Sunday, January 26, 2014

Joe Dowell: An insanely complete post-Smash/Mercury discography

Praguefrank's excellent Country Music Discographies website says on its Joe Dowell page that "info is very hard to find" on Joe Dowell's recordings after he left the Smash/Mercury labels. 

The Music Weird comes to the rescue with an insanely complete discography of Dowell's later recordings. 

Joe Dowell was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and scored a #1 pop hit in 1961 with "Wooden Heart," a song that Elvis performed in G.I. Blues. RCA Victor didn't release Elvis' version as a single, so Smash Records had the then-unknown Dowell record it. 

Dowell's later hits included "Bridge of Love" and the novelty song "Little Red Rented Rowboat," the latter of which caused a mild controversy with its lyric about bikinis. 

Most of Dowell's Smash and Mercury recordings can be found on the CD Wooden Heart, which I produced for the German Bear Family Records label years ago and is still available. The booklet tells the whole story of "Wooden Heart." 

So, on with the discography:

Joe Dowell's post-Smash/Mercury discography


If I Could Find Out What Is Wrong b/w Indian Summer Days (Monument MN45-952, 1966)

Christmas in Ann Arbor b/w Patapan (A French Christmas Song) (Journey [no catalog number], 1972-73)

Big River b/w same (Westinghouse Power Systems, 1973)

Those Darn Inflation Blues b/w same (Journey promo JD 413, 1973) 

Those Darn Inflation Blues b/w Jesus in the Midst of My Day (Journey JD 413, 1973)

Two Hearts b/w same (Journey JD 414, 1974)

The Spirit of 76 (W.D. Boyce Council NR7609, 1976)
(A four-song 7" EP for the Boy Scouts of America)

Joe Dowell Sings for Ann Arbor Federal Savings (No label [no catalog number], 197?)
  • Wooden Heart / Shenandoah / Riddle Song // Streets of Laredo / Green Grow the Lilacs / Leatherwing Bat
Joe Dowell Sings for Second Federal (No label [no catalog number], 197?)

  • Wooden Heart / Shenandoah / Riddle Song // Streets of Laredo / Green Grow the Lilacs / Leatherwing Bat
Homeward on the Wind b/w same (Journey 1238, 1985)

Homeward on the Wind b/w The Symphony of Dawn (Journey promo 1238, 1985)

New Nails b/w same (Journey promo JO-8502, 1985?)


Joe Dowell Sings Folk Songs (DMR Records RR4M-5063-5064, 1964)
  • Jamaica Farewell / Times Are Gettin' Hard / Leatherwing Bat / Green Leaves of Summer / Tell Ol' Bill / Peter Gray / Shanghaied // Hey There, Honey / Try to Remember / Lemon Tree / The Cockle Box / Cute Little Window / Donna, Donna / Freight Train

Joe Dowell Sings for C.R.O.P. (CROP 29056/AV 683, 196?)
(This album for the Church World Service Hunger Appeal in Elkhart, Indiana, contains a 13-minute radio show, seven PSAs that include excerpts of Joe Dowell singing "Wooden Heart," "Big River," and "After the Rainfall," and the full recording of Dowell's "When I Was Hungry")
  • Singing for Their Supper // PSA 1 / PSA 2 / PSA 3 / PSA 4 / PSA 5 / PSA 6 / PSA 7 / When I Was Hungry

Of Earth & Heaven (Journey RDS-1 NR18504, 198?)
(String arrangements and production by Bill Pursell of "Our Winter Love" fame)
  • Song of Questions / Stay Where You Are / Jesus in the Midst of My Day / Symphony of Dawn / New Nails / Comin' Back to Life / Only in Thee / His Sunrise Prayer / The Vision / Tonight You Brought Me Home

Joe Dowell & Friends BGA Benefit Concert (Bloomington Grove Academy CD-R, 2002)
  • Fly Me to the Moon / Wooden Heart / The Summer Wind / I've Got the Sun in the Morning & the Moon at Night / Don't Think Twice / It's More than a Tattered Flag / My Cup Runneth Over / Old Man River / Nice and Easy / Try to Remember / Moszkowski No. 11 in Ab Major / Sleepwalk / Steel Guitar Rag / Jamaica Farewell / Symphony of Dawn / The Last Thing on My Mind / Unchained Melody / Young at Heart

Radio jingles

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pants Yell!: A retrospective

The Pants Yell! fan group on Facebook was called Pants Yell! have changed my life for the better! Let them change yours!

That's the depth of feeling that people had for this quiet, bookish indie pop band from Boston.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia deleted its article on Pants Yell!, claiming that the band failed to meet Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. “Never released an album on a notable label,” the editors said. “Insufficient 3rd party notability.”

That really pissed me off.

For one thing, I consider Slumberland to be a notable label, and so does Wikipedia, because Wikipedia has a long article about Slumberland. (Slumberland released the final Pants Yell! album, Received Pronunciation, in 2009.)

