Tuesday, December 19, 2017

BOBBY COLE - "So Sleeps the Pride" - "Vincent"

    “…after twenty years, he still grieves.” 

    There are grown people who are walking around…voting, marrying, polluting the planet…who weren’t even BORN when my friend Bobby Cole died. Yeah, life goes on. What, half the planet wasn’t around when Bobby and Judy were an item.

    Bobby died on December 19th, 1996. One of the recordings below, "Vincent," dates from maybe 6 weeks earlier. He allowed a cassette recorder to be placed on his piano at Campagnola, which was (and still is) a kind of foreboding Italian restaurant full of wealthy drunks at the bar in the front (opposite the piano). Towards the back of this narrow joint, are tables for diners. No doubt the more dangerous ones eat their pasta at the tables way in the back, insisting on sitting with their backs to the wall, so they can keep an eye on whoever comes in.

    At one time, Bobby played one of the finest "joints" in the city, and Frank Sinatra would show up, and when Bobby took a break, you might see an eager Art Carney live out his fantasy of being a saloon pianist.

    Ali Babi is long gone. Campagnola remains, and props to them for hiring a guy as erratic as Bobby. Nobody could take his place. There's no longer a sign in the window with a photo of the star attraction. If somebody's at the piano now, it's just somebody at the piano now. At the piano, Friday-Sun nights, Bobby was fun-loving, personable, had charisma, and knew just about every song anybody wanted to hear, by heart. He was, to use his phrase, “in the people pleasing business.”

    The recording of “Vincent” will give you an idea of the scene at Campagnola. Although he was the “star” attraction, with his photo in the window, and people DID come to see him, including some famous faces, it was a bar-restaurant and there was always a lot of chatter going on while he played. As you’ll hear at the beginning, some comments were cheerfully aimed at Bobby, maybe with a request for a song. Here, Bobby acknowledges he hadn’t played “Starry Night” in a while, but would take a crack at it. He appreciated the suggestion, and was glad it wasn't "Summer Wind."

    Typical of this very classically trained musician, who was deeply into jazz, and who had a lot of books on theory, he doesn’t do a “straight” version of the Don McLean song. He explores some unusual sharps and flats to accent a line or two. It almost seems like he’s hitting wrong notes, but no, no matter how much he drank, that never happened. And that unique, husky, raw voice also was on key. His cover versions, from Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time" to "The Big Hurt" (he favored Miss Toni, I favored Del Shannon), always became, to use one of his favorite words, unique when he played them.

    I remember one night, late, when the place was pretty empty. I had asked Bobby about original tunes, and if he was working on anything. He admitted he had additions to what was on the “A Point of View” album, but that he didn’t play his own stuff very often. The customers wanted to hear familiar things. But now, just about closing time, he said, “Here’s one of my newer songs.” I couldn’t believe it. My lady and I were going to hear a NEW Bobby Cole song?? He had that wry look on his face. “It’s called 'So Sleeps the Pride,'' he said. With an ironic smile he added some sarcasm: "How’s that for a commercial title?”

     Yes, Bobby could be a little too intellectual for the room. This is a guy who quoted William Henry Davies on the back cover of his solo album, and followed up his Top 40 cover of "Mr. Bojangles" with a bizarre parable called "The Omen" (which you can search for on this blog). Yeah, the average denizen of jazz clubs, several martinis into the night, might just blink over what "So Sleeps the Pride" might mean, and just groove on the melody.

    It opens with a unique set of notes, like leaves falling from an autumn tree. It moves into a confessional that hints at a star's former fame  (in his case playing Vegas, being a pal of Sinatra and having a song covered by Frank's daughter Nancy,  conducting the orchestra for Judy Garland's shows, etc). And yes, at this point, the “pride” he once had, he's sleeping off.

