Tuesday, September 19, 2017


     Hurricane season in America means that many parts of the hot, humid South, including Florida, Georgia and up through South Carolina, are...SWAMP COUNTRY. More than usual. Floods, which actually floated alligators into neighbrhoods to add some extra danger, left many injured, some dead, and thousands without the air conditioning that almost makes living in the South bearable. Hell, if you didn't have some meth, and you couldn't fuck your sister or spray paint a Swastika, what COULD you do for fun with the electricity off?

    If you still had a charge on your iPod, cell phone or laptop, you could play some SWAMP MUSIC. Your addition below is “Swamp Country,” an obscurity on the SWAMPER record label. Certainly the first and foremost song in the genre remains “Swamp Girl,” the insane ballad that Frankie Laine made his own. It's chronicled elsewhere on the blog. Frankie was an Italian guy, and he didn’t actually spend his life riding a mule train, being a gunfighter, herding cattle, or living in a swamp.

    Jimmy Walker was an authentic swamp guy! Not the “Swamp Fox,” who only hid in the marshes to evade the British during the Revolutionary War, Walker was an actual swamp manager! There are forest rangers, and there are zoo keepers and, yes, there are guys who have the job of taking care of mucky bogs. For many years, the Okefenokee Swamp near Waycross, Georgia was supervised by Jimmy. "Swamp Park" when Jimmy was caring for it, was six hundred square miles of dark waters. He made sure tourists got to see all the wonders of Cow Island, and the sawgrass and Spanish moss and the wildlife. He jump-started the career of Okefenokee Joe, who originally worked as an animal handler in the swamp for $60 a week. When he had some spare time, Walker picked up his guitar and sang in the local dives.

    Most fans of SWAMP MUSIC are also fans of cheap swamp paperbacks (like “Swamp Hoyden” which had two different printings). 

    Swamp fans also like swamp films. “Swamp Country” was the theme song for a movie of the same name, which features a very early appearance by Carol Burnett’s announcer Lyle Waggoner. (A few years later,  1971, "Swamp Girl" was filmed on location with Jimmy helping guide the camera crew along). Jimmy Walker was in "Swamp Country," along with his Swampers, and decided to cover the song on his own label, for what can't really be called a "one hit wonder." It was never really a hit. The full "Swamp Country" album he made is quite a rarity. Hunting for it is complicated by several other singers and musicians named Jimmy Walker who recorded albums (and the comedian Jimmie Walker, and the original cast album for the Frank Gorshin musical about Mayor Jimmy Walker).

    His indie interpretation has some nice effects to it, beyond his reasonable vocal skills. Listen for the gooey addition of "Duane Eddy with Indigestion" guitar. OK, it doesn’t have Loulie Jean Norman offering ghostly vocalise, and there’s nobody shouting ‘Chloe,” but the music cementing this bit of C&W goop does give you a taste of the foul and dismal swamp lands where most anything bad can happen. Ah, swamp tunes...musical muck and mire you can admire.

So, SWAMP MUSIC fans, please enjoy Jimmy Walker, and this nice companion to Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” And gee, if you REALLY like it, ask somebody to bayou a copy, at one of the last surviving record stores. Drain the swamp? Trump actually LOVES Florida and has a big luxury home there. He's not gonna drain any swamp or hurt any alligators. Professional courtesy. 

Swamp Country    Instant download or listen on line. You don’t need to type in somebody’s sad password catch-phrase or stupid name to get this to open. No malware or spyware anywhere.


    One of the things that nobody mentioned in the obits on Shelley Berman, is…that he could sing. Here, on the Blog of Less Renown, that’s the basic requirement to get an entry. Let’s put it simply: Shelley Berman’s head belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Pioneering Stand-up. When nightclub comedy first broke through as an art form, and a vehicle for social comment, the four men leading the way were Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman and Jonathan Winters.

    Oh, there were others around. There were cult characters like Lord Buckley and Brother Theodore. There was also soft-spoken Dick Gregory, who (thanks to Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce breaking down the barriers) was able to talk about racial and political issues. He first worked at a Playboy Club in Chicago; Hefner already championing Mort and Lenny. 

