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