    “So Sleeps the Pride” was one of several demo recordings he'd made. He planned a new album called "The Hole in the Corner Man," the title an allusion to very bad luck. He kept putting off finishing the album. I'd offered him my 4-track to inspire him. He seemed impressed by my interest, but didn't say he had new songs he wanted to record. I said, "the offer is always open," and left it at that. 

        And that was it; just before Christmas in 1996, he died. He'd been away from Campagnola for a few weeks, but that wasn't unusual. He had moved in with a girlfriend he'd known for quite some time. She had to deal with the usual lapses when he would drink too much...but things seemed pretty good.

        On November 19th he went for a walk, and apparently began to feel ill. A stroke or a heart attack...whatever it was, he stopped and steadied himself at a lamppost. This was about a block up from Campagnola, by coincidence. A bartender was looking at the window and noticed something was wrong. When the man at the lamppost slowly sank to the sidewalk, he called 911. An ambulance came, but he was DOA at Roosevelt Hospital.

       What fool made the assumption he slipped and fell on a slippery sidewalk, I have no idea, but it ironically gained traction. If you knew Bobby, you knew that he was a fire plug, and it would be damn hard to knock him off his feet. He was sure-footed even when he was loaded. There was no snow or ice on the ground (there rarely is a "white" Christmas in New York City). He had simply weakened suddenly, and all those years of smoking and boozing had caught up with him.

     Bobby's solo album appeared on CD-R thanks to jazz fan Ron Meyers, who knew Jack Lonshein, the guy who produced it on Concentric all those years ago. The CD-R sold mail order at Ron's “jazzman” website, included bonus tracks; the handful of demos Bobby had made, including "So Sleeps the Pride." The package had a "legitimate" release in Japan, on a real CD. Unfortunately nobody seemed to be around to supervise the booklet. The printed lyrics include some odd mis-heard words, and Ron's liner notes unfortunately repeat the nonsense about Bobby hitting his head on the sidewalk.

      Japanese sellers do their best to explain who Bobby was and why the album is worth buying at import prices:

       When I first heard "Mr. Bojangles," I not only bought a copy, I bought two, to make sure that I'd have a back-up in case I wore out my copy or it got a scratch. I'd never done that before or since. I didn't hear another Bobby Cole song on the radio, and looked for anything by him in record stores. I eventually found the Columbia album by The Bobby Cole Trio, which was nothing like "Mr. Bojangles," with its "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" calliope and world-weary vocals. Then I found the obscure solo album he made, filled with amazing originals. But where was he now?? There was no Internet. There was just scanning the newspapers and hoping that maybe his name would turn up in an ad for a club date. For years, I wondered if I'd ever see this mysterious "Bobby Cole" perform, much less get a chance to talk to him. Finally, there was a listing: The Bobby Cole Trio playing at the Savoy Grill. Lady and I went there, dressed appropriately for a club that harkened back to the suave days of late night sophistication, dinner and dancing.

        Between sets, Bobby went around to the tables, making sure everyone was having a good time. It was part of the job in a place like that. He was playing the kind of standards you'd expect at the Savoy Grill, so I half-jokingly said, "I don't suppose you're going to play "Bus 22 to Bethlehem?" This was the folkie B-side to "Mr. Bojangles," a Cole original loaded with heavy lyrics. In fact the lyrics are even heavier these days ("the Christians and the Muslims exchanged frozen looks.") He gave me a comic frown and said, "You stick around, I wanna talk to you later!"

       Some of us are still talking about you, Bobby. We miss you. We value all the memories, and all the music you left behind.

"Vincent" recorded at Campagnola in November 1996
"So Sleeps the Pride" Demo - Listen on Line or Download - No Passwords, Pop-Ups or Malware

Saturday, December 09, 2017


    Jerusalem is in the news. Obama's replacement, Donald “Orange is the New Black” Trump, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. A shocking move? Not when you recall a quote from Obama years earlier: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”   

     Technically all Trump did was underline the point by shifting America's embassy. But, in doing so, he upset antisemite Roger Waters and his back up group, The Palestinians. After all, they want Israelis to starve and die. Let's just say that the entire Middle East is literally full of hot heads. The difference is their degree of bloodthirsty fanaticism and how often they blow up innocent people.  

