Sunday, July 31, 2005

Department of Amplification

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Carroll Baker and her seeing eye Afghans

A "listener" writes in to ask:

"As to that aside in "How Droll Was My Puberty," though ... is it Carroll Baker or "Sylvia" that you're expressing affection for? Or both? I've never seen "Sylvia," although I remember some talk about it's being preferable to the much-publicized "Harlow." Didn't "Sylvia" have a sizeable Ann Southern [sic] role (as it were) and a David Raksin song? Good signs, both."



Dear Fearless:

"The Sylvia reference alludes to the fact that the title character starts out as a trailer trash teen in Pittsburgh and ends up an internationally renowned poetess. Not exactly a strict parallel to my personal evolution. Still, it is my way of observing that I didn't necessarily end up sweeping up hazardous waste materials in a cradle to grave minimum wage program, as could have been my destiny considerin' my lowly beginin's class-wise, dearie.

Don't you remember the part where Sylvia's hitching her way out of Pittsburgh after her stepfather, played by Aldo Ray, attempts to rape her, and she gets picked up by an equally disreputable character by the name of 'Black Peter' who drives her all the way to Florida and 'Wouldn't even stop by the wayside to let me pick one lousy daisy'? Oh, that's right. You said you hadn't seen Sylvia. Pity.

Yes, Ann Sothern was in it along with Viv Lindfors, George (Tea Room) Maharis, Nancy Kovack (Mrs. Zubin) Mehta, and the great Connie Gilchrist. I saw it for the first time on a double bill with the TAMI Show at 3.00 a.m. on 42nd Street, with my new (then) friend, then-friend Cecil Taylor. At five a.m. we ended up at his flat and he subjected me to a vocal jazz blindfold test. I got it in ten seconds flat. It was Betty Carter.

What I wouldn't give to see a quintuple bill on the giant screen (maybe at a drive-in) of Angel Baby, Joy House, Sylvia, Cold Wind in August and Baby Doll, in which Carroll Baker utters the immortal line: 'And he went off and left me here without a coke on the place.'"

My web site

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hello Hello It's The Bill Bringdown Show

Singer Kyu Sakamoto holds the record for the only number one U.S. pop recording performed entirely in Japanese, 1963's "Sukiyaki," whose lyrics, by the way, have nothing to do with that Japanese dish (actually it's of Chinese derivation, but let's not go there for the nonce). The actual lyrics and original title of "Sukiyaki" are about looking up when the song's spurned lover-narrator walks so that his tears don't fall on the ground. (Might slip and fall?) For more than twenty years after that recording, which was even bigger in Sakamoto's native land, he was regarded as a national treasure. Then, at the age of 43, he died in a plane crash on August 12, 1985, near Tokyo, Japan.

This morning a new cyber pal of mine sent me an email that happened to mention Sakamoto's name in passing. Here is part of what I wrote back to him:


Here's four incredibly creepy things that I know about that doomed Kyu Sakamoto flight. When anyone mentions his name to me, which you unfortunately just did in your email, I have no choice but to repeat the following. It's my ghoulish lot in life, and I have cleared entire rooms with my riff about Flight 123---LOL:

1.) JAL Flight 123 was the most deadly single-plane accident in aviation history. 520 deaths

2.) Passengers knew they were going to crash, but the interval between knowledge of that fact and the impact was so long (a half-hour) that some chose to use that time to write goodbye notes to their loved ones. I think I would have been too busy screaming.

3.) There were four survivors! (talk about "survivor guilt")

4.) Authorities traced the cause of the crash to improper maintenance done ten years prior to the event! Now THAT should really reinforce your faith in the safety of flying.

If there's a dark cloud behind a silver lining, leave it to me to find it.

My web site

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A has-been under TWO names

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Click twice to enlarge and read

By the late 50s, singer Bill Black, on the run from the mob, had fully inhabited his new persona of "Clay Mundey." And when, around that time, influential midwestern music critic Dale Stevens informed that, in essence, he would eat his shorts if Mundey didn't become the next big thing, he apparently had no idea that he was writing about the very same performer of whom, less than a decade earlier, major jazz critic George T. Simon had written:

"Right now Gene Krupa has himself a fine singer and a fine performer. I have a hunch that sometime in the future he's going to garner a little additional glory of the reflected variety from Bill Black."

