Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter story, as told by Bearns

The anthology of pioneering New Age duo Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter's Golden Voyage albums comes out on June 3 from Real Gone Music, so I thought I'd share the Bearns and Dexter story as told by Bearns in the rare 1980s CD reissues of their albums. These CDs sell for high prices on the collectors' market, so not many people have had the opportunity to read Bearns's essay. 

(Music Weird previously interviewed Bearns and Dexter's bass player, Ron Sukenick, and an article about this anthology appears in LA Weekly.)

Bearns's New Age prose poetry in this piece is wonderfully hyperbolic if a bit repetitive. Bearns, in addition to providing brief and questionable biographies of Dexter and himself, energetically promotes New Age music. He says, "We need to embrace this new form by expanding it and calling forth the emanating light of enjoyment that allows the armature of this magnificent harmonic structure to wing free and unfold the magnificence...." 

If you enjoyed that quotation, then read on, because there's more where that came from. The essay also includes the full text of Bearns's poem "Emotion" from his book The Awakening Electromagnetic Spectrum, although the line breaks are different. All six of the Golden Voyage CDs had the same liner notes, and here they are, verbatim, with all of the odd capitalization and punctuation intact: 

Created by the writing and composing team of

Fly the Crystal Carousel through a Temple Garden, while a tapestry of delicately-woven melodies aloft you into the Quasars. 

is an adventure . . . a journey . . . a discovery . . .
a now experience, where time stands still!

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Experience is a gift, extended out of a lifetime of the creative endeavors of Bearns and Dexter. Both shared an adventurous quest, beckoning them forward to journey into the unknown . . . to discover the Light emanating from within the Garden of Enchantment. 

Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter are recognized as two of the world's leading pioneers of New Age music in the contemporary marketplace for their GOLDEN VOYAGE Music Series. But what is New Age music? It's a feeling, a heralding of celestial harmonic structure. It's the quantum leap crossing over the rainbow bridge, awakening an all new fourth dimensional horizon. It's that wonderful emotional feeling of oneness, peace, and serenity with our inner voice . . . the voice of spiritual dimensional belief, stimulating the listener to a higher creative potential. It's love in cosmic action. 

Bearns and Dexter are spiritually aware of the quantum leap necessary in fathoming a harmonic structure uncontaminated and timeless, presenting originality to their listeners. Timeless music levitates the listener as the Mona Lisa does the observer. 


a 21st Century renaissance man, has achieved worldwide recognition as a philosopher, poet, artist, entertainer, and creative musical sound engineer. A California native, Robert graduated from Chiounard Art Institute, and then decided to pursue a musical theatrical career. This path led to great success with two Broadway shows, a contract with Desilu Studios, a worldwide singing tour with Johnny Mathis, and numerous guest appearances on television and radio, concert tours, and the night club circuit. 

Robert . . . reached out to touch the golden ring . . . on a carousel of cosmic encounters. As a flower child through the years 1967–68–69, Robert, an Aquarian, experienced a spiritual awakening that catapulted him into 21st Century New Age enlightenment, flowing forth THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Music Series with his writing and composing partner Ron Dexter, who was also beamed aboard at the same time. Robert, the storyteller of timeless dreams, has authored the beautifully illustrated book "The Awakening Electromagnetic Spectrum," meaning the awakening light, which has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Contemporary Verse and Poetry. Robert is chairman of Awakening Productions, Inc., producer of THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Music Series. 


"Music, more so than ever before, plays a dramatic role in our lives. Worldwide we hear our contemporary composers awakening the seed of understanding, love's oneness . . . the truth hides not from those who seek its awareness. A universal voice beckons, needing to be properly collaged and sifted . . . a forward road held open, not only to the young." 


Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter are compelling and dynamic 21st Century visionary composers of the New Age, trailblazing new frontiers, expanding celestial harmonic horizons. Bearns and Dexter are innovative. Their GOLDEN VOYAGE Music Series hallmarks creative originality, featuring a symphonic ballet of natural environmental sounds, beautifully orchestrated and arranged through a tapestry of timeless compositions. A classic in concept, arrangement, and engineering. 

For many years, Robert and Ron traveled around the world, exploring, probing, searching. Through their travels, they discovered the Lost Chord . . . the vital link of communication between all peoples, regardless of age, race, color, or creed. They discovered that the key to that communication was the voice of love and sincerity in universal music. From that moment on, Robert and Ron focused all their creative energies and attention on creating a universal, spiritual dimension so that everyone could participate in this communication. The vehicle they chose to fly upon was music, which gained worldwide recognition as THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Experience. 