    Israel is the only outpost from which the free world can keep an eye on the increasingly dangerous and psychotic bunch in Iran, Iraq, and all over the region. Israel guards and preserves the historic monuments that mean a lot not just to Jews but to Muslims and Christians. And "Jerusalem"...means a lot to the British. It's one of their favorite songs. 

    Michael Flanders once mused, “England hasn’t got an official national song. What would it be? “Jerusalem!”” 

    Huh? In America, people stand up and sing “The National Anthem” without really knowing what the words are about. Same deal in Great Britain with "Jerusalem." In fact, some argue it shouldn't be sung in church, that it's anti-religion, and that it promotes Judaism. Yes, just as scholars also argue over the history of Israel and whether the Palestinians have any claims to it, interpretations of "Jerusalem" can get pretty heated.

     As briefly as possible, some background on the song:

    Hubert Parry wrote the stirring music in 1916, based on William Blake’s words from 100 years earlier. They appear at the beginning of his epic poem “Prelude to Milton.” John Milton, in Blake’s poem, stares down from heaven (pretty good for a guy who died blind) and finds that most people are leading lives of hellish stupidity and misguided allegiance. Don't people realize that they can do better, and that Jesus once journeyed to set his sacred feet on British soil?? 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of god
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

     Hold on. "Dark Satanic Mills?" Hayley and John? They weren't born yet, and they were nice people. Is Blake referring to the industrial revolution? Is that when England lost its way? Some interpret this as Blake's message. And some say that it makes the song way too religious to be as patriotic a number as "Rule Brittania" or "God Save the Queen," or "England Swings Like a Pendulum Do." 

     Agnostics, Atheists, and dry-eyed Christians all wonder whether those first lines aren't just rhetorical and ridiculous. Why would Jesus ever want to go walking in Hull or check out the muddy banks of the Humber River? How did he get to Great Britain in the days before BOAC? A slow boat? He walked on the water? Legend has it that The Naz, had a travel companion, Joseph of Arimathea, and the latter brought the “Holy Grail” to Glastonbury, and left it there after the rock concerts. Which involved banging on actual rocks.

    Flash forward to 1916. Blake's poem is put to music. A hundred years later, including the film "Chariots of Fire," the song is a classic. Some say the Internet is worse than the industrial revolution, and we should mind Blake's warnings that the utopia of "Jerusalem" doesn't mean closing the Cadbury factory or buying sweaters made in China. We must preserve ecology and create more places where sheep may safely graze. Some priests take the opposite view and refuse to allow "Jerusalem" to be played at a wedding ceremony, or any religious ritual. Oh, maybe a bris, since that is rarely done in a church. Although accidents do happen. 

     While some get very angry about the whole thing, some find it funny. You might recall the infamous (aren’t they all) “Monty Python” sketch about a weird department store. Neurotic salesman Graham Chapman goes bonkers whenever somebody says “mattress.” He puts a bag over his head and will only return to normal if everyone sings “Jerusalem” to him. Oh, what a useful song it is!

    Below, a version of "Jerusalem" that is both sincere, and slightly comical, since Sir Harry Secombe was both a popular singer and a zany comedian. I mentioned to him how remarkable it was, that the same voice known for comedy, was also appreciated, in all seriousness, for songs of religion and patriotism. Sapristi!   

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!
I will not cease from metal fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.   

"JERUSALEM" Sir Harry Secombe - download or listen on line. No passwords, pop-ups or Palestinians.

If killer Thomas Jadlowski had heard the folk song “Molly Bond…” Bob Dylan...

