Friday, June 30, 2006

Job Wanted

I recently completed on specccch a long profile of the great---I hasten to invoke a term I seldom use, "legendary"---musician, Page Cavanaugh. Here's the final paragraph:

“'We got some recognition," say Page. "We always had good press, especially in New York because we always made sure to have good press agents. One of them got me a quote from Walter Winchell: ‘The greatest thing to hit town since kissing.’ And boy, that made it all over the United States. He pauses a beat, then adds, “You know, the coming of rock and roll never affected me that much. I continued to play the little clubs, sometimes the big clubs. The trio could play ourselves east, play ourselves home.” In the final analysis, that probably is all that really mattered to Cavanaugh. And he did it all without resorting to the regulation Tip Jar, a “tool” of the lounge trade. Plus, he won’t play Andrew Lloyd Webber no matter how much you might offer him to do so. In other words, he’s one classy guy."

And the first paragraph of the story, consisting of an anecdote from Cavanaugh about his (again, that word) legendary manager Bullets Durgom, is a classique show biz story for the ages. In between, I attempt to chronicle at least the highlights of Page's more than six decades in "the biz."

Most of the writing I do these days is for this blog and---you should pardon the expression---for free. However, in the instance of this piece, does anyone happen to know of a magazine or newspaper, on-line or otherwise, that might be interested in throwing a handful of shekels my way in exchange for publishing this? (If advertising for a job was good enough for mid-career Bette Davis, it's good enough for me.)

Cat Blog Friday Summer Re-runs: "Leave It to Kuro!"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mieko Hirota

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Are you familiar with the very big Japanese pop star since the mid-1960s, Mieko Hirota? Perhaps not. But nearly all of her native countrymen know her. I met her for the first time recently here in L.A. Hirota san was passing through town with her manager on their way back from a top-secret recording project in a part of the world other than Japan. A mutual friend suggested that we get together. I subsequently received as a gift from him a boxed 8 CD set of Hirota's more-jazz oriented albums over the past 40-years-or-so that has just come out. They are all quite good. I am led to believe that this is the largest Japan-only boxed jazz set ever released. Or some such Jesuitical hair-splitting calculation of one sort or another.

Part of the lore about (her fans call her) "Mico" (or "Miko") in Japan is that when Ella Fitzgerald first heard Hirota sing in the 1960s, when Mieko would have been in her mid-to-late teens, she wanted to---the phrase keeps cropping up---"adopt Hirota." I am assuming that what this means in reality is that Ella offered to mentor her or take her under her wing. Mieko san's English is not all that terrific (these days, most Americans' isn't either), thus I opted not to get bogged down quizzing her about this otherwise intriguing Ella anecdote.

But Hirota did have an absolutely fascinating story to tell about how she began singing jazz in the first place. All because of a chance meeting with jazz promoter extraordinaire George Wein on the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train in 1964. Up till then, known as the Dynamite Girl, Hirota had been almost strictly singing stuff like Brenda Lee and Annette covers in her native language. But right there on the spot, Wein had her convinced that she that could sing jazz (which she probably had almost never heard before). I think what Hirota told me is that, shortly thereafter, pianist Wein accompanied her singing at an audition in Tokyo and the next thing Mico knew, she was appearing---she told me in a voice filled with awe---"on the same stage as Frank Sinatra" at the '65 Newport Jazz Fest. She performed an 8-song set backed by Billy Taylor's group. The LP she cut immediately subsequent to that and consisting mostly of Bob Dorough songs, "Miko in New York," is, taking her limited exposure to jazz into account, pretty amazing. Later albums display an increased understanding for, and facility with the form. "New York" was produced by multi-hyphenate music man Bobby Scott. Billy Taylor's trio also accompanies her on the lp, and the presence in the group of bassist Ben Tucker, Dorough's songwriting partner, is surely the reason for the felicitous inclusion of so many of the duo's compositions.

Although few non-Japanese in the U.S. are likely to have heard of her, Mieko Hirota is, extra-nationally, probably the most famous person that I ever sat down and just spent a nice sociable afternoon with. . .not counting all those countless movie junkets that I used to do for the San-Francisco Examiner (If it's 2:15, this must be Mel Gibson).