"Any set of good musicians can play the
composition but that's not where it's at. 
The emotion is the ingredient that
cannot be written down.
It's the unheard smile or laugh, 
sung by one face unto the other,
at the very moment of excitement.
Acceleration of love in the brotherhood
of achievement
that sings aloud . . . never seen
only felt by the listener, 
that which gives us truth of the
spontaneity of the moment of creation."*



When you discover your timeless space within the harmonic structure, not only will you be a GOLDEN VOYAGER, homeward bound, you will also truly understand the raptures created just for you. 

New Age music is timeless music which has its longevity from within the listener. We need to embrace this new form by expanding it and calling forth the emanating light of enjoyment that allows the armature of this magnificent harmonic structure to wing free and unfold the magnificence, the pure form, leaving this interpretation of wonderment to the beholder. 

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Experience . . . a brighter vision of the here and now. Energy in Rhythm . . . Rhythm into Light. 


a Libra, is a visionary composer of the New Age, born with the gift of music and adventure. Gifted by the masters, he was guided through a well-foundationed musical experience, including years of study at Carnegie Hall, etc., appearances in seven Broadway shows and numerous television specials, and extensive night club circuit and concert tours. Ron is recognized as a shining light in celestial harmonics . . . with the ability to fathom the range of orchestral sounds and the boundless world within the digitalized, synthesized spectrum knowing that the wonders to behold in music—in this our time—are Pure Light. He offers the listener, as a composer and arranger, a joyous freedom, a tapestry of harmonic simplicity and timeless enchantment. 

Ron Dexter's contributions have been received with heartfelt appreciation by such artists as Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, and David Rose. The honor of two Presidential appearances at the White House have been bestowed upon him by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His collaboration with writing and composing partner Robert Bearns has proven to be a marvelous New Age adventure, unfolding a timeless discovery, this united energy resulting in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Experience. 


Time is but a fleeting moment winged upon the breath. 
Behold the wonders of Shangri La, the flowering forth of
the Light Body . . . the timeless traveler. 

Millions throughout the world are listening to THE GOLDEN VOYAGE Experience. Robert and Ron highly recommend, whenever possible, the intimacy of headphones for their listeners, a fulcrum balancing between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which can yield forth an isotonic, altered state of ecstasy, allowing THE GOLDEN VOYAGER to experience through the past, present, and future, becoming one with the avant-garde renaissance of one's own experience, a 21st Century adventurer. Reach out. Expand your library of creative endeavors. THE GOLDEN VOYAGE offers you, the listener, a loving kindness, knowing that you should always be the pilot of your own dimensional lightship. The key to music is ours to turn, jus as love is ours to embrace. He who seeks the golden ring must reach for it. 

Music is expanding worldwide to fill a need, a channel for expression, providing access to new experiences, removing stress, tension, and hypertension from a world's nervous system confronted with the daily shock of burnout. Robert and Ron believe that mankind is now awakening out of a metaphoric dream of bewilderment, into a spiritual union of universal oneness, a heralding of untold creative opportunities, a 21st Century celebration of the festival of Light, welcoming the children of the world to a brighter vision of the here and now. Let the music live with the children of the world. 

Even the leaves upon a tree can by lullabied by the wind, but to hear them singing . . . now that's another story for another time. 

Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miniskirt: An interview with Edgar Franz

Miniskirt might be the only German-Japanese indiepop band in existence. 
German singer/songwriter/guitarist Edgar Franz moved to Japan to study and formed Miniskirt with mostly Japanese bandmates. 

Miniskirt's sound is heavily influenced by '80s British guitar pop, but Franz's lyrics are filled with unexpected detours. For example, in the song "Be Here with Me," I always laugh when he interrupts his narrative with a list of all the possible beverages that can be shared during a visit:

The band's first—and, so far, only—album, Woody Allen Likes Guitar Pop, came out on the German label Marsh-Marigold in 2003. It was reissued in Taiwan on White Wabbit Records with a bonus track in 2005. The band has also contributed a number of songs to compilations. (Their website has a complete discography).

For a long time, it seemed as if Miniskirt would be another one of those bands that releases one great record and then disappears. For years, the Miniskirt and Marsh-Marigold websites said that a follow-up album, titled Audrey Hepburn Kiss Me Kiss Me, was "coming soon," but time passed and it never appeared. 

I contacted Franz to find out what happened to the second album and what Miniskirt is up to today. The interview is from May 21, 2014. 

Marsh-Marigold said for years that Audrey Hepburn Kiss Me Kiss Me was "coming soon."

Yes, it took a while! But now it’s definite. The album will be out in September, and it will be released along with new albums by Alaska and Knabenkraut! Hooray!

Did you write all of the songs for the first album in Japan, or did you start working on it when you were still in Germany? 

I started to write the songs for the first album when I was in Japan.

What's the current lineup of Miniskirt?