    “Come all you young gallants that delight in a gun. Beware of your shooting at the setting of the sun…”   

    I’m quoting a pretty well known folk song, which has come down to us as “Polly Von,” “Polly Vaughan” and “Molly Bond,” and sung by everyone from Bob Dylan to The Oyster Band. 

    I don’t think killer Thomas Jadlowski ever heard it. If he had, Rosemary Billquist might still be alive.  

    Songs can save lives. Songs can move people. But not if people refuse to listen.  

    Listen to the singer's cautionary tale, ending with: “Mother, tell your children not to do what I have done…” Listen to the protest song, opening “Come gather 'round people, wherever you roam…”  Listen to a love song like “I Threw It All Away,” and maybe you'll remember it when you're about to say something hurtful.  

      All three examples above come from Bob Dylan, who covered "Polly Vaughan." While it would be nice if people always kept in mind "the golden rule," imagine a world where people listened to Dylan lyrics and followed the lessons and advice in them? And that goes for his cover of the old standard "Polly Vaughan." Whatever her name, Vaughan, Bon or Bond, her fate is always the same: killed.  

    A woman in flowing skirts, or a white apron, she is mistaken for a swan by a hunter....just as Rosemary Billquist was mistaken for a deer by THIS asshole: 

    Rosemary Billquist had two dogs, Sugar and Stella, and took them out for a twilight walk the day before Thanksgiving. Thomas Jadlowski was out, too, looking for a kill. It was nearly 5:30 in the afternoon. With “daylight saving time” over, it was dark and visibility was poor. Fun-loving Jadlowski raised his high-powered pistol and fired. He was surprised to hear the deer scream. 

    Rosemary, only 150 yards from her home at the time, died at a hospital in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania. The district attorney for Chautaqua County, Patrick Swanson, issued a statement: “This incident is a tragic reminder of the importance that hunting laws be followed. This incident was completely avoidable.” Ya think? 

    Happily for Thomas Jadlowski, gun laws in America are lax, and punishment is mild. Charged with being a little “reckless,” (he pleaded "not guilty" at all), the maximum he can get when he stands before a judge in January, is 15 years. He might not get jail time at all. If he does get sent away, with good behavior he'll be killing animals again in a year or two. 

        He's 36. He has a future. Rosemary Billquist's husband has a grave site. He can hunt for new wife. 

    “Come all you young gallants that delight in a gun. Beware of your shooting at the setting of the sun…”   

         Those lines, set to the chilling throb of bass guitar, open the riveting version by The Oyster Band, who are now called simply Oysterband. They managed to make something new out of a song that is very, very old. Also below, the "traditional" solo voice version from Peggy Seeger, the smooth harmonies of Peter Paul and Mary, and the bluesy burly take from Dylan. In some versions, it's twilight that confuses the hunter. In others, a misty rain. Sometimes the killer is portrayed as having a bow and arrow, but usually it's a gun. In most versions, an irony is that the girl turns out to be the man's girlfriend or wife. In some, including Dylan's, the dead woman's ghost appears in court to assure the judge that her death was an accident and not murder.
Molly Bond - THE OYSTER BAND          

Molly Bond - PEGGY SEEGER 
Polly Vaughan - BOB DYLAN

Bonnie Koloc - The 25th of December + 20 worst Xmas tunes

   Many people find the Christmas season stressful and depressing. A big reason is...CHRISTMAS MUSIC. Stores are full of it. And some people are full of it, walking around in Santa hats, turning the home and workplace garish with idiotic cards, stupid Santa figurines and garish green and blue lights. TV commercials go into hype-overdrive. Hypocrite greedheads who are hateful every other day of the year, think they're fooling everyone by how they compete to have the most disgustingly decorated home on the block. Oh yes, and kill trees.
    Here's a sweetly sad song from Bonnie Koloc, which reflects on the disappointment of how Christmas spirit doesn't last. You can be opening presents with your loved one on the 25th of December...and the bastard could end up drunkenly fucking a stranger on New Year's Eve. That's just one scenario. There are plenty of other grim ones you can think of, as it's always easier to conjure up misery rather than joy.