When Time Magazine published an alarmist article on the emergence of “sick comedy,” Lenny was the main target, but Berman enraged them, too. In fact, Time was reduced to a "sick" description of Berman as having a face "that looks like a hastily sculpted meatball." Berman brought shivers for his gruesome dissections of modern life. While the Copa and similar clubs had some guy in a tux telling wife jokes, coffee houses were hosting a revolution not yet televised.  

    Berman's one-act plays included shining a light at malice in the suburbs; a man who learns that at a drunken party he threw the host’s cat through a plate glass window, and then the host’s mother. And he's not all that sorry, either. Funny? How about a phone call about a guy slowly bleeding to death? How about the literally dark humor of a man who finds himself in a hotel room with no windows or door? How about a man trying to get help for a lady dangling on the ledge of a department store window? How about a bit titled “Franz Kafka on the Telephone?”

    Of the four faces on comedy’s Mount Rushmore, the first to have a best selling album was…BERMAN. “Inside Shelley Berman” outsold the other guys by a hefty margin. Berman, a trained actor, was quickly hired for an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” and soon found himself starring in a Broadway musical called “A Family Affair.”

    What you’ll hear below, is a fairly horrible Bolero-novelty number called “Revenge.” In deference to Berman’s fame with phone monologues, there’s a messy bit of frantic phone tomfoolery towards the end. Maybe on stage, with some intense face-making, this thing was actually funny. Berman played “Uncle Alfie,” in a story of a wedding getting out of control and a young couple trying to deal with their crazy relatives. 

     Today, “A Family Affair” is a mere footnote, and it wouldn’t even toe that level of obscurity except that the music was supplied by John Kander. After this, Kander found a new lyricist and partner in Fred Ebb, and that team would go on to many hit shows including “Cabaret.” They wrote the inescapable anthem “New York, New York,” which is blasted over loudspeakers, in the Sinatra version, any time a New York sports team wins anything.

     The histrionic "Revenge" proves that Berman could’ve been perfect in a Broadway show with better songs, like “Bye Bye Birdie” (as the neurotic husband) or “Damn Yankees” (as the maliciously cheerful devil). Over the years, Shelley often appeared in “Straw Hat” productions of musicals, and one of his favorites, was the lead in “Fiddler on the Roof.” He played a Jewish peddler in an episode of “Rawhide,” so if you catch up with that one, it may give you an idea of his “Tevye” side.

    While he was indeed a neurotic and intense personality, and sometimes his own worst enemy, Berman managed to navigate through the years, and emerge almost as famous at the end of his career as he was at the beginning. Doffing his hairpiece, he played Larry David’s father on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It was an inspired choice. Despite the fact that he could be a “raw nerve,” Berman was a warm-hearted, gentle soul. His marriage was one of the longest in show business. Those who knew him, worked with him, or were fans of his…had every reason to love him. What a mensch. 

Shelley Berman sings...
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Saturday, September 09, 2017


It's no surprise, here at The Blog of Less Renown, that the passing of Mick Softley was a very soft news item. A lot of deserving, historical, and folks with some hits to their name, get more of a write-up here than anywhere else. Some newspapers with a page for obituaries, didn't even mention Mick. It seems to go with the general Millennial attitude of ignorant derision: "Hey, that was before my time, Dude." 

With few exceptions, "protest songs" seem to be viewed as a quaint, useless fad from the past. Did any song from Dylan or Lennon actually stop a war? Did any song about Kent State matter? Wasn't Hurricane Carter actually guilty after all? Hasn't "The Eve of Destruction" turned out to be a long, long eve, that has seen several new generations of mutants be born? 

Looking back, even when Phil Ochs died, which was a heart-wrenching suicide, the obits were kind of small. And this was Phil Ochs, who only a few years earlier was pranking the Democratic Covention in Chicago, appearing on "The David Frost Show," and getting very good royalties off "Changes" and "There But for Fortune," which so many of his contemporaries covered. So what should one expect from an obscure British folk-rocker who lived a long life, and most of it in obscurity? 

