Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dick Noel

Here's a track by Dick Noel from his 1978 album, A Time for Love, that I reissue-produced in 2007. It's quite possible that Noel is---due to his massive amount of Chicago session work-- the most widely audited singing voice of all time. You heard Sinatra, perhaps, a few times a day on the radio and telly, but felt your tympanic membranes tickled by Dick Noel on numerous occasions per diem intoning the joys of sundry soaps and airlines and cleansers and autos and so on and so forth; in other words, the Michael Dees (L.A.) of Chicago.

Maybe Dick should get together and record with the most widely heard sax player of all-time, Plas Johnson. If I had a dollar for every studio session Plas played on, I'd probably be a millionaire by now. . .or something like that.

Dick told me that he and pianist Larry Novak went into the studio at midnight and finished  A Time for Love by the crack of dawn. The songs were mostly chosen by Novak, and Dick wasn't familiar with some of them, but he's such a good sight reader that you'd never know some of these were new to him. A Time for Love was initially recorded for the Grace L. Ferguson Storm Door and Airline label but eventually ended up on the fine, fine superfine SSJ disc operaton in Japan. When Dick was initially mastering the album in '78, Mel Torme was in the next door studio, heard it and inisted on writing the liner notes which were unalloyed raves, ending with with "He's something else." ! [exclamation point mine] Rare for the profoundly self-involved Torme.

A certain NYC dee-jay who shall remain nameless---Jonathan Schwartz---jumped on Dick's album when it came out again in 2007 and hasn't ever stopped playing it since then. . . fairly much every day. I would, too, if I had a radio gig (lord knows I've tried).

And, oh yeah, happy birthday Dick!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Beverly Kenney re-masters

Just received SSJ Records' remasterings of Lonely and Blue, and Snuggled on Your Shoulder. Inasmuch as I am the credited re-issue producer, I obviously received comps. But really worth buying all over again if I had to. Especially nice is the de-essing on "Snuggled." For the "record," I had nothing to do with these re-do's. Thanks go to Yasuo Sangu of SSJ Records.

And now. . .in memory of Maya

When my friend, actress-activist Frances Williams, died in 1995, a service in her memory was held on January 22. Even Rosa Parks was there. And a videotape of Maya Angelou speaking --- shot in L.A. a few days before the memorial ---was shown; one with all the impact of anything "live" that came before or after. Visibly shaken and tearful, Angelou spoke from the heart (from my book Hot from Harlem):

"'Wisdom when it is matched with kindness---the two make for an unbeatable team. And all of us who love Frances are wiser and kinder because of her. She encouraged me once to paint my house. I had been living in West Africa and returned to the United States in the '60s. And I had been living the life of luxury in West Africa. Lots of things, material things. And I had to leave Ghana with $500 which of course didn't go very far. I came down to Los Angles and Frances offered me one side of the front house, the duplex, there's a very rich name for what it was. I think it was $50 a month.' But Angelou found herself missing the good life of Ghana and becoming depressed. When she went to Williams with her problems, Frances told her to buy some wall paint: She said, 'What you need to do is paint your house.' Angelou followed Williams' advice and began painting -first the living room, then its floor and ceiling, then the bathroom, the kitchen, the porch, the lamps. Everything the brush touched, Angelou painted. 'I almost painted myself,' she laughed, adding: 'Then, my house was shining and the depression was gone, gone, forever gone. I have noticed since then, since 1966, everywhere in the world I have lived if I find myself slipping into a storm of depression I don't paint the house, but I wash walls. I get a pan, a pail, some 409, some soap and water and I wash the walls. I wash all the negative thoughts away. I know that's what Frances was telling me.'"

If Maya Angelou could speak so eloquently off the top of her head, small wonder that she was such a great writer.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Here's a portion of an interview that I conducted with Herb a decade or two ago for my book Hot from Harlem.
"I went to from Detroit to Chicago to check out the World's Fair there. Back in Detroit I'd been singing in dime-a-dance joints and that was pretty much it for me. Chicago was like the beginning of the world for me. I've been to a few fairs-Seattle, New York-but nothing ever like that. There was a wide outer drive for cars, four and five lanes wide. Everyone was working. It was alive like I've never ever seen a city ... not even Paris, where I lived for ten years, was as alive as Chicago during the 1933 World's Fair. Before too long I got a job singing with the Earl Hines band, and I remember the Dillinger slaying on Indiana Avenue in 1934, engineered by the Feds. We all got word of it ten minutes after it happened; it was all over the place - on the telephones, the radio. We were all living at the nearby Trenier Hotel where a lot of black entertainers stayed, and I jumped on the running board of a car and went around there to where it happened to take a look. The blood was still splattered all over the movie theater, all over the sidewalk because, boy, they just mowed that guy Dillinger down. I can still see in my mind the tear sheets of the picture that was playing there ---Manhattan Melodrama--- and the glass over them shot all out. They had obviously planned this whole thing very meticulously because otherwise they would have killed the woman in the box-office. I'll never forget that as long as I live."

There I was sitting across from someone who had witnessed the immediate aftermath of the Dillinger shooting!
The first Hi-Lo's recordings were with Herb, and he was married to Tempsest Storm and made the cover of Confidential for that, and I think he holds the, um, RECORD for cutting recordings longer than anyone else in human history and. . . ..I could go on and on.
Started making sides in 1934 and kept right on doing it almost right up to the present day. One of my favorites is The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again) that singer Johnny Holiday produced for him in '95. Herb: Wonderful singer, a sweetheart and a---more-or-less---historic figure.

Herb on the set of Harlem Rides the Range (1939)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Happy Birthday to Lucky Lucy Ann and Betty Be-Bop

Birthdays today of the just about the best straight-ahead jazz singer the world has ever known, Lucy Ann Polk (1927) AND Betty Carter (1930), the greatest of the far-out jazzettes. Both are now dead, but their "lessons" live on.

Lucy Ann

Betty Carter

Saturday, May 10, 2014

June Christy can't sing a word. . .

. . .she's muzzled by army brass.