Monday, May 02, 2005

Conclave of the music neo-Luddites

It didn't mean much to jazz musician John Wood that I praised his piano playing nearly to the skies when I wrote about him hereabouts a few weeks ago. When he got in touch with me Saturday evening, it wasn't so much to thank me for that, but rather to take issue with several somewhat unkind things I had written in the same blog entry about his record executive father Randy Wood (still alive and well at age 88 and living in SoCal). Basically John felt that I taken the low road when I dismissed his dad, founder of Dot Records, as not much more than a music schlockmeister.

The conversation begin rancorously enough but as the somewhat marathon phone call wore on, it soon became obvious that we have a lot more in common that unites us, rather than the other way 'round. For example, I think that it is safe to say that we both profoundly feel that multiple track recording technology---first harmlessly enough with 2, then 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.---has had a markedly deleterious impact on the continuum of the culture of U.S. music. "When musicians stopped playing in the studio together, that was the beginning of the end," John said. And I tend to agree. It's a complicated issue deserving of a book in and of itself.

As John began to reel off the complex and multifarious accomplishments of Randy Wood, I started to feel that I had essentially shot myself in the foot with my peremptory depiction of his dad as a musical impresario of questionable accomplishment;
just because he happened to have been almost single-handedly responsible for the recording success of the likes of Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk and Billy Vaughn. It's a vox populi musical need that calls for scratching. T'ain't no sin. And there's a much fairer and even-handed---than mine---overview of Wood's contributions to the record industry to be found here.

Randy Wood, his son also told me, was the president of perhaps the only major independent record label NOT to demand/extort/inveigle music publishing rights from its artists. John spiritedly emphasized this several times. And he's right; it is an important point.

He was also at pains to emphasize the major cultural import of his father's internationally known mail-order record shop, Randy's in Gallatin, TN. To give this devil his due, in my (somewhat) offending original blog entry, I was at pains to praise Wood, Sr. for that accomplishment. To wit:

"Late at night in the mid-1950s found many of us in my hometown in West Virginia listening not to local radio stations, still continuing to pump out our parents' retrograde faves like "April in Portugal" and "Lisbon Antigua", but to the 50,000 watt clear channel station out of Nashville, WLAC, featuring deejays Gene Nobles and John R. Enacted after hours and away from parental scrutiny, auditing WLAC was so clandestine and forbidden, that it operated like a vicarious trial run for sex---something that few teens in the 50s had partaken. Not in my set, anyway. In between their pitches for mail order rhythm and blues packages from Randy's Record Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee and salacious paeans to the lubricating properties of White Rose Petroleum Jelly, this powerhouse outlet blanketed almost the entire country with the real deal in black music, instead of the pale white simulacrum coming to be known as rock and roll."

There is now a Tennessee state historical marker on the site of the shop.

As for the relative musical merits of Lawrence Welk and other Dot Records artists, John is right: compared to the likes of the (c)rap coming off the musical assembly lines today, Welk, Vaughn et al are veritable Duke Ellingtons by comparison. "These people," John said, "were all solid professionals. As a kid I was my dad's timekeeper. I was in the studios all the time and saw how good they all were."

I did cop to a lot of John's criticisms, and to invoke a line from a favorite Peter Sellers comedy album of mine (spoken with thick upper class U.K. accent), I think that by the end of our phone conversaton John Wood and I were "agreed upon the essentials and divided only on the minor points."

I would like to announce, BTW, that John Wood and his trio (with guest, vocalist Eloise Laws) will be making a rare L.A. appearance this coming May 12, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near LAX (more details later). Inasmuch as no jazz pianist that I have heard in recent times---on records---has moved me quite so much, it's an evening to which I truly look forward.

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