Monday, June 30, 2014

Why didn't Roy Rogers and John Wayne serve in World War II?

Milwaukee Journal, March 14, 1945

Why didn't singing cowboy Roy Rogers serve in World War 2? Or John Wayne, for that matter?

Rogers and Wayne "are forever tainted with the stigma of opting out[,] unlike so many of their contemporaries from the Hollywood community who put country first before family [and] career," Bruce Hickey wrote. Seventy years later, people still have heated opinions about it. Wayne's lack of service has been written about more extensively than Rogers', but both are perennial topics of speculation, justification, and scorn.

A notable contemporary among the actors who enlisted was Gene Autry, who—like Rogers and Wayne—was a Western star under contact to Republic Pictures. Autry was four years older than Rogers and the same age as Wayne.

Autry in the service, still singing

Autry, in a WWII-era interview that is quoted in Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson's book Country Music Goes to War, said:
I think the He-men in the movies belong in the Army, Marine, Navy or Air Corps.  All of these He-men in the movies realize that right now is the time to get into the service. Every movie cowboy ought to devote time to the Army winning, or to helping win, until the war is over—the same as with any other American Citizen. The Army needs all the young men it can get, and if I can set a good example for the young men, I'll be mighty proud.
Roy Rogers, the book says, "received a deferment because of his children," and John Wayne received a deferment thanks to Republic Pictures' efforts, which were driven in part by the studio's unhappiness over losing Autry to the service. 

Roy Rogers

Robert W. Phillips' book Roy Rogers: A Biography... tells a slightly different story. It says that Rogers was classified 1-A, which made him eligible for the draft, but his classification soon changed to 3-A because of his age.

The change in the maximum age limit is also mentioned by Adam Lounsbery, who wrote:
A lot of men were drafted during World War II. Roy Rogers was one of them. With a 1-A classification, he expected to be shipped out in the spring of 1945. Consequently, screenwriter John K. Butler (working from a story by Leon Abrams) came up with a script to showcase Rogers’s leading lady, Dale Evans. When V-E Day rolled around, however, the draft board exempted men over the age of 30 who had children, so Rogers never had to serve. Director Frank McDonald’s Sunset in El Dorado ended up starring both 'The King of the Cowboys' and 'The Queen of the West'....
And yet another story appears in Raymond E. White's book King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. White writes:
Rogers carried a 1-A draft classification, but he never entered the service. Carlton Stowers, who helped Rogers with his autobiography, says that at the point of Roy's induction, the Selective Service lowered the maximum age limit for men being drafted. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times indicates that the star's draft was deferred so that he could 'make a previously scheduled tour of military hospitals.'
(The Los Angeles Times article that White refers to is from March 21, 1945, one week after the Milwaukee Journal article that can be seen in the image at the top of this page.)

Just to recap, the reasons we've heard so far for Rogers' deferment have been children, age, age plus children, and so that he could continue his movie star activities.
John Wayne
According to the draft classifications as they were during World War 2, Roger's change to 3-A—a deferment for "Men with dependents, not engaged in work essential to national defense"—was granted because of his kids, not because of his age. It's unclear whether Republic helped to wrangle the deferment, but in John Wayne's case, the studio appears to have intervened repeatedly. 

Scott Eyman, in John Wayne: The Life and Legend, says that Wayne was reclassified from 3-A to 2-A after "a deferment claim was filed by a third party—undoubtedly Herbert Yates and Republic. The 2-A classification meant that the registrant had a talent or skill not replaceable by another person." (Rogers was never classified 2-A.) Wayne continued to be the subject of third-party deferment claims until the end of the war, at which point he was classified 4-A, which was an age-related deferment.

Eyman points out that Wayne didn't entirely avoid service—he applied for the Office of Strategic Services in 1943, because he wanted to serve in a photo unit with director John Ford. Nevertheless, Wayne caught some flak even during the war years for his choice not to serve. Garry Wills' book John Wayne's America says that John Ford needled Wayne about it during the filming of They Were Expendable in 1945, resulting in Wayne storming off the set. 

As other Hollywood actors enlisted, Rogers and Wayne both benefited from the shrinking number of leading men who were available to star in motion pictures. Bruce Hickey, writing about John Wayne, said:
The fact that so many leading men were in the service [and] Wayne free to make movies greatly enhanced his career. It is doubtful if he would have gained the notoriety to the extent he enjoyed as a movie star had he gone into the services for 3-4 years.
And Rogers, with Autry out of the picture, quickly rose to become the leading Western actor at the box office. Dubbed the "King of the Cowboys," he starred in 50 films during World War 2. Autry, in contrast, made no films between Bells of Capistrano in 1942 and Sioux City Sue in 1946.

Bottom line: Rogers and Wayne could have served if they'd wanted to, but they weren't required to serve, so they didn't. Both were under pressure from Republic to keep making movies, and deferments were pursued more aggressively in Wayne's case than in Rogers'. It's not clear to me that Rogers' deferments were specifically applied for, but the eleventh-hour deferment just as he was about to report for duty is a bit of a coincidence. In any case, both actors took advantage of their deferments while many older actors, such as Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda, chose to serve. 

Some of Rogers' wartime activities benefited the war effort. He sold war bonds (reportedly more than any other Hollywood star) and spent a lot of time entertaining troops at USO shows and generally keeping up American morale. 

Someone recently argued that Wayne contributed to the war effort by "extolling military virtues." Some of the military movies in which he appeared served as wartime propaganda.  His third wife, Pilar, wrote in her biography of Wayne, John Wayne: My Life with the Duke, that he became "a 'superpatriot' for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home." 

Despite any lingering resentment the public had over Roger's and Wayne's decisions to opt out of military service, both actors enjoyed robust careers in the postwar decades—in part because of the visibility they enjoyed onscreen from not having served. By not serving, they were both vilified and rewarded.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Songs about Hadacol from 1949-1953

Hadacol is one of the most notorious snake-oil remedies of all time. When its theme song asked "What put the pep into grandma?" you knew the answer. Formulated with vitamins and 12% alcohol, the brown, foul-tasting liquid sold by the truckload throughout the South in the 1940s and early '50s. 