   Bonnie’s unique voice was very well known to TV audiences in 1973 but with no connection to her name. Her smooth yet soaring vocals were used on a commercial for United Airlines. The company had done well adapting "This Land Is Your Land" into a plug for travel, and when the Guthrie estate demanded more money for re-licensing, the company went a cheaper route. They hired Jerry Liliedah and Jack Smith to write an original jingle. "Have you seen the other side of where you live?" sang Bonnie, strumming her guitar. Burgess Meredith's voice emerged: "No airline takes you to more of this proud land than United..." 

      The "straight" version of the song, "Mother Country," is on "You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning," the same lp that features Bonnie's own "The 25th of December." I bought it without knowing about "Mother Country." I'd heard "The 25th of December" on the radio (FM, of course), and it instantly got my attention. I ended up getting several more of Bonnie's albums and CD's. 

      As for Christmas music in general, no thanks to all those generous bloggers who give away entire discographies and 2 GB downloads of the stuff. I know they strongly believe that Jesus thinks "sharing" is not stealing, but the truth is...unless you're 12 or have the mentality of a 12 year-old, this stuff is a waste of ear drums. And that includes "The Little Drummer Boy." For any Scrooges out there, below is a Top 20 of the WORST of the season. It could easily stretch to 100. 

1. Jingle Bells. STUFF THEM UP YOUR ASS. The most over-used and irritatingly cheerful holiday song of all. Who ever rode in a one-horse open sleigh?
2. All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. Sing it again, brat, and you'll need dentures. (Runner-up "Nuttin' Fer Christmas")
3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Insincere, obnoxious, condescending, and as icky as figgy pudding.
4. We Wish You A Merry Christmas. SHUT THE FUCK UP.
5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Fuck off and take "Frosty the Snowman" with you.
6. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. It wasn't even funny the first time.
7. Here Comes Santa Claus. The aural equivalent to bukkake.
8. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It makes me re-think my opposition to someone owning an AK-47. GET HIM!
9. Sleigh-Ride. Close to "Jingle Bells" as one of the most irritating melodies ever written. It's always sung breathlessly: "it's-lovely-weather-for-a-sleigh-ride-together..." Makes you think "slay." Ring-ting-alingly terrible.
10. White Christmas. One of the most insincere and commercial pieces of treacle, especially as crooned by The Hollow Man (as his son called him) Bing Crosby. Ban everyone who sings this, except a black vocalist, because that makes it funny.
11. Feliz Navidad (lo siento, pero chinga tu madre).
12. 12 Days of Christmas. Just sadistic and monotonous. And to all reporters who think it's clever to write up "how much these gifts would cost," STOP. Nobody's actually going to buy geese a'laying or hire pipers to pipe...so just go on a 12 day drunk and lie in the gutter till Christmas blows over.
13. Deck the Halls. Over-played, so go "Fa-la-la yourself."
14. Let It Snow - redundancy isn't amusing, so let it go, let it go, let it go. The sickest version is from Dean Martin. Come on Dino, you were a boxer once, a tough guy; don't pretend that you find snowy weather "frightful." 

15. The Little Drummer Boy. (Bang, POW, to the MOON, you little shit.)
16. Wonderful Christmas Time. McCartney first memorable hit melody in about 20 years...sucks. Dah dah dah dah wonderful Christmas time. Repeat. 10 miserable notes that you can't get out of your head with a plumber's helper.
17. Happy Xmas (War is Over). Remembering December 8th prevents me from saying anything more than...this song's lyrics are awful and the singing is, too.
18. Holly Jolly Christmas - written by Johnny Marks, author of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” He was Jewish; maybe this was some kind of revenge.
19. All I Want for Christmas Is You - they call the windy bitch Mariah. Many sound-alike tunes (sung by Carey's competition from Celine Dion to Kelly Clarkson) are just as derivative and dumb. Dragging out words with extra syll-ah-ah-uh-uh-bles…is about as tasty as last year’s fruitcake.
20. Santa’s Coming For Us - Sia, backed by a hideous Jamaican beat, and plenty of retarded BOP, makes this sounds like a bad Sting song played at the wrong speed. Sia, you don’t have to put out de red nose. Congrats on taking the final spot away from “You Make it Feel Like CHristmas” from hillbilly Blake Shelton and boring Gwen Stefani, and
“Season of Love” by the limp dick boy band 98 Degrees. 