There are seven members:

Mai: synthesizer. Sachiko: flute, accordion, vocals. Makiko: bass. Kenmi: drums. Fujihira-san: guitar. Taisuke: guitar. And
Edgar: vocals, guitar. 

Mai, Makiko, and Taisuke were not on the first album. 


Has Miniskirt been playing live lately?

The latest show we played was on 2 November 2013 in Tokyo, together with Sloppy Joe and Poster Boy [Firestation Records] from Hungary. On that day we played with six band members. 

What kind of reception do you get in Japan? 

In Japan we get a friendly reception from the indiepop community. We were always lucky to perform at good events together with bands that we liked. Our next show is on August 2nd in Saitama, and again in October in Kyoto. 

Has J-Pop had any influence on Miniskirt? 

On the first album, there was no influence of J-Pop, as we were just listening to British guitar-pop bands at that time. 
After, I started to listen to Japanese Future Pop bands like Aprils and EeL, with whom we also played some shows together, Mai joined the band to add some synthesizer to our sound. Therefore, the inclusion of a synthesizer is the only J-Pop influence, although Mai herself prefers to listen to Stereolab. 

When Sachiko is singing on some songs, her Japanese accent makes them sound as much Japanese as German because of my voice. 

Do you think you'll ever write a song in Japanese?

Never say never. Yes, I plan to write lyrics in Japanese.

Can you tell us more about the new album and when it will be out? 

No further delays. It will be out in September. It’s a great album. Everyone on planet Earth should own a copy. It’s pure guitar pop. Two songs are in German, the other 10 songs in English. The lyrics are full of references to personalities that we cherish, like John Wayne, Tintin, and the Smiths. The cover design is by the legendary Jad Fair. 

Are any of the members of Miniskirt active in other bands? 

At the moment everyone is just playing with Miniskirt! 

What else are you doing these days? You wrote a book on Philipp Franz von Siebold—are you working on another book? 

In the last few years I have continued my research on the history of German-Japanese relations and published several essays in Japanese university journals. 

In cooperation with a Japanese colleague, I have translated two books on German history from German to Japanese. Currently, I am working on a film script. In summer I will attend a workshop in high-def filmmaking given by the New York Film Academy. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What are the lyrics to "Hallelujah Anyhow"?

I've noticed that people sometimes come to this website when searching for the lyrics to the hymn "Hallelujah Anyhow." Finding the lyrics to this particular song is a challenge, but the mysteries surrounding the hymn are deeper than that. For me, the story of this hymn has local interest as well, because it starts in Indiana, where I live. 

If you search for the lyrics of "Hallelujah Anyhow," you'll get too many results and too much contradictory information. Why? For two reasons:

  1. "Hallelujah anyhow" has become a common expression that people say to express abiding faith when things go wrong. 
  2. Many songs use the title "Hallelujah Anyhow," and all of the songs have different lyrics. 
That's right, there's not a hymn called "Hallelujah Anyhow"—there are many hymns called "Hallelujah Anyhow." I searched the databases of three major song publishers—BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC—and found 22 songs with that title. That number doesn't include songs that include "hallelujah anyhow" as only a part of the title. 

A further complication is that many of these songs are very similar and yet are copyrighted by different composers. This situation often occurs with songs that are based on a traditional song that is in the public domain. 

The 2007 book "Mek Some Noise": Gospel Music and the Ethics of Style in Trinidad, by Timothy Rommen, talks about a song called "Hallelujah Anyhow" that people sing in Trinidad, the chorus of which is "never, ever let life's troubles get you down. When life troubles pass your way, lift your head up high and say, 'Hallelujah anyhow.'" This reference suggests that the song is traditional.

I don't think it's a traditional song, though. Many of Rommen's field notes are from around 2000, which was many years after this song was first published and recorded. 

The first published version of the song is by Ruth Munsey. An image of the original sheet music appears above. Munsey was the mother of Steve Munsey, the pastor of the Family Christian Center in Munster, Indiana, who can sometimes be seen on TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Ruth Munsey published this song in 1970 and it was originally recorded by The Hemphills for their 1970 album Old Brush Arbor Days

The first line of the song is "When you're in the valley dark and low," and the chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow. I'll never let my troubles get me down. Whatever problems life may bring, I'll lift my head up high and sing, 'Hallelujah anyhow.'"

Not only is Munsey's composition the first published version of the song, but it also contains the earliest use of the phrase "hallelujah anyhow" that I've been able to find anywhere. On Google Books, I find no example of this phrase that predates 1970. 

This suggests to me that Munsey wrote an original song and that subsequent composers adapted it, perhaps thinking that it was traditional, and perhaps sometimes coming too close for comfort from a copyright standpoint. 