Invented by Louisiana State Senator Dudley LeBlanc, Hadacol made its mark on the music world via the Hadacol Medicine Show, a touring package show that featured, at one time or another, major artists such as Roy Acuff and Hank Williams.

LeBlanc's over-the-top advertising and creative bookkeeping finally brought down his Hadacol empire, which at its peak raked in millions of dollars a year. Ads claimed that Hadacol "made you strong, made you tall" and treated scores of ailments, but the Federal Trade Commission and the American Medical Association disagreed. They said in 1951 that Hadacol was deceptive junk, and that was the end of that. 

For several years, though, Hadacol enjoyed broad popularity, and many artists from the pop, country, and R&B fields recorded songs about Hadacol. Today's Music Weird compiles songs from the Hadacol era that mention Hadacol, with video links where available. I haven't included any songs or recordings from later than the '50s. 

If you know of any others, please mention them in the comments!

Basin Street Six – "Everybody Loves That Hadacol" (Mercury 6305 & 6307, 1951)

Released in two versions: Cajun and English. 

Tiny Hill and Orchestra – "Everybody Loves that Hadacol" (Mercury 5543, 1950)

Competing recording of the same song. No video. 

Audrey Williams – "What Put the Pep in Grandma" (Decca 46233, 1950)

"Hadacol" is the answer. Recorded by Mrs. Hank Williams, this song is extremely annoying.

Bill Nettles – "Hadacol Boogie" (Mercury 6190, 1949)

Jimmy C. Newman later recorded this song for the Cajun Country label. 

Bill Nettles – "Hadacol Bounce" (Mercury 6275, 1950)


The Treniers – "Hadacol (That's All)" (OKeh 6876, 1952)

Roy Bird (AKA Professor Longhair) & His Blue Jumpers – "Hadacol Bounce" (Mercury 8184, 1950)

 Slim Willet & The Brush Cutters – "Hadacol Corners" (4 Star 1614, 1952) 

The B-side of his hit "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes."

Jesse Rogers and His 49'ers – "Hadacol Boogie" (RCA Victor 32-0001-A, 1949)

Another version of the Bill Nettles song.

 Little Willie Littlefield – "Drinkin' Hadacol" (Modern 709, 1949)

Jerry Lee Lewis later recorded this.

Tillman Franks and His Rainbow Boys – "Hot Rod Shotgun Boogie No. 2" (Gotham 7-TF-1, 1951)

This combination of Arkie Shibley's "Hot Rod Race" and Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Shotgun Boogie" was sung by Faron Young in his early days. Young puts Hadacol in his car's gas tank to give it a little extra kick.

Al Terry & His  Gold Star Band – "H-A-D-A-C-O-L" (Feature 1017, 1951/52) 

L to R: Happy Fats, Al Terry, Dudley LeBlanc, Doc Guidry

Happy & The Doctor & the Hadacol Boys – "La Valse De Hadacol" (Feature 1020, 1951/52)
By Cajun musician/composer Harry Choates.

Joe Lutcher – "Give Me My Hadacol" (Peacock 1562, 1950)

Tony Almerico All Stars and Dixieland Band – "Hadacol Boogie" (Dot 15080, 1953) 

No video or image.

Sharkey Bonano with The Pinky Vidacovich Band – "Hadacol Ramble"

On Joe Mares' Acetates, a collection of acetates from 1949-53. 

Ellis Stroud – "My Hadacol Gal"

Included on the Collector Records compilation Boppin' Acetates Coast to Coast. Not sure of the year on this one.

Wynonie Harris with Todd Rhodes Orch. – "Lovin' Machine" (King 4485, 1951)

The lovin' machine dispenses a bottle of Hadacol after it wears you out.

Teresa Brewer – "Lovin' Machine" (Coral, 1952) 

A cover of the Harris song.

Hank Penny (Plain Ol' Country Boy) – "Hadacillin Boogie" (RCA Victor 20-4862, 1952)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Faulty Chromosome: An interview and retrospective

A Faulty Chromosome. Eric on the right, Mike second from left.

Do we value originality in music or not?

I ask because I sense that A Faulty Chromosome never got the respect they really deserved, even though they were true originals.

Living here in Indiana, I'm not especially plugged into the psychology of the masses, so I'm basing my impression that A Faulty Chromosome didn't get its due on a single experience: I saw the band at NYC Popfest in 2009, and they got a pretty lukewarm reception.

They took too long to set up, with their hanging lights and all the blankets over their amps that made them look and sound like they were underwater. And they weren't twee, so it probably wasn't the best audience for them. The crowd grew impatient and then didn't get what it expected, which is not a recipe for success. The chick from Afternoon Naps even got onstage and played a song with them to try to energize the crowd. That was only moderately effective.

Nevertheless, A Faulty Chromosome was a super-interesting band. Their hallmarks were novel, lo-fi soundscapes with everything-including-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation, elaborate stream-of-consciousness lyrics, mutant dance grooves, and left-field pop hooks.

On their now-deleted Facebook page, their list of influences included Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Arthur Russell, Half Japanese, and Sun Ra. That kind of sums it up.

Music Weird talked to Eric and Mike from A Faulty Chromosome on June 17, 2014. 

The band is defunct, I take it?

Eric: Well, the band is super dead. I murdered it myself. I bathed in its blood and hosed it off down the sewer.

But defunct? "No longer existing or functioning"? Can music ever be defunct, really? I mean, it keeps going so long as people care. Even if I wanted it to die—which I do, because I purposely murder it each day I wake up and say, "No, I will not sink more money into this doomhole"—other people—like you, for example, and sometimes-bandmember Mike, who keeps reminding me, "Hey, one more human said something good about the band on this website! See, you're not a total failure"—keep it existing and functioning to some degree. 

Mike: But still, yes, even so, the band’s pretty much defunct. I mean, the band was Eric, and Eric was the band—inextricably linked! His head porridge, his heart salsa!—and Eric’s not defunct. But as a physical entity? The band’s dead. Persists only in web echoes and vinyl pressings. And this makes me sad. Because I miss standing five feet from Eric’s mouth sounds and finger thrum. The songs were just plain fun to play. 