Mick Softley was fairly obscure even in his prime. With protest acts including Dylan, Baez and Barry McGuire on the charts, and a wide variety of others singing protest songs now and then, from Judy Collins to Peter Paul & Mary a lot of other performers had modest sales, including Ochs, Pat Sky, Dave Van Ronk, Jack Elliott, Hamilton Camp, and Mr. Softley, who died on September 1, age 77. 

    The closest Softley got to fame, was when Donovan covered a few of his songs, including “The War Drags On.” Vietnam certainly did, year after year. Those who aren't ardent folkies would probably argue that the song itself drags on and on, a long accusatory dirge. If some folkie Millennial tried to sing this at an open mic night, or busking in Sheffield somewhere, he or she would hear: “you’re against the war, I get it. Lines about blood and bones are cliche. Can't you do an Ed Sheeran cover?” 

      While there are some who still crave pop-psych, or psych-folk, some might think that Softley's other semi-known song “Timeless” is not timeless at all, but sadly dated. A criticism of his work then or now would involve a complaint about lack of melody and a tendency to be repetitive, but that was the tendency back then. Dylan and Ochs were worse if you didn't want eight minute songs with the same verse and chorus over and over. And circa 1970, just after the "Summer of Love," many were in love with the Vanilla Fudge style of long, bewildered, alienated songs. Even Del Shannon and Roy Orbison experimented with the new freedoms. When Mick Softley arrived, some may have considered him another Jackson C. Frank, while others said, “Well, who is Jackson C. Frank?”

    Born in Enniskillen, and raised near Epping Forest (where members of Genesis once held a battle), Mick managed a folk venue inside the Spinning Wheel, a restaurant in Hemel Hempstead (where members of Genesis often went after losing their battles). A free spirit, he didn’t care for running any kind of business, and wobbled through the years as a busker, a soloist, and sometimes part of a duo. At various points he would quit show business entirely. Somehow he managed to put out several albums, spaced apart, and they simply got lost in (all together now) the GLUT OF FOLKIE AND PROTEST AND FOLK-PSYCH STUFF that was bulging in the record racks between 1965 and 1970. That would be “Songs for Swingin’ Survivors” (Columbia 1965, a deal that Donovan may have helped him get), “Sunrise,” “Street Singer” and “Any Mother Doesn’t Grumble” (CBS UK, 1970-72), “Capital” and “Mensa” (Doll Records 1976, 1978) and “War Memorials” (1985, Doll Records)

    Despite his lack of commercial success Mick Softley seemed to enjoy performing live, and would turn up at various folk fests and outdoor concerts in Ireland in the 80’s and 90’s. His pleasant life in obscurity caught a bump in the road; he had a bicycle accident in August of 2011. Unlike Syd Barrett, who despite his problems, seemed to control his bicycle, Softley hit the ground hard, and had to be hospitalized. As with Barrett, rumors swarmed over the state of Softley’s mental health and a small circle of fans were so concerned that a Facebook page (the ultimate, huh) was created to deny that the singer was no longer functioning or no longer alive at all. But as of September 1st, he’s now officially another folk-rock legend.

  THE WAR ON DRUGS    Instant download or listen on line.  
  TIME MACHINE    Instant download or listen on line.  

Ill-ustrated Songs #39 "COME IN MY MOUTH" Tobie Columbus

    “Hey, my teacher used to sing about wanting a guy to come in her mouth!” 

    Yeah. Listen: “Run your fingers through my hair as you force my mouth to open mind. Don’t you just love it there? As I drink you deep inside…you taste so good, you taste so good, you taste so good, you taste so good…”

    How about the spoken part of the song? “I wanna lick, I wanna suck…I wanna make you scream, I wanna make you the happiest man alive. I want you deep in my throat. I want to smell your sweat. I want to lap up your load…” 

    Happily for Tobie Columbus, embarrassingly ridiculous late 60’s and early 70’s porn songs are considered just that. In fact, if you even made porn films, you could enjoy a “straight” career making movies or retire to run an antique shop or something and not be chased out of town.  We’ve COME a long way. 

