Jimmie’s health situation was still far from perfect: “I started having convulsions,” he recalled. “I couldn’t get back. Nobody wanted me.” The fragile ex-pop star worked for a while painting houses. He eventually found his way back to the less strenuous world of show business, and was well enough to record again…and suffer the usual problems an artist has. He went into the studio in Nashville for a session, and nothing happened. A while later, somebody had seized the masters and marketed a 2 record set on K-Tel; no profit to Jimmie. He eventually managed to buy back the masters, but it didn’t do him much good with a semi-bootleg already out for several years.

Here at the blog where Mr. Ochs is so well remembered, I do have to say that for me, the most important part of Jimmie’s career remains the A&M years, and the folk rock material, not the happy folk stuff, pop material or C&W tracks. His best new song, "Leader of the Band," echoes the mood of the introspective A&M years.

Rodgers continued his sporadic comeback of live shows, records, and original songs. He was among the aging pop stars who managed to find a home in Branson, Missouri, where he had a small theater and played to the nostalgia trade…home folks who mostly wanted to hear “Honeycomb” or ‘Sweeter than Wine” or “that song that they re-wrote for the Oh-Oh Spaghettio’s commercials!”

Rodgers left Branson for semi-retirement some years ago, and his last gig, according to his website, was in Sandusky, Ohio, in August of 2014. I’m sure he gave the crowd a lot of smiles and a helping of “Honeycomb.” I don’t know if he went to open D tuning and sang about those days when he was…”Leader of the Band.”

Jimmie Rodgers Leader of the Band


Funny, that a song written 90 years ago (1926) needs to be explained. Some think that “Bye Bye Blackbird” is some kind of racist tune, and that at best, it’s sung by a black who is happy to get away from a bunch of rednecks.

As the old sheet music above would indicate, the song is actually about bidding a symbolic farewell to the black bird of gloom. This, as opposed to Poe's "Raven," who still is sitting, still is sitting...

It’s easy to spin-doctor this old song, especially when you consider that “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney does indeed have a racial message. Macca insisted that the song was inspired by the plight of blacks in America, and anyone finding a double-meaning in black birds as either birds or oppressed humans was on solid ground.

A few weeks ago, Dave Grohl sang “Blackbird” at the Academy Awards, offering dual meanings. It was sung during the “In Memorium” segment, with visuals of some deceased stars (Lizabeth Scott) but not others (Abe Vigoda). Obviously the message was that those now with sunken eyes would be heaven-bound. The more coded but intentional double meaning was: “Hey, the Oscars failed to nominate Will Smith and other black birds, so they’re racist!"

So, what about “Bye Bye Blackbird?”

The song was written by two white guys, composer Ray Henderson and lyricist Mort Dixon. From the start it was sung by just about everyone from white man Gene Austin to black woman Josephine Baker. Whoever sang it, it was a croon with an uptempo jazz beat; the singer is happy and optimistic about leaving for someplace better:

Blackbird, blackbird singing the blues all day
Right outside of my door.
Blackbird, blackbird why do you sit and say
There's no sunshine in store?
All through the winter you hung around.
Now I begin to feel homeward bound.
Blackbird, blackbird gotta be on my way
Where there's sunshine galore.

The infamous chorus has a bit of sadness to it (“No one here can love or understand me, oh the hard luck stories they all hand me.”) But the good news is that the singer is headed home: “Where somebody waits for me, sugar’s sweet, so is she [or he].” It's probable that the racial tinge to the song came from so many quick versions of the song eliminating all but the sorrowful chorus.

In the second stanza, the bird shifts color, from the black bird of misery to the bluebird of happiness:

Bluebird, bluebird, calling me far away
I've been longing for you.
Bluebird, bluebird, what do I hear you say?
Skies are turning to blue, I'm like a flower that's fading here,
Where ev'ry hour is one long tear.
Bluebird, bluebird this is my lucky day.
Now my dreams will come true.

The era was loaded with songs about change and movement (“Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye”) as well as every cliche about color, including “Blue Skies” as symbolic of carefree tranquility.

Yes, there were also songs that addressed race, and used color symbolism. Fats Waller comes to mind with his song "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue)?" But, “Bye Bye Blackbird” ain’t one of ‘em.

Side note: Puffins are now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They join the depleted ranks of European Turtle Doves, Pochards and Slavonian Grebes. Among others. So in addition to a hipster reference to Charlie Parker ("Bird Lives") let's not neglect other species. "BIRD LIVES MATTER." GENE AUSTIN Bye Bye Blackbird