As noted, Hirota san's English is a bit on the limited side and my Japanese is next to non-existent, still we managed to communicate quite nicely. A star since the mid-1960s, she still commands quite a following. But she was so completely unaffected and unassuming, you'd never guess that she is someone who, if she wished to do so, could trot out all the diva-tude she wanted to and get away with it. For as a Japanese friend of mine recently observed, "Mico. . .she is pops queen!"

Monday, June 26, 2006

ARTIE Malvin, R.I.P.

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Are we havin' fun yet?

"Arthur Malvin, 83; Lyricist, Composer Won Two Emmys
Arthur Malvin, a composer and lyricist whose work with Carol Burnett and Frank Sinatra earned him two Emmy Awards, and who received a Tony nomination for helping create the musical "Sugar Babies," has died. He was 83. . .."

So began an obituary in today's L.A. Times. In addition to the many hats that Malvin wore, as evidenced by his obit, I seemed to recall his name from yet another part of the musical waterfront. At first I couldn't remember, but I cogitated reallll hard for a few minutes and then---boingggg!--- it all came rushing back to me! Arthur Malvin was also ARTIE Malvin whose voice was heard on all those 18 hits for 2.98 LP packages that were so popular in the 1950s, a fascinating, woebegone, sub-sub genre of the era. The kind offering up "Top Hits of the Day Played and Sung by Popular Radio and Television Artists." Leading one to wonder, as I wrote elsewhere on this blog, if they are so popular WHY, then, do they mostly remain unidentified? Malvin's name, though, was usually listed. A big fish in that small but significant vinyl pond.

I was actually naive enough to have bought a lot of those packages as an adolescent---besides, we were wayyy poor---and have managed to hang on to them through all my various locational perigrinations. I just now checked my collection and, sure enough, I have Malvin singing a vast array of 50s pop, everything from "Jailhouse Rock" and "You Send Me" to the Bill Haley hit, "The Saints Rock and Roll." He even did an entire album of Haley knockoffs. Malvin was, to put it kindly, not so adept at this kind of heavy kid music from the 50s, but listening, just now, as he wraps his tonsils around "A Blossom Fell" (on "8 Top Hits" - Waldorf Music Hall 3313), he proves more than adequate at boy-band-singer crooning.

Never putting two and two together until now, I was always curious about whatever happened to the guy. Now I know. And I can't help but wonder if Emmy-winner Arthur Malvin woulda copped to being just plain ole Artie: "Hey, Arthur! Howzabout knockin' off a few bars of 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini'?" Arthur, indeed!

There is a very good Malvin bio, with emphasis on his singing career here:

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cat Blog Friday

Snoozin' Kuro

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ohhhhh, Smokeeee.....

I just now listened to the first fifty seconds of Smokey Robinson's new standards album before I couldn't take it anymore and hit the stop button. A decent enough r 'n' b songwriter, almost inarguably Robinson had the least interesting solo singing voice of any major Motown artist. Frankly, quite annoying. That he sounds even worse singing the Great American Songbook comes as no surprise. Come back Rod Stewart. . .all is forgiven.

I recently learned, BTW, that the total amount of time Stewart was in the studio to complete his contributions to the first three R.S. mega-platinum standards albums was less than eight hours total. (And it shows.) Comes to about a million-and-a-half simoleons an hour.

As for me, I'm holding out for the new "Live From Rehab" standards CD from MISS (to you) Diana Ross. She actually has a bit of sense of how to sing this stuff.

All of these Kid-Music-Singers-Get-Down-With-the Grown-up-Stuff CDs (Stewart, Michael Bolton et al) are becoming more than a little annoying. Nothing more than career-extender stunts to insure some good Vegas gigs now that there's nest-to-nada remaining of their former fan base.