The 25th of December by BONNIE KOLOC - no pop-ups, passwords or other piffle 



GOOD KING WENCESLAS by non-person WALLY STOTT and orchestra

    The few people who've heard of “Wally Stott” probably know the name for one of two reasons. First, because he and his orchestra gave “The Goon Show” added lunacy. He wrote the sometimes eccentric musical stings and flourishes, which I assume includes the musical fanfare always used for the entrance of Major Bloodnok. Stott swung the jazz arrangements behind the show's raspy jazz singer   Ray Ellington, and harmonica tooter Max Geldray.  

    The second reason people may know the name: because Wally Stott vanished in 1972 and re-emerged as “Angela Morley.” This surprised many old friends who had know idea the married and seemingly "normal" man had transsexual issues. Or as Harry Secombe quipped, "
I've heard of leaving your heart in San Francisco, but this is ridiculous!" 
    Now there is no “Wally Stott.”  Really. He is a non-person. It’s not like he ever existed. Morley's website makes it seem that if you find recordings of "The Goon Show," you'll hear Arthur Greenslade announce that the music was provided by "Angela Morley and her orchestra." 

    If you go to the Angela Morley website, which is still up and running even though she died in 2009, the bio never mentions the operation or a past male identity. Written in the first FEMALE person, it opens, “ I was born at Leeds, Yorkshire in 1924…” and is slanted to make it seem that all of the achievements, including "The Goon Show," have Morley's name on them. The site's photo pages have no pictures of "Wally."

    Another trans musician, Wendy Carlos, is almost, but not quite, the same way. On her website, she acknowledges that she was once a man, and early albums are credited to "Walter Carlos." She also states that this was long ago, she doesn't need to be a role model for the transgender community, and would rather be in the present and live her life being treated as just another woman. Someone being in the public eye as a celebrity shouldn't always have to give up all privacy or be subjected to constant questions.

             An irony is that sans-penis, Wally, now Angela, became more successful than ever. In 1974 and 1975 Angela received Academy Award nominations for her musical contributions to “The Little Prince” and “The Slipper And the Rose.” She moved to trans-friendly California soon after, and won three Emmy awards (one pictured on her piano in the photo above). All were for"outstanding music direction"on TV special, including "Christmas in Washington" in 1985. She was nominated another eight times, including for work on episodes of "Dynasty" and "Dallas." 

         Wally Stott’s album “Christmas by the Fireside” arrived in 1959. Around that time, he arranged the cover of “Tower of Strength” for Frankie Vaughan, and had worked on orchestrating most of Shirley Bassey’s early hits. A few years earlier he released the lp “Tribute to Jerome Kern.” 
        Orchestrating or castrating? No, no, 'tis the season to be gentle. There are actually a few Christmas songs that aren't cloying, silly, childish, pieces of crap, including "The First Noel," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Silent Night" and this one. If you actually bother to listen to the lyrics (and who EVER does that?) you’ll learn what made King Wenceslas so good. In a nutshell, he helped the common folk and even walked ahead of his noble page in heavy snow, so that the page could walk in his footsteps and not get frozen feet. Which probably meant King Wenceslas had very fancy leather boots with fur trim, and the page shopped at the equivalent of Payless. 