Eric: I tried to find a pinch of joy in a slopbucket of misery. I didn't kill myself, so I guess that was a miniature success.

But you met your Kickstarter goal for the last album. What happened? 

Eric: Being in a band was a miserable experience for me. I tried my best to have fun, but there's so much business and planning and marketing and advertising and other things that I don't enjoy and am not good at. I mean, I'm horrible at it.

I lost a lot of money to try to get other people to listen to it, too, sending hundreds of albums out only to have them mostly thrown in the garbage by bloggers, record labels, booking agencies, college radio DJs, et cetera. I'm still paying off that debt and will be for another year. The Kickstarter only paid for the pressing of the albums. The nice guy who gave the most money just really liked our music and started a record label [Yelping Hill Records] to put it out, even though he didn't know anything about running a record label. So, together, we had a lot of heart but little know-how and zero connections. I should have asked for more to tour and promote it, I guess. But it costs approximately $1,000 a month to pay some kid to harass people via e-mail and telephone until they listen to or review your record. I'd rather just play, and if the music is good enough, word of mouth will keep it alive and passed around.

I mean, I never wanted to be arena-rock rich. I never wanted to be a Kurt Cobain "King of the Losers" messiah. I just wanted to support myself, but I couldn't, so I stopped. At the time— 2007-ish—"making it" was having your song on a compilation that's played in Urban Outfitters stores or featured on Pitchfork, then playing a hipster party at SXSW, then getting asked to open on a tour with whatever mentally unbalanced band was currently temporarily popular. It was like trying to fit in with a rich high-school clique that we didn't even want to fit in with. Our fans tend to be very nice, slightly nerdy, shy-at-first-but-dying-to-talk types. [Greg's note: This describes me.] It's too messy for normals to mindlessly dance to. But it's dance music! I wanted dancing. Like robots malfunctioning and collapsing on the floor! I still want this. I hope at least bedrooms and used cards are bouncing. 

Mike: Eric was never much comfortable with the self-promotional side of things. Of the idea of “growing” the band, none of us were. Who wants to shill? It’s gross and low. But maybe, just maybe, we were dignity snobs? Were a little too—um—suspicious of inauthenticity, which I don’t even know what that means anymore. I mean, we were never going to have a street team—a real cute buncha kids, swoop-haired and tight-jeaned, all out there with the stickers and the stencils—but we maybe could have/should have done more? To push ourselves? Still—it’s not like Eric didn’t try. He rang up a lot of debt getting somebody—anybody—to listen. And looking back, the rest of us in the band weren’t really “pulling weight.”

What does the discography of A Faulty Chromosome look like? 

Eric: Two proper albums, a few tour-only B-sides and demos mishmashes, and a bunch of covers, including the Magnetic Fields' House of Tomorrow EP in its entirety. I wish All Music Guide would let me edit my own band's page. I wish someone would just put it all on YouTube. I have it on a hard drive somewhere still, I think. Some hard copies are in an old lady's garage in New York. Some is in a suitcase doubling as a cat scratch post. I have no real interest in preserving such memories. If it makes others happy, that's nice. But I don't want the job of archiving. It's like saving love letters from exes you don't even like.

What were your experiences with touring and with NYC Popfest? 

Eric: I've found that the Popfest crowd tends to be "collector" types. The people I know personally still have hundreds of 7-inches that they never listen to but like to brag about having to show that they heard it first. It rubs me the wrong way. I just didn't really feel like we fit in or were welcomed. Guuhhh. I was hoping Popfest would help me feel happy and hopeful and young and childlike, but it just made me more depressed because it failed so miserably. It's like wanting, really wanting, to have religion work, but then, before you even get inside the church, you just start laughing at the whole notion of the thing, and you walk back home empty. 

Mike: Nice people everywhere. And head nods. We’d get head nods every once in awhile. 

Eric: Yeah, head nods help. You and I, Greg, met at Popfest. I guess, as a musician, I always hope that people will be blown away by the sound, as though they had never heard anything so moving or different or expressive or sincere at the same time. Ideally, their heads would explode like Riki-Oh so I'd know for sure it got to them. Or buying the album helps too. I can never tell if people like us. They always looked confused.

I dunno…. I played music because it was the only thing I could do to convince myself to not to want to die. At the time, it wasn't fun. It was exorcising demons. I guess that's not necessarily what Popfests are for.

I hoped people heard it and sang back...or hugged me...or fixed me. I don't know? Like wild animals howling. Singing like a kid, in hopes that it would get me out of the hopelessness of being 20-something I was feeling. It helped a little, I think? Not twee, though.

How did you guys fit into the Austin scene? What kind of reception did you get in your hometown? 

Eric: Austin smells like barbecue, beer, and cedar. It was great to come back to after being away. It was a lot of fun in that it was living "the Ultimate College Experience," like it was an amusement park ride. We were invited to "keggers," "potlucks."

You've got to understand, I'm not the partying type. Parties have always depressed me, because when I'd go, I'd wanna have deep conversations, but other people just wanted to escape and dance and fuck. So I tried that this time, but it didn't work. But it wasn't our hometown. I have no home, and have been in nomadic limbo since 2000. We moved to Austin because kids at the college radio station played it a lot, and living in L.A. is a horrible place to be in a band because no one will let you play at their club unless you're friends with their friends.

In Austin, I feel like we had maybe 7 or 8 fans. Or at least kids who genuinely liked it because it meant something to them, and not just "supporting your friends." I dunno. Austin was sooooo relaxing and comforting because everything moves much slower, and the people are just: "Y'all...." 

Mike: Austin was a lovely experience. An exhalation after the five-year inhale of L.A.

Which, by the way, L.A. can be grand. But, ugh, what crummy, clueless club owners. "No, sir, we cannot guarantee a 30-ticket pre-sale, but perhaps if you promoted your shitty venal velvety little venue a bit better we wouldn’t have to." Squid pro quo!