    COME to think of it, these days, it’s hardly a surprise if a teacher has had a student come in her mouth. As long as the come is vintage, 18 years or older, that’s fine. College professors doing it with their students is just fine. Ladies teaching high school, and finding an 18 year-old guy to get a mouthful with…that’s just delicious. While dirty MALE teachers will run into serious trouble if they come into jailbait, FEMALE teachers tend to get a slap on their masturbating wrist if they help a student through puberty. 

    But I digress. Back in 1974, a fairly ridiculous Off-Broadway show turned up called “Let My People Come.” Theater goers and comers had seen “Hair” of course, and “Oh Calcutta,” but how about something joyously and unabashedly dirty? Sort of? The musical wasn’t exactly hardcore. The lyrics for “Come in My Mouth” are at about the same level of dribble-drivel as purple prose romance books of the day. Some lines are probably as corny as what pudgy E.L. James used to drain the color of any porn connoisseur’s face to a shade of gray. 

            There was a lot of now-silly “porn” songs back then. Some were artfully pretentious, like “Je ‘Taime,” and others were ludicrous like “The Theme from Deep Throat” by Linda and the Lollipops. In between, there was the frank stuff from Frank Zappa, and the childish stuff like “Shaving Cream,” which came out of obscurity when a disc jockey was dared to play it. This thing? Pure 70’s, with the corny synths and bubbly over-done sound effects. Jeez, most hippie chicks practicing free love either had two or three kids by 1974, or were charging for sex and making movies for Jerry Damiano.

    Above is an information sheet that Tobie filled out way back when. As you see, “Let My People Come” was her first big credit. And, last. I think you’ll agree, once you hear this thing, that singing a convincing erotic song was not her specialty. When your singing is barely at the level of Andrea True, you’d better try something else. She moved on to dancing, and dance instruction.

    Fortunately for Tobie, “Let My People Come” wasn’t such a hit that her unusual name became all that well known. Besides, singing a porn song in a legit off-Broadway show is much different than actually being in porn. So she, and the members of "Oh Calcutta" and similar efforts, just dispersed, like crowds witnessing a car wreck. She moved to California, had a kid, and she taught for years and years at a school in Tujunga, California. The L.A. Times even mentioned her in a 2006 article, with no allusion to her previous come-uppance. They just noted that she and the other teachers did a great job of helping the kiddies learn their moves. Dance moves, that is:

    “At the after-school dance class Thursday, dance instructor Tobie Columbus demonstrated the basic steps for swing. "Step, touch, step, touch," she called out. Boy-girl pairs avoided eye contact as they formed two lines that stretched most of the length of the bare-floored auditorium. The students mimicked Columbus' steps, many with hands in their pockets and arms crossed. Several boys paired off with each other, too embarrassed by the formal dance style to approach girls. Later, they learned the foxtrot to "Bossy," a hip-hop song by Kelis. "You can't ask the kids to do an old dance to old music," Columbus said. "These dances can be as contemporary as when they were first created." Columbus…will make the dance classes a regular school activity. Starting in February, a group of 12 to 15 students will study social dance twice a week at no cost to them or the school.”

           I once talked with Tom Lehrer, who left behind his "sick comedy" song career to be a full-time math professor. "Do your students come up to you with copies of your old albums to sign?" Tom said that most of the kids had no idea he made records, and hardly knew about any of Lehrer's contemporaries, including Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. Tom said, "Some of them are impressed when they find out I wrote a few songs for Seseme Street. Like: "Wow, you wrote SILENT Y???"

           So it's doubtful that any of Tobie's students ever came up to her and asked her to autograph "Come in My Mouth" on the back of the "Let My People Come" album. If somebody did, do you suppose it would make her scream? It would make her the happiest woman in the world? Mmmm, oooooh, uhhhhhhhh. No.

