Monday, July 31, 2006

TVJAS Sneek Peek

When I visit Japan again in December, I will be presenting a talk before the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society. My program, entitled "One Shot Wonders" will be devoted to good-to-great singers who only recorded one LP under their own name. I do not speak Japanese, but will be reading from a romaji script translated for me. Giant magic-markered cue cards with a flash light? Teleprompter? Earphone prompt? Hoho heehee haha. Here is the opening:

The one thing that nearly every one of these artists (with one or two exceptions) that I will be playing for you this afternoon have in common is that they recorded only one album bearing their name, and mostly between 1955 and 1960. This was the time when rock music was coming along and beginning to commercially blow every other kind of recorded music out of the water. There was simply no room for peaceful mutual co-existence. If an artist like Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra was established by this time, for the most part they were able to maintain careers as recording artists, but for a great number of others just beginning to come along during this period it was over almost as soon as it began.

The one thing that nearly all have in common, as well, is that they were uncommonly talented. But it was all to no avail. Most continued to perform---many on the Holiday Inn and Playboy Club circuits---or teach music, but some gave up music altogether. I have done my best to track down the whereabouts or the outcome of these singers, but in a couple of instances they seem to have just fallen off the edge of the earth.

The first singer I’ll play this afternoon is Marlene Cord. She is a prime example of what a friend of mine in the U.S., Fred Stack, calls the "Lost Ladies of Dot." That powerful little independent label seemed to specialize in One Shot Wonders, especially of the female variety. They include: Althea Gibson, Easy Williams, Dori Howard, Sue Evans and the singer I’ll open up with today, Marlene Cord.

One of eight children who grew up in Springboro, Pa., a small town where her father worked as a farmer and tool and dye maker, Cord, born Mary Fabiano, began taking piano lessons at 12. For many years she toured the country as a jazz singer, singing and playing piano. She recorded her Dot album in Chicago when she was 19 in 1957.


But while on the road, Cord met her husband, Nick, who owned a jazz club in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Cord took time off from her singing career to help him open a restaurant in Milwaukee. She ended up waiting tables, keeping the books and tending bar for 18 years, trading her singing career for love and family. She never went back on the road again. Today, she is a waitress at the Colannade Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida where she has worked for the last twenty years. While waiting on actor Jack Nicholson recently, she sang “I Could Write a Book” for him. Maybe he gave her an extra-large tip? But that is just about the extent of her singing these days. [David Ehrenstein suggests that Lili Tomlin would have a field day with a character like this.]

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Yours truly, Johnny Holiday

I have just heard some brand new unreleased 2006 tracks (more than an album's worth) by singer Johnny Holiday, who has been recording since 1954. He has never sounded better. In even stronger voice than on his (allegedly 1998 but actually 1992) recording for Contemporary Records released in 2004. This guy is amazing. Not that there's anything wrong with "sounding" your age ---witness the new Page Cavanaugh CD---but Holiday comes off like 22, not 82.

In the liner notes for the re-issue of his '57 Mode LP, Holiday is quoted as saying, "I've been fortunate that I've always taken care of myself. I never drank, smoked, or did drugs, and I wasn't a screwball with ladies." I would say, based on the evidence of these new tracks---which will surely see the light of day soon--- that the tradeoff was definitely worth it! "Dirty work," but someone hadda do it. This guy is a living, breathing master class! Just listen to him wailllllll!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dorothy Dean Day

In case you were not aware, today is DDD at Dennis Cooper's Blog.
Included are my reminiscences of the mother of all fag hags, DD. Even though 99 % of the writing is mine, it's entitled "David Ehrenstein Presents Dorothy Dean Day." Well, it was my idea," David says. "Yeah, I bet that was reallllll hard to think up," I snarkily rebutted. "I hope you didn't hurt yourself. . .thinking." I want a divorce!

Cat Blog Friday - rerun

Posted by Picasa

Kuro and his virtual rat, Zanzibar

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Happy Birthday, Evelyn WHO?

Evelyn Preer (1896-1932) surely must qualify as the first example---regardless of race---of what has since come to be known in the entertainment industry as a multi-media entertainer. In the 1920s when most performers were getting their feet wet in one medium alone, Preer was firmly established not only as a film star, but also on recordings, in vaudeville and on the legitimate stage (Preer's biggest multi-media competition Ethel Waters was still years away from working legit).

Mississippi native Preer toured the Orpheum and other vaudeville circuits in the teens; then, simultaneous to her work with the Lafayette Players in the 1920s, she appeared on Broadway as the star of such productions as Lulu Belle (1926), Rang Tang (1927), and the '27 dramatization of DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy.

All the while, she also managed to record countless numbers with such major jazz stars of the day as Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson and Clarence Williams. So prolific was Ms. Preer's career on discs that she had need to resort to a number of different pseudonyms to account for all of the "sides" she was cutting. Among the other.names she recorded under were Evelyn Thompson (her married name), Hotsy Jarvis, Sinclair Franks and Radio Red.

1928 found the noted African-American theatrical troupe, the Lafayette Players, along with Ms. Preer and her husband, actor Edward Thompson, relocated to Los Angeles, a pioneering move made by all concerned not just with hope of stage but film opportunities as well. Preer's film activities had actually begun a decade earlier when she established herself as Oscar Micheaux's leading lady---she played Dietrich to his Von Sternberg---in such titles as The Homesteader (1918), The Brute (1920), The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921) Birthright (1924) and at least a half-dozen others, copies of which, for the most part, are believed to no longer exist. However, Micheaux's Within Our Gates (1920), long thought to have also vanished, was discovered in Spain in the early 1990s and subsequently shown in November 1992 at New York's Lincoln Center. In attendance was Preer's daughter, Sister Francescia Thompson, Ph,D, theatrical historian and leading scholar on the Lafayette Players.

One of the busiest actresses in Hollywood circa 1928-'32, by the early 1930s she was also heard on radio---Preer appeared not only in numerous black-cast comedy shorts, but also in major studio features. It was shortly after shooting her last feature, Blonde Venus (from which she was eventually cut), that Preer died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on November 18, 1932.