But yes—and this inevitably makes me sound like a bitter A-hole—I’d have to agree with Eric about the multiplicity of “art” bands. Of “art” in general. Sometimes there’s such a thing as too much output, too much creativity for creativity’s sake. It can get oppressive. And enervating. Again, probably a personal issue. But c’mon, must every idea be not only executed but then shared with the wider world? Keep that collage in the ol’ skull—the calcium vault—and just sit in silence a spell beneath an old gum tree. It’ll do your interior world wonders. At least let’s have a moratorium on Tumblr sketchbook sharing for five years. Be an artist, fine—but the self-marketing is icky. Oh God, shut up, Mike.

What were the best experiences of A Faulty Chromosome? 

Mike: Best experience: dancing to Eric’s songs. Equally best experience: singing along, in real time, to Eric’s songs. 

Eric: Ummm.... Uhhh.... Best was having kids high on mushrooms and MDMA tell me that they lay on the floor and cry when they listen to my music. I also really enjoyed the kindness of strangers, and exploring cities, and sleeping in haunted mansions and crack houses, and seeing all the different conditions in which humans apparently live in. I'm quite surprised we survived. Honestly. It got pretty dark sometimes. A lot of blood stains and wads of hair and new odors. I am very surprised we survived. 

Your lyrics always impressed me because of their stream-of-consciousness quality and their sheer quantity! How much work was it to write all of those lyrics? Did they flow out of you or did you agonize over them?

Mike: Aren’t they sooooo good? The way they do what they do over the sounds they do it to? And he did. He did agonize. I seen it! 

Eric: Guhhhh... Yeah, and yeah. They flowed out for sure, but often in no apparent order. I agonized over everything.

I usually start to write by singing gibberish so that the melodies would appear, then I'd turn the mumbles into semi-coherent lyrics. That was all easy. But I just like language a lot. I like reading the dictionary and tracing the etymology of a word, and I like the feel of sounds smashed together, and sounds that used to be in dead languages that disappeared that our mouths can make. I love a good hip-hop MC flow, but didn't want to fake like I was from the ghetto. It's hard to sing without affecting something artificial. But I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it felt like it fit together.

I just tried to find a flow that made sense to me. I couldn't just sing a song about being confused and frustrated and then sing like monotone Jesus and Mary Chain with tons of reverb on the vocals. I wanted it to sound as frantic as the voices in my brain sound. I wanted to scream, but wouldn't let myself because it was a greater challenge to articulate the feelings. And I tried my best not to leave open-ended questions or generic platitudes, as those drive me nuts in songs. Each song started with a question or a problem with my life, and I genuinely tried to write a song that gave me some kind of resolution to it.

At the time of being in the band, I was dating a girl who hated to analyze human emotions, and opted for the traditional Chinese way of ignoring them until you die, for the greater good! Hence, a lot of songs with a lot of words. But now, I have a partner to talk to, so no real need for music. Funny how that works.

Are you doing anything musically now? 

Eric: I'm working on a short animation right now and doing all the scores, music, and sound effects for that. I also have this mess of a mixtape I add to whenever I have a few minutes to spare that's kind of a weird mess of vocal harmonies, old doo-wop loops, and hitting things to make beats. But I will always make noises. I wish one day I could get paid to do it enough so I wouldn't have to drive forklifts overnight in a furniture warehouse. Actually, it's a ton of fun, and sexual harassment is alive and well!

I'm in L.A. now, so playing a show is pretty much not an option, as they all want 50 people minimum. I miss making songs, though; I do. I'm just not in the mood yet. 

Mike: Make more songs, Eric.



 As an Ex-Anorexic's Six Sick Ex It (No label, 2007)
  • Them Pleasures of the Flesh / Anomie's the Enemy / What? / Jackie O / A Frozen Lake / Bad Thing / This Is Far from a Belle Epoque / Eyes, Foreign Eyes / The loneliness of the Short-Distance Walker / I'll Stop Swimming When I Drown

Free Sample Inside (No label, 2009)
  • Tippy-Toes / Bad Thing / Either You Don't Love Me, Or... / Anomie's the Enemy / Our Poor, Boorish Head / Love Goes Home to Paris / Pleasures of the Flesh / Short-Distance Walkers

Craving to Be Coddled so We Feel Fake-Safe (Yelping Hill, 2010)

  •  Growing Children Need Food / Scoffers vs. Beasts / Dancing on the Ceiling (Flailing on the Floor) / Tippy-Toes / U Stoopid / Our Poor Boorish Head / Little Miracles / Picayune / Warmish Piles / Incubate'r / Exorcise! / Groaning Like a Grown-Up / What We're Made Of


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Music Weird interviews Theoretical Girl

A few years ago, Theoretical Girl was touring with Calvin Harris and Robyn and seemed to be on the verge of breaking through as a mainstream pop artist. If you read the lists of new album releases every week, like I do, then she seemed to disappear after that, because she hasn't released a record since 2009.

She hasn't disappeared, though. Otherwise known as Amy Turnnidge of Southend-on-Sea, Theoretical Girl has been steadily gigging and releasing recordings in her Advent Calendar series and has a new EP coming out this year. 

Theoretical Girl's 2009 debut album, Divided, is filled with gorgeous pop songs like "The Boy I Left Behind" and "I Should Have Loved You More." It's indiepop, but Turnnidge has a great traditional pop voice and sensibility, so her music is often rich with strings and melodies. 

Jason Derulo said that Lady Gaga is one of the hardest-working people in show business, but has he checked in on Theoretical Girl? He should, because Turnnidge must spend a lot of time recording.

Music Weird interviewed Theoretical Girl on June 9, 2014.

Your new EP is coming out this year?

I've been writing on and off since my album came out, way back in 2009. However, none of the songs really seemed to work together—they were all so different in feel and content. I was trying desperately to put an album together, becoming more and more frustrated that they didn't fit, until I decided to free myself, stop worrying about songs working as a group of songs, and just release a series of EPs. I am embracing their differences! 

The first EP has a lead track recorded in a lovely analog studio with a fine producer and is a sparse drum-machine-and-synth-led tune. The second track was recorded in a friend of a friend's flat by another fine producer using traditional baroque stringed instruments and is purely strings and vocals. And the third track was recorded by myself at home using whatever I could lay my hands on—an Omnichord, an old Roland CompuRhythm drum machine, and some shakers!—in a much more lo-fi way. None of the tracks are finished as yet, so it could all still change!