Both men were very right about Black/Mundey's artistry, but couldn't have been wronger about the fact that he would soon arrive. He finally does---sort of---when M&I Records (Japan) issues his posthumous CD, Down in the Depths on August 25th. Too bad there's no heaven, no hell (t'ain't ya know) from which he can observe his belated digital transcenendence.

I suppose I'll never get over wondering what it was that caused
Bill Black to run so fast, so far from the long arm of the organized crime "wing" of the record biz.

My web site

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Saturday, July 16, 2005

How Droll Was My Puberty

A few days ago, I received an email from a long-lost friend, Jerry M., who is perhaps the only person remaining on the planet who is fully aware of my white trash, low rent housing project background (vide the movie Sylvia, starring the great Carroll Baker) in Charleston, West (bygawd) Virginia.

Jerry and I went to high school together, and after college we somehow managed to end up at the same lower Manhattan employer, where we engaged in an early computer legal data program. (Did I get him the job; or vice versa?)

Somewhat ambiguously, along with a few other asides, Jerry wrote: "Won't cover more of my life and times on the east coast unless you respond and it is relevant to anything, so I don't bore you with drivel."

Beats me, then, whether I can expect to hear from him again or whether I should have even have bothered to respond in the first place. But I did. And here is most of what I said.


Good to hear from you.

I quit my day job as a film librarian about three years ago to concentrate on various writing and recording projects, and I think all the groundwork I laid is beginning to pay off. I am sure you will recall how totally nuts I was about records as a kid. Still am. Finally, I am starting to get work in Japan producing, reissue-producing, and working as a liaison between a Japan record label and U.S. artists.

Speaking of recording artists, do you you remember the time in high school when we ran into Haynes Record Shop on West Washington Street and stole a lifesize Doris Day cardboard cutout for the original cast recording of the Pajama Game? I believe you distracted them, while I grabbed up Doris. You will, of course, NOT remember (no one has long term memory like me) but, trust me, my old friend , you were an accomplice. Just think, if we still had that, we could sell on ebay and retire to Gstaad. Probably the only thing I stole from a store in my life...but WHO could resist? I guess the "statue" of limitations has run out on that little caper.

My long term memory is so good that if you ask me ANYTHING about the Charleston of yore, I can probably answer it. The name of the lady who ran the record department at Londeree's? Why, Madge Orchid, of course. (If I had a name that kewl, I could die happy.) The man who managed Orchard Manor? Mr. Keener, mais oui. The name of my boss at Kroger's at Five Corners? Jim Beheler! Now, just what kind of a last name is THAT? And I seem to remember that your middle initial is "R."

I can also remember that it was you---I think---who accompanied me as a teenager on my maiden voyage to the (verboten) Greenbrier Theater. I believe it was to see the original Godzilla. Yes, I did take the precaution of carrying along a spray can of Pam just in case my feet got stuck to the floor. Perhaps you were allowed to go to the lowbeat Greenbrair and the equally sleazy Lyric on Summers Street, but I never was. What it was that I was supposed to be avoiding by not going to those two dens of something-or-other was never spelled out to me at the time by my mother, but in retrospect I suppose it was the so-called raincoat brigade. I was strictly a Capitol-Virginian-Kearse-State-Custer-Rialto-West Theater kind of guy. Though I sure did long to see those Monogram and Republic "B"'s (hell, "C"'s!) that only seemed to play at the Greenbrier and Lyric.

Charleston's beautiful art deco Blossom Dairy luncheonette is still there...unchanged! But much else of the olde towne has bit the dust, including, just recently, the Strand Pool Room on Hale Street that I thought would roll on Forever. The Planters Peanut store is STILL there at the corner of Quarrier and Capital, but alas the mechanical Mister Peanut with the monocle, and the wand he tapped against the show window while one was waiting at the bus stop is nowhere in sight. Eventually the wand wore a hole through the glass and they Scotch-taped a quarter over the hole and he tapped THAT instead. Do you remember that? Probably not. Lucky you.