GOOD KING WENCESLAS - Download or Listen on Line, no passwords, email-me demands, malware or pop-ups

Thanks for everything, CAROL NEBLETT

Carol Neblett (February 1, 1946 – November 23, 2017) had two big reasons for fame outside the cultish clique of opera: she went topless for a production of “Thais.”  

    This was a very big deal in 1973, when nudity on stage, films and album covers was not very common. Oh, the excitement that same year when Valerie Perrine was briefly glimpsed nude for a TV broadcast of the play “Steambath.” Diana Rigg went naked on stage in 1971. The sight of bush in a movie instantly made it X-rated, which distressed Allen Funt, who got limited distribution for showing candid camera reactions to bare babes in the 1970 film “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady.”  

     The New York Times headlined, “What Do You Say to a Naked Prima Donna,” and asked her about the experience. “Photographers were hanging from everywhere…” she admitted, all trying to catch what the audience didn't see: a full frontal. Carol held to an angle when she doffed her robe in a seduction scene that, obviously, had been performed in lingerie by previous sopranos. Considering the times, her bold move was applauded and she was encouraged to do some risque photo shoots, like sitting nude in a bubble bath while reading opera scripts.

     Her notoriety as a beautiful and bare opera star eventually worked against her. There are few full-length opera box sets on Carol, and she didn't put out solo albums like a Victoria de Los Angeles, Roberta Peters or Beverly Sills. 

    When she did manage to get a good leading role, critics seemed shocked she had real vocal talent. “The surprise of the evening was Carol Neblett,” wrote a NY Times critic of a Met production of “The Flying Dutchman” in 1979. Nearly ten years later, the L.A. Times noted of her title role performance in “Aida,” “Tall, lithe and eminently sympathetic, she must be one of the most  attractive and most formidable Aidas in history.” Gosh, and she can sing, too. 

        Carol, who made her debut at the City Opera in a production of “La Boheme” in 1969. was a favorite in another Puccini classic, “Tosca.” She performed it an impressive, if not astounding 300 times before her retirement. In her latter years, she taught at Chapman University. Fans were delighted when in 2012 she turned up in, what else, the role of aging opera singer in an L.A. production of "Follies." 

        Back in the 70's, her charm and good looks allowed her to be one of the few opera stars to get an invitation to Johnny Carson's “The Tonight Show.” Mostly opera singers would either sing a very famous, weary aria everyone knows, or offer a “light classic” familiar enough so that nobody would turn the channel. Below, Carol impresses Carson and the audience with: “If I Could Tell You.”   

Carol Neblett "IF I COULD TELL YOU" - instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups or passwords

Bea Wain & Della Reese - "I Get Along Without You Very Well"

It is a sad, but comforting fact, that “life goes on.”  

    At this point, the passings of Bea Wain and Della Reese might as well be ancient history. Are you sitting around in the dark, with one candle lit, playing the Della Reese discography you downloaded from some clown's blog of a thousand pop albums? Nah.  

      And how many who got a free download of The Eagles' 40th anniversary edition of "Hotel California" listened to it and even remembered that Glenn Frey died? Anyone shedding even two tears while listening to an “Emerson Lake and Palmer” track? 

    Being a Realist, offering ONE song in honor of a fallen star is enough of a tribute. Thus, the choice of song for both Bea Wain and Della Reese, is the ironic “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”  

    Bea’s fame waned before she died at the age of 100. She was one of many Jewish women who became very popular as long as nobody knew she was Jewish. Dinah Shore and Gogi Grant are in that category, among others. Bronx-born Beatrice Wain (April 30, 1917-August 19, 2017) achieved fame singing with Larry Clinton’s big band at the age of 20. Legend has it that Claude Debussy’s estate refused to grant Clinton the right to put music to “Reverie.” They relented because they knew that Clinton’s vocalist had a beautiful voice. Thus, Bea recorded “My Reverie.”  