Frankly, if it was a choice between listening to the remaining twelve tracks of Smokey Robinson's new CD or having root canal, I'd gladly choose the latter.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sue Raney's Birthday

Today is the birthday of the wonderful singer, Sue Raney. I met Sue for the first time about twenty years-or-so ago. I was a mere fan back then and did not know her personally. But when Michel Legrand, who I did know, asked me for suggestions for a singer to tour with him, w/o hesitation I suggested Sue. He was not familiar with her, but I guess my word carried some weight. The next thing I knew, an audition for Sue had been set up and, so the legend goes, she had only to sing a few bars for this inarguable genius to stop accompanying her long enough to inform that she'd got the gig. And for the next few months, theirs was a music partnership made in (I'm sure Legrand would describe it as) "zee heavens." And that is how I came to know Sue Raney.

A few months ago a friend gave me a DVD-R chock full to the outer edge of Raney video appearances circa 60s-80s. Wowie zowie, does the camera ever love her! Every bit as much as the recording studio mic. And today, she looks almost entirely untouched by time. More than her fair share of pipes . . .and good genes!

There were a number of fine singers coming up in the early sixties, with the name of Jennie Smith most immediately leaping to mind. But styles changed and careers faded, and perhaps only Sue can be said (aside from the inevitible Babs, who is sui generis and doesn't really count) to have truly survived rock and roll blowing almost everything and everybody else out of the water with the coming of the Beatles. Sue still maintains a steady touring career, especially with symphonic pops concerts in U.S. cities. And she toured Japan to great acclaim a few years back with the Clayton-Hamilton band. Plus she is in the process of recording not just one, but perhaps two new CDs.

A couple of years ago I attended a full-blown Raney concert in a theatrical setting in Thousand Oaks, CA. The place was packed to the rafters, and for Sue, time had stood still not just in the "looks" department, but in every other conceivable way. Enough to make you forget, if only for a couple of hours, that knowing observation---overheard on line a few years back at NYC's Planetarium Station p.o---of the Late, Great and (still) Incomparable Hildegarde: "Talent is a thing of the past." Certainly not where Sue Raney is concerned.

Happy birthday to you. . .Sweet Sue.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dog Days Bloggin'

Getting kind of lazy with this blog, and so here's an instant replay of a few things that I posted on a Yahoo list serve yesterday and this morning:

1.) Never have I read an autobiography of a performer whose private life was more at odds with their public image than Jane Powell's "The Girl Next Door." I finally had to laugh to keep from crying. Every page full of disfunctionalese, i.e. victim of a childhood rape (she thinks, not sure) [see post no. 2 below], alienated from her parents, enough marital discord to fuel several nighttime soaps, a husband who made sexual moves on one of her children from a former spouse, a drugged-out suicidal son, dislike of nearly every one she worked with, massive financial woes, temporary loss of her singing voice, all culminating in a thwarted suicide attempt. Eventually, she appears to have found a degree of (perhaps) happiness with her skeenteenth husband, former child star Dickie Moore. But, in the immortal words of Thelma Ritter in All About Eve, "What a story! Everything but the hounds yapping at her rear end."
Then someone on the aforementioned list pointed out that I was mistaken about the molestation, thus generating post number 2.)

2.) You're absolutely right. It's been a while since I read the book as well. I'm so used to repressed childhood memories consisting of molestation, that I misremembered pillow-smothering as the former. Either way, not exactly awalk in the park.

On a happier note, I'd like to put in a good word for Powell's Verve LP, "Can't We Be Friends", arranged and conducted by erstwhile lister Buddy Bregman. Jane in a much jazzier setting than usual, and sounding a bit like Ruth Olay... from the next room.

I mentioned this to Ruth a while back, and she said this was not the first time she'd been told this. She's never heard the album but was delighted to bear a resemblance to someone as gifted as Jane Powell.

Speaking of Buddy Bregman, I believed he claims to have written one or several of the arrangements (or orchestrations?) used by Judy at Carnegie. They emanated from her Coconut Grove appearance. Much talk about this the last few days for obvious Rufusian reasons. I think, most specifically, the overture. I seem to recall that Bregman left this list [see above intro] in a snit a few years ago when the list posted, for the record, some of the less than flattering reviews he received for his New York Bing Crosby revue. (Not since Moose Murders....) And the problem was, that's all that there were.