It's been years since Divided came out. Why the long wait?

A friend once gave me a really valuable piece of advice: never stop writing. Well, I didn't listen. I got caught up in touring and promoting what I had already written, and by the time that had all calmed down, I was sick of writing and wanted a bit of a break. Then, before I knew it, months and months had passed. I started to get into writing again, but it was almost as if I had never written a song before—I had to start all over again. 

It's taken a long time to feel that I can do it again; I still find it very difficult to know if what I have written is any good. I'm trying not to worry about that at the moment and just get something out there. Otherwise, I fear I may never do it!

I didn't realize until recently that you have been posting tons of free downloads online in your Advent Calendar series. Could you talk about that project? Have you put a lot of time into that?

I started the advent calendar in 2008, I think. During the advent period, I take requests for cover versions and I arrange, record, and post online a different track every day for free download. It was a bit of a mad idea, really, as it is extremely time-consuming. However, I love cover versions. I'm a big fan of the song-swapping that went on in the '60s. If you discover a song that you love from that period, you can guarantee that there will be at least another five versions of it floating around somewhere! I enjoy particularly when people request songs I've never heard, as then it's a real challenge to find it, learn it, figure out the chords and melodies, work out how I want to interpret it, then perform and record it all in one day! 

This is particularly tricky when working full-time. I'd rush home straight from work, and, some days, only just get the song up before midnight! Mostly they turn out a bit shoddy, but I think people appreciate that I've tried! As a result of the project, I may release an album of cover versions at some point this year.


You play guitar and keyboards/piano. Do you write songs on both? 

I write songs on almost anything! I play quite a few things, quite badly. A lot of my earlier stuff was written around bass lines. These days it tends to be piano based, and then I'll switch to different instruments and arrangements once the basic song is written. One of my favorite things to do is to create several different versions of the same song; then I'll pick the arrangement that works the best.


Your music seems to be getting "prettier." Do you think that melodic music gets less respect than "edgy," dissonant music?

I'm glad you've chosen the word pretty! Some people use the word twee, which I'm not so keen on! It implies that there is somehow less substance to the music. 

My music has, without a doubt, changed. It was never a conscious decision to write differently, though—I just became more interested in melodies than in sounds. I've found that the kind of people who are most concerned with music's edginess and that horrible word cool tend to write for the mainstream music press. I used to worry about being edgy and trying to do something new, but that can sometimes end up being detrimental to the song, and really, by now, what hasn't already been done? I hope to work towards being a good songwriter.


You seem like an indiepop artist at heart, but you've played with some mainstream pop artists like Robyn and Calvin Harris. What has that been like?

Really fun! Robyn in particular is a really great pop performer. It's interesting to me to see how other people approach things. I've never had a booking agent, so when I get offered these support slots, it's always really exciting. You tend to play to people who've never heard your music, so it's a good test of how well it works!


You have such a great traditional pop voice. People have even described it as "angelic." Does it do everything you want it to do? Do you ever write songs, or want to sing songs, that you feel you can't sing the way you'd like?

I have a very soft voice. It's been difficult battling against drums and guitars at live shows, but mostly it does what I need it to do. It helps that I can write songs within my vocal range. My favorite singers have always been those that don't particularly have power or technique but who have expressive and unique voices. Nick Drake, Neil Young, and Marianne Faithfull for example. As such, I've never really aspired to have a particularly powerful voice. Good thing, really!


What are your plans after the EP comes out? Are you going to tour? Start working on your second album?

I like the idea of regularly releasing EPs rather than taking ages to do an album. So, more EPs, probably, perhaps a covers album, definitely another advent calendar. I may do a couple of live shows. Basically, I am undecided about everything!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Music Weird interviews Tab Hunter, part 2

This is part 2 of my 2005 interview with Tab Hunter, which continues from here. I interviewed Tab for the liner notes of his greatest hits collection, Young Love: The Best of Tab Hunter, which came out at the same time as his best-selling autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. A documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential, is coming in 2015. 

In this part of the interview, we talked about specific recordings that would appear on the greatest hits collection, Tab's love of country music, and his dislike of being labeled.

Did you ever think of yourself as a rock 'n' roller? You didn't cut too many rock 'n' roll songs. 

I didn't really think "rock 'n' roll." It was during the rock 'n' roll era. 

"Black Coat" was kind of a rock 'n' roll song. 

Yeah, that was Randy's suggestion. I had fun doing those things, but I always loved the standards. I always have. And it's so nice today to hear so many of the wonderful old ones coming back. And to hear some of my favorites of the time now coming back, like Dinah Washington. I was in love with Dinah. I just thought she was the best. And now you hear so much of Dinah. I thought, it's about time that people for the last 10 years or so have almost, like, rediscovered some great people. 

You recorded "Jealous Heart" at Warner Bros.

A good country tune. I love the song. I love "Jealous Heart." But, see, now, Randy was the first one, at Dot, who told me about "Jealous Heart." I was ready to a lot of that stuff over at Dot. I was ready to do a lot of country stuff over at Dot. 

Crossover country-pop was getting big around '57. 

Very big. But Warners would not allow me to record for Dot any longer, so I just took the ideas on over to Warner Bros. 

Do you think you recorded "Jealous Heart" at Dot?

I might have. I very well might have. It was just so many years ago. 

You did "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time." 

I love that song. I remember the Andrews Sisters doing that.

"There's No Fool Like A Young Fool."

 Again, that was Randy Woods.

I wonder if he liked having his ideas go to Warner Bros.?

Well, Randy was a pretty terrific guy. 


I loved the tune the first time I heard it with Vera Lynn. 

"Moonlight Bay"?

That was Randy at Dot. He loved that old song, and I recorded that on Dot. I think I had to record a lot of that stuff over again with Warners. 

"I'll Never Smile Again"?

I liked the song, but I wasn't happy with the way I did that, with the way it came off.  

"I Ain't Got Nobody"?