I will send you a copy of [my autobio] Early Plastic if you lay your address on me, for free Free FREE. I don't know how [our mutual high school friend] Kitty got a copy (it's pretty obscure stuff). I run the gamut from high profile-to-self publishing. Early Plastic definitely falls into the latter category. I just felt like I didn't want even so much as a single rejection slip for my "life," and so I did it myself. A nice book, albeit a tad sloppily proofread and edited. Maybe Kitty got [Charleston newspaper columnist] L.T.Anderson's (my idol of idols!) copy when he died a few years ago. You know, of course, that [Charleston jazz disc jockey] Hugh McPherson is long gone. Though, believe it or not, I am in touch with his discovery, Charleston singer Jennie Smith, who went on to a fair degree of national fame until the Beatles came along and blew all that kind of pop-jazz stuff out of the water. She lives here in L.A.

Whenever I go back home---once a year or so---I walk around a lot downton, the library, etc. But I NEVER run into anyone that I knew there when I was growing up. Not even Reed Belasco! [Inside joke.]

I am still in touch with Ken Weaver, and went to see him a couple of years ago in Florida. Just think, Cravath, Swain and Moore [the law firm where Jerry, Ken and I worked] was probably exactly on the spot of the WTC. I was on my way to LAX for a flight to Tokyo when 9/11 came down. We ALL remember where we were that day. When the news about Kennedy was announced, you and I were, of course, at CS&M. I guess you were the guy who made the executive decision to "Go home." You DO know that Ken Weaver became one of the Fugs, right?

Someone told me that when they finally queried the CS&M computer for the first time [after several years of our feeding data into it] and that it just spewed out a piece of paper that said something like "Gazornenplat."

My brother, Tom, bought the farm quite a while back. When he died, I tried with all my might to find something nice to say about him to his wife. She finally and compassionately said, "Don't even bother."

My two sisters---much older than I---are still living. Though both are in somewhat parlous shape. Especially the much much older one...with Alzheimer's. I am still in good physical AND---if I do say so myself---mental health. Ours was a felicitous time to be born, I think. People of EXACTLY our age, I sense, have one good healthy foot in the before time (in a sense, the 19th century) but are bascially malleable and can keep up fairly well with current adjustments to, you should pardon the expression, THE WAY WE LIVE NOW. I wouldn't change having been born in 1941 for anything in the world.

Do you go back to Charleston much? I don't think they even have SJHS [our high school] reunions anymore. And I seem to recall that they have torn down [the public housing project where we lived] Orchard Manor or as the locals pronounced it, MAY-NOR. Or maybe they just nuked and napalmed it to oblivion, because it became a pretty rough and wild place.

Do you remember that wonderful, completely undeveloped area up behind OM where we used to hang out? My recollection of it is as a vast, verdant, unclaimed wilderness. Probably no way of checking out the correctness of that memory, because I would wager any amount of money that it is all tract development now.

I remember a wonderful old road leading down from that area that dead-ended just ABOVE West Washington Street. In the winter---and I feel certain you partook of this---it was a great sled run. But if you didn't make the sharp turn JUST RIGHT at the bottom, you would become airborn and land smack dab in the middle of West Washington Street. I think a kid got killed one time, shortly after our days of sledding there. Kerblam... right into the middle of snow-covered West Washington Street in front of Gordon's Drug Store and got run over by a Charleston Transit bus. Splat! I remember hearing the story and then running to the dictionary to look up the word "spleen."

A few years back I wanted to visit Washington MAY-NOR, where we lived before Orchard Manor, but it too is now so dangerous that my family tried to---to no avail---stop me from doing so. I went looking for the sewer grate where I got my roller skate wheels got caught and I fell when I was ten, thus losing a front tooth. And for the chipped tile in the common hallway on which I cut myself so badly that I nearly lost my left middle finger. I felt just like some kind of dumb Holden Caulfield tromping around WM that last time.