In his 1930 book, Black Manhattan, James Weldon Johnson included Evelyn Preer in a small, select list of the most distinguished African-American artists of the day. Of those he saluted (including Bill Robinson, Eubie Blake, Ethel Waters, Noble SissIe), perhaps only Preer and one or two others would strike an unfamiliar chord with most knowledgeable readers of today. Such anonymity would probably not be the case had she not died in 1932 at the height of her career.

Buy my memoir Early Plastic

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Two Birthdays of Note

A few years ago I published the following essay on another web site I once oversaw. Inasmuch as today is the birthday of its subject, singer-actress Annie Ross (b. 1930), today presents a good opportunity for re-posting it here.

A while back, David Ehrenstein, my good friend and constant traveling companion of the last thirty years---i.e., SO---was to interview Jack Larson for a book about gay Hollywood. You know, Jack Larson? Jimmy Olson from Superman on TV! And so I drove him out to the wilds of Beverly Hills where Larson resides. Upon our arrival, much to my surprise / annoyance / chagrin, displeasure---take your pick!---David suggested, as if I were nothing more than his effen driver, that I wait outside in the car while he went inside to schmooze. I felt just like Eric von Stroheim in Sunseet Boulevard.

But it was a hot summer day, and after a while I began to get thirsty. So after about a half-hour I crawled up to Larson's entranceway, scratched on the door, explained that I was "the driver," and begged for a thimbleful of water. Aside from thirst, an additional motivation for my intrusion was the fact that I'd never been in a Frank Lloyd Wright house before. Larson lives in one, a small pied de terre, but a Wright house nonetheless, Whilst the David shot me dirty looks, the thoughtful Larson invited me to come in and sit a spell. Far be it from to intrude, but at one point Larson mentioned that singer Ella Logan used to be his next door neighbor. I could no longer feign being a proletarian non-sophistication. I piped up:

"Ob, I just saw Annie Ross at the Jazz Bakery a few nights ago.”


"Annie Ross."

"What does that have to do with Ella Logan?," Larson inquired.

"That's Ella Logan's niece. She used to live with her. Next door.”

"You mean, Annabelle Short? I'd wondered whatever happened to her. Nice kid.”

Ross' main time in the sun was as a member of the inarguably legendary early sixties jazz vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Dave Lambert died not long after the dissolution of the trio in the late Sixties.

Ross and Jon Hendricks, the other two members aired the their acrimonious feelings toward one another in the 2002 press (apparently they were every bit as estranged from one another as soul's Sam and Dave). It was around that time that I saw them perform at L.A's Jazz Bakery. It was the last of five sold out nights before a very young crowd of several hundred people. Most were not born when LH&R originally were in existence.

The last time I saw the trio perform, before Lambert died, I had not yet had sex for the first time. I was in high school. That's how far back they go. Now I'm in my dotage and Annie and Jon were still sexy. . . at least from twenty yards away.

The later-revealed, long-lingering bad feelings between them were not obvious at the Jazz Bakery: Jon was his usual jaunty self and Annie looked gorgeous. In the 1950s she was considered one of the most beautiful women around. She might now appear sixty-something up close, but on stage at the Bakery she still looked years younger. Which might say as much for the preservative powers of heroin (Ross' ONE TIME hard drug of choice) as it does about good genes.

Before the show began, I took a walk over to nearby Culver Boulevard where the street light posts possess plaques celebrating a few hundred of the many thousands of films shot there.

Not thirty yards from the Jazz Bakery there stood one for Our Gang Follies of 1938, in which Ross sang her Aunt Ella's signature tune, "Loch Lomand." In the '38 short, Annie's billing is Annabella Logan, her family name that she shares with her aunt Ella. She had won a talent contest in New York City, the prize for which was a six-month MGM contract. Years later, she saw the film for the first time and thought that she looked like a "terribly precocious midget." Under her MGM pact, she participated in exactly one film, this "Follies." A few years later she came back to the studio for a sophomore, and final, appearance in the Judy Garland vehicle, Presenting Lily Mars. The Freed Unit's loss is our gain.

It was only much later in my life that I learned that two of my main cultural heroes when I was in high school, Ross, and Lenny Bruce, were romantically involved. Apparently it was a triangle, with heroin the shared "partner" between them.

Jack Larson might have heard of Annie Ross, if for no other reason than the fact that she is a longtime member of director Robert Altman's "stock company." Yet he had no idea what had transpired in little Annabelle Short's life after she moved out of Aunt Ella's.

Which only goes to prove that one man's diva is another's next door neighbor.

Here's a track from Ross' ultra rare LP "Loguerhythms"

Today is also the birthday of another singular actress-singer, Second City Alumnus Barbara Harris (b. 1935). Come out, out wherever you are!

Monday, July 24, 2006

From the archives: Sam Phillips

This piece appeared in the February 2002 issue of Record Collectors' Magazine, Japan. For a title, it simply bore Phillips' name. Had I chosen one, however, The Father of Rock and Roll, strikes me as only slightly over-the-top. Phillips died in 2003 at age eighty.

Sam Phillips is famously and oft-noted for a remark he made in the early 1950s: “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel I could make a billion dollars.” The “sound” the Alabama-born record producer heard in his head has come to be known as rockabilly; it also was a stylistic precursor to Stax-Volt southern soul. The medium via which he was finally able to give life to his vision in 1954 was, of course, Elvis Presley. Initially it was “The King” who made (and eventually lost) a fortune. But don’t feel too sorry for Phillips. He took the---even by today’s standards---inconsiderable sum of $35,000 he made from selling his discovery’s contract to RCA Victor in 1955, invested it in the then-new Holiday Inn hotel chain. And if he didn’t exactly make a billion dollars off of Elvis, he has earned a few million along the way since then through other business ventures: “I’ve got three radio stations in Alabama, one in Florida and I just sold my last one here,” he informed in a recent conversation I had with him.