Another very popular—but very different—version of "Hallelujah Anyhow" is by Minister Thomas A. Whitfield, who wrote a song by that title and included it on his album of the same name. This album charted on Billboard's Top Spiritual Albums chart in 1985. Whitfield's song uses the phrase "hallelujah anyhow" but is otherwise unlike Munsey's song. 

Below is an incomplete survey of songs that are either based on Munsey's "Hallelujah Anyhow" or incorporate the phrase "hallelujah anyhow." Good luck with finding the version that you're looking for. 

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Ruth Munsey

Munsey herself appeared on an album that included this recording. The album, titled An Unfinished Task, was released on the Sounds of Pentecost Recordings label of Hammond, Indiana. The Good, Bad & Ugly Gospel Record Barn blog did a post on it with sound clips from the album, including "Hallelujah Anyhow." 

A tweet by Ruth's son, Phil Munsey, on the anniversary of "Hallelujah Anyhow"

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Minister Thomas A. Whitfield

The lyrics are mostly "hallelujah anyhow" over and over. This album was a hit on the Billboard Top Spiritual Albums chart in 1985. 

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Joe Pace

The chorus is "no matter what comes my way, I'll lift my voice and say 'hallelujah anyhow.'" 

You can find the full lyrics here.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Jonathan Howard 

The chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow, never let your troubles get you down. When trials come your way, hold your head high and say 'hallelujah anyhow.'"

You can find the full lyrics here. And here is a sample of a recording by the Miami Mass Choir.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Pastor Ronald Williams

The chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow, never never let life's problems get you down." Hear a sample here.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Milton Biggham

The chorus is "when Satan blocks your way, stand right up and say 'Hallelujah anyhow.'" Most of the song repeats the chorus over and over. 

Here's a great performance of it by Rev. Clay Evans:

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Herman A. Dade

The chorus is "something about that phrase, 'hallelujah anyhow.'"

You can hear a clip of Kenton Rogers's recording of this song here

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Ronny Hinson

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Rev. Raymond Wise

The chorus is "won't you lift your voice and say 'hallelujah anyhow.'" You can hear a clip here

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Chris Byrd

The chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow, never let your problems get you down, if problems come your way, hold your head up high and say 'hallelujah anyhow." 

Here's a clip of a recording by Steve Middleton.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Vicki Farrie

The chorus repeats the phrase "hallelujah anyhow." 

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Gina Taylor

The title track of her 2013 album. The chorus is "I've learned to say 'hallelujah anyhow.'" Hear a clip here

Friday, May 23, 2014

Men in Fur: A retrospective and interview with Jayme Guokas

Men in Fur is one of those one-album wonders that I like to write about, like Sweet Sweet Concorde and Gigi. Its creators considered Men in Fur to be a joke band, but I think that the sole Men in Fur album is a minor twee-pop classic. All of the songs are about animals and feature strummy guitars and cheesy drum machine beats. You can't go wrong with that formula. I especially like "The Deer Song."

The band was a side project of Jayme Guokas and Frank Jordan, who played (and play) in many other bands: Jordan in the Bright Lights, Snow Fairies, and Boyracer, and Guokas in Glitter, Ex Friends, Snow Fairies, Rabbit in Red, etc. 

Guokas took some time out during his current tour with Ex Friends to reminisce about Men in Fur. Music Weird interviewed Guokas on May 20, 2014. 

How did the Men in Fur album come about, and how did it end up being released on Happy Happy Birthday to Me (HHBTM) Records?

Men in Fur was a joke band I started with my friend Frank Jordan of the Bright Lights and then ended up writing a bunch of songs that were actually pretty good. Frank moved, but I spent a winter in my basement making that album. 

It was a dreary winter, and I had a shitty job at Barnes and Noble alphabetizing books, so all my energy went into recording. I was sort of hibernating in my basement, going to work, and then coming home and recording obsessively. 

It got a lot weirder than I imagined. I ended up taking the tape machine to a church with a vaulted stone ceiling to record the 12-string guitar, because of the great reverb there. I had sent a demo tape to Mike HHBTM and he agreed to put out the album based on some demo recordings.

The album had a concept and maybe even a philosophy behind it. Can you describe that?

The original concept behind the band was to write songs about animals. But then time travel got involved, and this story formed about returning to an age of innocence, when people lived closer to nature. So these silly animal songs started to include parables like the Peaceable Kingdom, and raised existential questions about our essential relationship to animals and to the natural world. 

There are these references to a more evolved human being ["The Messenger"] that beckons us from the future to live simpler and more humane lives. I thought of the music as primitive new wave, synthesizing drum machines with more acoustic instruments, with a more organic approach to technology.

What's the cover photo from?

I wanted an evocative black and white photo, and my friend Dan had this vintage 1930s picture of a German dude with his pet rabbit sitting on his mantle. It was perfect: a man petting his rabbit with driving gloves.