3.) About twenty years ago the L.A. Times published an amazing article about Deanna Durbin. One of their writers---could it have been my friend Kevin Thomas?---found himself in the French Village where Durbin resides. They didn't know one another, but he decided to affect an unannounced pop-in. He rang the bell, or pulled the chain, or rapped with the knocker (it's been a while since I've read this---see previous post by me), or whatever, and a moment later the door was answered by someone immediately recogniseable. Doubtlessly Durbin! She was perfectly okay with the unannounced intrusion, and the writer spent the rest of the afternoon with her as she lived her daily life, went shopping in the market, etc. For anyone with the slighest interest in the delightful Durbin, it's well worth a trip to the nearest LAT microfiche collection. Might even be on the net, but doubrful.

I was at Songbirder Lew Spence's birthday party here in L.A. about a half-year back---the one where Pinky Winters sang AND accompanied herself on piano---and had a delightful conversation with writer-actor-director George Furth. He told me that he happened to be pretty good friends with Durbin. There were about a half-dozen others in the conversational circle (all much younger than Furth and myself), and not a single one of them had ever heard of Durbin. Not even a single, "I think I once heard my mother. . .." Somewhat ironically, even as I write this, Durbin is a very well-known and revered artist in the former Soviet Union where pretty much, I am told by reliable persons, nearly everyone knows who she is.

For the record, my favorite Durbin movie is "Christmas Holiday," where she plays piano in a whorehouse and falls in love with Gene Kelly who turns out to be a psychopatic killer and is mowed down in a hail of gunfire, after which she goes into a church and sings Ave Maria. The End! Directed by the great Robert Siodmak, who helmed this one between making "Phantom Lady" and "Cobra Woman". . .the same year, 1944!

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY WITH DEANNA DURBIN AND GENE KELLY! Clearly wartime movie patrons thought they getting a festive holiday musical romp. Instead, can you just imagine their utter shock, dismay and even occasional vomitation as they stumbled out of theaters after viewing this deceptive film noir? The film that intro'd Frank Loesser's "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Cat blogue Friday

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Kuro contemplates Jay's origami

Monday, June 12, 2006

Mystery Singer Contest

Guess the mystery singer (mp3 link for a limited time only) and win a free copy of his new CD.

No Purchase Necessary to Enter or Win. Open to legal residents of the Universe. No employees or family members of People-vs-Dr. Chilledair, Inc. are eligible to enter. Void where prohibited by law. Deadline for email entries midnight 6/12/06. Send to . Only one entry per contestant. If clear skin persists, see your dermatologist.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lucy Ann Polk

There's a rather extraordinary pdf file that is devoted to the wonderful singer Lucy Ann Polk. Here's the link. A fine piece of jazz vocal scholarship. And while we're on the subject of Lucy Ann, this is a link (mp3 links for a limited time only) to one of my favorite recordings by this woefully under-recorded singer.

Lucy is happily retired but sang at a Labor Day party I attended in 2005.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ronnie Deauville, pt. 2

(part 1 here)

Here's what his Deauville's sister has to say about him on her web site:

"My brother Ronnie was a singer who was stricken with clinical polio in September of 1956. It came just a few months before the Salk vaccine came out and after a severe automobile accident. He spent over a year in an iron lung at LA County Hospital, and then at Rancho Los Amigos. He had a successful career at the time, and ended up in a wheel chair the rest of his life.

My brother died in 1990 of cancer, and showed inspiring courage all of his life. Always a smile and a loving greeting from him. We were extremely close during his lifetime. He was 14 years older than I and he spent a great deal of time picking me up at Hollywood High, and taking me home whenever he was in town."

I contacted Ms. Deauville at the email address on her site, and she wrote me back filling in a few more pieces of the puzzle:

"My brother stopped singing as he only had 30% of his breathing capacity. He was also up for a contract at Paramount at the time he got sick. He was a quad in a wheelchair, and was loved by all. He had charm, wit, and a great deal of wisdom. He was a perfectionist and you would just have been happy to know him "

Eventually, I spoke Sheryl Deauville on the phone. She couldn't have been more -- fill in your own positive adjective---helpful, understanding, informed, informative, etc. I was pleased to note, for example, that she was completely aware of exactly how great an artist was lost when Deauville's voice was more or less silenced for his final 33 years. I couldn't imagine such a life for someone who clearly loved so much to sing, but was no longer able to do so.