“Sam Phillips is not just one of the most important producers in rock history. There’s a good argument to made that he is also one of the most important figures in 20th-century American culture,” reads a biographical entry on the internet for the recording legend. That position is reaffirmed by a millennial issue, “The 100 Most important Events & People of the Past 1,000 Years,” of the U.S. publication “Life” magazine. Inside, in between number 98, the invention of the calendar, and number 100, the Rosetta Stone, is nestled, at 99th, the discovery of Elvis Presley. Without discoverer Phillips, most likely there never would have been an Elvis.

I spoke with the still-vital septuagenarian in November 2001 on the occasion of the U.S. release of a major TV documentary, “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” about the entrepreneur and his historic record label, Sun. It is the second such film in as many years. The other, which premiered on U.S. TV last year on the Northern American A&E cable network, is a provocatively-titled feature-length documentary, “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll,” a biographical study directed by Morgan Neville. It is now available on home video. The newer film is a history of Phillips’ fabled record label told through filmed recording sessions featuring latter-day “A’ list musicians and their 21st Century “takes” on the immediately identifiable mid-20th Century Sun Records “sound.” The executive producer was Phil Carson, who acted in a similar capacity on the 1999 Paul Rodgers hit album, “Muddy Water Blues.” That CD is a tribute to blues legend Muddy Waters, who was recorded early on in musician’s career by Phillips in the early fifties. According to Carson, both the “Good Rockin’ Tonight“ CD and the TV documentary are expected to see release in Japan in the early part of 2002.

Prior to talking with Phillips, I range up director Neville, currently at work on a documentary about Muddy Waters, who seems to be on several personal agendas these days (see above), to get his impressions of the larger-than-life producer. “What is Sam Phillips like?,” I asked. “Do you have two or three hours?,” Neville affectionately replied. It was also obvious from what he said to me that I would have no trouble getting the Phillips to open up.

“I think the new it is one of the best things I have ever heard,” Phillips said straight off of the CD soundtrack for the new documentary. “I had no financial connection except maybe a couple of songs on it that were publishing by us. I think that it is a very excellent view of what Sun was all about. Someone told me that the first time they heard it was in a car. So Sally [Wilburn, Phillip’s longtime companion] and I were driving around and we stuck it in our CD player and, man, just driving along and listening to it, it takes you back in time. At the same time you don’t feel like you’re going back and listening to the old records. Ahmet told me the artists had a choice of what they wanted to do and that to me has made this CD an outstanding piece of music as far as I’m concerned.” The recording project was produced by another member of the record producer pantheon, Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun. In essence the soundtrack album constitutes a collaboration over time and between these two record industry legends. I asked Phillips, long inactive in the recording studio, if he had played a hands-on role in the making of the CD. continued here

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Dear Dairy. . .I mean Diary:

I went to visit my family in Charleston, West Virginia fairly recently and saw "Coming - Jane Powell" on the marquee of the Capitol Theater, the very same Capitol where they used to show Powell's musicals when I was mere protoplasm in Buster Brown shoes. There were three big movie houses in town. The Kearse showed TC-Fox "product" along with Buena Vista-Disney; the Virginian exhibited Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal; and the Capitol had a lock on MGM and RKO. One other downtown theater, the Rialto, located in an office bldg., exhibited fare that no one else wanted to show (or see for that matter). It was there that I saw such oddities and major studio castoffs as The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, and a strange little number about a walking, talking TV set, The Twonky, directed by Arch Oboler, and starring Hans Conreid and Joan Blondell's sister Gloria.

Imagine my frustration when upon closer inspection I was amused/saddened/shocked and annoyed to learn that it was actually "gospel singer Jane L. Powell" and NOT Verve Recording Artist/ MGM Star and Proud Denture Wearer Jane Powell.

Never have I read an autobiography of a performer whose private life was more at odds with their public image than Powell's "The Girl Next Door." I finally had to laugh to keep from crying. Every page full of disfunctionalese, i.e. a childhood victim of an attempt on her life by her mother (Jane thinks, not sure), alienated from her parents (natch), enough marital discord to fill 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, 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 snappin' at her rear end."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pinky and Bob

note: a slightly different version of the following post---with list-specific references---appeared today on the Yahoo list serve, Songbirds.

Singer Pinky Winters and pianist Bob Florence were nothing short of sensational Wednesday night in their premiere Gardenia Room (Hollywood) engagement. This marked the first time that they have appeared together in quite a while.

Years ago Bob and Pinky worked together all over town all the time. They were a team. It is what I call their "tip jar years." Then one time, at the last minute, Bob couldn't make it, and so Pinky secured the services of master accompanist Lou Levy for the gig. And the rest is romantic and musical history. In Bob's introduction of Pinky, he alluded to how much he enjoyed the role of "matchmaker," but implied that it sure was nice to be working with her again.

Especially in Los Angeles, the likes of Pinky and Bob are entirely used to and familiar with, alas, sometimes playing second fiddle to whatever else is going on in the room, but the sold-out crowd last night was entirely, in the words of one attendee, "focused." There was not so much as a single fork rattle---welll maybe one or two---or blender buzz to be heard throughout their ninety-minute set.

The evening served as a tribute to legendary music man Johnny Mandel. And not only was Mandel along with his wife Martha there, but also (the dreaded phrase "legendary" again leaps to mind) songwriters Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Along with a number of other music figures, including guitarist Bob Bain, singer and occasional plectrist herself, Diane Hubka, and songwriter Donald Kahn.

Also present was West Coast cabaret maven Les Traub, "without whom". . .which is to say that he produced the evening. It has taken him quite some time to bring it off, i.e., conflicting schedules, etc., but it was worth the wait. Among the other pluses of the evening was, in Pinky's view, a "perfect sound system that helped make it all come together." Or words to that effect.

The evening served as a belated record launch party for Pinky's SSJ Records CD "Sings Johnny Mandel. . .with Lou Levy," which came out in February.

Here's what Bob and Pinky performed: Overture (Florence solo), Emily (with the new M&A Bergman verse preceding the familiar Mercer lyric), Shining Sea, Little Did I Dream, Don't Look Back, Unless It's You - Quietly There, Sure As You're Born (the first song the Bergmans ever wrote with Mandel, according to Johnny's quiet prompt from the audience), M*A*S*H. (Florence solo piano), Close Enough for Love, A Time for Love, I Never Told You, You Are There, The Shadow of Your Smile , Take Me Home, and encore: I'll Always Leave the Door a Little Open (lyrics by Richard Rodney Bennett and Frank Underwood).