Again, Randy. Let me tell you, Randy Wood was a master. Dot Records had a sound, and they were a great group to be with. I cannot sing their praises enough. Randy did very, very well by covering records from the country field, or from R&B, into the pop field. 

Well, he did it with "Young Love."
Exactly—the Sonny James record.

"Time After Time."

I always loved that song. And "Candy"—I always loved that song. Johnny Mercer—that's where I first heard it. But then Don Ralke came up with that arrangement, which I thought was sensational. He was really good. 

"When I Fall in Love."

I always loved that song too. I was kind of a romantic as a kid. I liked all that stuff. 

You did a good job with these songs, but you got some criticism for your singing. 

People are always taking pot shots at me. But like Geraldine Page once said to me.... I  said, "God, Gerry, you're so fortunate. Everyone loves you. You can't do anything wrong! Everyone loves you! People just hate me." She grabbed hold of my arm and said, "Just remember this, Tab: If people don't like you, that's their bad taste." And I looked at her and said, "Gerry, I will never forget that." 

And, furthermore, there are so many people that should remember that. It applies to so many people. "If people don't like you, that's their bad taste." It affects you tremendously. And people are so quick to condemn and criticize, anyway.

I thought that part of the rock 'n' roll revolution was the idea that you didn't have to be Mario Lanza to make a record. You could have a boy-next-door kind of singer and it could be more down to earth. I like the earnestness of your recordings.

Well, I believed in all the tunes I was doing. It was very important. You've got to be there 100%. If people don't get your message, that's their bad taste. It makes you feel better, anyway, because you try.

The last tunes here are from R.F.D. Tab Hunter. "Hey Good Lookin'." 

That was a great country tune. Hank Williams.

Bill [Buster, of Eric Records] wanted to include "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," but you vetoed that. 

I did, only because I just sound like a whiny old.... I bored the hell out of myself with it.  

I have to disagree. That's a nice recording. 

Are you serious? 

It has the steel guitar....

Well, the sound is interesting with the steel guitar. The plaintive sound, which I love. I love the steel guitar. 

And it's a poetic song.
It is a poetic song, but I didn't feel that I did it justice. 

What didn't you like about it?

I don't know. I just thought, "What a wimp." [Laughs] 

How did you develop your interest in country music? 

Well, I used to spend a lot of time riding horses in the barn. My whole life. My other life. If I wasn't in front of the camera or recording, I'd be out with my animals every free minute with the horses. And I used to show horses. And out in the barn we always listened to country stations. 

And when I was 12 years old at Dubrock's Riding Academy, across the street, on Friday nights, I used to climb the fence and listen to Spade Cooley, "Shame, Shame on You," at the Riverside Rancho. I loved it. Back then, country was country. It was so great because it was so honest. Now it's gotten so pop in sound that when you hear a country song that's without all that, it's so appealing. To me it is, anyway. 

I liked Mark Chestnut for a while. I thought he was going to really hit it big, and then he did on a couple of tunes, but I don't know what happened. 

It's a tough field. I like K.D. Lang doing country music. Man, could she belt those things out. A real powerhouse. She's a real artist. 

There were so many gay recording artists in the '50s and '60s, but people don't realize. Rod McKuen said....

I knew Rod. I went to a couple of his sessions and even recorded with him.

You mentioned gay recording artists—I never think about things like that. I think it's just a person. I never label something.

Right. I agree with that. 

I'm so against labels. I remember, I was doing a Tennessee Williams play years ago, and one of the lines basically was, "People are so guilty of hanging labels around the neck of a person, like a bell around the neck of a leper." I think people are so guilty of doing that. The most important thing is the human being. 

To me, the word [gay] even bothers me. I've never liked it. You are what you are and live the best life you possibly can as a human being. I don't like to see people labeled anything. The important thing is what one contributes in life. That's what's important: contributions. If you can move someone, if you can make somebody smile or bring somebody to tears, or just genuinely touch them inside, that's what's really important. 

So often in this day and age, people have to cover up everything. They either want to let it all hang out and don't give a damn, which I find repulsive—I just can't stand that kind of attitude—or they're so frightened, they're afraid to make a move. Somewhere between there, there's got to be a life!

I don't like anyone in any situation trying to shove their agendas down someone's throat. Saying, "This is the way it must be." I think you live your life. I'm not saying that you have to be complacent about this whole thing, but I do think in due time things take their course. One extreme is like the other extreme. Extremes are not good. I mean, that's just my own feeling, but I'm old world. I'm old-fashioned. My God, I'm no longer a kid. I'm 73 years old.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Music Weird interviews Tab Hunter, part 1

I interviewed actor Tab Hunter in 2005 for his first and only greatest hits collection, Young Love: The Best of Tab Hunter, on Eric Records. The greatest hits collection coincided with the publication of Hunter's tell-all autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, in which he talked about his sexuality and about dating Anthony Perkins and figure skater Ronald Robertson in the 1950s, among other things. The book is being made into a documentary, which is also titled Tab Hunter Confidential and will be released in 2015. 

As a singer, Tab scored an international #1 hit with "Young Love" in 1957 and then had a handful of other hits for Dot and Warner Bros. Records. He was primarily an actor, but he recorded four albums and several singles within a period of about five years. His 1957 single "Ninety-Nine Ways" nearly cracked the Top 10, and his 1959 single "(I'll Be With You in) Apple Blossom Time" reached the Top 40. The greatest hits collection compiles both his Dot and Warner Bros. recordings and features a great photo-filled booklet.

Tab—as he readily admits—is a private person who doesn't like to talk about his personal life, but I thought that the liner notes should at least mention his experience as a gay teen idol. After all, that part of his story was a big selling point of his then-forthcoming book, and the tension between his professional life as a sex symbol to women (or to teen girls) and his private life as a gay guy in the '50s and '60s is fascinating. Tab finally agreed to allow a brief, somewhat oblique reference to it in the liner notes. 