Jerry, I suppose I have known you longer than any other non-family member, and even though I tend not to be a sloppy, sentimental old fool, still it is so very good hear from you. Send me your snail mail addy.

Are you still a vegetarian?



PS: I might post some of this on my blog, but please don't think that is why I wrote back. Just kind of dawned on me to do so toward the end of writing this. Like my grandma used to say, "Use everything but the oink." Bet you never knew that I had it in me to be so folksy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thought for the Day

Terrorism is far worse than imperialism. At least with the latter you can usually see it coming down the block and have a fighting chance. Plus, it's far easier to know what imperialists are fighting for; usually having to do with unchecked avarice and greed. In the instance of the U.S. in Iraq, it's the oil to keep a nation full of gas guzzling SUVs on the road. With the terrorists, however, what they want is a bit more evanescent. Something about an eternal paradise with a non-stop supply of beauteous virgins and rivers of pure honey, milk, and non-intoxicating wine. And, oh yes, lots and lots of pre-pubescent boys.

My web site

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Release # YKCJ-304

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Original Bill Black acetate as shown in new Japanese liner notes

It is still a bit difficult for me to believe that this recording, one that I have held on to for more than forty years, is finally having its first commercial release. A year or so ago, when I took the original Bill Black acetate disc that has remained with me even throughout all my hippie perambulations in the 1960s, i.e. Woodstock, S.F., Mendocino, etc. etc. etc., to recording engineer Bob Tucker, here in L.A., it was nearly inaudible.

That's what happens to acetates, one-of-a-kind recordings that are made for immediate play and only hold up for a finite number of listenings. One suspects that eventually, at a certain point, they even begin to vaporize, with the contents of their grooves just drifting off into the ether. But Tucker did a fine job of restoring this, and even if there remain occasional aural infelicities in the final product, the innate swing of Black's singing more than offsets them.

The accompaniment is entirely bass and guitar duo, but the players are unknown. However, every single expert I've played it for, including noted plectrist Al Viola, says that the guitar player is most likely Howard Roberts. The bass is more problematic.

I have spent hundreds of hours trying to track down the genesis of this recording, with little-to-no luck. At one time I thought that it might have been produced by songwriter Don Raye, but I have never been able to verify that.

The disc will be available for sale in Japan and on line in the U.S. August 25th; meanwhile here is a sample of a few of the tracks, Down in the Depths, Laugh Clown Laugh, So It's Spring, Nobody's Heart, and Where Are You.

The other eight songs on the disc include: Spring is Here, Gloomy Sunday, I'll Never Be the Same, and Blame It on My Youth.

Link to another entry in my blog about this recording.

My web site

Thursday, July 07, 2005


The scene: an Al Qaeda cell meeting somewhere in London about two months ago. A group of fifty-or-so Arabs are gathered in a small meeting space. The purpose of the occasion is the choosing of four volunteers to be blasted into infamy, smithereens and, presumably, eternal paradise as the historically first suicide bombers on western soil. The leader of the group, Ahmad, signals for quiet, announces the purpose of the gathering, and then asks:

AHMAD: Any volunteers?


Ahmad singles four out of the group to carry out the bombings.

ALL: Huzzahs of approval and congratulations.

Suddenly, a voice rises above the rest.

OMAR (angry): That's not fair.

AHMAD: What do you mean?

OMAR: You never choose me.

AHMAD: Must I spell it out to you, Omar. You are far too beautiful to be a suicide bomber.

OMAR: I had no idea you cared. (beat) By the way, is that a gun in your burnoose or are you just glad to see me?

My web site

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

If this is Thursday, then it must be Altoona.

It was drums that got Youngstown, Ohio-born Zanne (pronounced "Zany") into the "biz" in the first place. Always an amateur singer---she received her Girl Scout merit badge in music by singing the entire soundtrack of A Star is Born a cappella!---in 1962 her new guitarist-husband consented to let Zanne go on the road with him. . .as a singer! But only if she would play drums. She agreed, he bought her a set Friday night, presented them to her, and said: "You start Monday." Up till then, she'd never so much as even held a pair of drumsticks in her life.