I won't go so far as to say Pinky and Bob made musical history last night, but if not, they came. . .Close Enough.

Cat Blog Friday Redux

Posted by Hello

Japanese cat calendar - click and click again to enlarge x 2

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

David Allyn's Birthday

Today is the 83rd birthday of the wonderful and still-singing David Allyn. Here's what I wrote about him in a 12/15/05 blog entry:

"Next to Allyn, who began recording on his own in 1946, and since 1940 as a featured vocalist (with Jack Teagarden) on disc, most everyone else who springs to mind is an absolute piker, Crosby, Como, Bennett, Sinatra et al. Inasmuch as Allyn was still recording as recently as this year, that makes a grand total of 65 years. And 59 years as the main "artist of record" on the label, as opposed to "with." Ellington vocalist Herb Jeffries began recording a few years before Allyn, in '34 (with Earl Hines) , but did not head into the studio under his own name until 1945.

Hate to get all hair-splitting and Jesuitical about all of this, but Jeffries' last---to the best of my knowledge--- album, The Duke and I, was recorded in 2002. Giving him a 58-year span. . .assuming that nothing was released after that album. But Allyn is still in the studio working on new material even as of the writing of this. Don't know what Jeffries is up to in the studio these days? Oh, what the hell, they are both such great guys and fine singers, let's let them split the Guinness trophy. Still, it is interesting to contemplate.

My heart has always gone out to stereotyped ballad singers like David Allyn, Vic Damone and Johnny Hartman who have had to labor under the false notion, "Yeah, but can they swing?" It feels like Allyn, with his great new CD with the Terrassa band, has set out to redress that mistaken notion, when it comes to him, once and for all time. Takes a lot to keep up with that wonderful outfit, and Allyn does it! Nearly every track is a flagwaver.Allyn also published his memoirs this year. . .available here " End of 12/15/05 blog entry.

And here is perhaps another Allyn record? The longest period of time passed between an artist's original recording of a song and his or her remake. The first half of this recording of Picnic in the Wintertime (or howzabout a "Sleighride in July"?) by Allyn ---with the Boyd Raeburn band---was cut in 1946; the second half in 2002 with the Barcelona big band.

There's also a nice new Japanese reissue of Allyn's (aka Allen) Lucky Day on SSJ Records, Japan.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Last of the Red Hot Autodidacts

As promised in my blog of last Saturday, here is an an example of the writings of my great grandfather Clayburn Pierson. I think it is not bad at all for a mid-19th Century runaway who never had the luxury of setting so much as a foot into a public school. Alas, today it is doubtful that one person in fifty could craft an essay this well-written, even with the seeming advantage of a high school education. It is drawn from a 1999 collection published by the Clay County (West Virginia) Landmarks Commission and Historical Society.

The name "Devil's Den"is frequently applied to places of bad repute, where robbers, thieves, gamblers and drunkards assemble and where also illegal schemes are concocted and whiskey holds high carnivals. But the den hereinafter described is fitted by nature as a safe retreat for thieves and bandits, where they live would be secure from prying eyes, and in fact its appearance would indicate that the real devil, himself, if so inclined, could repose here in safety after "wandering to and fro in the earth seeking who he might devour," and if his Satanic majesty should ever retire from official business, (which is not probable) he could not find a more safe or secluded retreat and one where he would be less annoyed by visitors of the genus homo variety. A place in which half a century ago bears, panthers, and other ferocious animals found their lairs and wolves made night hideous with their discordant howls, and now owls hoot, ravens croak and poisonous reptiles infest the place. The "Devil' s Den" is the name this place has been known by for three quarters of a century, bestowed on it by an old hunter, who pitched his camp near the mouth of "Devil's Den", 75 years ago, and very soon thereafter asserting his surroundings moved without notice to his nearest neighbors. A partial account of the reason for the name of the place, and his sudden departure therefrom will be given hereafter.

About three and one half miles south-east of Clay Court House the beautiful Elk receives a tributary from the south. This stream or creek is called Big Leatherwood, so named from the leather-barked shrub so abundant near its mouth. This creek for several miles up is a weird laity.

The hills on either side are extremely high, and coming down to the creek without being interrupted by benches or plateaus; rugged, steep and covered at the base with a dense growth of spruce, laurel and ivy. There are no bottoms. The creek itself is rough and swift, the water producing melancholy sounds as it rumbles and splashes over its rocky bed. The wilderness of the scenery and the monotonous hum of the water would not, it is believed, be conductive to the tranquillity of mind of nervous persons when camping all alone at the mouth of "Devil' s Den", a small creek putting into Big Leatherwood from the east, not far from the river.

But few persons have traveled this canyon. It is so extremely rough that it is almost impossible to penetrate the laurel and scale the rocks. The mouth of "Devil' s Den" is about two miles west of Mt. Pisga, (as the crow flies) and if there is a cave, or subterranean chamber or pit, as some suppose there is, they probably extend to and under the Mt. Pisga Chatauqua grounds. And if this supposition be true, and the caves be occupied by Belzebub or any of his trusty subjects, it may, perchance, so happen that while religious services are being performed at the Chatauqua the Devil and his imps may be holding close communion not far below, and when the "sons of God" come to "present themselves before the Lord", Satan being located in the community may come also.