Little clues about Tab's private life appeared here and there throughout his career: He was arrested by vice police at a party in 1955, but the arrest wasn't widely publicized. In a 1956 interview flexi disc for a fan magazine, Tab talked about the girls he dated and his intention to eventually marry, and the magazine titled the disc "I Hope You'll Believe Me." That was kind of a weird title, wasn't it? And his 1958 recording of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" name-drops Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, and Marlon Brando, all of whom were gay or bisexual. 

(By the way, if you visit the Eric Records website, you can hear the 1956 interview flexi disc, which is also pictured below.)

"I Hope You'll Believe Me"

After his recording career, Tab continued to work as an actor. He enjoyed a revival as a cult film star after appearing in John Waters's film Polyester in 1981 and had a singing part in Grease 2 in 1982. He's still going strong and occasionally blogs at his website, He's one of the best-preserved octogenarians in history. 

My interview with Tab Hunter took place in 2005, but I didn't note the exact date. 

This greatest hits collection is long overdue. In fact, you've been bootlegged. 

I've heard about that. Someone told me that I'd been bootlegged. But I'm really glad that we're doing this, because it should stop that nonsense, and these are much better cuts, aren't they? 

Yes! For the interview, I'll be concentrating on the five years or so of your recording career. Can you talk about when you were preparing to record "Young Love"?

It all happened through Howard Miller, who was a big disc jockey in Chicago. Natalie Wood and I were on a personal appearance tour in Chicago for a film of ours, and while we were there, Howard was a monster DJ there. I mean, huge. And he said to me, "Did you ever think of recording?" And I said, "Well, actually, I love to sing, and I used to sing in the choir as a kid." And he said, "I'd like you to meet with Randy Wood of Dot Records when you get back to LA."

So I met with Randy, and he called me. Actually, he called me and said, "I have a tune here that just broke in the country field, and I'd like you to do it for the pop field." He played it for me, I sang a few bars for Billy Vaughn, and it was, like, on Thursday, and he said, "Let's record it on Saturday." We recorded Saturday, and by Monday, a hundred thousand or so shipped out.

I read that Milt Rogers helped you out with your singing.

Milt Rogers and Billy Vaughn both. 

Your first two hits were in a light rock 'n' roll style, but your albums and later singles were traditional pop and country.

Well, what happened was, I was recording for Dot, and Warner Bros. had me under contract, and they owned me for recording, but they didn't own a recording studio at the time. They didn't have Warner Bros. Records. I was not the most easy to get along with, because they were not allowing me to do a lot of things. 

So, they started Warner Bros. Records, and they wouldn't let me record any longer for Dot. And we'd already had an album with a hundred thousand advance-copy sales. But Warner said no, you belong to us. So Randy worked something out with Warner, and I was released to allow maybe one or two more singles on Dot, and then Warner started Warner Records and I recorded for them. But by then, it wasn't quite the same as striking when the iron's hot.

I read that the Dot album was originally supposed to be called Tab Hunter Sings

It was just Tab Hunter. It could have been Tab Hunter Sings, but I thought it was just Tab Hunter. [The actual title is Young Love. Tab's first Warner Bros. album is called Tab Hunter.]

They were tunes that I really liked. Randy was terrific. I loved the whole Dot operation; they were just fabulous people over there. I mean, everything was done on a handshake, and it was like real family. They were the best. Whereas Warners was more of a factory, and they were just starting out and really wanting to move on forward. 

Did the old pop songs and the country music that you recorded reflect your tastes? 

Well, those are my idea. I love country music, because I spend a lot of time with horses down at the barn. I love country music. So, I wanted to do a country album, and that's why at Warners I did R.F.D. Tab Hunter, and "When I Fall in Love" because I love the romantic tunes.

Who came up with the album title R.F.D. Tab Hunter?

I did.

It's clever. 

Really? I'm glad you like that. I thought of that. I just said, "Set me out by a mailbox out in the country and take a shot of me with me and my dog." 

I loved when I toured Australia, I toured with the Everly Brothers and Sal Mineo. Don and Phil were so great—I was such a big fan of theirs—and later, when I did the RFD album, in one of the songs I used "something-something Don and Phil." I stuck their names in the song. The song that I used Don and Phil's name in was "Hey, Good Lookin." 

The RFD postal program linked the urban and the rural, and that's your music on that album: It blends pop and country. 

Exactly. That's what I wanted to do. 

All my life, I've loved the country, and I've loved being outside and with my horses, and I've loved being away from it all. It was kind of fighting between having to work and do all that, which I loved, but then, every free minute, I'd run out to be with my horses. 

You said that you liked the sentimental songs. You must have gained confidence in your singing to take on some of those more challenging melodies. 

They were challenging tunes, but they were tunes that I really loved, like "Time After Time." And, of course, "Candy" was always one of my favorite songs, and I loved the way it turned out. But those were all on Warners. 

They let you pick your songs?

Quite a bit, yes. At Dot, Randy would come up with a few, but mainly I was able to pick them myself. If you don't like them, there's no point in doing them. 

Did you pick "Red Sails in the Sunset"?

I love that. When they said we need something for the flip side of "Young Love"—and it was such a quick session that we just went in on the Saturday to do, I was a nervous wreck. I thought, we needed something for the flip side, and that's when I suggested just the day before to Billy, "What about 'Red Sails in the Sunset'?" I've always loved that song. 

Then you did "Ninety-Nine Ways" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." 

I loved "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," because I remember when I was going to school, it was a popular song. 

Both of those Dot singles were double-sided hits. 

Oh, I didn't know that. "Ninety-Nine Ways" was a very Guy Mitchell type of a tune. 

Your version is very similar to the Charlie Gracie version, with the honky-tonk piano. 

Well, Billy was really good at that. Billy Vaughn was excellent. That whole year of working with Randy, with Billy Vaughn, and with Milt Rogers—they were family. It was a good group. 

Your recording of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" is great. 

I'm glad you like that! I've always liked that song too. I just chose songs in that area that I really cared about. 

Who added the lyrics about Tyrone Power and Elvis?

I just made those up. "Rock Hudson's not my style," you know, "Tyrone Power." [Laughs] "Elvis, not my style," all that. I just did that. It just came to me to do that. I had fun with it. 

That list of names is interesting—it mentions Brando and Tyrone Power.

Well, they were such big stars. 