And so the couple hit the road as part of a trio that also included a pianist-synth player. Operating out of an Airstream trailer, as often as not they were on the road fifty weeks a year: "Sometimes we opened for big acts in places like Elko and Vegas for people like Bobbie Gentry. But mostly," she laughs, "we were our own opening act." In addition, the pair toured the country regularly doing clinics, classes and demonstrations; he for Gibson guitars, and she for Pearl drums.

Somewhere along the way, betwixt all the drumming and singing and road-running, Zanne even had time to give birth to a son, Trevor, who sometimes would sleep in her bass drums during down time in the day.

Ironically, the very thing that got Zanne into show business---"those damn drums"---was what she hated most about being an entertainer. "Playing cocktail drums, I always felt like I looked like some dumb Betty Crocker up there, whipping up a cake. Plus," she adds, "there was a singing style in my head that I wanted to develop, but drums held me back. I felt locked into the beat. Like chewing gum and walking."

Drums or not, it didn't really matter: by the late-1970s it all began to come to an end as solo synth keyboard singer-players aided by the dreaded Wurlitzer synth drum Sideman began to displace multiple member groups ("Will the last lounge combo please turn out the lights...."). It's now a lost world.

In addition, Zanne and husband divorced around this time, and by 1980 she found herself effectively out of the entertainment business. Between then and now, she has functioned in a number of "civilian" occupations. Occasionally, she stills jams as a singer in the Orange County, CA area.

Yesterday, at a 4th of July party, Zanne gave me a CD recorded “live” on the road, circa '75, by the group in question, Merle Lemon and the Lemon-Aides. Arriving back home, I popped it in the player. If this represents a single set, then the word “eclectic” hardly begins to describe the broad-ranging repertoire of this mostly “covers” band. Opening with the Four Freshmen, within the 16-song set there are stops along the stylistic way for polka (“In Heaven There is No Beer”), jazz, the Carpenters, Broadway (“I Don‘t Know How to Love Him“), acid rock, country, bluegrass and pop. All performed with an extraordinary degree of polish, especially considering the picaresque conditions under which their presentations were effected. Zanne turns out to be so much more than the “cocktail drummer” that she has always made herself out, to me, to be; instead, she is a full-bore drummer adept at playing, swinging (and singing at the same time) almost any style imaginable.

To judge from the less-than-whelmed applause at the end of each number, most of the music purveyed by the Lemon-Aides is either too hip for the house, the crowd was too tired from dancing, or else the Moose Lodge-type crowd has heard it all before. For, in the sixties and seventies the woods were chockfull of such journeyman outfits. The Lemon-Aides trio, which was constantly on the road for nearly a decade-and-a-half, was part of the wave of such lounge acts that played the Holiday Inn (and other similar hotel chains) circuit. Like most of the others, they trafficked in everything from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to the Carpenters, to the Beatles, to Jackie and Roy, to the Four Freshmen, and, well, just all over the crowd-pleasing stylistic map. But it’s doubtful that few other such musical missionaries were any more adept at putting on such a skillful vest pocket seminar of recent trends in American Popular Music. Take a listen to this
five-minute medley by the group and you'll hear what I mean. Hard to believe it was just a job, as Zanne seems to imply.

My web site

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Yeah Yeah Time in Olde Roppongi

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You just can't go wrong with a Japanese compilation album featuring a dancer doing the twist on the cover. Picked this up at my Japan CD "local" yesterday. If WFMU doesn't have a copy in their music library, they're missing out. There's even a track, "Ginza Rockin,'" by Kurosawa star (Ran, Kagemusha) Tatsuya Nakadai. Compilation produced by Comoesta Yaegashi, who was also responsible for recordings by the great Tokyo Panorama Mambo Boys, and a gazillion other compilation albums. Here's a sample (mp3 link for a limited time only) of this compilation, Tokyo Beatniks, vol. 1.

Friday, July 01, 2005