Seventy-five years ago Elk River Valley from Clendennin to Groves Creek was called the "wilderness" uninhabited; wild animals roamed over the hills and along the dales, undisturbed by the sounds of civilization, save in the late autumn and early winter, when there came an occasional hunter from the settlements to the south, to kill his winter's meat. Foremost among the hunters who came to kill bears in this locality was Jehu Summers, a noted hunter from what is now Nicholas County. He pitched his camp, prepared a receptacle for his bear meat until he could pack it away after the hunting season was over. The spot selected was on a small flat near the mouth of a small creek on the bank of said Leatherwood. He remained there but a few days until he removed his camp. He said:

"I heard strange noises up the creek every night. I could not account for them. I had never hear any thing like it before in the woods--almost every noise I had ever heard, sometimes singly; then again confused. I became nervous and could not sleep. I was lying awake in my
camp, there was a large spring within two rods of me. I saw a large ball of fire rise out of the spring and go up above the trees and pass out of sight. I could not stand it any longer. I hastily left camp for home, traveling all night and through the woods and arriving at home just after daylight. That is why I call it the 'Devil's Den'. Witches or devils were there then and I believe they are there now"

This communication was made to the writer 60 years ago by the old hunter himself. At that time I did not give full credence to the story, although the old man's veracity could not be questioned, yet I was of opinion that the hunter was lonesome and became imaginative, and
mistook the sighing of the wind and the rasping of the trunks and branches of the trees for the rattling of chains and the wailing of the lost, and other sounds not peculiar to that locality.

Be that as it may, the old man has long since passed away. But in more recent years others, some of whom are now living, have visited the Den and reported that there were peculiar noises to be heard there. Some of these men are of more than ordinary intelligence. I refer to A.J. Stephenson and Abner Ramsey. After hearing their story the writer went on a tour of inspection. I entered the woods at the head of the run, which is not very rough, and passed on down into the Den and with great difficulty to its mouth. I heard no unusual sounds and came to
the conclusion that if this was the habitation of devils, the folks were either not at home or asleep, or possibly, if there were any underground rooms, they might be in a secret session there and I did not see or hear them. If there was a hole in the ground I did not find it. Further investigations may reveal it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

My great grandfather - from 7/11/05

Posted by Picasa

Clayburn Pierson (seated middle)

In 1898, slightly more than forty years before I was born, my great grandfather, journalist-hyphenate Clayburn Pierson --- in a manner mixing boosterism along with solid economic sense --- wrote about my West Virginia home town as follows:

"With great natural resources and natural facilities, Charleston ought to have surpassed any other town in the state. Instead, all depended on local trade and none with courage to risk an Almighty Dollar in an effort to start any one of the numerous industries that would have made Charleston today the most prosperous city in the land."

In other words, a decade before the fact, Pierson had the prescience to foresee a time when Charleston would become known as the "Chemical Capitol of the World." I might add that at the time I was growing up there, it was also, officially, the "Cancer Capitol of the World."

When the political boat listed to the right, Pierson, to judge from his surviving newspaper articles, moved his seat compensatorily to the left, and in more radical times, vice versa. At one juncture or another he was, contradictorily, a member of the isolationist Know Nothing Party and a supporter of isolationist Millard Filmore; 180 degrees from that enthusiasm, a supporter of popular utopian writer Edward Bellamy and, at some point in time, a fervent socialist.
Clearly he was at war with himself politically and economically. He had earned the right.

Born in 1825 in Nicholas County, West Virginia, Clayburn was but latest addition to a nearly unbroken line of illegitimacy stretching back four generations, with his great grandmother, Sally McKee, having been an indentured servant to a family in Virginia. Since, in all of his voluminous writings, Pierson made no mention of his personal background, nor did anyone ever hear him talk about his forbearers, it has always been a family assumption that he ran away from home and took full adult responsibility for himself while in his mid-teens. Like many persons of his era --- and making matters worse, the extreme Dickensian circumstances of his existence---my great grandfather was able to secure for himself only a very rudimentary education. And yet, in spite of this, he managed, in 1847 at age 22, to become a school teacher. Later, he was a land surveyor; a lawyer; postmaster; superintendent of Clay County, West Virginia schools; beginning in 1877, a clerk of the circuit court; and a hotel owner and publisher of the weekly "Clay County Star," where some of his Bret Harte-like pieces, such as "One Thousand Feet Under Droop Mountain," The Devil's Den," and "A Bear Hunt of Sixty Years Ago" first appeared.

In 1925, long after Pierson's death in 1904, one of his old friends, W.P. Gould, still could not forget him. He wrote:

"Pierson was honest, earnest and frank, and a lasting friend. He never received any financial remuneration from his writing, and it is hard to understand how, driven by the perpetual necessity of working early and late, to support a large family, he found time for the amount of reading and writing he did. He just loved to read and write. . .."

I've managed to amass a fairly impressive collection of my great grandfathers works and whenever reading them, I never fail to be amazed by the fact that someone bom a century-and-three-quarters ago could obtain to such clean, lucid, grammatically correct, perfectly punctuated prose; and how someone from such lowly circumstances could attain such a high standing in his community.

An early advocate against smoking and consumption of alcohol---for strictly medical reasons---still his rather advanced scientism was not enough to save him from marrying his FIRST cousin. As a result, his sons William and Benton were deaf mutes and a daughter, Mary, was born blind. As for his daughter, Corinda (my grandmother), although she had no obvious physical abnormalities, the legend persists that she was "mean as a snake."

Such an extraordinary and accomplished character for a great grandfather! Perhaps I will post one of his stories-fables-tall tales on this site in the near future.

Friday, July 14, 2006

. . .stacks and stacks (well, not quite) of letters

Posted by Picasa

RC of NJ writes: I was at my local New Jersey Borders Books this weekend looking at some new Jazz Vocal CDs (6 or 7 of the 8 I was looking at didn't play when I scanned them on the listening station) and a thought struck me....When I was a kid back in the late 60s, the record shops had booths you could go in and the clerk would play a record for you so that you could listen to it to determine if you wanted to buy it. Even as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, I could go into a Borders and they would open up a CD and let you listen to it at the service desk. I seem to recall them putting up signs a few years ago saying that CDs could no longer be opened. Yes, many of the stores these days have listening stations that the customer can use to scan the CD and preview 25 to 30 seconds of the track, but forget evaluating the second CD in a box set and, quite often, the part of a song I wanted to hear is after the first 30 seconds. At what point (and why) did we give up our "right" to evaluate music before purchase? I can go into the car dealer and test drive a car, I can go into a real music store and usually try out some sheet music on the store piano, and there are many other businesses that let one "try before buyins..." However, I can't listen to CDs that don't scan on the listening stations in my book store to see if the music is any good! Most stores I know of have a no return policy on opened CDs as well. I know that this isn't that big of a deal, but it seems unfortunate that our options have decreased as time marches on. Cheers! RC
To which, I replied:

I find that scanners work fairly well. There are stores in Tokyo---HMV in particular---with scanners that will read the barcodes of the majority of their stock and will play a CD in its entirety. I might be wrong about "entirety," though. Being unable to sample CDs is not so much a problem for me.