Right, but both were bisexual, or allegedly so, in Power's case. 

Right, you heard that, but you hear that about so many people. Hearsay is so out there. People just say, "I hear this, I hear that."

And Rock Hudson too. Was there a hidden message there? 

No, not at all. I just chose those names because they were popular stars. 

It's funny when the lyrics say that your baby doesn't care for Tab Hunter, and yet Tab Hunter is singing the song. 

I did that because I thought it was fun to do because I was so popular at the time, and I thought to myself, that's all the frosting on the cake. Those are the hot-fudge sundaes of life. But you can't live on a hot-fudge sundae alone—you'd better have the meat and potatoes. You better have the staples. You'd better have the protein. Even though the hot-fudge sundaes are awfully good at times. But they'll make you fat physically, mentally, and spiritually. Not good. 

If the singer's baby doesn't care for Tab Hunter, then who's singing the song? 

Well, I just threw the name out because I feel in a way like two people. Because my whole life has been that.

I'm a very private kind of a person. There's the Tab Hunter that appears in the public, and then there's the other Tab Hunter who is just more.... I'm just not as comfortable. When you have a role to perform, that's one thing, but just being out there—I've never enjoyed that. 

But you know what you do? You accept things the way they are. You just accept them the way they are, and you go with the flow of things. They [the fans] were really genuinely, wonderfully warm—these kids were terrific. If it weren't for them.... People tell me today, "I was such a fan of yours," and I say, "If it weren't for people like you, I wouldn't have been working." 

But, of course, I've also found out through the years, through the ups and the downs—you find out that the public can be extremely fickle too. 

In 1956, you told a fan magazine that you were dating a girl and intended to marry. 

I dated awful lot of gals, but I only dated gals that I really cared about. Once in a while, I would go out on publicity dates just because the studio would ask me to take someone out because it would get coverage for her or things like that. But, basically, I just dated the people I felt secure and fun with. Like, I loved Debbie Reynolds. Lori Nelson was very important in my life in the starting years. And then later, I became very involved with Etchika Choureau. She's wonderful; I did a picture with her. [Lafayette Escadrille in 1958.]

Tony Perkins preceded you a bit with his singing career. 

I think it was right around that time. I think he had just finished "Friendly Persuasion." I think that was his first recording. 

I think that was '56. 

Oh, then I was ahead of that, because I think I did "Young Love" in....

That was at the very end of '56. 

That's right. It was December. You're right. Tony had recorded for Paramount, was it?


Epic! Exactly. Epic, of course. 

Were the two of you competitive about your singing careers? 

Not really, not really. Tony sang what he did, and I did what I did. 

I like his records. 

Yeah, he had a very kind of plaintive sound to his voice. 

Tab and Tony

Did you know Sal Mineo very well? 

Not really well. He was on the lot when they did Rebel Without a Cause, when he and Natalie and Jimmy were doing that. 

You toured together. 

We only did one tour. They asked me to go to Australia, because "Young Love" was such a major hit. It was a huge hit down there too. So, they put together a tour for Don and Phil, who had just had "Bye Bye Love." It broke incredibly, and so did a couple of others. So we all went down there, and Sal went along also. I think he had a couple of records too. 

Did you do other package tours? Or did you do a lot of touring? 

No, not at all. That's the only tour I did, singing live. 


Later, I did things like on television, like the Dinah Shore television show and the Perry Como television show. The first time I ever sang live on television was with Perry Como. He was wonderful. In fact, I have a copy of that show. And Dinah Shore was another one.

A great number of those musical shows—they were Pat Boone, Dinah Shore, and Perry Como—I did a number of guest shots on those shows, and I sang live. And little by little, it just made me more comfortable with having to get out there and sing in front of people. 

Pat Boone was on Dot too, of course. He recorded some of the same songs you did. 

Exactly. A wonderful singer. 

He recorded "My Baby Just Cares for Me" the same year you did, but he used different names of celebrities. 

I forgot what the original names were, but think they were so dated that I wanted to use something that was more current.

Ted Weems had an early recording of it, and he mentioned people like Bing Crosby and Roy Rogers. 


It seems like in the music business, a lot of those songs that were so popular, they keep rehashing them, and it's like Broadway doing a resurgence of a hit play because they can't come up with anything new.

The teen idols always had a nostalgic quality, though, because the music had some of the youthfulness and energy of rock 'n' roll but also a lot of the strings and melodies that people associated with traditional pop. 

"Teen idol" is just a label they hang on you like this or that. Those are just labels, like a fan-magazine label. I never really liked any of the labels they threw on me, unfortunately, because, being a product of Hollywood, if you will, when you are thrown into all of that, where does one serve one's apprenticeship? 

It's a difficult thing to do if you're a product of Hollywood and you've never been exposed to all of these things like singing live or performing in live theater or live television and motion pictures. You have to learn your craft as you're going along. 

And, of course, Dot was wonderful in the music area, because they had such good people at the sessions. I mean, gosh, on "Young Love," my backup was Elvis's backup singing group. 

The Jordanaires. 

The Jordanaires. And Elvis was not happy with the fact that the Jordanaires did that! 

When you moved to Warner Bros., did the atmosphere change a lot? 

Well, it was a different atmosphere entirely. I felt at home, movie-wise, at Warner Bros., but the recording thing was so new. They started the company, and there was some good people there, but they wanted them to get it off the ground—the record company—but they let a lot of water go under the bridge, and a lot of time had gone by, and you've got to strike while the iron is hot. Dot was ready to keep going, but Warners put the kibosh on that. 

The music changed too when you went to Warner Bros. and started doing that more jazzy stuff. 

I think Dot was more commercial, no doubt about that. I was also growing up at that time, so I liked the romantic tunes, and I liked the country tunes. I wanted to do the things that appealed to me and not just be given a tune to sing. 

You know, when I first heard "Ninety-Nine Ways," I wasn't mad for the song. I thought it was nice, but it didn't really appeal to me. It was fun to do, and it was always very exciting being in the recording booth with the orchestra and working with the orchestra. That was wild. A great, great, great feeling. 

[Part 2 of the interview is here.]