    The feisty Bea stung Clinton in 1939 for a solo star, and appeared on radio’s “Hit Parade.” Married to Andre Baruch, the couple were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Music,” and had their own radio series, and their own two kids. Domestic life and a radio career beat touring and keeping up a recording career.  

    As for Della Reese (July 6, 1931-November 19, 2017), she spent her early years answering to the name “Delloreese.” That was her unusual first name. Her last: Early. The Detroit singer’s first chart success was “And That Reminds Me” on New York’s Jubilee label in 1957. Her first major hit was “Don’t You Know” in 1959 for RCA. But you knew that.  She followed it with “Not One Minute More,” which was actually about three minutes.  

    Della's singing career cooled, but her acting assignments picked up after she was cast in an episode of “The Mod Squad” in 1968. Later she joined the cast of “Chico and the Man.” Triviasts know that she played Mr. T’s mom on an episode of “The A-Team.” Ultimately, she became a genuine TV star via the long-running series “Touched By an Angel.”  She sang the theme song, “Walk With You,” and in an interesting twist of fate, became an ordained minister. 

    Della Reese the singer is not nearly as well known now as Della Reese the actress. And Bea Wain…is not well known at all. See the header: “I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL.” The song itself has an interesting story. Hoagy Carmichael polished and published it in 1938, but it was based on a poem he'd had lying around for over a dozen years. Titled “Except Sometimes,” it had potential to become a song:  

Except Sometimes
I get along without you very well,
Of course I do.
Except the times a soft rain falls,
And dripping off the trees recalls
How you and I stood deep in mist
One day far in the woods, and kissed.
But now I get along without you — well,
Of course I do.
I really have forgotten you, I boast,
Of course I have.
Except when somone sings a strain
Of song, then you are here again;
Or laughs a way which is the same
As yours; or when I hear your name.
I really have forgotten you — almost.
Of course I have.

    Once Hoagy was inspired to finally re-shape this and add music, he knew he’d better avoid a lawsuit and find the poet who modestly used only “J.B.” as the credit. 

    A lot of poets are shy about their work. Edgar A. Poe’s first book of poems was simply credited to “A Bostonian.”  How many poems were credited to the mysterious J.B., and how could Hoagy find this person?  

    Hoagy contacted top newspaper columnist Walter Winchell (best remembered now as the narrator for the TV show “The Untouchables”). Walter wrote up the problem:

Attention, poets and songwriters!
Hoagy Carmichael, whose songs you love, has a new positive hit — but he cannot have it published. Not until the person who inspired the words communicates with him and agrees to become his collaborator… I hope that person is a listener now.
He lists some of Carmichael’s past hits, quotes part of “Except Sometimes,” and winds up with an exhortation:
If you wrote those lines in a poem, tell your Uncle Walter, who will tell his Uncle Hoagy, and you may become famous.

    After a few months, “J.B.” was found: Jane Brown. Now a 71 year-old widow named Mrs. Jane B. Thompson, she signed for a pay-off. Legend has it that once the contract was signed, Hoagy gave the song to Dick Powell to premiere on Powell’s radio show. The date was January 19th. It was a day too late: Jane Thompson had passed away on January 18th, never hearing her poem put to music.   

    A little research, and we find that a 78 rpm version was released on January 20th, 1939 on RCA’s Bluebird label, with Judy Ellington on vocals backed by Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra. Bea Wain’s version on Victor, with Larry Cinton and his Orchestra, was recorded on January 20th, but arrived in stores a few weeks later in February. In both cases Carmichael was credit on the label as sole author.

    Funny, neither woman offers up a poignant version of the song. Della’s is a pretty hard, tough interpretation. She doesn’t pause for the vulnerability of “except…” And Bea Wain, fighting the fox trot beat of her dance band, can't slow down and add poignance to the “except…” In other words, you can get along without both versions, but...both these ladies were respected in their day, and their voices are timeless.  
Bea Wain - download or listen on line, no passwords, no dodgy pop-ups or malware