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LARRY ELGART goes the way of LES - Dead at 95

    There are not too many Big Band musicians left. Larry Elgart has “swooped the planet,” to use a Lord Buckley phrase. He was 95. He and his brother Les were one of the most famous brothers in popular jazz. They didn’t exactly rival the Dorseys, but they stamped a lot of wax in their day, and continued to do so into the 60’s. Larry actually had his best success on his own in the early 80's when the retro antics of Bette “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” Midler, and the disco singles by Cab Calloway and other vintage stars had the campy crowd revved up for a dance revival of vintage Big Band music. People were actually dressing up and going dancing again, getting "Saturday Night Fever" and buying Larry's “Hooked on Swing” platters. 

    Sax playing Larry Elgart: (March 20, 1922 – August 29, 2017) and his trumpet playing younger brother Les (August 3, 1917-July 29, 1995) first found success as sidemen in the 1940’s, both working with Charlie Spivak. Larry also worked with and learned from Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey among others.  Les seemed to have the upper hand, releasing quite a few singles under “The Les Elgart Orchestra” name, with Larry just part of the band.

    The Elgart brothers did work as an equal team for a while. Their first spate of hit albums came out between 1953 and 1956, and included “Sophisticated Swing,” “The Dancing Sound,” “For Dancers Only,” and “The Elgart Touch.” They had another good streak when they switched to MGM in 1960, putting out six records between 1960 and 1962 including “Sophisticated Sixties,” “The Shape of Sounds to Come,” and “Music in Motion.”  Another bunch of releases came out via Columbia, trading in on the craze for the kind of mellow-hip stuff that Herb Alpert was doing; the kind of jazz you’d hear on quiz shows, as background party music in James Bond and Peter Sellers films, and in chewing gum commercials. The Elgart albums for Columbia, up through 1967, include: “Half Satin, Half Latin,” “The Twist Goes to College,” “The New Elgart Touch,” “Elgart au Go-Go,” “Warm and Sensuous” and “Girl Watchers.”

     Below are a few samples of their style, as they hep up “As Time Goes By” (some may be appalled by the quacking trombone and the gooney Glenn Miller winds) and do a butt-shaking cha-cha for any bitch saying “Adios” as she swivels off to try and pick up Xavier Cugat. Why these two songs? “As Time Goes By” and “Adios” both have titles that relate to the passing of Larry Elgart. Clever? No, I don’t think so either. But there you have it, if you want it.

    The brothers were known for “The Elgart Sound,” a sophisticated swing which some would say was a bit too smooth, pop-oriented, homogenous (no flashy solos) and commercial. Larry sometimes surprised jazz fans with experimental work (his “Impressions in Outer Space” album) but the big money was in catering to the “easy listening” crowd. As pop and jazz ceded to rock, Les didn’t want any more, and broke up the act and moved to Texas.

    On his own, Larry had surprising good luck in the late 70’s and early 80’s with his “Flight of the Condor” album and those “Hooked on Swing” releases in 1982 and 1983. He and his New Manhattan Swing Band put the disco beat to some of the most irritating Big Band songs of all time, including the horrible Andrews Sisters hit “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” the inane “Sing Sing Sing” (which could also be called “Dance Dance Dance” considering how many corny tap dancers have used it for routines on America’s Got Talent") and the irritating Glenn Miller classic “Little Brown Jug.” Larry of course did not neglect “In the Mood,” which was a song much hated by Peter Sellers, so much so it was inflicted on the mourners at his funeral.

    Big Band has never completely died off, and you can pick out its influences over the years in both groups (Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago etc.) and in some hit songs (including Bill Conti's "Rocky" theme, which had one of the most vivid trumpet riffs in many a year). There was also "The Tonight Show Band," reminding everyone of the glitter and power of brass, topped by Doc Severinsen's trumpet. Doc still issues albums, and once in a while, Elgart returned to the studio. “Live at the Ambassador” came out in 1998, and “Latin Obsession” arrived in 2000. Larry also played whatever venues were available for Big Band music, which was mostly Florida venues and cruise ships. And, fittingly, in an amphisbaenic sense, his last album was “Bandstand Boogie” in 2003. 

  Les and Larry Elgart ADIOS    Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart passwords where you have to humiliate yourself by typing in some egotist’s name, malware or spyware anywhere.
  Les and Larry Elgart AS TIME GOES BY    Instant download or listen on line. 