Can you talk about writing the songs and recording the album? Who all played on it?

Frank wrote "The Tiger" song and "Rabbits in the Springtime," which was inspired by Watership Down. Eric Van Osten, who is in Glitter with me now, wrote "The Salmon Song" and sang on a few others. I wrote the rest. 

Some of the Snow Fairies sang on various songs: Rose on "The Shepherd Song," Melissa on "The Birds and the Bees." I had a lot of fun making that record.

How many times did you play live as Men in Fur? 

Our first show was at Bryn Mawr College with fur costumes. Then, a half dozen shows in Philadelphia, and one in DC. And, we played at the HHBTM Popfest in Athens.

Have you thought about doing more Men in Fur recordings?

Nah, it was a concept album that stands on its own.



Men in Fur (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM061, 2004)

  • The Messenger / Elisa / The Birds and the Bees / The Lonely Bear / Sister Moon / The Shepherd Song / Sam the Salmon / The Tiger Song / The Deer Song / The Monkey Song / The Snake Song / Rabbits in the Springtime / The Messenger (Reprise)

Compilation appearances

The Way Things Change Vol. 3 (Red Square RSQ05, 2001)
  • Various artists. Includes "Set Them Free" by Men in Fur.

Invited to Dinner (Red Square RSQ08, 2002)
  • Various artists. Includes "Theme Song" by Men in Fur.

No Parachute: A Compilation of Indie Music Videos Volume 1 (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM066, 2005)
  • The title music of this video compilation is a Men in Fur instrumental, "Mr. Bear Takes a Walk."

Happy Happy Birthday to Me Vol. 4 (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM088, 2007)
  • Various artists. Includes "A Rainy Day" by Men in Fur. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NRC Records: An interview with Johnny Carter

Johnny Carter, the current owner of National Recording Corporation (NRC), says that he became a "collector of all things connected with NRC at age 11." 

NRC was an Atlanta record label that began in 1958 and released records by then-unknown artists who went on to much greater fame: Jerry Reed, Ray Stevens, Joe South, Sonny James, David Houston, Johnny Sea(y), Dave Dudley, etc. 

The label had some hits, most notably Tony Bellus's "Robbin' the Cradle." And it recorded some new music from established artists, most notably the 1959 album Crying in the Chapel by Darrell Glenn. I say "most notably" in the latter case because Crying in the Chapel is one of my all-time favorite albums, so it's notable to me. It's a mixture of inspirational pop songs and traditional spirituals with rich vocal-group arrangements and instrumental accompaniment that sounds like a glockenspiel. The song "Crying in the Chapel" was a big hit for Glenn in 1953, but the NRC album contains a re-recording. 

Carter was an NRC superfan before the word "superfan" had been coined. When Carter released some recordings of his own under the name Johnny Jay in the mid '60s, the singles came out on the Cherokeeland Record Company label, the logo of which imitated the design of the NRC logo. Carter even had the singles pressed at the original NRC pressing plant. (The blog Artyfacts in Wax has a great post on Carter's Johnny Jay recordings.) 

Johnny Carter, AKA Johnny Jay

The NRC label went bankrupt in the early '60s, but the NRC pressing plant continued to operate until 1970. In 2004, Carter managed to acquire the label that had fascinated him so much as a kid. He not only reissued much of the original NRC catalog but also released new music under the NRC imprint, including new recordings by NRC stalwart Tony Bellus.

Music Weird talked to Johnny Carter about NRC and his other activities on May 20, 2014.

You have an entertainment empire going with your studio and record labels. Can you give us an overview of everything you do? 

National Recording Corporation is a full-service audio/visual company. We do custom production as well as in-house production in a number of genres. We have in-house graphic design, CD and DVD duplication, assembly, and packaging. 

Our studio is approximately 1,200 square feet, not counting the control room or isolation booth. A separate room houses audio mastering and digital video editing. NRC licenses masters to a number of companies, who release the NRC and affiliated labels: Judd, Wonder, Sho-Biz, Jax, and Scottie. And our music is available on compact disc as well as iTunes and streaming.

You went to some lengths to acquire the NRC catalog. What happened to the NRC master tapes, and have any turned up since you acquired the label?

When the original president, Bill Lowery, knew the original 1958 company was going bankrupt [April 27, 1961], he offered a number of NRC artists their master tapes in return for signing a release freeing NRC from any responsibility for future royalties. 
Some of those artists have placed those masters in my hands. A fire supposedly destroyed many of the original masters, but the fact was that many of the masters were in the hands of the artists. 

The company was bought out of receivership in 1962 by Frederick Storey, who had convinced the bankruptcy court to allow him to loan NRC $38,000. The fire destroyed the studio, and the company moved and operated as a record pressing plant until about 1970, when it was closed. 