[With the exception of the final paragraph, the following passages also appeared in my May 29, 2005 blog entry on Deauville]

I was happy to learn from Sheryl that Deauville was able to live a relatively good life, finally settling down in Florida with his wife and four children.

Of all that Sheryl told me, the single most interesting was the fact that her brother's voice was not really taken away from him. Though paralyzed from the neck down, for a while he continued to perform. A Steve Allen TV appearance, gigs in "A" list clubs, etc. But in those pre-ventilator, pre-handicap, pre-you name it days, it all was just too much for him--I should have realized that--and so he packed it in somewhere around the late 1950s.

The irony of this all is that Sheryl and I turned out to be a classic case of one degree of separation. She and I live in the same city, share many of the same friends, and have actually been in the same room, it seems, on more than one occasion.

Sheryl also told me about a reunion of Ronnie and a musician who had been in the Tex Beneke band with him. Ronnie sang "out by the swimming pool," his old bandmate accompanied him on trumpet, they recorded it, and the results were, she says, "quite beautiful." This, after Ronnie had not opened his mouth to sing for professionally for more than thirty years. She said that she would play the tape for me someday.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Album of the Week

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On an internet listserve I belong to that is devoted to jazz (and jazz-oriented) singers, there's been a bit of back-and-forth the past few days about singer Ronnie Deauville. On a pre-blog era web site that I once maintained, I published several postings about Deauville. I've just now discovered, however, that most of those writings, plus several others from the site have now been de-Googled, i.e. they no longer show up even if you employ the right search words. So here we go again. In the near future, I'll be re-posting some of those that still seem to be of some relevance, tolerably well-written, etc. Here's the one about Deauville:


"One of the more preposterous record jackets of the 1950s---a decade with no shortage of such items---is Smoke Dreams (Era 20002) a sepia-toned concoction of a scantily-clad woman, with a cigarette holder, reclining on a couch. From the holder, the smoke curls into the air to spell out the album title. Above her, out of the swirl, with arms outstretched, is the tuxedo-clad figure of the singer, Ronnie Deauville, whose album this is. The jacket is reproduced with great frequency as a prime example of 1950s lounge camp. Even Deauville's name is kinda campy [I have since learned that Deauville was his real last name, but the first was a stage moniker.] But Deauville was no joke; instead, he was a Sinatra School singer on a par with the best of the lot (Bob Manning, Julius LaRosa, et al), and is heard to especially good advantage on this 1956 album. With it's spare orchestration and American Popular Song repertoire, the LP is obviously an attempt to translate the Julie London "Cry Me a River" "sound" into male terms.

Not long ago on the internet site Ebay a 1958 Imperial Deauville LP was auctioned, the heading for which was "paraplegic singer." Clearly I could no longer put off doing a bit of long-delayed research on this obscure and elusive singer. My first stop was Will Friedwald's book Jazz Singing. To the writer's credit, he at least makes passing reference to Deauville as "a talented Sinatra clone. . .whose career, though not life, was ended by an automobile smash [sic]." Friedwald errs, though, on the impact the accident had on the singer's career, for I later learned that Deauville's career-defining health crisis was, in fact, a bout with polio that he contracted while he was recovering from the accident.

A little more research and I uncovered a handful of commercially-oriented singles, on several different labels; all post-accident. As well a number of sides, circa late 40's and early 50's, with the bands of Ray Anthony and Tex Beneke, most harkening back to "sound" of the big band era. There were even some cuts on one (or more?) of those 18 hits for 2.98 packages that were popular in the 1950s, a fascinating, woebegone, sub-sub genre of the era. The kind offering up "Top Hits of the Day Played and Sung by Popular Radio and Television Artists." Leading one to wonder, if they are so popular WHY, then, do they mostly remain unidentified? hits Hits HOORAY!, indeed.