However. . .I date myself, but one of my major bete noirs (among many) is the increasing scarcity of album liner notes on the back that began long before the advent of CDs. Once upon a time one could pick up an LP by an artist who was an unknown quantity and secure enough info from the liners to convince you to purchase an album....without even auditing it! I did that once with a Jimmy Scott album long before his much-deserved comeback. The notes made his The Source seem so interesting that I bought it, even though I had never heard of Scott. Eventually, Jimmy and I became friends, but that's another story.

The liner note disappearance first began with rock music in the 60s. There was so much publicity "surround" with new rock recordings that liner notes were deemed extraneous. Plus, notes-free packaging was, graphics-wise, much cleaner and leaner looking. Eventually, this trend spread to other kinds of music. And now with CDs, it's an extra-generic moot point. I produce CDs for Japan, and nearly all of them have fairly extensive teeny tiny liner notes on the outside in English.

On the forthcoming Foreign Affair by singer Lincoln Briney, due out Aug. 29, for which I am the associate producer, the above photo (with the cig airbrushed out inasmuch as he is no longer a smoker) is on the back along with the following text (note tattoo on his left arm): "Sometine in the early 90s I was performing a lot of Jobim's repertoire live. The word of his death had such an impact on me that I guess I felt a tattoo fitting. Seemed silly to some, but not to me. Anyway I went to great lengths to find the right font for his name. I suppose I was trying to hang on to his legacy in some way. Later that year 'Antonio Carlos Jobim Airport' was named in Rio. Now, every time I am 'sleeveless' I am prepared to answer the question, "Who's Jobim?' I get to tell them. It's funny, but everyone can launch right into 'The Girl from Ipanema.'"

Perhaps intriguing enough in and of itself to engender a purchase. That, plus the presence of master jazz guitarist Bill Frisell along with a songbag of mindboggling eccclectic proportions, i.e. Sade, Jobim, Bonfa, Matt Dennis, Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder, Ron Sexsmith, Falcao, Alec Wilder, et al.

Some of the aforementioned CDs that I've produced contain font on the back that is so small you practically need a magnifying glass to read it. But by crackies I want my liner notes! Best, Bill

Cat Blog Friday

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Letters, we get letters. . ..

Awfully nice to receive e-mail like this.

Last week on the subject of singer Bill Black , I was sent the following e-mail:

When I was growing up I lived on the same block as Bill Black. His father ran a small grocery store on the corner. Some of my siblings were in high school with him. His older brother Neil (Neal ?) was also a musician---I believe he may have played bass and may have had a band in the St. Louis area. His mother may also been connected with show business. If I may be of assistance-please contact me---I may be able to point to possible sources. I also would be interested in your findings and your interest.

To which I replied:

Good to hear from you. Were you aware that I have released an album by Bill in Japan?

His brother died quite young in an auto accident. I didn't know his name, however, until I just now learned it from you. Yes, he did play bass. His mother died in 1949, and his father sometime in the early 80s. I believe. Bill was a friend of mine in New York City.

Which of my multitude of posts about Bill aka Clay Mundey might you be responding to? I began asking about him on the net 3 or 4 years ago. I had an old recording of an unreleased album that Bill gave me many many years ago. A couple of years back, I sent a copy of it to a friend in Japan as a gift and the next thing you know a record label wanted to release it. They did, and I now work for that label, so I have a very sentimental attachment to Bill. Did you know him personally?

For the first 30 years or so of his life, he led a charmed existence, but then his luck changed radically. But he was always fun and basically of good cheer and twenty years after his death I still miss him. NOW he is somewhat well-known as a result of my issue of his album, and I would like to find other unreleased recordings if there are any remaining. There were, but they most likely have all been thrown out. He lived in the same one room flat in New York for more than twenty years, and when he died, everything was tossed into the garbage. Columnist Nick Clooney in Cincinnati recently did a two-part feature on Bill / Clay a couple of months back*.

Thanks for getting in touch with me.



To which e-mail I received, a few hours later, the following reply:

Recently I was visiting in Granite City and I think Bill's name came up relative to some of the old neighborhoods. When I returned home I did some net surfing. discovered the album and have purchased it on I received it and realize what a great talent he was. I have purchased a second album and I'm planning to send it to the local PBS station with the writeup. I'm hoping they will play it on the weekly "Swing Sunday" show. Hopefully some of the listening audience may call in or write. Ironically, I worked in Manhattan for many years: Rockefeller Ctr/midtown, Herald Square, Union Square, East side near the Chrysler building even Hells Kitchen-so I may have rubbed shoulders with Bill and not have been aware of it. I knew him the way a kid would know neighbors ( I'm seven years younger). He and his brother were very friendly guys even to the neighborhood kids. I'm sending some of this on to siblings and friends whom I think were actually in class with them.Perhaps one of them may have something on him. I'm also in touch at times with the Granite City Library and Historical Society and the Madison County Illinois Museum and Archives.

Many Thanks!



Then, I wrote back:

Thank you for your swift response. I am glad you bought the CD. About three months ago a friend called on Sunday morning to inform me: "Bill, Jonathan Schwartz is talking about you on the radio." Perhaps you are familiar with Schwartz. He is probably the finest broadcast purveyor of non-rock music in the country. NPR and XM satellite radio. "Why is he talking about me?," I asked. "He's playing that CD by Bill Black that you released in Japan and talking about how you rescued the tape (actually it was anj acetate), etc." And apparently Schwartz still continues to play it. If there is any peace or justice in the universe, Bill has finally been the recipient of his own little share of it. So many people, famous and otherwise, have written to tell me how much the CD has meant to them. And we have sold a fairly good number of CDs in Japan, especially interesting inasmuch as no one who bought them could have possibly known of him until just recently. His name even fell on deaf ears of hard core Krupa fans I contacted. Just goes to show you the importance of having a good press agent and staying in the public eye. Bill is proof positive that talent alone is not enough to insure one of their rightful place in history of the arts.