Storey's daughters, his only heirs, inherited their father's intellectual property rights, which were purchased by myself in 2004. There had been some lease deals from NRC to budget-album labels. One of those those, Crown, was later bought by a British firm, who acknowledged my ownership of the library, and furnished their masters for my use.

What experiences have you had with reissuing the NRC catalog?

The help I received from worldwide collectors in re-creating the library was the biggest surprise. 

When it became known that I owned the library, a number of collectors from all over the world lent their mint-condition records, which we digitized, and began to make the music available again after a forty-year absence. Collectors from France and Germany visit from time to time.

Bibletone is another old label that you acquired. What is the story with that, and are you still releasing music on Bibletone?

Bibletone is the oldest [1942] gospel-music label name. The original Bibletone company closed as a result of an accident at their pressing plant. I acquired the name in the '60s and started acquiring rights from the individual artists, since most of the artists had furnished Bibletone with their masters. One of gospel music's enduring groups, the Rebels, made their first Bibletone recordings in 1950 and their latest in 2012.

You did a new single with Tony Bellus in 2008. Can you talk about that?

NRC has released two singles on Tony Bellus, who is still writing and singing great songs. 

The 2008 release was a CD single called "Won't You Hang Up 'n' Drive?

And in 2013, Tony did a Christmas CD single called "I Want Florida for Christmas." He still has many fans who remember "Robbin' The Cradle."

What are your plans for NRC? 

We still sell our products in CD and DVD at, and people get our music from iTunes, YouTube, and streaming. We will continue to record new music in our studio, and have plans to do more licensing as we acquire the rights to other labels.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The music of Terry Lester: An interview with Danny Pelfrey

Did you know that actor Terry Lester, the popular heartthrob of 1980s and '90s daytime soap operas, moonlighted as a composer? 

I was familiar with Lester from his starring role in the 1970s post-apocalyptic children's show Ark II, which was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. In the photo above, Lester is the tall blond guy wearing the jetpack. 

Ark II was about a band of scientists and a talking chimp who drive around the post-apocalyptic wasteland in a futuristic RV and have weird experiences, kind of like an earthbound version of the original Star Trek. The show incorporated an actual, working jetpack.  

I wasn't plugged in to the world of daytime television back then (or ever), so I didn't know that Lester went on to much greater fame in soap operas. In the 1980s he played the womanizing Jack Abbott in The Young and the Restless and Mason Capwell on Santa Barbara, and in the 1990s he played Royce Keller in As the World Turns

Lester was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, about an hour away from me. He died from a heart attack in 2003. 

Terry Lester

Lester was not only a successful actor but also an accomplished musician. His bio on Internet Movie Database says that he first found work in Hollywood with his singing and piano playing, but his musical endeavors aren't well known, apart from his appearance in the notorious KISS television movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

However, Lester also collaborated on some television and film music with Danny Pelfrey, the Emmy-nominated composer and musician. If you ever watch television or movies, then you've heard Pelfrey's music. (Check out Pelfrey's website to read about his many credits, awards, and other achievements.)

Pelfrey, Lester, and Rick Rhodes worked together on 25 or so instrumental compositions. I asked Danny to remember what he could about working with Lester and about the music they co-wrote, and he kindly obliged. 

Music Weird interviewed Danny Pelfrey on May 8, 2014. 

Do you know anything about any musical experience Terry had before you worked with him? 

No, sorry. I don't have any information on this at at all.

How did you end up collaborating with him?

Through Rick Rhodes. Rick and I were partners for quite a while, and I think Rick knew him from the soap opera world somehow, but I'm not sure about the details. Rick wanted to bring him in on some stuff we were doing at the time.

Rick Rhodes

What was it like to work with Lester? What was his contribution? And how did he rate as a musician?

On the pieces he contributed, he basically wrote tunes and Rick and I finished them, as I don't think Terry had the technology for production. 

I didn't know him at all, so when Rick said he had an actor friend that he wanted to bring in on something, I was skeptical, to say the least. However, his contribution indicated he was a fine musician, and he gave us excellent material. I wish I could have gotten to know him better, but our paths did not cross that much on a personal level.

Where did you compose? What was your process?

He wrote his part at his place, then gave it to us. We did our parts and final production at my studio, and I mixed and engineered. I can't remember how he got it to us. It could have been a MIDI sketch.

You said that Rick and Terry knew each other from working on soap operas?

I think Rick and Terry knew each other from soaps, yes. Likely Santa Barbara.

A number of the pieces you wrote together, like "Bahamian Party" and "Caribbean," have an island theme. They're included on an album called Caribbean–Volume 1 on, but was this a commercially released album?

The music was for a Caribbean-themed release for Killer Tracks, intended for use in TV and film. It was not a commercial release in the traditional sense.