For another thing, as a third party, I consider Pants Yell! to have great third-party notability. In 2009, I said that if Pants Yell! played at NYC Popfest, I’d go. They did, and I went. I traveled from Bloomington, Indiana, to New York to see them. Fans rarely fly across the country to see non-notable bands perform.

I’m glad I went, because I got to see the band play at the Bell House in Brooklyn at one of their last shows before they broke up. I wasn’t thrilled that they played only one old song, and that their hard-rocking performance was more Josef K than Go-Betweens, but I was still happy to be there.

After Pants Yell! broke up, singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Churchman started a new band called CUFFS that has released a handful of recordings. They’re pretty good. 

But I count Pants Yell! among my favorite bands, so here’s my short annotated discography of a great, notable band:

Our Horse Calls (Best Kept Secret, 2003)

The first Pants Yell! album was released on cassette only. It’s a sonogram of Pants Yell! in the womb: a primitive, homespun affair with cheesy keyboards, out-of-tune guitars, and a lot of songs that don’t have choruses.

Songs for Siblings (Asaurus, 2004)

Songs for Siblings shed the coarseness and clatter of Our Horse Calls to sustain the na├»ve, melancholy, and sensitive vibe that I think of as the Pants Yell! sound. The album has some strong songs—it’s a great leap forward from the cassette debut. Contains a re-recording of “Onward, Sailboat” from Our Horse Calls.

(A lot of the Asaurus catalog, by the way, can be downloaded for free on Bandcamp.)

’83 in ’05 EP (Paper Cities, 2005)

The title track apparently updates “’83 in ‘03” from Our Horse Calls500 copies were pressed. I don’t have this record. 

Recent Drama (Asaurus/Paper Cities, 2006)

Recent Drama is the first great Pants Yell! album. This album showed that Pants Yell! could become an object of abiding indie-pop adoration like the Go-Betweens or Felt. Melodically, lyrically, instrumentally, this album delivers. “Your Feelings Don’t Show” is awesome and disproves Robert Forster’s second rule of rock and roll: "The second-last song on every album is the weakest.”

Live in a Living Room EP (2007, Soft Abuse)

Only 60 of these lathe-cut, 4-song EPs were made, and they came with a CD-R of demo recordings, a button, and a poster. The EP includes the song “Southend-on-Sea” from Recent Drama and “The Not-So City Life” from the ’83 in ’05 EP. The CD-R included the band’s version of the Bob Seger song “Still the Same,” which is just weird. I tried to buy this, but it had already sold out.

Alison Statton (Soft Abuse, 2007)

Named after the lead singer of Young Marble Giants and Devine & Statton, Alison Statton is my favorite Pants Yell! album. I can’t even guess how many times I’ve listened to this album.

In a discussion of music and autobiographical memory, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said, “Music has this special ability to get welded with things that happen to us in our lives.” Alison Statton is an album that is welded to me. I listened to it a lot during a tumultuous time, and it was like a friend that I could lean on.

I loved the horns. And the guitars on "Magenta and Green." Some of the songs had a harder edge, which was okay with me in moderation. Great lyrics.   

Received Pronunciation (Slumberland, 2009)

I was so disappointed in this album when it came out, because it didn’t meet my expectations. At the time, I thought it rocked harder than I wanted it to, and I expected the band’s instrumental arrangements to become more elaborate, like Alison Statton did with the horns. Instead, it seemed raw.

Then the band broke up and that was that.

Years later, I played through all of my Pants Yell! albums while I painted my house, and I listened to Received Pronunciation again for the first time in years. It didn’t match my memory of it at all. The album sounds like good ol’ Pants Yell!, and the guitar playing on “Got to Stop" is impressive. Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I bought it.

Stray tracks (that I know of):

“Tram #7 to Heaven” – OAsaurus Records EP Club #10It's a sleepy rendition of the Jens Lekman song and is similar in tone to Lekman’s original.

“B.O.C. Theme,” "Public Gardens," "Still the Same" – On the Asaurus compilation You Already Have Way Too Many CD-Rs.

“When Your Friends Aren’t Looking” – On the Japanese version of Alison Statton and also the Slumberland anthology Slumberland Records: The First 20 Years. A good song that sounds like a demo recording. A nice find for anyone who loves Alison Statton and wants more. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The story of "Ruby Duby Du"

“Ruby Duby Du” was first heard in the 1960 MGM film Key Witness. The version in the film was performed by Charles Wolcott.

Paul Glass, the owner of Chicago’s Chief and USA labels, sensed the song's commercial potential, so he hired some studio musicians to record the tune and released the single under his son’s first and middle names: Tobin Matthews. (First pressings of the record accidentally spelled it "Mathews.")

When the Matthews record began to move—eventually reaching #1 in Chicago—Glass had to scramble to produce a “real” Tobin Matthews who could make personal appearances. He hired Willy Henson, the lead singer of a local group called Willy & the Jeepers, who had been bringing him acetates in an attempt to get a record deal.

Ronnie Lane, a former Jeeper, says that the Jeepers were so popular in Chicago that blues legend Willie Dixon offered to manage them. 