It was in the liner notes of '58 Imperial Deauville LP, sought out as part of my E-bay-driven research, where I learned that, after his accident the singer had been the subject of an episode of the popular TV series, This is Your Life. The maudlin show tended almost weekly to focus on tales of comeback from adversity. Deauville lived for nearly forty years after his appearance on the show (he died in 1990), but with the exception of his second LP, which appears to have come about as a direct result of This is Your Life, and even contains a song by that title, not a lot was heard from this vastly underrated singer after that. Deauville is in fine voice on his Imperial album, but the songs are, with a couple of exceptions, commercial dogs, the arrangements hokey, and the production too busy. But as for Smoke Dreams, has there ever been an album where the singer is more tightly mic-ed? Vocal production for vocal production's sake (volume etc.) doesn't really seem to be much of a consideration here. So easy, so simple, the sort of thing that could have been tossed off in an afternoon. No killer lounge act vocal pyrotechnics. Just very quiet, very low key singing degree zero of the most refined order.

In early 2004 I went to a memorial for Billy May. I didn't know May, but inasmuch as I personally deem him a "genius" (all you have to do is listen to Jeri Southern's "Don't Look at Me That Way" if you have any doubt), I felt I was justified in attending. While there, I got into a conversation with bandleader Ray Anthony, one of Ronnie Deauville's early employers. After I told Ray about my affection for Deauville, he talked a bit about him, including the following:

"Let me tell you a funny thing about Ronnie," said Anthony. One day we were making a record of a song called 'Gloria.' He didn't want to cut it because he had a very bad cold. But I insisted, and it turned out to be a hit, much to his surprise. So after that, he would only record when it was cold and raining. He would run around the block outside the studio to try and approximate the sound of having a cold."

You might recall that is the exact premise of a famed Sid Caesar sketch, "Aggravation Boulevard," about a silent film star (a la John Gilbert) attempting to make his voice acceptable for talkies.
(pt. 2 tomorrow)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Picture of the Week

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Page 'n' Pinky. Cavanaugh and Winters, that is. © 2006 David Ehrenstein

Working on the weekend

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I am the associate producer of this CD. I just now--i.e., "working on the weekend"--finished writing the following copy for Lincoln's website that will be up and running very soon (address forthcoming).
Despite a professional recording career stretching back over two decades, Foreign Affair is the first full-length solo album (not counting the unreleased demo disc entitled "5"), to be released by singer Lincoln Briney. His debut CD!

It took the confidence and vision of respected Japanese music figure Yasuo Sangu to bring Lincoln to the forefront.

In the Fall of 2006, Sangu began his new jazz label SSJ Records. With its appealing catalogue mix of both new and old recordings by the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Frankie Randall, Jack Jones, Jackie Paris, Pinky Winters and David Allyn, the success of SSJ has been immediate. Thus enabling the label to begin thinking about signing talent not so widely known and recognizable. And when Sangu heard Lincoln's demo CD in Winter 2005-06, his response was positve and immediate. He signed Lincoln to SSJ.

It was in Seattle that Northern California native Briney began solo recording (as opposed to hundreds of group session commericals and jingles) a few years ago. Most of the tracks on Foreign Affair were cut there.

Here's how Lincoln describes his sound: "I suppose I am a student of speech level singing. The directness and honesty of in-your-ear singing. I really like that. When I first started singing jazz I identified strongly with the west coast sound, that breezy, laid back, minimalist sound. Marty Paich, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker. All those late fifties L.A. players."

Foreign Affair is an appealing mix of the new (2 x Sade), the familiar (Besame Mucho, Violets For Your Furs, etc), alongside the enticement of several Brazilian classics by the likes of Jobim and Bonfa. On the new CD's 13 tracks, in addition to the widely-known guitarist Bill Frisell, Lincoln is backed by an array of some of the country's finest young players.

It should come as no surprise that Briney looks to Brazil for much of his musical inspiration. That country's language has a word, "saudade." Sort of untranslatable, but meaning an inexplicable amalgam of melancholy, tempered with recollections of happiness. Listen to Lincoln and you will begin to comprehend.

The release of Foreign Affair is scheduled for Japan, Fall 2006 on SSJ Records, to be followed Summer 2007 by release in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cat Blog Friday

Too cute!

Happy Birthday, Valaida Snow

Here are portions of an award-winning Dave Radlauer radio documentary on multi-talented Valaida that I particpated in a few years ago.

Pt. 1
Pt. 2
Pt. 3