Did you work with Terry on any music that wasn't for television or film?

No. Only on the material I did with him and Rick Rhodes, which was for Killer Tracks, and maybe FirstCom.

Of the music that you composed with Terry, what was the most successful, artistically or commercially?

Well, I liked them all! I can't say which ones did the best without some research, but I would say they all did well.

Do you know if any of this music is being used or has been used recently?

No, I would have to investigate that. However, I can say that all of my music from that period continues to get used and does well.

What are you working on now?

I have my own production music catalog called Amusicom. We are in distribution in several territories around the world as well as domestically. I am actively writing and producing for that. Also, I am working on an independent animated film as well as a concert piece for 2015. And I'm also playing music locally in the central coast area in California were I live now. 

Danny Pelfrey

Terry Lester's compositions

From the BMI website. You can listen to some of these compositions here.

  • "4 Stories" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Another World" – Background cues (Lester/Chieli Minucci/Rhodes)
  • "As the World Turns" – Background cues (Lester)
  • "Bahamian Party" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Breeze" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Caribbean" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Csonka Outdoors" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Dr. G Medical Examiner" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Farming from the Heart" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Ghosts" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Government Secrets" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rick Rothstein)
  • "Heavenly" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Historic Homes of" – Background cues (Lester)
  • "Homes of Frank Lloyd W" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Hot Nights" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Incurable Collector" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Jamaica Celebrity Sports" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Kingston Bound" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "KTHV News at 10:00 PM" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Lesson in Life" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Life and Style" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Montego Mai Tai" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Nealy" (Lester)
  • "Outer Regions" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Proud Prado" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Soft Kisses" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Soleil" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Starlight in Brazil" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "When Nothing Matters" (Lester)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Music Weird interviews Chris and Lorin Rowan of the Rowans

Peter Rowan will perform at the John Hartford Memorial Festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana, at the end of the month (May 29-31), so I thought it would be a good time to post my interview with Chris and Lorin Rowan, who recorded with Peter as "The Rowans" in the 1970s.

I worked on two Rowans CDs for Collectors' Choice Music: a reissue of their debut album, The Rowans (1975), and a twofer that contained their second and third albums, Sibling Rivalry (1976) and Jubilation (1977). I interviewed Chris and Lorin for the reissue of The Rowans.

Before the Rowans' debut album, Chris and Lorin had recorded one album for Columbia/CBS as the Rowan Brothers (1972).

My interview with Lorin and Chris Rowan took place in 2002.

Talk about what you did before The Rowans.

Chris: Greg, in 1970, mandolin player David Grisman and music agent Richard Loren [The Doors, etc.] asked me and my brother Lorin if we ever thought of doing something professional together. We got together, exchanged songs, and started working together, and got signed to CBS Records a year later. 

Around 1973 our brother Peter had been playing with a group called Seatrain and decided to go out on his own. The three of us came together in Stinson Beach, California, and got signed to Asylum Records by Davia Geffen, which resulted in The Rowans. Before all this, I had a rock band in Boston called the Ziet and later pursued a singer-songwriter career, which took me to England, where I hoped to get involved with the Beatles's record company, Apple. But that's another story.

What's different about being in a family band?

Chris: I think the difference or dynamics between a family band and a band of mutual interests is that in a family band, not only did we grow up together and share our space with mom an dad, but we share memories of childhood and endless stories of sibling interaction—the good, the bad, and the ugly. As to a non-family band, where creative endeavors can be as great or greater, there isn't that primal family connection.

Why the name change from "The Rowan Brothers" to "The Rowans"?

Lorin: To differentiate from Chris and my first record, as a duo, before Peter's involvement. 

ChrisWhat sets The Rowans album apart from the CBS Record and Sibling Rivalry was that it was our first record of the three of us and our three-part harmony.

How did your move from Columbia/CBS to Asylum happen?

LorinClive Davis signed me and Chris to Columbia—with David Grisman producing, using the pseudo-name "David Diadem"—but after our first record, Clive was fired for some alledged scandal involving misuse of company funds for personal use. Not sure about the truth of these accusations, so don't quote me on the reasons he was relieved, but it was big news at the time. 

Billboard, 1973

Previous to signing with Columbia, we had been offered a deal by David Geffen for his new label at the time, Asylum, but Clive then heard us, and after a bidding war, we signed with Columbia. However, after Clive's release from Columbia, our rapport with Columbia suffered to the point of discontent, and we got out of our deal with them.

By this time, Peter was out in northern California where Chris and I were, and we decided to become a brother trio act, a lifelong dream of ours. We went back to Geffen, and without playing a note, he offered to sign us on the spot as the three brothers, hence the name change to "The Rowans."