Even though Henson didn’t participate in the recording of “Ruby Duby Du,” he was soon playing gigs with Chuck Berry, Johnny Tillotson, and Tony Orlando to support the record. 

Henson kept "Tobin Matthews" as his stage name and recorded some singles for Chief on which he actually performed. He went on to record for Columbia and Warner Bros. under that name.

Last I heard, Henson lived in Fair Oaks, Indiana. I talked to him years ago, and it seems that no one can remember the names of the hired musicians who actually played on the Matthews version of "Ruby Duby Du." Phil Upchurch was rumored to be the guitarist, but I asked Upchurch about it and he had no memory of the record. 

Charles Wolcott, for his part, was a music director at MGM studios when he recorded “Ruby Duby Du” for Key Witness.

Although Matthews had the higher-charting hit, Wolcott’s record is the original version. Both versions peaked at #27 in Cash Box, but the Bill Gavin Record Report said that Tobin Matthews’ version was selling three to one over the Wolcott soundtrack recording. 

Other covers of "Ruby Duby Du" appeared as well, including versions by the Ted Heath Orchestra, Joanie Sommers, and the Volcanoes. 

Wolcott had previously worked as a musical director at Walt Disney Studios, where he wrote music for films such as Bambi, Song Of The South, and The Three Caballeros. He had a hit in 1944 with “Tico Tico,” which is featured in the 1942 Disney film Saludos Amigos, and he supposedly was responsible for the inclusion of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” in the film Blackboard Jungle.

Here's the Wolcott version of "Ruby Duby Du":

Monday, January 20, 2014

Digiview Productions' generic CDs

For the undiscerning music listener, Digiview Productions created a series of generic, genre-specific collections of instrumental music by anonymous artists in 2005. The series, called the Digimusic Essentials Collection, actually had some credible artists behind it, even though you'd never know it from the bare-bones packaging. 

My coworker Andrew showed me a couple of these Digiview CDs that he bought for 25¢ each at Walgreens. 

The collection titled Pop Rock features energetic guitar-based rock instrumentals such as "Baggy Pants," "Radio Play," and "Blokes." The CD subtitle describes the music as "energetic hard rock rhapsodies," whatever that means.

The collection titled Jazz Combo features small-combo performances with sax, guitar, and piano solos. The subtitle says "cool, effervescent jazz melodies," but that doesn't accurately describe all the music within, some of which swings pretty hard. 

The packaging and information are minimal: A one-sided insert and no composer or artist information anywhere. No label address—only a URL (now dead).

Digiview Productions was a budget label that released mostly cheapo DVDs of films that were in the public domain. Walmart sold Digiview DVDs for a dollar each.

Tons of budget DVD companies sprang up in the 2000s before physical media waned in popularity. Today, many of the public domain films that these companies used to exploit can be streamed for free through Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.

When these budget DVD companies got into the CD business, they usually released either public domain music by known artists (often taken from old radio transcriptions), independent-label recordings by known artists that could be licensed for cheap, or deceptive knockoffs or re-recordings of hit recordings. But this Digiview series isn't an example of any of those. It's just generic music. 

The music on Pop Rock and Jazz Combo is surprisingly well recorded and well played. Because of the lack of composer information, I thought at first that these CDs might contain royalty-free music that Digiview dug up somewhere.

Nope. Some of the compositions are listed on the ASCAP website, and many of them are published by a company called Engine Co. 35 Music, which appears to specialize in movie soundtrack music.

A couple of the tracks on Pop Rock (“Minus 14” and “Home Grown Rock”) were written—and presumably performed—by Paul Masvidal, who played in the bands Cynic and Aeon Spoke. He also composes soundtrack music.

"Wid Em" on Jazz Combo was cowritten by Leslie F. Summerfield, a composer of music that has been used in the television shows Castle and Motion.

Digiview produced at least 24 titles in this series:
  • Big Band
  • Bluegrass
  • Blues
  • Contemporary Latin
  • Country Western
  • Dance Club
  • Dance Through the Decades
  • Dinner Music
  • Film Scores
  • Inspirational
  • Jazz Combo
  • Natural Beauty
  • Piano Expressions
  • Pop R&B
  • Pop Rock
  • Relaxation
  • Rock Unplugged
  • Romance
  • Spa
  • Traditional Latin
  • Wedding
  • Classical Workout
  • Classical Serenity
  • Classical Concentration

In 2008, Warner Bros. sued Digiview over patent infringement. Warner Bros. lost the suit, so that didn't sink Digiview. Something did, though, which shouldn't have come as a surprise, because none of these ultra-budget CD-and-DVD labels thrived in the long term. Simitar Entertainment, one of the more profitable companies of this type, was brought down by a copyright infringement lawsuit. 

I've passed over these kinds of generic budget CDs a million times in the cutout bins and wouldn't have paid even a quarter for one of them, so thanks, Andrew, for letting me skip through these. I was more interested in the series' generic aesthetic than its music, but Andrew said that he listens to the discs occasionally and thinks that—even though he paid only a quarter for each disc—he would have been willing to pay as much as a dollar. Now that's an endorsement!