The Elgarts, Bob Horn, Dick Clark & BANDSTAND BOOGIE

    In 1954 Larry and Les Elgart recorded “Bandstand Boogie,” a tune by Larry’s pal Charles Albertine. The record label's credit is Les Elgart and his Orchestra. It became famous as the theme for “American Bandstand,” which Dick Clark began to host in 1956.

    Why was it called “Bandstand Boogie” and not “American Bandstand Boogie?” The TV show’s original title was “Bandstand.” It was just a local program in Philadelphia.  The format of watching kids dance seemed to evolve in October of 1952 with the arrival of radio disc jockey Bob Horn as the new host. Back then, the theme song was Artie Shaw’s “High Society.” A few years later, “Bandstand Boogie” was the replacement.

    In July of 1956, Bob Horn was arrested for drunk driving, and that put an end to his hosting duties. Angered at being tossed for one mistake, he filed a breach of contract suit. Things got worse when he was then accused of consorting with an underage prostitute. Jerry Blavat, in his book “You Only Rock Once,” recalled that the scandal may have been perpetrated by Walter Annenberg, owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who also owned “Bandstand” and was out to blacken Horn’s name and get Bob’s lawsuit thrown out.

    Jerry Blavat knew a mother-daughter hooker team that worked out of their home. One of their friends was a slutty number named Rickie: “Rickie…blew me. Later, when I found out that he was a transvestite, I was embarrassed. I was street-wise, but at the time I had no idea.” He was much more attracted to the teen daughter, but so were a lot of guys. Among the accused: Bob Horn. The District Attorney’s office arrested the girl’s mother, and, coincidentally, they were willing to go easy on the lady if the daughter testified about having had sex with Horn.

    “The fact that the District Attorney’s office was pressing charges against Bob Horn - I knew the case was bullshit...I also knew that Bob was in for the fight of his life. His reputation was hanging by a thread, but now his freedom was at stake as well….Before it was all over, Bob would be forced to endure two trials on the same charge of statutory rape, with the first trial ending in a hung jury and the second ending in acquittal….the legal system made his life a living hell…with his career in tatters, Bob continued to drink heavily.” One DWI in July of 1956 wasn’t enough. In January of 1957, Horn got plastered and drove the wrong way down a one-way street, nearly killing a carload of people. He ended up spending six months in jail. He changed his name and helmed the successful Bob Adams Advertising agency in Houston, but died of a heart attack while mowing his lawn, July 31, 1966. He was only 50 years old. Meanwhile...replacing Horn on "Bandstand..."

    Dick Clark knew Bob Horn. They both worked at radio station WFIL. The young, photogenic Mr. Clark became the new permanent host of “Bandstand,” and he took it national. From merely a local Philly phenomenon, “American Bandstand” debuted on ABC,  the American Broadcasting Company.  And yes, in 1957 Chuck Berry saluted the successful show when he sang “they'll be rocking on Bandstand in Philadelphia, PA." Dick Clark was the first youthful disc jockey in a business strangely dominated by guys who looked 40 or 50. That included Alan Freed, and Murray Kaufman, who once covered The Treniers' oddball jazz-R&B song "Out of the Bushes" and dared to refer to his late night WINS radio show as the "Swingin' Soiree." Swingin'? Somehow that Sinatra word didn't bother the kids.

    It’s kind of puzzling why a show that featured teenagers dancing, and the top pop-rock acts of the day, would want a Big Band theme song. Yes, early rock owed a debt to jazz stars such as Louis Jordan, and hybrid jazz-R&B acts including Fats Domino and Little Richard, but as “American Bandstand” music became more and more dominated by greasy white kids like Frankie Valli, Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon, and the team of Tom and Jerry (later Simon and Garfunkel), it seemed pretty ludicrous to have a big band song for a theme. 