On the cover, Lorin, you're credited with playing the "ganja boom boom."

Lorin: "Ganja boom boom" was a nickname we came up with in the studio with Richie Podolor as we added my dumbek drum to a track. The name also reflected a bit of humor we were experiencing—kind of a cosmic joke involving the Arabian roots of the drum and the psychotropic influences from that part of the world showing up on the new West Coast horticulture scene on the rise at that time.

The band you used on The Rowans included David Hayes, Russ Kunkel, and Jack Bonus. You had played on Jack Bonus' 1972 album, Russ Kunkel is a well-known session drummer, and David Hayes was Van Morrison's bassist and band leader. How did you hook up with these guys, and did they tour with you?

Lorin: Originally, we met David Grisman through brother Peter in Boston where we grew up. They formed Earth Opera together in late '60s. After they broke up, Grisman, as a producer, started to make a compilation record called Record, featuring several performers that he had an interest in producing, including Jack Bonus, Chris Rowan, Maria Muldaur, among others. This record never was released, but it did inspire Grisman to further pursue producing. He thought Chris and I should join up as a duo act and would have a greater chance at the big time if we did so. Peter was in Seatrain at this time.

By the fall of '70, we all decided to move to Marin County where Grisman had a musical frienship with Jerry Garcia. Jack Bonus was part of this, too. David was going to produce Chris and I, as well as Jack, and find us each our own record deal. So, we got to know Jack very well and loved his playing. He finally made his own record, although without Grisman producing, but we did sing on it. Richie Podolor suggested Russ Kunkel on our request for a top-notch drummer. David Hayes we had playing with us up in Northern California where we all lived, but we didn't have a drummer at the time. Locally, in the SF Bay area, Hayes and Bonus did play with us regionally, but not on national tour.

Any comments about the songs your wrote for The Rowans?

Lorin: "Take It" ["Take It as It Comes"] was a response to perservering in the up-and-down world of the music business, not giving up as things didn't go the way you planned.

Chris"Me Loving You" is the hope that we can make it through our challenges together and stay true to our higher self. "Man-Woman" represents the chi/prana energy in a spiritual connection of the human cycle on Earth between the sexes. "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" is my personal and narrative belief that, through life's journey, in the end it's my choice of how I accept this experience on the physical plane.

"Take It as It Comes" b/w "Thunder on the Mountain" was one of the two singles released from the album. I don't have this 45, but I'm assuming that "Take It as It Comes" was the A-side. It didn't make the charts, but did you have any regional or international success with the single? How did the album do overall, from a commercial standpoint?

Lorin: The single didn't do anything for us. In fact, the only one that did is a song of Chris's, "If I Only Could," from the next album, Sibling Rivalry, that followed this one. From a commercial standpoint, the album did mediocre. There was no hit single to kick it into the charts. However, we did tour, especially East Coast, and established a fan base. 

By the way, we've never even seen a royalty statement by the record company, so I don't really know how many sales there were.

I remember that "Here Today" won some radio airplay, like a whose-song-do-you-like-the-best contest. At least that's what the record company told us, but I don't think we ever saw any chart action.

The album notes show that you had some interest in Tibetan mysticism. 

ChrisPeter is the one who's into Tibetism. As far as I know, this didn't create a cult following that the Rowans are Tibetan mystics.

Any anecdotes or interesting stories about the recording of the album, the photo shoot for the cover, or working with Richard Podolor and Asylum?

Lorin: Richie Podolor and his engineer Bill Cooper were really professional to work with. Richie had his own studio, American Recording, in Studio City, Los Angeles, where we worked. He was and is actually an exceptional guitarist  He played most of the stuff you hear on Three Dog Night hits that he produced.

When we took a dinner break, we would go to a good Chinese restaurant and we all would order Mai Tais. A phrase we made up and sung was "My tie is your Tai." We had some laughs.

As producer, he and us picked through our material for the album, and we all thought we had something great when we were finished. I think we slipped through the marketing cracks of the record company. They didn't hear the single, and without that, they basically weren't into promoting that album. Too bad! 

Having Geffen sign us without even playing was pretty cool. He said, "What do you guys want to do?" We said, "Make the best successful records possible. Do you want to hear a few tunes?" and he said, "I know what you sound like. I don't need to hear it. Go to it!"

A well-known photographer, Norman Seef, took the cover shots. It was very L.A., with fans blowing our hair while we sipped wine and joked around, posing this way and that. Richie also allowed us some free time to make a Christmas singing tape to send our mother back in Boston. We spent a whole day recording a bunch of little tunes with some fun vocals and guitars and some Christmas stuff.

Laughing a lot when we went out to eat with our producer, Richie Podolor. And maybe breathing helium if there was a high note that I or the others couldn't reach. It turned more into imitating the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.