Bill did have some day jobs after I met him in 1962, for the musician Eddie Safranski and also Merv Griffin productions as a stand-in on game shows. Also wrote for Soap Opera Digest, and a crossword puzzle magazine.

I am in touch with Bill's oldest and closest friend, Norm, a pianist who was in the '49 Krupa band with him. Norm remained Bill's friend up till the time of his death. That's nearly forty years! He remembers another unreleased album that Bill cut, but he can't quite recall the more important details. Norm once lived in New Jersey and was quite the partygiver, and so for quite a few years Norm and Bill would serenade guests at these occasions. So it is not as if Bill were entirely silenced as a singer. Norm says he remembers a singing job that Bill had in Atlanta around the time of the JFK assassination, but I simply cannot recall Bill ever working professionally during all the 13 or so years I knew him in New York. I never went to those parties because I was barely out of my teens at the time, and I just didn't think I would fit in with people so much my senior. But in talking to Norm recently, it turns out that it wasn't like that at all. More like family affairs with kids and backyard croquet, etc. Bill apparently still had a knack for playing with and being comfortable around children. So it's a pity I didn't ever attend.

* In case you did not see the stories, are the two that Nick Clooney did about Bill Black. (click to enlarge)



Monday, July 10, 2006

Shut the f**k up already!

Don't even get me started on the subject of cell phones. . .especially in the hands of drivers of moving vehicles. If smokers pay higher health premiums, it would seem to me that drivers using cell phones (responsible for seven percent of all auto accidents) should have to register and pay higher insurance rates. Why should I have to bear the brunt? Or better yet, just ban them in moving vehicles altogether. And that includes hands-free. When a friend phones me and I detect that they're driving, I refuse to conclude the conversation: "Call me back when. . .."

I suppose I would like to have one of the hell-ish things in case of (as the cliche goes) EMERGENCIES, but I'll be damned if I will contribute one red cent to the godforsaken cell phone industry. I'd rather walk a mile in a driving rainstorm.

I simply cannot believe that people are so rude as to, as is their wont, go up to a cashier in Trader Joe's---a hotbed for the use of these agents of the devil here in L.A.---and continue their obviously inane and pointless cell conversations without so much as a "Boy Howdy" to the actual person standing in front of them. But you see it all the time. In my local p.o. there are big signs at every window stating "Please conclude all cell phone conversations before approaching window." You can't miss 'em. And yet! Whatever happened to "Be here now"?

If they just didn't talk soooo loud, or took their private affairs elsewhere. Standing in a public space and talking to someone who isn't there used to be the domain exclusively of the village idiot. And as for Blackberries, REALLY "don't even get me started."

The inarguable scientific evidence that cell phones cause brain cancer is growing at an exponential rate. You can't miss it. And still. . . they keep on yammering all the while their cerebral cortex is turning to silly putty!
What is so fersluggenah [sp.] important that someone has to plant themselves smack in the middle of an aisle of a public place and palaver on at length about it? If you ask me it's mostly about public spectacularization of the self. And also a hedge against organization of your day. Instead of planning ahead and building in a time buffer against contingencies, it's apparently so much easier to just "Hello, Murray. You simply wouldn't believe the traffic on the 405." Well, yes I would.

I once overheard someone making a call in Trader Joe's: "Should I buy one can or two," they inquired of the person at the other end. The absurdity of which is that a can of anything could not possibly be as expensive as the cell phone call itself. And no one could have THAT serious a storage problem. I was tempted to get right up in their face and say: "Get two." Another time, I overheard someone make a cell phone call, only to utter to the party on the other end: "I forget why I called." They then hung up. I feel reasonably certain that 99 % of the cell phone calls made can't obtain to much more substance than that. Yesterday I was in a supermarket and thought I heard someone behind me having a public meltdown. I turned around to see what was happening, but it was merely a case of the shouter experiencing bad cell phone reception. Take it outside!

To make a long story short, I beg of you, when you're with/around me, puh-leeeeze don't whip IT out. Sometimes I just feel like walking up to the offending parties in question with a lightweight styrofoam phone booth and dropping it over them. Or better yet, this:

Back to the Beeper!

(Coming soon: my other major bete noir: SUV's)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Speaking of Pictures

Posted by Picasa

Tower Tokyo Records (Shibuya-Tokyo) photographed "after" David Hockney

Friday, July 07, 2006

A "Fast" Wasteland

(excerpted from my book Early Plastic)

No doubt it was TV series, like "Glamour Girl,"---a 1950s show I was hooked on---that caused a founding father of TV, inventor Lee DeForrest, to write:

"The nation has no soap, but soap opera without end or sense floods each household daily. . . This child of mine has been resolutely kept to the average intelligence of thirteen years."

"Glamour Girl," hosted by Harry Babbitt, a sloe-eyed, former big band singer, was a five-times-a-week daytime show featuring a twist on the premises of two other programs on the air at the time, "Queen for a Day" and "Strike it Rich," that offered prizes of one sort or another to the best hard-luck story of the day. On each episode of "Glamour Girl," three haggard, Ma Kettle-types told why they needed a makeover, and the studio audience would vote with their applause as to which one most deserved to be bottom-to-top cosmeticized. Plus ca change. . fifty years later such gimmicks are still a staple on daytime TV. "Glamour Girl" ended each day with the would-be Galatea from the day before reappearing after the various stylists, couturiers, furriers, and poise experts had wrought their miraculous transformation. To ten-year-old me, it came off like a Grimm's Fairy Tale---only in this case the frog turned into a princess instead of prince. "Glamour Girl" was on during school hours. If I happened to catch it while I was home malingering with some feigned mild illness, which was oft my wont, I would watch it, get hooked, and then had to stay home the next day to see what the woman from the day befor looked like after her transformation. And the next and the next and the next. . .. For my younger readers, this was, of course, several decades prior to the invention of the vhs.