    Even when “the kids” stopped dancing to the kind of music that required holding onto your partner, the groovy “Bandstand Boogie” remained, even if it conjured up images of sock hops and bobby socks, and not bell bottoms or hippie beads. Ultimately, in 1969, the corniness of “Bandstand Boogie” gave way to “The Bandstand Theme,” written by Mike Curb. In 1974, “Bandstand Boogie” came back, and in 1977, till the show ended its run in 1987, a vocal version recorded by Barry Manilow was heard. Aside from the changes in theme songs, “American Bandstand” wobbled and danced through various changes in air time, from afternoons to evenings, and from live to tape in order for Dick Clark to handle his many other TV hosting chores. Dick also hosted “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” For many, the enduring New Year’s Eve song is “Auld Lang Syne.” For for many more, the epitome of dance music remains “Bandstand Boogie.”

  BANDSTAND BOOGIE    Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart passwords where you have to humiliate yourself by typing in some talentless egotist’s name, and no malware or spyware anywhere.

DON WILLIAM DIES - The Pozo-Seco Singer

    The average person might not quite know the name Don Williams (May 27, 1939 – September 8, 2017). “Hmm, country singer, wasn’t he?” Well, yes, and to C&W fans he was “The Gentle Giant,” with 17 hits on the country charts, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    He didn’t quite have a crossover single, like George Jones or Johnny Cash, but fans loved #1 country hits such as “I Believe In You” “It Must Be Love,” “Tulsa Time” and “I Wouldn”t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me.”  “If I Needed You” was a duet with Emmylou Harris.  His most mainstream achievement was appearing as himself in “Smokey and the Bandit II.”
    It’s possible that not that many of Don’s country fans knew that he was the leader of the Pozo-Seco Singers, along with Lofton Cline (they were originally a duo called Strangers Two) and the added female voice, Susan Taylor. 

      Naturally, here at the Blog of Less Renown, Don's lesser known but pioneering achievement with the folk group is being highlighted. "Pozo Seco" in Spanish literally means "dry well." The poetic meaning here would be that if you are feeling "pozo seco," you're either stoic, or lovelorn. (Consider how Patty Ramey chose her stage name, Patty Loveless). The mellow MOR folkie group offered gentle, smooth interpretations of folk songs. Their first single “Time” landed at #47 on the Billboard charts, and they  hit the Top 40 twice with “I Can Make It With You” (by Chip “Angel of the Morning” Taylor) and “Look What You’ve Done.”  Being on Columbia, the group gave major label exposure to the likes of Phil Ochs and Raun MacKinnon.

    “Changes” is what life is about, and below, Phil’s song is the sample of the Pozo-Seco Singers style. The Pozo-Seco Singers may have sounded smooth, but they found the music business rough. Lofton Kline, tired of touring, and also tired of record producer Bob Johnson’s direction, quit and was replaced by Ron Shaw. With the blame apparently going to Johnson, the group's next singles failed or only grazed the Top 100. Ron Shaw left. Now just a duo, Don and Susan shaved the group name down to Pozo-Seco, and used back-up musicians and singers for their third Columbia album, and their fourth, an indie for Certron in 1970.  

    When Pozo-Seco went kaput, Don didn’t immediately launch a solo career. The humble guy from Floydada, Texas sold furniture, and dabbled in song writing for Jack Publishing. The owner, Jack Clement, ultimately signed him to a record deal on Jack’s JMI label.  It wasn’t until 1974 that he made a stir with “We Should Be Together,” a Top Ten item. His peak award-winning years were 1976-1982, but he continued to amass hits and always had an audience. Old Pozo-Seco albums were re-released with Don’s name prominent.  In 2006, he announced a “Farewell Tour of the World,” but in 2010 he was back on the road, and in 2012 he recorded “And So It Goes.”

    Like George Jones, Don suffered from emphysema. George tried to make it through one last tour, his voice giving out now and then during songs, and ultimately he had to cancel shows and be hospitalized. Don would not deal with such a disappointment or indignity. Last year, March of 2016, he cancelled his remaining gigs. A tribute album, “The Songs of Don Williams,” turned up a few months later, featuring covers by John Prine, Jason Isbell, Lady Antebellum, Keb Mo, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss and others.  “It’s time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting support.” Some figured this was going to be just another temporary retirement. It seemed like Don Williams would go on forever, no matter the changes.

CHANGES    Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart passwords, malware or spyware anywhere.