Film critic Roger Ebert tells a similar story about his childhood; only, in a truly perverse twist, he was hooked on the radio version of the show. Thank god the TV version was cancelled after only a few months, otherwise I might have been trapped in Glamour Girl-land forever. Besides, I should have been outside doing something butch and constructive, such as learning to throw a ball like a boy instead of a girl.

Henceforth, most of the posts on this blog will occur, M,W,F, SAT.

Cat Blog Friday re-run

Posted by Hello

Kuro about to pounce on my pedal extremities

My web site

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

One more Baroque worry solved...

The memory of a "This Is Your Life"-style TV knockoff from the early '50s, entitled "Comeback Story," still continues to haunt me more than a half-century after it last snaked its way into our home through the co-axial cable. I still remember that they did shows about the multi-talented Valaida Snow, Billie Holiday and. . .Bobby Breen. Yikes!

As I seem to recall, "Comeback" was a series about people who'd been big in the biz but had fallen on hard times, and the producers of the show were going to help them make a---natch---COMEBACK! What a concept! AND what I wouldn't give for a complete run of kinescopes. . .IF they still exist. Doubtful.

But I have a scary memory, and so did I just dream up "Comeback Story"? But no one has THAT vivid an imagination. And so, I just now Googled "Comeback Story"---god bless Google--and came up with this from Time Magazine, 1953:

Comeback Story (Fri. 9:30 p.m., ABC-TV) is a tearjerker that shakes the mothballs from the once famous and tells why and how they slipped into obscurity. It is remarkably similar to Ralph Edwards' NBC weeper, This Is Your Life. Comedian George Jessel, ABC's new man-of-all-work, tells the story in his best toastmaster style as the subject under scrutiny squirms alongside. For the premiere, Jessel took former Child Star Bobby Breen in hand, told how he climbed from cold-water flats to Hollywood fame, then became a has-been at 13, when his voice changed ("There was panic in the studio"). At show's end Bobby, now 26, sets foot on the comeback trail by singing a song (his voice has not changed much) and lowering his head to hide the tears as Jessel, with a philanthropic touch, reads off the list of nightclubs and TV shows that are suddenly clamoring for the new Bobby Breen. Sponsors: Sealy, Inc. and Ekco Products.

Elsewhere on net, I just learned that only the first few episodes were hosted by Jessel, who was then replaced by Arlene (blindfold in place) Francis.

So it wasn't a dream after all. It was a real TV show. And you were there. And you and you and you....

The main difference between "This is Your Life" and "Comeback Story" is that on the former, they presented you with a charm bracelet from Van Cleef and Arpels and a kine of the show, and on the letter, they just got you gigs.

I think that "Comeback Story" should and could make a comeback. First subject? Barbara Harris. Only I don't think she wants to come back. Can't say as I blame her. Karen Valentine, anyone?

Next: "Glamour Girl" starring Harry Babbitt! (Henceforth, most of the posts on this blog will occur, M,W,F, SAT.)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Record and Birthday o' the Day

Today is the birthday of the great singer Johnny Hartman , 1923-1963 (damn coffin nails!). Click here for a never-before-heard rehearsal recording of Johnny singing "By Myself" (mp3 links for a limited time only*) *link removed 7/5

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Well into the 1970s LPs remained so expensive to acquire in Japan that the long-standing tradition of record listening clubs still existed. Certainly, such fraternities stretched back to at least immediately post-WWII, and most likely before. The central premise of these outfits was that ONE member would most likely be designated to spring for an album that other members of the club were interested in hearing but could not necessarily afford to buy, and then at a pre-determined time, all others would gather in a bar of coffee shop to listen to the recording in question, followed by a discussion afterward. Perhaps a bit of sake quaffing was also part of the equation.

Alhtough, CDs are still a bit pricey in Japan (just look at how much Japanese imports still cost on they are now cheap enough to have eliminated the main raison d'etre for such clubs. But old habits die harder in Japan than perhaps anywhere else in the world (!); thus, there still remain a healthy number of such fraternities in that country.

One that I am familiar with in particular is the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society, founded more than a quarter-century ago by Japanese jazz critic, Keizo Takada, who also happens to be a good friend. I have even attended one of their meetings and trust that will qualify me as an honorary member. I even hope that when I go to Tokyo again in December I might have the chance to present a program of my own, entitled "Female One-Album Wonders." (With cue cards in romanized Japanese!)

I would never dream of a program any less recherche than that. This is real serious stuff, as should be obvious by the program of their latest (6/25/05) gathering just sent to me by Takada san. The presentation, by Mister Noboru Uehara, was entitled "Minor Vocal Panorama: Smart and Sexy Male Singers and Vocal Ensembles." A brief speech is made before each record is spun, and then members listen in respectful silence in the darkened Beatnik-y cellar that reminds me a bit of the one in which Audrey Hepburn sang in Funny Face.

All of these "Smart and Sexy" sides are long out-of-print EXCEPT for the Troup and Derise, which come and go, and the very worthy Mal Fitch album, which I am proud to say that I've had a hand in bringing back into print come August 29th on SSJ Records. (I even had the chance to talk with Fitch for quite a while on the phone recently: "I'm eighty years old, but I'm not planning to die anytime soon.")

I recently release-produced a Tommy Wolf CD songbook in Japan. And Charlie Cochran is a friend (that is his very first ultra rare LP pictured here) of mine. He has a brand new CD available at cdbaby. But I must confess total ignorance of five of the singers or groups, i.e. Kime, Johnson, Hi-Fi's, Dick Lane, and Eddie Hazell (though I have been able to google varying degrees of info about them since receipt of the TVJAS program). And in the case of Johnny Holiday, a particular favorite of mine, I was completely unaware of the existence of the album from which his two tracks were drawn.

It is especially obvious from "Minor Vocal Panorama" that these Japanese vocal jazz fans, in the immortal words of Ricky Nelson, "don't mess around, boy."